Friday, November 26, 2010



I have been the family member in charge of the cranberries for about 10 years. In my early childhood, when Thanksgiving was at my grandmother's house (before my mom took over the honor), my grandmother would make her own whole-berry sauce - no doubt using the recipe from the Ocean Spray bag - and serve alongside canned jellied sauce. We've never stopped using that same lovely leaf-shaped, two-bowled Lenox serveware, but when my turn came for cranberries, my mother and I both agreed it was time to ditch the canned jelly. I've never to this day made any type of jelly (though I've tried straining things through cheesecloth to disastrous effect of spurt, splatter, and burst). But somehow that double serving dish has always begged me to make two recipes. So, in the process, I have gone through many many versions of cranberry sauce, two per year, and only rarely repeated the same one.

This year, I offered to host Thanksgiving at my house for the second year in a row. (Last year was to baptize my remodeled kitchen, which Will and I finished painting late Wednesday night.) I'm not sure if it constitutes a torch-passing when it's self-inflicted, but to mark the occasion, this year my cranberries are coming from my soul rather than a cookbook. I am digging deep into my menu-planning, flavor-complementing, timorously-creative self to draw from years of recipe review and concoct my own versions of cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving table.

Of course, I also take baking for myself, so I am in charge of pies, and the person with the oven also must be the person with the turkey. So after those initial tasks are laid out, I made further assignments of dressing and vegetable to my mom, and salad to my mother-in-law. The salad course can kind of stand-alone, but it's nice for the other sides to coordinate. My mom decided to go Mediterranean, to bring some sunny warmth to this chilly week (snow in Seattle!) we've been having. To partner with her, I came up with this cranberry sauce:
Mediberranean Sauce
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Tempranillo wine from Rioja
3 springs thyme (about 4" long, with 3-4 shoots each)

Bring all ingredients to boil, then simmer about 15 minutes, until sugar is dissolved, berries have popped, and mixture thickens. Remove thyme, and refrigerate.

But with two 90-year old matrons of Thanksgivings of yore, I didn't want to push them too far from their comfort zones. With that, I wanted something just a little bit different, but still celebrating the pure American sugar-sweetness that is typically trademarked in cranberry sauce. I owe the inspiration for this particular version to Alton Brown.

Sodaberry Sauce
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
12 ounces ginger ale (not sugar-free, you need the sugar to add the texture, not just the sweetness - an all-natural version would be best, with cane sugar and real ginger)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 thick slice fresh ginger root, peeled

Mix all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, until thickened. Refrigerate and serve (remove ginger slice before serving).
Can be made up to a week in advance.


This story starts in 2007, when my mom first read
this article in the Seattle Times and shared it with me and Will. She tried to find a heritage turkey that year for Thanksgiving, but of course none were available so late in the year. Somehow, for the next two years, we never remembered to find or order one before it was too late. But in March, 2010, a friend of a friend of ours bought land on Vashon Island and started an organic farm. Our friend was trying to promote their business, and sent us an email blast encouraging us to check them out, and when we discovered they were raising turkeys, we immediately placed our order.

Near the beginning of November, we got in touch with the farm to make arrangements for bird transfer. We found out that while they had started with four poults, one died, and one turned out to be a chicken!! However, they still had two healthy birds, a 12-pound tom and a 10-pound hen, and gave us our choice. Since heritage birds are smaller than grocery store birds, we went with the tom, to make sure we had plenty to go around. If it was as good as all the claims, we would want plenty of seconds!

As the story goes on, this truly became a memorable experiment. The week of Thanksgiving, beginning on Sunday, Seattle was hit with a blizzard. Power went out on Vashon Island for three days, and roads and offices were closed down because of snow and 20-degree temperatures. I had weeks ago determined to cook two turkeys, so we could taste the standard white next to the Bourbon line, so I was able to get to a nearby grocery store and buy a base-line 10-pound Jennie-O. But getting to Vashon, in the crazed preparations and horried driving conditions was more problematic. Ultimately, it turns out the farmers were on their way to the airport, and so we coordinated such that I could meet them on the Seattle-side of the ferry dock, and we made our exchange in the parking lot. I brought a cooler for the trunk, but that was a bit unnecessary, given the ambient air temperature.

