Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro and Mango Chutney

I own a lot of cookbooks but I am always interested in acquiring and reading new ones. I recently checked out Great Indian Feasts from the library and found a recipe I knew I would love: Lentil fritters with chili, ginger and curry leaves.

My pantry already contained all of the ingredients except for the curry leaves, which I assumed would be available at one of our many local stores. I started by calling our local coop, the central coop. After being transferred, I was told by a nice woman in produce that they are unable to source it organically so they don't carry it. I hung up and called our neighborhood QFC who didn't have it. Then I called Whole Foods who I knew would stock it. They didn't.

Finally, I called the place that absolutely would have it, Uwajimaya, the enormous Asian grocery store down in the International District. They didn't have it. I asked the nice man on the phone where he thought I could get it. He said that there were two other Asian grocery stores in the area, "but honestly, if Uwajimaya doesn't have it, neither do they". He said they tried to stock it but the quality was so bad they halted shipments and were waiting for their distributor to tell them when the quality was up to par again.

At this point I whipped out the internet to find out what I could substitute, but apparently, there isn't anything that you can substitute curry leaves for. Even dried curry leaves, while being the closest substitute, are nothing like the real thing (baby).  So I decided that instead of trying to fake it out in an unsatisfying way, that I would use fresh cilantro instead. I loved this recipe, the crispy, slightly spicy, green flecked fritters were delicious with the tangy spicy mango chutney.

Lentil Fritters with Chili, Ginger and Cilantro
Adapted from Great Indian Feasts
Makes about 20 fritters

10 oz. mixed lentils (a mix is great, I used a mix of yellow dal and French lentils)
2 inch piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
5 dried red chilies, stems removed and roughly chopped (keep the seeds in the chopped mix)
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Canola Oil

Wash the lentils and soak them overnight or for at least a couple of hours.  Rinse and drain well.

Add the lentils, chilies, ginger, onion and cilantro to a food processor. Sprinkle in a generous portion of salt, around 2 tsp. Run the processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, until everything is blended together and minced, but the texture still remains coarse.

Make small patties out of the mixture, around 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches wide. The size that you choose to make them is flexible depending on how you are going to serve them, so do what works best for your use.

Add enough oil to a pan placed over medium heat so that the fritters will either be completely submerged when you put them in or the oil will come up half way. When the oil is hot, place in as many fritters as will comfortably fit without crowding them, leaving enough room for you to flip them over. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and turn over. Cook for 2 - 3 more minutes more until they are golden brown and remove from the oil placing on paper towels. Continue cooking the remaining fritters in batches until they are all cooked. Serve with mango chutney (recipe below).

Mango Chutney
Adapted from the classic 1000 Indian recipes

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks (1/2 inch in diameter)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1.5 cup sugar
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and loosely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and loosely chopped
2 tsp salt

In a food processor puree the ginger and garlic with 3 T of the vinegar.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, ground the cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns to a paste.

In a large heavy stockpot, mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and the mango is soft. Cool and transfer to a container.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hoiday Gift Guide

The holidays are upon us and I have started accumulating gifts for my friends and family. Some years buying gifts is easy and other years I struggle with it. My own list of wants usually contains 90% cooking items and then a few other random things. I have received a lot of wonderful gifts over the years from friends and family and wanted to share some items that might make great gifts for the foodies in your life.

One year I received this book which is a fabulous, unique, interesting book for anyone who likes to learn about food and who likes to read. It discusses all the different regions of France and what food and wine originates from each one. There are wonderful pictures and it is one of those coffee table books that will actually get read. It comes in hardback or paperback.

If your friend drinks, a high quality muddler may inspire drink creativity. The obvious upside being that when you visit them, there is a higher likelihood that you will have a mojito served to you.

A salt pig. A friend sent me a salt pig as a house warming present. I must admit I wasn't sure I would use it but it sits next to my stove full of kosher salt and I love it and use it several times a day.

