Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Like the Stumbling Goat

Seattle has a two-year old fundraiser called "Celebrated Chefs" - I don't want to endorse the program, so I'm not going explain it, but part of the program produces a cookbook compilation of recipes from fine local restaurants. The cookbooks are nice quality with great photos, but while most of the dishes would be things I would enjoy eating, probably only 20% were dishes I would order in the restaurant, and fewer than 1% were recipes I would ever consider preparing for myself.

There were a couple that stood out in Version II of the Celebrated Chefs cookbook though, and when I stumbled across this salmon recipe from the Stumbling Goat Bistro, I was sure I had a winner.

These beets are incredible, and would be delicious as accompaniment to many different dishes, but they are quite outstanding with the salmon.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Anise Glazed Beets (version as printed)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 salmon fillet pieces, about 6 ounces each, skin removed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups lightly packed watercress, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
1 small fennel bulb, trimed, halved, cored, and sliced thinly
freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 large or 2 medium red beets (about 8 ounces), trimed
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons anise or fennel seeds

Put beets in a pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until beets are tender (50-60 minutes). Keep beets covered with water throughout cooking, add more hot water as needed if necessary. Drain and let cool, then peel away skin. Slice in half, the slice halves cross-wise into 1/4 inch slices.

Combine sugar, water, vinegar, and seeds in medium saucepan.  Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce to medium-law heat and simmer until mixture becomes a thick syrup, about 20 minutes. Strain into a medium bowl. Toss beets gently in syrup.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add salmon and cook until nicely browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side.

Arrange beet slices in the center of each plate. Drizzle plate with olive oil. Set aslmon atop beets, drizzle plate with syrup, beading syrup with oil. Combine watercress and fennel in a medium bowl, and lemon juice and toss to coat. Plate alongside salmon.
Photo from the Celebrate Chefs, Volume II cookbook, page 94.

I made this recipe for 3 people, using 3 salmon fillets and 3 medium beets, but the same amount of syrup. I still had way more than I needed for serving, and ended up dumping it out afterwards, although I probably could have saved it for a week or two and used it to glaze more beets or even other vegetables like carrots.

The fish could be prepared to your preference. I chose to bake it in a 350 oven alongside barley that I served with this meal. I just squeezed a bit of fresh lemon on the fillets, and a bit of salt and pepper. If you leave on the skin during cooking, be sure to remove it before serving, or do not serve the fillet directly on top of the beets.

I didn't use watercress, because we had a spinach salad to go with the meal. Instead, I just tossed the fennel bulb slices and some of the dill-like springs with lemon juice and a touch of oil, and served it on top.

To avoid waste and to pick-up the same flavor notes throughout the meal, I diced the fennel stalks and used them in place of some onion in a barley recipe of my grandmothers. The version below is the adaption I created for this meal, but would definitely repeat. The fennel flavor is subtle and would compliment lots of dishes, or could be substituted back for all onion.

Baked Barley
serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped fennel stalks
1/2 cup chopped onion
3-4 chopped baby portabello mushrooms
2-3 teaspoons fennel leaves (fine, threadlike herbal top-portion)
1 cup barley
3 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add fennel and onion and saute 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and saute until tender. Stir in fennel leaves and barley, and transfer to 1 1/2 quart casserole baking dish.  Pour broth over, cover, and bake at 325 for 75-90 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pumpkin Party Menus

I love fall. It could be the self-absorbed only child in me (my birthday is mid-October). More likely it's the shortening of the days and chilling of the air, both signals that it's time to spend more time indoors... and what better way to spend time inside when it is cold, dark, and rainy out than to turn up the oven and create warm, soothing smells and tastes.

I had a birthday party every year until I was 17, far longer than any of my friends were sending out invitations, decorating cake, and planning party favors. Eventually as an adult, I was able to transition the "birthday party" into a party around the same time of year, where guests aren't informed that I am the reason for the celebration, but are still drawn into my home for a party. To be sure the center of attention remains on me, it's important to offer the most delectable and charming of refreshments to inspire [pumpkin] fields full of compliments.

I developed these two menus for what I called the "Pumpkin Party." Celebrating with food and friends all the beautiful colors, textures, warmth, and bounty that fall offers is plenty of reason for a party.

Mix and match recipes from these menus, or add and create your own, but don't wait to jump into fall with tempting tastes of tummy-warming treats!

Black Bean-Pumpkin Dip with Pita Chips
   1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
   1 1/2 cups canned black beans
   2 cloves garlic
   1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
   1 teaspoon ground cumin
   2 tablespoons olive oil
   2 tablespoons lemon juice
   salt and pepper to taste

   In food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Season with salt and peppper to taste, and serve with pita chips.

