Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Week Twenty-Six Recap

I just reached the halfway point of this cooking project! I am really proud of myself for sticking with it and although I did take two weeks off when we were on our Maui vacation, I have remained diligent every other week. This means I have now completed 72 recipes that were completely new to me. Can you believe it? I know some of my family and friends probably can't wrap their head around me turning into a regular Susie Homemaker but guess what? It has happened. I guess no matter how well you think you know someone, they can still have surprises up their sleeve. :)

This week was another fun and successful week of cooking. I loved the Organic Strawberry No-Cook Freezer Jam and although not one of my most difficult recipes, the Chipotle Black Bean Dip was tasty and only needed one minor change to make it even better. Finally, I was able to find a Panzanella recipe that I was excited to prepare. It turned out beautifully, even better than I hoped it would and I absolutely plan on making it again in the future. So, here's to the next twenty-six weeks of recipes. May they be as inspiring, educational and fun as the first twenty-six weeks!

Organic Strawberry (No-Cook) Freezer Jam
Lynne Vea, Chef at PCC Natural Markets via "Gardening with Ciscoe"

Chipotle Black Bean Dip
"Skinny Dips" by Diane Morgan
Page 93

Italian Bread Salad (Panzanella)
Cook's Illustrated Magazine, July & August 2011
Page 20

Italian Bread Salad (Panzanella)

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I have been searching for the perfect Panzanella recipe for weeks and finally came across one that suits me. I have only eaten Panzanella a handful of times but I have loved it every time. Many of the recipes I have found add what I consider to be extraneous ingredients such as red peppers, yellow peppers and mozzarella. The Panzanella I prefer has a limited number of basic but beautiful ingredients. The recipe I chose is as follows:

6 cups rustic Italian or French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Gently toss tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar and 1/4 tsp pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Oh my goodness! This Panzanella was phenomenal! I had a gut feeling that it would be a good dish but the final result exceded my high expectations. I don't even know where to start. Probably what makes this recipe special is that the bread is toasted with olive oil and salt prior to soaking in the olive oil and vinegar mixture. When I read the Cook's Illustrated precursor to the recipe, the chef mentioned that they tried preparing the bread several ways and the toasted version had the richest flavor. I would certainly think so after tasting this dish. Another element that made the salad so wonderful was the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from last Sunday's West Seattle Farmer's Market. I let them sit out on the counter for 5 days and by the time I cut into them, they were perfect. I can't believe how ripe and sweet they were. The final element that contributed to the success of this dish was the fresh baked Panzanella bread I purchased from the Farmer's Market. I allowed the bread to sit on the counter in a paper bag for 5 days (right next to the tomatoes) and it was stale perfection when I cut into it today.

I can't say enough about this recipe. I loved every bite. I will go out on a limb to state that a good indication of success is when you are standing over the serving dish with a fork, taking extra bites while saying "yum" and "oh my god" over and over. Makes me sound like a bit of a freak but this is exactly what happened. Needless to say, I highly recommend preparing this recipe for any occasion or no occasion at all. A special thank you to the folks at Cook's Illustrated who led me to the promise land once again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chipotle Black Bean Dip

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Tonight's dish was bean dip gone gourmet. We weren't particularly hungry for a big meal so I decided to make a healthy snack that would stick to our ribs. This Chipotle Black Bean Dip fit the bill. The healthy part was the black beans and the gourmet part was the coriander, cumin and chipotle. I will move right ahead into the recipe so it can speak for itself.

1 1/2 TBSP Canola Oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced green/spring onions, including green tops
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tsp diced canned chipotle chiles
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup plus 1 TBSP minced cilantro leaves

In a 10-inch nonstick saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, ground coriander and cumin. Saute, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 2 minutes. Add beans and water. Simmer until water evaporates, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process bean mixture until coarsely mashed. Add lime juice, chipotle chiles and salt. Process until smooth and pureed. Add sour cream and 1/2 cup cilantro. Pulse just until cilantro is incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve immediately.

Baked tortilla chips or baked pita chips were recommended as the dipping vessels for this recipe. I chose to serve my dip with organic no-salt blue corn tortilla chips which worked perfectly. The dip was tasty but Brad and I both thought it would be more balanced with less lime juice. The recipe really only needed 1/8 cup instead of 1/4 cup. I ended up adding 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt to balance the over-acidity. This solution was a shot in the dark but it worked. Or, maybe it wasn't a shot in the dark. Maybe I am finally starting to understand how to tweak flavors when they aren't quite right. If so, this is leaps and bounds from where I started in January.

The chipotle component was my favorite part of the bean dip. I used a dried chipotle pepper that I reconstituted (basically soaked the dried pepper in warm water to bring it back to life) and it worked out perfectly. The chipotle added an element of smokiness without being overpowering. All in all, this was a good dish. I would prepare it in the future, with the lime juice tweak, as an hors d'oeuvre for a latin inspired meal or as a light snack.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Organic Strawberry (No-Cook) Freezer Jam

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I think I may be more excited about this recipe than any other recipe I have prepared thus far. I started the morning out thinking that I would do absolutely nothing in the kitchen today but the day took a turn when I walked into the living room and looked up at the TV. Brad had just turned the channel to "Gardening with Ciscoe" and Ciscoe was doing a segment on a strawberry jam recipe that was created by one of the chefs at PCC Natural Markets. Brad and I were both hooked right away but for different reasons. Brad was interested because he loves strawberry jam; especially Stonewall Kitchen Strawberry Jam. I was hooked as soon as I heard them say that this recipe required no cooking. What? A canning recipe that you don't have to cook? Unbelievable. I purchased all of the necessary canning paraphanalia last year but never got around to canning anything. Every time I considered beginning the process, I became overwhelmed. Needless to say, a no-cook canning recipe was a dream come true.

