Cookery Bookshelf

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies anneliesz

How is a tradition made? I’m inclined to think the plain response is repetition. But look for the underlying root cause and you’ll find desire–that holds something of intrinsic interest. Is it desire for gobbling sugar-laden rounds, crispy or chewy at a yearly cookie swap? Perhaps. But, peek beneath that layer of parchment paper and the desire goes well beyond unsalted butter creamed into brown sugar and granulated white. If we cook to nourish, we bake to share.

Growing up, Christmas cookies didn’t factor into our holiday experience. My mom regularly kept keen tabs on the sugar supply entering our house. Once, while visiting family in Mexico, my eyes bugged out of my head seeing the elaborate platters of cookies baked simply for service when guests visited. Can you imagine keeping a cookie inventory with the expectation of people regularly visiting? More often, cookies around here get frozen, packed up and toted to work or washed down with a sip of tea. But, once a year, for the past few, we congregate to share cookies with friends who have brought their own batch to dispatch to a new home.

This year, I contemplated making this year’s get-together the final hurrah in a string of past year cookie parties. I thought I had baked my last Christmas cookie until the day of the party when I pulled down the new cookbooks I had been waiting to put to good use and which I’m going to highlight below. What I had failed to see as I considered cutting the cookie swap ties is what I actually love about cookie parties. Each person brings cookies that reflect their personality, whether they’re nuanced and complex, simple and straightforward, or adventurous. This year’s batch was no less interesting.

Pierre Herme chocolate sables sidled up to chocolate peanut butter buckeyes. Linzer cookies with cranberry orange jam sat near Mexican pfeffernusse. Saffron snickerdoodles and sandwich cookies cut in animal shapes slicked with tomato jam set up shop near double chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate fudge punctuated by white chocolate chips kept company with chocolate hazelnut thumbprint cookies with hot fudge. The array of cookies distributed on the platters reflected the interesting assemblage of characters in our house. Each person’s individuality positively impacted the party and the wild collection of cookies served as a visual depiction.

Snickerdoodles - Cookie Love

“Any Which Way But You Will Never Lose” Snickerdoodles

from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy

When my friend Kate’s newest cookbook came out in April, I pre-ordered it even though I knew I wouldn’t use it until December. I’ve visited Mindy’s HotChocolate in Chicago and toted home a bag of one of her hot chocolate blends to keep the sweetness going strong. What I liked right off the mark with Cookie Love is how cookie plates play a regular role at HotChocolate.  The book is organized like a cookie plate–even the table of contents resembles a tic-tac-toe grid of cookie types. Segal says, “Like serving a cookie plate, making cookies is a generous act.” (p. 4) Her cookie plates focus on providing cookies of different textures, flavors, and colors, offering a cookie type for each kind of eater. Two methods for shortbread yield fun and aesthetically pleasing sandy crisps of Leopard Print Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Shortbread with Hot Fudge (p. 61). Best Friends cookies (p. 119) marry coffee and malted milk hot fudge. In her tough love front matter section, Segal implores you to “Embrace the extras.” (p.4) She puts her methods where her mouth is giving multiple ways that extras can be used up. The photography is inventive and sometimes whimsical much like the cookie-maker herself, evidenced in cookies like the Black Sabbath (p. 85), a deep dark chocolate sandwich cookie with frosty peppermint filling and that pays homage to Segal’s appreciation for heavy metal. Next up on the cookie-baking front: quite possibly the Peanut Butter Thumbprints with Strawberry Lambic Jam (p. 145). But, for the Cookie Swap, I made the Snickerdoodles. Rolled in cinnamon sugar, the flavor is all familiar but the cookie clincher can be easily summed up as two kinds of salt–one to round out the sweetness and the other, a bit of crunch. It just so happened that Kate brought Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints dented with gooey hot fudge, a variation of Hot Fudge Thumbprints (p. 147) that another party-goer exulted over when the second layer of cookies made an appearance.

Chocolate Wafer Cookies - Gluten Free Wishlist

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

from Gluten-Free Wishlist by Jeanne Sauvage

I met Jeanne in person only this year during a brief trip to Seattle. She kindly let me prep for a cooking demo in her kitchen and after every last ingredient had been measured and bagged, we sat down for tea and she offered me cookies from a batch she was testing. That cookie! Chewy in the middle, crisp around the edges and deeply doused in chocolate, it left quite an impression. When she offered to pack up the batch for me to ferry away to my hotel room, I happily accepted them. Every year at the Cookie Party, I bake a batch of gluten-free cookies. I knew that this year’s fete needed to include one of her cookies and she happily sent me a copy of her cookbook to check out and cook through. I love the premise behind Gluten-Free Wishlist creating a collection of recipes that include foods that have been missed when living gluten-free. As testament to that idea, one Cookie Party attendee decided to purchase a copy of the cookbook for his sister upon seeing the photo of Ramen Soup (p. 186) on the cover. Sauvage’s foundation in technique comes through in her precise instruction, including a six-page method for making Croissants (p. 147) with a variation for Chocolate Croissants. Using Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (p. 39), a blend that kicks off the book means the recipes  that follow it are straightforward with expert guidance of what to look for as you bake and cook. The morning of the Cookie Party, I was running a bit behind schedule and I say this primarily to highlight how easy the Chocolate Wafer Cookies (p. 196) were to make. If I’d had enough time, I would have converted those Chocolate Wafer Cookies into Jeanneos (p. 205), slathering their middles with frosting. And the same cookies would make a fabulous base crust for an icebox pie (hello, Peanut Butter Cream or Banana Cream Pie!). I’m eyeing the Soft Pretzels (p. 69) next and am intrigued by the Gluten-Free Master Sourdough (p. 87) though the recipe for Stroopwafels (p. 206) hits all the high notes for Dutch food taste memories of morsels my Dad would bring home from Henk’s Black Forest Bakery.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts - Gluten-Free Girl Everyday

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Gluten-Free Girl Everyday by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern

Over in Emeryville, there’s a tiny bakery that sells a screamingly good hazelnut chocolate chip cookie. For this year’s Cookie Party, I knew I wanted to bake two types of gluten-free cookies because I figured most of the cookies friends would bring would be glutenful and I knew three people attending are gluten-avoiders. I wanted their cookie options to be interesting, delicious, and safe. When Shauna James Ahern and Dan Ahern launched a kickstarter last November, I kicked in and was rewarded with a box of their gluten-free flour with a chocolate chip cookie recipe on the side of the box. I had a hunch that the ingredients were within reach and proceeded to mix them together. I discovered happily the suggestion to add chopped hazelnuts to the batter. Bingo! When these cookies hit the cooling rack, it was mighty hard to hold myself back from just eating one with chocolate melting as the cookie is torn in two. Aside from the cookie being a good gluten-free cookie, this was one good cookie. I spirited over to my cookbook shelf. Sure enough, inside Ahern’s James Beard award-winning cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, there on page 289, was the Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts recipe. Ahern and I worked together at a previous company. Her writing wins me over and her recipes are easy to navigate. Earlier this year, we earmarked several of their recipes while going through a Whole 30 nutrition reset. I’ve bookmarked others like the Edamame and Sweet Rice Salad with Salty Seeds (p. 151) for a quick weeknight meal or the Millet Fritters with Feta, Spinach, and Golden Raisins (p. 98).  I’ve made their Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, and Capers (p.103) which were light, crunchy, briny, creamy, and smoky. This cookbook leans on the more savory side and so do I.

Christmas Cookies- anneliesz

I believe in Christmas and the reason for the season. But, I also wish my friends Happy Hanukkah who celebrate that holiday and send Happy Holidays greetings to friends who exchange gifts without attachment. This is the first year I’ve caught a few sentiments thrown out declaring, “Happy Everything!” and I don’t know what that means. Let’s say that next year, the cookie party assembled under one theme, say chocolate chip cookies. I can guarantee that if there are 15 people in attendance, there will be 15 variations on the same chocolate chip cookie idea. And doesn’t that diversity make for a more interesting conversation?

It’s hard to celebrate the season singing Christmas carols or being merry and bright in light of recent events including the massacre in San Bernardino. The Los Angeles Times style of reporting short bursts of updates has satisfied my need to know and stay current, perhaps to my detriment as I scroll and refresh the page with frequency, gobbling information like aforementioned cookies. We are at the start of two holidays that are celebrations and in the back of my mind I think about employees gathered at an ordinary office Christmas party in Southern California, not knowing as they drank cider or punch that their lives were about to change. Perhaps they too ate cookies before the doors splayed open.

We gather together bringing who we are to the table. What we bring, who we are can vary differently from the person next to us, but isn’t that part of the beauty of a cookie swap? Your cookie will be different from my cookie and that makes it delicious in its own right. I can’t imagine requiring everyone to bring the same cookie made from the same recipe as the only way to party. Each cookie and each person who bakes them holds so much intrinsic worth. Sometimes, it is all we can do to come to a cookie party, toting a baker’s dozen to share with the stranger who looks nothing like us and who just might become a new friend. Sometimes, it is all we can do to spread cheer and be the change we wish to see in our world, in our living room, right here.

Cookery Bookshelf

Whole30 Meal Plan Menu & Book Review

Late one evening in a hotel room tucked into downtown Philadelphia, only two things were still awake: me and a growing desire to pull out a take-away tub of butterscotch pudding. Earlier that evening at Tallulah’s Daily, a dear foodie friend and his wife recommended trying something that would be life-changing after our feast had ended. Fast forward: it’s 2 a.m. and I am grinding the coal for that post-midnight oil to continue burning. I began toying with the idea of taking one drag of a spoonful through the thick, luscious pudding. We can guess how long that idea lasted as my love of puddings, custards, and such might be a tad legendary. He was right. My life was about to change. And, as you can imagine, I woke up with a sugar hangover. My normally spry self crawled out of bed unsure about tackling the day ahead that thankfully was devoid of any major events or needs to operate heavy machinery. I also began toying with another idea, one that had been planted at a book signing in Dallas earlier in May.