Specialty salt. I know some chefs believe you should choose one type of salt, get used to it and use it religiously in the kitchen. I just can't adhere to that. I love the huge, pink flakes of my murray river salt. It looks like pink snow and a light sprinkle gives amazing flavor bursts.

Individual serving pans, especially this time of year, would make any chef happy. My collection of different sized dishes have been expanding. I use them all without fail for chicken pot pies, creme brulee, french onion soup and other things. 
And last but not least, anything you made yourself. I have received jars of pickles and jam, cookies and crackers, bread and chocolates. If your friend loves food, they will revel in a homemade gift! 

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

We sat down for our Thanksgiving dinner early this year. The menu plan was a small turkey, spiced cranberries, sausage cornbread stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie.

While I was cooking, my daughter asked for biscuits to be on the menu too, and my son and husband seconded the request. I pointed out that we already had two starch products on the menu, mashed potatoes and stuffing, but my family continued to stare at me with a zombie death stare until I relented and said we could add some biscuits to the menu. The pie was already done by then which is all I was really interested in this year.

I do not have a single thing that I love more than anything else at Thanksgiving. Some years I am excited about the stuffing. Other years it is the salad (we usually have salad but not this year) or the mashed potatoes. This year I felt excited about the pie. My daughter and I made the crust while my husband and son went out to acquisition a turkey.

After we had the pumpkin puree in a bowl, I started pulling cookbooks off the shelf to determine what recipe to make. I decided to try Alice Waters recipe from The Art of Simple Food. She goes really light on the sugar so I added a little extra since it was the only sweet we were having, as well as some nutmeg because I love the way it smells. I left out the freshly ground black pepper which sounded delicious but was just not what I was in the mood for.

Pumpkin Pie
Barely adapted from The Art of Simple Food
Yields 1 pie

2 cups flour
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
12 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 T pieces
6 - 8 T ice cold water

1 sugar pumpkin or a 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
3 eggs

1 cup cream
2 tsp flour

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Preparing the pumpkin (skip this if you are using canned pumpkin):

Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp and place it in a roasting pan. Pour in 1/2 cup of water and place in the oven. Roast for approximately one hour and a half (or less), depending on the size, adding more water if it gets too low. The pumpkin should be soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool. Scoop out the flesh and mash (using a masher or a food processor). I just used a potato masher which worked well.

Preparing the pie crust:

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the butter over the mixture and using your fingers, mash the butter into the flour mixture, until it resembles corn meal. Sprinkle the water over the mixture and using a wooden spoon, mix and press the mixture together. Form a ball, adding more water if needed, until it holds together. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in saran wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Reheat the oven to 375, if you turned it off.

Roll out the dough and transfer to a pie dish. Crimp the edges and pierce the bottom with a few fork stabs so it doesn't balloon up. Cover with aluminum foil, pressing gently against the sides to hold them up, and weigh it down with pie weights or beans or rice. Bake for fifteen minutes, remove the aluminum foil and weights and bake for another 5 - 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Preparing the pie filling:

In a small saucepan, whisk 1/4 cup cream with 2 tsp flour. Place over medium low heat until it comes to a boil and thickens. Slowly whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup cream. Continue whisking and bring back to a boil (still over medium low heat). Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk together 1.5 cups of pumpkin puree (15 ounces) and 3 eggs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt and nutmeg.

Add the cream mixture and sugar/spice mixture to the pumpkin, and mix together. Transfer to the pie shell and bake for 45 minutes until it is almost set but the center is still jiggles a little bit (i.e. it should not be cracked and dry looking, take it out before it reaches that point).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Braised Short Ribs with Tomatoes and Beer

I made a rookie mistake the other night when I was making short ribs from my favorite butcher. I was making a braising liquid for some short ribs and in went a bad bottle of wine. This was after I had sauteed the onions, celery and some other root vegetables, added tomato paste, some broth and herbs. Then I noticed it smelled odd and so after bringing it to a simmer, I tasted it and cringed. I smelled the bottle, now empty and it was subtle but the flavor was sour.

