Posts tagged ‘experiment’

April 3, 2018

Spring is for Renewal – Even in the Kitchen!

Spring is for renewal – even in the kitchen! The winter season is hanging on here and there, but the spring growing season will soon arrive with wild contributions of poke salat, dandelion greens, and lamb’s quarters.
Of course you’re not required to eat from your yard. Farmers markets, food co-ops and select grocery stores will fill vegetable bins with leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. Fresh vegetables deserve a fresh presentation now and then and spring feels like the proper time for renewed inventiveness in the kitchen.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to pick leaf lettuce from the garden my grandmother planted at our farm. It was so tender and flavorful, nothing like an iceberg lettuce wedge which I only really appreciate when drenched in bleu cheese dressing topped with bacon pieces. For years, it was the only lettuce I knew. (How lucky was I?)

The vegetables we grew were what we ate. My mom wasn’t going to drive into town to buy different vegetables from the store when we had perfectly good ones peeking through the dirt across the driveway. Of course, we didn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so necessity became the mother of invention. New combinations or cooking methods developed on the fly.

A few years ago when I first purchased a share in an organic farm, I noticed that a similar thing happened in my kitchen. Rather than plan meals and make a shopping list, I was suddenly planning dishes based on the surprise ingredients I received each Friday when I picked up my share from the farm. Not knowing in advance what I would get made the experience feel like a cooking adventure. It renewed my sense of creativity in the kitchen.

Now, when the weather warms, I can’t help but feel an excited anticipation for the arrival of fresh tender greens, small green onions, beets, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. I love the bright colors! I love the flavors! And I love having a chance to think of new combinations!

I was thinking about giving you some recipes next, but that might keep you from the fun of creating your own. I would never want to rob you of fun! Instead, here are the top 8 ingredients I like to have available to pair with fresh veggies:

While they’re great for soooo many things, it’s not always practical to keep an avocado in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many I’ve thrown away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the changing level of ripeness.

Now I keep Wholly Guacamole avocado minis on hand. I can use them in anything requiring mashed avocado without worrying whether they’ve gone bad.

Goat Cheese
The light creaminess of goat cheese won’t overpower even delicate garden flavors.

Boiled Eggs
Keeping a few boiled eggs in the refrigerator comes in handy for salads and casseroles as well as pasta dishes.

Fresh Ginger
Grated fresh ginger is delicious with beets or green beans and can give salad dressing a kick.

Any fresh herb could make this list on a given day, but today I like mint. Tomorrow, who knows, I may like cilantro.

Mirin or Rice Vinegar
Mirin is a rice wine with a light sweet flavor. Both mirin and rice vinegar add light acidity to a dish or dressing.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I buy hulled pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven with a little olive oil spray and salt. They bring a satisfying crunch and earthy flavor to salads. They’re great by the handful too.

I like the texture of quinoa. It works great as a base for a Buddha bowl or a salad and it has a higher protein-to-carb ratio than rice.

With these ingredients, or your own favorites, you’ll be well equipped for a variety of spring culinary creations. Inspiration for combinations can come from anywhere — accidentally tasting two things together on your plate, a dish you’re served in a restaurant, something you remember from childhood, a recipe you want to vary, a cooking show, a painting — literally anything!

This is the kind of post that makes my sister crazy! She would be much happier with an actual recipe. I want her to learn to play with flavors. Mostly, I want her to have the pleasure of discovering something new, delicious, and totally unexpected that she created. I want that experience for all of us! It feels so great on so many levels!
I feel so grateful that spring offers the bounty for such opportunities over and over and over again! It truly is a time of renewal.

March 13, 2018

Time Is On Your Side

jellyThere’s no need for pressure in the kitchen; time is on your side. If you’re a fan of TV cooking shows, it may seem like cooking is a timed event. That may be true in reality TV, but it is not reality. In fact, taking your time in the kitchen can bring added benefits!

Of course, it makes sense that TV shows time challenges to build tension that will keep you watching through the breaks, but that might not seem so normal if we hadn’t gradually filled our days with more and more activity and more and more distractions to the point that hurrying has become a way of life. If we begin to think of cooking as a challenge to be conquered in a certain amount of time, we may end up with good-tasting food, but we’ll miss the joy of the process.
My grandmother worked, gardened, canned, and cooked. When she made tomato juice, it was no 30 minute process! In fact, it stretched over months. She planted tomato seeds, tended the garden, harvested the tomatoes, cooked them down, pressed them through a cheesecloth lined chinois using a wooden pestle into sterilized jars, then topped the jars and placed them in a pressure canner for about 25 minutes. Whatever time she spent was worth it! It was the most delicious tomato juice I’ve ever tasted and it only contained tomatoes and salt.

You don’t have to begin with seeds to make delicious food. I only relate the story to help put things in perspective. My grandmother thought nothing of spending an entire day in the kitchen canning tomato juice. There was no hurry to her process.

