Friday, May 29, 2009

Just a Sandwich: Parsley Cheese Sandwiches

I haven’t been in my usual cooking mode this week. Maybe I’m a little off because of the long holiday weekend we just had. Plus, the bright summer-like days here in Portland are distracting. This is the time for easy salads and sandwiches. When it comes to sandwiches, I’d like to tell you that I don’t miss the meat at all, but that would not be true. I love pastrami on rye or a good Reuben, and I definitely haven’t found a meatless version that measures up (and yes, I’ve tried).

Fortunately, there are plenty of good non-meat sandwiches. There’s grilled cheese of course – some good cheese, quality bread and you’ve got a great sandwich. Plus, there are so many ways to change it up: olive tapenade, basil, tomato, apple, nuts, onion, pesto, pepperoncini, and of course, there are all kinds of cheese. With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless. I even thought of a few new ideas just now that I’m going to have to try – how about bleu cheese, hazelnuts, and red onion?

The BLT is another good one. Veggie ”bacon” works well for this sandwich and I truly don’t miss having the real stuff on my BLT. Again, you can play around with this sandwich by adding extras like those above or avocado (I know, that’s an obvious one), aioli, good mustard, or I like red wine vinaigrette with shallots.

I also really enjoy hummus and cucumber sandwiches. You can make your own hummus or pick up some pre-made stuff – I’m sure you’ve seen the extensive selection at the grocery store with roasted peppers, garlic, olives and other additions. Many of them are quite good.

Another one of my favorites is a parsley cheese sandwich. It’s just a little different than your everyday deli sandwich, and I thought you might like to try it. The cheese is very rich, but the parsley is fresh and bright. I still pile on the greens though, and serve it with a cucumber-tomato salad to counter the richness.

Parsley Cheese Sandwiches  PRINTABLE RECIPE
(makes 6 sandwiches)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp water
2 cups (8 oz) grated Gruyère or Emmenthaler cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 shallots - finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
12 slices crusty bread or 6 crusty rolls
baby greens or lettuce and/or tomato slices

1. Whisk together vinegar and mustard. Add oil and water, and whisk until well combined. Stir in cheese, parsley, and shallots.

2. Spoon 1/3 cup cheese mixture onto a slice of bread. Garnish with greens, lettuce, and tomato as desired, and top with another bread slice.

Enjoy, and I hope you have a happy, sunny weekend!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Watermelon Salad

Fresh, crisp, juicy watermelon on a summer day – who doesn’t love it? Watermelon balls, chunks, wedges, or a half-melon with a spoon. Slurping up sweetness, spitting seeds, pink juice dripping down your chin. It’s simple and refreshing, and doesn’t need any dressing up. Or does it?

When I was a kid, I thought it was pretty strange that my South Dakota cousins salted their watermelon. Curiously, I tried it. The flavors danced around my mouth, and though, to this day, I prefer my watermelon wedges salt-free, the contrast between the fresh sweetness and the warm saltiness was stirring.

Then there’s the pickled watermelon my grandmother used to make. It was actually pieces of watermelon rind with vinegar, sugar, and spices. Good, but the breathtaking freshness of cool, crisp watermelon was completely gone. This was a different thing altogether.

A couple years ago, I came across a recipe for a watermelon salad. No, not a bunch of melon balls with a little citrus and mint. A real salad – with bitter greens, onions, nuts, cheese, and watermelon. How intriguing! I tried it and loved the crisp, tender, salty, crunchy, sweet, bitter salad. Contrasting flavors and textures abounded and somehow worked together beautifully.

To some of you, this will be nothing new or different. Since encountering this recipe, I’ve come across several similar ones. For the rest of you: try it. Keep an open mind, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

I haven’t gotten creative with this recipe, except that I haven’t managed to find raspberry vinegar, so I’ve used balsamic instead. I also used feta cheese instead of ricotta salata one time, and it’s good with either one. Because I haven’t added a twist to make this recipe my own, I’ll simply send you to Food & Wine for the original recipe: Watermelon and Arugula Salad with Walnuts

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Food We Choose (and my favorite grilled tofu recipe)

One of my readers suggested I write something about issues related to how our food is produced – raising of crops and livestock, food processing, etc. I’ve decided not to do so. For now, I want this blog to be about enjoying food and cooking, not a commentary about what we should or should not eat or why. I will say these issues are very important to me. Food production methods and the impact on our environment are the reasons I stay on a mostly vegetarian diet. I will ask that you think about where your food comes from; consider using organic products; and consider buying from local farmers. I understand that buying local and organic can be costly and somewhat inconvenient, and it may not be an option for you/your family at this time. But at least be aware of what you’re actually getting for the food dollars you spend – the impact on the environment, the economy, and the nutritional value. If you want more information, I have provided a few links on the side bar under the heading, THE FOOD WE CHOOSE. It’s up to you. I’m done.

