Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chicken parm

Now THIS is kid-friendly. Everyone gobbled it up and asked for more.

From Pioneer Woman:

4 whole (up To 6) chicken breasts (I used 2 packages of chicken tenders)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 whole onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cups wine (white or red)
3 cans (14.5 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 pound linguine or spaghetti

Mix flour, salt, and pepper together on a large plate. Dredge flattened chicken breasts in flour mixture. Set aside. At this time, you can start a pot of water for your pasta. Cook linguine until al dente.

Heat olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and oil/butter mixture is hot, fry chicken breasts until nice and golden brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken breasts from the skillet and keep warm.

Without cleaning skillet, add onions and garlic and gently stir for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and scrape the bottom of the pan, getting all the flavorful bits off the bottom. Allow wine to cook down until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Pour in crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Add sugar and more salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook for 30 minutes. Toward the end of cooking time, add chopped parsley and give sauce a final stir.

Carefully lay chicken breasts on top of the sauce and completely cover them in grated Parmesan. Place lid on skillet and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer until cheese is melted and chicken is thoroughly heated. Add more cheese to taste. Place cooked noodles on a plate and cover with sauce. Place chicken breast on top and sprinkle with more parsley. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Israeli couscous with roasted sweet potatoes, apples, and basil

The recipe is really just that. A box of cooked Israeli couscous, mixed with two roasted (peeled and cubed) sweet potatoes, half an apple (diced), and lots of chopped fresh basil. Season with salt, pepper, and just a dusting of cinnamon and cayenne. Eat warm or cold.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Quinoa "risotto" with mushrooms

So not kid-friendly. Still delicious, though.

You can also layer this, with salad greens, into a wrap and eat it cold.

From Epicurious:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 8-ounce package sliced crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
1 cup dry white wine
Grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 2 cups salted water to boil in medium saucepan. Add quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender and water is absorbed, about 13 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to brown, 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and thyme. Sautée; until mushrooms are tender, 6 minutes. Add wine; stir until wine is reduced and liquid is syrupy, 2 minutes.

Mix quinoa into mushroom mixture; season with salt and pepper. Pass cheese separately.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Teenage boy, part 1

It's that time of year again--when my stepson comes to stay with us.

I've laid in a supply of kid-friendly foods I don't normally buy: sandwich bread, lunch meat, mild cheddar cheese, yellow mustard, ranch dressing. To keep such costs to a minimum, I didn't buy cereal, juice, chips, or grape jelly.

I made batches of vanilla ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and tomato sauce. We've got a week of Seattle-area sightseeing planned, including (I hope) trips to Olympic National Park and Snoqualmie Falls. Let's hope having a teenage boy around the house doesn't drive the both of us to distraction.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Earl Grey-lavender panna cotta

Lavender is tricky--too much, and it tastes like soap to me. The Earl Grey in this balances it out nicely. The final product tastes floral, not soapy.

Note: I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of lavender instead of the 2 the recipe calls for.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dried lavender
2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves (you can cut a tea bag open if you need to)
1 envelope of gelatin

Sprinkle the envelope of gelatin over the water in a small, shallow dish and set aside. Combine the cream, sugar and half/half in a small pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and add in the lavender and tea leaves, allowing to steep for about 3 minutes and then strain. Mix in the gelatin. Divide into 6 ramekins, cool to room temperature, cover and chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Penne with roasted sweet potatoes, prosciutto, and pesto

The other day I discovered a Costco with a restaurant supply section. Not just napkins and things, but actual professional equipment. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Not just equipment, either--this one had a restaurant supply section, where you could buy fresh seafood by the case and entire sides of beef. Naturally, I have nowhere to put a professional-grade fryer or a side of beef, but I did buy a one-pound bag of fresh basil for $8 and was deliriously happy about it.

Naturally I had to buy a bag of pinenuts, too, so I could make pesto. Which I did. Two enormous batches.

