Category Archives: Gardening

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)“I want people to realize that when they walk out their front door,” says Phoenix-based nutritionist Monika Woolsey, “that they have a whole world to choose from not just the same six foods that we always eat.” This statement starts the conversation about how do you define Woolsey, named in 2016 by Phoenix New Times as one of city’s 100 Tastemakers. Unsurprisingly, she was the only registered dietitian on the alt-weekly’s restaurant heavy industry list. By i8tonite’s definition, she is a quintessential food person, making a mark in her community through her work. According to her website, she is the team nutritionist with the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Organization, maintaining the needs of 150 athletes from a dozen countries, keeping their energy so they can reach home plate;  and the Caesar Chavez Leadership Academy Garden Project focusing on hunger relief and blogging on community gardens.

She can be thought of as keeper of “indigenous plants” and foods to eat maintaining healthy diet for all. Woolsey states, “We eat the same foods, but it’s important to eat what you know. Recently, I was working with a young Mexican athlete, who’s food consists of corn. We needed to implement that food into her diet, making it easier for her to sustain a balance.”

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)Woolsey has a degree from the University of Boulder, Colorado in kinesiology,but began nutrition when approached by the Chicago Cubs, who needed someone who knew food and was a fluent Spanish speaker to talk to the team. (Woolsey does both and has traveled throughout Latin America.)

Winding down the conversation, Woolsey says, “I’m making mesquite tea.”

With surprise, I quip, “I’ve never known you could drink mesquite as a tea.”

“Oh yeah. During the Civil War, Texan soldiers didn’t have any coffee so they would drink this (brew). They called it ‘apocalypse’ coffee.”

I know who I’m hanging out with when the last day comes.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Slow cooker meals that get better as they sit: chili, ropa vieja, minestrone soup, sauerbraten.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
At least 8 different seasonal vegetables. Ricotta cheese, milk, and eggs. Sofrito, salsa, Dijon mustard, sriracha, and curry sauce.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Someone who can simply enjoy the meal, and the meal environment, without taking a picture of it, commenting on its nutritional value, or lack thereof.

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Excessive special requests for the host that remove the love and thoughtfulness that went into its creation.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
I’m German. It’s going to be beer! Nothing better on a hot Phoenix day than a Weissbier with a spritz of lemon!

Your favorite cookbook author?
Gran Cocina Latina by Marcicel Presilla. The author is a chef with a PhD in Mediieval Spanish History, and her book approaches the entire Latin continent from a historical perspective. I read it cover to cover last summer, and plan to do so again this summer. This book completely launched my confidence in creating healthy recipes for the Latin athletes I work with.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My garlic press! I am constantly pulling it out of the dishes, washing it, and using it for the next project!

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Most of my audience is people new to cooking. I enjoy creating simple renditions of complicated recipes that leave anyone feeling like they can succeed in the kitchen. Recently I’ve been focusing on Latin American cuisine. Not just Mexican, but Caribbean, Venezuelan, Central American, each one is different and each has introduced me to delicious ingredients I take back to my other recipes.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Anything, anything, but tofu!

Favorite vegetable?
With a business named “Hip Veggies,” it’s hard to play favorites. But I suppose it would be homegrown tomatoes. Mine are ripening right now, and they rarely make it inside to the salad. I love snacking on them as I pick them. But then there’s corn. Who doesn’t love a fresh roasted elote? Oh my, I had best move on to the next question before you get a dissertation.

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

Chef you most admire?
Tamara Stanger, of Helio Basin Brewing Company, here in Phoenix. She’s blazing her own trail, daring to use native desert ingredients I have not seen other local chefs know how to use. And every time she steps up, she wins awards. Tammy is very quickly raising the bar for the definition of “local food” in Arizona.

Food you like the most to eat?
I like what’s grown locally, in season. Food that was pulled out of the ground the day I get it. My CSA box has sharpened my awareness of what tastes best at different times of year. And I have learned that when you eat with the seasons, there’s always something coming up, just around the corner, that I haven’t had in awhile. It keeps my kitchen interesting.