I immediately set out for the West Seattle Farmer's Market to purchase a 1/2 flat of organic strawberries. I usually take Olivia with me but I meant business today so I went by myself. I found some beautiful berries as well as additional produce (including sunflower sprouts which are protein-packed and one of my new favorite salad fixings), fresh cheese, a vegan curry soup, vegan salted caramel sauce, and peonies for the kitchen table. It was actually the best Farmer's Market day I have ever experienced. There was so much to choose from! Anyway, I bought the strawberries so I was officially ready to begin preparing the jam. I am cheating a bit with my entry today because I am cutting and pasting the recipe. There is a lot of good information the way it is written so I decided not to reinvent the wheel. I am also including a link to the "Gardening with Ciscoe" segment which can be watched as a tutorial:


5-6 cups fresh organic strawberries
1 1/2-2 cups sugar or 1 cup honey
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
1 box Pomona's Universal Pectin (available in the baking section at PCC)
3/4 cup water
Canning jars with lids and screw rings

Note: Pomona's Universal Pectin is a delightful all natural product derived from lemon and orange peel (a great source of naturally occurring pectin). It aids in the gelling of the strawberries and many other fruits which are very low in natural pectin. Pomona's also contains a small package of natural calcium (just like the dietary supplement) which helps activate the pectin. This allows you to prepare your jam with as little additional sugar or sweetener as you wish. (Some apple based pectins require much more sugar to set the pectin.) Here are the directions from the box of Pomona's Universal Pectin which I have revised with the correct amounts for the above recipe.

Make calcium water:
1. Mix 1/2 teaspoon white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid.
2. Store in refrigerator between uses. Lasts a number of months-discard if settled white powder discolors.
3. Shake well before using.

To make the Jam:
1. Wash and rinse jars; bring to a boil in a large pot, turn down heat and let stand in hot water. In a smaller pot, bring lids and rings to boil; turn down heat; let stand in hot water. (You may sterilize the jars in your dishwasher if you have a high heat setting)

2. Prepare the strawberries by washing and capping them. Chop them roughty and then mash them well. Measure 4 cups of mashed berries into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar or honey and lemon juice if you are using it.

3. Bring the water to a boil in a small sauce pan and pour it into a blender or food processor. Add 3 teaspoons pectin powder and blend for about a minute or until the pectin is fully dissolved.

4. Add the hot pectin to the fruit in the mixing bowl.

5. Stir 4 teaspoons calcium water into fruit. A jell should appear. If not, add 1 teaspoon more at a time, tirring well, until a jell appears. It will be a soft jell.

6. Fill jars to 1/2" of top. (The jam will expand as it freezes.) Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids.

7. Freeze the jam until ready to use. After opening, keep it in your refregerator and eat it within 2 weeks.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

This jam is fantastic! The color is gorgeous, the recipe works exactly as it is designed to work and it tastes like fresh strawberries. I opted not to use lemon juice and used 1 1/2 cups of sugar but I am sure the jam would also be delicious with honey. The Pomona's Pectin is easy to prepare and I love how the natural calcium activates the pectin instead of the pectin being activated by sugar. Isn't that just the coolest thing? Brad was in charge of the taste test as I was adding sugar and he is thrilled with the final result. The recipe made 11 small jars of jam which are now sitting in our freezer. This was fun, fun, fun. I highly recommend trying this canning method. Please keep in mind that you can use any fruit or berry you choose. I am now waiting for blackberries to appear at the Farmer's Market so I can use the same process to make blackberry freezer jam. This canning process may be the catalyst for a jam-making extravaganza!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Week Twenty-Five Recap

This week of cooking was more successful than not. I thoroughly enjoyed the preparation of each dish so even though we only liked the flavors of two out of three recipes, I consider this week a positive experience. We now know that we do not prefer preserved lemons and that we love fresh horseradish; two ingredients that we had never tried. I highly recommend the Sliced Radishes with Horseradish-Buttermilk Dip as well as the Carrot and Cilantro soup. Although I cannot recommend this exact tagine recipe, I do recommend finding a tagine dish that appeals to you as tagine cooking is quite enjoyable. Here's to another adventurous week of cooking!

Sliced Radishes with Horseradish-Buttermilk Dip
Country Living Magazine, April 2011
Page 136

Carrot and Cilantro Soup
Country Living Magazine, May 2011
Page 113

Fish Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Mint
"Tagine, Spicy Stews From Morocco" by Chillie Basan
Page 42

Fish Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Mint

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

This recipe had the bones to be wonderful but unfortunately, the end result did not appeal to our taste buds. We have never eaten a dish with preserved lemons and we are now certain that it is not one of our preferred flavors. There are several components of the dish that would be lovely on their own but the final combination of flavors and textures were less than desirable for our palates. If you are a big fan of preserved lemon, this dish would be perfect. Otherwise, I recommend skipping the recipe or preparing it sans preserved lemon.

The chermoula itself was delicious. The combination of garlic, red chile, cumin, saffron and cilantro was vibrant and perfectly tangy. When I completed the chermoula, I was just sure this dish was going to be heavenly. In retrospect, I wish I had cooked the fish by itself after it was done marinating in the chermoula. The other component of the dish that was wonderful was the texture of the fish. I used Wild Caught Alaskan Ling Cod that had the creamiest texture. I purchased the fish at Metropolitan Market at the recommendation of one of their seafood specialists. I also consulted the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list to make sure this cod was a responsible choice. Weren't these beautiful pieces of fish? The first photo shows the fillets and the second photo shows chunks marinating in the chermoula.