Now I want to talk about tofu. I happen to like it, but let’s not pretend it’s a meat substitute. It’s a decent protein source, and when prepared well, it can be really enjoyable, but you’re never gonna fool anyone into thinking it’s chicken or steak. It’s not meat; it’s soybean curd.

Tofu itself is bland, however it absorbs the flavors of seasonings and marinades very well. Asian restaurants, where I generally substitute tofu for meat in stir-fry and curry dishes, seem to do the best job preparing tofu. Marinated and stir-fried, it can be very flavorful. Fried tofu is also good, and the frying adds a little bit of a crusty, chewy, even meaty texture.

My favorite way to prepare tofu at home is marinated and grilled with green beans and onions. I think the key to success is to remove excess water from the tofu before you start. This allows the tofu to absorb all the flavor of the marinade. The original recipe, from Vegetarian Times, calls for arugula for the salad. I find that my family is happier with mixed greens with just some arugula. I’ve also found that frozen green beans work just as well, if not better, than fresh green beans, so that’s what I recommend. Finally, I’ve always prepared this on a rectangular, stovetop, cast iron grill pan. Feel free, however, to try it on an outdoor grill, using a perforated rack to cook the beans and onions.

Spicy Grilled Tofu & Green Bean Salad  PRINTABLE RECIPE

15 oz extra-firm tofu
5 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (I use one from Huy Fong Foods)
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 Lb frozen green beans
1 medium yellow onion - halved and cut into slivers
5 oz mixed greens

1. Wrap tofu in paper towels or a tea towel and squeeze gently to remove excess water. Re-wrap in a fresh, dry towel and allow to set for about 15 minutes.

2. Mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, vinegar, chili garlic sauce, and garlic in a 9" x 13" inch glass baking dish.

3. Unwrap tofu and pat dry. Slice into 3 pieces horizontally and then cut each of those pieces in half. Add tofu to marinade, turn over to coat, and let sit for 15 minutes.

4. Heat a cast iron grill pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Spray tofu with cooking spray on both sides, and grill until browned and crusty – 3 to 4 minutes per side.

5. Arrange greens on a large serving platter, and place grilled tofu on top.

6. While the tofu grills, add beans and onion to remaining marinade, and toss to coat.

7. Grill beans and onion, turning frequently with tongs, until beans are tender and browned – 8 to 10 minutes.

8. Arrange beans and onion on top of tofu. Pour any remaining marinade over salad and serve.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Dragon Herb: Potato Salad with Green Beans, Tomoatoes, & Tarragon

Tarragon, also known as "dragon herb" or "little dragon," is a lovely thing. I really only came to appreciate it last summer when I found and made a recipe for green bean and tomato salad with tarragon dressing from Food & Wine magazine. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been experimenting with tarragon and on the lookout for recipes ever since. If you’re not cooking with fresh tarragon already, please give it a try. It’s simply wonderful! I wrote last week about a tarragon-butter sauce that's divine. Try that or try the salad (below). I’m sure you'll enjoy them both.

For some reason, back when I first made the green bean and tomato salad, I had an irresistible urge to add some potatoes to the recipe. I did, and it turned out fantastic. I like to use a combination of purple, red, and yellow potatoes and a mix of green and yellow string beans. It makes for a nice, colorful salad. If you prefer, however, you can use green beans only and whatever color potato you prefer – just stick with with smaller ones from the waxy family of potatoes.

