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.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Walnut Avenue Cafe


I have eaten at the Walnut Avenue Cafe dozens of times, though not as much recently as Santa Cruz is no longer my hometown. It is one of the places I try to eat at whenever I am back there for a visit. Last time I was there a waitress recognized me, even though I hadn't been in for over a year.

It isn't anything fancy or trendy or cutting edge, it is similar to a diner but with a little more variety than most offer. They are packed for breakfast on the weekends.

They have a great set of scrambles, combinations like feta, tomato and basil or green chiles and cheese, all served with homefries and toast. The create your own omelets are fluffy eggs surrounding a pile of the fillings of your choice. The huevos rancheros, flavor and just the right amount of everything, delicious black beans and tortillas. For a sweeter dish, the beautiful golden waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream is delicious and satisfying.

It is a really popular restaurant so service can slow down when it is packed. Getting there on a Saturday morning around nine will require a wait for a table and for your food. The place has faded a little, not the people or the food or the delicious cold ice tea or the happy customers, but the tables and chairs. It was like going back to see a friend I hadn't seen in a while and seeing a few new wrinkles.

On that last visit (in early summer) we had lunch and I ordered the shrimp, tomato and red onion caesar (pictured above) with a spicy dressing that was tasty but not so spicy. The cajun chicken sandwich on a onion kaiser roll was generous and flavorful. On the side was a mixed green salad with a great vinaigrette, the kind that makes the salad an equal opportunity player in the meal. I liked lunch but it will always be one of my favorite breakfast spots.


Walnut Avenue Cafe on Urbanspoon

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

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

Accompaniments:

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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Essential Baking Company - Madison Cafe


I love picking up a couple of pastries when I am at a bakery and bringing them home for a surprise dessert. We split each one four ways. Tonight featured a pear croissant, a brown butter pear pastry and a lemon brioche from the Essential Baking Company. The brioche and croissant are made by the Essential Baking Company but the brown butter pear pastry (and the other desserts at the Essential Bakery) are made by Parisian Star Desserts. They supply the pastries and cakes to Metropolitan Market as well, and they make great cakes, we pick them up for birthday parties sometimes.



I was the only one who liked the brown butter pear pastry. It is made with almond cream and it was, I will admit, heavily saturated, flavored and brimming with almond flavor. The cake part of the pastry had a beautiful grainy, nutty appearance and was sweet with nuts while the top was covered with pears and a glaze. The other three members of my household did not even finish their quarter portions of the brown butter pear pastry.

The lemon brioche has a creamy lemon filling inside that surprises you, surrounded by a soft cake texture with just the right amount of tartness. Everyone liked this one. The pear croissant sat in the middle, not loved by anyone but not hated like that brown butter pear pastry. My bar for croissants is insanely high, because every single one that I eat I compare to croissants I ate in Paris on my honeymoon and on two other trips there. So the pear croissant was not bad but just not flakey and light (enough) which is how I like my croissants.

Along with an array of pastries made by the essential bakery and desserts made by Parisian Star Desserts, they also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (with dinner being the lunch menu). It is a place you can bring a book or newspaper to and sit comfortably while you eat your meal.



And it is easy to order too much food at there. Their half sized salad servings are enough to split with another person if you are getting a sandwich or bowl of soup as well. The sandwiches are served with a generous scoop of potato salad or coleslaw. Picture above is their pastrami sandwich, served on rye bread with red cabbage sauerkraut, pastrami and swiss cheese along with that scoop of potato salad. I also had a cup of black bean vegetable soup.

The sandwich was a solid sandwich, a good size, tender meat and cheese with a nice sauerkraut. The potato salad was smooth and creamy with nice herbs, though the flavor could have used a little more kick, the predominant herb seemed to be parsley. The black bean soup was in a very plain broth without enough flavor but full of soft vegetables and beans. It is a good place for kids but the service can be hit or miss, sometimes I go and it is great, other times they have lost tickets and seem a little disorganized. But they are always friendly and the food is comforting, so we will keep going back.

Essential Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

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 jalapeƱos? 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.