Friday, December 18, 2009

Dan Dan Noodles

When I fall for a food, I fall hard. Lately, I can't stop thinking about the Dan Dan noodles I had at Seven Star Peppers. Now that I've done some research I know that saying Dan Dan noodles is almost like the Szechuan version of saying spaghetti sauce - it implies something very general. The dish that I love is the soupy, peanutty kind of Dan Dan so that's what I've tried to recreate here (with lots of help from a recipe I found in Food & Wine magazine and, of course, Johnny). If you haven't had good Dan Dan noodles you might not realize that you need to make this right now, immediately, tonight. I don't even have a picture to post because it was so good the night I made it that I was finished eating before I could think of getting the camera. I'll add a photo next time I make it (probably tomorrow because I could eat this every other day). Oh, I almost forgot one of the best parts - it takes maybe 15 minutes to make this.

Dan Dan Noodles
serves 4
printable version

1/4 c peanut oil (or other non-olive oil)
1/2 c toasted peanuts (use very plain toasted ones or toast them with the oil in a pan)
1 jalapeno, de-seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/4 inch of ginger, skinned and chopped
5 T soy sauce
2 T water
2 T Sri Racha (Asian hot sauce that is widely available and good to have in the cupboard)
1 T sugar
2 t sesame oil

1 pound ground pork or chicken
2 c chicken stock
1 c slivered carrots
3 baby Bok Choys, or about 2 cups shredded cabbage
Noodles to serves 4 - I used Udon that I found in my grocery store, but you could use other Asian noodles or even fettuccine

  • Put all of the sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  • Saute the pork in a pan large enough to have the noodles and sauce added later.
  • When the pork is done, add the Bok Choy and saute for a couple of minutes, just until the Bok Choy is wilted. 
  • Add the carrots and stock and heat through.
  • Add the cooked noodles (if you're using Udon noodles, don't cook them on the side first, just add them to the sauce and simmer for about a minute). Done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Slow-cooked Leek and Proscuitto Pasta

That Jamie Oliver, he sure has a way with leeks. My Leek and Chick Pea Soup (that is pretty much everyone's favorite on this blog) was adapted from his recipe and now I had another adaption of one of his - Slow-cooked Leek and Proscuitto Pasta. This is so crazy good I lick my plate when we have it. I suggest making a huge batch of the slow-cooked leeks and keeping them on hand (they'll keep in the fridge for a week or two and would probably freeze fine, but I never have them around long enough to test that) for pasta or for an even faster version of the soup. This is a very monochromatic dish so I've been holding off posting it in hopes of having a good picture. Oh well, it's too good to keep secret any longer.

Slow-cooked Leeks & Prosciutto Pasta
serves 4
printable version

4 leeks
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 c chicken stock
1 c dry white wine
4-6 slices of prosciutto
1 pound rigatoni, penne, or similar pasta
grated Parmesan
  • Prep the leeks by cutting off the root end and the green top (I use the green up until it gets stiff, but leek purists don't use any green). Slice them lengthwise and then into thin half-moons. Leeks can have dirt in between their tight layers so I rinse mine well and then dry them in a salad spinner.
  • In a wide, deep frying pan, melt the butter and heat the oil (the bit of oil keeps the butter from browning). Add the leeks and garlic and saute for about 10 minutes or until you are just starting to see browning.
  • Add the wine and stock and then lay the slices of prosciutto over the top (see the photo above). You can substitute salami or ham, you'll just need enough to cover the leeks.
  • Reduce to a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Do a couple checks to make sure the leeks aren't sticking, but don't stir in the prosciutto. If it seems like the pan is drying out you can put a lid half on and/or add a little water.
  • Prepare your pasta while the leeks are simmering.
  • Remove the prosciutto and slice it into thin pieces. Stir this into the leeks.
  • Toss the leeks with the cooked pasta, top with Parm. and you're done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cupboard Soup: Chicken, Green Chile, Tortilla Soup

A Cupboard Soup comes together on one of those days when I ask myself, "what do I have in the cupboard that could make a meal because I've already been to the grocery store 4 times this week?" This is one of my best successes so I thought it would be a good example of how to throw something together. I always keep onions, garlic, and my good old concentrated stock stock around. You also need something for flavor (herbs, tomatoes, salsa, chilies, sausage, leftover side dishes that won't turn into mush) and something for bulk (beans, lentils, split peas, potatoes, canned or fresh veggies). I also like a protein (if that isn't where my main flavor is coming in) and I usually have that in my freezer from some budget-breaking trip to Costco. Follow the method below and you can change the ingredients around a million ways. I didn't have anything for bulk except tortillas so this turned out a little thin (I'm really more of a stew person than a soup person), but so good. It could have used maybe corn or potatoes or black beans.

Chicken, Green Chili, Tortilla Soup
serves 6
printable version
instructables version

2 chicken breasts
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 c stock
1 7oz. can of green salsa
2 4oz. cans diced green chiles
8 corn tortillas, cut into strips
1/2 bunch cilantro (more if you want garnish)
juice of 2 limes
1.5 T cumin
1 T oregano
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cayenne
sour cream for garnish

  • Rinse and pat dry the chicken breasts, then sprinkle one side with salt & pepper. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a  soup pot (or saute pan if you're going to use a slow cooker) on medium-high heat. Place the salted side of the chicken down in the pan. Now sprinkle the other side with S&P. Brown both sides well, but don't worry about cooking them through. This searing step is optional, but it adds flavor.
  • Remove the chicken (either set it aside or put it in the slow cooker). In the same pan, saute the onions until the edges are starting to brown , then throw in the garlic and saute until it starts to brown also. You  might have to add a little more oil.
  • Toast the cumin by sprinkling it over the onions and garlic and stirring it for a few minutes.
  • Pour a few cups of stock into the pan and scrape all the good browned bits off the bottom.
  • Add everything except the sour cream and half of the tortillas to the soup pot or slow cooker. This soup is best if you put it on early and let it simmer for a couple of hours (I put it on high in the slow cooker while I'm at work all day).
  • When you're almost ready to eat, take the chicken out of the pot and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I like to give it a quick blend with my hand-blender before adding the chicken back in, but that's optional.
  • For a great garnish, spread the remaining 4 tortillas (cut into strips) on a cookie sheet. Drizzle the strips with oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Give them a quick toss to coat everything and pop these in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350, or until they're brown.
  • Serve with the toasted tortilla strips and a generous dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lemon Lentils

Over ten years ago my mom and I watched Ishmail Merchant make this on the old (better) Martha Stewart TV show. His recipe is a little complicated for lentils, so I simplified it. This is the BEST lentil soup or side dish I know how to make. I freeze this for lunches later, but it's very important to remove the lemon halves (and the cinnamon sticks, while you're at it) after it has cooked or else they can make all the leftovers bitter. We learned that the hard way.

