Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brown Sugar Carrot Almond Muffins

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Oh, boy. For the second week in a row, it is Thursday night and I am just getting started on my weekly quota of recipes. The good news is, I completed my first recipe tonight and it was delicious. The bad news is, I have two more to go and not a clue as to what they will be. Looks like it will be a surprise to everyone; including me. I do have a few mangoes and avocados sitting in the kitchen so maybe I will find a salad that incorporates these two ingredients. Better yet, maybe I will find a recipe that incorporates mangoes, avocado and arugula since I have ample arugula waiting to be plucked from my garden. This is a decision for tomorrow or Saturday so I will now focus on the recipe at hand.

Tonight I baked Brown Sugar Carrot Almond Muffins from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks. The recipe was fun to make because I don't often have time to bake. The best part however, was that my sweet Olivia acted as my baking assistant. She was over the moon to help measure ingredients and stir them together. Remember when pleasures were as simple as helping our mom's bake? My mom was quite a baker, especially when it came to jelly rolls, cinnamon rolls and pies. I have beautiful memories of helping her roll out dough with a wooden rolling pin and then delicious memories of eating the end products. She truly poured love into everything she made. It absolutely warmed my heart to be sharing the same experience with Olivia.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) cold butter
1 egg
3/4 cup fruit juice (like orange or apple) or milk
1 Tbsp minced or grated orange or lemon zest (I used orange zest)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup grated carrots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or oil muffin tin (I prefer to use Canola oil). Stir dry ingredients together. Cut butter into bits, then use fork or 2 knives to cut into dry ingredients until there are no pieces bigger than a small pea. (Using a food processor makes this step quite easy but don't use food processor for remaining steps or dough will be tough).

Beat together juice, zest and egg. Pour into dry ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten; do not beat and do not mix until batter is smooth. Fold in carrots and almonds, then pour and spoon batter into muffin tin.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on rack for 15 minutes before removing from muffin tin.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend this recipe for snacks or breakfast. The muffins are dense, moist and flavorful without being overly sweet. When I prepare a recipe for the first time and I can't think of a single thing I would change to make it better, I know it's a good one. As a side note, the cookbook lists seven alternate fruit or vegetable and nut combinations that you can use in place of the carrots and almonds. Some of the combinations are quite unique and would be fun to try. Here you go!
1. Zucchini and cashews
2. Winter squash and hazelnuts
3. Sweet potatoes and pecans
4. Cherries (pitted) and almonds
5. Cranberries and pistachios
6. Grapes (halved) and peanuts
7. Apples and walnuts

Recipe source:
"How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman
Pages 691-692

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tarragon Egg Salad

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

My aunts were driving to Seattle from Olympia to visit us for lunch today so I wanted to make something a little more interesting than a basic sandwich. I found this beautiful recipe for Tarragon Egg Salad on simplyrecipes.com and knew that it would be perfect for my informal family luncheon. I am a fan of traditional egg salad sandwiches that seem to include some variation of pickles, celery, dill, mayonnaise, mustard and onion. The ingredients in this recipe, although out of the box for egg salad, sounded like they would work well together.

Guess what? The sandwiches were tasty! I particularly enjoyed the crunch of fennel in the sandwich. My best friend, Natalie, turned me on to fennel about three years ago and I have never looked back. I like it in pasta, sauteed, stir-fried or even grilled on the barbecue. If fennel is not a staple in your kitchen, it should be considered. This recipe called for just the right amount of tarragon (from my garden), Dijon and cider vinegar. Cider vinegar can sometimes be used excessively, leaving an overwhelming flavor, but this recipe got it right. To boot, the eggs were boiled perfectly. I usually let my eggs boil for 10 minutes and then run them under cold water, but I found that this recipe's method made a better hard-boiled egg. This is officially my new way to hard-boil.

Lunch ended up being quite lovely. My aunts enjoyed the food and conversation was comforting in the way that only family conversation can be. The weather was divine today so we sat on the deck and enjoyed staring at the water while dining. I served the sandwiches on Macrina Bakery ciabatta buns (the same buns I use for my Hoisin Turkey sandwiches) with lettuce from my garden. Side dishes were watermelon, barbecue flavored Kettle Chips and sun tea. Ahhhh..........good stuff all the way around.

