December 22, 2010

Holiday Pretzel & Nut Mix

If you are still looking for one little thing to tuck into your holiday gift baskets, or if you need to bring a snack to a holiday gathering (and you have more tact than to "re-gift" those crumbly cookies that the neighbor kids brought over), this post is for you.

I made this snack mix to tuck into holiday gift baskets, and I brought a bag of it to the office with me.  It was so well received that I think maybe next year I'll give individual bags to everyone in the office.  (This year I handed out hot chocolate mix and gingerbread biscotti; a nice combination, but given the multiple boxes of See's Candy that we've picked through during the last month, by the end of December a savory treat is in order.

Is it just me, or when someone gives you "Hot Cocoa Mix," do you have qualms about its source?  The stuff I handed out, I assure you, was good stuff, not just the stuff from the blue can repackaged as my own.  No, this was made with good-quality semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolate, organic sugar, even a vanilla bean... Oh, I might as well give you the recipe.  It's good stuff. The kind you can mix with steamed milk and shot of espresso to make a real mocha.

And this Pretzel & Nut Mix: it comes together quickly, makes use of local almonds and pecans and it has a pleasantly sweet, spicy flavor that people apparently like.  You may even have all the ingredients on hand.  I prepared a triple batch, which takes no more time than a single batch, and yields about eight 1.5 cup gifts.  Having all the seasoning ingredients on hand, I only had to purchase the nuts and pretzels, which cost about $20.  Not a bad price for eight gifts.

Pretzel & Nut Mix
adapted from David Lebovitz

The 3/4 teaspoon cayenne may seem like a lot, but given the volume of nuts and pretzels that the seasoning mixture coats, it seems to have the right spice level.  Not too spicy.  Don't whisk the salt into the seasoning; for a good salty crunch, David notes, sprinkle it in with pretzels.  A single recipe makes about 4 cups of snack mix, but can easily be multiplied for a larger batch.

2 cups raw nuts, such as whole almonds, pecan halves and cashews
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups mini pretzel twists

1.  Spread nuts on rimmed baking sheet and toast in 350 oven for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Keep a close eye on the nuts, especially those toward the edges of the pan to prevent burning.

2.  Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and maple syrup.

3.  Add warm nuts and stir with a rubber scraper to combine.  Add salt and pretzels.  Stir to coat pretzels and nuts evenly.  Spread mixture back onto baking sheet and return to 350 oven.  Cook 12-18 minutes longer, stirring once or twice for even toasting.  Cool snack mix on baking sheets.

Snack Mix may be stored in an airtight container up to one week.

December 18, 2010

Curled Caramel Cookies

Here's a fun little cookie.  I suppose it would be at home on a Christmas Cookie platter, but it's more like a garnish.  You know, like those wafers that Swenson's and other ice cream parlors would put on their sundaes.  Except that I don't think this would be called a wafer.  And it doesn't have that lightness that those have.  What I am trying to say is that it is thin and crisp and nutty, and if you tried to serve these alone, your guests might feel a bit jipped.  They are the kind of thing that dresses up a dish of ice cream or takes a simple pudding to the next level.  I suppose you could also fill them with custard, but these are meant to be crisp, buttery little bites, so you would have to fill them right before serving, otherwise they would get soggy.

This recipe makes a manageable amount--about 24 cookies, which should be sufficient for one evening.  Normally I like to make large batches of cookies and freeze them, but these don't freeze well.  They are delicate and would shatter.  Besides, rolling them is a finicky process, and my guess is that by the time you get to number 24, you'll be in the mood for a new task.

Still, it's a simple recipe.  You may have everything you need on hand.  And it might be just the thing to dress up Bananas Flambé or a creamy Fall Holiday-tini.

Curled Caramel Cookies
adapted from Joy of Cooking

1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla*
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground or minced nutmeats* (I used hazelnuts.  Rombauer recommends Black walnuts or hazelnuts. I'd like to try it with local almonds.  Oatmeal might be a good nut-free substitute.)

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 2 cookie sheets.  In bowl of electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar.  Beat in egg.  Blend well.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Beat in vanilla, salt and flour.  Stir in nuts.

2.  Drop the batter from a teaspoon onto prepared cookie sheet.  Leave plenty of room between cookies. A rounded teaspoon of batter will spread to about 3 inches.  Use wet hands to flatten the cookies.  And because you will need to handle each cookie individually when it comes out of the oven, don't bake more than about 12 cookies at a time.  If you have great confidence in your cookie rolling skills, start one cookie sheet, then start a second cookie three minutes later.  Bake cookies 6-8 minutes, until dark around the edges, but golden brown in the center.

3.  Let cookies cool on cookie sheet briefly, then remove from pan with a thin metal pancake turner.  Flip cookie into your hand and roll over the handle of a wooden spoon, or over a rolling pin, or over your finger.  If the cookies cool too quickly, set the cookie sheet back in the oven briefly to reheat.  And do not dismay, if some of your cookies don't get rolled, they still make a good garnish.  Let cookies cool completely.  Ideally, serve the same day they are made.  If they are to be served more than one hour after being baked, cover tightly to keep them crisp.

*See my notes on vanilla here and on ground hazelnuts here.

December 7, 2010

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala

In our lifelong quest to find simple, dare-I-say delicious chicken recipes, we recently tried Chicken and Mushroom Marsala from Smitten Kitchen.  When staring at a package of three boneless skinless chicken breasts, where else would I turn?  I can't think of a better resource for a go-to meal than Smitten Kitchen.  And it was indeed delicious.  Well, all of it except the chicken.  Like many recipes using boneless skinless chicken breast, the chicken itself turned out dry and rather flavorless.  The short cooking time that boneless skinless chicken requires doesn't give it sufficient time to absorb flavors.

But the flavor in the mushroom sauce was so satisfying we almost didn't care about the chicken.  Almost.  Next time we do this we'll make some adjustments, though I don't know what.  Deb advises (in the comment section) that you brine the chicken, and we did, but the end result was still rather tasteless.  Next time we might marinate the chicken first?  Or maybe using organic chicken, which I've read might be more tender than the stuff we bought at Trader Joes.  Simply checking for doneness first, could solve the moisture problem, and there's truly enough flavor in the sauce...  Or, our six-year-old recommended substituting beef.

Before I share the recipe though, I must note that this was a quick weeknight for us.  We had no chicken broth or marsala wine.  I've read somewhere that you can substitute red wine with a splash of brandy for marsala, so that it what I do when we don't have marsala on hand.  And in this case I substituted diluted apple juice for the chicken broth.  There's no rythmn or reason to that substitution; I just wanted something with a little flavor, so I used apple juice.  The apple flavor doesn't come through, but like I said,  the finished product was really good.  The mushrooms are definitely the star of the show, so good, in fact, immersed in the marsala gravy, that one can almost forget the chicken all together. 

This is one of those recipes that demonstrates the amazing power of butter.  A sauce is created using the pan juices from the chicken, sauteed onions and mushrooms, marsala wine and chicken broth.  It's just mushrooms in a brown sauce until you take it off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter.  That butter kind of draws it all together, creating a silky gravy, full of delicious meaty mushrooms to serve over the chicken.

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen where it was adapted from Gourmet Magazine.
Deb says this serves 6.  I say 2-4 servings with leftover chicken that can used for something else.  Believe me, these mushrooms are so good, you won't have any leftover no matter how many people you intend to serve.   Add a loaf of crusty bread to complete the meal.

3 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin, cut in half (about 2 1/2) pounds
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, sliced thinly
3/4 pound mushrooms sliced thinly
1/2 cup marsala
1 cup chicken broth (or apple juice diluted by 50%)
Garnish: 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
To serve: crusty bread.

1.  Pat chicken dry.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in large heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Brown chicken in two batches.  Transfer chicken to a plate.

2.  Discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat.  Saute onion and mushrooms over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  After a few minutes, the mushrooms will give off some liquid.  Turn the heat to medium high and saute until most of the liquid is evaporated.  Add marsala and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the marsala is almost evaporated.  Add chicken broth, chicken pieces and any liquid that has accumulated on the plate.

