Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When in Russia...or Mexico

Ok, so I know I said move over cookies, but you should know me well enough by now to know that I didn’t really mean it. And besides, when I said it, I was in a sugar coma from these buttery little balls of heaven and needed a good stiff Brussels sprout to cut the richness of the platter of these I had just consumed (pretty much single handedly).

I know, I know… we’ve all been eating these guys for years. We call them snowballs or Russian teacakes, or Mexican wedding cookies, and moms have been rolling these in powdered sugar and serving them up during the holidays for generations. At least that’s what everyone at Food 52 told me when I posted my recipe for them. But most people probably don’t add cinnamon and fresh ground nutmeg to the buttery-nutty dough, or a heap of orange zest to the powdered sugar coating…which is probably why my spicy-sweet version was an editor’s pick in the holiday cookie contest!

While you folks may have been tucking these decadent butter balls into your holiday stockings for years, my family wasn’t. The closest thing we had to these growing up were Oma’s walnut crescents, which were similar and amazing (my favorite Oma cookie) but different than the typical ball of walnutty dough rolled in powdered sugar. Actually, I didn’t even try one of these goodies until college… and I didn’t call it a snowball or serve it during the holidays or with Russian tea. I called it a Mexican Wedding Cookie, and served it to a room of classmates.

For a Spanish oral presentation, I did a report on the tradition of Mexican Weddings… mainly so that I could try my hand at Mexican Wedding Cookies. It turns out that Mexican weddings aren’t much different than American weddings, and that my Spanish isn’t much better than that of a two year old. Good thing I brought in the cookies, otherwise I probably would have failed the presentation altogether! If only I had a batch of those cookies to save me from my awful Spanish the first time I was in Mexico, the whole ‘Beach-Party Tequila Incident of 2007’ might have been avoided!

So, without further ado, and before you start asking questions about the tequila incident…here’s the recipe! Hurry and make these before Friday, as they’ll surely break all of your New Year’s Resolutions!

Orange Spice Russian-Mexican-Teacake-Wedding-Snowball Cookies
Makes 2 dozen-ish

1 cup butter-softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup powdered sugar
zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and vanilla until smooth. Mix together flour, 6 T sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir into butter mixture until just blended (will seem flakey and powdery). Mix in walnuts. Form dough into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling rack. Mix together remaining powdered sugar and orange zest. When balls are cool enough to touch (but still warm), roll in powdered sugar, they’ll get a gooey frosting like coating. Once balls have completely cooled, roll once more in powdered sugar. Enjoy with a cup of tea, at a wedding, or during the holidays.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Move Over Cookies...

It's the most wonderful time oooof theee yeeeaaarrr! Amanda and I have made the trek to our hometown for Christmas with Mel and John, the stockings are hung, the tree is all lit up and shiny, and I've been filling my belly with sweet treats. Over the past couple days, John has been busy in the kitchen whipping up crazy concoctions like nutella-walnut-rum-piedough-cookie-roll-things...which I've been stuffing into my mouth like there's no tomorrow.

However, there is a tomorrow...and it's Christmas Eve! And with all these goodies around, believe me... I know it’s easy to avoid veggies during the Holidays. Especially when the most common, traditional Christmas vegetable is…(dun dun duuuunnnnn) the dreaded Brussels sprout .

I personally love Brussels sprouts, and I think they get a bad rap... However, I have seen a lot of people mistreat the mini cabbage-like gems of deliciousness with poor preparation, so it’s no wonder people fear it, bad mouth it, douse it with butter or cheese sauce to cover the flavor… or skip it altogether and head straight for the dessert table.

This year, instead of skimping on the veggies, make them the highlight of your holiday meal! My Brussels sprout recipes put the boring ol' over-boiled version to shame, and will convert even the biggest skeptics. Seriously, make these. Screw cookies and milk... I'm leaving santa a plate of Brussels sprouts and a pint of stout for Christmas!
Fresh and Fruity Brussels Sprout Salad

1 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
1 Granny Smith Apple- diced
1 carrot- peeled and grated
1 cup toasted pecans
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)
2 tablespoons shaved parmesan
Coarse ground salt and pepper

Cut off Brussels stems, halve sprouts, and separate each layer. Thinly slice the middles that won’t separate. In a bowl, Mix together sprouts, thinly diced apple, grated carrot, chopped toasted pecans, cranberries, and parmesan. Whisk together salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add dressing to salad and toss to coat.

Tangy Brussels Sprout Chips

1 pound Brussels sprouts- rinsed
1/2 lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Coarse ground salt and pepper
Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut stems off end of Brussels sprouts. Separate the outer leaves, until they will no longer pull away. Cut the remaining sprout centers in half. Put leaves in mixing bowl- (you can either add the sprout halves as well, or save those for another use). Drizzle in enough olive oil and juice of 1/2 a lemon to coat leaves. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder- to your liking. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast leaves until some of them are crispy (8-10 minutes). Remove crispy leaves (keep, but set aside in serving bowl), and roast remaining leaves until crispy. Continue until all leaves are crispy (but not burnt). Chips are delicious eaten straight out of the bowl as a snack (instead of nuts or potato chips), or serve them over the top of another dish, whole or crumbled (sprinkled over roasted potatoes, etc).