Lemon Lentils
serves 4 to 6
printable version
instructables version

4 cups red lentils (Masoor Dal) picked over for stones
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 onion sliced and 1/2 an onion diced
4 bay leaves
4 3inch cinnamon sticks
1 diced garlic clove
1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger
1 tps. cayenne pepper
1 lemon - squeeze out the juice, but save the halves
8 to 10 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock
maybe salt depending on your stock (don't add it until the end because most stock is really salty)

  • Saute the onions in the oil until the edges brown. Add the garlic and saute until it just starts to brown. 
  • Add the ginger, bay, cinnamon, and cayenne and saute for a minute or two to toast the cayenne and get everything hot. 
  • Add the lentils, stock, lemon juice, and squeezed lemon halves. Simmer this for about 45 minutes. You have to stir it sort of frequently so that the lentils don't stick to the pot.  
  • I often have to add 2 more cups of stock because I like it like a soup. If you want it to be a side dish you just have to stir it more frequently at the end to avoid adding the extra water.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chai (not for dinner)

I can't quite decide how to tag things that aren't for dinner. Lately, as I've been a little bored with our meals and frustrated with the cookbook, I haven't been as inspired to post dinners, but we're still having fun in the kitchen. Like this Chai that I make for us on the weekends - it's so simple, but so wonderfully warming on these dreary days. I keep the extra in the fridge and microwave it for my morning tea the next day. Buying the spices in bulk, and using tea that's not as nice as what I drink just plain, keeps this really inexpensive. Thanks to Elise for introducing me to the recipe (which is adapted from this Gourmet, I think).

Homemade Chai
fills two16oz mugs
Instructable version

3 scoops/teabags black tea (Darjeeling, English Breakfast, etc...)
1 inch fresh ginger, cut into rounds
1 cinnamon stick
2 t black pepper corns
10 or so whole cloves
5 cardamon pods
3 cups water
1 cup milk/soy (I use whole milk)
1/4 c brown sugar

  • Put all of the spices in a sealable plastic bag and bruise them well by pounding with a rolling pin or hammer. Don't go crazy, though, you're bruising not destroying.
  • Add the spices to the water in a small pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. It helps to partially cover so you lose less liquid, but that's optional.
  • Add the tea and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the tea and how strong you like it.
  • Strain the Chai into a bowl and then add the liquid back to the pot (I usually have to give it a rinse to get out all the bits).
  • Add the milk and sugar and bring back up to hot.
  • Serve with cookies on a rainy day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Red Wine Risotto with Mushrooms

I've been wanting to put risotto on the blog since I first started it. It's one of those things (like making a roux) that has a mostly undeserved reputation for being difficult. Mom got an old copy of Marcella Hazan's cookbook and taught herself from there. Here's the first myth busted - you don't have to stir it constantly. You do need to hover a bit so it's not great for when you're busy with a million other things. The 2nd myth to discard - it doesn't take forever to make. I timed this one and from when I picked up the knife to cut the onion to serving it took 45 minutes. Again, not an every night thing, but even Rachel Ray can't be too unhappy with that. Make risotto just to prove to yourself that you can; make it because it's so creamy and satisfying; make it because you want something insano purple on your plate just for fun.

Red Wine Risotto with Mushrooms
serves at least 6, but it works well to cut this recipe in half
printable version

1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c Arborio Rice, or short-grain sushi rice in a pinch
2 c red wine
6 c chicken stock, simmering
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 T butter
1/2 c Parmesan plus more for garnish
  • Click here if you want more step-by-step instructions and photos.
  • In a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 T of the butter until bubbling. Add the onions and saute until they are starting to become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and saute for about 5 minutes more. If things start to brown, turn down the heat a bit and move on to the next step. For the record, risotto doesn't traditionally have garlic, but I like it.
  • Add the rice to the pot and saute until you see one or two grains start to brown. If you don't see that, just saute for 5 minutes and move on. This is a great time to twist in a little pepper, but not salt (it will make the rice tough).
  • Add the wine and stir well. Adjust the heat so that the rice is bubbling well, but not furiously boiling. You should be able to walk away and just give it a stir every 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Now you'll add the heated stock in 1 cup batches when the liquid has mostly cooked off, but the rice isn't sticking to the pan (every 5 minutes or so). I think this is the intimidating part, but you can't really mess it up unless you let it stick and burn. For the first couple of additions you should be able to see the bottom of the pot when it's time to add more. I've also seen recipes that just dump all the stock in and have you stir frequently (they claim to be just as good, but I've never tested this).
  • While the risotto is going, saute the mushrooms in a hot pan with 1 T of butter until they are browned.
  • Before adding the last cup of stock, give the risotto a taste. It should be creamy and thick and the rice should be cooked, but not mushy. You should be able to eat it with a fork. Sometimes I don't need the last cup, sometimes I need 1 cup more.
  • To finish the risotto, add 1 T butter and about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously and the risotto turns creamier and it's done.
  • Now you can add the mushrooms and adjust the salt.

P.S. This basic method works great for a simple (non-purple) risotto as well. Just omit the wine and use 2 cups more stock. You can also skip the mushrooms and add just about any cooked ingredient that suits the mood you're in - asparagus, roasted squash, shrimp, peas, corn and lime, herbs and lemon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Succotash (that turns into soup)

I once had to make a soup version of Succotash even though I'd never even tasted the real thing. Since this was in the dark ages before Epicurious I completely winged it based only on knowing that it should have corn, lima beans, and probably ham. I've since discovered that there are endless variations and arguments about what should be in Succotash. So my made up recipe that starts as a side and becomes a soup may not be what you (probably Brian) think of as Succotash, but it'll do. Serve it with all sorts of summery dishes, as a main when you see the last fresh corn on sale (like we did), or in the dead of Winter when you are missing corn. Also, John thinks he doesn't like Lima beans so I used black-eyed peas, but I think little baby Limas are great.

makes a ton - enough for 4 to 6 as a side and then there will be leftovers for the soup below
printable version

5 ears fresh corn (or 2 cans)
1 pound good ham, diced (I use Black Forest from The Swinery)
4 cloves garlic, diced
5 medium yukon gold potatoes, cut bite-sized
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or other bean)
Tabasco or other hot sauce
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t thyme
  • Start your potatoes either in a pot of water or in the oven to roast.
  • Saute the garlic in a little olive oil until it just starts to brown. 
  • Add the ham cubes and saute until they have brown edges.
  • Cut the kernels from the corn and add it to the ham along with the peas, cumin, thyme, cooked potatoes, and a few dashes of Tabasco.
  • Saute on medium until the peas are heated through and the corn is cooked, about 10 minutes. Splash in a little hot water or olive oil if your pan is getting dry.
  • You're done.

Soup from the Leftovers
3 cups leftover Succotash (or whatever the equivalent corn & beans & ham would be)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
4 to 6 cups chicken stock
thyme & cumin to taste
1 medium-sized winter squash, peeled and diced (2 -3 cups)
1 cup cream (optional)
  • Saute the onions and garlic in the bottom of a soup pot until the edges are starting to brown.
  • Roast the squash cubes in a 400 degree oven simply by tossing in olive oil, salt & pepper and letting them cook until the edges are brown.
  • Add the leftovers to the pot and cover with chicken stock, adding it bit by bit until it's the consistency you like - you'll be adding the squash to bulk it up, but them cream to thin it again.
  • Once it's all warm enough to taste adjust the seasonings.
  • Simmer this on low for at least 30 minutes (an hour or more would be good if you have it).
  • Stir in the cream about 10 minutes before eating.
  • Serve with buttered toast (always!).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beef Stroganoff

Now that I know how to make a real, yummy, sort of fancy,  Beef Stroganoff I never make the simple Hamburger Stroganoff that I grew up with. Partly it's because I don't do recipes that require a can of Cream of Anything Soup (too many mysterious ingredients), but it's also because now that I know this version, even nostalgia can't make me crave the other one. That's my warning: you might never go back. This isn't the simplest recipe I know, but it is one of my most favorite comfort foods to make at home. In the steps below I've include a way to short-cut things if you just don't feel like dealing with making a roux.

