Basic Bolognese (Take Two)

This was originally posted in March of 2012! I’m reposting this recipe for Bolognese because it’s one of my tried and true.  Plus I wanted to share a tip: lately, I have been making it with ground lamb!  Often I find this is fattier, so I brown the lamb first, take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon, remove the extra fat then start with the vegetables. You can try this new version or stick with the original.Buon appetito!

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Tomato & Anchovy Paste

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again. So it’s time to keep things simple. And what could be easier than food in a tube? I know … surprising words coming from me – especially considering my penchant for fresh ingredients. However, I have come to rely on these two kitchen staples: tomato paste and anchovy paste. I am so grateful that I learned about these nifty tubes. Prior to this discovery I was forever opening cans of tomato paste only to have it spoil before I could use the entire amount. Ditto the tins of anchovies, which I use only infrequently in Caesar salad dressing or other recipes in need of a hit of salty flavor. So stocking tubes of tomato and anchovy paste is, for me, a no-brainer.

One of my most treasured recipes featuring tomato paste is Bolognese sauce. This is one of my favorite things to make in March, when the wind kicks up and it’s cold outside. Plus, in keeping with the simplistic theme, this recipe is very, very basic. The ingredients can be found almost anywhere – I’ve even made this in foreign locales when I have access to a kitchen. It’s a slow cooked meat sauce that can be used to top any kind of pasta (my favorite is fresh pappardelle from Delaurenti in Pike Place Market in Seattle… but you can use any kind you like). And, best of all, the house smells heavenly when it’s cooking away on the stovetop.

Bolognese Sauce

Serves 4-5

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Ingredients:
  • 1 brown onion, peeled and diced ¼ inch
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced ¼ inch
  • 2 celery stalks, diced the same size as the carrots
  • 2 medium roma tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground chuck or lamb
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 8 oz beef stock or vegetable stock (I have even used chicken stock in a pinch)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:

Heat a large straight-sided pan (at least 8 inches in diameter with deep sides) over medium-high heat.

Add the oil until it is hot, then add in the diced vegetables.

When they have browned a bit, add the meat. Keep stirring and breaking up the meat with a wood spoon. When it is no longer pink and lightly browned, add the tomato paste, stock, salt and pepper – stirring well to combine.

It should cook on low heat for at least one hour, with the lid on, and should be stirred from time to time. Taste and adjust seasonings.

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, and it freezes well for up to 4 months.

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Peanut Chicken

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Perfect Peanut Chicken

After Thanksgiving, our daughter Rachel invited us for dinner at her very busy, very chaotic home.  In addition to being a wonderful daughter and mother and wife and acupuncturist, she is an excellent cook.  She manages to feed her family of five mostly homemade, nutritious meals and snacks. I know I am biased, but to say she is impressive is an understatement.

So….I wasn’t surprised that our dinner was (A) something I’d never had and (B) something so tasty I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  When I mentioned to her that I liked it, she looked kind of embarrassed. I pressed her for the recipe for this peanut chicken and she apologetically sent it to me.

Let me back up a bit here.   Almost three years ago, my youngest sister Kay came to Seattle after Rachel’s third baby was born.  Kay’s mission was to help make and freeze a lot of food, to drive Rachel’s two older boys around to lessons and such, and to help the baby sleep through the night.

Katie (AKA Kay) drove the minivan absolutely everywhere and said it reminded her of when her twenty and thirty-something boys were young.  She got the baby to sleep 12 hours at a POP, I kid you not. And she made so many challahs and pots of soup and main dishes that the freezer was bursting.  

Evidently, this chicken dish was one of the things Kay made for Rachel.  She told Rachel at the time that the written recipe looked disgusting but the chicken was simple as well as loved by kids and adults.  