Then I peeled, cubed, and roasted two big sweet potatoes, shredded the last of the prosciutto, and tossed those with penne and some of the pesto. Roasted sweet potatoes and pesto are surprisingly delicious together. I'm going to make this again, with more sweet potatoes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rhubarb shrub

A shrub (in addition to being a small bush) is a Colonial-era drink involving fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Think lemonade, only not lemons. It's equal parts fruit, brown sugar, and vinegar (plain old white vinegar is fine, apple cider vinegar is nice if you have it) left to sit for a few days to let the flavors meld. It's then watered down, and either consumed over ice or used in cocktails.

I know it sounds weird to drink vinegar, but a good shrub doesn't taste like vinegar. It tastes like fruit, sugar and acid in equal amounts. (Again, just like a good lemonade.)

I've been trying to come up with a new cocktail at work involving Rhuby, and I think this rhubarb shrub I made might be the ticket.

Combine equal parts chopped fresh rhubarb and brown sugar in a jar. Shake well to combine, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours so the rhubarb will macerate. Add an equal amount of vinegar (so, if you used 1 cup rhubarb and 1 cup sugar, you'd add 1 cup vinegar), stir well, cover with a paper towel, and let sit in the refrigerator for a few days. The longer it sits, the mellower the acid/vinegar will be.

That's it. Dilute to taste, and enjoy over ice or as a cocktail base. I'll report back on my cocktail findings.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kale salad with apples, pecans, goat cheese, and dried cherries

Man, I love a good kale salad. Especially some lovely red kale.

1 bunch kale, stripped from the stems and torn into pieces
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed
1/2 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
2 oz goat cheese


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Toss everything together, add the dressing, and toss well again. Let sit for 10-20 minutes before eating.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quinoa salad with apples and sweet potatoes

Spring actually is right around the corner, the weather notwithstanding, which makes me want to eat green, healthy things. However, the lettuces at the supermarket are still looking limp and tasteless, so I'm attempting a spring-like salad out of winter ingredients. To wit, this quinoa salad. I've made a quinoa salad with sweet potatoes before, but this one feels spring-ier to me.

Note: I'm not a huge fan of raw onion, so I left it out and used scallions instead.

From Food and Wine:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 large Granny Smith apples, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
8 packed cups baby greens, such as arugula or kale (about 6 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the quinoa and toast over moderate heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer the quinoa for 16 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff the quinoa, spread it out on a baking sheet and refrigerate until it is chilled, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, stirring once, until golden and softened. Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil with the vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, sweet potatoes, apples, parsley, onion and greens and toss well. Serve right away.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Red wine and bacon pinto beans

So far this month I've spent a little over $100 on food. Not bad when you consider that I spent way, way more than that last month (start-up pantry costs).

My stepson is coming to visit next week, and I know I'll need to get some groceries for his visit. I'm trying to put off that trip to the store until at least the weekend. My fridge is getting a little bare, but it's nothing I can't handle for a few more days.

So, yesterday's challenge: find something fun to do with that last bag of dried beans. In this case, pinto beans.

I got this recipe from the New York Times. Added bonus: it used up the rest of that bottle of terrible Rioja I had. Sometimes a wine is just so bad you have to save it for cooking, you know?

This isn't quite a stew. It's more like slightly wet beans.

1/2 pound smoky bacon, diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt, more to taste
2 cups dry red wine
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
Coarsely grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)
Coarsely ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)

In the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, carrots, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain beans and add to pot along with 1 tablespoon salt. Pour in enough water to just cover the beans (about 7 to 8 cups). Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently until beans are just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat, simmer wine until it is reduced to 2/3 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove rosemary branches from bean pot and discard them. Pour wine into beans and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes longer to meld flavors and thicken broth to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired; add more salt and black or red pepper to taste.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thai coconut-peanut sweet potato soup

I got a 10-lb bag of sweet potatoes from Costco, so you might be seeing quite a few sweet potato recipes shortly. I made a sweet potato risotto (with crumbled pecans on top and three different kinds of cheese, yum), and this soup from I really like the combination of peanut butter, coconut milk and cilantro.

Reprinted below:

1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onion (from 1 medium-large onion)
1 jalapeno, chopped (seeds removed, if less heat is preferred)
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1½” pieces
1 can (400 mL/14 oz) coconut milk
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
⅓ cup natural peanut butter
3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
salt, to taste
⅛ tsp cayenne (optional)
1 lime, cut in wedges (optional)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until just softened. Add jalapeno and garlic; saute 1 minute. Stir in curry paste. Add chopped sweet potato, coconut milk and broth. Cover and cook until sweet potato is very soft, about 20 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender, or do it in batches in a regular blender.