Beef Stroganoff
serves 4

3/4 pound Crimini mushrooms (or white button), sliced
1 1/2 pound top sirloin cut into bite-sized strips
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 T Dijon mustard
5 T sour cream
1 T paprika
1 t dill
serve with:
  1 pound egg noodles tossed in butter and a pinch of salt
  • Melt 2 T of butter in a high-sided frying pan. Toss the beef with salt & pepper. Cook hot & quick in the butter just until the edges are brown. Remove to a bowl leaving as much butter and juices in the pan.
  • Add the onions and mushrooms to the pan. Add a little more butter or oil if needed, but try not to. Mushrooms will dry out the pan at first, but then they start to release all their juices and you'll be fine.
  • When the mushrooms have started to brown, add the garlic and cook until it is just starting to brown as well. Add this all to the bowl with the beef (this time getting the pan as clean as possible).
  • Now make a roux to thicken the sauce: melt 2 T of butter in the pan and sprinkle it with 2 T flour. Whisk it well until it starts to brown (I like it medium brown, just about the color of caramel). Add the beef stock in a steady stream while whisking like crazy.
  • Whisk in the sour cream, mustard, dill, and paprika.
  • Add all the reserved ingredients and adjust the salt & pepper.
  • Cook the beef, mushrooms, onions, and garlic together until the beef is cooked through and the mushrooms are tender.
  • Add the paprika, dill, half the stock, and half the sour cream. Mix well.
  • Add more sour cream and stock until it is a consistency and flavor you like (without the flour-butter roux it won't be as thick and rich, but it's still yummy).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Leek and Chick Pea Soup

My sister served me this soup one afternoon and I was startled by how good it was. She's a great cook, but the ingredients list was just too simple. The first time I made it myself, I grilled her about the recipe - she must have left something out. After getting in trouble for doubting her, I agreed to try it without overly doctoring it up. It was great again. It reminds me to let the ingredients come out; it reminds me to cook with leeks more often. This recipe originally came from Jamie Oliver (who wrote that he got it from a friend), then I got it from my sis who had modified it a bit, and now I've made some adjustments. I love passing along recipes and watching them change.
P.S. What am I going to do about all these lame soup photos? It's so hard to take a picture of soup!

Leek & Chick Pea Soup
serves 6 to 8 (I freeze it for lunches)

1 T butter
2 T olive oil
3 to 4 leeks (depending on size)
4 cloves of garlic
2 T of ground cumin
5 cups cooked Chick Peas (about 2 cups uncooked, or 2 cans)
8 little red potatoes, quartered
8 to 10 cups stock
bay leaf
salt & pepper

  • Prep the leeks by first cutting off the tough green ends, then slicing them lengthwise before cutting into thin half-circles. Rinse them well - leeks are dirty.
  • Heat the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot and then throw in the leeks and garlic. Cook these down until the pan is pretty dry (about 10 minutes, stir frequently).
  • Sprinkle the cumin over this and continue to cook until the cumin is stuck to the pan (about 2 minutes)
  • Add the potatoes, chick peas, bay leaf, salt & pepper, and 8 cups of stock.
  • Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Add more stock if needed.
  •  Adjust the salt & pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese on top.
I make this in my slow cooker just so that it's ready when I come home from work, but that's completely optional. I also add chicken to make it even heartier. It's so simple to just put two raw chicken breasts in when you add the stock. Then fish them out after work, chop them up, and add back to the soup.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore

The first time I looked up recipes for Chicken Cacciatore I was amazed by how much the different versions varied both by ingredients (olives, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini, or none of those things) and by cooking method (oven, stove top, slow cooker). The heart of this dish is chicken cooked with tomatoes to make a hearty not-quite-stew that I like to serve with polenta. What I'm really saying is feel free (like I did) to change this around as much as you'd like and let me know how it goes!

Chicken Cacciatore
serves 4 to 6
printable recipe

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 red bell pepper, sliced (or roasted red peppers)
1 T tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 cans (15oz) diced tomatoes
1 T oregano
smidge of cinnamon
1 big sprig of rosemary
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
5 to 10 olives of your choice
Parmesan cheese
  • Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a deep-sided saute pan (or soup pot if you don't have a saute pan big enough). Sprinkle one side of  the chicken with salt & pepper. Place the salted side down in the pan and cook until it's a little brown. Sprinkle the other side and repeat. You will probably have to do this in two rounds. Set the chicken aside.
  • In the same pan, saute the onions and garlic (add a little more oil if needed) until they are just starting to brown.
  • Add the mushrooms (keep the heat high, mushrooms like that) and peppers and saute until they are starting to get brown edges. If the onions and garlic start to head in the direction of too brown, just go to the next step and it will all still turn out great.
  • Add the tomato paste to the vegetables and saute for about 2 more minutes. Tomato paste always tastes better if it is browned.
  • Add the wine and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes. Scrape all the good browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the chicken, tomatoes, herbs and spices, and the olives.
  • Give it all a good stir and allow it to simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes. Just check it a couple of times to be sure nothing is sticking
  • Serve with pasta or polenta and top it with grated Parmesan cheese. Yum!!
PS - No, I still don't really like olives, but I do use them to season dishes. I just don't eat them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Carrot Spice Cake

If you have ever grown zucchini (or had a friend or neighbor who has) you know that this is the time of year for baseball-bat-sized vegetables that aren't good for much other than the compost bin. But this cake, oh my, this cake is so moist, so perfectly chocolaty without being over-sweet, that you'll never regret letting your zukes stay on the vines too long again (or you might go beg your friend to rescue one from the compost heap in exchange for a slice). I don't do nutritional information, but this has to be relatively healthy - no butter and lots of veggies.
It's so good, you'll even buy zucchini to make it. My Mom often made this at the holidays and it's always a hit. It doesn't even need ice cream on the side and I never say that about cake.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon each of:
   baking soda
   baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each of:
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (peeled first)1 bag (16 oz) chocolate chips
1 cup oil (canola or something other than olive)
4 eggs

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and oil a 9x13 pan.
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl (or the bowl of a mixer).
  • Stir in the carrots, zucchini, and chocolate chips.
  • Beat the eggs and oil together until well combined.
  • Add the wet things to the dry things and mix well.
  • Pour into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. If you test with a toothpick you might spear a gooey chocolate chip and that might make it seem like it's not done. Mine took the full 55 minutes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pozole - Mexican Pork & Hominy Stew

I first had Pozole when I was living in New York on the edge of Spanish Harlem. A friend took me to a tiny Mexican restaurant that served the soup every Friday. It was a steaming bowl of broth, slow-cooked pork, and hominy served with onion, cilantro, lime, avocado, radishes, and hot sauce on the side (imagine Mexican Pho). It was instantly my favorite soup. Later, when I was turning all the foods I loved into soups for work, I developed a recipe that didn't have everything on the side so that it would be easier to serve. I've often said that this is the best recipe I've ever developed myself (maybe the best-tasting dish I know how to make), but I was never sure if I should really call it Pozole. The first time I ordered Pozole in Mexico I was sure I needed to come up with a different name for mine because it was, again, had a delicious clear broth with all the fixins on the side - not so much like the thick, red stew I make. But then, wait, I ordered it somewhere else on another visit and what came to the table might have come from my own kitchen! I made John try it to confirm I wasn't giving in to wishful thinking. I discovered that I make Pozole Rojo. Hurray!