The original recipe was one meal Kay made that came, of blessed memory, from Betty Crocker!  Changing the original recipe, I made this with only chicken thighs and I added a generous squeeze of lime at the end while serving because lime helps everything taste fresh.  I thought I had cilantro but I did not and I did miss the green on the plate. Also, I served my chicken with farro risotto, but even while or brown rice would be good to sop up the peanut sauce. Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of the plate complete with sliced cucumbers, radishes, and shredded carrots – which all helped to jazz it up a bit.  

Don’t forget the accoutrements!

Don’t judge.  It is so rare that I use anything out of jars, but this is a good dish to have on a cold winter day when you want a warm meal with little trouble.  I’ll admit it – it sounds absolutely gross, but fortunately, I didn’t know what the ingredients in the dish were until I ate it and oohed and ahhed. Every now and then, when you find yourself having one of those days with little time and many mouths to feed, something comes along that is dead simple to make. I think most kids would absolutely love this meal!  Just consider serving it with some type of easy salad. We all need a little civility, don’t we?

Peanut Chicken Thighs

Serves 6

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Ingredients
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 1 ½ cup salsa (old El Paso thick and chunky salsa is suggested but I used a different brand)
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh peeled ginger root
  • ¼ cup chopped salted peanuts
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ c sliced green onion
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Oil a rectangular or oval pan, 13x9x2 inches, with cooking spray. Place chicken, skin side down, in a single layer in pan.

Mix salsa, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, and ginger root; spoon over chicken.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Turn chicken pieces and spoon pan sauces over chicken. Bake uncovered 30 minutes longer or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut. Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro and serve each person a nice slice of lime to squeeze at the last minute. Enjoy!

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Lemony Red Lentil Soup

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Luscious Lemony Red Lentil Soup

In February, I returned to Seattle after spending a month in Guatemala.  36 hours later, I flew to meet my sisters in the Northern Territory of Canada to see the Aurora Borealis, then returned home five days later to cold, snowy winter weather.  

I live on a very long, steep hill which for days has been used as a ski slope!  Snow is a rare occurrence in Seattle, and everyone gets very amped up about winter weather–at least initially.  We don’t have a lot of snow plows or salt to melt the ice, so aside from the streets with bus routes, the majority of our roads are filled with snow.

Snowy Seattle Streets

Me?  I don’t love the snow or cold so much.  That said – I know how to maneuver. I grew up in Iowa and experienced my share of snowy winters, so I am perfectly capable of driving and surviving the cold.  Even so, I find most Seattleites aren’t such terrific drivers on snow and ice, and it worries me to attempt to drive most places. But even had I wanted to try to get behind the wheel, I awoke to find my hill blocked off.  Of course I considered walking, but even schlepping around with yak tracks on my shoes on my steep hill was challenging. Meanwhile, my condo neighbor was outside shoveling every few hours, taking care that we would all be safe.  He skied down our hill and then dropped off a bag of oranges for me.

I figured I had enough food and provisions to get by until it warmed up and, after foraging through my cupboards and fridge,  I decided to make a pot of lemony red lentil soup. The ingredients are all things I keep around my kitchen. All I lacked was stuff for the garnish (cilantro, avocado, tomato) which is why my photo doesn’t look so pretty.  Use your imagination – it would look nice with some green and red on top.

And of course, I shared some of this delicious soup, along with my homemade seeded crackers, with my kind neighbor to show my appreciation for his hard work.  


Lemony Red Lentil Soup

Serves 4-5

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Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large brown skin onion, peeled and chopped ¼ inch
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely minced by hand
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste  (remember the tube?)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of ground chili powder
  • 1 quart chicken broth-I had some homemade stock in the freezer but Better than Bouillion is fine too
  • 2 cups water

  • 1 ⅓ cup red lentils

  • 2 large peeled carrots, diced  ¼ inch
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro to garnish
Instructions

In a large soup pot, heat three tablespoons oil over high heat until it shimmers.   Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about four minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder and keep on the heat, stirring, for two minutes more.

