Friday, October 29, 2010

Good to go

I shelled beans for the first time recently. I was at the farm stand, making my usual rounds, going through the French green beans before heading over to the beets, fennel, then the squash. Out of the corner of my eye, a woman walked in and headed over to a huge bin of shelling beans. She filled a bag, then another. Curious, I walked over to finger a pod. She asked, "Have you cooked with these?" I had not. She replied, "Oh, they're the best. They cook up real good and you can even freeze them and use them a year later." I certainly like the best.

When I looked these beans up online, I learned they are called "cranberry beans," due to the fuchsia shell. Inside, the beans look like speckled Easter eggs. And when they cook, the rosy spots evaporate and leave a cream-colored bean. They are tender, buttery and easy to work with. I put a twist on a traditional mirepoix by using fennel instead of celery. A little chicken stock and we were good to go. Fresh bean soup.

Comfort food season is here. Josh and I have been experimenting with our favorite standby dishes. In the last few weeks, we have turned out a decent pineapple fried rice, cheesy enchiladas, creamy polenta, and a sweet/spicy sausage pizza. What should we make next?

Friday, September 24, 2010

There you have it

Everyone is talking about the end of summer, the beginning of fall. I'm not ready. I was so, so ready for summer - and then it came late. I want one of those autumns where it is 85 degrees in mid-October. Kind of like those surprise days in May, when it gets over 90. It just makes the easing in and out better. And most of all I need a little more heat because my tomatoes are just ripening. Finally.
Of course, I haven't been waiting around for my tomatoes. Anyone and everyone with fresh ripe tomatoes will get my attention in late summer. Someone brought in a bag of cherry tomatoes last week. I sat down next to it and made a significant dent in the supply. (Also note that another coworker brought in smoked salmon, so there was more of a reason to stake out territory.) And yesterday, I bought the reddest, juiciest cherry tomatoes to make this pasta goodness.* Why does chewy baked cheese taste so good with crunchy, garlicky bread crumbs?
*I intended to link you to the recipe, but I don't remember where I read it... Basically, it is a few cloves of chopped garlic, mixed with roughly equal amounts bread crumbs and shredded parmesan, and olive oil to combine. I used 3/4 cup each. Spread the mixture over halved cherry tomatoes in a baking dish and cook until the tomatoes are soft and sweet, the cheese is chewy, and the bread crumbs are crisp. I did 10-15 mins at 375.

At the same time this was being prepped, Josh and I put together this apple crisp. However, don't ask what kind of apples we used. His friends handed us a bag of smallish, crisp apples and we happily consumed them. We didn't have walnuts. And we didn't have lemon juice (white wine works just fine) or whipped cream to top. But it was just fine without. In fact, apple crisp for breakfast the next morning, with a little milk... Also just fine.

So maybe with the magic of apples, I will be ready for fall. And crunching leaves under foot. And squash and scarves. However, if those tomatoes ripen, I will be back outside for one last summer salad.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Perfect Pork Chop

My birthday came around this month, and with it many memorable moments and plenty of delicious meals. Josh hosted a lovely lawn party with friends and family. I had intended to play bocce ball, but the heat led me to merely sit and drink cold beverages, eat summer potluck dishes, popsicles, sorbet...

On my birthday proper, I ate out all three meals. Bakery bar for breakfast - grilled seasonal vegetables on a biscuit and egg sandwich. Pok Pok for a light lunch - papaya salad, sticky rice, and Thai chicken wings. And Olympic Provisions for dinner - a charcuterie plate, romano beans with fresh ricotta and toasted almonds, heirloom tomato salad with olives and feta, and the most tender, juicy pork chop ever. For dessert, we had peach upside down cake.

Josh and I decided to try our hand at pan cooked pork chops. We wanted that crisp glazed exterior and tender interior. After a little research, we settled on the most basic, no fuss instructions. I bought two Iowa pork chops and we went to work. Mashed potatoes and corn rounded out an all-American meal. And brought continued birthday bliss.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

tastebud adventure

I am a strong believer in the birthday week. Or even month, if you are so lucky. That way, you don't have to stress about one big celebration. You can spread it out. Have the family birthday cake, the friend dinner, the work happy hour.

Josh's weekly "family dinner" turned into a dual birthday celebration a few days after his birthday proper. Josh and his friend Elise each got to choose a favorite entrée. Josh chose jambalaya, which was thick with shrimp, sausage, and chicken - and spicy, almost to the point of too spicy, but not quite. Kind of a daring tastebud adventure. Elise chose timpano (cheesy baked pasta with sausage). Paired with lots of seasonal salads and crisp, cool wine, we were full and happy. Even the hot weather and mosquitoes couldn't tame our jolly spirits.