Pozole Rojo
serves 8, so I freeze it (without the avocados) or make it when friends are coming over
printable version

2 pounds boneless pork (use whatever cut is on sale)
1 onion (yellow or white, not sweet), rough chop
4 cloves of garlic, rough chop
2 T cumin
smidge of cinnamon
2 cans (15 0oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (4 oz) diced green chilies
1 T dried oregano
1 t dried sage (or a couple fresh leaves)
1 bay leaf
1 dried ancho chili*
3  limes
1 bunch (about 2 cups) cilantro
1 can (29 oz) hominy
8 to 10 cups chicken stock (or pork stock if you have it, but who does?)
Avocado for on top

I make this in my slow cooker so that I can have it on a weekday, but you can make it on the stove top if you're going to be home for a few hours to stir.
  • Heat a little oil in a large saute pan (or the bottom of your soup pot) to nice and hot, but not smoking. 
  • Sprinkle one side of the pork with salt & pepper and put this side down in the pan. Sprinkle the other side now. 
  • Sear the meat for about 5 minutes per side (until it's all nicely browned, but don't worry about cooking it through) and then transfer it to the slow cooker.
  • In that same pan, saute the onions and garlic (you're going to puree later, so don't waste time with careful chopping) until the edges are starting to brown.
  • Sprinkle the onions and garlic with the cumin and cinnamon. Have the cans of tomatoes open and ready while you toast the spices until you're worried they're sticking. 
  • Dump in the tomatoes, green chilies and the rest of the spices. Stir well to get all the good bits off the pan. Remove the seeds and stem from the ancho and tear it into pieces before adding it to the rest. Anchos are not very spicy, so you may want to sprinkle in some cayenne here if you want a spicier soup.
  • Put all of this in the slow cooker along with 8 cups of the stock, cilantro (reserve a little for garnish later), and the juice of two and a half limes. Cook on high for 4 hours (about 2 hours on the stove top - until the meat is falling apart).
  • Remove the meat and the bay leaf. Blend what's left in the cooker until it is smooth (using an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender).
  • Break the pork up into bite-sized pieces. Add it back into the soup along with the hominy. Add more stock until it is the consistency you like. Cover and cook on high for another 2 hours. My slow cooker is small so I actually have to switch to the stove top at this step, stirring more frequently.
  • Serve the soup with chopped cilantro, a wedge of lime, and cubes of avocado.
* I don't make many recipes with "specialty ingredients," but Pozole is one of them. It just isn't the same without the ancho chili (dried poblano). They're in many of the grocery stores in Seattle, or online. If you really can't find them, try substituting (maybe roasted peppers and jalapenos?) and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Turkey & Green Chili Chili

I was supposed to take a pretty picture of this chili so that I could put it with the post, but when I got home from work at 8:30 on a rainy evening my house was so full of the smells of spices and limes and chilies that I completely forgot about taking pictures. Chili and the Slow Cooker are best friends. All the spices that give Chili its flavor can be gritty and harsh if they aren't cooked for a while, but I pretty much refuse to make most things that have to be tended over a long period of time (I've never roasted a turkey or made a pot roast in the oven or baked a loaf of yeasty bread). Except for rare special occasions, I run out of patience at about an hour. This Chili requires about 20 minutes of working time. It's also a perfect September recipe because it has a Summery feel, but it's warm and comforting (for weather that can't make up its mind). On top of that, it freezes well for leftovers.

Turkey & Green Chili Chili
(Printable Version)
serves 4 to 6

1 onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
20 oz. ground turkey (I never have just a pound because of the stupid way it comes packaged around here)
2 T cumin
4 T chili powder (I use one low in salt from a natural foods market)
1 T dried oregano
1 t garlic powder
cayenne to taste (start with a pinch)
14 oz (2 cans) Herdez Salsa Verde, or your favorite brand
8 oz (2 cans) diced green chilies
4 cups chicken stock
4 to 6 cups cooked beans (white or pinto) depending on how thick you like your chili
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
juice of 2 to 4 limes (I like 4, but it's pretty limey)
sour cream for garnish
  • Saute the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes and then add the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Saute until the spices are toasty or until they start to stick to the pan.
  • Add the turkey and cook until it's no longer showing pink (it doesn't matter if it's cook all the way through).
  • Add the oregano, garlic powder, salsa, green chilies, and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. You can skip this step and just put it all right in the slow cooker if you want. I find that mine works a little better if the ingredients are warm when they go in.
  • Transfer this to the slow cooker and add the beans. Cook on high for 4 hours. 2 hours will do (in most slow cookers) if you're in a hurry or if you're doing this on the stove top.
  • Add the cilantro (reserving some for garnish if you want) and the lime juice. Cook for another 2 hours.
  • Top with sour cream and cilantro and serve with corn bread or toast.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Coq au Vin (the quick version)

A few years ago we made Coq au Vin for a friend's Birthday Dinner. We used a great recipe from the Balthazar cookbook (which is one of my favorite French cookbooks). You have to plan ahead to marinate the chicken overnight and then the whole process takes about 4 hours the next day. It is by far one of the best comfort food meals.
Here in Seattle, the first week of September has been more like the first week of October, so of  course I instantly started craving Fall/Winter meals. I wanted Coq au Vin, but we've been cooking so much (two food blogs in one household it a lot to keep up with!) that I knew I wouldn't have the time or patience for the long version of this French classic. We brainstormed and came up with a great quicker version (it's a little silly to call it "quick" because it still takes 30 to 45 minutes of active time and about an hour and half total, but that's a lot less than usual). I know, there's no real substitute for time, but sometimes we just don't have time. I cheated a little by using a roux to thicken the sauce. Coq au Vin is really all about the sauce. A great alternate name for this dish would be Mushroom, Bacon, Red Wine Gravy with Chicken. Serve it with mashed potatoes - incredible.