Add broth, two cups water, lentils, and carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Turn off the heat.  Use an immersion blender right in the soup pot and pulse the soup so that some smoothes out and the rest remains chunky so you have a little texture.

Add in lemon juice first and taste to see if it needs more salt.  Have some garnishes on the side: diced avocado, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cilantro, sour cream or Greek yogurt…use your imagination.   You can drizzle a little olive oil at the end as well. Serve with a nice salad and some bread or crackers. MMMMMMMMMMMM

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Kitchen Sink Vegetable Quinoa Bean Stew

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Satisfying & Sumptuous Stew

This is a filling yet fresh and light soup I made spur of the moment after our eating marathon Thanksgiving weekend.  I mean, after Thanksgiving food, a huge family Friday night meal complete with more fish, more turkey, potatoes, mac and cheese with squash,  pies (SO many pies), cookies (countless kinds)…to say I was full is an understatement. Then, after driving home from Kal’s Cabin, we unpacked leftover food and clothing.  

I was really too tired to go to the grocery store on Sunday and imagined it would be packed with people just like me who needed to get stocked up for the next week. So instead, I did a quick search in my cupboards and freezer and files and resurrected this soup recipe from The New York Times. To spice things up a bit, I added some leftover fresh frozen green beans, small ditalini pasta, and a few potatoes and a squeeze of lime juice.  I had every single item needed in my cupboards, fridge, and freezer! NO GROCERY STORE SHOPPING WAS NEEDED!

One Pot Wonder!

The result was a filling but fresh tasting soup.  I liked it enough that I made it again mid-week because I had freshly cooked pinto beans and wanted to see how that would work   It turned out the broth I saved from cooking the beans made even better soup stock.

Quinoa Bean Vegetable Soup

Adapted from The New York Times

Serves 6-8 easily

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Ingredients
  • 3 Tbsp  olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped ¼ inch
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped ¼ inch
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and finely sliced ¼ inch
  • 2  very small, peeled new potatoes (1 inch in diameter), peeled and cut into 6 pieces each
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained OR 1½ cups drained beans that you have freshly made (pinto or garbanzo beans worked great)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped by hand
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes, with their juices
  • ¾ cup ditalini pasta or orzo pasta, uncooked
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (I use bean juice + water to = 8 cups, or you could add a little Better Than Bouillion to the water if you want more flavor
  • ½   cup raw quinoa, rinsed first
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup cut green beans (1-inch pieces) or corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • Juice of ½ medium sized lime (if desired)
Instructions

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and sauté until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and garlic and stir for 2 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and their juices, and vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add quinoa, parsley, frozen or fresh green beans, any other herbs you love, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, 12 to 15 minutes. When 9 minutes remain of your cooking time, add the dry ditalini or orzo.  

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves, taste and add the lime juice if you want to brighten the flavor and serve.

The stew gets much thicker if you make it the day before, which I like better.  Serve with a simple butter lettuce salad and some rustic, grainy bread and you have yourself a meal!  If you don’t want such a thick soup, boil the ditalini pasta separately and add it right before reheating.  You could also substitute cooked brown rice for the cooked pasta.

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Rice, Cherry, Squash and Marcona Almond Salad

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Colorful Winter Salad

Ina Garten is my hero.  She’s close to my age which probably means that she actually cooks her food, with or without her cookbooks and cooking show.  When I watch her, it’s like watching myself… Ina levels off cups of sugar or flour with her forefinger (GO INA!)

The original recipe for this salad started with the one recently was published in her newest cookbook, Cook Like A Pro. “Brown Rice with Cranberries and Squash and Marcona Almonds.”  She had me at Marcona almonds and squash, two of my winter/fall faves.  My brain started to whirl and I tweaked her formula – I didn’t even use straight up brown rice or cranberries.  I made it with a third less rice, I added orange zest and swapped celery for green onions to suit my palate, substituted sherry vinegar for white wine vinegar, reduced some of the salt so that it can be added to your taste at the end.  I also used a rice mix rather than all brown rice, dried cherries instead of dried cranberries and topped the final dish with pomegranate seeds. This tastes like autumn in a bowl and I am putting it on my list for Thanksgiving 2019!

Rice, Cherry, Squash and Marcona Almond Salad

Serves 6-8

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Ingredients
  • 4 cups (1½ pounds) butternut squash  (½ to ¾-inch-diced)
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil or other neutral oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • ½ tsp Sea salt
  • 15 grinds freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup wild rice or a mix of brown, black, red and sweet rice (such as Lundberg Wild blend)
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup thinly sliced celery
  • ½  cup dried tart cherries
  • ½ cup salted Marcona almonds (also called Spanish Valencian almonds)  
  • A few pomegranate seeds to garnish, optional
Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with oiled parchment paper or foil.

Prick a large butternut squash all over with a fork and microwave for five minutes. Cool well, cut off the stem and other end, and cut in half. Peel with a potato peeler or a paring knife then remove seeds and cube into 1/3-1/2 inch pieces.  Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add two tablespoons of oil, one tablespoon of pure maple syrup, ½ teaspoon salt, and ground pepper. Toss together, spread out in a single layer, and roast for a total of 20-30 minutes, checking every ten minutes, until tender.  Mine took about 20 minutes in my toaster oven, probably because it was par-cooked from the initial step.

Meanwhile, cook the rice according to your preferred method or suggestions on the package.  Set aside.

For the vinaigrette, in a glass measuring cup, whisk together one tablespoon of maple syrup, the orange juice, balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, mustard, two teaspoons sea salt, and ½  teaspoon pepper. Slowly whisk in ½ cup olive oil then add orange zest and set aside.

Pour the warm rice into a large serving bowl and add dried cherries right away so they plump up a bit. Let it cool about ten minutes and add half of the vinaigrette and combine. Add the roasted squash, celery, and almonds and toss well. (As the dish sits, it will probably  need the extra vinaigrette.) Top with pomegranate seeds right before serving if you wish.

Taste for seasonings and add more vinaigrette, then and serve warm or at room temperature.

PS: Truth be told, I really didn’t measure a thing. I’m pretty accurate with quantities by eyeballing, but honestly, I don’t think it makes much difference.  

PPS:  If you are making this to be served later in the day, I’d add the Marcona almonds right before serving so they remain extremely crunchy. Having said that, Marconas stay pretty crunchy even the next day.   

 

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Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones

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The Perfect Pumpkin Scone

I am full into pumpkin gear here!  Once Halloween hits and all through the winter I find cans of organic pumpkin on sale and I really stock up.  Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, or should I say breadS since I have baked probably ten loaves to date, and, of course, pumpkin scones.  

I’ve published other scone recipes but forgot about this one until recently.  I can’t remember where I started before all the changes I’ve made with these scones, but I do know the recipe has been in my files for a very long time.  

You’ll see I grind the nuts until they are really fine, almost like walnut flour,  because my picky grandkids are nut averse when it comes to baked goods.  (I also pulverize the heck out of mushrooms because the grands aren’t fans of that texture either. Go figure!)

Anyway, this is pretty basic and the perfect start to your morning accompanied by a cup of tea, a latte or anything else you like.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones

Makes 10

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Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur)
  • 1 cup  unbleached white flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (Yes, a Tablespoon!)
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 rounded teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons (2.5 oz) cold salted butter
  • ¾ cup canned pumpkin puree (I use organic and it is looser in texture than non-organic)
  • ¼ cup milk (I used 2% because that is what I keep around)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Glaze Ingredients
  • ½ cup  powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 -3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, more if needed
  • Sparkly white sugar if you want to be fancy and garnish the scones. I do!
Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust rack to the second from the top shelf.  

