Archive | October, 2010

When life takes over…

26 Oct

…try harder to write in your blog.  I must apologize, it has been almost 3 weeks since my last entry.  A lot has happened in that time – life not only caught up with me, but it took over, kicked me in the butt a few times, and then smirked and ran away.  A lot of it has been with my job, which I will not bore you with the many forgettable acronyms the education profession claims they own, and what they all mean, how they all work, and how oh-so-many teachers try to get out of those acronyms by calling 20 minutes extra recess (when they have already had 3 that day) “a social learning experience.”

Anywho, I started this blog not just to share some food and share some stories, but also to give myself an outlet of expression.  Needless to say, the last 3 weeks should have been the times when I should have written the most, rather than the least.

I’ve made some yummy dishes these last few weeks, some of which I’ll include in a future blog (1 ingredient 3 ways), but I’m sorry to say a lot of what I have eaten is I’m-stressed-and-need-some-crunchy-cheesy-comfort-food.  For me, that’s nachos.  Trader Joes Organic Blue Corn tortilla chips, pilled with a pre-shredded Mexican blend cheese (also at TJs), and LOTS of hot sauce (I found living in Southern California that there are two schools of thought for those who buy their own hot sauce rather than making it… there are the Cholula people, and the Tapatio people.  I am a Tapatio gal, could almost drink the stuff from the bottle.  Almost.).  I don’t know how many plates of nachos I have eaten over the last 3 weeks, but it if I was bored and interested enough to count, I’m sure it would be an utterly disgusting amount.  All I really know is, it was enough to make me gain back the weight I lost before my wedding.  Sigh, Zumba classes, here I come.

Off topic again…. so Rob and I have been out of town a lot (traveling to Portland and Eugene), and he has been standing a lot of duty at the air station after taking a week of leave to hike and bike and do other manly things with his guy friends.  Tonight was the first night in a while that we sat down for a nice dinner together.  We had a lot of veg from our farm basket, so I wanted to use as much as I could, making another one of my “hippie salads” as I like to call them.

We have been having some winter storms already, and it has been really damp and cold.  Once that dampness gets to your bones, it just feels like warmth will never come.  I got home before he did, put on the fire, and started cleaning a bit when I heard on the radio that the swells down at Shore Acres (a state park) were up to 30 feet because of the storm.  So when Rob got home, we jumped in the car – there just happened to be a crack of sunlight peeking through the clouds – and made our way to the sea.  That sounds more Hemingway than it should have; the sea is only a stones’ throw away.

When we got to Shore Acres, the sight was unlike anything I have ever seen!  HUGE waves crashing down on these giant jutting rocks, blowing so much white spray and water into the air it looked like a bomb had just exploded.  We were standing on a cliff 50 feet above the base of the beach and the crash of the waves extended way over our heads.  And the sound – it was nothing like those zen relaxing ocean music sounds that are nice but sort of make you have to pee – the noise these waves made was thunderous.  Huge base drums and then the pouring sound of water literally left us open-mouthed and speechless.  That is, until one rogue wave hit a rock opposite the way the tide was pulling and splashed frigid sea water all over us.  It was amazing!

Driving home, we blared the heat and I thought about a warming, yet healthy dinner (I just have to make up for all those nachos).  One of the things I love about Rob is that even though I know he is a genuine meat-and-potatoes guy, he is also open to trying new things, and this one would definitely be new for him.  I used to make this meal on a fall or winter weeknight when I didn’t want to do a lot of work, but wanted something healthy, hearty, and warming.  He was up for it, and I already had all the ingredients!

The key to this hippie salad is the balance of flavors.  The squash is sweet, the chard and spinach gives that slightly bitter tannin mouth feel, the asparagus gives that unique veggie satisfaction, the quinoa quenches the carb craving, and the warm, tangy dressing tops everything off.  The dressing on this salad is really my favorite part, but don’t be too generous with it – you don’t want to over tang or over sweeten your delicate balance of flavors.  After such a healthy salad, I was craving a healthy desert, and my Blueberry Pie Smoothie just hit the spot (Rob didn’t want one and opted for M&Ms.  But then he had a taste of my smoothie and wished he had made a different choice).

