Thursday, October 06, 2011

Best Ever Zucchini-Carrot Muffins (with gluten free options)

I love a cooking challenge, so recently when a friend asked me to bake something for a party that needed some gluten-free options for the guest of honor, I offered to bring some baked goods. I first tried making some gluten-free oatmeal cookies, which, while delicious, fell apart into a million pieces when I tried to take them off the pan. Then I decided to adapt a recipe I have been making all the time this fall, this recipe for zucchini bread, also adapted from a Cooking Light version. I learned a lot in the process: that people extremely sensitive to gluten can't even eat food made from regular oats, because wheat and oats are sometimes processed on the same equipment, as this article explains. So, if you're really cooking for someone who can't have gluten, get the special oats.**

But what is even more amazing about these muffins, which I make all the time with whole wheat pastry flour, is that you can swap out carrots for the zucchini, you can use a mix of both, you can chop 'em all up in the food processor, or you can grate them nicely with a hand grater, and no matter what you do, the end result tastes delicious every time. Yesterday I did the half carrot/half zucchini version and then in a mixing bowl, blended up some cream cheese, lemon juice, a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt, and powdered sugar for a cream cheese frosting that had me thinking of carrot cake.

Below I include both regular and gluten free options.

Zucchini-Carrot Muffins

**2 cups white, whole-wheat pastry flour
**1 cup oat flour (you can make your own by putting 1 1/4 cups regular oats in a food processor and blending until they are a flour-like consistency)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini and carrot (or some combination thereof, can use all zucchini if you want)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

** Gluten free substitutes: I used 1 cup oat flour, 1 cup garbanzo bean flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch. Note: make sure you buy special oats that are guaranteed gluten-free - Bob's Red Mill makes some, which might be in the specialty food section at a regular supermarket, or in places like Whole Foods.

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray, line with cupcake papers, spray those too. Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl, up to baking soda. In another bowl, beat eggs, applesauce, oil, lemon zest, and vanilla. Add sugar. Mix dry ingredients with wet, just barely (overbeating muffins will make them tough), then fold in zucchini-carrot mixture and walnuts. Pour into prepared pan, bake 18-22 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. You could also bake it in a loaf pan, though it will take longer- maybe 50-60 minutes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup

In January, when the sidewalks elsewhere are covered with ice, I'll gloat about the 70 degree weather here, but for now, I'm just wishing for a little bit of fall. It's been unseasonably warm, even for Florida, with 90+ temperatures during the day, afternoon thunderstorms, and humidity so thick that you could slice it with a butter knife. I tried a pumpkin spice latte at Starbuck's last week, which seemed pretty much like a cruel joke.

Nevertheless, I'm still up for some fall cooking. And I tried this recipe for butternut squash and red lentil soup, which is so amazing you must run out and make it RIGHT NOW. I altered it to use the spices I had on hand, but I had a big bag of red lentils, so all I needed was to run out and buy one of those seasonal vegetables. Red lentils are my favorite - they taste nothing like brown lentils, cook up quickly, are light and low-fat, but have tons of good stuff in them: fiber, folate, magnesium, and iron, to name a few. And combined with the very slight sweetness of butternut squash, they make an amazing combination: filling but not heavy.

Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 cup red lentils
1 quart (4 cups) water
2 Rapunzel vegetarian boullion cubes (You could also use broth in the last step)
1 onion, chopped
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (Mine had basil & garlic in them, you could also kick it up a notch and use Rotel)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried coriander
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne

Saute onions in a large saucepan coated with the olive oil. Add garlic, cook for another minute. Add squash, diced tomatoes, lentils, water, boullion, and spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until squash is tender.

Blend half of it, then put it back in the pot. I use an immersion blender to keep some of the consistency. Welcome to fall...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roasted Black Bean Tacos with Chipotle Sour Cream

I discovered this recipe on one of my new favorite food blogs, Eat, Live, Run. It sounded delicious - vegetables & black beans slow-roasted in the oven, then served in tacos with chipotle sour cream. It would definitely be a crowd pleaser even for an ardent meat eater. Apparently, the recipe originally came from Oprah, but I've made it a couple times and adapted it slightly-- the original version calls for a cabbage slaw, which I wasn't crazy about. I also made a few other small adjustments, and substituted carrots for red peppers - not very Tex-Mex, I know, but I am appalled at how a single red pepper costs about $3.99.