"Quick" Coq au Vin
serves 4

1 onion
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
fresh cracked black pepper
1 T tomato paste
1 bottle red wine (I used a Cabernet)
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/3 lb bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or about 3 lbs with bones)
2 cups chicken stock (I always use Better than Bouillon at half strength and add more if needed)
2 T butter
2 T flour

I know I'm getting a little Rachel Ray with this recipe by having a couple things going at once (which I usually find totally unrealistic - all of her 30 minute meals would take me an hour), but that's what makes the sauce for this so good without as much time.
  • Roughly chop the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. You don't even need to worry about getting all the skin off the garlic or peeling the carrots because this will be strained. Saute all of this in a little olive oil in a sauce pan for about 5 minutes (the onions will just be starting to color).
  • Add the tomato paste and saute until the bottom of the pan is light brown with stuck tomato paste.
  • Add the bottle of wine, the bay leaves, pepper, and the thyme sprigs and scrape the bottom of the pot to get all the brown goodies off. 
  • Let this simmer until it has reduced by half, stirring a couple times, while you work on the rest. I stick my stirring spoon in the liquid to measure so that I have an idea of when half will be. By the time you need this later in the recipe it should be ready.
  • On high heat, saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil  in a deep sided saute pan (or a pot if you don't have a saute pan big enough). Keep them moving so that they get some good brown edges, but don't burn - mushrooms like high heat. Set these aside on a plate for later.
  • Cook the bacon in the same pan until it is nicely browned. Set aside with the mushrooms. Leave just enough of the bacon fat in the pan for searing the chicken.
  • Sprinkle one side of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place this side down in the hot pan with the bacon fat. Now sprinkle the other side of the chicken.
  • When the first side has some good brown edges, flip it and do the other side. You're not cooking through here so don't worry if they're still raw in the middle.
  • When the second side of the chicken has browned, strain the reduced wine and add to the pan. It should bubble and lift off the good brown bits that have formed on the bottom.
  • Add the stock, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water (or thinned stock) if needed. 
  • After 20 minutes, flip the chicken over and simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes.
  • When you've flipped the chicken, it's time to get your roux ready. Don't be intimidated, roux is just cooked flour.
  • Melt the butter in the pot you used to reduce the wine. When it is bubbling, sprinkle the flour over it and whisk to make it smooth. 
  • Keep whisking until the flour has started to lightly brown, then ladle in about a cup of the cooking liquid from the chicken and whisk a lot. (I think this is the scary step because the roux will start to thicken the liquid right away and I always worry I'm making lumps, but just keep whisking and add more liquid if it seems too thick.)
  • Add this to the chicken along with the mushrooms and bacon. Give it all a good stir.
  • Taste for salt. Whenever I cook with stock I add very little salt until the end. Even half-strength stock, or low-sodium stock, is pretty salty.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes more (or longer if you feel like it isn't thick enough, but you'll have to stir more now that the roux has been added) and you're done.
Seriously, it's worth all the effort.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corn & Chicken Chowder

This is my the first soup of the season and I'm not sad to see the our weekly menus turning toward Fall dishes. After I left my last kitchen job I had to take some time away from soup (I still have mild PTSD around Butternut Squash thanks to that mole soup I made once a week at Essential), but I'm slowly re-learning all my old favorite recipes. I remember now that the reason I was (mostly) a soup chef for 4 years was that I love soup - the comforting warmth of it, the fact that it takes a little set up, but then is mostly left alone, and I also just love things served in a bowl.
This Fall I hope to post Pork Posole (both the long way and a quick variation), a Portuguese sausage and Kale soup that's so good, two kinds of Chili, Rosemary and White Bean soup in the slow cooker, just to name a few. I'd love to hear your favorite soup ideas.
If you're doing corn and chicken at a late Summer barbecue, cook a little extra so that you can use the leftovers for this chowder.

Corn and Chicken Chowder
serves 4 to 6

1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 T cumin
1 T oregano
1 t dried sage (or a few fresh leaves)
1 t mustard powder
2 bay leaves
smidge of cinnamon
smidge of cayenne
8 cups stock (or enough stock base to make that)
2 pounds chicken (cooked and cubed)
6 ears of corn, cooked (or 2-3 cans)
2 fresh jalapenos
2 russet potatoes, cut bite-sized (I like skin on)
8 shakes hot sauce
6 T each of butter and flour
2 cups cream
  • Like just about every recipe I know, start by sauteing the onions in a little oil until they're just starting to brown. Then add the garlic and saute until it just starts to brown.
  • Add the spices (except the oregano) and let them toast for just a minute or two.
  • Add the oregano, stock, corn that's been cut from the cobs, the cobs too(!!), potatoes, chicken, and jalapenos.
  • Allow this to simmer (not boil) for about an hour. Give it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn't stick. Add more stock if you need to.
  • Remove the corn cobs and add the hot sauce.
Now we're going to make a roux to thicken the soup. Don't be afraid. Just read this through first and if you haven't made a roux before have someone there to help pour the liquid for you because that's the scary part.
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan (best if it's not non-stick) over medium-low heat.When it is bubbling, have a whisk and a ladle ready.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the butter while whisking. Keep the butter and flour moving (but you don't need to go too crazy) and you should notice the color start to lightly brown. The mixture should also be bubbling. If you were making gravy you'd keeping going until the flour was dark brown, but this is for chowder so you just want a light brown.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream in a steady stream (not a dump or you might get lumps) while whisking vigorously (now you can go crazy). Add a couple of ladles of the broth from the soup so that the roux stays smooth.
  • Add this roux, cream, and broth back into the soup and stir well.
  • Adjust the salt and pepper.
  • Try adding a little lime or cooking the onions with bacon and bacon fat.
Here's a quick summary of my tricks for soup:
-use more spices than you think you should,
-sneak in some mustard powder (it's often the secret something that makes my soups flavorful and I don't even really like mustard!),
-use a stock paste instead of liquid stock (like Better Than Bouillon) because then you can control the stockiness and also because a lot of liquid stocks taste too much like carrots or celery or fake things,
-add tough and sharp things (meats, fresh sage, beans, onions) in the beginning so they can mellow, add soft things (basil, soft veggies, dairy) at the end so you don't end up with mush.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Tomatoes, and Red Onions

There was a lot of pressure on last night's dinner. The night before we had a disaster dinner. We'd gone to see Julie & Julia and, since we didn't have time to make Boeuf Bourguignon, we decided to splurge on the ingredients for a really good Carbonara. If I hadn't burned the pancetta into gross little bits of fat/stryofoam I would be putting that recipe on right now (it's so rich and easy). So then, last night as I was throwing together a pantry pasta to go with the best, simplest grilled chicken (I'll turn that into a link soon) I was worried that it would flop again (we had bad burritos earlier in the week and once in a while we go on a stretch of disaster dinners).
Nope, this is one of our new favorites.

