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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Evolution of Dinner: Grilled Halibut

Last chance to win some Lupicia Lichee Tea

Last Chance to win Lupicia Lichee Tea

Today is the last chance for you to enter to win a 50g bag of Lupicia Lichee Tea. All you have to do is go to our Iced Lichee Tea post and leave a comment. All entries must be received by 11:59 PM, PST on 31 July. We will announce the winners in our next post.

Evolution of Dinner: Grilled Halibut

My previous post was about how the grilled pork tenderloin and nectarine-red onion chutney evolved over the course of the day. I started with the flavor profile I wanted first (Spanish, with lots of paprika) and moved to the ingredient list and finally cooking.

Annie had left me a couple of fillets of halibut that she wanted me to grill up after the pork was done. I wanted to continue with the Spanish flavor theme, so I did a lot of searching on Food Blog Search for "grilled halibut paprika". For the life of me, I can't remember which food blog post was the main inspiration for the recipe that eventually evolved. So I'll say that I developed this recipe myself, and if any food bloggers out there recognize it as something they published, I will gladly give you the credit.

Grilled Halibut Steaks

grilled halibut fillets

The steaks were marinated in olive oil, salt, fresh ground black pepper, lemon juice and lime juice. I don't have exact measurements and everything was pretty much "eyeballed." There was the juce of one whole lime in there, I can tell you that much. And half a lemon.

The halibut steaks marinated for about 1 hour, but I think they could have gone for longer. They were grilled over medium heat, about 4-5 minutes per side. As soon as they started to flake, I pulled them from the grill.

Here's a quick tip for grilling fish: I like to lay a sheet of aluminum foil down onto the hot grates before putting the fish down. The foil protects the fish from sticking to the grates or breaking and falling through the grates. You don't get those picture perfect grill marks but you will get all the fish back onto your plate.

grilled halibut fillets 2

This fish was cooked perfectly. The nectarine-red onion chutney, which was meant to accompany the grilled pork tenderloins, went equally well with the fish. However, the tenderloins were more strongly flavored than the fish, so the fish took second fiddle to the pork in the overall dinner symphony.

Organic Corn vs. "Pesticide Corn"

"If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn't organic produce just be called "produce" and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of an adjective?" ~Ymber Delecto

We had bought several ears of organic corn from the Palo Alto Farmer's Market, at 50 cents per ear. Later that day, Annie went and bought more, "pesticide" corn from Safeway at 40 cents per ear. Would there be a difference in flavor?

I husked and grilled the corn cobs and placed the organic and the pesticide corn on separate plates. Everyone agreed, the organic corn that day was not sweet, but the pesticide corn tasted just as sweet corn should. There was no contest. Pesticide corn won, hands down.

I know, this is not a scientific test, and the sample size was too small to be absolutely conclusive. But it is curious. Maybe Monsanto has figured out a way to genetically modify corn so that it takes pesticide and turns it into sugar?

What do you think? Does pesticide corn taste sweeter than organic? Leave me a comment!

Aloha, Nate

Related post:

Cage Free vs Regular eggs

Continue Reading: "Evolution of Dinner: Grilled Halibut"...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Evolution of Dinner: Grilled Pork Tenderloin

pork tenderloin sliced

When it comes to menu planning, Annie and I are from different schools of thought. Annie first builds a menu, then decides which ingredients she needs, and plans everything out before the actual execution of dinner. I start out first with the ingredients that I have on hand, then maybe come up with a menu, and start cooking before I completely figure out the order of execution. It frustrates Annie to no end when I am cooking, as the timing and rhythm are thrown off while I am still working out what I need to do next.

It's insane, I know. Most times, she needs to step in and take the reins. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the food I cook actually turns out better than expected.

This is the story of the evolution of my grilled pork tenderloin and halibut dinner.

First, flavor

This dinner actually started out with the Pimientos de Padron peppers we were intending to fry up that evening. Being that these are a popular tapas staple, I wanted to try staying with a Spanish flavor theme. From that, I knew paprika was going to be a major component of the flavor on that pork tenderloin.

I did some searching on Food Blog Search and eventually found a recipe I liked on In Praise of Sardines. His recipe called for just marinating the pork tenderloin in olive oil, salt, paprika and thyme. But I felt that since pork tenderloin was such a lean piece of meat, it could use some time in a brine:

Pork Tenderloin in Brine

pork tenderloin brining

A basic brine is just salt and sugar dissolved in water. I don't know where I came up with this particular brine recipe, but it consists of salt, sugar, molasses, red pepper flakes, thyme, allspice, and bay leaves. The tenderloins were brined for 4 hours in the fridge.

After brining, I removed the tenderloins and patted them dry. Then they were rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with paprika, thyme, and fresh ground black pepper. The tenderloins marinated for about half an hour before grilling.

Second, sides

We had invited some friends over to share the meal with us. The husband is really big into wine. When I told him that we'd be cooking pork tenderloin and halibut for dinner, he consulted his wine list and decided to bring a white wine which he described as having "peach, nectarine and melon flavors".

