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
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