The short ribs were already seared and sitting on a plate waiting patiently for me to muddle through this mess I had walked myself into. So I dumped the entire contents of that braising liquid in a giant bowl for disposal and started over.

Braising short ribs is not a precise science. The important steps are applying salt and pepper to the short ribs, searing them and cooking them until they are fork tender in a flavorful liquid. Whatever that might be. Into the liquid can go a lot of different things. In my opinion, nothing is off limits as long as it comes together to form a nice savory broth that will taste great as a backdrop to the short ribs and on top of the starch that you must, must serve them with. Like freshly baked biscuits or mashed potatoes or crusty french bread.

Since I was slightly turned off by wine after my mishap, I went a different route and popped open a bottle of dark beer. This second round of braising liquid smelled good and tasted great, so in went those patient short ribs for three hours in the oven.

Braised Short Ribs with Tomatoes and Beer
Serves 6

6 large short ribs (or 12 if they are on the small side - mine were almost a pound a piece)
2 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

2 T flour
2 T tomato paste
2 tsp dried thyme
2 onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
10 cloves garlic, loosely chopped

28 oz crushed tomatoes
1 cup dark beer, like a porter
2 cups water and a bouillon cube or 2 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375.

Sprinkle the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 T olive oil until shimmering over medium to medium-high heat. Add the short ribs, searing each side until they are browned. This will probably take two batches depending on the size of your pan.

Remove the short ribs and set aside. Drain off all but 1 - 2 T of the fat. Add the onion and celery to the pan and stir until the onion starts to look translucent, a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the flour and stir for two minutes and then the tomato paste, blending it into the mix. Add the beer, water, crushed tomatoes and thyme. Bring to a simmer, scoop out a small cup of the broth and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. Add it back to the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as desired. Bring the liquid to a simmer and submerge the short ribs in the pot, spooning liquid over them. The short ribs should be almost covered. If the liquid is too low, add some more water.

Place in the oven and cook for three hours. Turn the short ribs about half way through the cooking time, checking to see if you need to add more liquid. Check the short ribs by stabbing them with a fork, it should slide in easily and the meat should feel tender. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers

When I was a child, my mother served us piles of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables. We ate salads almost every night and all different kinds of fruits and vegetables. I don't know if she had a master strategy but I still love salad and almost all vegetables. So being from the bay area, we also ate our fair share of brussels sprouts. I liked them but they were kind of an afterthought, usually served boiled or steamed with some butter on top. I never envisioned eating them any other way.

Fly forward to my twenties. I was living in Oakland and working at PGEC (which, if you are interested, is the plant gene expression center). We went to this great restaurant in San Francisco, a group of people including a woman that ended up being one of my prime inspirations in the kitchen. She is a fantastic cook, seemingly unphased by almost any challenge presented to her in the kitchen. Among other things she loved scrabble but wished there was a version that only allowed food terminology.

She thought we should order the brussels sprouts at this fancy restaurant despite all the amazing options on the menu. I remember feeling skeptical that this was a smart move but she was the food expert and we deferred to her. They came to the table, crispy and salty and covered with capers. They were delicious and it is my favorite way to eat my brussels sprouts.

Roasted Brussels Sprout with Capers

1 lb brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed (and halved if they are big)
2 - 3 T Olive Oil
3 - 4 T capers
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

Place the brussels sprouts in a saucepan and cover with cold water and a little salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2 - 5 minutes, depending on their size. They should be cooked through but still firm. Drain in a colander and shake to remove most of the water. If roasting immediately, pat the brussels sprouts dry with paper towels, otherwise leave them to dry out a bit, shaking the colander occasionally.

Toss the brussels sprouts with the Olive Oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Mix in the capers and spread on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Use a pan that is large enough so they have space around them, otherwise they will steam instead of roast.

