Kay’s Kale Salad

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Colorful Kale Salad

Colorful Kale Salad

You’ll have to wait until right before Thanksgiving in 2015 to get a full rundown of this year’s family weekend and excellent adventures.  Yet I cannot in all good conscience wait that long to share with you this wonderful, different and timely recipe that is a delicious accompaniment for your holiday dinners. And yes, it’s yet another Kale salad… BUT this one features beautiful, seasonal additions of pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and roasted squash.  And anything with white miso piques my interest.  Intrigued?  You should be.

This is a wonderful light salad that can sit, dressed, overnight if you wish. For me, this is key when feeding a huge crowd – it just makes the final meal less stressful.

My sister Kay made this singlehandedly and everybody loved the flavors.  The recipe came from a friend of hers via a restaurant… not really sure about the origin.  I switched out pecans for the pine nuts just because.

Kay’s Kale Salad

Feeds 6-8

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Ingredients for the salad
  • 1 large bunch lacinato (also called dinosaur) kale, stems removed and leaves cut into a fine chiffonade
  • 1 ½ cups roasted butternut squash (ours were cut into ½  inch cubes before roasting) or roasted beets cut the same size
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries (I use dried cherries as they are a tad less sweet)
  • ½ cup toasted chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 avocado, cubed into ½ inch pieces
Ingredients for the dressing
  • ¼ cup room temperature white miso paste
  • ¼ cup honey or pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh peeled and grated ginger (less if you are not a ginger fan)
Instructions

For the salad: in a large bowl combine all ingredients except the avocado and toss well.  Leave on the counter.

For the dressing: combine all ingredients except the grapeseed oil and ginger and whisk together.  Add in the ginger and then drizzle in the oil.  A hand blender works great for this dressing.  Store in a glass jar.  You can make this dressing up to 24 hours ahead which allows the ginger to mellow.

Up to a day before and at least  an  hour ahead of the meal, slowly add the dressing to the kale salad and toss to coat.  Sometimes it doesn’t take the full amount of dressing for this amount of kale.  Let the dressed salad  sit for a half hour to an hour or even overnight to allow the kale to soften. Right before serving, add the avocado cubes.

 

 

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Best Banana Bread … EVER!

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Beautiful Banana Bread

Beautiful Banana Bread

I am not going to sugar coat this: the recipe I am about to share is a total pain in the rear end to make, especially compared to other banana bread recipes where you take ripe bananas and just dump in the rest of the flour, sugar, eggs, etc. and voila!  This particular method  takes some advance prep, waiting for things to cool, extra bowls…but the end result is worth it to me. Rather than a ho hum type of banana bread you have had many times in coffee shops or that you’ve undoubtedly made before, this recipe produces an extraordinarily deep, complex banana flavor mixed with bittersweet chocolate chips.  I don’t serve this for breakfast but rather as a special, rustic dessert.

I made this banana bread following our family Thanksgiving weekend when I discovered we had a few leftover bananas the kids didn’t eat.  We usually keep bananas around the house for smoothies or to chop on top of granola or oatmeal and if they become overly ripe I stick them in the fridge or freezer as need be. Once  I see six overly ripe bananas…well, this is my favorite use for them.

What you read below in terms of cooking, draining and reducing the banana juice originated from a recipe in Cooks Illustrated.   Otherwise I changed it drastically: I decreased the brown sugar, added half whole wheat pastry flour, removed the nuts, added bittersweet dark chocolate, and made a few other minor changes. Shocking, I know.

Often I do the banana microwaving and draining, then measure everything out before I exercise in the morning.  When I return it’s just a matter of preparing the pan, melting the butter and stirring everything together.  No mixer needed, just using a kitchen spatula is a better system for me.

During one of these bleak, dark winter days when you feel like baking and have leftover bananas, try this recipe.  You won’t be sorry.

