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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Baking bread: Whole Wheat and Oat

I love homemade bread. Back in the day, I used my bread machine A LOT. My bread machine has since gone to the big appliance graveyard. Burned out the motor finally. The great thing about making bread is you don't need a bread machine. Does make the process a no-brainer, but anyone with a sturdy stand mixer can make bread. If you want to build burly arms, you can even knead it by hand. I'll stick to my stand mixer for this chore, thank you.

This is a 100% whole grain recipe: white whole wheat and rolled oats. Lots of fiber and a good wheat-y flavor. The oats keep it moist. It has a close grain and slices well, making it good for sandwiches. Not too dense though. That can be an issue with whole grain recipes - they resemble bricks.

I like to use white whole wheat, which is readily available in supermarkets now. It has a lighter color and a sweeter flavor. Many 100% whole wheat breads have a lot of added sugar to compensate for the slightly bitter flavor of "regular" whole wheat. Using white wheat means you can get away with less added sugar.

This recipe makes two loaves. Don't eat bread that fast? Wrap the second loaf well in plastic and stash in the freezer. Bread freezes beautifully. Keep it wrapped up as it thaws on the counter to prevent drying out.

Whole Wheat and Oat Bread
(makes 2 1½ pound loaves)

2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk (skim to whole, your choice)
1 Tablespoon instant or bread machine yeast (use 1 ½ Tablespoons at sea level)
5 ½ oz. rolled oats
24-27 oz. whole wheat flour, preferably white whole wheat
2 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
¼ cup vegetable oil

Combine the sugar, water, milk, yeast, and oats in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes. Using the mixer blade, mix in the remaining ingredients. Start with 24 oz. of flour. Mix for 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, add another ounce of flour and mix some more. Repeat as needed. Too sticky is when you poke it, and the dough sticks to your fingers. The oats and the flour take a while to absorb the moisture, so be patient. It may not form a nice ball at this stage. You should err on the side of a bit too much moisture than too little.

Scrape off the mixer blade and replace with the dough hook. Knead for 5 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, covered with a dish towel. Remove the towel and knead for another 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out into a large oiled bowl. Cover with a towel, place in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until tripled in volume. This could take 1 ½ hours or it could take 45 minutes. It depends on the temperature of your kitchen. Punch down. Divide into two equal pieces. Shape into two 9"x4" loaf (they will be rather flat at this stage). Place in two loaf pans.

I don't usually grease the pans because I've never had bread stick. As a precaution, you can spray the pans with non-stick cooking spray.

Cover loaves with a dish towel and allow to rise until about doubled in volume. The dough should come up to the edge of the pan. Again, the time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes until nicely browned. The best way to confirm it is done is with an instant-read thermometer. The bread should have an internal temperature of 190°F. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and let it cool completely before attempting to slice. Though, this can be pretty hard to do because the bread will smell incredible.

Adapted from

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Flavored Olive Oil Sale

Oil: looks like a Christmas tradition at Trader Joe's. Since this is only the second Christmas season we've had a Trader Joe's, I can't say for sure. I'm hoping they keep doing it every December, because just like last year, this is a great deal.

You get three flavored extra-virgin olive oils for $9.99. Each bottle is 250 ml, which is not too much to use up before next year's sale rolls around. :-)

The flavors are:

  1. Hot Pepper EVOO: flavored with chiles. Trader Joe's says good for bread dipping, eggs, and steak. I say good on chicken, pork, fish, and veggies too!
  2. Lemon EVOO: I love lemon flavored olive oil. I have been buying it for years. It's great mixed into a vinaigrette, though I usually cut it 50/50 with unflavored olive oil. Also delicious on chicken, fish, seafood, or veggies. Or as a dip for bread, drizzled on hummus.
  3. Rosemary EVOO: Add anywhere you want a boost of rosemary. Obviously, roast chicken and pork immediately come to mind. Trader Joe's says drizzle on pasta, then add black pepper, salt, and some grated cheese. That sounds good to me!
Here's the entry in the Trader Joe's flyer on these oils:

Last year's nut oil collection is available now too, but the price isn't quite as good at $14.99.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tis the season for pumpkin, pumpkin pancakes

Is everything pumpkin this time of year? Seems so. Last month's Trader Joe's flyer was pages of pumpkin. Why not jump on the bandwagon?

This is a tasty way to use up part of a can of pumpkin puree, something that I find shows up in my fridge this time of year. Again, my pancakes are not very sweet. You can serve them with maple syrup or honey to sweeten them up.

You can also use pumpkin pie spice instead of the separate spices in the recipe, if you have that in your pantry. Use 1 Tablespoon to replace the cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

You don't need to add the granola (see photo below), but it adds some nice crunch. I like using Nature's Path Pumpkin-Flax Granola but you can use whatever granola you have, including my recipe made with some pumpkin seeds. :-)

Don't crowd these pancakes because that makes them harder to flip

Pumpkin Pancakes
(serves 5-6)

Dry Ingredients
2 cups flour (can use 1 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder*
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cloves

Wet Ingredients
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 cups low fat buttermilk

oil for greasing griddle
about 1 cup pumpkin seed granola (optional)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, fat, and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin puree and buttermilk. Stir in the dry ingredients until the flour is incorporated with the wet ingredients. Some small lumps are OK.

Heat a well-seasoned or non-stick griddle over medium heat. Brush lightly with vegetable oil. Use a scant ¼ cup for each pancake, spreading out the batter to a 4" circle. It's fairly thick so it doesn't spread much on its own. Sprinkle on about 1 Tablespoon of granola, if desired. Don't crowd them in the pan. They can be tricky to flip. Flip when the bottom is nicely browned and the edges have set. Repeat greasing and pancake-making until batter is gone. Serve hot with maple syrup or honey. They are best hot from the griddle, like all pancakes. But if you find you have extra, they can be refrigerated and reheated, either in the oven at 300°F or in the microwave.

* This is the proper amount for Boulder elevation, about a mile high. If you live at sea level, use 1½ teaspoons baking powder. The amount of baking soda does not need to be adjusted.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Red Lentil and Squash Curry

Meatless Monday again! Today, I'll give you an important tip for up'ing the flavor in many meatless dishes. It's a good tip for many dishes, actually. It's extra-important in vegetarian food.

Brown your onions! It adds such depth of flavor. It's a common technique in Indian food, meatless or not. Experiment with dishes containing bold spices. I bet they are even better with browned onions.

Red lentils cook up pretty quickly. They turn yellow when cooked and have a smooth texture compared to brown lentils. Red lentils have become easy to find. I found them in all the major supermarkets in town. Usually, they are in the bulk section. You can also get them in Indian markets. Many supermarket produce sections now sell prepped butternut squash. Butternut squash can be a bear to peel and cut up, so this is a boon for squash lovers who find the peeling/cutting up daunting.

Red Lentil and Squash Curry
(serves 4-6)

1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
½ cup - ¾ cup low sodium vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt (less if your stock is salty)

Combine red lentils, water, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to maintain a simmer, and partially cover. Cook until tender and nearly all the water is absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until nicely browned, about 15 minutes. As the onions brown, you may have to reduce the heat to assure they don't burn. Stir often for even browning.

Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, for about a minute until the spices are fragrant. Add the squash, ½ cup vegetable stock, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender. If the moisture cooks away, add the last ¼ cup stock. When the squash is cooked, add the lentils and any cooking liquid. Stir to combine. Check for salt. Serve over hot rice.

Adapted from a recipe in Kitchen Garden magazine, Dec. 1996/Jan. 1997.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Leftover Turkey Curry

The platter of turkey before the eatin' began. There will be plenty of leftovers for curry. And soup, and...

Post-Thanksgiving calls for leftover turkey recipes. Here's one that turns any leftover turkey into something a little more exotic. I love the addition of fruit to the curry. It adds just the right amount of sweetness.

Leftover Turkey Curry
(4 servings)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons curry powder
2 Tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups Turkey Stock or Chicken Stock
3 cups turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 1 pound)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup plain low fat yogurt
¾ cup frozen mango, thawed  and chopped
½ cup toasted sliced almonds (see Note)

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, apple, and garlic and cook until the onion is softened and just golden.

Sprinkle onions with curry powder and stir for 15 seconds.

Sprinkle onions with flour and cook for another minute.

Stir in broth, bring to a simmer and then cook on medium-low for 5 minutes.

Stir in turkey and salt. Cook for 5 minutes to reheat turkey.

Add yogurt and mango. Stir to combine and remove from heat. If you cook the yogurt too long, it will separate and you'll see little flecks of white. Your sauce won't be as smooth either but it's still perfectly fine to eat.

Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve over rice.

Note: to toast nuts put them on a cookie sheet and place in a preheated 300°F oven for 5 minutes. Don't forget them - they burn quickly!

Monday, November 23, 2015

My 2 cents on soaking or not soaking beans and a bean soup recipe

There's an article up on Food52 that presents both sides of the bean argument. That argument being should you soak your beans before cooking or should you go straight to cooking?

I've done it both ways. Sometimes I use the fast soak method. I've cooked them from dried too. Now that I have a modern electric pressure cooker, I almost always cook beans from dried under pressure. It is the quickest way to tasty beans. You can cook chickpeas from dried in under an hour.

I do think the soak then cook method does cut down on the gasiness of beans. There are long-chain carbohydrates in beans that dissolve into the soaking water. If you throw away the soaking liquid, you've reduced the amount of these indigestible (to us anyway; gut bacteria gobble them up, releasing a number of volatile organic compounds) starches.

The biggest reason beans are blah-tasting, no matter which way you cook them, is you didn't add enough (or any) salt when you cooked them. You will find many chefs who say "Don't ever salt your beans before they are nearly completely cooked. They won't cook if you add salt." To this I say  "Have you actually tried it?" Because, I have, and I find that salt does not slow down the cooking. I live in a place where beans cook more slowly anyway (water boils here in Boulder at 204°F - about 8°F lower than sea level) so I have no desire to slow down the cooking. It takes a long time already! My experiments show that adding salt at the beginning doesn't slow down cooking. And it definitely makes your beans taste better than if you wait until the end to season them with salt.

Here's a bean soup recipe where the salt goes in at the beginning, as well as a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The beans aren't soaked first, though you could start with soaked beans. [You'll be able to cut down on the cooking time by about half. You should reduce the cooking water down to 6 cups.] They are cooked with the seasonings until nearly done. The soup is finished with some fresh veggies that need only a short time to cook. It's a hearty soup with plenty of umami from the Parmigiano-Reggiano. I recommend that you always toss the rinds in the freezer so you can add them to soup, this one or this one with chickpeas.

Tuscan Bean and Swiss Chard Soup
(serves 6)

1 pound (2 cups) Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups water
3" x 4" piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cups low-sodium stock (either vegetable or chicken)
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, cored and coarsely chopped
½ pound Swiss chard leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook another minute. Add beans, 8 cups of water, rind, bay leaves, black pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours until beans are tender. The time is variable - depends on your altitude (will cook quicker at sea level) and the age of your beans (old beans can take a very long time to cook). Test at an hour and see how its doing.

Once the beans are tender, add in the stock, fennel, and Swiss chard. Cook until fennel is tender, about 10 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind and chop. Add back to the soup. If the rind fell apart on its own, no worries. The rind is totally edible and it adds great flavor and texture to the soup.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet January 2004.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chinese Black Bean Fish with Broccoli

Chinese black beans are fermented soybeans. According to the late Barbara Tropp, an American chef and expert on Chinese cuisine, fermented black beans are the oldest recorded soyfood. It is the ancestor of miso and soy sauce. They are used as a salty seasoning in stir fries or mild steamed dishes, where they add a healthy dose of umami . You can find them at Asian grocery stores. They are not common at supermarkets. I've only found black bean sauce (a garlic and black bean premixed combination) at even well-stocked supermarkets. Chinese black beans keep indefinitely. If you buy a small bag, you won't have to buy them again for a very long time. :-)

This dish can also be made with medium shrimp or bay scallops. I used thawed frozen fish chunks from Trader Joe's. The fish chunks come in 1 pound packages and are usually Pacific Cod. This is a sustainable fish harvested in Alaska. They are very reasonably priced.

Chinese Black Bean Fish with Broccoli 
(serves 4)

½ cup reduced sodium chicken stock
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning broccoli
1 pound of broccoli stems, cut into ⅛" thick slices
1 pound fish chunks, patted dry
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1" piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 ½ Tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ fresh Jalapeno chile, cut into slices crosswise
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Stir together the chicken stock, rice wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.

Steam broccoli stems for 5 minutes until just tender. Drain and pat dry. Place in a warmed serving dish, season with salt, and cover to keep warm.

Heat a wok over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes instantly. Add the oil and swirl around. Add the ginger and quickly stir around. Add black beans, garlic, and Jalapeno. Stir fry 1 minute. Add fish chunks and spread out in one layer. Cook for 3 minutes without stirring. Continue cooking, now stirring until fish turns translucent, about another minute. Stir the broth mixture to redissolve the cornstarch and pour into the wok. Bring to a boil and stir. When the sauce thickens, remove from the heat, drizzle on sesame oil, and stir. Pour everything over the broccoli stems and serve immediately with rice.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, February 2006.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Kohlrabi is an uncommon vegetable. My research puts it mostly in the turnip sphere and treats it thusly: saturate in butter and/or cream. That's a very European view of this vegetable. Kohlrabi is also popular in India and China, though you wouldn't know it looking through most vegetable cookbooks.

A kohlrabi along with some Kashmiri saag (probably mustard greens)
I'm here to fix that. Kohlrabi does not need to be cooked to death, then puréed, and finally bathed in butter and cream. It's quite delicious lightly cooked. In texture and flavor, it is similar to broccoli stems, which you could use instead of kohlrabi in this recipe. It has great crunch. It isn't overly cruciferous in flavor. Perfect for a stir fry.

This is a mild flavored dish with a play of textures: crunchy from the kohlrabi, chewy from the mushrooms, and soft from the tofu.

Kohlrabi with Tofu and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
(serves 6)

8-10 large dried black mushrooms (shiitake)
1 ½ pounds kohlrabi
2 scallions
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian roasted sesame oil
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
14-16 oz. tofu, cut into cubes

Soak the black mushrooms in about 2 cups boiling water for at least 30 minutes.

