Nov 282009

Ok, seriously – does anyone actually cook the day after Thanksgiving??? Who isn’t sick of the inside of their kitchen by then? And aren’t the contents of your refrigerator quick to take away any reason for one to turn on the stove (except to reheat leftovers, of course)?
Well, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t as kitchen-adverse this Friday as I have been in the past.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to actually cook anything for lunch. The last thing I wanted was a plain turkey sandwich – I was craving something healthy (no surprise there, given the gluttony that took place the day before) and even though my Thanksgiving table is laden with far more veg than most (without having to resort to green bean casserole! Boo-yah!), I didn’t want to just nosh on leftovers. I’m all about re-inventing last night’s food whenever I get a chance, and when I spied the unused greens in my fridge that didn’t quite get turned into a salad with poached pears, candied nuts, gorgonzola, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I had my inspiration.

I scooped the spinach into a bowl, tore off chunks of turkey breast, added some leftover roasted butternut squash, topped it off with some juicy pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans, and finished it with a drizzle of shallot-cacao nib vinaigrette that had graced the roasted squash the night before.

Chances are you don’t have those exact ingredients on hand the day after Thanksgiving unless you stole my menu, but no worry, there are plenty of ways to make your own. Try using homemade cranberry sauce instead of pomegranate seeds or perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower instead of the squash. The point is that you’re only limited by your imagination. Unless you’re like me and you’ve already transformed your turkey leftovers into a steaming pot of delicious soup, chances are you still have plenty of food on hand with which to make your own creation. So go nuts and go fix yourself a salad while you’re waiting for me to get to the really good stuff: the Thanksgiving menu, plenty of food porn, and bread that flowed continually from the oven!

Who would eat a turkey sandwich when this beautiful and delicious gem was an option?
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Nov 032009

I love autumn! I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things about the season is the food. Fall produce is so awesome – hard squashes, apples, pears, root vegetables, and, of course, pomegranates!

These nutritional powerhouses definitely make you work for your food. Slicing the fruit up and taking out the seeds is laborious to say the least, but luckily, there is a better way!

Slice off the blossom end of the pomegranate.
Step 1: slice the blossom end off
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Score the rind of the fruit lightly into quarters. Make the cut deep enough that you penetrate the rind but not so deep that you damage the seeds. Basically, stop cutting when the resistance to your blade gives way.
Step 2: score the rind into quarters
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Fill a bowl with water and let the pomegranate soak in it for ten minutes. After the ten minutes are up, break the fruit up into quarters along the score lines, putting the pieces back into the bowl.
Step 3: soak the fruit and break it apart underwater
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Separate the white pith from the seeds. The pith will float and the seeds will sink.
Step 4: separate the pith and seeds
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When everything is separated, scoop the pith out of the bowl and discard. Strain the seeds. Enjoy these beauties sprinkled over oatmeal, in salads, or on their own.
Step 5: scoop out the floating pith, strain the seeds, and you're done!
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Aug 302009

In an effort to get back into the swing of this blogging thing, I’m going to make a post today devoid of any real substance (i.e. recipes) because I have no new substance to report. Rather, this I’ll be posting gratuitous shots of some of the food I cooked today, all of which has been seen here before.

First up are the beloved pumpkin spice cookies. Last week whilst in the grocery store I was literally flabbergasted to find Halloween candy for sale. My brain was seriously thinking it was still July or something and was wondering why they were hawking old candy. I was happier when I realized that the appearance of the sickly sweet stuff on the shelves means one thing: it’s time to start baking these jewels again. I particularly enjoy the third photo when blown up to take over the entire screen and viewed with the benefit of a few feet of distance. It almost made Cory start drooling in his tracks.

Pumpkin spice cookies: cooling their heels
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Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
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Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
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Cory and I have been loving the grill recently. It doesn’t get much more simple than slicing up some veggies, crumbling some dried Greek oregano over them, and throwing them over the fire to blacken and soak up that flavor. We usually also grill fish, especially right now while the Alaskan seafood is so good (but admittedly not quite as fresh as I’m used to). Tonight we feasted on King salmon — a true indulgence — prepared in the usual manner, also pictured here and here — along with grilled zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and julienned onion (alas, the light was gone by the time it was prepared, so no photos tonight) and – another special treat – caprese salad.