Potato, Green Bean, & Tomato Salad
with Tarragon Dressing  PRINTABLE RECIPE

1/3 Lb small to medium purple, red, and yellow potatoes
3/4 Lb green and yellow string beans
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots – minced
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pint mini pearl or grape tomatoes – halved

1. Place potatoes in a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender – about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and cook until just tender – about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside to continue cooling.
3. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil with shallots and tarragon, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Cut the cooled potatoes into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl along with the beans and tomatoes.
5. Add the dressing and toss well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend before serving.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cocktails on My Mind

A little play at the Back Door Theatre brought us to the Hawthorne district last Friday night, and we stopped in at the Sapphire Hotel on SE 50th & Hawthorne for a drink. This was my second visit to the long-past hotel lobby, which is now a bar serving inventive cocktails and small plates. I love the intimate atmosphere with dark wood, candlelight, and throw pillows.

The plates I've tried are pretty good. We tried the cheese platter a number of months ago, and it was impressive with a basic, but very nice assortment of cheeses, fruits, and nuts. The guacamole on Friday night was fine, though nothing special (see The Guacamole Experiment). Unfortunately, the house drink concoctions, though intriguing, were disappointing. I so wanted to like the Concierge – cucumber infused gin with Pimms, lemonade, and ginger beer – but the combination just didn't work for me. Friday, I went for Going Up? – serrano pepper infused tequila, cilantro, lime juice, and sweet & sour with a salted rim. This drink was better. I loved the heat of the pepper infused tequila, and the cilantro was nice, but it was a lot of sweet, not much sour, and the salted rim just didn't work for me. I think the mixologist may be trying too hard. There's way too much going on with these drinks, at least for my palette.

For a muddled cilantro drink, I much prefer the Ad Lib – vodka, cilantro, and lemon lime juice, with a sugared rim – at Mint/820 on N Russell. Apparently you can order a spicy version of this drink for $1 extra! Mmmm, I'll have to try that next time. 820 also makes an unbelievably good Avocado Daiquiri, and their signature drink, Mint – rum, mint, grapefruit juice, soda, and a splash of bitter – is also excellent. You can find recipes for most of 820's drinks in owner and mixologist, Lucy Brennan's book, Hip Sips.

One more favorite drink can be found at Yakuza Lounge at NE 30th & Killingsworth. The Basil Honey with tequila, basil, honey, and lime is heavenly. The menu has changed quite a bit since I visited, but I tried several small dishes when I dined there last summer and had a truly enjoyable meal.

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend, and please drink responsibly!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Things Go Right, Things Go Wrong (with a delicious recipe for Tarragon-Butter Sauce)

The last couple evenings, dinner has not turned out so great. Two nights ago, I made swiss chard and caramelized onion lasagna. I found the recipe under “favorites” on the Vegetarian Times web site. It entailed a lot more effort than I normally put into a weeknight dinner, but the chard from the farmers' market had to be used, so I decided to go for it. My husband was late getting home from work, so children were parked in front of the television while I cooked. Soon, pots and pans, knives, bowls, measuring devices, and all sorts of ingredients were everywhere. Noodles were ready and waiting here; chard and ricotta were combined and on hand over there. At one point, I was sautéing onions with one hand and whisking milk with the other. Where was my sous chef when I needed him! Finally, when everything was assembled and going into the oven, he pulled into the driveway.

While the lasagna baked, I cleaned up and made a salad to go with the rich, creamy lasagna I was eagerly anticipating. The kids had finished snacking their way through dinner at least an hour before we sat down to our late supper. The lasagna looked perfect, but taste good? Not so much. How disappointing! It just had no pizzazz. It was bland and boring. Nothing seemed to be wrong with it – it just lacked… It lacked! The little salad however, with baby romaine, mini pearl tomatoes, basil, garlic, Parmesan, a few cubes of day-old bread, balsamic, and olive oil, was wonderful. We ate it all up and wished it had been the main course.

Last night, another new recipe – sole with tarragon-butter sauce. Luckily, this recipe was pretty simple and prepared all in one pan (I love that). Again, I made a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, chives – that's it) to go with it. Plus, we had some crusty bread. This time it may have been my fault. I do have a tendency to over-cook fish, but I think it was just poor quality, previously frozen and re-frozen fish. The tarragon-butter sauce though, was delightful. Thank goodness for the bread, which I used to sop up that heavenly liquid. I’ll definitely be making the sauce again.

So, things go wrong, but other things go right: I ended up with a great salad that was just thrown together, and a fantastic sauce that I know I’ll make again and again. Cooking is an adventure that's disappointing sometimes, but it's great when you discover something new and delicious.

Here’s the recipe for the sauce only. If you’re not already a tarragon fan, this will make you one. Try it with a nice, fresh piece of fish or maybe with steamed mussels.

