Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hot pot a lesson in Chinese cuisine

Before heading off to Idaho for a traditional Thanksgiving feast with Bryan's family, we got together with my side of the family for something a little more Seattle: Chinese hot pot.

This was the plate of goodness that greeted us when we arrived at my aunt and uncle's house.

There was thinly sliced beef, lamb and pork, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, jumbo prawns, jumbo oysters, filled fish balls and geoduck. Each was cut to the perfect size to cook quickly in the broth at right, which was flavored with daikon and green onions.

But that's not to say this was a quick meal, like your typical Thanksgiving is. Which brings to mind a quote by Ted Allen:
The funny thing about Thanksgiving, or any huge meal, is that you spend 12 hours shopping for it and then chopping and cooking and braising and blanching. Then it takes 20 minutes to eat it and everybody sort of sits around in a food coma, and then it takes four hours to clean it up. 
Hot pot, too, takes plenty of time to prepare, but it also takes time to eat since everyone prepares their own food one or two bites at a time in the simmering broth. Instead of eating in a frenzy, we had the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy the food and catch up on each other's lives ... and make a little more room for just one more fish ball or a few more mushrooms!

It definitely helped that we each had our own flavorful sauce to spice up each bite. At first, my sauce, shown at left, was a combination of sweet soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. I was skeptical of the raw egg my cousins were adding to their sauces until I tried Bryan's, and it was so delicious I added a raw egg to mine, too.

Later, we added leafy veggies and udon to the pot and let them simmer, rounding out our protein-heavy meal.

Thanks a bunch to Burly, Sandy, Rosenna and Ruth for inviting us over for this delicious meal!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anchovy pasta is delicious at midnight and anytime

Since recently eating Bigoli at Anchovies & Olives, I've been obsessed with creating my own anchovy-based pasta dish. It didn't take long.

The first recipe I found, Midnight Pasta with Garlic, Anchovy, Capers and Red Pepper is so delicious, you don't even need the optional dusting of Parmesan cheese listed in the recipe. And if your pantry is stocked up enough with pasta, anchovies and capers, you can whip it up anytime.

It'd be a dangerous go-to dish, except the anchovies are actually extremely high in protein as well as healthy fats. No guilt here for this delicious midnight and anytime snack!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's not Mom's congee, but it's still delicious

One of my biggest neglects of this blog so far is never writing about one of Mom's most wonderful, magical comfort foods: congee.

I've asked her more than once how she makes it, but like most of her dishes it's a work in progress that is hard to pin down an exact recipe for. The most recent explanation required marinating chicken for days, using homemade chicken stock, cooking the congee for hours and hours ... I was instantly dismayed.

And it's not just because the process is long. It's more that I know I won't like the congee that I make as much as hers. Unless ... I make a completely different recipe.

So that's what I'm doing right now, as I sit sniffling with a head cold and trying REALLY hard to not call Mom and ask her to bring me some congee. I am a grown woman, dammit, and I can make my own health remedies (unless I have the flu, in which case I most certainly would ask Mommy to bring me some congee!)!

Luckily, I just learned a simple congee recipe in my Therapeutic Cooking class with Jennifer Adler, in which she simply threw all of the ingredients in a pressure cooker then served it to us drooling students. First, I'll share her written recipe with you, then I'll share with you my version, which is pictured above, so you can experiment with both:


Serves: 4
Preperation time: 3 + hours
Active time: 15 minutes

Congee is a long-simmered, rice porridge soup. According to Chinese medicine, simmering this soup for three hours balances the yin and yang of each ingredient, making it highly medicinal and easy to assimilate.

Congee is easy to make in a crock pot. Put the soup together before going to bed and wake up to this satisfying porridge. You can also put it together before going to work and the soup will be ready when you come home.

3/4 cup long grain rice
9 cups water or stock
1 4-inch piece kombu seaweed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ume plum vinegar or to taste
1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast
4 eggs
2 scallions, chopped
optional addition: sauteed mushrooms

Place rice, water, kombu and salt in a 3-quart soup pot or crock pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to very slow simmer and cook for at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours. Add additional liquid if necessary. Prior to serving remove the kombu, add the chicken and crack the eggs onto the top of the congee. Do not stir the egg in. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the eggs have cooked to desired texture. Garnish with scallions and optional mushrooms.

Copyright 2009, J. Adler, original recipe

Not Your Asain Mother's Congee

3/4 cup brown long grain rice
8 cups chicken stock
1 handful dried shitake mushrooms
1-inch piece ginger, sliced
1 clove ginger, minced
1/4 cup chopped carrot
1/4 cup chopped celery
4-inch piece kombu seaweed
4 eggs
Beet greens or other green leafy vegetables

Place rice, chicken stock, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, carrot, celery and kombu in a pressure cooker. After pot has come up to pressure, cook for 1 hour or longer, until soup reaches porridge-like consistency. After congee has thickened, remove ginger, blend the kombu separately and stir it in (or remove), then crack the eggs into the congee and simmer for about 10 minutes (like you would poach an egg). Place a handful of beet greens or other green leafy vegetables in a bowl, then ladle congee on top to soften. Add seasonings to taste (i.e. garlic-chili sauce, soy sauce or amino acids).