Caramelized Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

1 pound Brussels Sprouts- halved or quartered
1/2 red onion- diced fine
2 cloves garlic- minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small pat butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

In skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat- add onions. Sautee until onions are translucent, add garlic and Brussels, cut sides down. Once Brussels have just started to brown and caramelize, mix together wine, vinegar, and sugar- add to skillet. Turn down heat slightly, and simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add salt, pepper, cheese and toss, then remove from heat. Serve alone or tossed with pasta.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannolis

One of my favorite things about the holiday season… other than the decorations, giving gifts, receiving gifts, Santa, the reindeer, the tree, the lights, the days off work, the Christmas Eve crab legs and Christmas day prime rib dinner, snowmen, poinsettias, candy canes, joy, peace, happiness, carolers, mistletoe, cookies, fruitcake, Christmas movie classics, roast beast for the Whos in Whoville, stockings hung with care, eggnog, jingle bells, elves, and the family time… is the abundance of parties!

I’ve had parties coming out my ears this December. Brian’s housewarming, Robb and Amanda’s post-Thanks-pre-Christmas, my company holiday party, a few birthday parties, and a Christmas white-elephant party. So that’s what have I been sooooo busy with that I haven’t had time to write, you ask? Well, sort of. Here it comes. Are you ready for it?? I haven’t just been attending parties this holiday season… I CATERED A PARTY!

Amanda’s coworker Cory (the mastermind responsible for getting us hooked on the Godfather) hosted a Holiday Purse Party, and was awesome enough to ask me to cater it! Now, I’ve prepared food for parties, but this is the first time I was recognized as the ‘caterer,’ and served food to a bunch of gals and I had never met with a fancy sign that said “Food by Loves Food, Loves to Eat.” I feel like this could be the start of something big. Obviously this is all unofficial and under the table...and, well, I don’t have a business license or certified kitchen, so technically it could even be illegal… but if you have friends that are having parties or anything… and aren’t afraid of getting in with a little organized food crime (c’mon, Godfather looked pretty glamorous to me, especially if you add some crostinis to the mix…) then… let's talk.

Anyway, what to make for a house full of mommies that are fully focused on a house full of purses!? What is good enough to keep the attention on the hors d'oeuvres instead of the Kate Spades? Two words. Oreo Bonbons. Chocolaty, creamy, rich, and small enough to make you yearn for more, Oreo Bonbons have been a go-to holiday goodie for my family for years. Oh, and did I mention that they’re the easiest thing to make…ever? 8 oz of cream cheese. 1 package of pulverized Oreos. Combine. Roll into little balls. Done. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Sometimes we drizzle them with melted white chocolate. Sometimes we fully envelop them in dark chocolate and put them in little foil candy cups to give away in gift baskets. This time I dipped the base in melted bittersweet chocolate, rolled them in crushed candy cane, and served them on a pick. While the ladies OOOooh’d and AAahhhh’d around the bonbons, I took my pick of the purses!

While the bonbons were definitely the show stopper, my other treats were also quickly devoured. Keeping with the holiday theme, and complimenting Cory’s delicious cranberry-champagne punch, I made goat cheese crostinis and mini chickpea cakes. The crostinis were made up of buttery and delicious homemade goat cheese crackers, with just a hint of cheesiness.

I put a generous smear of goat cheese on top to bring out the full flavor, before layering it with a crispy apple slice, tupelo honey infused with fresh rosemary and cracked black pepper, and a few deep ruby pomegranate gems to make the flavor and appearance pop.

The mini chickpea cakes were adorable and zesty—a mixture of mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), grated carrots, bread crumbs, egg, herbs and spices, and sour cream, formed into bite-sized patties, baked, and topped with a dollop of citrusy avocado mousse and fresh red pepper. Delish!

Everyone at the party loved the food, and wanted my business card…which I didn’t have. I mean, did Don Vito Corleone have a business card? Or Tony Montana? Or even Tony Soprano? Nope. You’ll just have to have your people talk to my people, and we’ll see what we can come up, maybe you’ll make me an offer I can’t refuse.

Or you can send me a message via blog comments and I’ll probably jump up and down with giddy school girl excitement, as I work frantically to make a business card.

Goat Cheese Crisps

10-12 ounces fresh goat cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Coarsely ground fresh pepper
Egg whites from 1-2 eggs

In a food processor or electric mixer beat the goat cheese and butter together until smooth. Add the flour and salt and beat until well blended. Divide the dough in half and roll back and forth to create two logs (your desired thickness, I liked them pretty skinny). Sprinkle the pepper in a baking sheet, and roll the logs in it to coat. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or freeze for 30 minutes to an hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut log into 1/3-inch thick diagonal slices. Brush the top of each slice with egg white, and place on an ungreased baking sheet (eggwash side up). Repeat with the second log. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Flip and continue baking until the crackers are a golden, 15 to 20 more minutes. Enjoy hot out of the oven, or let cool and top with whatever your heart desires.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Madness

I'm so busy! December has been (and will continue to be) insane for me this year! I have something planned almost every single day from here until Christmas! The upside to that (for both me and you) is that the majority of my events and activities involve absolute deliciousness! The downside, however, is that I've been so busy cooking and eating that I haven't had time to write about it! And today is no exception.

