Saturday, March 8, 2014

buttermilk love: Chocolate Brownie Pound Cake

I used to subscribe to all kinds of magazines when I had that great hour or two in the afternoon before the girls got  home from school and I scheduled reading and nap time for myself.  Please sense the wistfulness in that last sentence.  Good times.  But today I only subscribe to Fine Cooking (totally worth the annual $29), Yoga Journal (not renewing, but it's been a good read) and Oprah (after so many years you would think I would be impressively self-improved).   In a moment of hunger and weakness I picked up a Bon Appetit (probably subscribed to BA for 10 years, but so much content is available on Epicurious it seemed frivolous) because the cover had short rib pot pies and there was a feature on buttermilk.  Good enough justification that particular day in the grocery checkout.  I use buttermilk all the time in my kitchen.  My buttermilk brined oven fried chicken has evolved with the purchase of the Lemonade cookbook and is just amazing.  Ridiculously moist and tender.  I should probably share that with you soon. Buttermilk is awesome in smashed or mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes.  Fresh buttermilk ranch is not nearly as tricky as it sounds and tastes so much better than store bought.  I also love to bake with buttermilk to lighten up cakes and muffins.  It's a miracle ingredient.  It's not expensive, you can buy it in small quantities, it freezes well if you are super thrifty and it's got a decent refrigerated shelf life.  That becomes important when you are feeding only one or two people.  Amazing how little I could shop for empty nester hood.  Note the "could".  Hard adjustment.

This week after having to go 36 hours without solid food (routine maintenance over 50) and being sedated, of course I came home and started cooking and baking.  Don't worry, I eventually grabbed a down blanket, my iPad, the Apple TV and the cats and crashed into a Friday Night Lights marathon.  The day before I voraciously read the Bon Appetit magazine (reading about food when you can't eat is incredibly appealing to me).  I chose a quick little chocolate pound cake recipe and made a few adjustments.  Whenever I make chocolate cakes the best part by far is cleaning up the bowl and the paddle.  I'm not even a huge chocolate fan.  But brownie, Texas Sheet Cake and this pound cake batter are just completely irresistible.  I'm sure a whole serving of this cake was consumed in raw form.  This cake uses coconut oil which I buy at Trader Joe's or the 365 brand at Whole Foods.  I'm not paleo (obviously), but the coconut oil has it charms.  Still can't sell me on it's widespread use.  Too many years of the nutritionists warning us off all tropical oils.  But in this recipe it's delightful.  This recipe also uses butter and buttermilk so there are three fat sources (well probably 5 because there is also  cocoa powder and there are 3 eggs involved).  The three eggs are what makes this so rich and brownie like.  I'm not going to tell you this is health food, but it's better than the average brownie or cake.  At least you can pick your poison here.  Maybe you are in the real butter camp, or the coconut oil camp or the low fat buttermilk camp.  If you can't pledge allegiance to one over the other, in this case you do not have to make a decision.  Me?  I'm just for whole foods.  If you've been reading, you know that.  I'm blessed with a decent metabolism.  I've got cardio and strength training routinely in my schedule.  And I just believe life is too short to skip dessert.  So this little pound cake baked in a loaf pan really just tastes like a very tall brownie.  This one is topped with unsweetened natural coconut flakes and coarse sugar, but you could throw some chocolate, peanut butter or whatever chips or nuts in or on it.  Or just leave it plain.  A super tall brownie really doesn't need embellishment.

cake before oven, after this my day got a little hazy post sedation and recovery

Chocolate Brownie Pound Cake

3/4 C white whole wheat flour
3/4 C almond meal (you can use 1 1/2 C all purpose flour instead of these two flour/meal choices)
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 T King Arthur Flour Cake Enhancer, very optional but helpful
1/4 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
1 1/4 C sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 C buttermilk
1/4 C unsweetened natural coconut flakes (bulk section at Whole Foods)
1 T coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, meal, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cake enhancer if using.
Using a mixer, beat coconut oil, butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (at least 5 minutes).  Taste it.  Ha, don't.  But I always do because you know they fed me butter and sugar sandwiches when I was a toddler (times have changed).  Add eggs, one at a time beating well between additions.  Beat until mixture is light and volume is increased, another 5 minutes or so.  Beat in vanilla.
With the mixer speed low, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk starting and ending with dry ingredients just until all is incorporated.  However this works out for you is fine, just don't beat it too long.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle top with coconut flakes and some coarse sugar, if desired.  Bake at 325 for 70-80 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  You may need to loosely tent the cake with foil after a bit if the top is browning too fast.  Let cake cool on a rack about 20 minutes before turning out and flipping right side up to finish cooling.  Tempting to eat this warm, but let it cool or it will break into pieces if you cut it when it's warm.  You can always pop it in the microwave.
Keep cake tightly wrapped and store on the counter for up to 5 days.  Bet this would freeze beautifully too.


