Thursday, March 25, 2010

Texas Hill Country

Well, it was an interesting short trip out to the Rio Frio area of Texas. Found out that people love to eat, shoot anything that crosses their path, and enjoy big open spaces. I think the most memorable dinner was the "ham" roast, served with collard greens, black eyed peas, and corn bread. In the heat everything goes well with a cold beer, so that was also well served with lime. The ham reminded me of "cerdo asado" in Colombia when I was child, baked whole and stuffed with rice and bean. It certainly was a sight to see. I wish I had a picture of that to share with you!

Let me know if you'd like the recipe, will post for you darlin'.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick's Soda Bread

Had a lovely visit from an angel of Ireland, and she left me with a recipe for Soda Bread from her great-great-grandmother Margaret! This is an old world recipe and I will attempt to make the measurements usable, but you must adjust quantities to help dough be right consistency. These are measurements for small a loaf, but quantities can be doubled to make a larger loaf.

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees, approximately.

1/3 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tsp. Baking soda
1/2 Tsp. Salt
1 egg,
1/3 cup butter milk

In a large mixing bowl, mix dry items: white flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt, mixing with your bare hands for 30 seconds.
Next mix egg into butter milk into measuring cup.

Now very gently and slowly mix the fluid into the dry mix, stirring with fork or spoon (see below).

The mixture must have a tacky texture. Final mixture should be moist, but not too hard to knead with your hands on a flat surface. Make sure the flat surface has flour so that dough does not stick. Knead dough with palm of your hands and by folding over several times, until there are few air bubbles appearing.

Now mold dough into a rounded bread loaf shape with hands (see below). Take a knife and make a cross on top and some small indentations like dimples on top of loaf.

Bake for 45 minutes approximately.
Check bread by tapping on the bottom with knuckles, loaf should have a hollow sound, like a drum top. The top should be nice and golden.

Enjoy with real butter & Happy St.Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

International Cookbook Seed

For years now I have been simmering on the idea of a Colombian/Persian cookbook. This was an initial sketch of a fabulous cookbook idea started by Shahrzad Naficy and me back in 2003.

Photograph from Legion Of Honor Museum, SF

Shahrzad and I arrived at the idea of consciously cooking delicious meals while we were attending graduate school. She at Mills College and I at John F. Kennedy University indulged ourselves in expanding our minds to creative writing and psychology. We were living together and sharing a small kitchen while renting rooms from a warm English lady in Oakland. We had the idea of sharing our recipes with those that were interested in Persian and Colombian cooking.

We took cooking seriously. I hardly remember how we found the time to make our meals so special. We were both taught cooking from our aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. I had traveled extensively in Europe and had also been shown cooking secrets from friends’ mothers & grandmothers all through Spain, Italy, Germany, even Sweden. Knowing humans to be so visual and relational, we couldn't help but think of cooking traditions being passed through generations by word of mouth and demonstration through time as a something really sacred. We felt connected and vibrant during these years. We were on the cusp of an internal awakening.

Eating is as old as any living creature on our blue planet. Humans evolved great hunting cunning and tools to use from far away, increasing their yield. Eventually, agriculture and domestication of animals created cities and boosted populations. Cooking also evolved alongside these survival needs, today as an art, a creative venture, or sometimes simply a quick distraction to our busy technology-dominated lives. Cooking and eating have been integral to our cultures: deaths, births, weddings, showers, christenings, bat mitzvah, birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, Pagan Soltices, graduations, and celebrations honoring those returning from wars. Rituals bring us together, marking special transitions into the seasons and in our lives. She and I both were lovers of rituals which nourished our physical bodies and spirits. Food has had a bewitching power we cannot deny. Our relatives showed us that it's not only how you prepare the food, but the ever-pressing need that family has to be nourished in body and spirit, daily. This was a constant in both our homes of origin. Our inherited cuisine was not only important to us, but was a huge part of our personalities. Shahrzad and I were known to invite others for dinner parties, tea parties, hot chocolate late night candlelight, and movies with dinner. People gathered around us because we provided so much comfort.

Shahrzad and I wanted to share these special recipes with you because we believed they held the power of female love & gentle wisdom embodied and transmitted through generations. We were not only concerned with using organic produce, and organic meats wherever possible, but felt strongly about reducing our impact by living more in harmony with nature. We had seen the explosion of mono food and fast food culture in the United States; these practices certainly feed people, but they increase the use of toxic pesticides, damaging ecosystems on many levels, not to mention the negative impact of preserved and highly processed food on our bodies causing dis-ease. We found the Bay Area, to be a haven of individuals, vendors, businesses that had some awareness as to the power of the locally grown, slow food movement. Organic means fruit, vegetables and even meat that have been grown, planted, and harvested with intentions to replenish and do little harm to the Earth. Nature gives so abundantly and we wanted to be able to pass this wisdom on to future generations.

