Sunday, December 12, 2010

Carrot Soup

I tried making a carrot soup for the first time tonight. It was delicious - flavorful and creamy and healthy.

The recipe came from my Vegetarian Times cookbook and is called "Carrot Soup with Cilantro". But I left out the cilantro and instead added a little ginger. Other than that, I stayed pretty faithful to the recipe and it came out great. Here it is with my changes:

What you'll need:
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 apple - peeled, cored and diced
- 1 pound carrots - peeled and sliced
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 2 Tablespoons basmati or other long-grain rice
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
- 5 cups veggie stock
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper

What to do:
- Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the fennel seeds and cook them for a minute or two.
- Add the apple, carrots, and sweet potato and cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
- Add rice, turmeric, ginger, veggie stock, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the rice and veggies are tender, about 25 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaf.
- Let cool for a few minutes. Transfer batches of the soup to a blender and puree, then transfer back or put in separate bowl until all of the soup is pureed.
- Bring back to a simmer and add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
(I don't suppose adding some cilantro or parsley on top would hurt.)

We ate this with bread dipped in and some meat on the side. Yum!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey-day Sides

I love the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Though until adulthood I did NOT like two of the most traditional: Cranberry Sauce and Sweet Potatoes. Then I learned how to make these things in ways that were delicious. Here are two things hubby and I made this year - great ways to make both of these traditional sides. Seriously - even if you don't think you like cranberries or sweet potatoes, you will like these.

Maple-orange Cranberry Sauce
(more or less from The New Basics Cookbook)
12 oz (1 bag) fresh cranberries, rinsed and any bad ones picked out
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup raspberry-cranberry juice (or something like it. I used cran-rasp-apple.)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook until the cranberries are all popped open - about 10 minutes. Feel free to stir and squish these too. Remove from heat and let cool a while. Then put in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin

(recipe cut from newspaper many years ago, made and perfected by hubby)
3 Tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoons brown sugar
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsps dried)
Salt and pepper
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 large)
(note: sweet potatoes are white inside and work better than yams in this recipe)
4 cups peeled and sliced tart apples (about 3)
3-quart baking dish with lid or foil

- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat. Pour into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs and brown sugar. Toss until well coated. Set aside.
- Return the skillet to the burner and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over high heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and turning golden brown - about 8 minutes. Stir in the sage and season with 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Remove from heat.
- Arrange overlapping slices of sweet potatoes in the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish, using about a third of the slices. Season with salt and pepper. Top with half the apple slices and then half the onions.
- Arrange another third of the sweet potato slices and season. Then add remaining onions and another layer of the rest of the apples. Top with the remaining sweet potatoes and season.
- Feel free to add little pats of butter on top.
- Cover tightly with foil or lid. Bake for 45 minutes or until potatoes are nice and tender.
- Uncover the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are browned.

This serves 10-15 as part of a big Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Post

For my birthday this past weekend, I wanted to make dessert for the awesome potluck my wonderful friends contributed to. And I wanted to use my squash (see last post). So I looked up a pumpkin pie recipe in my ancient Joy of Cooking.

First, a word on pie crust. Don't be afraid to make your own. It's easy and delicious. I also use the JoC's recipe. For a one-crust pie like this I cut it in half and use these amounts:
1 cup flour
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 Tblsp butter
a few Tbsp water

Mix the dry stuff together. Then use a pastry blender or fork to cut in the butter until you have a course crumbly mixture. Then add the water and stir it until it just holds together. Wrap up in saran wrap and put in the fridge for a half hour (while you make the filling). When you're ready, take it out, flour the counter top, and carefully roll the dough out nice and thin and even. You may need to add more flour and rotate the dough to be sure it doesn't stick. Then, transfer to a 9-inch pie pan.

For pumpkin pie, I like a deep pan and a high fluted crust (made by pinching the stuff around the edge). This way you get an evenly cooked pie, not overcooked on the thinner edges.

For the pie filling, I used some of my pureed hubbard squash. Pumpkin might taste a bit different, but this worked out nicely. Here's the recipe:

6 Tblsp brown sugar
2 Tblsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup dark corn sirup
3 slightly beaten eggs

Combine all (I used my Kitchenaid mixer). Then stir in the following.