Nectarine? We have some nectarines that another friend gave us from their laden tree. How can I incorporate that into the pork tenderloin dinner? More food blog searching led to this recipe on The Bitten Word for nectarine-onion salsa.

The recipe called for grilling the nectarines and onions first, but I decided to riff on it and just dice the nectarines and onions and cook them down in a pot. In keeping with the pork's flavors, I added some thyme to the mixture:

Nectarine-Red Onion Chutney

nectarine and red onion chutney
(Kinda looks like my Mango Salsa, doesn't it?)

2 lbs nectarines, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 red onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped.
3 Tbsp apricot jam
2 tsp Dijon mustard

I heated the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then put in the nectarines, onions and minced jalapeno. Seasoned with the salt, black pepper, and thyme. After cooking it down for about 10 minutes, I added some homemade apricot jam, about a tablespoon at at time, to sweeten it to taste. Finally, I added a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard to introduce some acidity and complexity to the mix.

Set the chutney aside to cool. (Incidentally, I couldn't decide what to call this dish. Was it a salsa? A coulis? A compote? I eventually decided that it was a chutney, even though it didn't have any vinegar in it. The white wine vinegar in the Dijon mustard is close enough, I guess. What do you think best describes this dish? Leave me a comment!)

Third, thrill (of the grill)

The marinated pork tenderloins were grilled over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes per side. I was shooting for a medium doneness on the "touch test". When it felt about right, I removed the tenderloins from the heat and tented them with foil to rest.

Pork Tenderloin, hot off the grill

pork tenderloin grilled

Fourth, feast!

After resting, I sliced the tenderloins on the bias, about 3/4 inch thick.

Pork Tenderloin, grilled and sliced

pork tenderloin sliced

Our friends were amazed at how tender the grilled pork tenderloins were. The meat was literally fork-tender. It's the brine, I tell you. Besides adding flavor, brining gives you some grilling leeway to avoid overcooking the meat, keeping it juicy.

The grilled pork tenderloin was packed with powerful flavor. I liked that smoky sweetness that the paprika brought, plus the little tingle of heat from the red pepper flakes. The nectarine-red onion chutney was a perfect accompaniment, both for the pork and the wine.

I did say that this dinner also included grilled halibut. Find out how that dish evolved in my next post, coming soon. There's also a dessert post on the way. All using ingredients we bought during our trip to the Palo Alto Farmer's Market.

Don't miss out on any new posts! Subscribe to House of Annie by email today!

Read more great grilling recipes:
Killer Kalbi Recipe
Tri Tip Roast on the WSM
Grilled Arctic Char

Aloha, Nate

Only TWO MORE DAYS for our Lupicia Lichee Tea Giveaway! It's totally free to enter. All you need to do is comment on that post.

Continue Reading: "Evolution of Dinner: Grilled Pork Tenderloin"...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pimientos de Padron: How to Escape the Heat

A Bag of Happy Quail Farms' Pimientos de Padron Peppers

Happy Quail Farms' Pimientos de Padron

These little peppers may look sweet, but eat the wrong one, and you might be grasping for a glass of beer or a chunk of bread, your mouth on fire. Allegedly, one in ten of these peppers a tongue-scorcher. Chez Pim calls eating a mess of Pimientos de Padron "Culinary Russian Roulette".

I've had these before, and my taste memory of them didn't include searing pain and vigorous fanning of air onto my extended tongue. Of course, I only had a couple of them at the time. So when I read on Foodista and on We Heart Food that Pimientos de Padron were on sale again, I knew I had to get some. I convinced Annie to go to the Palo Alto Farmer's Market and pick some up.

Happy Quail Farms Pimientos de Padron Peppers on Sale

happy quail farms pimiento de padron peppers on sale

More Capsicums for Less Cash

Even though Happy Quail Farms's price for a bag of Pimientos de Padron is $6, we were able to get them for $4 dollars - a 33% discount! How, you might ask? First, we went later in the day, toward the farmer's market closing time. We find that the vendors are more willing to make deals so that they don't have to take back home or chuck their produce. Second, we bought more than one bag. The vendor was willing to give us 2 bags for $10, and 3 bags for $12.

Try it, it might work for you, too!

Cooking 'em up

We brought the peppers home, rinsed them, and dried them on a plate. Annie didn't want to fry them inside the house so we went outside with the same butane stove / wok setup that we used in our Char Koay Teow post.

The recipe for cooking these bad boys is very simple. Pour olive oil into a pan to just cover the bottom. Heat it over high heat until it starts to sizzle. Toss the peppers in and turn the heat to medium. Keep stirring the peppers around so that the peppers cook evenly.

Frying the Pimientos de Padron

Frying the Pimientos de Padron

The skin of the peppers will start to blister and char.

Blistered Pimientos de Padron

Blistered Pimientos de Padron

Keep stirring until all the peppers are pretty evenly blistered. Remove to a plate and sprinkle on a little sea salt.

Pimientos de Padron tapas plate

Pimientos de Padron tapas plate

Now comes the fun part! Pick up a pepper by the stem and bite off the body. If you're lucky, you will get one of the mild, sweet ones. The smoky, charred skin and the sea salt mingle with the sweetness of the pepper to build on the pleasure in your mouth. The small pepper will disappear and, before you know it, another one jumps into your hand.


