Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lemon-Scented Quinoa Salad

It was time to make a new quinoa dish and this recipe sounded fabulous the moment I found it on 101cookbooks.com. For me, the main point of interest in the recipe is the tahini. I have only cooked with tahini one time and I really enjoyed the flavor so I was excited to try it in a new way. I also tend to lean toward the freshness of lemon zest so this recipe was appealing all the way around. Quinoa is such a great platform for many different types of cuisine. I have prepared Southwestern , Greek and Moroccan inspired quinoa dishes and they have all been hearty and tasty. I love that quinoa is a superfood. If you have time, google the nutritional benefits of quinoa. You will be surprised that it can do so many good things for your body.

I am very pleased with this dish, as is Brad. He is my quinoa connoisseur so if it passes his test, it is a good dish. Here is the recipe for your enjoyment:


1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

1 can garbanzo beans, or dried equivalent

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Tahini Dressing:

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped

1/4 cup tahini

zest of one lemon

scant 1/4 cup lemon juice

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp hot water

scant 1/2 tsp sea salt

Bring water and quinoa to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain and there is a pop with each bite. Drain any excess water and set aside. While quinoa is cooking, make dressing. Whisk tahini, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil. Add the hot water to thin and then add salt.

Toss the cooked quinoa, garbanzo beans, onion and cilantro with about half of dressing. Add more dressing and season with salt to taste. Serve with garnish of cilantro.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Banana and Almond Cake

Sticking to the notion of not wasting food when possible, I decided to use my three extremely overripe organic bananas to make a cake. I didn't want to make banana bread again so I searched for a unique recipe. I came across this Banana and Almond Cake recipe on grouprecipes.com. I was interested in the fact that the recipe does not call for flour or butter. I initially wondered how this could technically be a cake without flour or butter. I have heard of flourless cakes but not flourless and butterless cakes. I was, of course, intrigued.

2 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 peeled bananas
1/2 cup sliced almonds
250 grams (8.8 ounces) raw whole toasted almonds
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease an 8 inch fluted flan tin with removable base. Take a good sized square of baking paper and moisten. Line base and sides of tin with paper. (I do not have a fluted flan tin but I do have a tin 8 inch pan which I chose to use. I am not sure if baking paper and parchment paper are the same thing. I only have parchment paper and it worked great for this purpose).

Put the whole almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Beat eggs and sugar for 10 minutes or until pale and fluffy. Stir in ground almonds and baking powder. Puree the bananas with lemon juice then stir through almond mixture with vanilla. Pour into tin and sprinkle over sliced almonds to cover the top. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow this to cool in the tin. When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar and pass yogurt separately.

The cake is unique and interesting indeed. The best way I can describe the texture is to say that it's a cross between almond butter and dense banana bread. I've never eaten a similar texture. Brad and I like the cake itself but we agreed that it doesn't need the yogurt. I served it with a vanilla greek yogurt and perhaps a different yogurt would work better. The cake is visually very pretty. All in all, this is an interesting take on cake but I don't think I will make it again. I tend to prefer my cakes to be more dense and "cakey". I'm not sure "cakey" is a word but if it's not, it should be. :)

A special thank you to my little blonde baking helper and her striped kitty.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Home Grown Organic Vegetables, Here I Come!

I had what I would consider a truly exciting morning. It was my first trip to my local stomping ground for all things yard and garden related; West Seattle Nursery. Let's just say that the nursery is my home away from home once spring arrives. Today was particularly exciting because I was able to purchase organic Gardner & Bloom Soil Building Compost for my vegetable garden in order to prepare the soil. While I was there, I got sucked into their wonderful selection of organic vegetable starts. So far, I have chosen Walla Walla sweet onions, red onions, Italian garlic, Swiss chard, spinach, leeks, golden beets, red beets and for the first time, potatoes. I have given thought to planting potatoes this year but I don't think I would have moved forward had I not been encouraged by the Manager of West Seattle Nursery, Marcia. She provided me with a set of instructions for planting potatoes and then directed me to potato starts that she highly recommends. This is what makes my nursery and other local neighborhood nurseries so special. They take time to help us make selections that provide the best chance of success.

Once I got home, I spent the morning adding compost to my existing soil. The instructions on the bag directed me to incorporate the mulch in with 5" to 6" of existing soil. As I worked on preparing the soil, I was invigorated by the fresh air (even though there is no sun and it is both drizzling and cool outside). I find renewal in the fact that I am officially preparing for the future bounty of vegetables and herbs that will carry us through summer and fall. It is going to be fun to simply walk into my backyard to harvest the vegetables and herbs I need for my cooking project. What could be better? Here's to home grown produce!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sea Bass Potage

The recipe I prepared tonight is actually called Sea Bass Chowder but the description says, "this delicious potage redefines chowder". I'm not going to lie that I had to look up the definition of potage and what I found was quite lovely. I use this word because there is something just plain lovely about using a word derived from old French. After reading the definition, I am in love with the idea of growing a potage garden. I am going to conduct further research to find out how the original potage gardens were plotted.

Potage (from Old French pottage; "potted dish") is a category of thick soups, stews, or porridges, in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush. During the Tudor Period, a good many English peasants' diets consisted almost solely of potage.
European cottage gardens often contained a variety of crops grown together. These were called potage gardens by the French, as the harvest from that garden was used to make potage.

This chowder was absolutely delicious! One of my favorite things about the chowder is that it called for no dairy and no salt. This is the first savory recipe I have come across in my cooking journey that does not call for salt. When I noticed this, I immediately wondered if it would need salt table side but it was so flavorful, it didn't require the addition. One of my other favorite parts of the recipe is the sea bass itself. The Seattle Fish Market offered a Chilean Sea Bass today and I believe it is the first time I have ever eaten this fish. Brad and I were both impressed by the buttery creaminess of sea bass. It's a beautiful white color so it has visual appeal as well.

When you read the ingredients below, you may be surprised by the simplicity but let me assure you that although simple, there is nothing plain about the recipe. Fennel and leek served as the base for the flavor and these two ingredients provided a true richness. We give this potage an A+. I would without a doubt, prepare it again.

12 ounces skinless fresh sea bass or grouper fillets
1 fennel bulb
1 leek
1 Tbsp cooking oil (I used Canola Oil)
1 14 1/2 ounce can chicken borth
8 ounces whole tiny new potatoes, quartered
4 ounces asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp pepper
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp snipped fresh basil

Rinse fish; pat dry. Cut fish into 1-inch pieces. Set aside. Remove and snip tops from fennel; reserve for garnish. Trim fennel bulbs; cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices. Chop the white and light green parts of the leek. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add fennel slices and leek. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth and potatoes. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in fish, asparagus, and pepper. Return just to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes more or until fish flakes easily with fork. Stir in tomatoes and basil. Sprinkle individual servings with fennel tops. Makes 4 servings.

This recipe took about 30 minutes from start to finish. I served it immediately with rustic Ciabatta Bread made by our local Grand Central Bakery. All vegetables were organic and I chose locally grown produce for the items that were available. This could not have been a more perfect meal.

A quick side note: Brad and I do our best to only eat sustainable fish. Sea Bass is a difficult one because it is on Monterey Bay Aquarium's list of fish to avoid but there are a few companies that fish bass responsibly. I was told that this particular bass is sustainable so I went ahead with the purchase. Because of the fishing practices that are normally used for bass, we will not be eating this fish often. I plan on writing an entry soon that contains information about choosing sustainable fish. I will ask our resident expert, Dave McCoy of Emerald Water Anglers to help me with the information. For now, I am posting Dave's website and Monterey Aquarium's Seafood Watch website on my list of favorite sites as reference.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Week Twelve Recap

This week was a great cooking week. We loved every dish I prepared; especially the Roast Pork Loin with Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Sauce. It was the perfect meal to share with family and friends. I am also fond of the Linguine with Asparagus recipe because it came from a realistic need to use ingredients that were already in my refrigerator. Let's face it, we don't always have time to go to the grocery store for specific ingredients so we look in the refrigerator to use what we have. This recipe gave me renewed faith in putting a meal together at the last minute. Finally, the bean pot was wonderful; although way too much food for us. I sent a big container home with Carl and we still had a ton of beans left over. If I make this recipe again, I will make it to take to a potluck or barbecue. The recipe says that it serves 12 but I really think it would serve 20 to 30 as a side dish. Here's to another successful week of cooking. Cheers!

Roast Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Sauce
"The Best One-Dish Suppers" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
Page 33

Linguine with Asparagus

Maple, Molasses and Beer Bean Pot
"Earth To Table; Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm" by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann
Page 253

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maple, Molasses and Beer Bean Pot

I finally delivered on the bean pot I've been talking about for three days! Boy was this a good recipe. Anything that takes a few hours to prepare and an additional 3 hours to cook should be good. These beans did not disappoint. For me, the most impressive aspect of this recipe is that it calls for such high quality, organic ingredients. Pure pressed apple cider and pure maple syrup, just to name a few. The most interesting part of the preparation was taking dry chipotle peppers and steeping them for 30 minutes in boiling water. I guess you can say it made a chipotle tea of sorts. This process definitely extracted maximum flavor. Both the chipotle water and finely chopped chipotles were then added to the bean pot. I will just cut to the chase and post the recipe. This is one to file away for a potluck or for a barbecue because it serves 12.

2 cups dried black beans
2 cups dried white beans
2 cups red kidney beans
2 dried chipotle peppers
1 lb double-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 large Spanish onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pure apple cider
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
2 bottles (each 12 ounces) local dark beer
salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, combine black, white and red beans with 14 cups of water and let soak overnight. Drain and rinse. In a large pot, combine beans with 8 cups of salted water. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer until beans are softened, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine chipotle with 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for 30 minutes. Remove chilies from water, reserving water, and finely chop. Set aside.

In the same large pot, saute bacon over medium-high heat until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Add onions and saute until softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans, chipotles, chipotle water, garlic, cayenne and cumin. Reduce heat to medium and add brown sugar, cider, maple syrup, molasses and beer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender, about 3 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's In the Fridge?

As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, my grand plan was to prepare a gourmet bean pot tonight made from local ingredients. When I devised this plan, I failed to realize that I needed to soak the beans overnight. So, this left me with a classic dilemma that we all frequently face. What do I have in the fridge to make for dinner? Lucky for me, I had a package of fresh linguine and a bunch of fresh asparagus. When all else fails, I google the ingredients I have on hand, read through several recipes and then choose the one that interests me. Today I googled linguine and asparagus and found the recipe below:

Linguini With Asparagus

2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
8 ounces fresh asparagus, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons dry white wine
5 ounces linguini, cooked and drained
1/2cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic; cook until soft. Add asparagus and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in wine and lemon juice, cook 1 more minute. Season with pepper to taste. Add pasta and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese; toss until everything is coated. Place on serving platter and garnish with remaining cheese

This recipe is a great one to have on hand for a quick and healthy dinner. I wouldn't hesitate for even a minute to make this for family or friends at any time. Brad and Olivia both loved it and I was extremely pleased. Not bad for quickly throwing a little something together. Stay tuned for the much anticipated bean pot tomorrow night.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Delightfully Carnivorous

My first dish this week is an ode to the carnivore. Many of the recipes I have chosen thus far have been vegetarian or pescetarian so I decided to go meat heavy for this dish. Tonight I prepared Roast Pork Loin with Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Sauce from a Cook's Illustrated cookbook. What I appreciate most about this recipe is the simplicity of the spices and flavors. For example, the spice rub for the pork is made from coriander, cumin and black pepper. The sweet potatoes are roasted with the pork but they are coated with only canola oil and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne. I love it when a dish is perfectly designed to be minimalistic but is still extremely flavorful.

The most complex part of this recipe, which is still quite simple, is the cilantro sauce. The sauce is made from 2 bunches of cilantro (stems on), 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 tsp sugar, 4 tsps lime juice, 2 garlic cloves, salt and black pepper. These ingredients are pulsed in a food processor and then refrigerated to serve as an accoutrement to the pork. Delightful all the way around. We had Carl over for dinner and he is, how shall I say it? Okay, he is finicky about his food. He likes it prepared a certain way, he is just sure he knows exactly what he likes and he isn't usually open to foods that include ingredients on his dislike list. I can hardly believe it, but Carl liked everything I put on the table tonight. He even tried the cilantro sauce and liked it well enough to put a portion on his second slice of pork. Neither Brad nor Carl are self-professed sweet potato fans but they both liked the way these sweet potatoes were prepared. All I have to say to this is yahoo! Another successful dinner. Tomorrow night is a slow-cooked Maple, Molasses and Beer Bean Pot. Sounds vegetarian but somehow I think the pound of bacon in this recipe negates the whole vegetarian thing.

This leads me to thinking out loud here for a few moments. Why is it that I haven't eaten chicken for thirteen years (nor will I eat it for the next 13 years) and I took beef out of my diet 13 months ago but I still choose to eat pork? I have actually pondered this several times but my brain becomes exhausted after one minute of pondering so I shove it all the way to the back to be reviewed at a later date. I think I may have had an epiphany about this issue tonight. I realized that I really do believe that bacon makes everything taste better and I am not willing to forfeit the pure enjoyment it brings me. So, if I am to believe in eating bacon, how can I discriminate against other pork products? It just wouldn't be fair to pork in general, would it? I also realized that eating pork may be my way of eating white meat since I don't eat chicken. Is it so wrong to be okay with eating "the other white meat" instead of the original white meat? I grew up during the time when "pork; the other white meat" commercials were on during Saturday morning cartoons. Is it my fault we are so impressionable as young kids? I digress. Back to the issue at hand. Somehow this brain of mine has justified eating cute little pink pigs yet I will not eat chicken, lamb, rabbit or veal. Hmmm........can anyone figure this one out? Don't think about it too hard. It may hurt. :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week Eleven Wrap-Up

All in all, this was a fun and successful week of cooking. Although the preparation was extensive, I would definitely prepare the French Vegetable Soup again. This was a truly special dish that encouraged us to savor every bite. The Bacon-Wrapped Halibut was just the right amount of work and delicious to boot. This recipe made it onto my list of must-serves for future dinner parties or barbecues. The cookies were good as well but I think I will stick with the regular gluten laden cookies that I usually prepare. Here is this week's summary:

French Vegetable Soup and Vegetable Stock
"A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" by Paulette Mitchell
Pages 21 and 50-51

Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Halibut Skewers
"The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook"
Page 93

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Great Harvest Bakery

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

For my final recipe this week, I decided to prepare gluten-free cookies with a mix and recipe I purchased at Great Harvest Bread. For a brief period of time this past fall, I was curious about gluten free eating. I tried a few gluten free breads and quickly decided that I am partial to the breads we normally eat at our house; Dave's Killer Bread, sour dough and Great Harvest honey wheat. I have been planning to make these cookies for quite some time and finally decided to prepare them tonight. The consensus is that they are actually pretty good. There was a noticeable taste difference when I sampled the dough but it seemed to mellow when the cookies baked. The final product is definitely good; not great but good enough to eat for sure.

The mix was made of brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, whole grain white sorghum flour, fava bean flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, sea salt and natural vanilla powder. The recipe called for adding butter, egg, vanilla and water. The recipe also offered an egg replacement option that I thought was interesting. For an egg substitute baking option, you can combine 1 Tbsp cornstarch and 3 Tbsp water. Stir, combine and use the mixture in place of an egg. Interesting, isn't it? I had never heard of this technique.

The preparation was fairly easy. I started by creaming the butter with an electric mixer. Then I added water and vanilla and blended for 30 seconds to combine. The gluten free cookie mix was added and blended for another 2 minutes. Dough was shaped into 1 1/2" balls and three batches were cooked for 15 minutes each. Ta da! Mission accomplished. I initially questioned whether or not this recipe should count since part of it was a mix but I decided that I was being ridiculous. Of course it counts! It's something I wanted to try and it involved preparation and cooking. It definitely wasn't my most difficult recipe thus far but it was fun, the final result was good and it was interesting to taste gluten free cookies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Halibut Skewers

How do you make halibut even better than it already is? You guessed it! Wrap it in bacon. Everything's better with bacon. :) I found this recipe in my new cookbook "The Fishes & Dishes"; the same book that provided the Thai Clam Chowder recipe. This was once again, a hit. Besides the beautiful piece of halibut and the bacon, the marinade elevated the taste of this dish dramatically. To make a long story short, this is completely worth preparing to serve friends and family.

Before I give you the recipe, I want to share one tidbit of information. Our weather was less than desirable last night so I opted to grill the skewers in the oven. I had to look online to find steps for grilling in the oven to achieve similar results to grilling on an outdoor gas grill. I learned that the key is to preheat your oven at the highest temperature possible and then to switch the oven to broil. This creates the same high heat atmosphere that an outdoor grill provides. It is also important to put the oven rack on the highest notch possible for grilling. These tips worked beautifully. Enjoy!

1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp sesame oil

1 pound halibut, skinned and deboned
12 strips thin-cut bacon, cut in half
6 skewers

To make marinade, mix cornstarch with a little cold water, to make a smooth paste. In a small pan over medium-high heat, mix soy sauce, brown sugar, pineapple juice, ginger, garlic and sesame oil together. Stir well to blend. Bring to a boil, then whisk in cornstarch. Marinade will thicken. Remove from heat and let cool. Place marinade in Ziploc bag.

Cut halibut in 1 1/2 " chunks and add to marinade in bag. Squeeze air out to ensure halibut is well coated and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. (I refrigerated for 1 hour and it was perfect).

Brown bacon partially on one side. Bacon should still be pliable. Wrap each chunk of halibut with one slice bacon, with cooked side facing halibut. Place each wrapped halibut on skewer so bacon is secured. If using bamboo skewers, make sure to soak in water for 30 minutes prior to using. Repeat until you have about 4 halibut chunks per stick.

Heat grill to medium-high. Generously oil the grill grate. Place skewers on grill and cook for 2 to 4 minutes per side, until bacon is crisped and halibut is done. Makes 6 servings.

Monday, March 14, 2011

French Vegetable Soup

I made the most fantastic soup last night! This one was a ton of work but worth every bit of it. The weather was rainy and cold (hardly a surprise) so I decided that soup would be perfect for dinner. Nat, Dave and Nessa came over for dinner so a big pot of soup was definitely in order.

I decided to make French Vegetable Soup from my "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" cookbook because the ingredients looked so wonderful. The recipe allowed for store bought stock or homemade stock. I must have been feeling highly motivated because I opted to make my own stock which was actually kind of fun. The initial preparation is fairly easy because the vegetable chopping doesn't need to be precise; which is right up my alley. Tomato, parsnip, carrots, celery, onion, leeks, garlic, parsley, thyme, basil, bay leaves, whole black peppercorns and olive oil are the required ingredients. The ingredients simmer for an hour, cool to room temperature and then stock is poured through a fine mesh sieve while pressing on solids with the back of a spoon to extract flavor . This was the first part that was labor intensive because I only have a fairly small sieve. This meant I had to do this step in several batches. A larger mesh sieve is now officially on my cooking tool shopping list.

Once the stock was made, the preparation became more involved. Lots of vegetables to cut including russet potato, sweet potato, fennel, onion, carrot and celery. The ingredients also included fresh minced herbs, corn, and 2 tablespoons of butter. I didn't realize the soup needed to be pureed in the food processor prior to adding spinach (by the way, it takes a long time to de-stem spinach). The pureeing added several minutes toward the end of preparation because it had to be done in several batches. There was also one more component that took some time; mushrooms. The mushrooms ended up being very tasty and actually complimented the pureed soup beautifully. They were sliced and sauteed with olive oil, garlic, sweet paprika, dry sherry, lemon juice, minced flat leaf parsley, salt and fresh ground pepper. They were then added, along with fennel frond, to each bowl of soup right before serving. A bit of gruyere cheese was finely shredded on each bowl and dinner was served.

The soup got rave reviews from everyone involved. We decided the only thing we would change is to double the amount of mushrooms. They were so good that we all wished there were a few more in our bowl. Not a bad problem to have. As you can see below, this dish was also very pretty, which is always a bonus. One more side note: I served the soup with Dave's Killer Bread loaf. If you haven't tried Dave's Killer bread yet, check it out. It comes in several different types of sliced loaves (each one is a different color) and in the whole loaf that I served. Brad eats a slice of toast from the sliced loaf that comes in the yellow bag for breakfast every morning. This type is his favorite. My favorite is the whole loaf, heated in the oven for 10 minutes. It goes with nearly everything and it is tasty with a capital T. If you click on the title of this entry, it will take you directly to Dave's Killer Bread website. The background story is interesting, to say the least. Okay, a second side note and then I'm done: I used 100% organic ingredients for this meal. I love it when that happens!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Week Ten Recap

This was the most fabulous cooking week thus far! Three beautiful recipes that I was fortunate to execute well. Perhaps this week was so successful because I felt inspired by the cookbook authors and recipes. Whatever the reason, I am thankful. I feel like my energy and enthusiasm is at an all time high and I am excited for next week. Week ten recap:

Cannelloni all'Aeoliana
"Pasta" by Marlena Spieler
Page 156

Chickpea and Chorizo Tagine
"Tagine Spicy Stews From Morocco" by Chillie Basan
Page 31

Thai Clam Chowder
"The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook" by Kiyo Marsh, Tomi Marsh and Laura Cooper
Page 69

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thai Clam Chowder

As mentioned in my previous entry, this recipe came straight from one of my new cookbooks from the Northwest Fisheries event. This recipe is amazing! Thai clam chowder may sound unconventional but the flavors meld together beautifully. Brad and I both loved it so much that we ended up eating almost the whole pot by ourselves. I prepared a side of jasmine rice, which the recipe did not call for, but I thought it would be great with the soup. Fortunately, I was right. It was perfect with the soup. This is a recipe that is a must for those of you that appreciate Thai cooking. The lemongrass and coconut milk provide classic, intense Thai flavors but the clams provide a great twist.

Thai Clam Chowder:

2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed
3 strips bacon, diced
1 (14 ounce) can clam juice
1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 (13.5 ounce) coconut milk
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp green curry paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans chopped clams with juices
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Chop lemongrass into 2-inch lengths. Smash the lemongrass pieces with the flat side of a knife. Saute bacon in medium pot over medium heat until browned. Add lemongrass and saute for several minutes. Add the clam juice, ginger, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, curry paste and clams with their juices. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 1/2 hour. Add the lime juice, and heat for 2 minutes. Pour the chowder into soup bowls, and sprinkle with cilantro.

You will not be disappointed!

Northwest Fisheries Cookbook Author Event

Brad and I went to a Northwest Fisheries Association event on Wednesday night that was so much fun! Four Seattle-based chefs and cookbook authors cooked for us and then had cookbooks available for purchase that they autographed with personal messages. Each chef or cookbook author had a station from which they served their dishes. We were able to walk up and talk with each one and get a plate of food to take back to our table. The first cookbook author, Cynthia Nims, has written several cookbooks but she recently published a book called "Gourmet Game Night". The book provides recipes that are easy to serve when you have friends over for game night. It's a fun book and I am excited to have friends over to play a new game called Bananagrams. As a side note, this game is basically Scrabble without a board that is played for speed. Right up my alley for sure. This author served marinated shrimp with a cocktail onion. It was a tasty little bite.

The second cookbook author is a woman named Judith Dern who lived in Scandinavia for several years. While living there, she learned how to cook authentic Danish food and then wrote a cookbook called "Danish Food & Cooking". This is really fun for me because I don't know very much about my Danish heritage and I am certainly not well versed in Danish food. This cookbook will be fun for me to read and I am excited to prepare a few real live Danish recipes. She served a cauliflower soup that I couldn't try because it contained heavy cream. The third chef and cookbook author is the great Tom Douglas. It was such a pleasure to meet him! He is one funny guy. I have admired him for many years and have been to three of his restaurants but I had no idea how much fun it would be to meet him and talk with him. He served a special fried rice, long beans and crab egg fu yung. Delicious! I ended up purchasing his "Seattle Kitchen" cookbook and there are so many recipes I want to try. I have no idea how I'm going to choose which one to make first.

The last cookbook authors are sisters, Kiyo and Tomi Marsh, that own a fishing boat and have fished in the Bering Sea for many years. They wrote a cookbook called "The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook; Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska's Commercial Fisherwomen". I am beyond excited to read this book because they devoted much of it to stories and anecdotes from their fishing experiences. I can tell from first glance that they poured a lot of themselves into this book. Even more exciting, my third recipe this week is from this cookbook. They served a miso cod that was out of this world. I had to promise Brad and Carl that I would make it for them in the near future.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chickpea and Chorizo Tagine

Weeks after ordering a tagine from Sur La Table, I finally made my first tagine dish. The dish I chose is Chickpea and Chorizo Tagine with Bay Leaves, Paprika and Sage. Tasty, tasty, tasty! For me, the star component of this recipe is the Spanish smoked paprika. My Grammie, who happens to be an amazing international gourmet cook, makes a pork dish using this smoked paprika. When she was visiting last year, she told me about the spice and we then purchased it at Metropolitan Market. Until two nights ago, I had never opened the spice can. Boy have I been missing out! The paprika has a wonderful bitter-free smokiness to it that lends a very unique flavor to the dish. I plan on finding more recipes that use this ingredient so I can experience the flavor again. Recipe follows:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, cut in half lengthwise, halved crosswise, and sliced with the grain
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 think chorizo, roughly 8" long, sliced on the diagonal
2-3 fresh bay leaves
several sprigs of fresh thyme
1-2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
bunch of fresh sage leaves, shredded
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drain chickpeas, place in large saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for roughly 45 minutes or until chickpeas are soft but still have bite to them. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Remove any loose skins.

Heat olive oil in tagine or heavy-based casserole dish. Stir in onions and garlic and saute until they begin to color. Add chorizo, bay leaves and thyme and saute until brown. Toss in chickpeas, add paprika and cover with lid. Cook gently for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to mingle. Toss in sage leaves and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with yogurt or flat bread. Serves 4.

This recipe required that I use the tagine on my stovetop. Many recipes call for the tagine to be used in the oven, which I plan on trying next time. I learned tonight that not only is the tagine aesthetically fun, it is fun to use. I am beginning to discover that unique cooking vessels and gadgets are of interest to me. This could turn into a very bad habit. :)

The only mistake I made with this recipe is forgetting to take a photo before we dug in. I promise next time I prepare a tagine dish, I will snap a photo to include with my post. If you would like to view photos of a tagine dish, please click on this link to see my post for Fish Tagine With Preserved Lemon and Mint.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cannelloni all'Aeoliana (Cannelloni Filled with Spinach and Ricotta)

Tonight's dinner was wonderful! I went back to my Pasta cookbook by Marlena Spieler and decided to prepare Cannelloni all'Aeoliana. Translation? Cannelloni Filled with Spinach and Ricotta, Baked with Tomatoes and Basil. I believe this dish has the cleanest flavors out of any recipe I have prepared thus far.

Just a bit of information for those of you with inquisitive minds: The Aeoliana Islands are off the coast of Sicily and this dish is meant to capture the intense flavor of the Mediterranean. I dedicate this recipe to my cousin Gene, and his family that live in Sicily. My cousin married a Sicilian named Faida and they live in Sicily with their two kids; Janeal and Christian. I only get to see them once every 5 to 10 years but I think of them often. Okay, I am so easily distracted from the task at hand. Back to the recipe. As a precursor to the instructions, Marlena Spieler wrote that this is one of her rare dishes that is sauced without garlic in order to preserve the pure flavor of tomato and basil. In my humble opinion, that, along with using beautiful fresh pasta sheets, is what makes this recipe special. After preparing several pasta dishes during this cooking journey of mine, I am convinced that using a high caliber of pasta is the difference between a mediocre and fantastic dish. The pasta I used to roll the cannelloni was a fresh egg pasta. The texture and flavor of the pasta were divine.

I have to include this recipe because I highly recommend serving it for dinner to family and/or friends. I served it with an herb salad which was a perfect partner to the dish.

11 oz fresh pasta sheets, about the size of lasagna
1 3/4 pounds spinach leaves
9 oz ricotta cheese
4 1/2 oz mozzarella cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 oz or several handfuls freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino (I used Parmesan), plus a little extra if desired
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp tomato puree
14 oz can tomatoes or fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
several handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375. If using fresh pasta, parboil the sheets in a large pan of rapidly boiling salted water until about half tender, then submerge in water, to stop the them from cooking, while you make the filling.

Cook spinach for a few minutes in large pan over medium heat with a few tablespoons of water, tightly covered, until leaves are limp and bright green. Remove from heat, let cool, drain, squeeze dry and chop coarsely. In a bowl, combine spinach with ricotta, nutmeg to taste, mozzarella, egg and half the Parmesan. Season to taste.

In another bowl, mix tomatoes with tomato puree and spread half of sauce over bottom of a large baking pan (at least 12 X 10 X 2 inches). If you parboiled pasta, drain for a moment on a cloth. Taking one sheet of pasta at a time, spoon a generous amount of spinach mixture on one quarter of it. Roll up and place on top of tomato sauce. Repeat until pasta and filling are used up, then top with remaining tomato sauce and cheese, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 20 minutes or until it is sizzling and flecked golden on top. Serve sprinkled with basil and extra Parmesan if desired.

True perfection and the best part? We have plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lovely Cookbook Author

I want to take a minute to write about Kim O'Donnel,who is the cookbook author for two of the recipes I prepared last week. I am surprised and touched that she found my blog entry about her Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles dish and that she corresponded with me about what could have gone wrong and how to better prepare the dish. I had no idea my little blog would matter enough to warrant a response from the recipe author.

She is a lovely person and I learned a few things from her. First of all, I may have julienned the vegetables too thin and second of all, I used 9 1/2 cups of vegetables instead of 10 cups and this could have made a difference. The lesson I learned is that people take great pains to test their recipes and that I may need to be more exacting with measurements. I didn't think being 1/2 cup off on a large amount of vegetables would matter but it may have been the cause of this recipe seeming over-sauced. Kim also provided me with the measurements to half the batch since the dish feeds a large number of people.

Thank you Kim, for taking the time to write me. I appreciate how much you care about your cookbook and the people using it. I also appreciate your expertise and that you want your readers to feel empowered in the kitchen.

If you click on the title of this entry (Lovely Cookbook Author), it will take you directly to Kim's website or you can use her web address:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ninth Inning, Two Outs, Full Count And A Recap

Let's just say if my cooking this week was baseball, I would be down in the ninth inning with two outs and a full count. Yes, two out of three of this week's recipes did not turn out well at all. I was actually very disappointed tonight when we tasted one of the recipes and tried to eat the other for dinner and both were complete bombs.

The first recipe, Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles, had all the bare bones to be a great dish but was unfortunately over-sauced; not because I over-sauced, because the recipe called for too much sauce. The worst part of the whole experience is that the recipe required tons of preparation in the form of julienned vegetables. First of all, is it bad that I had to look up what julienne means? :) Once I found out, I knew I was in trouble because I have limited knife skills and my knives need to be sharpened......badly. It took me a long time to cut the vegetables into match-stick thin pieces and they looked lovely when I was done. I also made authentic Udon noodles and boiled them to perfection. If it wasn't for that damn sauce, the dish would have been really good. Brad and I both thought that if there had been half as much sauce, the dish would have been perfect.

For the second recipe, I chose potato salad. I thought I found a nice version on Cooks.com but I was clearly mistaken. When I first read the recipe, I thought that it was strange to use both sour cream and mayonnaise in potato salad but I decided that it was worth a try. Guess what? It wasn't worth a try. This recipe was unfortunately a dud. I ended up doctoring it up my own way by adding sweet and dill pickles, yellow mustard and extra celery. Brad says the end result is pretty good but I think he is just really hungry and would like anything since I haven't cooked all week due to having the flu.

Better luck next week, right? I am doing my recap right here because two of the three recipes didn't work out.

Basic Risotto and Risotto Stock
"The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook" by Kim O'Donnel
Pages 30 and 33

Dilled Spring Potato Salad

Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles
"The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook" by Kim O'Donnel
Pages 175-176

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Little Photographer

Olivia has an eye for abstract kitchen photography. :)

Busting the Risotto Myth

I have always wanted to make risotto but I was under the impression that risottos required heavy cream to give them their unique creaminess. As I finally took time to research risottos, I learned that not only is this not the case, but that most of them do not require heavy cream at all. I busted my first cooking myth so I decided to start with a very basic risotto from one of my vegetarian cookbooks.

The fun part of this recipe was making the stock from scratch. I have never made a stock other than soup stock from scratch and it was actually very easy. It also smelled wonderful as it simmered. Ingredients included leeks, an onion with skin on, celery stalk, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, fresh parsley sprigs and water. The risotto itself was simple as well. It included olive oil, butter, onion, arborio rice, white wine, salt and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Risotto does require full attention while it is cooking. The risotto stock is added one half cup at a time and it must fully cook down before the next half cup of stock is added. Total cooking time after stock preparation is 30 minutes.

So, here's the rub. I have a full blown stomach flu and as I was cooking dinner, Olivia came down with the flu. We girls were definitely not in form to eat dinner last night so Brad is the only one that was able to try the risotto. I took one small taste so I could at least comment on the dish. It was a recipe that I think I would normally like. I have mentioned that I am not a big rice fan but I think risottos are something I could get into. I plan on trying a more complicated version with multiple ingredients in the near future to see if this is the case. Maybe after a lifetime of preferring pasta and potatoes to rice, I will become a rice eater. Verdict to come in at a later date.

Thank You, Bobby Flay!

Before I start writing about the first recipe I prepared this week, I want to talk about an incredible dinner I had in Vegas at The Mesa Grill. As I mentioned in one of my past entries, I am obsessed with all things Iron Chef. As a result, one of my main goals in Vegas was to go to an Iron Chef's restaurant for dinner. When Andrea and I were walking from Bellagio to Caesar's Palace, we passed by The Mesa Grill, which is fairly new in this location and immediately decided that this is the Iron Chef restaurant we would choose to celebrate Andrea's late birthday dinner.

We weren't able to get a reservation until 9:30 at night but if you have been to Vegas, you know that 9:30 p.m. is like mid morning there so all was well. From the moment we walked in and looked at the menu, we knew it was going to be special. I was already excited to try some of the oils and sauces that Bobby Flay whips up on Iron Chef. Upon looking at the menu, I immediately knew what I wanted to order. For my appetizer, I chose the Pan Seared Squid with New Mexico chile, watercress, toasted garlic and tangerine. I love a good calamari dish and this was way above and beyond anything I have eaten in the past. Andrea chose Goat Cheese Queso Fundido with blue corn strips as her appetizer. I couldn't take a taste because it contained heavy cream but by the look on her face, every bite was a treat. She kept saying "mmmmm" over and over so I will take that as an endorsement for the dish.

We ended up choosing the same entree; New Mexican Spiced Rub Pork Loin with bourbon ancho chile sauce and orange vinaigrette and Sweet Potato Tamale with crushed pecan butter. Holy cow was this a fantastic dish! It was aesthetically beautiful and I can't even begin to describe how delicious it tasted. I think Andrea and I ate half the meal with our eyes shut because we were savoring every bite. Andrea also enjoyed a 2009 Tablott Pinot Noir. I took a sip and it was the perfect choice to accompany the pork loin.

All in all, one of my favorite meals ever. Fantastic food with one of my very best friends. Bobby Flay did not disappoint.