roast pork loin garlic rosemary

Rosemary roast pork loin

29 April 2016

Dining at my house is family food, family style, no matter who is eating. Heaps of food, piles of plates, and everyone grabs what they like and sits where they wish. If I thought of having people over as a Dinner Party I’d probably scare myself out of it, because it would imply things I never do, like set the table nicely or use my wedding china. It’s casual here, feeding family, and friends as family.

I don’t get worked up for holiday meals (again, too much pressure) so it was just a happy surprise that our Easter meal this year was actually pretty, holiday-ish and guest-worthy. Because in truth I just picked the easiest main dish I could think of for our party of 20: two giant roast pork loins, rubbed with garlic and fresh rosemary from my yard.

Pork loin is ideal company food. You need at least a small crowd to cook a roast, so just having one is special. A roast takes very little prep – a quick pat of aromatics – and cooks in the oven without fuss. It’s not expensive, unlike beef tenderloin, and doesn’t call for tying like its beef counterpart.

There’s hardly any work with pork loin. You could trim off some excess fat. But you’ll want to keep a layer on to keep the meat moist as it cooks. Once it’s done, it slices as easily as a loaf of bread. read on…

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I’m just back from New York City for the kids’ spring break, and it was like gulping at the spring of life for a few glorious days – food food and food, miles of walking, brisk clear springtime and long-missed friends. My soul is refilled.

I don’t know if it’s the travel home or just the allergy season, but we’re a little sniffly-sneezy this week. At the end our trip I had a spicy, steaming cup of ginger, lemon, honey and mint tea (really a tisane if you want to get technical, since there was no actual tea in it), and after a week of NY pizza, bagels and pastrami sandwiches, the fresh citrus and ginger rushed in like a tingly immune boost.

I’ve made many fresh herbal tisanes with mint, lemongrass or lemon verbena when I’ve grown them. Fresh ginger tea has always been a favorite of mine, and I often make a hot lemon-honey drink for sore throats. But I love the idea of putting lemon, ginger, mint and honey all together in a warm wellness cocktail.

Fresh lemon juice has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, as well as a load of vitamin C. Ginger and mint are excellent for digestion, and ginger has additional anti-inflammatory agents. Even honey is more than empty sweetener – it brings a wealth of antioxidant, antibacterial and probiotic properties as well.

This ain’t no powdered vitamin drink. Absorption is always better from real food, and nature’s food has compounds that are not quantified by percentage numbers on a nutrition label.

Plus it’s a treat to drink. And a toasty beverage always mellows me out. read on…

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Ghetto guacamole

31 March 2016

You might think that with four kids in the house I’d actually plan what’s for dinner. But more often that not, I have no idea what we’re eating until, toward the end of the day, I turn my attention to cooking it.

I’m a planner in many areas of my life, but cooking isn’t one of them. More often than not, meals bubble out from a pot of variables, such as what we have on hand, what we’ve eaten recently, what the weather’s like, what my mood is, and how much time I have.

My uncomplicated approach keeping my family fed healthfully and economically is this: 1) buy good ingredients and 2) make sure they get consumed. 

The foundation of it all is making sure I have good ingredients. I buy food that we like, that looks fresh, that we haven’t eaten in a while. How it gets cooked is a later choice – the same vegetable can be roasted or sauteed, added to soup or pasta or salad. Protein can be stir fried, braised, grilled or stuffed into tacos.

I know if I have fresh, perishable food in the house, my compulsive frugality will ensure it gets consumed. I’m constitutionally unable to let good food go to waste.

So the routines of my week revolve around ingredient sourcing. Sunday mornings I hit the farmers market to buy fruit and vegetables. Tuesdays I pick up a weekly delivery of fresh-caught local fish. Thursdays I pick up our regular CSS fruit box. We get what we get, and we go from there.