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Tomatoes, and Red Onions
serves 2 as a main or more as a side

1 can artichoke heart quarters
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, or (even better) equivalent of home-roasted tomatoes (that will also be a link soon)
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 of a red onion, thinly sliced
a sprig or 2 of fresh rosemary
3/4 pound short pasta (Penne or similar)
Parmesan cheese for on top
lots of olive oil, salt, & pepper

  • Start this super-fast sauce when you put the pasta in the water. Most short pastas cook in about 10 minutes and that's about how long this sauce takes.
  • In a large pan, saute the onion in a good bit of olive oil (a little more than is really necessary because this will be part of the sauce) until it is just starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute until it's also starting to brown.
  • Add the rosemary, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. If you're using canned tomatoes, cook out some of the liquid before adding the artichoke hearts.
  • When the pasta is done you can either snag about a 1/4 of the cooking liquid and add it to the sauce or just do a bad job of draining it and enough liquid will still be with the pasta. Either way, add the pasta and some of the cooking liquid into the sauce.
  • Check the salt and pepper levels and adjust as needed.
  • Once you plate it, sprinkle generously with grated Parm.
  • This is perfect side for best, simplest grilled chicken (link soon), or as a vegetarian dinner (Hi Kelly).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Simple Steamed Mussels

Growing up spending time in the San Juan Islands I never ate crab or shellfish. I loved to help collect it - the excitement of chasing the squirts coming up from the sand when we went clam digging, setting a crab pot so that later I could watch the basket emerge from the blue-green, murky depths full of treasure (there was always something in it, but not always crab), a trip to a fallen tree that hung into the water where, at just the right time in the tide, we could pick mussels like they were fruit - but the only thing I ever ate was the bread dipped in the cooking broth or melted butter. Now that I'm grown (supposedly) I enjoy the main dish too, but still I make these mussels when really I'm craving a meal of bread and butter. This recipe makes the best broth. You can fancy it up by simply calling it by its real name - Moules a la Mariniere. The simple method here also works if you want to change around the flavors - sprinkle some curry seasonings over the onions and use coconut milk instead of wine.

Mussels a la Mariniere
serves two

1 pound freshest mussels
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 roma tomatoes
2 cups white wine
sprig of thyme (optional)
a really good baguette
lots of butter (fancy if possible)

  • Get the mussels ready by giving them a little scrub to get off any seaweed/scum and ripping out the wiry beards (it's great if you can buy them from a place that already does this!).Never cook a mussel that isn't closed (or doesn't close when you tap it). Some websites recommend purging the mussels first, but this isn't needed in the Northwest because they don't grow in the sand here.
  • Saute the onions until they are translucent and then add in the garlic. Saute both until they're just starting to turn brown.
  • Cut the tomatoes in half and squish out the seeds, then dice. Add to the browned onion and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the white wine and thyme and simmer for about 5 minutes more to reduce the sauce and cook off the alcohol.
  • Toss in the the mussels and stir well to coat. Immediately cover with the lid. Give the pan a good shake, holding the lid on.
  • After 3 minutes give a little peak under the lid. Most of the mussels should be open. If not, put the lid back on for 2 more minutes, but don't wait until every mussel is open - some might not open at all, some will open at the table from the residual heat, and the ones that need even more cooking time have to be sacrificed so that the rest aren't overcooked.
  • Divide the mussels and the broth into two bowls and serve with plenty of bread and butter (see above).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Creamy Herb Dressing with Two Uses (a.k.a. Grilled, Breaded Chicken and salad)

Lately, we've been working on the part of our cookbook that we call "Two-Use Sauces." It's a kind of clumsy name for one of my favorite sections (suggestions?). It's sort of a salad dressing chapter, but it's so much more than that. In each recipe we make a no-cook sauce, usually a vinaigrette, and then divide it in half to use as both marinade and salad dressing. Sometimes there's a slight variation to the sauce to make it better for one thing or the other. This buttermilk herb dressing - yes, it's pretty much Ranch - is so good that whenever I make it I want to spread it on everything - potatoes, crackers, vegetables, hot wings...

Creamy Herb Dressing with Two (or more!) Uses
makes about 1 cup - enough for the chicken marinade and the salad dressing, or serve with a plate of hot wings or crudites

3 garlic cloves
6 sprigs fresh herbs
3 T sour cream
3 T mayo
1/4 c cider vinegar
1/4 c buttermilk
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 t mustard
salt & pepper

1 c fine, dry breadcrumbs
2 chicken breasts, cut into strips
salad greens and salad accessories (tomatoes, avocado, etc...)

  • Start by making the dressing. Grind the garlic, herbs (I usually use rosemary, thyme, and oregano but you can also add/combine in basil, cilantro, dill, tarragon, etc...), salt, and pepper in a Cuisinart or something like it (or if you want to go low-tech, chop everything extra fine, put it in a jar, and shake it very very well). 
  • Add the rest of the elements, but just half of the oil, and blend. Taste to adjust salt and pepper. 
  • It should be a little strong right now, which is perfect for a marinade. Reserve about 1/4 c of the dressing for the salad and pour the rest over the chicken.
  • Finish the dressing by blending in as much of the remaining oil as you want.
  • When you're ready to cook the chicken remove it from the marinade and give it a little shake to get off the excess. Have the bread crumbs ready in a shallow bowl and coat the chicken on both sides.
  • Grill the chicken by first using indirect heat* for about 10 minutes per side. Move the chicken over the heat to toast the breadcrumbs for about 2 minutes per side (or until you like the color).
  • Compose your salad and eat!
*This just means that you keep it to the sides rather than over the flames so that the bread crumbs don't burn. You're basically using your grill like a very flavorful oven.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cilantro or Basil Pesto

This is a special post for my friends who came over for tacos the other night. I don't have a good photo of it, but I made a cilantro pesto for the tacos and I can't believe we ate it all (as usual there was way too much of everything else). It was a nice night for trying something not traditional because we made our own tortillas and Tres Leches cake, and tried to do an authentic Al Pastor pork for the filling. It was all muy sabroso!

Cilantro or Basil Pesto

3 - 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bunches of cilantro or basil, stems removed (probably about 4 cups, loosely packed)
2 limes or 1 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cheese (parmesan with basil, half parm and half cojito with cilantro)
Salt & Pepper to taste, as usual

  • Grind the garlic and S & P in a food processor.
  • Add the cilantro/basil and the lime/lemon and grind again.
  • Add the cheese and 1/4 cup of the oil and mix it all again. Add more oil (drizzle in while it's grinding if possible) until it is the consistency you like.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I'm surprised by how hard I'm finding it to write about this simple chicken curry recipe. I think of it as the first recipe that I really developed on my own, but it's also a recipe I strongly associate with my Mom. When I was 19 and getting ready travel around the world, with a 3-month stop in India, Mom thought I should probably try Indian food before I left. We ended up at a little Indian place on Broadway (where there is now just an empty pit waiting for a train station). I don't really remember the food, but I remember how much she wanted me to be happy and fed on my long trip. We worked on this recipe together when I got back. I found several empty cans of the spice mixture (that I gave as gifts one Christmas) among Mom's things. I was gone for 9-months in the end and tried so many types of food, but the foods of France and India are the ones that have stayed with me.
I'd hate to make this curry for someone who really knows Indian food and find out that it is terrible. This has become a comfort food for me. It works just as well in the slow cooker or bubbling away for an hour on the stove top. Make up a batch of the spices and use it to coat potatoes before roasting or chicken before grilling.

