Monthly Archives: September 2009

Brownies with a pumpkin swirl

When chocolate attacks

When chocolate attacks

Sometimes, you have one of those days when you accidentally put twice as much butter in a recipe as it calls for. Oh, and then you put in too much chocolate. Yeah, Pumpkin Challenge #4 is the result of these amateur’s errors.

You can find the recipe here. I’m not going to post it because…you probably don’t want to make what I made. Not that it tasted bad – quite good, actually – it’s just bad for you.

I was surprised that the brownies actually came out brownie-like. Same texture, very chocolatey, nice and moist. The pumpkin was easily overwhelmed by the chocolate, though, but that was my bad.

Still, they are pretty and a nice rich treat that will inspire you to run a mile.

Enjoy, chocoholics! xoxo

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Falling into autumn

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I’ve been really missing the Fruit Loop in Hood River, Ore. That winding road that takes you to alpaca farms, vineyards, pumpkin patches, breweries and all the apple, peach and pear stands you could want. So, to fill my appetite for fallish things, we headed to the Triad farmers’ market. We were delighted to see all the beautiful pumpkins, gourds and other fall bounty.

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The fig trees were still there, tempting me. Although, at $15 per tree, it doesn’t take much to tempt me.

Figs!

Figs!

One farm had these pumpkins that were obviously treated to make them shiny. $10 for a pumpkin? Really? In Oregon, we bought ours for 10 cents per pound at the Fruit Loop. I think this is a good indicator of what we’ll also fork over for a Christmas tree this year.

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In the spirit of bounty (and fall eating), here’s my favorite fall lunch or mid-afternoon snack (Heidi, this is for you!): brie cheese lightly melted with fig jam, crisp apple (these were gala) and sea-salt crackers (or any other salty crisp cracker – salty goes well with the cheese and sweet fruit).

Miss Heidi's Special

Miss Heidi's Special

Happy fall, friends! I can’t wait to explore more of the South this fall – through food. xoxo

Word associations

I had a dream last night where everyone I knew turned into a food product. It got me thinking about how we associate food with people.

Here is a list of some significant people in my life (in no particular order) and the food items that remind me of them:

1. Cari – pumpkin-spice latte. It’s all she drinks from September to January.

2. Marielle – champagne. Let’s just say they belong together.

3. Kitty – Goldfish crackers. She hates all human food except this.

4. Heidi – White wine. Remember that old bottle of chardonnay that was in your fridge for like two years, halfway empty? I’ll never forget that.

5. Jesse – (this one was hard to narrow down) Sweet Scrumptious Yummies. These were gummy treats from Newport Market in Bend that he always ate while playing video games.

6. Val – Fried chicken. She knows why.

7. Merissa and Luke – whole grains. They left some in my cupboard. It was so them!

8. Chuck Smith – babaganooey (baba ghannouj). “The j is silent.”

9. Mom – hoppin’ john!

10. Dad – pierogies.

11. Lillian – pizza. From that time you somehow broke mom’s favorite lamp with a pizza box.

12. Chuck Chiang – processed cheese products.

13. Uncle Ples – Bud Lite. From that time I tattled to mom that you were drinking and driving, but really you were spitting tobacco into an empty Bud Lite can.

14. Kelly G. – spaghetti. We always had spaghetti at your parents’ house. I always hated spaghetti sauce.

15. Tris – Easy Mac. You would always walk into our dorm room and say, “It smells like Easy Mac in here!”

16. Darcy – chocolate, from that time when we worked at The Gap together and you got chocolate muffin all over your face. “It will only get worse.”

17. The Asian Cafe, circa 1995. Short-term Laotian restaurant near my parent’s house that made the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. Chef’s Special #5 with chicken. I need to travel to Laos to find it again.

Pumpkin-ginger waffles

Pumpkin challenge No. 3!

