We don’t mind long driving trips, quite the contrary.  My husband and I love to drive, switching the pilot and co-pilot roles every couple hours, so that no one becomes overly tired. We’ve taken many long trips together this way, but never with our dogs as (reluctant) passengers. This was a first for them, and because of  their advanced age we were a bit worried.  The first stretch took us from Oklahoma all the way to Sedona, AZ, where we spent a day resting our tired bones and making sure the dogs recovered.

They spent most of the day in the prone-position, alternating between profound snoring and dreaming, their paws kicking imaginary enemies or perhaps pursuing chubby squirrels in the backyard left behind. Nine hundred and twenty five miles behind. But that, was just the beginning…

The second and final leg of the trip, from Sedona to Los Angeles, was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Our Dalmatian developed severe intestinal problems, but because of the heat while crossing the Mojave Desert, we brought them into the cab with us. The adjectives “stressful” and “uncomfortable” don’t quite describe it.   I only put things in perspective by thinking about a recent story from my friend Jenny, who endured an 11 hour train trip STANDING UP, in a super crowded, not exactly fragrant car in  China.   So, a 7.5 hour trip squeezed in with two stressed, smelly dogs didn’t seem so bad! 😉

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But, somehow we made it.   Our new “nano-house” needs some work to make it livable, but we started making progress yesterday.  I don’t have a recipe for you yet, so I’ll leave you with a song that we listened to a lot during our   journey.  The melody and rhythm of this song have the power to instantaneously make me happy, and the lyrics summarize how we feel (for the full lyrics, click here):

Home is wherever I’m with you!

Thank you for all the comments left on my previous post, it was absolutely wonderful to read them!

ONE YEAR AGO: Pork Medallions with Mustard-Caper Sauce

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Major changes in the horizon!

Tomorrow we leave on what may be our greatest adventure ever: we’ll drive (22 hours!)  to Los Angeles to join a research lab at UCLA.  Working in academia, we have the opportunity to take a sabbatical leave every 7 years, and this time we’ll return to beloved California.  We’ll  depart before sunrise with our two dogs,  bikes, clothes, books, cooking stuff… and lots of music in our player!

Now, for an interesting twist of fate. We rented a “nano-house”  with a tiny kitchen  that is (prepare yourself…) …. without a stove or oven.

I’ll give you a few minutes to recover.   😉

I also launched into hyperventilation at this news, thinking that a food blogger without a stove is like Rio de Janeiro without carnaval, or Brazil without samba,  Paris without the Eiffel Tower. You get the picture…

After much deliberation, we devised a plan of attack: we’ll take our Breville toaster oven (recently approved for bread baking), our electrical griddle, and a panini-maker. The nano-house has a microwave and an outside grill. That should provide enough toys to play with. In the past I’ve lived in such  small places that I had to choose between opening the fridge or a kitchen’s drawer – literally!  But it didn’t stop me from cooking.   Of course, it’s not the size of the kitchen that matters, but the enthusiasm of the cook. I’m ready for this challenge!

UCLA, here we come!

At present we don’t know what the internet status will be in our new place, but I’ll be back as soon as possible to share our cooking adventures.

Au revoir et a bientot!

ONE YEAR AGO: Teriyaki Chicken Thighs

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Normally, I would shy away from baking a bread using exclusively whole wheat flour, because often they turn out dry, heavy, and not too flavorful. But those folks at King Arthur Flour know their bread extremely well, and recently highlighted in their blog their most popular recipe, a 100% Whole Wheat Bread. They promised that it would produce “a moist, close-grained, nutty, and rich bread, that slices as a dream.”    They did not lie: this is a deliciously hearty loaf, not heavy at all, with a hint of sweetness from the honey, perfect to start your day on a very “good carb-note.”


(from King Arthur website)

8 to 10 ounces lukewarm water
1 + 3/4 ounces vegetable oil
3 ounces honey
14 ounces whole wheat flour
2 + 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 ounce dried milk
1 + 1/4 teaspoons salt

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it becomes smooth. Alternatively, knead it in a KitchenAid type machine (I did that for about 7 minutes at speed 2).

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl or large measuring cup, cover it, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours (mine doubled in a little over 1 hour).

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface, and shape it into a loaf. Place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 1 to 2 hours, or till the center has crowned about 1″ above the rim of the pan (mine took only 1 hour to reach that point). Towards the end of rising time, heat your oven to 350F.

Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. The finished loaf will register 190°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center.

Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan on  a rack to cool. If desired, rub the crust with a stick of butter; this will yield a soft, flavorful crust (I omitted this step). Cool completely before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: The variable amount of water given in the recipe accommodates for differences in humidity and temperature in each kitchen.  Start with 8 ounces and see how the dough behaves. It is very important not to add too much flour, or it will be too heavy.