All the Ingredients

All the Ingredients

Best Banana Bread

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Ingredients
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1
 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 6
 large very ripe (speckled or dark brown skin) bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled (five for the bread and one reserved to top the loaf)
  • 1 stick salted butter, melted and left out on the counter for 10 minutes
  • 2 
large eggs, room temperature
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 
teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 
teaspoons granulated sugar (to sprinkle the loaf at the end)
Instructions

Place oven rack mid-oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, put a piece of parchment paper on the bottom only of the pan and respray the bottom.   This makes it easy to remove the finished loaf.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.  I usually remove one teaspoon of this mix and coat the chocolate chips with it so the chips don’t sink the bottom of the loaf.

Place five bananas in a glass microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several vents in the plastic with a knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about five minutes. Transfer the bananas to a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl so the juice drains, mashing and stirring occasionally. Leave it for about 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).

Transfer the banana juice to a quart size saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 10 minutes. If you have more than ¼ cup at this point, measure out ¼ cup and discard the rest.

Remove pan from heat, stir the ¼ cup of reduced juice into the cooked bananas, and mash with a large fork until fairly smooth. Whisk in the melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Scrape batter into a prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Overlap banana slices on top of either side of the unbaked loaf, leaving space down the center. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the banana-topped loaf.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 60 minutes or until done.  Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Keeps for 3 days wrapped tightly at room temperature or up to 2 months in the freezer.

Note: For the bread itself, you can use five thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid you won’t need to cook them.  Just put the thawed bananas into the strainer. Previously frozen bananas won’t work for the top so just sprinkle sugar on top of the loaf if you don’t have a very ripe never-frozen banana!

As an aside, last week I repeated this recipe.  The raw batter seemed a little thick to me but I popped it into the oven for 15 minutes before I noticed the MELTED BUTTER SITTING IN A PYREX CUP ON TOP OF THE COUNTER.  After all my hard work, I figured I had nothing to lose and took the banana bread out of the oven, greased another pan and stirred the slightly baked contents into the butter.  The chocolate chips, of course, melted… and I had some bigger banana chunks from the topping but you know what?  It was fantastic: like a dense chocolate pound cake.  Sometimes mistakes lead to greater recipes.  Sorry I didn’t snap a picture of my chocolate banana bread but the two of us demolished it in less than two days.

 

 

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Walk Away Turkey Wings

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A Pot of Wings!

A Pot of Wings!

Three years ago, I posted a roasted turkey wing recipe that baked in the oven. Fast forward to November 2014… While in Belize, I spotted beautiful, meaty turkey wings and suddenly wanted them for dinner.  The thought of turning on the oven in 80-plus degree weather was a non-starter, so I broke out my large crock pot. By the way, I don’t own a crock pot in Seattle – just in Belize.

Like magic, I’ve quickly rewritten an easier version of my original recipe for those of you who have a crock pot on hand and want a simple, filling dinner.  For the crock pot I use less liquid, a lot more vegetables and after blasting the the wings in a disposable pan for 45 minutes, I plop the browned wings on top of the veggies and liquid.  Turn the crock pot to “high” for three hours or cook on low for five or more hours or until the meat is falling-of-the-bone tender.  We called this Turkey Wing Stew because I included so many vegetables.

Veggies in the Crock Pot

Veggies in the Crock Pot

Turkey Wing Stew

Makes 2-3 servings

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Ingredients for the spice rub*:
  • ½ cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • ¼ cup regular paprika
  • 1 ½ Tbsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp dried cayenne
  • ½ tsp garlic salt

 *Note – this is all I had on hand in Belize. You can also use the spice rub I created for the other turkey wing recipe.

Instructions

Mix the above and store in a sealed container at room temperature. This should keep for at least six months.

Ingredients for the turkey wings:
  • 3  large turkey wings (2 ½-3 lbs total), the wing tip (pointy part) cut off
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil to rub over the turkey wings
  • 3 Tbsp spice rub (recipe above)
  • 2  cups chicken broth (I made mine with Better than Bouillon)
  • ½ orange, red or yellow bell pepper, cut in thirds
  • 1 sweet (red or white) onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch segments
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 2 medium sized yukon gold potatoes, cut into quarters (unpeeled)
Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the lower-middle part of the oven.