For these reasons, we supported local farmers. Yes, Earth first, even when shopping and cooking scrumptious dishes. As many of us are aware, nature has been decimated by man's over-use and population explosion, but only we can make better choices here in our daily journey that will have positive impact and change. Holding this focus of an abundant healthy ecosystem often takes a little effort to shift our attentions to a vision for the future. Organic food also happens to taste better, has more nutrients, and of course, costs a bit more than other produce. We found that we experienced the difference in the amount of peace and light which had been ingested by these foods and meats - grown and cared for with gentleness as nature intended it to be.

Conscious cooking happened at every step of the way for both of us. Your thoughts, feelings, and intentions are important. We recommend making peace with family members before beginning the cooking process. Clear your mind of disturbing thoughts and emotions that have occurred. I found that my mood affected and enhanced the food preparation and final flavor. Your mood makes all the difference to the anatomical cellular structure of living plants and meats. See this article on thought forms affecting water molecules: & For example, Shahrzad likes to create a gentle environment in the kitchen with small tea lights on the counter. She usually had flowers nearby which happened to be a wonderful place to keep her company while she was cooking. Of course, I have yet to have a bad-tasting meal with her. I would also give a small silent Sufi prayer for any meats about to be prepared. Honoring the flesh of another animal about to be consumed is essential, even as our modern culture has moved away from awareness to how meat is raised and slaughtered. The next place awareness happens is in the tools to be used. Shahrzad and I both agreed that sharp cutlery is important to have and invest in. Dull knives, especially with tomatoes, have a tendency to destroy too many of fine subtleties in the flavor by breaking up too many cells upon cutting. Another key factor we have observed is always cooking in iron or stainless steel pots. This iron cookware enhanced the taste of food...

Photograph from Legion Of Honor Museum, SF

My new vision for this International Cookbook today will include not only Persian and Colombian, but also other recipes from other nations. I will be posting here individual recipes from all over the world, including my personal thoughts on the art of cooking. These will be collected into a published cookbook that will accompany you on your journey into fabulous & nourishing meals!

Addendum - Farmers Market Episode 1

I imagine I will certainly catch some vendors unprepared for my interviews at the Farmer's Market. Shirley from Donna's Tamales was kind enough to send me MORE details about their wonderful products that delight so many of the Bay Area fans. Thank you Shirley, I look forward to visiting the factory where all the magic takes place!

"We have been in the vegetarian and vegan tamale business for 18 years. All of our original recipes are created by Donna Eichhorn , owner and founder. What makes our tamales unique from all other tamales available in the bay area is the use of fresh ground masa (corn dough). We do not use corn flour nor any leavening agents (baking soda or powder). We use pure olive oil as our fat source and our tamales are the lowest fat tamales in the Bay Area.

Our tamales are made fresh for each market and delivery at a certified kitchen in San Rafael by a highly trained staff of five supervised by Donna herself. We make five to six thousand tamales a week, plus burritos, pupusas, salsas and enchamales (Donna invented the enchamale and trademarked the name). Our tamales are made in small batches, hand scooped and rolled to ensure the highest quality.

A small batch of tamales (3 dozen) would take 3-6 hours depending on the filling. So as you can see tamales are a labor of love and are generally prepared in families only for special occasions.

I agree with Shawn that our highest selling tamales are the Cheese Chile Corn and the Smoked Cheddar with Black Beans. Close on their heels is our Goat Cheese Tamales and our Vegan Tamales. We are almost as famous for our fabulous burritos as we are our tamales. Many farmers start their market day with a hot breakfast burrito from Donna’s or end the day with a Donna’s Burrito. Don’t forget about our delicious Vegan Burrito!!

Our tamales meet the needs of many people with specialty diets since our tamales are gluten free and contain no added sugar. Several of our tamales do not contain garlic, onions or tomatoes. We make tamales without anything spicy at all. In fact, our just corn tamales are delicious with maple syrup and fresh fruit on them, like a hot corn cake without all the fuss. Because we are in the markets throughout the bay area our tamales also follow the season. Soon we will have Asparagus tamales to trumpet in the spring!"