Photos Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

2 lbs fresh fish fillets, such as cod, cut into large chunks
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 14 oz can plum tomatoes in juice
2/3 cup fish stock or water
2/3 cup white wine or fino sherry
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
bunch fresh mint leaves, finely shredded

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red chile, seeded and chopped
1 tsp sea salt
small bunch cilantro
pinch saffron threads
1-2 tsp ground cumin
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

First, make chermoula. Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic and chile with salt to form paste. Add cilantro leaves and pound to coarse paste. Beat in saffron threads and cumin and bind with olive oil and lemon juice (you can mix all ingredients together in electric blender if you prefer). Reserve 2 teaspoons of mixture for cooking. Toss fish chunks in remaining chermoula, cover and marinate in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

Heat oil in tagine or heavy based casserole dish. Stir in onion, carrots and celery and saute until softened. Add preserved lemon (reserving a little for sprinkling) with reserved 2 teaspoons chermoula and tomatoes. Stir in well. Cook gently for about 10 minutes to reduce liquid, then add stock and wine. Bring liquid to a boil, cover tagine, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Toss fish in tagine, cover and cook for 6-8 minutes, until fish is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with preserved lemon and shredded mint leaves. Serve immediately. I served the tagine with a side of couscous, as recommended.

On a positive note, it was really fun to cook in a tagine. I am including a photo below for those of you that are not familiar with this cooking vessel. A tagine is a Moroccan earthenware pot that consists of a heavy base with low sides and a large, cone-shaped lid that rests inside the base. The lid is designed to return condensation to the bottom of the pot. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving. Even though this dish didn't turn out to my liking, I did enjoy preparing and cooking the ingredients. That's half the battle, right?

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Love, love, love this dish! This soup has the simplest and most inexpensive ingredients of any recipe I have prepared thus far but it is absolutely delicious in its simplicity. This is once again, a recipe I found in Country Living Magazine. I am quickly being proven wrong about the content of the magazine. I am going to jump right into the recipe before I provide further comment. I am also including the cost breakdown that was presented with the recipe. I have never provided cost prior to this but since the magazine included the information, I thought I would pass it on.

1 small onion, chopped $0.40
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed $5.14 (this is cost for the entire jar of seeds)
1 pound carrots, sliced $0.91
3 cups vegetable stock $2.79
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup) plus more for garnish $1.06

Total: $10.30
Per Serving: $2.58

In a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion and coriander. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until onion is softened but not browned, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrots. Cook covered, until softened, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In separate pot, bring stock to boil. (I used chicken stock instead of vegetable stock). Add onion-carrot mixture and bring back up to a boil. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend in batches if needed, until smooth. Season with sea salt. To serve, return soup to pot, stir in chopped cilantro and reheat on low. Ladle soup into warmed bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Tonight is my maiden voyage eating carrot soup and it is fabulous! Who would have thunk? The flavor is sweet and light and the texture is perfection. The flavor combination of carrot, onion, coriander and stock is complex even though it sounds as if it would be quite basic. If given the chance, I would eat this soup every day and twice on Sunday. It would be lovely as an appetizer for a dinner party or even served chilled. Tonight I served it with one of our favorite sandwiches from my cooking project; the Turkey Sandwich with Hoisin Mayonnaise. When I prepared this sandwich a few weeks ago, I followed the recipe which called for mint but tonight, I exchanged the mint for cilantro. Adding cilantro to the sandwich made it partner with the soup beautifully. Not a bad combo if I do say so myself. I highly recommend making this soup; even if like Brad, you do not normally like cooked carrots. You will be pleasantly surprised, just as he was surprised.

Sliced Radishes with Horseradish-Buttermilk Dip

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I was particularly excited to stumble upon this week's first recipe in the April issue of Country Living Magazine. Country Living is not necessarily my style but as I glanced through the issue, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the recipes I came across. I have become a true radish fan this year and I have always loved horseradish so this dish was immediately appealing. I started out with the intention of using both red radishes and watermelon radishes but soon discovered that watermelon radishes are a specialty item in Seattle. They are sometimes offered at various Seattle Farmer's Markets or at Pike's Place Market but even the gourmet markets in West Seattle do not carry them. One of the produce specialists at Metropolitan Market told me that they have tried to carry watermelon radishes in the past but there was little to no demand for the item. It's really a shame because they are a beautiful vegetable.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup grated horseradish or prepared, drained
2 green onions (white and green parts only) chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound radishes (such as Cherry Belle and Watermelon), sliced

In medium bowl, combine first eight ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with sliced radishes or transfer to airtight container and refrigerate. If making dip more than 8 hours in advance, add garlic just before serving, as its flavor becomes very strong over time.

Brad and I enjoyed this dish wholeheartedly. First of all, I used all high quality, organic ingredients with the exception of the buttermilk which was natural but not organic. I find that when I use high quality vinegars, oils and spices, my recipes really do turn out better. Fresh organic vegetables are also a must. The red radishes used in this recipe were sweet and crunchy with the perfect amount of bite. I was really excited to try fresh horseradish for the first time. I usually purchase all-natural horseradish in a jar but I really wanted to see if there was a big difference between fresh and prepared. Fresh horseradish is definitely the way to go but it is a lot of work to grate 1/3 cup. I was surprised because as I was grating, my eyes teared up more than they do when I am chopping fresh onion. If you need to clear your sinuses, grate some fresh horseradish and your mission will be quickly accomplished. I included a photo of fresh horseradish root just for fun. Isn't it interesting?

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

All in all, this is a beautiful and unique dish to prepare as an hors d'oeuvre or to keep in the refrigerator for a snack. The dip would work well with carrots and cucumbers as well but radishes really were the perfect accompaniment. This definitely makes my repeat recipe list.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Week Twenty-Four Recap

Due to my long-windedness (perhaps a word in Kiersten's Dictionary, not Webster's Dictionary) this week, I am going to make this recap short and sweet. The first two recipes I prepared this week, Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh and Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Garlic and Lemon, were hits at our house. The recipes were enjoyable to prepare and the dinner as a whole was satisfying, wholesome and delicious.