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick julienne, like thin French fries. Cut the scallions into 3" lengths, then slice thinly lengthwise. Set aside.

Remove the mushrooms from the water, cut off the woody stems, and slice the caps. Pour off ½ cup of the soaking liquid, being careful to leave the bits at the bottom of the bowl in the bowl.  Mix 4 Tablespoons of the soaking liquid with the cornstarch, rice wine, black pepper, ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside. Add ½ teaspoon salt to the remaining ¼ cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.

Heat up oil in a wok or large skillet until nearly smoking. Add the ginger and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the kohlrabi, scallions, and mushrooms. Stir fry for one minute. Stir soaking liquid with just the salt added and add to wok. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered for 4 minutes.

Add the tofu, but do not stir, and sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir the mix of soaking liquid, etc. to redissolve the cornstarch. Pour over everything. Stir lightly. Bring liquid to a boil to thicken sauce; there isn't a lot of sauce. Serve immediately over rice.

Photo: By Tarunpant (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cranberry Walnut Upside Down Cake

I pulled this recipe out of a Gourmet from November 2005. It's a delicious butter cake made seasonal with cranberries and walnuts. As cakes go, it's quite easy. I brought it to a party and it was a huge hit.

You can get the recipe on-line from Epicurious:

Some notes on the recipe:

Recipe says it serves 8. I'd say 10. It's sweet and rich, though if you want to cut it into 1/8th's, I would eat the whole piece. :-)

The cake is baked in a 10" cast-iron skillet, not a cake pan. You'll also need an electric mixer for creaming the butter and sugar. Unless you have very strong arms. :-)

The only altitude adjustment I made (I live at 5300 ft.), was to reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, from 1 ½ teaspoons. There is also baking soda in the recipe, but I left that as-is. The baking soda interacts with the buttermilk for leavening while the baking powder gives some extra lift. It didn't over-rise, so I think my adjusted leavening measures are good for Denver altitude.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meatless Monday: Egg Curry

This recipe comes from a wonderful Indian cookbook called 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. The five spices are cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black mustard seeds. They are the basis for a lot of delicious Indian recipes. This recipe uses four out of the five spices and they are all easy to find in any supermarket.

Onion and Yogurt Egg Curry
(serves 4)

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium to large onion, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne (it will be pretty darn hot with ½ teaspoon)
1 cup low-fat yogurt, whisked to break up lumps
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
non-stick cooking spray
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved the long way

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onions are dark brown. This will take a while, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the onions from burning. Add the coriander, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often to keep the spices from burning. Turn the heat to low. Whisk the yogurt into onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the water, salt, and sugar. Continue simmering the sauce while you fry the eggs.

Spray a large skillet, preferably non-stick, with cooking spray. Fry the egg halves, yolk side down until they start to brown. This helps to seal the yolk to the white so the eggs don't break apart in the sauce. Carefully place the eggs in the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes. Serve with hot naan or rice.

Recipe adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate, Chronicle Books, 2007.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Broccoli Crumble

I love broccoli, so I am always hunting for another interesting way to prepare it. Broccoli in cheese sauce is a classic. I wanted to lighten it up a bit but not in those kludgey 1980's ways, by using things like evaporated skim milk and low-fat cheese (really, low fat cheese?). I removed nearly all of the fat in the topping. Usually, there's a lot of butter, which coats the crumbs so they crisp as this bakes. You can crisp up the crumbs by spraying them with non-stick cooking spray. It's made of oil but the spray allows for even distribution and you end up using much less.

Here's a baked dish for your broccoli. Or your cauliflower. It would be wonderful with cauliflower.

Broccoli Crumble
(serves 6)

non-stick cooking spray

2 Tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 medium shallots, minced
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
⅔ cup 2% or whole milk
½ cup water
1 pound broccoli florets
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup grated cheddar cheese

½ teaspoon dried basil
2 slices fresh white or whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a medium baking dish (such as 8" x 8" x 3") with non-stick cooking spray.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for 3 minutes. Add flour and stir to coat shallots. Whisk in the milk and water. Bring to a boil, then add broccoli, salt, and pepper. Stir, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add cheese and stir. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

To prepare the topping, add the basil, bread pieces, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a food processor until bread is reduced to crumbs. Spread the topping over the broccoli. Spray the top generously with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes until topping is browned. Serve hot.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread

A not-too-sweet quick bread with chunks of apple and the flavors of Autumn
I am a big fan of quick breads. They are yummy for snacks and as an on-the-go breakfast. But, so many quick breads are really cakes in disguise. They are so damn sweet they make my teeth ache. Admittedly, I don't eat a lot of sweet things. Which is my way of saying, this quick bread is not very sweet. I'm just giving you heads-up on that. Don't expect cake. If you need to sweeten it up, slather on some apricot jam or apple butter. It does taste of the season with pumpkin, apple, and warm spices like cinnamon, but minus a lot of the sugar.

I specify separate spices but you can use premixed pumpkin pie spice instead. Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread
(makes 1 9"x5" loaf, about 12 servings)

non-stick cooking spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (use 1 tsp. at sea level)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
⅓ cup low-fat or whole milk
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼" dice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9" x 5" loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, both sugars, and the oil. Beat until smooth - brown sugar tends to be lumpy. Add the pumpkin puree and milk. Beat again until well-combined. With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients, walnuts (if using), and apple pieces. Do not over-mix; mix only until all the flour is incorporated into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Tap a few times on the counter to shake out any big air bubbles in the batter. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean with no liquid batter sticking to it. Set the loaf to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn out and let it finish cooling to room temperature. You won't be able to slice it until it's completely cool. To store, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. It can be stored at room temperature for about 3 days. After that, store in the fridge to prevent mold.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Saturday Night Dinner: Salmon with Roasted Vegetables

I recently vacationed in Alaska. Alaska has a lot of salmon, this year even more than usual. One of the thrills of the trip was watching salmon fight their way upstream. It's an incredible spectacle of nature. Alaskan salmon, unlike many wild fish, is heavily managed. The state watches salmon numbers and determines fishing slots, down to the hour, for salmon boats. In a good year such as this one, boats flock to coastal Alaska from as far away as Seattle to haul in the golden (OK, it's really orange) fish. It is a huge resource for a state that can't claim a whole lot in the agricultural arena (aside from monster cabbages).

Gratuitous photo of Alaska that has nothing to do with salmon
There are five types of salmon from Alaska. If you go there, you will hear how Alaskan children learn how to remember the different types, using the fingers on their hand.
  • Thumb, which rhymes with Chum. The chum salmon is also called the dog salmon.
  • Pointer, to poke or sock someone in the eye for the Sockeye salmon.
  • Middle finger, "oh no!" which rhymes with Coho. The Coho is also called the silver salmon.
  • Index, the ring finger, rhymes with king. The King salmon is also called the Chinook salmon.
  • Pinky, for the Pink salmon, also called the Humpback salmon because it has a distinctive humped back.
The first four varieties are commonly sold fresh and all are delicious cooked in a wide variety of ways. Pink salmon is usually canned.

