Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prep Work

What do you do to prepare for an out of town trip? One thing I have to do, is cook!

My weekly box came right on schedule, but we won't be home to eat it.Here's what my kitchen looked like:

Time to get busy! Here's the sauce for a vegetable stew. It used an onion, which was slightly caramelized, along with some broth I had in the freezer, parsley and other herbs.

Here's the stew waiting for it's crusty topping and thirty minutes in the oven. This took care of the asparagus, fennel, garlic, mushrooms, another onion, and more parsley. I had lots of parsley.

This is what it looked like when it came out of the oven:

That's dinner tonight, with a nice Zinfandel. Perfect for the cold, rainy day we had!

But that didn't take care of everything. No, there were still veggies on my counter. So I shelled the fresh English peas (yum!), chopped up another onion, along with a jalapeno, mint, and a tomato, to make Pea Curry:

I'll freeze this and serve it next week with Roti and brown rice. I also blanched a batch of snap peas and tossed them mint leaves. Those are good! I also cooked up another onion (I had a lot of onions), along with lots of garlic, and sauteed them with chard and beet greens. I'll freeze that, and make a main dish out of it by roasting it with white beans and serving it over polenta. I got that idea from the CSA flyer.

Oh, and I roasted the beets. They can go on salads next week.

How about that? I got something done today!

Lovely Salads

I've been experimenting lately with vegetarian offerings. I have Deborah Madison's The Green's Cookbook, based on recipes they use in their restaurant. I've had it for years, but don't use it much, since most of the recipes require a lot of time and patience.

Yeah, that patience thing is a killer.

But the recipes are invariably Worth It, once they are done. I always have such a feeling of accomplishment when I finish one. The food is terrific, too. And I can't deny I enjoy myself while I'm making these dishes - this is Real Cooking, if you know what I mean.

So the other day featured one of Deborah's "Salad Plates".

Black Bean and Pepper Salad (p. 18) with Easy Onion Pickles (p. 49)
Avocado with Sweet Pepper Relish (p. 319)
Sliced radishes
A crumbly white cheese, which I didn't exactly have, so I used Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, which I did have, and I must say it was a perfect choice.
Homemade tortilla chips, with the full disclosure that no, I did not make the tortillas from scratch. I just cut up some organic, sprouted-corn tortillas, brushed them olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and baked them in the oven.

Here, see:

Isn't it, indeed, lovely?

Worth every minute.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Interview with Elaine Schmitz

How does the old joke go? A science fiction writer walks into a bar...

No, really.

I'm always surprised at the connections in our lives. You never know who you know, until one day, an innocent comment opens up horizons you didn't know were there.

That's what happened a couple of weeks ago, when I met with my writers group at a local restaurant. That's the other part of my life: writing science fiction and fantasy. My writers group consists of three other SF&F writers who, along with me, take great delight in tearing apart each other's novels-in-progress.

Then helping put them back together in a better form, of course.

So what does this have to do with cooking?

That's where the connections come in. One of my friends mentioned someone she knows in another writing group she belongs to, who has just published a cookbook. When you're an unpublished author, like we all are, it's sort of awesome knowing someone who's actually published a book. It's like hero-worship. Maybe with an element of stalking. In a polite way, of course.

When I learned the book is based on the food and memories of the author's Greek-American family, I had to enter stalking mode. I asked my writing friend to introduce us, which she was happy to do.

So now I can introduce her to you.

Be pleased to meet Elaine Schmitz, author of Recipes & Recollections of My Greek-American Family.

Elaine is a writer and editor who lives in the East Bay. She also teaches Greek cooking through San Ramon Parks and Community Services. Her website is at, which is where you can find out all about her books, business writing, and cooking classes.

Recipes & Recollections of My Greek-American Family is a lot of fun to read, filled as it is with the history of Elaine's family. There are all kinds of gems: Greek courting customs, long-lost French cousins, and the pros and cons of Greek versus American hamburgers. There's even an aunt who really pinched cheeks.

Like any self-respecting cookbook, it's also filled with food: competing recipes from Elaine's grandmothers, holiday meals, everyday meals, Americanized meals, and healthier versions of some of the more dangerous buttery or meat-filled dishes. I promise to post recipe reviews once I've had a chance to try a few.

But for now, Elaine has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her cookbook and herself. Get to know her, then click on her website and find out more. You can order the book there, too!

1. Welcome Elaine, and thank you for talking with us. Let's start with why you wrote this book. You knew you wanted to write a memoir. What was it about your family that gave you this desire?

 For some reason I became the depository of many of my family’s stories.  Maybe this was because I love history, and I thought of these stories as a part of my personal history.
Also, in the early 1990’s I was concerned about my parents and how long I would have them with me.  My personal coach at the time suggested that I interview them about their fond memories.  That was the true start of my memoirs.  When they had died, and I began to have grandchildren, I considered my documentation of these tales were an important legacy to pass on to my descendants.

 2. Do you keep any of the old family traditions in your own life, now? Which ones, and why?

 I cook a lot of the meals and like to share them with my family.  That is the primary way the traditions have been passed.  This is because it is my home cooking, so that’s what my children remember fondly from their upbringing. 