The most fun I had during my birthday week by far was attending the Sustainable Sushi and Sake class at Diane's Market Kitchen. Class was informative, fun and Brad and I were able to prepare and roll our own sushi. All in all, this was a fabulous cooking week. Can't wait to see what next week brings!

Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh
101cookbooks.com via Megan Robertson

Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Garlic and Lemon

California Roll, Creamy Shrimp Roll and Sushi Rice with Sushi Vinegar
"Sustainable Sushi and Sake with Hajime Sato of Mashiko" class at Diane's Market Kitchen

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sustainable Sushi Class at Diane's Market Kitchen

Photos Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Let me just start out by saying that I am married to the most fun person in the history of fun people. Brad has the ability to think of a unique activity that suits a loved one, find a venue or business that offers the activity and then to move forward without missing a beat. In this case, he came up with the best idea ever for my birthday; a class at Diane's Market Kitchen called Sustainable Sushi and Sake with Hajime Sato of Mashiko. Okay, I know that was a mouthful so I will provide details.

Diane's Market Kitchen is a cooking school located at Pike's Place Public Market in downtown Seattle. I had to stop to think about it, but I just realized that I have never taken a cooking class. When I think of cooking school, I guess I think of a somewhat sterile, disciplined environment that a person with advanced cooking aspirations would attend. Diane's Market Kitchen is the exact opposite of this so my misconception is now formally corrected. When we walked in, we were instantly enveloped by a sense of warmth and community. Diane has created a space that is professional and creative but has no pretentiousness whatsoever. This type of environment is right up my alley. I am officially hooked.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Hajime Sato is a Japanese chef that owns and operates a sustainable sushi restaurant in West Seattle called Mashiko. Brad and I have eaten at Mashiko several times and the food is beautifully prepared. The restaurant's sustainable practices have been featured in several Seattle publications and online but until we heard Hajime speak in class, we had no idea what sacrifice and dedication is involved in running a sustainable sushi restaurant. The main points I took away from his presentation are that it is very important that fish sources are traceable, that fishing methods do not damage oceans, that fish farming practices are responsible and that dwindling fish species are given time to repopulate. Educating ourselves is paramount to these tasks and there are resources that we can reference. For starters, Diane and Hajime provided us with a sustainable sushi list from Monterey Bay Aquarium that can be accessed with the link at the right of my blog home page. I have referenced the sustainable fish list many times but I was not aware of the sustainable sushi list.

Now on to the fun part; making sushi! I am a big fan of sushi and I have always wanted to learn how to properly prepare rolls. The first fundamental we learned is how to prepare sushi rice. The rice needs to be washed three times in cold water while gently stirring. Rice then soaks in cold water for 30 minutes so it can "bloom". Blooming means that the rice has absorbed enough water to break easily when squeezed between two fingers. Blooming helps ensure that the rice cooks to the correct consistency. Below is Hajime's sushi rice with sushi vinegar recipe:

4 cups Calrose rice
4 cups water (or follow rice cooker's instructions)
1 tsp cooking sake

1 cup rice vinegar
2 ounces sugar
1 ounce salt

Prepare and cook rice per instructions above. Combine sushi vinegar ingredients in separate container. Once rice is done cooking, place in large bowl with enough room to stir rice. Spread rice out and quickly pour sushi vinegar over rice evenly. When mixing rice, be sure to use a cut-and-fold technique. The goal is to separate the rice into a uniform consistency with no bumps. Wait 2 to 3 minutes to cut and fold rice again. Continue process 3 to 4 additional times until rice reaches approximately body temperature. When rice is done, place in smaller container, preferably insulated so rice will maintain temperature.

The first two rolls we prepared were Creamy Shrimp Roll and California Roll. Hajime prepared the shrimp mixture so we could concentrate on learning how to properly roll sushi. By the time we got to the California Roll, we had learned that keeping your hands wet while handling rice is imperative unless you want rice sticking to every finger and the palms of your hands. Let's just say that sticky rice does not come off easily. We also learned that less is more when it comes to ingredients. If you put too much rice, fish, avocado, etc in the middle, the sushi will not roll properly. Less is more. Hmmmmm. That is not necessarily something the American culture embraces as a general rule.

To make the description of a fabulously long evening shorter, I will share two sushi recipes with you. We prepared four different sushi rolls, a hand roll and tasted two appetizers so this entry could feasibly go on forever if I allowed it to do so. Thank you to Diane and Hajime for making my birthday so wonderful and to my husband for being so fun and exciting. I love you, Honey!

California Roll-
nori (dried seaweed sheet)
sushi rice
avocado slices
thinly sliced cucumber
crab meat (real or imitation)

Place nori (half sheet) on cutting board, rough side up/shiny side down. Make hand wet enough so sushi rice does not stick to your hand. Get a handful of rice and spread evenly over nori. Do not push hard. Sprinkle sesame seeds over rice. Flip rice and nori. Form a tiny bit of rice in a line on bottom of nori. This will create a cushion when you close the roll. Place ingredients next to line of rice. Roll gently. Put plastic wrap over roll and place makisu around roll to gently form shape. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Creamy Shrimp-
10 shrimp
2 ounces tobiko
1 ounce scallions
2 ounces Japanese mayonnaise
dash ponzu

Slice scallions thinly. Mix everything together in bowl. Place half sheet of nori on cutting board, rough side up. Spread rice evenly across seaweed, leaving 1" strip without rice on end of nori. Place shrimp mixture next to line of rice. Roll gently. Place makisu gently around to form roll shape. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

A few random but important side notes. A makisu is a sushi mat that can be purchased at gourmet grocery stores or Asian markets. Junmai is a term for pure sake so if you want the good stuff, ask your server if the type you are ordering is Junmai. If it is not, rethink your order. According to Hajime, Junmai is the only way to go when it comes to drinking sake. Finally, according to Diane and Hajime, we should try to eat as low on the food chain as possible because it is better for both our health and the environment. The bigger the fish, the more impurities and the higher the mercury level.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh and Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Garlic and Lemon

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I did not exactly start out this week with a bang. I was feeling pretty relaxed on Sunday and Monday and somehow did not see the urgency in getting my cooking groove on early in the week. As a result, I decided to go for the gusto and prepare two recipes in one night. This is my birthday week and in usual form, I plan on milking the fun for as long as humanly possible. I am not especially excited to turn 39 so I might as well find a way to at least enjoy the festivities. Thanks to my husband, my birthday celebration starts tomorrow at 1:30 and doesn't end until late Saturday night. Is he the best or what? Okay, back to the task at hand. My point of all this rambling is that I needed to complete two recipes today in order to only have one remaining recipe to prepare this week. This is the only way this week's recipes will come to fruition.

