Your New Fave

Sometimes I have no idea what to make for dinner. Sometimes when I’m planning the menu for the week (Yes, I plan a menu. Or else I would go insane.) I just put “veggies” “salad” “pasta” and then make up the rest later.


This past week I put something like “roasted squash” which could actually just be that. Roasted squash. But we were eating it with pasta so I wanted to jazz it up a bit. (Joe was cooking the pasta, so I figured the other half should be a shining star…no offense Joe.)



I looked around. 


I saw a huge basket of apples and ginger, and thought of the plans for pickling said ginger and making apple pie filling for the freezer.


I saw a bag of walnuts that I pulled out of the freezer with the intention of using them in rugelach for a cookie exchange that I ended up not making it to. 


I saw a glass with a few little branches of rosemary taking a drink, which reminded me to go pick sage out of the garden for the brown butter sauce.


Then, I saw a huge bag of persimmons that I bought that day at Uwajimaya. Unsuspecting persimmons, just hanging out all by themselves in a little persimmon clique over there by the blender.



And I realized, why couldn’t I just roast persimmons instead? They have a similar texture to raw squash, firm and crunchy. They’re sweet but not too sweet. They’re orange. Heck, they’re practically a squash camouflaging as a fruit! 


I decided it might be a little bit much to just roast persimmons and nothing else. After all, the squash might feel left out. So I cut up a little baby butternut that had been loitering on the front porch since I harvested it back in October, and while I was out getting the sage I also nabbed a few little branches of thyme. And I threw in a half dozen or so little shallots that have just been begging to get used up. And I tossed in a big handful of those walnuts, with plenty to spare for rugelach, should I ever get around to it. 



A little drizzle of maple syrup, another of olive oil. A pinch of salt, a grate of nutmeg. Into the oven it went. 



I have to say, I was a little bit skeptical, even though it smelled good. There aren’t too many original savory persimmon recipes out there (not that roasting fruit is original, or all that savory) but I figured it would at least be unique so I went ahead and stole a bite while no one was looking.


No need to worry! It was delicious through and through, and even Joe liked it. Though he did claim that I had “tricked him” into eating persimmons, which are not his favorite thing. I think this might be my new favorite thing though. Next to everything else new I made this week…



I’m thinking this dish might be the perfect thing to cook to go along a roasted chicken (or turkey, or any other type of meat). I’m also thinking it could easily contain sausage of either the meaty or veggie variety and make for a more hearty dish in and of itself. These thoughts lead me to believe that if you are in charge of a holiday meal coming up, or in charge of bringing some sort of delicious and show stopping side dish that will upstage all the other foods on the table…I mean, a humble side dish to delight the senses without overwhelming the other dishes being served, then this might be the one. It practically cooks itself so you will have plenty of time to make rugelach!


Roasted Butternut and Persimmon Medley
serves about 4 as a side


One small Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
2 medium sized Fuyu persimmons, peeled and cut into 8ths
5-6 small shallots, cut in halves or quarters
2 small branches fresh thyme, leaves removed
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp olive oil
pinch salt
few scrapes of freshly grated nutmeg


Preheat oven to 400ºF


Toss everything together in a small roasting pan, making sure everything is evenly coated. Place dish in oven, closer to the bottom is better. Bake about 40 minutes, stirring every now to get even caramelization. Serve piping hot.

All Aloners

Joe took the boys to Yellowstone. They will be gone for a whole week. I missed him pretty much the minute he left.

We’ve never really spent that much time apart since meeting almost 6 years ago. There was the odd vacation here and there spent with family, etc. in the beginning of our relationship, and we spent almost a week apart just before our wedding. We’ve been together almost everyday since.

But last month, we discovered that Lilli doesn’t like road trips as much as we do, so I missed a trip to Lake Chelan when school got out. And now I am missing a long awaited trip to Yellowstone, and Lilli and I are hanging out all alone, just the two of us.

The cilantro that’s as tall as me.

It is a small consolation that I got to plan a menu for them to eat while they were out in the Wilds of the West. There was an assortment of easy camping fare, like hotdogs to cook on sticks and mac’n’cheese from a box. And then there were those homemade bagels I was teasing you with last week (which I’ll get around to writing about in due time…the recipe is a doosey). But by far the best thing in the cooler was the empanadas.


I’ve been wanting to try homemade empanadas for some time. I love pie, and we eat a lot of NW style Mexican food (is that a thing?) at home.  Empanadas are like mexican pies you can hold in your hand. How can you go wrong? We are also growing a ton of cilantro, so I knew that I would have the best accompaniment possible for the big pot of black beans making empanadas would give me the excuse to cook up. I found a good recipe for the dough here, but wanted to make my own filling.