Instead of using my regular oven, I baked this loaf on our Breville toaster/convection oven, and it performed very well. It is a fantastic appliance, one that will be used more and more in the near future.   😉

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGO: Basic French Bread

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I tasted lemongrass for the first time in 1986,  in a tiny Vietnamese restaurant in Redwood City, a few miles away from my home while I lived in California.  I’m afraid the restaurant, Than’s,  no longer exists. My former husband and I used to have lunch at Than’s on Saturdays.   In those days we knew next to nothing about Vietnamese food, but  on our first visit I ordered “Chicken in Lemongrass Sauce,” and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Whenever we returned over the  following three years  we’d share two dishes, and lemongrass chicken was always one of them.   I just couldn’t get over it.    Some people say that you can substitute lemon zest, or Meyer lemon’s zest, …they lie.  Lemongrass has  NO comparable substitute:  it’s just that special and just that good.

So, when I had the luck of finding fresh lemongrass in our farmer’s market, I made sure to bring some home, and put it to good use….

(adapted from Fine Cooking #86,  July 2007)

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh lemongrass
12 fresh basil leaves
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt to taste
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 lime, cut into wedges

Combine 3/4 of the cilantro with the coconut milk, lemongrass, basil, serrano, garlic, salt, brown sugar, pepper and coriander in a blender and puree until smooth. Place the chicken breasts in a dish in a single layer, and pour this marinade over them, turning to coat them completely. Refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours (mine stayed 7 hours in the fridge).

Heat a grill to medium high, grill the chicken until it has good grill marks on the first side, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and continue to cook until completely cooked through (check by making a slice into one of the thicker breasts), 5 to 6 more minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and let rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and serve with the lime wedges.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The secret for this recipe is blending the marinade to turn it into a thick paste.  The lemongrass flavor is more pronounced this way,  a blast of freshness in perfect balance with the coconut milk and herbs.

Food memories can be so strong!  While slicing  the lemongrass, I went straight back to Redwood City, and could almost visualize the table cloths in that simple, but amazing restaurant. It was run by a husband and wife, their two young kids very shy peeking at the customers from behind the counter. I often wonder where they are now, probably all grown up and graduated from college. 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Greens, Grapefruit and Shrimp Salad

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Farro:  a fun word for a mysterious grain, about which a lot of controversy exists as to its origin.  Some say it’s a type of wheat, but that’s not the case,  farro is a grain from a related, but different plant.  It was a staple at the height of the Roman Empire,  and persevered since those days until now in central parts of Italy, where it’s still grown,  consumed and exported.   Farro is loaded with vitamins and low in gluten, so even people with gluten allergies may enjoy it. Plus, it performs well in  many kinds of recipes, from risottos to breads, from stews to salads.  What an amazing little grain, that’s perfect as the focus of my 200th post!   😉

(from my kitchen)

to cook the grain:
1 cup farro  (not the pearled variety)
2.5 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

for the dressing (it will make more than you need):
1/2 cup olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon (or other citric fruits, alone or in combination)
pinch of salt
ground black pepper

for the salad:
asparagus, finely sliced in tiny “coins”
radishes, cut in match sticks
diced tomatoes
diced cucumbers
minced cilantro (optional)

Cook the farro by mixing it with water and salt in a saucepan, bringing it to a boil and gently simmering it for 45 minutes (or a little longer, taste to decide when it’s fully cooked, but don’t let it get mushy).  If the grain cooks but there’s some water left, drain it. Otherwise just fluff it with a fork and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Make the salad dressing by mixing the olive oil with lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper.  Reserve.  Add the asparagus and radishes to a small bowl and sprinkle with some of the salad dressing, mixing to lightly coat them.

At serving time, mix the cooked farro with the diced tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro (if using), asparagus and radishes, add more dressing to taste, adjust the seasoning.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: A couple of years ago I watched Anne Burrell  use raw asparagus as the main ingredient in an unusual salad.  She inspired me in this farro recipe.   Since the asparagus spears are raw,  thinly slice both them and the radishes.   If you add some dressing to these two ingredients and allow them to rest while you prepare the remainder of the salad, it will mellow their sharpness.

I haven’t given any exact amounts for the ingredients so that you can play with them, using more or less, depending on your own taste.  Skip some, add something else (onions, diced olives, capers, mint leaves), and adapt the dressing too: orange juice complements asparagus and farro quite nicely!

The grain doesn’t go mushy in the fridge overnight, and in fact the salad was still outstanding next day. I can see raw asparagus in our future quite often: couscous, orzo, and cracked wheat salads will never be the same…

My husband, after polishing off leftovers, said: “You are making this again, right”? – I guess food bloggers’ partners live in fear of never tasting the same dish twice… 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: From Sea to Table:  SUSHI

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