The first recipe comes to me from 101cookbooks.com via my friend Megan. She has been a dependable reader and supporter of this blog since I started (thank you, Megan)! When she sent me this recipe for Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh last week, I immediately put it on this week's agenda. Not only is this a recipe she and her family enjoy, the flavors are right up my alley and I have been wanting to try a tempeh recipe for the past few months. I must say, this dish was delicious. Ginger, mirin, tamari and maple syrup were a great combination but the piece de resistance was the fresh squeezed orange juice. The organic oranges I used were as sweet as they could be so the juice was unreal. It was refreshing and bright which leads me to wonder why I don't prepare fresh-squeezed orange juice on weekend mornings. I absolutely must add this to my to-do list. I also thought the cilantro and fresh lime juice were the perfect finishing touches to the dish. I served it with white rice and my second recipe as a side dish.

I had some beautiful rainbow chard growing in my garden so I knew I wanted to use it for my second recipe to create a side dish. I did not have quite enough chard to prepare the recipe so I supplemented with organic chard from PCC Market. I also halved the recipe because Brad, Olivia and I cannot eat 4 pounds of chard, nor should we. I will keep my response to this recipe short. This dish was perfect. I love the combination of garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper with chard. Adding lemon zest was new for me and I have to say, it cut the bitterness of the dish beautifully. This is officially in my chard preparation repertoire. Okay, so I never had a chard repertoire prior to preparing this recipe but now I do. :)

Finally, after providing a long-winded description of the recipes, I am ready to share them. Please enjoy!

Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh-
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3 to 4 large juicy oranges) 1 tsp freshly grated ginger 2 tsp tamari (soy sauce) 1 1/2 Tbsp mirin
2 tsp maple syrup 1/2 tsp ground coriander 2 small garlic cloves, crushed 10 ounces tempeh (or extra-firm tofu) 2 Tbsp olive oil 1/2 lime
handful of cilantro (coriander) leaves

Put orange juice in small bowl. Squeeze grated ginger over bowl to extract juices, then discard pulp. Add tamari, mirin, maple syrup, ground coriander and garlic. Mix together and set aside. Cut tempeh (or tofu) into thin-ish, bite-sized pieces (Megan recommends cutting tempeh pieces 1/4" thick). If working with tofu, pat dry with paper towel. Put olive oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add tempeh and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden underneath. Turn and cook other side for additional 5 minutes, or until golden. Pour orange juice mixture into pan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until sauce has reduced to a lovely thick glaze. Turn tempeh once more during this time and spoon sauce over tempeh from time to time. Serve tempeh drizzled with remaining sauce and a squeeze of lime. Scatter cilantro on top. Pair with lightly sauteed seasonal vegetables or serve over wheat berries, rice or other grain of choice.

Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Garlic and Lemon-
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 pounds rainbow or ruby chard; thick stems discarded, inner ribs removed and cut into 2-inch lengths, leaves cut into 2-inch ribbons
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp olive oil. Stir in garlic and cook over moderately high heat until lightly golden, about 1 minutes. Add chard leaves in large handfuls, allowing each batch to wilt slightly before adding more. Season chard with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until leaves are softened and most of liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Transfer chard to bowl. Wipe out pan.

Add remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil to pan. Add chard ribs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in wilted chard leaves and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl, sprinkle with lemon zest and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Emerald Water Anglers Annual Cook-Off

Photos Courtesy of Dave McCoy Photography

Two weeks ago, I promised to write about my amazing experience as a judge for the Emerald Water Anglers Annual Cook-Off. There were so many details to process from the event that it took me a few weeks to think and prepare. Thank you for being patient while I got my act together.

First of all, I am not afraid to come right out and say that I was shocked at the quality of food that was presented at this event. I was expecting good food but I had no idea that the dishes would be so aesthetically pleasing and complex. I can say with conviction that the ten fishing guides that participated are not only experienced guides and genuinely good people, they are excellent cooks. Their cooking experience ranges from one guide that studied at Cordon Bleu School in both Paris and London to several of the guides that cook casually for themselves or that cook for clients while guiding for Emerald Water Anglers. The guides are from different backgrounds, are a variety of ages and have varying levels of guiding experience. These differences provided the judges and attendees with an interesting array of flavors and styles that were unique to each of the cooks.

The rules of the cook-off were that the guides had to prepare 75% of the food on location at Seahurst Park in Burien, Washington and that they were allowed to use only stoves and cooking gear that can be used to prepare food on the river. Can you imagine preparing a gourmet meal on a Coleman camp stove under a picnic shelter? Oh, and did I mention that they only had 40 minutes to create their masterpieces? Boy did these guides rise to the occasion. I had no idea a camp stove could be used to grill pizza, fry oysters for a Po' Boy Sandwich, grill Bleu Cheese Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs (which were heavenly), cook Miso Corn Salad or grill Crab Stuffed Poblano Peppers. I'm telling you, the cooks did an amazing job.