3.  Cook uncovered, turning the chicken once until cooked through, 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the pieces.  Transfer cooked chick to a clean, preheated platter.  Continue to cook mushroom sauce until the liquid is reduced to about half a cup.  Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.  Spoon mushroom sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

December 3, 2010

Carrots, Shredded and Baked

This is a 'different' preparation for carrots.  Since I got it from my 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking, and since that book has just so darn many recipes that include canned soup and other things I associate with my grandmother's cooking, I assume this might be a 1950s way of cooking carrots.  But since I was not alive in the 50s, I really don't know.  Anyhow, I wanted something different, and easy, and wholesome.  I served this with Joy of Cooking's Green Peppers Stuffed with Meat and Rice (p. 316), which we found to be too bland.  Stuffed Peppers, my family has agreed, need cheese.  The carrots didn't really serve a purpose with the peppers.  They would, however, be a nice base if you like to serve meat on a bed of vegetables.  They are soft and sweet and I imagine a nice sliced steak with the carrots underneath to absorb the juices.  Add some parsley to garnish and a simple steak (or a plate of baked chicken pieces) is taken up a notch. The cloves make this dish feel very appropriate for autumn and the butter in the background rounds out the flavor nicely (and epitomizes grandma's 1950's cooking).

Baked Carrots
adapted from Joy of Cooking (p.297)

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 chopped onion or leek
2 cups shredded carrots
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (or, for a different flavor, 1 teaspoon dry mustard)
1/3 cup stock (I used turkey stock, because that's what I had on hand, but use whatever you have on hand.)

1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Melt butter in medium skillet.  Sauté onions in butter for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in carrots.  Transfer carrot mixture to an oven proof casserole dish.  Combine salt, brown sugar, cloves (or mustard) and stock.  Pour over carrots.  Cover casserole dish and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

November 29, 2010

Bananas Flambé

I have a confession of sorts.

I don't eat bananas.  Well, no that's not accurate, I do eat bananas.  I just don't buy them anymore. With going "locavore,"  bananas are no longer on our grocery list.  Plus, did you read that article in the New York Times?  If you did, you know which one I'm talking about.  If you didn't, here it is.  I don't know.  The article struck some liberal environmentalist chord deep down within me, and I have not purchased bananas since then.  But I do like bananas, and my locavore convictions only go so far, so I will eat them at other people's houses.  I mean I wouldn't want to offend anyone, right?  (My father-in-law planted a banana tree in his yard this last summer.  It's too young to produce fruit yet, but I am anxious to see if it does, because I think I would like to have one myself.)

This last weekend I was assigned the task of driving my 88-year-old grandmother to a post-Thanksgiving dinner with family in the Sacramento area.  The drive from Chico to Sacramento is only about 90 minutes, but that didn't dissuade my perpetually-prepared grandmother from packing a couple of bananas 'in case we got hungry.'  Not surprisingly we did not get hungry, so we arrived in Sacramento with two intact bananas.

And the family members who had been assigned the task of bringing a pie had cancelled.  So the plan was to have cranberry bread and Ginger Gems (delicious, soft, molasses-ginger cookies that my step-mom makes).  While both baked goods are really good, I just felt like a big family feast needs a special ending.  If not a pie, well, at least something semi-spectacular.  I know, "spectacular" is a big claim (which is why I humbly prefaced it with "semi"), but c'mon a dessert that gets lit on fire is pretty cool.

Though this recipe may not be fitting with our farmers market theme, it does fit the you-can-do-it-without-opening-a-cookbook theme.  Butter, brown sugar, bananas, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of vanilla and some rum and viola!  Basically it is bananas in a warm caramel sauce, but something about lighting it on fire takes it to special-occasion-dessert status.  Serve over vanilla ice cream-- an item I am increasingly convinced should be in everyone's freezer--with a soft cookie to sop up any extra sauce and melted ice cream.  Fabulous!

Bananas Flambé
Makes 8 dainty servings or 4 indulgent servings.  Increase or decrease as needed. 

1/4 cup butter (half of a stick; if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
3 medium bananas, ripe, but not overripe
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
1/4 cup (2 fl ounces) rum
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 cookie per guest

1.  In large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat butter and sugar, stirring occasionally.  Heat until the butter and sugar have melted and combined, less than 5 minutes.

2.  While sugar-butter mixture is heating, slice your bananas (either in quarters--horizontally in half and vertically in half--or on the diagonal into 3/4" thick coins).

3.  Sugar-butter mixture should be bubbling.  Stir in a pinch of cinnamon (and a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter).  Carefully add bananas.  You don't want to get burned by that hot sugar.  Carefully turn bananas to coat.  Let cook about 1 minute.  Add vanilla extract and rum.

4.  Now here is the fun/dangerous part.  You may want to turn off the heat under the pan while you do this:  Turn away from the stove and light a match, then carefully bring the lit match over the skillet.  The alcohol vapors should catch on fire.  Wahoo. They'll burn for a few seconds.  Hopefully your guest will catch the action and be adequately impressed.

5.  To serve:  Scoop ice cream into each bowl.  Spoon caramel sauce and bananas over ice cream.  Garnish each serving with a cookie.


* In our family, we make our own vanilla extract by steeping vanilla beans in vodka.  My brother-in-law, who spent some time bartending and knows a thing or two about cooking, recommends a middle-of-the-road vodka such as Seagram's.  Recipes for vanilla extract abound on the internet, but basically you slit the pods (about 6 or 8 of them), put them in a bottle of vodka and let it sit at least 6-8 weeks.  Leave the pods in the bottle, and as you use up the extract, add more vodka.  My dad has a couple more vanilla beans in his bottle than I do, so his extract seems stronger than mine.  If I was using my extract (6 beans that have been steeping in 750 ml of vodka for 2 months) it is still a bit lighter in color and flavor than my dad's (which smells and looks more like commercial extract), so I would double the amount of vanilla.

November 28, 2010

Spicy Cauliflower over Rice

I wonder why chipolte peppers come in cans.  Every recipe I have ever used that calls for chipotle peppers calls for "1 or 2 chipotle peppers from a can."  I open the can and freeze the rest, and if I am lucky, I label the bag that I freeze them in, so I don't get it confused with tomato sauce.  Why don't they just sell chipotle peppers in adobo frozen in the first place?

Recently I opened a can of chipotle peppers in adobe and I have been chipping away at the leftovers in the freezer ever since.  They add a nice smokey heat to things, but be careful, because they really are spicy.  A little goes a long way. 

Serve this comforting dish of soft veggies in a spicy, creamy sauce over plenty of steamed rice to counteract the heat.  For some textural contrast and a protein boost, top with toasted slivered almonds. 

Spicy Cauliflower
Inspired by the New York Times
Serve over steamed rice.  Serves 6 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish.

Chipolte peppers packed in adobo sauce offer a smoky heat. They are generally found in the Mexican section of the supermarket.  If you don't have them, substitute a dried chile of your choice.  Dried chiles can be purchased in the Mexican section of most supermarkets.  I get mine at the farmers market in the winter. In fact, Mr. Vogel had bags of them available this week.  Stored in an airtight container, they keep at least one year. 

1 lb cauliflower, cut into large florets, trim stalks and stems and cut into bite-size pieces.
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 green pepper, sliced into 1" squares
1 clove garlic, crushed

1 chipolte pepper from a can
1 dried chile of your choice, I like cayenne
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 can coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Red pepper flakes  to taste
 Cilantro and lime wedges to garnish
Optional:  toasted slivered almonds
To serve: Steamed jasmine or short-grain rice

In medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine cauliflower, carrots, green pepper, garlic, chipotle, chile and broth or water.  Bring to a simmer.  Season with salt.  Make sure that chipotle pepper is immersed in liquid.  Cover pan.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 5-7 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.  Remove lid, increase heat to medium high.  Make sure that chipolte pepper has broken up into pieces to incorporate the flavor into the whole dish.  If not, crush it with a spatula or spoon.  Add coconut  milk and sugar.  Stir to combine and let simmer another minute or two.  Remove dried chile and add red pepper flakes to taste.  Transfer to serving dish and garnish generously with chopped cilantro and almonds (if using).  Have lime wedges available.

November 26, 2010

A Couple Holiday Drinks

My father-in-law was wondering why I haven't posted much in a while.  I've actually been cooking a lot.  I even have a couple of posts written, I just haven't posted them because they are not Thanksgiving-ish.  Honestly, it is dark and cold in Upstate California, and lately in the evenings I am more in the mood to watch a re-run of 30 Rock on Netflix (or just go to bed early), than to put mental energy into anything.  Sorry.

But my little family just had a happy Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving too.  In fact I thought of you, dear readers, this evening.  For those of you staying with family, when  the feast is over, things can feel a bit cramped and relationships might be starting to get strained...  No?

Well, maybe not.  But maybe all you ate today was leftovers from yesterday, and while they were really good (your mother-in-law makes the best red cabbage ever, I am sure and her turkey is never dry), maybe a simple dessert that is not leftover pumpkin pie is in order?

