Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh, fudge!

Note to self: if you've already made a recipe and it worked out OK, don't mess with it.I learned my lesson. I decided to make fudge for all of my and Morgan's co-workers this week, a recipe I've made many times successfully, but failed miserably. My thermometer has a candy attachment that I've been dying to use, so instead of cooking the base for five minutes as the recipe instructed, I used my thermometer and cooked it to softball stage, 235F. And I promptly ended up with a separated, oily, crumbly, inedible mess.

Take two.

Followed the recipe to a T and voila! Perfectly smooth, creamy, delicious fudge. I found the cutest little red boxes at the Container Store and now just have to escape the snow storm we're having and make it into the office for delivery!

Ingredients
1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Line an 8x8 inch pan with aluminum foil. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and pour in semisweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or until firm.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Makes 48 (read: 17) cookies

I have a baking issue. I have never made cookies and ended up even remotely close to the yield on the recipe. This weekend was no exception -- in fact, Morgan and I only got 17 cookies out of a recipe that supposedly makes 48! We did use an ice cream scoop instead of spoons to drop them on the baking sheets, but they didn't seem that big. They did take a few extra minutes of baking, too, but were worth the wait.
We cozied up to warm cookies with big scoops of vanilla ice cream in front of a Christmas movie while the first snow of the year was falling. And the farm across the street was so pretty (sans the power lines) when I got up this morning, I had to take a picture to share!
Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies (Ha!)

2 cup(s) milk chocolate chips
1 cup(s) butter or margarine, at room temperature
3/4 cup(s) sugar
3/4 cup(s) brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon(s) vanilla
2 1/4 cup(s) unsifted flour
1 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon(s) salt
1 cup(s) walnuts, or pecans, chopped

Directions

Heat oven to 375ºF. Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside. In large mixer bowl, cream butter with sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375ºF for 9 to 11 minutes, or until golden brown.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Snack Attack!

I anxiously await citrus season every year and am so excited when the Satsumas and Clementines arrive at the market. My gag reflex was triggered when even thinking about eating another apple over the past few weeks. I am [semi] officially on an apple strike until next September. I also seem to have stopped eating “real” meals since we finished off the Thanksgiving leftovers and instead have opted for snack plates filled with Cuties, smoked almonds and light mini Babybel cheese wheels. There’s something about peeling off that red wax … puts a smile on my face every time!

What are your favorite snacks? Please do share!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pumpkin bread penance

I need to apologize. I know I promised you an abundance of Thanksgiving photos, but I got so wrapped up in my schedule and preoccupied monitoring how much time was left on the turkey, that I just plain forgot. Ooooh, it was good, though. I was brimming with pride over the success of the bird.

As Morgan was putting away the last of the leftovers, I realized what I had done (or failed to do, rather). What kind of food blogger forgets to take pictures on the most important food day of the year? I'll do better next year, promise.
As a small gesture of reparation, here's a really yummy pumpkin bread recipe. I made it last week as my first foray into baking for the holiday season. I looked on Allrecipes.com for the most highly rated pumpkin bread recipe. Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread definitely deserves its 2200-plus reviews with an average five-star rating. It's a really moist bread with a nice density (I prefer my sweet breads to be more dense than cake-like) and perfect balance of the four classic pumpkin spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Easy-Bake Pasta

Good things come to those who mix together random foodstuffs from their freezer and pantry and bake them. Mmmm. This is for Joy, who says my recipes look yummy, but she doesn’t have a lot of time to make them. I guarantee she (and everyone else) has enough time for this one. I made it last week when I wanted something warm and yummy to curl up with in front of Thursday night TV. And now I have enough in my freezer for many weeks to come ... and after this Thursday (Happy Thanksgiving!) I will have a lot of other leftovers, too. Not so impeccable timing on this one, but hey, what can you do?

It definitely hit the spot, even though the current writing on Grey’s Anatomy did not.

Easy-Bake Pasta

Ingredients
1 lb. pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 lb. uncooked pasta
1 bag frozen sliced zucchini
1 bag frozen yellow squash
1 C. shredded parmesan, divided

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Boil the pasta for ¾ the recommended cooking time.

Drain the pasta and mix with everything but the parmesan.

Pour the mixture into two lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dishes.

Top each pan with 1/2 C. shredded parmesan.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned and bubbly.

Eat one batch and freeze the other into meal-sized portions in Ziplock bags, once it has cooled.

Bake from frozen for one hour covered, 15 minutes uncovered.

Tip: If the Ziplock is stuck to the pasta when you take it out of the freezer, just run the sealed bag under luke warm tap water to unstick. The pasta will pop right out.

Crab-a-roni crash and burn

First, a sincere thank you to everyone who rallied behind my Crab-a-Roni and Cheese recipe in the comfort food contest. I really was touched by the number of votes I received.

Unfortunately, however, I am now in the running to tie the Buffalo Bills for four consecutive second place finishes (a.k.a. first loser). First it was the burger contest, then the taps & apps challenge, now this. Seriously. It's getting ridiculous.

I'll still make a batch and post photos for you. It will be hard to eat through the tears, but I will persevere in the resilient spirit of Team O.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tell your mama, tell your friends ...

... tell anyone whose heart can comprehend.
OK, enough of the Janet Jackson lyrics. I am currently in second place in the Comfort Food Contest -- down by 50 votes. If you can help me out by directing anyone and everyone you know to the site by Sunday at midnight (I guess that's technically Monday)to cast a vote for "Crab-a-Roni and Cheese," it would make me very happy. And as another incentive, I promise to share lots of good Thanksgiving pictures with you next week (I will anyway, but I'll be happier doing it if I win this contest).

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Vote for me (pretty, pretty please)!

I am one of 27 finalists in the Marx Foods Comfort Food Recipes Contest! I really, really want to win, so please visit their site by clicking on the image below and vote for "Crab-a-Roni and Cheese."

If I win, I will make you a batch. Or at least take pictures of it and post them for you to drool over (and I'll share the recipe, too). Promise.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tick-tock goes the Thanksgiving clock

I am hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year. On Friday, though, instead of Thursday, so we can spend time with both of our families. I am so excited I can barely stand it.

