Coffee: cold-brew vs iced.

Hot weather makes me crave cold things. Like cold coffee. Little did I know…

Cold-brew coffee is actually a thing nowadays. I had no idea until my well-informed, but non-coffee loving brother told me so. You would think the coffee monster that I am would know about the cold-brew designation, but I have clearly been ill-informed, and now, rightly enlightened.

Basically, if you like cold-brewed coffee or good iced coffee drinks, you’ll probably love the Mizudashi Cold Brewer by Hario. It’s elegant. It’s constructed of glass. It’s made in Japan. All for $25.00 on It’s literally a steal.

And, a cinch to use. All you have to do is place your ground coffee into the mesh filter and place the mesh filter into the carafe. Note: The more coffee you add, the stronger the brew. Add enough cold water through the filter to saturate all the coffee, and then stir. Close the lid and place it in the refrigerator for about 12 hours (overnight works, too). When it’s ready, pull the filter out and serve over ice. Add milk or cream to taste, if you prefer. It doesn’t get any simpler.

Personally, I love that it’s made of glass, so there’s no interference or contamination of other flavors from the container. Also, this means you can store it longer in the carafe itself. Hint: Make on Sunday night. Drink all week, Monday to Friday.

After purchasing the carafe, I found out that Ritual Coffee Roasters uses the Mizudashi for their cold-brew. Obviously it’s super legit now. At least in my world.

You’re probably wondering what this contraption looks like. Here it is:


I told you it was a beauty.

By the way, cold-brew coffee is not to be confused with iced coffee. Cold-brew coffee is steeped for an extended period of time with precisely that – cold water (as described above). Iced coffee, on the other hand, is brewed with hot water and then cooled by adding ice. Which is better? I’ll leave that to you to decide. But having tried both, cold-brew coffee is definitely the more potent variety.

The only thing missing from my cold-brew equation? A cute ice cube tray that makes perfect little ice cubicles. is calling…

Bring it on, heat!



True comfort food and an obvious staple in Italian cuisine, pasta has been far from integral in my life. Always fun to look at in endless shapes and sizes – long, short, thick, thin, tubular, and twisty – but much more difficult for me to eat and digest. Sadly, instead of figuring out exactly why pasta and I had such issues, I just gravitated away from it.

Dining out at Italian restaurants was thus never particularly enticing – unless of course the place specialized in my favorite flatbread-like wood fired pizzas or had alternative dishes like risotto (arborio rice) and gnocchi (potato-based) on the menu (both of which I love, love, love).

Due to more research and knowledge nowadays (or perhaps just hype?), I’ve discovered that I seem to have a sensitivity to food containing gluten, and thus have tried to find alternatives that are easier to digest. As part of that research at Trader Joe’s, I discovered this amazing alternative pasta product:


Fusili pasta made with brown rice AND quinoa? No flour? Interesting. My first thought: This is amazing. My second thought: This is going to taste like crap. I’ve already tried a multitude of non-traditional whole wheat pastas that claim to be “healthy,” but never found one that retained the same soft consistency of pasta – oh, and most importantly, actually tasted good.

I’m happy to report that I’ve now cooked this brown rice and quinoa pasta on multiple occasions – both in a standard pasta & sauce dish, and also in a baked pasta casserole. It works well and tastes great! More interestingly, however, is the fact that is digests well! Trust me when I say that you don’t feel heavy, bloated, nor overly full. Unheard of when eating pasta, right?

The other interesting pasta discovery comes from using vegetables to create your pasta. This obviously requires more work and a few kitchen tools that you may have to purchase, but in my opinion, it’s probably some of the best tasting “pasta” I’ve ever had. That, and it’s completely RAW. Talk about healthy.

Step #1 involves investesting in a spiralizer. The name sounds like a gimmick, yes, but it’s the best little machine I’ve had in my kitchen in quite some time! I’m actually not even sure I can call it a “machine” persay, because there is no power cord nor any batteries. It simply works with manpower – a crank of the handle. Old school. Most def.