Food you dislike the most?
Anything with ingredients piled together in some way that suggests they’re only there because they are trendy. I love kale, quinoa, sweet potatoes, avocado, blueberries, and salmon. But please, don’t pile them together in a Superfood Bowl. Been there, seen it on Instagram a million times.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
Anything related to nature. Hiking, photography, biking, visiting a zoo or botanical garden.

Whom do you most admire in food?
The farmers who put it on our table. They work so hard for so little credit. If it were not for their love of the land and willingness to be out there 7 days a week, often in brutal conditions, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. We take them for granted. They deserve better.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
Anywhere that is likely to create a memory. On a log while hiking a beautiful trail, with family on a holiday, any environment that encourages savoring the experience as well as the food.

What is your favorite restaurant?
My family has been eating at Casa Molina in Tucson, Arizona for over 40 years. The menu hasn’t changed, the décor is the same. Good things stick around for a reason. Try a carne seca tostada with a margarita on their patio, and you’ll understand.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
I have never intentionally tattoed myself. However, food has had a way of tattooing me! I have a nice scar on my left forefinger, a souvenir from a bout with a cantankerous bagel. A few marks from splattering grease, touching hot baking sheets I thought were cool. I wear each one with pride.

Recipe: Grilled Butternut Squash with Mexican Pipián Sauce

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

Serves 2

1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 cup 505 Southwestern Green Chile, Tomatillo, Cilantro, and Lime Salsa
¼ cup raw, unsalted peanuts
¼ cup pumpkin seeds

Clean the squash

Peel butternut squash and cut into thin slices; set slices in a small mixing bowl. Set aside the seeds you recover while cleaning and preparing the squash.

Make the pipián sauce

Place reserved squash seeds in a ¼ cup measuring cup. If you do not have ¼ cup of seeds, add enough pumpkin seeds to measure as ¼ cup. Add these seeds and the peanuts to the skillet, and toast them over medium heat. Stir frequently.

When the seeds and peanuts start to pop, turn off the heat and let them continue to cook in the heat remaining in the skillet.

Place seed/peanut mixture in a spice grinder, a coffee grinder, or a food processor and grind thoroughly.

Remove mixture from grinder and set aside.

Cook the squash

Add peanut oil to the squash; toss to evenly coat slices with oil.

Salt lightly.

Place squash slices on a grill (or in a cast iron skillet over medium heat) and cook until both sides are nicely browned. It should take just a few minutes on each side. Remove from heat and set aside in dish.

Assemble the dish

Arrange the squash pieces attractively on a serving plate.

Spoon pipián sauce over the squash slices.

Garnish with cilantro.


i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours’ Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa RecipeCulinary public relations is Beth Heidrich‘s forte, and she has represented such chefs as Dean Fearing, Kent Rathbun, Daniel Boulud, Charlie Trotter, Norman VanAken, Jacques Pepin, Larry Forgione, Julian Serrano, and Julia Child. Beth began her interest in food and wine while studying abroad in Italy during college, and began her career at Mobil Five Star acclaimed The Mansion on Turtle Creek, where she managed culinary events and celebrity fundraisers. She has managed public relations campaigns for such celebrity chefs as Dean Fearing, including collaborations with ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, BBC, Food Network, The Travel Channel, MTV, Conde Nast Publications, as well as many other online, radio and print media.

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe


A native St. Louisan, Beth returned home in 2003, delighted to find such a flourishing culinary industry, and she began consulting for such clients as James Beard awarded Larry Forgione (An American Place) and such hotel properties as the Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance Grand & Suites. Beth went on to work with celebrity chefs in her position at L’Ecole Culinaire as Director of Public Relations at L’Ecole and then for all of Vatterott Colleges, and she directed all marketing and public relations for Overlook Farm, including the hiring of award-winning Chef Timothy Grandinetti.