Today is the much anticipated Post-Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas Extravaganza hosted by Amanda and Robb. I'm pretty sure there will be three turkeys. The event is potluck style, with Robb preparing the birds, Amanda putting together a main side, and everyone else (30-ish people) bringing sides, desserts, appetizers, drinks, salads, and bread rolls. Last year I made pumpkin tamales and chocolate kahlua cake. This year, I'm planning on chocolate peppermint schnapps cake and butternut squash-caramelized onion pizza squares...  but I've been so busy I haven't even had a chance to get to the store for supplies...and the party is in four hours! On that note, I better get moving!

When I have a minute, I'll sit down and fill you in on the tasty details of the last few weeks... but in meantime, here's a preview:


Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's in a Name?

It’s crumbly, it’s crispy, and it’s delicious. I’m talking about Apple-Pear Crisp…er, Crumble!? After researching on the internet, I still couldn’t’ tell you the difference. Some people say a crumble has an oat streusel, some people say a crisp has the oat topping, while a crumble has a flour-sugar-butter crumbly crust like topping. Really, I don’t care what you call it, as long as I get to eat it. I love crumbles/crisps, with their sugary streusel topping over hot, syrupy fruit or berries. You can have your pies, because I’ll take one of these bad-boys over pie any day.

Ever since the leaves started turning orange and the temperatures dropped (to the 20s… we’re cold up here in Seattle!) I’ve been dying to make a crisp/crumble. Luckily, recent events left me with a box full of apples and a bag full of pears. Amanda and I ordered the HUGE box of apples from a Washington orchard that was having an Apple-Cup apple-buying contest between Huskies and Cougars. Clearly our donation was in favor of our alma mater, the University of Washington. We split the mixed box of fresh, crispy apples—leaving us with about 20 apples apiece. The freshly picked pears came from Mel and John, who live near orchard country and always have boxes of fresh fruit. I don’t know about you, but when I have an overabundance of apples and pears, I immediately dream of cinnamon and envision that crumbly streusel topping.

After a Saturday spent doing chores and decorating for Christmas, the last thing Evan and I wanted to do tonight was go out. I, of course, wanted to mess up that freshly cleaned kitchen, so I rolled up my sleeves and started peeling fruit! I looked at a few basic apple crisp recipes for the general step by step involved, and mixed and matched flavors and ingredients for this simple yet super-satisfying apple pear crumbly crisp. Clean, warm apartment, holiday decorations, staying in with the boyfriend and cat, and apple pear crisp…it doesn’t get much better than this.

Apple Pear Crumbly Crisp

2 firm-ripe pears, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks
2 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
1 cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-2 crushed sugar cubes (or 1-2 teaspoons of granulated sugar)
Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Stir together fruits, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Place in a buttered 1-2-quart baking dish. Stir together oats, flour, salt, and brown sugar. Blend in butter with your fingers until mixture is thoroughly moistened. Press over fruit and sprinkle with sugar cubes/white sugar. Bake until juices are bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly, and serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or a drizzle of heavy cream.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Three Lives of a Turkey

Thanksgiving is pretty awesome, obviously... I mean, why else would I dedicate a 50th post to a Thanksgiving photo montage?! While I love Thanksgiving… in my family, what happens AFTER Thanksgiving is just as special and steeped in tradition as Turkey Day itself. I'm not talking about throwing around the ol' pig-skin or watching football (although we did win Apple Cup...go Huskies!), I'm not talking about spending time with distant relatives or catching up with home-town friends (although we did grab a beer), and I'm definitely not talking about working off the big dinner or sleeping in and unwinding... I'm talking about Black Friday and leftovers, baby!

Amanda, Mel, and I wake up at 3:30 am on Black Friday (Amanda’s favorite holiday of the year) to join in on the retail craziness. Door-busters, mega-sales and madness aside, we mostly just love the wild adventure that only happens once a year. When we get home, car heavy with shopping bags and bellies full of doughnuts and pastries, we usually crash for a few hours while John watches football, and then wake up to the preparation of what may be an even more exciting turkey feast than Thanksgiving itself. TURKEY ENCHILADAS!

Mel makes killer turkeyladas—corn and flour tortillas filled with creamy sauce, shredded turkey, lots of cheese, and slathered with verde sauce and black olives (topped with a heaping spoonful of sour cream). Served with cheesy baked refried beans, Mel’s homemade salsa, and Juanita’s tortilla chips, Black Friday Turkeyladas are just the spark your taste buds need after all those rich Thanksgiving flavors the day before. This year, we had a much smaller Thanksgiving crowd than usual, which—lucky for us—left us with plenty of leftover turkey, even after our Black Friday enchilada binge.

