Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Monday, December 15, 2014

Classic Pecan Pie

Two years ago, I made an amazing Chocolate Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving Day dessert. The pie was gooey, crunchy, not too sweet, and just plain delicious. For comparison, I decided that this year, I would prepare a traditional pecan pie for Thanksgiving. Although this pie was quite good, I kept finding myself daydreaming about the Chocolate Pecan Pie and wishing I had stuck with it for this year. 

Adding chocolate to pecan pie somehow cuts down the sweetness and creates a more rich, savory quality. This Classic Pecan Pie was as good as any traditional pecan pie I have eaten in the past but there is something special about the chocolate version. I guess there's no question which one I will make next year! If you don't happen to be a chocolate person, however, this pie recipe is a good choice. It is a bit on the sweet side so I recommend cutting the sugar from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

1 cup Karo Light Corn Syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 9-inch unbaked deep dish pie crust

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans.

Pour pie into crust. Bake at 350 degrees on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool before serving.

The author of this recipe offers the following tips. The pie is done when center reaches 200 degrees. Tap center surface of pie lightly; it should spring back when done. For easy clean-up, spray pie pan  with cooking spray. If pie crust is browning, cover edges with foil. 

I used the same pie crust that I used a few posts ago for my Blueberry Pie. The crust is made by Silly Zak's and it is all-natural, gluten free, wheat free, non-GMO, and preservative free. I am open to making my own pie crust but this one is so good that I can't find a reason to go to that much trouble! 

Recipe Source: 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Perfect "Sunday Dinner" Pork Roast

The weather in Seattle has cooled down quickly! We went from enjoying the most beautiful five months of summer weather, which is unheard of in these parts, to waking up and being greeted by 27 degree weather. I finally came to grips with the fact that it is time to move dinner preparation from the barbecue to the oven. This is the first recipe I have prepared this fall that feels warm and homey. Bring on the cold winds and rain! We are ready.......
(As a side note, this entry was originally written in mid October but not posted until now).

2-3 pound boneless pork loin roast
2-3 large carrots, chopped in 2-inch chunks
8 small red and white potatoes, cut into halves or fourths, depending on size
1 large onion cut in eighths
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher salt
sweet paprika
fresh ground pepper
olive oil
chicken stock for deglazing

Sprinkle the roast with salt, pepper, and paprika. Brown the roast in olive oil on all sides in oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. This locks in the juices and keeps the pork flavorful.

Add chopped carrots, potatoes, and onions and a few sprigs of thyme under the roast and around the pan. Place in 350 degree oven or 325 degree convection oven.

Cook roast 20 minutes per pound. Remove and check temperature with the goal of reaching 160 degrees. The roast usually requires an additional 10 to 20 minutes at this stage. Continue to cook until roast reaches desired temperature. Remove roast and cover with foil to rest. Remove vegetables and set aside.

Place pan back on stove over medium-low heat. Remember that the pan handle will be hot so be careful. Deglaze pan with chicken broth and scrape up little brown bits. Let it reduce a bit to create a delicious sauce.

The final result was simple but absolutely delicious. Because the list of ingredients is minimal, the flavors are distinct and pure. We particularly enjoyed the way the flavors of thyme and sweet paprika shined through. On a completely unrelated side note, have you ever tried sweet paprika or smoked paprika on popcorn? If not, give it a whirl. It is delicious!

I chose to use a pork roast from Metropolitan Market that was butchered to my specifications. Met Market always does a beautiful job providing the perfect cut of meat so it is a no-brainer to go directly to them. Finally, the original recipe did not call for potatoes as part of the preparation. It instead recommended that the pork roast, carrots, and onions be served with mashed potatoes. While my family does appreciate a good mashed potato, we also like roasted potatoes. I decided to make a one-pan meal and modified the recipe in order to do so. As always, enjoy!

Recipe Source:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fresh Blueberry Pie

Olivia and I added blueberry picking to our summer agenda in June but we didn't make it to the blueberry field until mid August. I hadn't picked blueberries since I was a kid and it was Olivia's first time. I was quickly reminded how time consuming this type of harvesting can be but with the little blondie by my side, what could have been tedium turned into a good time. We picked what we thought would be just enough berries to make a pie and then headed back to the Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm U-Pick counter to pay for our bounty.