Tarragon-Butter Sauce  PRINTABLE RECIPE

3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1 Tbsp minced garlic
5 tsp butter – cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
1-1/2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add wine, broth, shallots, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 cup – about 10 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and stir in butter, salt, chives, and tarragon. You're done!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Memories of the Corn Carnival (with recipes for Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes and Cornbread Casserole)

Growing up in Minnesota, I used to go with a friend to her grandmother’s house each August for the Cokato Corn Carnival. It was a small-town carnival with rides and games, fried food and frozen treats, and of course, corn. I remember riding the tilt-a-whirl again and again, playing bingo (with dried corn kernels to mark our squares), and eating blue raspberry snow cones. At a certain time of day, a train whistle would blow signaling the corn on the cob was ready, and free for carnival attendees. We’d get in line for an ear of buttery sweet corn to eat right then, and more to bring back to the grandmother’s house for that night’s dinner. The Cokato web site tells me the carnival is still going strong. This August will bring the 60th Cokato Corn Carnival, complete with the coronation of Miss Cokato and a parade. And the corn is still free!

When I think of the Corn Carnival, I also remember the grandmother’s house, sleeping on the porch, picking zucchini in the garden, watching As the World Turns, and eating these fantastic chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese filling. After many years, I recently got a craving for them. The grandmother has died, but I emailed my old friend for the recipe. They somehow aren’t quite what I remembered, but they're still incredibly yummy, and my kids love them!

What made me think of all this? It was actually cornbread casserole – something I tried for the very first time last month. I don’t know how I managed to grow up in Minnesota, where corn is the king of vegetables and the “hot dish” rules the dinner table, and never get introduced to this casserole. No one else at the dinner last month seemed particularly excited about the corn dish, but I thought it was wonderful. Creamy and comforting like macaroni and cheese. Moist and crusty at the same time, like pie.

So today, I have two recipes for you. I’m sure there are dozens of versions of each of these midwest recipes. Here are the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed:

Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes  PRINTABLE RECIPE

8 oz cream cheese - softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg – slightly beaten
1/8 tsp salt
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Blend cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, egg, and 1/8 tsp salt in a small bowl. Stir in chocolate chips and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

4. In yet another bowl, sift together flour, 1 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt.

5. Add the flour mixture to the water and oil mixture, and mix well.

6. Fill paper cupcake cups 1/3 full with chocolate mixture. Then drop a large spoonful of cream cheese mixture on top of each.

7. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cornbread Casserole  PRINTABLE RECIPE

15 oz can cream style corn
15 oz can whole kernel corn - drained
8 oz box cornbread/muffin mix (Jiffy is recommended)
2 eggs - beaten
1/2 cup butter - melted
1/2 cup plain yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine everything in a bowl and mix well.

3. Pour into a greased 9" x 9" baking dish and bake at 350° for 1 hour.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sometimes, A Piece of Meat... Rosemary Roast Pork Sandwiches Au Jus

I’m not much of a meat eater for various reasons, and I very rarely cook it anymore. My husband, Dave, is fine with that, but he recently pointed out some meatful dishes that sounded good to him, and one of them appealed to me too, so last night we made Rosemary Roast Pork Sandwiches. Other than scalding my hand during the preparation, it was a great success. The kids did not partake, yet every last morsel of what was supposed to be six servings of pork, was consumed!

The original recipe can be found at Cooking Light or, with my very minor alterations, below. Dave added melted provolone to his. I added horseradish – fabulous! You can spoon some jus over the meat or dip the sandwich as you eat.

Note: Please be careful, after removing the skillet from the oven, not to grab the hot handle with your bare hand! This causes hours of throbbing pain; assistance is required to finish cooking; brushing teeth is difficult; it's a challenge to take care of a sick daughter and change her bedding; and even falling asleep is hard to do. Enjoying this sandwich however, is still totally doable.

Rosemary Roast Pork Sandwiches Au Jus  PRINTABLE RECIPE

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 garlic clove - minced
1 tsp olive oil
1 Lb pork tenderloin, trimmed
2 tsp olive oil
14 oz canned beef broth
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 Tbsp tomato paste
6 small sourdough sandwich rolls

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine pepper, rosemary, salt, garlic, and 1 tsp oil in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over pork and let stand 15 minutes.