1 1/2 cups cooked/pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups (1 can/12 oz) evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla

Pour this into the pie crust and bake for one hour in a 400 degree oven. I cover the crust edge with a narrow strip of foil to prevent too much browning and take it off with 15 minutes to go.

A knife should come out clean from the center.

I found this pie to be delicious and with a wonderful consistency. You could probably go a bit heavier on the spices to your taste. But yum!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pumpkin Post

I've been meaning to blog. Really. I finally am because the weekly horoscope I never read said I should.

Since it is officially fall, and I love fall, this is a blog about pumpkins. Pumpkins I grew in the garden and cooked up a few weeks ago for later eating.

I've never had a lot of luck growing winter squash in the garden, but this year I made sure they got plenty of water and fertilizer and I got 3 small pumpkins and 1 huge hubbard squash (these are much like a pumpkin on the inside, just a little sweeter).

To store all that flesh for later use, I cooked, processed, and froze. For small pumpkins, I just cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, and place the halves face down in a little water in a baking pan. Then I cook until they are soft. Then, I scoop the flesh away from the shell and puree it all in the food processor. Then I just put it in a freezer container for later use.

For the hubbard squash (this one was about 15 pounds!), I had to get more creative. I've never worked with one before, and it was tough. It was hard to get the seeds out because the interior was really solid. And it was so big I had to cut it into about 8 pieces for cooking. And the skin was so tough I decided to try and peel it before cooking - which was hard. But with that all done, I baked the pieces in the same way as the pumpkin. I cooked some pieces longer than others. I cut those that got less "done" into small cubes and froze those in bags to be used in pastas or stews. I pureed the pieces I cooked more and froze that like the pumpkin.

So now I have a lot of frozen squash. Tomorrow I will be making a pumpkin/hubbard pie for my birthday feast. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Zucchini Bread

It's everyone's favorite time of year: Excess zucchini time!
When life gives you zucchini, make zucchini bread.
Unfortunately, two loaves of bread only require one zucc. But that's one less sitting on the vine or in the fridge.

I use a recipe from an old cookbook my Grandparents Walden gave me - a compilation from folks in their church. So I don't know where the original came from. But it is tried and true for me - as you can see from the stained pages of the book.

It's easy, and made easier if you have a stand mixer to just dump stuff into.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup oil (I used a mix of canola and olive)
3 eggs, beaten (I only had 2, and it turned out fine)
2 cups grated zucchini (I used more like 3 cups, and squeezed a bit of the water out of the pile before adding it in)
3 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. cinnamon

Pour into oiled and floured loaf pans and bake in 325 degree oven for about an hour. Let cool a bit, then use a knife to loosen the edges and dump the bread out.

This recipe is enough for two loaves. This time, I made my loaves different from one another by adding chopped hazelnuts to one, and chocolate chips to the other.

I enjoy my bread with butter, but cream cheese is good too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blackberry Season

We are blessed and cursed with blackberries here in the Pacific Northwest. They are non-native, and they grow EVERYWHERE - taking over fencelines and alleyways in both town and country. But they are delicious, and though I curse the ones climbing over the neighbor's fence to root on our side each year and cut them back regularly, I also relish the short season when they are ripe and reachable.

What's a girl to do but make jam and pie?

This weekend, it was jam.
I used a standard recipe from the trusty old "Ball Blue Book" for berry jam, but in half. I've used it many times before and will again. It's trusty for a reason.
Warning: To make this recipe, you'll need canning equipment. That means a big pot with a rack in it, and jars with two-piece lids - small ones for jam.

This is the amount in the recipe, but it is scaleable:
Take 9 cups of crushed ripe blackberries (it'll be nearly double uncrushed).
Put in a big saucepan and mix in 6 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring. Then, cook to the "gelling point". The Blue Book goes into this but basically, cook it for a while (30 min or so) until it gets thick and when you stick a spoon in it the jam drips slowly off of it and is sticky.