I doubled the batch of dough, since we were eating them that night and I wanted to have some to send camping with the guys. It worked out great, but could have been a touch more flaky. I think you could use pretty much any standard, unsweetened, pie dough.

I used little new red potatoes, some caramelized onions, and black beans. I boil my own beans–I like the satisfaction of seeing them go from dry little beans to big, plump delivery systems of flavor. I usually forget to soak them the day before, which results in the softest bean. I almost always end up boiling them for a minute or two early in the day, and then letting them soak for several hours in the water. After that, you need to switch the water before you continue cooking them, which is the best part because you pour off this thick, black, inky water from boiling the beans. I always fantasize about what I could use that water for, but so far I haven’t come up with anything good.

When we ate them last week, we had my Dad and Step-mom over for dinner. I served a big salad, of course–made with very thin sliced cabbage, lettuce from the garden, radishes and celery, with a lime vinaigrette. Eating salad, for me, is the best part of the day. I can turn anything into a salad and if it has it’s own special dressing, that is even better. The empanada part of the meal was the biggest hit though, paired with cilantro sour cream and a healthy dose of hot sauce.

A little surprise in the cilantro.
I pulled this recipe out of thin air, but it’s so easy to pull together, it doesn’t really matter. You can change any of the filling ingredients as you see fit.
Red Potato and Black Bean Empanadas
makes 24
5-6 small red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 black beans, cooked thoroughly
1 ear corn, kernels cut off the cob ( I had leftover grilled corn)
1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for sautéing
salt, pepper, chili or cayenne, to taste
egg wash (one egg yolk whisked with a little water to thin it)
Heat oven to 400º F.
Heat your favorite frying pan, and add olive oil. Add onions and let caramelize for about 10 minutes or so, stirring often to let them get color evenly. Add some salt and whatever other spices you’d like. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add in the potatoes and about a quarter cup of water. Cover and let the potatoes steam for a few minutes. Check back every 5 minutes or so, adding more water if necessary, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Add the black beans and corn, and heat through. Take off the heat. Set aside to cool while you roll out your dough.
I rolled out my dough into individual rounds, as the recipe I used calls for, but you could just as easily roll it into a big rectangle and cut it into squares and make them that way.
Add about 2-3 Tbsp of filling per empanada, and fold the tops over. You might need to use a little bit of water or egg wash to seal them. Crimp however you like, and brush egg wash over the tops.  I forgot the egg wash step, so you could leave it out if you like and they will still taste amazing.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until they have a nice even golden brown color.
For the cilantro sour cream I just chopped up some fresh cilantro and added it to the sour cream, thinning to the desired consistency with a little bit of milk. How easy is that?

Picnic Fever

Oh, it’s been too long since I’ve written anything. We went camping, and soon after that school ended for the boys and Joe took them on a road trip to Lake Chelan. While they were gone, I had absolutely no desire to do anything but revel in being alone with Lilli and taking it very very easy. That is not to say I haven’t been keeping busy though.

Even though the weather here in Seattle has been sort of lackluster–typical gray days with little bursts of warm drizzle–I have nevertheless fallen in love all over again with picnicking. I wish every meal could be a picnic, even though it is much harder to get a 9 month old to eat when she isn’t sitting in a chair. We picnic in parks, and on hikes and out of the trunk of the car. It’s pretty much the Best. Thing. Ever.

I’ve also been working quite a bit in the P-patch, and last week I pulled up a few stragglers of green garlic. I had some garlic planted last season that I had trouble pulling out, and so I just left it, knowing that it would grow back next time around and make wonderful sweet tender green garlic stalks. I have a friend who has always raved about her favorite green garlic soup recipe, and how good it is with a little bit of créme fraîche and some toast, so my plan was to give her a green garlic present and hopefully get an invite to dinner in return. Alas, she injured her back this spring, and while I did give her the green garlic, she has been too laid up to have guests. I decided I could dream up my own good recipe, and try it out for myself. I even perfected the required créme. And even though it wasn’t perfect picnic weather in the evening, we took it to the park and ate it on a blanket, out of real bowls, since the park is so close to our house.

I looked around for recipes for this miraculous soup and came across several, but most seemed to go back to just one, from Alice Waters. I didn’t have any new potatoes, but I did have a leftover baked potato, so I took the peel off of it and put it in to give it some body. This recipe produced a soup that wasn’t very, well, green. I know, I know. The “green” refers to the garlic itself. But I had pictured a green soup so at the end I decided to change that by adding a huge handful of the overabundance of rainbow chard I have growing out back. I have to say, I was rather pleased with how it turned out. Too bad I waited until the end of green garlic season to make it! I think I might try out a version with roasted garlic and baby onions because there won’t be any more green garlic this year. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

A-ny-way.