Pumpkin Seed Flatbread

Mixed Greens with Apples, Dates, and Curried Pumpkin Seeds
   Use your favorite greens, such as mixed field greens, red leaf lettuce, or other combinations that include shades of bright green, dark green, and deep purple.
   Slice or cube a crisp, red-skinned eating apple such as Fuji, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Jonagold. Leave some skin on every chunk for color.
   Cut up about 1 date per serving - kitchen shears work best for cutting sticky dates.
   Toss above with a dressing of:
      1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
      3 tablespoons minced shallots
      2 teaspoons dijon mustard
      2 teaspoons honey
      1/2 cup olive oil
      (makes enough for 12)
   Sprinkle salad with curried pumpkin seeds.
Curried Pumpkin Soup with Yams and Cauliflower
Serves 8-12 as a side
1/2 head cauliflower broken into small bite-size pieces
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans mashed to a paste with a fork
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 small or medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
2 14-oz cans vegetable or chicken broth
1 10-oz package frozen cooked sqaush
2 large yams, chopped into bite-size pieces
yogurt and cilantro for garnish (optional)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil with crushed red pepper and add
onion; saute until tender. Stir in curry powder to taste. Add broth and yams
and simmer until yams are easily pierced with a fork (20-30 minutes). Add
squash (does not need to be defrosted) and cauliflower and simmer/boil until
desired consistency (20-40 minutes). Stir in garbanzo paste. Ladel into bowls
and garnish as desired.

Farfalle with Roasted Butternut Squash & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 lb cubed butternut squash (this time of year, Trader Joes and Costco both sell refrigerated, pre-cubed butternut squash)
6 oz sundried tomatoes, packed in oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 lb Farfalle (bowtie) pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 425.  Toss all vegetables and rosemary in baking dish. There is probably enough of the seasoned oil from the tomatos, but if not, add a little extra olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake, stirring gently every 10 minutes, approximately 30 minutes until squash is tender.  While roasting, cook farfalle according to package directions.

In separate pan, melt butter.  Stir in flour until smooth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, and stir in cream until smooth.  Return to a boil until sauce thickens slightly.  It will still be thin.  Season with white pepper and a dash of nutmeg. 

Toss squash mixture with pasta and sauce.  Serve with parmesan.

Smoked Salmon Pizzettas with Goat Cheese, Onion, and Dill
   Use Trader Joes whole wheat pizza dough or your favorite crust. Roll out dough as thinly as possible (about 1/8" thick.)
   I spread the raw dough with a very thin layer of parsley pesto (follow your favorite basil pesto recipe by substitute parsley for the basil).
   Crumble goat cheese atop the pesto.
   Sprinkle with freshly chopped dill to taste.
   Layer with flakes of smoked salmon and carmelized onions (put 3 pounds sliced white onions and 1/2 cup butter in your crock pot on low for 12-20 hours - you will melt at the amazing carmelized onions this produces).

This can be assembled to this stage early in the day, the cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  When ready to serve, bake for 10 minutes at 425. Cut into appetizer squares.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting and Whipped Chocolate Filling
Use Caramel Frosting from Joy of Cooking and Whipped Chocolate Ganache from The Cake Bible to assemble the pumpkin spice cake layers from the cake recipe linked in the title.
Peanut Butter cookies

Snickerdoodle Cookies (can be vegan)
1 cup margarine (I've never tried this recipe with butter, because I love the chewy center these cookies have.)
1 cup sugar
1 5/6 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp baking soda
dash salt

Cream sugar and margarine until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix. Roll balls of dough in cinnamon sugar, and bake 8-12 minutes at  350 degrees.  These cookies do not stay fresh for long.
Note that these do not contain eggs.

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies
Roll out dough and cut with pumpkin shaped cookie cutter.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
You can also bake your favorite cheesecake as bars in a 9x13 foil-lined pan and cut into squares. Increase your crust recipe by 1 1/2, and reduce baking time by about 1/3 - watch carefully.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt with Buttermilk Glaze

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Potato Leek Saffron Soup and Golden Beet Soup

I fully embraced Fall this week with two large stockpots of soup; plenty to warm our tummies and still have leftovers for lunch and more for the freezer.

Vellutata di Patate (Potato and Saffron Soup)

This is a recipe from La Spiga restaurant in Seattle, that I found in the Celebrated Chefs, Volume 2 cookbook. Potato-Leek soup (vichyssoise) is a classic, but I liked how saffron and curry powder in this recipe add a heightened touch of sophistication.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, split, cleaned, and sliced
2 pounds (about 4 large) yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 quarts beal of beef stock or broth
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
2 pinches saffron threads
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Melt butter in stockpot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add wine and bring to a boil. Simmer 3-5 minutes.