Here is my menu and schedule in all their glory. I love menus and schedules. Their ability to keep me sane goes unrivaled. This holiday was made for me!

--
Appetizer
Roasted-corn and hickory bacon gougeres; served with chive crème fraîche

Main Course
"Good Eats" roast turkey and gravy
Baked stuffing with cranberries
Smashed sweet potatoes with apples
Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes
Green beans with caramelized onions and toasted almonds
Spinach salad with apples, blue cheese, cranberries & candied walnuts
Cranberry-orange relish
Rolls (guests)

Dessert
Pumpkin chiffon pie (guests)

Week of Nov. 17
Purchase turkey

Monday, Nov. 24
Begin thawing turkey

Tuesday, Nov. 25
Grocery shopping

Wednesday, Nov. 26
Make ahead:
Cranberry relish
Gougeres
Mashed potatoes (caramelize extra onions for green beans)
Sweet potatoes
Roux/broth for gravy
Salad dressing

Thursday, Nov. 27
Make ahead:
Brine turkey
Baked stuffing with cranberries

Friday, Nov. 28
Cooking Schedule:

10:30-10:45 a.m.
Boil water for green beans; assemble and refrigerate salad

10:45-11 a.m.
Boil green beans, cold shock & refrigerate

11-11:30 a.m.
Rinse, prep turkey

11:30-noon
Turkey on high; prep & set out appetizers

Noon-1:30/2 p.m.
Turkey on low

1 p.m.
Turn potatoes on low in Crock Pot

1 p.m.
Stuffing & sweet potatoes in oven

1:45 p.m.
Uncover stuffing & sweet potatoes

≈2 p.m. (when turkey reaches 161degrees)
Remove turkey from oven to rest, make gravy; melt butter & reheat green beans, toss w/ almonds; dress salad; re-whip potatoes

Between 2 & 2:30 p.m.
Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Whiskey crab soup to the rescue

The dark, wet and cold have officially settled in. They made a rather brazen entrance and promptly unpacked their belongings, very much like an unwanted house guest intending to stay awhile. If it were up to me, we would skip straight to April. Sure, I’d miss Thanksgiving and Christmas, so let’s just keep a week of winter holidays and fast forward to Easter.

There is a small saving grace, though. Soul-warming comfort food. It ranks right up there with bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; just a few of my favorite things.
In college, one of the best places for a little winter pick-me-up was the Cliff House restaurant in Bellingham. None of us could afford to eat a full meal there (unless parents were visiting), but thankfully their whiskey crab soup was available by the bowl at the bar. I have been looking forward to making it for a few months, but needed to make sure we were far enough into the depths of the dark season to make it truly worthwhile. This week, the local flooding, chilly temperatures and 4:30 p.m. sunsets were all signs that it was definitely time.

I used up the last of our crab from this summer’s cabin adventures and the end result — a tangy, creamy, slight-spicy delight — made me feel as thought I will probably be able to survive another Seattle winter. Probably. If I don’t mildew before the sun comes out.

Side note: I couldn’t find fish boullion and substituted a bottle of clam juice. This requires increasing the salt and other spices quite a bit. I added another Tbsp. each of Old Bay (mostly salt) and cayenne. Adjust to your own taste if you need to substitute for fish boullion, too.

Oh, and do me a favor. Don't make this if you plan on using imitation crab meat. It's an insult to the recipe and you'll be better off just eating a can of Campbell's. I know, I'm a crab snob. My husband turned me into one the first time he took me crabbing. So sue me (or him).

Whiskey Crab Soup
Courtesy The Cliff House, Bellingham, Wash.
8 cups water
1/4 cup fish base (or 4 cubes fish boullion)
3/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup Red Sauce (see below)
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp. white pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 1/4 cup lump crab meat
2 cups heavy whipping cream (1 pint)
1 cup milk
1 oz. sherry
1 oz. whiskey

Instructions
First, make red sauce.

Red sauce ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded carrots
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. dried basil
1 cup chopped red onions
3 large cans (84 oz. total) diced tomatoes

Red sauce instructions
Cook oil, carrots, garlic and basil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender; 5-10 minutes. Add onions and reduce heat to medium. Cook until very tender; about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 20-30 minutes over high heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool. Puree and chill.

Note: This makes 4-5 cups of red sauce. Freeze excess in pre-measured Ziplock bags for future batches of soup.

Soup instructions
Bring water and fish base to a boil.

Meanwhile, make a roux with the flour and butter. To make the roux, start by melting the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan until it foams and bubbles. Add the flour all at once, whisking constantly until the two are combined and a smooth consistency has formed. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes. At this point, the roux will develop a light brown hue and a nutty flavor; this will be used to thicken the soup.

Add roux to boiling stock. Whisk well over high heat until roux is completely incorporated and mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes.

Add red sauce and stir well.

Add next 5 ingredients (Old Bay through Tabasco) and stir well.

Add crab and cook 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes, until heated through.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I smell a winner

The fine folks at Marx Foods are holding another competition. I dare you to enter (you have until this coming Monday). I love me a show down ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The legend of Chef Missy

I thought of something really sad today. When the Seattle SuperSonics packed up and skipped town for less-green pastures (a.k.a. Oklahoma City) earlier this year, Squatch, the Sonics mascot, essentially died. R.I.P., Squatch.

Reminiscing about our beloved Bigfoot mascot got me thinking about other Northwest legends and myths, too. Things a part of me has always believed in, but never seen (or, in the case I am about to describe, seen very little of) in real life. Like my friend Missy’s remarkable culinary ability and Suzy Homemaker-like crafting skills.
To her credit, she says that she just doesn’t really like to cook, not that she can’t. I was starting to wonder, though, when I was helping her find a recipe for a dinner party last year and she specifically asked for something with no more than five ingredients. Well, Mis, the jig’s up. You should have never made that mouth watering pumpkin roll and decorated your party tables with such darling centerpieces — I liked the one you gave me so much that I hung on to it for three weeks! A rogue seed sprouted from the bottom on Sunday, though, and I think it may be on it’s last leg. Great things are expected of you now. Kind of like Brooke Burke being judged as a professional on Dancing with the Stars. Yes, your pumpkin roll is that good. I ate three pieces and am still paying for it at the gym, nearly a month later. So readers, if you’re looking for a dessert other than pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, this is a fabulous option.

