Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking forward to making this....

One of the downsides of keeping this blog for a while (and, let's face it, getting older) is that I worry about repeating myself. I know I've written more than once about macaroni and cheese and bread pudding. On the other hand, we don't tire of our favorites, right?

I did a search of my archives and it appears that I've really never written about the fruitcake that is so fabulous it should be called something else. We've all heard those tired old fruitcake jokes and have maybe even had to politely eat some of those dark, heavy bricks bursting with chunky nuts and oddly colored "fruit". The fact is these are neither cake nor fruit and really should be called something else so that the name fruitcake might be bestowed upon a lovely confection I like to make for the (secular) new year. The recipe came from an early issue of Saveur magazine.

This one takes a little time. I like to candy the fruit peel myself which will add a day to the process. Also the pans are a strange size. I've used small (4 cup) bundt pans before and this year I am going to try an actual pudding mold with a snap on lid that I found recently at our local thrift emporium.

The cake isn't just baked, but steamed, which makes it moist and tender. While slightly boozy from the orange liqueur, it mostly tastes like fruit, butter, and almonds. Nothing green and oddly chewy here, just pure fruity loveliness.

Sadly, I don't have any photos, but that's ok because what I do have is a link to the recipe. It's a bit of a production, but if you've got a little time, there's no sweeter way to ring in the new year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Insanely Good

When I saw this recipe in my friend's Fine Cooking magazine, I was very, very interested. So many flavors that I love: brown butter, pecans, blue cheese, and Brussels sprouts. Sounds a little busy, doesn't it? But it is a heavenly combination.

The first time I made it I followed the recipe exactly and loved the rich, buttery flavors. When I made the dish tonight, I used onions in place of shallots, half and half instead of heavy cream, and Gorgonzola in place of the blue cheese because these were what I had on hand. The resulting dish was a little lighter, but no less delicious.
I particularly love the Brussels sprouts which are sliced and then roasted before being tossed into the pasta. I'd never had them prepared this way and will definitely consider the roasted sprouts as a side dish.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chanukah Around the World

Chanukah is here and the deep fryer has been released from its basement exile for its one week of service. A holiday that gives a green light to fried food--what's not to like?

On the first night, of course, we had the classics: potato latkes and doughnuts, both delicious. Tonight we opted to begin our international tour of fried foods with Swedish rosettes. My dear friend loaned me her rosette iron and I googled until I found a promising recipe.

The rosette iron is just a little metal snowflake on the end of a long handle. I did my research and learned that after heating the iron in hot oil, it's dipped into a thin batter and then back in the hot oil where the rosette shaped cookie thing magically disengages and bobs about until fished out, crunchy and golden brown. I had my doubts about how simply the rosette would leave the iron but it was a snap. I just held the iron in the oil and watched. After just a few seconds, the batter had cooked just enough to float off on its own and continue cooking until done, about a minute later.

The cookies were delightfully light and airy. We ate them dusted with powdered sugar and they really were just a little bit magical.

Oh, and if you think that Scandinavian Chanukah cookies are a stretch, I am one eighth Swedish so I figure it kind makes sense. More sense than the Sonoran enchiladas (minus the lard, of course) and Indian jalebis I'm planning to make later in the week, anyway.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Winter Salad

It's almost the end of the term and, in our program, the end of the term means it's time for a party. ESL program parties are great because we get to try tasty foods from all over the world. I've had fabulous Cuban chicken and rice, Vietnamese spring rolls, Mexican tacos, and Turkish baklava made with homemade filo dough. All amazing stuff.

One of the Russian or Ukrainian students will inevitably bring a Russian salat, a layered salad of boiled potatoes, peas, carrots, cucumber, and hard cooked egg, carefully arranged and glued together with copious amounts of mayonnaise. It's not bad, but I find a little goes a long way.

I found a Central Asian take on the potato based layered salad in Darra Goldstein's The Vegetarian Hearth which is a wonderful resource for hearty, meatless meals for the colder months. The mayonnaise is replaced by a garlicky nut and herb based dressing which makes the vegetables positively sing.

I wish I could say this salad is a snap to make, but it isn't. It's fussy and there are beets involved. But it's the prettiest vegetable dish you'll ever find on a winter table and it tastes fresh and full of life. I hope you'll give it a try.