What to do with all that delicious leftover bird!? We saved out some white meat for basic turkey sandwiches, and we put the remains toward some very un-basic turkey sandwiches. BBQ Pulled Turkey sandwiches! Amanda found the recipe in November’s Bon Appétit, and I definitely think it has potential to join our turkey leftover tradition.

The bacon studded sauce mixed with the shredded turkey was tangy, smoky, and delicious, not to mention reminiscent of one of my favorite sandwiches—pulled pork! Piled high with sweet, fresh, and crunchy homemade slaw on top of a soft wheat bun and served alongside potato chips, pulled turkey sandwiches feel homey and simple, while lending a totally different taste profile to Thanksgiving leftovers.

Traditional roasted turkey with all the Thanksgiving fixings; cheesy, Mexican-flared turkey enchiladas; and smoky BBQ’d pulled turkey sandwiches—if you’re gonna eat a turkey once a year, this is by far the best way to do it.

Barbecue Pulled Turkey Sandwiches
(from Bon Appetit)


3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
3 cups thinly sliced green cabbage

Whisk mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, and celery seeds in small bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cabbage; toss to blend. Cover bowl and chill. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Barbecue sauce:
2 slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
1 cup tomato puree (we used home canned tomatoe sauce)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/3 cups shredded cooked turkey (light and dark meat)
4 soft rolls
Sauté bacon in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomato puree, apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water, dark brown sugar, chili powder, and ground cumin. Bring sauce to boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add shredded cooked turkey to barbecue sauce and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until turkey is heated through, stirring occasionally. Split and toast rolls. Divide turkey and slaw among rolls. Press tops down lightly to compress, then serve.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Glory

Celebrating my 50th POST...with a Thanksgiving photo montage!

Finger foods for the salad plates; the golden bird; pillowy perfect mashed potatoes; a slice of 'crustless pumpkin pie' with maple rum sauce; Mel, Amanda and I toast cranberry mimosas; the makings of a pecan bourbon tart; A full plate (leads to a full belly); the custardy filled pumpkin in all its glory.

...And with no 'effing yams' splattered across the kitchen floor, it was a successful Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sexy Ladies Cooking Club

I love to read, and so does my friend and old college roommate Tasha. We both read a variety of books, but I always preferred best-seller type fiction and the kind of books they assign in college English classes, true crime novels, books by cooks, and, I won’t lie… I’ve read a little (ok, a lot) of Stephen King in my day. Tasha, on the other hand, can’t get enough young adult fiction (as in, Twilight), romance, and chick-lit. She once tried to win me over to books with titles like ‘Running in Heels’ and ‘French Kissing’ with a book that talked about food…mixed in with all the cheesy romance. It was called “Spooning, the Cooking Club Divas Turn up the Heat.” The book didn’t get me into chick-lit (sorry, Tash) but it did give me a great idea…cooking club! And thus, Sexy Ladies Cooking Club was born.

Throughout our last few years in college, about 10 of us ladies met up on Thursdays for huge, crazy dinner parties. The girls that hosted would make the main dish, and the rest of the girls would bring appetizers, wine, side dishes, and dessert. The food was always delicious and creative, and the wine was plentiful (hey, we were newly 21). The best part of cooking club, however, was spending time in the kitchen with best friends. The year after college, we tried to maintain weekly dinners, and then monthly dinners, and eventually girls moved away and our schedules all became so different that we were unable to find the time as a group to make cooking club happen. Occasionally, one of us will get a wild hair and send out an invite for an impromptu, scaled down cooking club dinner…which is exactly what happened last week.

Tasha and V are taking cooking classes to ‘master the basics,’ and invited friends over to put their lessons to a test. They prepared an amazing jambalaya recipe from the class—full of smoky ham, sweet shrimp, veggies, and creamy Cajun spiced rice. We devoured it with Lindsey’s spinach bacon salad (also from the cooking class), bread, chocolate chip cookies, and lots of wine.

Nowadays we have jobs, live-in boyfriends, and we’re spread out all across Seattle, but when we get together for cooking club, we still down the wine and laugh hysterically just like we did when we were crazy college kids. Only now, we go to bed earlier…and the food is better. That class must be paying off, because those ladies were chopping and dicing like pros. Move over Cat Cora, the Sexy Ladies are back!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple Ginger Pork Loin with Soy Caramel Sauce

Haiku for the Hungry
Cider in my cup,
Apple, ginger, caramel...
Perfect with pork loin!