A sweet brunch

A sweet brunch

I found this recipe in Country Living. It takes less than 30  minutes to make and is surprisingly healthy, according to the nutritional info in the magazine. I also like this recipe because it only uses 1/2 c. canned pumpkin puree, which is all I had left. The original recipe includes chopped up crystallized ginger, but I decided that I didn’t need it. It is still QUITE gingery without those chewy pieces.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 large eggs

1/4 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. canned pumpkin puree (about half a can)

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

3 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Get out your waffle iron and heat it.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla. Whisk in flour mixture until combined. Stir in butter.

Scoop about 1/2 c. of the batter into the waffle iron and cook to your desired doneness. Keep the finished waffles in the oven at 200 degrees to stay warm.

With these, I browned up patties of chicken Italian sausage that was 50% off at Harris Teeter’s a while back. Horray for the discount meat bin! The sausage was a nice addition to the waffles, which totally smelled like pumpkin pie. They weren’t too pumpkiny, but were more spiced tasting.

Both Jesse and I  really, really liked the waffles. They were very sweet, especially with all the maple syrup we poured over them. You’ll definitely need a glass of cold milk to wash it down, and this recipe made enough for two mornings’ worth of breakfast (stretching those $$$).

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Sage-pancetta wrapped shrimp

North Carolina's finest

North Carolina's finest

I’m finally starting to really love North Carolina. I think it’s because we’ve found all the cute local hangouts that remind us of the boutiques in Bend or Portland’s NW 23rd.

On Saturday, we went to a little Bohemian coffee shop called Kranky’s, then bought a loaf of bread at the rustic French bakery in a brick building covered with flowers. Then we went to the market for dinner…

When I lived in the High Desert, I never felt like I had the luxury of going to the grocery store and shopping for “whatever’s fresh.” I suppose I never felt that anything in the desert was THAT fresh.

Travel where the vegetation gets green and you have that luxury. This weekend, we saw some of the most beautiful prawns at Fresh Market, never frozen. “North Carolina 18-20 count shrimp, $8.99/pound” the sign said. We bought almost two pounds and they took a surprisingly little amount of time to peel and de-vein, simply because they were so big and meaty.

I wrapped each shrimp with one sage leaf, then sprinkled them with grill seasoning (optional) and then a thin slice of pancetta. Jesse helped by securing the shrimp with toothpicks. Then, I seared them in a little olive oil on a nonstick skillet.

The pancetta will crisp up and add a smokiness to the shrimp. The sage will perfume each bite. They were really amazing. But be careful with the salt – you don’t need much. These would be an amazing appetizer, and of course you could use bacon instead of pancetta.

On the side, we had my favorite couscous (toasted pine nuts, golden raisins, scallions, parsley) and that artisan bread made with cheese and green onions (hello? amazing.).

The two of us couldn’t even eat a dozen of the shrimp, so there will be plenty more for tonight’s dinner. We may serve them over a salad or a simple bed of greens.

Next time you see really beautiful, big fresh (not frozen) shrimp, I encourage you to try this amazing and chic dish. Enjoy, friends! xoxo

“Don’t be blue” berry and sour-cream muffins

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These muffins deserve an attention-grabbing name like “Blueberry breakup muffins” or “Don’t be blueberry muffins.” Because they can make the rainiest of days (like the entire South is experiencing this week)  a little bit sweeter.

My aunt and uncle own a blueberry farm in Arkansas. Growing up, I spent many summers in the sticky sun, picking buckets of blueberries for 50 cents an hour. Child labor! Perhaps that’s why I never liked blueberries – I don’t like blueberry pie, cobbler or pancakes.

But, for some reason, I love these blueberry muffins.

I got the recipe from Ina Garten as I looked for a way to use up 2 pints of old farmers’ market bluberries that Jesse’s brother bought a week ago. We happened to have some eggs, milk and sour cream in the fridge, too, so I had everything I needed to make them.

And that sour cream – whoa. As they baked, the muffins smelled like my mom’s cream-cheese sugar cookies that she makes at Christmas. The muffins come out light and fluffy, sticky with sugar and containing that extra bite from the sour cream. The tart blueberries are a nice burst of juice, of course.