I usually put the toasted nuts into my Nutribullet with about one teaspoon of sugar and whirl them until they are very, very fine. You can hand chop them a little more coarsely, but still small (1/4 inch)  if you prefer.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flours, the chopped nuts, baking powder, brown sugar, spices, orange zest, and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the chunks of butter are about ¼-⅛ inches big.

Stir  pumpkin puree, milk, and vanilla extract together then add to the flour mix. Keep mixing until everything is combined.  Use your hands briefly to form a smooth ball.

Form dough into a circle that’s about 8-9 inches wide. Use a chef’s knife to cut the circle into 10 even slices like a pie. I usually flour my knife before each cut.  You will see that my silicone mat is perfect for this step!

Before Baking

Separate slices and place on the baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until they are light golden brown. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the parchment but leave the scones to cool some more on the rack.

PS: If you use ¾ cup of the canned pumpkin, you should have enough to make glazed Pumpkin Bread

Once the scones are cooled, whisk together the glaze ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Drizzle the glaze generously over the scones.  Sprinkle a little sparkly sugar on top of the drizzle if you wish.

 

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Olive’s Pecan Pie

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The Perfect Pecan Pie

At least 20 or more years ago, I was with my late sister-in-law Nancy and we were talking about pecan pie, of all things.  Both Nancy and my husband loved pecan pie and it was one type of dessert I never made. I prefer either chocolate or fruit pies, but I was intrigued.  Nancy told me her childhood neighbor’s housekeeper Olive in Waterloo Iowa – now, that is a mouthful – made the very, very best pecan pie. She proceeded to call her friend Janie, who just happened to have Olive’s pecan pie recipe.

This is one of those desserts that isn’t healthful in any sense of the word.  However, it is really good and old school – think dark Karo syrup – gasp! I didn’t change a thing other than I baked the empty crust for a little bit so the filling wouldn’t make it as soggy, and I toasted the pecans because, well, TOASTED PECANS.  Dollop some fresh whipping cream on top and you will have yourself a pretty darned good dessert.

My daughter in law Shira loves pecan pie and pumpkin pie, too, and this Thanksgiving when their family came and stayed with us before driving to Kal’s cabin, I had both a pumpkin and a pecan pie waiting for her.  She is beyond wonderful to me, and she was happy to have HER special Thanksgiving pies too.

La Familia! (Thanksgiving 2018)

Olive’s Pecan Pie

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For a 9” single pie crust, I roll out the crust and place in a 9-inch glass pie plate, prick it all over with the tins of a fork and bake it with pie weights for about 20  minutes at 400 degrees. I then remove the pie weights and cool the crust at least 12 minutes and then proceed with the filling. You can find one of my favorite pie crust recipes in this blog post from way back when.

Filling Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ⅓ cup melted salted butter
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup (Karo)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • Heaping 2 cups of previously toasted pecans, cooled to room temperature.  I leave the halves alone because my family likes chunky textures, but you could chop them if you wish.
Instructions

Beat and combine the first four filling ingredients.  Bring to a simmer for 2 minutes then cool 10 minutes. Next, add eggs a bit at a time and finally the vanilla.

Fill a partially baked (see above) single 9-inch pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until edges puff and center is a little jiggly.    Serve warmish and store the remainder in the refrigerator.

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Sweet Potato “Bruschetta”

Sweet Potato Bruschetta with Hummus & Tomatoes

Let it be known that I am a huge sweet potato fan as well as a yam lover.  

Which do you think is most nutritious, a yam or a sweet potato?  I thought all these years that a yam was best because it is much deeper orange (usually, depending on the variety) and has a “stronger” taste. I posted this question to random friends and family, and they thought the same thing.   We were WRONG.

Turns out sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably in recipes, but in fact, the two vegetables are not even related. Both have B vitamins, but sweet potatoes have fewer calories and are higher in beta-carotene and vitamin C than yams.  