Apple Ginger Pork Loin with Soy Caramel Sauce
Inspired by one of my favorite hot drinks: ginger-caramel apple cider! The tart and gingery apples go great with the rich sweet soy-caramel sauce!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 crisp red apple- chopped
1 granny smith apple- chopped
1 tablespoon finely diced fresh ginger
1 shallot- diced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh apple cider (plus 1/4 cup)
1 2-3 pound pork loin roast- butterflied
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, apples and ginger (and salt and pepper to taste). Saute until softened. Add chicken broth and ½ cup cider. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Reserve liquid and set aside. For caramel sauce, heat sugars, water, and reserved cider mix from apples in a skillet. boil for 5 minutes, whisking (don't let it burn). Remove from heat and add butter, vinegar, and soy sauce. Transfer to sauce pan and simmer over low heat until ready to serve. salt and pepper the pork loin. Spread the apple mixture down the pork and roll the pork over the mixture (like a jelly roll style). Roast the pork in a roasting pan for 60- 90 minutes or until thermometer reaches160 degrees F. Halfway through, baste with 1/4th cup cider. Let rest for 10 minutes, slice, and serve with basting juices, apples, and caramel sauce. We had it over couscous, which soaked up the sauces perfectly

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Round One: She Comes Out Swingin'

Well my friends, it’s officially that time of year again. Time to get out the stretch pants and elastic waist-bands, undo the top button, and put on a loose non-form-fitting top. That’s right, it’s time for Thanksgiving. Unlike most sane people who save their turkey gobbling and gravy guzzling for the big day, I’m a bit of a masochist… going in 2 weeks early for round 1: Pre-Thanksgiving. I usually have at least two rounds—a 50 person pre-Thanks feast-to-beat-all-feasts that Robb and Amanda host, and then the real deal with the family. This year, however, just to torture myself a little bit more, I’m takin’ it to the top with three…count em’ THREE Thanksgiving dinners. The Robb/Amanda festivities have been pushed to post-Thanks this year (since Robb is in the Virgin Islands), the big-day is goin’ down at John and Mel’s house on the 26th, and a romantic couples pre-Thanks just wrapped up about an hour ago. That’s right…I’m writing to you straight from a pre-Thanksgiving feast induced food coma.

Evan and I don’t spend Thanksgiving together, and neither do our friends Anthony and Chelsea, so Chelsea and I decided to cook an early Thanksgiving dinner for our menfolk. After weeks of giddy menu planning, we had the perfect “little” Thanksgiving feast nailed down. The dinner was even better in person than on paper, but “little” it was not. Chelsea made an amazing turkey stuffed with cornbread stuffing and layered with oranges and lemons.

For sides, I went a little wild with my sweet and savory roasted rosemary sweet potato wedges, Mel’s traditional mashed potatoes, a green bean casserole recipe courtesy of Food Network, and a new creation—roasted cauliflower with sage brown butter and pecans. Call us crazy, but we all agreed that canned cranberry sauce—complete with ring indentations from the can—is far superior than that crappy ‘homemade’ stuff with real berries in it. C’mon, I know you feel the same way, it’s a classic. After seconds and thirds and the sounds of buttons popping all around the table, we finished off the meal with hot apple cider and Chelsea’s rich and delicious pumpkin cheesecake (how can I go back to plain pumpkin pie after that!?).

Now I have one Thanksgiving feast down, and two more to go (and that’s not even counting the days of leftovers after each one)! Coming soon: Thanksgiving with Mel, John, and Amanda—sure to be filled with our favorite traditions, plus maybe a few new treats (like this ‘pumpkin pie’ from No Recipes). At least with that Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll be working it off the next day with Black Friday shopping madness. To work off my food baby tomorrow, lifting a fork of leftovers to my mouth is the only cardio I’ll be doing!

Roasted Cauliflower with Sage Brown Butter and Pecans
1 head of cauliflower
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons butter
3-4 fresh sage leaves- thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped pecans

For Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut cauliflower into florets toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper-transfer to baking dish. Roast, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

For sauce: Melt butter in a small saucepan or pot over medium heat until the white milk solids have browned and it smells nutty but not burned, about 5 minutes. Add sage and nuts, and remove from heat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Drizzle sauce over cauliflower servings, or toss with cauliflower to serve.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Move Over Bubba Gump

Amanda and I used to coach middle school volleyball, and I recently discovered that a mom of one of the girls we coached started a seafood delivery company. For a city such as Seattle, I can’t think of a better idea! Surfin’ Seafood delivers fresh, flash frozen seafood right to your door—with a great selection to choose from. From salmon, to prawns, to halibut, Surfin’ Seafood seems to have the seafood lover covered. My friend Megan immediately jumped on the wave, and ordered an ice chest full of seafood that surfed right on up to her doorstep: two kinds of salmon, halibut, prawns, scallops, and smoked trout. Apparently, seafood delivery day was like Christmas at her house, with their seven-year-old ripping through the ice chest, estatic about the salmon and scallops!

I didn’t place an order in time for the November delivery, but after drooling over the selection posted on their website, I was having seafood withdrawals. Evan and I had just ranked our top 10 favorite proteins, and his number two choice was shrimp… which meant there was no better way to satisfy my seafood craving than to have a little mid-November shrimp-fest (because who can wait long enough for Ballard's summer seafood fest!?).

First, we needed a bright tropical preparation for Dexter night (it takes place in Miami, after all). LB came over, and we had garlic-lime shrimp over pineapple cilantro risotto. The shrimp tasted delicious, but ended up a little tough—I had let it sit in the lime and garlic marinade for too long and the acid from the lime had started to cook the little buggers.