THE VERDICT: Indeed, it is not my mother's congee. I much prefer the less healthy century eggs Mom sometimes puts in congee over fresh eggs, but on the other hand, I also think using brown rice gives it a much richer flavor and nuttier texture. Nothing beat's Mom's congee, and one of these days I will get a recipe to you, but in the meantime I hope this will suffice!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicken Marbella is a sweet-and-salty crowd-pleaser

When I first saw the recipe for Chicken Marbella, I did not think the combination of prunes and olives would go over well with Bryan. He seems to think that he doesn't like fruit with his savory foods, even though he raves about that combination just about every time he tries it.

Easy solution: I just don't tell him. Makes it easy when the recipe has a name like Chicken Marbella, and smells so delicious when it comes out of the oven that he's more concerned with getting that first bite in his mouth than needing to know what the ingredients are.

It's certainly a tactic that works when you've got an ingredient like prunes, even though they are used pretty sparsely in this recipe. Honestly, prunes are hardly an ingredient most people would think of putting in anything but a dessert, if at all.

But in a sweet-and-salty dish such as Chicken Marbella, the prunes add a boldness to the dish that makes it a sure crowd-pleaser among even those picky eaters. Just keep the ingredient list to yourself until after everyone has raved about your dish!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Adding flavor that's not sugar to oatmeal

There can never be too many recipes for creative ways to eat hot cereal.

Although my recent favorite is Maple Buckwheat Groats with Pears and Dried Currents, I may have found a new go-to with the above-pictured Oatmeal with Berry Compote.

I've actually been meaning to make this recipe since I posted it sans photo to the Bastyr recipes pages in February, both to see how delicious a cancer-fighting meal could taste and so I could finally add a photo to the recipe (which is why the photo on the link is identical to the above photo!).

It tastes good and it fights cancer? I'd be willing to eat this every day for that trade-off!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Arroz con Pollo an easy substitute for paella

So I thought I knew what paella was and that I had eaten and enjoyed it, but until last month, I apparently had never really had paella.

Now this is paella. I apologize that there's nothing in the photo to show you how incredibly huge this dish was, but realizing that all of those wedges on the corners are lemons oughtta help!

Bryan and I indulged in this deliciousness last month at one of the Thursday Night Chef's Dinners at The Wandering Cafe, a catering company in our neighborhood that swings its doors open for special parties throughout the year. You can read more about all of the other delicious courses we ate that night on a blog post I wrote for Maple Leaf Life.

As for the paella, after watching chef and owner Kristine Pottle slaving over her giant skillet for at least an hour, I'm not sure I want to follow in her footsteps. After browning the meats (which included chorizo, gigantic and delicious shrimp, and what Bryan called the best chicken he'd ever had), she slowly poured ladle after ladle of broth into the rice, which I know I do for risotto, but it's hard enough when I'm just using a regular stockpot rather than a giant skillet!

Needless to say, I found a shortcut tonight that though not even half as good as Kristine's paella, is sufficient for Bryan and me and doesn't require me to buy a paella pan and other "must-have" accessories.

Arroz con Pollo from Greg Atkinson's "West Coast Cooking." Similar to the paella, I started by browning the sausage (I used spicy Italian sausage because good chorizo is so hard to find!), then browning the chicken. Onions came next, then the rice mixed with smoked spicy paprika, diced canned tomatoes and beer(!). Instead of pouring ladle after ladle of broth into it like Kristine did for the paella, I just threw the meat back in and let it cook for 35 minutes. Green peas on top are the finishing touch (and no, Bryan did not tell me that these chicken thighs were better than Kristine's!).

Love this book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Drunk pears waiting for winter!

I love it when I spend two days cooking for a party, then get sooo much more from my guests when they arrive. There were chips and dips, cheese and crackers and sausages, side dishes galore, and more beer and wine than Bryan and I will be able to drink in a month!

And a few guests even brought gifts from their own gardens for me to indulge in the days to come. It didn't take long for me to take advantage of the pears from Adam, Emily and Penny, especially after I found this recipe for Canning Pears Mulled in Red Wine. Since I'd never canned pears before, I looked online and was immediately smitten by this recipe. I didn't even bother looking at any other ones!

The wine syrup smelled delicious, the pears were juicy and crunchy, there is no way these won't be the best pears EVER!!! I'll let you know this winter when I'm in the mood for some drunk pears on ice cream!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The anti-Mom CHEESY Spinach Enchiladas

Last night I went to Mom's and she had quesadilla appetizers waiting for me when I walked in the door. They were delicious. I couldn't get her to tell me exactly what was in them, a few dashes of dried Thai chile pepper, a tiny bit of curry — and just a smidge, I mean a smidge, of cheese.

I don't know how she can use so little cheese in a meal that is supposed to be mainly cheese, but she does it. So what do I do? I ruin it.

I know! That's what I get for following an Emeril recipe for Spinach Enchiladas. Loads and loads of cheese. I used queso blanco, cotija and pepper jack, not to mention the whole milk (which I substituted for half-and-half, thank you very much!) and the heavy cream thrown in there.