Now, if you're unlucky, you will find that you have a loaded pepper in your hand. The first sensations are the same - the slight crunch, the sweet flesh, the tickle of charred skin on your tongue. And then, BANG!

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Your tongue is on fire, and your eyes start to water in an effort to put out the blaze a few inches below. If it's a really hot one, your nose gets in on the firefighting action as well.

Annie bit into one of those, as did another friend of ours who sampled our peppers. They eventually concluded that it was the larger ones, with more mature seeds that seemed to be the hotter ones. This goes along with Foodista's assertion that Pimientos de Padron harvested in June / July are sweeter while the ones harvested in August / September are hotter. Essentially, the younger the pepper, the milder it will be...maybe...

...but then again...

Unless you are a total wimp, the heat of the pepper doesn't stop you from eating more of them. Some people say that consuming capsaicin (the compound in peppers that gives them their heat) causes the brain to release endorphins - resulting in feelings of pleasure. So trying to "escape the heat" may not be all that worthwhile in the long run.

Aloha, Nate

PS: Even though this dish, and the rest of tonight's dinner (which I will blog about in upcoming posts) were Spanish-themed, I did not open the bottle of Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza that I got last week. I am still looking for suggestions on what to serve with it. Can you help me out? Go to the "What Would You Serve with This Rioja?" post and please leave a comment!

PPS: Stay tuned. I've got three more amazing recipes from tonight's dinner that I want to share with you. Don't miss any of our new posts! Subscribe to House of Annie by email today!
Check out more dishes inspired by our farmer's market finds: Broiled Salmon Collar, Bouillabaisse, Roast Chicken with White Bean Stew, Rotisserie Chicken and mango salsa

More food porn

Continue Reading: "Pimientos de Padron: How to Escape the Heat"...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peppers, Pimientos, and Pervs in Palo Alto

Sweet peppers from Happy Quail Farms, Palo Alto Farmer's Market

happy quail farms sweet peppers

I have a taste memory of savoring Pimientos de Padron peppers at a tasting a couple years back and being amazed at how delicious they were. They're so addictive, too! It's like eating really good potato chips or french fries - you can't stop at just one. (That is, until you hit the hot one...)

We tried to grow them in our garden last year but didn't have any luck. So when I read that Foodista got some Pimientos de Padron earlier last week, I knew I had to seek them out. After all, the grower, Happy Quail Farms, is in East Palo Alto, just a little bit up the Peninsula from us.

Happy Quail's web page said that they were going to be at the Palo Alto Farmer's Market on Saturday, so I convinced Annie that we needed to make the drive up to get some pimientos.

Happy Quail Farms Pimientos de Padron Peppers

happy quail farms pimiento de padron peppers

We got there kind of late, but we generally like to get to the farmer's market late. The closer to closing time it is, the more likely the farmer is to cut deals on their produce. It's a win-win because we get a produce for cheaper and the farmer doesn't have to truck his produce back or chuck it away.

The peppers were going for $6 per bag. Would she give us a discount if we buy 2 bags?

"Shhhhh-uuure. $10," she whispered.

"How about if I buy 3 bags?" Annie is an aggressive haggler.

"I'll give 'em to you for $12," she replied.


The rest of the market was the same way. Avocadoes, bananas, melons, corn...we were able to get quite good deals on all of these.

All except for these:

Asian eggplants

palo alto farmer

A buck-ninety-nine a pound, and she wouldn't budge! Oh well. Pass.

"Sir, please don't hit on my wife."

One funny thing happened while Annie was haggling with the farmer over his watermelons. This oversized white guy standing next to Annie turns to her and says, "are you married?" Annie looks at him and goes, "Excuse me?!?!?", then ignores him and keeps talking to the farmer.

I'm standing right behind them both, and when I heard the guy say what he did, I couldn't believe it. I moved up a little closer. He said it again to Annie, "are you married?"

I'm like, WTF?! So I look at him and say very sternly, "sir, please don't hit on my wife."

He turns to me and says, "oh, I just wanted to tell her how she can choose watermelons."

Yeah, right. I shook my head and gave him a little stink-eye. Looking a little flustered, he turned back to the farmer and asked for some watermelons for himself.

Annie and I had a good laugh about it afterward in the car.

"I guess I still got it if guys want to hit on me but, eww, he was so gross! AGF! (Asian Girl Fetish) hahahaha!"

At least he didn't try to say, "KNEE HOW MAH!" I think I would've sicced the kids on him if he did that.

Got any funny farmer's market stories? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

Aloha, Nate

Like this story? I will follow up with the rest of our Palo Alto excursion, plus what we did with the pimientos de padron once we got them home.
Subscribe to House of Annie by email and never miss a new post!

Read more farmer's market adventures: Roli Roti Porchetta (San Francisco) , Rotisserie Chicken (Los Altos), Deli Bento Lunch (Austin)

Continue Reading: "Peppers, Pimientos, and Pervs in Palo Alto"...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What Would You Serve with This Rioja?