Dry the turkey wings well and rub the skin all over with the olive oil.  Press the spice rub into the skin of the wings.  Place the wings onto a parchment or foil lined roasting pan (I used a large disposable one) and let them roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, plug in the crock pot and fill with the prepared vegetables and liquid.  Turn on the crock pot to high while the wings are roasting.

Once 45 minutes are up, it is time to transfer the wings from the pan to the crockpot.  I don’t stir the veggies around but leave them on the bottom.  Also, if there are any accumulated juices pour them over the wings as well.  Leave the crock pot on high for 2-3 hours or turn to low for 5-6 hours or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and the carrots are soft enough to bite.  I don’t turn the wings over.  When everything is done, baste the wings with the juice.

I serve this on top of toasted cooked quinoa or brown rice so that it is like a stew.

If you own a crock pot, and many of you do, try this during the cold weather months.  Let me know how you like it! And since you lined the disposable roasting pan with foil or parchment, rinse it out and reuse it several times!

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Hanukkah Latkes

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Freshly Made Latkes with Sour Cream & Homemade Applesauce

Freshly Made Latkes with Sour Cream & Homemade Applesauce

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are one of my favorite traditional Hanukkah foods.  I love potatoes in all forms so I make these throughout the year, sometimes as a main dish for dinner!  There are new, hoity toity recipes out there now using various root vegetables and sweet potatoes, sweet things and savory items.  But here’s the thing: when it comes to many of the foods I ate growing up… I do not like change.

No thank you to bananas added to my famous black bottom pie.  Feh to savory herbs added to a cookie dough.   I don’t want or like  vegetables stirred into my matzo ball mixture.  I crave the real, authentic deal.  I get stubborn and unyielding about this.  And so it is with latkes: I only enjoy the original, traditional mixture I remember.  With pink applesauce and sour cream, thank you very much.

Potatoes & Latkes

Potatoes & Latkes

I use a basic recipe from Cooks Illustrated … with a few personal tweaks, of course.

Thick and Creamy Potato Latkes

Makes approximately eighteen 3-inch pancakes

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Ingredients
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled but washed well
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons table (fine) salt
  • ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil for frying – divided (I use organic canola oil labeled “for high heat”)
Instructions

Grate potatoes in food processor fitted with a coarse shredding blade.

Place half of the shredded potatoes in a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl and let them drain.

Fit a food processor with the steel chopping blade, add onions, and pulse with remaining shredded potatoes that aren’t draining until all pieces measure roughly ⅛ inch and look coarsely chopped – five to six 1-second pulses. Mix with reserved potato shreds (in sieve) and press against the strainer to drain as much liquid as possible into the bowl below. Let the potato liquid stand until the starch settles to the bottom, about one minute. Pour off this liquid, leaving the starch in bowl (the starch is cloudy).

Beat egg, then potato mixture and remaining ingredients (except oil), into starch.

Meanwhile, TURN ON THE STOVE OVERHEAD FAN and heat ¼-inch depth of oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking.

Working one at a time, place ¼ cup potato mixture, squeezed of excess liquid and pressed into ½-inch thick disc, in oil. Press gently with a nonstick spatula; repeat until five latkes are in the pan.  Note: lots of liquid comes out, and I prefer to make these much thinner and crisper!!

Latkes Cooking in the Pan

Latkes Cooking in the Pan

Maintaining heat so fat bubbles around latke edges, fry them until golden brown on the bottom and edges – about three minutes. Turn with a spatula and continue frying until golden brown all over, about three minutes more.

Drain on a triple thickness of paper towels set on a wire rack over a jelly roll pan. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, returning oil to temperature between each batch and replacing oil after the second batch. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Cooled latkes can be covered loosely with plastic wrap, held at room temperature for four hours, transferred to a heated cookie sheet, and baked in 375-degree oven, until crisp and hot, about five minutes per side. Or they can be frozen on a cookie sheet, transferred to a zip-lock freezer bag, frozen, and reheated in a 375-degree oven until crisp and hot, about eight minutes per side. Best of all is to eat them right after they are done frying!

Note: I always wear old shabby clothes and an apron because the entire kitchen (actually my entire condominium hallway) and my clothing smell like fried potatoes when I make these.  When I finish, I open the windows, take a shower and burn a nice smelling candle but the smell lingers.