I'm also inspired by this Mexican supermarket on my drive home from work, which has a cooler full of steaming, freshly made corn tortillas, and Hass avocados that are always perfectly ripe and significantly cheaper than they are in regular grocery stores. With black beans simmering in the slow cooker, I picked up avocados, cilantro, and fresh tortillas on the way home. I'm loving Florida lately, especially all the excellent little ethnic markets like this one. (The picture above is from when I made this recipe the first time with whole wheat tortillas)


2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1 lime, juiced
2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. salt
2 Tblsp olive oil
1 cup organic baby carrots, sliced in half
1/2 big red onion, sliced thin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 3 cups **slow cooker black beans (see recipe below)

1 cup sour cream
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped, plus 2 tsp. adobo sauce

2 avocados
1 tomato
1 lime
handful cilantro
shredded cheese - Cheddar or Monterey Jack
soft corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl, mix corn with 1 Tblsp of the olive oil, juice of one lime, 1 tsp. salt, cumin, carrot, and red onion, then spread out on half a baking sheet.

In another bowl, mix remaining Tblsp. olive oil, paprika, black beans. Salt to taste - may need up to a teaspoon, or not so much, depending on how much salt you added to slow cooker beans. Then spread this on other half of baking sheet.

Bake 20-25 minutes, tossing occasionally, until beans are slightly crisp.

Make sour cream: mix in a bowl with chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.

Make guacamole: peel and chop avocados, mash, seed and chop a tomato, add to mash, add about a tablespoon of chopped cilantro, salt to taste, and lime juice to taste.

When beans are done, assemble as many tacos as you like, layering beans, corn mixture, cheese, guacamole, sour cream.

**SLOW COOKER BLACK BEANS: I bought a bag of dried black beans, washed them, soaked them overnight, drained them, then put them in the slow cooker today with a chopped onion, a bay leaf, and covered with water. I cooked them all day on low in the slow cooker, then added salt and a chopped up bunch of cilantro. The recipe above used about three cups of those beans, more than in a can, just because I felt like it. You could, at this point, drain them and save the remaining beans for another recipe. OR - when I got done with the tacos (the beans were still a little firm), I left the remaining beans in the slow cooker and continued to cook them on high with the lid partially off, stirring occasionally, until some of the water cooked off and I was left with a delicious, black bean soup, which will make another dinner tonight. Add a can of drained rotel if you want to make it really spicy (I won't be able to do this with a toddler), then serve over rice, but these beans are AMAZING - sooo much better than canned, which I usually use out of sheer laziness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Appliance That's Changing My Life

So, as you could tell from my last post, I have been into green smoothies lately. The stars must have been in alignment, because suddenly it was Vitamix Demonstration time at my Costco. Normally I find this akin to a carnival sideshow where an obnoxious man on an elevated platform hawks seriously overpriced, sham-wow blenders. I did enjoy the smoothie samples (it's important to time one's visits to Costco with the need for a snack and/or dinner), but I didn't believe the claims - that this thing could make ice cream in thirty seconds? That it broke food down to the cellular level so that your body obtained maximum nutrients from it, much more than a normal blender could do?

But this time, the demonstrator was a very kind, Cuban-American woman named Loretta. She exuded motherly care, she was vivacious without being pushy, and Sofia took an instant liking to her. Over our next few visits, Loretta showed us what the Vitamix was capable of. Here's what sold me: watching her throw undetectable spinach, red cabbage and kale into the Vitamix, along with a host of fresh fruits, and having Sofia eagerly drink up the results. Sofia is already fascinated with food, will try almost anything you give her, and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together making things. But I liked the idea that with this machine, which can pulverize in a way a blender just can't, we'll be eating even more fruits and vegetables. Also, I've always been a bit disappointed that my smoothies were routinely a little grainy and never had that smoothness of a smoothie from a restaurant. This changes everything.

We learned how to make a mint mojito smoothie, a frappucino to rival Starbuck's, tortilla soup (the Vitamix cooks!), and a number of other concoctions. Back home, I spent some time with the Magic 8 Ball that is Google asking questions like, "Is the Vitamix a sham/scam/etc?" Most people who owned them didn't think so, and now that I own one myself, I'm 100% sure it was a good investment. Plus there's a seven year warranty, and I've already been through three blenders in the past six years alone. This thing is so heavy duty, it can handle anything you put into it. It could make a smoothie out of a shoe. And I can make a few of my own personally verifiable health claims, too: I have lost my intense craving for sweets (the reason for so many dessert recipes on this blog), my complexion is better, and I have more energy. I'm sure of those "facts."