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe
Beth and Anne Croy on FOX2

Beth co-founded the St. Louis chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier with an invitational brunch featuring Cat Cora, Iron Chef. She co-chaired the Les Dames d’Escoffier International conference in St. Louis, in October, 2012 at the Ritz Carlton and co-chaired the Farmer’s Fete event as well. Beth is currently the Member Liaison on the Executive Board with the St. Louis Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa RecipeBeth’s business is StL Culinary Tours, an intimate experience with St. Louis’ top culinary talent, which has already garnered the title of “The top gourmet walking tour in the US” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine and “Best of the Midwest” by Midwest Living Magazine. St. Louis Culinary Tours intimately connects food enthusiasts to St. Louis’s progressive and outstanding culinary world by offering an array of kitchen tours, culinary field trips, and visits to local wineries and breweries. Through both public and private tours, they provide an exclusive look into St. Louis’ culinary scene while introducing you to the owners and chefs that make it all happen – and half of all proceeds of public tours dedicated to benefit Operation Food Search. These entertaining and informative tours provide the ultimate St Louis foodie experience. Let’s go!

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Spaetzle – I love the process of making the dough and pushing it through the holes into the water, then sauteeing it in butter.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Homemade hot sauce

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
A sense of humor and appreciation for quality ingredients and preparation.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
A person who does not treat service staff with respect.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Julia Child and Jacques Pepin

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My clean hands and then knives. I love knives.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I learned a lot of Southwest techniques from Chef Dean Fearing. My favorite thing to cook is seafood on vacation, of course near the docks.

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork is so exquisite in the Midwest. We have so many farmers with heritage breeds like Newman Farm, Rain Crow Ranch, and many others.

Favorite vegetable?
Spring asparagus

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe
St Louis Culinary Tours Chef for a Day Michael with Chef Rex Hale making creme brûlée. — with Rex Hale at Boundary at the Cheshire.

Chef you most admire?
In my own city, Chef Rex Hale, hands down. Otherwise Jacques Pepin and the late Charlie Trotter.

Food you like the most to eat?
Ozark Forest Mushrooms, Baetje Farm’s World Cheese Awards winning Fleur de Valle washed-rind cheese, Eckert’s Farm’s peaches and so many fresh vegetables from our home garden in the summer.

Food you dislike the most?
Raw onions and green peppers, along with most processed food.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?

Who do you most admire in food?
Jacques Pepin

Where is your favorite place to eat?
Boundary at The Cheshire in St.Louis

What is your favorite restaurant?
Boundary at The Cheshire in St.Louis

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No tattoos, sorry.

Recipe: Charred Tomato Salsa

My husband and I make this every summer with almost every ingredient from our own garden. We eat it all year long. We also share it with family and friends.

i8tonite with St. Louis Culinary Tours' Beth Heidrich & Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe

6 large ripe Cherokee Purple tomatoes, core removed

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic

2 jalapeno chilies, stem removed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Salt to taste

Lime juice to taste

Preheat broiler to 500 degrees.

Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and brush the tops with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place pan under broiler and char until skin is blackened, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place onion, garlic, and jalapenos on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Toss to coat. Place pan in oven and roast for 12 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove pan from oven and set aside.

In a meat grinder, with a medium die, grind tomatoes, onion, garlic, and jalapenos with cilantro. To mixture add a generous amount of salt and lime juice to taste.
The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe“Who doesn’t love cake?” Thus my introduction to Holly Farrell began, when I called her at her gardener’s cottage on an estate in the UK, near the Shropshire/Herefordshire border. Farrell is a serious gardener, mom of a toddler, and the author of Grow Your Own Cake: Recipes from Pot to Plate, a genius book that is both a backyard gardening guide and cookbook. The beautiful, inspiring photos are by Jason Ingram.


i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread RecipeFarrell has a delicious twist to her cake recipes, though – she has a vegetable garden devoted to all things cake. How did this come about?

In college, Farrell majored in history. Which led, curiously, to gardening. What? Yes, well, love entered the picture, too, as you’ll find out in a moment. She got the growing bug working at a chili pepper farm, after which she trained at RHS Gardens Wisley, where she gained the Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture and the RHS Certificate and Diploma, both with Commendation – and met her husband! They now live on the country estate where he is the Head Gardener.