At a Steeped pop-up tea, one of the guests handed me her copy of Steeped and sucked on locally-brewed kombucha that I also enjoyed drinking. We talked about scobys and she spelled her name. Afterwards, she began talking to the other guests about how she was finishing up her second Whole30. I tend to be curious by nature and had heard this term only once before from a childhood friend. While it usually takes a person nine times to hear the same message before acting on it, according to the oracle known as Google, it only took me twice. I bought the book and relished the idea of a nutrition reset to try and right the wrongs of butterscotch pudding at 2 a.m. and the kinds of passes a person gives themselves when traveling for long stretches at a time. Past cleanses as prescribed by my previous naturopath helped provide context of what what Whole30 meals might look like in the focus of what foods to avoid.

Whole30 Book Cover

So, for this week’s summer reading list title, I submit to you the Whole30 by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Let’s dive into the meat of the book. Pardon the paleo pun. You can tell this book has gotten a lot of action over the years. Each page and section is so well thought out it’s as if they are reading my mind and wondering what I might be positing as a question next. I like the testimonials that begin each chapter almost as much as the conversational tone that can become quite specific in doling out tough love, which is to say I never knew so many people liked and would miss pancakes. The e-reader copy has thoughtful hyperlinks that take the inquisitive reader to what the authors promise they will address later in the book, as if understanding that the question needs to be dealt with before the reader can turn their attention back to what the author next wants to disseminate. Equal parts cheerleader – drill instructor – and cooking mentor, this book must be a beast in real life because it does so much. I deeply appreciate that the focus on cooking for self is underscored as a decision for health and includes cooking basics with enticing imagery as well as meal plans, and deep sections of recipes. If the Whole30 had been written 15 years ago, it would not have had the groundswell that it is achieving today. The program laid out in the book is  deeply rooted in online community and support available in the forum, social media, and free bi-weekly newsletters.

What interested me about undertaking the Whole30 is that it brings vegetables, proteins, fruits, and healthy fats to the forefront and the reintroduction period afterward gauges in a thoughtful way each person’s body’s response to food groups they’ve been avoiding for 30 days. I like that it’s not technically in my mind a diet (because let’s face it, the very word makes me want to hide in my hovel) but more a culinary challenge and I am usually ready to suit up for culinary challenges. I’m keen on listening to how my body responds and the idea of curbing my ever-present adversary, refined sugar back down to “occasional” size. Also, summertime is such a wonderful time to gorge on the gorgeous produce available at farmer’s markets.

So, I thought it would be fun to chronicle our weekly menus with the idea that they might give inspiration to others considering just such a reset. I am going to update this post throughout the month, so circle back if you are visiting after the first week. After conferring with my best friend who just finished her own Whole 30, she armed me with ideas for how to make meal planning manageable. I have also found my copy of my pal, Michelle Tam’s award-winning cookbook Nom Nom Paleo invaluable (especially with her printable PDF of Whole 30 recipes in her book- it’s genius). Hyperlinks and comments will abound though some things will be MacGyvered in my home kitchen and won’t have links to other recipes as I tend to cook off-road most of the time based on what’s in the cupboard and fridge (or what I’m particularly craving). I’m not a dietitian. I am not a nutritionist. I’m a curious home cook who is planning to mine the heck out of the spice cabinet (hello, tea spices!) and herb garden during the next month. I procure spices from local spicery Oaktown Spice Shop– most of their blends do not have sugar in them, but when in doubt, I ask. Let’s get busy cooking, shall we?


Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu


Stovetop Frittata with Banana
This is my favorite frittata and one I developed for my last Cooking Matters class for parents. It’s chock full of veggies and flavor.

Tuna spinach salad with homemade ras el hanout mayo
The ras el hanout spice blend bumps up the flavor of my homemade olive oil mayo.

Nom Nom Paleo’s Slow-Roasted Kailua Pork (p. 234, NNP Cookbook) Cabbage Cups, Roasted Carrots and Beets
This was a satisfying meal. The pork is a perfect foil for sauce. Next up, making salsa to drizzle over it. The cabbage worked well- they were sturdy and had lots of crunch. The beets are a show-stopper.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu

Scrambled Eggs with Avocado and Banana
I’m going to jazz up this combo in the future.

Kalua Pork Cabbage Cups and Roasted Root Vegetables with Salsa
The salsa turned this into something we would easily eat again and all of the elements make this an easily transportable lunch.

Nom Nom Paleo’s Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Pork (p. 159 NNP cookbook)
When Michelle says you might eat a second bowl of this delectable concoction, she’s not kidding. I would agree that this version of fried “rice” is better than what you might find at a Chinese restaurant. We will be making this again. Also, don’t substitute for the bacon, it adds a layer of flavor to the rice that would be missed.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu


Stovetop Frittata with Banana

Leftovers Salad – Pork simmered in salsa with root veggies and spinach

Nom Nom Paleo’s Fiona’s Green Chicken, Smashed Potatoes with Thyme and Spinach Salad with Creamy Ras el Hanout Dressing
The marinade really makes the chicken. I’ve determined this might be the perfect protein for potlucks or grilling at parties. It’s juicy and lively with flavors. Thanks to my friend Tara for the smashed potatoes recommendation, that duo worked well together. The leftover ras el hanout mayo (about 1 tablespoon) made it into a homemade salad dressing. I hate to waste food.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu


Stovetop Frittata with Watermelon

Leftovers Salad- Pork Simmered in Salsa with Root Veggies and Avocado with a Peach
At this point, I had reached my limit of pork, so we froze the rest of the shredded pork, which will make an appearance later this month.

Leftover Green Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Stir-Fried Kale and Strawberries
I love kale- the key is to let its savory flavor really come through. Here I sauteed it with coconut oil, shallots, garlic, salt, white pepper and unsweetened coconut flakes. I finished it off with a squirt of lime on top.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan_2227


Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach
I had saved half of the shallots and garlic already sauteed so I could include them at the end of the scramble. Coriander worked its magic with the kale here too.

Leftover Fiona’s Green Chicken with Smashed Potatoes & Greens

Bruschetta Turkey Burger, Roasted Cauliflower and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
My craving for bruschetta led to this dish. The turkey meat was seasoned with salt and pepper, but other than that, no fancy tricks here.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu_2232


Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach

Green Salad and Lemon Wedges at a Sushi Restaurant, Bruschetta Turkey Burger at Home, Banana with Almond Butter en route to the sushi restaurant
Whoever said to eat well before going to a sushi restaurant (Nom Nom Paleo) was right on. After reviewing the menu online and trying to call ahead to see if I could get steamed vegetables and a simply prepared piece of salmon, I discovered it was their day off and I needed to make provisions. So, noshing on the banana and almond butter on the way and an emergency date, coconut bar in my bag helped me know that the tiny green salad was not all I had for help when hunger assailed. The banana and nut butter really helped and I could curb the tide until I got home.

Lamb Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash and Watermelon
I make marinara from scratch often and had picked up ground lamb. My craving for mushrooms paired up nicely with the last stems of basil in the fridge so we went the Bolognese route for this dish. Usually I bastardize my Bolognese with carrots for sweetness and an earthy herb like thyme. Served over spaghetti squash, this has been one of my favorite meals thus far.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan


Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach

Leftover Spaghetti Squash with Lamb Bolognese

Against All Grain’s Crockpot Thai Beef Stew and Watermelon
We love Thai food. So, I looked for a recipe that could work while I worked. Enter this stew. You brown the meat and mix it with the sauce to simmer for 8 hours- perfect! I prepped all the veggies ahead of time and added them to the pot at the final hour of cooking. I got a big thumb’s up for dinner.


Whole 30 Recipes


Scrambled Eggs (with a few of the curried veggies snuck in) and strawberries
Any leftover bits of vegetables make a great addition to scrambles and omelettes.

Beef Burger Salad with Romesco at Mission Heirloom Café
This restaurant in Berkeley is paleo and offers several tasty options that are Whole 30 okay.

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Pistou, Beets and Flash-Fried Padron Peppers
I decided to play around with the idea of food art. The axiom goes that we eat with our eyes so if the food is pretty then we will find extra delight in it.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan
Day 9

Mushroom Thyme Scramble with Homemade Marinara and Peach Slices
Homemade marinara might be my new favorite way to sauce eggs apart from salsa Mexicana.

Leftover Thai Beef Curry

Sweet Potato with Wild Sockeye Salmon, Steamed Spinach, Pistou and Crispy Shallots
This was pretty easy to throw together and the texture and taste of the crispy shallots made the dish stand out.

Whole 30 Meal Plan

Day 10

Italian Flag Frittata (kale, mushroom frittata drizzled with marinara and pistou) and strawberries
Whoa. These two sauces side by side left quite an impressive punch of flavor.

Leftover Thai Beef Curry

Grilled Chicken, sautéed Swiss chard and grilled root vegetables
This dish was the outcome of my mother-in-law answering the question, “What can I make for my kids who are on the Whole 30. It was a good opportunity to talk about why we are setting aside 30 days to reset and listen to our bodies and the meal is something that can be a good stand-by if you’re trying to suggest foods to eat for a potential party / to a host. 

 Whole 30 Menu

Day 11

Swiss chard scramble with berries and nectarine chunks

Grilled chicken kebab with citrus-infused potatoes and cucumber, black olive, tomato salad

Artichoke Garlic sausage with kale, sweet potato, tomato, red pepper sauté
This might be my new “fast food” go-to. It’s a chop, saute, serve kind of situation that’s mighty tasty. Check the labels on the sausages. We used Aidell’s.

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 12

Zucchini scramble with leftover marinara and a peach
I steamed the zucchini chunks the night before so I would have something to add to my morning eggs. Good decision!

Shrimp salad doused in Crystal hot sauce with beets, lettuce, black olives and tomato slices.
I’m pretty convinced that Crystal hot sauce is a gift from above. It certainly made what would have been a boring Pier 39 salad into something with a bit more pizzazz.

Juicy brisket with melted onions, smashed potatoes and parsley beet salad
This was a revelation. You can take the girl out of Texas but somewhere deep down I will always have a soft spot for brisket. Also, the jus was oh so nice drizzled on the crunchy bits of the smashed potatoes.