yummy batter that I didn't eat raw in my loaf pan

coconut and sugar sprinkled before oven
I'll make it again and give you a pretty slice picture

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

more sunny salads: Carrot, Avocado and Orange California Salad

This salad just has to be called a California salad.  All the ingredients would be fresh and local for my Kelly in LA almost year-round.  It's another salad that just tastes sunny. And truly this just seems like something I'd order in LA.  Greg was home when I made it at lunch the other day and remarked that it was all the things I love.  True.  He loved it too, by the way.  I've seen a few similar recipes out on the interwebs, but I think my spin is fantastic.  Give yourself time to roast the carrots and have them cool a bit.  It's great cold, but if you make a nice big bowl of it, it's pretty terrific a little warm too.  Serve it on arugula or baby greens if you'd like.  Grilled shrimp would be a lovely addition too.

Trader Joe's had the best rainbow carrots around the holidays, and I'm hoping I'll see them around again soon:  red, orange and yellow.  They'll be some of the first vegetables at the local (read cold-weather) farmer's markets which won't be too long now.  Any nice carrots will do.  If you buy them in young bunches, leave about a half-inch of the green tops on just because.  I had nice organic carrots without tops and just cut them into baby carrot size.  Oranges are awesome this time of year.  I used blood oranges because I love them.  Cara cara oranges are another favorite with their pretty dark pink segments (and you can get nice big bags of them at Costco).  Buy oranges (all varieties) that seem heavy for their size.  That seems hard to judge, but pick up a few and you'll get the hang of it.  Light ones are dried out, heavy ones are juicy.  You really should cut off the membranes, but that is ridiculously time consuming and I always waste too much orange, so just peel them and pull apart the segments unless you really want to overachieve.  Always keep avocados in your house.  Ripen them on your counters and when they are soft to a gentle push, put them in the fridge and they'll be just fine for 4-5 days.  Throw them in your salads, in your smoothies, on your sandwiches or burgers and on your whole grain toast.  One of the great joys of life.

Carrot, Avocado and Orange California Salad

4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt or Maldon salt (fancy flaky sea salt)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 C olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds young carrots, scrubbed (with 1/2 inch green tops left on or trimmed, your call)
1/2 C vegetable broth or water (optional)
3 tennis-ball sized oranges
2 avocados
juice of half-whole lemon (to taste)
handful of cleaned and trimmed cilantro leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Crush the garlic cloves with the handle of your knife and slip off the peels.  Mince the garlic together with the salt to almost make a paste.  Pour 3 T of olive oil on a baking sheet/pan and add the garlic/salt paste, carrots, cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes.  Toss to generously coat the carrots and spread them evenly over the pan.  Roast the carrots for about 20 minutes, stirring them once or twice.  Add the vegetable broth or water, stir and continue roasting another 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the carrots are nicely browned.  You can skip the liquid and extra roasting, just make sure your carrots are toothsomely tender after the first 15-20 minutes or give them another 10-15 minutes as needed.  Two-stepping with broth adds a little flavor and helps the carrots to be tender.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Peel and segment your oranges.  If you have any juice on your cutting board add it with the segments to your serving bowl.  Halve your avocados, remove the pits and slice in the skin about the same width as your carrots.  Run a spoon under the flesh and scoop your slices out into your serving bowl.  Scrape your carrots and their roasting spices off your baking sheet and into the serving bowl.  Squeeze half a lemon over top.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil as desired.  Gently toss and taste for lemon, salt and pepper.   Garnish with cilantro.

Serve on arugula or mixed greens if desired.  Toss in grilled shrimp if you're feeling extra flush.

roasted carrots and spices

sliced avocado and segmented oranges added to the bowl

tossed, dressed and garnished

Thursday, February 20, 2014

bright food: snow pea "spaghetti", corn and creamy lemon dressing

This whole vegetable odyssey is filling the refrigerator with so many good things for meals at home or on the go.  I love the glass containers with the snap on plastic lids.  So easy to find what I need in the refrigerator and they get so clean.  So aesthetically appealing.  Costco sells a big set of them for under $25, interesting assortments are always on the shelves at Homegoods (a place I shop maybe quarterly, but I they are reliably available at discount prices).  Another little obsession is Weck canning glass jars with the clip-on flat lids.  I have lots of little single-serve sizes and a few little jars.  Love them.  They are available at Crate and Barrel and West Elm.  I have kind of a thing against plastic containers.  Wet plastic containers out of the dishwasher, specifically.  I have no idea why, but they irritate me.  I pack my lunch or dinner for work almost always and my bag is ridiculously heavy from glass containers and a shift's worth of liquids (big fan of the Love bottles for water because they stay cold, maybe my Sigg thermos with tea, maybe a Vitaminwater Zero, maybe a Zevia Ginger Ale - our water at the store is warm and tastes like poison to me, again I will admit to quirkiness).  There are a lot of little shopping links in there.  Enjoy.

