Monday, January 9, 2017

New recipes I tried in the 1st week of the new year

The start of a new year, like a poem, has both heft and a lightness of being. It carries the weight of our hopes and expectations for an entire year, 365 days. New year's day, Jan. 1, flies on the wings of optimism and starts the week off with a heady sense of freedom -- it's a new beginning, a chance to get things right, be your best you.

Here's a poem and few recipes I tried, enjoyed and shared in the first week of 2017:

"Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye 

So much of any year is flammable, 
lists of vegetables, partial poems, 
orange swirling flame of days 
so little is a stone. 

 Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation


Monday, October 31, 2016

Swamp Soup for Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because it lends itself to so much family fun. I enjoy surprising kids at the dinner table with something unexpected and out of the ordinary. One year I made black squid ink pasta with "Monster" meatballs (carrot sticks make great snaggly teeth), another year I baked a stuffed Jack-o'-Lantern.

Well, this year I was inspired to make a purple soup...

Yup, came across some purple cauliflower & potatoes and, of course, the next thought was Purple Soup!

Unfortunately, the potatoes surprised me...

After I cut up my potatoes, I discovered they weren't solid purple inside. Worse, they turned brownish after cooking. So the end result was...

Here's a closer look ~ yes, it turned out more grayish than purple...

I think the garnish of pesto and green onions adds a specially great virulent touch! So not too appetizing to look at, but creamy & delicious thanks to the cauliflower, potatoes and touch of cream. Perfect for Halloween.

What do you think?


2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion (next time I might try red)
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium head of purple cauliflower, broken into small florets
5 medium purple potatoes (next time I'll use 3 because I actually like to taste the cauliflower)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or you can replace with Italian seasoning)
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (you can add less or more depending on your taste)
2 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (you can use vegetable stock if you want this to be a vegetarian dish)
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (optional. Skip if you're trying to keep it light or vegetarian)
Salt and pepper.

Garnish options: Pesto, sliced chives or green onions, extra olive oil


1. Heat the butter or oil in a soup pot over medium high heat. Once butter is melted/oil is shimmery, add onions and celery. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes.

2. Add in the potatoes, cauliflower, thyme and garlic. Cook until veggies are somewhat caramelized and half-done. About 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add in the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for another 30 minutes.

4. Take off heat. Add in the cream, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve in bowls topped with the garnish of your choice.

Have a happy & safe Halloween y'all!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Recap of My First BlogHerFood Conference #BlogHerFood16

I attended BlogHerFood16 as a panelist on an uber interesting session about Food in the Center of Cultural Conversations. Now, I'm more of food journalist than a blogger and so had never considered attending a BlogHer event. However, I'm passionate about both food and culture, and believe the two go together like, well, peanut butter and chocolate chips. So of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

 (Photo courtesy of Kim of I'm Not the Nanny. So you have panelists --L to R- Toni Tipton-Martin, moi, and Thien-Kim)

My sister panelists and our audience were awesome and engaged, so we had very thought-provoking and interesting discussion. You can check out the highlights here courtesy of BlogHer.

There were so many great moments at BlogHerFood16, that I needed some reflection time to sort all my thoughts and feelings out.

So here's the short version of my reaction to BlogHerFood16:

Thank you!
Why didn't I do this before?
When can I do it again?
Here's my longer version:

1. It was a fabulous experience!

2. I loved the conversations and exchange of ideas and how-to information going on all around. After my panel, I just spent the weekend attending sessions that sounded interesting and something I'd like to explore.

I attended a really informative session about making videos (using multiple cameras and one camera) as a one-person crew and I attended a session about making Live Broadcasting: Dynamic New Ways to Create a Cooking Show, which just blew my mind.

Chef Ayinde Howell, who did the Live Broadcasting session, was a Super Star! He cooked, danced, and interacted with two sets of audiences (on FB and at BlogHerFood) all at the same time. Color me impressed! And he produced a pretty tasty sample for us -- a vegan "crab" cake made with hearts of palm. Yum!

