Recently while at a farmers' market, I ended up in a friendly conversation with a fellow shopper about Korean melons and kholrabi. At the end of our chat, she remarked that I was so lucky to have learned how to cook from my mom as a child. I get that a lot. People assume if you enjoy cooking you must have been doing it all your life and learned from your momma or granny. I actually learned from neither and oddly enough, until a few years ago I hardly cooked a lick. Now don't get me wrong, I've loved food ALL my life...but my zest for cooking? That started just short of 5 years ago. (Up until then my claim to fame was a half-assed green salad and a rubbery shrimp scampi.) Cooking's not in my blood. Growing up, my mom had about a half a dozen recipes in her repertoire and my dad would burn hot dogs so badly on the grill I would have to peel the charcoaled outer skin off to get to the edible core. These days my mom rarely cooks, maybe a pot of rice here or there and if the mood strikes she may grill some mackerel. My dad sticks to making the one recipe he does best- homemade spaghetti sauce. Neither of my parents would give Ina Garten a run for her money. In fact, they store pots and pans in their oven and dry goods in their dishwasher, that's how often they cook. They did however encourage me to be open-minded and try all kinds of food when I was growing up- from matzo balls to deep-fried chicken gizzards to natto. Although these days I may have surpassed them in my passion for new delicious foods, as they tend to scratch their heads quizzically when I wax on about foie gras, sweetbreads and quinoa during my visits home. As for the cooking part, over the past few years I've taught myself- mostly by experimenting in the kitchen, pouring over recipes and gleaning handy tips from friends who are amazing cooks. So when people tell me they can't cook...I like to point out that they can cook, they just choose not to. They just need to put the time and the effort into learning how to cook. Start with the simple dishes and work your way up...and most importantly- have fun!

One of the things that keeps cooking interesting for me is stumbling upon new and unique ingredients. For example, one of my recent finds at my local grocery store was a mysterious-sounding rice by Lotus Foods called "Forbidden Rice."* The name was just so cool and the color so intriguing, I couldn't resist picking up a small bag to play around with. As it turned out Forbidden Rice is a heirloom short-grain rice with a bit of a nutty taste, chewy texture and an intense inky purple hue (once it's cooked). This Thai black rice is pretty versatile and you could use it in many of the same dishes that you would use wild rice in. Additionally, it's quite the healthy addition to any diet as it's high in antioxidant-rich anthocyanins, iron and is a good source of fiber.  For my first attempt at using it, I wanted to keep it uncomplicated so I opted to make a rice salad. Prowling around the Internet, I found an easy recipe by Charlie Ayers utilizing Forbidden Rice. (Charlie Ayers is the former executive chef for Google.) I liked that it had a spicy dressing, so I used that for my salad and just changed up the ingredients to what I had on hand or preferred. The result was a tasty, eye-catching salad with a bit of a kick.  Now you could also jazz this salad up by adding some chopped sweet potatoes, mandarin slices or even some shelled edamame. Or you could top it with a protein such as a ginger-sesame salmon fillet or some sliced citrus-soy marinated flank steak to make it a full meal.
[* Supposedly in ancient China, black rice was reserved only for the emperor/royal family and was not available to the public; hence, the name "Forbidden Rice."]

Spicy Forbidden Rice Salad


1 cup Forbidden Rice

1/4 cup scallions, green & white parts thinly sliced

1/2 cup Sweet Twister pepper, diced

1/2 cup English cucumber, diced

1 cup roasted/unsalted cashews, chopped

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek

1/2 teaspoon honey

salt and ground pepper, to taste

1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds


1. Put the rice, 2 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt  in a small pot or saucepan and bring to a quick boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes (until liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender).

2. In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, sambal oelek, honey, salt and pepper. Set aside and allow flavors to meld.

3. When the rice is ready, remove from heat. If there is any excess water, drain. Allow to cool.

4. Once cool, place the rice in a large bowl and add green onions, Twister pepper, cucumber and cashews. Mix together thoroughly.