Missy’s (or Libby’s) Pumpkin Roll

Note: This recipe is for a roll cake. Missy’s, pictured above, is a variation (another sign of true kitchen genius). She made two cakes, filled them and cut them into squares.

Cake Ingredients
1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Filling Ingredients
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (optional for decoration)

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 15x10x1-inch jelly-roll pan; line with parchment or waxed paper. Grease and flour paper; set aside. Arrange clean thin, cotton kitchen towel on counter; sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in small bowl. Combine eggs and sugar in large bowl; beat until thickened. Add pumpkin; beat until well mixed. Stir in flour mixture. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with walnuts, if desired.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched. Immediately loosen cake from edges of pan; invert onto prepared towel. Remove pan; carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake in towel while hot, starting with 10-inch side. Cool completely on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla in small bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake; remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic food wrap; refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired..

Tip: Be sure to put enough powdered sugar on the towel before rolling up cake so it will not stick.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Remember to vote, Tuesday, Nov. 4

As if you haven't been badgered enough already ... Too bad. It's really important; especially right now. So here's one more plea / reminder.

Please vote. Voting is your right, responsibility and obligation as an American. So make sure to cast your ballot on (or before if you vote absentee) Tuesday, Nov. 4. Questions about your voter registration status, poll site, or ballot? Washington state voters can visit the State’s general election site. For residents of states other than Washington, please visit canivote.org for answers to questions about your state’s voting process.

P.S. I’m not overtly endorsing anyone here, as this is an equal-party blog, but I do plan on limiting my diet to blue-only foods this Tuesday.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What is it with me and second place?!

We had so much fun at the weekend before last's (I know, I know ... I'm not very timely) Fall Taps & Apps challenge, hosted by the Cudworths — the best party planners on the Plateau. Each couple (11 total; 22 individuals) had to enter a fall-inspired appetizer paired with a beer. We all voted for our first and second choices, but were not allowed to vote for ourselves. Voting was based on the use of fall-inspired ingredients and the success of the pairing combination.
I poured over recipes, trying to find the ultimate fall-inspired appetizer-beer combination, so that when the flavors combined, a spell would come over the participants and they couldn’t help but vote for us. There were great plans to test a few different recipes, but, as has happened with many of my great plans lately, I didn’t quite get around to executing.

We ended up blindly entering, i.e., this was my first try, Hickory-Bacon and Roasted Corn Gougeres, slightly modified from a slightly modified recipe (I couldn’t help myself and had to utilize all the bacon grease — it’s great for roasting the corn). They're like savory cream puffs filled with the flavors of a twice-baked potato. We paired them with Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter. Thanks to my friend Ryan for the beer recommendation.

Overall, the event was a resounding success. Although I’m having a little bit of “always the bridesmaid” syndrome with another second-place finish; we did come away with 1) two blown-out pastry bags and a new, hard-learned culinary skill; 2) very full, happy bellies and 3) really cool pint glasses adorned with mini chalkboards as our prize. For a moment, I considered throwing a tantrum and demanding a do-over, but that was mainly because the food was so awesome and I didn’t want the party to end!

I’d like to give a shout-out to Curtis and Emily Adamson (Emily works at Marx Foods, a fabulous Seattle specialty food company, making her an automatic contender), who tied us for second place. Their BBQ pulled-pork sliders with Newcastle Brown Ale really gave us a run for our money. And congratulations to Kat and Keith, who took home the grand prize with their entry of mini bratwurst burgers paired with Chimay Grande Réserve. Yum.

Hickory-Bacon and Roasted-Corn Gougeres
5 thick-cut, hickory-smoked bacon slices
3/4 cup corn (from 2 medium ears; or frozen kernels, thawed)
1 cup water
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (5 ounces)
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Crème fraiche or sour cream for dipping

Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain and cool on paper towels, reserving bacon grease in separate container (I like a Pryrex measuring cup with a spout for pouring). When cooled, finely chop bacon.

Wipe skillet clean. Add corn and 1 tsp. of reserved bacon grease, and pan-roast over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until kernels are mostly golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Bring water to a boil with butter, salt and remaining reserved bacon grease in a heavy medium saucepan, stirring until all the fat is completely melted (you should have at least two Tbsps. of bacon grease, making eight Tbsps. fat total, when combined with the butter. If you don’t have a full two Tbsps. of bacon grease, add more butter until the fat total equals eight Tbsps.). Add flour all at once to boiling water-fat-salt mixture, reduce heat to medium and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from side of pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 3 minutes.

Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. (Batter will appear to separate at first but will then become smooth.) Mixture should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, beat remaining egg in a small bowl and add to batter 1 teaspoon at a time, beating and then testing batter until it reaches proper consistency.

Stir in bacon, corn, cheeses, chives, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray baking sheets with nonstick spray. Fill a pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tip with batter and pipe about 35 (3/4-inch-diameter) mounds, or spoon mounded teaspoons, 1/4 inch apart, onto each sheet.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until puffed, golden, and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes total. Transfer to a rack (still on parchment if using). Make more puffs on cooled baking sheets. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraiche or sour cream for dipping.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Holy crap! I like brussels sprouts!

I’ve been trying to incorporate a greater variety of vegetables into our meals lately — things we’re convinced we don’t like, but need to give another try. The experiment is going pretty well. Last week, I discovered that cauliflower isn’t actually the spawn of Satan, as I once considered it.
So I was in Safeway Monday night, looking for a new veggie adventure and spotted some very cute, but lonely-looking brussels sprouts. I’ve tried them a few times over the years, but never with much luck, i.e., flared nostrils and a strong gag reflex. After gazing at them a bit — they really are quite adorable — I decided to give it a go. I remembered a recipe I stumbled across a few months ago on This Week for Dinner and figured that worst case, the sprouts could enrich our compost bin if the experience was similar to past encounters.