Besides substituting (whole) milk for half-and-half, I did one other good thing: I used kale in addition to the spinach, which gave the filling more body and flavor. So it wasn't completely unhealthy!

But it was oh so delicious, served with Dos Padres-Style Spanish Rice from Greg Atkinson's "West Coast Cooking," and refried beans from Crescent Dragonwagon's "Bean by Bean."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An edible 5-year annivesary in Kauai

It was so tempting to post all of the photos of the food we ate in Kaui on my Facebook page, but if I'm sick of looking at other people's food on Facebook, I'm probably not the only one. Instead, I will torture you with the deliciousness we devoured during our return to Kauai for our five-year anniversary.

Our first night, after an entire day of travel and three flights (two that were first class so I can't complain!), we crossed the street from our home for the week at the Wailua Bayview Condos and headed to the Korean Bar-B-Q. It was late, and I wasn't really hungry after all of those Mai Tais on the plane, but both Bryan and I couldn't resist the Dinner Special.

Clockwise from the top: bean sprout salad, green salad, potato salad, shrimp tempura, Meat Jun (which was a beef coated with egg batter then lightly fried) and Kalbi. What a wonderful welcome to the island!

Being a sucker for a good deal, we also grabbed a few steaks from Costco, which carries a dizzying supply of Asian snacks, including pork-filled humbao, seaweed salad and my favorite king oyster mushrooms, shown at right. (Which showcases the beginning of my no-veggie week. Yes, I gained back the 5 pounds I lost before the trip, but it doesn't matter anymore!)

By now, we were ready for some Hawaiian food, and I had found quite a few places in "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook" that I thought would do the trick. But as tourists our timing was way off the islander schedule and we kept missing lunch, and instead had to settle for some takeout poke from the Pono Market that was so delicious, it just made us hungry for more!

We got lucky during another stop at Costco and found a generous sashimi tray for two for a steal at $20 — a friend on the island says it's the best deal available, so bravo to us!

But my favorite night on the island was at Caffe Coco, an outdoor BYOB eatery that also was right across the street from our condo. We were quickly won over by the live music by Ken Solin and Co., and tempted to come back again because the cafe offers up live music nightly. And then our dinner arrived.

By the time I was served this spectacular seared ahi with a wasabi-coconut milk-mushroom sauce (and the only salad I had all week), the tears were flowing with joy at the perfection of the evening.

Bryan liked his Charmoula plate so much, he gave me one just itty-bitty bite of the sweet-potato pastry on the right. Of course we wanted to come back, who wouldn't? But we also knew that a night that perfect just can't be repeated ... at least not until our next visit to the island!

Despite the perfect ambiance at Caffe Coco, it did lack a view, which we made up for at Scotty's Beachside BBQ. Eh, I could give a rip about American barbecue, but on the night of our anniversary, I wanted to be able to gaze out at the ocean with dreamy eyes.

Service was unbelievably fast, Mai Tai was the best on the island, barbecue was forgettable, but the view was unbeatable.

So, you ask, did I ever get my Hawaiian food? Indeed, on our last day, as we were wandering around Koloa trying to find the restaurant we ate at before our wedding, we figured out it was Tomkats Grill.

Of course, I had to get the same Kalua Pig I got five years earlier, and yes, I was satisfied.

Bryan also had been wanting Kalua Pig all week, but he hates getting the same thing as me so he got these beautiful ahi tacos instead.

And to top it all off, I finished my visit in Kauai with Spam Musubi from the airport, which was the exact same place I had my very first Spam Musubi, also at the end of our first visit to the island five years ago.

Kauai, I missed you before we even got off the ground, and I hope to be back before another five years have passed!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sweet and Sour revisited ... 3 years later

Back when I first started this blog, I posted a recipe for Sweet & Sour Pork that Mom had handed out at a business function years or even decades ago. So long ago that I don't remember, but since I didn't even remember making the dish word-for-word when I posted the recipe three years ago, I guess that isn't saying much.

Needless to say, when I decided over the weekend that I was going to give this recipe another shot (kind of), I had no idea it would lead to an epiphany of me realizing just how far I have come as a home chef.

My attempt from June 8, 2009.

And here I am in 2012.

I might still be ruining Mom's recipes, but at least I've learned how to at least make a recipe look like hers along the way. I used the same vegetables and sauce ingredients, but made it Mom 2012 style by cutting the fat in a big way.

Sweet & Sour Shrimp, 2012
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup red wine
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or other high-heat oil)
1 onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 pounds uncooked shrimp
2 roma tomatoes, cut in 1-inch chunks

Mix sugar and corn starch in a small bowl until no more chunks are visible. Add soy sauce, ketchup, wine and vinegar, and stir until well combined.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or wok to medium high. Add coconut oil, then cook onions until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic for last minute of cooking, then add bell peppers and cook until softened, but still crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a bowl.

Cook shrimp in batches, so they're in a single layer while cooking. Cook for about a minute on each side, then add to the vegetables.