Our 12-pound Bourbon line turkey, before we know what it will be like.

I don't typically brine the bird, although I did last year. It is strongly recommended for the heritage lines though, as they are leaner and drier by nature. So, as soon as we got home, into the tub he went.

I thought that compared to the 21/22 pound turkeys I usually cook, that there would be plenty of room for me to cook two at a time for this round, but I couldn't actually fit both in the roasting pan, I didn't have an oven bag, and I didn't have another pan big enough for the turkey but small enough to fit alongside the roasting pan. So instead I put the 10-pound in at 12:15 p.m. for 3 hours, and swapped out turkeys when it was done and back into the oven with the heritage. Covered in foil, the first one was still warm when we got around to eating it three hours later.

So, the results!!! We served up the two types of turkey side-by-side for each of our eight diners. The grammas couldn't really taste a difference. Everyone else could definitely taste a difference, with comments such as "heritage is 'meatier'" and "heritage is richer" being the descriptors. Two (including myself) had no preference, and the other four all preferred the heritage.

I had read that heritage turkeys are "all dark meat" and I don't honestly even know what the distinction is between dark and light meat. The heritage turkey meat was darker. It was also more firm. It was not gamey at all, as researched reports warned me to be prepared for. I don't think the price ($10/pound) warrants the difference in the actual meat. Certainly, it is worth the price for other reasons: to know the producer, to buy locally, and to ensure the harvesting practices are low-impact and sustainable. But as a Thanksgiving experience to run a comparison taste-taste, and fuel the content for this post, it was absolutely worth the price. We all had a lot of fun getting familar with our local Bourbon, and if you have the opportunity, you should give one a try too!

 And lest there be any question whether or not this bird was "grain-fed," when preparing the carcass for stock, I came across the stomach, fully-loaded with his final meal of a veritable pilaf of grains and seeds.


I have never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie, and while in recent years, I've started to enjoy it, I still never really get excited about it. So I have always made two pies for Thanksgiving, one plain pumpkin, and something else that I think I will like more, or something that dresses up "plain old pumpkin" just a bit. For example, pumpkin pie with caramel sauce or streusel topping or gingersnap crust instead of pastry. I've also made pumpkin cheesecakes and pumpkin mousse pies. See the "Pies and Tarts" page for my favorite pumpkin pie.

This year, with only eight coming for dinner, and plenty else to prepare besides a second dessert, I committed to just making one really nice standard pumpkin pie. However, in the last few days before, I really still wanted to try something else. I had some ginger cookies around that make a great crumb crust, and thought a fall-flavored tart might be a nice complement.

Tarts are thin, so they are nice after a big meal because you don't take a huge slice. Since I'd already used maple in the cranberries, that was in my head as a good pilgrim-esque ingredient, so I researched maple pies and cheesecakes, and decided to try the following creation based on what I found out:

Maple Streusel Tart
1 1/2 cups finely ground ginger cookies (use food processor to crush) (you could also use graham crackers and powdered ginger)
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger (grate over the bowl of crackers to catch all the juice)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter

Process crust ingredients and press into 9" tart pan.

8-oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons dark rum

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Blend in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beat until smooth. Beat in cream, syrup, and run. Pour into crust, filling about 3/4 full because it will puff as it rises. There will be a little more batter than will fit in the pan, you can bake this in a custard cup. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Struesel Topping
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
ground cinnamon, ground ginger, or minced candied ginger to taste

Mix ingredients together until small clumps form. Sprinkle over topping and return to oven for about 15 minutes, until topping is golden.