Turns out, I’ve just never had brussels sprouts prepared in a way I find appealing. Until now. The 60-second brussels sprouts recipe is a totally new way (to me, at least) to eat these little delights. You don't cook them long enough for the sulfur compounds to begin releasing, so they don't get bitter and smell funky. One minute over super-high heat leaves the sprouts with an al dente texture and a bit of natural sweetness. Morgan wasn’t home when I made them, so I still need to see what he thinks, but I’m pretty certain they’ll begin joining us for dinner on a regular basis. Give them a try!

Ya sure, ya betcha

We spent this past weekend helping Morgan’s mom with the Scandinavian Heritage Festival at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. She’s the main event organizer and Morgan is in charge of sound for the performances — mainly Scandinavian folk musicians and dance troops from around the Northwest. I sold raffle tickets and backed-up Peter (Morgan’s younger brother) and his fiancé Emily at the beverage stand. The event is held in conjunction with Oktoberfest Northwest, which takes place in the adjacent hall. Eating festival food all weekend can leave a little to be desired in the health realm, but who can resist unlimited Swedish meatballs and Danish pancake balls a la the fabulous Scandinavian Café of Camas, Wash.?! Certainly not me. On Sunday, we took a break and ventured over to Oktoberfest for lunch. I had some weiner schnitzel, spätzle (small German dumplings — some people refer to them as noodles, but I think dumplings is a more accurate description) and Paulaner Weizen.

I adore spätzle and am thrilled each time I see it on a menu, which isn’t very often. I must note, however, that this particular spätzle left a great deal to be desired. In fact, it was borderline inedible, closely resembling a homemade glue mixture of flour and water, boiled into a mushy mess. The Tyler Florence recipe I’m linking to above is what I make at home and it’s incredible. I’m going to make some this week to compensate for the disappointment. Plus, I’m in fall-induced comfort-food mode and spätzle fits the bill quite nicely.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The other white (and really quite tasty) meat

We had friends over to dinner Saturday and made roasted pork tenderloin with apple cider jus. I found the recipe on a terrific food blog I’ve been reading, Je Mange la Ville. We loved it and even the two toddlers gobbled it up.
I haven’t had much luck with pork in the past — always a little dry and chewy — but this came out absolutely perfect; no knife needed, super juicy. Most of the credit goes to my new meat thermometer (Component Design DTTC-S) and current favorite kitchen gadget. Since the thermometer probe goes in the oven and connects to a console/base on the outside, you never have to open the door to check on anything. There’s even an alarm to tell you when your meat has reached the correct temperature. My mom has owned one for awhile, but until now, I didn’t realize quite how superior it was to my lame “traditional” thermometer. It rules.

We served the pork with fresh green beans and caramelized red onion mashed potatoes. A really great dinner for a fall get-together with lots of laughter, good friends and good wine.

Side note: The jus is a nice balance of sweet and savory. It’s supposed to be thin and we all liked it that way, but I threw a little Wondra Flour into the leftover sauce to make more of a gravy on day two (follow the Kettle Gravy directions on the side of the Wondra canister and use one cup of the leftover jus as the broth). I made about one and a half the recipe for the sauce so we would have extra. It was really good in its thickened-form, too, served over brown rice.

Roasted pork tenderloin with apple cider jus
Serves six hungry adults and two voracious toddlers
4 cups apple cider
2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 large white onion, chopped
12 whole allspice
3 large rosemary sprigs (two for the sauce (whole), one for the pork (minced))
4 cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 one-pound pork tenderloins, well trimmed
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

Mix first eight ingredients in medium saucepan. Boil until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 45 minutes. Strain, pressing on solids to extract liquid. Discard solids. Return liquid to saucepan and boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slather pork with olive oil, salt and pepper generously and coat with the minced garlic and rosemary.

Brown on all sides on high in a oven-proof pan. Finish roasting in the preheated oven, 20-22 minutes or until the pork reaches 145 degrees.

Cover with foil and let rest for five to 10 minutes. Pour any pork drippings from the rested meat into the cider sauce.

Slice and serve with the jus drizzled over the top.


Caramelized red onion mashed potatoes
Serves six
12 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
One red onion, finely diced
3/4 cup low fat milk
8 oz. light cream cheese
6 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and deep golden-brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to small bowl. Add milk to skillet — burner should be turned off.

Meanwhile, place quartered potatoes in large saucepan. Add enough cold water to pan to cover potatoes by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes to pan and stir over medium heat until dry, about 1 minute. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Bring milk in skillet to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Add hot milk and cream cheese to potatoes. Mash potatoes. Stir in caramelized onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One shoe at a time ...

I was going to share a new recipe with you today, but it’s a possible contender for our entry in an upcoming beer and appetizer pairing contest and I don’t want the competition stealing my secrets. So for that, you’ll have to wait and instead settle for a little anecdote about yesterday's oh-so-ridiculous morning.

For the past several weeks, each buzz of the alarm clock brings with it a noticeably colder and darker awakening. Yesterday was the worst yet. I was super sleepy, the house was chilly and the last thing I wanted to do was get ready for work. So I trudged through my routine, dragged myself to the vanpool after scraping *ice!* off my windshield, plugged in my headphones and started to fall into my commute-induced coma when I noticed something was off. Or on, rather. As in, I put on two different boots and left the house without noticing.
Even a year ago, I probably would have freaked out and nearly died of embarrassment on the spot. I can tell I’m getting older and relaxing a bit, though, because I got a good laugh out of it. And a nice reason to scurry to the mall and pick-up the new pair of Söffts
I had been eyeing.

I would also like to point out to my husband that the new shoes were a necessary purchase, as appearing completely catawampus during my afternoon meetings was an unacceptable option (on second thought, maybe I’m not quite as mature as previously mentioned).

I was also going to justify the purchase by claiming the shoes as Scandinavian (he's Swedish). Well, they certainly sound Scandinavian, don't they? Turns out they're just plain American, i.e., the company is Boston-based and my shoes were made in China. Dang!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Running to eat chocolate cake

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my computer, gazing out the window, when a neighborhood mom trotted past our house pushing a double baby-jogger. She was not, however, jogging. She was running. Fast. Pushing two children. I’ve seen her a couple times since then and I’m totally inspired. One more person to idealize on my quest to become more fit.