The risotto, however, was AMAZING. I love making risotto, there’s so much you can do with it! Instead of just using chicken broth, I did a 50/50 mixture of broth and pineapple juice, and added tangy-sweet pineapple tidbits and fresh-bright cilantro. Delish! The meal didn’t satisfy our seafood cravings though… instead it sparked Evan and my appetites for more sweet and delectable shrimp!

The next night, I made a recipe from Gourmet that I’ve had my eye on for awhile now. The March 2009 issue featured a beautiful Korean menu, filled with a mix of delicate and robust recipes, like short rib stew and little dishes known as banchan. Among the banchan, completely unassuming, sat a recipe for Korean-Style Romaine. Ever since the issue arrived in my mailbox (RIP Gourmet) I’ve been drawn to the simple looking salad of romaine marinated in a hot sesame-soy dressing. Evan loves Asian flavors, so I decided to try out the salad, and throw in some boiled shrimp for good measure.

While the salad sounds and looks plain and boring, it packed a huge punch that had Evan and me literally licking the last drops of the dressing from our bowls. And, true to Gourmet’s word, the lettuce held up its crunch even after 30 minutes in the steaming hot, flavorful dressing. The shrimp—simply boiled with salt and pepper—were sweet and not overcooked this time, the perfect accompaniment to the umami-rich salad.

It’s recipes like this—simple, quick, thoughtful, and delicious—that make me miss Gourmet the most. I hate to think what I’ll be missing out on as the magazine closes its doors and recipe vaults. I guess I’ll just have to keep finding good recipes hidden within old issues, and making my own new recipes, like the amazing pineapple risotto.

Pineapple Cilantro Risotto

2 cups chicken broth
2 cups pineapple juice
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion-diced
1/4th teaspoon ground coriander
1 bunch chopped cilantro
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup pineapple bits
S and P to taste

Bring broth and pineapple juice to a simmer in a large pot and keep warm. Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat- add onions and coriander, and sauté until onions are softened. Add rice and 1/3rd of the chopped cilantro to the onions. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth/juice and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. When half the liquid is remaining, add pineapple tidbits. Continue adding liquid and stirring 1/2 cup at a time until rice is tender and creamy-looking, 16 to 18 minutes. Reserve a handful of cilantro for garnish, and add the rest to the risotto and stir in right before removing from heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve. I served with grilled garlic-lime shrimp and a dollop of spicy sour cream!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paradise Awaits

Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle. For the most part, the rainy reputation we have is a myth—we really do have amazing, sunny, hot summers. We usually get just the right amount of snow in the winter. We have beautiful views, mountains, lakes, and the sound all in our backyard. We have great food, a good music scene. We also have that stretch of time between fall and winter, right after the time-change, when the sun takes a vacation.

Sure, we have bouts of sunlight…I know we’re not as desperate for daylight as some places (like Alaska… 30 Days of Night, anyone?), but the dreary gloom and general lack of sunshine can really start to take a toll the second week in. It doesn’t help when everyone you know is taking tropical sunny vacations while you’re stuck in the dark so much that you’re turning into a vampire. Mel is in the Dominican Republic with her BFF Shell. Robb just took off for the Virgin Islands. Tasha just returned from a romantic Hawaiian vacation, and Bree is in Mexico with her family. I’m in the hole on my allotted vacation days at work, so the only heat I’m going to feel for awhile is the kind that comes from a hot oven.

Over the weekend, to beat the pre winter blues after a particularly stormy couple of days, Evan and I needed a little taste of Mexico. We love travelling together, and our most recent trip—last spring—was to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Our Cabo Trip in April '09 (and the best shrimp tacos ever)

That trip and a college graduation trip to Puerto Vallarta sealed the deal for me and Mexican food. I’ve always loved Americanized “Mexican” food, but after going to Mexico twice and tasting the real flavors of the Mexico, I crave authentic Mexican cuisine. To satisfy my cravings for Mexican flavors and that hot Mexican sun, Evan and I took a vacation to Señor Moose, right here in Ballard.

I knew about Señor Moose from my friend Megan, who claims that their brunch—specifically the chilaquiles—is what she would choose as a ‘last meal.’ With a name like Señor Moose, you would expect nothing close to authentic Mexican ambiance and food, but this little hole-in-the-wall really delivers the goods. Right when we walked in, I felt like we had stepped off the plane. Warm and bustling inside, crowded but open, with bright painted walls and a randomly placed piñata, Señor Moose looked just like many of the restaurants I loved in Mexico.

And how was the food? I think the owners’ description sums it up: “Our love for Mexican food began nearly 30 years ago. As we traveled deeper into Mexico, we quickly discovered it’s heart. The food.” Señor Moose serves up “comida tipica,” the cooking found in central plateau Mexico’s fondas and backroom kitchens. We started out with cold bottles of Pacifico and Sol, and hot, delicious homemade tortilla chips with five unique salsas and marinated smoky chipotle peppers. I ordered the Manchamanteles—a Oaxacan dish with big, tender chunks of pork cooked in a bold, sweet, and spicy mole of plantains, pineapple, aromatic spices, and chile guajillo, served with mashed sweet potatoes, black beans, and corn tortillas.