When shrimp are done, add tomatoes to the skillet and stir-fry for a couple of minutes, until heated through. Add sweet and sour sauce to skillet and bring to a simmer. When sauce starts to thicken, add all of the shrimp and vegetables back to the bowl and toss until just combined. Serve with rice.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Belgian Waffle Epic Fail No. 1

Every once in a while, I'll have an incredible craving for a Belgian waffle, which I usually soothe by either forcing Bryan to join me for a continental breakfast during vacation or simply stopping by my work cafeteria. But after reading about Ham-and-Cheese Belgian Waffles in Bon Appetit, it became much more necessary to buy our own.

So far, the results have not turned out as planned.

Two days after our magazine-recommended model arrived in the mail, we've already experience Epic Fail No. 1. Seriously, it's not even as thick as the normal waffles Mom made when we were growing up!

There are a number of things I could have done wrong. First, I split the recipe so I would only have to use one egg, and one egg makes it a bit difficult to create "medium-soft peaks." Plus, I didn't have any soda water, so I simply substituted it with milk, and I used dry buttermilk instead of wet, which could have been just fine, but I guess I'll never really know.

Point being, I will actually follow the recipe for real next time. Let's hope that won't turn into Epic Fail No. 2!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Roasted bell pepper soup is savory, sweet and spicy

How could I get anything but an A for this delicious-looking soup?

Tomorrow is my final presentation in my Soups and Seasonings with Intuition class, and I daresay I've expanded my skill set exponentially with this class (thanks chef Omid Roustaei - just in case you Google yourself again!). I feel more confident with my experimentations now that I have a lot more of the basics down, and yet I also feel more ready to think outside of the box.

And although this savory, sweet and spicy roasted red bell pepper soup might not be too far outside of the box, it's pretty darn delicious.

Creamy Chipotle Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup
3 bell peppers
3 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced thin and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup crème fraiche, divided (optional)
¼ cup chopped chives, divided (optional)

If you’re using a barbecue or gas stove, roast peppers over the flames and turn frequently until they’re completely charred. Or if using an electric stove, cut peppers in half, remove seeds and membrane, and broil 2 inches from heat source skin-side up until the skin is black and blistering, about 20-30 minutes. Place charred peppers in a bowl, cover and let set for 15 minutes. Peel skin off and roughly chop roasted peppers.

Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat pan. Add leeks and garlic, and cook until leeks begin to wilt and brighten in color, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in chile powder until vegetables are well coated. Add roasted peppers, broth and salt, then bring to a boil. Cover soup and simmer until leek is soft, about 10 minutes.

While soup simmering, heat half-and-half in a medium saucepan. In another saucepan, make a roux by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly until thick, 3-4 minutes. Keep whisking, then slowly add warm half-and-half to the roux. Keep whisking until mixture comes to a boil. Simmer until thick, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree soup in a blender until it is completely smooth. Add blended soup to the thickened half-and-half and stir. Heat if needed, then serve immediately or store for up to four days.

Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche and chives, if desired.

Preparation time: 1 hour (including time to roast peppers)
Makes: 4 (12-ounce) servings
Nutritional information (per 12-ounce bowl): Calories 425; Fat 32.9 grams; Carbohydrates 23.9 grams; Protein 10.3 grams.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stomach-Soothing Minestrone

There are Sundays when I spend the whole day cooking a feast, then there are Sundays when all I want to do is make some nutritious, cleansing soup. After Nate and Deb's wedding on Saturday night, this was definitely a day of cleansing (when I was finally able to move off of the couch!), which meant soup was on the menu.

Because I knew zucchini, spinach and cannellini beans would play a major role, I narrowed in on a couple of minestrone recipes then got creative, making enough beans for both the soup and a bean spread, and roasting a couple of red bell peppers that I also used for both.

Thanks to my chef constantly extolling the values of using a pressure cooker, I finally used mine for something other than beets and made both the beans and the soup in it. To make beans, simply cover them with about 2 inches of water, add a 2-inch piece of kombu (a seaweed that is supposed to make the beans more tender) and bring to a full boil. Let boil fully, uncovered, for 5 minutes, then skim the surface to remove the gassy foam. Then cover and pressure-cook for 35 minutes to 1 hour, until beans are soft. If you check the beans and they're not done, be sure to add more water if it's needed. When beans are fininshed, drain the water and use immediately or store in a sealed container for up to three days.

Minestrone Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, diced (or use 3-4 cups cooked, shredded chicken)
1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
4 cups broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or less if using store-bought broth)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup zucchini, chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 cup uncooked elbow noodles
10 ounches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese

Heat pressure cooker over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and stir until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken (if using shredded chicken, add with the broth), and stir occasionally until chicken is no longer pink on the outside. Stir in diced peppers, tomatoes, broth and spices and bring to a simmer.

Add zucchini and cannellini beans, bring to boil, then add noodles and cover. Pressure cook for 10 minutes; remove lid, stir in spinach and serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Cannellini Bean and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Spread
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 roasted red bell pepper (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place beans, bell pepper, salt and chile flakes in a food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil as you run the machine. When mixture begins to run smoothly, add lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Note: Feel free to add 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic, if desired. Just keep in mind that the flavor can get pretty potent if you're planning to use the bean spread for more than a day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Healthy Pasta Bake in 15 minutes flat

It's possible I overbooked myself tonight, with a Vortex Cellars wine tasting just north of the city and The Dignitaries' three-year anniversary of the Seattle P-I's in the south end. And with home smack dab in the middle, there was no question about whether we would find the time to eat. The only question was whether it would be faster to go out and grab a quick bite to eat or to whip something together at home.