Anyway, this recipe is not in the Lemonade cookbook, but they make a version with cojita cheese (not easy to find in Indy) and I was pretty sure I could make a satisfactory version with the lemon vinaigrette I made for the Israeli Couscous with Exotic Mushrooms and Lemon TruffleVinaigrette.  The truffle oil is not necessary here, so if you don't have that bottle of liquid gold you're fine.  This is another very bright tasting dish.  We had a thaw the other day and finally cleared off the grill to make burgers.  We had oven salt and pepper fries and this yummy dish instead of a salad.  Good trade.  It's kept nicely for 3 days in the refrigerator.  You could easily double it for a party or picnic (might need to warm up a bit for real first).

Snow Pea "Spaghetti", Corn, and Creamy Lemon Dressing

2 C snow pea pods, sliced lengthwise into thin "spaghetti-like" strips
1 C frozen sweet corn, thawed (summer sweet corn, cooked and cut from the cob will be awesome too)
1/4 C lemon truffle vinaigrette
1/4 C plain Greek yogurt (nonfat was fine)
1/4 C feta cheese, crumbled
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the snow pea pods into spaghetti-like strips (use a nice sharp knife and cut into the thinnest strips you can).  Thaw the sweet corn (or if it's in-season, cook your sweet corn however you like and cut it off the cob (2 ears).  Make the lemon vinaigrette.  Stir the yogurt into the vinaigrette until well blended.  Toss the snow pea strips, corn, dressing and cheese together.  Taste for seasoning.

slicing snow pea pods

nice blurry picture of the vinaigrette  and yogurt

ready to toss

almost done

feta tossed in

Monday, February 17, 2014

Back on the roll: Farro, Spaghetti Squash and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

After the brief cherry dessert interruption (hope you tried it) we will get this rolling again with amazing, not that complicated but certainly not the usual dish number 2 from Lemonade in LA.  We could just jump right into it, but what fun would that be?  None.

It's sleeting outside which has totally broken my cross-country skiing streak.  Days on days of snow and adventures over my trails, trails left by the two other skiers in my neighborhood, unplowed streets and trails I blazed through at least a foot and a half of snow.  Do you know I live in Central Indiana?  We do not get snow like this, but I wish we did.  I may be the only one.  I love to shovel.  I love to work hard outside and get all warm inside.  I love snowflakes on my face and wind-burn on my cheeks.   I love this all because it's almost all optional.  I work in the mall.  I have a nice big warm home.  I have plenty to eat.  Rio, our older cat loves to sit in the windowsills and sniff through the screens.  I love to indulge him and open the window for a few minutes.  We both stick our faces in the window to feel and smell the bracing cold air.  And then we close the window because eventually the heating bill comes and that will take all the fun out of a little open window time.

So the recipe for this dish is another one that is served room temperature or cold and right now with the sleet tapping on my windows, it seems a little out of season.  But it tastes light and bright and is nutritionally very sound.  It makes a great lunch dish.  So different.  You'll need spaghetti squash which is easy to find in the winter (and don't be a squash snob, it's delightful here).  Farro is a trendy ancient grain that looks a lot like barley crossed with wheat berries to me (similarly nutty in taste too).  Trader Joe's sells it in a nice small bag.  Unlike the giant bag of quinoa from Costco that's lasted me a year (still trying to like it more).  Dried cranberries brighten up the dish nicely.  I upped the quantity in my version.    Pomegranate juice is pricey, but you just need a little bottle.  It's super tasty and good for you, though so buy a medium bottle for cost savings and add a splash to a beverage.

The cookbook I have adapted this recipe from notes you can omit the vinaigrette and toss the warm farro and squash together with the other ingredients and a pat of butter for a warm dish.  Gonna try it and let you know.  Have a feeling there are a few more cold days left this winter.

Farro, Spaghetti Squash and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed (scoop them out with a big strong spoon)
2 T olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 C farro
1//4 C fresh Italian/flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/2 C Pomegranate Vinaigrette
1/4 C crumbled feta or goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Drizzle the cut side of the spaghetti squash halves with the olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place cut-side down on a baking sheet (I usually roast things right-side up, but this worked great).  Roast until you can pull strands easily with a fork, about 45 minutes (the skin will be nice and browned).  Pull out the squash flesh with a fork and and place in a mixing bowl to cool.

Cook the faro by brining a 2 quart pot of water (with 1 heaping tsp of kosher salt added) to a boil.  Add the farro, stir and reduce heat to medium low.  Cover the pan and simmer until the farro is tender and the grains have split open or about 20-25 minutes.  Drain and cool (in the colander is fine).

Make the vinaigrette.  Add the farro to the squash along with the parsley, dried cranberries and feta.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette and taste for salt and pepper.  Toss before serving.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette
1 C pomegranate juice
1/4 C honey or agave nectar
1/2 shallot. peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T red wine vinegar
juice of one lemon
1/4 C or more of olive oil
kosher or coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Pour the pomegranate juice into a non-reactive saucepan and place over medium-low heat.  Add the honey or agave and gently simmer until the juice has reduced to 1/4-1/2 C and is thick and syrupy (about 10-15 minutes).  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl or jar, combine the pomegranate syrup, shallot, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil.  Shake of whisk to blend.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Start with 1/4 C olive oil and add more if you like the taste or appearance better.  I was fine with the smaller quantity.  Extra vinaigrette keeps in the refrigerator for about a week.

Serves 8-10


squash ready to roast

roasted and fork tender

pomegranate syrup in the making

ready to toss

now we have vinaigrette and feta in the photo


Saturday, February 15, 2014

We interrupt our previously scheduled post for: Cherry Almond Crisp

Yep, half way through my next Lemonade/California post and I decide that we need dessert for Valentine's Day, I make something with what I have on hand and it turns out to be outrageously good.  So, we'll take a detour because we do that all the time.

Greg did take me to Petit Chou for their Valentine's weekend dinner on Thursday.  It was sweet and quiet there on a cold Thursday night.  It was also delicious.  So I cooked dinner Friday night after another nice ski around the hood after a (surprise) 5-plus inches of snow fell while I was at work.  Roasted asparagus with blood orange creme balsamic vinegar (splurge from Whole Foods that was totally worth it).  Chicken piccata deglazed with a yummy Chardonnay and brightened with lots of lemon and capers.  Salad, the basic kind.  And then cherry almond crisp.

Costco sells a really terrific big bag of frozen cherries with tart and sweet whole cherries that are perfect in my morning yogurt or muesli.  I've had my eye on that bag for a dessert too.  Almonds and cherries pair perfectly so I thought I'd go all nutty and use almond meal instead of flour in the crisp topping.  Bingo!  Ha, that was an unintentional pun.  Delicious.  One note, I do not have almond extract but I do have almond emulsion from King Arthur Flour.  It's thicker, but I'm pretty sure the pure extract would work just the same.

It's Presidents' Day this coming week so make a cherry dessert in honor of our first president.

Cherry Almond Crisp

4 C frozen cherries (tart or mixed)
1/2 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 tsp almond emulsion/extract

1/2 C old fashioned oats
1/2 C almond meal/almond flour
1/2 C loosely measured light brown sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is nice)
4 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.  I used an 8x8x2 dish but any shape or size in the 2 quart range would work.

In a medium bowl, toss frozen cherries (do not thaw) with sugar, cornstarch and almond emulsion/extract.  Pour cherries into prepared baking dish.
In a separate bowl, stir together oats, almond meal, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Cut in the unsalted butter using a pastry blender, two forks or work it through with your fingers until some big crumbs form.  Distribute evenly over cherries.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes until hot and bubbly.  Loosely cover with foil if getting too brown.  Eat warm with vanilla ice cream, yogurt of whipped cream.

Serves 4-6

I'll make it again and take photos along the way.   Need to get the whole light box thing working to improve your viewing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

treat yourself: Israeli Couscous, Exotic Mushrooms and Lemon Truffle Vinaigrette

Here's the thing, I'm just going to have to post a few recipes that might seem a little less accessible than usual.  Have to do it.  I've been trying some really interesting (if you know me, that's not really a positive term) recipes with all the trendy things going on and I've not been super happy with the results.  Like, this is good and super healthy but do I want you to try it and feed it to your loved ones?  Probably not.  I want you to like it and receive high praise when you serve it.  I told you a while back about my love for all things Lemonade in LA and I promised to post some recipes from their new cookbook.  They aren't tricky, but some are braises and they take a while.  Most use fresh herbs or some different vegetables or spices you may not just have in your house (and let's face it, that's been a problem this wintry winter because it hasn't been all that easy to get out and shop).  Most are things kids would look at and have way too many questions.  But they've all been absolutely, positively outstanding so I'm just going to have to share some with you.  