3. Heat remaining 2 tsp of oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook 4 minutes, browning on all sides.

4. Place skillet in pre-heated oven and bake 10 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 160° (slightly pink). Let stand 5 minutes. (At this point, if you've burned your hand, your husband or partner can take over while you hold your hand under cold, running water.) Remove pork from pan and cut diagonally across the grain into 12 slices.

5. Return pan to medium-high heat, and add broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add sherry and tomato paste, and stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

6. Assemble sandwiches – two slices of pork for each roll – and serve with jus.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coffee Please!

I’m already wishing I hadn’t told you about being on a diet. Now, when I write about some of the food I’m eating you’re going to be thinking: Isn’t she on a diet? Should she really be eating that? Don’t tell me you won’t. We all do it. We love to judge people. All I’m asking is that you please keep these thoughts to yourself. I don’t need your comments about how fattening this or that is. I know. My philosophy is to enjoy good food, and I don’t intend to get carried away, but sometimes I will eat some major crap, nutritionally speaking.

With that said, I need to tell you about the chocolate almond croissant I ate this morning at Stumptown Coffee on SE 33rd & Belmont. At first, I thought – not that good. It wasn’t the delicate, buttery layers of pastry I expected. Then I had another bite and mmmm – a flaky exterior with barely bittersweet chocolate and a rich almond paste that tasted almost like caramel. It was really quite delicious. As a croissant, it might not stand up to the best ones out there (I like Grand Central Bakery’s and Marsee Baking’s croissants), but there was a yummy factor with this one that made it thoroughly enjoyable!

Anyway, the reason I went to Stumptown to begin with was coffee. I’m utterly sick of office coffee and bored with Starbuck’s (damn them for being so convenient!). Stumptown is not on my beaten path, but I had an appointment in the area this morning, so I finally had the chance to give them a try. I had a hard time deciding between the French press or a soy latte. Their French press coffee is supposed to be excellent, but in the end I went for the latte. One sip and I knew it was a mistake. Maybe it just needed an extra hit of espresso, but the soy milk drowned out the espresso flavor. (At least it wasn’t that icky, sweet soy milk Starbuck’s uses. I’ll never forgive them for switching to that sweetened Silk brand.) I suppose it’s pretty typical to lose the espresso flavor with the addition of several ounces of milk or soy milk, but a good soy latte can be found at – of all places – Café Sip n’ Play on SE 164th in Vancouver, or Coffee People at the Portland airport.

My problem, I suppose, is that I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy that wonderfully rich, black, earthy stuff in a Paris café that only vaguely resembles American coffee. Every cup since has been a disappointment. If you can tell me where to find or how to make that perfect café au lait, I’m awaiting your comments. In the mean time, I’ll try to make it back to Stumptown soon to try the French press coffee and enjoy another chocolate almond croissant.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Salsa Diet (with two salsa recipes!)

I guess it’s time I told you: I’m on a diet. I know – great time to start a food blog! Have you ever noticed though, when you’re on a diet, you kind of get obsessed with food? Well, I’m on this team at work – we call ourselves “Slim Jeans” (no laughing!) – and we’re competing with others to lose the most weight in sixteen weeks. By the way, we’re not calling it a weight loss contest, but a Health Challenge Throwdownwhatever!

Anyway, it’s going really well for me: I’ve lost a few pounds; I’m exercising (a little) more; I’m eating my Lean Cuisines for lunch; and preparing Cooking Light recipes for dinner. It’s working, but I find myself thinking about food way more than I did before the diet. So, here I am, blogging about food. It makes sense really, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry. I know most of you have no interest in boring diet recipes. If I decide to share any “light” recipes, it’ll be because they’re really good, and I won’t even mention that they’re low-fat ‘cause that’s not what this blog is about.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite things is salsa. It goes well with lots of foods, adds mucho flavor, and even on a diet, I can pretty much eat all I want. As with many things, I’m a snob when it comes to salsa. There aren’t many commercial salsas I like, though I’d recommend Native Kjalii Foods Fire Roasted Green Salsa (with tomatillo and avocado). Several Mexican restaurants I’ve tried have good salsa too. One of my favorites is the spicy salsa at El Sombrero on NE Sandy. I won’t claim that my homemade salsa beats either of those two, but it's easy to make and there are all kinds of ways to mix it up, so it never gets boring.