Either way, a nice fall cocktail might be just the thing to take the edge off this evening and restore joviality to the extended family... and keep you from downing a half a bottle of Jameson when no one's looking just to keep your sanity... Um, nevermind.  So tonight, whether you and the family are watching a movie or playing games, or just doing whatever you can to avoid another argument, add a fun and festive cocktail.  Have your hostess pull out her martini glasses, while your host pulls out Balderdash or something, while you take inventory of the liquor cabinet and the spice drawer.  Make it fun: recruit a family member to crush some graham crackers, mix the crumbs with sugar and nutmeg and rim those martini glasses while you mix the cocktail.

Hot Buttered Rum 
adapted from Drink of the Week 

I never used to be into the whole ice cream with alcohol thing.  You know, "Mudslides," and that type of thing. But earlier this week on a dark, cold night, I really wanted some kind of a hot toddy curl up with.  My experience with cocktails that are served hot has been limited to Hot Buttered Rum and Spiked Hot Chocolate (Oh Frangelico, how I miss you in my liquor cabinet!).  My dad's Hot Buttered Rum includes,  if I remember correctly, more butter per serving than I would slather on a couple pieces of toast, and therefore, quite frankly, it scares my arteries.  As I surfed around for a variation with less butter, I found quite a few recipes that included vanilla ice cream.  Most of them were portioned to serve a crowd, directing the cook to cream together butter and sugar and maybe cinnamon, then add softened vanilla ice cream and refreeze the mixture.  To serve you would place a scoop of the "batter" in a mug and top with as much rum as you like, then fill the mug with hot water and stir to melt the batter.  I was not serving a crowd, so I scaled it down and just put a teaspoon of butter, a couple tablespoons of vanilla ice cream, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and sufficient amounts of rum and boiling water in a mug.  The ice cream melts and gives the drink a creaminess (and a nice soft vanilla flavor), so that you can use less butter.  This drink got me past my aversion to ice cream in cocktails.

Fall Holiday-tini
inspired by Angie Rayfield

For you, dear reader, I've tried this cocktail both ways, with Captain Morgan rum and with Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Honestly, I expected to like the rum better, simply because I thought the spices would meld nicely with the pumpkin-cinnamon-vanilla-orange combo, but I actually liked the Jameson better.  Of course, when its Day 3 with the extended family, use whatever you have available, so that you can Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I mean Thanksgiving. Whatever...

For each serving:

1 tablespoon pumpkin (canned or cooked)
1 scoop vanilla ice cream (about 1/2 cup)
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice OR a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1 ounce spiced rum or Irish whiskey
Enough half-n-half so that your blender will blend, which is 2 tablespoons in my beloved 35-year-old Imperial Pulse-Matic.

Garnish:  graham cracker crumbs and sugar, or freshly grated nutmeg

1.  Combine all ingredients except Garnish in blender.  Blend.

2.  You will look like less of a drunk if you've planned a nice garnish for our cocktail.  So, to create a pretty rim, wet the rims of your glasses, then dip into a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, sugar and freshly grated nutmeg.  Pour cocktail into prepared glasses and serve.  If you can't manage the rimmed glasses, at least grate some nutmeg over the finished cocktails. Enjoy your time with family!

November 20, 2010


Recently at the farmers market, our six year old picked out a gigantic head of cauliflower.  And, probably due to some confusion about whose bags were whose as we were paying for our produce, we came home with a second gigantic cauliflower.  Needless to say, we've been eating more than our fair share of cauliflower in the last week or so.  My husband says he doesn't like cauliflower, so I can't just steam it or roast it and call it good.  There has to be something interesting to it.

For the longest time I preceived cauliflower as, "like broccoli, but white."  But really, cauliflower seems milder in flavor and therefore more versatile than broccoli.  Broccoli seems to be sufficient side dish simply steamed or roasted.  Cauliflower can be steamed or roasted too, but it benefits from being dressed up a bit.  

Roasted Cauliflower with a Mustard Glaze
(I don't know where I got this recipe, but it is not a combination I came up with myself.  I think it may be a Mark Bittman creation.)

This is super easy, but it is different enough that it could easily be a side dish at a holiday meal.  Once the cauliflower is cut up into florets, 90% of the work is complete.  Simply roast it, then dress with an easy mustard vinaigrette.  Serve it hot or at room temperature. 

1 lb cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon prepared good-quality mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400.  Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread on rimmed baking sheet.  Roast 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice, until slightly brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, in serving bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard and vinegar.  Drizzle in olive oil while whisking.

Add cauliflower to vinaigrette and stir with a spatula to coat.

To dress it up:  Sprinkle with toasted buttered bread crumbs and parsley.

November 13, 2010

Braised Beef with Leeks

While onions are not readily available at farmers markets in November, leeks certainly are.  By the way, if you garden, now is the tail-end of the planting season for onions.  You can buy a bunch of 25-50 onion starts for about $5 in Upstate California farmers markets in October and the beginning of November.

Last weekend I found huge leeks at one of the stalls.  So this week we used one of them in a stew-like dish:  Braised Beef with Leeks.  This is basically my own creation, inspired, I suppose, by an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain demonstrates Boeuf Bourguignon.

This is a slow-cooked beef dish in which the leeks cook down and, along with chicken broth and wine, create a sweet sauce for the beef.  We like it served over cornbread.


Our What's in Season Now Page has been updated with November's list.


Braised Beef with Leeks
Inspired by Anthony Bourdain
Serves 6.  Make ahead:  Step 1 can be completed up to 1 day ahead of time.  Or Steps 1 & 2 can be completed up to a day ahead of time.  Store tightly covered in non-reactive dish in refrigerator overnight.  Return to dutch oven and reheat over medium heat.  Garnish and serve. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs good quality beef stew meat
1 lb leeks, the white and light green parts only, cleaned and trimmed, and halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch slices.
2 tablespoons flour
2 large carrots, cut into large chunks
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup inexpensive red wine (We used $2 Buck Chuck Shiraz)
Whatever herbs you have available: 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary (or similar amounts of dried herbs)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley or 1 cup green peas

1.  Season beef generously with kosher salt and pepper.  In large dutch oven over medium high heat, brown the meat.  You may need to do this in two batches.  Don't attempt to cook it thoroughly, just get most sides brown. Remove meat to a plate.  Set aside.  Add prepared leeks (and a little more oil if the pan is dry), a dash of kosher salt, and cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes, to brown slightly.

2.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Return meat to pan. Toss leeks and beef with flour.  Cook about one minute.  Add carrots, broth and wine and herbs (but not parsley).  Bring to a boil.  Stir.  Cover with lid and cook in 300º oven 2 hours.

3.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Remove bay leaves and any herb stems.  Add peas, stir and let sit to heat through.  Or skip the peas and simply garnish with parsley. Serve over freshly baked cornbread.

November 11, 2010

On Roasting Winter Vegetables

It seems that every autumn I succumb to the temptation to buy multiple winter squashes: butternut, acorn and at least a few whose names I can never remember; you know. the beautiful ones piled in bins at the farmers markets.  And every year, regardless of whether the vendor promised that they were "super-sweet," or "buttery and rich orange on the inside,"  I end up cooking them, not liking them and throwing them away.  Frankly, the only recipe for fresh winter squash that I've ever liked enough to cook a second time (and a third and fourth time, in fact) is the Pumpkin Bread recipe from Joy of Cooking.  I substitute roasted butternut squash or Cinderella pumpkin for the pumpkin, and my husband and I agree that we actually like the squash bread better than (canned) pumpkin bread.

But as the weather in Upstate California abruptly cools off and as all my favorite cooking blogs post recipes that include these autumn beauties, I have been tempted once more.  This time, with not so much a recipe, but a method for roasting pumpkin... that and the gorgeous photos of the oh so simple finished product.  Roasted pumpkin seasoned simply with salt and pepper and 'branches of herbs,'  or cinnamon and sugar.  But I don't go that route.  I think I've tried it before, and been disappointed.  (You guessed it, I am not one of those people waits expectantly all year for pumpkin lattes to be 'in season.') 

I think I've figured out the root of my disappointment with squash :  I really do look forward to sweet potatoes and parsnips all year long.  Really.  And I love them roasted.  In fact, quite often, I'll roast extras and heat them up in the microwave and eat them as one of the most comforting afternoon snacks ever.  And it just isn't sweet potato or parsnip season yet.  So for now, roasted pumpkin or squash will have to do.

There really isn't a secret to roasting winter squashes.  I simply cut them in half, remove the seeds and roast while I'm cooking whatever else I am cooking, until they are soft.