When I began looking for a blueberry pie recipe online, I knew I wanted a pie that did not have a crust on top. I found this recipe and decided to run with it. What a good choice! Not only was the recipe super easy to execute; it called for 5 cups of blueberries, which was exactly how many blueberries Olivia and I picked. It was cooking kismet for sure.

1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold water
3 Tbsp cornstarch
5 cups fresh blueberries; divided
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 pastry shell, 9 inches, baked

In a saucepan on medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water until smooth. Add 3 cups of blueberries. Bring to a boil, cook and stir for 2 minutes until thickened and bubbly.

Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, butter and remaining 2 cups of blueberries. Stir until butter is melted. Cool. Pour into pastry shell.

Refrigerate until serving. Makes 8 servings.

As a side note, I used Silly Zak's Pie Crust which is an all-natural pie crust that is gluten free, wheat free, non-GMO, and preservative free. The company is based out of Central Point, Oregon.

Recipe Source:
(originally published in Country Magazine June/July 1999, page 49)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Spaghettini con Pesto Trapanese

One of my husband's favorite foods is homemade pesto. When I stumbled across this recipe, I knew it was a risk to deviate from my standard pesto recipe, which calls for pine nuts, but I decided to give it a try. The final result went over like gangbusters. I was aware that nuts other than pine nuts can be used to make pesto but I was skeptical. After preparing and eating this recipe, I can tell you that almonds are fabulous in pesto! They provide a nuttier, more toothsome experience than pine nuts. I chose to use roasted almonds, as opposed to raw for this recipe.

The other difference between this pesto and my signature pesto, is the inclusion of diced tomatoes. I was certain I would enjoy the addition of tomatoes because they are one of my favorite foods, but I wasn't sure what Brad would think. The tomatoes were actually a wonderful addition that everyone liked. They provided another layer of texture and a juiciness that is otherwise not usually found in pesto. Recipe follows.......

2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
30 g (1 oz) shelled almonds, raw or roasted, coarsely chopped
85 g (3 1/2 oz) Parmesan or pecorino cheese, freshly grated or in small pieces
30-40 g (1- 1 1/2 oz) fresh basil leaves
125 ml (4 1/2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
100 g (4 oz) fresh ripe tomatoes, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
400 g (14 oz) spaghettini, gemelli (pasta twists), casarecci, penne, or flat linguine
extra Parmesan for grating on top

If preparing by hand, finely chop all ingredients and mix together in a bowl. If using a food processor or blender, whizz garlic, then add almonds and cheese and process until almonds are chunky.

Remove to bowl and finely chop basil in processor or blender, then add olive oil and whizz together. Stir into nut and cheese mixture, then stir in tomatoes and taste for seasoning.

In large pan of rapidly boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, then drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the hot pasta with pesto, adding a few tablespoons of reserved water if desired. Offer extra Parmesan to grate on top.

Author's recommended variation: In the little Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, locally grown capers are tossed into the mix, giving a tangy, briny quality to the finished dish. These capers are terrific, preserved in salt rather than vinegar.

I used organic hothouse tomatoes, pre-peeled garlic, and organic basil, grown locally by a company called HerbCo out of Duvall, Washington. As a side note, I found it unnecessary to pre-chop the almonds since I was using my Oster food processor. Also, I had to pull out my kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients in ounces, since this recipe noted weight, instead of volume, to measure ingredients.

All in all, this was a great recipe that I will absolutely prepare again in the future. Chalk another one up for Marlena Spieler. Her recipes never disappoint. Enjoy!

Recipe Source:
"Pasta" by Marlena Spieler
Page 63

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chili & Lime Slow-Cooked Pork with Onion Escabeche and Mangoes with Chile and Lime

All photos courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Let the games begin! We are back to hosting meals for friends and family at our house and I am really getting into it. Last night we invited our friends, Byron, Cari and Ava Anderson, over for dinner. They are lovely dinner guests because conversation is always good and they are easy to be around. As a bonus, Ava always tells great riddles, which adds a fun touch to our evening.

I wanted to prepare something casual but delicious so I searched through a few cookbooks until I found two recipes that I knew would compliment each other well. The first is Chili & Lime Slow-Cooked Pork with Onion Escabeche. This recipe is from a local chef named Kathy Casey. I always enjoy using recipes by Northwest food experts because they are usually inspired by the cultural heritage of our region and often use locally inspired ingredients. This particular recipe features culinary influences from the Northwest's Latin American heritage.

The second recipe is from a Quick and Easy Mexican cookbook that I purchased last year. This is the first recipe I have cooked from this book and it was absolutely delicious. The day before our dinner, I went grocery shopping for the ingredients. I asked the produce specialist at Metropolitan Market to choose my mangoes because I sometimes choose fruit that is underripe. I wanted them to be perfect for our dinner so he chose three mangoes that were almost ready. He then gave me a paper bag and told me to put them on my windowsill in the bag until I was ready to use them. I learned that mango skins are slightly wrinkled when they are at their perfect ripeness. Sure enough, by the next afternoon when I took the mangoes out of the paper bag, they were the soft and sweet. I love learning helpful hints like this!

Chili & Lime Slow-Cooked Pork with Onion Escabeche

1/4 cup chili powder
1 Tbsp coriander seed, crushed
1 Tbsp salt
1 boneless pork butt (shoulder), about 3 pounds, cut into 2 pieces
2 large tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 large carrots, julienned
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh lime
2 Tbsp corn or other vegetable oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (about 1 bunch)
1 tsp salt

warm corn tortillas
sour cream
salsa or freshly made pico de gallo
Queso Fresco (Mexican-style fresh cheese)
fresh cilantro sprigs
lime wedges

To prepare the pork, mix chili powder, coriander seed, and salt in a large, shallow bowl. Roll pork in mixture, taking up all seasoning. Put pork in slow-cooker, add remaining ingredients, and set cooker on high. Let cook for 8 hours; or up to 10 hours.

When ready to serve, mix escabeche ingredients well and place in serving dish.

Shred pork and place in large serving bowl with some of the cooking liquid. Serve pork and escabeche with accompaniments. Diners build their own soft tacos then squeeze lime juice over filling before folding.

Chef's note: To heat tortillas, place them one by one on a dry skillet over medium-high heat and turn frequently. As they are heated, place them between folds of a clean dish towel or cloth napkin. Wrap towel in foil to steam tortillas in their own heat. Or, microwave tortillas briefly and put into a napkin as recommended above.

Mangoes With Chile and Lime

1 dried pasilla or ancho chile, seeded and stemmed (or you can buy pure ground chile or chile mixes)
2 ripe mangoes
1 or 2 lime(s)

In spice grinder or coffee mill, process dried chile until it becomes medium-fine powder. Peel and seed mangoes and cut them into strips or cubes. Arrange in four separate bowls or on plates.

Grate a bit of lime zest over mangoes. Quarter the lime and squeeze juice over the mangoes. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and powdered chile. If desired, cut second lime into slices or wedges and serve on the side as garnish or for extra squeezing.

The verdict is in and we all loved these two dishes! The pork was cooked to perfection and had a nice subtle flavor. The texture was absolutely wonderful. The escabeche was my favorite part of the dish. The flavor was refreshing but strong and tangy. It added the perfect amount of brightness and acidity to the dish. The mangoes were delicious as well! I sliced one mango and left it plain for the Olivia and Ava to enjoy and prepared the other two mangoes per the recipe. Lime zest, salt, and peppers go beautifully with mangoes. The ingredients actually enhanced the sweetness of the mangoes. As a side note, I ended up using ground red pepper flakes instead of pasilla or ancho chiles. I thought I had a dried ancho chile at home and when I discovered that I had already used it, I decided to improvise. Red pepper flakes worked well with this dish and it is an ingredient that most of us already have in our cupboard.