[Hold on, I think I hear a riot forming in the back. What’s that, you say? I’ve never actually posted a recipe for caprese salad? Ah, that’s right, I’ve just posted a photo. Don’t fret. It couldn’t get any easier. It’s a pity because it’s certainly a favorite but I don’t know that it justifies its own entry. Anyway, here goes: take a large very ripe (preferably local because it’s really hard to find truly ripe tomatoes that aren’t local) tomato, heirloom if you can get it. Take a half-pound of fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice both into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on a plate. You can put the tomatoes flat and place mozzarella on top of them or you can place them vertically – it’s up to you and how fancy-pants you’re feeling. Made a chiffonade out of some basil and sprinkle it over the arrangement. Finish with a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. Skip the balsamic — good caprese is only hurt by it. Proceed to dazzle your tastebuds with one of the most simple and delicious foods out there. If you’re into, y’know, kicking it up a notch (oh god, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth), use buffalo mozzarella – mozzarella di bufala. It’s spendy but the flavor and texture are beyond compare. In further kicking-it-up action, spring for an heirloom tomato. My favorites are the Black Krims. Oh, and do yourself a favor – save those seeds and plant them next year! Another variation – great for parties – select some good cherry or grape tomatoes and find mozzarella sold in similar-sized balls. Get a bunch of basil. Take a wooden or bamboo skewer and put a tomato, a basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball onto it. Repeat until your ingredients are exhausted. Arrange on a tray and drizzle with olive oil and pepper.]

Whew. That was quite an aside for an entry that’s supposed to be all pretty pictures. But I digress.

But this was no mere caprese salad! This was, indeed, the fancy-pants variation described above! Marvel Stripe heirloom tomatoes! Buffalo mozz! Basil from the garden! And the clouds parted and Lo, the angels did sing, and it was good. And then it was in my tummy.

Black Russian heirloom tomatoes.  YUM.
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Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with Russian Black heirloom tomatoes in the background.  YUM.
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Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with mozzarella di bufala and basil from the garden.  YUM.
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Oct 262008

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
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Jan 162008

I may have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with butternut squash. As soon as it hits the grocery store, I’m burrowing through recipes, writing down the weight of the squashes I’ll need in my upcoming cooking marathons, and re-inventing the stuff as much as I can.

Ready to face the heat
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Sadly, though, there are very few recipes for the stuff that don’t involve roasting. Not that I’m complaining – roasting is one of my favorite methods because it’s totally fuss-free and extremely adaptable – but sometimes I just want some texture with my squash!

Then the folks at Cafe Cacao (the erstwhile Scharffen Berger restaurant, now sadly defunct) came to the rescue: their first executive chef whipped up this recipe, which is just beyond flippin’ perfect. The nibs add not only just a bit of crunch, they also toss in a subtle chocolate flavor. Not a huge fan of unsweetened chocolate? Never fear, the squash provides that sweetness! This recipe is genius. Pure genius.

Scharffen Berger to the rescue!
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Can you see why I wanted to have the wedding rehearsal dinner there?
Skeptical about chocolate and squash? I’d like to clarify and say that Scharffen Berger nibs and Hersey’s have about as much in common as apples and baseball bats. Hersey’s (and other mass-marketed chocolate) are all about the sweet, sweet, sweet. There is not much chocolate to speak of. On the other hand, the nibs have a very warm, complex, nutty, fruity, vanilla-y, and above all, pure chocolate-y flavor. So throw caution to the wind and give this recipe a shot while the squash is still in season.

Squash and chocolate - an unlikely match made in heaven
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Nov 102007

Last fall, out on my own, looking for yummy things to eat, and cursing the lack-of-vegetable-repertoire that extended beyond steamed broccoli, I starting looking for new vegetables to titillate my palate and nourish my body. I tried just about every fall vegetable I could find like Brussels spouts, parsnips, or spaghetti squash. I wasn’t too impressed with the stuff I was trying but was more than willing to try again since a) winter produce in Alaska is, well, yeah…. and b) who could tell if my recipes were any good to begin with! I needed to give the veggies a fair shot to find a permanent place on my plate before I can in good conscience dismiss them.