October 30, 2010

A Hearty Miso Soup with Greens

We are not big fans of turnips in our house.  I've tried frying them like home-fried potatoes and I've tried them braised in a beef stew.  As a family we have agreed: no more fried turnips.  In a stew they are okay, because they soak up the delicious meatiness, which plays nicely with their sweetness and hides their bitterness.  When I scored a beautiful bunch of turnips at the farmers market last weekend, the vendor recommended roasting them.  So we tried it.  (For those of you keeping score at home it was on the evening that I had planned to serve leftover Eggplant Parmesan casserole.  Some of us had the casserole while some of us had sliced ham and cheese and roasted turnips. Some evenings are like that, okay?)  These turnips were about an inch or two in diameter.  I cut them in half and tossed them with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and roasted them at 350º for 30-40 minutes, until the cut side was nicely browned... And we all agreed, no more roasting turnips.

The turnips came with their vibrant green tops attached.  And I couldn't let good greens go to waste, so I blanched them and used them in Miso Soup later in the week.  It seems silly to share more than one Miso Soup recipe, but it is so versatile, and, if the Asian section of your pantry is well stocked, it's quicker to put together than a homemade chicken noodle soup.  It is equally soothing on a sore throat, and since I was fighting off a sore throat this week, we had Miso Soup twice.

I almost always include nori and green onions in my miso soup, but when using hearty greens, I don't think the nori is necessary, and this week we didn't have any green onions, so I substituted chives (that I got in my Stuff a Bag for $5 the week prior).  I like to keep the ingredient list short:  highlight a couple vegetables, don't just throw in all the remnants left in the vegetable bin.

When you buy root vegetables with the greens attached, cut the greens off as soon as you get home.  I've read that this prevents the sugars in the root from escaping to the greens.  If you plan to use the greens, rinse them well in a sink of cold water, separate the leaves from the stems, and blanch them in salted boiling water for a minute or so. Drain.  Shock with cold water.  Drain again and squeeze out excess moisture before storing in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

Miso Soup with Greens and Soba Noodles
Inspired by Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen

1.  Prepare Dashi Stock.  In medium soup pot or dutch oven heat 4 cups water with some seaweed (something roughly equivilant to a 6" piece of kombu).  When I last purchased Kombu I was only able to find it packaged with a mixture of assorted sea vegetables.  Since then, I've been using the other sea vegetables (which I cannot identify), and the stock is just as good.  When the kombu is soften and the stock is almost to a boil, add a handful of bonito flakes and reduce heat to low.  Cover and let sit a couple minutes, then strain, pressing to release all the flavor into the stock.

2.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add a tablespoon of salt.  Return to boil.  Add 4 oz dried soba noodles.  Cook according to directions on package (generally 3-8 minutes depending on thickness).  Drain.

3.  In small frying pan, heat 1 teaspoon grapeseed or other vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add 2 cloves garlic crushed.  Cook and stir about 10 seconds.  Add a large handful blanched greens (turnip, mustard, chard or kale) that have been squeezed to remove excess water and chopped.  Cook about a minute or two, just to heat through.  Sprinkle with seasame seeds, about a teaspoon.  Cook a couple seconds, then add a splash of mirin.  Let it bubble away.  Remove from heat and drizzle with toasted seasame oil.

3. Meanwhile bring dashi to a simmer.  Add 2 cloves of garlic, minced, a splash of soy sauce and some grated ginger or grated daikon.  Add a small handful cubed summer squash and/or 1/4 head napa cabbage, chopped.  Let cook a few minutes.  Remove about half cup of broth.  Add cubed tofu.  Pour reserved broth over 3 tablespoons miso paste.  Whisk to combine.  Turn heat off under soup.  Add miso-dashi mixture back to the soup.

To serve:  In each large soup bowl place 1/4 of the soba noodles. and 1/4 of the greens.  Ladle 1/4 of the soup over the noodles and greens.  Garnish with grated daikon and sliced green onions.  Serve hot.  We like to eat this with chopsticks and drink the broth.

October 27, 2010

Easy Chili

As I wrote my shopping list for the week, I looked all over for a chili recipe.  I thought I was in the mood for Turkey Chili Verde, but as I reviewed the grocery budget, it became necessary to use the ground beef and canned tomato sauce I already had, instead of buying turkey.  It had been a while since I made chili and I wasn't in the mood for purusing multiple cookbooks looking for a new recipe, so I went back to the method that I have stored in my memory bank.  And I was not disappointed.  I added a couple things, ingredients that are in Williams Sonoma's chili recipe, that weren't in my original: masa flour, and if I had had some on hand, I would have added a can of cheap American beer.  It gives it a nice flavor.  But I didn't spend the money to get a chunk of beef chuck which I would have had my butcher grind coarsely, (which is what butchers sometimes refer to as a chili grind).  And since I didn't bother to get the specific beef called for in their recipe, I didn't crack open the cookbook.  I just wanted something warm and satisfying to serve on a cold autumn Sunday evening. And this fit the bill perfectly.  Note that, though I simmered mine for two hours to let the flavors marry, you could simmer it for as little as twenty minutes and have a perfectly acceptable weeknight dinner in barely more than half an hour.


If you read my last post, you saw what I was planning to cook for dinner this week.  You might be wondering what we actually ended up eating.

Saturday:  Beef Curry with Summer Squash and Peppers over Jasmine Rice.  I made this dish  spicy, so our 6-yr-old had a hot dog instead.  And I won't be sharing the recipe for Beef Curry at this time, because we were disappointed with the beef we used (which was a prepackaged 'thinly sliced sirloin' that turned out to be rather mangled and which cooked up a bit chewy).  Also, I need to switch brands of curry powder.  This time I used the stuff from the bulk bin at Winco and it has a little bit of a grittiness to it.  What's your go-to curry?
Sunday:  Beef Chili with Tortillas
Monday: Sliced Ham and Cheese with one of those sweet, crisp cucumbers and roasted turnips. -Ugh, we have determined that we are not turnip fans.
Tuesday: Miso Soup -which we found was a delicious use for some of the turnip greens.  I'll share it soon.
Wednesday: Arroz Con Pollo with Baked Kabocha Squash Slices for dessert


Easy Chili
Mostly my own, with some inspiration from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Soup
More of a method than a recipe, the amounts given are estimates, so I hesitate to list a number of servings.  After you make this  a couple times, you'll have the process down and count this as an easy meal.  Leftovers can be frozen for longer storage. 

1.  Brown 1-2 lbs ground beef (or ground turkey) over medium high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot.  If it releases much fat, drain it when it is about halfway through cooking.  Before the meat is done  cooking, add chopped aromatics:  1-2 onions, 1-2 green peppers or a similar amount of hot and/or sweet peppers and some chopped garlic.  Cook over medium heat to soften vegetables, 5-10 minutes.

2.  Add about 1/3 cup chili powder, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper (and, for a thicker chili, 2 tablespoons flour).  Stir to coat meat and vegetables and cook about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes (one 14- to 28- ounce can chopped or crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, or approximately a pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped).  Add beans. (Kidney, pinto or black beans are what my family prefers.   Canned beans are fine.  Drain them well. Or use dried beans that you have precooked.  I use about half a pound cooked dried beans.  If you've cooked your own beans, add some of the cooking liquid with the beans.  Do not add dried beans without precooking them.  The salt and the acid in the tomatoes will prevent them from softening.)  Depending on how long you plan to simmer the chili, you may want to add more liquid: 8 oz of cheap American beer, some beef broth, water or more tomatoes.  This would also be the time to add any additional seasonings: one chipotle pepper from a can, some dried oregano or cumin, a dash of worcestershire sauce.  (I recommend the worcestershire sauce.  It has a way of bringing the flavors together.)  Sometimes I add a 14-oz can of hominy, drained.

4.  Bring chili to a simmer and cover with the lid slightly ajar.  Simmer over medium-low heat 20 minutes to 2 hours.  (I'm sure you could also transfer the chili to a crock-pot and cook on Low for 8 hours, but I have not prepared it this way.)

Optional:  During the last 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle about a 1/4 cup masa (corn flour) to thicken chili and give it a corny flavor.  If doing this, omit the flour in Step 2.

Garnish with sliced green onion, chopped cilantro, grated cheese and/or avocado slices.

Serve with cornbread or warm tortillas. Or, for Game Day, may I suggest serving it over oven fries?

October 26, 2010

A Bargain at the Farmer's Market and our Menu for a Week

I had our dinners planned out for the week and I had written a corresponding shopping list, but when I checked the grocery list against the amount of money in our Grocery Money envelope, I had to slash some things.  Luckily, we have a pretty full pantry, so it shouldn't be difficult to find something to eat.