In the meantime, prepare your canning stuff. Wash your jars and lids. Heat up your big pot of water to near boiling and keep your jars and lids in it until ready to use.

Ladle the jam into the hot jars, put the lids on, and put the jars into your rack and boiling water bath (turn it up as soon as you take the jars and lids out and it's ready). Boil for 15 minutes and remove to the counter top. Your lids should pop down pretty soon and you've got some nice jam to hold you over till next year!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fresh summer meal

Miss Single, hubby and I enjoyed a super fresh and delicious summer meal last night.

Key components: fresh baguette from local bakery, pesto from Mr. Monkey's garden, summer squash and onions from my garden, an heirloom tomato-watermelon salad with goodies from the farmer's market, and a peach-blackberry pie.

Pesto squash dish: Chop up a yellow and a green summer squash. Chop up some fresh garlic and onion. Saute onion and garlic in little olive oil. Add squash and fry it up. Add fresh pesto and heat through till it's done the way you like it.

Tomato-watermelon salad: We just made this up but I'm sure there are recipes out there. Coarsely chop a big heirloom tomato (we used a green one). Coarsely chop a fresh watermelon (we used a red one, though I thought I bought an orange one). Cut some fresh basil into strips. Mix together. Add a little olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar (I used blueberry flavored vinegar).

No time for the pie recipe now, but the peaches were tree-ripened from the farmer's market, and the blackberries picked fresh from the backyard. Good for dessert AND breakfast!

Can't wait to get my own tomatoes - they are really behind this year.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer Pizza

Everyone loves pizza. Well, I can't be sure, but everyone I know loves pizza anyway. I like to make pizza. Luckily, there a few local bakeries that make dough and sell it in little plastic bags ready to roll out and bake - easy and delicious.

The great thing about homemade pizza (aside from getting to eat it) is that you can have it any time of year and with and endless variety of toppings. In the summer, I love using fresh garden veggies - and that's what I did last week.

For a sauce in the summer, I like to just use a food processor to combine some fresh tomatoes (ours aren't ripe in the garden yet, but we had a big yellow heirloom from the farmer's market), basil, garlic, and olive oil. Voila! Last week, my friend Rose made the sauce and also added a bunch of parmesan into the mix. That made it nice and creamy!

Summer squash is ready, so I chopped up some yellow squash for topping. And I found some dried tomatoes from last year's garden to add a different flavor on top.

Here's how it goes:
- Let the pre-made dough sit out so it's room temperature.
- Heat up the oven to 350 or 375. If you have a pizza stone, stick that in the oven.
- Prep all your sauce, toppings, and cheese.
- Roll out or stretch the dough to the size you want it (I usually put a little olive oil on the counter and my hands so it doesn't stick), and let it sit for a few minutes.
- If using a pizza stone, pull it out of the oven and sprinkle some course corn meal on it.
- Put the dough onto your stone or baking pan (grease the pan if it's metal!), and quickly get it into the shape you want it - like if you want to pinch the crust around the edge.
- Rub a little olive oil all over the surface of the dough. This prevents it from getting soggy when you put the sauce on.
- Spread the sauce on. Then add your toppings. Finally, cover with mozzarella cheese (or a mozz/parm blend - my favoritie).
- Put it in the oven for about 20 minutes. Take out and let cool for a minute or two before cutting up and eating!

Keep in mind that the more sauce and toppings you put on, the less likely you'll be able to pick it up to eat it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Strawberry Pie

At the Eugene Farmer's Market last weekend, we bought a 1/2 flat of fresh strawberries. Yumm!But what to do with all those berries? Hubby's idea was strawberry pie.

I love making pie. But I don't know that I've ever made a strawberry pie before - just strawberry rhubarb. So I consulted the trusty "The New Basics Cookbook" for a recipe. The filling results were excellent, but the crust didn't work as well as my normal crust. (Recipe another time!)

