Friday, May 30, 2008

Local grains

At Tuesday's Farmers' Market (which I rarely attend, because it is not near my apartment) a few weeks ago, I was pleased to discover two local suppliers of grains.

Massa Organics grows and sells rice, and only rice. (And they do not mill white rice, only brown.) They are located near Chico, about three hours drive from Berkeley. They seem to be doing everything right: recycled water, organic, and they built their own house out of rice hay bales. Check out their blog for info about the farm, videos, and rice-based recipes. Massa Organics sells their rice for $2/lb in 2-lb bags, and $1.5/lb in 20-lb bags. Their rice is very tasty.

California is the largest rice-exporter in the world — we export 15% of the crop. (China is the largest rice producer, no surprise, but is a net importer.) So chances are that your generic supermarket rice is from California. But to get there, it got blended with other farms and shipped around the world first.

Rice milling begins by removing the inedible hull from the paddy rice, leaving brown rice. From there, the germ can be removed, leaving white rice. For information on California rice production, this article from UC Davis in 1997 is replete with information.

California rice is milled and marketed through grower cooperatives and independent millers. Paddy rice is transported to the mill and hulled to produce brown rice. Mills remove the bran to produce white rice. Price to the grower is principally based on the milling yield from 100 pounds of paddy rice, which includes head rice (the percentage of unbroken whole kernels) and the sum of head rice and broken rice (total rice); mill by-products add to the overall market value of rice (fig. 30).  [quoted from UC Davis' Rice Project, 1997]

As always, brown rice should be combined with 1.5 parts salted water per part dry rice. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cook covered with well-fitted lid between 20 and 30 minutes, until the water is essentially gone. Without uncovering, remove from heat, and steam at least 20 minutes (rice will be crunchy but yummy after only 40 minutes cooking). Rice will hold its heat for a long time. As it continues to steam (say another 20 minutes, bringin total cooking time to one hour), it will start tasting richer, as if it has been mixed with butter.

Full Belly Farm primarily grows standard horticultural crops (vegetables, herbs, and fruit), flowers, eggs, wool, and wheat. I have yet to try their wheat, since I still have pounds of red wheat berries from Berkeley Bowl. Full Belly is located near Guinda, about an hour from Berkeley, and sells their wheat for $1/lb in 2-, 5-, and 10-lb bags.

California produces a fair amount of wheat, but not nearly as much as the inland northwest and north. Producing 2% of the national wheat market, California ranks 19th among the fifty states in wheat production. More statistics are available here. For comparison, Montana produces 20% of the organic wheat crop.

Wheat berry takes forever to cook. It is yummy and crunchy after an hour, and will very slowly soften for hours after that. I like to combine one part wheat berry with two parts salted water, simmer covered until the water cooks off, and continue to steam after that. Better is to first sauté aromatics (onions and fennel) and then add the berries.

A year ago, I would have balked at the asking prices for these two farms. But the price of grains has doubled nationally and tripled worldwide in the last year, and $1/lb for wheat and $2/lb for rice are perfectly reasonable.

Stir-fry with tofu noodles, mushrooms, and peas

At the Berkeley farmers' markets, and indeed at every farmers' market in the Bay Area, is a stand for Hodo Soy, which makes excellent tofu and tofu-based prepared products. (I cannot, however, recommend their soy milk. It is the dried and ground soy beans dissolved in water that will have calcium added to curdle. It tastes exactly like what it is: a step along the way and by-product of tofu manufacturing.)

One tasty ingredient available from Hodo Soy are their soy noodles: firm tofu pressed through a spaghetti maker. These are excellent in stir-fries. The tofu, made fresh daily, tastes good already, and the high surface area allows the tofu to pick up flavors from the sauce.

In the wok, we heated vegetable oil with a little sesame oil, and briefly sautéed green onion, sliced mushrooms, and chopped baby bok choy (mei ching choi), and the tofu noodles.

Mei Ching Choi is a Pak Choi (Bok Choy) hybrid, making it a brassica like Broccoli or Cabbage.

Then we added snap peas (tips and strings removed), soy sauce, and one can each of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. After a few stirs, we covered the wok and let the mixture simmer and heat.

Aim for your stir fry to have a little liquid at the bottom. Right before serving, combine a Tablespoon of corn starch with enough soy sauce to dissolve, and maybe a little sesame oil. Remove stir-fry from heat, and, stirring constantly, add corn-starch mixture. A few tosses, since the pan is still hot, should be enough to create the sticky glaze on tasty stir-fries. Mix in some toasted sesame seeds for good measure, and serve.

We had our stir-fry over brown rice.