This salad may sound different, but it is really fabulous.  Even my former roommates (big meat eaters) loved this one.   The colors alone will make your eyes hungry.  It’s easy to substitute different herbs for the dressing – I have used tarragon and a splash of tangerine juice before (replacing the thyme and white balsamic), and it was equally as good.  And if you make extra quinoa, definitely make some extra dressing… pour some of that over your quinoa with some toasted pine nuts, and make everyone in your lunch room wish they had a hippie salad, too.

Harvest Hippie Salad (serves 4)

  • 1/2 c quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 c water
  • 1 bundle fresh asparagus, cleaned, ends trimmed, and cut in 2-inch pieces on the bias
  • 2 small winter squash, or 1 med butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 in pieces
  • 2 large handfuls of swiss chard (ripped), and one large handful of baby spinach
  • olive oil
  • s&p

Warm Herb Salad

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons good honey (I found a Sage Honey that tasted fabulous – hitting home the herb flavor)
  • 5 -6 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c dried cranberries
  • 2 sprigs of thyme leaves
  • 7-8 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt

On a large sheet tray, combine asparagus and squash and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle liberally with s&p, and mix with hands.  Spread out evenly and put in a 450 degree oven for about 17 minutes, mixing/turning veg twice.

Meanwhile, bring the rinsed quinoa to a boil in the cup of water.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Season with s&p to taste, and fluff with a fork.

Once the veg has browned, take out of oven and set aside to cool a bit while you prepare the dressing.

In a small saucepan over med-low heat, mix the honey and vinegar together.  Use a whisk to mix.  The heat and the mixing will melt the honey.  Add the dried cranberries and thyme leaves, and while pouring, whisk in the olive oil.  The mixture should never boil or get bubbles, but should get warm, and a little clouded.  Taste for salt.

Mix the greens, the quinoa, and the veg in a large serving bowl, and top with the warm dressing.  Slightly toss to coat the salad.

Enjoy!

Blueberry Pie Smoothie (serves 1)

  • 1/4 c frozen blueberries
  • 2 tsp Marscapone cheese
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 drop of vanilla extract (about 1/8 tsp)
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • a tiny pinch of salt
  • 1/8 c water (just enough to make the blender run)

Mix all ingredients in a blender.  Pour into a glass, and smile.  🙂

NOTE: This would go great with some slightly crushed graham crackers or sweet granola.  Maybe a dollop of fresh whipped cream, too…. but then we are back to the whole nachos dilemma.

Are you ready for some football?

5 Oct

Well, Rob was.  And so were our friends.  I was more ready for the food, and the chance to entertain with some of our new wedding gifts!!!

Rob and I had our first party with some people he knew from work, who are becoming my friends, too.  In all honesty, I do enjoy watching football.  It’s a great weekend when you wake up to cool, crisp mornings with tea and toast, and end the day with beer and yelling at the TV.  The Bears lost yesterday (boo), but the company and food was a win-win situation.

Although our house is not large, we comfortably fit about 8 people, all with eyeshot of the screen while keeping a good, but not uncomfortably weird, conversation distance.  Only planning this get together a day in advance, I was channeling my two Goddesses of Entertaining: Lulu and Ina.

Lulu Powers is one of those women who writes and you believe she is permanently walking on a cloud of meringue.  Or valium.  Or maybe a blissful combination of both.  But in all seriousness and respect, her stories talk of entertaining at its best – old fashioned cocktails, the unexpected pop-up guests, the late night taco feast – you name it.  The biggest thing I took from her tips was to keep things simple – people love comfortable and familiar things anytime, but especially to make them feel comfortable and at ease in your house.

Ina Garten, oh Ina, what a classy lady.  Her cooking is fabulous, her attitude is always sunny, and I think one of the main reasons I love her is how much watching her reminds me of my Grandpa (not Ina personally… just keep reading).

About a year before he passed, I was visiting him in Long Island, NY, and he and I had a fabulous time wine tasting on the North Fork, going to a show, shopping, and of course, visiting the Hamptons.  Grandpa was an excellent businessman, and in his retired time, he was also a realtor.  So, in our trip to the Hamptons, we drove along the main drag, down the streets with the high and perfectly trimmed bushes keeping beautiful landscaping in, and looky-loos like us, out. We had dressed for the day (unspoken and understood, of course), in casual yet expensive-nice attire (I was SO happy I hadn’t yet changed out my lime green Kate Spade purse!).  We looked like we could fit in perfectly, having a crisp Sauvignon Blanc on the front stoop, listening to the ocean crash in one ear and the bay tide in and out in the other.  And we got our chance.  As we were slowly making our way down to the farthest tip of the town, like the Scarecrow pointing the way to Oz, we saw it: FOR SALE, OPEN HOUSE.  Grandpa literally stopped the car in the middle of the road (no one was behind us – it’s the Hamptons for goodness sakes).  I was wide-eyed.