Here is their recipe for "Fresh Summer Strawberry Pie", with some notes from me:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
about 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 pints strawberries, rinsed, drained, hulled and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

- Make the crust. Toss the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mix looks like course crumbs. With a fork, stir in just enough lemon juice for the the dough to form a mass.
[NOTE: This is ridiculous. All crust recipes call for close to a 1/4 cup of cold water to get the dough to hold together. This needed that much. What are they thinking with 1 tbsp of lemon juice!? My recommendation: mix lemon juice and water and use about 4 tbsp total]
- Gather the dough in a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Make the filling. Combine the strawberries, sugar, tapioca, butter, and cinnamon in a saucepan and stir over low heat until it thickens a bit - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Set aside.
- Take out the dough and roll it out on a floured surface until it's big enough to fit in your pie pan (9 inches). Press it into the pan, trim as needed leaving enough to make a nice crimped or rolled edge.
- Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork, line with aluminum foil (shiny side down), and fill the pate with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the crust and turn the heat down to 350. [NOTE: I don't think it needs to cook quite this long]
- Remove the foil and weights and fill the crust with the filling. Put the pie on a cookie sheet (in case it bubbles over). Sprinkle with the brown sugar.
- Cook until nice and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
- Cool for an hour on a wire rack and then refrigerate overnight. Set out 30 minutes before serving.

NOTE: I served with fresh whipped cream.

Overall, this was delicious, with a great consistency and not too sweet. The edges of the crust got too brown for my liking, so next time I'll cover the edge with strips of aluminum foil like I usually do with pie.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cheese-Onion Baguettes

Dinner tonight was one of those things I both love and hate to eat. Love it because it is absolutely delicious. Hate it because it is very, very bad for me.

Found originally in a big fat cookbook I think my mom gave me - "1000 Vegetarian Recipes from Around the World" - in the barbecue section, this meal is super hearty and full of two of my favorite food groups: cheese and bread.

Here's what the recipe in the book says:
4 part-baked baguettes
2 tbsp tomato relish
4 tbsp butter
8 scallions, finely chopped
9 tbsp cream cheese
1 cup colby cheese, grated
1 tsp snipped fresh chives
mixed salad leaves

- Split the part-baked baguettes in half lengthwise, without cutting right through. Spread a little tomato relish on each one.
- Melt butter in skillet and add chopped scallions. Saute over medium, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, until soft and golden. Remove from heat to cool slightly.
- Beat the cream cheese in a bowl to soften it. Mix in the scallions and butter mixture. Add grated cheese and chives and mix well. Season with pepper.
- Divide the cheese mixture between the baguettes - spread it on the cut surfaces and sandwich together again. Wrap each baguette in foil.
- Heat baguettes over grill for about 10-15 minutes, turning them occasionally. Peel back the foil to check to see they are cooked and the cheese is melted.
- Serve with salad leaves.

We did try this recipe on the grill the first time we made it. However, it got kind of burnt and really gooey so ever since, we make it in the oven instead (350 degrees or so for about 15 minutes).

A few other changes:
- We use cheddar cheese instead of colby
- We don't always get part-baked bread. A regular baguette often works fine.
- What's "tomato relish"? Maybe this is something you can buy, but we just kind of make it up. I usually chop up some fresh tomatoes, add some tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper and mix it up. Works for me.
- Put the cheese mixture on the bread first, not the tomato relish. Spreading cheese on top of tomatoes is hard.

Tonight was the first time we actually put greens on the sandwich - which was quite good and gave it an illusion of healthiness.

Warning: it's messy! Be prepared to need napkins and maybe a fork!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Garlic tops and other spring bounty

We've had a miserable May and early June around here. Rain every day for a month, chilly, no sun. Most of my garden seems to be ok with that, surprisingly. I did lose the cucumbers, and the beans came out of the ground and didn't go much farther. But the peas, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, squash, and some other stuff will make it through now that the sun has decided to return.

Here are a few photos:

This last one most pertains to something I've cooked recently. These are "garlic whistles" - the tops that start to grow and will lead to flowers, which you don't want on your garlic. So you cut them off. They are green and packed with garlic flavor and are good in stir fries, steamed, or grilled.