The pork was flavorful and amazingly tender—instantly transporting me to nights filled with tequila-laden fiestas, breezy palm trees, and walks on the sandy shores of Mexico. The mashed sweet potatoes were nothing to write home about, but added a creamy, mellow, sweet contrast to the spicy dish. Evan got the Oaxacan dish Alambres—shredded beef, chorizo, bacon, green bell pepper, and poblano chile grilled together, topped with cheese, and served with refried beans. He shoveled it in so fast he didn’t even have time to reach for the warm tortillas. Scrambled with an egg, I think Evan’s dish would have made an awesome breakfast burrito!

Our plates were huge (leftovers!), the meal was delicious, the staff was outgoing and friendly, and we only had to travel a few blocks for a sunny Mexican vacation.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Following in My Dad's Footsteps

Some people say that good things come to those who wait, and in the case of the grill and pork chop incident, I guess I’ll have to agree.

I never claimed to be prompt. I am definitely my father’s daughter—fashionably late wherever I go, constantly procrastinating on projects and chores, easily getting sidetracked. Mel blames his perpetual tardiness on ‘tinkering.’ John is a tinkerer—just as we’re about to head out the door, he decides to change the windshield wipers, or fix the sink, or ‘tinker’ with something. John is a tinkerer and I am his daughter. The problem, however, is that while John tried to balance things out by marrying Mel—a non-tinkerer, someone who tries to be on time—I chose someone even worse than me. What they say must be true… the one about girls choosing guys that are like their fathers.

I got Evan a BBQ for Christmas last year.
After he unwrapped it, it sat (in the box) at my apartment for 2 months.
Then he finally took it to his apartment….
Where it sat (in the box) for 6 months.
Then we moved in together in August.
Week one he put the box on the balcony.
Week two he opened the box, and took out the pieces.
By the end of September, he finally had the BBQ assembled.
In mid-October, he got a propane tank.
This week, we finally used the BBQ….and only 11 months after we got it!

For the inaugural run, we grilled simple but satisfying pork chops rubbed with seasoning salt, onions, and homemade bread that we sliced and rubbed with garlic and olive oil.

While I may have inherited the unfortunate tinkering gene from John, I hope that I also inherited the best-BBQ-master-in-the-world-gene too. The man can cue- and we’re not just talking the typical dad style summer burger blow outs—my family lights the grill year round, rain or shine, wind or snow; steaks or salmon, chicken or squash, crab or pizza. You name it, we grill it. Now here’s to hoping that Evan and I can master Jonh’s prowess at the grill, and leave the procrastinating to far less delicious pursuits- like doing laundry.

Monday, November 2, 2009

C is for Cookie.

Have you ever watched Sesame Street? Well, the Cookie Monster is real. They don’t tell you, however, that instead of a big, blue, furry guy with a deep growly voice and kindergarten reading level, the Cookie Monster is a petite girl with brown hair, freckles, and a college degree.

Amanda's PBJ Cookies

I. Love. Cookies. Sure, I get weak in the knees for many (most) culinary delights, but if I had to single out one specific weakness- that one food that carries with it a little bit of indulgent guilt, that I couldn’t give up no matter how hard I tried—it would be cookies. Everyone has their one-big-weakness. For some people its chocolate or doughnuts. For others it’s potato chips or diet cokes. For Biscuit (the cat) it’s canned Fancy Feast. For me… it’s cookies. It takes incredible will power for me to turn down a cookie (or five). Sometimes, when I start noticing a little too much junk in my trunk, I can cut back on my cookie habit. During these moments, I can muster the strength to have, say, only two cookies a week.

While one could argue that a cookie-lover such as myself must love all cookies, I am (a tiny bit) picky. I don’t want boring ol’ mass produced cookies. When I’m craving cookies, I want the kind of cookies that really pack on the pounds. I’m talking big, fluffy, chewy, melty, gooey fresh baked cookies. My favorite is the classic chocolate chip, which is followed closely by the oatmeal chocolate chip (no raisins), then the peanut butter, molasses, cut-out cookie (gingerbread and sugar), and the ever-elusive snickerdoodle.

Recently, with the onset of crisp fall weather, I’ve been baking like my life depends on it. One night, I made a batch of basic chocolate chip cookies- the kind John always made when we were kids (straight from the Fanny Farmer cookbook). They’re thin and wrinkly, crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle, with a perfectly salty sweet batter and bittersweet chocolate morsels in every bite. I’m an impatient cookie maker/baker (like I’ve said before, I’m a cook, not a baker). By the final batch, I was tired of arranging little tablespoon size drops of dough on the cookie sheet, so I made a few giant cookies. With a cooling rack already full of the classic chocolate chip, I added a dollop of orange marmalade to the final batch to make things interesting. The orange and chocolate combo was delicious! The next evening, still affected by the baking-bug, I made the same basic recipe, but instead of marmalade, I went crazy and made batches with fig jam, almonds, kit-kat pieces, and dark chocolate chunks. All were amazing.