After the large meal, we had two desserts. Sure, we were already full. But our friend Kira handled the desserts, and since she is a trained pastry chef, we found the room. Josh chose donuts, Elise chose a chocolate cake with an inner boiled frosting, chocolate frosting, and raspberry sauce. Now I can't wait till the next birthday.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two birthdays, one cake

Abbi's birthday was at the end of June, quickly followed by Josh's at the beginning of July. I love trying new cake recipes, but when it comes to birthday cake, I usually play it safe. If you like chocolate cake, you can bet that this is the cake I will make you. Maybe with a twist. I have made this chocolate cake with the original cream cheese frosting, with orange glaze, with dulce de leche... I pretty much have it memorized, but I like to pull out the faded and stained recipe card, in my high school handwriting, just to remember all the birthdays before.

Abbi wanted chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting. This recipe is fast and cupcakes bake so quickly that I was out the door with baked cupcakes within an hour. I frosted them at the party just in time for the candle. I did a basic buttercream with a tablespoon of cream cheese added, and cocoa to taste.

Josh was out of town when I started planning his birthday. I baked the layers before I picked him up at the airport. I asked, "Do you want chocolate cake?" He said, "I want whatever you made."
I asked what kind of frosting and he chose raspberry - specifically the black raspberries at the store. Like all dark berries, the juice can stain anything, but it also makes a great food coloring. Reduced juice went into the buttercream, with a dash of chambord. The raspberry filling in the middle was sweet/tart and jam consistency. Vanilla ice cream helped balance the richness of the cake.

And Happy Birthday, blog. What a fun year of food!

Midwestern Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda

Mix dry ingredients together until well blended. Then add 1 cup buttermilk, 2/3 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup hot strong coffee (decaf okay of course), 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir to mix completely. Pour into greased cake pan(s). With a large sheet pan, it will bake 30-35 minutes at 350. If using smaller pans, check sooner. You will smell the chocolate when it is getting close.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hello, Haroseth

I love it when you try something new and it feels as though you've known it all along. I had not ever tried haroseth, a traditional Passover dish. But it has a familiar taste to it. It is like remembering fig newtons and rugelach. A mix of dried fruit and toasted nuts, spices and a dash of wine, this sweet spread is served with matzoth at Passover. I decided to use the mixture as a tart filling.

Sweet dough is fun to make. It's a tactile experience from the start, from incorporating the butter and dry ingredients to the little tin foil pockets of beans you put into the shells while they bake. Sweet dough forgives all your stretching and maneuvering into the tins. It's flexible and easy-going. And the sweet buttery result is worth the mess in your kitchen.

For the dinner party, I made some savory dishes to partner with the tarts. A mixed vegetable salad with a Greek twist, Turkish lamb meatballs with accompanying roasted red pepper sauce, as well as hummus and flatbread. The lamb meatball recipe is from Bon Appétit, earlier this year. They were easy to make, but the fragrance lasted for days, even after tart baking. Not an unappealing smell, but still strong. (Open your windows and run a fan.) The roasted red pepper sauce recipe called for pomegranate molasses, which I did not have or try to locate. Instead, I used a bit of maple syrup and a dash of balsamic. I have no idea if this comes close to the intended flavor, but it worked for me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

oh, the possibilities

The warm spinach salad from Breakside Brewery has had occupied my mind for days. They toss the spinach with chèvre, prosciutto, carmelized onions, wild mushrooms, and roasted garlic - with an olive oil/balsamic dressing. (These are a few of my favorite things...) I shared a few bites, but later realized I had eaten all the creamy chèvre bites before sharing. I guess we'll have to go back.

I half-created a similar salad tonight, but my garlic wasn't roasted in time and I didn't have the prosciutto or mushrooms. So, it was a different salad. But I did have pancetta, which was a suitable meat substitution and sparked my taste memory.

In the spirit of cured meat and cheese happily coexisting, and because I was obsessing about that salad at breakfast, I scrambled some eggs and added comté and salami. Oh, the possibilities.