You Scratch My Back...

2001 Bodega LAN Crianza Rioja Spanish wine

I was helping a coworker (I'll call him "R") out when he told me that he would hook me up with a bottle of wine if I could solve his problem.

R: "What do you like, whites or reds?"

Me: "I'll drink anything that matches the food I'm eating."

R: "What's your favorite region? Do you like French, or...?"

Me: I wracked my brain for a region that might throw him off. "Actually, I like Barolos." (I just can't afford them! heheh.)

R: "Barrrrolo, huh?" he said, rolling the r's. "Do you like Riojas?"

Me: "Eh, it's not my favorite. I don't know. It's been a long time since we've had a Rioja."

R: "Well, if you help me out, I'll give you a Rioja that'll make you change your mind about Riojas."

Me: What could I say to that? "Sure!"

Now what?

Today I walk into his office and he hands me this bottle of wine:

2001 Bodegas LAN Crianza Rioja

2001 Bodega LAN Crianza Rioja Spanish wine

"Let me know what you think of it," R says.

My first thought is, what food can I eat with this? All that pops into my head is paella, that classic Spanish dish. We've done paella before, with fairly good results. But I wanted to do something different. How about a vegetarian paella? Naaaah.

So, what then?

Here's where you readers come in. Help us out! Leave a comment and tell us what you think we should cook to go with this 2001 Bodegas LAN Crianza Rioja! If you have a recipe to share, even better.

Whosever suggestion we go with, I will blog about it, give you the credit, and put your blog (if you have one) in my blogroll (oooooOOOoooooh!). It's a WIN-WIN!

Low whaaaa--?

Here's something that caught my eye when I was checking out the backside label. It's titled "IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR STORAGE". It has some common suggestions like "DARKNESS" and "NO EXTREME TEMPERATURE CHANGES". But check out the 2nd suggestion on the left: LOW NOISE LEVELS. Whaaaa--???

2001 Bodega LAN Crianza Rioja Spanish wine back label

What the heck does noise have to do with storing wine? Does wine go bad if you run power tools in the next room? Would living under the flight approach to an airport turn wine into vinegar?

I think they just put the line in to make the columns look balanced.

Anyway, let's hear your Rioja pairing suggestions!

Aloha, Nate

Want to follow along with this story? Subscribe to House of Annie by email and never miss an entry!

Oh, I almost forgot! There's only SIX MORE DAYS for the Lupicia Lichee Tea giveaway. One lucky commenter will receive a 50 gram packet of tea from us. Head on over to the giveaway announcement page and leave us a comment!

Continue Reading: "What Would You Serve with This Rioja?"...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

7 Tips for Making Mouth-Watering Char Koay Teow

char koay teow plated

Even though I’m from Kuala Lumpur and lived there most of my life, I very seldom ate Char Koay Teow there. I’m pretty picky about my CKT. There is a simple reason for that: my dad hails from Penang. 'Nuff said!

Ok, I’ll elaborate for those not in the know. I’m sure there will be some who will challenge my opinion, but I really think that, outside of Penang, there are very few good Char Koay Teows to be had. When I was living in KL, it didn’t matter that I went many months without eating CKT because I knew that a trip to visit relatives in Penang was always on the horizon. I would soon be able to get my fix.

Sister's Char Koay Teow on McAlister Rd. in Penang

Sisters char koay teow Penang

Now that I am living in California, I miss eating Char Koay Teow quite a bit. So here is my “make-do” recipe for CKT while I am far away from the really good stuff. It's a decent recipe that I've added a few tweaks to so that the flavors stand out more.

Some tips that I have discovered along the way:

  1. Use a wok—a real wok, not one of those non-stick pans. If you must use a non-stick pan, it’ll still be ok, but won’t turn out as great.

  2. Use a gas stove. If you are stuck with an electric range like we are, improvise by getting a portable butane stove and cooking outside.

  3. Use lard. That's right, I said it. LARD. I save pork fat trimmings in the freezer and then cube them and render them for oil when I have enough to make about a cup's worth. I have sometimes substituted the lard by frying up some bacon and using the oil from the bacon (save the bacon bits for other applications like salads, soups, or just eating out of hand)

  4. Mise en place. Make sure you have all your ingredients in place before you start. Cooking Char Koay Teow is a very quick process.

  5. Char Koay Teow ingredients: bean sprouts, lard, shrimp, garlic, Chinese sausage, preserved cabbage, and koay teow noodles

    char kway teow mise en place

  6. Use preserved cabbage for additional flavor. I think I got this idea from looking up a recipe for char koay kark which calls for it and I thought, hmm…why not for char koay teow also!

  7. Make single batches. Do not attempt to make a large batch of CKT. This dish works best when cooked individually. I never make this for a big party although I have been tempted to make this into a party activity where everyone fries their own.

  8. Watch your heat. If it’s too high, you can burn your dish easily. If not high enough, you won’t get that wok hei. The first attempt at cooking CKT will give you an idea of how you’re doing with the heat.