10-12 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped fennel (about 1/2 large bulb)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onion, including greens
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 tsp cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

To hard boil eggs, put eggs in large pot and cover with two inches water. Bring to boil. Turn off heat. Cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to stop cooking and to cool down eggs. Chop and prepare all ingredients.

Gently combine all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve alone, over lettuce, on toast or on bread for sandwich. Serves 4 to 6.

Recipe Source:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Herbed Pumpkin Seed Mole (Mole Verde con Hierbas or Mole Pipian)

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I was on Upper Queen Anne this past Sunday night and came upon a "Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking" book. As I flipped through the pages, I saw several recipes that I wanted to add to my queue and this one was at the top of the list. I am always interested in recipes that include pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) because I enjoy using them in various applications. I have been known to add the seeds to salads, pastas and sandwiches just because they have a pleasant crunchy texture and mild flavor. I was also interested in this recipe because Brad loves burritos. When I don't have new ideas for dinner or all else fails, I know I can open a can of beans, heat tortillas, throw together burritos and I will have a happy husband. I have been however, trying to come up with different twists to keep the burritos interesting. This mole seemed as though it would fit the bill.

1 cup peeled pumpkin seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil (I used organic Canola oil)
1 onion, cut into wedges
5 tomatillos, husked and halved
5 garlic cloves, halved
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1 packed cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh epazote (optional)
1 tsp salt

In large skillet with high sides or in large saucepan, toast pumpkin seeds, cumin seeds and oregano over high heat. Toss to make sure they don't burn, but toast until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to blender or spice grinder and process until ground. Set aside.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

In same skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, tomatillos, garlic and jalapenos and cook until slightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes, tossing a few times, but not stirring too much. Carefully place vegetables in blender or food processor. Add broth, cilantro, parsley, salt and epazote (if using) and process until pureed. Pour back into skillet and add ground pumpkin seed mixture. Let simmer until flavors are well combined, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated in airtight container for a few days.

This mole is pretty fantastic. The ratio of ingredients were well planned, creating a perfect balance of flavors. It was also fun to cook with tomatillos because I have only used them one time prior to tonight. I love their vibrant green color and that they come in papery husks. They look almost ornamental before they are husked. All ingredients were organic including jalapenos and parsley from my garden. Although the cookbook author recommends serving over enchiladas or with poultry and fish, I poured the mole over black beans in flour tortillas with light sour cream and avocado, to create wet burritos. They were tasty for sure. I honestly wouldn't change a thing about the recipe but I may try epazote next time. I had never heard of epazote but our friend Dulce is from Mexico and she told me that it is a delicious herb with a very distinct flavor. We are planning to make a trip to the local Latin market with Dulce so she can direct us to authentic ingredients for future Latin-inspired recipes.

Recipe Source:
"Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking" by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
Page 41

Sweetheart Strawberry-Banana Pancakes

I am a bit late getting started this week but never fear, I will complete three recipes over the next three days. For my first dish of the week, I decided to make something special for my little butterfly. Strawberries seem to be her favorite fruit so I decided I would google strawberry pancakes to see if I could come up with something that would wow her. I was fortunate because these pancakes were the third recipe I found. They contain both bananas and strawberries but the real bonus is that the recipe does not call for sugar in the batter. I don't choose to give Olivia sugar in the morning so this recipe immediately appealed to me. The pancakes are also adorable, and those of you that know me understand that adorable is kind of my thing. :) Oh, please note that the photos are not as clean and pretty as the photos that Brad shoots. He had already left for work when I made the pancakes so I was forced to use my iphone camera. Enjoy the recipe!

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 small banana, mashed
1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
1 egg
1 cup whole milk (I used skim milk and it worked perfectly)
2 Tbsp butter, melted
vegetable oil
1 cup strawberries for garnish

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Combine mashed banana, chopped strawberries, egg, milk and melted butter in small bowl. Whisk to blend. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together. Batter will be thick.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line baking sheet with foil. Wipe large skillet with oil, using paper towel. Preheat pan to medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup batter to skillet. Cook until bubbling on top side and flip. Transfer cooked pancakes to baking sheet in oven and continue cooking pancakes in skillet with remaining batter. When ready to serve, cut each pancake with a 3" to 3 1/2" heart-shaped cookie cutter. Arrange on plate with strawberries to make arrow and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Olivia loved these pancakes! She did not want syrup so she ate them plain with the fresh strawberries. I made her one to start with but she ended up eating three. She commented that the pancakes were cute and then ate them like they were going out of style. All in all, this recipe is easy to make and I thought the final product tasted great. I only had two bites because I prefer savory breakfast foods. Ends up I could have eaten these for breakfast with Olivia because they had just a touch of sweetness. If you do have a sweet tooth in the morning, add a little bit of pure maple syrup and you will be in business.