Add all but 1/2 cup of stock to the pan. Add bay and good pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer to until potatoes are tender, 12-15 minutes.

While potatoes simmer, warm reserved stock then add saffron. Remove from heat and set aside to steep.

Remove bay leaf from soup, then puree until smooth (immersion blender is great for this!) Add safrron broth, cream, curry powder, and parsley. Reheat, salt to taste, and serve with additional parsley as garnish.

This is the photo from the cookbook. Unfortunately, the recipe doesn't say how to make
that delectable looking garnish, which I assume is saffron oil, but presumably it's just
saffron threads dissolved in olive oil. I didn't do that this time, but I think it's looks
positively bejeweled, and I'd love to try it. I will definitely make this soup again.

Golden Beet Soup
Serves 6 as first course

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 medium/large red onion, diced
dark green part of 1 large leek, sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 medium golden beets, peeled and cut into even wedges
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons sherry wine
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Melt butter in large heavy saucepan. Stir in onion and leeks, and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, lemon, beets, and broth. Bring to boil, then simmer until beets are tender (about 30 minutes.)

Alternatively, roast whole beets. Wrap beets tightly in foil and roast in 400 degree oven for 50-60 minutes. You should be able to slide a skewere through the foil to test for doneness. Beets can be roasted a day in advance. To make soup, simply slide skin off beets, cut in half, and add with broth. No need to cook, just bring to a boil.

While soup is cooking, mix together parsley and yogurt to make a brightly colored thick paste for garnish.

Puree the soup (an immersion blender works great for this, or use a blender or food processor.) Stir in the sherry then ladel into bowls and garnish with a teaspoon of parsley yogurt.

This photo is by Lisa Hubbard for Bon Appetit magazine. I modified my recipe from the published version to create what is posted above, but the soup was the same visually. The soup in the photo is garnished with a puree of plain, steamed beet greens. This is great if your beets come fresh from the market and you want to use both the root and the greens together.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yummy Yammy Biscuits

I am not much a fan of biscuits, but every once in a while I make them for my husband who adores them. Last weekend I came across this recipe in the Seattle Times for sweet potato biscuits and thought that might be a good compromise for trying a new recipe but making one of Will's childhood favorites.

Instead of sweet potato, I used a garnet yam, and I love the autumny color they have even after baking! There are little flecks of orange akin to carrots in a carrot cake, but almost like little juicy gems of beta carotene. 

I cut back on the sugar in the recipe, because I was planning to serve these with dinner. Iused 1/2 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup. I thought they still came out too sweet, but Will loved them. I also added some cayenne pepper and Chinese five spice powder to the dough before baking. All these flavors compliment the yams really well and make for a delightful, warm fall treat. Just make sure that those spices will go with whatever entree you are serving.

The recipe warns that these biscuits aren't quite as flakey (softer and more doughey) than a traditional biscuit, and Will commented the same (I'm not enough of a connaiseur to even know a "good" biscuit if I tried one!) But he also said he loves them, which I know is true due to the fact that completely against precendent, he ate the first two without even any butter!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kitchen Gadgets

Garlic Mincer
I didn't think I would like this, because I thought it would be one of those tools that is more trouble than the task it is trying to simplify. But I actually now consider it to be a "must have."

It consists of a very sharp series of blades which are powered by rolling the device with your palm along the countertop. The blades are housed in a clear plastic case with a trap door through which you insert the garlic cloves. It is very well-designed in how it fits in your palm, and the wheels are very smooth. It is also very easy to clean, simply rinse and allow to air dry. The one thing that is a bit of a hassle is removing the minced garlic from the housing once it's been chopped - I use a butter knife or paring knife to just run along the edges and between the blades to lift out the minced. I consider this modestly tedious task equivalent to the tedium of the sticky scraping off a cutting board that regular garlic mincing requires.

The best part is that this creates garlic that's minced much more finely and evenly than I could do with a knife. Another boon? This is sold by Chefn, a Seattle company.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Eggplant Experimentation Extravaganza

I have only used eggplant a couple of times. I frequently come across recipes calling for it that sound good, but when I read all the steps involved in salting and draining and drying etc etc etc I simply become discouraged and write it off as too much trouble. Recently I succumbed to the glossy, rich plumpness. Once home though, I invested hours sorting through recipes and cookbooks trying to find just the right thing to make. If it's as much effort as I remember, I want it to be really good.