My boyfriend and I have made two different risottos recently, with varying success.

Oat groats make for a fantastic risotto. We followed the recipe for "Green Risotto with Fava Beans, Peas, and Asparagus" from Chez Panisse Vegetables, only substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth, and oats for arborio rice.

I don't have the book handy right now (being in Oregon and all), but my memory is: Heat six to eight cups stock. Sauté covered a spring onion in butter until liquidy, and then add two (?) cups grains. Mix with the butter, and then with 2/3 cup white wine. Then begin ladling in stock, mixing grains before and after, for quite some time. Meanwhile, parboil shelled fava beans, remove outer skin from the beans, and cook again with peas; puree legumes in blender. Add green puree to grains, along with asparagus (remove hard bottom inch, and chop into quarter-inch pieces on the diagonal), parmesan cheese, and a little cream ten minutes before serving.

In any case, oats cook exactly right for risotto. They have a nice mild flavor, and pick up the wine and vegetable flavors well, and achieve the desired mushiness without effort. I highly recommend substituting oats for the traditional arborio in any risotto recipe.

Wheat berries, however, are an inferior grain for risotto. We did achieve a tasty asparagus risotto, not following any particular recipe, but two cups of wheat berry went through a bottle of cheap white wine, eight cups of vegetable stock, a cup of cream, and three hours of simmering, and were still a little crunchy. Wheat berries expand precipitously.

The wheat risotto was better upon reheating. Before adding the refrigerated wheat berry, I sautéed one bulb of fennel in butter. Be very careful, however, when reheating risotto on stove-top, and stir continuously: when we were eating up leftovers, I forgot that there was a lot of parmesan cheese in the risotto, which burnt on the bottom of the pan. We caught it, and the flavor was not ruined, just a little smoky.

I think if I were to make a wheat berry risotto again, I would soak my wheat berries overnight in white wine. Or, better, slow-cook the berries eight hours.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oregon Visit

Here in Oregon, where I'm visiting my parents for a few days, it's rainy and gray. Come on, whether gods! It's almost June! Oregon has great berries, and more generally great farming, but the seasons are a month later than in California.

Soon I will post some of the meals I've made over the past week. In the mean time, my parents' dinner last night deserves mention: penne pasta (boiled and drained), cooked in the wok with bell pepper (sauteed in olive oil first; from Mexico), white beans (from a can, drained), sun-dried tomatoes (from a jar, preserved in olive oil), canned whole tomatoes (with juice), dino kale (chopped, and stirred into the liquid to cook a few minutes; local), and a little hot sauce. One could also add anchovy (canned) to this fantastic winter dish.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cookies and Cheesecake

For my review session yesterday, I made cookies for my students. I more-or-less followed this recipe, although I did not chill the dough at all. Instead, the very moist dough I plopped onto parchment-lined cookie sheets by the Tablespoon. I also over-worked the flour and eggs a bit, because I made a single batch, and then decided to double it. The cookies were tasty, and not quite as crisp as they'd be with less beating and more chilling.

The recipe is a standard one. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Combine wet ingredients in standing mixer with paddle, and then add dry to wet. Dry ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
Wet ingredients:
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, lemon extract, or orange extract

My boyfriend had an end-of-term party for one of his classes, and wanted to bring something showy but not too difficult. "Theo, will you bake me a cheesecake?" he asked sweetly. This one is from Betty Crocker's Best of Baking, which he had got me for Christmas.

Preheat oven 275°. Grease a springform pan, the bottom lined with parchment. In double boiler, or otherwise, melt and allow to cool slightly
  • 8 oz dark chocolate chips.
In a standing mixer, beat together
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 3 eggs
  • the chocolate,
adding ingredients one-by-one in the order listed, and scraping down the bowl each time. Pour into prepared pan, and bake 75 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature uncovered, then cover and cool in the refrigerator at least three hours.

Because I had accidentally added two Tbsps flour and then worked the batter too much, my cheesecake puffed up in the oven and then deflated, developing a large crack. Ah, well.

Pour over cheesecake a sauce made in double boiler from
  • 6 oz white chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
melted but not boiled, and allowed to cool at least two hours before use. Decorate cake with strawberries and shaved chocolate.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coffee shops in Berkeley

My favorite coffee-shop drink is a mocha with soy; I'll occasionally order it iced, or I'll get a house coffee. There are many, many coffee shops in Berkeley, and I'll never evaluate all of them. But here's some thoughts.