I always thought you had to mix the blueberries in flour for muffins – so they don’t sink to the bottom of the muffins. But these didn’t include a flour dusting and the blueberries were suspended throughout the muffins. Maybe that was from the leavening agents?

Ingredients:

1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 c. sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

8 oz. sour cream (about 1 cup – I had less than a cup but it turned out fine)

1/4 c. milk

2 1/2 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 half pints of blueberries (or more!), picked through for stems

Heat oven to 350. Line two muffin pans with paper liners.

Cream together the sugar and butter for five minutes, until light and airy. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla, sour cream and milk.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this to the egg mixture and blend. Fold in the blueberries.

Scoop the mixture evenly into the prepared pans. You should have enough for 2 dozen. Bake for 25-30 min. (mine took 28 minutes), turning the pan half-way through. They should be lightly browned and a cake tester will come out clean (toothpick inserted in center). Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy these with coffee for breakfast, or with a glass of milk after dinner. There is simply  no bad time to eat a great blueberry muffin.

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Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Pumpkin ice cream sandwiches

Like a pumpkin-spice latte in dessert form!

Like a pumpkin-spice latte in dessert form!

So far on the pumpkin challenge (my one-person challenge to make a new pumpkin recipe each week from now until Halloween), I’ve made the chocolate-pumpkin tart. Recipe No. 2, also courtesy of Martha, is her pumpkin ice cream sandwiches.

I must say that I’m continually impressed by my ice cream-making skills since I moved to The South. I don’t know if I’m just choosing better recipes or the milk is creamier here, but the ice cream always comes out thicker, almost frothy, and so, so smooth.

However, I did have some hiccups. Let me chart out this multi-day baking experience:

Day one: I made the ginger-molasses cookies. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I made the dough one night when I had the time. They needed to chill overnight.

Day two: I got up early after a late night at The Opera House (dive bar in W-S) so I could bake the cookies and make the dulce de leche, which you need for the ice cream. Dulce de leche takes two hours to cook (sweetened condensced milk stirred over a double-boiler).

My rental oven bit back by burning the entire bottom sheet of cookies = trash. Luckily, I had 12 perfect cookies on the top sheet. I just love that gingerbread smell…

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Finally, I decided that the dulce de leche was done. It had been cooking about 160 minutes.

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Next, and this is still day 2, I made the ice cream custard, which included heating, cooling, reheating, then mixing milk, cream, cinnamon, eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and cloves. And the dulce de leche. I poured the custard into what I would soon realize was only a partially-frozen ice cream bowl (fail). I poured the custard out of it and put the ice-cream thing back in the freezer.

Later that night and after another five-hour experience (pot roast), I thought the ice cream thing would be ready….it got part of the way there, but then melted again. Fail! For those who don’t have an ice cream machine, here’s what: you need to freeze the mixing container that you pour the custard into. When it spins, the custard freezes evenly. But you need to freeze that thing at least 24 hours, especially if you live in a hot, humid climate.

Day three: After work, I attacked the ice cream situation again. This time: success! After the ice cream firmed up in the freezer, I scooped it, sandwiched it between the ginger cookies and froze everything again.

The ginger cookies taste like a gingersnap crust for a pumpkin pie or something. I like that crunchy texture with the creaminess of the ice cream. Watching Top Chef has taught me that dishes should have complimentary textures, so I think this is a win.

Until I noticed that the container holding my ice cream was covered in cat hair. How does she do it??!?

Kitty, eyeing the rainbows on the wall

Kitty, eyeing the rainbows on the wall

Strawberry-spinach salad

Warning: poppy seeds will get stuck in your teeth

Warning: poppy seeds will get stuck in your teeth

This is my favorite salad to make in the summer, when strawberries are ripe and inexpensive. You can also make it in the fall with pears, or peaches.

I promise that this will get you rave reviews at parties, potlucks and the dinner table. Every person I’ve ever served it to has gone home with the recipe. And I got the recipe from my friend Lindsay’s mom, after she brought it to a party. So…pass it on!

Super simple:

In a small bowl, whisk the dressing – 2 T poppy seeds, 2 T white wine vinegar, 2 T milk, 1/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c. mayo.

Pour that over a salad bowl filled with baby spinach, sliced strawberries (as many as you like – I usually use a pint or more) and sliced red onions (maybe half an onion).

Toss and serve!

The weather is still hot and humid here in North Carolina, so this salad would still feel appropriate. For all you Northwesterners, maybe you could make it to celebrate the end of warm days.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Totally easy weeknight pasta

Also totally yummy and healthy

Also totally yummy and healthy

I often crave a simple pasta dish that is light on fat but heavy on the garlic, salt and pepper flakes. This, my friends, is what I did tonight…

Boil some water for pasta. I made half a box of capellini (my fave), but any pasta would do.

In a skillet, heat two swirls of EVOO over medium. Add a ton of chopped garlic – at least five cloves (or whatever you prefer). Add two anchovy fillets or 1 T anchovy pasta. Stir to dissolve and add a few shakes of red pepper flakes (or don’t, if you can’t stand the heat). Cook out the anchovy until it melts but don’t brown the garlic (bitter bitter)!

Now, add one large chopped tomato or equivalent. I used a week-old heirloom from the farmers’ market – one of those gorgeous yellow ones with ribbons of pink throughout. Stir in the tomatoes, add salt and pepper, and cover the whole pan with a lid. This will steam the tomatoes and will thicken the sauce.

Once you drain the pasta, take the lid off the skillet and add in a large handful of parsley, chopped. The tomatoes will be soft and sweet and bubbling in the sauce. Add the pasta and stir everything to combine. Season again to taste. Top with tons of Parm-Reg.

I ate mine with a simple salad of baby lettuce and a glass of wine. Now I will drink more wine and watch “Friends” and then maybe “Sleepless in Seattle.” Because, friends, this is a good meal for single gals, or if you aren’t single, gals who are enjoying an evening alone without boys.

Enjoy! xoxo

The gyoza incident

Not exactly "traditional," but whatever

Not exactly "traditional," but whatever

I will never make these again!!!!

Or so I said, over and over, as I stood at my counter, patiently filling small wonton wrappers with an Asian-flavored pork mixture, then clumsily sealing the edges together, finally placing them on a cookie sheet to rest.

Some things should be left to the professionals. And my professional opinion is that gyoza, or potstickers, are a helluva lot of work for this gal.

But I must say…the result was really good. I mean at LEAST as good, if not better, than what you can get at the store. And this way, I know there is little fat in it and all fresh ingredients. I made about a million of these little guys, cooked up a dozen and froze the rest for future lunches and whatnot.

In my opinion, you don’t really need a recipe to make this. Here’s what I did:

Mix together the filling:

1 package ground pork

2 T soy sauce

Handful chopped scallions

3 minced garlic cloves

2 T grated fresh ginger

3 handfuls minced napa cabbage

Pepper, to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

Take your store-bought gyoza wrappers (I couldn’t find these, so I used wonton wrappers, which didn’t give me that perfect crescent shape), drop a small spoonful of filling in the middle of one wrapper. You’ll learn pretty fast how much is too much filling. You don’t want it to touch the edges in any way.

Dab water on one edge, fold the wrapper over and crimp it together, being sure to get out any air bubbles. Next, and this is important, put it on your cookie sheet to flatten out the bottom.

If you want to freeze, put the whole cookie sheet in the freezer, later transferring the dumplings to plastic bags.

If you want to eat right away: Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add your gyoza, flat side down and heat it to medium. Once they’ve browned on one side, 4-5 min., add in a scant 1/4 c. water – just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and let them steam until fully cooked, about 8 minutes.

The wrappers will get a little translucent but should hold together.

For a dipping sauce, the sky is the limit! I mixed 1/4 c. soy sauce with a dash of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, chili flakes, more garlic, pepper and scallions. If you need to, dilute with water.

Sprinkle your cooked gyoza with toasted sesame seeds, dip in the sauce and enjoy! Great for parties or driving yourself crazy.