Monthly Archives: November 2008

Thanksgiving novice

Well, I think I’m still full from our national day of gluttony.
I must say that Thanksgiving dinner was a success, although we probably made more dishes than we could handle.
I included some of our dishes below, but those exclude mom’s carrot ribbons with almond butter, cheesy broccoli and clover-leaf rolls.
I was mostly in charge of the turkey, and I must say that buying an organic or free-range bird is totally worth it. The white meat is darker than traditional turkey breasts, so it’s more juicy and full of flavor. Because I decided to sort of wing the recipe, I was nervous the whole three hours of cooking, but stuffing the herbed butter under the skin was a good idea. What doesn’t taste better with butter?Also, brining is a must.
We had breakfast today at Pilot Butte Drive-In and are looking forward to mom’s turkey soup tonight, followed by more board/card games.
Dining-room table ready for grubbin'

Dining-room table ready for grubbin

Brined, rubbed with herb butter, stuffed with aromatics

Brined, rubbed with herb butter, stuffed with aromatics

My roasted cauliflower with herbs, lemon and parmesan

My roasted cauliflower with herbs, lemon and parmesan

Mom's cranberry sauce with orange


Smiths sweet potatoes and cornbread/cranberry/apple/sausage stuffing

Smiths sweet potatoes and cornbread/cranberry/apple/sausage stuffing

Garlic mashed potatoes

Garlic mashed potatoes

Gobble gobble, bitches!

Gobble gobble, bitches!

Dad took this picture of his plate.

Dad took this picture of his plate.


Preparing for Thanksgiving

The semi-calm before the storm….

My counter, waiting for chopping and baking.


My fridge, absolutely packed with ingredients…and my turkey (pre-brined)!


And my centerpiece: Chinese lanterns.


Recipe-free tortilla soup at “Twilight”

So I finally came up for air from my “Twilight” binge to make a chicken tortilla soup for Elle and myself.

We’ve had a stressful week, to say the least, and needed something stress-free and comforting for dinner.

I’ve made this meal so many times that I don’t even look at the recipe anymore. It’s so simple that I usually have most of the ingredients in the cupboard. Please, please make this. It’s healthy AND filling. What a combination!

Preheat the oven to 400 and slice at least eight small, round corn tortillas into strips (I love these, so last night I made at least 10). Toss them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin (I used seasoning salt, until I realized it has MSG in it!). Spread the strips on a cooking sheet and place in the oven. While you’re preparing the rest of the meal, toss the strips every once in a while until crunchy (and I usually add more spices and a spritz of oil, when needed…spray-olive oil works well for this).

Meanwhile, in a soup pot, cook a couple cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil.

Before they brown, add 8 cups of low-sodium chicken stock (I make my own, so I just just added one tub of that and 1 1/2 of the boxes…it totally depends on how much soup you want to make and how soupy you want it). Then, add one can of drained black beans, 1 cup of salsa (we like the locally made kind in the cheese aisle, Salsa de Wela!), fire-roasted diced green chilis and/or chipotle chilis in adobo sauce. (Note: the salsa usually has enough onions, garlic and other spices you would normally add to a soup.)

Bring the pot to a boil and add chopped raw chicken tenders or shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken.

Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, then turn off the heat.

Stir in the juice of half a lime, a handful of chopped cilantro and 3/4 of the tortilla strips (obviously, you can just use store-bought tortilla chips, but they are higher in fat and sodium and other bad things).

Dutch ovens are best for soups

Dutch ovens are best for soups

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with sour cream, chopped avocado, shredded cheese (jack is good here), the tortilla strips and an extra wedge of lime for juicing.

Now, enjoy! Put the leftovers in the fridge to enjoy for days.

Chicken tortilla soup

Chicken tortilla soup

Spicy Sichuan Noodles with Ground Pork


I signed up for syndicated radio host (NPR) Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s weekly newsletter months ago. It is based on her show, “The Splendid Table” and includes at least one recipe each week. I’ve never made anything from it until now.

I felt inspired by someone else to do something Asian-like. With noodles. Something cheap, easy and de-lish. Too much to ask for?

Lynne’s Spicy Sichuan Noodles with Ground Pork were some of the best Asian food I’ve made in a while. Ever?

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Asian food. I get the authentic cookbooks, shop at Asian markets in larger cities, so why doesn’t it ever taste like it does in the restaurant?

This dish was a nice exception. It is rich and, as Elle put it, “a complexity of flavors!” It tastes rich, but has only a scarce amount of veggie oil and no butter and no cream. The sesame paste gives it that thick creaminess. And all that garlic, ginger and sesame oil are perfect together…

The three of us dined and watched Wall-E. God I effing love that movie.

Below is Lynne’s recipe. Central Oregon has pretty much no ethnic market, so I used linguine instead of Chinese noodles and dry cooking sherry instead of rice wine. I used some tahini (sesame paste) that I had from making hummus this summer — still good!

I recommend sprinkling the dish with toasted sesame seeds and more chili flakes/slices at the end. Enjoy!

Spicy Sichuan Noodles with Ground Pork
Reprinted with permission from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2009: The Year’s Best Recipes, Equipment Reviews, and Tastings (America’s Test Kitchen, Brookline, MA, 2008). Copyright 2008 by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

Serves 4

For this recipe, we prefer fresh Chinese noodles with a width between linguine and fettuccine. If you are using Asian sesame paste that has a pourable rather than spreadable consistency, use only 1 cup of chicken broth.

  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 3 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1/4 cup Asian sesame paste or smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 to 1-1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (see head note above)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 pound fresh Chinese noodles or 12 ounces dried linguine
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin on the bias
  • 2 cups bean sprouts (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground (optional)

1. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large stockpot for the noodles.

