Tuesday, August 24, 2010

bacon and egg muffins

I have a confession to make. I have fallen in love with the incredible edible egg all over again. I'm not sure that I was ever truly out of love (?) with them come to think about it. Regardless though, our relationship has rekindled and taken a new turn. This may seem like a risky love affair considering the current salmonella outbreak - but I can't help it. I'm pretty sure it all started when I recently learned how to poach eggs. It was eye opening (think poached eggs with roasted asparagus and prosciutto) and honestly fun! Try it if you never have. There are videos online to help you summon your inner Julia Child.

A few weeks and quite a few eggs after the poaching experiment, I stumbled upon the latest issue of Edible Seattle while out for Sunday coffee with a friend. As if my subconscience was leading the way, the first thing I saw when I opened the magazine was the recipe for these muffins. A bacon biscuit with a whole egg baked right into the middle. I practically bee-lined home to try them....and have made them twice since that day. The recipe is perfect as is. They are best served hot, but are great to grab on the run in the morning and still just as satisfying, and filling, cold. I'm headed to the beach with my family in two weeks and will surely be making these for everyone to munch on for breakfast. Think I can smuggle my mega muffin pan through airport security?? -jz

bacon and egg muffins
makes 6 mega muffins

non-stick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 cup whole milk
7 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 6 jumbo muffin tins (or 1 cup ramekins) with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, bacon, chives and cheese in a large bowl. Combine the milk and one egg in a small bowl, then add to the dry ingredients along with the melted butter. Fold the ingredients together gently until no dry spots remain.

Spoon about 1/4 cup batter into each of the muffin tins. Using a soft spatula spread the batter up the sides of the tins a bit, leaving a depression in the middle of the batter. Crack an egg into the center of each cup. Divide the remaining batter between the cups making sure you cover the yolk. It's easiest if you work with small dollops of batter.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes until the visible egg white is set and the muffins are just barely beginning to crack. They won't be very brown. Cool 5 minutes, then run a small knife around the edges of each muffin to release. Serve hot.

Recipe taken from: Edible Seattle

Monday, June 21, 2010

fresh rosemary focaccia

For those of you who are reading this post from Seattle, you're well aware of the fabulous October weather we've been experiencing. You would never know that it's actually June considering the onslaught of grey rainy days we've been having. Even as I sit here typing this post I am watching a downpour out my front window. It looks as though today's intended hike will have to wait....possibly until July.

There is an upside to this rainy weekend though - and that upside is focaccia. I've only played with making yeasted bread a few times. It's one of those things that seems like it should be easy, but can in fact prove to be challenging. Focaccia, I am happy to report, is not one of those breads. This recipe is quick - only 2 hours including rise time - and the results are delicious. I can attest to that. Once you have a loaf made the possibilities are endless. Saturday night I made sammies with oven roasted zucchini, mushrooms, red peppers and sweet vidalia onion sauce. (By the way, this onion sauce was so good that I gave it it's own post. Check it out!) Sunday morning, a breakfast sammie with tomato, sauteed mushrooms, sharp cheese and yummy sausage on toasted focaccia. I've started running again so I'm justifying this as carb loading for the upcoming week....or month maybe? Enjoy! -jz

fresh rosemary focaccia
makes 1 large loaf

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra whole leaves for garnish
3 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 1/2 cups each all-purpose and whole wheat)
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil for brushing
Coarse salt for garnish

Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Stir in the olive oil, chopped rosemary, salt and flour. Knead to form a soft dough. If the dough is sticky, work in a little extra flour, 1 teaspoon at a time. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 to 6 minutes, until smooth. Pour a little olive oil in the original bowl, add the kneaded dough and turn it a few times to coat the dough with oil. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise 1 hour or until a hole poked into the side of the risen dough fills up slowly.

Punch down the dough, return it to floured surface, and knead it a few times. Then, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large circle about 1 1/2 inches thick. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased cookie sheet. Poke several holes into the dough with a fork, sprinkle with coarse salt and rosemary leaves, and brush with a little olive oil. Cover again with dish towel and let rise for 20 more minutes.

While the dough is rising for the second time, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the bread is lightly browned and firm. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Recipe taken from: Veganomicon

sweet vidalia onion sauce

I'm not really sure why this is deemed a sauce considering it never is really reduced to a typical "sauce" texture. Regardless of classification this stuff is pretty amazing. The recipe is taken from Veganomicon and is suggested to be eaten over portobello mushrooms or on veggie burgers. I would eat this sauce with pretty much anything or even on it's own, spread over a piece of fresh focaccia. It's sweet, it's oniony in just the right way - it's simply delicious.