Note: The streusel is not at all necessary for taste. The tart is already quite sweet, and the streusel is also very sweet. But the texture is nice. Next time, I might simply stir in 1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts into the tart batter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Apple and Butternut Bisque

This recipe is just beautiful and just delicious. While I mostly love to make soup because I think it's a fabulous away to incorporate lots of vegetables, and is terrific for a make-ahead one-dish meal, this bisque is much more appropriate as an elegant first course. It's not incredibly rich, and although the flavors emerge through many layers, it is smooth an silky enough that a little goes a long way. And with the bright golden hue contrasted against the creamy lustre and luxe gold rim of my grandmother's Lenox bone china teacup, even just a few ounces of this glorious taste of fall feels like a transcendent warmth.

Apple Butternut Bisque

I basically followed the Calvados-Laced Squash Soup recipe, but I've retyped it here because I added a couple extra ingredients, and made only a 1/2 recipe (which would be plenty for appetizer-sized servings for 10), so the quantities below reflect my recipe exactly.

3 pounds butternut squash (about 1 large), halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped

1 small granny smith apple
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

couple shakes of ground cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brandy
1 quart low-salt chicken broth
6 ounces evaporated milk
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon warm water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove seeds and brush squash flesh with 1 tablespoon oil. Place on prepared baking sheet, cut side down. Roast squash until very tender, about 1 hour. Cool.

Meanwhile, melt butter with remaining oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion, apple, cinnamon, bay, salt, and peppers to taste. Sauté until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add brandy and simmer until almost all of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Discard cinnamon stick pieces and bay. Add squash, broth, and milk, and puree until smooth (an immersion blender works perfectly!) Stir in vinegar.

Mix sour cream, 1 tablespoon warm water, and ground cinnamon in medium bowl to blend. Serve in teacups. If you have a clean craft/paint syringe, use it to make a decorative squiggle on each serving, otherwise use a small dollop.
Can be made a day or two ahead, reheat before serving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do-Ahead Dinner for Casual Company

I have a lot more time to cook and bake than I used to, but even when you have all day, it is always crunch-time when your guests are at the table and dinner hasn't quite finished cooking. I love menus that benefit from my ability to organize and plan ahead, so that I'm not fussing with food prep instead of friends.

Soups and stews are great for just this reason; many taste even better when they've been made in advance and have time for flavors to meld. Of course, not all dinner parties are going to be an appropriate venue for soup as the main course, but for having friends over on a chilly fall evening after work, a hearty bowl of steaming soup can be the perfect centerpiece for conviviality!

This menu was made all-the-better because not only did I prepare the soup the day before, but the salad also suggests making-ahead for maximum flavor-melding. The cookie dough I made two days ahead, and refrigerated in a log; then removed from fridge when we sat down to eat, and sliced and baked after dinner so that fresh, crispy cookies from the oven coincided exactly with the time we were ready for a little dessert.

My selections were Red Lentil Soup, Curried Cauliflower Salad, and Black Pepper Cookies. Since my guest asked what she could bring, I ask for bread and a beverage, and she brought a delicious loaf of Grand Central Baking Company Como.

The Red Lentil soup is from Greg and Lucy Malouf's Turquoise cookbook, which my dad bought as a gift for my mom shortly after they returned from a trip to Turkey. I've oft heard Malouf speak on the radio, and his recipes have appeared in some of my other favorite sources, so I trusted his expertise. Plus, the photos are rich, and even the surrounding story-telling is above-par for what I might expect from a cookbook cum travel-log.