Both my children are Protestants and my husband is not affiliated with a church, so many of the church-related customs are being lost in my family.  Mostly it will be the memoirs and other writings about Greece and my gifts from Greece, when I travel there, that will keep the Greek tradition alive.

 3. Have you been to Greece? If so, what was your impression? Any memorable experiences about food?

I have been to Greece twice so far.  I didn’t travel there until I was 50 – rebelling most of my life against my “foreign” background.  I fell in love with it.  It has a timeless beauty, and everybody there looks like they could be related to me.  I especially like visiting the islands and places that are the origins of my relatives, i.e., Crete and Chios

 I have many experiences about the food.  The one I like to tell on myself is when I went to Chios in late 2008.  I ordered a dish of okra, stewed in tomato, looking forward to this dish I hadn’t had in so long.   The waiter apologized, saying they couldn’t serve it to me.  It was out of season.  Even though I pride myself in eating seasonally and locally, I wanted it so badly I was momentarily miffed.  I thought, “What?  Out of season?  Why don’t they just import the okra from Israel or someplace else further south” (like we do with Mexico!).  Then I laughed at myself and ordered something else.  But I’ve had a particular hankering for okra ever since, even though I’ve made it since.  We Americans are very spoiled in our ability to eat what we want when we want it.  It was a good wake-up call for me.

 4. My business, and this blog, are geared toward one of my passions - using local, organic food, and the least amount of processed food possible. How can your book help with this?

See the story above for my unconscious actions.  Consciously, I try to maintain very healthy eating habits.  I tried to include the healthier foods in the book, regardless of whether they are commonly eaten in America – such as grapefruit peel, dandelions, fresh salads and vegetables.  I also provide many alternatives to increase the healthier factors in the recipes.  I use bison (buffalo) because it is such a lean, yet tender meat.  I provide vegetarian substitutes for several casseroles, other sweetener options for white sugar, even a gluten-free rendition of a vegetarian casserole (so I could eat it).  One of the stories explores the cultural influences on the “healthy” Mediterranean diet, and I also add information on the health-improving factors of many ingredients and the fresh foods available to folks, even in my or their own back yard.

 5. This question is really a lot of questions at once. Feel free to ramble as you answer: food used to be at the center of family and community, but all of these have lost importance in our modern society. Did you grow up in a large Greek community? Are you associated with one now? How can these societies help busy families have their own sense of place?

I did grow up in a large Greek community and a large Greek family.  I still talk to many of them now, but time, distance and our own families have weakened the family connections.  The book I published helped me to reconnect with many of my family and to revitalize for them the good times and the background that we share – a real gift. 

 I have been a part of several church-related Greek communities.  I was in church choirs for most of my adult like, served on charity boards and been an active part of the community.  Currently I don’t belong to a congregation, but the people of the Greek community have been very helpful and excited about my book.  In many ways, we have shared the same experiences and, of course, similar foods.

 I think the Greek community and especially church festivals have done a lot to maintain a connection to the Greek culture and traditions.  Although Greeks have melted into the American pot, we still love to dabble in the old country ways (all the way to near immersion).  Those who are involved do have a strong identity and pride in their heritage.

 The Greeks are a very complex people with a fascinating history, and we are very passionate, vocal survivors.  For a writer and novelist, who could ask for a better ethnic background.  After all, the Greeks invented comedy AND tragedy. 

Thanks Elaine! Good luck with the book!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Easy Mother's Day

Any excuse for a party, right? If "Mother's Day" gets my kids over for a few hours, I'm all for it.

As it turned out, most of the kids didn't make it, but Lydia and the two oldest grandkids DID! We played croquet in between rain showers. I won - but only because we didn't have enough balls and I had to partner with my husband, who is very good at croquet.

I always lose, you see.

But the food was a winner: Chicken Panini and a salad. Now that's easy.

I cooked chicken breasts on my grill pan.

Then I made some secret sauce. But I'll tell you what was in it.

Remember that apricot brandy I made last Fall? Remember that I couldn't bear to throw out the brandy-infused apricots? So I froze them. Those apricots were the base for yesterday's sauce, after I put them through the food processor:

Then I simply added  mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and stirred well:

I bought some flat bread for the sandwiches, added cheese, onion slices, and lettuce, then grilled them in my waffle iron:


Even better (or just as good, anyway) were the Alfajores for dessert. These Peruvian cookies are made with lots of cornstarch, so they're a little weird. The filling is caramelized sweetened condensed milk. The recipe was in the newspaper last weekend and I thought they sounded good.

They were. Easy to eat a lot of those things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chicken Two-Ways

The other day, I coated some chicken breasts with a mixture of breadcrumbs/parmesan/basil/butter, then baked them. We had them with steamed baby artichokes.

I had some fresh oregano to use, so yesterday I made a little marinara sauce, into which I placed the leftover breaded chicken. I let it warm in the pan, then served it over whole wheat spaghetti with a side of roasted asparagus. It softened the bread coating, but that wasn't a problem. It tasted wonderful.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


We had leftover pork chops, so I recreated the dinner and TOOK PICTURES: