Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn Inspiration

Life has been quite the ride since the beginning of July!  We honeymooned for a month, then we crashed from the honeymoon for another month... or so.  We ate some AMAZINGly tasty things on our month-long trek cross-country, from lamb at Mustards Grill in the Napa Valley to Bubba's barbecue in Northern Georgia to dueling tasting menus at Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, NJ.  In between (and often during) meals, we got together with friends and family that have been a continent away for far too long.  While our repeated efforts to get them all to move to Washington were unsuccessful, we still had great fun seeing everyone.

Now we are back in our favorite place on earth--home.  Home is where my kitties, my kitchen, and my beautiful view nourish my existence.  Home is where my husband and I relax, where we shirk our responsibilities, and where we share food with each other and good friends.  I think fall is my favorite season because there are so many wonderful opportunities to get together with loved ones and celebrate my favorite thing... EATING!  We celebrate the new year, the harvest, the change of the season, the dead, and then we feast in gratitude for our abundance.  And we celebrate it all with food.

So it's no wonder that I get excited about cooking at this time of year, no matter the occasion.  This fall has been particularly exciting as I try to keep up with the wealth of local produce that is coming to our house through the produce delivery every week.  I also have my first substantial harvest to boast about...


Some may scoff at these beauties--clearly tomatoes should be red, they say!  Well, here in the Pacific Northwest, when life gives you green tomatoes, you "make do."  I was thrilled to find many different sources of inspiration for what to do with the product of our early fall/no summer to speak of.  The first recipe I chose to make was a green tomato & apple chutney from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  This selection was made purely out of convenience--I needed to use apples and green tomatoes.  Now I'll be specifically looking forward to this chutney next year when I am no doubt swimming in green tomatoes and apples once more.

The chutney turned out much chunkier than I imagined a chutney to be, but allowing the components to get friendly in the fridge for a couple of days made it divine. Serve with quesadillas (or really as a cold salsa for most anything), apple pancakes, eggs, or whatever strikes your fancy as you are enjoying this delicious condiment straight out of the container.

Green Tomato-Apple Chutney
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

2 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp garam masala
6 whole cloves
3 dried Thai or other hot red chiles
1 large red onion
1 cored green apple (I used a Ginger Gold)
1 green tomato

Put the butter/ghee, mustard seeds, cloves, and dried chiles in a large cast iron skillet* over medium heat.    Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the spices are fragrant.  Add the garam masala and cook for another thirty seconds or so to allow the flavors to infuse.  Be careful not to burn the spices!  If you see that they are cooking a bit quickly, just chuck the onion in!  Mise en place is useful.

These spices need some onion!!!
Add the onion and a large pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften.  Add the apple and tomato and cook, stirring often, until the sauce is slightly thickened--about 5 minutes.  

(This is where I started to wonder if my green tomato needed some more liquid to truly achieve a divine chutney state.  In a panic, I added some water--but that was silly, I think.  In the end, it was delicious, and that's all that matters.  I encourage you to tweak to your liking).  

Chunk-ney :)
Cool to room temperature and serve or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days (if it lasts that long).  I suggest removing the cloves before serving--biting into one was enough to ward off my own personal laziness next time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I am so totally here... just not cooking!

Well, that may be a lie.  I have been cooking a bit, although there have not been many photos to report.  Instead, I have been very busy preparing for our upcoming honeymoon and our recent pre-honeymoon trip to Moab, UT.  I would love to share all sorts of pictures and chit-chat about the process of preparing, dehydrating, and packing all of our camping and hiking food for the trip, but I will let Sarah, the trail food genius at, speak for herself :)

For the benefit of any interested parties, I will share that we enjoyed Salmon Pesto Pasta, Curry Chicken Pitas, Curried Chicken Cranberry Couscous, and Pecan Cranberry Ranch Chicken Salad.  We tried out the Orange Rice Salmon, but there is something about dehydrating (or perhaps rehydrating) rice that I still have not quite grasped.  The texture was closer to being edible than our previous attempts with rice, but we were still pretty disappointed with the texture of the rice.  Huge bummer--the flavors were delicious!  Try, try again... or just stick with pasta :)

For the next month, we will be on the road on a cross-country excursion for our honeymoon.  I might just decide to blog, or I might not... we'll see ;)  I will definitely have some great food stories when I get back... we have quite a culinary lineup waiting for us!!!

Until next time...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Taco Feed - Strawberry Brown Betties

Last night's dessert should have been Tres Leches Cake, but somehow its presence in our freezer eluded my memory until it was too late.  I spotted (rather, smelled) some beautiful strawberries that were on super-sale at the grocery store on Friday, so I was determined to use them (along with some headed-south-fast strawberries that were already at home).  I found my muse over at smitten kitchen again... big surprise!  I love opening up my blog reader and finding an immediately useful recipe from a trusted blog. 

The desserts were eaten quickly and there were no complaints, but I used a silicon muffin "pan"... not the best call, I think.  As with many other recipes, the texture of the cakey bits--in this case, mere white bread--were a bit soggy.  Of course, as with many other recipes, I also didn't remember to take them out of the pan after five minutes.  So, as you can see, mine were lacking the crispiness that I hoped for.  The taste was pretty good and the concept is worth exploring... but they were nothing spectacular for me.  If they had come out all brown and crunchy maybe I would feel different!

 Strawberry Brown Betties
adapted from smitten kitchen, who adapted generously from Gourmet
Makes 6 muffin-sized desserts

3/4 stick salted or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (I used way more than this, but I'm special... see below)
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2-4 tbsp packed dark brown sugar**
1/2 teaspoon lime zest, finely grated
1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/2 cup panko - I made my own following the original recipe's suggestion... see below
1 1/2 to 2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced (slightly less than 1/2 pound)
Softly whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

In a small pot, melt butter over medium heat. Once melted, reduce heat to medium-low.

The butter will melt, 

then foam, 

then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot--you'll notice that I did not take any pictures after the "foaming" phase starting going full force :)  Maybe next time!

Lightly butter muffin cups with some of brown butter (I used a brush), then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Roll bread slices with a rolling pin to flatten. Brush both sides with additional brown butter, then gently fit into muffin cups.

(If you get the bread into the muffin cups and realize that you have forgotten to sprinkle the sugar, you can carefully coax the bread away from the muffin pan a little bit at a time and sprinkle the sugar in.  I used a lot more sugar this way.)

Stir together brown sugar, zest, salt and panko, then add strawberries and toss to coat. Stir in remaining brown butter. Heap strawberry mixture into cups, pressing gently.

Cover pan with foil and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until strawberries are very tender, about 10 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.  If you would like to rewarm them, a few minutes in a 350 F oven did the trick for us--just keep an eye on them!

**Sweetness: Like Deb @ SK, I will comment on the sweetness.  I used the full amount of sugar called for because I wasn't paying attention.  Since I was fortunate enough to be working with fully sweet, fat, strawberries, this was definitely too much--I would have dialed it back to 2 tbsp.  I will also be putting my longer asides down here from now on--it reads better.  Thanks for everything, Deb.

DIY Panko
adapted from smitten kitchen
I followed Deb's suggestion to make your own panko, and it turned out OK--but mine got a little too brown after nine minutes of baking.  There was no noticeable effect on the brown butter betties :) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear one to two slices of soft, crustless white bread into 1-inch pieces and pulse them in the food processor until coarsely ground. This will make a generous half cup. Transfer crumbs to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown and dry, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Use.

Memorial Day Taco Feed - THE TACOS

Now on to the important topic, the big tent event, the main course...

the tacos.  I present Grilled Flank Steak Tacos and Black Bean and Kale Tacos.  Both recipes were well received by all... although I did not manage to convince our culinarily deprived friend Charity to try the kale!  Ah well, she doesn't eat bacon either... so I'm definitely not taking it personally!

Grilled Flank Steak Tacos
adapted from Rick Bayless's

Makes about 20 tacos

4 medium white onions, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
1.75 pound flank steak*
6 medium fresh poblano chiles
Vegetable or olive oil for brushing or spritzing the onions and meat
A small bowlful of lime wedges for serving
20 fresh, warm corn tortillas

*My grocery store seems to have decided that you should buy slightly over 1 lb or slightly under 2 lbs of steak.  Usually the packages are 1.05 lbs and 1.75 lbs.  Go figure.  Anyway, as the original recipe called for 1 lb of skirt steak, I adjusted quantities accordingly.

Marinating the meat: In a food processor or blender (or using an immersion blender carefully), combine 1/4 of the onion, the garlic, lime juice, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Place the skirt steak in a non-aluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of the skirt steak. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Make the grilled chile-and-onion rajas. (Recipe says the rajas can be made several hours ahead and left at room temperature... but why fire up the grill just for that?) Turn on the oven to its lowest setting. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect cooking.   (Since it was a typical Northwest Memorial Day--cold and rainy--we had a hard time getting the grill up to temperature.  We still had tacos, but cook times were way off.  I have reported the cook times from the original recipe).

Lay the chiles on the hottest part of the grill, and cook, turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and blackened uniformly all over, about 5 minutes.  Be careful not to char the flesh, only the skin. Remove the chiles from the grill and cover with a kitchen towel.

While the chiles are roasting, brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil, and lay the whole rounds of onions on the grill in a cooler spot than you chose for the chiles. When they’re starting to soften and are browned, about 10 minutes, use a spatula to flip them and brown the other side. Transfer to an ovenproof serving dish and break the rings apart (if they haven’t started breaking apart during grilling).

Rub the blackened skin off the outside of the chiles, then pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse briefly to remove stray seeds and bits of skin. Slice into 1/4-inch strips and stir into the onions. Taste the mixture and season it with salt, usually about 1/4 teaspoon. Keep warm in the oven. 

Before you go back out to grill the steak, begin the warming process for your tortillas.  My preferred method is to wrap them in a moist cloth napkin and throw them in the slow cooker.  They will stay fresh for at least an hour and a half that way. 

Grilling the meat. Remove the steak from the marinade and gently scrape off the excess. Oil the steak well on both sides, and lay it over the hottest part of the grill. Grill, turning once, until richly browned and done to your liking, about 4-6 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Serving the tacos. Cut the long piece of steak into 3- to 4-inch sections, then cut each section into thin strips across the grain (that is, in line with the full length of the skirt steak). Mix with the chiles and onions, season with a little salt and set on the table, along with the lime wedges and hot tortillas, for your guests to make into soft tacos.

Black Bean and Kale Tacos
adapted from

Makes 2-3 servings

2 tablespoons lard*
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 head kale, washed, and tough stems removed, and roughly chopped
15 ounces canned black beans, rinsed and drained
4 ounces queso cotija/crumbly Mexican cheese or 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
2 to 3 pickled jalapenos, chopped**
Hot sauce
8 to 10 corn tortillas
Salt and pepper

*I used vegetable oil, as sadly I could not find non-hydrogenated lard at our grocery store.  How disappointing!  I'd happily keep some in the fridge if I could find some that wasn't shelf stable, but this recipe was very satisfying even without the lard.  If you have it though, USE IT.

**I totally forgot to use the jalapeños and hot sauce, and our avocado that was called for in the original recipe wasn't ready... so I ate the mixture plain with cotija.  It was delicious and simple!  I'm not sure I would have wanted the texture of avocado along with the cheese (maybe either/or), but next time I will definitely go for the hot stuff.

Melt the lard in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent and tender. Add the garlic and cumin, and cook for another minute.
Add the kale to the skillet. Toss the kale to coat in the fat, and then cover the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the top, stir, and check a bit of kale to see if it is done. If it is still tough, add a tablespoon of water, recover, and cook for another 2 minutes (ours definitely needed it).
Dump in the beans, and cook until they are warm. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, warm the tortillas on another skillet set over medium-high heat, about 5-10 minutes a side.
Spoon some of the kale and bean mixture onto a tortilla. Top with a sprinkling of cheese, pickled jalapeños, and a dash of hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Memorial Day Taco Feed - The Salsas

Our rainy Memorial Day taco feed and board game fest was a blast last night.  We ate, drank, and were generally merry aside from a few game-related grumblings when the die didn't roll our way.  The tacos turned out marvelously, and I picked up a few good cooking *and* recipe writing ideas in the process.  Now I will record them for posterity.  Blog for the win.

Unfortunately, my intended table of contents is having some technical difficulties.  Dear Blogger, please do not automatically edit my HTML for me.  Instead, I will post the recipes in logical groups.  First up, of course, is the appetizer... my favorite and yours too... the elegant and labor intensive dish known in some circles as chips and salsa.

Sure, we buy ready-made salsa every once in awhile.  Costco has a decent deal on organic salsa, and every once in awhile you can get *gasp* medium instead of the usual mild.  However, when faced with the reality that I am saddled with yet another salsa container in addition to the daunting prospect of ingesting the sugary bonus bean dip, I always wonder why I didn't just whip up a batch of our favorite stuff at home.  It's cheaper, tastier, and one batch lives perfectly in a quart-sized mason jar.  It also comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks of all time: The Grit Restaurant Cookbook.   I believe the salsa is a beautiful representation of what makes The Grit so awesome... so I'll let the results speak for themselves.

For the sake of reporting, I also made an ENORMOUS batch of cucumber radish salsa to use up the--guess what--that I ordered by accident last week.  I was pleasantly surprised by the salsa, although the accidental grating of the cucumbers was not helpful in keeping the wateriness of the dish to a minimum.  As a result, the corn tortillas did not get along with this particular taco accompaniment.  Next time I will stick with chopping.  Also, grating radishes by hand sucks.  Signed, My Thumb.

Grit Salsa
yields 4 cups... doubles beautifully

1/2 medium ripe tomato (or 1 small Roma tomato), chopped
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
Juice of 1/2 a lemon... if using bottled, give it a few good dashes and then additional to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro... sometimes I add more :P
1 medium clove fresh garlic
1 small jalapeno chile (or more to taste), chopped... and I suppose you could seed it...?
1/3 medium red onion, chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp dark chili powder (I used the McCormick dark chili powder, not my first choice but it came out pretty good!)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

The original recipe encourages you to chop smaller groups of ingredients in the food processor, then to combine everything in a mixing bowl.  Since we have owned this cookbook since college and have still not managed to get a food processor, we throw everything into aforementioned mixing bowl and pulse with an immersion blender sparingly until the desired consistency is achieved.  I am sure that the same concept would work beautifully in a blender, but proceed with caution--you don't want to completely puree the mixture.

That being said, my only instructions for this recipe are as follows: mix in food processor, blender, or with immersion blender, taking care to achieve a finely chopped, not puréed, consistency.  Refrigerate (in a mason jar, if you like) for a couple of hours, if you can: the flavors are better once developed a bit, but this is also tasty right out of the mixing bowl. 

*A more complicated and potentially more flavorful/less chunky/more complicated salsa may be achieved by finely chopping tomatoes mixed with lemon juice, then setting this aside to process (blender/food processor) or chop (immersion blender--sorry comrades) cilantro, garlic, and jalapeño.  Add chopped onion and pulse until very finely minced--this step applies to all three appliances, as immersion blenders can make quick (but possibly messy) work of the onion mincing.  

Cucumber-Radish Salsa
adapted from Southern Living 

2  cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped... do not grate :-/ 
1  (6-ounce) package radishes, grated 
1  small onion, minced 
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh cilantro 
1/4  cup  lime juice 
1/2  teaspoon  salt 
1/4  teaspoon cayenne 

Stir together first 7 ingredients. Cover and chill. 

Next up... THE TACOS

Friday, May 28, 2010


FlyLady would be proud.

seared rosemary scallops and risotto with spinach and pine nuts

I love this house.  I'm always a little sad to drive up the driveway, and I'm always happy when I spot the little pineapple bird feeder on my way back down.  For awhile, that was enough for me.  The house would get messy, we'd eat out a lot, and the pile of household projects stayed unchecked on the lists I would create in my head.  I was never quite satisfied, but I definitely was not motivated enough to do anything about it.

Then spring came along.  Spring and fall always stir something up with all of that energy of transition.  Life is changing so much so fast that there seems to be an inner shift that happens.  This year I seem to be motivated enough finally to turn our house into a home... the Siegel Household, if you will.  So with my new drive to be a good and proper housewife comes a blog, I suppose.  I am not sure if I will ever share this one, but I intend to flex my writing muscles a bit while keeping a record of recipes, housekeeping stuff, and any other domestic arts subject that I feel is worthy of the clicky sound of the keyboard.  It is really satisfying, btw.

For my first recipe, I will be poaching (stealing, not simmering) something from and giving it my own spin (complete with one photo!), as is the custom around these parts.  Tonight for dinner we had seared rosemary scallops on a bed (!) of last night's risotto that was enlivened with some pine nuts, leeks, and spinach.  Bonus--I used up many of the remaining veggies from our produce bin.

Seared Rosemary Scallops
Not at all adapted--literally cut and pasted (except for my color commentary!) from Gourmet

Serves 2-"4" (psshh)
four 12-inch-long rosemary branches or 10-inch bamboo skewers*
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
16 medium sea scallops--about 1/8 pound (I used ten medium-large scallops and it was just enough for Z & me
2 tablespoons olive oil 

*my rosemary branches were nowhere near 10 inches, so I had to use the skewers... also my scallops sorta fell apart and shunned the skewers in the end.  Next time I will forgo the skewering and just flip them individually.
If using rosemary branches, remove leaves from all but top 3 inches of each branch. In a small bowl stir together chopped rosemary, paprika, and cayenne. Remove tough muscle from side of each scallop if necessary and pat scallops dry. Season scallops with salt and sprinkle with rosemary mixture. Thread 4 scallops onto each rosemary branch or bamboo skewer. 

In a large non-stick skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté scallops until golden and just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. 

A note here... when I hear non-stick skillet I always reach for my trusty old cast iron.  Today I used the cast iron double-duty grill/griddle on the stove.  It is not yet quite as loved (read: seasoned) as I would like, and I definitely didn't heat it up enough.  As a result, I had to cook the scallops WAY longer than four minutes and I didn't get a good sear.

Risotto with Spinach and Pine Nuts
 This one's mine!

Serves 4-6
2 tsp olive oil (I used browned butter--need to go to Costco...)
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 leek, halved horizontally & sliced--white parts only (stay tuned for a recipe with the greens!)
1 clove garlic, minced
splash of white wine
4 oz spinach, stems removed and chopped*
2 c leftover risotto--if yours doesn't have complementary flavors to this recipe, then adjust above to accomodate :)

*go ahead and throw in the whole 6 oz if you are feeling frisky, not sure why I didn't...

Take the risotto out of the fridge so it has a chance to warm up a bit.
Heat up the oil/brown butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the pine nuts and cook until just barely toasted.  Add the leeks and cook until soft but not browned.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add a splash of white wine and simmer until the cooking liquid thickens/evaporates a bit.  Add the spinach and cook until it's soft but not wilted.  Scoop in some risotto and break it up in the pan.  As the cold glue... I mean risotto... warms up it will break apart more easily and become recognizable.  Turn the heat down to med-low and let that simmer while you attend to other things.  Just stir occasionally and you won't have to (get to?) watch while the pan gets scrubbed by your very attractive dishwasher.


And now for the most useful part of this blog (for me), the plan for tomorrow:

Black Bean and Kale Tacos
Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos
Chicken Tacos with Salsa Fresca
Z's Amazingly Awesome Totally Not Fried Even Once Black Beans
Cucumber Radish Salsa (damn ordering cucumbers in produce box by accident)
Grit Salsa
Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys

bonne nuit.