Recipe Source:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Week Thirty-Two Recap

This is the last recap I will write for my blog. I have decided that moving forward, I will credit the appropriate cookbooks and recipe authors in each individual recipe entry. This change will make it easier for my readers to locate recipe information and it will also cut out one entry per week from my end. A win-win situation for sure. So, here is the last official recap.

This week was an inspiring and fun week of cooking. I enjoyed making a fabulous dinner for my family with the Spicy Mexican Pork and Rice recipe. It was delicious and filling. Working with peaches was also successful and quite tasty. The peach cobbler went over well with my family and the peach jam will tide us over through the winter months. All in all, a perfect week of cooking. Recap follows:

Spicy Mexican Pork and Rice
"The Best One-Dish Suppers" from the editors of Cook's Illustrated
Pages 66-67

Peach (No-Cook) Freezer Jam

Southern Peach Cobbler

Friday, August 12, 2011

Southern Peach Cobbler

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Just when you thought Peach-O-Rama was over! If you didn't read my last entry, I explained the origin of Peach-O-Rama and the reasons these particular peaches are so spectacular. Please read the entry below if you are interested in learning details. Because local peaches are at their prime over the next few weeks, I decided to go all out and not only make peach jam but also peach cobbler. I was torn between peach cobbler and peach crisp but I decided on peach cobbler because I knew I was going to make an apple crisp as soon as Washington apples hit our local markets. So, in typical Google Search Queen style, I googled peach cobbler and chose the one that appealed to me most. Please see the recipe below:

8 peaches; peeled, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp corn starch
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water

Mix together:
3 Tbsp white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In large bowl, combine first set of ingredients; peaches, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, cornstarch and lemon juice. Toss to coat evenly and pour into 2 quart baking dish. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine next set of ingredients; sugars, baking powder and salt. Blend in butter with fingers or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in boiling water until just combined.

Remove peaches from oven and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Bake 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Before I comment on the recipe, I want to briefly touch on a kitchen tool I discovered a few weeks ago; a peach peeler. This peeler is designed specifically to remove soft peach skin without damaging the fruit. When I peeled peaches in the past, I used a paring knife. This might work well for some people but not for me. Since my knife skills are lacking, I usually take off flesh with the skin, wasting parts of the peach that I should be using. Upon finding this tool, I was a bit skeptical but it ended up working beautifully. I also appreciate that it is peach in color so I don't mistake it for my regular vegetable peeler. It's from Peelers for Dummies. :)

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I'm not going to lie. This cobbler was luscious! I thoroughly enjoyed the sweetness of the peaches and the topping was perfect. It was crispy on the top but a little bit soft and gooey in the middle. Of course it didn't hurt that I served the cobbler with a scoop of organic vanilla ice cream. There is nothing like ice cream melting across warm cobbler to get me in a good mood; especially right now. I have been working out with a trainer twice a week for 6 weeks so needless to say, I haven't been eating a lot of dessert. Talk about a buzz kill, right? After eating my cobbler, I felt moved to proclaim that this was my treat for the week; as if someone is interested in monitoring me. Brad's comment was that this cobbler was definitely worth the sacrifice. I immediately concurred and I didn't even feel a bit guilty. How 'bout them peaches? They sure brought happiness to the Lovejoy house today.

Peach (No-Cook) Freezer Jam

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I am fairly certain that I have an addiction to making No-Cook Freezer Jam. As you have seen in prior posts, this is my third time using this recipe as my jam-making framework. The strawberry jam was so delicious that I moved on to blackberry jam and the blackberry jam was so fabulous that I moved on to peach jam. Will the madness ever end? I think not. I do believe that there is blueberry jam on the horizon so don't be surprised if you see it featured within the next month or so. This no-cook jam process has seriously created a monster! This is a recipe that I will continue to use year after year because it enables me to can without actually canning. As I have said before, it is just too good to be true.