3. It introduced me to new (to me) items like Go Umami, which is a brand of to-go Tofu snacks. My favorite was the Hickory Smoked version. Yes, there's food involved and a lot of nibbling. Let's just say I was pretty happy grazing by the vendors & learning...educational eating, it's a thing.

4. There were quite a few food celebrities mingling around and graciously indulging fan-girl moments. I watch The Chew almost religiously during my lunch hour. So when I spied Chef Carla in the crowd...

 (Chef Carla is so sweet, she even took this pic for me because she has longer arms!)

Speaking of celebrities, actor Freddie Prinze Jr. -- movie stud muffin and husband to the awesome Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy The Vampire Slayer -- spoke  about his cookbook, Back to the Kitchen at the BlogHerFood16 closing session.

Here's my article on Prinze Jr. and his cookbook for my newspaper!

5. BlogHerFood16 was INSPIRING. Yes, it had to be caps. There were so many amazing stories about people following their passion and doing amazing things. Like Avery of, who brought together two passions -- cooking and helping fight modern day slavery and child labor -- in one business. Or Mareya Ibrahim of Grow Green Industries, who was spurred to find a eco-friendly solution to clean produce after her father was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and told not to eat fresh fruits and vegetables because of the risk of food-borne illnesses.

While all of BlogHerFood left me inspired and energized, meeting Aarti Sequeira of Food Network was particularly special for me. The world is a diverse place, but when I'm watching my favorite food shows on TV I don't often see the same diversity, and I don't often find myself reflected.

So watching Aarti win The Next Food Network Star was a perspective changing experience for me. Every time I watch her or Maneet Chauhan on TV, they give me hope. I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to compete on national television ever, but I know that it's possible. And that, my friends, is empowering.

The overall take away: I had loads of fun meeting other foodies, taste testing and learning. The weekend reminded me why I had created my food blog in the first place -- to celebrate food, family and the multicultural mix it all creates in my kitchen. It left me energized and excited about blogging again.

So HUGE thanks goes to my friend Grace Hwang Lynch, the creative of the blog HapaMama, who sent this opportunity my way; to the awesome SheKnowsMedia team for all the hard work they put into making BlogHerFood16 wonderful; and my friend Laurie, hostess extraordinaire.

Thanks for visiting! :)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Importance of Family Recipes

I love reading books for many reasons, but one of the best moments is coming across an idea -- captured in a phrase, sentence or passage -- that shifts something deep inside. It's like a gong goes off and reverberates through the layers of your being until a new awareness, a new layer of you, is added to the mix.

Reading Nola McKey's From Tea Cakes to Tamales set off that gong for me.

(Pictures courtesy of Nola McKey. Photo credit: Kaitlyn Braddock. The lemony tea cakes that led to the cookbook)

The exact passage that caused the moment:

"Whether typed neatly on an index card, written on the back of an envelope, or scribbled on a scrap of paper, an heirloom recipe has magical powers: it allows you to recreate a loved one's signature dish after that person is gone," starts the second chapter of the cookbook. "Taken a step further, an heirloom recipe is a link to a legacy, one that lives on when a cook in the present generation makes the same dish that a departed cook prepared decades earlier."

I have always enjoyed and valued recipes that have stood the test of time -- family recipes, immigrant recipes, historical recipes. All of them have stories to tell, stories that shouldn't be allowed to fade away.

(Nola's grandmother)

The cookbook came about because of a moment that linked together three generations of McKey's family:

About 20 years ago, her then-8-year-old son asked McKey for "a traditional family dish" to take to school the next day for a class presentation. A sixth-generation Texan, McKey responded by baking her grandmother's tea cakes.