Alright, on to the recipe:

Char Koay Teow

feeds about 6 adults
½ cup lard
1 head of garlic, minced
6 tsp preserved cabbage
½ lb of medium-large shrimp (I normally use 26-30 count and allocate about 3-4 per person)
2 chinese sausages (lup cheong), sliced thin on a bias
1.5 lbs of medium-width rice noodles, loosened. Here in San Jose, we can find them at the Asian grocery store, sold in trays, freshly made. If you really cannot find fresh noodles, I believe that dry pho noodles can be used as a substitute... but they just won’t taste as good.
6 eggs, or more if you like it more eggy
8 oz bag of bean sprouts
6 tsp Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
12 Tbsp CKT sauce (see recipe below)

(Some people like cockles in their CKT, but I don't. Others prefer crab meat. Tell me your favorite CKT ingredient!)


Work quickly and in individual batches.
  1. Heat wok on high heat. When wok is very hot, add 2 Tbsp of lard. Toss in 1 Tbsp minced garlic, stir around and throw in 1 tsp preserved cabbage.

  2. Add 3-4 shrimp and stir it around till lightly pink. Toss in a small handful of Chinese sausage (about 6-7 slices or more).

  3. When shrimp is almost done, push shrimp to side of wok (where it’s less hot) and toss in a handful (about a loose cup) of noodles. Add about 2 Tbsp CKT sauce and chili sauce (up to how spicy you like it) to noodles and stir it around.

  4. Push noodles to side, and crack in one egg (or two). Scramble the egg a little and let it sit for half a minute untouched.

  5. frying char kway teow

  6. Add a large handful of beansprouts to noodles and stir everything together. As soon as beansprouts start to wilt a little, the dish is done and it’s time to plate up!

char kway teow plated


If you’re a kind (read: sneaky) host, pass on the plated Char Koay Teow to someone else and continue cooking. Trust me, the best plate will be the last one (the wok will get more and more seasoned as you cook and the later dishes will take on a more smoky flavor).

Here's a video we made of the process. NOTE: This video was of the last batch being cooked, when we had barely enough koay teow noodles but a whole lot of bean sprouts!

See how quick that was? Eating it is just as quick, if not quicker.

Cheers, Annie

Sauce for Char Koay Teow

5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
1-½ Tbsp oyster sauce
¼ tsp sugar
4-5 Tbsp water

Put all ingredients into a bowl and stir until the sugar and oyster sauce has dissolved into the other liquid ingredients.

Check out some of our other Malaysian recipes: Dhal, Hokkien Prawn Mee, Nasi Lemak, Rendang Chicken, Sambal Ikan Bilis

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More food porn

Continue Reading: "7 Tips for Making Mouth-Watering Char Koay Teow"...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FREE Northern California Tomato Tasting Event

Tomato Tasting at Wild Boar Farms

assorted heirloom tomatoes

"Berkeley Tie Dye". "Beauty King". "Pork Chop". "Furry Red Boar".

Not many of you would know that these are actual names of tomatoes that Brad (the owner of Wild Boar Farms) has developed and is growing on his farm in Suisun Valley, Solano County. They are the most amazing looking and tasting tomatoes you’ll ever encounter. If you’ve ever eaten at Chez Panisse during the summer and fall months, some of the tomatoes you enjoyed came from Brad's farm. Wild Boar Farms also supplies many other restaurants around the North SF Bay / Napa area.

Now why am I going on about this farm and its tomatoes?

Beauty King

beauty king tomato

Well, if you are tomato crazy like me, you’d be part of a forum of like-minded, tomato-crazy people. And we obsessed people just like to meet up every so often to talk about politics and such... Yeah, right! If you believe that, I have a tomato tree to sell you…. We talk about - what else - tomatoes!

One of the best times to meet up is when our tomatoes are ripening. We all get together to share our bounty and taste each others’ wonderful tomatoes. This year, Brad from Wild Boar Farms has graciously opened his farm as host for NORCATT (NORthern CAlifornia Tomato Tasting) 2008.

Berkeley Tie Dye

berkeley tie dye tomato

As a bonus this year, Brad says that a very popular Napa Valley restaurant has offered to do samples of some of their dishes using tomatoes at the tasting event. AND a veteran winemaker will be there to sample three new releases. How much better can it get? Well, how about’s FREE! You just have to get yourself to the farm.

Beauty King and Berkeley Tie Dye

beauty king and berkeley tie dye tomatoes

So if you’re in Northern California, you’re invited to come and experience a day of tomato tasting and touring the farm. Bring friends, bring tomatoes to share (if you have them), and bring an empty stomach because there are sure to be lots of tomatoes there!

Save the date: Sunday, August 10 2008, 11am-2pm.

I will post details and directions to the farm as the NORCATT date gets closer. Bookmark this site and stay tuned. Or better yet, subscribe to House of Annie by email and never miss any new posts!

Cheers, Annie


I have announced how to get to NORCATT 2008 in our latest post, titled "Letting the NORCATT out of the Bag". Go there now!

PS: Those of you living in other parts of the country can search for tomato tastings in your area by signing in to the forums and looking under the Regional Group Gatherings section.