I’m also signing up with a few girlfriends to run the 5K Winter Pineapple Classic in Seattle on Sunday, November 16. The race has obstacles like hula-hooping and Mai Tai drinking (well, the hula-hooping part is true, at least) to give you a rest every half mile or so. Definitely my kind of sport!
Like most things I do in life, I wrote a plan to prepare for the race. I love writing plans and making lists. Part of the plan is to tell you I’m doing this, so I’ll feel guilty if I don’t stick to my workouts. I don’t always follow my plans and lists, but they’re certainly nice to have and I find them oddly comforting.

I’m going to train using Robert Ullrey’s free podcasts that follow the Couch to 5K nine-week training schedule; I’ll also be doing some strength work a la Turbulence Training. And I’m going to try to eat “cleaner.” Less sugar, more veggies, fewer refined carbs, etc.

The plan appears simple in writing. Here’s the catch: I keep making things like this incredibly delicious Earthquake Cake, which throws my “clean eating” agenda out the window. It’s hard to be upset, though, when it tastes so, so good. (A very roundabout way to share a dessert recipe, I know.) Think cheesecake meets German chocolate cake, but better. I’ll just have to run little bit harder this week to make up for the butter and cream cheese, because I’m certainly not giving them up completely. Everything in moderation, right? Enjoy!
Earthquake Cake
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (1 stick); softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle nuts and coconut on bottom of pan. Mix cake mix as directed on box. Pour over nuts and coconut.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla with a hand mixer on low to medium-low until well blended (add the sugar about a half cup at a time to prevent a powder explosion). This mixture will look like thick cheesecake batter.

Drop by spoonfuls over the chocolate cake batter, leaving at least a one-inch margin around the sides of the pan (this prevents the cheesecake from bubbling over).

Weave a butter knife in an s-pattern through the batter to create a swirl, but be sure to not disturb the nuts and coconut — keep the knife very shallow. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Easy like Wednesday evening

During the week, I’m all about simplicity, i.e., any half-decent looking dish with only five ingredients is worth trying. I adapted this one from a Sara Moulton (Food Network) recipe, which I liked, but found a little bland and more tedious than necessary.
The episode showcasing this recipe was a five-ingredient theme, and I strongly suspect garlic was cut from the roster to meet the ingredient cap. It definitely needs that key sixth ingredient, though. And it screams for more cheese. A lot more cheese. In fact, let's get crazy and double the cheese! And while we're at it, we'll zest and juice the whole lemon. Lemon shouldn't be allowed in the title unless you can taste it!

In late April of this year, I couldn’t find any asparagus in the local stores due to a cold snap that ruined a lot of Washington’s spring harvest. I did, however, find a bag of frozen spears at Fred Meyer and gave the recipe a go with those — they worked perfectly! Nice discovery and good to know it’s possible to get some [relatively] fresh flavor during the upcoming winter when I grow tired (and a bit crazy) of squash and root vegetables.

Pasta with asparagus-lemon sauce
1 pound fresh, medium thickness asparagus, tough ends trimmed
Zest and juice of one large lemon
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound penne, malfade, or preferred shape
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces; reserve tips separately. Cook asparagus stems in 5 to 6 quarts boiling water with 2 tablespoons salt until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander, reserving cooking water in pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain asparagus well and transfer to a food processor or blender.

Cook asparagus tips in same boiling water until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to colander, reserving boiling water in pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain tips well and set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling asparagus cooking water for about three-fourths of the recommended cooking time (very al dente). Reserve 2 cups cooking water and drain pasta.

Puree asparagus stems with zest, lemon juice, garlic cloves, olive oil, and 2 cups asparagus cooking water. Sauce will be very thin. Transfer sauce to a 4-quart saucepan and set aside.

Add pasta and asparagus tips to the asparagus sauce and cook over high heat, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes, or until pasta is almost al dente and sauce coats pasta but is a little loose (the cheese will thicken it slightly).

Stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper, to taste and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My big, fat, Greek meal

I will use just about anything as a vehicle for Trader Joe’s tzatziki dip (including one desperate snack attempt with saltines and pretzels — neither of which were a very good combo, but worth a shot nonetheless).
TJ’s tzatziki is a creamy, refreshing blend of Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill and mint. There must be some sort of witchcraft involved, too, because the cucumbers stay crunchy! I find this as amazing a feat as I did the sparking Wint-O-Green Life Saver in the fifth grade science fair. Don’t worry, I won’t go around babbling about tzatziki as I did triboluminescence. (It is fun to say, though, isn’t it?!)

My favorite combination is a whole wheat pita filled with grilled chicken and χωριάτικη σαλάτα — a.k.a. Horiatiki salata, a.k.a. Greek salad — all topped with tzatziki.
Even though I’ve never been to Greece, I like to think of myself as a Greek salad purist. I’m a firm believer in a one-to-one ratio of lemon juice and olive oil for the dressing. Nothing else. The owner of Orexi in Bellevue (“orexi” means appetite in Greek) told me this is the “true” way to make Choriatiki. Americans like to add lettuce and vinegar, but it’s just not right; they don’t belong in there! Just the veggies, olives, cheese and dressing. Mmmm. My orexi gets worked up just thinking about it — here’s how I make mine:

Choriatiki, a.k.a. Greek Salad

Salad
·2 cups diced bell peppers
·2 cups (about 12 oz.) cherry or globe tomatoes, cut in half (they hold their shape better in the salad than full-sized tomatoes)
·One red onion, finely diced
·One English cucumber, diced (skin-on)
·9.5 oz. jar pitted Kalmata olives, roughly chopped
·8 oz. crumbled Feta cheese (I use Trader Joe’s Light Feta)
·2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
·1 Tbsp. garlic powder
·Salt and pepper to taste
Dressing
·¾ cup olive oil
·¾ cup lemon juice

Directions
Add the oil and lemon juice to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until very well blended.