Stir in peanut butter, cilantro, and a generous pinch of salt. Stir, and adjust salt to taste. Add cayenne if additional heat is desired. Serve with more minced cilantro and lime wedges on the side.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Prosciutto muffins

What makes a good muffin even better? That's right, pork. And cheese.

You could make these as mini-muffins, and they would be great as appetizers. Or make them as large muffins (like I did), and just have yourself a meaty cheese bread periodically. You don't even need butter.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced prosciutto
1 Tbsp dried basil
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray four mini muffin tins with vegetable oil-spray. To make regular-size muffins, use two regular muffin tins and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and basil in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk mustard and eggs together, then beat into butter mixture until it forms pea-size lumps.

Add dry ingredients and yogurt into the butter mixture, alternating between dry ingredients and yogurt one third at a time. Beat until smooth. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes for mini muffins or 25 minutes for regular size muffins.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Beet gnocchi

Yesterday was the first day off I'd had in a few days, and I was in a mood to get things done. You know? I started by putting away all our winter clothes, then I rearranged the office and hung some pictures in there--which means our apartment is now officially complete--then I cooked a bunch of stuff. Creme brulee, ice cream, a mustard greens salad, and this beet gnocchi.

I've tried to make potato gnocchi before, but never had much luck. These, however, were delicious. These may become part of my regular rotation. They are a bit filling--I would recommend making small gnocchi, and counting on having leftovers. The beet puree holds them together really well, in addition to being colorful and tasty.

From Food and Wine:

2 pounds medium beets, scrubbed
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta (8 ounces)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3 ounces), plus more for serving
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed
16 small sage leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375º. In a 9-inch square baking dish, brush the beets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake the beets for about 1 hour, until tender. Uncover the dish and let the beets cool completely.

Peel the beets and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Transfer the beets to a food processor and puree.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, combine 1 1/2 cups of the beet puree (reserve any remaining puree for another use) with the ricotta, egg, nutmeg, the 3/4 cup of Parmigiano and 1 tablespoon of salt and mix at low speed until combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl. Sprinkle on the 3 cups of flour and mix at low speed until the dough just comes together, about 1 minute.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently just until smooth but still slightly sticky. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper and generously dust with flour. Cut the gnocchi dough into 10 pieces and roll each piece into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the ropes into 1/2-inch pieces and transfer the gnocchi to the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly oil another baking sheet. In a large, deep skillet of simmering salted water, cook one-fourth of the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, then simmer for 1 minute longer, or until they are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the oiled baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining uncooked gnocchi.

In a very large skillet, toast the chopped walnuts over moderate heat, tossing, until golden and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Add the butter to the skillet and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sage leaves and cook for 20 seconds, then stir in the lemon juice. Add the gnocchi and cook for 1 minute, tossing gently. Season with salt and transfer the gnocchi to plates. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top and serve, passing grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Raw mustard greens salad, take 2

I've made this raw mustard greens salad before, but I think I like this one better. The Parmesan and soy/anchovy notes give the salad a really nice Caesar-dressing-like savoriness, and you can fix it ahead of time. The more the greens sit with the dressing, the less sharp and peppery they will be.

2 bunches mustard greens
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 minced anchovy fillet or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional, but really nice)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Strip leaves from the stems (discard stems). Wash and dry the leaves. Tear the leaves into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add Parmesan, oil, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce, anchovy (if using), pepper and salt. With clean hands, firmly massage and crush the greens to work in the flavoring. Stop when the volume of greens is reduced by about half. The greens should look a little darker and somewhat shiny. Taste and adjust seasoning with more Parmesan, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and/or pepper, if desired.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Butternut squash casserole with leeks and prosciutto

Time for using up random things again, including a bunch of prosciutto. (It's a good problem to have.) This is essentially a savory bread pudding, with butternut squash, leeks, prosciutto, and parmesan.

From Food & Wine, reprinted below:

3 pounds butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 leeks—white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 ounces baguette, crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 ounces thinly-sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips

Preheat the oven to 400° and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking ceramic baking dish. In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the squash on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for about 25 minutes, until tender, tossing once halfway through. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt the butter in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the half-and-half, cheese, 1 teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in the bread and let stand for 10 minutes. Fold in the squash and the prosciutto. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and bake for about 1 hour, until lightly golden on top. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fettucine with poppy seeds and prosciutto

This is my adaptation of a recipe from Saveur using tagliatelle. I used fettucine instead (linguine would be okay too) and left out the scallions (because I didn't have any).

The poppy seeds are a fun twist on this.

Don't forget: if you don't have buttermilk, you can substitute whole milk with a spoonful of white vinegar added to it. Let it sit for a few minutes before using.

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. poppy seeds
½ cup white wine
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup heavy cream
1 lb. tagliatelle or fettucine
2 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced
½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more to garnish
4 scallions, cut into ½″ slices
Juice of ½ lemon

Heat butter and oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add poppy seeds; cook, stirring, until fragrant and shallots begin to brown lightly, about 3 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add buttermilk and cream; cook, stirring, until reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta, and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving a little cooking water, and add to sauce in skillet. Add prosciutto, Parmesan, half the scallions, and lemon juice; toss to combine, adding water if necessary to make a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving dish; sprinkle with remaining scallions and more Parmesan.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pizza: better, faster, stronger

I've posted about pizza dough here and here before. Not to mention various pizza topping combinations. But none of the pizza doughs were quite right.

So I decided to try this no-knead pizza dough recipe. I also decided to try cooking the pizza the "real" way, as opposed to the easy way. "Real" way: put the pizza stone in the oven first, and get it blisteringly hot. Slide the prepared pizza onto it. "Easy" way: assemble the pizza on the pizza stone. Cook. The real way gets you a slightly charred, slightly blistered, more authentic crust, but you also have to deal with sliding a pizza heavy with toppings into a 500-degree oven and not making a huge f*&%ing mess. I usually end up making a huge f*&%ing mess, which is why I always assembled it directly on the stone. Takes longer to cook, and you get a doughy crust as opposed to a crisp, crackling one, but also no huge f*&%ing mess.

Step 1: Heat up the pizza stone, in a 500-degree oven, while prepping the first pizza.
Step 2: Disable your smoke alarm by beating it to death with a broom handle.
Step 3: Turn on the vent above the stove, and continue pre-heating the pizza stone.
Step 4: Get a rimless baking sheet really, really covered with flour. Set the pizza on it, near the edge, and give it a couple of quick jerks to make sure the pizza will slide off. Put the toppings on the pizza (gently.) (If you don't have a pizza stone, a cast-iron skillet can work. You don't need a pizza peel if you have a rimless baking sheet.)
Step 5: Once the pizza stone is searing hot, slide the prepped pizza onto it with a couple of quick jerks. Turn the light in the oven on, and watch for blackened bits. When the pizza crust is sufficiently browned, remove the pizza.
Step 6: Reheat the pizza stone for 5 minutes, and continue with pizza making.

I figured, since the oven was on, I would just use up all four pizza dough balls, make a bunch of pizza, and reheat as needed.

Conclusion: You really do gotta use the broiler, as it says in the original recipe. Otherwise you get a delicious, but doughy and floury crust. I don't mind doughy, but all the flour on the bottom was a little much. Next time I will try cornmeal instead of flour, to see if the pizza will slide off still without the flour.

Also, delicious dough. Pizza-making at home is invariably a little time-consuming; if it's not the crust, it's the cooking process as above. This method takes all the time and energy out of crust-making, and puts it squarely in the cooking process. But that's okay--you can make a whole bunch at once. And it still tastes way better than either frozen or delivery pizza.

Also, prep the pizza on the baking sheet at the last possible minute. The longer it sits on the baking sheet, the more it will want to stay there and not slide right off onto the stone.

Today's pizzas: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, fresh basil. Yum.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Sage Martini

One of my new favorites is Rhuby, which I've written about before. (Now apparently being sold under a new label, as Rhubarb.) I've turned my new job onto the glories of Rhuby already.

That company has come out with a new product, called Sage. It's a very sage-heavy botanical gin, light and herbal and kind of like Hendricks without the cucumber notes.

It makes an excellent martini (3 parts Sage, dash of dry vermouth, shake and strain). It also makes for an interesting gimlet (3 parts Sage, 1 1/2 parts each lime juice and simple syrup, shake and strain).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Columbia River Gorge, OR

When in doubt, travel.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day in the Pacific Northwest--clear, sunny, 60s. The East Coast just got socked with another snowstorm, but spring has sprung here and I didn't want to let such a beautiful day go to waste. I considered the nearby national parks, but they all involve mountains--mountains with  significant snow still, with closed roads and chain laws in effect.

So I decided to save those for next month, and instead we went to the Columbia River Gorge just outside Portland, OR.

You may remember that when we drove through there in January, it was too fogbound to see anything.   Yesterday was the perfect day for revisiting. We saw two waterfalls (Bridal Veil and Multnomah Falls) nestled among moss-covered forests straight out of a Tolkien illustration; we saw the river itself, winding among cliffs and mountains (very similar geography to Big Sur); and we took a detour to drive around Mt. Hood.

Mt. Hood was completely snow-covered (it's the only place in the lower 48 that offers year-round skiing), so seeing it rise up out of green fields was a little disconcerting. In the span of twenty minutes, we went from blooming fruit orchards in sixty-degree weather at the base of the mountain, to a snow flurry, thirty-degree temps, and icy road warnings about halfway up.

Then we drove back down, stopped in at a couple of Portland liquor stores (to avoid that 35% Washington state tax on booze), and headed home.

I didn't get any good pictures of Mt. Hood, but here are some of the falls and the Gorge:

Bridal Veil Falls
Multnomah Falls

Friday, March 8, 2013

Spinach dal

This is the perfect way to use up a big plastic box of spinach about to go bad, and half a bag of lentils.

I doubled the recipe, used green lentils, fresh spinach (well, fresh-ish), and no chiles.

From VeggieBelly:

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 green chiles, slit (optional)
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 plum tomato, chopped
1 cup yellow lentils
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 tablespoon heavy cream
1 cup fresh, washed, baby spinach leaves or red choy leaves, packed tightly

Heat oil in a medium sauce pan. Add the cumin seeds. When they sizzle, add the green chile if using, and stir 30 seconds. Then add onion, garlic, and tomato. Stir on medium heat till they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and turmeric and stir 2 more minutes.

Pour 3 cups water and add salt to the lentils. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer. Place a lid on the saucepan and cook till lentils are done, about 15 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, lightly mash the dal, so that the tomatoes and onion pieces are mashed into the lentils. Add the heavy cream and spinach leaves. Stir the spinach leaves into the dal till they wilt, about 1 minutes. Add more water to the dal, if needed.

Serve hot with rice, rotis or bread.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Peanut butter and Nutella french toast

Sometimes, you need Nutella.

I'm usually not a stress eater. When I get stressed out or upset, I lose my appetite. Every once in a while, though, instead of not eating, I'll just not eat anything healthy. I get crazy sugar cravings.

I guess today is one of those days. I woke up craving Nutella.

And lo! I said, let there be peanut butter and Nutella french toast for breakfast, and there was. And it was good.

It's essentially a french toast sandwich. Smear either peanut butter or Nutella (or both) between two slices of bread, to make a sandwich. Proceed with the french toast recipe as usual.

I had some stale whole wheat bread, courtesy of work, and some milk that needed to be used up. So you see, it was fate.

If you want to get crazy with this, add some sliced bananas.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Caprese with bresaola

Even though I had all the ingredients for this--against all odds--it never occurred to me to make this until I had most of the stuff out on the counter for a completely different purpose.

Normally, I never have out-of-season tomatoes around. But yesterday, after a brief Costco run (where I procured both the bresaola and mozzarella, in addition to eggs and milk and cream and other unsexy things), I ran by the little produce shop near my apartment building. You know, the one where I got 6 peppers for $1? I got six peppers for $1, again, plus a bag of six soft tomatoes for $1, plus a bunch of other stuff (leeks, mustard greens, beets, apples, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and basil).