Printable recipe here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Chanukah comes earlier this year than last. It's not really "early" as it falls on the same Hebrew calendar dates every year. But in relation to the secular calendar and my work schedule it feels early as the holiday begins the day after my last day of teaching which is why I find myself uncharacteristically doing a bit of thinking ahead.

There are two really great things about Chanukah as far as I'm concerned. The imagery of lighting up dark, midwinter nights is lovely and also, we get to eat fried foods for a week to commemorate the miracle of a day's worth of holy oil lasting for eight days.

We used to go at this half heartedly: a few nights of latkes until we grew sick of them, one round of apple latkes for variety, and some sad attempts at making doughnuts in a frying pan. Then a few years back I went down to my local Kmart and bought me a deep fryer which was the best $25 I ever spent.

Now delicious homemade doughnuts are a regular part of the Chanukah repertoire. Usually I just make little 1-inch balls of dough, fry them up in high quality oil, and then roll them in cinnamon sugar. No one complains and there are never leftovers.

However, I'm thinking of trying something new this year. My friend Chris pointed out this recipe for pumpkin doughnuts and I can't stop thinking about them, especially in conjunction with hot spiced cider and roaring fire in the fireplace. Doesn't that sound like heaven?

We've also started exploring deep fried foods of the world during Chanukah. First there were loukamades, the lovely honey-drenched puffs of yumminess from Greece. These are fun to make. As they expand in the hot oil, they flip themselves which is amusing until the good part: eating them!

We've made pakoras along with an Indian meal but I am thinking about maybe making samosas....from scratch. Maybe. Manjula makes it look easy. Or maybe jalebi?

Last year, in the middle of the epic snowstorm that shut Portland down, we had a wonderful meal. I found a recipe for a Sonoran style enchilada which is basically a thick, deep fried masa patty topped with chile-tomato sauce, and whatever other toppings (cheese, scallions, shredded chicken, sour cream, etc) you can think of. My kids always like these kinds of assemble-it-yourself meals so this was a big hit, especially as we followed the enchiladas with churros and hot chocolate.

My goodness...I am getting hungry just thinking about all this good food. I've probably put on a few pounds just writing this, too.

Any Chanukah (or other holiday) food traditions and inspirations to share? I always love to hear from you!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Rough Count

I was just reading this post over at the Bitten Blog and it got me thinking that I never did tally up all the canning, freezing, and drying I did this year.

I've given quite a few jars away and we've run through a few as well, but I must have filled close to 100 jars with apricot jam, sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry marmalade, peach butter, apricot marmalade, stewed tomatoes, chili sauce, sweet tomato chutney, apricot-red pepper chutney, cranberry marmalade, satsuma plum jam, cranberry-orange preserves with cardamom, Asian plum sauce, and cranberry vinegar. I dried blueberries, peaches, cherries, and apricots. And I filled the freezer, too, with bags of blueberries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, cherries, elderberries, cranberries, and roasted tomatoes. And many quarts of slow cooked tomato sauce.

I've used my old copy of the Rodale book Stocking Up for years but this summer I got a couple of new additions to my bookshelf. The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp has a wonderful variety of recipes and the small batch aspect takes some of the stress and frenzy out of preserving. Not the book for a tomato avalanche, but nice for variety. Some of my favorites from this book were red pepper and apricot chutney, blueberry marmalade, Asian plum sauce, and a super fresh tasting, barely cooked strawberry jam.

I also got my hands on Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty. I can't tell you how many times I've come across references to this book over the years, but it went out of print long ago and the library doesn't even have it. Every time I looked it up I found copies for $50 and more so I figured I'd never see it. When I shared my despair over this with my friend Chris, she found me a battered but completely serviceable (and affordable) copy on that very day. I love this book. I think there's something about that classic 1980's page layout from Workman Publishing which really works for me, possibly because that's when I started looking at cookbooks seriously. It's a fun book, loaded with tasty things like candied cranberries, peach preserves with brown sugar and rum, and other delicacies. Like the best cookbooks, it's as much fun to read as to cook from. If you come across a copy of this while out and about, snap it up as it's a keeper!
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Thursday, November 12, 2009


I've been down with a cold the last few days which does strange things to my appetite. I know most people like bland, simple food when sick but for me, the spicier the better. All I wanted this time was spicy Asian noodle soups and blistering curries. I ended up with simple, bland chicken noodle soup because I didn't have the energy to make it more interesting and an egg curry which wasn't nearly hot enough despite what I thought was a generous use of Dundicut peppers.