Place the veggies, olives, cheese, oregano and dressing in a large mixing / salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic power. Stir well. Allow to macerate for five to ten minutes (if you can wait). Stir again. Enjoy!

P.S. You may want to use a slotted spoon to serve the salad, as the dressing is thin and tends to go all over the place.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Name that white flower

The first summer at our house is winding to a close (long, depressing sigh). Throughout the past few months, each time I wander into our yard, a new plant or flower seems to have sprouted. We’ve been continually blessed by the garden fairy. Although, this also leads me to believe we did something very, very bad to deserve the mole infestation.
Back in March, some friends (who have a yard that rivals the Hanging Gardens of Babylon) told us to be careful about digging and cutting things back, and to wait and see what might appear. This was very sound, yet slightly ill-timed advice. The “President’s Day Massacre” had already occurred, resulting in mid-century military haircuts for three prominently placed grass/palm-looking bushes. And yes, “grass/palm-looking bushes” is as accurately as they can be described using my horticulturally-challenged vernacular. Also completely destroyed were some Grape Hyacinth (identified post-mortem) that I mistook for rogue blades of grass.

Minimal damage all-in-all, considering the plans I had for what turned out to be my very favorite flowers — featured in the photos. The leaves looked so pointy and menacing sans blooms; I was sure we were facing an invasive weed. Thankfully I left them alone because my arms got tired. That, and because pruning isn’t really very fun.
My goal for next year is to confidently name and describe plants to visitors, and prevent conversations such as this:

Friend: “Those are really pretty.”
Me: “Thanks, we really like them, too.”
Friend: “They smell good. What are they called?”
Me: “Um, white flowers, I think.”

Perhaps you can help me. Name that white flower!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Team O, circa 1965

I had entirely too much fun playing with Yearbook Yourself this morning. I imagine we both liked malts and danced to You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' at our senior prom.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nectarine sorbet

I learned a couple things this week. First, when you watch an egg roll perilously toward the edge of your kitchen counter from across the room and yell, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” the egg will not listen.

Second, pouring a little Gewurztraminer over fresh nectarine sorbet makes me very, very happy. I didn’t have a lot of luck taking a great picture of the sorbet. It was prettier than it looks here, so don’t let the photography deter you from making it. Really refreshing and perfect to celebrate the last few weeks of summer (which make me very sad, so this helps ease the creeping autumn blues).


Nectarine Sorbet
6 or 7 very ripe nectarines
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. raspberry liqueur

Dice the nectarines, don't bother peeling them. The peel will add a lot of color and flavor to the final product, without making it grainy or lumpy.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the sugar, stir until it's dissolved.

Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Puree sorbet base in a blender until it is very smooth (I blended mine on high for about two minutes).

Pour through a fine sieve and chill very well, preferably over night.

Freeze in an ice cream machine for about 15-20 minutes.

When finished, the sorbet will be soft but ready to eat. For firmer sorbet, transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze at least two hours. If freezing longer than two hours, allow to soften for 15 minutes on the counter until serving.

The wine
2006 Three Blondes Gewurztraminer from Icicle Ridge Winery in Leavenworth, courtesy of Brian and Christie Lounsberry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Like dirt water for chocolate

We spent last weekend in Portland with the Cudworths. Missy and I had a fabulous time shopping on 23rd and stopped to enjoy some seasonal beers at McMenamins while the boys played in a golf tournament.

That’s Missy’s beer on the left, Copper Moon, a pale ale; and mine on the right, Purple Haze, made with Marionberries. Mine was light, fruity and very girly. I just learned last week that a Marionberry is a type of blackberry. I always thought it was its own fruit. Or a congressman from Arkansas.

We also visited Moonstruck Chocolatier, my very favorite chocolate shop. A visit to Portland mandates a stop at Moonstruck. Pictured is a Bailey’s Irish Crème truffle, which lasted for approximately 23 seconds following its time in front of the camera. Their creations are not only delicious, but clever. Right now they’re featuring political truffles — donkeys and elephants! And my personal favorite, the milk chocolate lab. Although the puppies are almost too cute to eat.

Moonstruck makes the most amazingly smooth, melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate. I know it’s en vogue to snub milk chocolate, but I’m taking a stand in its defense. I prefer milk chocolate’s flavor and texture to that of dark. I recently tried some “high-end” dark chocolate with a texture that can accurately be described as remarkably similar to a gnawed on bar of Ivory soap. If you’re in the 77 percent cocoa mass club, that’s OK. You’ll come around sooner or later and realize that just because someone at FruFru Foodie Magazine told you super-dark chocolate is superior, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.

Our stay wrapped up with a luau (held at the previously mentioned location in the “Flush valves and flappers” post) and we helped decorate by pinning strawberries on the pineapple palm tree. I ate a lot while I worked — seems to be a recurring theme with me. We were also treated to our first traditional Fijian kava drinking ceremony.

Fijians commonly hold social gatherings centered around a drink called "grog," made by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder and mixing it with cold water. Kava is known for being anti-yummy, i.e., it tastes like sour mud, but the group bonding experience of passing around coconut bowls and drinking dirt water was fun.

“Bula!” (That's what you say when you're finished.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Flush valves and flappers

I generally don’t take pleasure in others’ misfortune. That is, unless you’re the lady at the independent shipping store who yelled at me for asking to use the packing tape without “offering” her $.75. If you're reading this, Elphaba, I will not be sad if you wander into oncoming traffic. Or if you’re the bank customer who, while I was working as a teller in college, demanded I smile at you. A little misfortune sprinkled in your direction would be OK, too.

At any rate, when bad things happen to other people, I usually feel guilty for simply having thoughts like, “Thank God that didn’t happen to me.” Then I go through the process of convincing myself that these types of thoughts will send me straight to Hell and that I have probably cursed myself into similar circumstances for said feelings.

Can you tell I’m Catholic??

All of this leads me to this weekend’s “adventure in domesticity” or rather, “misadventure in domesticity” at the home of some friends (who shall remain nameless) near Portland, Ore. And yes, I admit to having a “Thank God this isn't happening to me” moment. They lost water pressure to their toilet in the middle of a large party and several guests, including me, were relegated to using bushes and shrubs around their newly renovated and very well-manicured backyard.

