Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scenes from the holidays

Spending the holiday season with family means I wasn't always able to take photographs of our activities. When I'm around the people I care about, I do my best to be WITH them in mind, body and spirit and not be distracted by things like my phone and camera. That being said, I was able to capture some wonderful moments we had together, a sampling of which is below. 

As the calendar changes tonight from 2013 to 2014, I wish you and yours health and happiness in the new year!

I made a butternut squash dish for Christmas dinner, and found this beautiful heart shape inside!
(Recipe to come in another post.)

C and his granddad rowing around Elkhorn Slough near Monterey, CA.
A beautiful place to see all sorts of wildlife!

A very exciting Christmas present to me! Can't wait to try out some recipes!

Some shots from a Spanish tapas cooking class that C and I took just before Christmas. It was a belated anniversary outing, and lots of fun!
Local honey, used in one of the recipes. 
Squid tentacles, which we chopped up and served on flatbread.

Pan con Tomate, with various toppings: jamon, queso y anchoa

Squid stuffed with caramelized onions, getting grilled.

C putting the finishing touches on our Almond Cakes. Yum!

And with that, my last post of 2013 is complete. See you next year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seeing Michael Pollan LIVE

Everything in moderation, including moderation.
-Oscar Wilde

Me and my friend Valarie were SO excited to meet Michael Pollan!
This post is a bit belated...My birthday was about a month ago now, and what did I do that evening? I went with a couple of friends (who I met at nutrition school) to meet Michael Pollan and hear him give a talk in Yountville, California - the heart of wine country and a big agricultural area.

What I didn't realize until we got there was that the event was the culmination of a program held in the schools through Napa County Reads. The students read Michael Pollan's book Food Rules, and then created original recipes for a cooking competition. There was a cookbook of their creation for sale, and children's food-related artwork was hanging throughout the event space. You can see some of it behind us in the photo above. The middle and high school student-chefs also prepared all of the yummy hor d'oeurves, and walked around with platters for us to sample. I was impressed with how well they described each item - it was like being at a fancy party! My friends and I especially liked the demonstration that the St. Helena Montessori school had set up. The school has a bee-keeping class (and hives on campus!) and had huge pieces of honeycomb for us to sample. The two little boys working the booth were adorable, and the honey was delicious!!

After mingling about looking at the art and tasting foods, we got in line to meet Mr. Pollan. I brought my books with me for him to sign, but then left them in the car. Oops! When we got to the front of the line, I asked him if he'd take a photo with us instead of signing for me, which he agreed to. There wasn't much time for talking, so Valarie got her book signed, and we made our way into the auditorium.

Much of what he spoke about was geared toward the youth in the audience. In fact, at the end of his talk, he only took questions from the children. Those that asked questions were probably as young as 5 and as old at 18. It was truly wonderful to see a young audience engaged in this type of talk. It gives me hope for the future of our food!!

A few key points he made in the talk really resonated with me, and I wanted to share them with you here:

1. The difference Americans make in describing hunger. For example, a French person might say, "I have hunger" and "I no longer have hunger," and ask if one "feels satisfied" after eating. An American, on the other hand, usually would say, "I am hungry" and "I am not hungry anymore" and asks "Are you full?" to indicate being done eating. This, to me, is a huge difference - can you tell why?

2. On a personal note...Growing up, my mom would post health-related comic strips on the inside of our cupboard doors. One she had up for years, which my dad still likes to quote, said: "The whiter the bread, the quicker you're dead." I was astonished when Michael Pollan used this saying in his speech, and attributed it to Jewish and Italian grandmothers! Go, Mom!

3. The importance of cultural history when it comes to our food. That our food "rules" flowed from culture, not from science. People figured out what to eat long before science got involved. This made me think of the role of fermented foods (probiotics) in cultures around the globe, and how many different diets are healthy to many different cultures. There is no ONE right way to eat!

4. And last, the importance of cooking for yourself (and your family). It is the best way to eat healthy on a budget - after all, recipes and cooking originated with peasants using scraps to feed their families. If you're looking for help on how to get started cooking for yourself, take a look at some of the recipes on this site, and post any questions you have in the comments. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thanksgiving Recap

Top Row, L to R: Wontons, Dungeness Crab with Homemade Mayo, Seafood Chowder, Pomegranate-Mint Relish.
2nd Row: Asparagus Soup, Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows & Creamed Spinach, Latkes, Chestnut Stuffing.
3rd Row: Turkey - whole and sliced, Beef Tenderloin - whole and sliced.
Bottom Row: Maple Pecan Pie, Apples (used in applesauce), Chocolate Souffle, Salted Caramel Budino 

Whoops! I thought I'd posted this, but it turns out I didn't. Better late than never, right?