I started feeling better this morning and a new craving arose, this time for the jam filled scones they sell at my favorite cafe. I was still feeling too lazy to actually go out so imagine my surprise when I found the very thing I was craving while scrolling through my Google Reader.

Lelo in NoPo is a wonderful blog full of color and life an so many good things: food and photos and gardens and more. After my busy summer of preserving, of course I had to follow a post entitled What the heck are you doing with all that jam? I was delighted to find that Lelo had a recipe for the very jam-filled scone I'd been craving. All I had to do was make a trip down to my basement shelves to choose a filling.

Have I written yet about how many jars are down there? There are quite a few. Maybe more than that. But they're all neatly labeled so that's something.

After looking over the possibilities I decided on an apricot filling and pulled out a particularly special jar. This jar came from a box of old canning jars found in the back of our garage when we moved in. It doesn't look like any of my other jars and is emblazoned with the words Drey's Perfect Mason. I suppose it's silly to be especially fond of a particular canning jar, but there you have it: one more oddity on my ever growing list!
I'm not much of a scone or biscuit maker--I don't think I have that light touch which everyone swears is necessary. So when I saw that this recipe was made using a countertop mixer I was a bit skeptical. But this came out light and crispy and extremely delicious. My only complaint? I only got six good sized scones from a batch of dough so next time I am definitely doubling the recipe.

Since I had an ideal jam-topped scone in mind, of course I had to fiddle with the recipe just slightly. I know my dream scones have some coconut and I think some oats, too. And nothing is ever harmed by the addition of a deep, strong, long-steeped vanilla extract so I added that as well. Lelo generously gave me permission to share her recipe with my changes. You'll find a printable recipe here. Enjoy!
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is Nothing Safe?

I recently (and with no small amount of reluctance) traded in my beloved old Sigg water bottle for a stainless steel version made by Earthlust. Why? Well it turns out that after denying their aluminum bottle liners contained BPA for years, Sigg finally revealed that, in fact, BPA was used in their older bottles. But it's OK, because it didn't leach into the contents. Really! They promised. Well, that wasn't good enough for me so I opted for food grade stainless, a non-toxic material that doesn't require a suspicious lining the way aluminum does.

Then I began worrying about the potential dangers in drinking hot coffee through a plastic lid. The waste generated by so called disposable cups is already appalling enough but who knows what leaches from those cheap plastic lids into my latte? So I made a deal with myself: no more to go coffee unless I have my snazzy BPA-free, leak proof, insulated stainless steel cup along with me. So far so good.

But no. I just read a disturbing report on the blog Civil Eats about BPA in the linings of virtually all food cans, organic or not.
Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA).
I'm not a huge user of canned food but there are few canned things which are staples in our home: organic tomatoes, coconut milk, beans, and tuna. I can't imagine cooking without some of these things in my pantry. I haven't been able to find much consistent information about which companies use cans containing BPA but someone at the Organic Grace blog has sone lots of research on the subject. Thanks, Organic Grace blog!

You'd think this would motivate me to do more canning next summer but even that's not safe as most commonly available home canning lids also contain BPA. What to do?

For years I really thought that my daily exposure to toxics wasn't really a big deal. But after recently reading a truly frightening book entitled The Autoimmune Epidemic , my Pollyanna tendencies are starting to wane. This stuff really does matter because we have no way of knowing which toxic chemical may be the one to tip us into any of over 100 autoimmune diseases. I already live with one which ups my likelihood of developing another. I've learned to live with Graves Disease in the last few years, but that's enough, thanks. I imagine it's only a matter of time until BPA goes the way of DDT and PCBs but how many people have to get sick before that happens?

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comfort Food

With the recent acquisition of my 3-in-1 slow cooker, I've been looking at a lot of new cookbooks in an attempt to move beyond the chili and bean soups I can make with my eyes closed. There seem to be two camps in the slow cooker world: those who slow cook for convenience, and those who slow cook for the added depth of flavor imparted by long hours over low heat.

There are a lot of slow cooker books out there, enough that I've had to develop my own simple litmus test to use while scanning for promising recipes. If onion soup mix or anything from Campbell's show up in the ingredient list, that's when I put the book down and move on.