We pondered the options, I pondered the pantry, and I decided the wine drinking needed to continue, which meant home was the only realistic choice. With just 30 minutes to spare, I sliced up some onion, garlic and spinach, and got cooking with wine glass in hand.

Spinach and White Bean Pasta Bake
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
10 ounces spinach, chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided

Cook pasta according to package directions, and preheat broiler.

Heat a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then stir in onion until it begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then add tomatoes, oregano and basil. Simmer while the noodles cook, at least 5-10 minutes. When pasta has about 2 minutes left to go, add the beans to heat them through.

Drain pasta, then stir spinach into the sauce until wilted. Stir in the noodles and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese until everything is just barely mixed. Transfer to a baking dish, then sprinkle mozzarella and remaining 1/4-cup Parmesan cheese on top.

Broil until cheese begins to bubble, just a few minutes, then serve immediately.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coconut milk cools down spicy cauliflower soup

This creamy cauliflower soup might not look like much, but that's sort of the point of making a bisque anyway. It's supposed to be so smooth and creamy that you can't see anything but the color of the vegetable. I'm still learning the garnishing part, so maybe next time I'll cut up some chives before I grab my camera!

Cauliflower is chock-full of nutrients like vitamin C and fiber, but it’s not always beloved when served on its own. This soup, which is just as smooth and creamy as it is daringly spicy, is sure to please both those who love and loathe cauliflower.

Belly-Warming Cauliflower Soup
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small leek (white and light green parts only), thinly chopped
½ head cauliflower, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 star anise
5 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt

Heat medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and add coconut oil. Cook leeks until they begin to wilt and brighten in color, about 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until it begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the star anise, whole cloves, allspice, red chile flakes and garam masala, and stir for about a minute. Add coconut milk, water and salt, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until cauliflower has softened but is not yet mushy, about 20 minutes. Remove star anise, whole cloves and allspice, then blend until smooth. Reheat if needed, then serve.

Note: You also can place the anise, cloves and allspice in a piece of cheesecloth tied shut with a piece of twine. Add with the water.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spread the love with Cranberry Bean and Pesto Spread

While I was preparing for my culinary class this week, I was pondering just what I could do to make a bean spread that was creative. Who hasn't tried hummus with sun-dried tomatoes, or pesto, or roasted bell peppers? But then again, although I've tried all those as store-bought brands, I've never actually made them.

So I rather boringly decided to throw together a bean dip made with cranberry beans that we pressure-cooked (in under an hour, oh my!) mixed with pesto ingredients. Boring, perhaps, but also dang delicious! So delicious, I just must share it with you!

Cranberry Bean Spread with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
2 teaspoons oil from sun-dried tomato jar
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cups cooked cranberry beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Dash freshly ground black pepper

Chop garlic in a food processor, then add pine nuts, followed by sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, all with the motor running. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the basil. Add some of the olive oil if needed to help blend the basil. When processed ingredients have a similar consistency, add the beans. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the right consistency has been reached. Add salt and pepper, then adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with crackers or flat breads and vegetables.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Experiments with Sage and Pork Chops

For years, I've been making Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce pretty much every time I buy pork chops. Once in a while, I'll mix it up and make Wiener Schnitzel or some other time-consuming dish, but my mainstay is just so quick and easy.

However, after experimenting in my culinary class with sage, one of the few herbs my sensitive palate doesn't hate, I decided to try to throw something together with my new favorite herb.

Unfortunately, my new favorite herb didn't add quite as much flavor to the dish as I thought it would, but because I brined the pork chops (the secret to success every time, it seems) they still turned out buttery and delicious:

Sage Pork Chops
3 cups water
1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
4 boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 large sage leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon

In a large glass bowl with a lid, stir water, peppercorns sugar, salt, sage and zest until salt has dissolved. Add pork chops. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 12 hours.

Discard brine, then rinse pork chops and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet big enough to fit all the pork chops over medium heat. Cook sage in oil for 1-2 minutes on each side, but do not burn. Remove sage from skillet and set aside. Place garlic cloves in oil and cook until brown and fragrant. Discard garlic.

Place pork chops in skillet and cook on each side for 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned. A meat thermometer should register 155 degress Fahrenheit. Set pork chops on a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the lemon juice to the olive oil and let simmer until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Drizzle sauce over pork chops and garnish with cooked sage leaves.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A guiltily delicious weekend with Buttermilk Biscuits

What do you do on the weekend with a half-pint of buttermilk that needs to get used? Well, make buttermilk biscuits, of course!

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening, cut in small pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together dry ingredients, then add the shortening and continue mixing until it looks like coarse corn meal. Slowly add the buttermilk until dough is just barely mixed. Dump contents on a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes. Roll out to a thickness of 3/4-inch, then cut out biscuits using a floured mug/glass and place on cookie sheet.