Roast for 15 - 20 minutes, shaking once or twice, until they start to look brown and crispy. Remove from the oven, taste and add more salt, if needed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blueberry Scones

I love cake like substances that are disguised as breakfast food. It allows for cake eating while still putting across the illusion that you are eating a proper breakfast. Cinnamon rolls, morning buns, muffins and scones are regular visitor to our kitchen on weekend mornings.

I love to hear my family wake up and wander down the stairs to the smell of a delicious breakfast pastry, just coming out of the oven.

This morning there was a bowl of fruit, some bacon and flaky, buttery scones with blueberries and lemon zest mixed in. The scones came out perfect but the lemon flavor didn't really come through. I might add a small amount of lemon juice next time to see if that brings it out.

The key to making flaky, tender scones is to not overwork the butter when blending it into the flour mixture. Similarly, try not to overwork the dough after adding the cream.

(Not so Lemony) Blueberry Scones
Adapted From The Best New Recipe Cookbook
Makes 8 scones

2 cups flour plus a little extra for pressing out the dough
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 T pieces
1 cup cream plus 2 T for brushing on top
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1 tsp lemon zest

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Using your fingers, blend the butter with the flour mixture, until it resembles a coarse meal. Don't overwork it, there should be visible lumps of butter the size of small raisins.

Pour in the cream and using a wooden spoon, mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

Dust your hands with some flour and knead the dough against the side of the bowl, just until the dough holds together.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and press out into a circle, about 3/4 inch high (see above). Cut into 8 triangles and transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with cream.

Bake in the oven for 12 - 15 minutes until the tops are starting to turn golden brown.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helsing Junction Farm

We did a CSA with Helsing Junction Farm this summer, a farm about an hour and half south of Seattle in Rochester, Washington. They send us nice emails every week describing what is going on at the farm and what we should expect to see in our boxes. It is an organic farm in a growing farm community (I read that on their website, it is an informative place). I pick up the boxes on Thursdays, one packed full of vegetables and one with fruit.

My son and daughter pepper me with questions about the contents of the boxes, the farmers, why we care where our food comes from and how it is grown. On the way there, I inevitably get drilled on what will be in the boxes, 'will there be pluots this week?' My daughter's favorite. Last week I handed my son an apple from the fruit box. He ate the whole thing, asked for a second one and declared them the best apples he has ever eaten. I love to hold a carrot in front of them and explain how it probably came out of the ground less than twenty four hours prior to its arrival in our home.

The variety is more than I thought it would be. Things show up for a couple of weeks and then disappear. Sometimes I am not ready to see them go, but they are always replaced with something new and interesting. The diversity makes it obvious that the farmers of Helsing Junction Farm did some very well thought out planning to provide a nice rotation of food for us. The corn, tomatillos, eggplants, lettuce, strawberries, apples, bok choy, radishes, tomatoes and lemon cucumbers were a few of my favorites.

The price seems competitive (I know this because I am the kind of person who occasionally runs price comparisons and I did it with my vegetable box one week) and they provide recipes for the contents of the box. They offer an early sign up discount, if you sign up before December, you get a free week and they offer several different sizes based on the needs of your household.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eggplant Sliders with Haloumi

We are the couple that grows silent when football comes up. The Seahawks were in the superbowl a couple of years ago and during a conversation we had to admit we didn't even know who they were playing. We were kind of busy with our son who was just 2 at the time (and I was pregnant with our daughter). Okay, and we just don't like football, and we don't really follow professional sports.

Soccer is probably the one exception as we have a soccer obsessed son and it is, well, cool.

But we do have that professional football team (the one that went to the superbowl and played some other team), and we see signs warning us that we shall die a perilous death if we go near the UW stadium between 3 and 7 on certain saturdays, due to the college games. And irrespective of my disinterest in football, I do think about the food that goes along with it, hence these vegetarian sliders.

In my head it seems too late in the season for eggplant, due to the gray skies and rain that hung around all summer and fall (today being an amazing exception!), but my farm box is not giving in.