I've had some hits (arroz con pollo) and some misses (Moroccan chicken) and learned a few things, namely that most things taste better if I take the time to brown meat, saute onions, and warm spices in oil. Oh, and that you really can overcook slow cooked dishes.

Tonight's dinner was delicious. I made a slow cooked kitchari from the wonderful Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Book in which I've found interesting recipes with real ingredients--nary a can of cream of mushroom soup in sight! The recipe called for heating spices in melted butter to release their fragrance for the base flavors and the last hour spice paste addition gives a bright, fresh taste to this protein-rich Indian comfort food.

My modification: the recipe calls for moong dal but I used the split chana dal I had in the cupboard and was happy with the results, but they didn't completely disintegrate into the rice. If that sounds more appealing to you (or picky little ones) by all means use the moong dal or even red lentils. Also, though the recipe directed cooking on low heat, I cut the cooking time nearly in half by cooking on high. If you choose to do this, watch it at the end so it doesn't dry out too much.You'll find the printable recipe here. Enjoy!

Oh--and if, like me, you can't keep your dals straight, this is the guide I refer to.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Why, hello!

I just looked up my visitor stats for this blog and noticed that a lot of people have been visiting lately. Like, people that don't even know me in real life. So....welcome! I'd love to hear what brought you here. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments--I'd love to know more about my readers.


The recipe I'm sharing with you today came from David Lebovitz' delightful new book The Sweet Life in Paris which I recently devoured. It's my favorite kind of travel writing, the sort that mixes bafflement and delight, good information and random observations, with the added bonus of a generous serving of recipes.

The recipe for Breton Buckwheat Cake caught my eye for reasons not entirely clear to me. There are much flashier recipes in this book for sure. But when I was a kid my dad occasionally made us buckwheat pancakes and there is something about that distinctive flavor that was very attractive--mysterious and familiar at the same time. I had no idea how that would translate to a sweet cake and was anxious to find out.

The sad truth is that I couldn't take a sexy photo of this cake. But please, don't be fooled by its homely appearance because it is a thing of beauty indeed. Its flavor is very nuanced and surprising--I kept getting hints of almond and honey despite neither being included in the ingredient list. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks suggests serving the cake with fresh fruit or Greek yogurt lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But I was enchanted by this cake all on its own. Really, it's the best kind of magic. Do give this one a try and let me know what you think.

You'll find the recipe here. And don't despair about all those leftover egg whites--that's what meringues are for!
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mas o Menos

I recently retired my trusty old 6 quart crockpot. The earth toned workhorse, embellished with 1970's era herb illustrations, was a hand-me-down when I got it well over a decade ago. It made countless batches, of chili, white bean soup, and tomato sauce. Admittedly, it looked a little homely sitting on my counter but I saw no reason to replace it until a recent discussion with a friend who started talking about lead in old crockpot glazes. I wrote to the manufacturer a number of times and was never able to get a definitive answer regarding the safety of my trusty old crockpot so, with only a little regret, it has been replaced by a guaranteed lead free slow cooker which is very spiffy as it comes with interchangable, nesting stoneware cooking vessels in three different sizes which makes this thing suitable for anything from a small pot of slow cooked morning oatmeal to a vat of chili for a crowd. How cool is that? Of course it's a little spare looking without the groovy 70's color scheme but I can trade that for lead free glazes any day.

Those of you reading this who manage just fine without yet another kitchen device might wonder what all the fuss is about. What's wrong with a soup pot and a stove? Nothing. Nothing at all, assuming one is home to watch over the soup pot. But there is something truly wonderful in being able to throw dinner together in the morning and walk away, knowing that a tasty meal will be waiting at the end of the day. Or to set up a pot of oatmeal at bedtime and know that there will be a warm, slow cooked breakfast, even on busy mornings.

I used to only use it during the week when I work from 6-9 pm but in recent years I've found the slow cooker to be quite versatile as well as providing a depth of flavor that I really enjoy. I've written about using it for tomato sauce. Chutney works just as well. And recently I've found that slow cooking chicken necks for 15 or more hours makes a fantastic chicken broth. A slow cooker uses less energy than stovetop cooking, it's nearly impossible to burn properly prepared food, and it doesn't heat up the kitchen. What's not to like?