Arroz Con Pollo
Ham & Pineapple Calzone Leftover Eggplant Parmesan Casserole
Turkey Chile Verde with Cornbread Beef Chili with Tortillas
Hearty Miso Soup w/ Tofu & Soba Noodles
Halibut Kebabs with Grilled Bread and Pancetta  Hot Dogs?
Beef Curry w/ Potatoes and Carrots Peppers and Squash over Jasmine Rice

Sadly I had to forego a new recipe from Sunset Magazine, Halibut Kebabs with Grilled Bread and Pancetta, for an old standby in the freezer: hot dogs.  Surely, my six-year-old will appreciate the switch.  And I'll look forward to trying the halibut next month.  I'll save myself some work by using the ham we have on-hand for sandwiches for lunch, and stretch some leftover casserole.  But the Arroz con Pollo  I've really been looking forward to.  The recipe serves 8, so I will halve it, even though I'm sure we would have had no problem finishing the leftovers.

I was left with only $9 for the Farmers Market.  After buying eggs I had $5 left.  So my $5 bag and whatever is already at our house will have to suffice for most of our produce this week. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Seriously, if you haven't taken advantage of Vogel's Stuff a Bag for $5 Sale at the Saturday Farmer's Market in downtown Chico, here's a list of what I got this past weekend for five dollars:

  • 5 yellow tomatoes -I have cilantro and lime in the fridge, so I can make salsa
  • 6 long green peppers, similar to Anaheim -for the Chili and salsa
  • 12 small- to medium-sized sweet peppers in assorted colors -for the Curry, and who knows what else.
  • a large bunch of parsley - I don't know what I've use it for, but I like to have parsley around.
  • 2 pomegranates - for snacking
  • one daikon radish -for the Miso Soup
  • 3 cucumbers - for snacks and lunch
  • one long sweet summer squash -for the Curry
  • one beautiful bunch of turnips -these didn't fit in the bag, but the gal offered them to me for free.  I don't know what I'll do with them, maybe put them in the curry in place of the carrots and potatoes that I would normally serve.
Do you have weeks like this: the budget doesn't match the grocery list, and you have to do some major tweaking? Oh, it's a bit of a headache, isn't it?  But it is real life.  Thankfully, we have enough to make ends meet and it appears that at least this week, we will be well-nourished.


Planning your farmers market grocery list, and need to know what might be available this week?  Check out our What's In Season list.

October 22, 2010

Beef Stew

If you are looking to save a little money on produce, you should be aware that some Farmers Market vendors typically lower their prices toward closing time.  Mr. Vogel typically does his "Stuff a Bag for $5" sale after about 11:00am on Saturday mornings at the downtown Chico Farmers Market.  Time it right, because he'll run out of herbs fast.  The last couple weeks the winter squash and pumpkins haven't been included in the sale, but pretty much everything else is fair game.  Last week I scored rosemary, thyme, chives, basil, 6 paste tomatoes, a couple yellow tomatoes, 4 eggplants, a large bunch of mustard greens, a beautiful variety of sweet peppers and a couple hot peppers.  With ten dollars I bought all of our vegetables for a week.  I

Now Mr Vogel doesn't label his produce as organic, and I should probably ask what his thoughts are on organic food, how he controls pests, that type of thing.  In the grocery store, I typically buy only organic produce.  At the farmer's market, one of the stalls I visit every week is certified organic from Durham, but I also buy from non-organic vendors. I feel that consumers should be able to communicate with their farmers and I understand that many farmers are "almost organic,"  and that is good enough for me. 

The weather is cooling off.  We've even had a few pleasantly dreary days this past week.  So, with those beautiful end-of-summer peppers and herbs I made a delicious beef stew.  Normally I would include onions and carrots in stew, but I had neither.  That's ok.  What I like best about a stew, is that it doesn't require a recipe. 

With that, here's a recipe:

Beef Stew

Serve with crusty bread and butter.  You may want to make this stew a day before serving it.  If so, refrigerate in a tall container.  The fat will solidify on top, making it easy to remove. Serves 6-8.

1 1/2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup all purpose flour
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups liquid: water, broth or a mixture including wine or beer (I used water.)
6-8 cups cubed vegetables (I used a couple baby yukon gold potatoes, which I left whole, and an assortment of sweet peppers.)
Seasonings (I used a sprig of rosemary, couple sprigs of thyme, a dash of red pepper flakes and 5 cloves of garlic, crushed)
Optional: 1 small bunch of greens, chopped (about 6 cups raw)
Finishing: maybe a splash of vinegar, a bit more garlic, chopped herbs to garnish

Toss meat with flour, salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add meat and brown on all sides.  This may need to be accomplished in 2 batches.

Add liquid and scrape bottom of pan.  (If your meat has burned onto the bottom of the pan, you'll want to wash out the pan to avoid a burnt taste in the stew.  Otherwise, those browned cooked bits are flavor, leave them in!)  Add vegetables and seasonings. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer.   Cover and cook 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Add greens.  Cover and cook 20-30 minutes.  Finish:  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Garnish and serve.

October 18, 2010

Teriyaki Steak

I don't like to cook meat.  I generally leave grilling up to my husband.

I thought I would share something he has been making lately that is so simply I could do it. It's a quick-grilling Teriyaki Steak.  We like to serve it with steamed short-grain white rice and a homemade miso soup that's full of veggies.  Fun chopsticks and Japanese rice bowls and soup bowls make it feel special. And because the steak is served sliced into bite-sized pieces, I find that the recipe serves more people than when serving whole hunks of meat to each guest.

Teriyaki Steak

Have your butcher slice the round steak horizontally into large, thin pieces, so that 3 or 4 pieces equal a pound and a half of meat. Serves 6-8.

1 1/2 pounds round steak, sliced 1/4" thick
bottled teriyaki sauce - we like Soyaki
sesame seeds or thinly sliced green onions for garnish
Japanese ponzu sauce and sesame sauce for dipping

Marinate thinly sliced steak in teriyaki sauce 2-8 hours.  Let sit at room temperature at least a half hour before grilling.  Preheat gas or charcoal grill.  Over a very hot grill (high heat), cook steaks 45 seconds on each side.  Set steaks on plate and cover with aluminum foil.  Let rest 10 minutes.  Slice meat in thin slices against the grain.  Transfer to serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds or green onions. Provide guests with individual dipping dishes and allow them to mix the Ponzu and sesame sauces to their liking.

October 6, 2010


I haven't been to the farmers market in three weeks, so I feel out of my element. Okay, I did go to the farmers market in Southern California last week, and I still have a couple of beautiful nectarines and plums that I have been packing into lunches this week, but I don't have any fresh, local vegetables and I have no eggs, so when it comes to making dinner, I'm feeling a little out of touch.  Especially since fall has suddenly kicked in around here. I would feel so much better if I had a 10-lb bag of Pink Lady apples, and a couple of winter squashes and one large bunch of greens.  Well, except that I almost always dislike winter squash once it is cooked....  And actually, I do have some sort of winter squash--or maybe it's a pumpkin--that I picked up at Oto's two weeks ago...  I also have some onions that are still decent and some cute little baby potatoes that I'm planning to serve with pork chops and chutney this evening. I have a couple of almost-ready poblanos and bell peppers in the garden, four okra that I harvested right before we left for vacation, and the last half of a bunch of organic green onions that I picked up at S&S when I was buying pork earlier this week.  So we'll get through the week.  I'm just anxious to get some good local eggs and check out all the autumn produce this Saturday morning.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a recipe for popcorn.  Yeah, it doesn't really highlight local produce, though I suspect that this time of year, one might be able to buy corn for popping at their local farmer's market or pumpkin patch, but that's not the point.  This is just a quick snack for munching while watching a movie or packing into a lunchbox.

I've never been a big fan of microwave popcorn.  It just seems artificial to me. Sure, it has an alluring smell that sometimes tempts me, but most brands leave that weird film in your mouth, and it kind of ruins the experience.  I own an air-popper, but I haven't used it in quite a while.  I prefer the stove-top method, because of the flavor the cooking oil imparts, and because it doesn't require a uni-tasker (that I would have to go digging in my garage to find).  Special thanks to my Uncle Dave in Kansas City who taught me how to make popcorn on the stove four years ago.  My life has changed.