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread RecipeSoon, she started writing garden books – and freelancing on kitchen gardens for private clients. Now one thing that’s a bit unusual, you’d think, for gardeners – sometimes the accommodations where they lived didn’t have big gardens, because the estate had such extensive gardens! So, she has been growing her own fruit and vegetables for many years, in a variety of settings, from allotments to container gardens. I think for Farrell, gardening is like breathing – something you do no matter where you are. It was amazing to hear her clear passion for gardening –  and her love of teaching how to grow things – from across the pond.

Farrell has always cooked, and always liked cake. This book is a glorious combination of the two, where ingredients you never thought would be in a cake are the stars – or the firmament.

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe
lavender shortbread cookies

She hopes to inspire people to expand their gardens – and palates. This book will appeal to gardeners who are already growing, and bakers who have never gardened, too. Using freshly grown ingredients (including herbs and flowers) – especially from your own hand and land – makes such a difference. Can’t grow much? Start with herbs in pots on your windowsill, and get the rest from local farmers at your farmer’s market.

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe
Rose cake

I love this book, for it teaches much in both the garden and the kitchen. If you know one, skip ahead to the other. But the recipes (50 of them!) shine, I will be honest. Her chapters include spring and summer cakes, autumn and winter cakes, afternoon tea, pudding, and savory bakes. When I asked what readers might be surprised about her book, Farrell mentions that she while she loves gardening, she doesn’t grow her own wheat, or raises cows and chickens – and the recipe that raises the most eyebrows is the savory cheesecake (you know I flipped right to that page after our afternoon chat, and indeed, I was both intrigued and impressed. Making soon!).

As a mom, I asked Farrell for tips were to get kids started baking (and gardening) early. She said to start early by baking sweet stuff! And while plenty of people are great at hiding vegetables in a cake, that’s not what she’s about. She prefers getting kids to appreciate growing things, picking, and then cooking them. Their time and efforts are rewarded and they’ll want to try it again (and again).

I was impressed with Farrell’s philosophy on gardening, eating, and life. She noted that, “so much goes into the experience of eating – where you are, who you’re with, if the sun is shining, etc. The cakes in the book will taste good, but hopefully you’ll be in a good place, a garden, and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself will make it better.”

To that end, she’s shared two recipes to inspire you.

Questionnaire, with a nod to Proust:

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Cake! Or anything involving cheese.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter and eggs, and parmesan cheese (see above).

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
I’m terrible at deciding between dishes in restaurants, so it’s always nice when they order the other choice so I can try both!

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Poor table manners.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Too many to choose, but for the writing, Nigel Slater and recently Ruby Tandoh.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My silicone spatula.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Anything sweet – pudding, dessert, cake…

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Chicken, but I couldn’t live without pancetta for ragu.

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe
Pea Cheesecake (told you. Make one!)

Favorite vegetable?
Broccoli – it’s what I crave when I’m under the weather, but for baking with, carrots.

Chef you most admire?
Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall do great work with their campaigns for better food.

Food you like the most to eat?
I couldn’t live without chocolate.

Food you dislike the most?
Visible fat on meat – I just can’t stomach chewing it. Or semolina and rice puddings, a school-dinner legacy.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?

Who do you most admire in food?
Michael Pollan writes so well, and his Food Rules is brilliant.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
At the kitchen table with my husband and daughter.

What is your favorite restaurant?
The best meals I’ve ever had out were at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir, and at a little place called Da Enzo in Rome.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
Hah! No, sorry, I’m not nearly rock and roll (or brave) enough for tattoos.

Growing Carrots & Carrot Cake Recipe

i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe
Grow your own carrots…

When I first started growing my own vegetables, I had a friend who thought carrots is carrots is carrots. I presented him with my home-grown roots for dinner, pulled from the soil that afternoon. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘so that’s what carrots are supposed to taste like.’

For recipes that call for blended or grated carrot, sweet, juicy, long, blunt-ended varieties are best, such as ‘Sugarsnax 54’, ‘St Valery’,
any of the ‘Nantes’ type or the shorter ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ for growing in pots. When using whole carrots, as in Root veg
tarte Tatin, baby carrot varieties such as ‘Paris Market’ are a good choice, and also suitable for growing in pots.