"I began mixing up the ingredients, and it wasn't long before I got a whiff of memories," McKey wrote in the cookbook. "Baking the cookies brought more. It felt like a visit from Grandma, especially after we sampled the tea cakes — thick, pillowy, with a hint of lemon — just the way I remembered them."

McKey has collected about a 100 "heirloom recipes" from Texas families around the state for the cookbook, which also includes stories and photographs of the people behind the recipes. 

I'm thrilled that McKey will be in San Angelo today presenting a special program about the importance of family recipes, sharing her grandmother's tea cakes, and signing cookbooks. Here are the details:

What: Author Nola McKey cookbook signing

When: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Eggemeyer's General Store, 35 E. Concho Ave.

Contact: 325-655-1166

If you can't make it, the cookbook is also available on Amazon.

Want to try a recipe? Here's a sample from the From Tea Cakes to Tamales cookbook:

Grandma's Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes

McKey hopes to have some to share at the cookbook signing Saturday. The recipe makes about three dozen tea cakes.


1/2         cup butter (1 stick)

1              cup sugar

2              eggs

1              teaspoon vanilla

2              teaspoons lemon zest or 1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

2              cups sifted flour

2              teaspoons baking powder

1/2         teaspoon salt


1. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl.

2. Add eggs and beat well.

3. Stir in vanilla and lemon zest, if using.

4. Blend flour and remaining ingredients together and add to butter mixture, mix well.

5. Place dough on a floured board and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness; cut into 2-inch rounds.

6. Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 0 to 12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Farmers Market Casserole Step-by-Step Recipe

Our local Farmers Market is bursting with the bounty of summer produce. Red, sun ripened tomatoes, purple eggplants, summer squash, onions and leeks, a variety of herbs -- all laid out in tempting display.

I like to cook with seasonal ingredients because not only do you get the best quality and best flavor, but it's also cheaper. 

Unfortunately, I can't limit myself to a few items when faced with such a selection and end up returning home with a bulging bag. And there's the garden produce to consider...and I have to figure out ways to use all of it up and keep the family from complaining.

So I was really excited to discover a recipe in the Weight Watchers Family Meals cookbook that made good use of all kinds of vegetables I'd picked up at the Farmers Market and from my garden.

It's a layered dish, but still pretty easy to make and full of flavor and summertime goodness.

Farmer Market Casserole with Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini

Right now all the ingredients are in season, which makes this the perfect summer recipe.
Makes 4 servings and is vegetarian and gluten free.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small eggplant (about 3/4 pound), unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or you can substitute about 2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh leaves), divided
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh sweet basil
3/4 pound medium to small tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (should be about equivalent to tomatoes)
1/4 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese 
1. Preheat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. Spray a shallow 8-cup casserole dish or 9-inch deep pie plate with olive oil nonstick spray.
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, onions, half the oregano, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; cook, stirring, until eggplant is very tender and browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if eggplants brown too quickly. Transfer to prepared dish or pie plate.

 3. Mix parsley, basil, remaining oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over eggplant mixture.

Even though the herbs are not the title of the recipe, they are key to adding flavor to the dish! 
4. Arrange tomato and zucchini slices on top of the herb-covered eggplant in alternating rows, overlapping slices.
Don't they look pretty? Mmm, nothing beats the flavor of garden tomatoes.
5. Bake until vegetables are tender and browned along the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Sprinkle evenly with cheese and place under broiler for about 2 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Note: Next time I might use goat cheese or Feta crumbles, both of which are locally produced by El Camino de Las Capbras. If you try it out let me know what you think!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Stress Cooking: Moroccan Inspired Meatball Stew

Life in the wilds of West Texas can definitely be exciting.

With school out, the kids love going to the farm with my darling husband to help out. Well, Kid 1 is learning how to work with the module builder and helping pack the harvested cotton. But Kid 2 just goes to have fun and explore and let her imagination run amok -- all of this is important work too.

Well, recently the kids got more excitement than they bargained for, and I got pretty darn close to a heart attack. 