Adapted from Dave Reid of Kansas City

1/4 - 1/3 cup cooking oil with a high smoke-point (enough to cover the bottom of your largest pot).  I prefer the flavor of coconut oil or grape seed oil, though you can use something like canola or peanut oil, if that is what you have on hand.
1/3 - 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus a generous sprinkle of table salt
OR a generous sprinkling of Nori Komi Furikake (Rice Seasoning)

In a large lidded pot, over medium-high heat, heat cooking oil with 3 popcorn kernels.  Stay close by and listen for kernels to pop.  Once popped, remove lid, sprinkle in the remaining kernels, and replace lid, leaving lid slightly ajar, so that stem can escape.  Cook over medium-high heat, shaking pan back and forth over burner fairly constantly (yes, with all that shaking your lid might not remain ajar, just be sure that the stem is escaping) until popping slows.  As soon as popping slows to about 2 seconds between pops, remove pot from heat. leave lid on a couple seconds as the last few kernels pop, then carefully remove lid, being aware that a few kernels may pop out at you.  Transfer popcorn to a large serving bowl, drizzle with butter and salt (or sprinkle with rice seasoning), toss with a spatula (or two table knives) and serve.

October 1, 2010


I haven't blogged in almost a week.  In fact, I've barely touched a computer in about a week.  We are on vacation in San Diego. My father-in-law decided that his grandkids needed to see the town he grew up in, and who I am to argue?  We've taken the girls to Lego-Land and the San Diego Zoo, and we've spent considerable time on the beach.

Wednesday afternoon we checked out the local farmers market.  This time of year they still have all the summer fruits that we see in Upstate California (apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes and a small selection of strawberries).  Being in Southern California, they also have a lot of avocados, both the Haas, that are exported to grocery stores all over the country year-round, and a larger, more buttery (if you can imagine a more buttery avocado) Reed variety.  We bought a couple of Reeds, a large heirloom tomato and a couple of local limes and made guacamole. 

Another find:  Passionfruit!  I had never had a passionfruit before.  The skin is tough and appears crinkly.  Cut it open with a sharp knife and the interior is filled with a sweet-tart orange glop surrounding crunchy black seeds.  Just suck it out.  Passionfruit has a really specific, vaguely citrus, taste.  One slurp and I was transported back to... well, the first time I had a Crystal Geyser Passionfruit Juice drink: Westminister Woods in about 5th grade.  Weird food memory, I suppose, but that is what is embedded in my mind...

Wishing you many happy food memories!

September 24, 2010

Trip to the Asian Market

I know, you wish there were photos.  So do I...

It has been so much fun to go through all the fun stuff we got at Oto's Marketplace in Sacramento last week.  I thought I would highlight a few of my favorite things.

Little ceramic rice bowls - Inventorying my kitchen cabinets, it would seem that typical American soup or cereal bowls have increased in volume over the last 50 years.  The three sets that I have acquired in the last 10 years boast a volume of over three cups each.  That might be acceptable for a main-dish salad or (a large single serving of) soup, but it can be pretty disappointing to be served one scoop of ice cream in one of those huge bowls.  Most often I end up using them as serving bowls for side dishes; they are the perfect size for our family of four.  By contrast, the bowls I inherited from my grandmother (which are at least 30 years old) hold approximately 2 cups of food.  I find them to be the perfect size for soup or oatmeal.  For smaller quantities--a scoop of ice cream, a serving of baby food, something to hold a small snack-- I resort to 1-cup Pyrex bowls and, okay, my two sets of ramekins.  Wow, that's a lot of bowls!  So maybe I didn't need this cute little set of rice bowls, but I love them.  They are perfect for serving ice cream.  That's how I remember my stepmother serving ice cream when I was little.  Or, of course for serving rice.

Japanese food-whether in a restaurant or a home kitchen- is beautiful, because there is so much focus on fresh ingredients and presentation.  Japanese home cooks take care to slice tofu, meats and fish evenly and to cut vegetables into pleasing shapes.  It is traditionally a very healthful cuisine, with emphasis on vegetables, fruits, soy, fish and rice.  And if served in Japanese-style dishes, it is naturally portion-controlled.

Chopsticks - Okay, I think all four of us--my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my husband and I--put chopsticks in the shopping basket, because we came home with over 20 pairs.  (This is after I bought a set of 20 plain chopsticks when we had friends over for sushi for my husband's birthday last June.)  But these new chopsticks are fun chopsticks.  There's a pastel-checkered set, and bamboo striped set, and an individual pair that has some kind of decorative rock embedded in it. I know, we went a little overboard.  But it is kind of fun when everybody can pick out their favorite set of chopsticks for each meal.  And now we will always have plenty for guests.  Wanna come over for a sushi party?

Nori Komi Furikaki Rice Seasoning - A mixture of toasted nori flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and salt, to sprinkle over rice (or, may I suggest, popcorn). Sweet, salty and nutty in a 1.7 ounce jar. (If you've ever had Trader Joe's Sprouted Brown Rice Bowl, this is the same mixture that is in that little seasoning packet.)  Yum.  They had other more exotic flavors of rice seasoning--one of them included salmon--but I stuck with what I was familiar with.

Mochi Ice Cream - yes, you can buy strawberry, mango and green tea at Trader Joes, but at Oto's we found Kona Coffee.

Rice Candy - My husband and I both picked up a couple boxes, saying they were for our 6 year old.  And we were both irritated with each other when we gave our daughter the other person's candy.  At Oto's these little boxes were 89 cents each.  Elsewhere, I find them for $1.49 each.

Toasted Nori and Roasted Nori Snack -  My daughter often takes a sheet of nori, the sushi wrapper, to school in her lunch box.  After reading one Japanese author's account of having sea vegetables in her lunch box when she she was younger, I asked my daughter what the other kids think about her seaweed.  I don't remember exactly how she responded, but my response was, "I'm sorry kids are making fun of you."  To which she replied, "Mom, they are not making fun of me.  They are making fun of my food. Who cares?"  I suppose that means she is well-adjusted.

Dried Bonito Flakes  - As I mentioned in my post on Miso Soup, I've looked all over for these.  I think most Asian food markets sell them, it's just that they don't always have the translation to English on the label. (I've included a picture on the left...Why didn't I just Google Image Search it years ago?)

Bonito is a super-thinly-sliced, dried tuna that is used a great deal in Japanese cooking.  When I first opened the package I noticed a really smoky, meaty smell, not unlike bacon.  I am looking forward to getting more familiar with this ingredient.

Loacker Quadratini Wafers -  True, these are not Japanese.  And true, they don't fit into a Locavore diet unless you live in the Italian Alps, but I have a bit of an addiction to them.  Think bite-size square Kit Kats without the chocolate coating! Oto's carries the Cappuccino, Hazelnut, Vanilla and Dark Chocolate varieties. 

Sushi Rice -  Yeah, you can buy it at many grocery stores, but a Japanese market has such a selection, that it is fun to get it there, even if you don't know anything about the differences in the various types and brands.  And believe me, there are differences, but, no, I don't know what they are.  Sushi rice is made with short grain rice, which cooks up to be pleasantly sweet and a bit sticky.

To Make Rice for Sushi:
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Cook 1 1/2 cups sushi rice according to the directions on the package. When the rice is almost finished, meat in a small saucepan, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon salt.  Stir to dissolve salt and sugar and remove from heat.  Transfer rice to a large shallow pan (such as a 13 x 9" baking pan or a large, shallow mixing bowl.  Toss rice with a large spatula to cool it.  While tossing it, sprinkle it with the sushi rice seasoning.  Toss to thoroughly mix in the seasoning and to cool the rice.  Do not stop tossing until rice is at room temperature.

  Want some good homestyle Japanese recipes?  Check out this book.  The co-author grew up in Japan and now lives in New York City.  All the recipes are things that she or her Japanese mother make in their own kitchens.

September 23, 2010

Miso Soup

You know you might be a foodie when all your souvenir shopping takes place at food markets.  This weekend after some wonderful shabu-shabu and a trip to Oto's Market in Sacramento, I came home and made miso soup.

Did you know that I looked in speciality markets and Asian food stores for over three years before I found bonito flakes (dried tuna, I believe) and kombu (a certain type of seaweed), the two ingredients in dashi?  I found kombu at Chico Natural Foods a while ago, but Oto's is the first place I have found bonito flakes that were clearly marked in English, so that I could confirm that they were indeed bonito flakes.  I'm sure I've run across them in other Asian markets, but never with enough of an English label to determine that that is really what it was.

Being without dashi in the past, I have tended to make miso soup simply with boiling water poured over a heaping spoonful of miso paste, a handful of cubed firm tofu and half a sheet of nori, torn into 2" strips.  I top it with thinly sliced scallion.  Not much more difficult than Cup O-Soup, it is our favorite soup-when-someone-has-a-cold.  Still, I have kept a look out for the bonito flakes and kombu required to make a traditional dashi stock.