Sow carrots in a sunny spot in spring, and again at intervals until late summer. Scatter the seed thinly in a drill in well-prepared soil free from large stones. Small carrots can be grown in pots, and this is actually preferable to growing them in heavy clay soils.

Carrot flies are attracted by the scent of the foliage so avoid brushing it while tending the plants. To protect the crop from such pests, cover with horticultural fleece or fine mesh. Clear plastic tunnels can also be used if aired daily. Check the edges and folds regularly for slugs and snails. Thin the seedlings once the roots have grown to a usable size, leaving one plant every 10cm/4cm or so.

Satisfying as it is to just pull up carrots using the foliage, this should be avoided so the root does not break; instead use a fork to lever them out of the ground. Carrot thinnings provide the first harvest, while the main crop will be ready around four months after sowing.


i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe
for this amazing carrot cake!

Perhaps the most well-known of all the vegetable cakes, and with good reason, carrot cake comes in many guises. This sponge version is lightly spiced, moist and includes a zesty buttercream. It is light enough for baking with fresh, sweet carrots in summer.

2 x deep, round cake tins, 20cm/8in diameter, greased and base-lined

200g/7oz peeled carrots
2 tbsp natural yogurt
1 tbsp orange juice
330g/11oz plain flour
300g/10oz light brown muscovado sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1½ tbsp baking powder
180g/6oz unsalted butter
3 eggs

Candied carrot:
1 peeled carrot
70g/2½oz caster sugar
70ml/2½fl oz water

300g/10oz icing sugar
150g/5oz unsalted butter
3 tsp lemon juice, to taste

1 lemon, zest
75g/2½oz walnuts and/or pecans, toasted

• For the cake, preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Grate the carrots, then blitz in a food processor or blender with the yogurt and orange juice to form a rough purée. Set aside. Sift the flour, sugar, spices and baking powder into a large bowl, then beat in the butter until it has coated the dry ingredients and the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Beat in the eggs until just incorporated, and then the carrot purée for 2–3 minutes. Divide between the two tins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Then remove from the oven and turn out the cakes to cool on a wire rack.
• For the candied carrot, using a zester or small knife, pare long, thin strips of carrot into a small saucepan. Then add the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes, until a thin syrup has formed. Hook out the carrot strips and leave to cool on a wire rack.
• For the buttercream, sift the icing sugar and beat with the butter to combine, then add lemon juice to taste. Beat for 5–10 minutes until light and fluffy.

Use half the buttercream to sandwich the two layers of cake together, and the other half to cover the top. Grate over the lemon zest and finish by sprinkling over the toasted nuts and candied carrot.



i8tonite with Grow Your Own Cake Author Holly Farrell & her Pumpkin Soda Bread Recipe

Soda bread, which is created using baking powder rather than yeast, requires no kneading and no proving. It is best served warm, making it an ideal choice for a quick weekend lunch. Tradition has it that the cross sliced into the top of the bread is to ward off the devil, but whatever the origin it makes each loaf easy to tear apart into
chunks to share.


1 × baking sheet, dusted with flour

500g/1lb 2oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
4 tsp baking powder
150g/5oz grated pumpkin
100g/3½oz grated
gruyere cheese
300ml/½ pint buttermilk

• Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Mix the flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, pumpkin and three-quarters of the cheese quickly and thoroughly in a large bowl. Then make a well in the centre.
• Pour in the buttermilk and stir until it comes together as one ball of dough. Work as quickly as possible until the ingredients are all incorporated, but do not mix for longer than necessary to do this.
• Divide the dough into two equal pieces, and shape each into a ball. Put on to the baking sheet and flatten slightly. Cut a deep (almost to the base) cross in each ball, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dust with a little flour.
• Bake for 25–30 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or cold. The loaves will last 2 days at most, and are best eaten as soon as possible after baking.


Inspiration, indeed. Spring is here – what are you planting, with a mind to bake and eat?