The tomatoes aren't great--they're soft and virtually tasteless, since they're out-of-season. I got them for a curry, and then realized, hey! I have tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil! I can make caprese salad for dinner! And then, hey! I also have bresaola! I'll throw that into the mix!

Bresaola is dried cured beef, sliced thin. Prosciutto would work well, too.

Stack in this order: tomato slice, piece of bresaola, mozzarella slice, large basil leaf. Drizzle good olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top, and add a bit of good salt and pepper.

Like I said, the tomatoes weren't great. But everything else was delicious.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Apple clafoutis

Things are a little up in the air right now. And money's getting tight. And what's the best way to feel like you have some control over the chaos that is your life? That's right, by cooking something.

Specifically, by turning things that are about to go bad into actual food. I spent the morning doing just that, in an effort to not feel completely powerless. I made a batch of tomato sauce with ground pork, another batch of red beans and rice, and this apple clafoutis, with some apples that were turning soft.

I used this recipe from the New York Times, reprinted below. Then I ate most of it and called it lunch.

4 large, slightly tart apples, like Pink Lady or Braeburn (2 to 2 1/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 vanilla bean, split, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup low-fat milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10- or 10 1/2-inch ceramic tart pan, baking dish or clafoutis dish. Peel, core and slice the apples into 16ths. Toss with the lemon juice in a large bowl.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples to the skillet. Cook, stirring, until they begin to look translucent, about four minutes. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir together until the apples have softened slightly and begun to caramelize, six to eight minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer to the baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the seeds from the vanilla bean or the vanilla extract. Add the sugar and salt, and whisk together. Slowly beat in the flour, then add the yogurt and milk. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour over the apples in the baking dish.

Place in the oven, and bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the clafoutis is firm and puffed. Check by pressing lightly on the middle. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, or serve warm.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Back of the House: a book review

I don't normally do book reviews here (every long once in a while I'll review a cookbook), but this particular book involves me.

Back of the House is about Craigie on Main, where I used to work.

Therefore, I could not put it down.

Quite literally: I stayed up until 3 am reading it, because I couldn't stop reading it. Every page involved a new "Holy crap! I know that person!!" I'm not in the book or anything: it was written before I ever started working there. Doesn't matter, still intensely interesting.

It's written by Scott Haas, a food writer and clinical psychologist who decided to trail Chef Tony Maws and the Craigie kitchen crew for 18 months. He turned that experience into a book largely about Tony, about how his unique food and restaurant are related to his father- and anger-management issues. But it's also a book about the biz in general, and that's the most interesting part, of course. Even if you've never heard of Craigie or Tony, this book is still a great read.

It made me miss my old job and co-workers more than I thought possible. Working there was intensely stressful, very high-volume and high-pressure combined with stringent service standards, but it was also strangely rewarding. On a busy night, the rest of the universe disappeared. Each task--new napkin at seat 4. Refill 34's wine. Check on 32. Pick up credit card on 43. Run food--expanded until it filled my brain, until nothing existed except 34's wine. Check on 32. Run food. The worst part of the night was when the rush was over, when things started slowing down again, because then the outside world came hurtling back in, and I was suddenly faced with worrying about bills and laundry and traffic and whatever all over again (in addition to being dead tired). It was very zen, in a way, and I welcomed the nightly opportunity to forget everything else.

I also loved talking about food and wine to people, turning someone onto a dish or a wine they'd never try otherwise, watching for that flare in their eyes that meant, "Oh, wow." It wasn't all peaches and cream, obviously; I got yelled at a lot, I made mistakes, my feet hurt all the time, there were always people who were intimidated by the unfamiliar ingredients and the prices and would just order the chicken and then tip 10%.

But that's true of working in any restaurant. That's why behind-the-scenes books are so fascinating, because restaurants are full of passionate weirdos--people who are unfit for any kind of office job, who  work hundred-hour weeks playing with knives and fire, who drink way too much, who can swear in four languages, who often look like pirates (galley tan, heavily tattooed and pierced, long hair, hands ropy with scar tissue). Put a few of them in a room together and you know exactly why I left the business world. No corporate strategy meeting could ever compare.