 

 

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Simple Stovetop Flan

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Fabulous Flan

Fabulous Flan

Oh no!  I almost forgot to post this basic flan recipe, one of the first things I learned to make after we started coming to Belize.  Restaurant dessert menus here always include flan, but every one of them tastes a little different.

At least ten years ago, I had a friend in Belize named Martha who made tamales and sold them on the street.  She was an exceptional cook and taught me how to make many native dishes, including flan.  Martha and I would spend hours in her tiny kitchen, sweating and chopping ingredients and sharing bits and pieces of our lives.  She was then just thirty years old and had seven children, ages 2 – 16!

Martha’s flan was a little airier than I like so I went from restaurant to restaurant, chef to chef, home cook to home cook, and asked for THEIR favorite flan recipe.  Everyone had different ingredients, differing numbers of eggs, a few added cream cheese(!), some made it on top of the stove, others cooked it in the oven, a few cooks covered the pan and others did not, cooking times varied wildly…not one man or woman of the ten or more I questioned did things the same way.

Afterwards I did an internet search.  It turns out that most recipes involve a complicated caramel that has to be done separately… ingredients are strained and so on.  And many reviews said it took several tries to get this right.

Ta da! I am pleased to share with you the result of all my research … my very own version of the flan I make in Belize.  I tried many different cooking methods, I tried covering and uncovering and this is what makes the best flan for me.  It takes about ten minutes tops to prepare but more time to cook and cool.  It’s a dumbed down creme caramel, uses just one mixing bowl and a flan pan. No straining. It is the recipe I make often since I always have these ingredients in my pantry.

And in my very humble opinion, it is perfect!

Final flan - nothing fancy ... but it's fabulous!

Final flan – nothing fancy … but it’s fabulous!

Simple Stovetop Flan

For an 8-inch metal straight-sided cake pan

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Ingredients for the bottom of the flan/cake pan:
  • ½ tsp of butter to barely coat the sides and bottom
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (regular granulated or turbinado)
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon – this is added after the sugar is caramelized
Ingredients for the flan
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 large can evaporated full cream milk (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can condensed milk (397 g – the can looks a bit smaller than the can of evaporated milk)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp dark rum (substitute coffee if you wish)
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Instructions

Start about a quart of water boiling for a water bath in a 12-inch straight sided saute pan.  The diameter of this pan has to be big enough so you can place the flan pan inside it, and you need a lid that fits on this larger pan.

Mix the flan ingredients above by hand with a whisk until everything is combined.

I lightly grease the flan pan on the bottoms and sides…and I mean barely.  Evenly sprinkle the bottom with two tablespoons of sugar and place the flan pan directly on the stovetop burner over medium heat. (I have a gas range, but an electric stovetop will work too.  Put on the exhaust fan (this part of the recipe will produce a lot of smoke) and stand by while the sugar starts to become dark golden brown.  Do not stir, but let it bubble on its own.  When it starts to become dark golden brown, immediately remove the pan from the heat and place on a heat-proof surface.   The browned or caramelized sugar will harden, which is not a problem.  Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly on top of the browned sugar.

The Flan Pan

The flan pan with caramelized sugar – ready to be filled

After the pan cools for at least 10 minutes, pour the remaining mixture of flan ingredients on top of the caramelized sugar in the cake  pan and gently lower the filled, smaller (now filled)  flan pan into the larger pan with simmering water.  The water should come halfway up the sides of the flan container.   I keep a kettle of hot water nearby and add more water every 20 minutes or somas it boils down.  Do not cover the pan.  Keep the water simmering for two hours, then cover the entire larger pan with the flan still inside of it  for 10 minutes.  Remove the lid quickly and see if it is done–a knife inserted into the center of the flan should come out clean, which is how you know it is ready.

Put on kitchen gloves and carefully remove the flan pan from the water bath onto  a rack and let it cool there.  After 20 minutes or so the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan.  I gently “rock” or shake (gently) the flan to be sure the sides aren’t sticking to the pan – I do this every 20 minutes or so and if it seems stuck, take a sharp knife and run it around the edge of the pan.   After one hour, it’s time to get the flan out of it’s pan.  Shake gently before you take the flan out of the flan pan to be sure it is loosened from the sides and bottom. Put a rimmed plate over the flan pan and invert the dessert so the caramel part is facing up. Juice will dribble all around the edges.   Let it cool and refrigerate, covered, before serving.

This is so easy, the next time you have to provide a dessert make this!  It’s different, and loved by all.

 

 

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Thanksgivukah / Chanugiving Cranberry Apple Sauce

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Crimson Cranberry Applesauce

Crimson Cranberry Applesauce

Thanksgiving 2013  – aka Thanksgivukah or Chanugiving, since Chanukah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day last year.  Our count in 2013? 24 people!  20 full grown adults, 4 children under the age of five and over the age of two.  Heavily skewed to the male side, we embraced our group of enormous eaters.

Over half of us began our family holiday on Wednesday at Uncle Kal’s cabin in the woods.  As for me, I gave a carload of food to my daughter Rachel to take up ahead of time and we made the hour and a half drive Thursday morning.  I spent my day Wednesday finishing pies, picking up fish for Friday dinner, prepping salads and gathering myself after the previous week of children and grandchildren crammed into our condo.  2013 was the first year my sister Susan and her husband Stephen joined us for this holiday.

Hannukah Lights

Hannukah Lights

This celebration was over the top.  We consumed boatloads of food.  Kal doesn’t have a dishwasher at his place so the human dishwashers were at it nonstop.  The hot water heater broke at the beginning of the weekend which meant no warm showers or warm water at all.  Some of the guests went to our motel room to shower and hose off.

So what do 24 people do together for three solid days, aside from eat and nap?  There was a huge puzzle, finally completed  late late on Friday.  Knitting was ongoing.  Books were started and read.  Lots of catching up.  My nephew Elliot, ever the movie guru, compiled some DVDs of old family movies – and my kids got to see their mother, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends celebrate one year birthdays and Passover seders, and take camping trips to Yellowstone Park…what memories.  We sang. We drew pictures. Some went on walks, on runs, did yoga.   A few napped during daylight hours.  Scrabble games and Settlers of Catan board games were played.

Tatty & Max working on a puzzle

Tatty & Max working on a puzzle

According to our family tradition, we made more food than you can begin to imagine — especially noteworthy because 99% of our family is normal weight to thinnish.  We are small people but we eat like starving truck drivers.  Because it was Chanukah, we not only had traditional Thanksgiving food but included some potato latkes and Cranberry Applesauce, a cute twist to combine both holidays.

Here is my version/recipe for Cranberry Applesauce that combined the foods of Thanksgiving (cranberry) and Chanukah (applesauce).  This has sinced graced my table throughout the year – not only is it good and tart, but the color is beautiful if you use this applesauce as a topping for potato pancakes, for yogurt, or anything else. Nothing is easier than putting everything into one pot at the same time, waiting a few minutes and being DONE.  You’ll look like a master chef.  I am including a pressure cooker version as well as a stovetop recipe.

Apples, cranberries, pressure cooker - voila!

Apples, cranberries, pressure cooker – voila!

It’s not just for Thanksgivukah/Chanugiving anymore!!

Cranberry Applesauce

Serves 6 and can easily be quadrupled or doubled

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Ingredients
  • 4 large peeled and cored Braeburn apples (about 2 ½ pounds*), cut into 8 large slices
  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I am very snobby about using only PURE maple syrup!)
  • 1-3 inch piece of lemon peel (peel a section with a potato peeler)
  • ⅔ cup water
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of salt  (about ⅛ tsp if you must measure)
Pressure cooker instructions (my preferred method of course)

Put all the ingredients in a 4-6 quart pressure cooker and lock the lid.  Bring to high pressure.  Cook for three minutes at high pressure then take the pressure cooker off the heat and let the pressure come down on it’s own.  Remove the lid, and stir together to combine the berries and apples. The applesauce will be a little chunky.  If you prefer smooth applesauce, pulse it with an immersion blender or cook it a minute longer – four or five minutes instead of three.