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: New Zealand’s Annabel Langbein’s Chicken and Leek Gratin


AL Cookbook CoverSeveral weeks ago, I was sent a cookbook The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures by a lovely celebrity cook, Annabel Langbein, from New Zealand. From the onset, Ms. Langbein seems to be the country’s answer to Martha Stewart – prettier, younger, and from a whole different continent.

She has a line of cookbooks –  21 and counting —  a television and radio series plus her own line of products. Her television series has been seen in 70 countries. New Zealand, as a country, has a population of under five million. The United States has a population far beyond that number,  and she wants to conquer it.

She means well and seems like the real thing. Before Langbein became a cooking superstar, she was a food writer for a variety of Australian magazines. She met her husband while she was a possum trapper and he was a farmer. Her trademark term – free range –  means organic living and gardening. She lives off the land, taking daily walks into her garden, locating what’s ripe, and deciding whatever is picked will be dinner that evening.

Annabel 2

It’s a little idyllic and hard for me to believe that Langbein gets her own veggies from any garden. She’s perfectly coiffed along with an impeccable manicure. I just can’t imagine Ms. Langbein, or Martha for that matter, sending business emails from their garden. It kills the romantic ideal of owning a lake house, which Langbein mentions often. (Admittedly, in the back of the book, she acknowledges the assistants who create this picturesque lifestyle.)

Aside from being a little too picture-perfect, the recipes are easy to recreate. The idea of a Halloumi (the Greek cheese) and Papaya Salad sounds deliciously refined.  There is also a Salmon Confit made with a liter of olive oil.

AnnabelIt’s a beautiful cookbook. I made a delicious and fairly easy, Chicken and Leek Gratin. The topping looked interesting and fun for a variety of dishes including a coating for chicken or on top of poached eggs. Simple and easy – or maybe I should say free range.

All Photos Courtesy of Annabel Langbein Publishing

Chicken and Leek Gratin (Serves 6)

Chicken and Leek Gratin from Annabel Langbein

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large leeks, washed and thinly sliced
  • 12 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (No need to go out to your garden and do your own butchering. Your local grocery store has them in a yellow styrofoam package.)
  • 3 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons worchestershire
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon thyme (She doesn’t specify from her garden. I bought some at my farmers’ market.)
  • ½ cup cream or chicken broth
  • And Provencal crust. (1 to 2 cups of dried breadcrumbs, 1 handful of torn parsley, zest of 1 lemon, 2 garlic cloves, 2 oz butter, coarsely grated Parmesan, 1 anchovy filet. Place all into a food processor and pulse until mixed together.)

Let’s make this puppy:

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add leek and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until softened and translucent.

In a bowl, add the chicken thighs, mustard, thyme, worchestershire sauce and a couple pinches of salt. Mix well and set aside.

Remove leeks from heat and stir in cream or broth. Pour this into an oven proof casserole dish or shallow baking pan. Arrange chicken on top. Cover with the Provencal Crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. It should be fragrant, bubbly and a golden topping.

 The End. Go Eat.




And The Beet Goes On…

Sadly, I didn’t have a good food childhood. Once my parents divorced, it was mostly canned stuff my mother (or I) prepared, since the only one who cooked was my father. My mother would make the occasional meatloaf, with packaged breadcrumbs and Heinz ketchup. That was pretty much it except for the holidays when all the vegetables we ate would be canned. String beans. Corn. Beets. I wasn’t a fan of any of them, especially the beets. Oye. I thought canned beets were disgusting. I know she tried. She just wasn’t a cook. (Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like them.)

Cut to living in New York City, and a very awkward young man walking through the Union Square Farmers Market. I would only buy potatoes, not sure what else to purchase or do with any of it. I was fairly ignorant of food, until I started working in restaurants. First as a waiter; then, as a bartender. Not only was I learning how to do pattern-making (it went the way of geometry)  while attending Fashion Institute of Technology, but I began to acquire knowledge of food and drink. A lot about the drinking. One of my favorite sayings was and still is, “Pour me into a cab.” I learned about wine while working at Soho Kitchen & Bar as well as scotch, cognacs, gins, and beer. We sold over 110 wines by the glass, 60 types of bottled beers with 24 on tap and all could which would be paired with simple bar food, like Spicy Buffalo Wings, pizzas, easy salads. But the star was the grape: chardonnay, cabernet, merlot. The restaurant had on the menu a Grilled Chicken Salad with Roasted Beets. It was a fairly simple meal of grilled chicken breast sliced against the grain, on a bed of mixed greens with roasted beets in a mustard vinaigrette.