The judges were myself, Dave McCoy, Hunter Chamness and Jim Osborn. Dave McCoy is the owner of Emerald Water Anglers. He has 21 years of professional fishing experience but his main passion is to educate his clients on the state of our natural resources locally and beyond. He is dedicated to teaching people how to leave the smallest possible footprint on our natural resources. Hunter Chamness studied at Cordon Bleu School in London and is currently a chef at Crush in Seattle. Out of the goodness of his heart, he prepared a beautiful Beet and Goat Cheese Salad and Pulled Pork for this event. Both dishes were delectable. Jim Osborn was Head Chef at Watergate Hotel in Washington DC for many years and actually cooked for two United States Presidents. Needless to say, I was humbled to be included as a judge with such a talented group of individuals.

The judges were tasked with scoring the dishes in each of six categories; time, taste, appearance, originality, guidability and plating. Those of you who know me or have read prior entries on my blog can guess how excited I was to participate in my own little version of "Iron Chef." I felt like Jeffrey Steingarten or Donatella Arpaia for a day. :) All categories were self-explanatory with the exception of time and guidability. Time was simply whether or not they finished within the allotted 40 minutes (the cooks either earned a 5 or 0 on this one) and guidability was how feasible it is to prepare the dish successfully while guiding on the river. Dave McCoy was responsible for guidability scoring due to his expertise on the subject. After all categories were scored and added together, the end result was a three-way tie at 26 out of 30 points. The tie was between a Po' Boy Sandwich with Ceviche prepared by Ted McDermott, a Grilled Crab Stuffed Poblano Pepper with Slaw and Guacamole prepared by Mark Freda and Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Thighs with Miso Corn Salad, Soft Boiled Eggs, Pickled Cucumbers and Creme Brulee prepared by Lucas St. Clair. The tie breaker for grand prize winner was determined by audience vote and the honor went to Lucas St. Clair who prepared the Teriyaki Chicken Thigh and Miso Corn Salad plate.

I learned a few things from Lucas' plate. First of all, I learned that I love Miso Corn Salad and the reason I appreciate the flavor so much is because of the umami, which is the earthy or savory taste profile that goes along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour taste profiles. The second thing I learned is that I don't know why I have been making hard-boiled eggs all my life when soft-boiled eggs are so creamy and delicious. I am truly converted. Third, I learned that I will not melt away to nothing if I eat chicken. Yes, after thirteen years of abstaining from eating chicken, I broke the dry spell and tasted three different chicken dishes. I promised Dave that I would taste everything that was put in front of me and I delivered on my promise. I even tasted a lamb dish for the first time! Unbelievable. Chicken and lamb in one day and I lived to tell the story. :)

Other dishes included in the competition were Barbecue Thai Chicken Pizza prepared by Pat Jenkins; Cod with Mustard Sauce, Sauteed Green Beans and Grilled Potatoes prepared by Patrick Kent; Copper River Sockeye with Cous Cous, Watermelon and Grilled Zucchini Planks prepared by Dylan Rose; White Bean, Corn, Red Pepper and Sun-Dried Tomato Cous Cous prepared by Alex Collier (Alex earned creativity points for cooking his meal on a spitfire single burner backpack stove); Steak Tacos with Cumin Black Beans prepared by Todd Karn (this dish was so delicious that it finished in second place); Lamb and Manchego Quesadilla with Romesco, Prosciutto Wrapped Bleu Cheese Stuffed Figs and Cucumber Melon Salad prepared by Charlie Robinton; and finally, Chicken Sliders with Potato Salad and Tomato Salad prepared by Quinton Dowling. I love a good tomato salad and Quinton's salad was delicious. I will be requesting his recipe for sure. The highest score was 26 out of 30 and the lowest score was 22; a true testament to the quality of food and the effort extended by each guide.

I was truly honored to be included as a judge for this event. I couldn't eat for the remainder of the day or the following morning because I was so full but it was worth every extra calorie and the ensuing discomfort. A special thank you to all of the cooks that prepared such beautiful meals and to Dave McCoy whom requested my presence at his event. Now that I am a seasoned judge, I am ready for next year. Bring it on!

Week Twenty-Three Recap

This was one of my favorite weeks of cooking thus far. All three dishes came out beautifully and I was proud of myself for trying recipes that were outside of my comfort zone. Stir-fry dishes have not panned out well for me in the past but the Stir-Fried Portobellos with Garlic and Oyster Sauce was perfect. Perhaps the coolest thing about this recipe is that I learned how to prepare and cook portobello mushrooms correctly. I would have never thought to remove the gills from the bottom to avoid discoloring other food being cooked with the mushrooms. Removing the gills also improves the final texture of portobellos.

I was also very pleased with the Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing recipe. It was fun to use a vessel created by nature as a means for presenting the dish. This was the most aesthetically pleasing food I have prepared during this cooking journey and as a side note, apricots are delicious with quinoa. Finally, the Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar was both delicious and easy on the eyes. What a great week. I can't wait to see what next week holds for me.

Stir-Fried Portobellos with Ginger and Garlic and Oyster Sauce
"The Best One-Dish Suppers" from the editors of Cook's Illustrated
Page 232

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing
"Clean Start" by Terry Walters
Page 154

Oven Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar

Oven Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

For tonight's recipe, I chose Oven Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Balsamic. My inspiration for the dish was the beautiful organic beets at PCC Market. I saw them and couldn't help myself. I bought two bunches and came home to google a roasted beet recipe. Good ol' folks at google. What would I do without them? I ended up coming across this recipe and I was instantly drawn in by the incorporation of goat cheese. I had some beautiful all-natural goat cheese remaining from a pasta dish I prepared a few weeks ago so it was the perfect choice.