I narrowed my search down to two finalists (with a couple pretty high contenders saved for the future). Even down to the point when I had half the eggplant cut into cubes, I was still waffling between which recipe I would follow.  When I saw how many cubes just half the eggplant made, I realized I had enough ingredients to do BOTH recipes!

The tones and hues were similar enough that I ended up serving both recipes together side-by-side. I had a favorite, but it was very close and even for a more carefully planned dinner party, I might again prepare the recipes together.

These are the two raw recipes, with my notes following.

This was the less time-intensive recipe of the two, with fewer ingredients so I thought it would less interesting. I was wrong! The simplicity (of the flavors, not of the prepration!) is probably exactly what makes it so special. I did use a lot of dishes though... a large bowl to soak, and a small bowl to weigh down the eggplant during soaking, then the collander for draining followed by the cast iron skillet for browning, and finally the cookie sheet for baking. Nevertheless, this offers something that other dishes I've made does not; an intensity of each of the types of flavor but a perfect balance between each so that they truly compliment each other. What seems espeically unique is that each layer is pretty bold, often a finely-tuned balance is achieved from subtlety yet in this dish the rich creaminess of the eggplant foundation meets a smokey spiciness from the seasonings followed by the tart and tangy pomegranate molasses finished with the fresh herbality of cilantro. I made a 1/4 recipe (used 1/2 of my 1 1/2 pound eggplant) and followed the instructions exactly except for the raw-garlic finish.  See my presentation notes which follow.  

I took some liberties with the eggplant as printed in this recipe, but followed instructions exactly for the peas. I will have to think of some other ways to serve this puree because it is delicious. It has a vibrant color, and a depth of flavor that is unexpected given the short list of ingredients. The contrast from the carmelized vegetable topping is truly lovely and in full Fall spirit.

I sauteed 3/4 pound drained, cubed eggplant in olive oil, then added two diced, seeded roma tomatoes and two cloves garlic, minced. I cooked it until all the liquid had evaporated from the tomatoes, then stirred in about 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano, ground black pepper, and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.  There is a fair amount of sweetness here but against a garnish of sour yogurt it is a fantastic sensation.

Making the meal:
While I didn't intend to eat these two eggplant dishes side by side, they ended up working quite well together. I did a squiggle of pomegranate molasses across the plate first, then topped with a spoonful of pea puree near the center of the plate, and topped with the ratatouille. Then I started blending the lines between the two dishes, and topped it with Greek yogurt and cilantro leaves. Alongside, I placed wedges of grilled mediterranean flatbread, rubbed a clove of roasted garlic. Layered next to the flatbread were a few slices of the roasted eggplant, which we ate atop the flatbread.

Three days later, I extended my eggplant exploits. While it could potentially become tiresome to eat a lot of the same thing back-to-back, I find that I really enjoy getting to use one ingredient in mulitple ways so that I can really gain an understanding of it's capacity. For example, in the top photo, tasting the roasted/baked eggplant side-by-side with the simmered sauce.

As I said, I had narrowed down my top two recipe finalists, but when I was at the market later in the week, and saw some lovely asian eggplants, I quickly recalled one of the other selections that had been passed over in the first round, and decided to go ahead and pick up a few while eggplant was fresh in my mind.

The recipe I used it in was Spicy Glazed Eggplant, which I served with sushi rice and a dish that I wouldn't recommend as a complimentary menu selection but which worked well to balance out the colors and nutrition of the meal; beet greens with peaches.

The sushi rice was the perfect pairing with the eggplant, which was fortunate, because it was my first time making it, and I was conducting the dish as a trial run for a party I'm planning later this month. The eggplant dish was very flavorful, though I'm not sure it took full advantage of the subtlety of taste and especially texture that the asian eggplant can offer over the standard globe. It called for "Japanese seven spice powder" (shichimi togarashi) which I didn't have and frankly had never heard of. I was able to find a number of recipes online for how to mix it oneself, and the ingredient lists seemed for the most part to reach a consensus, so I believe that I came pretty close in my attempt to recreate it. What I neglected to note was that as I mixed a few tablespoons of the spice recipe, I only needed 1/8 teaspoon for the eggplant, but I dumped it all in. Nevertheless, we didn't find it too strong, and had plenty of rice to balance the intensity of each mouthful.

Because these two items we basically just black and white on the plate, I searched my crisper for some color, and instead of trying to meld flattering flavors, I reached for the couple items which were most likely to loose their freshness if they waiting another day to be consumed. This ended up being the greens from some golden beets (the root lasts much longer than the tops) and a peach.