While preparing the first two jams, I found it easy to mash strawberries but a bit more difficult to mash blackberries. Lucky for me, peaches were the easiest fruit to mash yet. I figured they would be a lot easier since they are a fleshy fruit but just to be safe, I allowed them to sit and ripen for three days. Metropolitan Market is having their annual "Peach-O-Rama" event where they offer local and/or organic peaches that are sweeter than the average peach. They measure Brix, which is the sugar level in their peaches, using a tool called a refractometer. The higher the Brix level, the more flavorful, aromatic, sweeter and juicier the peach. Metropolitan Market's minimum standard is 13 but some of the peaches measure 18 or higher. Regular grocery stores often sell peaches at 11 or under. Isn't this interesting? It definitely explains why I am often disappointed when I bite into a peach and it isn't as sweet or juicy as I expected. As a side note, the peaches I chose are from Pence Orchards, which is a few hours outside of Seattle in Yakima Valley. Although not certified organic, they are locally grown and the farmer's allow the peaches to ripen on the tree prior to being picked. They were so delicious that Olivia couldn't stop eating them as I chopped and sliced!

On to the recipe. Same framework as before but with peaches instead of berries. Please note that the peaches required 5 teaspoons of calcium water to properly jell. I also found that the peaches only needed one cup of sugar instead of 1 1/2 cups. Enjoy!
Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy


5-6 cups fresh organic blackberries
1 1/2-2 cups sugar or 1 cup honey
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional; I did not use lemon juice)

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 blackberries 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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spicy Mexican Pork and Rice

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Today's entry is all rainbows, puppy dogs and kittens because this recipe took me back to what my cooking project is all about. I was standing in the kitchen, peeling, chopping and stirring; having a genuinely fulfilling experience. I was completely at ease and enjoying every second of the process. The last few weeks have been a bit uninspired so it was refreshing to get back to the core of my project today. Not only was cooking enjoyable, I could appreciate the fruits of my labor early on because the food smelled heavenly! There is nothing like walking through the house with the scent of food in the air as it slow-cooks in the oven. This recipe seemed particularly sumptuous, courtesy of the garlic and chipotle. I looked forward to tasting the recipe from the minute I began preparation.

Holy pig, this one was good! Okay, another really bad pun but I am who I am. That and I think my age is starting to show via the phrases and words that come tumbling out of my mouth. Being cool is no longer on my radar so I have completely given into the dorky side. I must say that embracing my inner dorkiness has been quite liberating and I think I will add it to my list of positives that come along with being 39. The list isn't exactly lengthy as of yet so any addition is more than welcome. My goodness, I am easily distracted. Once again, I need to get back to the task at hand. Are you starting to notice a pattern?

This dish was delicious and satisfying on several levels. Satisfying because it was a culinary accomplishment, because my family loved the food and appreciated my efforts, and because I personally enjoyed every bite. The pork was tender, the rice was cooked perfectly, the flavors melded beautifully and as you can see in the photo that my husband shot, the steaming plate of food was inviting. It just doesn't get any better than this in my kitchen. Please enjoy the recipe:

2-pound boneless pork butt roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
5 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 tsp)
1 Tbsp minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
3 scallions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp juice from fresh lime

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of pork and brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes; transfer to large bowl. Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil and remaining pork; transfer to bowl.

Add onion to fat left in pot and cook over medium heat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, chipotle, thyme and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and tomato sauce, scraping any browned bits. Add browned pork with accumulated juice and bring to simmer. Cover, transfer pot to oven and cook until pork is very tender, 75 to 90 minutes. Remove pot from oven and increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Defat braising liquid by letting liquid settle for 5 to 10 minutes then skimming fat away with ladle or wide spoon.

Bring defatted braising liquid to simmer and thoroughly stir in rice. Cover and continue to cook in oven until all rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 30 minutes, gently stirring rice from bottom of pot to top every 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, scallions and lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

A truly beautiful meal that will satisfy your palate and your soul.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Week Thirty-One Recap

I am going to deem this week an interesting and unique week of cooking. I started out with Oysters on the Half Shell with Three Mignonettes, even though I was the only person in my house that would eat them. I thought the oysters were tasty but food is much more pleasing for me when my family is able to enjoy it with me. The Beets and Greens Quesadillas were a hit and I would definitely make them again. I especially appreciate learning that I can saute raw beets, sliced with skin on, to serve at a few moment's notice. These two recipes make up the interesting portion of the week.