This is the recipe as printed:

Red Lentil 'peasant' soup with sizzling mint butter
2 T olive oil
1 large onion
1 carrot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t ground cumin
1 t hot paprika
1 t sweet paprika
1 T tomato paste
7 oz red lentils
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup fine bulger
1 vine-ripened tomato, cut into quarter and seeded
salt and pepper

2 oz unsalted butter
1/2 t dried mint
1/2 t sweet paprika
lemon wedges
Heat oil over low heat in large heavy saucepan. Stir in onion, carrot, and garlic, then add cumin, hot paprkia, and 1 t sweet paprika and saute 5-8 minutes, until vegetables soften.
Stir in tomato paste, and cook for a minute. Add lentils and stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium for 20 minutes, stirring periodically.
Stir in bulgur. Dice tomato, then add to pan, season with salt and pepper, and simmer 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, ladle into warmed serving bowls. Quickly heat the butter in a  small frying pan until it foams, then add remaining paprika and mint. Swirl the sizzling butter into each bowl of soup and serve with wedges of lemon.

Notes: I only had one type of paprika, so substituted it for all that was called for in the recipe. I added one cubed baking potato at the same time as the bulger; this was unnecessary, and untraditional, but I had it on-hand, and knew it wouldn't have any adverse effects. I don't think it added anything, but carbs and calories. I didn't bother with the fresh tomato, since they're typically not very good this time of year anyway. I made the mint-butter, but I don't think it added much either. Will disagrees: he thought it was both attractive and sophisticated. I didn't notice it visually, and the flavors were lost to me given the other yumminess of the soup.

Finally, I made this a day before up until stirring in the bulger. At that point, I removed it from the heat, and refrigerated. Byt the time the soup had sat overnight, then reheated to boiling and 10 minutes of simmer just before dinner the next day, it was delicious and lovely. A wedge of lemon with serving would have been really perky, but I forgot that part.

Curried Cauliflower Salad
I loved this salad. I think it's beautiful from all the colors and textures, and seasonal for both summer and winter meals. When I make it next time, I will make the cauliflower florets a little smaller, and the bell pepper pieces bigger. The peas, apricots, and cashews will still be tiny bursts of flavor, but it was hard to get a mouthful of multiple ingredients with the cauliflower pieces as big as I left them (I thought they would be more attractive if larger, but the smaller ingredients fell to the bottom of the bowl.) Otherwise, the only thing I did differently from the recipe was to grate the ginger instead of matchsticks. I did use about half of the "finishing glaze" called for, but I think it's probably unnecessary.

Black Pepper Cookies
From Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1965)
These are a bit of a cross between a buttery-sugar cookie and a ginger snap. The flavor is spiced, but different from other spice cookies, and the texture is much lighter and more delicate. I found the dough easy to work with, both when I rolled it, and when I simply sliced it. Plus, the fact that they can be baked right away without chilling the dough first is a bonus. These are a great all-purpose cookie with a perfect texture that would go well with many ice creams and sorbets.

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, peppers, and spices.

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the egg. Then mix in dry ingredients on low, until evenly incorporated. Divide dough into three pieces and roll out to 1/8" thick and cut with cookie cutters, or roll into a log and slice into 1/8" thick slices. (Use dough at room temperature, not chilled.)
Place 3/4" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Baking 10 minutes until lightly browned, and cool on racks.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Borscht is one of those dishes that we always love to order when it's on a menu. If a restaurant bothers to make it, they usually make it well, and every place we've ever ordered it, they've told us "it's our specialty, and ours is the best you will ever have!" Honestly, it's hard to disagree with them. It has always been delicious, beautiful, satisfying, and unique.

I'd never made it, and with so many gorgeous beets at the market, and the damp, dreary days of November upon us, it seemed time to try. I bought my beets, and then started combing through recipes.

I must have looked through at least 30 different recipes. That in itself isn't unusual for me when trying something completely new, but never before have I been so unable to discover any trends. The only thing really the same about the recipes is that they all used beets.  Borscht can be served hot or cold. Some use potatos, some use tomatoes. Some use pork, some use beef, some use both, and others are vegetarian. It can be flavored with dill, parsley, and even cloves. It is generally considered a specialty of Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, and I looked for themes in recipes that identified a national origin, but many did not specify. 