While the family was out at the farm, I was visiting a friend when I got a text from a stranger that said: "I have got your kids." 

It turned out, he was a kind soul with the Grape Creek Volunteer Fire Department. My husband was moving the stripper (seriously, it's a cotton picking machine) from one farm to another when he managed to get tangled up in some electrical wires. The line was down and he couldn't get out until the power company came and turned off the electricity.

Fortunately, the kids were riding with his farm hand and following behind. So they were safe, but had front row seats of watching their father in trouble. 

As soon as I got the call, I drove like a crazy woman to get to my family. This is what greeted me:

When I got there, they'd managed to get the DH out and we were all able to unite for a family hug. But then he had to repair the stripper and move it off the road. Since the kids were shaken and I was of no use at the scene, I decided to take the kids back home.

I don't think I have ever prayed so hard or driven so fast in my life. It also left me full of gratitude and with an determination to cook. In our house, the kids help with the prep work and I figured that more than anything would help calm them down, bring back a bit of normalcy. Also, I wanted to greet my husband with a wonderful family meal.

Truth be told, I wanted, needed, the comfort of the kitchen, to do something. I wanted something warm to cut the chill of this experience, so I reached for the spices I'd grown up with -- bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and more. I added earthy turmeric and smoky cumin. To give it substance, I threw in hearty favorites like carrots, chickpeas and meatballs.

Working in the kitchen together, I saw my kids relax and listened to their thoughts and feelings. The aroma of spices melding together wrapped around us like a warm hug.

Somewhere along the way, I'd stopped watching the clock and so I was pleasantly surprised when the DH walked in the door. It was the best family meal we'd ever enjoyed. Life is full of blessings, big and small.

My Moroccan Inspired Meatball Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
5 cardamom pods, cracked
5 cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup baby carrots
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups beef broth
Frozen meatballs (as many as you want)
1 jalapeno, de-seeded and minced (optional)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 15.5-ounce canned garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained
1 cup whole green or black olives
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1 5-ounce package baby spinach leaves
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives or green onions
Serve over Brown Rice or Couscous with Fresh Cilantro and Lemon wedges (for garnish)


1. Heat oil in a large pot or a dutch oven.
2. Add whole spices (cinnamon to peppercorns) and cook for about 2 minutes. 
3. Add chopped onions, potatoes and carrots and cook until onions are softened.
4. Add in ground spices (turmeric to cumin), cook using bits of broth to keep the spices from sticking (but don't too much liquid at a time because you want to cook the rawness out of the spices)
5. When the spices look cooked, add in remaining broth, meatballs, jalapeno, tomatoes and chickpeas or garbanzos and apricots. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. (Potatoes and carrots should be tender by the end of it)
6. Add in olives and spinach, stir, Add salt to taste. Take off heat and top with fresh cilantro and green onions. Stir before serving over rice or couscous.


This post is part of Let’s Lunch (#LetsLunch), a twitter-based virtual lunch club where anyone interested can join our monthly ‘lunch date’. A topic is posted at the beginning of the month, and this motley group of food bloggers, writers and people who just love cooking from all around the world jump in and cook up a storm.

Cheryl Tan's Malay Vegetable Stew
Demetra's Coconut Shrimp Stew
Linda‘s Chinese Soy-Braised Pork & Peanut Stew
Lisa‘s Chicken & Fennel Casserole
Mel‘s Lamb & Harissa Stew
Betty-Ann‘s Salmon Sinigang (Tamarind Stew with Vegetables) 
Anyone can join at any time – just join us on twitter by searching and adding the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Join Me on My 2015 Cooking Challenge? Plus a lentil recipe!

Happy First Sunday of 2015! I have had time to reflect about the past year and examine my hopes for the new one, I have my coffee and I feel ready to share my thoughts.