Stovetop method instructions

Put everything into a 4-6 quart pot and bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 25 minutes or until everything is tender.  Mash with a potato masher or immersion blender.

This cranberry applesauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, for around 10 days and freezes well too.  It is a good make -ahead holiday dish.

 

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Giving Thanks

My Kids: Daniel, Rachel & Jake (Thanksgiving 2013)

My Kids: Daniel, Rachel & Jake (Thanksgiving 2013)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, my number one favorite holiday.  I love the food, the gathering of family, the fall season, the fact that it’s a secular holiday, all of it.  The week before our actual family celebration is BUSY … I drag out the toys and games and extra blow up mattresses for the grandkids, make my shopping list, and create my cooking schedule. But I always find time to reflect on the past year.

“Gratitude” is mentioned daily-on the radio, in person, in yoga class…  I am thankful every single day of my life, consciously thankful of large and small things.  At my age I am always aware that there are a finite number of Thanksgiving holidays!

I feel thankful for the family who surrounded me the first seventeen years of my life.  My childhood had a huge impact and contributed to my feelings of worthiness, security and deep happiness.  When my parents would say prayers with me before bedtime, I would always repeat the words “God bless Mommy and Daddy, Tim, Sue, Kay and Kal, all of whom we dearly love…and all my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, and the memory of my grandparents and Uncle Lou and Uncle Ike.”  I was reared with this value system — that we as family love each other unconditionally, we are all there to support each other and that we continue to honor the memory of those relatives and friends no longer with us.  I still  feel this way about  my immediate family, siblings, nieces, nephews, and  other relatives through birth or through marriage.  My family is precious to me!

Kal's Cabin Hat  - designed by kids for Thanksgiving 2013 - turkey and menorah represent Thanksgiving & Hannukah

Kal’s Cabin Hat – designed by kids for Thanksgiving 2013 – turkey and menorah represent Thanksgiving & Hannukah

I feel thankful for my friends: old, young, longtime, newish, in all sizes, shapes and colors.

I feel thankful for my core values.  I know that for me material things don’t come close to the importance of relationships and experiences.

I feel thankful for my good health, for leaves that turn colors, rain that makes the air feel so clean, fresh food, the roof over my head, blue skies, grey skies, the ocean.  I say out loud, nearly every day and usually multiple times a day to anyone who will listen to me how thankful I am and how much I am in awe of people and nature.

I hope for all of you that you can be grateful for many many things that touch your lives,  and that we all remember why we gather with friends and relatives this year.  Never lose sight of that fact that so many people in the world have so much less.

I wish for all of you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving 2014!

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Oaxaca Peanuts

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Oaxaca Peanuts & Lime Wedges

Oaxaca Peanuts & Lime Wedges

I travelled to Oaxaca in late August. I’d never been to this part of Mexico, and we wanted to try a Spanish language “almost immersion” school.  When I returned home, friends here in  Seattle asked me about the the food.   Oh…the food.  Even if Oaxaca didn’t have such friendly, nice people and art and sites and accommodations and a lovely Spanish school, I would  go just for the world class food.  Let’s just say it totally changed my take on Mexico and Central American cuisine.  We ate terrific meals in unassuming restaurants that rivaled those in top European cities, yet the food cost was substantially less.

Courtyard plantings typical of those we saw walking around the city

Courtyard plantings typical of those we saw walking around the city

I loved that in most restaurants once we ordered a meal, some type of “on the house” hors d’oeuvres were served.  This might be fresh bread rolls with some type of spread, olive tapenade, salsa and tortillas…

Chapulines, or fried grasshoppers served in Oaxaca--I ate these in tacos!

Chapulines, or fried grasshoppers served in Oaxaca–I ate these in tacos!

But the one item that was presented over and over again?  Cacahuites.  Pronounced ka ka wåh tayz.  Basically Spanish peanuts, roasted with a touch of oil and salt, topped while warm with cayenne and accompanied by fresh lime wedges to squeeze on top.  Suffice it to say that regardless of the quantity served or what we ordered to follow, there was never one peanut left in the bowl.