Fresh, chopped salsa is super easy and one of my husband’s favorites. I like the buzz – that rush of heat – from the habañero in this recipe, but please, make it your own way – less pepper, more onion – whatever makes you happy. The quantities are just approximations. I never measure when I make salsa. It's all about what I'm in the mood for at the time. Diced avocado is a great addition to this salsa. Or, try mixing in some chopped tomatillo.


4 medium-size ripe tomatoes - diced
½ cup peeled, diced cucumber
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
½ to 1 habañero pepper (or jalapeño or other) – seeded and very finely minced
1 small garlic clove – minced
1 Tbsp lime juice
½ tsp kosher salt

Mix everything together in a bowl. It’s best if you let it sit in the refrigerator, covered, for an hour or so, then taste it and adjust the ingredients as needed. Keep in mind, you can add, but you can’t take away, so go light on the salt and the hot pepper to start. Also, chile peppers vary greatly in heat intensity, and you can’t tell how hot they are until you taste them. So, be cautious. Use this fresh salsa within a day or two max.

Blended salsa using canned tomatoes is also good. I make this one more frequently in the fall and winter. A teaspoon or so of oregano is an interesting addition to this recipe. Another idea is to take a dried New Mexico (or Anaheim) chile and place it in a lightly oiled hot sauté pan. Turn it occasionally until it starts to blacken and smoke a little. Then add it to the food processor with everything else. I do this for my mom (another salsa lover) and leave out the onion as she prefers.


28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
4 green onions - chopped into quarters (or 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion or other)
¼ cup jarred jalapeño slices (I like Mezzetta brand)
1 small garlic clove
½ tsp kosher salt

Combine everything in a food processor and blend until mostly smooth or slightly chunky. Taste, adjust your ingredients as needed, and enjoy! Use this salsa within a week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Before checking out the shrimp recipe below, read today’s Frugal Traveler blog by Matt Gross from the New York Times. If I didn’t already live here, I’d sure want to after reading this... Frugal Portland.

Summer Shrimp (Grilled Shrimp Skewers)

I hope you’re not anxiously awaiting my report on the shrimp and butternut squash. It was disappointing. We ate it; it was fine, but I don’t think I’d make it again. There are too many new things to try to bother with that recipe one more time. Instead, I’ll share another shrimp recipe...

It’s supposed to be nice in Portland this weekend, so get your grill ready to go, invite some friends over, and try out these grilled shrimp skewers. One tip: If you use wooden skewers, be sure to soak them before use! I completely forgot to do this the first time I made these, and the skewers just burned away (still tasted good though, by the way).


2 Lbs peeled & deveined large shrimp (tails OK)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
2 to 3 garlic cloves – minced
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
lemon halves or wedges

1. Rinse and drain the shrimp and place in a large bowl. Add olive oil, parsley, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix to coat and place in refrigerator for one hour to marinate.
2. Thread shrimp onto soaked wooden or metal skewers by piercing through the shrimp, first near the tail, and then near the head of each shrimp. (It’ll look like a C-shaped shrimp.) Thread as few or as many shrimp onto each skewer as you like. (I like to do just two shrimp at one end and leave a long length of skewer. It's a nice way to serve them as an appetizer.)
3. Set skewers on oiled grill over high heat and close the lid. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then turn. Continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes more until they're pink and opaque. Be careful not to overcook.
4. Place skewers on a platter. Squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Master List

I don’t know when I got so organized about planning meals and grocery shopping. Maybe when I had kids? I used to make a stop at the grocery store almost every day and just make whatever I felt like for dinner that night. These days, it’s different. Each week I create what I call, the master list. I get out my food magazines, recipe box, clippings, cook books, and make a list of what we’ll have for dinner each night of the week. Most weeks I try at least two new recipes along with some of our regular favorites. One night we have big salad (an entrée salad), and one night is something super easy because, even though I love to cook, I still have those nights when I’m just beat from the workday and not in the mood. That’s when we have spaghetti with sauce out of the jar. If we have plans to go out one night, that’s on the list too.

I don’t worry about lunches. During the workweek, they tend to be leftovers, Lean Cuisines, and canned soup. On weekends we make sandwiches, mac & cheese for the kids - really simple stuff. Breakfast is generally cereal and bagels, occasionally pancakes for a special treat. So, the focus of the master list is dinner.