Beet Green and Peach Saute
serves 2

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
greens from 4 beets, chiffonaded
1 peach, peeled and diced

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, add the greens and cook until wilted, stir in the peach and saute over medium heat another 2-3 minutes until peaches are soft and have released their juices. The sweet and tangy of the peach plus the slightest bitterness of the greens left this dish perfectly dressed without even needing salt or pepper. Would be really good with a hearty grain (quinoa? bulger?) as a summer salad.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knucklehead Pumpkin

Have you seen these before?  Yes, they are called Knucklehead pumpkins. I saw these today at Ballard Market, and discovered they are the largest variety of the Superfreak Series of pumpkins; the middle sized version is called Goose Bumps II.

More Famous Bloggers than I

I just read this great article in the Seattle Times that referred me to the blog. I have only poked through a few entries so far, but I'm looking forward to spending more time on it. I sort of wish that was me. I mean, I was known as the "family baker" when I was 17. I was the one who was SO excited to move into a house my junior year in college so I could start baking again, and asked for a mixer for my birthday and called my grandmother to read me my favorite recipes over the phone. Too bad there was no such thing as a blog when I was in college. But I'm especially interested to try her "favorite Swiss buttercream" which she attributes to Martha Stewart. I haven't had much luck with Martha's recipes, and I've had even worse luck with buttercreams. But she has managed to take some exquisite photos of piping she did with it, so it obviously works well... I will be putting it through a rigorous taste test though, and will let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, after years of complaining, discussing, and testing, a former professional cake and wedding baker friend of mine shared with me her simple and results-perfect buttercream which I will be posting about in a frosting-exclusive post sometime soon.

But since this post is about other blogs, here's another food blog that I like:, which I came across in a search for Torta Milanese. On vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we stopped for an afternoon snack at a bakery cafe. We were exhausted from a morning of art galleries, but not especially hungry for lunch and it was far too early for dinner, so we ordered cappucinos and gazed at the bakery case. This elaborate torte caught our eye, so we ordered a slice and it was like nothing we'd ever tried. It was a rich, flakey pastry crust with layer upon layer upon layer of flavorful exotic layer: tomatoes, smoked mozzarella, roasted red pepper, basil and herbs, parmesan, eggplant, mushrooms, and I can't even remember what else. I wanted to find a similar recipe and an exhaustive search left me virtually empty-handed except for the wisdom and insight of food blogga Susan. Her recipe for pizza chena which I found first on my favorite website is basically what I was looking for. She is a freelancer for NPR, which led me to her blog.

In any case, what both these blogs illustrate very clearly is the importance of good photos, which I do not have. I do not plan to invest in any camera which will provide the type of images that these really popular blogs produce, but I hope you will still be able to get good ideas and helpful tips from what I have.

Here's today's offering:
This is last night's dinner, the driving factor of which was I wanted to try roasting butternut squash and apples together. I have an idea for an appetizer for an upcoming party and this was a preliminary step in my planning. It was delicious (cube pieces the same size, toss with olive oil and pepper, then roast at 425 for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Season with salt afterwards. There was also a tomato in there.) but hardly dinner. So I chose my other simple dishes based on what else was most colorful in the fridge. With the oven already on, I just added the corn in their husks to the oven (takes 15-20 minutes) and asparagus (also tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper) for about 12 minutes. A little barley cooked in broth with diced onion and bacon bits gave a toothsome counterpart to the tender and flavorful vegetables.

One other blog I enjoy is the NPR Kitchen Window.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hey, Man, Can't We Just All Get Along?

I love cauliflower. And while my grandmother thinks purple, green, and orange cauliflower are "stupid" because they "taste the same and cost four times as much," I think they're beautiful. And such a metaphor for life: green and white cauliflower happily cruciforming side-by-side in the market. This recipe celebrates  and honors all the colors and diversity that make the world such an amazing place. Then we eat it.

In addition to my own recipe below, I'm looking forward to trying this Curried Cauliflower Salad recipe as seen recently in the Seattle Times.

Cauliflower Confusion
1 head total mixed cauliflower colors (orange, purple, green, white)
½ large leek
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup cream
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt butter in sauté pan and stir in breadcrumbs to toast and moisten.  Transfer to small bowl and mix in parmesan and parsley to make topping.

Slice/chop leek and cauliflower (food processor slicer makes attractive shape.)  Add leek to olive oil and sauté over medium heat about two minutes.  Add cauliflower and cook until crisp-tender , about 5 more minutes. Stir in cream.

Transfer to baking dish (approximately 8” square) and sprinkle topping over.  Bake uncovered at 375 for 20 minutes or until golden.