What I determined - and I suspect most Eastern European grandmothers would validate - is that borscht is what you make it, and if you make it fresh and with love, it will be delicious, and if you try to copy someone else's version, you just won't be able to get it right.

So this is what I did, and it was satisfying, flavorful, hearty and rich and well-worth repeating, but inspiring enough to make it a little bit different every time.

Serves 8

5 medium-large red beets
3 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs (with bone in)
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
2-3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
sour cream
fresh parsley

Place beef in stockpot and cover with 4 cups water.  Add peppercorns, bay leaf, and allspice. Bring to boil, skim foam, and simmer - covered - for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, wrap beats, along with whole, peeled garlic cloves, tightly in two layers of foil. Roast in over at 425 for 60-80 minutes (depending on size of beets.) Should be able to easily pierce through foil with a skewer when they are done.

Cut onion into quarters crosswise, then slice thinly. After meat has simmered about 45 minutes, add onion to pot and continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, grate carrot and cabbage (use a food processor if you have one!) Chop dill (kitchen shears work great for this), and enough parsley to garnish. When beets are done, remove from foil, peel, and grate. Smash garlic.

Remove meat, bay, and any remaining whole spices from stockpot. Add carrot, cabbage, and garlic, and continue to simmer, about 15 minutes. While simmering, shred or chop meat and discard bones. Return to pot with beets. Stir in dill and vinegar.

Serve hot, garnished with hearty dollop of sour cream and generous sprinkle of parsley. This is so packed with vegetables, I didn't even accompany it with salad, but we did soak up the broth with some tasty bread.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

To Be Served on an Octagonal Plate

I wish I was clever enough to come-up with the title to this post, but I have to attribute it to Will. I was very proud to have made a dinner this week of all vegetables - it wasn't vegetarian (I used some prosciutto), which I frequently do - but it was all vegetables. Will is typically a bit skeptical of days where meat isn't the main dish, but he got into the fun of this experiment with me, and said, "These should really be served on octagonal plates." In response to my quizzical gaze, he said with a big grin, "Because it's all sides."

The only way I could disagree with him would be to reply that "It's all mains." I thought (and Will almost agreed) that each of these vegetable dishes was yummy enough to be the centerpiece of the meal. Together, the three made a delightful fall palette and a nutritionally-balanced repast.

My apologies there's no photo; unlike a perfectly-iced cake or a stack of just-baked cookies, when you're vegetables are ready, you don't want to fuss around photographing them, you want to eat them!

Roasted Ginger-Pomegranate Carrots
serves 2

2 full-size carrots, cut crosswise into thirds, then lengthwise into quarters for carrot "sticks"
1/4" thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon butter, cut into tiny pieces
2-3 teaspoons pomegrante glaze
dash of cloves
salt to taste

Toss carrots with remaining ingredients and spread evenly in 8x8 in glass or ceramic baking dish.  Roast at 425 for about 20 minutes until tender-crisp, stirring twice during baking to keep sticks coated in glaze.

Roasted Asparagus with Radishes
serves 2

12-16 spears asparagus, ends trimmed, and cut crosswise into 1-2" lengths
2-3 small radishes, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice prosciutto, minced (optional, but if omitted, replace with 1 teaspoon olive oil)

Toss ingredients together. Layer in glass baking dish. Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables are tender, and prociutto is crisp. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon grated hard cheese (such as parmesan) and return to oven until cheese is bubbling, about 2 minutes more.

Japanese Sweet Potato
I'd never purchased - or really even realized their existence - Japanese Sweet Potato, but it was fabulous. I simply cut into wedges, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted at 425 for about 30 minutes. Really really delicious stand alone.
Here was a good article I found about them:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Intersection of Creativities

If you read my Washington's Bounty Hors D'Oeuvres Buffet posting, you've already seen these smoked salmon and shrimp "sushi" stacks. While these are a fantastic appetizer worthy of two separate postings, this post isn't really about the recipe at all.

Will had "game day" with some of his friends, and asked me if I would make something for him to take. But since he has been itching to do more in the kitchen, I offered instead to help him make something. We decided on these sushi stacks because they are easy, attractive, hearty, sturdy, unique, and of course, delicious! Plus, he'd just watched me make them the week before, so already had a bit of an idea how it would all come together.

When it came time for the garnish of nori, I said "this part is up to you." He held the crispy sheet of seaweed for a few moments, gently waving it back and forth to get a sense of it's texture. He examined the sheet of rice cake, sizing up its shape and dimensions. Then, he set it down and wandered off to his computer in the office, in what I unfairly characterized as his "typical start-a-project-then-leave-it-for-Lamb-to-clean-up" fashion.

When I next heard him clomp down the basement stairs, followed by the whirr of his laser powering on, I should not have been surprised. We have frequently experimented with - shall we say "non-traditional substrates" - in the 30-watt CO2 laser he uses for his beer tap and slate sign engraving business. We take "playing with your food" to an entirely new realm, cutting out pumpkin shapes from slices of cheddar cheese, engraving secret messages into pecans, and decorating egg shells for Easter.

When I made the sushi stacks, I took a rectangle of nori and used kitchen shears to snip it into 1/4" wide strips. In handing that garnishing task over to aesthetically-minded Will, I expected him to get creative by cutting triangles. Instead, he cleverly incorporated the game-day theme into the snack with to-scale seaweed dice, cut from nori by the laser.

A couple of weeks later, Will decided to make some more activity-specific nori, for "movie night"...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Santa Fe Stewed Pork

This isn't actually following any recipe from Santa Fe, nor is it even using many of the same ingredients, but as I was making it, I was remembering the chili verde I ordered multiple times while visiting Santa Fe, and which is a New Mexican speciality. Will agreed that this is a must-repeat dish, but didn't really get any of the chili verde-ness that I did. But since this is my blog, I'm going to title the post my way.

This is after we already ate some, and I put the sliced pork back in the crock to stay in its juices.
I have a 6-quart, manual slow cooker with low and high temperature. I usually load it at night, refrigerate until the next day, and then because Will works from home, he can put it on low around 1 p.m. so we can eat around 7:30. This one came together fast enough (because it didn't involve as much chopping as some recipes do) that I was able to assemble it in the morning.

1 1/2 pound pork roast (I don't know much about different cuts; I used a sirloin roast, but choose whatever is your favorite)
1/2 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled, and cut crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2" slices
1 bay leaf
7 oz can diced green chiles
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground oregano
fresh ground pepper
1 cup grape tomatoes

Slice the onion into quarters, then into thin slices. Separate rings and layer on bottom of crock.
Layer with minced garlic and sliced carrots. Add bay leaf (remember to remove before serving.)

Place roast in center of crock on top of onions/carrots, topping with fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together chiles, cumin, oregano, salt, tomato paste, broth, and vinegar. Pour evenly over roast. Add grape tomatoes around perimeter. Cover, cook 6-7 hours on low. Remove roast and slice, serve with hearty spoonfuls of vegetables and broth and garnish of chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro).

Notes: I served these with warm tortillas. I also considered mashed potatoes. You could add the potatoes (or sweet potatoes) to the crock, but they can get mushy and I liked how the colors stayed bright and not as grey as even the most delicious crock-pot recipes can sometimes turn-out. I left my grape tomatoes whole, and only a couple of them cooked down, but I loved the "pop!" that they made when I bit into them, and the warm juices inside. If you cut them in half, they will become more a part of the sauce, and less a separate ingredient - follow your preference. I actually assumed they would cook down and didn't expect they would stay whole, but I think they added a delightful component to the texture and appearance of this dish as glossy red gems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Washington's Bounty Hors D'Oeuvres Buffet

I developed this menu for an event where I agreed to cater all the refreshments, but where I was also a guests, but not the hostess. This complicated set of criteria meant that 1) it all had to be ready in advance, so it could be transported to the venue 2) it all had to be finger-food so as to avoid the need to rent or wash flatware 3) it had to be substantial enough that guests coming from 6:30-8:30 would feel they had their evening meal. I didn't want anything that needed last-minute garnishes or dipping sauces or elaborate serving methods. I also wanted to showcase local Washington products (indicated with an asterisk), since the guest of honor was from the East Coast.

Smoked Salmon* and Shrimp "Sushi" Stacks
Portobello Mushroom* Tartletts
Tortellini and Tomato Towers
Squash Salad Skewer with Jonagold Apple* and Beecher's Flagship * Cheese

Cranberry* Turtle Bars

Dilettante* Chocolates

Washington* Wines and Sparkling Water

I was expecting 20-25 people, and planned 60 pieces of each of the above.

Portobello Puffs (Mushroom Tartlets)
3 sheets puff pastry (from 2 17-oz packages)
1 pound portobello mushrooms, finely chopped (or your other favorite mushrooms, I used "baby bellos" from Costco)
1 large shallot, finely diced (minimum 1/2 cup)
3-4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sherry or dry white wine
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh
salt and pepper

Melt butter in large skillet. Add mushrooms, shallot, and basil (if dried) and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Pour wine into edge of pan, stirring quickly to ensure all of filling is coated before wine evaporates. Stir in basil (if fresh). Remove skillet from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Filling can be refrigerated after this step for three days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut puff pastry into 1 1/2 inch squares. Arrange on baking sheet, or press lightly into mini-muffin cups. Bake 8 minutes. It will not be done. Remove from oven and top each pastry square or cup with 1 teaspoon mushroom mixture. This step can be completed in the morning and then the final baking completed just before serving. When ready to serve, finish baking at 400 degrees an additional 6-7 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Cheese Tortellini and Grape Tomato Towers
These store and travel especially well.
1 1/2 pounds bite-sized tortellini (preferably cheese, in case you have vegetarian guests)
1 pound grape tomatos
1 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Cook tortellini according to package directions. Even if you don't usually add oil to your pasta water, it is important to put in about 2 teaspoons for this, so that the pieces don't stick together, or your appetizers will be a mess.

Shake together oil and vinegar in a jar.

Drain cooked tortellinis, and toss with oil/vinegar. Allow to cool enough to handle. Then use regular toothpicks to skewer one grape tomato and one tortellini so that the tomato rests in the hole of the pasta.

Smoked Salmon and Shrimp "Sushi" Stacks
I doubled this recipe for sushi rice and made it twice. Line a jelly roll pan (12" x 18" x 1") with saran wrap and press rice firmly and evenly into pan. Use a sheet of saran and a stiff spatula to tightly pack the rice into the mold. Allow to cool.

Remove rice sheet from pan using saran wrap as handles. Place on a flat surface such as a cutting board. Cut rice in to 1 1/2 inch squares.

Using a tiny spoon (or a pastry bag) dollop about 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) of wasabi mayonnaise on center of each rice cake square. Top with a flake of smoked salmon or a shrimp.

Using kitchen shears, cut nori into thin strips, about 1" long by 3/16" wide. Garnish each piece of seafood with a strip of nori.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Can be made two days in advance. The nori will soften but it will hold it's shape and it's flavor.
Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Can be made two days in advance. The nori will soften but it will hold it's shape and it's flavor.

4 dry cups of rice (such as California short grain, like Niko Niko), prepared for sushi.
1/2 pound hot smoked salmon
1/2 cup salad shrimp
wasabi mayonnaise (mix 1/3 cup mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon wasabi paste or to taste, plus 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or to taste)
6" strip of nori (dried seaweed)
1 tablespoon toasted white or black (preferable) sesame seeds


I was able to stack my platter with two layers of these, separated by a foil doilie.