Right now, fresh wild Alaskan salmon is showing up in Colorado for ridiculous prices. I got Chum salmon today for $5.99/pound. You can't beat that for delicious nutritious fish. I happen to like salmon skin so I leave it on, though you will want to scale it first. You can also ask your fishmonger to scale or skin the salmon for you. Most are happy to oblige.

Roasted Salmon with Roasted Vegetables and Capers
(serves 4 -6)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 green bell pepper, prepped like the red peppers
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
salt and black pepper
3 Tablespoons capers, drained
1 ½ pounds salmon fillet from the head end
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the peppers and onion chunks on a rimmed sheet pan big enough to hold them all in one layer. Drizzle on the oil and toss to coat all the pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt (the capers will add more so you don't need a lot) and black pepper. Roast the vegetables in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes so they cook evenly. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Be more generous with the salt here. Mix in the capers then place the salmon fillet, skin side (or what side previously had the skin if you have a skinned piece) down on top of the vegetables. Increase the oven temperature to 450°. Roast for another 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Just before serving, sprinkle on the lemon juice.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lentil-Mushroom Soup

What a pretty basket of mushrooms!
Here's something warming for fall. Though most people don't think of mushrooms as a fall product, it's when many mushrooms varieties show up in the forest. Porcini (called Cepes in French, Steinpilz in German, Boletus edulis in Science) are my favorite fall fungi, though in our Colorado mountains, they show up after good rains all summer long. You don't need fresh porcini for this soup - good thing, as they are not available in most places and they cost $30-50/pound when you can find them. Dried porcini are not inexpensive, but a little goes a long way. You need 1 oz. to make a big, rich, flavorful soup. Add some fresh mushrooms at the end for even more umami. You can use whatever kind you can find in the supermarket: button, cremini (baby Portobellos), oyster, or if you are feeling flush, some fresh porcini.

This soup is hearty enough for a simple dinner. Serve it with some crusty bread and a big salad.

Lentil-Mushroom Soup
(serves 4-6)

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
2 stalks of celery, cut into small dice
½ medium red onion, cut into small dice
⅔ cup passata (see Note)
2 bay leaves
¾ - 1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water, until rehydrated, about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and pour the soaking water through some cheesecloth to strain. Reserve the water for the soup. Chop the porcini and put in a soup pot with the lentils, celery, red onion, passata, bay leaves, and ½ teaspoon salt. Combine the mushroom soaking water with cold water to make a total of 6 cups and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the lentils are tender.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes until the mushrooms and garlic are lightly browned. Add to the soup along with the black pepper. Taste for salt and serve.

When reheating the soup, add a bit of water because it will thicken up when chilled.

Note: Passata is Italian tomato puree. Unlike American canned tomato puree, it is not cooked, so it tastes fresher. I like Mutti brand which is sold in bottles. You can find it at World Marketplace stores. Pomi brand is another good one. It's sold in cartons and is available in supermarkets.

Adapted from Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett, Rodale, 2004.

Photo: By George Chernilevsky (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making tomato sauce

For the first time in known memory (or more precisely since I moved from NJ), I grew enough plum tomatoes to make sauce. I have had zero success with Italian plum tomatoes until this year. This year was great for tomatoes but not much of anything else. The deer ate all the leaves off my pole bean plants. My potatoes got attacked by fungus? bugs? Not exactly sure but all the potatoes I've picked so far have black streaks through them. Every one of my leeks bloomed! What's up with that? They are biennials. I'm perplexed. And, without any leeks this year. At least the tomatoes - plum, slicing, and cherry - all did well. As we say in baseball, "there's always next year."

Homemade tomato sauce, even a sauce simmered for an hour, tastes fresher than canned sauce. I think it has to do with the way food processors have to manipulate the acid to assure safe canning. I know this is true for home canning too. Because I freeze my sauce, I don't have to worry about getting the sauce acidic enough for safe canning and it retains that fresh tomato flavor.

This recipe is proportionally Lidia Bastianich's but I made some changes to the method. I'm just not into peeling and coring tomatoes. I use a food mill to get rid of the skins and seeds after cooking. Seems to work fine to me! I'm a big fan of my food mill.

My trusty food mill. It has 3 different sized plates. Pictured is the smallest sized one, the one I use for tomato sauce. It comes apart so it's easy to clean. 
Lidia's Slow Cooked Summer Tomato Sauce
(makes about 3 quarts)

8 lbs of ripe plum tomatoes, washed and cut into chunks
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 whole bulb garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed (about ⅓ cup)
3-4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons + 2 cups water
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 whole bunch of fresh basil

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until golden yellow. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add 2 Tablespoons of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, and another teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine. Add 2 cups of water and bunch of basil (stems and all). Push the basil down into the tomatoes to submerge. Increase heat to medium-high and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. After 30 minutes, the tomatoes should no longer be chunky and they will have released most of their juice. Remove the cover and increase the heat to medium. Cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the basil stems. Run the sauce through a food mill fitted with the plate with the smallest holes. Discard all the seeds, skins, and any other chunky bits. If the sauce seems watery, you can cook it some more to thicken it up after you run it through the food mill. After you have cooked it to the desired consistency, taste sauce for salt; add 1 to 2 additional teaspoons of salt.

Divide sauce into freezer containers. Sauce can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months - a little bit of summer sunshine in the middle of winter!

Recipe adapted from Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Baked Fish with Coconut Lime Sauce

I have a lot of low fat cookbooks. There, I admitted it. I am a product of the 80's. :-) Fact is, I haven't paid much attention to the low fat part of them for quite some time. I use the amount of fat that makes sense, not unduly constraining the fat to meet some magic number. Still, they are full of wonderful recipe ideas. Here's one of them, a recipe for fish baked in a Caribbean-inspired coconut lime sauce. And it's super easy!

I used reconstituted dried coconut milk which I purchased from Savory Spice Shop. I have seen similar products in Asian grocery stores. It's a great solution when a recipe calls for only a ¼ cup of coconut milk. Who wants to open a whole can of coconut milk for that little? You can freeze the remainder for long term storage, should you only have canned coconut milk available.

Baked Fish with Coconut Lime Sauce
(serves 4)

1 ¼ lbs white fish filets (bass, snapper, tilapia, catfish, halibut)
2 Tablespoons flour
¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
juice of 1 lime (about 3 Tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon granulated or powdered garlic
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾-1 teaspoon kosher salt (see Note)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup minced cilantro
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Preheat oven to 425°F. Pat fish dry. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or rub with a little vegetable oil to grease. Place flour on a plate and dredge the fish in the flour. Place the fish in the baking dish. Combine the coconut milk, lime juice, garlic powder, coriander, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the fish and turn fish over to coat both sides. Cover dish with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes (how long will depend on the thickness of the fish). When the sauce is all bubbly, the fish should be done.

Garnish with minced cilantro and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve over rice.