The last couple of weeks there has been corn! And tomatoes! And those eggplants! It is nice to have local, organic produce delivering summer to us, in direct violation of Seattle's mood, which seems to be grudgingly making up for the summer that never came by giving us a few glorious fall days. So we take it how we can get it. We grill and we make eggplant sandwiches, or sliders in this case, in honor of football soccer (Kasey Keller did an amazing set of saves last night).

Eggplant Sliders with Haloumi
Makes 6 sliders


6 slider buns, lightly toasted
3 T olive oil
18 thin (1/4 - 1/3 inch) slices of eggplant (preferably from an eggplant with a 2 - 3 inch diameter not a 10 inch diameter -- so they will fit on the buns without any other trimming necessary)
18 thin slices haloumi
salt and pepper
1/2 avocado, cut into 12 slices


6 T ketchup mixed with 3 tsp chili garlic sauce
6 T mayo mixed with 2 tsp minced sun-dried tomatoes

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering (but not smoking), place the eggplant slices in the pan and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Fry until golden brown, about 10 minutes (flipping them half way through). Remove from the pan and place the cheese in the same pan cooking until lightly brown, just a couple of minutes. Watch the cheese carefully, it cooks quickly and usually needs to be flipped over in about a minute with a total cooking time of 2 - 3 minutes depending on how hot your pan is.

Layer the eggplant and haloumi on the sliders topping with the avocado. Serve with the mayo and ketchup mixtures on the side.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kale or Spinach Dip

The spinach dip I've been making lately took a spin as a kale dip, on the part of a lovely bunch that showed up in our farm box. I like both variations. The kale is dense and adds a consistency that is more robust, the spinach is smoother and less meaty. 

This was originally intended as an appetizer, but it ended up being part of our dinner. We ate it straight with french bread and as an accompaniment to meatball sandwiches, using leftover marinara and meatballs which was a pretty spectacular combination. Kale, meatballs, two cheeses, crusty french bread, dripping in marinara sauce. 

Kale or Spinach Dip
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 T Olive Oil
1 cup grated jack cheese
1 cup grated comte
2 - 3 cups loosely packed kale or 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
2 - 3 shallots, finely chopped
1 T dried bread crumbs (optional, it firms it up a little if you prefer it less loose)
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400.

Loosely chop the kale.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the shallot until it is translucent. Transfer to a bowl. Wilt the kale in the same skillet and transfer to the same bowl.

Add both cheeses, the bread crumbs (is you are using them), the salt and pepper to the bowl and mix well. Transfer to a small dish and bake for 15 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Serve with crusty french bread.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I try to spend an hour, 4 or 5 times a week, running. It clears my head, keeps me happy and I love it. Lately, I've been running more regularly and I noticed my running pace really ebbs and flows. So I started paying more attention to what I'd fed myself and whether or not it led to a good or bad day in those running shoes. As obvious as it seems, I was still surprised to realize that the big bowl of pasta really does feed those runs.

The bowl of pasta has to be adorned with something, and marinara sauce with meatballs is one of my favorite things to make (and eat). A meatball is a canvas to be painted, so many different things can be mixed in, but there are a few rules that I find really do matter.

I toss the mixture with my fingers, not a spoon, keeping them flexible and loose without squeezing or packing the mixture. Fingers are great because you can feel what you are doing and toss it gently, like a salad.

In contrast, when forming the meatballs, a little compression is good so they don't fall apart. If you are careful about not overmixing it in the previous step, their quality won't be compromised by giving them a decent squeeze to hold them together.

Lastly, if a meatball falls apart while you are browning them (I usually loose one), take it as a bonus. Break it apart and add it to your tomato sauce when you are cooking the meatballs in the red sauce, for a little added thickness. Sometimes I break a few apart and throw them in the sauce for variety.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves 4

1 lb. spaghetti

2 - 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes

1 & 3/4 lbs ground meat, a mix of ground pork and ground beef
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (homemade or purchased breadcrumbs work)
1 yellow potato, diced in small 1/4 inch squares
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp worcestershire
1/4 cup olive oil

Rinse the potatoes, cover with cold water and put over high heat on the stove. As soon as they come to a boil, turn of the heat and drain the potatoes.

