Good food for a bad economy

Times are tough. Unemployment is growing, the Dow Jones is plummeting and my 401K is a mere shadow of its former self. (Yes, I did peek at the online statement last week and, no, that wasn’t such a great idea.)

What we need now is some good, cheap food that doesn’t leave us feeling even poorer when we get up from the table. My candidate is a wonderful dish of rice, lentils and onions beloved in the countries rimming the Mediterranean from Greece to Morocco.

I first tasted this earthy pilaf at a Lebanese cafe in Portland, Oregon. Smitten, I knew I wanted to make it at home and I found numerous recipes with different spellings of the name, mujadra. They were all very similar. My version uses brown rice to boost the nutrition.

This is one case where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Continue reading Good food for a bad economy

Cookies for Halloween

Every holiday deserves a cookie in my book.

Others may associate Halloween with hermetically sealed commercial candy. I think of the cookies frosted in orange icing that my mother and I made when I was a child.

She would roll out the dough and I would help cut out the rounds and bake them. When they were cool, we would frost them with orange buttercream and decorate them with raisins to make jack-o-lantern faces. Then we would pack them up, two at a time, in waxed paper sandwich bags to give to the trick-or-treaters who knocked on our door.

My father was in the service at the time and, although we moved every two years, we usually lived on or near Continue reading Cookies for Halloween

Vietnamese sandwiches at home

One of the perks of working in Silicon Valley for so long was the little ethnic restaurants found at virtually every strip mall. You could eat your way around the world without ever leaving the South Bay. And I did.

From Salvadoran pupusas in a converted burger shack to Indian dosas in a barely remodeled coffee shop, I discovered vibrant flavors and delightful textures in unexpected places. One of the things I’ve missed the most since leaving the Mercury News is the Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, that I used to grab for a quick lunch at least once a week at the hole-in-the-wall shop not far from my office. Continue reading Vietnamese sandwiches at home

Sweet peppers, the last gifts of summer

Ripe bell peppers at the market
Ripe bell peppers at the market

We can buy red and yellow bell peppers year-round at my neighborhood grocery store. Usually hot house-grown, frequently imported, they contribute welcome color and crunch to our salads during the dreary winter months.

They have little in common, however, with the gorgeous vine-ripened bells that overflowed the bins at our local farmers market last weekend. Large, glossy and richly colored, these thick-walled peppers were meaty and packed with sweet flavor.

Such luscious peppers are among the last gifts of summer. They almost make up for the fact that this year’s tomato harvest is in its waning days. Soon the warm weather produce will be gone and all that will be left in the market will be the sturdy greens, squash and root vegetables of fall and winter.

With such an abundance of appealing peppers at bargain prices, I couldn’t resist buying a bagful to cook in the Italian manner Continue reading Sweet peppers, the last gifts of summer

The apples of my eye

Organic Fuji apples from Watsonville
Organic Fuji apples from Watsonville

If the sun is beginning to ride low in the sky and the evening breeze carries a hint of frost now and then, it must be apple harvest time. This is one of my favorite seasons of year, when apple growers start bringing their crisp Fuji, tangy Arkansas Black Twig, mellow Mutsu, and crunchy Newtown Pippin apples to the farmers market. If I’m lucky, there will be a few Winter Banana and Esopus Spitzenberg varieties in the mix.

Just-picked apples are vibrant testimony to the glories of locally grown fruit in season. Bite into a Fuji fresh off the tree and that imported Granny Smith from the supermarket seems bland and boring by comparison. Continue reading The apples of my eye