The Vitamix also comes with a great cookbook - we've tried at least ten of the recipes so far, and have a lot of favorites - the enchilada sauce is great (we combined half with shredded chicken, rolled into tortillas, covered with sauce and baked), and another one I like a lot is a peanut butter and chocolate shake made from raw peanuts, which would be impossible in a regular blender.**

So here's a favorite recipe - for yet another green smoothie. Its consistency in the Vitamix is unbelievable.

Green Smoothie

1 cup organic green grapes
1 slice cantaloupe with seeds
1 slice pineapple (or handful frozen pineapple chunks)
1/2 banana (skin removed)
1/4 orange (not skin)
1/4 organic apple with seeds and skin
4 pitted dates or 1 tsp. honey
1-2 cups spinach
2 cups ice

Blend on high for 1 minute. It's that simple.

**Peanut Butter- Chocolate - Banana Smoothie

Here's my take on the Vitamix chocolate-peanut butter smoothie recipe. I'm having this for lunch today, and it's incredibly delicious. Would make a good post-workout smoothie as well. Makes enough for one, but you can easily double it.

1/2 banana
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
1/2 cup almond milk (could use any type of milk here)
1 Tblsp cocoa powder
1 Tblsp agave (or to taste)
2 cups ice cubes

Place in Vitamix, start at 1 on variable, then go up to high. Use tamper if necessary to distribute the nuts for grinding. Blend 1 minute until milkshake consistency.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Green Monster Smoothies

In Morocco, most cafes serve a few different types of Moroccan smoothies, known as panaches (pronounced pa-na-shay). My favorites are a milk-based avocado smoothie and an almond one. Encountered by first-timers (as I saw when I took a group of students to Morocco this past Spring), the sickly green avocado panache can be a bit disconcerting. But it's delicious, and after you drink it, you feel fortified with energy and ready to conquer the world. During Ramadan, which is happening right now, many Moroccans drink the avocado panache for s'hor, the early morning meal that will, especially in this brutally hot August, have to last them until eight p.m. at night when they break the fast.

This summer I also discovered the green monster movement, through one of my favorite websites, though it looks like it originated here. The philosophy behind this one could basically be said to be that spinach=fountain of youth. You get both a fruit and a vegetable serving, and for many of us who are not getting enough veggies, it's a good way to get in a serving that, and here's the most amazing part, YOU WON'T EVEN TASTE IT. I like spinach fine, though I worried that in a smoothie, it would muck things up. However, it's almost impossible to detect. And my three-year-old, who helps me make them, loves the idea that we're drinking a monster. We make it a couple times a week, and I have to say that at least so far, many of the health claims of the green monster movement seem to be panning out - my complexion is a lot better, I have more energy, and I crave sweets a lot less.* So, here's the recipe I've been making the most frequently, though the varieties are endless (and can be found on the above link to the green monster website):

Green Monster Peach Smoothie

1.5-2 cups loosely packed, organic baby spinach
1 peach, peeled & cut up (or substitute banana)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup crushed ice
dash of sweetener (I use a squirt of agave syrup)

Following the order above, starting with spinach, place the ingredients in a blender. Blend at least one minute. Serves 1, or a parent and very small child. (To make small child happier, after blending, thrown in a handful of cookies and blend for 10 seconds, making it a cookies and cream smoothie)

The varieties are infinite - substitute mango for peach, add blueberries, throw in some flaxseed, matcha powder for a caffeine boost, etc. Or add half an avocado, which makes things a bit creamier and more Moroccan. But interestingly, you never taste the spinach.

*Disputed health claim: this could also just be a factor of summer, which, in a professor's life, is infinitely less stressful.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Miskuta (Moroccan Pound Cake)

When Americans bake, we're pretty obsessed with measurements. It's gotten to the point now where many cake recipes don't even call for measured cups of dry ingredients anymore, but you're supposed to be weighing your flour - as if your cake will be a flat disaster if you don't have, say, a perfect 113 grams.