When it was so nice on Sunday, we got some wild red snapper from the store and grilled it up. With the help of mom, who was visiting, we buttered a piece of foil, salt and peppered each side of the fish, put it in the foil, squeezed lemon juice over the top, added a few thin slices of butter, and placed a bunch of 3-inch lengths of garlic tops in the packet. Then we just closed up the foil and cooked the fish for about 10 minutes on the grill. It came out so delicious! The garlic tops came out with the consistancy of cooked green beans, with a fairly mild flavor. And they imparted a little garlic-ness to the fish too. Yum! Give it a try!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pesto Potato Salad

For the last Lost potluck (but don't worry, we'll find some other reason to get together and eat good food!), we were grilling. So I made potato salad. But I've never been a big fan of your standard creamy potato salad, so I made a really GOOD potato salad. I recommend it.

I cut up a bunch of yukon gold potatoes into bite sized pieces and boiled them for a few minutes until they were tender but not falling apart. I cooled them off in cold water and drained them.

Then I tossed them with olive oil, course salt, and freshly ground pepper. The not-so-gentle tossing breaks up their surfaces a bit and allows the oil and flavors to soak in.

While the taters cooled off more, I mixed up a few ice cubes of pesto (frozen from last year's garden haul), chopped up some strips of fresh basil from the garden (yes, it's growing!), and squeezed the juice from a whole lemon (probably could have used two) into a bowl and mixed it all up.

- Note: if you're making fresh pesto for this, be sure to put in garlic and plenty of salt.

Then I tossed the pesto-lemon mixture into the potatoes. Delicious!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pasta delight

Sometimes a stroke of genius hits me. I'm sure this happens to you too. You're hungry, you're thinking about what's in the fridge and cupboards and... nothing. But sometimes... Sometimes something comes to you - WHAM! You think of an amazing meal. I got lucky the other day!

This was inspired by my almost completely uninformed idea about what puttanesca sauce is. And it came to me mainly because we had this wine open that needed a proper pairing (Hillcrest 2006 Zinfandel - dark, smokey fruit). In my head, the wine flavors and the as-yet-unmade sauce seemed to go together. So I whipped something up.

- Chopped up some canned tomatoes (fresh would work too of course!)
- Chopped up some kalamata and green olives
- Crumbled up some canned tuna (fresh, delicious Sweet Creek variety)
- Squished a clove of garlic
- Squeezed most of a lemon
- Fished a bunch of capers out of a jar
- Added some lemon olive oil
- Cooked spaghetti

I heated up some olive oil in a sauce pan and fried up the garlic a little bit. Then I just dumped in everything else and added a little salt. I let it simmer for a few minutes, and then added it to the spaghetti when it was done and tossed it up. We shaved some parmesan on top and had it with the Zin. It was fantastic. Devine. Perfect.

Like I said, I got lucky.

Mother's Day Crepes

Guys, do yourself a favor and make crepes for your mom next year. I think these were a huge success! Thanks to my mom for many things, but in particular coming to visit today and trying my crepes. :)

Anyone can make pancakes, but crepes? Crepes are a little scary. But there was an article in the paper last week about a fool-proof recipe so I got it in my head that I should try them sometime. Then, we had some leftover ricotta cheese on hand because we had sausage hoagies again, and needed something to do with it. Ricotta cheese - being all sweet and creamy - would be great in crepes, I thought. And thus today's brunch was born.

The article has some great tips to read before you try out the recipe (which I won't type up, because you know how to click on a link, right?), including making the batter in advance and refrigerating it. I took these, read through the whole recipe, and had complete success. For a filling, I blended ricotta cheese with my homemade blackberry jam for a pretty and sweet blend. My mom put some extra jam on top too.

To round out the brunch, we cooked up some Beeler's all natural pork sausage. Yum! Something to enjoy with mom any time of the year!