I wanted to share with you the maiden voyage meal as it was delicious. I'd had an itch to try making a Cuban style arroz con pollo but was set on using only what I had on hand which meant chicken breasts, leftover rice, and lots of CSA bell peppers. None of the recipes I looked at quite fit the bill so I just went freestyle and what I came up with was a keeper. If 4/5 of this family like a dish, I am doing well and that was how this was received. The trick was pureeing all those Vitamin C filled peppers along with tomatoes in the blender. My kids won't touch peppers if they know they're there but don't have refined enough palates to recognize them by taste alone. I'm calling it Mas o Menos Arroz con Pollo as I doubt it would be recognized as such by an actual Cuban person but I'm OK with that because it's good stuff!

Printable recipe

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Power Bars

Two of my kids and I are not big breaskfast eaters so the mornings when we have to zip out the door for a day of classes can be a little hairy. Thus, I am always on the lookout for healthy, nourishing take along snacks to provide a boost.

I made these last night after searching through internet recipes. I found lots of interesting ones but most were either scary (corn syrup? powdered milk?) or contained expensive, esoteric ingredients like agave syrup and stevia powder. I'm sure you could use those and these would be tasty but plain old honey suited my tastes just fine. There's lots of good stuff here, and room to play around with ingredients. The key for my family is to use the food processor to reduce the offensive elements (cashews, pumkin seeds, and walnuts) along with dried fruit to a barely noticeable paste. Mixed in with oats, peanut butter, and honey, you can hardly tell how nutrient dense these bars are. You can even add some protein powder of your choice (I used a yucky excessively vanilla flavored whey powder my doctor wants me to use in smoothies but it's much less noticeable here).

Let me know what you think of these and if you have a favorite to go type recipe for busy mornings.

Printable recipe

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Brownie With A Twist

This one wouldn't let me be. We recently discovered a little coffee house on NE Alberta which has lovely baked goods including a cardamom-pistachio-sea salt brownie that I sampled with no small amount of suspicion given all the extra ingredients. Of course after my first bite I was hooked. These things are crazy good and I couldn't stop thinking about them.

I finally decided to make my own version last night and am happy with the results. I started with the Baked brownie as a base, removed the espresso powder, added cardamom, sea salt, and pistachios and used a larger pan in the hopes of getting a slightly less moist brownie. My results were quite good. I am still looking for the chewy but not dry element, but that just gives me reason to keep experimenting! I think the ingredient that should prove challenging is the pistachios. I wanted roasted and unsalted and, ideally, shelled. I got the first two but ended up shelling my own which wasn't a big deal.

Give these a try and let me know what you think.

Link to Printable Recipe
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Elderberry Syrup

Now that I have a 17 day break with holidays coming up, I expect to share some tasty new food finds with you but first, I wanted to let you know about my recent experience making my own anti-flu medicine because I am just so thrilled to be able to make a proven antiviral flu remedy for a mere fraction of the cost of the commercially prepared variety.

Elderberries grow on tall, spindly bushes and the tiny dark blue-black berries develop in clusters after the feathery flower fade. Elderberry bushes are apparently quite easy to grow so I will be looking to add one to my garden soon as elderberries are extremely nutritious, rich in antioxidants, an known to stimulate the immune system in response to flu viruses. As the H1N1 hysteria grows (along with the pressure to subject our children to a virtually untested vaccine) you can bet I want something safe and free of side effects to give my family when we head into crowded synagogues and classrooms later this month.

Elderberry syrup, as it turns out, is super easy to make. The only hard part is finding your berries. Here in the Portland metro area Morning Shade Farm has a row of u-pick elderberry bushes. It took about 10 minutes to fill our buckets with snipped berry clusters. The only fiddly bit is coaxing the berries off the stems. After that, a quick rinse, a bit of a simer, some straining, adding honey, and bottling. That's it! Seriously. Instead of paying $9-12 for a 4 ounce bottle of Sambucol, I have nearly a quart of the stuff which cost about $2, plus another 4 batches worth of berries in the freezer. How cool is that?

The recipe I used came from Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal which is the source of The Dreaded Tonic, our standard homemade cold remedy. I made a double batch of the elderberry syrup by gently simmering 2 cups of washed elderberries in 4 C water for 45 minutes. I let things cool a bit and then strained the juice through a fine mesh strainer, mashing all the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. I then mixed in about a cup and a half of honey and poured into a 1 liter ez cap bottle (I buy mine here). I will keep this refrigerated. The great part is that, unlike the tonic, this stuff is good. Really good. Like pour it on your pancakes or drink straight from the bottle good. I only used about half the suggested quantity of honey and it's still sweet and fruity and ever so delicious. I won't have any trouble getting my kids to take their daily dose. That would 2T/day for big kids and adults and 1 T/day for younger ones as a preventative measure and twice that amount to reduce severity if someone falls ill with the flu. Because of the honey I wouldn't give this to babies.