Right when I was thinking up my next cookie experiment, Food 52 announced a chocolate-based cookie contest! Perfect! I’ve never been crazy about regular chocolate based cookies (I mean, I’ll eat them if they are there, obviously), but there are two that I love. One is brownie-biscotti (which I’m considering a cookie), and the other is a chocolate-chai cookie that my roommate in college made for a holiday cookie exchange. For the ultimate chocolate based cookie, I decided to combine the two!

My Chocolate-Chai Biscotti was crunchy without being too hard, and the cinnamon glaze added a sweet spicy contrast to the yummy chocolate. I used powdered chai mix in the dough (probably why I didn’t win…shakes fist at Chai mix), but I think adding actual chai-inspired spices would kick up the chai flavor even more! These are great with coffee in the morning (just ask my coworkers) and with ice cream in the evening (just ask my girl-friends). A few pieces of this biscotti, and you’ll see why it’s so hard to turn down a good cookie.

Chocolate Chai Biscotti

1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cups baking cocoa
3 tablespoons powdered chai latte mix*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 -2 teaspoon cinnamon
4-6 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine butter, eggs, and vanilla until well blended
Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, chai mix, baking powder, baking soda. Gradually add to wet mixture until combined (will be crumbly). Fold in chocolate chips and almonds.
Divide dough in half. On ungreased baking sheet, shape each half into a 12 by 3 inch log (with space between each log). Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool for 10-15 minutes. Cut diagonally into 1 inch slices, and place cut side down on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for another 20-25 minutes until firm and dry. Cool on wire racks.
For glaze, combine powdered sugar, cinnamon, and as much water as needed for drizzle consistency. Drizzle on completely cooled biscotti.

Enjoy with a chai latte!

* For Chai-ier flavor, replace Chai mix with::
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rise and Shine

I decided that this will be the fall and winter that I learn how to bake bread. I'm not talkin' quick breads like banana, zucchini, and peanut butter (yum). I have those down. I'm talkin' the real deal: yeast bread.

I'm a carb-o-maniac. I love bread, a lot, but have never actually made anything using yeast (with the exception of frozen bread rolls). When the weather turns cold and it's time to start making pots of soups, stews, and chilies- nothing is better than fresh, warm hunks of bread and butter to soak up the broth and mop up your plate. This year when the crock pot and stock pot come out, I'll be prepared with yummy homemade rolls and loaves of bread...which might also save me some money!

I told a few friends that I was interested in taking on yeast-breads, and got a lot of help! Now, along with the gooey dough on my counter, I'm ready to rise to the challenge. Kat helped by giving me a few of her special time-tested Artisan bread recipes that she bakes in a cast iron skillet, along with a few tips! Before I got that far though, I needed to learn the basics of yeast. Who better to teach me than my friend M.Anne- a bread lover who is going back to school to become a chemistry teacher? Yesterday, Amanda and I headed up to M.Anne's for a lesson in baking. We prepared three recipes- cinnamon rolls with sticky sweet 'goo,' Gourmet's Parmesan Pull-Aparts (in memory of Gourmet, of course), and dough for Five-Minute Artisan Bread.

While Amanda and I kneaded and mixed, M.Anne taught us the science behind yeast, explaining what makes the bread rise, and how to make it work every time. With bowls of dough rising, we gossiped, drank tea, laughed at the recipes and suggestions in her retro cookbooks, and played with her curious kitties that wanted in on the fun. It was a really fun fall day, the perfect way to get out of the cold and the rain. It was also delicious.

The cinnamon rolls were gooey and sweet, with the perfect soft crumb and sticky sauce. I brought a dish of 15 cinnamon rolls home to Evan, Mike, and Mark. I have about 3 left. The Five-Minute Artisan bread is a really cool recipe that involves making the dough, then keeping it in the fridge, allowing you to pull off hunks to bake when you need (or want) it. The perfect thing to make on a weekend, and have around during the week. I haven't baked a loaf yet, but the dough is all ready for me. The Parmesan Rolls were amazing- soft, buttery, flakey, and cheesy- tender on the inside with a lightly browned top. We ate them with M.Anne's homemade cream cheese (she makes bread, she makes cheese...the two things I need to survive). These pull-apart rolls are for sure going to join my Thanksgiving line-up from now on (ya hear that, Mel and John, we're having these rolls this year, and I won't take no for an answer)!

All in all, it was a great day in the kitchen- I spent time with friends, learned a few valuable lessons, and only gained about 5 pounds. And I have some delicious new recipes to add to my collection- and these ones really rise and shine.

Parmesan Pull-Aparts
From the late, great Gourmet Magazine

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
1 teaspoon mild honey or sugar
2/3 cup warm milk (105–115°F), divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 Tbsp for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups grated (with a rasp) Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/3 oz)
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp pieces and softened
1 tablespoon water

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/3 cup warm milk in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.) Whisk together flour (2 1/2 cups), cheese, and salt, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. (You can also do this by hand, as we did). Increase speed to medium and beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until a very soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, until dough is elastic, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.)

Scrape dough into center of bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Arrange rolls 1 inch apart in a buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and dough fills pan, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together remaining egg with water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.) Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of rolls from pan with a sharp knife and invert rolls onto a rack, then reinvert and cool at least 20 minutes.
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