I was not disappointed in the least. The beets were as sweet as they could be, the herbs infused beautifully to boost flavors and goat cheese is always a perfect partner to beets. The best part of the dish however, was a Fig Balsamic by Bistro Blends of Napa Valley that my dad and stepmom purchased for me at the Green Home Show in Eugene, Oregon. It is truly fantastic as salad dressing, with olive oil and bread or drizzled over vegetables. This recipe does not specify the type of balsamic so I went with one that I know and love. As a result, the dish was truly exceptional.

6 beets
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pinch of thyme
1 pinch of rosemary
2 small cloves garlic
salt and freshly ground pepper
goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash dirt off beets. Skin will come off after beets are roasted so outsides do not need to be scrubbed. Trim both ends of beets. Place foil on cookie sheet or pan, then place beets on top of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper over beets. Make sure beets are coated in olive oil and herbs. Add 1 cup of water before covering beets tightly with foil. You can cover with parchment paper and then foil if desired.

Roast in oven for 45 minutes or until beets are tender with fork. You may need to cook larger beets for longer. Beets will come out steamy and tender. Any cooking liquid can be saved and drizzled over finished plate. Once roasted beets are cool enough to touch, gently squeeze to break open skins and peel them off. Slice and add a few tablespoons of goat cheese. You can serve beets with drizzled balsamic vinegar on salad or with good bread.

Tip: For an extra delicious zip, reduce balsamic vinegar and drizzle on top of beets.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

You are probably wondering what the heck I was thinking when I chose quinoa stuffed squash as one of this week's recipes. This is clearly a fall/winter dish but when I found the recipe, it sounded tasty and I envisioned that it would be visually fun to prepare. Also, it hasn't exactly been consistently spring-like here in Seattle so I figured the seasonality of the dish didn't really matter. The only wrench it threw into the mix is that the recipe actually calls for buttercup squash but buttercup is not available this time of year. The recipe did however, offer carnival, delicata and acorn varieties as alternatives. I ended up choosing acorn squash because it has the most beautiful color and shape.

2 small acorn squashes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing squash
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
pinch of sea salt
6 shallots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
6 dried apricots, chopped
2 Tbsp freshly chopped sage
2 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley, plus whole sprigs for serving
1 Tbsp mirin
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash squash and cut in half or quarters, depending on desired serving size. Scoop out and discard seeds, rub skins with olive oil and place open-side down on parchment-lined baking pan. Roast 25 minutes or until soft throughout. Turn off heat, but leave squash in oven to stay warm until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, combine quinoa in pot or rice cooker with water or vegetable stock and salt. Place over high heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside, but do not fluff yet.

In Dutch oven over medium heat, saute shallots and celery in 1 Tbsp olive oil until soft. Add apricots, sage, parsley and mirin and saute 3 minutes longer. Fluff quinoa and fold into shallot mixture. Add lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon olive oil and saute 3 minutes longer or until heated through. Remove quinoa from heat and squash from oven. Fill individual squash boats with stuffing, garnish with toasted almonds and parsley sprigs to serve.

I chose to serve this dish with pan roasted pork loin, which was a lovely combination. Olivia really liked the squash and pork but didn't eat much of the quinoa. Brad thought the stuffed squash was light but filling and that the apricots, sage and squash created unique flavors. I also really enjoyed the flavors in this dish. I tend to love sage stuffing so I appreciated that the recipe incorporated such a traditional stuffing ingredient. I also thought the toasted almonds were a nice touch. They added a crunchy texture and the nuttiness complimented the squash (although as a side note, it takes watching almonds like a hawk to keep them from burning while toasting). My favorite part of this recipe however, was the aesthetic appeal. This is one of the prettiest dishes I have plated since I started my cooking project. Serving such a visually pleasing dish definitely catered to my creative side. Very cool indeed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Stir-Fried Portobellos with Ginger and Oyster Sauce

Photos Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Let me just preface this entry with the fact that this may be the longest-winded recipe in the history of recipes. Be warned that if you want to prepare something quick and easy, this is not for you. Cook's Illustrated is not exactly known for providing the most concise or simple recipes. I can tell you however, that although long and involved, their recipes are dependable and in my experience, always delicious. The reason for this is that Cook's Illustrated has an incredible test kitchen where they cook dishes every which way in order to come up with the best preparations. Their kitchen is so good that it is known as "America's Test Kitchen." It employs more than three dozen test cooks, editors and cookware specialists. Their mission is to test every recipe until they understand how and why they work. They also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients to determine which brands offer the best value and performance. Pretty cool, don't you think? If you are interested, their website is cooksillustrated.com. I have a subscription to their magazine and I own one of their cookbooks. Both are well worth the investment.

This recipe was definitely an elevated version of stir-fry. The ingredients were beautiful (I used all organic vegetables) and the end result was worth the preparation time. I particularly enjoyed the texture and flavor of the portobellos. The dish was light but it also felt hearty because the portobellos were meaty. I was impressed with the sauce as well. In my experience, stir-fry sauces are often too salty but this one was not. I could taste the toasted sesame oil cutting through the saltiness of the soy sauce and oyster sauce; a very nice touch for sure. The added bonus is that the final result not only tasted great, it was pretty too. I love it when everything comes together.

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar

4 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 (6-inch wide) portobello mushroom caps, underside gills removed
4 small carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick on the bias
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 ounces snow peas, tips and strings removed
1 pound bok choy, greens cut into 1/2 inch wide strips and stalks halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch wide pieces
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

For the sauce, whisk all ingredients together and set aside. For the glaze, whisk all ingredients together and set aside. For the stir-fry, in a small bowl, combine ginger, garlic and 1 tsp of the oil. Heat 3 Tbsp more oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook, without stirring until browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip mushrooms over, reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until tender and browned on second side, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add glaze and cook until it has thickened and coats the mushrooms, 1 to 2 minutes; transfer to bowl.