“Can we go in?”  The longing in my voice was, I’m sure, unmistakable.

“Well, let’s see.”  Calm as a cucumber.  “I think, well, hmm.”  He starts to look in the center console for, what I imagined to be, his realtor cards.  No luck.  The click of the console woke me to reality – I got a glimpse of a Hamptons mansion, but only true Hamptonites would be let inside.

And then, as if he was doing what he was meant to come to the Hamptons for, Grandpa turned the car up the driveway.

“What…. what are you doing?”  My heart was literally pounding.

Grandpa’s voice was normal – his calm self, with a bit of business savvy.  “I’m a realtor, and you are my granddaughter interested in seeing Hamptons property.”

It was true.  He was.  I was.  And I was about to poop my casual yet expensive-looking pants.

We toured the house, and it was an experience I will never forget.  The highest point in the house had a “lookout room” that had a 300 degree view with the bay on one side, ocean on the other.  We could see the pool/jacuzzi combination just below, and the tennis courts off in the distance.

We left the house elated, and treated ourselves to a fabulous lunch at 75 Main (I had linguini with clams, he had chicken, and we shared an earthy local Pinot Noir).  We were Hamptonites that day (Grandpa keeping his New York cool much better than I), and I hope to one day relive a similar experience in memory of him.

So, with my nod to Lulu and Ina (and the memory of my Grandpa), I tried to entertain like the best of them – comfortable yet elegant, casual and fun, all while keeping it classy.

I stuck with the basics for the nibblies: farm carrots sliced in ranch, M&Ms, salty and buttery cashews, and the ever popular BBQ seasoned popcorn – yes, I made it from popping kernels on the stove and concocted a blend of real spices.  I knew our guests, and they aren’t huge wine drinkers, but do drink wine.  So I stuck with easy-to-drink wine, inexpensive, with neat lables – Mad Housewife, and Lucky Duck.  We also got the seasonal Pumpkin Ale and Rob’s fave, Hoptober Ale.

Being a football party, everything qualified as finger foods, and the two winners were the Crab Pizza, and Turkey Burger Sliders.  People were questionable about the Crab Pizza, but one taste of the sweet, buttery crab, with tangy cheese, and a bit of a salty bite, and they were hooked.  I must say, this is a nod to my mom, who taught me how to make the crab pizza when I was a (hardly) starving student in my apartment in college longing for her home-cooked classics.  And the Turkey Burger Sliders with some carmelized onions, bread and butter pickles, and my Sweet Mustard Sauce…. finger licking yum.

It was no linguini with clams, but I know my Grandpa, my mom, Ina, and Lulu would have been proud.  Fun, friends, good food, and good memories – what more can you ask for?  (Well, maybe the Bears to win.)

(sorry, not a lot of pics in this one – we got caught up cooking.  But trust me, it all looked – and tasted – good!)

Crab Pizza

  • 1/4 c good, precooked, crab meat (I used Dungeness, but that’s just what’s left over from season)
  • 1 brick cream cheese (8 oz), room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • about 4 dashes of Worcheshire sauce
  • prepared pizza dough (with cornmeal for dusting pizza stone)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spread pizza dough on pizza stone or sheet tray sprinkled with corn meal.  Prick with a fork many times, evenly, to keep dough thin.

Mix crabmeat, cream cheese, garlic salt, and pepper together in a bowl.  Spread evenly on top of pizza.  Dash the Worcheshire sauce on top (I do a circular pattern), and put in oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until dough is golden and firm.

Let sit out of oven for a few minutes.  Then, slice and serve hot!