Bake in preheated oven until golden, about 8-10 minutes.

Note: I actually used bacon grease for this batch, and they turned out delicious but not quite as fluffy as with shortening.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

It's been a snowy couple of days for us unsnowy people, so I missed a trip to Mom's to celebrate Chinese New Year and had to throw my own, much less traditional affair. Part of the problem is that I don't really understand the tradition, except that it has to do with eating. And that, I can do.

I did, however, make one of Mom's recipes. Well, actually, it's Jamie Oliver's recipe for Monkfish Wrapped in Banana leaves with Ginger, Cilantro, Chile, and Coconut Milk. But since Mom discovered him and this recipe years ago, it has evolved into her creation and hers alone.

Gotta say, I really don't think I ruined this one. You'll notice that the fish, however, is not wrapped in banana leaves, and that is something I definitely picked up from Mom. To be sure, banana leaves would add eons of flavor, but it's so much easier to just use a casserole dish with a lid.

To impress your friends or family, I would suggest following Jamie's delectable recipe, but my way is definitely the easier option! Here's how I made what we'll call:

White Fish with Ginger, Cilantro, Chile and Coconut Milk
Adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver

4 (6-to 8-ounce) pieces white fish such as monkfish rock fish, Pacific mahi mahi, farmed striped bass or farmed catfish
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 limes, juiced and zested
1 can (2 cups) coconut milk
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 sticks lemon grass, smashed and chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place fish in a casserole dish with a lid. Mix remaining ingredients, except for the lemon grass, in a food processor. Add lemon grass and pour mixture over the fish. Cook until fish is done, about 15 minutes. Remove lemon grass and garnish with sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with rice drenched in sauce.

In yet another Chinese New Year shoutout to Mom, I made Stir-Fried Broccoli that of course tasted nothing like hers. Each time I stir-fry I get closer, but like I've said before, I just need to turn up the heat. Well, at least got the basics down!

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or other high-heat cooking oil)
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 onion, sliced
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
Splash rice wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon corn starch
1-2 tablespoons Chinese oyster sauce, to taste

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil, garlic salt and onion. Stir fry until onion begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove onion from pan and add broccoli. Cook until bright but not wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Return onions to pan, and add rice wine. Cover pan and let wine simmer for about a minute. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth and corn starch in a small bowl. Add to the stir-fry with the oyster sauce, and bring to a simmer to thicken the sauce. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Practicing the art of cutting up a whole chicken

You're probably going to get really sick of me talking about my new cooking class, but with all of the cool stuff I'm learning, I hope I can pass on at least a few little gems of knowledge!

Or maybe even some big gems, like this week's lesson where we learned how to cut up a whole chicken. My parents can cut up chickens with their eyes closed, but despite their efforts to teach me, I've always been scared to do it myself. Even after watching my mostly vegetarian teacher make cutting up a chicken look like a cake walk, I still was scared and took forever making the tiny little cuts.

But this is culinary skill I definitely want to utilize — it's a much more inexpensive way to eat chicken, and it's such a great way to make broth (something we also did in class this week). So since practice makes perfect, I decided to give it a try on my own this weekend while it was still fresh in my mind (and without a teacher grading me on my skills or lack thereof!).

Not to shabby! Well, except for the gorgeous "oyster" in the middle. My still-untrained hand left the tenderest piece of the thigh on the carcass, so I cut it out anyway and just roasted it on its own. Hopefully I won't make that mistake again, but I think it's going to take a few more whole chickens before I get this one down.

We also were given free reign of the spice cabinet to make a roasted chicken breast in class, and I think mine turned out so delicious, I plan to make it again.

Cinnamon-and-Spice Roasted Chicken Breast

You can use any combination of your favorite spices mixed with olive oil to make roasted chicken breast, but on a chilly night this cinnamon-and-spice combination is sure to warm you to the bones.

1 boneless chicken breast, skin intact (or other similar-sized chicken pieces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine olive oil and spices on a plate. Place chicken on the plate and rub the mixture onto both sides. Allow to marinate for 5 to 15 minutes.

Heat a dry, heavy skillet to medium-high. When skillet is hot but not smoking, place chicken in skillet, skin-side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until it starts to pop and looks cooked on the bottom quarter.

Turn breast over and place entire skillet in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: For a more intense flavor, try using whole spices and grinding them along with the anise seed and chile flakes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Roasted Eggplant Pasta sans tomatoes

Anybody have any good recipes for eggplant that don't involve drenching it in oil?

Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" was the evening's original goal. But when I saw that the recipe called for frying the eggplant slices in 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil, I wasn't too disappointed that I didn't have the tomatoes needed for the dish.

Instead, I decided roasting it with onion and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil would not only be healthier, but also quite a bit tastier. It ended up being something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipe, but since I had a lot of tasty things in the fridge, it's a combination I would certainly try again.

Still, I admit the end product had a bit more oil (not to mention bacon grease) and salt than I would have used cooking most other vegetables. But maybe both are a necessary evil when cooking with pasta, since they rounded out the dish perfectly.