  • Au Coquelet. Decent food, and not bad coffee. Desserts look great, and taste fine.
  • Berkeley Espresso. Not very good. Coffee is too bitter, but the tea selection is good. Environment is a little dark.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee. Mostly certified organic and shade-grown, but not certified fair trade. They have a stand at Farmers' Market, selling bags of coffee and fresh-brewed drip coffee, but no espresso drinks. Their drip coffee is the best coffee I have ever had. (Their coffee is featured at, for instance, Chez Panisse, Guerilla, and Intermezzo.)
  • Brewed Awakening. Always abuzz with mathies and folks from the seminary around the corner. Decent coffee, but uninspiring tea collection. Very fast, and friendly.
  • Cafe Cacao. Absolutely the best mocha I've ever had. They use their own (Scharffen Berger) chocolate, and the mocha is perfectly sweetened, the soymilk steamed womderfully, and the leafing is gorgeous. Be sure to make reservations, and go for brunch or lunch after taking the factory tour.
  • Cafe Intermezzo. Second best mocha. They mix their espresso, soy milk, and chocolate first, and then steam it; then they add more steamed milk for the leafing. The barista I had (who was, incidentally, pretty cute) gave me a lovely five-petaled flower. I appreciate that they take your order and then ask for details (how many shots of espresso, what kind of milk).
  • Cafe Milano. Decent food, decent coffee, fun environment.
  • Cafe Strada. Decent mocha, lovely outdoors environment, but no food.
  • Espresso Roma Cafe. Decent mocha, lovely outdoors environment, good-looking food, and very good iced coffee.
  • Fertile Grounds. Lousy mocha, one of the worst I've had. They use unsweetened Scharffenberger cocoa powder, but not enough, end unsweetened soy milk. Small shop, with good-looking food (and good-looking barista). But an all-around disappointment. My roommate says that their spiced mocha is also lousy.
  • Free Speech Movement Cafe. Very fast, and they are good about using only organic, fair-trade coffee. Iced mocha is not mixed well.
  • The French Hotel. Mocha is fine, although they don't use nonfat in spite of the request, and they were out of whipped cream. Prepare to stop, drop, and role at the counter: I was spurted by (well-)creamed soy milk.
  • Guerilla Cafe. Serving Blue Bottle coffee and espresso (French-press for house coffee, and you can get a whole pot), Guerilla has fun decor and a great vibe. The staff are consistently smiling and up-beat, in an honest, funky way. The cafe composts and serves organic produce, and best of all the menu brags about the farm they get their organic free-range eggs from, and the chocolate (Dagoba) and bread. The poached-eggs-and-toast is nothing to write home about, but the waffles — with different flavors each day (e.g. we had spiced-carrot) — are divine. Guerilla is my new favorite brunch place, provided I live on waffles and coffee: the line is shorter and prices are better than at Venus, and it's around the block. We had mochas on a Sunday afternoon. The barrista was friendly, but seemed new to barristaing; the mochas were fine. The cayenne in their spicy mocha burns in the back of the throat, and the regular mocha tastes strongly of cinnamon. (On a later, weekday trip, we got a mocha "for here", which was quite pretty.) The teas are loose and excellent. Guerilla is closed on Mondays.
  • La Note. The line is usually more than an hour, and the coffee (not to mention the brunch) is quite good. Not as good as Venus, down the block.
  • Musical Offering. Expensive, upscale, and there's a very rude woman who works there. But the rest of the staff is friendly, the coffee good, the music great, and the food fantastic.
  • Nefeli Cafe. Decent coffee, pretty good food. Iced mocha is not mixed well.
  • Peet's. Fast, chain, and their mochas are only slightly too sweet.
  • People's Cafe. I'm not a fan of their coffee — the powdered chocolate in the mocha is too sweet — but they are cheep and have free wifi and don't bother you.
  • Starbucks. Chain, and every drink they serve is too sweet.
  • Sufficient Grounds. Great name, lousy cafe. I agree with the reviews on yelp: the place is a donut shop more than a coffee shop. Wireless is free, and the coffee could be worse, but I wish there were air conditioning. I haven't tried the mocha, and don't expedt to. The sandwiches look good.
  • Sweet Adeline. Co-op bakery in North Oakland. Baked goods are fine, and the soy milk is creamed well. The Sunday barrista seems easily flustered, but the staff are very friendly.
  • Terrace Cafe. This on-campus eatery is a bit of a disappointment, but right next to my office. Their "food" consists of grab-and-go microwavable things in plastic, and their espresso drinks are lousy (mocha is made with bottled chocolate milk). Their black coffee, though, is decent: they serve Peerless Coffee, and have self-serve urns with all different flavors, including one organic fair-trade blend.
  • Tully's. A chain, but a decent one. They have People's Republic teas, and their coffee is decent. They've moved to only organic fair-trade coffee, which is awesome. They use Starbucks-style sizes (tall, grande, venti), which is bizarre.
  • Venus. Best brunch in Berkeley. Excellent service, food, and environment. Oh, and good coffee.
  • Village Grounds. Very good coffee — one of the better iced mochas I've had. Not great for grab-and-go coffee, because the baristas are not fast, but they are very friendly and consistently dyke-looking. Very busy, good place to work (free wifi and outlets). Good food. Village Grounds is a good working environment, with power and wireless. My roommate has worked there enough that she's friends with the barista. If you're not in a coffee mood, I highly recommend their fresh "squeezed" juices. I particularly like the sparkling lemonade.
  • Yali's Oxford Street Cafe. A friend says their house coffee is very good, but I was unimpressed with their mocha. The food is good, but too expensive. Overall, nice, but not worth the price. The house coffee is reasonably good, and they use Vitasoy if you ask for soy milk, which is tasty.