So, here's what I learned in 2014:

One of the things I let go off last year was this blog. I cooked because I had to feed the family. Well, the break was good for my cooking soul because I missed cooking for fun and talking about food with friends. I'm wholeheartedly back in the kitchen and I have already cooked my first Bengali meal of the year:

Use of this image without permission is a copyright violation.

And I have decided to combine two different cooking challenges to come up with one that's my own.

The 52 NewFoods Challenge (#52NewFoods), developed by Jennifer Tyler Lee, a mother of two. She came up with the challenge in an effort to make her family eat better and include more variety.  

How it works: You try one new food each week for a year – or try an unfamiliar preparation of an already-known food. Each week, the family jointly chooses one new recipe and commits to preparing it together. 

Take a Bite Out of Your Cookbook Pile Challenge (inspired by the awesome Take a Bite Out of Your Aged TBR Romance Pile 2015 Reading Challenge). Basically, I have an entire floor-to-ceiling book shelf full of cookbooks and this is the year I'm using them!

What I like about my challenge:

  1. Committing to cooking together once a week is doable even for a busy family like mine.
  2. It involves the whole family, which means the work is shared and the kids are more likely to learn and hone kitchen skills.
  3.  If the kids help make it, I know they’ll be more likely to taste it. So, less  power struggles at the table, more fun and family time in the kitchen.
  4. We'll actually use my cookbook collection and it'll help me sort my books into keepers and giveaways. My local library loves getting cookbooks for its annual fundraising sale, your might too. 
  5. We get to enjoy good, healthy home-cooked food in the end of all the work. Note: Okay, so some of the recipes we try might not be as healthy as others, but since we're making it we'll know exactly what's in it and that's healthy in itself.
So are you taking on a foodie challenge (anything food related, doesn't have to be healthy or involve diets) this year? Want to join mine?

And, yes, I'm returning to food blogging this year. Food -- cooking, sharing and eating of it -- is nourishing to my body and my soul. Wishing you good health and good eats in 2015!

Now for the recipe...

In the Bengali meal picture, many would assume the shrimp curry with pumpkin and green beans (actually I used Kabocha squash since I was out of the more traditional pumpkin) is the star. Not so. It's the dahl, golden lentils cooked with warm, colorful spices and flavorings. There's a Bengali saying: Dahl bhaat Bangali. It translates too: A true Bengali only needs dahl and rice to be happy.

Use of this image without permission is a copyright violation.

Since it was for the new year, I decided to cook a fancier version of the dahl instead of my usual everyday one. There as many ways of cooking lentils as there are lentils in a bag.

Masala or Moshla Dahl (yes, my mother coached me over the phone for this one)

1 cup mung dahl (pale yellow lentils)
3 cups of water (added in separate amounts)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced, divided
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (in desi terms, this is ground red peppers. NOT a TX chili blend)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 serrano pepper, cut in half at the midpoint
1 or 2 tomatoes, diced
4 to 6 medium garlic cloves, finely minced or smashed
Salt (to taste)


1. Over medium heat, dry roast the lentils in a pot (basically, fry lentils in a dry pan or pot until you get a nutty aroma and the lentils turn a shade darker). 

2. Add enough water to just cover the lentils. Add in 1/3 of the onions and the spices (from turmeric to chili powder). Bring to a boil, lower heat to a gentle simmer.

3. Keep an eye on the lentils. When the water almost disappears, check the lentils. Mash them if you can, add more water to just cover and let them cook. Keep doing this until the lentils reach the consistency you want. I wanted it to be mostly creamy, but still with some shape to the lentils. When done, take it off the heat and set aside.

4. In a small frying pan, melt the butter.

5. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes. Add the mustard seeds and serrano pepper. Cook until onions are soft and browning.

6. Add the tomatoes and garlic, cook until soft. Scrape the cooked veggies and butter into the pot of cooked lentils. Add salt to taste, stir and serve with rice.

(Steps 4 through 6 is the bhagar or tarka process -- see glossary for more information.)