But in Morocco, it's different. Not only are recipes still a pinch of this, an eyeballed quantity of that, but the same goes for cakes. There's a wonderful pound cake that my sister-in-law makes, and I've been unable to approximate it without help, despite having a number of delicious American pound cake recipes. The quest ended this summer when I observed her making it from start to finish. And the best thing about it is that she uses a small tea glass for measurements - and it always turns out wonderfully, even if the glass varies in size from time to time. You'll also see some seemingly bizarre variations that actually turn out quite wonderfully - orange juice or milk, who cares? I've made it with both and seen her do the same. The best part is how easy this cake is-- in under fifteen minutes you can have it in the oven. I brought back a Moroccan miskuta pan, pictured in the back, which is more like a bundt cake mold than an angel food cake one. And you can use your American cup measures - no need to find a Moroccan tea glass.

Kenza's Miskuta (Moroccan Pound Cake)

1 cup milk (OR orange juice)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cooking oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
2 Tblsp. baking powder
dash salt

Mix milk, eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla in a mixer OR a blender. Add 3 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix well. Prepare bundt cake pan by buttering and flouring the surface. Pour cake in pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour (check with a toothpick to see when it's done; it should be golden brown). Leave as-is to serve, or sprinkle with powdered sugar, or glaze with honey.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Feeling the Zumba Love

I've fallen hard... for Zumba. I hesitate to make enthusiastic pronouncements in writing. I've always been prone to mild obsessions, which I throw myself into, heart and soul, only to burn out after a couple months. Marathon running. Photography (obviously not in evidence from anything I've posted on this food site). Stocking up on purees to sneak into the food of the child who was not even born yet (and thankfully, at three, eats almost everything). It's almost embarrassing, later on, to witness my absolute lack of consistency, recorded for posterity in a blog post. So, with full knowledge that I might read this some day and be annoyed at myself for finding yet another all-consuming hobby that I could not stick with, I announce my great love for Zumba.

I had really been enjoying the Zumba classes at my local YMCA when I found out the Zumba convention was here in town. I decided to check it out and talk to people about why they loved Zumba so much (approaching the whole thing with my anthropologist's cap on), after which I wrote this piece. But going to the Zumba convention got me hooked. Until then, I found the outfits a little bit too bright, a bit garish. But afterward, suddenly I was on EBay browsing bright orange racerback tanks emblazoned with inspirational Zumba messages. I reached out to a couple old, old friends on Facebook who I knew were Zumba instructors. I started following a couple blogs. I couldn't believe some of the stories I was hearing- both in person at the Convention and through the blogs. People who lost over a hundred pounds with Zumba. People who conquered major illnesses, addictions, you name it. Could a sport/dance/fitness program truly be that transformative? Will those people gain that weight back later, will interest in Zumba fade? I have no idea. But I understand why it's so infectious.

Then there are the classes, which remind me of how much fun exercise was as a kid. Back in the days when I'd pretend to be a Solid Gold dancer and choreograph routines to Chaka Khan (fantasizing that at some point I'd surely get a gig on Soul Train). It appeals to the 4th grader in me who brought a dismantled refrigerator box to my private school's playground so I could breakdance (alone) during recess. (Okay, so I was kind of an eccentric). I also spent a couple years studying Middle Eastern dance (a respectable term for belly dance), and many happy nights when I used to live in NY and New Jersey going to salsa clubs. I have always loved reggaeton, salsa, merengue, etc., which forms the core of Zumba's music. It's like all of that history is suddenly coming together in a fitness program, and when I'm in a class, I literally forget about everything for a little while.

Not only have I been trying to attend different classes here in Orlando to check out different instructors' styles, but I just returned from visiting family in South Carolina for a couple weeks, and I went to six classes with four different instructors. Each class is not only an intense workout masquerading as a good time, but also a mini ethnographic experience - what, in anthropological terms, sort of means checking out a different culture. Here in Orlando, the classes I've attended so far have been more intense, with maybe 90% international music, 10% garden variety hip hop. In South Carolina, there was a lot more hip hop. But the diversity of the participants has been unbelievable-- diversity in age, race, you name it. This morning, for example, at my local Y, there were forty people in the class, ranging in age from 16 to 80. People are drawn to Zumba for different reasons. I love people watching and thinking about how you'd probably never find the same group of people in a room for a common interest, except for Zumba. But most of all, I just love going to Zumba classes, and I hope it doesn't go the way of most of my obsessions but instead can simmer for awhile without boiling over. Because my life is infinitely happier with Zumba.