Easy elegance

I had an elegant dinner last night with my boyfriend.

Brown rice I started ahead of time. Although no different from the way I normally make it, the rice was extra buttery from having longer to cook. It needed 30 minutes simmering in 1.5-to-1 salted water, and ten more minutes steaming itself (turned off) for crunchy rice, but it will continue to hold its heat, and mine sat on the stove turned off for 40 minutes.

Broccoli takes just a few minutes to cook. Heat a healthy does of olive oil in a fry-pan with well-fitting lid, while you chop broccoli, separating leaves (cut into 1-inch strips) from stems and florets (use all of the broccoli, except the bottom dried-out bit, and be careful to prepare florets pretty). Add stems and then florets to hot pan, cover, and shake over heat to coat broccoli with oil. Then add leaves, cover, shake, and steam until bright green. Remove from heat; it will hold for up to five minutes, but I don't like my broccoli too cooked.

Snapper takes about seven minutes to pan fry. Heat oil in a large non-stick pan, and place fillets out flat. Sprinkle with dill, cover, and cook four minutes. Then flip each fillet, and cook other side another three minutes. Plate, and sprinkle on more dill. Expect about 1/2 a pound fish per person.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Greek dinner

This is a meal from more than a week ago, which I failed to write up.

My dance partner, following suggestions from a Greek friend of hers, puts mint in her spanakopita; I use fresh oregano with the spinach, and sometimes parsley. This time, I more-or-less followed this recipe, taking liberties.

Preheat the oven 400°F or so. Defrost frozen phyllo dough in the fridge overnight. Wash, chop, and cook down a large bunch of spinach and drain, and combine in a large bowl with feta, oregano, parsley, a hint of pepper, and salt only if the feta is not salty enough. A little olive oil, and some corn starch to thicken the filling is probably in order. Coat a lasagna pan with olive oil. Fold filling into phyllo triangles, and place in pan, coating both sides with oil. Bake until top is correctly golden and crispy, about 20 minutes for folded triangles.

For a very tasty Greek side to serve with the spanakopita, cook a medium pot of brown rice (1.5 to one water, simmer covered 20 minutes, then turn off heat but leave covered to steam 20 minutes), and combine over heat with a drained and heated can black-eyed peas, fresh oregano, lots of good olive oil, plenty of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Essentially this is rice-and-beans, mixed with a Greek salad dressing, served hot.

For a Greek salad, what's most important is a salty lemon-juice dressing. Next most important is having large pieces of feta in the salad, and fresh oregano and good olives are always a plus — I picked up a small tin of kalamata and green-stuffed-with-lemon-peel olives. For summer Greek salads, tomato, cucumber, and onions are standard; winter Greek salads sometimes have cabbage. We've been having incredible lettuces from Riverdog, so our Greek salad was a lettuce salad with olives, feta, oregano, and dressing.

My boyfriend and my roommate each said the meal was the best they'd had in quite some time.

Friday, May 2, 2008


This is an old entry, posted on my old recipe page. But the boyfriend and I are celebrating our three-month anniversary tonight with pizza. I think tonight's will be a three-cheese pizza: mozzarella, smoked sheep's gouda, and a fresh chevre.

Pizza is a straightforward concoction. Begin with a simple white bread dough — do not use any oil or fat in the dough. For example, combine 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 Tbsp salt, 1/2 Tbsp yeast, and then mix/knead in enough cold water for a satiny dough (roughly a cup). Let the dough rise, rolled into a tight ball on a floured surface and covered, for perhaps an hour.