But it was the beets that I ate. And ate. And ate. I realized that when cooked properly, they have a sweet, buttery quality with a chewy, yielding texture. I loved them. Their colors are brilliant hues such as a bright orangey, yellow which is tantamount to the color of a fall sunset or the purple, reddish color that reminds me of exotic, richly colored Indian batiks.

Now, I cook them all the time and love every minute of it…and the beet goes on….

Let’s make some beets.

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  While the oven gets up to speed, cut off the beet leaves and save them for a salad the next day. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut up the large ones in quarters, then wrap them loosely in foil. No need to dry the beets before wrapping.

2. Place the wrapped beets on a baking sheet and roast for 50-60 minutes.

3. Let the beets cool before handling them. Using a paper towel, rub the skin off. It should come off easily.

4. Now, cut them up to eat. My favorite thing is to dress them with a little olive oil and mix them into a salad of butter lettuce, bleu cheese and filberts with garlic chives. Awesome!!!

Los Angeles Surprises & Garden Fresh Gazpacho

Subway image

Los Angeles is not known for trains or gardens. Normally, the Land of Pretty People is thought of as a place of vast asphalt and traffic jams. Where a minor fender-bender can result in a manslaughter charge. Tonight though,  Lulu, Don and I were going to high-tail it on three trains to get to Highland Park, a small off-shoot community populated with Hispanic families and which is fast becoming one of the new hipster areas that will soon be teeming with tattooed skinny boys, multi-colored haired women and piercing aficionados who know nothing about BDSM.

Ingredients for Gazpacho<

First, it was an early dinner of Gazpacho and Pasta at Lulu’s. When I arrived at Lu’s house, Don was in the backyard picking tomatoes but Lu was already setting up the image of the washed arugula and other freshly harvested vegetables to be shot for this blog.  After the requisite but lovely air-kisses, I was given the task of squeezing the meat from the large and beautiful heirloom tomatoes. (You don’t have to ask me twice!). It was a very Nigella Lawson moment as the joke abounded “about squeezing the meat”. Essentially, I was extracting the juice and pulp from the tomato so that it would be easier to puree into the soup leaving the…ahem…seeds from the meat. (Sorry, I said that it was very Nigella Lawson-like.)

Anyhow, into the blender went the squeezed tomato pulp, cucumber, onion, garlic and a little green pepper. and out came a sweet, refreshing chilled soup.

Lulu's Garden Gazpacho

After this delicious dinner, served with Shrimp and Arugula Pesto and a Smokey Roasted Tomato Pasta, we began our adventure of riding the Los Angeles train system. Getting on at Exposition and La Cienega, which we needed to take a car (only in LA), we bought our TAP cards and away we went. This particular line traveled by Leimert Park, Staples Center, Civic Center, University of Southern California and was almost completely above ground. It’s really a good way to see Los Angeles without the stop and go traffic. We swtiched to the Red Line for a bit of time and then, transferred to the Gold Line which took us up into the streets again. We slipped past Chinatown and South Pasadena and arriving at Highland Park, which is neon lights, tree-lined avenues and Latino thumping music.

photo (117)

It was an art gallery opening that we are in the area to see but the subway or elevated or whatever transportation system Angelenos start calling our “train”. It’s a great way to avoid traffic, not worry about parking and see The City of Angels without wings.

Garden Fresh Gazpacho
You Will Need:
2 to 3 lbs Heirloom Tomatoes
1 large, peeled, seeded cucumber
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 half onion/ shallot chopped.
1 chopped bell pepper (red or yellow are preferable)

Let’s Finish This Puppy
1. Using a fine mesh strainer, squeeze out the meat and push through gently. Leaving behind the skins and seeds.
2. Place everything into a blender or food processor including the tomato pulp or liquid.
3. Hit that button marked “puree”. Voila, gazpacho.