So how does all this relate to food and cooking? It's summer, and I've been cooking so much lately that I have multiple recipes stocked up, ready to write about. I'm eating way less meat and chicken, much lighter in general, except for the desserts, which will always be my weakness. But also, with the Zumba, I am working harder than ever at eating well, and I feel great. Exercise has always been important to me, especially so that I could eat what I want to, but now, with Zumba, it's like not even trying. It just makes everything fun. So, please bear with me if I occasionally post something about Zumba, and I'll be back soon: with recipes for Moroccan pound cake, a green monster smoothie, and more...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vanilla Sugar Cookies, No Refrigeration Required

I love sugar cookies, but I don't love the way many of the recipes I've used in the past require you to refrigerate the dough for an hour beforehand. (I want instant cookies!) I also love sugar cookies that are crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, which is also a challenge, since they usually turn out one way or the other. This recipe, adapted slightly from Martha Stewart's Living magazine, manages both challenges, allowing you to bake up a batch of soft/crisp sugar cookies from scratch in less than thirty minutes. No refrigeration required.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 large eggs

Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt. In a mixer, blend butter and sugar until fluffy, 3 minutes. Add eggs & vanilla. Lower speed, add flour mixture until well mixed.

Place parchment paper on cookie sheets, making a tablespoon or so of dough, roll into a ball, then flatten. Sprinkle with sugar, brush with water using a pastry brush, then sprinkle with sugar again.

Bake until golden, 14-16 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets on top of wire racks for 5 minutes, then take off sheets and cool on wire racks.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Apricot-date-pistachio bars

I've been trying out some recipes from a cookbook called "Perfect One-Dish Dinners" by Pam Anderson (not the one of Baywatch fame). It's a pretty decent cookbook, with lots of ideas for food for entertaining that can also be adapted to family cooking, where you want to mess up a minimum of dishes and still want something that covers all basic food groups. My favorite recipe so far, however, has been for Apricot-Date-Pistachio bars. Sort of like a magic cookie bar combined with a granola bar, it has multiple textures, and is crunchy, sweet, soft, and gooey, all at the same time. It's also a good one to make with a kid who's interested in cooking with you - opportunities abound for stirring, pistachio cracking, etc. Here's the recipe, adapted slightly:

Apricot-Date-Pistachio Bars

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
6 Tblsp. packed light brown sugar
dash salt
1/2 stick (4 Tblsp) melted butter
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup shelled roasted pistachios
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup chopped dried apricots

Spray an 8x8 pan with cooking spray. Take a 16 inch piece of aluminum foil, fold it in half, and fit it in the pan so that ends come up the sides a little bit. Spray pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, oatmeal, sugar, and dash of salt. Stir in melted butter until well mixed. Press 3/4 of this mixture into the pan.

In another bowl, mix together coconut, pistachios, dates, and apricots. Add condensed milk, combine. Pour entire mixture over oatmeal mixture in baking pan, sprinkle remaining oatmeal mixture on top, bake at 325 for 30 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire rack five minutes. Lift out of pan with the foil, cool on the rack until reaching room temp. Cut and serve.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Awesome Spinach and Feta Turkey Burgers

I sometimes buy turkey burgers at Whole Foods flavored with spinach and feta, and I decided recently I could make them just as well on my own. I made this recipe tonight for 4th of July and we grilled them outside. They were so good I want to write down what I did, since I improvised. No photos - they were gone too quickly to document.

Spinach and Feta Turkey Burgers

1 package lean ground turkey (not turkey breast) - about 20 ounces
Breadcrumbs from 1 slice wheat bread
Egg white, slightly beaten
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (half a normal sized container)
5 ounces fresh spinach (half a bag)
1 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 generous slug Worcestershire sauce
ground pepper

Saute onion and garlic until soft. Chop the spinach and mix with the onion and garlic mixture until wilted but still bright green. Mix with ground turkey, breadcrumbs, feta, egg white, generous slug Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Form into burgers and refrigerate for a couple hours, otherwise it will stick to the grill.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Restaurant Review: I visit Jimmy Hula's so you don't have to

Each day for months on my way home from work, I've passed that former sushi restaurant on Aloma next to the also defunct Habana Grill and wondered about their next incarnation. For whatever reason, Panera didn't like the structure of the Habana Grill and tore down the whole thing to put up its bakery, but the sushi place got a remodeling job. Now Jimmy Hula's aspires for Key West charm, with a pastel paint job and a wraparound porch facing Aloma in all its billboard-and-traffic-choked glory.

It's been open for a few weeks and is almost always packed. I've been there twice now. I was pretty excited when the signs went up advertising fish tacos. Fish Tacos! Something new on the Winter Park food landscape. I first had them in San Diego about ten years ago, supposedly the first place they crossed the border. Although undoubtedly they've existed for centuries in Mexico before Americans 'discovered' them, in 1974 a spring breaker from San Diego State named Ralph Rubio went to a town called San Felipe to surf. He tried his first fish taco, later opened a chain of restaurants, and is now a billionaire.

At their most basic, fish tacos are whitefish filets battered and deep fried, served in a tortilla with cabbage, sour cream, salsa and lime. Jimmy Hula's can do this. They can also do burgers and beer, chicken and pork, and a variety of improvisations on these themes: a "Venice Beach BLT," for example, a BLT featuring the addition of tuna, or "Teriyaki steak tacos," or "loco chicken tacos," featuring orange chicken, orange ranch dressing, lettuce, carrots, and scallions. Some of these sound more appealing than others.

The fish tacos are decent, and cheap - about $3.50 each. Two could feed someone with a good appetite. The basic, historical version is the "Epic Cali Fish Taco." I also tried the "Malibu fish taco," which additionally features cilantro-lime sour cream, guacamole, and pepper jack. They were a little bit too sauce-y, and the fish was good, but there wasn't a lot of it. I ordered mine with chips and guacamole - on my first trip, the chips were multicolored and tasty, though on the second visit, they were pale yellow and could have passed for matzoh. I have one objection to the guacamole - it tastes exactly like the stuff you buy in a package at Costco, which is to say, not as good as mashing up a few avocados yourself. How hard would this be for a restaurant to do? Chipotle seems to be able to accomplish this, and they are a giant chain.

And here lies my main issue with this place - the line and cash register suggest this is fast food, as does the fact that the waiters will only bring your food out, not let you order more from them. Jimmy Hula's has the decor to make you want to stay awhile, the free advertising of all those customers sitting out on the porch drinking beer while you gaze enviously from behind your commuter's windshield listening to NPR reports about the day's global disasters. Why not come in and just forget it all for a while? On my first visit, I tried to treat it as a restaurant. I sat down, the food came. It was good. I needed more chips, but there was a line out the door and the waiters would only bring what I'd ordered at the cash register, not letting me order more from them. I complained; the waiter shrugged and said, "You'll just have to get in line like everyone else." The second time, I tried take-out - queuing up in the staggeringly long line, ordering, taking a number. Then waiting 20 minutes.

Somehow this is immensely frustrating. You can't really pick up a couple of quick tacos on the way home from work without having to wait 20 minutes, but also you can't really sit back and relax, because if you need even one extra item, you'll have to get in line again, and nobody is going to help you. So what does this place want to be? Fast food? Sit-down restaurant? I don't think it can be both. And it's hard to really feel the Baja surf/Key West vibe when I'm staring at a parking lot and four lanes of rush hour traffic. Though it might conjure up certain parts of San Diego.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Restaurant review: Moghul Indian Cuisine

I was thrilled to see a new Indian place had opened in Winter Park, Moghul Indian Cuisine. Until now, we've had to drive a long way for Indian food, and much as I like Kohinoor (in Longwood) and Woodlands (south Orlando), spending a half hour to forty-five minutes in the car to get Indian, when you already live in a city, is depressing... Moghul Indian Cuisine is on Semoran Boulevard, just across the street from La Granja, the excellent Latin American rotisserie chicken place. The only reminder of its former glory as a Krystal burger joint is the tiny industrial bathroom. Otherwise, the place has been transformed. And it was packed with customers. I hope this is a good sign that a place like this can survive.

We started with savory potato samosas. Chicken tikka masala was excellent, tangy and creamy, with tender chicken chunks. Also terrific was the vegetarian malai kofta, hot garlic naan bread, and a very respectable gulab jamun for dessert. Gulab jamun is basically donuts in a hot syrup, but at a lot of restaurants, the donuts taste chewy and have obviously been heated up in a microwave. Here, they were perfect. But I get ahead of myself. Beghun bartha, an eggplant-tomato dish, with peas, was good, lamb vindaloo just so-so. Vindaloo is supposed to be spicy, right? And if you order medium hot at most Indian places, it should blow you through the roof. The medium here was not particularly hot. That was okay with Sofia. She ate a little of everything and managed to behave herself pretty well for 2 hours.