Cari ended up putting the mangoes on her tacos, which was a great idea. The sweet element complimented the pork and escabeche. I ate most of my mangoes as a side dish but added mango to my last few bites of taco. I also need to give credit to the Queso Fresco. I went to PCC Natural Market and purchased an all natural, no preservative, rBST Hormone Free cheese by Don Froylan. So tasty! I would absolutely prepare this dish again in exactly the same way; no changes necessary.

Recipe Sources:

Chili & Lime Slow-Cooked Pork with Red Onion Escabeche
"Kathy Casey's Northwest Kitchen" by Kathy Casey
Page 147

Mangoes with Chile and Lime
"Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking" by Cecilia Have-Jin Lee
Page 136

A Few of My Favorite Pre-Made Sauces

Although I haven't been posting new recipes as of late, I have been cooking quite a bit. I have come to the conclusion that I missed cooking some of our family's favorite meals while we were kitchenless so I have been sticking with the basics. I have however, been thumbing through my cookbooks again, which always leads to trouble. Stay tuned for some good summer dishes coming your way.......

In the meantime, I have decided to feature a few of my favorite items to use in the kitchen. For this post, I am concentrating on Pre-Made Sauces. I will write about other types of products in the future but I thought this was a good place to start.

Over the past few years, I have turned into a sauce snob. I never realized how great sauces can taste until I started preparing them from scratch. There are three pre-made sauces, however, that I cannot duplicate or improve. The first is San-J Teriyaki Stir-Fry & Marinade Sauce (this item happens to be gluten-free). The ingredients include soy sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, ginger puree, plum juice and sake. Somehow, the mixture of these ingredients creates the perfect salty meets sweet flavor. Every time I serve this sauce whether in stir-fry, as meatball marinade or on rice, it solicits positive comments. If the crowd that I am feeding is happy, my work is done.

Roasted Apple Grille Sauce by Stonewall Kitchen has become a staple in our family. I typically serve it with pork or with sausage but the bottle also recommends adding it to homemade baked beans.  Consider this recommendation officially on my list of things to try. This sauce can be used during the cooking process or used cold as a condiment. I can't decide whether it is so good because the apples are roasted or if the cider vinegar, maple syrup and dijon mustard make it fantastic. It has a tangy quality that really appeals to me and the texture is absolute perfection. All I can say, is that this is one of our favorite foods and it makes every pork dish taste better. Check out other sauces and products by Stonewall Kitchen by clicking on this link. They also make an amazing Strawberry Jam that is a family favorite.

Finally, Patak's Original Brinjal Egglplant is technically considered a relish but I use it like a sauce on rice, pita bread and as a spread on sandwiches. This product contains eggplant, chili pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and mustard which create a spicy pickled flavor. It definitely delivers a kick but in my opinion, it offers just the right amount of spice. As a side note, it is both gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians. This is truly one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ham, Zucchini & Gruyere Frittata, Potato & Red-Pepper Frittata, and French Vinaigrette

Hello! After a long hiatus during a remodel that lasted longer than expected, I am finally back in business! I am over the moon about my new kitchen; the end result is beyond my wildest dreams. I promise to share photos and a description soon but for now, I am just thrilled to get back to cooking and writing.

Today was the perfect day. I hosted a birthday brunch for one of my dearest friends, Heidi. This was  exciting on several fronts. First of all, I was able to get back to one of my favorite pastimes; cooking for friends and family. Next, three friends and I were able to celebrate Heidi and spend uninterrupted time together (with a combined eight kids that are six years old and under, uninterrupted time is hard to come by). And finally, watching my friends enjoy our new beautiful kitchen, dining and living space was a long awaited event. I have spent much of the past two years working with architects, contractors and designers to plan and execute our remodel. The reason Brad and I decided to embark on such a big transformation was to create a place to gather with the people we love. Today, I felt the relief and satisfaction of seeing our plan come to fruition.

For today's meal, I decided to make frittatas as main dishes and green salad, fruit and muffins as side dishes.