Fall Breakfast

3 Oct

Since Rob and I got married, it has been go, go go.  His job, my job, keeping house, both of us being under the weather from stress and little kid germs… we have been busy.  That’s not to say that we haven’t been having our share of fun.  We have been having our own date nights, and happy hours, and the occasional wine tasting at the Empire Cafe down the street.  The last two weekends, Rob has been on duty one day, and we took a day trip to Eugene the other, but this weekend we devoted it to ourselves – food, fun, and relaxation.

This morning, I SLEPT IN.  It was fantastic.  Rob actually came in to the bedroom around 9:45 to make sure I was ok.  He kindly awoke me from a blissful, diagonally-whole-bed-hogging sleep, and I noticed the cool fall Oregon foggy air, and thought about the football games that were probably already making an appearance on the TV downstairs.  And, opposite of my usual granola with fruit and hard-boiled egg breakfast, the first thing that came to my mind for breakfast was Rob’s personal favorite: pancakes (he tried his hardest to hide his enthusiasm).

For those of you who also share a dry and sarcastic humor, you may be familiar with the late Mitch Hedberg and his take on everyday ideas.  He does a one-liner on pancakes and how we crave them, but then you have one bite and you are sick of them.  Like many jokes, it’s funny because it’s more than likely true.  I couldn’t eat a plate of pancakes if you paid me!!  Well, that’s not true…. how much??

But the pancakes we flipped this morning, I ate 3 of them!  They weren’t your typical buttermilk pancakes.  Please note, I’m not knocking the buttermilk pancake – there are many diners that make fabulous buttermilk pancakes (and maybe after a collegiate night of liquid indulgence, a whole double order of them).  Today’s pancakes were indulgent.  And unique.  And very yummy.

Is there anyone in this world that does not love the sweet/salty, crunchy/creamy combination?  On many brunch occasions and Mother’s Day celebrations I have made maple glazed bacon.  It’s a mixture of sweet and salty flavors that have been around forever, similar to the rustic Tuscan melon and prosciutto appetizer.  But I wanted to do a little bit more.  It’s fall, the Washington Honey Crisp apples just popped into season, and what better accompaniment to apples than cinnamon?  Bacon and Maple.

I took my basic whole wheat blueberry pancake recipe, and simply added cinnamon, nutmeg, and the crunchy apples.  The smell of bacon getting super crunchy filled the household (my secret is cooking it in the microwave – thanks mom!), and I made a simple maple glaze by combining confectioners sugar, grade A maple syrup, and a touch of cinnamon.  Sticking to my roots, I still needed that raw fruit for breakfast, and the end of the summer plum turned out to be the perfect palate cleanser at the end of the meal.

So, pour a cup of coffee, and let the aromas of cinnamon, apples, bacon and pancakes fill your house with comfort and warmth.  Enjoy the crunch of the apples and bacon, and the creaminess of the pancake and it’s sweet, sticky glaze.  It’s perfect for a blustery fall morning to share with others, or a fantastic treat for yourself.  And don’t forget your serving of healthy fruit!

Cinnamon Apple Pancakes with Maple Bacon Glaze (serves 4)

  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg (ground or freshly grated)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 c skim milk
  • 1 c half and half
  • 1 med. Honey Crisp Apple, small dice
  • 1 tbsp butter, for the griddle or skillet

Mix dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients.  Fold in the apples.  On a preheated, buttered griddle or skillet, use a 1/3 dry measuring cup, spoon out batter.  When small bubbles start to form in a fairly even layer on the surface of the pancake, it is ready to flip.  Using a spatula, flip!  Cook on other side until it easily lifts from the pan, and put on reserve plate.  Serve hot with Maple Bacon glaze.

NOTE: To keep cooked pancakes warm while cooking batter, put pancakes on oven-proof plate in a 170 degree oven.

Maple Bacon Glaze

  • 2 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 c grade A maple syrup
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 strips of bacon, cooked crispy

Cook the bacon to crispy by putting 2 sheets of paper towels on a microwave proof plate, and lay strips of bacon on the towels.  Cover the bacon with another sheet of paper towel.  Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, until bacon is crispy.  Remove from microwave (plate will be hot!), and set aside for towels to soak up excess fat.

Meanwhile, mix confectioners sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon.  When bacon is cool enough to handle, crunchle it into the glaze (aim for small pieces, but imperfect pieces always look wonderfully homemade).

Pour desired amount of glaze over hot Cinnamon Apple Pancakes, and ENJOY!!

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