I’m giving you the quantity we made for four of us at night as an appetizer with drinks, but you can easily double, triple or quadruple this.  It tastes great along with beer or an icy beverage.  I warn you, between the  salt and chili you’ll be thirsty!

Cacahuates Oaxaqueños con Chile y Ajo

(Oaxacan style peanuts with chilis and garlic)

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Ingredients
  • 2 cups Spanish peanuts (the kind with the skins on)-salted or not
  • 6 large cloves of peeled garlic, cut into about 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt to sprinkle at the end unless the peanuts are salted
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne sprinkled on top once they come out of the oven
  • 1 lime, cut into three wedges
Instructions

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl stir together peanuts, oil and garlic slivers until everything is coated.  It’s not very much oil, but it’s enough.  Put this peanut mix into a foil or parchment-lined cookie sheet (I do this in my toaster oven).  Bake for 20 minutes.  The room should smell of garlic and roasted peanuts.  Remove to a bowl, let the peanuts cool slightly so they can be handled and serve, topping the nuts with salt (unless they are already salted) and cayenne.  Have lime wedges for your eaters to squeeze on top of the peanuts before eating them.

Repeat often… These are addictive!  And stay tuned for more stories about my time in Oaxaca

 

 

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Cauliflower & Rigatoni Bake

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Comforting Cauliflower & Rigatoni Bake

Comforting Cauliflower & Rigatoni Bake

There is a back story, of course, to this recipe which I spun off from one published recently in the New York Times.  On a rainy Sunday, I found the story about Rigatoni with Cauliflower, and read the recipe; it sounded so good to me, a true cauliflower lover who had a lot of fresh sage to use at the end of the season, so I saved it to my “to try” file.  I do this a lot.  Then Sister Sue asked me for a recommendation for a vegetarian main dish for company last week, so I happily sent on the recipe. She reported back that not only did she make it, but she loved it – as did her company.

“Did you change anything,” I asked?  She indignantly answered me via email  … and I quote Regarding changes, why make any if it was good?  OH wait, I forgot who was asking (ha ha ha).  I think I may have had more cauliflower which I preferred (same dif as reducing pasta of course, but it makes more quantity overall which I also preferred), but I had to caramelize it in 3 separate batches to get it nicely browned.  I suppose I could have used a larger skillet.  The fontina is a must, you could use any hard cheese and it won’t make a difference.”

Uh huh. She knows me too well… It’s rare that I make anything the way it is written, even the first time through.  This was no exception.  In spite of her admonishment, I used less pasta, subbed whole wheat rigatoni, added more cauliflower, a bit more cheese…more olive oil…and I’m happy with my result.  The dish isn’t a stick together saucy pasta, but rather a delicately coated but interestingly flavored dish.  It does take a lot of salt, even with the cheese.

I didn’t garnish this with parsley as suggested because that seemed too mundane.  I just let it be whitish brownish food, but I served it with large halved oven roasted carrots stirred together with sauteed dino kale and fresh end-of-the-season cherry tomatoes.  The plate was colorful and the sweet tomatoes and carrots balanced out the saltiness of the dish.  It was light but filling and left me enough room to have a scoop of coconut gelato with hot fudge for dessert.

I do love that you can prep and put this dish together several hours before serving …and it makes a lot–enough for 6-10 big eaters as long as you have multiple side dishes as I did.   The seasonings for the cauliflower were different and assertive with theI added sage, capers and red pepper flakes for some extra zip!

Cauliflower & Rigatoni Bake

Serves 6-10

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 Ingredients
  • ¾ pound whole wheat rigatoni
  • 1 Tbsp salt for cooking the rigatoni
  • ¼ cup Extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large cauliflower, about 2 pounds.
  • 1 teaspoon fine grained sea salt and 10 grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 1 ½  tablespoon capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste (I added more)
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves plus a few smaller sage leaves left whole
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 8 ounces ounces coarsely grated fontina cheese or mozzarella or fresh white cheddar cheese
  • 2 ounces finely grated imported parmesan cheese to top
  • ½ cup coarse dry bread crumbs-lightly toast the bread first then grate-use for topping
Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add one tablespoon of table salt and stir in rigatoni  Stir so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and cook without covering about two minutes less than package directions so it is still al dente.  Drain and rinse with cold water, drain well again so no water remains and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and put rack in lower mid oven..