In a large bowl place the ground meat, dried bread crumbs, cooked potatoes, onion, egg, parmesan, parsley, mustard powder, garlic powder and worcestershire. Using your fingers gently toss the mixture together without packing it down. Form the mixture into 2 inch meatballs, around 16 total.

Put a large stock pot (a low wide stock pot works great) or frying pan over medium high heat and add the oil. When the oil is shimmering, put in about half the meatballs, depending on the size of the pan, just being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Let brown, and turn, browning all sides, cooking for about 10 - 12 minutes total. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and cook the second batch. Transfer the rest of the meatballs to the plate.

Add the diced tomatoes to the pan. Turn up to high and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan. Gently place all the meatballs back into the pan spooning tomato sauce over the meatballs. Bring to a very gentle simmer and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, 20 - 30 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water.

Serve the meatballs and sauce over pasta with grated parmesan on top.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pepper Relish

I have to admit that sometimes I open my farm box and sigh, thinking, more jalapeños? I've diced them for tacos, salsas and slaws. I've stuffed them with things and broiled them. I've grilled them. I even started munching on them raw, some of them really aren't very spicy. Then I got a little overwhelmed and started tucking all the peppers in a crisper, pretending like they weren't there.

The farm box is nice because it expands my horizons in multiple ways, giving me stuff that I might not buy, but that I end up loving! But sometimes it gives me an entire crisper full of peppers that I'm not sure what to do with.

So with the peppers on my mind, I opened my fridge and started poking around. I saw italian sausages. I thought about sandwiches. I thought about condiments...and I came to conclusion that relish making would commence.

This easy relish is great on italian sausage sandwiches.

Pepper Relish

5 - 10 peppers (I used 4 Anaheim, 1 jalapeno, 2 green peppers & 2 banana peppers), seeded and chopped (about 1/3 to 1/2 inch pieces, more or less)
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 T Olive Oil
1.5 T white vinegar
1 T brown sugar
5 shakes of tabasco
2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium  to medium-low heat. Add the onion and stir frequently until translucent. 

Add the peppers, salt, vinegar, brown sugar, tabasco and a couple of grinds of pepper. Stir frequently until the peppers are soft and cooked through.  Add more vinegar, tabasco or sugar, to taste.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roasted Turkey with Paprika, Thyme and Garlic

I went to the grocery store without a plan the other day, and I left with a 12 pound turkey. Not a typical impulse buy, but I was thinking of braising some short ribs, they didn't have any, so I left with the turkey.

In the back of my head, I have been thinking about turkeys for a couple of reasons. I wanted to start roasting a turkey once a month or so, because I love turkey. And so does everyone else in my family. The tryptophan is another good reason, as I am an insomniac. And the last reason is, I just want to get better at it.

When I roast my turkey at Thanksgiving it is usually the first time I have roasted a turkey in a year. So I always get a little nervous and sometimes (okay, usually), we mess up the timing.

I am also thinking of turkeys because we will be somewhere warm over the holidays and already have plans to smoke a turkey. Another exciting new cooking adventure that we haven't tried before, I need to start researching the best way to do it.

Roasted Turkey with Paprika, Thyme and Garlic

1 10 - 12 lb turkey
1 T sweet paprika
2 T minced thyme
16 cloves garlic, minced
6 T olive oil
salt and pepper

3 T butter
1 tsp sweet paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T minced thyme

1 onion, peeled and quartered
a small handful of thyme sprigs

Pre-heat the oven to 400.

In a small bowl mix together 1 T sweet paprika, 16 cloves of the minced garlic and the olive oil.

Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Place in the V of a roasting rack. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (including the inside the cavity). Put the onion and thyme sprigs in the cavity of the turkey. Cover the turkey with the paprika mixture, turning to spread it evenly over the entire turkey. Put the turkey back side up, pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the pan and place the pan in the oven.

Roast for 45 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven, baste with the juices in the bottom of the pan and return to the oven for another 45 minutes.

Melt the 3 T butter in a small saucepan. Mix in the 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp sweet paprika and 1 T minced thyme.

Take out of the oven, turn the turkey over and baste with the butter mixture. Return to the oven and roast for another 30 - 45 minutes, (if the breast meat or top starts to get too brown, cover loosely with foil), until a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 170 (the temperature should rise 10 degrees after being removed from the oven, you can leave it in until it reaches 175 if you prefer).

Let sit for 20 minutes before carving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Twice Baked Potatoes with Leeks and Jarlsberg

Twice baked potatoes are delicious anytime of year but particularly comforting in the winter months. We barely had a summer this year in Seattle, it was a blip on the radar and fall has descended with blustery days and the leaves already starting to change colors.

I love fall though so this is not a problem for me but I'm not sure a general survey in Seattle would return that same reaction. Anger and outrage at the injustice of it all is more likely. But they'd have to admit those leaves are beautiful.

I brought some twice baked potatoes over to a friend's house a while ago, only to discover that she absolutely adores them. This was great news. She is one of those friends that I feel so, so lucky to have and to be able to bring joy to her by making her something she loves to eat, is what makes me love cooking. So I think about twice baked potatoes more than I used to.

Twice Baked Potatoes with Leeks and Jarlsberg
Serves 4 as a side, or 2 as a main

2 Russet potatoes
Olive Oil
2 Leeks (medium sized, about 1 - 1.5 inches in diameter)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
4 T butter
1/2 c sour cream
2/3 c grated Jarlsberg
1/4 c milk
freshly ground black pepper

Turn the oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub the russets clean, brush the potatoes with olive oil and place in the oven. Bake until a fork slides in easily, about an hour. Wait until they are cool enough to handle and slice in half long ways, so they can lie flat. Scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/4 inch of the potato intact on all sides. *

Turn the oven up to 400.

Slice the white and light green parts of the leeks into thin rounds, loosely chop the rounds and then give them a good wash (leeks can carry dirt inside their folds). Heat 2 T of butter in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the leeks, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the leeks are soft, about 10 - 12 minutes. Add the other 2 T of butter and stir until it is melted. Turn off the heat.

Mash the potatoes and mix in the sour cream until their are no large lumps. Mix in the jarlsberg and cooked leeks. Add the milk and stir until blended. Scoop the mix in the potatoes mounding it up. Bake in the oven until cooked through and the top starts to turn golden brown, about 15 - 20 minutes.

If desired, broil for a few minutes for a crispier top.

* The New Best Recipe has four twice baked potato recipes and they suggest one additional step that I sometimes throw in as it does provide an extra crispy shell.

After baking the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and then pop them back in the oven for ten minutes or so to firm up the inside and outside shell before stuffing and baking them.

Serving Suggestion: A simple salad (for a light meal).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Banana Bread

I buy a lot of bananas but I should have slowed down to account for the fruit box that we are getting as part of our CSA share. I love our CSA share. They tease you with vegetables and fruit and herbs for several weeks. Then, just as you get to used to something showing up in your box, it vanishes, and is replaced by some other exciting new item. The fruit box has been very fat lately, piles of peaches, nectarines, pears and plums. So the bananas have been abandoned for the fruit box. This led to some sad looking bananas that helpfully reminded me of the wonders of banana bread.

I read a few different recipes and made this recipe by Tyler Florence but I wanted sour cream, cinnamon, vanilla, walnuts instead of pecans, less butter and less sugar leading me to the recipe here. It is a dense, nutty banana bread that is great with vanilla ice cream or straight from the loaf. It can be made with a little less sugar and still hold it together, down to 1/4 cup of each, if you are trying to reduce sugar in your life.