So for the penance of the "happy my toilet works" thoughts, I rolled up my sleeves and tried to help fix the problem. (Thanks, dad, for the crash plumbing course.) Unfortunately, the issue lay with the pipes and the only quick-fix was a hose through the window.

At least I got to show off my knowledge of flush valves and flappers. Something I don't get to do very often.

And I can't help but post a photo of the note hung on the wall, too, since I'm a girl and the one who originally suggested our makeshift solution. It puts a grin on my face that makes my cheeks ache. Don't worry, no one had to come running to rescue me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive

I’ve been driving by the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive since my freshman year at WWU in Bellingham. I would take the long way home to enjoy the roadside view overlooking Samish Bay and slow my car to a crawl so I could read the fluorescent writing on the menu outside the front door as I passed.


During college, I could barely afford to eat the Reser’s bean and cheese burritos that made up 90 percent of my diet, let alone abalone or swordfish. Not that I would have tried either of those things back then, anyway. I was a vegetarian (“nothing with a face” was the rule) and although I’m sure it’s world-class, selecting gnocchi from the Oyster Bar menu would be truly unconscionable.

So for the past 10 years, I’ve been drooling over this place and trying to come up with a reason to eat there. I guess I could have just gone without a motive, but when you work something up so much, it makes sense to have a reason. The Oyster Bar is a reason kind of restaurant. And then, two years ago, when Morgan and I were freshly engaged, we came up with a really good reason. Our rehearsal dinner. Voila, reason! Unfortunately, they couldn’t accommodate our ridiculously huge guest list for the evening. The restaurant is intimate (read: very, very small), and our wedding party plus spouses, dates and family members were beginning to look a bit like the Osmonds and therefore would require something more closely resembling a large barn.

So the reason search continued …

But then, last week, something special happened. We had our first anniversary and I finally got my wish. A date with my husband of one year; crab cakes; a palette cleansing white grape sorbet with champagne; blue marlin with a rhubarb and lavender gastrique; king crab legs infused with tequila and lime, served with blood orange butter; and cappuccino crème brulee for dessert.

And, yes. Everything lived up to my decade’s worth of cravings and imagination.

P.S. The marlin looked prettier before I got started. I’m still kind of new at this and forgot to take a picture before my first bite!

We're off to Portland for the weekend. See you back here next week!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Coconut and Funfetti don't mix

For my brother Ethan’s birthday this year, I made the most delicious cake ever. Yes, ever. The Rave Reviews Coconut Cake. I got the recipe from my mom, who clipped it out of the Bremerton Sun in the early 80s. A lot of the appeal, for me at least, is the nostalgia. I remember no other food making my dad as happy as this cake.

It’s a simple recipe. The base is a boxed yellow cake mix (don’t scoff, it really does taste good), so I can’t claim to have slaved for days over this thing. Frosting it was a bit tedious, though. I haven’t frosted many triple-layer cakes in my life and it can be a little tricky. Especially if you eat half the frosting before you’re finished.

Ethan loves Funfetti cake, too. He actually asked me if I could make the coconut cake with Funfetti as the base. Since this is possibly the worst culinary idea he’s ever had (sorry, dude, it’s true), but I know how disappointed he would be to not have Funfetti on his 25th birthday, I also made him some cupcakes to share with his friends. As you can see below, I’ve been feeding him for years. I am such a good big sister (and I guess he’s a pretty good little brother, too).


Crab hands, ewwww!

We cracked 10 more crab last night. It was the last of the bunch we caught on Saturday night. Now we have about 14 cups of lump crab meat in our freezer!

Oh, the possibilities …

The only downfall is that I don’t want to even think about crab for at least two weeks because I can’t get the smell off my hands and it’s totally grossing me out. I tried toothpaste, lemon juice mixed with black pepper and a Wonder Bar. Everything helped a little, but it’s still there. I hope no one gets close enough to me at the office to notice.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crabbin’ at the cabin

The second part of our week-long vacation was a stay on Samish Island. We had a ton of fun at the family cabin and caught a lot of crab. I made Morgan’s favorite, crab quiche. It was so good that even our friend Missy, who was so disturbed about boiling the crab that she set one free (and named it Juan-Carlos), even liked it!

This year I decided to try the Reynolds Handi-Vac to preserve the extra meat we didn’t eat during our stay. Upon first use, I’m pleased to say that it rules. I can’t wait to make Whiskey Crab Soup a la the Cliff House in Bellingham. Stay tuned for that recipe!


Crab Quiche

Ingredients
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cup lump crab meat
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 deep dish 9-inch unbaked pie crust (I use a frozen, pre-made crust)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, mayonnaise, flour, garlic powder, cayenne and milk until thoroughly blended. Stir in crab, cheese, and onion. Spread into pie shell.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Enjoy!

Happy one year anniversary, Team O!

We made it through our first year of marriage. Hooray!


To celebrate, we strapped tremendously heavy packs to our backs and slogged through the woods for three days. Romantic, eh? Actually, it kind of was — except for the stagnant, muddy creek that was our only drinking water source. We purified it, of course. Regardless, it was absolutely wretched.

We truly felt like a team when the gnats swarmed us and we had to strategize how to get into the tent without being followed by the little nasties. There were so many, our lantern looked like it had a thick coating of tar the next morning from all that had flown into it and burned. Sick!

There were good parts, though, too. I promise. Like the petroglyphs carved by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Those were indeed very, very cool. And the mist on the ocean in the morning was so refreshing and peaceful. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the true roar of the Pacific when you’re sheltered in Puget Sound.

The best part was just spending time with Morgan. It’s one of my favorite things to do, which is good since we’re married. Hopefully someday we’ll have at least 50 anniversary stories to share with you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making lemonade with a second place burger

I took second place in Marx Foods' Burger Recipe Contest this week. There were 119 recipes, so I'm pretty proud of beating 98.3 percent of my competition. Can't say I'm not disappointed, though. The winner was awarded 10 pounds of super high quality/trendy burger meat. I'm not, however, very adventurous with my meat choices. Should I have won, I would have picked a 10 pound box of Kobe beef burgers. I could have picked kanagroo or llama, too, among other things. Check out their selection, it's really wild.