Prices are typical Indian restaurant prices. The service was okay - they're still finding their way a little bit and don't quite know their menu. But everyone was friendly and they're trying. And we did not have to wait long for our food. I plan to return and am also hoping they do take-out. I can see myself becoming a regular customer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pappardelle with Pistachio Pesto

I was inspired this week by Mark Bittman's recipe in the Minimalist column of the New York Times for pasta handkerchiefs, or fazzoletti. The description made pasta-making sound so easy - preparing it in the food processor, rolling it out, cutting it into squares. I've made pasta before using my parents' pasta maker, which was always labor intensive and never seemed to turn out particularly well for me. But this was a revelation. I made one batch as squares, just like Bittman shows you (watch his video, because you see how easy it is), and it was good but too thick. Then for another batch, I rolled the dough out even thinner and cut it into pappardelle, a little wider than fettucine.

The other revelation that has happened lately is that my 2 1/2 year old is suddenly very interested in helping me cook. She likes to get on her stool and help knead, stir, or whatever I'm doing. Keeping her away from hot things and knives, of course, is the challenge, but it's so exciting for me, since until now, whenever I cooked, she would only to my legs, whine and demand I do something else. (This is also accompanied by her new favorite iPhone distraction, watching cake decorating videos on YouTube. I don't quite know how we discovered them, but they are a hit).

I didn't use Bittman's accompanying pesto recipe. I had a pesto recipe I wanted to try, which I copied from a magazine in a doctor's office, though I can't remember its source. The pistachio pesto accompanying this super easy pasta is terrific - great for winter, when basil is harder to come by. And with the spinach, it's good for you too.

Pappardelle with Pistachio Pesto

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks

Put flour and salt in food processor, pulse a few seconds to combine. Add eggs, turn on the food processor, and wait until dough comes together in a rough ball. Put on a floured surface and mold into a ball, but you don't have to knead it too much. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for later.

After thirty minutes, roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Add flour as needed to keep from sticking. Cut into ribbons. Into a wide, large pot of boiling water, throw pasta and cook 2 minutes. Reserve a little pasta water as needed to supplement pesto if too thick. Serve immediately, topped with pesto and a little grated parmesan.

1/4 cup pistachios
1 cup packed spinach
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic

Throw everything into food processor. Blend until it forms a slightly chunky sauce. Serve over pasta.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Oatmeal Cookies

My friend Charlene gave me a little bag of these amazing cookies with the recipe tucked inside. They were so good she must have known I'd want to make them. Which I did, repeatedly, which might explain why my clothes don't fit anymore. (There's also no picture because they didn't stay on the plate long enough to record for posterity). So I'll have to swear off desserts for awhile, though I'd like to find this recipe here, reminding me to make it, for once those clothes start to fit again.

These are like oatmeal lace cookies - slightly crunchy yet moist. My version is adapted from the original, from HEALTH magazine and originally a creation of one of the Real Housewives of New York. This is another excellent recipe if you get the urge to consume cookie dough, since there are no eggs involved. You can adapt it by swapping out chocolate chips and using raisins and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon instead. Also, despite the presence of banana, they don't taste particularly banana-like, so don't be deterred by that ingredient if not a fan. (Bananas help to bind in the absence of egg).

Chocolate Chip Banana Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup oat flour (grind up some old-fashioned oatmeal in the food processor for this - or just buy a bag at Whole Foods - Note:
don't use regular flour. Cookies will come out more cake-y and won't be as good.)
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Tblsp. ground flaxseed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
slightly more than 1/4 cup white sugar (you could probably experiment with something healthier)
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk (can be soy milk if you want it to be vegan)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ripe banana, cut into tiny pieces
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or other favorite nut
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
a handful of dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first 6 ingredients (through sugar) in a bowl. Whisk together oil, milk, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients; stir to combine. Fold in banana, walnuts, and chocolate chips and cranberries.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Parchment paper is THE BEST - I use it all the time now. Scoop small spoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown, turning baking sheet halfway through. Let cool on a wire rack. Makes about eighteen cookies.