It was another amazing meal at Thanksgiving this year. The photos above show most of the things we ate, but there were a few dishes that I missed getting a picture of. My step-mom's family has this awesome tradition where everyone has to make at least one dish (appetizer, side dish, or dessert) which means that we have quite a multicultural feast in addition to all the usual Thanksgiving staples like turkey and sweet potatoes. Learning to pace ourselves throughout the meal is key, as desserts (like my step-sister's Salted Caramel Budino and my Dad's chocolate souffle) can be awesome.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Latkes at Thanksgiving

Did you catch my guest blog post for Full Circle Farms?

Check it out HERE for my favorite latke recipe. Latkes will be on our Thanksgiving table this year!

Will you be serving any Chanukah-inspired dishes at your Thanksgiving dinner this year? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Re-Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet

Using a small cast iron pan to make breakfast. These eggs didn't stick at all!

My dad recently gave me a 12" cast iron skillet that used to live at his vacation house. I remembered the pan being very well seasoned, having been used by our family for over 20 years of making latkes and fried chicken, among other things. But, we learned that one of the downsides of letting other people use your vacation house is...People don't know how to properly clean and care for cast iron!

When my dad gave the pan to me, it almost looked brand new. And for those of you who use cast iron, you know that is NOT a good thing! Someone had done something to scrub off ALL of the seasoning on the inside of the skillet. I don't know what they did, but it must have taken a lot of elbow grease. Maybe they even put it through the dishwasher? I really have no idea, but what I did know was that I needed to re-season it before I cooked with it, because anything I cooked would stick terribly.

Luckily, this pan has seasoning instructions on the bottom. But for those of you who have a cast iron in need of seasoning, or re-seasoning, let me repeat the instructions here.

1. If the pan is new, or if there is any rust, clean it in warm, soapy water.
2. Rinse, and dry thoroughly.
3. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
4. Lightly coat the pan (inside and out) with a thin layer of oil. Use a high heat oil such as coconut or sesame.
5. Place the pan upside-down on the top rack of the oven and "bake" it for about an hour. Put foil along the bottom rack to catch any drips.
6. Let the pan cool, and it's ready for use!

And remember, NEVER use soap to clean cast iron! Warm water and a scrubber brush (when needed) works great, and keeps your pan well-seasoned for future use. And if you scrub off a bit of seasoning, no problem, just rub some oil on the pan while it's still warm, and it will be ready for next time!

Any questions? Type them in the comments below!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Any Time Cookies - No Sugar and Gluten-Free!

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Any. Time. Cookies.

These cookies are full of ingredients that are both healthy and delicious, so you can eat them without feeling guilty! They are gluten-free, and sweetened with fruit, so there is no sugar either! For a quick on-the-go breakfast or afternoon snack, these really hit the spot! I found one to be filling, but my fiance needed two of them to be satiated.

Thanks to Danielle, who was a guest blogger at Nourished Kitchen, for creating and sharing this amazingly delicious recipe!

The Any Time Cookies are super easy to make, and if you don't have the exact dried fruits/nuts called for, you can easily substitute. For example, the fiance finished off our dried cherries and I haven't bought more yet, so I used raisins instead. I'm curious about adding some cacao nibs in too! Maybe next time...

Any Time Cookies (makes 12 cookies)
1/4C Coconut Flour (you can find this at Whole Foods, Bob's Red Mill makes a great one!)
1/2C Almond Butter
6 Dates, remove pit and soak in warm water to soften (about 15 minutes)
3/4C Shredded, Unsweetened, Dried Coconut
1/2C Apple Sauce, unsweetened
2 Eggs, beaten
1 1/2t Cinnamon
1t Vanilla Extract
1/4t Sea Salt
1/2t Baking Soda
2T Dried Cherries, unsweetened
2T Walnuts, chopped
3T Currants