If you've never caramelized onions before, be advised that you cannot rush the process. 20 minutes is no joke. Keep the heat low and keep an eye on them. While the onions should turn a lovely caramel color, they shouldn't crisp. I promise they will be worth the wait! Enjoy! -jz

sweet vidalia onion sauce
makes a little less than 2 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large vidalia onions, quartered and sliced thinly (about 2 cups once sliced)
1/4 cup mirin or white wine*
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon white balsamic or red wine vinegar*
1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
pinch of salt

* I used white wine and red wine vinegar 

Preheat a large, nonstick pan over medium - low heat. Saute the onions in the oil for about 20 minutes, turning often so they don't burn. If it looks like they are getting crisp, reduce the heat. They should be very soft and honey brown. Add the remaining ingredients and stir for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm until you're ready to serve.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

orzo soup

I literally just made a promise this week that I wouldn't post about soup again until September. Apparently I shouldn't make promises I know I can't keep.

This soup is just to good to keep quiet. I'm justifying the post by the fact that it's hardly "soup" in the traditional sense. Since it does have a broth base though, I suppose it has to keep it's name. It's a breeze to make and I've made no alterations to the original recipe as it appears on 101 Cookbooks. I typically cut the chard into "ribbons" to add some interesting texture. If you can get your hands on these fire roasted tomatoes, I whole heartedly recommend them. They have chilies which pack a little extra heat with the red pepper flakes. Also, for those of you who may want to default to chicken broth, this is a case where you need to stick to veggie broth. The flavor is well worth it. Have fun with the egg whites, they're my favorite part of the process! Enjoy! - jz

orzo soup
serves 4 to 6 (taken from 101 Cookbooks

7 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups whole wheat orzo (or other small pasta i.e. pastina)
2 cups chard or spinach, chopped
1 14-ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well drained
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
good quality extra virgin olive oil
3 egg whites
fine grain sea salt
some grated Parmesan cheese (to finish)

Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until just tender - about ten minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach;In the meantime, heat the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and a splash of extra virgin olive oil in a separate saucepan. Taste, and salt a bit if needed. Just before serving, slowly pour the egg whites into the soup, stirring quickly with a whisk. The whites should take on a raggy appearance. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve the soup in individual bowls, with each serving topped with a generous spoonful of tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, and dusting of cheese.

Monday, June 7, 2010

best ever pb&j sandwich

Being the "best ever" peanut butter and jelly sandwich sounds like a lot to live up to. I can remember many fabulous pb&j sandwiches at this very moment. This one however takes the cake, or maybe the bacon as it turns out. The inspiration for this sandwich came from a local downtown bakery here in Seattle. A bakery that uses at least a pound of butter in every cookie they make. The smell of these cookies alone has almost deterred from me going to work in the morning. This same bakery also makes a wide array of sandwiches, one of which led to the best ever pb&j. Peanut butter, cranberry blueberry spread, bananas, granny smith apples....it couldn't get much better. Enter bacon. Peanut butter and bacon are an obvious match, but with the apples and bananas, this combination borders on heavenly. It's the perfect blend of savory sweetness. Grab a napkin and a tall glass of milk - this sandwich needs both. Enjoy! - jz

best ever pb&j sandwich
makes 2 sandwiches (could serve 4)

4 slices thick cut bacon
4 slices fresh whole grain bread
8 tablespoons natural chunky peanut butter
4 teaspoons Crofter's Super Fruit Spread
1 small granny smith apple, thinly sliced
1 banana, cut lengthwise into strips

Cook bacon according to package directions. Set aside on paper napkins to cool and drain. Spread each slice of bread with two tablespoons of peanut butter then 1 teaspoon of fruit spread. Layer two pieces of bread with approximately half the sliced apples on each. Layer the remaining two pieces of bread with half the banana on each and then half the bacon. Carefully join together an apple side with a banana side. Give the whole sandwich a good "smash," cut into halves and serve.

Monday, April 26, 2010

mini calzones with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomatoes

It's Monday. Again.

I realize Monday comes every week, but every weekend I find myself hoping it would hold off for just a day longer. This weekend was no exception. I spent my Friday catching up with one of my favorite people, my Saturday hosting a birthday dinner party and my Sunday trekking up a mountain then eating cheese fondue. A lovely weekend as far as I'm concerned.