I debated for weeks when purchasing one, because they range from $10.00 to $50.00 and all look fairly identical (either handheld or tabletop), yet are branded differently. The epitome of confusing.

Should I purchase a handheld one? Do I allot more space in the kitchen and get a tabletop one? Is $10.00 too cheap for a tool like this? Are the blades sharper on one? How sturdy is the plastic? Is this a product where “what you pay for is what you get”? I’ve never heard of any of these brands! What to do, what to do!

After seeing one online that looked decent and mid-range in price, I checked it out in person at Bed, Bath & Beyond so I could actually inspect what I was purchasing (here’s where online shopping has a disadvantage) and was severely disappointed in the quality of the construction. I’m a little obsessive about the kitchen tools and items I purchase. Just in case you can’t tell, ya know?

In order to not waste any more time practically spiralizing my brain, I ended up purchasing a slightly higher end model that I purchased on mostly because the brand sounded more Italian than the others. I love my process of elimination. My thought: Maybe the $$ I pay will be in direct correlation to the sturdiness of the tool? We’ll see. I’ll review it in a product post at a future point in time if it actually withstands the test of time and doesn’t fall apart. For now, just purchase something to your liking. If it craps out on you, you can come back to see how mine did.

Back to spiralizing – you can spiralize anything. Carrots. Potatoes. Zucchini. Anything the machine will hold and anything that you want to turn into fun spaghetti-like noodles to either sautee, fry, or just eat raw (as in this case).

Zucchini. My choice of pasta. I prepared an avocado vinaigrette, lathered it all over the spiralized zucchini, and let it sit for five minutes (this enables flavors to marinate and the zucchini to soften). Add a touch of salt & pepper, pine nuts, and fresh tomatoes – and voila! Zoodles galore.


Of course, the possibilities are endless with something like this. The minute you change veggies or the sauce used, you’ve got a completely new dish. Feel free to let the creative juices flow and create vinaigrettes out of whatever your heart desires. Or, you can always take the easy route and toss it in some store-bought marinara sauce for a quick fix. The choice is yours.

Noodle on it a bit.


TGIF – Pizza Night!

In honor of it being Friday, I had to post about pizza. Since I can remember, Friday nights have always been pizza nights in our family. More often than not, I recall mom making homemade pizza. Sprinkled in between homemade pizza nights were the occasional Pizza Hut, Round Table, and Domino’s varieties – and then the slightly more gourmet options as independent pizza shops became available in the Fremont area.

Pizza is one of those things, however, that (I think) is often best made at home, to taste, and with full flavor control at hand. It’s also the perfect cooking introduction for kids, because it’s fun, easy, and gives them full ownership to create and make their own pizza vision come to life!

Now that I understand pizza a bit more – apart from just what toppings taste better than others, I’ve realized that the real magic is in the dough. And while my mother will probably kill me if I give away her secret pizza dough recipe, which is utterly amazing, and I have yet to master, I can share with you other pizza-related tips.

First of all, less is more. As Americans, we have a tendency to pile it on! Pizza toppings or otherwise, if there’s empty space on our plates, we fill it up. The number one thing I learned after eating pizza in Italy is that no more than three toppings should appear on a pizza. Like they often say in the design world, let the white space be.

Don’t hate until you try them, but some of my key favorites include:

  • pesto sauce, pine nuts, and potato
  • pesto sauce, cauliflower florets, potato
  • pesto sauce, broccoli florets, potato, crushed red pepper
  • tomato sauce, green/red/yellow peppers, onions, Italian herbs
  • tomato sauce, fresh basil, beefsteak/heirloom tomatoes

Secondly, cheese matters. If you’re using the pre-grated cheese, you are going to get a pizza with dissolved cheese that tastes like…precisely nothing. Back away from the pre-grated cheese. I’m not hating on pre-grated cheese, because you will find it in my fridge and it works wonders on Mexican dishes (tacos, enchiladas, etc), but for Italian cuisine, it’s very much a no-no. For beginners, one of the more universal cheeses for pizza is the fresh mozzarella balls immersed in water. Slice them into circular pieces and lay them atop the pizza. They melt to perfection. Once you’ve perfected the use of mozzarella, you can get creative with other cheeses such as burrata, feta, gorgonzola, and more! But, for now, mozz balls is where it’s at!