In case you don't WANT to click through on the link, here's the recipe:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
about 4 Tblsp butter

Seriously, read the recipe and tips. Here are my thoughts at the end of it all:

- Blending this in a blender was super easy.
- Use about a teaspoon or two of butter only per crepe - and I didn't see the need to wipe the pan between crepes as the recipe instructed. The butter started getting pretty brown, but no big deal for me.
- It seemed like the trick was really swirling all the batter around the pan well to get it nice and even before setting it back down on the burner to cook.
- I kept the crepes warm by putting each one between wax paper layers and putting in a warm oven.
- We added our filling at the end, but then it didn't get warm. If you want your filling warm, add the filling before you remove the crepe from the pan.
- This made 7 crepes - enough for all three of us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mmm... Steak

Those of you who have known me a long time know that I wasn't always a meat eater. My parents raised us without "red" meat, but we did eat fish, poultry, and occasional bacon. I was a true vegetarian for a while too. But my membership has lapsed and I haven't renewed. Disapprove all you want, but I really like eating meat. And luckily, in Eugene, it's easy to find meat that is raised as naturally as possible. Yes, "all natural" cows still graze on public land, consume a lot of water, etc. but it is far better than the alternative, and I like supporting businesses who do it the better way.

Anyway... We got some Painted Hills ribeye steaks, on sale at the Market of Choice, last week. We had to wait most of the week for the weather to be nice enough to grill, but yesterday it was. So we fired up the charcoal, slapped these huge marbled steaks down and cooked them up. Other than a little salt and pepper, I didn't do anything to them.

Alongside, we grilled up some asparagus. Those I tossed with some lemon olive oil, salt and pepper before grilling.

Given my late coming to the meat world, I haven't eaten a lot of steaks in my life. And I don't often keep track of the cuts, or know much about one over another. But this ribeye... WOW!!!! It was SO flavorful! Maybe it was because it is a fattier steak, and maybe it was just cooked to perfection (medium-well in this case), but it was amazing.

The asparagus had just a hint of lemon flavor to it, and we cooked it just until it still had its crunch.

For wine we could have gone with something heartier, but we really wanted some Pinot Noir. The Marylhurst Vista Hills 2007 that Rose and I picked up in January was perfect. It stood up well to the rich but simple dinner, and complemented it nicely. We got lucky! Yum!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grilling in April

It was a pretty nice day here in Eugene. It started out chilly and ended up around 70. So we decided to fire up the grill for the first time this year. I had picked up some chicken sausages (two basil, two lemon) from the Market of Choice this morning - intending them for next weekend, but hey, no time like the present!

But what to have as a side?... We had some cauliflower leftover from last week's curry, and I walked over to the local market and picked up some broccoli too. I mixed these together with a little bit of lemon olive oil, salt and pepper and we were good to go.

We cooked the sausages a bit first, then moved them to the side and put the veggies in our little grilling pan to cook. They got brown pretty fast so I had to keep stirring them.

When it seemed like everything was done (so hard to tell on a grill!) we ate the sausages with mustard and homemade relish (canned in 2008) - no buns, and nice crunchy and slightly lemony broccoli and cauliflower. We also had a very nice Pinot Gris from Panther Creek.

By the time we ate (outside on the patio) we had to have on long sleeve shirts, but it was still wonderful out and a nice spring meal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Indian feast

Our potluck had an Indian theme this week. This may have been my favorite theme yet, and not just because I chose it. Not only do I find Indian food delicious in general, but I was so impressed by how everyone went for it and tried making new and exciting things. On the plate above there is dhal, basmati rice, naan, saag paneer, cauliflower and pea curry, and a chickpea patty with raita. For dessert (not pictured), there was gulab jamun. All so good!

Hubby and I have had the fortunate experience of visiting India a few more than 10 years ago with our dear friend Jim. In addition to encouraging us to try all sorts of new foods while in India, Jim has also cooked us (and allowed us to help with) many an Indian meal at his home. So we're comfortable with this food. Not that we've ever been able to do justice to the dhal recipe he once gave us... But I have learned from him not to worry too much about making Indian food. Recipes are merely guidelines and it all turns out all right in the end.

One of the keys to Indian food, in my mind, are condiments. There should always be chutney, pickle, and yogurt around to complement the dishes on your plate. Yesterday, we put out some store-bought mango-peach chutney, some homemade pear chutney, and some mild mango pickle hubby got at the store. I'm not personally a fan of Indian pickle, but it's a nice condiment none the less. I'd say our crowd yesterday was split 50/50 in liking it.