Adjust the oven's racks to low, and put in a baking stone — a large flat ceramic piece that has high specific heat, and on which you will directly bake the pizza. You can use an upside-down cookie sheet, but higher specific heat is better. Preheat oven 500°F, or as hot as it will go. Professional pizzeria ovens are wood-fired and stay at about 800°F. Eventually, when I am grown up and have my own house and land, I will build an outdoor brick-and-clay oven that goes this hot. In outdoor- and pizzeria-ovens, the floor of the oven is lined with heat-proof bricks which act like a baking stone in a home oven; the pizzas and breads are baked directly on the bricks.

When the dough has doubled (about an hour), sprinkle a pizza peel liberally with corn meal — it's hard to have too much. With a well-floured hand, grab a large handful of dough. On a floured surface, roll into a ball, and flatten into a disk. Move to the pizza peel, and stretch out with the tips of fingers into a large, thin circle. Be sure not to puncture the disk — we don't want an annulus. If you're really good, you can stretch the dough quite a bit in the air.

Cover the crust with a thin layer of sauce. Sauce? While the dough was rising, pulse a can of diced tomatoes in a food processor with a pinch of salt and some fresh basil, and let drain in a sieve for half an hour. Be sure to leave half an inch of crust at the edge of the pizza. Transfer to 500°F oven, and bake for five minutes. Remove from oven, and place half-inch cubes of mozzarella with half-inch spacing on top. Return to oven for five more minutes. If your oven goes to 800°F, you only need five minutes total bake time (and should use a higher-gluten dough; at home-oven temperatures, a mix of all-purpose and cake flour is best). Slice a fresh heirloom tomato, and when pizza is done, remove from oven and press slices of tomato and leaves of basil into the still-melted cheese. Sprinkle with a little salt, and a capful of extra-virgin olive oil.

You can serve the pizzas on the stone, removed from the oven and placed on something that will protect the table from the heat. The stone, with its high specific heat and hearty aesthetic, will keep the pizzas warm as a centerpiece. But do not cut the pizzas on the stone: for one, many stones do not take well to steal knives scratching them, but even moreso, the ceramic will absorb oils from the mozzarella, and next time you bake with it, those spots will blacken and smoke.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cooked Fall/Winter/Spring salad

I'm in the process of eating up my winter storage foods, to make space for summer crops. I have two gallons of frozen peaches: those go in pies, cookie bars, and hot breakfast cereal.

I had leftover phyllo dough from a dinner I haven't blogged yet. Let phyllo defrost in the fridge overnight. In a small/medium saucepan, prepare a spicy peach pie filling: frozen peaches, lemon juice, honey, lavender, cinnamon, clove, and corn starch. Also melt a few Tablespoons of butter, or for vegan use oil. Cut phyllo into few-inch strips, and place filling at one end, and fold up. Some people place butter between the layers, but I don't. I do use three or so strips per triangle, since my filling is pretty juicy. Bake in a buttered pan, and brush the melted butter on top of the pastries.

Squash also needs to be eaten. So my dinner tonight was a mix of vegetables best in different seasons. My apologies. All are local, and purchased seasonally. In any case, wash and halve one delicata squash, and remove seeds and strings with a spoon. Peel with peeler (you don't have to be too careful; the skin of the delicata is relatively tender), and chop into small cubes. Bake in an open oven-safe dish, having first tossed squash with oil and salt.

Meanwhile, wash, peel, and chop one bunch beats. Place in small pan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, and simmer covered until tender.

Shell a pound of fresh peas into serving bowl (one pound pods yields one cup peas). Toss with some marmalade, olive oil, and dijon mustard. Beats should be tender by now; drain in colander and rinse in running water. Toss with peas to coat with dressing. By now, squash is done; mix that in too. Salad will be brightly colored and sweet. Serves one.

Oats with fennel, greens with fava

I spent a week eating out: the box last week was very thin, due to a late frost; I missed Market on Saturday, due to a weekend trip; a series of friends asked me out. So I was looking forward to yesterday's box, and the chance to eat in. Sure enough, they did not disappoint: fennel and green onion, and fava beans so plump they were splitting at the seams.

An old and faithful dish on this blog, in a small/medium saucepan, sauté one bulb fennel (washed and chopped, with stems retained for stock) and one spring onion (ditto), as well as a handful of fresh sage, in butter. Add between 2/3 and 1 cup oat berry, twice as much water, and some salt. Cover, bring to boil, and simmer at least thirty minutes; remove lid and cook off some of the excess water.

In a wok, combine fava beans and garlic in olive oil over high heat. Sauté a bit, until beans start to burst open; add a bag of braising greens, coarsely chopped (will cook down) and a splash of water, and cover to steam. After a few minutes, drain excess water, and salt and pepper to taste.