The unique portion was provided by the Chocolate Bean Brownies. Although the idea behind the recipe is good, the texture and consistency did not hit my palate correctly. Brad, Carl and I had a running joke today that the brownies would be perfect with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream and lots of chocolate sauce as to disguise the brownie. Brad and Carl actually didn't hate them; they both ate a few and commented that at least they were chocolate. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. All in all, it was a decent week of cooking. See recap below:

Washington Oysters on the Half Shell with Three Mignonettes
"Seattle Kitchen" by Tom Douglas
Page 63

Beets and Greens Quesadillas
"The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook" by Kim O'Donnel
Page 140

Chocolate Bean Brownies

Chocolate Bean Brownies

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Your eyes are not deceiving you. The recipe I chose for my last culinary experiment this week is Chocolate Bean Brownies and yes, by beans, I mean regular black beans and white beans. I made this choice out of sheer curiosity. My creativity level was less than desirable this week so my friend, Megan, sent me a link to the recipe. She had not yet prepared it so she thought that I might like to give it a whirl. Once I read the ingredients, I knew I had to try it; just to see what would happen. Not only have I never heard of brownies that incorporate beans, I have never substituted Agave Nectar for sugar while baking. I purchased a bottle of organic Agave Nectar a few months ago at PCC that I had not yet used. I have been curious as to whether or not it has a discernible flavor and this recipe provided me with the perfect opportunity to find out.

So how did it go? I am sorry to report that this recipe did not fare well. The texture was really strange. I mashed the beans to a pulp, as the recipe requested, but I could still feel the bean texture on my tongue with each bite. I baked the brownies at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. They were mushy so I put them back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes. The brownies were still a strange texture so I put them in for another 5 minutes. It ends up that the consistency is just fairly mushy in general. No amount of extra baking was going to help the cause. My final observation is that the agave nectar does indeed have a unique and discernible flavor. I don't completely dislike the flavor but it left an aftertaste in my mouth. As for Brad and Olivia? Let's just say that we have made an executive decision to stick with standard brownies. Our family prefers brownies when they are dense and as chocolaty as possible. The bean brownie recipe is as follows:

2 cans of black beans and/or white beans; drained, rinsed and mashed to a pulp (I used one can of each)
3/4 cup Agave Nectar or stevia powder
4 eggs, beaten to a light froth
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract or essence
3 Tbsp cocoa powder with 1/2 cup butter; make paste
2 Tbsp finely ground Linseed/almond meal, flaxseed or nuts/seeds (I used ground flaxseed)

Mix pulpy beans with Agave Nectar or stevia powder. Add ground meal, nuts or seeds and baking powder. Add cocoa powder-butter paste. Lastly, add frothy eggs and whisk all ingredients together. Place in lined baking pan and bake on medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes. (I lined my pan with parchment paper and guessed that 350 degrees was medium heat). Leave in pan to cool and then slice.

This was a fun experiment but not a recipe that I can recommend. The texture is strange and the flavor is light on chocolate while leaving an aftertaste. To look on the bright side, the recipe is both gluten-free and sugar-free when stevia is used as the sweetener.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beets and Greens Quesadillas

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I have been lacking inspiration this week so I am thankful that my neighbor, Lynda, saw me picking beets from my garden yesterday. She immediately recommended Beets and Greens Quesadillas. This dish has gone over like gangbusters the few times she has prepared it for her family. This was encouraging, since she has an 8-year old and a 6-year old. If they like the quesadillas, I would place bets that Olivia would like them as well. I absolutely love beets so I was confident that the recipe would suit me. Beets with cheese....... what isn't to like? Lynda e-mailed the recipe and wouldn't you know; it is from a vegetarian cookbook that I already own by a Seattle author named Kim O'Donnel. This was a no-brainer as a choice for one of this week's recipes.

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 unpeeled beet, sliced very thinly
1 bunch (4 to 5 cups) beet greens and/or chard, chopped finely
1 tsp chili powder, mild or hot
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp water
cooking spray
6 (8-inch) or 3 (10-inch) tortillas (whole wheat, spinach or tomato are recommended; I used wheat)
1 heaping cup Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese

As a side note, other vegetable options for this recipe include one small zucchini, 1 cup green cabbage, carrot rounds, Lacinato kale, sliced mushrooms and/or parsnips.

Heat oil in 10-inch or 12-inch skillet. Add onion and beet and cook over medium-high heat for about 6 minutes, stirring often. Add greens, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and water; stir until spices and salt are well distributed. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and all water has evaporated.