Bread and Rice Puddings

I got on a bread pudding and rice pudding kick.  I realized how incredibly versatile it is, in that you literally can add whatever you have on hand to it and make it into whatever course you want.  Appetizer, entree, dessert, vegetable side. My husband isn't crazy about it, so I haven't had a chance to experiment with it the way I want to.  I have yet to make a solid "plain" pudding as a base from which to experiment - I jump straight into the alternatives.  But there will be more posts on this to come, especially as we move into winter. Once I develop a base, that will make options and add-ins much easier to play with.  For example, I chose the exotic tropical flavors in the rice pudding below to complement the aromatic basmati rice.

Here are two that worked in the trial runs:

Sausage and Sun-Dried Tomato Bread Pudding
Serves 6

½ loaf day-old crusty Italian bread, diced into 3/4-1 inch cubes
2 Italian seasoned sausages
1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
½ shallot, finely diced
2-3 tbsp olive oil, or oil drained from tomatoes
3 eggs
½ cup egg beater
2 cups milk (fat free works fine)
2 tsp whole grain mustard
Crushed red pepper

Heat oil in heavy saucepan.  Add sprinkle of crushed red pepper or to taste.  Add shallot and saute until tender. 

Chop or crumble sausages and add to pan with tomatoes.  Saute until heated through.  Stir in bread cubes until coated and allow to toast slightly in pan.

While the mixture is toasting, in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, egg product, milk, mustard. 

Transfer bread mixture to a buttered 2-qt casserole dish.  Pour milk mixture over and press down bread to cover.  Allow to rest, soaking the bread periodically in the milk mixture by pressing down solids, for at least 15 minutes, up to overnight.  Cover dish and bake at 375 for 40 minutes.  Uncover, and allow to brown an additional 10 minutes.  Serve hot. 

Note: I also threw in a bit of sour cream because I had it.  Any combination of milk or cream would be fine.

Coconut-Banana Rice Pudding
Serves 4

1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup cream
½ tsp coconut extract
½ - 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
¼ - ½ tsp ground cardamom

Approximately 1 ½ cups cooked basmati rice (if tightly packed and refrigerated – as in leftovers –  
     be sure to break apart into individual grains of rice)
1 medium banana, thinly sliced, or diced

1 tbsp butter
¼ cup flaked sweetened coconut
¼ cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk together first six ingredients. In a 6-cup casserole, combine banana and rice.  Pour custard over and stir to combine.

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle evenly over pudding.

Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes, until tested inserted comes out clean and top is toasty brown.

Purple Is Popping Up in a Panoply

I know it's not new to blog about the marvels at the farmer's market, but since blogging is new to me, I'm excited to share about the treasures that I've observed for a couple of years now, but only this summer have finally paid-out to try.

Purple carrots were my first foray, and I purchased them with some gorgeous golden beets which I simply roasted together in the oven.  My husband and I both thought we were quite clever that we'd put beets - typically deep red but in this case yellow/orange, with carrots - typically yellow/orange but in this case deep purple.

The next purple pleasure I tried was bell pepper.  Every few years, peppers seem to come out in a new color, and the distictions in taste and texture are noticable, but still somewhat limited.  I figured the same would be true for the peppers, which is why I didn't try them sooner.  I was basically correct - the flavor is probably closest to green and the texture is firm, but the skins (at least on the ones I had) were slightly thicker and tougher.  The real surprise though (don't look at the picture if you want to try it for yourself!) is inside.  I just diced these up in my green salad for a new flair of color.

Blog about a blog

We were in Vancouver, British Columbia and searching for activities when I came accross a blog about the Granville Island farmers market which discussed the produce in season at the end of July. I read a post about Mangosteen, which I'd heard of because it is a flavor of yogurt I buy, but I didn't know much about it.  After reading the post, we headed straight over to find some.

The experience was definitely worth trying, just because the fruit and it's package was so unusual for what we typically find even in our exotic markets.  The flavor was good, the texture I found just a tad too slippery for my taste, and of course, it was quite expensive. 

Summer Rainbow

I wish I'd done a better job photographing this meal, because it was the most festive, summery, fresh, and balanced meal I did all season. 

Grilled Halibut with Peach-Tomato Salsa

Drizzle a couple tablespoons of lime juice over halibut filet, then salt and pepper and allow to rest an hour or two.

For salsa, dice 1 peach, 1 tomato, 1 jalepeno (or to taste), handful cilantro, and mix with a teaspoon of lime juice and season with salt.

Lightly brush grill with olive oil, then grill fish until flakey and white all the way through. Serve with salsa.

Cabbage and Corn Slaw with Cilantro-Orange Dressing (
recipe here)

Balsamic-Feta Barley

Saute ½ cup chopped onions in 1 tbsp olive oil.