Note: If you have a food processor, use it! I don't have one, so I used my VitaMix. While a blender will work here, it is not ideal.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In your appliance of choice, combine the coconut flour, almond butter and dates. Blend for about one minute, until the dates are in small pieces.
- Add the dried coconut, apple sauce, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Blend for about 30 minutes, until combined and a wet dough forms.
- Add in the dried cherries, currants, walnuts (or whatever dried fruit and nut combination you're using) and pulse to combine. You don't want to chop up the fruit!
- Using two large spoons, measure out about 12 cookies onto the baking sheet. They do not rise or spread, so make them the shape you want (dip the spoon/spatula in water to prevent sticking) before they go in the oven.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes (depending on thickness), until golden brown on the top and edges.
- Let cool, and eat immediately. Danielle also recommends freezing them, just take the cookie out early and let it defrost for about 15 minutes first.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Eggplants and the end of summer

It's now September, and everywhere I look people are lamenting the end of summer. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, however, it seems that summer is just beginning! September and October are usually the nicest months around the Bay, and our harvest of summer produce doesn't show any signs of stopping yet! It's a local "secret" that during these two months, we have less fog and warmer temperatures that during the months of June, July and August.

Over this past Labor Day weekend, we spent a day BBQing with family at my future mother-in-law's home. There were many beautiful flowers in bloom, and as you may remember from previous posts, she also has a wonderful vegetable garden!

Gorgeous colors on this flower in her garden.
Another pretty flower in her garden.
I was so enjoying the company that I forgot to take many pictures, but we gorged ourselves on a feast of tomatoes with basil, grilled corn and grass-fed meats, and a huge salad full of just-picked lettuces. Before we left, she allowed us to raid the garden and take whatever we wanted. What I found was a wonderful patch full of eggplant!

I haven't cooked it yet, but I plant to roast it for one meal, then blend up the leftovers to make some baba ghanoush. Remember this post (from exactly a year ago) that explained my how to make both?

What was your favorite summer fruit or vegetable this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Discovery - Black Rice!

Cooked black rice.
What are some of the staples in your diet? For me, I always have a selection of whole grains like farro, rice and quinoa around. A helping of one of those, with a big servings of veggies, is perfect meal!

I have many different types of these grains in my cupboards. I have red, white and black varieties of Quinoa - they each taste a little different, and I find that I prefer different varieties for different dishes. Although, sometimes I just mix the three together, and that tastes good too!

Grain selection in the "pantry" at our old apartment.
But when it comes to rice, my options had been pretty bland. There was brown jasmine, short-grain brown, brown basmati, and wild rice. But the other day at the grocery store, I noticed a variety I hadn't seen before - Black Rice! It cooks up the same as you would cook any other type of rice (1C rice to 2C water), and the result was a sweeter, almost nutty tasting rice that was a bit purplish in color. I had it for dinner with a helping of stir-fried bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, but I could easily see the black rice combining with root vegetables or pasture-raised meats.

What new foods have you tried recently? Tell us about it in the comment section!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Dishes!

As you might remember, we recently moved into a new apartment. The new place is about half the size of our old apartment, and while we don't really mind the change in size of our living space, the lack of closet space in the new apartment is VERY noticeable! The old place had a huge storage closet, a coat closet in the hall, plus we each had our own walk-in closet in the bedroom. It was awesome!

In the midst of our move, we got rid of a lot of stuff! It felt really good to go through old boxes and get rid of the stuff we didn't need in our lives anymore. Some things went to the dump, some got donated, and the things we wanted to keep went into storage at either my mom's or my future mother-in-law's homes. We are SO grateful that they live close and were both willing to store stuff for us!

Since we moved in June, the only things I've bought are things we needed for the house, like shelves for the bathroom, a shower curtain, etc. We do our best to use what we have as much as possible instead of always buying new stuff. But now that we're more settled and things have mostly found their place, it's obvious that we won't be buying much during our time living here - there just isn't any space! We're pretty organized people, so we've used up just about every usable space there is in the place. But as a gal with a slight clothing/shoes obsession, this could be tough! I'm going to have to stick with the "for every item you buy, get rid of one item" rule.

White dishes in the cupboard - Yay!
Along those lines, for the past four years I've been using dishes that were a hand-me-down from my mom. At the time she gave them to me, I was grateful to have them, but as I've lived with them I've come to realize that they just aren't my style. And, now that I've been photographing my food (as you might have noticed here on the Zwick's Picks blog), sometimes the colors on the plates really don't go with the food. Recently, I was able to get a new (to me) set of plain white dishes. My dad and step-mom had an extra set they wanted to get off their hands, so when my dad asked me if I was interested in them, I jumped at the chance to change things up! We just got the new dishes this week, and I could hardly wait to unpack them and put them away.