Penne with Roasted Eggplant
1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 medium red onion, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, smashed and divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups penne pasta (or other bite-size pasta)
4 slices bacon
4 ounces mushrooms
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss eggplant with about 1/4 teaspoon salt in a colander and let sit while you prepare the onion and garlic, from 5-15 minutes. Blot eggplant with a paper towel, then place in 9-by-12-inch baking dish with onion and 2 cloves garlic. Toss with olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast vegetables until fragrant, about 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times to be sure eggplant hasn't soaked in all of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. In a large skillet, cook bacon until crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Add remaining garlic clove and cook on both sides until brown. Remove garlic clove, then add mushrooms to skillet and stir-fry until they start to lose their juices, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and about 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.

When roasted vegetables and pasta are finished, add both to the skillet with the bacon and stir well. Add pepper and child flakes; adjust seasonings as necessary.

Top with feta cheese or serve on the side.

I'm learning Soups and Seasoning with Intuition!

So, did I mention that I'm taking a cooking class at my school? And I'm not talking about a measly two-hour cooking class where you learn the basics of Thai cooking or something like that. I'm talking about a full-on, 11-week class through our top-notch culinary program — just another kick-ass perk of working for a natural health university!

Needless to say, Mom and Charlie both were not impressed when I shared with them the big news. I bragged about the knife skills I would learn, Charlie said, "I could teach you that." I bragged about the course title, "Soups and Seasonings with Intuition," and Mom just looked at me like I was a fool to take a class when I could just teach myself to cook like she did.

Maybe I'm just too American, but I want to learn from the experts. I want to learn which foods pair well together and how to make my dishes pretty. And I want to feel confident about the food that I'm making.

So far, not so good. Sure, it's a cooking class, but it's a class that aims to teach us how to cook our own food, so we're not using recipes, we're just being given a topic and told to run with it. Week one was a vegetable broth, and although my decision to add smoked paprika to the mix was a bold one, I'm not sure if it was such a tasty one.

But the whole point of the class is to learn, and learn I already have. Our always-encouraging teacher, Chef Omid Roustaei, told us a secret that I probably should have learned from my mother, but I didn't. Every week, he takes the scraps of all of the vegetables I've been putting in my compost bin (onion skins, carrot ends, kale stalks, etc), and makes broth out of them to make his grains with or even to use as a soup base.

When I'd just cooked up my first batch and told Bryan what I was doing, he pointed out that Mom does that too, except she uses those scraps not necessarily as a broth, but she puts them in the soups she makes each day, which is why every time I have one of her soups the ingredients are different. She puts my wastefulness to shame, even after I've made this beautiful, flavor vegetable stock!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Peppers (and a zucchini) stuffed to the brim

I'd had a giant zucchini from my CSA sitting in the fridge for over the week when I saw a recipe in Family Circle magazine for Stuffed Zucchini. The recipe looked decent, but I thought I could do better. And then I went to Costco and bought a six-pack of peppers, and I kinda went nuts.

It's possible I made too much food for just the two of us. It was certainly enough to discourage me from making this fabulous salad I was envisioning, but hey, that just leaves my creativity intact for another day!

Stuffing for Bell Peppers or Zucchini
Makes enough for 6 bell peppers or 4 medium zucchini
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 ounces spinach
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved then sliced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1-2 cups cooked rice
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Heat about 1 inch of water in a large pot until boiling. Add spinach, stir until it's just barely cooked (less than a minute), then dump into a collander and immediately stop the cooking process by rinsing with cold water. Squeeze spinach dry, then chop and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet until it starts to get crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour fat from pan, but leave a nice coating on the bottom.

Add onions and celery to the skillet, and cook until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and continue stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and stir until mushrooms begin to lose their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add ground turkey and cook until no longer pink. Stir in rice, tomatoes and reserved bacon, then add salt, pepper and chile flakes to taste.

To assemble:
Although a lot of stuffed pepper recipes call for you to cut the tops off and stuff the peppers with raw meat, I prefer my peppers (and zucchini) still on the crunchy side, so I like to cook the filling first, and cut the peppers in half so they take even less time to cook. Not to mention that it's also a heckuva lot easier to fill!

Using this method, I filled 10 pepper halves and 2 zucchini halves (seeds scraped out and saved for a later use) until they were overflowing, then sprinkled them with cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook until the cheese begins to brown and the zucchini and peppers are soft to the touch, about 30 minutes

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gold Potato Gratin stars a Cougar in the Yukon

After our amazing Potato Gratin with Mushrooms and Gruyere on Christmas Eve, I've decided it was time to create my own potato gratin with some Cougar Gold that I'll otherwise keep snacking on late at night or at other times that are hardly ideal.

And since I was making steak with this dish, I decided to try a bit of a healthier route by replacing the heavy cream with whole milk. I'm pretty sure I've made potato gratin in the past with fat-free milk with success, so I thought this would be just as creamy.

Silly me. NOTHING is as creamy as heavy cream, and even thought the whole milk did prevent the gratin from at least turning into a soupy casserole, it was not nearly as decadent as our Christmas Eve gratin.

But it was still a tasty side dish to our simple steak, especially drizzled with white truffle oil!