Simple Chicken Curry
Spice Mix:
1 T whole mustard seed
1 T whole cumin seed
3 T ground cumin
1 T turmeric
2 T coriander
1/2 t cayenne (which makes it a little spicy)

The Rest:
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 chicken thighs or 3 breasts
3 T butter
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 T tomato paste
1 15 oz can of  Garbanzo Beans, drained
1 cup of stock (or even better a stock paste like Better Than Bouillon)
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and saute until the edges are just starting to brown. If you worry that the butter is starting to scorch, add a little oil (anything but olive) and this will stop the butter from browning.
  • Have your tomato paste and canned tomatoes ready to go, but first sprinkle all the spices over the sauteed onion. Stir the onion and spices until the bottom of the pan is starting to get coated with brown (usually the mustard and cumin seeds will just start to pop), then add the tomato paste and cook all of this until you're worried it will start to burn.*
  • Add the chicken (this should add enough juice to prevent burning, but if you're worried add just a little of the liquid from the tomatoes) and stir this for a few minutes to coat the chicken with spices.
  • Dump in your cans of tomatoes and Garbanzo Beans. If you have liquid stock, add 2 cups now. I always prefer to use a paste stock like Better Than Bouillon because then the water can come from the rinsed out can of tomatoes, the packaging is way less than liquid stock, and I can control how much I add much (I always start by making it half strength and then add more if needed).
  • Once this has started to bubble you can either put it in a slow cooker for about 6 hours on high, or reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook on the stove for about an hour (stirring a few times to be sure it doesn't stick).
  • Serve with plain, full-fat yogurt and Basmati rice.
*This step of toasting the spices and cooking the tomato paste is really important. I do this now whenever dried spices or tomato paste are called for in a recipe (don't do it to dried or fresh herbs).

Remember, big T is tablespoon, little t is teaspoon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Italian Slow Cooker Variation

During our almost 29 straight days of sun here in Seattle we had maybe 2 cloudy, cool nights. On one of them, we decided to make comfort food suitable for a dark day in December. This is absolutely one of my favorite dinners for simple reasons - I just love the taste of tomatoes, rosemary, wine, and braised anything, but also because upon opening the door after work the house is filled with the smell of a meal all ready to go.
The Creamy, Cheesy Polenta for the side dish is key for my enjoyment, but if you're in a hurry it would be a great with buttery noddles or roasted potatoes. It's made the exact same way as our Slow Cooker Pork Taco Filling so I've just copied those instructions with a little variation.

Slow Cooker Pork, Italian Flavors

3 to 4 pounds pork
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup red wine*
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 - 2 big springs of fresh rosemary
1 T oregano
2 bay leaves
tiniest smidge of cinnamon
  • Trim the fat from whatever boneless pork is on sale (but don't go crazy, fat=flavor). If you're doing meat in the oven, the fat renders and drips into the pan, but if you're doing meat in the slow cooker all the fat stays in the cooker.
  • Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and brown it on all sides - you're not cooking it now, just creating flavor (because brown also = flavor). Put the meat in the slow cooker and put the lid on.
  • In the same pan, saute the onion until the edges start to brown, scraping up any good bits the pork left behind. Then add the garlic and saute just until it starts to brown.
  • Add the the tomatoes and wine and boil for about 5 minutes (save this pan to the side in case you need to reduce a little wine later to add in).
  • Pour this over the meat in the cooker, add the bay leaves and rosemary, and give it a bit of a stir so that the meat is coated. Scrape down the inside of the cooker so that no sauce is splashed above the line of sauce/meat (this helps with clean-up and prevents burned edges).
  • Cook on High for 6 to 8 hours.*
  • Break the meat into chunks and serve it over Creamy, Cheesy Polenta (be sure to spoon the sauce over the top).
* I have an old slow cooker so High is plenty high enough, but I'm not sure it really equals the High of a new, fancy cooker. If you have a hot cooker (or if you're not sure), check to see if it needs more liquid after 6 hours. If yes, add another cup of wine, but be sure to simmer the wine for about 5 minutes first. Wine added right to the cooker can make the dish taste a little alcoholy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta

Oh yum. I know it's not for everyone (especially my friend who can't stand creamy things), but I love polenta. It's a savory version of cream of wheat, basically, and I love cream of wheat. Polenta, like risotto, has an undeserved reputation for being both time-consuming and labor-intensive, but that's not entirely accurate. Besides, there are decent instant polentas and pre-made polenta loaves that are simple to doctor up. The Bob's Red Mill Polenta that I buy actually says Corn Grits in big letters on the bag as well. Who knew?
This recipe is pretty much straight from The New Best Recipe. I love this cookbook.

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta

1 cup polenta (medium grind cornmeal or Grits)
4 cups water
2 T butter
handful Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

  • Bring the water to a boil in a medium, heavy-duty sauce pan or pot. Add a pinch of salt and then slowly add the polenta to the water while really stirring.
  • Reduce the heat to really low and cover. Stir this for about 10 seconds every 5 minutes (that's the Best Recipe anal-ness coming through) being sure to scrape the edges and sides well.
  • After about 20 minutes it should be soft and smooth (some recipes say 30 minutes, but I've never had it take that long). Stir in the butter, Parmesan, and pepper.
  • Serve immediately because it can get hard. If that happens, add a little boiling water and stir over low heat until smooth again. This won't work multiple times, so if you know you need to make the polenta in advance, just cook it halfway and finish when you're just about ready to eat.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Even snap peas fresh from the Farmer's Market couldn't make this Jambalaya photograph better. Don't hold that against it. This is one of my favorite fast, fake recipes. I promised myself I'd stop actually putting the word "fake" in the recipe titles because most of them are simplified versions of already known dishes. When I worked at The Still Life in Fremont I had to come up with tons of soup ideas. With the help of the awesome book Culinary Artistry, I figured out that any great combination of flavors can be turned into a simple version. The great combo in Jambalaya is tomatoes, rice, bell peppers, seasonings, and Andouille sausage. Traditionally, there would be other proteins (chicken, shrimp, ham), but this is a fast home version.


2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 red or green bell pepper, cut bute-sized
3 or 4 Andouille sausages, sliced (It's a little like kielbasa, so you can substitute anything else that's smoky and spicy. Aidells makes a brand that is in a lot of stores around here.)
1 recipe of our easy Spanish Rice which is:
1 cup white rice
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
1T oregano
1t garlic powder
1T cumin
1T chili powder
smidge of cinnamon & cayenne
1T butter
  • Saute the onion (in a little oil) in a smallish pot with a good lid.
  • When the onions have just started to brown, add the garlic, peppers, and sausage and saute until the edges are starting to brown. Most Andouille that I've seen is pre-cooked so it won't need a lot of time here. If you're using raw sausage, just cook it a little longer
  • Add the rice and sprinkle in all the spices (no salt) and saute until you're worried they're sticking to the pot.
  • Stir in the butter, water, and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • I know that rice usually has a strict time for cooking and you're not supposed to take the lid off, but I find that with all the added extras that doesn't work quite as well. I sneak a peak after 20 minutes, give it a little stir and then usually cook it for about 5 minutes more.
  • When it's finished, add salt to taste. I like a dollop of sour cream, but that's optional (and not traditional).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spanish Rice