Below the meal list, I make a grocery list of everything needed to prepare the meals and get us through the week. I go shopping, assign days of the week to the meals, and we’re on our way.

I hold onto my list and refer to it throughout the week. If I misplace it or it accidentally ends up in the recycle bin before the week is up, I get quite agitated. I know I must sound super high-maintenance (I am) and structured (I'm really not), but it’s not like I never deviate from what’s on the list. I change around the assigned days for meals or occasionally postpone something to the next week. Sometimes I have a bad week, and I’m just not as motivated to cook on Tuesday (and Wednesday, and Thursday) as I was when I made the list on Saturday. This leads to take-and-bake pizza and fresh vegetables in the trash. The kids are always thrilled to have pizza instead of shrimp and butternut squash in coconut milk broth or whatever un-kid-friendly meal I’d planned, but I feel miserable about the moldy bell pepper that ends up in the trash.

By the end of the week, the list is covered with cross-outs and notes, ideas for next week, pantry items that ran out and need to be added to next week’s grocery list. I love my list, and wait as long as I can, until the next week’s list is ready to go, to toss it into the bin. I guess it’s because food and cooking are my joy, and my master list keeps me from letting that pleasure get lost and forgotten with the busy workweek and craziness of parenting. I can pull it out of my purse at 2:00 in the afternoon, take a look, and see what I have to look forward to cooking that evening. Tonight it’s the shrimp and butternut squash recipe, which I haven’t actually made before. I’ll let you know how it turns out tomorrow, unless of course, we end up with take-and-bake pizza tonight. We’ll see.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Guacamole Experiment

I admit, it wasn’t much of an experiment. I mean, it was pretty much basic guacamole, which in my opinion, is the best kind - fresh avocado, with limited additional ingredients, chopped or mashed, and that’s all you really need for a wonderful guacamole. If you’re one of those people who buys pre-made guacamole dip at the grocery store, stop. I’ve yet to try one that’s anywhere near as good as the homemade stuff, and it’s so easy to make – I mean, why?

So anyway, this weekend my husband (I’ll call him Dave) and I were in the mood for guacamole burgers (or, in our case, garden burgers). We felt like something spicy, so I decided to make habañero guacamole. Now, as I’m sure you know, habañeros are pretty high on the Scoville scale. I love hot and spicy food, but nothing so extreme that I can no longer taste the food. I thought if I heated the pepper through and let it char just a little on the outside, it might mellow the heat a bit, so I lightly sprayed a small sauté pan with cooking oil and dropped the whole pepper into the hot pan, turned it a few times, then pulled it from the pan and set it aside to cool.

Just a little pepper juice or pepper oil had collected in the pan, and I didn’t want that distinct habañero flavor to go to waste. So, I thinly sliced some red onion, put that in the pan, and sautéed it until it was soft and just starting to turn brown.

Meanwhile, I combined an avocado with some red onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Then I seeded the habañero, finely chopped it, added it to the avocado, and mashed everything together with a fork.

We topped our burgers with the guacamole and caramelized onions, and wow! They were fantastic! I added some cheese to mine too ‘cause I love cheese with everything, but I have to say, this is one time when the cheese really wasn’t needed. I was too busy enjoying my delicious burger to notice what other toppings, if any, Dave added. We had lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard – all the standard stuff on hand. With or without all that, these were damn good burgers. A little on the spicy side, but the avocado balanced the heat well. I have no idea if cooking the habañero made any difference at all, but when I do this again, I‘ll do the exact same thing. It was too good!

Habañero Guacamole  PRINTABLE RECIPE

1 ripe avocado
2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion
2 Tbsps chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime wedge (about 1/2 tsp)
1 lightly charred habanero – seeded and finely chopped

Cut the avocado in half, remove and discard the seed, scoop avocado out of the the peel, and discard the peel too. Combine avocado and other ingredients. Mash everything together with a fork. That’s it!

Serve with tortilla chips, burgers, or any Mexican dish.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Marinated Feta

Just a little something different for your next wine and cheese gathering. It's easy and delicious! Once you've tried it, I'm sure you'll think of all sorts of possible variations (olives, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes...)


8 oz block feta cheese
4 cloves garlic - roughly chopped
1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano
6 small dried red chiles
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
extra virgin olive oil

1. Rinse and drain the feta. If the block is more than about 1-1/2 inches thick, slice it in half to make two thinner pieces. Place the block(s) in a small shallow serving bowl.