But two veggies that I found were definite winners: butternut squash is a wonderful surprise, more like pumpkin than anything else, and who doesn’t like pumpkin? Plus the stuff is super-versatile. You can roast it, put it in a risotto, make soup out of it, the list goes on and on. The other winner I found was shallots. Have you tried these things? They’re freakin’ fantastic! If you mated butter, garlic, and an onion, you would get a shallot. They are wonderfully mild yet still very flavorful and will literally melt into a dish the way its more pungent cousins never will. Plus, they melt in your mouth. What an amazing little vegetable.

So you can imagine my joy when, while looking for butternut squash recipes because I had bought too much (again), I ran across this gem. You mean it has butternut squash AND tons of shallots??? AND one of the best roasting herbs, thyme??? AND it is super easy, cooks quickly, and is amazingly delicious? Where do I sign up???

So seriously, do yourself a favor and try this recipe. It would fit wonderfully into a Thanksgiving menu too. You’ll find it on my own table come Thursday, the 22nd of November.

Tender squash and buttery shallots, garnished with thyme and roasted
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Oct 092007

There are so many reasons to love this recipe. Allow me to extol its virtues and enumerate a bit:

Veggies prepped and herbed, moments from going in the oven
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1. It’s easy to prepare and it cooks quickly.
2. Substitutions and additions are definitely encouraged.
3. It’s delicious and nutritious.
4. It smells fantastic as it cooks.
5. It’s a great way to use seasonal produce.
6. The medley looks exactly like fall foliage.

Fresh out of the oven, looking just like the fall leaves
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Seriously, this is one of the best things I’ve made all autumn (I don’t care that it was 19 degrees this morning, it’s still autumn to me!). If you’re looking at the list and you think that you don’t like some of the ingredients (I’m reminded of a friend who would without fail exclaim “Beets are HIDEOUS!” when offered them), try them in this recipe. Some of them (like beets) have a totally different flavor and texture when roasted than they do when, say, boiled. Or when mashed with marshmallows (and that’s why I thought sweet potatoes were gross for twenty-two years!). Other ingredients, like shallots, will never cease to surprise you with their delicious, delicate, and sophisticated flavor and the way they seem to melt when they hit your tongue. And still others that weren’t included this time around, like butternut squash, would be truly divine.

Ready to eat!
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Aug 042007
Pumpkin waffles

When I woke up this morning i was craving something yummy and delicious and different than my usual oatmeal. Pancakes were sounding pretty delicious, but despite my large collection of health food and whole grain cookbooks, I failed to find a recipe that met my criteria whole ingredients I already had in my pretty well-stocked pantry and fridge (curses on forgetting to buy milk last time I was at the market!) exactly what I was looking for. Then I remembered a recipe that I had discovered around last Thanksgiving.

I’m, well, a pumpkin fiend, and this recipe had some whole grains in it, so it was looking like a strong contender. And luckily, it called for soy milk (something I always keep on hand for oatmeal) instead of the from-cow variety. We have a winner!

Now might be a good time to expound on the flour I used. No, white whole-wheat is not in any way related to the nutritionally devoid all-purpose flour or flour used to make white bread. It is an honest-to-god whole grain flour with all the bran and germ, but made with a different variety of wheat. Most flour comes from red wheat, which is a more strongly wheaty-tasting (and more bitter or sour to some tastebuds) flour when ground in its whole state. White whole-wheat flour is more mild and can be more readily substituted into baked goods. So when I was making these waffles in which I use a fairly heavy hand with the pumpkin pie spices, I wanted the pumpkin and the spice flavors to shine, not the wheat. Since I didn’t want to sacrifice the nutrition, white whole wheat was the clear choice.

White whole wheat flour is a little more difficult to find but it is gaining in popularity since at least a few Americans want to use more healthy grains but aren’t gaga over the way whole-wheat flour tastes. I use King Arthur Flour’s variety, but Hodgson Mill and and Bob’s Red Mill also produce it.

The flavor results of the flour substitution? Undetectable. This recipe definitely hits the spot.

Pumpkin waffles

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