Note: I don't cook with a lot of salt. I'm used to less salt now. But, my salt tolerance isn't your salt tolerance and you'll need to calibrate. I give a range here because ¾ teaspoon is right for me but it may be bland to you. You'll only know that after you cook with my recipe. You can always add more salt. You can't take it away, however. Salt is a flavor enhancer so if the fish is bland to you in the end, add more salt
at the table. And, you'll know for next time. :-)

Adapted from The Best 125 Lowfat Fish & Seafood Dishes by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay, Prima Publishing, 1993.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Stir-fried Vegetables and Tofu with Soba Noodles

This is an Asian mash-up. Lemongrass from Thailand, hoisin sauce from China, soba noodles from Japan. You, my dear reader, may be into authenticity but I am not. I look in my fridge, think about other things I've had or seen in recipes, and run with it. I don't believe in overly constraining this cooking thing, especially when I'm trying to clear a bunch of odds and ends out of the fridge.

Though you can use firm tofu straight out of the package, I prefer to use tofu that has been frozen and thawed. Freezing tofu changes its texture, and I like it better then fresh tofu in stir-fries.

For important tips on stir frying, check out this article.

Stir-fried Vegetables and Tofu with Soba Noodles
(serves 4-6)

1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
10 oz. soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles
12 oz. firm tofu (preferably frozen and thawed), cut into 1" cubes
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil (peanut and sunflower are my favorites)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
¼ teaspoon dried lemongrass
1 large carrot, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
2 large plum tomatoes, cubed
3 cups snow peas or green beans
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon cold water
½ teaspoon black pepper

Before you begin slicing and dicing, rehydrate the dried mushrooms: Cover the mushrooms with boiling water and let sit as you do the prep on all the veggies. When the mushrooms are rehydrated, remove the tough stem and slice the caps.

If using green beans, cut into 1" pieces.

Dry off the tofu, gently pressing out the moisture.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the noodles.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Stir fry the tofu until lightly golden. Remove from wok with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the wok. Add the scallions and dried lemongrass. Cook until garlic is fragrant. Add sliced carrot. Stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add snow peas/green beans. Continue cooking for another 4 minutes, stirring frequently. While the beans are cooking, get the noodles in the boiling water. They take about 4 minutes to cook. Do not overcook.

Drain the noodles in a strainer and set aside. Add the hoisin sauce and soy sauce to the veggies. Stir to combine. Add in the fried tofu and the noodles. Toss to combine. Make a well in the center to expose the liquid at the bottom of the wok. Add the slurry of cornstarch and bring to a boil, stirring. This will thicken the sauce slightly, helping it to stick to the noodles. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.

Good as a leftover though the noodles will have a softer texture after reheating.

Photo credit: By FotoosVanRobin (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 18, 2015

Red Cabbage plus more Red Stuff

Red cabbage makes me think of fall, and with falling temperatures here in Colorado, my mind is coming around to approaching nippy weather. Red cabbage has an affinity for apples, one of the best fall crops around. So, why not combine a bunch of red things: red cabbage, red apples, and red onion? This sweet and sour cabbage recipe isn't anything particularly new, but I have toned down both the sweet and the sour. Too many sweet and sour recipes are far too sweet for me. If you take down the sweet, you need to tone down the sour too, or the flavors get out of balance.

The long cooking is necessary for 2 reasons:
  1. It takes quite a while for the cabbage to cook to tender. Traditionally, this type of cabbage is cooked under very tender.
  2. The allspice is an aggressive spice and the long cooking mellows it. 

Red X 3 - Red Cabbage with Red Apples and Red Onion
(serves 6-8)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I like sunflower oil)
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground mace
½ medium head of red cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
1 red apple such as Fuji or Gala, cored and medium diced
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large covered skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions until onions are very tender. If you have the time, keep cooking until they start to brown and caramelize because they taste even better with long cooking. Stir them often so they brown evenly. Add the allspice and mace, and stir to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Reduce heat the medium-low, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes until cabbage is very tender. Check to see that there is still some moisture in the bottom of the pan about ½ through cooking. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if it is dry.

Photo: By Thamizhpparithi Maari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cold Cucumber Buttermilk Soup

Every year, cucumber season rolls into my garden and every year I try to figure out how to use them up before they take over my refrigerator. I've cooked them (stir-fry is good and the French do a nice job too). Salads are great, of course (here's an Asian inspired one). Cold cucumber soup is always a delicious solution because cucumbers are hot season, summer vegetables and a chilled soup can be so refreshing. This soup requires absolutely no cooking at all. Just need a blender. It's really a cucumber buttermilk smoothie!

Cold Cucumber Buttermilk Soup
(serves 8)

2 scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped
2 pounds cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 cups (1 quart) low-fat buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 pinch to ¼ teaspoon cayenne (adjust according to your heat tolerance)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and small-diced
mint sprigs

For most blenders, you'll need to make this in 2 batches. Put 2 cups of buttermilk, ½ of the cucumber, the scallions, and all the seasonings in the blender and puree until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining buttermilk and cucumber. Pour this into the already blended stuff in the bowl. Mix to combine. Cover and place in the fridge for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld a bit. Taste for salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Chilled soups often need more salt because the cold mutes the seasonings. Adjust according to your taste.

To serve, pour into bowls and garnish with a little diced cucumber and a mint sprig.

Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Turkey Mushroom Burgers

Turkey burgers are a tricky thing. Turkey is so lean that by the time the turkey is cooked through, your burger is as dry as sawdust. Poultry products need to be cooked to 170°F  and that's high enough to start forcing the moisture out of the proteins. Adding fat is one way to keep the burgers from drying out. Bread products can help as well, but too much and your burger gets gummy and the meaty flavor is lost. I like to add mushrooms because they have a texture that resembles meat and add their own meaty flavor. The downside is that they don't hold together as well as meat or bread. Grilling them is not easy. I panfried them because these burgers are rather delicate. Sorry, grilling fans.

Turkey Mushroom Burgers
(serves 4-6)

4 Tablespoons oil
1 onion, peeled
8 oz. mushrooms, wiped clean (see Note)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed
1 pound ground turkey
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 ½ Tablespoons coarse deli or Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Coarsely chop the onion, then mince finely in a food processor. Add to the skillet and cook gently while you prep the mushrooms. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and then mince using a food processor. With the food processor running, throw in the garlic cloves to mince. Dump into the skillet with the onions and cook for 10 minutes.

While the mushrooms are cooking, coarsely chop the bread and pulverize to fine crumbs in a food processor. When the mushrooms are done, remove from the heat and mix in the bread crumbs. Allow to cool. Place the mushroom mixture, turkey, egg, dill, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Mix until uniform.

Wipe out the skillet. Heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Divide the turkey mixture into 4 to 6 portions and form into burgers. Cook burgers until browned on both sides and no longer pink in the center, if in doubt use a thermometer to assure the center reached 170°F.

Serve on a bun as a burger but it's also good served as a mini-meatloaf. Leftovers are delicious cold.

Note: You can use any kind of mushroom but porcini, portobellos, cremini, or white mushrooms will add a nice meaty flavor.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Visiting the Adirondacks: Mountains, Lakes, and Smoked Pork!

I visited the Adirondacks, in northern New York State, recently. It's a beautiful place, full of lakes, rushing rivers, and tree-covered mountains. The Adirondacks were the "wilderness" place to be among the moneyed set long before places like Yosemite or Yellowstone. If you love the outdoors, you should definitely visit. You can canoe and hike and fish, or just relax by a lake.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Strawberries and Rum: What could be wrong with that?