In one day I made up a batch of my very favorite not so sloppy joes using my current wine love, Cline Zinfandel.  You should cook with wine you would drink and since Cline Zin is $7.99 at Trader Joe's it's easy to follow this rule.  Then I whipped up a recipe for whole grain mac and cheese that used butternut squash in the sauce because I have an abundance of frozen butternut squash from Whole Foods and for some reason, smoked Gouda cheese.  It was delicious, but needs a little tweaking before sharing.   Neither recipe is from Lemonade, but I'm just telling a little story about the cooking frenzy I enjoyed on one of my day's off, so stick with me here.  Then I made two veggie centric salads/sides.  One I've had every time I've been to LA and one I've always wanted to try, but have never had enough room on my plate.  I've got ingredients for a third, but I have to save something for another day.  Both of these dishes would be perfect for packing for work lunch (you would be the envy of all) or for serving for a brunch or lunch or a trendy small plate kind of dinner.  Both do not taste anything at all like heavy winter food and that's a little refreshing smack dab in the middle of winter (but I do love winter food).  So open your culinary minds and do a little shopping if you'd like to try something new.  Or, if that's a total waste of your time because no one at your house will be this adventurous I will make these dishes for you someday.  But really, there's nothing wrong with taking an hour of your day and making some things you can squirrel away for yourself for the sheer happiness factor of eating them.  

In the interest of actually finishing a post (my draft file is impressive), let's start with the Iraeli couscous, exotic mushrooms and lemon truffle vinaigrette.  Israeli couscous is the big, fat, plump and soft cousin of your everyday couscous.  The little cousci look like pearls.  I've never found them in whole grain, so deal with that and just enjoy them.  Trader Joe's sells Israeli couscous in a little violet colored box.  My best source for exotic mushrooms (a blend with at least Shiitake in there) is Meijer.  Usually $2.99 for 10-ounces and almost always available.  Meyer lemons (seedless and so sweet) are in season and they are perfect for the vinaigrette.  You may be short of white truffle oil.  If your best friend does not live in Italy and bring you an insanely good bottle of white truffle oil, you can buy a small bottle (you add just 1/4 tsp) or just use really good olive oil.  Vegetable broth is handy and tastier (clearly) than water.  Whole Foods 365 brand is good.  This recipe also calls for Parmesan and my favorite comes from Whole Foods with Costco a close second.  Shaving Parmesan is easy with a good vegetable peeler and the big shavings are deliciously salty.  This is so good.  Treat yourself, or call me and I'll make you some.  

Israeli Couscous, Exotic Mushrooms and Lemon Truffle Vinaigrette

10-ounce assorted exotic mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced
2 T olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 C Israeli couscous
1 C vegetable broth or water
1/4 C Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette
1/4 C shaved Parmesan
1/4 C coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf/Italian parsley

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle your baking pan with olive oil and toss the mushrooms around to coat them.  Season with kosher salt and pepper (1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper or so).  Roast, stirring or shaking the pan a couple of times until the mushrooms begin to shrink, lose their moisture and brown or about 15-20 minutes.  Place mushrooms in your mixing bowl and allow to cool.  

Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and toast the dry couscous, stirring frequently, until it smells nutty and is golden brown (about 5 minutes).  Pour in the broth, cover and simmer until the couscous is just tender, 10-12 minutes.  Set aside and cool.  

When ready to serve, toss together the mushrooms, couscous, vinaigrette, cheese and parsley.  Taste for salt and pepper.  

Lemon Truffle Vinaigrette

Juice of 2 lemons
3/4 C canola or other neutral vegetable oil
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp white truffle oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the juice and oils and season with the salt and pepper.  Whisk or shake to blend.  Keep any leftovers refrigerated for up to one week.


toasting the Israeli couscous


vinaigrette whisked and emulsified


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

invincible summer: apple pear salsa

Sundays when I do not work always mean a slow cruise through Whole Foods after church or yoga (or both).  This past Sunday, following form, I stopped by the crushed ice tables of guacamole and salsa for a little sampling even though I know perfectly well that Whole Foods make very good guacamole and salsa.  But this time their seasonal offering caught my eye:  apple pear salsa.  Hmmm.  Kind of white.  Kind of fruity.  Read the ingredients:  apples, pears, red onion, jalapeño, ginger, cilantro, lime juice and salt.  All right, that could be good.  Try it.  Yep, delicious.  Refreshing.  Light.  Sweet, tart and salty.  I'm in.  I can make that.  And so I did.

Sunday night we were the lucky guests of  Paula and Danny for cocktails and football.  Always say yes when they invite you over.  Great company and always good food and drink.  I asked if I could bring a little something to share.  You have to love Paula's answer, "as long as it goes with cocktails".  Since I had everything needed for the salsa except pears, I bought four big fat just ripe ones with cocktail hour in mind.

Being me, I just grab everything from the refrigerator, line it up for a photo and start chopping.  You honestly do not need a recipe but that is the whole point of a cooking blog.  Here's a little tip for you:  the big apples and pears when peeled and chopped in small dice make a lot of fruit.  I used two pears and two apples and that was more than five cups of fruit.  I kept getting out bigger bowls.  Not a problem because I took half on Sunday and we enjoyed the second half with my BFF, Susan who we were so happy to have with us Monday night as she makes the rounds during a week visit to the states. Two very festive days in a row that happened to be a Sunday and a Monday.