When becoming translucent, add ¾ cup barley to coat with oil.

Stir in 1 -2 cloves minced garlic.

Add one can chicken broth, cover, bring to boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, dice 1 large tomato. Toss with 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1-2 tsp olive oil, and pepper to taste (do not use salt, as the broth and the cheese will be salty). When barley is cooked through, toss with tomato and refridgerate. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup crumbled feta and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Tomatoes to Use Up

Last week I saw some lovely Campari tomatos on sale so I bought three pounds. As the week wore on, and I'd only thrown the rare one or two into a salad, I realized I needed to start using them up quickly. Last night, we were having mahi mahi, so I made this gratin to go with it. It was so colorful (sorry there's no photo) and full of vegetables, I didn't even bother with a salad.

Tonight I made a one-dish meal of Black Bean Soup. Soups are so versatile, you can really throw in whatever you want, and mix and match based on your tastes, but this turned out so well, I'll probably stick to the recipe next time.

Potato-Tomato Gratin with ZucchiniServes 4

3 T. olive oil
1 cup sliced/chopped onion
1 ½ - 2 pounds tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 T. tomato paste
½ - 1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup red wine
1 medium zucchini, sliced into ½ inch slices, then cut cross-wise into quarters
Handful herbs (basil and oregano, or your favorites)
2 medium yukon gold potatoes
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
½ cup panko (or breadcrumbs)
1 T. butter

In large frying pan, saute onion in olive oil until translucent.

Dice tomatoes and add to onion along with garlic.

Stir in red pepper and tomato paste and cook over medium low heat until tomatoes are breaking down, stirring periodically.

When tomato juices start to thicken, add wine and zucchini and continue to stir.

While this is cooking, slice the potato as thinly as possible – about 1/8 in thick. Line a 10” round pan with the an overlapping layer of potatoes.

When the tomato sauce mixture is sufficiently thickened, stir in the herbs. Then layer half the mixture over the potatoes. Top with a layer of the remaining potatoes, then the remaining sauce.

Mix the parmesan, panko and butter together and sprinkle over the top layer of sauce. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Black Bean Soup
Six servings

Cover 1/2 pound dried black beans with water, and simmer about one hour until just starting to get tender. (Or used two cans beans, rinsed well.)

1/2 large onion, diced
1 pound tomatos, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste

Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Stir in tomatoes and garlic, and cook - covered - over medium heat until tomatoes release their juice and begin to wilt, about 10 minutes.

2 small or 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes

Add sweet potato to tomato mixture along with 2-3 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth. Cover and simmer 12 minutes.

1/2 large green bell pepper
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2" thick moons
jalepeno or other pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
(corn would be good too!)

Add the beans and remaining vegetables to tomato mixture. Add additional broth if necessary to keep ingredients covered, and continue to simmer covered on low heat at least 30 minutes and up to two hours.

Use an immersion blender to puree about half the soup (or pour some into your blender or food processor). Just before serving, stir in 1/4 cup sherry wine (apple cider vinegar can be substitued). Serve hot in bowls, with a garnish of sour cream (or good yogurt) and chopped fresh cilantro.

A great beverage to accompany this is a pineapple spritzer - part pineapple juice with sparkling water and a cilantro spring garnish.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 2

1 small acorn squash
½ cup brown or wild rice
2 sausage links, desired flavor
½ yellow onion, chopped

8-10 chopped dates
¼ cup Sherry
Toasted pine nuts

Cut squash in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil, and broil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook rice according to package directions less 15 minutes.

Brown sausage, and transfer meat to another bowl. Into sausage drippings, add additional olive oil if necessary, and brown onion and garlic. Add semi-cooked rice (drain, but reserve cooking water), and stir to coat. Splash with sherry, and allow to absorb. Slowly add rice cooking water and simmer until absorbed, also stirring in chopped dates and reserved sausage. Season with spices, salt, and pepper. Stir in pine nuts. Spoon filling into squash halves and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Stalk of Sprouts

I'm sure many of you saw this yourselves, and it's not especially amazing, but I just like it.  For those of you that didn't see it or don't recognize it, this was at the Ballard Trader Joes, and it is a stalk of Brussels sprouts still on the stem.

February Update
This ended up being something really yummy and quick to do with Brussels: cut them cross-wise into shavings so they fall apart into threads. Make them as thin as possible, or as thin as you like. Toss them with a bit of olive oil, whole grain mustard, salt, and pepper, and bake at 450 for about 20 minutes, stirring once half-way through. I used four large brussels in shaved into a 9"x5" loaf pan for two servings. They were sweet, crispy around the edges, and wholesome warming for a winter's evening.