I have gotten rid of most of my Gourmets but there are still a few old ones hanging around
It's strawberry season. And it's rum season's hot!!! I found this recipe in an old Gourmet. Gourmet, my introduction to armchair traveling. As a child, how many hours did I spend gazing at pictures of exotic locales that I thought I would never visit? I've visited quite a few of them, I'm happy to say. And, I expect that had something to do with all those Gourmet's sitting on my mom's coffee table.

This recipe takes some planning. You have to freeze the strawberries ahead. Instead of ice in your daiquiri, we're using the strawberries. This is a concentrated, not at all watered down adult beverage. Will sneak up on you. As my daughter said, "I could get very wasted on these." Yep, you won't notice the booze until it's too late. :-)

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris
(makes 4)

1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ cup light rum
3 Tablespoons triple sec
⅓ cup cold water

In a ziploc freezer bag, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice. Seal the bag, forcing out all the air, and smoosh it all around to dissolve the sugar. Freeze solid. I suggest overnight. Break up the frozen strawberries and put it all in a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth. Divide among 4 glasses and serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Salmon Cakes

I made this recipe from The Splendid Table but once I'd mixed it up, I knew it would not work. It would have been a delicious salmon hash. I could tell that it would not hold together. Which means it fails as a "cake." The solution to this problem: mayonnaise. Great binder. I've cut the recipe in half, made a few minor changes.

Salmon Cakes
(serves 4-6 as an entree)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ small red onion, finely chopped (or use a couple of shallots)
½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped

14 oz. cooked salmon, either canned and drained or leftover from dinner
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon capers, chopped
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ teaspoon Old Bay (or similar crab boil) seasoning
½ Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 whole egg
½ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
olive oil for frying

Heat up a large skillet over medium heat. Add vegetable oil. Saute´ onion, red pepper, and celery until softened, about 5 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, place the salmon in a large bowl and break it up into chunks. Don't make the chunks too small. You want to know there is salmon in these cakes. Dump the cooked veggies in with the salmon. Add the minced herbs, capers, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, mustard, egg, and panko. Mix it to combine. Add mayonnaise and mix until evenly distributed. It should have enough mayo to hold together. Try to make a patty; add a bit more mayo if it won't hold together. You'll have no end of grief trying to flip them if they won't hold together.

Wipe out the skillet you cooked the vegetables in. Reheat over medium-high heat. Add about 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Form salmon into 6 patties and shallow fry until nicely browned on both sides. You may have to add additional oil after you flip them. How much oil you use will depend on the type of pan you use. I use a cast iron griddle which is well-seasoned, but you still need a fair bit of oil if you want a crispy crust (which is essential for deliciousness).

Makes a good salmon cake sandwich, or served on top of a big green salad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sherried Porcini Marinade

This is delicious. Really delicious. I've used it on boneless pork chops and thin steaks. So savory. The original recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks for grilling, uses dried shiitake mushrooms. I have lots of dried porcinis (photo above shows a good haul before drying) so I used them instead. Unlike many marinades, it's a quick one. You only need an hour or so. Packs a ton of umami into a small span of time.

Sherried Shiitake (or Porcini) Marinade
(makes enough for 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of meat)

½ cup dry sherry
½ oz. dried shiitakes or porcini mushrooms
1 small shallot, peeled and cut into quarters
1 large clove to garlic, peeled
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the sherry until simmering. Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and pout the sherry over the mushrooms. Smush down so most of the mushrooms are covered with sherry. Let soak for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, reserving the sherry. Strain the sherry through cheesecloth to get rid of any sand. Add the mushrooms and strained sherry to the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. Drop in the shallot pieces and garlic. Process until everything is chopped finely. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the soy, vinegar, tarragon, and black pepper. Process again until mixed. Place the meat in a shallow glass dish. Pour over the marinade, turning the meat to coat. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Before grilling, season meat well with salt. Grill on a very hot grill.

From Marinades: The Secret of Great Grilling by Melanie Barnard, HarperPerennial, 1997.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

I'm running a bit late on my "celebration" of holidays. Here it is Memorial Day, and I'm just getting around to posting my Cinco de Mayo recipe. Sometimes life intervenes.

The recipe I've adapted here used ground pork. I didn't have any. But, I did have ground turkey. Guess what? Turkey is totally Mexican. In fact, the turkey was the biggest domesticated animal (well, besides the dog) until the Europeans dropped pigs, horses, cattle, and sheep on North America. You can use whatever ground meat you have.

I don't fry my meatballs. You can if you like. Baking them in a hot oven makes a lot less mess and requires no supervision so I prefer it to frying on the cooktop.

Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce
(serves 4-6)

1 pound ground turkey (not extra-lean)
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup ground almonds
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

non-stick cooking spray

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
½ green pepper, diced
½ red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
⅓ cup beef stock
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a bowl. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray. Form mix into 1 ½" meatballs and place on the cookie sheet. Spray the meatballs with cooking spray (you can skip this step if using a fattier meat than turkey). Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sauté the onion, peppers, and jalapeno for 5 minutes until the onion is golden. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Mix in the sugar, tomatoes, cayenne, sweet paprika, black pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer. Mix in the beef stock and sherry. Bring to a boil. Add the meatballs. When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, uncovered, until sauce is thick. Add salt if necessary; you may not need any if your beef stock is salty. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or pasta. Also good served as an appetizer sprinkled with a bit of mozzarella cheese.

Recipe adapted from The Book of Mexican Foods by Christine Barrett, HP Books, 1991.

Photo credit: By കാക്കര (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dal: Red Lentils with Bengali Spices

My breakfast: dal and fresh whole wheat tortilla chips
I am a huge fan of Indian food. All regions, vegetarian, not vegetarian. Doesn't matter. The spices in Indian food are sensually lush and totally addicting. The downsides of cooking Indian food are a) you need a lot of uncommon (to Americans) ingredients, and b) it's time-consuming. But, when I do it from scratch (rather than run down the street for Indian take-out), it's so so satisfying.

Dal means beans and vegetarian cooking in India is about richly spiced beans. Most people are familiar with lentil dal because it is served alongside the rice at many Indian restaurants. This recipe uses red lentils though you can substitute yellow split peas. Red lentils are smaller and more delicate than typical brown lentils. They do not cook up red - they cook up golden. They are bland on their own, soaking up Indian spices. They also cook down smooth so the dal is like a thick porridge. Serve as a thick soup, a side dish, or over rice as a main dish. It will thicken in the fridge but the flavors only get better.

Bengal Red Lentils with Spices
(serves 4-6)

1 ½ cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 hot green chile, such as a small Thai chile or serrano, stemmed
½ teaspoons ground turmeric
4 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 small onion, minced
¾ cup diced peeled tomatoes (canned is fine)
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Spiced Oil
1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds
½ teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon black onion (kalonji or kalaunji) seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (or same amount ground)
2 bay leaves
1 Chinese dried hot red chile pepper, stemmed

To cook lentils, place all dal ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once it reaches a boil, turn down to medium-low and partially cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

While lentils are cooking, heat up the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often. When the onions start to brown, turn down heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until onions are toasty brown. Add tomatoes and ginger. Cook for a few minutes. Remove from heat. When the dal timer goes off, add this to the dal and mix in. Set the timer for another 10 minutes.