I really, really wanted those burgers. I can even taste them if I think about it hard enough. Can you believe I was a vegetarian for seven years? Once Morgan started lacing my food with bacon it all went downhill.

My Stuffed Caprese Sirloin Burgers with Roasted Garlic Aioli were taken down by Hoisin Ginger Burgers with Lime Pickled Onions. Lime pickled onions?? Really?? OK, I guess they sound kind of good. Pair something with a lime and I'll eat it, but I'll never be down with gruyere cheese.

Here's my non-award winning recipe:

Stuffed Caprese Sirloin Burgers with Roasted Garlic Aioli

Burgers (makes six)

3 pounds ground sirloin (80:20 meat-to-fat ratio)
2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. each, chopped fresh oregano and basil (buy a full bunch of basil and reserve at least 12 remaining full leaves to top the burgers -- two for each burger)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely diced white onion
3 ounces thinly sliced fresh mozzarella
2 medium-sized Campari tomatoes, sliced
Olive oil, for brushing

Buns

6 Focaccia burger buns

Roasted Garlic Aioli

1 large head garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pasteurized egg yolks
1 raw clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 small lemon
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS

Making the burgers:

Combine all burger ingredients except cheese and tomato slices in large bowl.
Mix thoroughly, then shape into 6 thin patties.
Put 1/2 ounce mozzarella on three patties.
Top with remaining patties and press edges to tightly seal.
If a bit misshapen, gently flatten until patties are about 4 1/2 inches in diameter.
Refrigerate, covered, until cold, about one hour.

Making the aioli:

To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 300 F.
Cut a thin slice off the very top of the head to expose the cloves.
Set the garlic head in a shallow baking dish and pour the oil slowly over and into the head.
Season with the salt and pepper.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1-3/4 hours, until the garlic is very soft and tender.
Don’t rush; older garlic may take longer.
Drain and reserve the oil, and set the garlic aside.
After the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the pulp into a food processor or blender and add the egg yolks, minced raw garlic clove, lemon juice, water, salt, and cayenne pepper.
Puree until smooth. With the motor running, add the reserved roasting oil and the additional 1-1/2 cups oil in a slow, steady stream and continue processing until emulsified. Refrigerate until needed.

Grilling the burgers:

Preheat a gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal grill. Brush burgers with olive oil and grill to desired doneness, flipping only once, about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read meat thermometer through the side of a burger into the center. The internal temperature for medium rare is 145 F; 160 F for medium and 170 F for well done.

Serve burgers on buns with aioli, tomato slices and reserved basil leaves.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mac & Cheese with the Lounsberrys

We spent last Friday night with the Lounsberry family eating Beecher’s “World’s Best Mac & Cheese” and fawning over Jake (he is terribly cute). There was also a fair amount of time spent reminding George he is still loved with lots of petting and picture-taking. I can tell he really likes Jake and they’re going to be best friends. And because George is so extremely large, I think Brian and Christie have already managed to avoid the common fifth birthday ask of a pony.

Macaroni and cheese is one of my three favorite foods. It ties with tiramisu and good sandwiches. This particular batch came straight from the Pasta & Co. freezer (sibling company to Beecher's Handmade Cheese in the Pike Place Market), but I have made it at home in the past. I also really like the NY Times version — both recipes are posted below. Let me know if you make them and what you think!



World’s Best Mac & Cheese
Serves four as a side dish

6 ounces penne pasta
2 cups Beecher's Flagship Sauce (recipe follows)
1 ounce cheddar, grated (1/4 cup)
1 ounce Gruyere cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
¼ to ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil or butter an eight-inch baking dish.

Cook the penne two minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and set aside.

Combine cooked pasta and Flagship sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses and then the chile powder. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let sit for five minutes before serving.

Note: If you double the recipe to make a main dish, bake in a 9x13-inch pan for 30 minutes.

Beecher’s Flagship Cheese Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
14 ounces semi-hard cheese, such as Beecher's Flagship, grated (about 3 ½ cups)
2 ounces grated semisoft cheese, such as Beecher's Just Jack
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cooking for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add the cheese, salt, chile powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to three days.

Note: A single batch of sauce makes enough for a double recipe of macaroni and cheese.

--

New York Times Macaroni and Cheese
Accompanying article: Macaroni and Lots of Cheese
(Warning: This is the "creamy" recipe. Do not attempt the “crusty” recipe. It’s sick. If you choose to not heed this advice, don't call me when you break a tooth.)

Serves six as a side dish

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not low fat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ pound elbow pasta, uncooked

Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use one tablespoon butter to butter a nine-inch round or square baking pan.

In a blender, puree cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dream Dinners, the Suburban Solution

I’ve been going to Dream Dinners (DD) once a month since May. Next week will by my third trip. DD is a meal-prep business, usually based in a strip mall (you know you're a suburbanite when ... ) where you can go and assemble meals, store them in freezer bags and take them home to enjoy all month long.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of meats and produce; and level of sanitation (very important in my book). Everything is very fresh, the kitchens are hygienic and sometimes they feed you dessert and give you a chair massage. Indeed, this is hard work!

The “meals” usually consist of just the main course, i.e., meat and a fancy sauce or marinade, but sometimes a side dish is included, too. When the dish is straight-up meat, like tonight’s savory grilled porkchops, I usually steam or sautee some veggies and make either rice or potatoes to go alongside.
Initially, I was incredibly skeptical of the concept. We tried some killer enchiladas at a dinner party, though, and I was sold. I still love to cook, but on week nights when we’re pressed for time and have other activities, these meals are a lifesaver. And grilled citrus salmon is so much healthier than a corndog or bowl of Lucky Charms (sadly these things can be found in our house and are the usual busy-night substitutes).

DD is economical, too. My bill for next week (which I prepaid online) came to $135 for 12, three-serving meals. Sure, I could knock-out 36 servings of boneless skinless chicken breasts in a simple marinade for that cost, but I would rather see a medley of meats and produce grace our table. Yummy in my tummy.