Related tomato posts:

Annie's Top Five Tomato Growing Tips
Love (Apple) At First Bite
Roasted Tomato, Onion and Pepper Gazpacho
World's Best Lasagna
Strawberry and Tomato Salad with Maple
Spinach and basil salad with bacon, roasted tomatoes, and candied walnuts

More food porn

Continue Reading: "FREE Northern California Tomato Tasting Event"...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas: It's Easier Than You Think

homemade whole wheat tortillas done

Don't you just hate it when you want to make something, and you find that you're missing that one ingredient that is indispensible?

We had some shawerma meat leftover from a birthday party we attended, but didn't bring home enough of the soft lavash bread to wrap it all with. No matter, there are some flour tortillas stored in the freezer that we could use in a pinch, right?. Lemme check the freezer... DUN DUN DUNNNN!

No tortillas.

What to do, what to do? Do I hop in the car and dash off to the store for one measly package of tortillas? If you read the title of the post, you know the answer to that question.

I CAN make my own flour tortillas!

I wasn't about to waste precious gas going out to the store. Besides, the my last attempt at making tortillas wasn't a smashing success and I was hoping to try again. So, I fired up the browser and surfed on over to Food Blog Search to look for tortilla recipes. It wasn't long before I found the recipe that I wanted to try: Homesick Texan's quest-ending flour tortilla recipe.

She used all white flour in her recipe, but I decided to go with half white and half whole wheat flour to make the tortillas. Everything else I left pretty much the same.

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

adapted from Homesick Texan's adaptation of The Border Cookbook's recipe

5 oz all purpose flour
5 oz whole wheat flour (I used 100% Stone Ground Whole Wheat from Bob's Red Mill)
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup warm milk


Mix the dry ingredients together.

homemade whole wheat tortilla mixing flour

Slowly add in the wet ingredients.

homemade whole wheat tortilla pouring milk

Stir until the ingredients come together in a loose, sticky ball.

Knead on a floured surface for a couple of minutes. Place the dough ball in a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap for at least 20 minutes.

homemade whole wheat tortilla dough resting

After the dough has rested, roll it out into a thick log, then cut it in half. Cut each half in half again, and then once more so that you now have 8 roughly equal portions. Roll each portion in to little balls and then set it aside to rest for at least another 10 minutes.

NOTE: If you don't let the dough rest enough, it will pull back on you and won't roll out very thin. The longer you rest the dough, the more pliable it will be and easier to roll out flat.

Now we're rolling

Heat a pan over medium heat.

Take a dough ball and press it out into a small patty about 4 inches across.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin, giving the dough a quarter turn after each pass. When the tortilla is about 8 inches across, it's ready to be cooked.

Cook the tortilla for about 30 seconds on each side.

When I rolled out the first ball, it didn't come out all nice and circular. So I abdicated to Annie, who is much better at pie making and wielding a rolling pin in general. Here's a video I made, capturing the mistress in action:

So, there you have it. Home made whole wheat tortillas. It was easier than I thought, and a lot more satisfying too!

homemade whole wheat tortillas done

Next time, I think I'll use flax seed oil instead of regular veggie oil. I wonder what would happen if I use all whole wheat flour instead of half and half. Do you have any thoughts, comments, and suggestions?

Aloha, Nate

Use these tortillas with these dishes: Churrasco Taco, Fish Quesadilla and Shrimp Quesadilla, Mushroom, Egg, and Cheese Burrito, Semi-gourmet Fish Tacos

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Rolling Out the Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes: they’re everywhere!

You know how something isn’t in your consciousness at all and then one day, you discover it, and suddenly they seem to be everywhere? That’s how it was for me and Red Velvet cupcakes. The first time I ever heard of red velvet cupcakes was when a friend recently told me about the most amazing red velvet cupcakes she had in Chicago. It still didn’t really register in my mind then because I had not really had any opportunity to try them.

Then on my birthday, my friend Jessica brought me a red velvet cupcake from Sugar Butter Flour (no, not the blogger), a local bakery that she had just discovered and loved. I took one bite of the cupcake... and the next thing I knew, all that was left were crumbs on the table. That cupcake was amazingly good. I started going back to Sugar, Butter, Flour often, just to get my red velvet cupcake fix.

I was hooked on red velvet cupcakes!

Sugar Butter Flour red velvet cupcake

Then I decided it was time to try to make this on my own. And yes, just around the time I started looking up recipes, pictures of these cupcakes started to appear in more blogs and food picture sites. It was like a signpost telling me, “Jump on the bandwagon, Annie, and get on with it.”

Jumping on the bandwagon

So last week, I had guests over and decided to try a recipe. It didn’t look too hard. I had almost everything needed including red food coloring (all 2 Tbsp of it!). I also figured, I had a flavor standard (the Sugar, Butter Flour cupcakes that I devoured so much of to feed my addiction) that I could use as my benchmark.

9 red velvet cupcakes

For my first attempt, I tried the recipe posted on Em’s blog. It was a very simple recipe and didn’t take too much time at all.