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 13

Spinach omelette

Sweet potato with chopped brisket and a bowl of blueberries in coconut milk
This was my first flub- and as I look at breakfast, it was too. Breakfast should have included more fat- 1/4 or 1/2 an avocado sliced. Lunch should have had vegetables and much more protein than the scraggles of brisket pieces. Plus the bowl of blueberries and coconut milk felt like my first cheat even though they were both “okay” on the W30 list. Live and learn, right? I was hangry and frustrated the entire afternoon. I took a walk. I phoned a friend. I moved on and will plan better.

Leftover brisket with beets and spinach avocado salad dressed with leftover pistou

 Whole 30 Recipes

Day 14

Tomato omelette with avocado and blueberries

Leftover brisket with steamed cauliflower and broccoli

Chicken with melted onions and bell pepper atop steamed butternut squash and roasted Brussels sprouts
This chicken is something I have been making for a while. It is a kind of comfort food and thigh meat just has more flavor and juiciness. Also, I know butternut squash and Brussels sprouts are technically “not in season” but variety is the spice of life and I’m okay with painting outside the seasonal lines occasionally.

Week 3

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 15

Tomato Omelette with a nectarine

Leftover chicken with butternut squash spinach salad and avocado

Cabbage sauté with sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and peppers

Whole 30 Menu Mealplan

Day 16

Tomato Omelette with a nectarine

Leftover sausage cabbage sauté with a side of blueberries

Niman Ranch flank steak salad with grilled onions, avocado and tomatoes

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 17

Slept in- oops!

Salad bowl from Chipotle with chicken, fajita vegetables, pico de gallo and guacamole

My version of Salade Nicoise with a side of blueberries

Whole 30 Menu Mealplan

Day 18

Tomato, Green Bean Frittata with a banana

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Marinara and Meatballs

Adobo chicken with steamed potatoes and carrot avocado spinach salad

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 19

2 eggs sunny side up with avocado and tomato slices and a side of blueberries

Leftover Salade Nicoise

Leftover Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Marinara and Meatballs along with a side of watermelon

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plans

Day 20

Green Bean Egg Scramble with Blueberries

Leftover Sausage Cabbage Saute

Braised Beef with Onions,

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 21

Sausage Scramble with a Banana

Leftover Adobo Chicken with Spinach

Ground Beef Cabbage Cup Tacos with tomatoes, avocado and a side of cherries

Week 4

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 22

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Spiced Ground Beef Tacos in Cabbage Cups

Poached Fish with Aioli, Steamed Carrots and Sliced Fennel

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan

Day 23

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Spiced Ground Beef Tacos in Cabbage Cups

Tuna Cakes with Creamy Carrot Curls Tossed in Leftover Aioli

Whole 30 Menu

Day 24

Tomato Omelette

My version of Salade Nicoise

Shredded Pork with Carrots and Potatoes over Shredded Cabbage Slaw in Cilantro Dressing

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 25

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Shredded Pork with Carrots and Potatoes over Shredded Cabbage Slaw in Cilantro Dressing

Shredded Pork Green Curry

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 26

Tomato Basil Omelette

Leftover Shredded Pork Green Curry

Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 27

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Spiced Ground Beef Tacos with Mexican Gremolata in Cabbage Cups

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 28

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

My version of Paleo Chicken Schnitzel with Swiss Chard and Fingerling Potatoes

Whole 30 recipes

Day 29

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Salmon with Squash and Mushroom Garnish, Cabbage Slaw with Basil Dressing, and Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomatoes

Whole30 recipes

Day 30

Tomato Omelette

Leftover Chicken Schnitzel with Leftover Cabbage Slaw

Taco Salad with Spiced Ground Beef, Sunchokes, Avocado and two kinds of tomatoes (Early Girl and Cherokee Purple)

Cookery Bookshelf

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5373

First of all, it feels so good to be back blogging again. For the first time in two months, my kitchen has come out of lockdown. I’m back in Oakland and planning some delicious things for coming weeks.

Cookbooks make good traveling companions, don’t you think? With a pencil in hand, hours of entertainment are yours for the simple asking price of three to five pounds of extra weight in your carry-on or backpack. I used to travel with other peoples’ books until I started traveling with a full suitcase of my own. The best part about returning home from a book tour is returning home to Oakland to catch up with friends, and scrounge around in the cupboard and cobble together dinner with Nathan. Part of playing catch-up involves making tea dates or penciling in time to walk with friends. But recently, I played catch-up in a completely different way: taking two cookbooks written by Bay area friends on a road trip to Santa Ana. While Nathan drove and listened to AM sports talk radio, I dove into one book and then the next, pencil in hand. Each book showed the imagination of the person penning it. Now being on this side of the cookbook process, my respect has amplified at least a thousand fold for anyone who sets out to write a cookbook. For those of you prone to the idea of book babies and birthing a book, imagine a year or more of labor without an epidural. It’s quite a feat. I will never forget meeting up for lunch shortly after I’d begun working on Steeped full-time with my friend, Shauna Sever. She shared her experiences with levity, for which I will always be grateful.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5412

When a cookbook is written well, you can hear the voice of the writer leap off the page. Shauna knows the craft of telling a good story and has a distinct personality on the screen of her blog and also on the pages of her books. Her last cookbook, Pure Vanilla taught me all about different kinds of vanilla–don’t get me started on her recipe for Malted White Hot Chocolate. My relationship with all things malted borders on obsessive. Shauna’s new book, Real Sweet takes on the topic of baking with natural sweeteners. With her snappy sense of humor, she shows her extensive knowledge in a way that is approachable and leaves the reader feeling smarter. By the end of the book, I definitely felt smarter, ready to break out the coconut sugar or demerara. Shauna’s described as the next door baker and it’s really true. She is just the person you would want to have living next door, sharing sugar (turbinado!) and plates of oatmeal cookies (Mrs. Braun’s!). I figured who better to demystify the flavor possibilities of natural sweeteners than Mrs. Next Door Baker herself.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5413

The book is arranged into seven sections that take on different kinds of baking situations and focus on a particular natural sweetener. All-day snacks and lunch box treats star the femme fatale, coconut sugar, while the picnics and potlucks section explores turbinado, the hero. My cupboard happens to possess almost all of the sweeteners mentioned in the book, so naturally, I began dog earing pages for later consumption–ahem, research. Rhubarb and Rose ice cream with agave nectar? Say no more. Chocolate Chip and Cherry Date Cake sounds great. Oatmeal and Turbinado Cream Cookie Sandwiches might make it on the menu before the month is out. I’m open to opportunities to whisk, spoon and be the Friday afternoon heroine, showing up at a certain Oakland office building with baked goodies. Could it be yours? Maybe.

On this occasion I had visions of cupcakes dancing in my head to celebrate the victory of our hometown Oakland Golden State Warriors win during game 3 of the NBA play-offs. And, I wanted to pillage my pantry rather than go to the grocery store. I flipped open Real Sweet and landed on the Maple Chocolate Cake. Cocoa powder? Check. Greek yogurt? Check. Maple syrup? Check. Yes. As I finished scanning the ingredient list, my cupcake delivery plan started coming together.

Matcha Chocolate Cake-anneliesz_5404

What I like about this cake is it’s not too sweet but it has great bounce. I poked a few dark chocolate chips into one of the cupcakes and wouldn’t you know, it tasted amazing. But here’s the thing with friendship: you bring who you are to the table and they bring who they are. So, I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn I had to find a way to sneak tea into these black beauties. And, let me just tell you. Dusting the maple chocolate cupcakes with matcha powdered sugar might have been my second best decision of the day. Because good decision number one is sharing with you a book from a person who is as real and sweet as her book title suggests.

PS- If you’re in the Bay area, Shauna is going to be talking about natural sweeteners and signing books on Saturday, June 11 at 3 over at Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5370

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Maple Chocolate Cake printed with permission from Real Sweet by Shauna Sever

 This cake is used in a wickedly good recipe in Real Sweet: the Black and White Pancake Cake (see above photo of the open pages of the cookbook. Just imagine thin layers of chocolate cake sandwiched by cream and drizzled with ganache—need I say more?) But if you want to whip up some Friday afternoon cupcakes with a slight kick of caffeine, matcha dusting is a must. The chocolate and maple goodness are the right foil for the grassiness of the matcha green tea sugar. You can go easy does it and sift a fine sprinkling of the matcha powdered sugar on top of the cupcakes or go for a full-on green blizzard. The choice is yours. Tip: If you have leftover matcha powdered sugar, store it in a sealed container in a cool spot. Sift it over homemade donuts or whisk up a hot cup of pre-sweetened matcha by sprinkling 1 teaspoon into 4 ounces of hot 170F water and whisking until combined. Add 8 ounces warmed milk or hot water and sip.

YIELD: Makes 1 ½ dozen cupcakes, two 9-inch cake layers, or one 9×13-inch sheet cake



1 ½ cups (192 grams) unbleached AP flour, spooned and leveled

¾ cup (72 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (336 grams) pure maple syrup (dark or very dark preferred)

1 cup (242 grams) 2% Greek yogurt

2 large eggs

¼ cup (57 grams) grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract



1 teaspoon culinary grade matcha green tea

¼ cup powdered sugar

To make the maple chocolate cake:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch rectangular baking pan or two 9-inch round pans (and line them with parchment paper), or line 18 wells of two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, yogurt, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Using a whisk, energetically blend the batter by hand until smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Spread the batter into the prepared pan or pans. (For cupcakes, fill the cups no more than two-thirds full—you should get 18 cupcakes).

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched, 20 minutes for cupcakes, or 30 to 35 minutes for sheet and layer cakes. Cool completely in the pan or pans on a wire rack before inverting and frosting.


To make the matcha powdered sugar: sift together the matcha and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Spoon a small amount of the matcha sugar into the sifter and dust the cupcakes as much as you like. Add more matcha sugar to the sifter as needed.