One thing I learned as I did a little research: under no circumstances should you substitute red elderberries which are quite toxic. And don't eat your black elderberries raw--they can cause stomach upset.
I understand that the hard part here is finding the elderberries. But they are out there--ask around. And if you can't find fresh, you could make this with dried elderberries purchased online though I don't know how the cost would compare to commercially made. I figure that using my u-pick berries I can make close to 5 quarts of this stuff for under $10 which might be an incentive to plant a bush in your garden. I hope you are able to try this and that we all stay healthy this fall.

Edited 9/9/09: I just learned that you can buy dried elderberries from The Herbalist and it's still very cost effective at $2.33/ounce. You only need 1/2 cup of berries to make 4 C of syrup so making your own is still a huge savings.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009


I have been reading about slow roasted tomatoes for years and I don't know why it took me so long to jump on the train with all the cool kids, but I am here now! Let me tell you, these things are a revelation. Everything good about tomatoes is magnified in the slow roasting approach, turning a perfectly serviceable Roma into a thing of brilliance. Think of the depth of flavor in a good quality tomato paste, but sweeter, and with the added fragrance of your favorite olive oil and a little magic thrown in. I'm told you can use these with pasta, salads, eggs, and as appetizers but so far I find that eating them as is works pretty well, too.

If you start googling recipes, you'll find that the directions are all over the map. Use cherry tomatoes. No--paste tomatoes. Place skin side up. No--skin side down. Roast for anywhere from 3 to 12 hours at temperatures ranging from 175 to 300 degrees. Herbs and garlic cloves are essential for seasoning. Or you can skip those. My guess is that all of these approaches work just fine.

What I did was drizzle two sheet pans with a lovely, fragrant olive oil and then slice a whole bunch of Roma tomatoes lengthwise, cutting out the little stem thingy as I went along. I rubbed the cut side of each tomato half in the olive oil, flipped it over, and lined it up with all the others until the pan was full. I gave each pan a light sprinkle of kosher salt and popped them in the oven at 175 degrees and came back 12 hours later. Once cool, I peeled the skins off each tomato half and then popped them into freezer bags to save for winter although I confess I ate more than a few during that process.

I hope I've convinced you that you need to go make these immediately. As in, RIGHT NOW. Seriously. GO. And then come back and tell me all about it.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture...and carrots!

We've come to the decision that, while we've loved the CSA this year and the produce has been excellent, we don't plan to continue next year, mostly because we'd rather have more say in what we buy and when we cook. The CSA food has been delicious, but there's a lot of guilt if we don't do something with it immediately. And goign to the farmers market has come to seem like a crazy extravagance. But we really, really like visiting different farmers markets and being able to see what's in season and make out own decisions about what we'll cook and eat. The CSA has made us try a few new things, but it makes more sense to spend our money on things our family loves rather than bravely tolerating turnips. And it's not like won't still support local farmers next year--we'll just be supporting more of them.

I will miss the weekly surprise. What did we get? Ooooh! Purple peppers? Strawberries? Funny carrots?

I've seen lots of carrots with legs:

but this was the first time I'd seen a carrot that needed to pee!

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Monday, August 10, 2009

DIY Coffee

I love the crazy diversity of my neighborhood. Some of my neighbors like to drink enormous quantities of soda and then toss the cups in the street. Others drink beer while sitting in their parked cars, listening to 70's R&B. And then there are the east African families whose serious love of coffee necessitates home roasting. When I arrive home from work around 9:15, the air in my neighborhood is often heavy with the scent of coffee roasting in the tiny apartments scattered throughout Parkrose.

I imagine these women, swathed in colorful cottons, carefully tending their beans in a cast iron skillet or perhaps some sort of fascinating bit of specialized equipment, passed down through families and carefully wrapped for the journey from Ethiopia to the US. What I never pictured was a hot air popcorn popper but, as it turns out, these silly things make decent one-batch coffee roasters.