I chose a Ham, Zucchini and Gruyere Frittata for the first recipe and a Potato and Red-Pepper Frittata for the second recipe. I also prepared a homemade French style vinaigrette to dress the green salad. My plan was to prepare all ingredients the evening prior to hosting the brunch in order to make the morning easy and enjoyable. As you can see in the photo below, this plan worked great. I had everything chopped, sliced and separated in containers. This made assembling and cooking a breeze.

Ham, Zucchini and Gruyere Recipe:

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped sliced deli ham (5 ounces)
2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4" half moons (2 cups)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (1 1/2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In 10-inch nonstick oven proof skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add ham and zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook about 5 minutes.

Add eggs and cheese, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook, undisturbed, until edges are set, about 2 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and cook until top of frittata is set, about 10 to 13 minutes. The frittata will appear to be mostly liquid on top when you transfer it to the oven but as long as the edges are set, the eggs will finish cooking evenly. Invert or slide frittata onto a plate and cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: I prefer to serve frittatas in the skillet, directly from the oven. I do not transfer them to a plate before serving.

Potato and Red-Pepper Frittata recipe:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced (I used three small shallots instead of onion)
1 red pepper with stems, ribs and seeds removed, sliced into thin strips
2 rusett potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices (about 1 pound)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 large eggs
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (I used ground rosemary from a Seattle market called Local 360 and Herbs de Provence from Savenor's in Cambridge, MA which was Julia Child's favorite cooking store)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In an 8-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet, heat one teaspoon oil over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is lightly browned, about five minutes. Transfer to bowl; set aside.

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in skillet. Add potatoes; season generously with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, tossing often, until potatoes are tender and lightly browned; about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onion and peppers and mix together. Transfer back to skillet; flatten with spatula.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Pour over potato mixture and tilt pan to distribute evenly. Bake until set, 15 to 20 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Both frittatas were delicious! I am not sure which one I preferred because they were both so tasty. I highly recommend either type for brunch or dinner. As a matter of fact, frittatas are so easy to make, that you can literally open the refrigerator, see what you have hanging around, and add it all together with eggs to create your own version. Add fruit or a side salad and dinner is done.

From my experiences eating at French-inspired bistros in Seattle and from eating at a few bistros in Paris, I learned that I truly enjoy a simply dressed green salad with brunch. There is something about salad greens lightly dressed with vinaigrette that add freshness to a meal. This served as my inspiration for choosing the following recipe for French Vinaigrette.

French Vinaigrette recipe:

1 Tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 Tbsp)
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 to 4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (optional but I chose to use fresh parsley)

In a small bowl, mix together salt, shallot and vinegar. Let stand for 10 minutes. Mix in Dijon mustard and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. If flavor is too sharp, add fourth tablespoon olive oil and/or more salt. Add fresh herbs if desired. Chop and mix in herbs shortly before serving to keep them fresh.

This dressing just might possibly be my new favorite. The proportion of ingredients was spot-on and the addition of fresh parsley was perfect. I will be preparing it repeatedly in the future and using it as my go-to dressing. My guests and I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up for sure.

I purchased dessert at Metropolitan Market because they offer such beautiful options. I chose four mini-desserts; Brown Butter and Pear Tart, Lemon-Meringue Tart, Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake and Strawberry-Rhubarb Tart. All were delectable and were the perfect ending to a gratifying meal. Don't they look delicious?

I have one final tidbit of information to share. I mentioned that I prepared muffins as one of my side dishes. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I decided to use an organic Oatmeal Muffin mix by Dr. Oetker that I have used before. The recipe calls for one egg but due to the 16 eggs I needed for the frittatas, I had zero eggs left when it was time to make the muffins. I googled "egg-substitutes for baking" and found out that 1/4 cup oatmeal with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder mixed together can be used in place of an egg. The muffins turned out great and no one would ever suspect the egg was missing. What a great solution that  is easy to remember.

Cheers to a memorable day with treasured friends and delicious food!

Recipe sources:
Ham, Zucchini and Gruyere Frittata: marthastewart.com
Potato and Red-Pepper Frittata: marthastweart.com
French Vinaigrette: davidlebovitz.com

All Photos Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy