Miso Tuna Burgers in Muffin Form with Sprouted Mung Bean

I’ve got a nice solution to the the dilemma of what to eat for dinner or pack for lunch during a busy work week when your cupboards and refrigerator may not be overflowing. Read More

Agua de Jamaica Cooler with Jicama, Coconut Cream, Lime & Habanero!

A Frothy but Thin Spicy-Sweet Smoothie

A Frothy but Thin Spicy-Sweet Smoothie

For this week’s Fiesta Friday, with it’s close proximity to Cinco De Mayo, I’m going latin with a wonderful smoothie that uses homemade hibiscus tea as a base.

First, I want to acknowledge the fantastic work of our master party animal Angie, who has created a weekly event that has really become a fun, resourceful and delicious community.  She made an outrageous pizza this week with my favorite, carrot tops!  Carrot top is the new basil, or parsley!

I now look forward each week to Friday when I can sit down and mingle with the other guests.  I have met so many wonderful cooks and people, and I also appreciate the creativity and work of our rotating mystery hosts and loyal cooks such as Prudy, Hilda, La Petite PaniereSaucy, Ngan, Catherine, Patty, Nancy, Selma, Sonal, Jillian and on and on!

If you visit a taqueria this Cinco De Mayo in California and you’ll likely find enormous containers of ague frescas next to the soda dispenser. The usual flavors are horchata (a sweet rice drink), tamarindo (from tamarind, and agua de jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah), an infusion of dried red hibiscus flowers. I love all three versions and have a hard time deciding, but the ruby red color of the hibiscus usually wins me over. The taste is slightly tart and refreshing. Peet’s Coffee Shop makes a really strong version of ague de jamaica, but they call it Hibiscus C Tea.  It is super tart and sweet at the same time, and very quenching on a hot day.

Hibiscus tea (an infusion actually) is popular all around the world. The hibiscus flower grows in tropical and semi-tropical climates. Hibiscus trees are all over Los Angeles, and you can find the dried hibiscus flowers at almost any Mexican market (look for “flor de jamaica”), or you can order them online.

The tea on it’s own is a natural diuretic, apparently cleansing for the kidneys, and very high in Vitamin C. There’s also at least one government study that shows that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure.

We have a healthy hibiscus shrub in our front yard, so I went foraging last week.

Hibiscus Shrub

Hibiscus Shrub

800px-Hujung_bunga_raya_merah

Malaysian Hibiscus Stigma, Macro Shot

The above photo is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Commons is a freely licensed media file repository.  Since my attempts to shoot a macro with my iPhone yielded less than ideal results, I am featuring this lovely photo of the Hibiscus Stigma.

Here are some shots of our own fresh hibiscus flowers:

Hibiscus foraged from our front yard

Hibiscus foraged from our front yard

 

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In a different light

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As Macro as I Get

Drying on the LA Times

Drying on the LA Times

After drying for a day in the sunshine I transferred them to the oven for 1/2 hour at 200 degrees.

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Dried and Ready to Steep

Then into a pot with water, honey and lime juice:

Ready to Simmer

Ready to Simmer

After steeping (I like to steep it overnight to make it doubly strong, and doubly delicious), I strained it and transferred the tea to a blender, then added Jicama, Lime Juice, Coconut Cream, and Habanero Pepper.

Table's Set

Table’s Set

One for the Road

One for the Road

I really encourage you to try this recipe because it’s not often you see smoothies that have a spice kick to them.  It’s kind of a thin smoothie, and may work really well for your post exercise refreshment during the summer!  Here’s the Recipe:

INGREDIENTS
2 quarts water
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers

Lime juice (optional)

1/8 cup honey

1/2 large jicama, peeled and chopped

1 8 oz can coconut cream

1 small habanero pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Put 4 cups of the water and the honey in a medium saucepan. Heat until the honey is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried hibiscus flowers.

2. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and discard the used hibiscus flowers

(At this point you can store ahead the concentrate, chilled, until ready to make the drink.)

3. Add remaining 4 cups of water (or if you want to chill the drink quickly, ice and water) to the concentrate, and chill. Alternatively you can add ice and chilled soda water for a bubbly version. Add a little lime juice for a more punch-like flavor.

4. Transfer to blender with jicama, pepper, coconut cream and lime juice.  Whiz up, pour and enjoy!

 

 

Juicy Red Salad, Buttermilk Dressing; and, May I Rant?

 

Without Avo

Without Avo

Here’s a fresh and beautiful springtime salad inspired by the early Brooks Cherry appearance in our farmer’s markets this week.  It’s crunchy, creamy & juicy, and sweet, tart & peppery, all in one bite.

The sweet and juicy fruit pairs well with the crunch and grassyness of the black eyed pea and english pea sprouts; and the avo and creamy dressing, tangled with the shock of peppery arugula, rounds everything out in balance.

That's Better

That’s Better

This Friday at my favorite farmer’s market, I was so excited about these cherries, harbinger of summer, that I literally just threw together a salad idea in my head, made a few more purchases with the cash I had left, and biked all the ingredients to work in my backpack.  I figured I could snap some pretty good photographs in our office kitchen, which encompasses one quarter of one entire building floor, and has 2 floor-to-ceiling windows as its 2 out of 3 walls.  Great light, juicy cherries, some sprouts, my iphone camera, and all of a sudden I have a chance at making it to Fiesta Friday after all!

I artfully assembled my salad, moved it around to scout lighting, and then it happened.  That person, you know the one . . . the one that every office has who is miserable . . . she snarked me!  She rained on my sunny disposition.  Really staring deeply into my salad (and getting into my personal space) I believe what she said was, “That looks so disgustingly healthy,” with a tinge of sincere scorn and mockery. Plus maneuvering around me with a step-ladder and crowding me big time.  I mean, can you give a girl a little happy privacy . . . or wait 2 minutes until the space is free?  I know I’m a little weird with my food but . . . can’t we all just get along? 🙂

Ss3

On that note, I would like to wish all of my fellow “food obsessed” or “food interested” bloggers and Fiesta Friday #13 co-guests a very happy weekend filled with lots of good food, companionship, gratitude and love!!!!!!!

Here’s the Salad Recipe:

*Please note that the dressing recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe published on the foodnetwork.com, and it will make much more dressing than you need for this salad, but it is a WONDERFUL salad dressing to have on hand.  I use Thai basil instead of regular basil because I like it better! I keep a jar in my refrigerator at work and at home.

Ingredients:

3 cups wild arugula

1 cup mixed sprouts (I used black eyed pea and english pea found at my farmer’s market, but please feel free to use bean sprouts, radish sprouts, whatever you can)

1/2 cup fresh cherries, pitted

1/2 cup strawberries, halved

1/2 avocado, sliced

Arrange all ingredients in a nice big bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and let sit while you make the dressing.

Ingredients for the Dressing:

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup yoghurt, drained for half an hour

1/4 cup olive oil

2 scallions

1/2 bunch Thai basil

1 Tbsp mustard

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 Tbps lemon juice

1 tsp honey

pinch salt

Place the scallions, basil, lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree for 15 to 20 seconds to make a smooth mixture. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and buttermilk and blend until smooth. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour for the flavors to develop.

For one gigantic salad as listed above, I use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup dressing and mix really well with my hands, then eat with a spoon!  Don’t forget to top with freshly cracked black pepper.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/buttermilk-ranch-dressing-with-bibb-lettuce-recipe.html?oc=linkback

 

Sidewalk Surprise: Loquats

The lovely painting above is entitled “Loquats and Mountain Bird,” by Anonymous Southern Song artist, in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Beijing.

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Side Yard Loquats

Ever been surprised by a flash of realized abundance in your life, when and where you were least looking for it?  That’s what happened when we realized the tree on our “private property” part of our Santa Monica sidewalk is a loquat tree, and that the fruit it yields not only edible but delicious.  It’s flavor is a perfect marriage of sweet and sour (think mango, citrus and apricot) and I’ve got a motherlode in my kitchen waiting to be eaten as is, or become granita, syrup for kombucha, jam, barbeque sauce, who knows what else.

This morning I made loquat kombucha

This morning I made loquat kombucha

See you in a week

See you in a week

I had always wondered what was growing on our side yard tree, then this weekend at my favorite cafe Red Bread a fellow sat down next to me with a  backpack full of what I recognized to be our tree fruit.  On his way to the weekly community produce swap, he explained to me that these were indeed loquats.  Down the rabbit hole of internet research I went.  Later that afternoon, after reading around, my enthusiasm for our newfound crop at its peak, I brought my husband a piece of loquat who, though he loved the puckering flavor, dampened my glee with the comment, “I think I taste a faint essence of diesel fuel” (we have a bus stop smack in front of the tree, about 10 feet from our front window).

Our Tree

Our Tree

The Loquat up close

The Loquat up close

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a species of flowering plant in the family Rosaceae,native to south-central China. It is a large evergreen shrub or small tree, grown commercially for its yellow fruit, and also cultivated as an ornamental plant.

Eriobotrya japonica was formerly thought to be closely related to the genus Mespilus, and is still sometimes known as the Japanese medlar. It is also known as Japanese plum and Chinese plum. In Japan it is called biwa. And in China, it is called Lo Guat in Cantonese and pipa  in Mandarin.

The loquat has a high sugar, acid, and pectin content. It is best eaten dead ripe.  On the internet you can find many recipes for loquat  jam, jelly and pie, and on the private website entirely devoted to the fruit “Loquatworld.com” you can find links to some pretty offbeat delicacies, like pickled loquat and loquat grappa.

The large seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide and should not be eaten.

For an impressive source of information on loquat history, including different varieties, availability and commercialization (or lack thereof), I refer you to my local produce celebrity writer and David Karp and his 1999 article in the LA Times, “Loco for Loquats.”

Stay tuned for loquat recipes!

 

 

Robin’s Egg Blue; Super Cheesy Rye Bread

Birgerbird’s going blue today.  The background of my blog I mean.  I am forever playing around with color in my cooking, dressing and blogging.  Last night as I was enjoying a scoop of basil ice cream at our neighborhood creamery I spied the espresso & coffee cups at the java station and they were the most beautiful shade of blue.   And their shirts are blue.

The proprietors of this fine ice cream shop also run 3, soon to be 5, restaurants — Milo and Olive, Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon.  The love children of Zoe Nathan Loeb and Josh Loeb, they each have their distinct personality, but all serve fresh, seasonal, creative, soulful food, Milo and Olive and Huckleberry with an emphasis on Zoe’s now-highly-pedigreed, uber-delicious and personal baked goods.  Their team is dedicated to good food, good people, and good vibes, good sustainable practices, and they’ve nailed all 4.  Since all of the restaurants are within 2 miles of our house and my office, I cannot complain about living in Los Angeles.  It just wouldn’t be right.

When Milo and Olive first opened they offered “Super Cheesy Rye Biscuits” and I’ve been pining for them ever since . . . . they don’t appear much any more, if ever.  But Zoe has assured me that the recipe is in her forthcoming book.

So these little blue espresso cups and the TShirt reminded me of when I was a little girl hanging the ornaments on the tree while my parents’ records played in the background, specifically Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Cat Stevens.  And we had a little ornament that was a little bird’s nest, with a robin and her little blue eggs inside.  And the Joan Baez song “Diamonds and Rust” describing, apparently, Bob Dylan’s eyes as being “bluer than Robin’s Eggs” would play over and over.

In the song, Baez recounts a surprise call from an old lover, which sends her 10 years back in time, to a “crummy” hotel in Greenwich Village; she remembers giving him a pair of cuff-links, and summarizes that memories bring “diamonds and rust.” Baez is on record stating that the lyrics refer to her relationship with Bob Dylan.

Well I’ll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that’s not unusual
It’s just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I’d known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall

As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin’s eggs
My poetry was lousy you said
Where are you calling from?
A booth in the midwest
Ten years ago
I bought you some cufflinks
You brought me something
We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust

Ah, music.  So I put a little Joan Baez radio on iTunes while I put together my experimental cheesy rye bread loaf.  It turned out pretty good, I must say, even if a little wet and dense.

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I basically used a gougere dough recipe because my sourdough starter wasn’t fully ready, and figured the eggs would help with leavening.  No recipe today, guys, gotta work on perfecting this one.

Happy Easter!

 

 

Deep Dish Easter

As you my loyal readers know I have been on somewhat of a history kick for inane and slightly off-beat foodstuffs lately.  I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t been able to eat any proper food (only softies) since my dental event, but I’m still on a roll.  Here is a very traditional Easter dessert recipe that I adapted slightly to utilize way less sugar and yet it still turned out delicious.  It is homey, rich, creamy and it smells awesome while baking.  It’s called Pastiera Napoletana.

The Pastiera is a tart always eaten at Easter time in Naples, Italy.  It is made from a very special and centuries-old recipe which has two particular ingredients which make it unique:  moisture taken from the orange tree blossom and cooke wheat berries.  Also used in the recipe are ricotta cheese, candied fruit peel and classic short pastry. I added a few dates and molasses, as well as a hearty ladle-full of Fig Sue  . . . just because.  Making this tart does not require any great ability, just a little time and patience.  And a springform pan!

The Pastiera is tied to early pagan springtime festivals and the modern version was probably invented in a peaceful and secret Neapolitan convent, Sa Gregorio Armeno. Apparently an unknown nun wanted that cake, which had come to be a symbol of the Resurrection to have the perfume of the flowers of the orange trees which grew in the conent’s gardens.  She mixed a handful of wheat to the ricotta cheese & eggs, and added water which had the fragrance of the flowers of springtime.  The nuns of this convent were considered to be genus in the complex preparation of the Pastiera and used to prepare a great quantity for the neighborhood families during Easter time.

Every good Neapolitan housewife considers herself to be the one and only authentic baker with the best recipe for the Pastiera.  There are two different ways of preparing the Pastiera:  the oldest one mixes the ricotta cheese to the eggs, the most recent and innovative one recommence to mix thick pastry cream into the ricotta which makes the Pastiera softer.

The pastier must be cooked some days in advance of Easter, no later than Good Friday, in order to allow the fragrances to mix properly to elicit the unique citrusy-sweet taste.

I adapted my recipe from the wonderful Emiko Davies‘s recipe, who writes a weekly Italian column for Food52.  I did not use powdered sugar in the crust, and in place of sugar in the filling I added dates and a touch of molasses.

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted cold butter (I like to freeze mine)
2 cups flour
1 whole egg, plus one yolk
Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbps sugar

Ingredients for the filling:

10 ounces (280 grams) of cooked wheat berries or about 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of uncooked wheat berries
1 cup cream or milk
2 tablespoons butter
12 ounces fresh ricotta
6 fresh medjool dates, soaked for a couple of minutes in warm water

1 Tbps molasses
2 whole eggs, plus two yolks
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
2 oz. candied citron, finely chopped

2 oz. candied lemon peel, finely chopped

Make the Dough:

1.  Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl (I used a food processor this time, but with the dough blade; often I just mix by hand with a fork and knife). Chop the cold butter into small pieces and pulse together in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and lemon zest and knead just until the mixture comes together. If you find it a bit dry, add some cold water, a tablespoon at a time until it forms a dough; if it’s too wet, add a bit of flour. Cover in plastic wrap and rest at least 30 minutes or overnight.

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Dough in the Food Processor. I froze the processor bowl and blade for 1/2 hour before mixing.

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Oops: got holes! But look at that unincorporated butter!! Yum!

I didn’t have enough dough because . . . well I didn’t really measure (I’m terrible this way!) so I made a little more for the lattice:

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Made Some Extra Pie Dough

 Make the filling:

1.  Place the cooked wheat berries in a saucepan over medium heat with the butter, milk and lemon zest. Bring to a boil gently, stirring occasionaly until it becomes very thick and creamy like oatmeal, about 15 minutes. Let cool until needed.

2.  In a blender, food processor or mixer, beat the eggs and extra yolks with the ricotta, dates, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon and orange blossom water until creamy. Leave this mixture to rest several hours (better if overnight) in the fridge. Fold the cooled wheat berry cream and the rested ricotta mixture together with the finely chopped candied citron.

3.  Roll out about two thirds of the pastry and place in a 10 inch greased springform tin. Cut off any overhang and add to the remaining pastry, roll out again and with a pastry crimper wheel, cut long strips about ¾ an inch wide. Fill the pastry base with the ricotta mixture and even out the borders of the pastry to the level of the mixture. Lay the long pastry strips gently across the top to form a a criss-cross diamond pattern, pressing the strips on the edge of the pastry very gently. If desired, you can brush the lattice gently with some egg wash to make it shiny.

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The Pastiera Filled with the Wheat Berry Cream

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Latticed!

4.  Bake the pastiera for 1 hour at 390ºF (200ºC) until the pastry is golden and the pastiera is amber-brown on top. Allow to cool completely inside the springform pan before removing or chilling. Ideally serve the pastiera the next day (remove it from the fridge at least 30 minutes before eating to take away some of the chill). Store any leftovers in the fridge.

I Wish I Could Import Smells into my Media Library!!!

I Wish I Could Import Smells into my Media Library!!!

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This Sucker Is Heavy