Intrigued by this idea, I asked my friend Doreen for some green beans (which, because they are decaffeinated, are actually a light tan color before roasting). Doreen and her husband run ZBeanz, a local coffee roasting company whose coffee I love. While I was curious to try roasting my own coffee, I had no illusions that I'd produce anything brilliant and wisely bought a bag of their Sumatra decaf for backup.

You can read about popcorn popper coffee roasting all over the web, but I found this page at Coffee Geek to be particularly informative. After reading thoroughly I took the popper outside to avoid setting off smoke alarms. I put in about half a cup of beans, turned the thing on, and puttered around in the garden for 5 minutes or so while things warmed up. I was soon rewarded with a lovely aroma as the beans began to darken. I peered carefully into the popper to keep an eye on the darkening beans and soon noticed that along with the rich coffee smell I was also breathing in the less lovely aroma of melting plastic! When I realized the hood for the popper was starting to melt I unplugged things and decided the beans were dark enough.

I immediately heated water and ground the beans for my French press. The resulting coffee was good but not as full bodied as I would have liked. My 16 year old coffee loving son declared it "bland". And he was right. We both prefer a darker roast which was prevented by my early shutdown of the popper.

I may pursue this more, just because I love the idea of doing my own roasting. On the other hand, I don't love the idea of inhaling plastic fumes at all. Thank goodness I always no where to go for more excellent coffee!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Food Preservation Fun

Back in June when I decided this was going to be The Year I Preserve Everything I bought a copy of The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, mostly because I was taken by the "small batch" part. Small batches mean I don't need to haul out the gigantic, baby bath sized canning kettle and attempt to move it, full of water, from the sink to the stove. Small batch means not waiting an hour for the water to heat. Small batch means I can toss a few half pint jars in my stockpot and can without drama. Awesome.

Also, this book had lots of intriguing recipes beyond the usual Ball Blue Book staples , things like Thai Chile Sauce and Madras Pickled Eggplant. So far I've made the barely cooked strawberry jam and the lovely blueberry marmalade and been quite pleased. Recently after halving and pitting 22 pounds of Tilton apricots and running them through my dehydrator, I was looking through the book again and came across red pepper and apricot chutney. Home dried apricots are nothing short of amazing and I needed to figure out a way to prevent myself from endlessly snacking until they all disappeared in less time than it took to dry them. I'm happy to report that I still have most of my apricots after the clever idea of sealing them up using my friend's Food Saver. Somehow busting into one of those lumpy, vacuum packed bags is a lot more daunting than sneaking a few out of a plain old jar.
But luckily I held a couple of cups of dried apricots aside to make this chutney which has raisins, apples, sweet bell peppers, candied ginger, and onion to round out the flavors. I found it disappointingly cloying at first, so added in about half a head of chopped garlic, some mustard seeds, and a dash of turmeric which provided the perfect foil for all that sweetness and the resulting chutney is something I am flat out crazy for. I used some in the dressing for curried chicken salad and it was delicious. The author suggests pairing it with cheddar cheese, and what I am loving right now is a thin layer of this chutney along with some smoked turkey on a crusty roll. I just started a fresh batch of chevre and I'm thinking a thin smear of chutney and a thick splodge of chevre on a cracker might be about the finest thing ever.

Unlike my tomato chutney which takes forever to cook down, this took no more than 30 minutes so it's really not a huge production, making it the kind of project I like best. If you decide to give this a go, do let me know how it turns out. And while we're at it, what are your favorite summer preserving projects? Let me know in the comments--thanks!

Printable recipe here.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Long Overdue Mango Post

According to Mr Bittman, the recession has yet to boost home cooking but I can tell you that we are tightening our belts around here and visiting restaurants much less often. Which means it's up to me to keep us supplied with good food. I've been hitting lots of U-pick fields, farmers markets and farm stands looking for both inspiration and bargains and storing up lots of summer bounty for the dark days of winter. When I recently came across a great deal on some fine looking mangoes, I snapped them up without much of a plan. Only later did it occur to me to try and make a simple version of mango kulfi, the delicious Indian ice cream that's so lovely and refreshing on a hot day.
I knew that, like so many tasty Indian desserts, reduced milk was key. Also I knew there was no way I was going to stand over the stove to carefully cook down milk on (yet another) very hot day. I had on hand a can of evaporated milk purchased for possibly making fudge frosting for a cake but the birthday boy opted for mocha buttercream instead, which was fortuitous.