Entertaining a Pescatarian

One of our friends is a pescatarian (vegetarian who eats fish) and she was bringing her new boyfriend to meet us for the first time, so I wanted a delicious dinner that would impress, but also be easy to prepare in advance so I could spend all my time getting to know him. I decided to make Yucatecan-Style Grilled Mahi Mahi and I developed this starchy side and green salad to pair with the flavors:

Corn and Sweet Potato SaladServes 6

2 small sweet potatoes or 1 large
2 ears of corn (preferably yellow, for color)
2 carrots (preferable purple, for color)
½ fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
½ jalepeno, minced

2 T olive oil
1 T fresh lime juice
¼ t kosher salt

Dice sweet potato into small chunks and boil/steam just until tender (about 10 minutes).

Grill corn on the cob until some ears are starting to blacken. Cut kernels from cob.

Half carrots lengthwise, then crosswise in slices.

Mix dressing ingredients together, then toss all ingredients in dressing.

Arugula Salad with Peaches

3 T. olive oil
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 t. kosher salt
4 oz arugula
2 small, ripe peaches, peeled and sliced *
2 T.
spiced pepitas **

Mix 3 dressing ingredients together with a whisk, or I like to just put them in a jar, screw down the lid, and shake it vigorously.

You can mix this salad together in a bowl, but it's prettier (and not too time consuming for only four servings) if you plate it individually. Toss the sliced peaches in 1/3 of the dressing just to coat. Separately, toss the arugula in the remaining dressing. Arrange peach slices in a fan atop a serving of greens, then sprinkle with pepitas.

* Peaches (and tomatoes too) can be dipped for a couple of seconds into a pan of boiling water, and then plunged into an ice water bath to make them easy to peel. However, I've found that when peaches are ripe-ready to eat, they peel very easily without this step.

** Trader Joes sells pepitas in the nut section, and they can be purchased in the bulk food section of natural foods markets.

Middle-Eastern Menu

A couple summers ago, we made plum wine with some friends.  We don't really enjoy drinking this vintage, but I knew I could figure out something else to do with it. I was thinking of a salad dressing or marinade, but I ended up instead developing a recipe for sorbet.  I made it first for family and it was a huge hit, so because of the story behind it, it became one of my favorite things to make for guests in the summer.  Recently, we were having another couple to dinner on a Monday night, and I wanted to make the sorbet for them. Along with the plums, the flavoring is heavily spiced of cinnamon and peppercorn, so I wanted to build a menu around those rich, warm flavors (also developed by the still sunny but briskly oncoming fall weather of Seattle September).  I also wanted recipes that I could shop for and prepare somewhat in advance since I wouldn't have a ton of time to fuss around after work, and that would create a main course as impressive as dessert. I succeeded. These items all come together so quickly, and cook for such a short period to time, that it is quite easy to get on the table with minimal time away from your guests but a lovely presentation.

Moroccan Style Lamb and Carrots with Chickpea Puree (click here).
These carrots roasted in a simple oil dressing were outstandingly delicious, and were just as good cold and again reheated the next day. The recipe calls for a pretty high ratio of oil mix, I would cut it about by half. And make sure to check the thickness of your chops - mine were almost 2 inches thick, so needed more time.

Note: my back-up entree was Lebanese Chicken. I ended up making this for myself the next day, and the rub was excellent, but the flavors didn't really infuse the meat, though as an entree, it also would have worked well in this menu.

Turkish Zucchini Pancakes (
click here).

Cous Cous with Toasted Pistachios and Golden Raisins
Cook the cous cous in chicken broth, then stir in toasted, chopped pistachios (or pine nuts) and drizzle with olive oil. Be sure to allow guests to salt to taste.

Plum Wine Sorbet with Cornmeal Cookies

The recipe for the plum wine is:

1 12-oz bottle plum wine (ours was homemade, by a recipe our friends found online)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 3-in cinnamon sticks
20 peppercorns
1 T lemon juice

Simmer ingredients together until sugar dissolves. Cover and chill overnight. Strain into ice cream maker and follow manufacturers instructions.

Unlike many homemade ice creams, this sorbet stays soft in the freezer, although it melts very quickly.

Serve with
cookies. Instead of patting the cookie dough into rounds, I roll it into a log before refrigerating, then simply cut the log into slices and bake. I like smaller two-bite cookies, especially for company after a larger meal.

Bean Bow

This is my mom's handiwork, which is why the photo is so blurry - I had to take it with my phone. She made a special meal for the holidays, and I think the idea is actually from one of the Tom Douglas cookbooks, but it is Chinese long beans tied into a bow for presentation.