2. Meanwhile, toss the pork with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, rice wine, and a pinch of pepper to combine and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame paste, vinegar, and a pinch of pepper together until smooth, then whisk in the broth; set aside.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the pork mixture and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the pork is in small, well-browned bits, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth mixture, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the sesame oil; cover and set aside.

4. While the sauce simmers, stir the noodles into the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until the noodles are tender, about 4 minutes for fresh noodles or 10 minutes for dried linguine. Drain the noodles, divide them among individual bowls, then ladle a portion of the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the scallions, the bean sprouts and ground Sichuan peppercorns, if using, and serve.


Many bottled Asian ingredients like oyster sauce and soy sauce keep for months when tightly sealed and refrigerated. Shop local Asian food markets for better quality for less money and certainly a broader variety than in supermarkets. Keep a selection of sauces and condiments on hand for seasoning and saucing quick stir-fries, and improvising your own Asian style dishes.

I’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: there are two kinds of sesame oil. Dark Asian sesame oil is intensely flavored. Use it sparingly as a flavoring, not for cooking and, once opened, store it in the refrigerator. Lighter colored sesame oil has a mild, nutty flavor and is good in salad dressing. Its high smoke point makes it excellent for searing and high-heat stir-fries. Store this oil in a dark place at cool room temperature.

When a recipe calls for fish sauce, the one I particularly like is Three Crabs Fish Sauce. It’s easy to spot in shops, and has just a hint of sweetness with an overall flavor that is less sharp than other brands. Find it in Asian groceries for between $3.00 and $4.50 for a bottle that will last you a year stored in the refrigerator. If it’s not to be had locally, order it online at


Here stands one of my favorite dishes of all times. And I swear, it brings every man to his knees.

Pasta puttanesca is a dish that allegedly originated in the brothels as a way to lure men. Well, it has lured me, too.

I love any dish with the following ingredients melted together in olive oil: garlic (6 cloves), anchovies (1 tin, drained), capers (3T), black olives (20, chopped). Throw in some red pepper flakes, 32 oz. crushed tomatoes and 14 oz. diced tomatoes and you have a delicious dish, but don’t forget the cracked pepper and parsley.

I tossed my puttanesca sauce with linguine (my favorite thick pasta), and then we shredded Parmesan cheese over the top.

Served with crusty bread and a simple bitter salad, I give you pasta puttanesca. A simple pleasure, a simple delight, a simple love.


Birthday dinners

Last week, we celebrated my boyfriend’s birthday and it made me think back to all my birthday dinners growing up. I remember going through stages: the artichoke and Costco-chicken stage, the beef taco stage, the Laotian Cafe stage and the chicken-fingers with mashed potatoes and gravy stage.

Boyfriend wanted a seafood feast this year and he wanted to be the one making the crab cakes. So he bought HUGE king crab legs and cracked them the night before. He then shredded and mixed them with red bell pepper, parsley, mayo, egg, S&P, Old Bay seasoning and bread crumbs. These he formed into patties and refrigerated overnight. img_1879 The next day, while I was making Ina Gartens’ scallops provencal, he fried the cakes in vegetable oil and made a chipotle aioli sauce on top. So rich. So, so rich. img_1881 I wasn’t too happy with my scallops. They are basically floured and browned, then tossed with shallots, white wine, parsley and butter. My personal opinion is that scallops are best seared, because their flavor holds up on its own. Here are my scallops with his crabby cakes. img_1889 The day after his birthday, boyfriend turned his leftover crab cakes into these delish sammies with the sauce, tomatoes and avocado. I threw my scallops down the garbage disposal. img_1890

Chipotle chili with Mexican cornbread

My proto-sister-in-law sends me all sorts of delicious and healthy recipes that please the tummies of our boys. Her pecan-crusted halibut with a dijon cream sauce was AMAZING, and this chipotle chili was hearty, complex, spicy and perfect for a cold night. Plus, it makes enough to freeze the leftovers.

I think the secret ingredient is the cocoa powder. Or the red wine. Or perhaps all those chipotle chilies in adobo. Or maybe the fact that I ground my own coriander seeds!

People kept telling me that spices are best freshly ground, like coffee, but I never tried it. Luckily, I have an old coffee grinder that worked perfectly for this. Wow – freshly ground spices are way more pungent than whatever we buy bottled in the store.

I like chilis that have big chunks of stew meat in them, as this one did. I happened to have some beef stew meat in the freezer from Safeway’s discount food bin.

It also had two kinds of beans and called for Spanish chorizo. I subbed that out for Mexican chorizo, which has the texture of ground beef and is super spicy. It added a different texture and I liked it, but will try the more solid, Spanish kind next time.

This soup cooks for at least an hour and a half, so make sure you have the time before starting it. We topped ours with avocado, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese.

Made with my boyfriend’s famous Mexican cornbread (pimentos, green chilies, cheese, etc.).

Even those of us with the biggest appetites couldn’t have more than one bowl!

Merissa’s chipotle chili

* 2 links Spanish chorizo sausage (about 6 1/2 ounces), thinly sliced
* 1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat
* 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
* 4 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
* 3 tablespoons tomato paste
* 2 teaspoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 cup dry red wine
* 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
* 2 (14-ounce) cans less-sodium beef broth
* 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
* 2 tablespoons masa harina
* 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
* 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained


Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chorizo to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until browned. Remove chorizo from pan. Add half of beef to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until browned. Remove beef from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining beef. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes.

Remove 4 chipotle chiles from can, and chop. Reserve remaining chiles and sauce for another use. Add chorizo, beef, chopped chiles, tomato paste, and next 6 ingredients (through ground cumin) to pan, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in red wine, lime juice, beef broth, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Gradually stir in masa harina. Add pinto beans and black beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.