Enough education. Here’s how you make this yummy dish:

Wash and scrub a sweet potato.  Try to get one that is shaped kind of like my picture (this weighed about a pound).   Scrub the skin, dry it with a towel or paper towel, cut off the pointy ends and make pretty even slices, about ⅓ inch wide.  I got around 8 nice slices from mine. I use the end parts for making stock along with other kitchen scraps.

Preheat a toaster oven (or oven) to 350.  I lightly oiled some foil and laid the slices on top.  Bake for 20 minutes and test with a sharp knife to see if they are soft when pierced.  If not, turn them gently and bake another five minutes. With the slices from my large sweet potato, it took me about 25 minutes to get them soft.  Cool the slices really really well before putting them in a sealed container and refrigerating for up to five days.

The Humble Sweet Potato

When ready to serve, I pop a few into the toaster oven to toast for three to four minutes.  Take them out, eat as is (I do this for breakfast in place of toast to have with eggs and beans) or top it with whatever you would put on bruschetta. A few of my favorite toppings include:

  • Cottage cheese and sliced cherry tomato
  • Hummus and sliced Persian cucumber
  • Tuna salad and sprouts
  • Marinated peppers
  • Peanut butter and sliced banana
  • Egg salad and dill sprigs
  • Lox and pickled red onion
  • Avocado slices

You get to decide.   No rules here. I am loving “make ahead” meals these days, something just to grab when I come back from a workout or when I am on the go and don’t have time to do a lot of prep and cooking. This also makes a nice addition to a  light appetizer type dinner along with some toasted nuts and a salad.

PS: I have seen recipes for sweet potato “toast” which involves trying to cut even rectangles of sweet potato.  I attempted this twice and it was a no go–the slices looked pretty uneven and for me, I love these little round, three-bite slices.  I contend that bigger pieces are unappealing AND a whole piece of sweet potato toast is often too filling for me. Give it a go if you want though.

PPS:  These are SO AMAZING.  

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The Unexpected Kindness of Strangers

This post isn’t going to be about food, or sites I have visited or markets in foreign countries. Rather, this is about the kindness of strangers, and what happened to me this week gives me hope that the world has kind strangers who are willing to help. I have not told A SINGLE PERSON about this, until now.

We spent the majority of October in Antigua Guatemala to visit and to volunteer — my husband recently retired and did some work with an International Planned Parenthood NGO. His experiences and what is really going on in Guatemala with respect to population growth could fill a 400-page book. More on that later, perhaps.

I had my birthday at the end of October (YAY!), the murders at the Pittsburg synagogue took place the day before I left and I was so distraught. I returned home the next day by myself. My flight went from Guatemala City to Mexico City, then on to Seattle. The 2 ½ hour layer with AeroMexico in Mexico City was pretty uneventful and I did the usual: cleared customs, refilled my water bottle, downloaded the latest version of my newspapers and a movie on my iPad, all was well. Until it wasn’t.

I boarded my six-plus hour flight around dinnertime. I took out my knitting, looked at my phone to put it into Airplane mode, and I saw a voicemail and missed call. The voicemail, in broken English, said, “Hello Marilyn, this is Antonio. I have an iPad with your name on it…did you lose your iPad?” I had a huge hot flash, searched around and lo and behold my iPad was gone. Damn. I must have left it in the waiting area where I was reading my Kindle book. I kicked into gear, called Antonio but could only listen to his message. Another passenger listened to the Spanish recording too and confirmed what I thought it said, I kept calling, I kept getting the recording, the flight attendant said that it didn’t matter, that even if the device was brought to the gate I couldn’t get it due to security. Great. But I had hope…hope that because this man called me, he had my iPad and knew my name, my email and my phone #. I even purchased Wifi for the flight. And by the way, the worst part of this is that I had a really good book, two newspapers and two movies to keep me busy for those six plus hours. No iPad meant I got a LOT of knitting done.