5. Give the dressing a quick whisk then pour over the rice salad. Mix it up really well. Taste. Add more salt, pepper, lime juice, honey or sambal oelek if needed. (If you want it spicier, up the sambal oelek.) Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
6. Serve at room temp or chill in fridge.
(with Gruyère and wheat bread)

108 degrees! Ugh! I dunno about you all but I was sweating like a pig all weekend. We had a Catholic school graduation to attend Friday night and it was balls hot in the church. They said the AC was on, but I have my doubts. On the bright side, maybe I sweated off a pound or two. Saturday night, I ended up at the Endurocross racing at The Sleeptrain Arena (is that what the name is this week?) with Mr.S. and the kidlets. I know, I all can't picture me at an event like this but I ended up having a good time. Endurocross is a super fast, intense, high endurance sport. It's similar to motocross racing but instead of just speeding around, they race over large rocks, logs, tires and even through a water pit. I especially liked watching Wally Palmer race (unfortunately, he didn't win).

Sunday cooled down considerably, thank god! Mr. S. took me to Green Acres Nursery to buy some veggie plants for the raised garden bed he made for me. How awesome is he? What was really impressive was that he made the whole thing from scratch. I absolutely love it. We planted peppers, cherry tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, basil and squash. Kidlet #1 wanted a watermelon plant so we planted that too. Now if they'd just grow overnight, I'd be a happy camper. (I'm soooo impatient!) Grow! Grow! Grow!

Lately I've been watching Rachel Khoo's show, "Little Paris Kitchen" online. I had checked out her new cookbook from the library recently and found that I liked the simplicity of her French recipes and how she gives each one a neat twist. (Plus she's a hapa like me and cooks in a teeny-tiny kitchen, gotta love that!) This morning I made one of her recipes for breakfast for Mr.S. and the kidlets, the Muffin Tin Croque Madame. The snack-sized savory treat got an enthusiastic thumbs up all around from my favorite little taste testers. I made some small modifications to the recipe to suit my taste but followed the recipe as is for the most part. You can see the original recipe here:  Croque Madame Muffins. By the way, the leftover Mornay sauce is absolutely delicious on a side of grits or as a dipping sauce for biscuits.

(with Cheddar and white bread)

"Muffin Tin" Croque Madame


For the Mornay (cheese) sauce:
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp milk, lukewarm (whole or 2%. Skip using nonfat, soy, almond, etc. for this recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (or cheddar)
  • 3 tbps grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 large slices of bread, no crusts
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 oz ham, cut into cubes or thin strips or 3-4 strips of bacon chopped into small pieces
  • 6 small eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add your flour, and beat together until smooth.

3. Gradually add your milk, whisking the entire time. Add your Dijon mustard and nutmeg. Let it all simmer together for about 10 minutes. Give it a whisk every few minutes so it doesn't burn.

4. Add about 90% of your Gruyere and all of your Parmesan. Continue whisking the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Remove the crust from the bread slices and flatten each slice. You can brush both sides of the bread with melted butter, but I found just doing one side was fine.

6. Spray your 6-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Press each slice of bread in the muffin hole. You can used the bottom of a drinking glass but I found it just as easy to smoosh it down with my fingers.

9. Place a few pieces of ham or bacon in the bread "cup". Followed by one egg on top (you may have to pour out a little of the egg white before adding the egg, so that it fits). Top with 2 tablespoons of the Mornay sauce. Sprinkle with your leftover Gruyère. Season with some black pepper, if you wish.

10. Place the muffin tin in the oven. And cook for 20 minutes (a few minutes less, if you like your eggs on the runnier side).

11. Remove tin from oven. Use a fork or knife to pop the croque madame out. Serve while hot.

I hadn't planned on doing a post for the Hawaiian Mac Salad that I made on Sunday, but after I posted about the Kalua pig, I got about a dozen emails requesting the recipe for the macaroni salad I made to go with it.

Note, for those who haven't had it before-  Hawaiian Mac Salad is not your normal macaroni salad from the deli counter. It's tangier and sweeter, the mayo is thinned out by milk and its only extra ingredients are grated carrot, sliced scallions and small bits of celery. Also, you have to use real mayo to make this, not the lowfat stuff or Miracle Whip (gack!).

The recipe I use is from Cook's Country Magazine, from a printing that I clipped from a Bay Area paper a few years ago. It most closely replicates the Hawaiian macaroni salads I ate while on vacation in Hawaii.