Heat oil in a small skillet. Add all the remaining ingredients and fry the spices until they are fragrant and the chile and bay leaves start to brown. Remove chile and bay leaves. Add seeds and oil to the dal when timer goes off. Check seasoning; add more salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Recipe can be doubled. Leftovers freeze well.

Recipe adapted from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985.

Photo of Red Lentils: By Sudeshna Banerjee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Dried chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are the express lane to hummus, however.
Hummus, that simple Middle Eastern pureé of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice has taken the country by storm. Hummus is the next salsa, available in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. You can even pick up a snack pack at the airport. In my recipe, a generous dose of olive oil helps to emulsify the ingredients so it's smooth and creamy. Adds some delicious flavor too. Some recipes use more tahini then this one. Tahini is roasted sesame seed paste. Think peanut butter made with sesame seeds. Unlike peanuts, sesame seeds have a bitter edge, so I go light on the tahini. If you add too much, the hummus is bitter and a little chalky.

You can make your own hummus easily if you have a food processor. Without it, it's not easy to get a smooth pureé. There are lots of commercial hummuses out there now. Some are good and some are weird and well, not so good. My favorite brand is Sabra. The original and the red pepper are our favorites. My daughter, who once upon a time described hummus as disgusting, is now a huge fan.

Hummus is a great way to get more beans into your diet. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are one of my favorite beans. They are full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They soak up flavors and are important is a wide variety of cuisines: Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern. In Italy, they are called ceci and they combine deliciously with pasta, like in this recipe for pasta with chickpeas, spinach, and sausage.

This recipe is super easy because I used canned chickpeas. If you have some time or a pressure cooker, you can cook them yourself. You'll need 1 ¾ - 2 cups cooked chickpeas. You can use the juice from ½ a lemon up to 1 lemon's worth. If you use a whole lemon, it will be fairly tart and lemony. A whole lemon yields about 3 Tablespoons of juice.

(makes about 2 cups)

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained but with liquid reserved
juice of ½ - 1 lemon
5 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons olive oil plus more for garnish

Add the chickpeas, ½ of the reserved liquid, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini. Process until the chickpeas are a thick pureé. If it's lumpy, add more of the can liquid until it starts to smooth out. Add ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and the olive oil. Process until it's smooth and creamy. Check for salt; add more if necessary. Gets better if allowed to mellow in the fridge for a few hours, though it's best eaten near room temperature. To serve, drizzle with more olive oil.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chilean Cheese Toast

The Chilean Andes
And, now for something completely different, a really simple recipe! Last year, I visited Chile and I wrote about my food experiences there. One thing Chileans love is palta, what we call avocado. They spread it on their toast for breakfast. They use it in salads. They stuff them. They eat them by the bushel. Traditionally, Chileans use fresh cheese on their palta toast but it's not that common in the US. Mozzarella cheese is very common so I used that. It's a delicious breakfast or snack.

Chilean Cheese Toast
(serves 1 as a snack, double for breakfast)

Toast a slice of sturdy sandwich bread. Don't use something with lots of holes because you are going to spread the avocado on it. Hole-y bread leaks. :-) Slice half of an avocado. When the bread is toasted, spread the slices all over the toast. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a little shredded mozzarella cheese. Broil until cheese is melted. Garnish with hot sauce if desired. Stare longingly at the picture of the Andes as you enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ridiculous Nutrition News: You are not a Mouse

This article is making its way around the Twittersphere right now. It's about how emulsifiers and gums that are routinely added to manufactured foods are messing with our digestion and making us fat and sick. You can go read it if you want, but I think it's just a bunch of over-hyped ridiculousness.

First off, the study referenced was done in mice. You are not a mouse, if you have the brain power to read this sentence. Second, these additives have been in the food supply for quite some time. Xanthan gum, the most pervasive one (particularly in gluten-free products where it imitates the stickiness of gluten) has been in the food supply since 1968. Wait, I feel a Food Babe moment coming on: it is also used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud. My God, what are you thinking, feeding that stuff to your kids in their gluten-free cookies!? #sarcasm Carrageenan is another common gum. It's been in use since the 1400's and it was originally derived from red edible seaweeds. I'm not arguing for food that contains all this stuff. You shouldn't be basing your diet on a whole lot of manufactured food because it's nutritionally neutered. You get your salt, your sugar, your fat, (Michael Moss has written extensively on this) a whole bunch of stuff that nominally counts as food (it is edible, after all) without anything that nourishes. Does anyone really think that calories thickened with gums, flavored with minute amounts of chemicals, and then enriched with minute amounts of vitamins (maybe) is better for you than oatmeal? Broccoli? Salmon? Apples?

But, what really annoys me is the title: How Emulsifiers Are Messing with Our Guts (and Making Us Fat.) No, no, no! Some researchers suspect there is a link because they have seen things in mice (I repeat, you are not a mouse). It is a huge logical leap to say they ARE messing with our guts and they ARE making us fat.

Why are more of us fat? Because we eat more calories. I'm not sure why this is so contentious but it is. Here's an article to support my statement, but let's approach this anecdotally, in a way most of us understand: by examining lunch. Once upon a time, like back in the 1970's, a McDonalds meal looked like a single burger, maybe with a slice of cheese, a tiny-by-today's-standards order of fries, and a 12 oz. coke . Now? A double cheeseburger (for a whole dollar), a larger order of fries and at least a 20 oz. coke. A 12 oz. coke is now the extra small size. Hey, lets pick something "healthy" instead. (I hate the whole healthy descriptor, by the way. It gives some crappy food a pass just because it contains (or does not contain) the nutrient/additive du jour. It allows people to turn up their noses at things that have that label, even if those things actually taste good. It's such a loaded term I am loathe to use it at all. But I digress...) There was recently a piece in the New York Times about Chipotle and the grandiose calorie counts on many of their menu items. Now, I like Chipotle. The founder, Steve Ells, is a graduate of Boulder High, same as my daughter. He gave the commencement address the year she graduated. He's a very smart guy and they treat their employees well. I like the food for the most part. But, the calorie counts are epic. Many of their most ordered burritos come in at 900-1000 calories. That's way more than that puny little 1970's McDonalds meal and a lot more than most of us need in a single meal. When I was a kid way back in the 1970's, we didn't eat out anywhere on a regular basis either. The first McDonalds opened in my hometown in about 1977, when I was in high school. So, things have changed and it's not just the use of emulsifiers.

Maybe the research will pan out. Maybe routine ingestion of emulsifiers is bad for you. You know what? Large doses of manufactured food are bad for you for a whole host of reasons. You don't need to know about that future research because we already know the stuff is crap and we are eating way too much of it.  

Photo Attribution: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 26, 2015

Meatless Monday: Italian Lentils and Polenta

Leftovers! Polenta reheated by panfrying
This is stick to your ribs wintertime comfort food, vegetarian style. Check the end of the recipe for the best way to reheat the polenta if you have some leftovers. Or, make this ahead so you can use the polenta reheating tip to make this dish even better.