I'm already loving the look of the white dishes, and I'm hoping the new set works out well with my food photography - you guys let me know!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shiso Pesto

When you hear the word "pesto," what comes to mind? Do you immediately think of Basil? For most of us, our first taste of pesto was probably of the basil, garlic, pine-nuts and Parmesan cheese variety, but did you know - the term "pesto" can be used to define any combination of ingredients that have been pounded or blended together. The fiance and I have enjoyed trying different combinations of things in our homemade pesto, and this post is about our newest discovery - Shiso Pesto!

Shiso Pesto
If you don't know what Shiso is, it's a leaf commonly grown in Asia. It comes in both purple and green varieties, but the green seems to be more common in the United States. You might have seen it at Japanese restaurants, or in your little box of take-out sushi. Shiso has a strong smell, and the taste is unique. It's been compared to both mint and basil, but I have to say I don't think it has the taste of either. It is quite earthy and refreshing, definitely worth experimenting with if you see it around or want to try growing it yourself.

The recipe below is the result of my searching for a way for my future mother-in-law to use up the leaves of the giant Shiso plant she has in her garden. I came across this recipe from Summer Tomato, and decided to test it out on on zucchini "noodles" for dinner the other night. We loved it!!

Zucchini "fettuccine" with Shiso Pesto sauce.

Shiso Pesto (makes 15-20 servings, can be frozen)
- 4C tightly packed Shiso leaves
- 1/2C Raw Pistachio nuts
- 2T Miso Paste (any variety will work)
- 1 Garlic Clove, pressed
- 1 Lemon, juiced
- 3/4C Olive Oil

- In a blender or food processor (I used my VitaMix), combine all ingredients. Reserve about 1/4C of the olive oil.
- Pulse until ingredients are evenly ground.
- Turn blender to "on" and drizzle the remaining olive oil in while the ingredients combine.
- Taste, and adjust salt and lemon to taste, if needed.
- Use immediately, or store in the fridge for a couple days. If you still have leftovers, use your ice cube trays to freeze the pesto in blocks. Once they're solid, pop them out and into a freezer-safe container. You'll have "fresh" pesto for months!

What's your favorite type of pesto? Care to share the recipe in the comments below?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Green Potato Salad - no mayo required!

The other weekend, my future mother-in-law asked us to house sit for one night while she went out of town. The main reason she asked is that her two dogs and the kitty need food and attention - we were happy to house sit. In addition to playing with the furry guys, we were excited because she has an amazing vegetable garden - from which we could harvest whatever we wanted!

You might recognize this photo from my Facebook page.
This time of year, as we get into late summer, there are so many delicious treats in the garden. Everything is organic (she even makes her own compost), and while rummaging around the raised beds we found eggplant, corn, lettuces, herbs, and so many tomatoes! She had harvested some potatoes for us as well, and even though she hasn't planted any in a few years there are still some "volunteers" in the dirt. I took the potatoes home with us, and a few days later I made a delicious Green Potato Salad. I have to give a shout-out, as this recipe came from my friend Jamie Greenwood, the fabulous woman behind Jamie|Living. I first had it when my mom and I attended Jamie's mother/daughter cooking class a few years ago. You might remember my excitement from that day, we had a great time and I learned how to make a frittata!

I've made this potato salad a few times since that Mother's Day event, but this is the first time it's been on Zwick's Picks. I love it for so many reasons. First of all, it's super tasty and delicious! Second, there is no mayo in it, just a light sprinkle of olive oil and vinegar! Third, I get to eat greens IN the potato salad, it's like the best of both worlds. You could even add more greens to this if you wanted to. Read on for the recipe...

Jamie's Green Potato Salad - yum!!

Green Potato Salad (serves 4)
2.5 lbs Organic Potatoes, washed and cut into large chunks
1 Organic Red Onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3C Capers
1/4C Fresh Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped
3T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1.4T Red Wine Vinegar
2 Handfuls of Organic Arugula
Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potato chunks and a pinch of salt. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Usually about 15 minutes, depending on the size. Drain the potatoes in a metal colander.
- Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl (the larger it is, the easier it'll be to stir everything together). Combine the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and mix together.
- Serve either warm or cold.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Getting Enough Veggies

If you read last week's post, you know that I just returned home from a wonderful 2-week vacation in Belize. The trip was fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, but by the end of the first week both my fiance and I found ourselves craving California vegetables! We're so spoiled by the abundance of food in our area, aren't we? 