Ideas: Taking this basic premise, you can add vegetable stock to make it thinner. Add some sour cream or creme fraiche to finish it. Maybe a little cilantro to make it feel special.

Farmers Market Haul and Lulu’s Gardening Class

Let’s begin with lovely Lulu’s gardening class before we get to Farmers Market Haul.

Lulu's Gardening Class

Shelley, Lauren, one of Lulu’s co-workers and Lauren’s husband, Chris, along with me, were students in Lulu’s backyard for her first-ever gardening class. Lu has been gardening since she was a child back in her homestate of Pennsylvania. It was always one of her aspirations to create an edible garden where she could cook and share her plantings. Since she purchased her home over 8 years ago in the PicFair District of Los Angeles, she has fashioned a dozen raised beds where many varieties of home-grown edibles have ripened to seasonal perfection. Being an urban/surburban kid and thinking for many years that vegetables came hidden in a supermarket’s underbelly, I’m massively awestruck by her cultivation of cantalopes and watermelons…. along with being supplied gifts from her seasonal harvests which have included lettuces (romaine, red leaf, and green leaf), tomatoes (some which she has used for canning and I used for sauces), cucumbers, artichokes, eggplant, basil, spaghetti squash, raspberries, blueberries, lemons, limes….and on and on. In each one of the approximate 2 1/2 feet by 6 feet areas, the soil has been tilled, rested and loved to reap some of the most deliciously edible gems I’ve had. There is nothing like direct farm to table to do a body good.

In this class, Lu’s immense knowledge was demonstrated when she dug up her compost turning out a dark, rich and thoroughly alive concoction with do-gooding worms (pictured). The class was a fully active hour and a half experience. For this city slicker, it still shows the difficulties of being a 21st century farmer. Farming is an arduous task. It’s about the right amount of water, sun and nutrients but I can absolutely see it’s rewards for the grower as I was rewarded cuttings from Lulu’s hardwork such as baby kale, zucchini, squash blossoms, and fresh mint.

Lulu's Compost

All of this, on this Memorial Day weekend, brings me to Farmers Market Haul. Today, it was tiny Japanese bell peppers (Yakatori Farms), purple baby artichokes (SunCoast Farms), beautiful frisee, mizuna and baby chard (Windsor Farms), green Zebra Rita’s and baby spinach (McGrath Family Farms), small sweet Maui onions for grilling (Can’t remember the farm…), and rosemary (ABC Rhubarb).

Farmers Market Haul_5_26

(It was a small shopping excursion as I had the vegetables Lulu gave me from the class.)

I love the Hollywood Farmers Market. A weekly Sunday ritual like heading to church without the pie bake off at the end. It’s reminiscent of NYC’s Union Square Market. I prefer HFM before 11:00am, before my shins are black and blue from the strollers, wagons and pushcarts but still appreciate that families bring their kids to learn about food and its production. I love the urbanity of it: hipsters with their multiple canvas bags; the mid-thirty parents, who gave their nanny the day off, and are clutching too many children and too many vegetables; the single women holding onto lattes and the bottom of their maxi-dresses; the married gay men, leering over organic zucchini and the street musicians giving the market it’s soundtrack.
There’s no competition between farmers. One of the farmers didn’t have Bloomfield spinach, a fave lovely lettuce, and pointed me to another canvas stall ala “Miracle on 34th Street”/Macy’s vs. Gimble’s sort of way. I feel like this is the way life should be, simple, uncomplicated, free of CNN’s ticker tape, which is located around the corner.

One of the great things at HFM, I get to learn about my food and ask questions of the individual purveyors. I get to know them, they know me. They become a constant. I like that. It’s a small village atmosphere in a metropolitan city. The market is there to serve and keep me, in my mind, safe…that’s why I go. Its one of the few times in my week…when out of my car and out of my apartment… I feel sheltered and we are there to buy nourishment and feel nourished.

And…no matter what I think of war or our politicians, it’s people whom I’ve known such as the farmers who had many children go to war, who help feed the young men and women who have served our country….to both, I salute you.