Dear Zatarain's Spanish Rice,
I love you. I've loved you for years now, but it's finally over. I'm sorry. You're processed and I just can't make an exception anymore. I've gotten rid of almost all the processed foods I eat and you're one of the last to go. I know, I know, I still use canned tomatoes and beans, but that's different - I can't figure out how to effectively substitute them. We've made a recipe of our own (and I really like it), but I'll still miss you.
Love always,

Spanish Rice

1 cup white rice
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
1/2 an onion, diced
1T oregano
1t garlic powder
1T cumin
1T chili powder
smidge of cinnamon & cayenne
1T butter

  • Saute the onions (in a little oil) in a smallish pot with a good lid.
  • When the onions have just started to brown, sprinkle in all the spices (no salt) and saute until you're worried they're sticking to the pot.
  • Stir in the rice, butter, water, and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • I know that rice usually has a strict time for cooking and you're not supposed to take the lid off, but I find that with all the added extras that doesn't work quite as well. I sneak a peak after 20 minutes, give it a little stir and then usually cook it for about 5 minutes more.
  • When it's finished, add salt to taste. It's optional, but nice to stir in a little cilantro and lime at the end too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The List - at the end of the week

Just so I don't seem too crazy I thought I'd show how much the list changes by the end of the week. This past week was a good example partly because John's insanely-good BBQed, whole chicken made enough for 8 people so we had to find a way to use it up.
The list is about planning on a day off, when there is time to think, so that we don't have to plan during the week when I can't make decisions. I bet part of why I don't eat enough vegetables is that the list is best when there aren't a lot of perishables on it (I just throw meat in the freezer if we end up not using it). The challenge I'm making to myself is to stop forgetting to use my vegies! Two zucchinis from two weeks ago are about to go to the compost bin.
We used the chicken for enchiladas, by the way, and we never did have peanut sauce (a.k.a. Dip for Dinner), but we're going to try to have it this week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The List, week of 5.25.09

I think I've already said somewhere that I'm, well, obsessed with what I'm having for dinner. Here's a little example of how John and I handle that. The original idea for this blog was that we'd post the list and then every dinner that week. Then we realized that our food is not as interesting as all that.
We still make the list, though. Picture us in our bathrobes on Monday morning sipping tea and coffee at our sunny kitchen/dining table. In honor of Spring I went to the trouble to put out a retro table cloth - white with a floral border. There's always a little angst as we get down to one day left to fill, but it's usually a mellow weekend ritual.
The starred days are meals that I think will make good blog posts (so ambitious!).

Monday, May 25, 2009

(Fake) Saltimboca

Oops, blog burnout. Ok, really it was recipe testing burn out. I had one too many nights getting off work at 8pm, rushing home, scribbling notes as I furiously cooked dinner, and then trying to take photos (while starving) and sitting down to eat at 9:30. That's no good. The recipe didn't even work that last night two weeks ago because the above is really a recipe for a disaster dinner (and arguments about camera settings).
To get back into the swing of things I thought I'd post a super simple variation on the pasta dish I always make. This one is inspired by Saltimboca, which I love, but is too time consuming for a weeknight. It usually involves pounding chicken into thin pieces (or paillards), then attaching prosciutto and sage leaves to it before flouring and frying in a pan. Seriously, it's so good. This dinner takes my favorites flavors from Saltimboca, but with a throw-it-all-together method.

(Fake) Saltimboca
(serves about 4)
2 chicken breasts
1 small, yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 prosciutto slices, cut into thin strips
4 - 6 fresh sage leaves, minced
juice of 1 lemon
4 cups short pasta (usually penne, measured before cooking)
a generous handful of fresh spinach cut into thin strips
sprinkles of Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper to taste, of course
  • Start the pasta water. On my stove is usually takes 30 minutes (from cold water to straining) to cook penne, so the timing is just about right.
  • Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. If you feel like taking the extra time to cut these thin it will cook faster and be a little more Saltimboca-y.
  • In a largish, high-sided frying pan, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil until it just starts to brown. Add the garlic and saute until it is just starting to brown.
  • Add the chicken pieces and prosciutto* and saute for about five minutes - they just need to get some color, they'll continue to cook through the rest of the preparation.
  • Hopefully your pasta water is ready. Throw in a generous pinch of salt and the pasta.
  • Add the spinach and lemon to the pan and stir this around as the pasta finishes cooking. It's ready when the spinach is cooked and most of the liquid is gone.
  • Toss with the pasta and sprinkle with a little parmesan. Yum!
*If you have time, the prosciutto is even better if you crisp it before starting anything else. Just saute it in the pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. When the strips are crisp (almost like bacon, which would be a fine substitution) set them aside on a plate and start at the beginning of the recipe. Add the prosciutto when you mix in the pasta.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thai-ish Beef Salad

There is something about this dinner that screams Summer to me. Yes, it's grilled and that's a warm-weather activity. It's also on the lighter side, focusing mostly on fresh flavors, and that's Summery too. More than anything I think it's the combination of herbs - cilantro, basil, parsley minced fine and tossed with the greens - that conjures a tropical/not-Seattle setting. We've come to associate these flavors with an improvement in the weather. It would be sort of sacrilegious to call this Thai Beef Salad because it only hints at what a real Thai Salad should be. Try adding a dash of fish sauce to make it more authentic. The recipe makes enough dressing for the marinade and the salad itself and feeds about four people. It's also great as a dipping sauce for potstickers.

For the dressing & marinade:
2 T soy sauce (low-sodium)
1 t sesame oil
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil (or other non-olive oil)
juice of 2 limes
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t five spice
1/2 t mustard powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t black pepper
Sri Racha to taste (or other hot sauce)
  • Start by putting everything except the oil in a deep measuring cup or Cuisinart. I use the dried spices on purpose because I like the consistency, but you can substitute a little more fresh ginger and a little less mustard from a jar, no problem.
  • Add the oil and blend it all to death. There's more acid than oil in this dressing so I think it would be impossible to blend it too much.
  • Set aside about a 1/2 cup for the final salad and use the rest for the marinade. Or, if you're skipping the meat, the extra will keep in the fridge for at least a week (maybe two - just taste it, nothing in this will hurt you if it has gone bad).
Grilling Instructions:
the rest of the marinade from above
1 flank steak (about 1 and 1/2 pounds)
  • Put the meat in a large ziplock bag with the marinade for about an hour. Squidge around the marinade about halfway through to be sure the meat is well coated.
  • When you're ready to eat, prepare the grill (gas or charcoal).
  • Let the marinade drip off the meat before you put it on the clean & oiled grill.
  • Grill the meat for about 7 to 10 minutes per side.
  • When it's done to your preference (medium-rare please) set it aside to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing thin.
For the Salad itself:
1 head of Romaine
1 red pepper
1 cucumber
2 carrots (or about a handful of those fake baby carrots)
1/2 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup basil (Thai if you can find it), minced
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
just a bit of Italian parsley, minced

  • To assemble the salad just prep the Romaine and veggies however you like them (I sometimes get all crazy with julienne-ing, but that's optional).
  • Toss the greens, herbs, and dressing in a large bowl.
  • You can either sprinkle the toppings on each salad or set them all on the table in colorful bowls for people to serve themselves (it makes a pretty table setting).
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