Dashi Stock
adapted from How to Cook Anything by Mark Bittman

In medium soup-pot or sauce pan, combine 1 quart cold water with a 6" piece of kombu.  Turn heat to medium-low and bring almost to a boil.  Test kombu, if it is not yet tender, add a little more cold water and let cook a couple more minutes until tender.  Remove kombu. (Kombu can be used once more for a second batch of dashi, or cut into small pieces and added to a stirfry.)  Add half-cup bonito flakes.  Cook 1-2 minutes.  Do not allow to boil.  Pour stock through a sieve and press to extract as much flavor as possible  from the bonito.  (Discard bonito.)   Stock can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Simple Miso Soup
Similar to the soup often used as a starter course in Japanese restaurants.  Miso is a salty soy paste, increasingly available in Asian and natural food stores.
Makes 4-6 servings.

1 quart dashi, or substitute 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
4 oz firm tofu, cut into small cubes
3 sheets nori, cut or torn into 2" strips
3 tablespoons miso, plus more to taste, white, brown, red, whatever you have on hand
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat dashi to a simmer.  Place miso in liquid measuring cup.  Ladle approximately 1 cup of hot dashi into measuring cup and whisk to combine.  To the simmering dashi in the saucepan, add tofu cubes.  Cook 1 minute, just enough to heat through.  Turn off heat.  Add dashi-miso mixture and nori.  Stir gently to combine without breaking tofu.  Ladle into small soup bowls and top with scallions.

Heartier Miso Soup

To create a heartier miso soup, one that can be used as a vegetable side dish or even a main course, simply cook a up to four of your favorite vegetables in the dashi stock prior to adding the tofu.  Remember to carefully cut the vegetables into appropriately sized pieces, and add those that would take longer to cook (such as carrots, winter squash or sweet potatoes) first, following them with vegetables that require progressively less cooking time (various mushrooms, thicker greens, cabbage, udon noodles) and finally things that cook almost instantly (spinach, peas, bean sprouts and nori).

September 20, 2010

Hazelnut Brownies II - Chewy Hazelnut

Since my first batch of Hazelnut Brownies were a chocoholic's dream and I felt a little chocolated-out, I decided to highlight the Hazelnut flavor in the second batch of brownies by modifying a recipe for Nutty Butterscotch Blondies that I found in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.  Essentially, a blondie is a brownie without the chocolate.  It wasn't that I didn't want the chocolate, I just didn't want the chocolate to overpower the hazelnut.  So with this second attempt at Hazelnut Brownies, a Nutella-Hazelnut batter is marbled into a hazelnut blondie batter.  Then it is topped with chopped hazelnuts for some textural contrast, as well as a visual reminder of what one should be tasting.

While my first Hazelnut Brownies were egg-leavened and used a minimal amount of flour, this second batch is leavened with baking powder.  For the flour, being that the starting recipe is from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, I used white whole wheat.  I like whole wheat, because it gives full-bodied cookies and brownies a little ump, so that the texture stands up to the flavor.  I wouldn't use whole grain flours in delicate cookies, such as Katz Tongues or Madelines, but in anything chocolatey, I like to use whole grain flour for at least a portion of the all-purpose.

The end result is chewy, buttery and nutty. But you know what I concluded?

Maybe I don't really crave the real hazelnut-chocolate combination.  Maybe what I crave is Nutella...  Or Frangelico over ice.

Isn't it a bummer to all of us natural food enthusiasts when the -flavored product is somehow more satisfying than the 'natural?'  But, oh well, opening a jar of Nutella or a bottle of Frangelico is certainly less time-consuming than mixing and baking a pan of brownies.  Besides, my waistline needs a break from this kitchen adventure.  

Hazelnut Nutella Blondies
Highly adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup each white sugar and brown sugar
4 eggs, divided
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour or spelt flour
3/4 cup Nutella

1.  Toast hazelnuts:  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roughly chop hazelnuts.  Toast on ungreased rimmed cookie sheet 5 minutes.  Stir.  Toast 3-7 minutes more until just golden.  Nuts may go from white to burnt in less than a minute, so keep an eye on them and be smelling for a nutty aroma. Let nuts cool.  Then grind 2/3 of the hazelnuts into a powder in a food processor (or coffee grinder--but don't blame me if it breaks).  Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts. 

2.  Line a 13 x 9" baking pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.

3.  Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and add sugars, mixing until well blended.  Transfer butter-sugar mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. 

4.  Add three of the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape bowl.  Beat in vinegar and vanilla.  Beat in baking powder and salt.  Scrape bowl.  On low speed, beat in ground hazelnuts and flour, just until blended.  

5.  Spread about 3/4 of hazelnut batter in prepared baking pan.  To the remaining batter add Nutella and the fourth egg.  Beat to combine, about 20 seconds.  Spoon Nutella batter over hazelnut batter.  Run a table knife through the batters to swirl.  Top evenly with reserved hazelnuts. 

6.  Bake at 350º 26-28 minutes, until the top looks shiny and puffed. A cake tester inserted in the middle should reveal sticky crumbs.  Let brownies cool completely--or at least almost completely--in pan before cutting into bars.  Store tightly covered at room temperature for a couple of days, or freeze for longer storage. 

September 15, 2010

Hazelnut Brownies I: Fluffy, Rich and Chocolatey

I worked tirelessly last week on Hazelnut Brownies.  Okay, maybe not, "tirelessly," but the concept was in the forefront of my mind all week.  I baked two batches of brownies, and at first I hesitated to post either one, because neither one exactly filled the craving I had. Then I read a post which reminded me that, more than anything else, I blog to keep track of my kitchen adventures and recipes.  As I post all my favorite recipes here, I can find them more easily than in the mess of clippings and cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf.  So I've decided to post both recipes.  Maybe one of them will inspire someone to  somehow create a better Hazelnut Brownie.  Me, I'm shelving the Hazelnut Brownie concept for now, but in a couple months (or years) when the craving strikes again, I'll have this record of what I have already tried...

As I wrote in my original Brownie post, Judy Rosenberg's cookie recipes have never really failed me--I really think the issues I had with the brownies in my original post had to do with the chocolate I used, not the recipe-- so my first attempt at Hazelnut Brownies were hers.  I followed her recipe almost , hexactly. 

Being leavened with egg, they are moist and fluffy, fudgy and satisfying in a very-chocolate way. And there is the rub:  The chocolate element overpowered the hazelnut element. Also, like a lot of Brownie recipes, this one calls for coffee.  Generally speaking, a little coffee in a chocolate cake or brownie recipe isn't going to make it a mocha-flavored dessert.  Rather than flavoring the dessert, the coffee does something to enhance the chocolate flavor.  But in this instance, I could taste the coffee, which further overpowered the hazelnut flavor.  Maybe it is because I used cheap Tasters Choice instant coffee, because that was the only instant coffee I had on-hand.  (And, no, I don't drink Taster's Choice; it was a free sample.  I know, I know, lame chocolate in my first brownies, lame coffee in my second brownies... When will I learn that if I want a top-quality end-result, every ingredient must to top quality, too?)  In any case, I've dialed back the coffee from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.

It was a great brownie, but in the end, I didn't see a reason to use $24 Frangelico when the flavor didn't come through.  I can think of better things to do with the rest of the bottle (read: drink it over ice).

Hazelnut Brownies
Adapted from Judy Rosenberg

Thick and fudgy, these are the perfect texture to use as a mix-in for ice cream.  Freeze, then use a sharp knife to cut into 1/2" cubes.  Fold about 3/4 cup brownie bites into 1 quart fleshly churned ice cream,  freeze the ice cream for 2 hours before serving. 

1 heaping cup hazelnuts (you want to end up with 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts)
7 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs (or 6 medium eggs), separated
1 teaspoon good-quality instant coffee or espresso powder
1/4 cup Frangelico* or water, or a mixture of the two (or use a shot of espresso instead of the instant coffee)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roughly chop hazelnuts.  Toast on ungreased rimmed cookie sheet 5 minutes.  Stir.  Toast 3-7 minutes more until just golden.  Nuts may go from white to burnt in less than a minute, so keep an eye on them and be smelling for a nutty aroma. Let nuts cool. Decrease oven temperature to 325º.  Line a 9" square baking pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.  Then grind hazelnuts into a powder in a food processor (or coffee grinder--but don't blame me if it breaks).

2.  Meanwhile, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler** over simmering water.  Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and let cool.

3.  Sift all-purpose flour and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.

4.  In small bowl combine instant coffee with Frangelico and/or water.  Stir to combine well.  Alternatively, skip the instant coffee, and draw one shot of espresso.  Add Frangelico to make 1/4 cup.