Speaking of obsessing about food... Over the last couple months, I have tried again and again to eat at a food cart called Nuevo Mexico, but every time I get there, they are closed. Too late, too early, out of food. They leave notes stating the reason. I don't know if I should give up or try harder. I'm tempted to start leaving notes in response. "What does it take to get a sopapilla?"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Comfort me with waffles

I don't relate to the Song of Solomon line, "Comfort me with apples." (and title of a Ruth Reichl book) Perhaps in the warm afternoons of September, I would feel comforted by an apple. But on a cold and rainy day, that apple would have to be baked and served with brown sugar and cream.

I am waiting for summer. Spring is carrying on with rain and chilled evenings. The farmers markets are in full force, but I am still feeling the need to bundle up and eat comfort food. I bought a beautiful artichoke and some lovely little brussel sprouts at the grocery. I roasted the brussel sprouts with eggplant and topped with basil and peanut sauce. (from Mai's in Newport, Oregon) Soon enough I'll be ready for crisp radishes and fresh green salads, but in the meantime...

Last week, my sister's boyfriend made a fantastic chili. He wowed us with stew a few months ago. This rendition had tender chunks of beef, kidney and black beans, multiple veggies, and a nicely spiced tomato base. He cooked it on low for 12 hours. He apologized for using canned beans. I have very few friends that know how (or bother) to soak and cook beans. Bravo.

When I studied in Austria, my host family bought milk directly from the dairy. We drove up to a dispenser, put in some coins, and out poured milk, straight into our canister. Josh lives two blocks from a dairy, but this is no rural operation. No cows in sight. Everything comes and goes in big trucks and tankers. You can't even buy a carton at the facility. However, at the grocery down the road, I bought some of their buttermilk and we made some dandy waffles, topped with glazed bananas and maple syrup.

Belgian Buttermilk Waffles with Glazed Bananas
Gourmet, June 2005

For waffles
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • Vegetable oil for waffle iron

For topping
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 firm-ripe large bananas, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup

Make waffles:
Put oven rack in middle position and put a large metal cooling rack directly on it. Preheat oven to 250°F and preheat waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs in another bowl, then whisk into flour mixture until just combined.

Brush hot waffle iron lightly with vegetable oil and pour a slightly rounded 1/2 cup of batter into each waffle mold (see cooks' note, below). Cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer as cooked to rack in oven to keep warm, keeping waffles in 1 layer to stay crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

Make topping:
While last batch is cooking, heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then add banana slices in 1 layer and cook until golden, about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat and add syrup to skillet.

Spoon bananas over waffles, then drizzle with warm syrup before serving.

Monday, May 10, 2010

cinco de mayo potluck #8

My friend Drew and I have been having an annual cinco de mayo potluck for years. We embrace the holiday for the food and spirit of the celebration. And cinco de mayo is a good underdog story. Who doesn't like to toast to that? Sometimes there's a bit of competition to our potluck - a homemade salsa or beans cook off. This year, we had distinct dishes, sweet desserts, and plenty of Negro Modelo.

Homemade dulce de leche sauce. I felt giddy making this. It makes the whole apartment smell sweet. (Bon Appétit - January, 2003 recipe, available on epicurious)

Mexican Coleslaw with Black Beans. I made this to lighten up the buffet. Thinly sliced red cabbage, cilantro, black beans, and a spicy sour cream dressing (sour cream, hot sauce, cider vinegar, lime juice, salt).

Elizabeth's Posole: Mexican soup with tender pork and hominy.

Drew's famous beans. One year I accidentally turned up the wrong stove top dial and burned his beans. Accidental sabotage, mind you, but he lost the competition that year. I didn't interfere this time and they were just right.

Elizabeth goes all out with this bread pudding. When I woke up the next morning, I wished I could have some for breakfast.

Basic chocolate cake takes on a new meaning with dulce de leche.

Margarita and Tostada-themed cupcakes by Jade and Amy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So sophisticated

I love cheese. And I won't lie; I've had some pretty fancy cheese. But I also like regular, everyday cheese. One weekend last summer, a guy asked me out and for our first date, I got to choose the restaurant. Three hours before our date, he sent me an email telling me he couldn't come because he had looked up the restaurant's menu and determined that I was "too sophisticated" for him. Little did he know that I was looking forward to that restaurant's fried cheese curds. I ended up going alone the next night - because you shouldn't let a boy keep you from your food.