Viewing meal preparation as a hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with experience adds pressure and robs us of the chance to:


Taking time to scout for unique ingredients can lead you to ethnic grocery stores, pick-your-own farms, urban gardens, farmer’s markets or produce stands along the highway. Picking strawberries, choosing blue crabs, or tasting churros at an unfamiliar mercado can be a great way to explore your area and spend time together as a family.
blue crabs

If you’re trying to get out of the kitchen quickly, you’re unlikely to try something new. Experiments are, by nature, less predictable in time and result than dishes you’ve prepared many times. But eating the same thing over and over gets tiring. Why not make cherry upside down brownies? Why not slow roast a pork butt for the neighborhood barbecue? Why not cook the greens from the tops of radishes and beets? Why not try making croissants?


There are tons of lessons to be learned in the kitchen. If you’re hurrying through meal prep, you’ll have no time to teach those lessons. Not only will your kids miss out on learning, they’ll miss valuable memories of spending time with you while surrounded by warmth and the aroma of bread baking.


Kitchen prep time is great for dancing along to your favorite tunes or having a family sing-a-long. Think of it as multitasking in the best sense of the word.


It’s impossible to be fully present in the moment when you’re rushing around. If you slow down enough to smell each ingredient, notice its texture, carve it carefully, or roll it evenly, you’ll have a chance to savor each tactile delight.

I love being in the kitchen. I know it makes me feel better, and yet sometimes I fight cooking. I wait too long to start and get too hungry. I fail to inventory my pantry for ingredients, lack something essential, and refuse to substitute. I wait too long to cook some meat and it’s spoiled when I open it. While this doesn’t make me proud, I just have to let it go.

I know the value of being in the kitchen and I am usually mindful enough to enjoy the experience when I’m there. Lots of new recipes and delicious food have resulted from my less than perfect kitchen attendance. I’m going to let that be good enough. From this point, I plan to take my time and savor more and more joy during my kitchen time.

June 14, 2016

Where Does Brown Sugar Get Its Tan?

taw sugarI’ve been comparing tans to brown sugar which led me to wonder – where does brown sugar get its tan?

I know that sounds like a weird comparison, but I’m going to a wedding in Santa Barbara this summer so I’ve been focussed on getting some sun on my legs. At some point, I may or may not have been gawking at some tan legs in the grocery store thinking that’s the shade I want. Next thing you know, I’m wondering about the different colors of brown sugar – a leap not that unusual in my world. It happens.

Soft, moist, caramel tasting brown sugar comes in many shades – light brown, dark brown, and even darker pilonchillo. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved the way it feels to pack it into a measuring cup and then watch it easily break apart again when poured into a bowl of cookie dough. It seems that it’s time to learn more about this delightful ingredient.

The short answer to where does brown sugar get its tan is…molasses. The darkness of the brown is directly related to the percentage of molasses it contains. Light brown sugar contains about 4.5% while dark brown sugar contains about 6.5%.

Brown sugar begins just like white sugar as a syrup most often made from crushing sugar cane to squeeze out juice, then evaporating that cane juice to form a thick syrup. A similar syrup can be derived from sugar beets. The thick syrup is full of molasses. Sometimes the syrup is further evaporated and then spun in a centrifuge to remove the molasses. This is how Turbinado and demerara sugars are made. You may know them as Raw Sugar.

Other natural brown sugars are not refined (put in a centrifuge) and retain a higher degree of molasses. You may know these as panela, rapadura, chancaca, jaggery, or piloncillo. These sugars are commonly boiled in open pans on wood fires until the sugar cane juice is reduced by 70% and begins to form crystals. The sugar is then poured into a mold or is cooled and beaten to produce granulated brown sugar.

In the Philippines, partially centrifuged evaporated and crystallizing cane juice is used to create a mush that’s allowed to drain using gravity creating a natural brown sugar called muscovado. A similar process is used in Japan to produce kokuto.

While natural brown sugars retain molasses from the partially evaporated cane juice, brown sugar can also be made by adding molasses to refined white sugar. This is how commercial brown sugar is commonly made. Adding molasses back to white sugar allows the ratio of molasses to be carefully controlled. It is also a less expensive process.
br sugar
For a fun experiment, buy a cone of pilonchillo at your local mercado and a bag of commercially produced brown sugar from your neighborhood market. Wash a small amount of each with water in a bowl. After the water turns brown, pick up a few sugar crystals from the bottom of the bowl with your fingers. Notice how the sugar crystals that remain in the bowl of washed commercial brown sugar are white, but the remaining pilonchillo crystals are darker. That is because there’s molasses within the crystals.

What’s all that pretty brown sugar used for? It sweetens many baked goods and is used as a substitute for maple syrup or maple sugar. It is slightly lower in calories than white sugar. To further reduce calories and carbs in a recipe you may want to consider using coconut crystals.

Now that we’ve gotten to know brown sugar a little better, it’s time for me to get back outside and get some sun on my legs. I don’t want them to be scary white when I hit the beach!