9 red velvet cupcakes in a diamond

Frosting to die for

I found the cupcake recipe itself to be not moist enough (it wasn’t a bad recipe but not quite what I am looking for). But the killer in this recipe had to be the frosting—it was SO GOOD!

Seriously, that frosting—TO DIE FOR! And when I served it after our Killer Kalbi meal, even my overstuffed friends found room to eat a cupcake. One friend who doesn’t care too much for cakes said she would share with her hubby and took one bite then took another and then another. She said the frosting was really good. So Em, thank you so much for the incredible frosting. I don’t think I need to look for any other frosting.

Em's Magnificent Cream Cheese Icing

Adapted from the 06/98 Cream Cheese Icing recipe

1 8oz pkg of cream cheese - room temperature, divided in three parts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - COLD
1 tablespoon shortening
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

Beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and combine very well. Add the first third of the cream cheese and combine very well. Add the shortening and combine very well. Add the remaining cream cheese one piece at a time, combining very well after each. Combine thoroughly until light and fluffy.

red velvet with cream cheese frosting

Coming back to the cake itself, I’m still on my search. The next recipe I try will be one I found on the Food Network website. Do you have a red velvet recipe that you'd like to share?

Cheers, Annie

Popular Baking posts: Pandan Waffles, Rotiboy Butter Buns, The Best Cream Scones Ever, Third Aunt's Butter Cake

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lichee - It's (in) My Cup of Tea...PLUS Free Giveaway

I heart tea!

I drink tea all year round. My morning routine is to have a cup of Earl Grey or Lady Grey (Twinings being one of my favorite brands for these flavors). At other times of the day, I will indulge in a cup or two of tea in the mid-afternoon and in the evening.

I have a drawer full of teas that I go to for tea during this time. I have teas from so many places, sometimes it’s hard to keep track. I try not to buy too many at a time as I want to be able to finish the ones I have while they are still fresh. But it’s really hard to resist buying when I walk into a tea shop. Hence, my stuffed tea drawer:

Annie's Tea Drawer

Annie's tea drawer

My current favorite tea shop is Lupicia (oh, how I wish they had a Mariage Frères near me!). If you are fortunate enough to have a Lupicia store near you, do check them out. They have a vast array of different teas and lots of flavored teas galore!

So many little time

It is a little overwhelming when you go into the store—just take your time and look around. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample of the tea to try—they will brew it for you right there. Some flavors that I’ve really enjoyed there include Tsugaru Green (Green Apple), Sakura (cherry leaves), Jardin Sauvage (a non-fermented rooibos, tasting of mangoes and citrus), Oriental Beauty and Lichee.

Now that it is full-on summer and the days get really hot, it’s not so fun to brew a cup of hot tea. It is during this time that I enjoy drinking some of my teas iced. Not all teas do well cold but I do have a few favorites.

My favorite iced teas

One tea that is very popular is the non-caffeinated roasted barley tea (Mugicha) that the Japanese and Koreans enjoy. I really like it too and will often set a whole jug of it in the fridge to drink through the day.

But my very favorite iced tea these days is the Lichee flavored black tea that I get from Lupicia. When you drink it hot, the lychee flavor is muted and the Keemun tea stands out a bit more. For that reason, I’d rather just drink a plain Keemun hot.

But when it is cold, the lychee sweetness is in the front and simply delicious. I go through plenty of this tea during the summer and it’s a crowd pleaser with all my friends too. Even though it is unsweetened, the lychee's fruity flavor adds its own sweetness to the tea.

Iced Lupicia Lichee Tea

Iced Lichee Tea

Lupicia Lichee Tea Giveaway

Because I love this tea so much, I want to share it with you, our readers. So, I’m going to have a giveaway of this Lichee tea!

Lupicia Lichee Tea

All you have to do is leave a comment on the bottom of this post and tell me about the teas you love to drink in summer. One lucky commenter will be randomly selected to get a 50g bag of Lupicia Lichee tea. This giveaway is open to international readers as well, so everyone can go ahead and leave a comment.

The deadline is 12:00 AM (PST) on the 31st of July. So set a bookmark and remember come back on August 1st for the winner to be announced and see if you won! Or, better yet, enter your email in the "Stay Up To Date" box over on the right sidebar to have all our new posts automatically sent to you.

Cheers, Annie

Check out these other tea-related posts: Sakura Tea and Mochi, Green Tea-ramisu

This post is entered in July's CLICK Photo Event

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Monday, July 14, 2008

There's More Than One Way to Dice a Mango

We were at Costco the other day when Annie noticed that there was a large group of people congregating in and around the fruit aisle. They seemed to be especially thick and frantic around one particular fruit. Curious as she always is, she went over to investigate and found what everyone was so excited about:



Apparently, there was a shipment of mangoes that happened to be particularly sweet, and all the folks were busily opening the plastic six-pack containers of mangoes to find the absolute best ones. If there were any mangoes in the pack that didn't look as good as those in another pack, they'd swap them out. (Come on, I know you do it too, just like you do for egg cartons!

Annie snatched up three six-packs and put them in the cart. All the way home she was dreaming of what to do with these luscious, oblong fruit. Of course, we'd be eating them straight off the skins, but she also had something else in mind for these mangoes.

Mango Salsa

Mango salsa

Mango Salsa Recipe

2 mangoes, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 of an English cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 of a red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 of a red onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 seeded jalapeno pepper, finely minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 a lime
salt and pepper to taste

Mango Dicing Method

The first mango that Annie diced, she did it the standard method, which is to remove the cheeks of the mango, score the insides of the cheeks in a cross-hatch, push the skin inward (thereby making the mango cheek look like a turtle), and then cutting the chunks off the skin. The problem with this method is, you can't get a very uniform dice on the mango. You're cutting horizontally across a curved surface, so you end up with some nice, regular dice but most of the rest of the mango are wedges and triangles.

For the second mango, Annie wanted to try something different. First, she skinned the mango. Then she made thin cuts lengthwise along the mango, all the way to the pit. Then she cut perpendicular to the first cuts, again all the way to the pit. Finally, she cut the mango flesh parallel to the pit so that the mango was now evenly diced.

Here is a video I took of the mango dicing process:

After that, mix the rest of the ingredients together with the mango in a large bowl. Squeeze on the juice of half a lime. Add salt and pepper to adjust the flavors to your liking.

You can serve the mango salsa with a lot of different dishes. That night, we went with grilled chicken thighs and a Spring mix salad with bread and dressed with an olive oil - tapenade dressing.


Aloha, Nate

Related post: Rotisserie Chicken, mango salsa

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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Best Cream Scones Recipe Ever

I’ve been trying to recall when I had scones for the first time. For some reason, I don’t recall being very fond of scones while living in Malaysia (which is strange being that we were a British colony at one time and scones should be something I’m familiar with). And when I got to the US, the scones I got at most eateries/bakeries didn’t leave me wanting more—they were always very big, dry and tasted like sawdust in the mouth. I guess I just preferred cakes and cookies then.

Then one day, I read an article in my Fine Cooking magazine on a multi-purpose baking mix and one of the things you could do with it was make scones. I tried it and it was lovely and more cake-like. I made it for several parties and gatherings and it got very good reviews. But this is not the recipe I’m going to share today…that will be another post. Why? Because, believe it or not, I found an EVEN BETTER recipe.

What’s the difference between the first recipe and the second? Well, the first one I always recommend to anyone who doesn’t like scones—the texture is not as crumbly, it’s just a bit more cake-like and so far most of my friends who also claim not to like scones have enjoyed that one. But for the people who like their scones to be more, well…scone-like (as in not a cake), this is the recipe for you. The added advantage of this second recipe is that it does not call for eggs so for many of you who have children with egg allergies, you can make this for them as a treat.

I’ve shared this recipe with many friends and posted it on a forum and it is probably one of my most shared recipes. Why is it so good? It’s all about the butter, baby! (Alright, the heavy cream helps too.) The ingredients are very simple but they are filled with wonderful fat that makes this scone lovely in the mouth. It’s really hard to stop at just one when you’ve baked them.

Another reason I love this recipe—it’s simple to make. I’ve got it down to an art where I can have scones to eat from start to finish baking in about 30 minutes. If you take the time to double the batch and freeze one batch at the point before you put in the liquid ingredients, then making them takes even less time.

Cream scones

(recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen and technique adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine)

2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar (more for sprinkling)
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp (2.5oz) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup dried currants *
1 cup heavy cream (more for brushing)

*Currants can be replaced with raisins although I’m not so keen on raisins. A variation that I like is to add 1 Tbsp grated orange zest and 1/2 cup dried cranberries instead of currants.

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).

Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal.

(At this point, you can freeze the mixture in a container for later.)

Add currants. Mix. Stir in heavy cream until it comes together in a shaggy ball. It will still have lots of loose, sandy pieces. If you think it's too loose and sandy, you can add a little bit more cream to bind it a bit more -- it shouldn't affect the outcome if a bit more cream is added. *Note: I find that pouring the cream in slowly and mixing it little by little is more efficient than dumping the cream in all at once.

Place batter on a floured surface and roughly work it into a ball.

Press the ball down into a rectangular shape.

Fold the dough like you're folding a business envelope (in thirds, first right fold to center, then left fold to center). Notice that it is still quite shaggy and loose. That's ok.

Press the dough down again into rectangular shape in a vertical position. Do the business envelope fold again, this time top third to center then bottom third to center. The dough will still be a little sandy and loose--don't worry about it...the less you work it, the flakier it will be.

Now, press the dough down into a circle. Cut it into 8 large or 16 small triangles.

Separate the individual scones and place them on a baking tray that is lined with parchment paper. Brush the top of the scones with cream and then sprinkle each one with a little sugar.

Bake for 12-15 mins until golden brown on top.

I challenge you to eat no more than one at a time. Once you pop one of these babies in your mouth, it will be hard to resist taking another!

Cheers, Annie

More baked goods: Amish Friendship Bread, Marble Cream Cheese Cake, Roti Boy Butter Buns, Third Aunt's Butter Cake

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