Here in Oregon, we have the standby Tillamook cheddar. Most groceries sell the regular brick of medium cheddar, the sharp, and sometimes the white cheddar. If you go to the factory, you will have the chance to taste - and buy - some flavored cheddars. Jalapeno cheddar, garlic and chili cheddar, and my new favorite, the sharp white and cracked black pepper cheddar. While they have dressed it up a bit, it is still the standby cheddar and goes great with regular food. Crackers, tacos, and chili all got a chance to be paired with the flavored cheddars. And last night, I mixed in some black pepper cheddar with my cornbread batter. Topped with chili, it becomes so sophisticated.

You could use this tasty cornbread recipe from Epicurious or you could just perk up your favorite box mix. I'm not here to judge. Same goes for the chili. It's easy to make from scratch, and I would recommend that if you have the time, but there are some fine tasting cans out there. This dinner is all about the cheese.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

pure poison

Drew's birthday was last weekend. Elizabeth made him a beautiful twelve layer Chocolate Cinnamon Torte. It reminded me of the frozen Viennetta cakes from my childhood, but tasted so much better. It is a unique combination of thin layers of cinnamon cake and light creaminess. We drank mimosas with strawberry purée and enjoyed the spring afternoon. My friend Erik remarked, "Drew and Elizabeth are the king and queen of afternoon parties." Cheers.

This wasn't the first time she's made this cake, so I asked Elizabeth to tell me the torte story. Here it is:

It kind of takes forever to make so you can see I have taken to making my self comfy in our little kitchen.

I first had it as a kid in Switzerland. My mom had this "Good Housekeeping" cookbook from the 50's and would let us pick whatever cake we wanted for our birthdays. The cookbook had a full page picture of it, it was probably the size of my head, and it seemed almost unreal. Leave it up to my brother to take my mom by her word and pick it for his birthday cake one year. I think I remember her cringing a little, but she did it and it was pretty mind blowing. My mom is a great baker and it seems to have become something of a family tradition.

12 layers of cinnamon crisps layered with cool unsweetened whipped cream, topped with dark chocolate curls and maraschino cherries and walnuts--I'm just sayin'... my brother calls it "pure poison."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Raise your glass, raise your spoon

Easter dinner is a big deal with my family. Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have a traditional meal. I can easily rattle off the menu - and the order in which it appears on the buffet. Everyone contributes. The cardamom rolls make an appearance. There are potato casseroles. My uncle brings his special peanut carrot salad. My aunt makes deviled eggs. And we have ham, turkey, and all the fixings.

After the Easter egg hunt, we have pineapple lemon fluff. Oh-so-yellow and light, this dessert says Spring. My Grandma Jean used to make it, but now I have taken over the dessert duties. This Easter marked the fourth anniversary of her death. Raise your glass, raise your spoon in honor of delicious food, happy memories, and sweet grandmothers.

Pineapple Lemon Fluff

2 boxes lemon pudding (not instant)
1 can crushed pineapple, strained
1 pint whipping cream, whipped w/ 1-2 TB sugar

Cook pudding on stove top, per box directions, using 1 cup less water for two boxes. This will create a thicker pudding. (Reserve the egg whites.) Cool pudding. When cool, stir in strained pineapple. Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the whipped egg whites into the cooled lemon pudding mix. Top with whipped cream.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wish you were here

Postcard #1: San Francisco

I visited my friend Tina over the weekend. She lives above a bakery and a chocolate shop. I used to live over a flower shop, which was pretty charming. But fresh scones and an endless supply of chocolate has me beat. What fun, what food... Wine tasting, dim sum, farmer's market samosas, a supper club, outstanding ceviche, all with a healthy dose of laughter. Here are some of my favorite food scenes.

Dim sum at Ton Kiang in Richmond. We had too many dishes to list. All wonderful. And we walked out without feeling stuffed. A dim sum miracle.

Leah's supper club, with goat cheese lollies, watercress broccoli soup, fennel and pistachio salad*, chicken pot pie on puff pastry, and chocolate dipped marshmallows with salted caramel.* We ended the night with sangria on the roof.

*not pictured

Lunch at la mar, featuring a cebiche (ceviche) tasting, causa nikei, and arroz norteño. Well prepared seafood and a delightful presentation. And I was with people who like to eat, which always makes a meal more fun.

When I got back, I was treated to a vacation-like day at home. Josh and I had amazing gnocchi at Il Piatto, then coffee and pastries the next morning at Crema, followed by a lazy walk in the park, sidewalk tacos at Por Qué No, a matinée, NY-style pizza w/ ricotta at Apizza Scholls, then topped off the night with a bacon chocolate bar from Tina. I am now a fan of the vacation segue day.