Gold Potato Gratin
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
2 cups Cougar Gold cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub the crushed garlic clove around the sides and bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish with a lid (or use foil). When garlic juice has dried, generously coat the dish with butter.

Layer half the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole pan. Top with half the onions, then sprinkle with half the flour, half the salt and half the cheese. Repeat with the second layer.

Cover casserole, then bake for about 45 minutes, until it starts to bubble. Remove the lid, and cook for until the top begins to brown, about another 15 minutes.

I bet you want to know how I cooked that steak, too.

I kinda cheated this time and used a free Worcestershire-Pepper sample seasoning that's been sitting in my cabinet for way too long. But the real success came from following Leslie's directions on how to cook it (she said to just use a little salt and pepper).

Heat the oven to 350, then heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until it just starts to smoke. Add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, swirl to coat, then add the steaks and sear for about 4 minutes or until it starts to smell like it's cooked. Turn the steaks over and place in the oven for about 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness.

I used beef loin New York steak from Costco that was about 1-1/2 inches thick, and they were perfect after 7 minutes in the oven. So much more even than grilling!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why would I need my own waffle iron?

This Christmas, we got a waffle iron for one of Bryan's sweet young bachelor stepbrothers, and I've been dreaming of buying my own ever since.

But no longer. I finally gave in this morning and got one of the Belgian waffles at the Bastyr Dining Commons, and not only did it soothe my craving, but it also soothed my guilt since I went for the gluten-free option.

There was a time when I planned on officially going gluten-free in 2012, but since I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, we'll see if it ever happens. In the meantime, I'll keep taking baby steps into a fully gluten-free diet. Hard to say no when the options look like this!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Leftover Christmas Ham, Day 5: Stuffed Squash

I've had a beautiful delicata squash sitting on my kitchen table for a little over a week now, just calling out to me. I love squash so much that it's always a struggle to decide on one dish to make. Unfortunately, my favorites are also the most time-consuming: Squash Lasagna and Squash Soup. And then there's the dishes I have yet to try, like this Pumpkin Curry Shrimp or even throwing some squash into risotto.

But most of the time, it just comes down to what's the easiest to make, which means most of the squash that I buy turns into the always-delicious Stuffed Squash. So with just enough leftover Split Pea Soup to make it a side dish, I decided the delicata would make the perfect accompaniment.

Since you can never have too much ham, I replaced the bacon that I often use in stuffed squash with some leftover Christmas Ham, and added kale cooked in some of the juice from the bottom of the ham dish, giving the squash a decadent sweet and salty flavor.

Stuffed Delicata Squash with Leftover Christmas Ham
1 medium delicata squash
1/4 c. raw walnuts
1/2 c. cooked rice
1 T. bacon grease or olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
6 c. uncooked kale (about 4 large stalks), leaves removed from stems and ripped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. broth (use ham juice if you have it!)
1/2 c. diced ham
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Slice squah in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. Roast walnuts in a separate dish for about 10 minutes, stirring once.

Meanwhile, heat medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon grease and garlic clove, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add kale and a sprinkling of salt. Stir until the kale begins to wilt, about 5 minutes, then add broth, reduce heat and cover. Simmer until kale has shrunken in size and lost some of its color, about 15 minutes.

When squash is done, remove from the oven. Scrape flesh into a large bowl. Add kale, walnuts, rice and ham. (Liquid from the kale should be enough to moisten the squash, but you might have to add butter.) Stir well, then scoop back into squash shells. Sprinkle with Parmesan, then place back in oven until cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ringing in the New Year with Egg Custards

Since Christmas Day ended up being just a small gathering with Mom and Charlie this year, we made up for it last night with a big party at my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Burly's.

Burly and Sandy prepared an amazing feast with lobster, garlic chicken, egg foo young (with homemade BBQ pork) and Chinese veggies, followed by everyone's favorite dim sum snack: Egg Custard.

Although the actual custard seemed easy enough, the crust was even easier since they came from a giant box of tartlet shells Burly had found at Cash & Carry.

Egg Custards
2 eggs
2 oz. sugar
3 oz. water
3 oz. milk (can use evaporated milk)

Preheat oven to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix ingredients together, then pour into tartlet shells. Bake for 5 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 360 degrees. Keep an eye on the tarts, then remove from oven just before tops begin to blister, about 10-15 more minutes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Leftover Christmas Ham, Day 4: Split Pea Soup

Although the main reason I made a 12-pound Christmas Ham for just Bryan and me was because we wanted plenty of leftover ham, another reason was because I had big plans for the bone.

It's always hard to just choose one recipe to use the ham bone in, but every year Split Pea Soup seems to win the toss-up. Maybe it's just one of those recipes I forget about the rest of the year because it's so dang easy to make.

The only recipe I've ever used is one I got from Heather eons ago that uses cubed ham and bouillon cubes instead of a ham bone. But since I used the bone, I used 2 instead of 6 bouillon cubes, and it still was a bit on the unsalty side for those who prefer a sodium bomb.

Heather's Split Pea Soup
1 c. onion, chopped
3/4 c. celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. split peas
8 c. water
6 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 t. pepper
2 bay leaves
2 c. chopped ham
3-4 medium peeled carrots
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Easy!