Italian Lentils and Polenta
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 roasted red peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ dried red chile flakes
1 ½ cups lentils
2 ⅔ cups stock
⅓ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ onion, diced

6 cups stock
salt if your stock is unsalted
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal or corn grits

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Heat up oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the peppers, garlic, fennel seeds, and chile flakes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add  lentils, stock, wine, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high and cook until lentils are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in onion. Cover and set aside while you cook the polenta.

In a large pot, heat up the stock over medium-high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly. Switch to a large heavy spoon, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir every few minutes. The polenta is done when it is very thick, thick enough so that stirring it is work. Taste for salt and add some if the polenta is bland. Spoon polenta into bowls and cover with lentils. Garnish each serving with 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.

You can reheat polenta in the microwave but the best way to reheat it is by panfrying it. You need a non-stick skillet and a couple of teaspoons of oil per serving. To facilitate future panfrying, spread it out on a rimmed baking pan in a 1" layer right after you cook it then refrigerate until firm. Heat the oil in the skillet then fry the polenta until lightly browned all over. The outside will be a little crunchy-crispy and the inside will be delicious creamy. Absolutely the best way to reheat polenta.

Adapted from a recipe in The Best 125 Meatless Italian Dishes by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay, Prima Publishing, 1995.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unstuffed Cabbage

This recipe is my grandmother's, passed on to me via my mom. Stuffed cabbage is a complicated process: make the filling, blanch the leaves, stuff and roll up the leaves, braise for a long time. Delicious it may be, but you will spend a chunk of your day pulling it off. I haven't made this recipe in years because it's so much work. It is so good and very special...

Six months after my grandmother died, I found a stash of stuffed cabbage buried in the freezer. She had come to visit after the birth of my daughter, and left me with her wonderful stuffed cabbage. Finding that stuffed cabbage was a pretty emotional experience and I relished every bite of my grandmother's last food production in my life.

Besides simplifying the stuffing process, I have modernized the recipe by cutting back on the meat. I replaced some of the meat with cooked lentils. It's still a stick-to-your-ribs, sweet and sour dish. It may not remind you of your grandmother, it will give you some idea of my memories of my dear grandmother.

Unstuffed Cabbage
(serves 8)

non-stick cooking spray
1 large green cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups water

1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, turkey)
½ onion, chopped
1 cup cold cooked rice
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups commercial beef stock
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained
¾ cup raisins
½ cup crushed gingersnaps (about 6 2" cookies)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar.
juice of 1 lemon, about ⅓ cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt (see Note)

Place all the Lentils ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain well and set in the fridge to cool slightly.

While the lentils are cooking, peel off the large outer leaves from the cabbage and set aside. Cut the remaining cabbage into quarters, core, and slice. Spray a large Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Put all the sliced cabbage in the Dutch oven and sprinkle with the salt. Lay half of the big leaves over the sliced cabbage. Set aside while you make the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Wipe out the lentil saucepan. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes until the roux is golden. Whisk in the beef stock and dried thyme. Bring to a boil and whisk until the stock thickens slightly. Set aside.

Combine all the Stuffing ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lentils and mix to combine. Spread the stuffing over the cabbage leaves in the Dutch oven. Lay the rest of the cabbage leaves over the stuffing.

Combine the beef stock sauce, and the remaining sauce ingredients in the bowl you mixed the stuffing in. Pour over the top of the cabbage, poking the cabbage at the edge of the pot so that some of the sauce drains down along the edge.

Cover the pot and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the cover and cook for another 30 minutes until the cabbage is very tender and the sauce has reduced. This is a dish that improves with reheating. Make it ahead, chill it down, then reheat it. The flavors become more harmonious and smooth.

As you probably figured out from my story above, stuffed cabbage (or unstuffed cabbage) freezes very well.

Note: I used commercial beef stock (Better Than Bouillon is my preferred brand in instant broth). If you use homemade or unsalted stock in the box, you will need to add more salt to the sauce.

Friday, January 9, 2015

If in Waterbury, Connecticut...

Grotto cavatelli with chicken, pesto, and artichoke hearts
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled to Connecticut to visit my sister and her family. And see my lovely daughter who is taking an intensive year of math nearby in Massachusetts. And I got to see an old college friend too! It was wonderful visiting Ann and Michael. I need to visit them again. These people know food. As if visiting a dear old friend isn't enough? There's great food too!

They took us to the place for homemade cavatelli in Waterbury: Grotto. This is a treat. Ann was kind enough to purchase two pounds of it for us. We stashed it in the freezer until our daughter came home for Winter Break. Delicioso! It has the perfect bite and these wonderful crannies for holding the sauce.

If you find yourself in the neighborhood, buy some. You will not regret it!

634 Watertown Avenue, Waterbury, CT 06708

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemony Shrimp Risotto

Happy 2015, everyone! Here was the first dinner of the new year in my house, a lemony shrimp risotto. Huge shrimp! You don't need to use such gigantic ones; that's just what I had in the freezer. The hardest part of this recipe is finding the shrimp or fish stock. You can make your own shrimp stock from the shells. It's wonderful stuff. Or, you can use Better Than Bouillon Fish or Lobster Base. This is a very good product. All their bases are quite good for not-homemade stock.

This recipe is adapted from one by Jamie Oliver. That one is sort of a disaster. I think someone edited it in a half-hearted way and it ended up a mess. I'm not going to even tell you where it is because I don't recommend you try following it. Yes, it's that jumbled up. And it's in metric to boot.

The original recipe called for the juice of a whole lemon. My family unit said it was too tart. The zest isn't tart so use all the zest but only half the juice.

Peppadews are sweet and very mildly spicy peppers.  You can find them in jars or at your supermarket olive bar. Most of the olive bars in Boulder carry them. They are very tasty!

Lemony Shrimp Risotto
(serves 4)

7 cups shrimp or fish stock
2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, if using unsalted stock
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ⅔ cups Arborio or similar short-grain rice
6 oz. white or rosé wine
1 ½ cups frozen peas
about 1 pound peeled and deveined medium to large shrimp
1 lemon
4 Peppadew peppers, diced or a pinch of crushed red chile flakes
black pepper

Zest the lemon and set aside the zest. Juice half the lemon and set aside the juice. In a medium saucepan, mix together the stock, dried onion and salt (if using). Heat to a simmer and keep it there. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat up the olive oil on medium-high. Add the rice and cook it until the grains of rice chance from translucent to opaque. They turn a milky white. Add the wine and cook until wine has evaporated/been absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium. Add ¾ cup of hot stock and stir until all the stock is absorbed by the rice. You don't need to stir it constantly, but you need to stir it regularly, every few minutes. When the liquid has been absorbed, add some more stock and stir once more. Keep this up until the rice is very nearly done. At 5400 ft., that takes nearly 30 minutes, longer than most recipes say to cook it. I recommend you try the rice so you know how close you are to done. If it's crunchy, not done. If you say "hmm, very close but not quite there," it's time to add the shrimp and peas. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the peas are hot and the shrimp is pink and cooked. You don't want to cook the shrimp any longer than necessary because it will get tough. So, there is some timing involved here - you want the risotto just done when the shrimp is just done.

Just before serving, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, Peppadews, and a light sprinkle of black pepper. Taste for salt and season with more if needed. Serve in hot bowls with some shrimp arranged on top, because you want to show off the shrimp, especially if they are as big as the ones in my risotto!