Mix it up a bit and take this to your Super Bowl party or just make a batch just for snacking.  So many good multigrain, sweet potato, blue corn and etc.  chip options now everywhere.  The Late July chips were on sale at Whole Foods and they rock.  Trader Joe's sweet potato tortilla chips are yummy too.  I bet you could dice an avocado into the salsa too.  Put it on a bed of lettuce and toss with a bit of light sour cream and add a protein for a good meal (grilled shrimp would be fabulous, but rotisserie chicken or crispy tofu would be great too).  Add brown rice and beans to all of that and make super hearty bowls.  Do you see where I'm going here?  Layer it up.  It's freezing.  Literally freezing.  Eat something bright and refreshing and find your invincible summer.

This recipe is half of what I made.  Family size.  Party size would just be doubled.  The key to this salsa for me was to juice one fresh lime for each big piece of fruit.

Apple Pear Salsa

one large apple, peeled and cut in small dice (I like sweet-tart apples:  pink lady, tango, honey crisp)
one large pear, peeled and cut in small dice (look at my nice pears here, nice and plump)
half of medium red onion
one jalapeño pepper, cored and diced fine (avoid the seeds, that is where all the heat lives)
one tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
handful of cilantro, cleaned, stemmed and leaves chopped fine
two limes, juiced
1/2 tsp kosher salt (to taste)

Toss all ingredients together and taste for salt.  The lime juice will macerate the apple and pear a bit so it will get juicier as it sits.  Refrigerate until serving.


trick for small dice:  section the apple and then cut into two horizontal planes.  Dice them together.

tossing the salsa

serving the salsa

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bowls! Sweet Chili Chicken (or tofu) Bowls

So I've met lots of awesome people over the holidays and every time someone else chimes in with "she writes a cooking blog, you should follow her," there's a little cringe.  I know you see the twinge in my eyes and mouth.  I am well acquainted with the fact that I have absolutely no poker face.  None.  Ask my kids.  I believe I have solidly surprised Sara one time in her life and I believe the fact that she did not see my face during the planning (and probably never heard my voice since texting is pretty much our main mode of communication when she's at Duke) is the reason she was totally shocked when Kelly appeared at her Theta initiation.  One time.  If I've winced a little when we've discussed Blue Skies and a Squeeze of Lime, yeah I was feeling guilty.  I've missed writing.  Heaven knows over the past month I have not locked up the kitchen or gone on some fast.  Ha.  The girls were home, I worked a little, I cooked a lot, we made an Ikea run, we baked cookies, we watched movies (Catching Fire and American Hustle both great), we traveled home to Chagrin Falls, we enjoyed Christmas, we had the band from Detroit for a sleepover (there's a story for you) and we moved Sara back to campus.  There's other stuff in there, but there was very little yoga (you might hear me creak if your mat is next to mine these next few weeks) and there was absolutely no posting to my blog.

But now there is posting and I promise to work through a substantial backlog.  That will require cooking and baking things one more time because there just aren't enough pictures in the 25K of photos idling in my iPhoto library.  I've downshifted at lulu to part-time.  I need more time to organize our life around here before it completely gets away from me.  I need more time to sit and write.  I need more time to read with a cat next to me on the chair.  Honestly, when was the last time I did that?  Geez.  I know my friends with young kids are probably getting a little panicky that their empty-nester years won't be full of unstructured time that allows you to accomplish everything or nothing.  It will be okay. You can possibly do this all more gracefully than I have done.  Here's a hint:  keep up with it all.  Keep a routine and get stuff done.  Move.  We haven't moved in 12 years and there was never a sense of urgency to keep it all streamlined.  Big house.  Plenty of room.  But I can do it, chipping away at it slowly but surely.  For now I'm tackling a little posting.  Tomorrow it's housework day.

You know I love the whole "bowl" way of serving and eating food.   And if you've been reading you know that my love grew immensely when Kelly introduced me to Chego around midnight EST just off my flight to LA.  Roy Choi of Kogi food truck fame knows how to blend cultures together in a very LA and tasty way.  Chego moved to Chinatown so we've yet to make a return trip, but if you're traveling find it or one of his other magical dining experiences.  He's recently published a book with his story and some of his recipes.  Probably will need to add that to my collection.

Anyway, here is a fairly accessible grossly adapted version of one of his recipes modified for quantity and most importantly, ingredients actually found in my kitchen and pantries.  I set out to make this dish and quickly realized I had some gaps.  Alright.  The beauty of cooking regularly for 30 years is that I have the confidence to just wing it.  Recently I've learned to sit down after dinner and sketch in the recipe so I can share it with you.  This sauce would work great with crispy tofu (drain, cube, toss in cornstarch and lightly fry in a little vegetable oil browning all sides) or oven baked tofu too.  I was supposed to be making buttermilk oven fried chicken (new recipe coincidentally also from LA coming soon), so Greg had bought lots of Coleman boneless skinless breasts and thighs at Costco and I stole some thighs for this recipe.  Roy Choi marinades his chicken for a whole extra layer of flavor, but I prepared it simply and let the sauce reign supreme.