A few hours into the flight, I heard from Antonio. He said he had my iPad, wanted to know where I left it just to be sure he had the correct owner. I told him where I had been sitting by gate 68, and that is where he discovered my device. He was headed to Campeche, Mexico for vacation and I wrote that I would text or email him when I got home.

THE SECOND MOST AMAZING PART OF THIS STORY? I read before I left that when traveling, it is smart to have my locked screen display my name, email and phone number. I took a picture of this information and set the picture for both my phone and my iPad. (Usually, I have pictures of my grandkids or a pretty Seattle picture). What brilliance. TAKE NOTE and do this when you travel.

My Screen – HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

But I digress. I went back and forth, Spanish translated into English and vice versa. Antonio was on vacation but spotted an international DHL office where he could ship my iPad. HALLELUJAH. I counted over 50 back and forth emails, over 20 texts trying to figure out how to make this happen and how I could reimburse him for the mailing cost. It was complicated and I won’t bore you with the details. By Wednesday, he took four taxi cabs to mail my package, I wired money through the bank which took over an hour and a lot of red tape and ta-da!

Antonio is such a good person. I am so grateful. I still cannot believe this happened, and that my iPad ended up back with me. Antonio told me in an email that he Googled me (of course he did) and saw I posted recipes from my travels! He wrote, “If you some day return to Mexico City searching for food recipes, come home, my beautiful wife cooks great.”

You got it, Antonio. And if you are ever in Seattle, I’ll treat you to the best food ever. Gracias!! Here is a picture of Antonio’s beautiful family he sent to me.

Antonio’s Beautiful Family

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Monday Mushroom Barley Soup

Click here to view recipe.

Mouthwatering Mushroom Barley Soup

I often join the “Meatless Monday” club and try to plan a mostly vegetable-focused dinner when I can. This soup is one of my vegetarian favorites.  I was especially pleased with it recently when I prepared it in tandem with a baking project. I had a yearning for Marge’s Mandelbrot so I measured and mixed the dough, and while it was resting in the refrigerator I used a lot of the same utensils and bowls to make the soup.  Needless to say, the house smells ah-maze-ing.

This soup makes a good amount (about two quarts) so it’s a perfect one to share with friends and family.  I ended up adding some carrots to the soup and garnishing with parsley because otherwise, it is brown, brown, brown.  One of my “things” is that I like food to look appealing.

Midway through the cooking process, when the barley was done and the mushroom/onion/garlic mixture was nice and soft and fragrant, I thought about how delicious it would be to serve just the slow sauteed mushrooms and cooked barley, perhaps with some fresh tarragon slivers,  chopped tomato and fresh corn kernels as a side dish. This is going to happen one of these days while I can still get fresh corn and juicy tomatoes at the farmers market!

In case you are wondering, I also made corn pancakes with a little tarragon thrown in and a tomato topping as well.  What a great summer meal!

Monday Mushroom Barley Soup

(Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)

Serves 8

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Ingredients
  • ½ cup uncooked pearl barley
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 6 ½ cups stock or water (I added a tiny bit (1 ½ tsp?) of Better than Boullion chicken flavor. Be careful if you add more because of the salt factor.)
  • 1 medium brown skinned onion, chopped
  • ¼ c parsley leaves, coarsely chopped for garnish
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ¼  lb fresh Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch rounds
  • ½  tsp salt-add more to taste
Instructions

Cook barley in 1 ½ cups of the stock or water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until barley is tender (20-30 minutes). Add remaining 4 ½ stock or water, tamari and sherry.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions, and garlic   Sauté for about five minutes over medium heat. Add mushrooms and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until everything is very tender (about 10-12 minutes).

Add the sautéed vegetables with all their liquid to the cooked barley. Add carrots and fresh ground black pepper to taste and simmer, partially covered, for another 20 minutes.

Serve in mugs or shallow bowls, garnishing with chopped parsley.

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