Cookery Bookshelf

Tea and Cookies: Cookbooks to Use for a Christmas Cookie Exchange at Teatime

A few years ago, I decided that what the holidays really needed was another party. I can’t remember if this was prompted by the desire to see people congregate under mistletoe or just eat, drink, and be merry, but we will go with the latter response. Happily what started out as a small food blogger cookie swap has continued for several years and looped in friends outside of the blogosphere too. This Christmas cookie exchange lets me try new cookie recipes to discover the right mix of flavors and options for an enticing collection. I have further amended the cookie swap, hosting it at teatime and dubbing it as Tea & Cookies. Who wouldn’t enjoy a spot of afternoon tea with their sweets, right? For this year’s cookie swap I focused on test driving new 2014 cookbooks and am sharing my findings. Include your favorite cookie and recipe link if you have it, in the comments section.


Chocolate Teff Brownies - Flavor Flours

Chocolate Teff Brownies from Flavor Flours
Tea Pairing: Mandarin Rose Petal Black Tea from ML Tea

When I heard Alice Medrich was penning a book on baking with whole grain flours from the perspective of flavor first, I became intrigued. My friend, Irvin and I cemented our friendship years ago on this very topic of thinking of flours as a flavor base upon which to build in baking. Teff works marvelously well with chocolate and is naturally gluten-free. How many people think of teff is griddled into injera flatbread used to scoop up delectable Ethiopian food. Teff flour is darkly hued and works so very well with 70% chocolate. What I liked about Flavor Flours is that each of the flours used also is naturally gluten-free, even if Medrich is leading with flavor first, making the entire book gluten-free. I’ve gotten to work with her before and she is meticulous about recipe testing. Her brownies are already a favorite of mine and these teff brownies were popular at the cookie swap. Plan on cutting small squares—they are quite rich. Friends with birthdays coming up can expect me to bake Chocolate Chestnut Souffle Cake (p. 206), Yogurt Tart (p. 110), and Buckwheat Cake with Rose Apples (p. 172), though I’m keeping an eye on these Buckwheat Linzer Cookies too. I’m quite convinced that roses and chocolate are meant to be along with other dynamic duos like basil and tomato or strawberry and vanilla. Mandarin Rose consists of a smooth black tea tinged with a floral high note of rose petals.


Norah's Lemon Lemon Cookies - Isa Does It

Norah’s Lemon Lemon Cookies from Isa Does It
Tea Pairing: Prince Wladimir from Kuzmi Tea 

Winter time in California means citrus in as many shades as you can imagine. I was given Isa Does It as a gift and let me tell you that it paid off in a friendship with a neighbor who saw it in my window and decided she liked the inhabitants of our apartment before meeting us. That is a win. These cookies are vegan and use coconut oil in two very interesting ways: the oil is used in the cookie batter and then again in the lemon glaze. Because I had a pomelo, I substituted it for the lemons called for in the recipe. I also had just picked up some citrus chef’s essences from Afterlier and was jonesing to try them out. So, a dash of bergamot oil and two dashes of blood orange oil later, I had morphed Norah’s Lemon Lemon Cookies into Citrus Cookies. They are screaming good and offer a chewiness with a bit of crunch in the glaze. Cookbook notables in Isa Does It iclude the Tofu Butchery section which shows the myriad ways to process a cube of tofu into edible bites. Dishes I’m looking forward to cooking up include Sunflower Mac (p.116), Sesame Slaw (p. 58), and Tamale Shepherd’s Pie (p. 231). Prince Wladimir tea reminds me a bit of an Earl Grey with sass. It has a bit of a smooth profile with a bit of vanilla playing off the citrus notes. It pairs perfectly with the Citrus cookies.

Sarah Bernhardt Cakes - A Kitchen in France

Sarah Bernhardt Cakes from A Kitchen in France
Tea Pairing: Breakfast Blend Tea from Fortnum & Mason

I sped read my way through this gorgeous book one evening after it appeared in my mailbox. A day later and I learned it was a gift—the best possible kind of gift. I had already marked these little Sarah Bernhardt Cakes as being ideal for a cookie swap given how unique they would be in contrast to more expected cookies. Mimi Thorisson writes in A Kitchen in France that she received this recipe from her Icelandic mother-in-law and serves them with coffee. The base of the cake is akin to a macaron cap, mine even developed feet (that little ridge that crops up around the edges of macaron caps). The caps are then frozen while the mocha frosting is made, which is then smeared on the caps. Lastly they are dipped in melted chocolate. Though they have a few steps involved, these cakes are not hard to make but are quite fancy. They are the kind of sweets for which you pull out the good porcelain dishes. A Kitchen in France is smattered with lush photography and seasonal menus. Other recipes I’m itching to make include her Mont Blanc (p. 281), Chestnut Velouté (p. 248), Roast Chicken with Herbs and Crème Fraîche (p.46), and Happy Valley Wonton Soup (p. 291) from a Chinese New Year section in this French cookbook—look for her Tea Eggs recipe (p.293) there too. The multicultural feel of this book won me over. Thorisson grew up in Hong Kong and describes visiting her French grandmother and learning from her too. It reminded me of my own multicultural roots and the ways that each of us brings all that is woven into our cultural DNA onto the table. These rich little mocha cakes pair well with a stout breakfast blend tea to cut some of the sweetness. This tea stands up well to the cookies.


…The One That Got Away

Buttered Popcorn Rice Crispy Treats from Joy the Baker: Homemade Decadence
Tea Pairing: Korean Sejak Green Tea from DAVIDsTEA

Because an entire table lined with chocolate chocked cookies might set my heart aflutter, but perhaps not appeal to those that don’t have a card in chocoholics-are-us, I had selected this Buttered Popcorn Rice Crispy Treat recipe for its fun flavorful approach to the well-known sticky, chewy sweet. My copy of Homemade Decadence sat on our kitchen table with such promise, decked out with the ingredients required as indication of how easy it would be to pop, melt and mix. As things go with party-hosting, I ran out of time before the cookie swap started to whip up a batch.  This lapse in time judgment will work well for our next movie night–can you imagine anything better for movie-watching that combines sweet and salty? I’m a regular reader of Joy the Baker partly because Joy Wilson has a way of writing that makes baking fun and approachable, much like Joy herself. So, now the real question is to ask,  what movie we should watch when it’s time to turn out these treats.

Art Art Bookshelf Cookery Bookshelf

Cooking with Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe cookbook

After a brief summer hiatus, I’m back, and so is the fog. We had actually been experiencing summer-like temperatures in San Francisco, which is completely unexpected and requires copious amounts of cold confections to withstand the 80 degree heat. My Texas self would shake its head in shame…

In our last exploration, we dug our heels into the Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George exhibit at the DeYoung museum this spring. I hope I did an adequate job conveying what an important role that museum visit played in forming questions for me about the process of art as well as seeing her own style change. As I exited the exhibit, I happened upon a small book in the gift shop and had to work hard to contain my glee as I held A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe by Margaret Wood. I clutched my new treasure and pedaled home quickly to plumb its depths. Little did I know then that O’Keeffe prized good food and did due diligence to seek out nourishing recipes!

The cookbook features a foreword from local Bay Area vegetarian chef and powerhouse, Deborah Madison of the restaurant, Greens, in Fort Mason, and author of Vegetable Literacy as well as my marked up favorite, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (I have the original printing of this now updated cookbook). Her description of the book is right on when she says, “No dish is encumbered with complicated embellishments; there are no intricate layerings of flavors and textures.” (p. x) This insight perplexed me a bit because when I think of O’Keeffe’s artwork, all I can envision are intricate layers, though no embellishments. Does her artistry reside solely on the canvas? The recipes enclosed in this book are brief in method and ingredients. I read the book in two days, annotating along the way.

Madison quotes biodynamic gardener, Alan Chadwick:”The cooking has been done for you in the garden; it’s merely finished in the kitchen.” (p x)  This really gets to the heart of A Painter’s Kitchen. O’Keeffe kept a ranch garden from which most of her meals derived since the alternative for fresh fruits and vegetables was 70 miles away. Margaret Wood describes meeting O’Keeffe and beginning to cook for her when she was 24 years old and O’Keeffe was 90. Her stories and details about O’Keeffe in the headnotes are the real reason to pick up your own copy of A Painter’s Kitchen. From it, I learned that Georgia O’Keeffe occasionally slept on her roof under the stars. What a way to dream! Woven throughout the headnotes are snippets of her practical wisdom, such as this comment from a dinner she held with two visiting poets: “It’s easy to talk about what you’re going to do- you can talk yourself right through without really doing anything.” (p. 44) This was not the first time poetry was mentioned in the cookbook, as Wood remarked on O’Keeffe’s appreciation for Chinese poetry.

The food being served from O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch kitchen focused on healthy ingredients, and centered on vegetables from her garden, organic grains and meats. I smiled visibly when I read that O’Keeffe made her own bread using a small mill to grind her own flour, while the housekeeper canned and preserved foods. Her approach to scratch cooking and concern over food sourcing parallels contemporary cooking in my neck of the woods and home (although I play the role of cook and housekeeper).Wood describes O’Keeffe’s style of eating as “simple food… with fresh and pure ingredients.” (p xxi) That neighbors would bring her food gifts of wild asparagus because it delighted her reminded me of why I appreciate her art and compositions.

You can tell from reading the cookbook that this experience working with and for O’Keeffe left an indelible mark on Margaret Wood- the kind you want to share with others. The glimpse she provides to other fans of O’Keeffe’s artwork is one that is intimate, as if inviting us to join them at the table. This cookbook lives with my others but I like to keep the cover faced out, so that when I am cooking, if I happen to glance in the direction of my cookbook collection, Georgia O’Keeffe is smiling out.


Cookery Bookshelf

Cookbooks to Help You Reach New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. Perhaps that stems from what starts one year as possibility and by year-end equals failure. I, however, do not fall into the camp that recycled resolutions denote some sort of inadequacy on the part of the goal-maker. Instead, I choose to consider that perhaps the lesson of that particular goal has not completed what it needs to, knowing some things take much longer to learn, even in our instant satisfaction society. So, this year, let a cookbook (or cookbook author) help you get one step closer to completing your goals. Selecting one tome to take you into a New Year sounds like a tradition I can get behind (and have selected the Bi-Rite Eat Good Food cookbook as the one feeding us this January).


RESOLUTION: Eat Clean Foods.  