2. Sprinkle garlic, oregano, whole chiles, and whole peppercorns over the feta. Then pour enough olive oil over the top to just about cover.

3. Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight or longer. Remove from the refrigerator and allow to return to room temperature before serving.

Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

Note: As the oil is absorbed by the cheese, pour a little more over the top.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Mojito

I found myself out in Beaverton last weekend at Hall Street Grill. The mojito was featured as one of their specialty cocktails. I love a good mojito, so I gave it a try. It was fresh and the amount of lime was about right; however, it could have used more fresh mint and some muddling to bring out the mint flavor. I tried to muddle the few mint leaves myself with the accompanying plastic straws, and it actually seemed to help. I ordered a second one, so I guess, overall, it was alright.

I had no idea when I discovered the drink - it must be at least six years ago now, at Salvador Molly's - that they were about to become so popular. They did. With that popularity, some horrible versions of the drink and some disgusting mixers have emerged. There are some good mojitos out there, but I've found homemade ones are best because the ingredients are fresh and you can adjust the amounts of lime, mint, and sugar to your liking.

They’re fun to make too. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy mashing and bashing a few mint leaves with a stick? I even bought myself a muddler. I got a basic wooden one which I didn't really put much thought into. I just liked how it felt in my hand, and it looked like it would do the job adequately. Recently though, I’ve noticed there’s quite the selection of muddlers out there - walnut, beechwood, bamboo, plastic, stainless steel, silicone or plastic heads, a variety of shapes and colors, and prices ranging from about $6 to $20. I think I paid $10 for mine, and I don’t even know what kind of wood it is. I like it, and it works great. Did I get lucky or maybe (probably) it doesn’t really matter what kind of muddler one uses? The broad selection is just part the muddling mojito craze. Actually, an official muddler isn't necessary at all to make the drink. I’d pass on the plastic straw option, but a wooden spoon works just fine.

You'll see a lot of recipes that call for simple syrup or homemade mint syrup, but it's not really necessary for a great drink. When you make your own, just be sure to have lots of fresh mint on hand, and remember you can adjust the ingredients to your liking.


For one drink:

15 to 20 fresh mint leaves - rinsed
2 tsp superfine sugar
5 Tbsp light rum
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
4 to 6 Tbsp chilled soda water
ice cubes

In an 8 to 10 oz glass, combine mint leaves and sugar. With a wooden spoon or muddler, pound mint leaves and sugar to coarsely crush. Add rum and lime juice, and mix well. Fill glass with ice cubes and top with soda water. Give it a gentle stir, and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Broccoli Soup

Since we're still experiencing some cool, rainy Portland weather, here's a favorite soup recipe for the slow cooker. It's delicious (even the kids like it), especially with Garlic Parmesan Toasts. You can serve it chunky, as I do, or you can blend it for a smoother soup.


2 Lbs broccoli florets
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic - minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

1. Combine the broccoli, oil, garlic, thyme, broth, wine, and lemon juice in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.
2. Use the back of a large wooden spoon to break up some of the broccoli or, if you prefer, puree the soup with a hand-held immersion blender. Season with salt (about 1 tsp) and pepper to taste.

Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese and/or Garlic Parmesan Toasts (below).

Garlic Parmesan Toasts are super simple, and are great with this soup. Use a nice baguette or sourdough loaf:

1. Cut bread into slices - no thicker than 1/2" - and lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Lightly brush each slice, on one side, with extra virgin olive oil.
2. Place under pre-heated broiler for just a couple minutes, until the bread turns golden.
3. Remove bread from oven and rub the toasted side of each slice with a cut garlic clove. Then sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese.
4. Return to the broiler just until the cheese melts. Remove from oven and serve.

Eat Well

I live in Portland, Oregon. I love to cook, and I love to eat out too. I tend toward vegetarianism - or rather pescatarianism - but I make exceptions for dim sum, prosciutto, pepperoni pizza, and pretty much anything if there's reason to believe it's absolutely delicious. For the most part, however, I leave the meat out of my diet.

I'll be writing about local restaurants, food, drink, and recipes. It'll be mostly vegetarian stuff, but not always. And it won't necessarily be about healthy eating. That's important, but for me, it's secondary to taking pleasure in great food.

Eat well and enjoy!