It's not surprising that Saturday is the inspiration for this post. There's just no way I could pass up talking about the food my roommate and I made. Home made hummus, mini calzones, salmon with dill - pistachio pistou, rosemary potatoes...mmm. I promise I'll post more about the hummus and salmon as they deserve their own moment in time. Right now though, it's all about the mini calzones.

I can't take credit for the idea. I found the recipe for these Saturday morning as I was pouring through my newest cookbook, Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver. The combination is such a simple spin on some classic combinations so I just had to try them. They turned out perfectly. Well, almost perfect. I'll have to work on my calzone crimping skills for next time. They were sort of like snowflakes - no two were folded the same. Also, using larger pieces of prosciutto to make little "bundles" with the mozzarella, basil and tomatoes would probably keep the calzones from leaking their insides while baking. All in all, these were worth the effort and will be making repeat appearances at dinner parties to come.

The original recipe did not include specific quantities for the ingredients. I've approximated here just to making shopping easier. Enjoy!

mini calzones with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomatoes
makes approximately 20

1 package frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
12 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
16 ounces fresh mozzarella balls
cherry tomatoes, halved
fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten
splash of milk (for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll the puff pastry out on a lightly flour dusted surface until just under a 1/4 inch thick. Using a 5 inch plate as a template, cut out about 7 circles. On one half of each circle lay a slice of prosciutto, followed by large thumbed sized piece of mozzarella, a cherry tomato half and a fresh basil leaf. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wrap the prosciutto around the filling to hold it together, then egg wash the edges of the pastry and fold it in half. Pinch or crimp the sides together so the filling won't leak out. Bake until golden brown and crisp on the outside.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

truffle popcorn

I have great news! My cleanse is finally over. I'll have you know that it ended with plates of sushi and all the appropriate accompaniments. And it was lovely.

In that same vein, I've been reacquainting myself with many other foods and beverages. Last night was no exception. After a few bottles of yummy red wine, it was time for snacks. Enter popcorn. Not just any popcorn. Truffle popcorn. 

Truffle popcorn can made a few different ways depending on what you have on hand at home. Last night I used truffle oil because I was at a friend's house. But typically, when I'm home, I make it with truffle salt. While the two have almost the same flavor, I think the salt is a little easier to distribute over the popcorn so that each bite is packed with tons of flavor. Plus, the salt gives you an excuse to add melted butter. Enjoy!

truffle popcorn
makes one large bowl 
(or a few little ones)

4 cups unsalted popped popcorn
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-2 teaspoons good quality truffle salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Add melted butter to popped popcorn slowly, stirring to distribute. Add truffle salt in portions, to taste. Finish wish parmesan cheese if using. Stir well to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

viceroy burgers

Sundays are for cheaters. At least according to my friend Paul they are.

This past Sunday, I buckled under the pressure. I cheated.

For those of you who are pure at heart (or maybe for those of you who aren't so pure at heart), don't get too excited.  I wasn't part of a steamy sordid affair with a somehow inappropriate but incredibly good looking man. I'm in the middle of a two week cleanse and Sunday I gave in to a deliciously sinful burger. A burger that was worth every moment. Let me explain.

The inspiration for these burgers came long before my cleanse started and consequently a long way from home. I spent a week in Palm Springs this past February in the fabulous Viceroy Hotel which is home to a little restaurant called Citron. The restaurant was of course overpriced as most hotel restaurants are. So instead of ordering a $20 cheeseburger while lounging by the pool, my friend Jill jotted down all the ingredients to the Viceroy Burger. Horseradish aoli, balsamic onions, gruyere, bacon, blue cheese and arugula. Not one type of cheese, but two. And bacon. Now you see where the word sinful comes into play.

You can imagine my delight when she called me Sunday not only to invite me over for dinner, but to tell me we'd be making Viceroy Burgers. Then I found out Sundays are for cheaters. Perfect!

viceroy burgers
makes 4

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
3 - 4 tablespoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 small sweet onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons horseradish
6 strips thickly sliced bacon, cooked
gruyere cheese, sliced
blue cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups arugula
4 whole grain rolls or buns

Season ground beef with Montreal Steak Seasoning and form into 4 patties.

Melt butter over low heat in a small skillet. Add sliced onions and cook slowly until they begin to caramelize, about 15 - 20 minutes. Meanwhile combine horseradish and mayonnaise. Set aside. Add balsamic to skillet and allow onions to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Place burgers on hot grill and allow to cook for 4 minutes on each side. Top with blue cheese and gruyere and allow cheese to melt. Remove from grill. Dress burgers with mayonnaise, bacon, caramelized onions and arugula. Serve hot.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

sweet potato fries with truffle salt & garlic mayonnaise

There are a few times a year when I miss Pittsburgh weather. Right now is one of them. Temperatures in the Steel City have been topping out around 80 while here in Seattle it's seems as though Mother Nature has forgotten to take her meds. It actually snowed this week. Snowed. In the middle of April. In Seattle, where, mind you, it doesn't even snow in January. The random snow has been interspersed with days of hail, wind, rain and of course just enough sunshine to remind us all of what we're missing. Thank you Mother Nature. Please re-fill your prescriptions and start thinking happy (sunny) thoughts.

The few days of sunshine have left me aching to get my grill out. (I'm sorry to report that it is sitting idly in my garage. I'm afraid the thing might blow away in a freak windstorm!) Even though grill season hasn't exactly started, I've already been brainstorming about what wonderful things I can grill up once it's time. These sweet potato fries are a result of the thought process. While they don't require a grill, they will pair wonderfully with many outdoor inspired meals. Plus, this gave me a chance to try out my new mandolin slicer. If you've never had a sweet potato fry, it's time to broaden your fry horizon. They're amazing... of course, most things dipped in mayonnaise are. Enjoy!

sweet potato fries with truffle salt & garlic mayonnaise
makes 4 to 6 servings

5 sweet potatoes, cut into about 1 by 5 inch "fries"
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons truffle salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, minced then crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the sweet potato "fries" on a foil lined baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir to combine. When the sweet potato fries come out of the oven, sprinkle with truffle salt and pepper. Serve with the garlic mayonnaise along side for dipping.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pick of the Month: Waffle Iron

I must apologize. I was incredibly absent during the month of March. It came in like a lion...and I have yet to experience the "lamb" like end.

Since March has been so crazy and I'm posting it's Pick of the Month in April, I've decided that the item is going to be something that is merely on my wish list - a waffle iron! The reason I want a waffle iron is really quite simple. I love waffles. I love everything about them. Sorry pancakes. You may be my breakfast mistress but when it comes to true love, it's all about waffles. Slathered in peanut butter, swimming in syrup...maybe topped with fried chicken and gravy? Oh yes. For those of you who think chicken and waffles sounds like a bad idea, please see the photo to your right. I dare you to try it and still have the same opinion. This picture was taken in Brooklyn and I still practically drool every time I see it.

Maybe April will finally be the month I take a waffle iron off my wish list and put it in my kitchen. Now I just need to work on a good chicken recipe....

Monday, March 22, 2010

sunny day couscous salad

We've finally turned the clocks ahead which means summer is on the bend....finally! I, like many others, have been impatiently waiting for warmer weather. While balmy days aren't here just yet, the sun has been making an appearance in Seattle. Anyone who lives here knows that even a glimmer of sunshine gets everyone out of hibernation and onto the trails; which is exactly where I ended up the weekend before last.

Since going for a hike was a last minute idea and stock from our last CSA box was running low, snacks for the trail were in short supply. After scrounging through the pantry and the fridge, I threw together the following salad. Couscous can be eaten cold making it perfect for picnics or hiking. I added zucchini, mushrooms and green onions to this version but honestly, pretty much anything could work! The cashews added a nice crunch and some protein too. Enjoy!

sunny day couscous salad
makes 2 - 3 large servings

1 cup couscous
1 tablespoon butter
1 small zucchini, sliced
4-5 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped cashews

Prepare couscous according to package directions. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini, mushrooms and green onions. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables, raisins and chopped cashews to fluffed couscous. Mix to combine. Salt to taste. Allow to cool before serving.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pick of the Month: Cutting Boards

I know. Cutting boards are nothing new. Nor are they some sort of wish list item that I have been pining for in my kitchen. They do deserve some discussion though since they are a mainstay in any kitchen and consequently take a lot of abuse. It’s hard to have a conversation about cutting boards without talking about knives at the same time. In fact, a knife skills class is precisely what enlightened me on this topic.

First let’s talk about the importance of owning proper cutting boards. Mainly they protect your countertops but they also protect your precious knives. The wrong cutting board will unnecessarily dull any knife regardless of price or quality. Unfortunately dull knives are not only a waste of time, they also lead to accidents. You would think the opposite to be true, but dull knives slip or require unnecessary pressure to cut – perfect components for a nasty accident.

Cutting boards can also be dangerous from a cleanliness viewpoint. If you own plastic cutting boards, please retrieve them from your kitchen after you read this. Run your hand across the surface. Feel fuzzy? If it does, it’s time for a new board. All that texture resulting from hours of use and love is a breeding ground for bacteria. Hey, it’s an excuse to go shopping anyway.

Before we talk about type – wood vs plastic vs bamboo – let’s talk about a few other components. Best practice is to have three – one small, one medium and one large to fit any job. They should be soft enough so as to not dull your knife, double sided and anti-slip. Double-sided boards give you double the cutting surface by simply flipping them over. A simple for trick for making any cutting board no slip: shelf liner. Not flowery contact paper, but the rubbery no-slip lattice woven stuff. Cut it into squares that can be placed between your countertop and board et voila! No more chasing the board all over the counter as you chop. This simple trick is a serious time and sanity saver. Promise! Plus, the squares can be thrown in the dishwasher. Easy!

So now the obvious question. What type of cutting board is best?

Wood: Chefs everywhere will contest that wood is the best surface for chopping. I personally have a large wood cutting board in my kitchen and absolutely love it. Aesthetically they’re beautiful. They’re great for your knives since the surface is soft enough not to dull them. However they do have some downsides. They can be expensive depending on the size. They require hand washing – no dishwashers – and you can’t prep everything on them. Meat and fish are no no’s because the wood will soak up bacteria. Also, anything with a strong odor – think garlic and onions – will “season” your board.

Bamboo: While bamboo boards are beautiful, they’re not recommended. Mainly, the surface is too hard and will dull your knives more quickly. While we all know that often-used knives need to be sharpened weekly, who wants to expedite the process

Stone: Again, the surface is not recommended due to its density. It should be noted here as well that the incredibly thin flexible plastic cutting boards are not recommended either. I mention it here because laying one on a hard countertop – such as granite or marble – provides no protection for your knife. Plus keeping one of those in place is nearly impossible. I realize I keep circling back to the same point but where would you be in your kitchen with out your knife? Lost I imagine! The more money you spend on a quality knife, an entirely separate discussion, the more you should want to protect your investment.

Plastic: When it comes to ease and versatility, plastic boards have it covered. They’re dishwasher safe, don’t readily absorb strong smells or bacteria and come in a variety of fun colors. When picking out a plastic cutting board, it should be completely smooth, no visible texture, as the texture will only dull your knife. Also, just like with bamboo or stone, you don’t want the board to be too hard. Pick one that seems easily scratched with your fingernail, meaning it’s not too hard for your knife. It should be double sided – twice the surface area! The one I have featured in the photo here is actually a great no slip board. Manufactured by Oneida and available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, the rubbery grey handles successfully kept the board from sliding across a wet granite countertop as I was using it this weekend. I just bought this one for my parents for Christmas. I can attest that it fits the criteria.

So there you have it! Longwinded, but now you have an arsenal of information for your next trip to the kitchen store. You did just throw out your old fuzzy boards, right?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

mixed berry muesli

I am on my second trip in less than two weeks. Only this time instead of heading to the balmy desert to enjoy poolside mojitos paired with copious amounts of sunshine, I'm headed to the great white....East coast. Pittsburgh to be exact. While I have normally avoided the Steel City this time of year since my move to Seattle, my adorable newborn nephew pulled me homeward this February. And let me tell you, even 60 and sunny felt cold after Palm Springs. Now I'm stuck in a 27 degree snow globe with three - yes, three - feet of snow on the ground. Shivering yet?

All this cold weather left me looking for something a little more satisfying - and warmer - than my typical fruit and yogurt breakfast. Enter muesli. If you've never heard of muesli it's simply any mixture of cereals, dried fruit and nuts that is typically eaten for breakfast. I can attest that it's delicious and the perfect cure for a frigid Pittsburgh morning. Another bonus, the recipe that I'm showcasing here is reminiscent of a decadent berry crumble...but without the guilt. It's that good. Enjoy!

mixed berry muesli
makes 4-6 one cup servings

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries
1/4 dried cherries, chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
a dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup low fat milk
1 1/2 cups low sugar mixed berry juice

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl or container that will hold at least one quart. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve warm (can be heated in the microwave) or cold with yogurt.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

sweet potato leek soup

I may have to change the name of this blog to "for the love of soup" if I keep going at this rate. I just love soup! This weather is made for it. While it's beautifully sunny outside, it's amazingly brisk. The kind of weather that I think asks for soup. Or at least the kind of weather that makes me ask for soup?

Honestly, soup was something I was never very skilled at making. Just ask my college roommate about the french mushroom bisque debacle circa 2003. She can attest that debacle is the precise word to describe that sorry attempt at bisque. It seemed like it was going to be ok...but no. And all efforts to save the soup failed as well. I think the pot sat on the counter for two days before I even had the motivation to toss it. Gross, I know, but it was college. Dishes were hardly a priority. I have since risen to the challenge and now soup is something I love to make.

This recipe was originally pulled from Bon Appetit magazine and called for maple syrup in addition to the ingredients below. I never bothered to add it because the balance of leek and sweet potato was just too good. I think the syrup would dilute it. Also, don't skip the celery leaves. They're amazing!

sweet potato leek soup
makes 6 to 8 servings

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 small celery stalks, stalks and leaves chopped separately
2 medium leeks, sliced and well rinsed (white and pale green parts only)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups half & half
salt and pepper

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium - high heat. Add onion and saute 5 minutes. Add chopped celery stalks and leeks and saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes. Add potatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove cinnamon stick and discard. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add half & half in small amounts until soup reaches desired consistency. Stir over medium - low heat to heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with celery leaves before serving.

Tip: Store celery leaves separate from soup when keeping leftovers.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

blueberry banana muffins

I've been out of town, and consequently out of my kitchen, for the past week soaking up some much needed sun in Palm Springs, CA. After five beautiful days filled with plenty of time by the pool, margaritas, loads of mexican food and the necessary supplemental peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was excited to find my way back to the kitchen this morning.

The house was quiet when I awoke. I unpacked (ambitious), got dressed for a run (also ambitious) then set about getting my hands dirty in my favorite way. On the agenda this sunny Seattle Saturday - healthy blueberry banana muffins. I can't believe I made muffins this morning considering the onslaught of enchiladas, ice cream and tequila I tortured my body with in Palm Springs - but hey, what's a girl to do? These muffins were however inspired by a friend of mine who had stopped cooking for awhile due to a "disaster" he had with banana bread. Disaster. His words, not mine! For those of you who love to spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, you know that baking requires more attention to measurement than cooking. In fact, one mishap in this area can result in a "disaster" as my friend unfortunately discovered. Not only did he add extra bananas to his recipe (for that extra banana-y flavor - not recommended) he also included one whole CUP of baking soda. That's right. A CUP! I'll give you a moment to think about that. If you're conjuring up the taste of toothpaste, and having a good chuckle, you're on the right track. The muffins I made this morning have the correct amount of baking soda (powder actually in this case). Promise.

This recipe is considered healthy due to the minimal amount of sugar in it; most of the sweetness comes from the bananas and blueberries. Also, oat bran and very little oil and egg help. So in my friend's honor - banana inspired muffins. Enjoy!

blueberry banana muffins
makes 6 mammoth muffins (or 12 standard sized muffins)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (approximately 3)
1/2 cup low fat milk (or soy)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen, unthawed, blueberries
1 - 2 tablespoons raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 6 (or 12) muffin cups with paper liners. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to blend.

Place mashed bananas in a large bowl. Stir in milk, egg, oil and lemon juice. Mix in dry ingredients; then fold in blueberries. Divide batter amongst the muffin cups. They should each be almost full. Sprinkle tops with raw sugar. Bake muffins approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn out muffins onto a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pick of the Month: The Spoonula

I've decided that along with recipes, I'd like to share with you some of my kitchen favorites; both those that I have and use and those that are on my wish list. It's the last day of January (I know. I can't believe it either!) and my first pick of the year is the spoonula. And no. I did not just make up that word or the utensil.