Written by the witty (and fun!) Michelle Tam with illustrations and photos by husband Henry Fong, “Nom Nom Paleo” is a book not just for the paleo population but all people.  Its real food recipes make weeknight assembly a cinch with fun comic book graphics and cheeky commentary along the way. Their real food approach (and her admission in what may seem a shockingly short Dessert section to being a sugar fiend), all point to why their blog of the same name is ridiculously popular. Make a batch of their Bone Broth (p. 105) for its healing properties when you’re feeling under the weather or bake up some Mushroom Chips (p. 75) when you get the urge for something crunchy. Their Coconut Pineapple “Rice” (p. 157), made of cauliflower is a great way to get more veggies into a meal and Fiona’s Green Chicken (p. 193) might just need to be what gets fired up once it’s grilling season.

Duck Duck Goose cookbook

RESOLUTION: Eat Less Meat, but Better Quality Meat.

If you’re anything like the Mister and I, we tend to be highly skeptical of factory-raised protein. The conditions, life span, antibiotics and potential GMO feed animals are fed is enough to make me want to go vegetarian full-time. In steps hunter and angler Hank Shaw to shed light on the possibilities of preparation of wild and domesticated waterfowl in “Duck, Duck, Goose.” This comprehensive guide gives technique and mouthwatering recipes help pave the way for novices to waterfowl. Hank is a cook with serious street credentials and I trust his insights and instruction. His website is called Honest Food and his foraging escapades for mushrooms are legendary (at least in my own mind). That he tries to find ways to use the whole bird is an important detail. Make a dinner of Duck Jagerschnitzel (p. 75) perfect for cold winter evenings or Italian Duck Meatballs (p. 100) for a familiar dish to entice picky eaters. Along those lines, the Confit of Duck with Pasta and Lemon (p. 149) or Duck Egg Pasta (p. 214) would also be easy entrees into waterfowl foods. To change things up a bit in the summer, make his Duck Fat Pie Dough (p. 208) paired with your favorite stone fruit. I’m partial to his Tea-Smoked Duck (p. 92) and think it might be the perfect dish for a Valentine’s Day feast.

Homemade with Love cookbook

RESOLUTION: Why Buy When You Can DIY – Stock Your Larder from Scratch.

If you still haven’t jumped onto the DIY larder locomotive train, there’s no time to start like the present. Would that we could all have a teacher as encouraging and full of heart like Jennifer Perillo. In her book “Homemade with Love,” she sets out to share her scratch cooking secrets to make you a DIY pro. Back when the food poet was a fledgling, she taught me how to make ricotta from scratch. If you’ve never had an interest in stocking your own pantry with housemade goods, you might be missing out on an incredibly empowering opportunity. You too can learn to make Homemade Ricotta (p. 32) – once you lick a spoonful of lush warm ricotta or smear a spoonful on toast with a smidge of marmalade, you’ll never want to buy the store-bought stuff. Instead of buying boxed vegetable stock, make Homemade Vegetable Bouillon (p. 24) to keep on hand and that will also help save money. Jennifer has a tradition in her house of pizza night and she teaches you how to make Homemade Pizza Dough (p. 127) so you can start your own tradition. Perhaps you’ve never made pie? Her Foolproof Pie Crust recipe (p. 178) is sure to set you on firm footing.

Tartine Book No 3 review

RESOLUTION: Eat More Whole Grains.

I’ve been a woman obsessed since at least 2009 with whole grains and even see the word “groats” easily assemble from bananagrams tiles. Whole grains (and by whole, “intact”) have their enthusiasts and absolvers. I fall into the first group and fan the fire of my geekery with growing appreciation of other ways to use them in food. Enter “Tartine Book No 3,” by Chad Robertson, the book that kept me company as I nursed a cold on my birthday. Chad shares his journeys around the world as he continues to deepen his understanding of how cultures incorporate whole grains into their food while sharing his master recipes for baking them into breads and pastries. It’s no secret I’m smitten with his Oat Porridge loaf (or the Rye Porridge loaf or…). Slicing a hunk of these crusty breads with a custard-like crumb made me the bread fan (and budding baker) that I am today. I owe a lot to those loaves. This is a seminal book and I expect it to make out with a Best Picture nod at the food equivalent of such accolades this year. He shows you his master recipe for making the starter and then variations using exotic grains like his Purple Barley Amazake loaf (p. 146) or Sprouted Emmer with Maple & Beer (p. 134). My beloved Porridge loaves are in there too (Oat, p. 178, and Rye, p. 172). I would consider strongly starting a Cook through the Book kind of challenge with others interested in this book (is that you?), but be advised this is a cookbook not for the faint of kitchen. Let the record also show that Chad also shot all of the photos in this book and they are beauties. Get your naturally leavened whole grain bread baking on.

(Bonus: For whole grain breakfasts, go with Megan Gordon’s “Whole Grain Mornings” or if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, pick up a box of her Marge Granola. I’m smitten with the Cacao Nib variety.)

the fresh 20 cookbook review

RESOLUTION: Make a Weekly Menu / Cook at Home More / Save Money.

Sometimes brilliant ideas are in plain sight. Melissa Lanz makes eating real food regularly easy in her book, “The Fresh 20.” Giving the reader 20 ingredients from which to build meals and menus, an economy of ingredients and resources. Melissa’s husband, Trent photographed the book’s bright colorful recipes. Broken up by season, this is an instructive book for knowing what produce is available when. Each section includes menus and a shopping list (which I wish could have been tear-out; good thing for the smart phone camera) to take with you when perusing the aisles at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. With recipes that are easy to prepare, she sets you up for cooking at home success. At our house, to simplify the weekly menu, we’ve implemented Taco Tuesdays and will be making the Greek-Style Lamb Tacos (p. 23) soon. If you’re trying to kick the fast food habit, try making her Fresh 20 Turkey Burgers with Carrot Slaw (p. 91) or swap out the take-out burrito for easy Fish Tacos (p. 108) or Chicken Tamale Spoon Bread (p. 179).


RESOLUTION: Go Gluten-Free.

What is it? Burritos? Beer? Pasta? Pizza? You’ve removed gluten from your diet and feel good. Really good. But, there is something that keeps bringing you back to gluten, in spite of the headaches or brain fog or itchy rash. I’m not a proponent of giving up gluten for weight loss or as a trend. In fact, nothing gets under my skin more. But, I’ve got history to show that for some people breaking up with gluten is the best thing they have done to take back their health and feel well again. In fact, many of my good friends are gluten-free because it makes them feel glorious! If you happen to be that person, “Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” is the book for you. Shauna Ahern’s love of life and of good food comes across in a book filled with stories and recipes that remove the gluten, focusing on enticing ingredients that make delectable dishes. Recipes like Chicken Teriyaki with Kale and Sweet Potato (p. 128) make for an easy replacement to questionable (is there gluten in that sauce?) take-out. Are you a sucker for soul food? Her Gluten-Free Biscuits and Sausage Gravy (p. 58) may help you stop singing the blues. Perhaps you bake and find gluten-free baking perplexing. Stir up her All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix (p. 31) and you’re on your way to making Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread (easy to make!, p. 48) or Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns (p. 242). Dog-eared pages in our book include Peanut Butter and Jam Bars (p. 304) and our favorite, Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Capers (p. 103). Working through this cookbook is like having a friend talking you through the recipes and helping make living gluten-free easier.

eat drink and weigh less review

RESOLUTION: Lose weight.

You knew this resolution couldn’t escape the list, right? Given the obesity epidemic in the U.S., I don’t know why it’s shameful to admit to wanting to lose weight, but somehow, this is the resolution that gets paraded around as the one to avoid, the one that is so cliché. If you happen to be someone (like me) who recycles this resolution with unerring regularity, can you pull up a chair? Instead of attempting some fad diet that is going to be more destructive than helpful, perhaps it’s time to consider a different path? In “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less,” one of my favorite cookbook authors, Mollie Katzen teams up with Walter Willett, M.D., head of Harvard University’s department of nutrition to explore how to eat for the long haul and not just quick results. If you’ve ever attempted recipes from Mollie’s seminal book, “The Moosewood Cookbook” or even her new book, “Heart of the Plate,” you know she advocates for fresh ingredients that don’t skimp on flavor. Here, she assembles recipes along with a meal plan (to get you started) that includes wine, dark chocolate and favorites like Broiled Eggplant Parmesan (p. 216). Coupled with Dr. Willett’s nutrition expertise, this is a book for foodies looking to whittle their waists without turning to bland food.

Cookery Bookshelf

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

Melt The Art of Macaroni and Cheese Cookbook Cover_IMG_6574

When Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti first started working on their cookbook, “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese,” I leapt at the opportunity to test some of their recipes knowing this would be a fun kitchen exercise that would also double as a bowl of creamy decadence my cheese-loving husband could sink his fork into.  So, we set out to build a cheese sauce for that evening’s mac and cheese making notes throughout the preparation and tasting notes after dinner. 

Fast forward many months later to Seattle and the International Food Blogger Conference where Garrett held the cookbook in his hands as a small group of us chatted out in the hall about writing and skipped one of the blogging sessions. As I flipped through the book, I couldn’t wait for my own copy to arrive as I had already begun conspiring about a mac and cheese filled fall menu… in between the properly green and fiberful foods that would offset this foray into sheer indulgence. When the brown paper package arrived from Helen at Little & Brown, I had to stop myself from tearing it open, such was my enthusiasm for a book that would be henceforth dubbed in our house as the book of consolation also known as a slippery slope. It’s a bit of a game we have contrived where every bad statement turns into an uplifting answer. It goes like this:

“What, you had a bad day? Let me make you a bowl of Raclette with Farfalle, Cornichons and Sauteed Onions.” (p.93)

“I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday. How can I make it up to you?” The look exchanged says, “Nicasio Square and Spinach-Pasta Mini-Cocottes.” (p. 131)

“Someone stole the car? Oh, no. I know what will make you feel better. Yodeling Goat with Golden Beets and Orecchiete.” (p. 40)

“You vacuumed the whole house, did three loads of laundry and scrubbed down the bathroom on a Tuesday night. You deserve a bowl of “Humboldt Fog with Grilled Peaches and Orzo.” (p. 29)

Do you see how handy this book might be? It gives me the leverage that Tyrion could never quite achieve over Cersei in “Game of Thrones.” It also might just win me wife of the year as if there is a sash or medal waiting in the wings because I know my hubby’s achilles heel and cheese, you are it. It gives me a secret weapon for guests who don’t believe in the power of a bowl of mac and cheese to loosen the tongue.

For too long, macaroni and cheese has been synonymous with a blue box. Stiavetti and McCord help the reader make the shift. As Michael Ruhlman deftly cites in the foreword, “This cheap dinner in a box epitomizes the travesty of America’s processed-food industry and the damage it has wrought on the people who rely on it and on our land. This book is a personal reminder to me to appreciate real food.” The cookbook talks about so many nuances of cheese-making and cheese culture in the United States. I particularly enjoyed the profile of one of my favorite Northern California food companies, Redwood Hill Farm.

Steph Stiavetti Garrett McCord_IMG_6523

This book has been well named because it really does take into account the artistry of the cheese makers as well as pushing the limits of what constitutes a mac and cheese.  You can tell quickly that these two know the names of their cheesemongers and give the kind of respect to artisan cheese usually reserved for the cheese board into the heavy bottomed pot of al dente pasta. At the Oakland launch party of the cookbook this past weekend, we tried the Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel and Rotini salad (p 32) and found this pairing of macaroni and cheese light and refreshing. On the opposite end of the spectrum with bold, bright flavors, I spooned into the Lincolnshire Poacher with Cotija, Chorizo and Penne (p 114). After such dramatically different mac and cheese expressions, we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into more mac and cheese. The problem consisted of where to start… So we bought Cabot Clothbound Cheddar at the Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop in Oakland in case we wanted to start out with what I’m lovingly calling Guacamole Mac and Cheese (Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime and Shell Pasta) and picked up several hunks of Lamb Chopper cheese in case we decided upon making the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts and Macaroni. Decisions, decisions.

Guacamole Mac and Cheese_Melt Cookbook_IMG_6568

In the end, it might have been how the avocados almost sighed beneath my gentle squeeze that tipped the scale in favor of the Cheddar with Avocado and Lime Mac and Cheese. Spooned into small bowls, our late afternoon lunch reminded us of Sunday as the day to toss your cares aside. It tasted like a revelation with the creaminess and flavor of the avocado still detectable even as the tangy cheese shone through. I’d say we made a good choice. On Halloween, we are planning to make the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins and after what we have tasted this far, I think the guests at our small fete will be infinitely happier with cheese than sweets. Even my sweet tooth can’t complain.

Cookery Bookshelf

True Food Kitchen Cookbook by Dr. Andrew Weil

True Food Kitchen Cookbook by Dr. Andrew Weil, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner

THE SKINNY: If you’re looking for a cookbook with a focus on whole foods, eating seasonally and an anti-inflammatory approach to eating, check out True Food Kitchen cookbook, and expect higher grocery bills.

true food kitchen dr andy weil quote true food kitchen santa monicasalmon farmers market salad true food kitchen santa monicaDining as Phenomenon
If you’re lucky enough to live in Santa Monica (or Denver or Phoenix), you might already know about the dining phenomenon that is True Food Kitchen. Phenomenon might feel like a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s exactly the right word. Let’s talk supply and demand. The cookbook states that Kale Salad is their most ordered menu item, which affects supply. They cite being partly responsible for kale’s popularity in the U.S. and because of the demand, more farmers are growing kale to keep up with their orders. It’s interesting to take a macro perspective on a single ingredient, isn’t it? Yet what makes True Food Kitchen, the restaurant, a phenomenon is what Sam Fox mentioned of “people eating here three, four, five nights a week (p.5).” To snare that kind of loyalty and frequency is unheard of at a singular restaurant.

Clean Eaters Anonymous
My interest in the True Food Kitchen cookbook springs from my keen delight in dining at the restaurant. And this is where I started my cookbook journey with True Food Kitchen. It certainly helps to read Dr. Andy Weil’s sidenote that his “own cooking evolved toward simpler dishes with bold flavors” (p. 2), something I share. Executive chef Michael Stebner described their approach of having “an almost fanatical respect for the quality of ingredients and the integrity of traditional, simple dishes (p. 4).”  He, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner all take turns sharing anecdotes and recipes throughout the cookbook. One detail I particularly appreciate is that each section features one or two articles told through the lens of defining terms, like “True Whole Grains” on page 21 looking at whole grains and intact whole grains or addressing food and health cooking implications like “Avoiding Sugar, Fat, and Salt Crutches” on page 30.

Proximity to a True Food Kitchen restaurant necessitates a visit and in this case, cajoling the rental car driver to join me in a sumptuous feast of cold-pressed juice and sustainable seafood. Eating clean foods while traveling is a developed skill and outright necessity, albeit often challenging. Recently, while attending Expo West, I relished the idea of a meal at True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach and bided my time. Two personal goals seemed within reach while at the food show: empty my water bottle each day and get a daily ration of kale to undo the damage done by the “all natural” foods at Expo. True Food Kitchen helped me achieve one of those goals.

umami burger true food kitchenThe evening we drove to Newport Beach, certain menu items leapt out, familiar from cooking through the cookbook. I selected the Umami Burger, intrigued by the inclusion of bison meat. Sides of savory kale and sweet potato hash played to the earthy flavors of the burger. The umami sauce complemented parmesan, sautéed mushrooms and mellow bison meat. That same umami sauce slathered on brussels sprouts during a meal at home had practically caused felicitation.

Stebner comments about tailoring their menu to address a number of food avoidances and allergies, also remarking on sodium in restaurant food, “You have to be continually ready to discard an ingredient, or practice, that’s been central to your craft for decades when something better comes along (p. 32).”

true food kitchen newport beach quotable meryl streep
Why Be SAD?
In 2012, City Arts and Lectures in San Francisco hosted a conversation between Dr. Andy Weil and Mollie Katzen. Dr. Weil spoke a bit about his reinterpretation of the FDA My Plate / food pyramid configuring it into an anti-inflammation diet pyramid, “using the Mediterranean diet as a template.” (p. 47).” SAD (the standard American diet) is actually increasing inflammation through the foods most Americans regularly eat. Here, he made me think twice about foods we do eat often, and rethinking how they might exacerbate inflammation. In the darkened room, my pen attempted to scratch copious notes onto the pages of a red moleskine.  Luckily, much of what Weil discussed with Katzen was printed in the cookbook- things like the difference between intact whole grains and pulverized or the need to cook certain mushrooms to draw out their health benefits. I found their camaraderie charming and the conversation engaging, a perfect introduction to finally dive into the cookbook after the holiday mayhem subsided.

On the whole, my assessment of the cookbook is that even if you are not looking for recipes for healthier cuisine, you’ll find the flavors and textures of the recipes you create from True Food Kitchen to be enticing. I did find myself griping a few times as I turned its pages though. After reading the Avoiding Sugar, Fat, and Salt Crutches” article, it surprised me to see sugar as an ingredient in unexpected places like the Curried Cauliflower Soup on page 102 or the Salmon Kasu entrée on page 122. I also found that as much as I was taken in by eating on an anti-inflammatory diet, I questioned whether this would be sustainable long term monetarily or be within reach of people who don’t have high quality ingredient dispensable income. I abide by the idea that if you don’t pay for it in the grocery store, then you will at the doctor’s office, but when considering food deserts and access to real food, much of the beautiful food in this cookbook would be out of reach of most Americans.

Dr. Andy Weil describes the perplexing mindset of many Americans “that food that tastes good and food that promotes health are in opposition- it’s either/or, but it can’t be both/and (p. 6).” I would posit that at True Food Kitchen and via the cookbook they accomplish the goal of promoting good food that is good for you, accomplishing both/and, which is something worth extolling.

Cooking through the Book
So, now, let’s explore the cookbook a bit, shall we?

We varied the recipe, using the ingredient substitutions available like swapping in shaved Brussels sprouts for cabbage and adding in coconut oil and cilantro as well as Bella mushrooms. This would make a wonderful addition to a picnic or potluck.

quinoa tabbouleh true food kitchen cookbookQUINOA TABBOULEH (p. 85)
If you gauged the outcome of this recipe by its photograph in the cookbook, you might think something had gone terribly wrong. Either they used golden beets in the photo or your fuchsia version had made a misstep. Rest assured, this salad is quite filling with a lovely interplay between mint and marcona almonds, quinoa and beets. Make a batch on Sunday and you’ve got lunch for the week.

Don’t be fooled if you think every recipe in this cookbook is “healthy;” there’s a good chance you haven’t made it over to this chicken salad yet. Creamy with the right amount of lime, curry and sultanas, this is a balanced salad of savory and sweet flavors great smeared on toast or lettuce leaves.

This soup convinced me to make a big pot of soup once a week. The TFK approach, noted in several of their soup preparations consists of tossing veggies in a scant amount of oil and then roasting them together to create the base of the soup was genius. This soup’s bold personality resulted from roasted peppers, crunch of corn and mild sweetness of carrots and sweet potatoes.

Using the same fashion of oil tossing and then roasting as the soup above, this one is a keeper. Since I only had three apples available, I substituted in a pear and let me tell you it gave a floral quality to this soup that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Serve during a fall dinner party.

immunity soup true food kitchen cookbook

A nasty cold had struck the entire 7×7 of San Francisco late winter. Armed with my True Foods Kitchen cookbook, I took action and sought out astralagus root. It only took three store employees and two stores, but I located these herbs purported to have immune-boosting properties. We found the soup to be delicious in its own right, and will add more broccoli and carrots in future batches.

The cookbook photo and ingredients had me jazzed to try it, but after making it, somehow it felt lacking. I hadn’t been heavy-handed with the spices and we kept looking for ways to spruce it up.

I had high hopes for this Bolognese, but found, in the end, I prefer my own version of the classic sauce with carrots. The cooked shiitake mushrooms were distracting and chewy.

Enchiladas in our home are sacrosanct. The surprising crunch of jicama and corn in this version, paired with diced chicken, manchego and fresh salsa gave a healthier  hearty twist on a family favorite. This was a popular evening for dinner. Make extra fresh tomatillo salsa.

umami brussels sprouts true food kitchen quinoa tabbouleh

If you can get your hands on Brussels sprouts, make this tonight. This vegetable side dish comes together with a delectable umami sauce that complements the slightly charred sprouts. The method used to cook them is one I will employ again soon.

When making the Immunity Soup, you have to make the mushroom stock, a helpful exercise to show how easy it is to DIY. Make extra and freeze in an extra ice cube tray. Then store in a sealed container for when you need a bit of umami oomph.

chocolate pudding true food kitchen newport beach

Chocolate pudding fail. First, my batch that I made at home never set and ended up a thin soupy mess. Then, when at TFK in Newport Beach, I made a point to order it and see how it should have looked and tasted. I found it both times to surprise me as cloyingly sweet.

Still Up
The verdict on a cookbook is usually a measure of how I can’t keep myself from trying out more recipes after I’ve tested a few out to give the book a thorough review. True Food Kitchen has a few winners we will revisit and more recipes left to explore in my home kitchen like the Tomato-Braised Tuna (p. 136) or the Pistachio Dream (p. 213). Already, we made the Kale Salad this week, and though I found the version in the restaurant to be pepped up with more pepper, it almost takes me back to an evening with a friendly waitress handing us cards on the anti-inflammation diet and describing the philosophy of a restaurant that pulls me in with its colorful clean eating.

Cookery Bookshelf

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky


I weary of war.

I, an American, born in a town far from any war torn territories, weary of war. I don’t understand the need for dominion and the desire to wield power. As a non-land owner, I don’t understand the need to own land. But it doesn’t matter what I believe or understand. That desire and movement to possess and to own continues. My dominion of ownership extends shallowly to whether or not I’m going to serve polenta at dinner or need another book of poetry.

My world is so very different from those in the Middle East.

And yet, I believe in love. Love cures so many ills and evils, yet we regale it to a four letter word bound for the trite cliché likes of words like “nice” or “delicious”. We forget it is a verb and as such must work in the past, present and future to exercise the inevitable power latent when those four letters combine.

An Edible Mosaic- Juzmuz Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce

This may seem like an odd place to start a cookbook review of “An Edible Mosaic” by Faith Gorsky, but I can’t separate our cooking through a book of Syrian recipes without considering how much tragedy has befallen the country itself. We read articles, watch the tweets come and go and find ourselves comfortable. Fed. Safe.


It’s important to note that this cookbook and the recipes therein give me such hopefulness for the future. Again, perhaps an odd commendation to give a cookbook, but love plays a central figure in the collected recipes. Had it not been for love, Gorsky might not have met her Syrian husband and learning a cuisine from a culture so very different than her own. She might not have been self-charged with months of shadowing her mother-in-law in the kitchen, neither speaking the other’s language.

An Edible Mosaic- Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate and Rice with Toasted Vermicelli

So, I would posit that this is an important book, not only for the pleasure the recipes will bring to recipients, but because it brings Syria into the home. It makes those headlines closer as I wonder if someone else ate Maqluba (upside down rice casserole) tonight too and in that small act of eating a specific dish, I am connected with someone in Syria. In the act of cutting the onions and lopping off the cauliflower florets or slicing the potatoes, I am reminded of the violence that sweeps across that country. This leads me to keep Syrians in my prayers even as I welcome their food to my table. It makes me want for them to know peace.

And shouldn’t all people come to know peace?

An Edible Mosaic- Beet Salad with Tahini Dressing

When I consider intercultural communication classes and the role culture plays in food, it makes me curious to know if Syrians are bold like their spice combinations (nine-spice, anyone?) or pithy and bright like the accents of lemon and yogurt in much of the cuisine. It makes me think they are rich in the love they lavish upon friends and family like the tahini that makes a common appearance in sauces.

An Edible Mosaic- Falafel

I could yammer on about how much we enjoyed the recipes in this cookbook and believe me when I say, every meal was a feast of flavor, texture and complementary contrasts. I could tell you how my falafel looked more like fritters bursting with garlicky goodness or how a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over the sesame sauce made those falafel something revelatory. I could tell you about the evening we made the Meat and Vegetable Casserole and my husband helped himself to thirds, something as rare as catching a jackalope in the Texas wilds. I could let you in on the secret that is sprinkling salt over eggplant slices to extract their moisture before pan-frying them into a simple addition to a maza (appetizer platter).

An Edible Mosaic- Scrambled Eggs with Meat and Onion

But somehow using all those words in that way might feel like a cheat. Instead, I will tell you that combining the spices to make the Nine-Spice Mix slowed me down to smell the cumin, the coriander, and ginger, letting me get a feel for how they might play nice with each other. It made me wonder how countries fighting internally and fighting neighboring countries might find a way to play nice. And just as the flavor of a nine spice mix is complex, so too is the pathway for the Middle East. But I wonder if somehow food, the table, a meal could be the place where peace starts. Where all the so very different ingredients work together to make a dish that makes me want to swoon like the Fish Pilaf.  And really, that Fish Pilaf doesn’t come easily. But some of the best things in life are not easily won, right?

An Edible Mosaic- Fish Pilaf

Cookery Bookshelf

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

A fledgling cookbook with this much heart, I would say you might be hard pressed to find. That is a very broad and ridiculously pointed statement, but wherever you look in Herbivoracious, you find author Michael Natkin. Almost each recipe is accompanied by a photo, 115  in total, styled and shot by Natkin. The recipes span a variety of cultures taking the reader through Southeast Asia and all the way to the Middle East and the United States. Is it bad to call a cookbook ambitious? And yet, that is what a reader finds upon cracking open “Herbivoracious.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Natkin earlier this year when he hosted a cookbook release party in North Beach. That conscientiousness I found in his head notes and notes peppered throughout the book also was evident as he finished preparations for that evening’s party. Being early gave me the singular opportunity of unadulterated observation. As the doorbell rang and familiar faces began filling the room, I knew I would be in for a good evening. The long range had been laid out with accouterments for the appetizer demo Natkin deftly undertook as he began sautéing grapes for his Chevre with Sauteed Grapes (pg 46).

A few ooh’s and ah’s  escaped the group at this unusual preparation which further intrigued me when he tossed them into a bed of parsley leaves. Here, parsley played a central role and gave endless ideas of swapping them in for future salads, in place of greens. The piquant notes of the parsley and the just warmed red grapes mingled well with the tang of goat cheese and savory accent of chives. Yes, indeed, the evening would be glorious.  And so it was.

For the next course, the oven door was flung open. Up, out of the oven Natkin heaved a heavy and absurdly large casserole dish within which we caught a quick sight of bubbling cheese and the faint aroma of tarragon. A square of the Stuffed and Baked Polenta (p. 235) certainly sufficed but had me licking the tines of my fork, long after my plate had emptied.  As the evening wrapped up, I tucked a copy of Herbivoracious into my bag with grand plans to tackle it with gusto.

Natkin takes his time making the case for clever cuisine that is meatless. He opens the book sharing his story of becoming vegetarian. The intimate look at learning to cook vegetarian while his mom battled breast cancer and then later, keeping it up after she passed away definitely pulled at the corners of my eyes. He goes into great depth in a section earmarked for ingredients and then later considering the cooking equipment to welcome into a well-apportioned kitchen. Aside from these introductory sections, Natkin dives straight into the recipes, letting his descriptive head notes provide personal commentary and suggestions.

When I get a cookbook, my process for reading it is akin to working my way through a book of poetry. First comes the straight read-through, jotting annotations in the margins or marking recipes I want to take my time getting to know through taste, touch and smell. Given this method, the variety of recipes gave me a lot of ground to cover. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to ask from cooking through the book: did I miss the meat? Did those dining with me miss it? With those questions in mind, we set off to get our fingers dirty.

Recipes for Aspiring HerbivoresBaked-Stuffed-PolentaA few weekends ago, my cousin Samson, flew out for a long weekend to celebrate his birthday. I asked him to give me an idea of what he would like fixed for his birthday meal, to which he replied, “something you don’t usually cook that’s special.” I pulled out “Herbivoracious” and turned to page 235, deciding to make a batch of the Baked Stuffed Polenta I had enjoyed at the food blogger dinner, with him. Let it be known that this carnivore went back for seconds and perhaps snuck in a bit the next day too. What makes this recipe a winner is how much food it makes up, great for leftovers to last throughout the week or to serve to a large party.


Another day, we whipped up a batch of the Loaded Otsu Noodles (p. 169) before heading out to the DeYoung to see their Modernism exhibit of Paley paintings. Think of this recipe as a riff on the typical Asian Noodle Salad in Peanut Dressing, where this one uses a base of tahini instead and the tender texture of sautéed eggplant contrasts the crunchy cucumber well. I recommend nixing the iceberg lettuce, as I attempted to incorporate it into the consumption by making lettuce cups, trying to make it more than decorational.


Reminiscent of a memorable salad in North Beach, the Grilled Treviso Radicchio brought together several of the tastes into one- bitter radicchio, charred and the better for it with a slight sweetness from the balsamic and saltiness from the parmesan. I fully intend to revisit this recipe again as it makes a satisfying counterpoint to a typical salad.



San Francisco “summers” can be unexpectedly chilly, and as such we took on the spicy flavors of the Red Curry Delicata Squash (p. 191) and Caramel-Cooked Tofu (p. 189) the same evening. This meant revising the red curry dish by omitting the tofu that’s called for and bumping up the broccoli. I have a soft spot for Delicata Squash and found that this preparation did not overpower the unique flavor of the squash. Usually, you expect curry to be creamy, but Natkin’s treatment calls for the vegetables to be sautéed in the curry paste giving a much more concentrated flavor. The Caramel-Cooked Tofu was a real delight with its crisped edges and the complexity of the sauce. The green onions added to a distinctive take on tofu.


Usually, I tend to stick with savory recipes, but found my jaw slack upon reading the headline for a Stout Chocolate Malt (p. 298), looking forward to an evening that would require such a suspension of reality. That evening came, and sure enough, I found the malt to be in proper proportion of ingredients, giving a slightly boozy take on a chocolate malt that really made it exceptional.

Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, I considered which dishes might make a welcome appearance at our table. The Roasted Beets and Cipollini Onions (p. 259) makes the most of two vegetables that sweeten when roasted and drizzled with balsamic. Another side dish that could be an interesting addition is the Apio- Lemony Celery Root (p. 257) with its characteristic celery flavor spiked with citrus. But, take note that after Thanksgiving comes and goes, when the Fall deepens into Winter, I plan to serve the Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew (p. 205). This comfort food is meant for those cold evenings when a chill creeps up your spine. The secret combination that makes this dish shine are the additions of paprika and sherry vinegar. Be on the lookout for the Stew recipe to be posted here soon.

Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew

“Herbivoracious” lives up to its name. Here is a cookbook for herbivores and those aspiring to add more meatless mains and sides into their menus. Here is a cookbook from the voracious appetite for culture, curiosity and clever approaches to common ingredients. Here, Michael Natkin has outdone himself with a delicious debut.

Cookery Bookshelf

The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry


If you think of what inspires you, perhaps a person comes to mind.  Maybe, you envision a painting, the lyrics of a poem or a dynamic speech that stir you to action.

What Bryant Terry uses as the catalyst for his incredibly interesting cookbook “The Inspired Vegan” are people who have made a difference in their community and the role of places that have left their inspiring marks upon him. This includes everyone from his parents to Detroit community activists Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, from New Orleans to Hong Kong.

This cookbook is described as an impromptu “jazz jam session” and is not far from the mark. Each chapter encompasses one single, thoughtful meal. He begins the chapter telling a story and engaging the reader to become part of the source of inspiration through cooking what comes next. Terry composes well-crafted menus with the skill of an artist bringing all the dishes and flavors into harmony.

To cook through this book, I considered how it would behoove me to actually cook an entire menu at once. In the spirit of brief moments logged at home during the past month and the ensuing airplane miles, I found myself taking an a la carte approach, while still appreciating all the components invested into his menus.  The book is broken up into three sections: Basics, Interlude and Menus.

In the Basics section, he offers simple preparations and techniques to amplify the flavors in everyday cooking such as making your own vegetable stock, oven-roasting your own tomatoes or quick-pickling mustard greens. He then later cross-references how to use these preparations in recipes that appear later on in the menu section.

If this was a musical album, Interlude would reveal the B side songs you’re about to encounter, listed as bites, salads, side dishes, main dishes, sweets and drinks. The simple categorization helps the cookbook reader use Interlude as a resource from which to easily assemble their own meal or pick and choose the components, if they don’t delve into an entire menu.

Menus run from spring to winter, highlighting fresh and seasonal ingredients available. The menus bring a playful artistic sensibility to the concoction of drinks intended to play off the mains, sides and sweets. I, for one, appreciate his clever drink suggestions that are not always alcoholic but created to complement the menu. You’ll find a spicy tea or limeade along with his version of a Bloody Mary.

Instead of wine pairings accompanying each recipe, he suggests a song, film or book. It’s a clever trope intended to expand the story started early on in the chapter, as if setting the table and knowing that meals shared together are the gathering places for ideas and the nourishment of community.

I met Bryant Terry in an elevator earlier this year. He had just finished being a panelist in a chat on “The Intersection of Great Food, Good Health, and Social Justice.” I appreciated a comment he made about the importance to draw up leadership from the community itself, believing that is essential to long term change. It’s hard to not yammer on about the need for kids to get in the kitchen early or the right for low-income neighborhoods to have access to fresh foods and not just boxed offerings, but after we sufficiently chatted about such topics off we went in our separate directions with some similar goals. Special thanks go out to Da Capo Publishers for sending a review copy my way.

Since I’d gotten a taste for his food justice passion, I knew I needed to check out his style of cooking – a plant-based approach to empower in good health and good flavor. “The Inspired Vegan” does seek to inspire understanding that “the food revolution will find its spark in home kitchens.” (p. xvii)

Cooking through the Book in Our Kitchen


I’m usually good in abiding by the seasonal mode of eating, but I broke one of the rules out of an incessant need to sample a spring menu item in late summer.  Let me tell you, the Aromatic Asparagus and Sweet Potato Curry with Cilantro, on page 67 was worth the in season rule-fudging. This “South Asian Supper” menu item featured the mellow sweetness of melted sweet potatoes paired with al dente asparagus in a curried coconut milk sauce. Think of this curry as more of a riff on an Indian curry than Thai. We looked forward to leftovers with much gusto.


One weekend, we poked into the “Fete before Fast” menu dedicated to New Orleans and soaked red beans on a Saturday night to make the Red Beans with Thick Gravy and Roasted Garlic on page 181, the next day. Here’s a perfect example of Terry at work as he makes his “thick gravy” by pulsing some of the red beans with the roasted garlic. What results, is a pot of red beans that are so soft, they win me over to actually liking kidney beans. This recipe is easy to prepare for the week ahead and makes a fine hot breakfast served over rice or the beginnings of a simple dinner.


His Savory Grits with Sauteed Broad Beans, Roasted Fennel and Thyme from the “Grits. Greens. Molasses.” menu on page 45, might have been my least favorite of the recipes we tried as it seemed a little flat in flavor. I intend to try this recipe again when favas are in season, since he suggests going fresh or frozen and I used dried. I would happily use his grits technique anytime. In a move akin to the kidney beans’ roasted garlic addition above, Terry adds cashew cream to the grits making them rich, supple and entirely unforgettable.


In keeping with the “South Asian Supper” menu theme, but on a different night, I prepared the Yellow Basmati Rice, (p. 71) and the Saag Tofu (p. 69). Stay tuned later this week for Terry’s Saag Tofu recipe. I’m of the mind that it might make a believer out of the harshest tofu critic. Instead of using paneer, the cheese for which Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer is originally named, this recipe introduces a zesty flavor in slow-roasted tofu cubes. Served over bright yellow rice, made vibrant by spicing it with turmeric, you’ve got one winning South Asian at-home meal better than take-out.


One cold summer evening in San Francisco, we dipped into the “Winter in Hong Kong” menu finding the 2 Rice Congee with Steamed Spinach on page 164 a welcome evening meal. If you’ve never had rice porridge before, it’s a cinch to put together provided you’ve got time. A bowl of this congee warmed us right up in spite of the bank of fog lodged outside our house. We took Terry up on his suggestion to serve the Congee  with Quick-Pickled Mustard Greens on page 19 and the Tofu with Peanuts Roasted in Chili Oil on page 166. The acidic greens complemented the roasted peanuts and slightly spicy tofu cubes, lending a nice kick of flavor to the rice porridge.

This winter, I long to try out the recipe for the Wet Jollof Rice with Carrots, Cabbage, and Parsley-Garlic Paste on page 94 and intend to make a big pot of Roasted Winter Vegetable Jambalaya on page 179 when our late summer turns back to fog. Also, while the cookbook notes Vegan in the title, it does not require that a person adhere to the vegan lifestyle to enjoy it. Greater emphasis for health reasons, environmental and accessibility quandaries are all reasons for folks to consider incorporating more vegetables and legumes into their everyday diets.

And Terry certainly makes a plant-based diet inviting and exotic. His use of spices denotes a love of culture and people and in concocting recipes and meals that hearken their place, shares their story. I have a hunch that you might find new sources of inspiration within the pages of “The Inspired Vegan.”


Cookery Bookshelf

Reading Corner: August

Very soon, you will see a few changes afoot in these parts. I trust you will find them worthwhile and winsome almost as much as I am chomping at the bit to see them in their full technicolor glory. In the meantime, I thought it might behoove me to tell you what’s coming up and what’s keeping my eyes occupied in my veritable reading corner. Think of it as a travel agent handing over a proposed itinerary to places you have yet to visit. And the best part is we get to visit together.

So what are you reading right now? 

Reading Corner- August

“Constance” by Jane Kenyon

I would be lying if I said that reading this book of poetry didn’t elicit the response of promptly ordering copies of all Kenyon’s other books. I am completely late to the party, having first read Kenyon’s husband, Donald Hall’s book of poetry, “Without” first. A friend at a local bookstore discovered that Greywolf is no longer publishing her individual books. Upon perusing a different used bookstore, I found a thick “Collected” tome. This of course led to my fingers scavenging amazon for used copies in good condition. You can imagine the elation I am experiencing as each book makes its way to me from around the country. A book review of “Constance” will be forthcoming.

“The Inspired Vegan” by Bryant Terry

You might be wondering, “Annelies, are you vegan?” To this, I would respond a very coy, “not exactly.” And yet, over the years the cookbooks that I began amassing in my home collection regularly included stalwart vegan or vegetarian titles. I blame it on “Candle 79” in New York or “Brenda’s Kitchen” in Minneapolis. We don’t really eat all that much meat around here for the sheer reasons of economics (good meat without hormones or antibiotics is expensive and thus in its way, a treat) and  for health. So, there’s that. I became intrigued to cook my way through “The Inspired Vegan” after meeting Bryant Terry in an elevator at Blogher Food. I found in our brief conversation, we share similar passions of access to clean foods in low income neighborhoods and a desire to show that healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult to prepare or have to sacrifice flavor. Clearly, from tonight’s repast of his Red Beans with Thick Gravy and Roasted Garlic spooned over rice, we are eating well. I’ll keep you posted on how my Cook the Book exploration goes.

“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

While I would say I’m on a diet of poetry often enough, there is also a splash of fiction thrown in for good flavor. The clever start of two key characters stories in “Elegance” hooked me enough to see what will happen next. That it is set in Paris adds to its appeal. That it follows the stellar “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss is only somewhat lamentable as I am still a part of the world created therein and the last pages of that incredibly memorable book. “But, Annelies,” you ask, “you don’t review fiction books.” And this is true, reader. Which is why in my somewhat Type A need for organization and order, I started a book review blog with two friends. Think of it as our attempt to have Book Club in a space germane to London, Denver and San Francisco time. If you’re curious, check out our Literary Locus book review blog with each of us posting what we’ve read lately along with a short write-up and notes on our favorite city bookstores. It keeps us in touch in a language that transcends the colloquial.

What you read is what you’re thinking about and in a way, who you are.