I had leftover polenta so we based our bowls on polenta.  Clearly, Roy Choi is a rice bowl guy so steam some rice or do what I do and buy brown Jasmine rice and cook it (50 minutes) or go the fastest route with Trader Joe's frozen brown rice (3 minutes wins).

Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls

Sweet Chili Sauce
1/2 C bottled sweet chili sauce
3 T Thai/Italian basil leaves
3 T cilantro leaves
3T fresh orange juice
1 small white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
5 or 6 scallion, coarsely chopped (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
2 tsp Sambal Oleek or other chile paste
1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 T fresh ginger peeled and chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
1 T diced green chiles
1/4 tsp kosher salt or more to taste

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 jalapeños (optional)

Bowl things
brown rice or polenta
crispy onions (found really yummy ones in a plastic tub at Whole Foods)
sour cream (light sour cream is awesome and fat free is an abomination)
lime wedges

Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until mostly smooth.  That was easy.  Taste for salt.  It's sweet but super spicy.

Heat about 1 T neutral vegetable oil (soy or canola) in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  Liberally salt and pepper your chicken (boneless skinless breasts work too, pound them thinner or cut into smaller pieces to prepare quickly).  Cook about 5-7 minutes on each side until cooked through.  At the same time over your gas stove open flame or in a very hot oven (450 degrees) roast jalapeños until charred.  Handle carefully and slice off into strips working around core and seeds (the seeds are where the heat is).  If you get jalapeños on your hands, wash them with yogurt (or other dairy) and sea salt as a scrub or you'll rub your eyes or go take out your contacts and suffer some super uncomfortable burning).

Assemble your bowls.  I like the spinach on the bottom with all the warm rice or polenta and chicken (or tofu) on top to wilt it a bit.  Pour over a good 1/4-1/2 cup of sauce.  Top with sour cream, cripsy onions and roasted jalapeño slices (jarred slices would be fine).  Squeeze limes on top.

Makes 2-4 bowls

Monday, November 18, 2013

gluten-free baked good: buckwheat apple cake

It's Monday and a day off which means a couple of things have a higher degree of likelihood of occurring:  baking, writing/posting and adding new music to my playlists.  I baked this cake Friday and I'm baking a pie tomorrow for Greg's birthday so we're going for two out of three today.  Follow me on Spotify if you'd like some new music for your playlists too.

Maybe I'm the only one who goes to the store and buys an ingredient not usually on my list for a specific recipe and then the week gets away from me, I do not make that specific recipe and then I can't remember why I bought say, buckwheat flour.  Please tell me it's not just me.  So the buckwheat flour goes in ????? quest led me to this recipe which just happens to be gluten-free and well, delicious.  This is an old world cake made from buckwheat flour, almond flour and grated apple among other things more commonly found in cakes.  The original recipe calls for lingonberry jam which I actually had in my pantry for baked brie with lingonberries.  Plus if you ever go to Ikea, you kind of have to buy the lingonberry jam.  But, you have to eat it before the expiration date and since I missed that by a year, I used pomegranate jam.  I've shared that we can eat for days out of my pantries and I'm not exaggerating.

This cake is known as schwarzplententorte in German (I am half German so it's no wonder I loved this) or torta di granosaraceno in Italian (from northern Italy).  It's a snack cake.  It's very dense, not too sweet and absolutely perfect with coffee or tea.  Buckwheat flour is easily found in the bulk section of Whole Foods and the almond meal from Trader Joe's works great and will save you some pennies if you've priced almond flour at Whole Foods or the grocery.  The taste reminds me of poppy seed roll from the other side of my family, the Russian side.  It's a certain nuttiness.   Yum.

 a nice picture of a slice would have been fabulous, but there's not a crumb left

Buckwheat Apple Cake

1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C sugar
6 eggs, separated
2 C buckwheat flour
2 1/4 C almond meal
1 large apple, peeled and grated
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
3/4 C lingonberry jam
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugar for a good 5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks (reserving the whites for later in the recipe) and beat until pale and creamy.  Add the buckwheat flour, almond meal, grated apple, vanilla and pinch of salt until just combined.
Beat the reserved egg whites into stiff peaks (I scraped the batter into another bowl, cleaned my mixer bowl and then used it to beat the egg whites but if you have two mixer bowls or a hand mixer this would be less complicated).  Gently fold whites into batter until well combined and pour into greased 10-inch cake round pan (if you use a different pan, springform or smaller cake pan you may have to bake it longer, just test it).
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes until cake is golden brown and a tester comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes and then carefully invert cake onto rack to cool.  When cool enough to handle, slice cake in half lengthwise (a nice long serrated bread knife works well).  Spread the bottom layer with the jam and replace the top layer.  Dust thickly with powdered sugar.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