Rinse skillet clean and dry with paper towels. Heat 1 tsp more oil in skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add carrots and cook until beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth, cover and steam carrots until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook until remaining liquid evaporates, about 30 seconds; transfer to bowl with mushrooms. Add remaining 1 tsp oil to skillet and place over high heat until just smoking. Add snow peas, bok choy stalks and cook until beginning to brown and soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in bok choy greens and cook until wilted, about 1 minute.

Clear center of skillet, add garlic mixture and cook, mashing mixture into pan, until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into vegetables. Return cooked mushrooms and carrots with accumulated juices to skillet and toss to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and vegetables are coated, about 1 minute. Transfer to platter, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

I served the stir-fry with sticky white rice. The combination was perfect. On a side note, I learned a great trick tonight. To remove the string from a snow pea, just snap the tip while pulling down along the flat side of the pod. I have to admit that I have never removed strings from snow peas and I learned tonight that they are even more pleasant to eat sans string.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Week Twenty-Two Recap

This was a fun week of cooking all the way around. I seem to most enjoy the weeks when I end up preparing a wide spectrum of dishes. This week included a beautiful risotto, slow-baked beans and one of my favorite cookies in the history of cookies. If this isn't a diverse group of recipes, I don't know what is. In a nutshell, I would prepare all three of these recipes again without giving it a second thought. Brad and I loved the Risotto with Taleggio Cheese and Bacon so much that we ate four servings instead of two. Oops. :) The Boston Baked Beans were really good while hot so I have to admit that I would serve them fresh out of the oven instead of attempting to take the dish to go. By the time I served them at the cooking competition, they had cooled and become a bit gloppy. Okay, gloppy may not be a word but it is definitely what happened to the beans. Finally, the cookies were tasty and the outer texture was wonderful; I would just bake them for a few minutes less to make the insides a bit more chewy. Here is this week's recap. Can't wait until next week!

Risotto with Taleggio Cheese and Bacon
Sunset Magazine, October 2010

Boston Baked Beans

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies are in my top five favorite cookies ever. There is something about the crisp outside, chewy inside and confectioner sugar coating that works for me. I also appreciate that they are not overly sweet. A local Seattle bakery, Alki Bakery, has my favorite crinkle cookie in town but their location on the beach below us closed this past fall. In order to get their cookies nowadays, I have to venture outside of my West Seattle bubble to their location on 1st Avenue in the industrial part of Seattle. This is problematic because I prefer staying in my bubble to living in the real world. I guess that settles it; I need to learn to make a fabulous crinkle cookie at home. Welcome to my maiden voyage.

I searched online for a recipe that seemed manageable to achieve and found the one below on a lovely website, lolfoodie.com. What put this recipe over the top compared to others I found was the beautiful photo of the end result. The cookies appear to be very similar to the Alki Bakery cookies I love so much and quite frankly, I am a sucker for a good recipe photo. It always makes me believe that I too, might achive the same final aesthetic. Check out the recipe:


1 cup white all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, salt, and baking power. In a separate large bowl, preferably with an electric mixer, combine the vegetable oil and granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until combined. Add in flour mixture, and mix until combined.

Cover mixture with plastic wrap (either in bowl, or dump it onto the counter and form a disc). Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place powdered sugar into small bowl.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in powdered sugar to coat. Place on prepared cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

I used organic Canola Oil, organic brown eggs, fair trade organic cocoa and natural vanilla extract in this recipe. I am not sure how it affected the cookies but I certainly feel good about using quality ingredients. My thoughts on the final result? The outside was the perfect crispness for me, the flavor was nice but I prefer the center to be a bit more chewy. They were chewy enough to be good but I believe the cookies would have been perfect or nearly so if I had baked them for 1 to 2 minutes less. This is the only change I would make to the recipe so I consider my maiden voyage fairly successful. I would be remiss if I didn't thank my little cookie dough roller. Thank you, sweet Olivia.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Boston Baked Beans

I am really excited because I was asked to guest judge for a cooking competition that is being held tomorrow at 12:30. The cooking competition is hosted by Emerald Water Anglers and it features several fishing guides that are not only accomplished catch-and-release fisherman, but also great cooks. This is the first cooking related competition I have been asked to judge so I am honored to participate. It doesn't hurt that I get to sit at a park in beautiful weather while eating gourmet food. I will write about the competition in great detail in next week's entries but for now, I will talk about a baked bean recipe I prepared to take to the competition as a side dish.

It is no lie that I love a good baked bean. I have always wanted to own a clay bean pot so when I ran into the ideal pot at an antique store on Memorial Day weekend, I jumped on it. It is the typical clay bean pot in which the bottom portion is raw clay and the top portion and lid are glazed clay. I knew upon making my purchase that I was going to prepare Boston Baked Beans for one of my recipes this week. There are so many great baked bean recipes out there, that I finally had to choose just one. I prefer my beans smokey and sweet so I was hoping that this recipe accomplished both or at least one of these criteria. I will share the recipe with you before I provide further comment.

2 cups dry white beans
1/2 pound bacon
1 onion, finely diced
3 TBSP molasses
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup ketchup
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Simmer beans in same water until tender, approximately 1 to 2 hours. Drain and reserve liquid. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange beans in 2-quart bean pot or casserole dish by placing a portion of beans in bottom of dish and layering with bacon and onion.

In saucepan, combine molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and pour over beans. Pour in just enough reserve bean water to cover beans. Cover with aluminum foil or lid and bake for 3 to 4 hours, until beans are tender. Remove lid about halfway through cooking and add more reserve liquid if necessary to keep beans from getting dry.

First of all, I can't describe how fantastic these beans smell while baking. The house smells wonderful! Second, they are quite delicious. I wouldn't say that the flavor is necessarily smokey, as I initially mentioned I would prefer them to be, but I will say that the beans are the perfect combination of sweet and savory. I am anticipating that people at the cooking competition will enjoy the beans as well. I will cross my fingers and let you know how it goes.