Lastly, flour is crucial. Yes, cheese matters, but flour even moreso. It is the critical ingredient that defines thin crust vs medium crust vs thick crust, and also a crispy base vs softer base. I generally like my pizzas thin. In fact, the thinner, the better. Some feel that equates to eating a cardboard-like pizza. Me? I think flat bread.

A pizza made with standard white all-purpose flour:

IMG_1717A pizza made with “00” or Doppio zero flour:

IMG_1716“00” what? No James Bond here, but “00” is a legitimate type of flour. Less popular here in the states, it is used widely in Italy as the flour of choice for pizza bases. You see, in Italy flour is classified either as 1, 0, or 00, which all refers to how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ have been removed (excuse the nerd-speak). Doppio zero is the most highly-refined version and is super, super soft. You’ll want to run your hands through it all day. Trust me. King Arthur Flour makes fairly widely available “00” flour that you can find at specialty grocery stores. Knowing me, I had to get the “real thing,” so Whole Foods was able to delight me with this Napoli flour:

20110602-pizza-lab-flour-00So, without providing my secret pizza crust recipe (err…actually, my mom’s), the above tips and techniques can be applied to any homemade pizza you choose to make. And yes, even with pre-made crusts. I honestly haven’t found a pre-made crust that I’m a fan of, but I recently ran across a double-pack of organic pizza crusts in the freezer section (where I try not to linger too long) at Trader Joe’s that has been doing a good job for me on last-minute days where I haven’t had time to prepare dough and/or those occasional lazy days. Of course, nothing beats the homemade version, but this is definitely an option if you want to practice your discretionary use of toppings, and sauce and cheese combos.


Create simplicity.



Delicate Beginnings.

Fall is just around the corner. Of course that means gorgeous Fall foliage across the country. In the grocery world, however, that means that squashes in all colors, shapes, and sizes will start appearing in your neighborhood grocery stores (if they haven’t already).

I was recently make my weekly round in Trader Joe’s when I ran across the oddest little squash that I’ve seen! It was small, longer than wider, and yellow in color with the most peculiar dark green zebra-like stripes. “Delicata squash” the label said. The experimenter in me figured that it might be cool to try cooking a new squash. After all, in recent years I’ve grown quite fond of the pumpkin, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash. Why not add this little guy to the list? The label indicated that it was a fairly easy squash to bake with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper, and herbs to taste. There was absolutely no mention of what this oddity would taste like, but nonetheless, I went ahead and purchased the thing for a mere 99 cents!


After coming home and doing some research, I realized that I knew nothing – delicata squash has nothing to do with the Fall season! It’s a winter squash that belongs to the zucchini squash species. Potent in fiber and potassium, as expected, the squash can be cooked by baking, microwaving, or steaming – pretty much like any other squash.


I chopped the thing in half, scraped the seeds, and proceeded to cut into slices that looked like half-moons. Then, while pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees, I tossed the slices into a baking dish and massaged them with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. I kept the herbs light and simple this first time, so that I could get a sense of the actual squash and it’s true taste.


Twenty minutes and one toss later, the squash slices were ready to consume. If you think butternut squash is sweet, savory, and just melt-in-your-mouth comforting, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Delicata squash is equally amazing! I found myself standing there just popping the little moons into my mouth. So good. So easy. So good.

To the moon and back.


Say brie!

In recent years, I’ve had an increasing fascination with cheese. Generally, the creamier (in other words, the fattier), the more I enjoy it. The pungent ones? Not so much.

Brie, a cheese I first tried at a grad school in-class potluck, was one I immediately gravitated toward. A soft cow’s milk cheese, it’s most often sold as a circular brie wheel or a brie wedge (a portion of the wheel). Served with crackers during wine/cheese tastings, it’s just as great in a warm, melted state as it is while cool.