I decided to make a vegetable curry for the potluck, and modified a recipe in the book "Curries without Worries" by Sudha Koul that a friend gave me many years ago and in which I've found many good recipes.

The basic setup for most Indian curries is the same: Add oil or ghee to big pot, fry a bunch of spices, garlic, onions and ginger, add veggies, cook till done. Here, I've prepped everything in advance (which I find to be the most efficient way of cooking just about everything) - including the cauliflower, peas, and potatoes.

The recipe calls for:
- 3/4 cup oil and/or ghee (clarified butter - which you can make yourself or buy)
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds (I also added some whole mustard seeds)
- 1 or 2 onions, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tblspns chopped fresh ginger
- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used several small canned, including some of the juice)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cayenne
- salt to taste
- 1 medium cauliflower, cut into 3-inch florets, dry
- 2 1/2 cups frozen peas (I used fresh whole snow peas with delicious results!)
- (I also added 3 or 4 small potatoes, chopped)
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil/ghee. Add the cumin and stir while it sizzles for a minute. Add onions, ginger, and garlic and fry until golden. Add tomatoes and fry until you have a nice pasty consistency. Add the rest of the spices until they are blended in. Add the potatoes (if using) as they take the longest. Fry for a few minutes. Add cauliflower and do the same. Stir to prevent sticking. Add the peas after 5 or 10 minutes. Turn the heat down a bit and cover. Stir occasionally until everything is done to where you want it. Before serving, stir in the cilantro.

The finished product was delicious with rice and chutney. The best thing about a recipe like this is that you can pretty much substitute any other veggies you like and it'll be just as good!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spring Salad

I never think to order salad for dinner out - even though many restaurants have lovely salads. I should; they are good for me. But at home, I'm happy to have salad for dinner - especially when hubby's out of town.

This weekend we went to the Farmer's Market at Saturday Market and picked up some yummy things: like fresh greens and multi-colored radishes. I wanted to get some of the tasty-looking sweet carrots, but we already had carrots from the store at home. California strawberries are in stores already, so we picked up some of those, and some honey-sweetened chevre. This has been my dinner salad twice already this week. I also threw in some cilantro from my garden and topped it all with a little balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious and sweet!

I love cheese on salad - Chevre or blue cheese usually. Nuts are good too - almonds or hazelnuts. This makes it a little hardier.

Yum. I think I may have salad again tonight. It's spring!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

Mmmm... Soup.
We went to the opening of the Eugene Farmer's Market yesterday and found some very tasty looking leeks and potatoes. (our own garden potatoes are long gone, though new ones are now coming up in the garden) The spring has also taken a nasty rainy turn, so my thoughts turned to soup.

I could make up a potato leek soup recipe, but I went in search of a recipe anyway. I found one, conveniently, in the latest (March-April 2010) Cook's Illustrated in an article called "Rethinking Creamy Leek-Potato Soup". While I find much of Cook's Illustrated (and the TV version, America's Test Kitchen) really interesting and helpful, some of it just seems overthought. I read this article with a grain of salt, and took some of its advice while also doing my own thing (i.e. ignoring some of their advice).

The soup I made was fantastic. We ate it with some fresh, local ciabatta bread, lightly broiled with olive oil and vinegar, and with a King Estate Pinot Gris (the 2007 Domaine, which we got a half case of last weekend. It's fantastic.). A lovely, light and warm dinner.

2 - 4 good sized leeks - whites and light green parts cut in half and then sliced. Dark greens chopped into big pieces.
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
4 Tblsp butter
1 medium onion - chopped
4 small-medium potatoes (I used german butterballs from the farmer's market, the recipe called for a smaller amount of russets) - chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
salt and pepper
a bit of 1/2 and 1/2

Cut up the dark green tops of the leeks into 2-inch pieces and add to the broth and water in a big pot. Heat up and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain out the broth into a bowl, set aside. Discard the greens.

Melt butter in the same pot. Stir in whites/light greens of leeks and onion, plus a teaspoon of salt. Cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until veggies are soft.