Transfer cooked vegetables to bowl, then wash and dry skillet. Heat clean skillet over medium-low heat and grease lightly with cooking spray (I use Canola oil and a pastry brush to coat pan instead of using cooking spray). Lay tortilla in pan, then spread about 2 Tbsp of cheese over half of tortilla. Cover cheese with 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of cooked vegetables. Spread another tablespoon of cheese over vegetables, then fold tortillas in half and flip it with spatula. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until tortillas is nicely browned and cheese is melted through.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Repeat with remaining tortillas, cheese and vegetables. Cut each quesadilla into four wedges with knife or pizza cutter. Makes 6 servings. Quesadillas can be assembled in advance and reheated within 24 hours.

This recipe was absolutely delicious! The array of spices seemed simple but when combined, they were rich, flavorful and complimented the bitterness of the beet greens. The beets were juicy and sweet and the recipe called for just the right amount of cheese. I am probably most excited about the fact that this recipe introduced me to a new way of cooking beets. I have only roasted them in the oven up until now, but I learned tonight that slicing them thin for sauteing worked beautifully. I can envision sauteing beets as a dinner side dish; just as I would saute zucchini or any other vegetable. Yay! A new way to use my garden beets! I would either serve this quesadilla for lunch or as a main dish with a crisp green salad on the side.

Washington Oysters on the Half Shell with Three Mignonettes

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I know oysters on the half shell are not for everyone. I have heard time and time again that the texture is slimy, that they taste like the ocean and that they do not look appetizing. I beg to differ on two of the three counts. I have been known to enjoy an oyster shooter now and again and I also enjoy pan-fried oysters. Yes, they do taste a bit like the ocean but isn't that the point? It's a shellfish for goodness sake! I understand that the texture can be a bit daunting at first, but once you accept the texture and move through it, oysters are delicious. Although I am excited to try this oyster recipe, it is too much of a leap for Brad. Raw oysters are not something that he prefers so I will be the only one eating them tonight.

The recipe I chose is from a Tom Douglas cookbook. One thing I like about his books is that they often include technical instructions. I have never shucked an oyster so I really appreciate the fact that he included step-by-step instructions for shucking properly.

1. Stick oyster knife in at hinge while holding oyster down on counter with your other hand, then twist knife.
2. Pull back and clean knife of dirt and broken shell.
3. Return knife to oyster and, with blade angled toward top of shell, slice through length of oyster.
4. Remove top shell.
5. Clean away dirt or bits of shell on oyster.
6. Scoop under oyster and cut bottom muscle.
7. Place oyster on bed of crushed ice.

The recipe cautions the cook to take time and to try not to rush things as not to cut into the oyster. According to Tom Douglas, the important thing is that the shucked oyster is clean and pristine, with no little bits of shell or dirt. I must say, I shucked with flying colors. The instructions were spot on and I was able to shuck all twelve without any big hitches. So, now that I know how to shuck an oyster, on to the recipe!

1 dozen oysters; scrubbed, rinsed and shucked
1 lemon, cut into wedges

For Classic Mignonette Sauce-
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp minced shallots
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper

For Tabasco Mignonette-
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp minced shallots
3/4 tsp honey
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Asian fish sauce
freshly ground black pepper

For Sake Mignonette-
2 Tbsp sake
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
freshly ground black pepper

For each mignonette, combine ingredients in small bowl. On the plate, serve oysters on the half shell over a bed of crushed ice with small ramekins of mignonettes and lemon wedges. Oysters also look beautiful served on bed of seaweed and ice. Mignonettes can be made several hours ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator. Makes 2 servings.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I prepared the mignonettes the evening prior to serving the oysters. They kept in the refrigerator beautifully so it was a good move on my part. I was feeling a bit lazy about getting started so I decided to break the preparation into phases. This left me with only shucking and arranging for today's tasks. So in an oyster shell (sorry for the bad pun but I am my father's daughter), I enjoyed all six of the oysters that I tried. I was surprised by the creaminess of the oysters and the flavor was quite fresh. My favorite mignonette was probably the classic although all three were tasty and it was nice to have a choice with each oyster. For the classic, I went with cider vinegar instead of champagne vinegar. I used Live Evening Cove Oysters that are harvested just north of Washington, around Vancouver Island, BC. Although I planned on using Washington's famous Willapa Bay Oysters, Live Evening Cove came highly recommended by Seattle Fish Company so I went with the recommendation. These were the only deviations from the original recipe.