Squash Skewers
2 pounds butternut squash cubes
2 large sweet, crisp eating apples (such as fuji) cut in cubes approximately the same size as the squash.
8 ounces firm cheese such as Parmiganio-Reggiano, Smoked Gouda. I used Beechers flagship which is like a white cheddar.

Toss the squash and apples together in just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cut cheese into slices just thick enough to not break apart. You can make it more decorative by putting a fancy edge on the slices with a pastry wheel or a butter slicer. Depending on the flavor of the cheese, how strong, or salty it is, you may want slightly larger or smaller slices.

Using a toothpick, spear a cube of squash, a slice of cheese, and a cube of apple.

I made cranberry bars because cranberries are a big agricultural product of Washington state, but many bar cookies are both easy to make, sturdy, and make a large number.

With pecans and bourbon, this recipe brought together some of the best of the northwest with some traditionally Southern specialties to honor the southerners at the event.

Cranberry Bars
Makes 48

For Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Blend dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter and pulse until pea-sized lumps form. Line 12 x 18 x 1" pan with foil. Grease sides of foil (not bottom.) Press dough firmly and evenly into pan. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes, until lightly golden.

For topping

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons bourbon

1 cup pecans pieces, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Soak dried cranberries in bourbon, pressing down and mixing periodically. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Boil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel registers 245°F on thermometer, about 8 minutes. Carefully stir in whole cranberries, then boil until caramel returns to 245°F. Remove from heat and stir dried berries, soaking liquid, and pecans, stirring until well coated. Working quickly, spread caramel topping over base, using a fork to distribute nuts and berries evenly. Cool completely.

Cut bars into 3" squares, then in half to make triangles.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I am not a fan of low-fat. I rarely believe or agree with claims that low-fat alternatives taste as good as their original version, and I am a much bigger proponent of moderation than modification. Besides, while low-fat versions (especially of baked goods) often have other nutritious ingredients added, they also frequently end up having more sugar, more carbs, and sometimes even more calories all at the expense of a few grams of satisfying and fulfilling fat. So it was with skepticism that I read Eve Turrow's article in NPR's Kitchen Window about "healthier cupcakes."

Yet as I read the recipes, I became intrigued. Not so much for the healthful promises, but because some of the recipes seemed so truly bizarre that I was curious to try them just to experience the results. I had little hope that any of these "cupcakes" would turn out to be a dessert I would ever serve to guests, or even that they would turn out to deserve a classifaction of "dessert." I did, however, trust that they would be enjoyable. I had in mind something like a muffin rather than a cupcake or dessert.

The version that sounds most interesting and most unlike anything I've done before are the Orange Cardamom ones. However, I didn't have any oranges, and I had some bananas on the brown-side, so I decided to try those. The author, Eve, says she has adapted this low-fat banana cupcake recipe from the Low-Fat Banana Bread recipe which appeared in Bon Appetit in August, 1997. To see just how much "adaptation" actually went on, I compared the two side-by-side, and decided to make some of my own "adaptations" as well. Below is the exact version I made, and cupcakes they are! While I would certainly eat these in place of a muffin for breakfast, I needn't worry that they fail to stand up as a cupcake.

An additional aside is that cupcakes frequently come across as dry, which I attribute to their ratio of surface area (compared to a cake that is sliced into servings.) So much of a cupcake is touching the pan that gives it an opportunity to - if not dry out exactly - develop a crust. These managed to stay completely moist and flavorful in every bite.

Healthier Banana Cupcakes
makes 18

3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Splendar granular
3 medium bananas, mashed
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons light rum

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour (or whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together eggs and sugars. Stir in remaining liquid ingredients and mix well. Blend together dry ingredients, then mix into wet ingredients just until combined. Pour batter into greased cupcake pan, or use paper cupcake liners, filling to 1/4" from top. Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

I ate these plain first, but for authentic cupcakes, frost with your favorite cream cheese or chocolate frosting (healthful, or unhealthful versions!)