Now that we're home, we're filling our bellies with the best local summer veggies we can find. We made it a mutual goal to eliminate dairy, sugar, alcohol, and wheat from our diet for at least two weeks, since we overindulged a bit on vacation. Since we've been home, our meals have been close to 100% vegetarian, with a little bit of quinoa/brown rice, eggs just a couple times, and meat only a few times, more as a condiment than the main meal. Eating this way is meant to re-calibrate our systems back to healthy eating, but we also see it as a sort of experiment - Do we feel better eating this way? The answer to that question is still unfolding...

Here are some meals we had this past week:

- Vegetable Soup: This bowl was full of nutrition! Carrots, sweet potato, onions, garlic, kale, celery and a mix of low-sodium vegetable stock with homemade chicken stock. We ate this for days! It worked well for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

- Roasted Veggies: I tossed the broccoli with soy sauce, olive oil and garlic (similar to how this post describes), and roasted the beets with some olive oil and fresh thyme. Served with a little quinoa on the side, this was a filling and delicious meal.

- Tomatoes!! Over the weekend, we house-sat for my fiance's mom. She has an amazing vegetable garden, and right now the tomatoes are starting to ripen. These little cherry tomatoes taste like candy they're so sweet. We tossed a variety of freshly picked tomatoes with a sprinkle of olive oil, fresh ground pepper and shredded Basil, and they made for a delicious dinner.

What are some of your favorite summer veggies that you've been enjoying this year? Tell us in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Vacation in Belize Recap

As some of you might be aware, I just returned home from a vacation in Belize. My man and I had a wonderful time exploring the country, and did as much as we could to see the sights. We stayed at four different hotels over the course of two weeks, and while we definitely had days we relaxed and did nothing, we also went snorkeling, caving, hiking, bird watched, walked through towns, talked to the local people, drove across the country, and experienced both planes and ferries.

While our hotels had wi-fi, I kept my phone turned off the entire time, and only went online a couple of times when my honey lent me his iPad. It was a wonderful feeling to not be so attached to my phone. While I know I can't completely detach here in the "real" world, now that we're back I plan to make an effort to not be so obsessive about checking my phone all the time. Taking the time to appreciate the moment and my surroundings is important.

Some quick facts about Belize:
- The country is roughly 174 miles long by 62 miles wide, excluding the 400 cayes on the reef.
- Population in 2012 was about 328,000 people. That's only slightly larger than Marin county!
- Belize has flat marsh, scrubland, lowland forest, thick jungles, mountains, and agricultural areas.
- Belize is the birthplace of chewing gum, called "Chicle."
- Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia's.
- It's estimated that only about 10% of the species living on the reef have been cataloged.
- It is a truly diverse country: Mexican, Guatemalan, Mayan, Spanish, African, Caribbean, Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, English, Chinese, and North Americans have all had influence here.
- Very little food is imported, Belizeans eat what they have in the country, and that's a lot!
- Rice & Beans is a different dish than Beans & Rice.
- Belizeans speak multiple languages, English, Spanish and at least one more. Truly impressive.

Here are some photos from our trip:

So lucky we were there for lobster season!!
Lobster tails with rice and beans. Yum!

A typical Central American meal: Rice and beans with Stew Chicken.

One of our favorite spots: Robins Kitchen on Ambergris Caye.

This is a Belizean highway.

Our hotel in San Ignacio was home to The Iguana Project. We had fun playing with the critters!

We think this is a Collard Aracari. 

We explored the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. Amazing places!

This was the "ferry" that took our car across the river to the Xunantunich site.

Taking a breather at Xunantunich.

Mayan carvings on the side of the temple.

The view from the top was pretty amazing!

An ice cold coconut water was SO refreshing after hiking around!
The ruins at Cahal Pech are still being excavated by groups of students.

The Botanical Garden at DuPlooy's (outside San Ignacio) was really cool!
The view from the fire lookout.

Grass-fed beef company. The meat was delicious!

Cows out grazing, as they should be.

So comfy!

The plane we took from the mainland to Caye Caulker took less than 10 minutes!

Lobster ceviche? Yes, please!

See that hammock out there? That's where I spent a lot of time!

What vacation have you/will you take this year? Near or far, it doesn't matter. How do you plan to relax and recharge? Tell us in the comments below!