Winter is a not a great time for local fruit, even in California, but I continue my subscription year-round to keep our local delivery site viable. The last couple of months I’ve been getting two avocados a week in with my citrus and apples, and after gorging on avocado toast, I finally got around to making guacamole. read on…

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You know you’re more American than Chinese when you’ve succumbed to the cheerfully sweet, garlicky appeal of those fried nuggets of chicken lacquered in shiny amber sauce sold in Chinese-American eateries around the country under names like “General Tso’s” or “sesame.” Hard then to resist this smart, simple recipe for “mall chicken” from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes, which is a wholesome version of this food court favorite, without the frying or the MSG.

This sweet-sour dish isn’t authentic Chinese food, of course, but a strong element of sweet is integral to many authentic Asian favorites, from Japanese teriyaki to Korean barbecue to Thai sweet chili sauce.

In the way you would never find American-style spaghetti with meatballs in Italy, you would not find this specific chicken in China. But there are dishes, like a twice-cooked pork that my mom makes, that feature a sweet-tart sauce not dissimilar to this, though more as a light glaze than a spoonable sauce.

And that is what is so great about this first cookbook effort from the people who produce quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach (Peter Meehan, formerly of the New York Times and David Chang of the Momofuku restaurant group; “lucky peach” being the translation of the Japanese momofuku). The cookbook bills itself as “100% inauthentic,” but the recipes are mostly grounded in real Asian traditions. They’ve eliminated the frying – a messy reality of authentic Chinese cooking – and simplified preparations for Asian dishes with current appeal. read on…

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I know, I know, it’s boring of me to feature two roasted vegetables in a row, both cruciferous, from the same cookbook. But California cuisine guru Travis Lett has a genius for both roasting and vegetables, and if I don’t etch this into my virtual memory now, it may be long gone from my actual memory by the time next cauliflower season rolls around.

Lett writes that this warm roasted cauliflower, dressed with garlic, parsley, crushed red pepper and vinegar, is one of the most popular dishes at his farm-fresh, cool-kids eatery, as well as one of the easiest to make. The intersection of great and easy is where I want to live. And while we have our cast iron skillets handy from the brussels sprouts, we might as well have a go at cauliflower.

I promise after this I’m moving on. Strawberries are back at the farmers market here, and I’m feeling spring. read on…

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brussels sprouts bacon dates

Brussels sprouts Gjelina

25 February 2016

Brussels sprouts may sound like a curious substitute for birthday cake, but today’s veggie delight will be appreciated by my lovely pal Anne in Venice, California, who lives down the coast from the Santa Monica pier and down the street from Gjelina, the restaurant that in a few short years has exploded from neighborhood eatery to bright beacon of fresh, rustic California cool.

Eight years ago, self-taught chef Travis Lett opened Gjelina as a local hangout in the run-down beach town of Venice, which was slowly gaining traction in its Brooklynesque transformation from Los Angeles hood to hipster scene. Lett makes food you could and would want to eat daily – grilled pizzas and vegetables from his wood-fired oven, satisfying salads, house-made charcuterie – and in those early years, Gjelina’s cozy patio was a regular stop for Anne, who lived nearby and worked from home.

I had lunch at Gjelina with Anne and friends on a girls weekend years ago, and every time I’ve read about it since, I remember being in sunny Venice, going through the industrial-rustic room, out to the weathered brick and wood patio, eating the most pristine, flavorful food, and feeling so, so LA.

Most restaurant cookbooks are too involved for my simple tastes and lazy kitchen skills, but the Gjelina cookbook, released last fall, is Ottolenghi-like in its veggie seduction. It’s California food, modern yet classic, healthful and farm-fresh.

I’m not hawking the book, just giving you a taste of California eats. This bacon-enhanced recipe shares flavors with my brussels sprouts salad, but Lett’s cast-iron-skillet approach does an impressive job mimicking the wood-fired oven roasting he employs at the restaurant. The sweetness from dates makes all the difference, balancing the smoky bacon and bright splash of vinegar. read on…

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