Cut cauliflower off the hard core and cut away the stems.  Chop the remaining flowerettes into ½ inch pieces.

Put two tablespoons (half of what you will use in total) of the olive oil in a wide 12-14 inch skillet over high heat. Add half of the cauliflower pieces, along with any crumbly morsels, in one layer. Watch as the cauliflower caramelizes for about two minutes, then turn the pieces over and continue to brown them another two minutes.  It should be pretty soft and yield easily to a knife.

Scrape these into a large mixing bowl and repeat the directions with the second half of the olive oil and cauliflower.  Put this into the bowl with the first batch.

To the mixing bowl, put in cooked pasta.  Add capers, garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped sage, sage leaves and lemon zest and stir to coat.

Next add the cooked cauliflower mixture and  grated fontina, mozzarella or cheddar cheese and stir gently to combine evenly.

Transfer mixture to a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with parmesan cheese, then with bread crumbs and drizzle with about one and a half tablespoon olive oil. (Dish may be completed to this point up to several hours in advance and kept at room temperature, covered. Or it can be refrigerated overnight but bring to room temperature before baking.)

Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is crisp and golden.  Let it rest a few minutes before serving.

Another note: I always always grate my own cheese.  Much, much better flavors and textures!

 

 

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My Chocoholic Fix

Minty Chocolatey Cookie Concoction

Minty Chocolatey Cookie Concoction

We arrived in Belize on Monday night, unpacked a bit, prepared some local chicken sausages and some cooked black beans from the freezer…then started rooting around for some chocolate.  I always require chocolate after a night time meal.  You see, I am a full blown chocoholic and I’ll never go to rehab or start a 12-step program.  Nope, I’m loud and proud about my chocolate addiction.  However, it becomes problematic if there isn’t chocolate easily accessible.

So I looked for my “go to” chocolate fix.  I didn’t have a single fancy chocolate bar.  No hot fudge or ice cream. Nada.

And then I had an epiphany.  My husband thinks this was his idea, but IT WAS MINE!

I prepare 99% of my food from scratch, I buy organic fruits and vegetables and dairy products and oils, and even the chocolate I eat is normally a homemade dessert or a very high quality dark chocolate bar of sorts.  This is my disclaimer, so forgive me when I stoop to the level of the following creation.  You should know that I am not so hoity toity.

We had a bag of Mini York Patties — dark chocolate coated, smooth mint candies.  We had a few Oreo cookies, the kind I ate as a child with big glass of milk.  And I had a microwave.  Badda bing, badda boom.

The Essential Ingredients

The Essential Ingredients

Here is how I did it folks:

  1. Unwrap the Mini York Patty candy.
  2. Separate the Oreo cookie halves, scrape away the white filling (unless you like this part) and sandwich the mint between the two cookie halves.
  3. Put the assembled sandwich on a microwave safe plate and zap for exactly seven seconds.
  4. Press the two cookie halves together lightly so the York Mint is slightly bulging and oozing.
  5. Eat … savoring the chocolately mint goodness.

I am not going to apologize for my love of this concoction. It’s my belief that eating a dessert like this occasionally is perfectly acceptable – even encouraged. Just because it’s not “healthy” or “organic” or “made from scratch” … doesn’t mean it’s “bad.” Enough with the guilt already…

Plus – I am thinking that the York Patty folks and the Oreo cookie people might want to merge their businesses and go big with this.  To them I say, you are welcome.

I can tell you that I will have one of these little treats every single night after dinner until I get sick of them, and that will take a long time! I wouldn’t name this “York Patty between sides of an Oreo”.  Oh no.   If I had a fancy restaurant and wanted to list this as a dessert, I’d call it “a pillow of peppermint cream, covered with dark ganache and sandwiched between two crispy chocolate wafers.”  I’d charge $3.99 for two of these on a fancy plate.  As if..

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