 Banana Bread
1 Loaf

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs

1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

Beat together the sugar (both kinds), bananas, butter and sour cream until smooth with an electric mixer, or by hand. Beat in the vanilla extract and eggs.

Fold the dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Mix in the walnuts and chocolate chips, if desired.

Transfer to a loaf pan and bake about 1 hour until a toothpick comes out more or less clean (a few crumbs is okay and ensure the bread won't be dry).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cherry Tomatoes, Wilted Spinach and Fried Tofu with Miso Dressing

I love fresh and cooked things together. This recipe has nice texture contrast with crispy tofu, fresh tomatoes, wilted spinach and a nice creamy miso dressing. It is something I make myself for lunch and can be finished in less than ten minutes. 

I buy miso paste at Uwajimaya, a local Asian Grocery Store. It is a fun place to shop with a huge produce section offering an amazing variety of vegetables. Miso dressing is a great alternative to keep things different if you eat a lot of salads.

Cherry Tomatoes, Wilted Spinach and Fried Tofu with Miso Dressing
Serves 1

~5 oz firm tofu cut into 1/3 inch thick slices
3/4 cup washed, halved cherry tomatoes
2 cups baby spinach, washed

2 T olive oil, split
2 T rice vinegar
1 T miso paste
1 tsp tamari
1/4 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper

Put 1 T of the olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the rice vinegar, miso paste, tamari and sesame oil.

In a frying pan, heat the remaining 1 T of olive oil until it is almost smoking. Lay the slices of tofu down, sprinkle some salt and pepper on them and leave untouched until they are golden brown. Flip over and cook until golden brown on the other side. Remove from the pan. Add the spinach to the pan and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and mix with the cherry tomatoes.

Dribble the dressing over the spinach, tomatoes and tofu.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Diner en Blanc - Seattle

A friend of ours invited us to a Diner en Blanc. It is a couple of weeks off, she said, it should be fun. Everything this friend suggests ends up being fun but I didn't know what a Diner en Blanc was. It is a dinner party of sorts, she explained. The location is kept secret until the night of the event. Everyone wears white. All the decorations are white. Each group brings their own food, table, tableware, utensils and lighting; it originated in Paris.

I went home and started googling around because, well, isn't that what everyone does when they hear about something interesting and new? After that I started seeing articles on it and some blog posts. It is a flash mob (or smart mob?) of sorts, I learned. But you get to hang out, chat and eat delicious food with wonderful people instead of doing a weird 80s dance to bad music. It sounded potentially wonderful and given that it involved food and originated in Paris, how could you go wrong?

Our friend who was table captain cleverly invited all her friends who are mildly obsessed with food; people who might do absurd things to bring excitement to a meal, even if they have to drag it to a park.

My contribution was appetizers for our party of twelve. Pablo's Coctel de Camarones, Chile Garlic Peanuts and a slight derivation on Peach, Prosciutto and Ricotta (I used Crème fraiche). The first two appetizers were constructed on site as they couldn't really be put together early without too much degradation of quality. I constructed the shrimp cocktails and a friend put together the crostini.

Another couple brought cantaloupe soup made by cooking the cantaloupe in apricot nectar, adding some spices and half & half. It was then pureed and served with fresh mint and yogurt. It was sweet and tangy and creamy and my favorite course, except possibly for the coffee served at the end of the evening.

Someone in the party brought a grill so we could have a hot main course, cooking a beautiful slab of salmon on it. They served it with two salads; a quinoa and corn salad, as well as a zucchini salad with parmesan, feta and fresh dill.

After that came the cheese. Four cheeses, fresh figs dribbled with honey, crackers, pickled homemade cherries and a mango chutney. Bread and a butter spread was passed around as well.

Finally, for dessert we were each handed a mason jar. Inside was a pile of beautiful blueberries and underneath, a delicious lime curd. And to end the evening we had percolated coffee that was cooked on the grill. All the food was delicious but that coffee was the culinary fete of the evening.