In fact, one of my most favorite versions of this cheese is melted brie served with bread/crackers (thanks to a delicious appetizer I encountered while in Palm Springs).

Of course, knowing me, I quickly set out to learn how to make my own variation of this delicacy. Not only do you save yourself some pristine cash, but you have full control over the flavors you’re imparting on the brie wheel.

The following items are needed:

– a brie wheel (of course)
– your favorite fruit preserve spread (commonly known as jam/jelly)
– a handful of nuts (a single variety works best)
– frozen pastry dough
– Pyrex baking dish (or one with edges)

And, here’s my very basic wow factor recipe:

1. Unwrap the brie wheel.
2. With a sharp knife, cut away one side of the tough white cheese skin. While it is fully edible, I find that removing one side better helps the fruit flavor to penetrate.
3. Unwrap the pastry crust and roll it out to a decent thickness that will fully wrap snuggly around your brie wheel.
4. Place the brie wheel in the center of your pastry dough (cut side up) and generously spread the fruit preserves and accompanying nut topping.
5. Fold the pastry dough on all sides of the briel wheel. You can cut off a piece of the dough where extra and save it as a decorative little topper to place in the center of the brie wheel (it also hides the place where the dough joins).
6. Bake at 350 until golden brown, and let sit for up to 20 minutes before serving.

And viola…


Baked with love to golden brown perfection.

Fire it up to 350.


Coco Whaa?

Its been quite a while since a new drink has come into my life thanks to a solid water, herbal tea, and coffee drinking routine. Recently, Coco Cafe came to my attention – a drink marketed as a coffee-flavored coconut water energy drink. Quite a mouthful, huh?

Apparently Coco Cafe was born right here in good ‘ol California (where else, right?) on the beaches of Santa Monica. It’s available in Original, Mocha, and Vanilla varieties. Sounds like soy milk, if you ask me.


Given that the drink isn’t even widely available in most stores (you can purchase it online through, I was skeptical to begin with. Add in the coffee shot + coconut water + dash of milk + electrolytes formula, and you’ve got more than a wacky mix of confusion!

After sitting in the fridge for a good two weeks or so, I decided to break out the Original flavor for some cool refreshment one sweltering day. It was, indeed, just that – refreshing. First, I tasted the Starbucks-ish mocha vibe. Then clear coconut water explosion. I suppose you can’t really taste electrolytes, but given that I didn’t sense any sort of energy boost after drinking 1/2 the bottle, I’m inclined to think that the “energy drink” label is somewhat of a misnomer.

I must admit that the drink was tasty. The 19g of sugar on the label? Well, that was definitely more concerning. I’m hoping that most of that is natural sugar derived from the pure coconut water base. Other than that, the drink was an unusual twist and a welcome diversion from the routine liquid intake.

Hydrate the way Mother Nature intended…with coconuts.


Insalata Panzanella.

One of my most favorite things to eat during hot days is a refreshing, cool salad with fresh veggies and ingredients. During my travels through Italy, I discovered a unique salad variation I don’t often see in restaurants around the U.S. – panzanella. Despite being of Florentine origin, most Italian restaurants are sorely amiss in leaving this off of their insalata menu.

Armed with somewhat stale focaccia, I set out to recreate this salad from memory. I must say, my memory served me well.

After cubing the herbed foccacia (you can use any bread, but slightly tougher bread is best), lightly sautee it in some butter, thereby making homemade crouton-esque bites. Once slightly toasted and golden brown, remove from heat and set these one-bite wonders aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Homemade salad dressings are the simplest of recipes, but often thought of as all too time-consuming and complex. Simply combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and fresh crushed black pepper. Add red wine vinegar to taste until the dressing mix has a slightly sour taste. Set aside to let the flavors combine.

I usually opt to buy a spring mix salad, which I top with chunks of tomatoes and cucumber, and a bit of minced onions. The fewer ingredients, the better. Add the bread to the salad and pour the dressing atop the salad. Toss together so that the salad and bread absorb all flavors.

As a final touch, sprinkle a bit of fresh parmesan cheese, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Italiano insalata!


Mangia Mangia!