Turn up the heat, pour in the saved broth, and the potato, bay leaf and thyme. Turn down when it boils and simmer on low-ish heat for 10 minute until taters are tender.

Take out the bay leaf and thyme. Add half the soup to a blender and blend briefly (really - not too long). Pour into a bowl. Do the other half of the soup. Pour back into the pot with the first batch.

Heat back up, and add salt and pepper to taste. Also add in a tablespoon or so of 1/2 and 1/2.

I can't wait to have the leftovers soon...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Macadamia White Chocolate Cookies

I like cookies.

Since I buy chocolate chips in bulk, not in the bag, I don't have the Toll House recipe at my finger tips... Or do I? In fact, there is a recipe for "Toll House Cookies" in the 1953 Joy of Cooking I work with. Guess the brand has been around a while...

These cookies are always delicious, despite the strange measurements (6 tablespoons of sugar? What the?...).

I usually put chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts in these cookies (yum!), but last week I wanted to do something exotic, so I got some white chocolate chips and used those and some of the macadamia nuts we brought back from Hawaii. They were delicious!

Here's the ancient, but apparently perfect, recipe:

Heat the oven to 375.

Cream together:
- 1/2 cup of butter (best if this is room temperature when you start, so plan ahead)
- 6 Tblsp brown sugar
- 6 Tblsp white sugar

Beat in:
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla

In a separate bowl, mix together:
- 1 cup plus 2 Tblsp sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda

Stir this into the wet stuff.
Then stir in:
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts (if you want)

Plop smallish amounts onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, with an inch or so between each blob.

Bake at 375 for 8 minutes. (watch them, or they'll get too brown!)


**A note about my mixer: I love it. My lovely hubby got it for me a year or so ago, and while I don't bake every week or anything, it still is a great help! It's so nice to be able to just toss in the butter and turn it on low, then toss in more ingredients as needed - just letting it stir it all together. I need to use it more. I have a pasta attachment, and I've only used it once. I think it's about time for another go!

A little dash of...

One of my favorite things about my yard/garden is that I have delicious fresh herbs right outside the back door. When I need rosemary or thyme or oregano or fennel or cilantro or sage or parsley I can get them all fresh - many of them all year round - within seconds and for free. Yippee!

There was a nice oregano plant in one of my beds when we moved into this house 5 years ago. And it lived through all the winters so far, growing bigger each summer and flowering nicely to attract bees. This past December we got uncharacteristically cold weather for days on end and it proved too much for my oregano. I was really sad to see no new growth coming up this past week when everything else was springing back to life.

Well, out with the old, in with the new. I went out and got a new plant, tore out the old one, and now I've got fresh oregano again.

For dinner tonight I got to use fresh thyme and rosemary (blog post to follow), not oregano, but I think later this week I'll use some in the sauce for another round of chicken parmesan. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate Cake

For this week's potluck we had "island" themed food - I just can't give up Hawaii yet. I experimented with some pineapple and macadamia rice. Others brought some BBQ chicken, some pineapple/coconut cod, spam musabi, hawaiian sweet bread and pina coladas. It was ALL delicious.

For dessert I made my favorite chocolate cake, and added some mac nuts to "island" it up a bit. I'm pretty sure I originally got this recipe from my friend Jean - baker extraordinaire - who I think got it from Moosewood. It's delicious and moist, with a crispy top, and comes in handy when you have vegans around. You could top it with just about any kind of icing, fruit, or whatever.

Six-minute (Vegan) Chocolate Cake
In one bowl mix:
1 and 1/2 cup white flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking soda

In smaller bowl mix:
1/2 cup vegetable oil (Canola, or olive works too)
1 cup cold water (or coffee, which makes it richer)
2 tsp. vanilla
Add to dry and mix.

Then add 2 Tblsp vinegar. Stir quickly and dump into 9x12-ish baking pan.

Bake 25 minutes at 375 degrees.

The nuts were a nice touch - I'd recommend adding some if you need some crunch. I've tried these as cupcakes too, and they turn out well.