Friday, April 30, 2010

So you wanna be startin' something (this is me on a soap box)

Jaime Oliver is right. We need a food revolution. I've only watched his show once but he's definitely a man on a mission, and with good cause. The other morning, Great White Hunter took my little kindercutie to school early, giving him the treat of having breakfast at school. This will never happen again. When I asked my son what he had for breakfast that day, he said he didn't eat. I was kind of upset, thinking he chose to goof around with buddies instead of eating, but then he told me why. "They served corn dogs with syrup for breakfast, mommy." While I was proud of my kid for opting out of a clearly unhealthy breakfast, I was not too thrilled with the food program at his school for offering this as an acceptable breakfast.

To add insult to injury, last night I saw a commercial that was, quite frankly, shocking. It made me realize this country really is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to health and nutrition. This particular restaurant, I will refrain from naming it, was promoting their new breakfast item which consists of two pancakes with a ginormous slab of cheesecake smeared in between and topped with something that loosely resembles fruit. Oh. My. Goodness. Now I realize why everyone else views American's eating habits so poorly. This is what they see. And the problem is, if you make it, they will eat it.

So here's the thing, I don't normally get on a soap box and I apologize for my rantings. But something's gotta give. This country has got to wake up and smell the problem. If you would like to get involved, I encourage you to sign Jaime Oliver's petition here, and volunteer to start a revolution in your town. Our children's health is at stake.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


What do you think of when you hear the word herbal? Hippies? Homeopathic remedies? Many things come to my mind when I hear the word herbal: a sense of serenity, fragrant bliss, even romance (some herbs have legends and lore deeply rooted in love).

I LOVE herbs. Maybe because they are so easy to grow, and flourish with the least amount of care. Maybe for their endless culinary uses, or because their scent makes me happy (I'm easily entertained). Whatever the reason, I love herbs. 

When I first moved to the Hill Country of Texas, I discovered a small nursery that was home to a myriad of herbs. I found countless varieties of oregano, sage, thyme, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, the list goes on. Move over Disneyland, this nursery was now my happiest place on earth. And it still is. I've started incorporating herbs in pots with flowers on my patio. I love the mix of flowers and herbs, and they seem to have a harmonious relationship, growing well together. 

I have several cookbooks centered around herbs, buy my favorite is The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld.  For me, cooking with herbs is like icing a cake; it completes the dish. I relish in being able to walk out into your yard, clip a handful of fragrant herbs, and transform an ordinary recipe into an extraordinary one. This recipe, from The Herbfarm Cookbook, makes a wonderful herb infused bread that will show off your herbalness!

Slice a loaf of artisan bread, being careful not to cut all the way through. Brush the inside of the slices with melted garlic butter (In a small pot, melt unsalted butter and add crushed garlic. Heat until  the garlic loses its raw fragrance but does not brown). Tuck handfuls of fresh herbs between the slices (I use a mixture of oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and marjoram). Wrap the loaf loosely in foil, leaving the top open. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until  heated through. Discard the herbs when serving.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons of love

I have one of those grandmothers. You know the type. Every time you showed up on her doorstep, she greeted you with the biggest smile and the warmest hug. After smothering you with kisses, she whisked you away to the kitchen and fed you the best homemade delights. Food that let you know you were at Grandma's. And nothing from a box or a can. Ever. She was an expert cook, gardener, hostess, seamstress, and all around domestic queen. She always made you feel like you were worth the effort, and she loved you more than you thought possible (and always "up to the moon").

Just about every memory I have of my grandmother involves cooking. She taught me so many things, from how to scramble the perfect egg to making some of the most complicated dishes. Everything she made looked and tasted incredible. And she did it with such ease. 

My grandmother celebrated her 91st birthday this week. These last few years have aged her and changed her quite a bit. Even though I can still see her and talk to her, I miss her. I miss all the wonderful times we spent together. I miss our conversations and her wisdom. Most of all, I miss cooking with her. I'm so thankful for everything she taught me. I will continue to keep her legacy alive and pass her traditions on.
I love you grandma. Up to the moon.

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

Tsoureki, pronounced TSOO-REH-KEE, is a sweet bread traditionally served by Greeks to celebrate Easter. My grandmother made it every year. It should be baked on Good Friday and is considered good luck to do so. Intense red-dyed eggs are added to the bread to represent the blood of Christ (again sticking with tradition, the eggs should only be dyed on Holy Thursday). There are many different recipes for Tsoureki, but I always use a scaled down version of my grandmother's.  This is her hand-written copy (I love the hearts) and because she could bake this from memory, only ingredients are listed, no how-to.  Good thing she taught me well.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):
2 cups milk
2/3 cup butter
1 tsp. sugar
4 packages active dry yeast (do not use rapid rise)
6 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp. fresh grated orange zest
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
8-9 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Place the milk in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add the butter, stirring it into the milk as it melts, then allow to cool slightly to about 110 degrees. Sprinkle 1 tsp. sugar into the milk mixture, then add the yeast. Allow to ferment for about 5 minutes. Place milk/yeast mixture in a large bowl; add eggs, remaining sugar, salt, 4 cups of flour, orange juice and zest. Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix until all flour is combined. Add remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough is easy to handle.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Punch dough down, knead again and then divide the dough in half. Shape each piece into 3 ropes, each 12 inches long. Pinch the 3 ropes together at one end, then braid the 3 ropes into a plaited loaf. Repeat the process with the other 3 ropes.

Once the bread is braided, insert the red eggs and brush with beaten egg. Allow to rise again, about 30 minutes.  For a decorative touch, add blanched slivered almonds after brushing with egg.
Bake the bread in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350 and bake for 20 minutes longer. The finished loaves are glorious.