The spoonula is a cross between a spoon and spatula as the name sort of suggests. I received mine a few Christmases back from my brother who thought he gave me the most boring present. Little does he know, I have been in love with the silicone spoonula and spatula set ever since. The set I have is from Williams-Sonoma and can be ordered online. They retail between $10 and $15 and are also available in most kitchen stores. If you can find them in silicone, I highly recommend it. The silicone is virtually stainless, won't crack or split and can withstand heat up to 800 degrees; perfect if you live with someone who likes to "rest" utensils on hot skillets while they're cooking. The curved sides are great for scraping up every last bit of your hard work. Honestly, I think I use mine almost every time I cook. Try one out and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

squash macaroni & cheese

It has already been a hectic week and today is only Tuesday. After staying late at work I can honestly admit I was in no mood to spend my night in the kitchen once I made it home. As I was driving away from the city contemplating what would be the quickest and easiest thing to throw together (and not end up eating popcorn for dinner), I remembered the tray of squash macaroni and cheese patiently waiting for me in the freezer.  I know what you're thinking, squash has no place in macaroni and cheese. I can assure you though it does. I originally found this recipe on a blog that I follow called Cole's Kitch.  It's yummy as is but I've made a few tweaks since I have made this quite a few times, sometimes only with what I had on hand. The recipe with my favorite additions and substitutions is below; and as I mentioned, this dish freezes well. Enjoy!

squash macaroni and cheese
yields 6 servings

1 medium butternut squash
olive oil
herbs de provence
12 ounces penne pasta (or any other shape you prefer)
1 large shallot, diced
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Rub the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs de provence. Place squash cut sides down on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour or until tender. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Once the squash has cooled, scoop out the insides and mash in a large bowl with a spoon.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add shallots and cook about 2 minutes. Add nutmeg, pepper, and red pepper flakes and continue to cook until the shallots are translucent. And flour and mix well. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Increase heat and continue stirring until the mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat and allow the sauce to thicken, still stirring constantly. Stir in cheese until it is fully melted.

Add sauce and rinsed noodles to the bowl with squash. Mix well. Transfer to a baking dish (or two) and bake covered for 30 minutes. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle over top of the dish. Bake for 5 - 7 more minutes or until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

san juan steaks

This past Monday was great. No, really. It was! It was MLK day which meant I was thankfully home from work enjoying a completely lazy afternoon. The sun was shining and I spent most of my morning simply being quiet, enjoying some coffee and the beautiful view my oversized living room window had to offer. As I sat there reminiscing a bit, I was reminded of a weekend spent on San Juan Island last March and the amazing steaks that happened while I was there....well, maybe not just the steaks.

The trip was my first to the islands. Surprising, considering I have an odd affection for ferry boats and had lived in Seattle for almost 2 years at that point in time. I stumbled across the recipe in an adorable bookstore on San Juan after exploring the town in a light morning drizzle. Food wasn't on my mind as my friend, whose family owns the cabin we stayed in, and I poured over antiques and other odds and ends. Then I found myself in said bookstore faced with one of my biggest weaknesses, cookbooks. Suddenly all I could think of was dinner. Well, maybe not so suddenly having had only pancakes for breakfast; turns out stores close early the night before when you miss the ferry boat by one car. I suppose suddenly envisioning steak for dinner in the middle of the afternoon wasn't much of an epiphany after all. I started flipping through books and almost immediately found this recipe which was quickly committed to memory. While I wouldn't recommend eating these steaks at 11 p.m. as we did that night, I would recommend the roasted garlic mashed potatoes we had with them; recipe forthcoming. I guess the beautiful cabin, along with the beachside hot tub, great company and um....wine tasting (we'll call it that), proved to be quite a distraction from dinner. The steaks themselves were a hit and have been every time I've served them since. I suppose that's why the name has stuck.

Tip: If you don't want to spring for filet mignon, even though you should, sirloin steaks work well too. The balsamic "nap" will make almost any cut tender. Enjoy!

san juan steaks
serves 2

2 filet cuts
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt & fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons flour
olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Pat steaks dry and let them rest for approximately 5 minutes in the balsamic vinegar to tenderize. Salt and pepper both sides. Coat one side of each steak in flour. Heat olive oil and garlic over medium - high heat in a skillet. Add steaks to skillet flour side down. Add vermouth and Worcestershire sauce to skillet. Cook steaks approximately 5-7 minutes on each side depending on how well you want them cooked (7 minutes should be medium). Remove steaks from skillet and allow them to rest. Add butter, lemon and parsley to the skillet; reduce to a sauce and serve over the steaks immediately.

Monday, January 18, 2010

homemade pasta

I've given you marinara. I've given you meatballs. The final missing ingredient? Pasta! Of course you can buy a box of pasta at the grocery store. Or maybe you even spring for the "fresh" stuff sold in the refrigerated aisle. But do you really want your freshly made marinara and meatballs to suffer such injustice? I know you don't. That's why you're still reading.