the new cookbook is here: grilled flank steak with house steak sauce

No, no, no I have not written a cookbook.  It's in my goals on the walls at lululemon, but since I actually work at lululemon I feel very accomplished when I get one post written a week.  Remember when I would write three?  Me too.  Life has a very different rhythm that it did two and a half years ago.  I can't exactly say that I've settled into it really.  Just haven't completely found my groove.  Some days it's because I'm just tired.  Like Tuesdays, like today.  Mondays are one of my days off, but I always fill it to the brim:  spinning or yoga in the early morning, errands after class, walk with Greg before lunch, tennis after lunch and then home for a shower and before I know it:  time to make dinner. Why would I be tired on Tuesdays?  Some days it's because I just can't focus.  I want to, but I get distracted.  You know, I go up to put laundry away and end up cleaning a closet or I go outside to get the mail and end up working in my gardens for hours.  I think it's because no one really holds me accountable for all the domestic stuff.  It's always fine around here, or you can close a door and ignore it.  Greg is indifferent (a good thing) and would rather have company watching football than have me up in the kitchen organizing my cupboards (and they make so little sense after 12 years, it will happen eventually).  So that's how a cookbook does not get written.  That's why I write my blog.  Manageable bites of work.

But other people get their cookbooks written and I do occasionally buy them.  And with Amazon Prime, I can see one in the Oprah magazine and one-click it into my cart and have it at my door in 48 hours.  That's way too easy, by the way.  I had an entirely different plan for dinner until my new "The Lemonade Cookbook" showed up at the door.  Have we discussed Lemonade in LA?  On a whim Kelly and I ducked into one in Beverly Hills just a couple of hours before my flight home on a winter visit after she moved out to California.  It was just so cute with pretty hedges and tables outside on a (shocking) lovely day.  What a lucky find.  I am the girl that researches trips, but visiting Kelly frees me of that responsibility entirely.  She apparently learned from me very well and has taken entertaining out of town guests to a whole 'nother level.  She has excel spreadsheets with alternate plans for every block of time which comes in super handy in LA because traffic just might change your day entirely.  So Lemonade was not on the spreadsheet, but it has been every other trip.  And if I don't get to the Lemonade in Venice or wherever, I can get to LAX early and visit the one in the Delta terminal.  A little obsession.

Lemonade is fast-casual, Southern California comfort food served in a modern cafeteria setting to paraphrase the opening of the book.  It's vegetable-centric with my favorite plate being 6 half portions of the salads and sides.  If you know me, you know I take some fabulous dessert to go and smuggle it onto the plane for the ride home.  Oh yeah, the lemonades are amazing too but the real deal so they are sweet (but blueberry/mint or peach/ginger or green apple/jalapeno?  C'mon).  They always know a true Midwestern girl in LA.  I hope they appreciate that someone actually eats every delicious bite of the crazy good food they serve and orders a treat.

So this post is from dinner that was supposed to be butternut squash risotto, but then I started flipping pages and made the house steak sauce to go with flank steak that Greg expertly grilled.  I also made a white wine vinaigrette to toss my par-boiled Brussels sprouts in before roasting them and serving them with some shaved Parmesan (recipe will also be posted).  Chopped a nice romaine salad and yum all around.

I would never use bottled steak sauce.  I would make this house steak sauce and serve it warm any day.       And the next time I make it I will know it's worthy of breaking out the camera for real step by step photos.  For now you'll have to do with this blurry iPhone photo of my dinner plate.

yep, need to use my real camera

buy it, or trust me that I'll share some highlights

Grilled Flank Steak with House Steak Sauce

House Steak Sauce
1 T neutral oil (canola at my house)
1 small white, yellow or sweet onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 C fresh flat-leaf/Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 C low sugar good ketchup  (I know that's Barefoot Contessa like, but buy something without high-fructose corn syrup)
1/2 C vegetable or chicken broth (or water)
2 T low sodium Worcestershire sauce (because you are about to add kosher salt)
1 T espresso powder or instant coffee (does anyone keep instant coffee?)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank steak (or skirt steak would be good too)
olive oil
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper

Prepare sauce in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat:  add the canola oil and when it's hot cook the onion, garlic and parsley until softened (maybe 3-4 minutes).  Add the Worcestershire, broth, ketchup, espresso powder, kosher salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.  Puree with an immersion (stick) blender or carefully transfer to a standard blender.  Serve hot or at room temperature.  Will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Prepare steak:  rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, salt and pepper.  Prepare the grill or a grill pan and when hot, cook the steak to sear on both sides for about 8 minutes total.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes and then slice thinly against the grain and serve with the sauce.