No printable recipe today, folks, as this is super easy. I won't pretend that it's authentic, but it worked for us. Empty a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk into the blender along with 3 large peeled mangoes cut into chunks, 1/3 cup of sugar, maybe half a teaspoon of rose water, and the crushed seeds from 5 or 6 cardamom pods. Whiz until smooth, and chill. When good and cold, transfer to an ice cream maker, and proceed as usual.

Now let's talk mangoes for just a moment. I had never eaten a mango in my life until I lived in Mexico in my early 20's. At one point during our stay in Cuernavaca, we suddenly noticed that the roadsides were littered in flat, hairy things. I thought they were some sort of weird Mexican lemming following an ancient signal to march to their death. Then I learned mango season had begun and everyone was gorging on this loveliest of fruit, often cut to look like a flower, impaled on a stick, and sprinkled with lime juice and chile. My first mango was a tentative, sticky, messy experience, but in no time I was in love. Mangoes are one of my very favorite fruits to this day, though I find it's not always easy to get good ones. I have much better luck in smaller ethnic markets than I do in our local natural food emporiums. Pop into any Vietnamese market and you are likely to find a box of mangoes at a very good price.

But what kind of mango? I've always been partial to the smaller yellow mangoes known as ataulfo, champagne, or Manila for eating fresh. I like their buttery texture and almost complete lack of hairy fiber. I tend to have good luck with finding nice ripe ones. I have more trouble catching the larger mangoes when they are best so I normally don't bother, but these Kent mangoes were selling for an unbeateable price so I am glad I took my chances. They were bursting with flavor and perfect for the kulfi I made. If you want to use the smaller yellow mangoes, use 5 or 6 for a batch of kulfi.
I am so tickled with this recipe. I am not sure how it differs from the real thing, but it works for me. I hope you'll give it a try. Of course it's a lovely way to end an Indian meal but I could eat it pretty much anytime.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Even when it's stupidly hot.. still need to eat. And not only sorbet. Sad, but true.

I had a mad craving for curried chicken salad yesterday and what I came up with was brilliant if I do say so myself: a lovely combo of creamy and cool, zippy, fruity, and crunchy with lots and lots of color.

I could have been deterred by the fact that despite my copious collection of Indian spices (seriously, you should see my freezer which is stuffed with things like curry leaves and mango powder and enough mustard seed to fill a small pillow) I had absolutely no curry powder in the house. But nothing was going to stop me from having my salad and nothing was going to force me out into the heat. I ended up making my own curry powder, and that may be why this salad was so lovely but then again, it would probably be just dandy with a good commercial brand of curry powder.

My other imrov move was using dried mangoes instead of fresh. Fresh woudl be delicious, I'm sure, but again, the heat. I stayed put and rehydrated some dried mangoes from Trader Joe's and they added the perfect bit of sweetness to the salad.

This was a huge hit at my house, enough so that I think I will be making it again very soon. There's really no end to this heat wave in sight, so I'm pretty happy to live on salads, smoothies, and sorbets.

Printable recipe here

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Heat Wave

You've just got to love the weather forecasters here in Portland. We get a week's hysterical notice for any potentially dramatic weather. They've been carrying on about the coming heat wave for days but as far as I'm concerned, it's already here. I'm having a harder time with the heat this year than usual. All I want to eat is ice cream.

Unfortunately ice cream and I don't really get along. It's pretty hard on my stomach though I have been known to suffer for a good coffee ice cream. Gelato I can handle pretty well and I adore Coconut Bliss, but it's awfully spendy. Sorbet, however, goes down with no trouble at all. When I stand in front of the freezer case, there are so many tasty looking ice cream flavors and then, maybe, there's lemon sorbet. Yawn.

Luckily it's a snap to make my own sorbet. In the last few weeks we've had cherry, blueberry-banana, and nectarine, all based on the recipes in David Lebovitz' most excellent book The Perfect Scoop. Although his recipe for nectarine sorbet was simple enough, I made things even easier by cutting out one step. I opted not to cook the nectarines --I just threw everything in the blender, transferred the mixture to my trusty Donvier, and we had a lovely fresh nectarine sorbet in no time at all.

I might try this again and cook the nectarines just to see what happens, but I really love the way my raw version burts with super fresh nectarine flavor. I'm sure you'll want to have some of this tucked away in your freezer when the heat wave hits.

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