Now if you don't have an Italian grandmother, don't worry. You can still successfully make fabulous, fresh homemade pasta. Unless you truly want to go old school and roll it out yourself, it does take some equipment. I have always used the aid of a pasta roller, which is most easily operated with two people. I have since upgraded to the amazing pasta attachments for my KitchenAid stand mixer as you can see here; making pasta production that much easier. That all being said, this contraption wasn't always in existence and I think it's safe to conclude that the pasta came before the roller. I recently saw pasta being made strictly by hand on an episode of No Reservations while Anthony Bourdain () was visiting Sardinia. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to trying it out that way. If you don't have a pasta machine though it doesn't seem that complicated by hand. And just because your pasta may not look perfect doesn't mean it won't taste amazing. Let me forewarn you though....once you go fresh, it's hard to eat anything out of a box again.

The recipe listed here is a tried and true favorite with my family. One batch will make approximately 8 servings. Once the pasta has dried it can be frozen for up two months. Semolina flour can be found at Italian/gourmet/specialty food type shops.

pasta dough
yields 8 servings
(if you want to make more, don't double the recipe; make two separate batches.)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour (2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup semolina flour)
2 eggs
1/2 cup water

Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl; create a "well" in the center. By hand, beat eggs and water together. Pour into the "well". Using a fork slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Once the mixture becomes thick (should be a crumbly mess at this point), transfer the mixture to a lightly floured flat surface. Begin to knead the mixture until it comes together in a ball; texture should be similar to bread dough but heavier. If the mixture is dry, add water SLOWLY, a teaspoon at a time.

Form into a ball, cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Cut into 4 or 5 pieces and feed through pasta machine or roll out by hand. Lay pasta out on a flat surface to dry; gently toss with flour to prevent sticking. Pasta can be cooked almost immediately. Add to a pot of boiling salted water; let boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and serve.

TIP: Let pasta dry completely before storing; it can be left out overnight.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

roasted beet salad with almond shallot vinaigrette


OMG Beets.

Go ahead. It's ok. You can say it. You can even venture to eat them.

I think the word alone scares a great deal of people away from this red root. The name for the unfmailiar many conjures up images of pickled red discs floating in dark red liquid. I can still remember my college roommate's love for beets and how I would almost cringe every time she ate them. My nose just wrinkled at the memory. I promise though that if you give beets a try (again), it will be worth it!  I myself have been eating a lot of beets lately. I didn't discover them again on my own. Turns out it's winter and they keep showing up in my CSA box. I've tried my hand at beet chips but was looking for a more substantial dish. With a dinner party approaching and both red and gold beets in my fridge, I decided to give the following recipe a go. It was a hit!

I've made this salad again since and substituted hazelnuts for the almonds. Also, mache (aka lamb's lettuce) is a must! Enjoy!

roasted beet salad with almond shallot vinaigrette
yields 4 servings
2 large beets, peeled and cleaned (one red, one gold)
1/4 cup sliced natural almonds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large Asian pear
3 cups mache or baby arugula
gorgonzola cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and roast in the oven until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Unwrap beets and allow to cool.

While beets are roasting, cook almonds in oil in a small skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they are a pale golden brown. Allow almonds to cool in oil (they will get darker as they cool). Transfer almonds with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and season with salt.

Stir together shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and oil from almonds in a large bowl.

Halve the beets then cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to dressing, tossing to coat.

Quarter and core pear; cut into julienne strips.

Arrange beets on a platter and drizzle with any dressing remaining in bowl. Top with mache and pear strips. Sprinkle with almonds and gorgonzola.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I feel my last post left something lacking. I mean, what good is a great marinara recipe without the meatballs (and fresh pasta) to go with it? Also, a friend of mine has been looking for a good meatball recipe and I can't think of a better way to pass this one along.

So here you have it, meatballs!

yields approximately 25 - 30 
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb ground sausage
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C milk
1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 C seasoned bread crumbs, plus more if needed
1 TBL olive oil

Mix ground beef and sausage together in a large bowl with hands. Add in eggs, milk, garlic salt and pepper and mix well. Add bread crumbs. Mixture should be moist but still hold its shape if formed into meatballs.  Roll into 2 inch balls. Brown meatballs in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once all sides have browned, transfer the meatballs to a large pot of marinara sauce and simmer until cooked through.