5.  Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, 9 tablespoons of the sugar and the vanilla extract together until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the egg yolks and beat on medium speed until blended, stopping once to scrape bowl.  Add the melted, cooled chocolate and beat on low speed to blend, just a few seconds. Scrape bowl.  Add the flour mixture and ground hazelnuts and beat on low speed just until blended.

6.  In a separate bowl, on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites and salt until frothy, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds.

7.  Using a rubber scraper or wooden spoon, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the brownie batter to loosen it.  Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.

8.  Spread the batter in prepared baking pan.  Bake at 325º 30-35 minutes, until cake tester or toothpick inserted toward the middle comes out with moist crumbs.  Let the brownies cool in the pan for 1-2 hours.  Then lift out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into 1 1/2" squares with a sharp knife.  Brownies can be kept at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days.  If you plan to store them longer than that, wrap with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and store in freezer p to 2 weeks.

* A couple of my friends seem to agree that Frangelico tastes like Reese's Pieces.  According to its website, Frangelico is the original Italian Hazelnut Liqueur with notes of chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Either way, at 40 proof, it has the right amount of alcohol to be enjoyed over ice, without further dilution.

**For a makeshift double boiler, I put a little less than an inch of water in my smallest saucepan, then I rest my smallest Pyrex glass mixing bowl on top on it.  The mixing bowl should not be touching the water (which should be simmering, not boiling).  The point is to cook over low even heat.

Photo credit:  Jason Powers Photography

September 14, 2010

Peach Chutney

Well, making jam will have to wait for another weekend, because I used up all those peaches making peach chutney.  I wasn't going to do it this year, but my husband likes it and it makes a good Christmas gift.   As I mentioned in the posts about canning tomatoes, canning seems like a lot of hard work, but when I actually do it, it's not difficult, just a bit time consuming.  Most recipes for canning can be broken into manageable chunks, so I don't know why I sometimes want to avoid it.

If you haven't had chutney, be advised that it seems to be one of those things people either really like or don't like at all.  Generally chutneys are sweet, tangy sauces served over meats or vegetables. Sometimes made of tomatoes, or apples or whatnot, the favorite in our home is peach.

It is a simple process:  Peaches, onions and peppers cooked with sugar, apple cider vinegar, ginger, cinnamon and cloves until almost jammy. Serve it with pork or beef or curry. The aroma of this stuff boiling all afternoon is tantalizing, and if you haven't planned for it, you will find yourself seeking out something to serve it with that evening, so have something marinated and ready to grill.


I know I wrote that I wasn't going to share recipes for canning, just sources for trusted canning recipes, but here's the thing:  I've made large batches of this chutney three years in a row, and each year I struggle to find the scrap of paper that I jotted the recipe down on.  So I'm sharing it.  Please, if you aren't familiar with the canning process, read up on it and follow safe canning procedures.  I will trust that you've done that and will refrain from putting random canning tips in the recipe, such as "Be sure to use only perfect, unblemished fruits." and "Jars and rings may be re-used provided they are inspected and free from chips or cracks, but always use brand-new lids to ensure a proper seal."  I'll assume you've read up on those things...


Peach Chutney
adapted from
Makes about 5 to 6 pints.  I like to can this in half-pint quantities, because that seems to be the right amount to serve with an average-sized tri-tip or pork roast.

Because I like to give this as gifts, and because I have a reliable source of free peaches, I always prepare a double batch.  While canning recipes that call for pectin should not be doubled, this one is safe to double.  Just remember that because of the volume, it will take longer to cook down a larger batch.  Toward the end of cooking stir more frequently to prevent the concentrated sugars from burning to the bottom of the pot.

3 1/2 lbs firm peaches
1 1/2 cups golden seedless raisins
1 large white or yellow onion
1 yellow pepper
2 hot peppers - I use poblanos for a spicy-but-not-too-spicy chutney
1/2 cup crystallized ginger
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

1.  Chop peaches, onion, peppers and ginger into small pieces.  Peeling the peaches is not necessary.  Combine all ingredients, except pecans, in large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until thickened and jammy, so that chutney mounds on a spoon.  I find that it takes approximately 90 minutes for the chutney to reduce by almost a third.  Toward the end of cooking time, you will need to stir more frequently to avoid burning.  Stir in pecans, if using.

2.  Meanwhile heat and sterilize pint or half-pint jars and lids.  Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Seal and process pints or half-pints in simmering water bath for 10 minutes.  If you prefer, this can be frozen rather than canned.

September 7, 2010

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

For the longest time I didn't stock vanilla beans in my pantry.  Sure, I had vanilla extract, but I am not a huge fan of vanilla-flavored things, so I didn't think vanilla beans were a necessity.  I mean at $2.50 each, they are a bit pricey.  But at a recent family gathering we talked about making our own vanilla extract and how it was so easy and economical.  So I bought some vanilla beans for that.  I kept one aside for making those Browned Butter Peach Bars, and then my dad sent my some, so I've had a good supply to experiment with.  While I found the vanilla flavor a bit over-powering in the Browned Butter Peach Bars (I'm thinking of making those again but with a lavander-peach jam instead of the orange-peach combination), the vanilla in this ice cream is perfect.  Perfect.  This whole ice cream is perfect, if you like premium, custard-based ice creams, and boy, do I!  The texture is smooth and creamy. Immediately out of the churn, it was a soft-serve consistency.  A few hours and a few days later it is perfectly scoop-able.  The sweetness is just right, not cloying or overdone.  The vanilla is pleasant without being overpowering.  It is the perfect thing to serve atop a summer fruit dessert and the perfect background to all sorts of mix-ins.  (I chose brownies, because those brownies that I complained about a month or so ago, remember them?  They have a really pleasing, chewy consistency when frozen.  Of course, I had already run out of that batch when I made this, so I had to make a new batch of brownies.  This time I chose a Hazelnut Brownie, which we'll get to soon enough.)

Plan to start this ice cream the evening before you plan to serve it.  I know that seems like a lot of lead time, but if you plan ahead you can integrate the steps into your life and get it done without it feeling like a chore.

All summer I've shied away from custard-based ice creams for reasons:  not wanting to throw together a batch of merengues with the leftover egg whites, and not wanting to stand over a hot stove stirring the custard constantly for 10 minutes or more.  Maybe I've had some bad experiences with custards in the past, but when I started this one my mind went through a mental checklist: Whisk.  Check.  Rubber Scraper.  Check.  Mesh strainer. Check.  Egg yolks in a glass measuring cup.  Check.  Tall glass of water in case I get thirsty.  Check.   Something to read in case this goes on too long.  Check.  Thermometer.  Where is that thermometer?  Maybe I should dig it out.  Oh, but the heat is already on and I am supposed to be stirring constantly.  Wait...  Before I could even get through the checklist the custard had thickened.  I don't know why it happened so fast, except that when the custard part of the process starts the milk has already been heated with the sugar, and a vanilla bean has been steeping in the mixture for an hour, so it is still warm.

David L's Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 egg yolks (the original recipe calls for large, I used medium)
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat the milk, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.  Scrape vanilla bean seeds out of vanilla bean pod.  Add vanilla seeds and pod to milk and cover.  Let the mixture infuse for 1 hour.

2.  Prepare an ice bath by placing a medium size bowl or measuring cup (1 1/2 quarts) into a large bowl filled with some ice and water. Pour cream into medium bowl and set mesh strainer over bowl.

3.  In 2-cup glass measuring cup or small mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks.  Return vanilla-infused milk-sugar mixture to the heat.  Do not remove vanilla bean yet.  Heat the milk until steaming.  Then gradually pour some of the milk into the egg yolks to temper them.  This keeps them from becoming scrambled eggs when you mix them into he hot milk.  Stir at least half of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Then return pan to the heat and gradually pour the tempered egg yolks into the remaining milk, stirring gently as you do so.

4.  Heat the custard over low or medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens to coat the back of a spoon.  (Dip a spoon in the custard, then pull your finger along the back of the spoon, if the line where the custard was removed remains distinct, the custard is ready.)  Depending on the temperature of your stove, this may take as little as 5 minutes or as much as 20 minutes.

5. Pour custard through strainer into cream.  (You are removing the vanilla bean, as well as any scrambled-egg clumps.)  Use a spatula or whisk to gently stir custard in strainer and encourage it to strain through.  With clean utensil stir in vanilla extract and continue stirring to cool mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and let ripen overnight or up to 24 hours.

6. In the morning or afternoon of the following day, churn custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Twenty minutes in my Cuisinart gives it a soft serve consistency.  Pack in a quart size container (layering in up to 3/4 cup mix-ins, if desired).  Freeze at least 2 hours before serving for perfect scoopability.