Give it a go...Hawaiian Mac Salad is the perfect accompaniment for a plate lunch of Kalua pig, Huli Huli chicken or your favorite BBQ dish.

Hawaiian Mac Salad (from Cook's Country Magazine)

2 cups whole milk, divided
2 cups mayonnaise, divided (I like to use Best Foods Real Mayonnaise)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 pound macaroni elbows
1/2 cup cider vinegar
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 celery rib, chopped fine


1. To make dressing, whisk together 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 cup mayonnaise, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons black pepper (or pepper to taste). Set aside.
2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta and cook until very soft, about 15 minutes. Drain pasta and return to pot. (You want the pasta to be fat and soft, not al dente)

3. Add vinegar and toss until absorbed. Transfer to a bowl. Cool pasta, then stir in dressing until well-coated. Cool completely. (Don't worry, the macaroni will absorb the dressing)

4. To assemble salad, add scallions, carrot, celery, remaining milk and remaining mayonnaise to pasta mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste. Refrigerate covered for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Serves 8 people.

Man, when did it become so incredibly HOT outside? I'm definitely not one of those people who loves the sweltering heat. What's there to like? Burning my hand on my steering wheel? Sweating like a pig? Ugh. If my little cottage didn't have CH&A, I don't know what I'd do. Seriously. I don't care if that makes me seem like an entitled brat. Whenever that thermometer starts climbing past 75 degrees, my air goes on- STAT. I would never survive in the South, where they have the double whammy of heat and humidity. I'm a total wuss. So this weekend when it reached over 100 degrees,  I tried to minimize my time spent in the kitchen. On Friday night, I convinced Mr. S. that we should go out to eat...I called it a date night but in all honestly, I just didn't want to cook. We tried the new Turkish restaurant on J Street, Istanbul Bistro. Not bad. The lamb beyti kabob was heavenly. The chicken shish plate...meh, probably wouldn't order that again. It was a bit bland and the portion was skimpy for the cost ($15).

Saturday night, I headed to the wilds of Rocklin for a wonderful get together of a few food bloggers in the area, including- Bake It With Booze, Guava Rose and Tate's Kitchen. There was such a delicious array of foods and cocktails. Man, can those ladies cook! I even got to try some tasty homemade orangecello that made my made my eyes bug out on the first sip. Those Bake with Booze girls aren't messing around with their booze. That orangecello may have put some hair on my chest, it was hardcore! I loved it though. :) Sunday was spent helping Kidlet #2 with his report (I now know more than I ever wanted to about FDR), reading  my book for book club (Home by Toni Morrison, which I'm enjoying immensely) and cooking. Yep, I said cooking. I cranked up the AC and ventured into the kitchen...and I even used the oven! I guess I just can't stay out of there. I thought a little luau food would be fun for the kidlets so I braved the heat and made Kalua pig, Hawaiian mac salad and coconut rice. The kidlets and Mr.S. loved it.  It was such an easy dish to make and pork butt is so cheap, I think we'll be making it more often. We even had enough for leftovers for the next day. Kalua pork is so versatile- you can throw the leftovers in tacos and quesadillas, stuff them into sandwiches and even toss some onto a pizza. It also freezes well. The only thing that would have made that meal better, would have been a GIANT mai tai. Um...for me (not the kidlets).

Kalua Pork


5 lb. pork butt, bone in
1.5 tablespoons Liquid Smoke
2 tablespoons of Hawaiian Alaea sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Score the pork butt on all sides.

3. Rub liquid smoke and salt onto the pork butt. Use your hands to pat it into the meat.

4. Place the pork butt on a large piece of heavy aluminum foil, fat side up. Wrap the foil tightly around the meat in a tent-like fashion. Place in a roasting pan or baking dish.

5. Cook for about 4-5 hours (about 45 minutes per pound of meat).

6. When it's done, remove the pork butt from the oven and let it sit, untouched, for another 10-15 minutes.

7. Open the foil. Remove the meat from the foil and shred the meat with two forks. It'll be really tender and will fall apart easily. You can also use some of the remaining roasting liquid to moisten the pork (optional). Serve.