Back to the picnic. I paired the soup with some zucchini fritters, tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, and a rosé that Joe and the boys brought back for me from Eastern Washington. Oh, and a handful of kalamata olives. And for dessert we had cinnamon grahams smeared with dark chocolate ganache–kind of a fireless, more indulgent s’more. Well, really, I went for a run after dinner and Joe had dessert. Then I had a chocolate protein shake made with coconut milk, which is sort of dessert like. Oh well.

Green Garlic and Baked Potato Soup
adapted from a recipe by Alice Waters
serves 4 (if you don’t kill your blender making it and spill soup everywhere)

1/2 lb green garlic, white and light green parts only, in 1/2″ pieces
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium sized baked russet potato, skin removed and cut into chunks
5-6 big leaves of chard, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp or so heavy cream, sour cream or créme fraîche, plus more for serving

Heat the olive oil in a small stockpot. Add the garlic and turn down heat to medium, toss in a pinch of salt. Cover and let the garlic sweat for a few minutes, until it becomes fragrant. It’s OK if it browns a little. Brown bits just mean more flavor later.

Add the potato and the stock, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until the garlic is very tender, about 5-10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the chard. Cover and let it sit just a few minutes, maybe 5, until the chard is soft but still bright green.

Process in your blender in 3 or 4 batches, or with a stick blender if you happen to have one. Stir in your cream of choice, and serve. Don’t let anybody stop you if you want to take it out for a picnic, even though soup isn’t usually a picnic food. Bonus points for real bowls.

Créme Fraîche X2

Last Wednesday I had a few glasses of wine with some friends I don’t see enough of. We decided that no matter the weather on Saturday, we were going to BBQ. I promptly forgot all about it, especially that I had offered to host.

On Friday, James called to ask what I was planning on putting together, and what could they bring. Talk about think fast! I knew that I was planning on making salmon cakes for dinner, and that I wanted to grill asparagus. I also had a new potato salad recipe on the menu. He decided to pick up some early corn and some rosé, and that they would bring dessert. Okay, plan in place.
Saturday rolls around…early. Lilli decides that 6am is the perfect time to wake up after staying up late to have Shabbat dinner at Joe’s parents’ house. After trying to sleep through her kicking and squirming and rolling and practicing crawling in our bed for a while, I got up and made cinnamon pecan coffee cake. “This is the best breakfast I have ever eaten” is declared an hour later by two ravenous 8 year olds. OK, next. Make a picnic, go to the zoo. Make a pitstop first for chicken feed. 3:30pm, eat ice cream. 4:30 head home, and then make a quick trip to the grocery store for a few key ingredients I knew I didn’t have.

Joe kindly took Lilli with him and the boys to the park down the street so I could focus on making dinner without having to stop every 5 minutes and play a game. In the hour until he brought her home, I was able to defrost 1 1/2 lbs of leftover salmon and then make the cakes, and put together a lemon mayo sauce to go with; roast 3 lbs. of small delicious potatoes and some garlic for the potato salad; slice a loaf of bread to grill; rinse and trim a bunch of asparagus; and probably something else that I am forgetting, like do the dishes. This is about when I realized that not only did the salmon have créme fraîche, but also the potato salad was going to be dressed with the stuff. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to make it from scratch and it has yet to turn out as thick as it should be but it still tastes good. I plan on getting it right, but for now I’m content with trying.

About 6:30 people showed up and it got a little more fun. Copper set the table and entertained Lilli while I finished everything up. The boys brought a friend home from the park and proceeded to go wild in the backyard. Drinks were poured, bread was eaten, and it was a perfect evening despite the chaos that threatened to storm in at any moment.

This potato salad recipe is very simple. It’s plain but in a good way. Sprinkling the vinegar on the potatoes while they are still hot allows them to really absorb that flavor. The tang from the créme fraîche really works well with the rich flavor of a well roasted potato. It doesn’t keep as well as mayonaise based salads, but you won’t have to worry about that because there won’t be any left. I wasn’t even able to take a picture because it was gone too fast!

Roasted Potato Salad with Créme Fraîche
adapted from Good Day for a Picnic by Jeremy Jackson
serves 6

2 lbs potatoes (I used a mix of yukon, red and purple)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic, peel on
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
3/4 cup créme fraîche
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts

Preheat oven to 450ºF. The original recipe calls for you to peel the potatoes, but I prefer to leave the skin on. Cut the potatoes into spears and let dry a bit. Toss in the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet or onto a baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap the garlic in foil with a little drizzle of olive oil and put them in with the potatoes. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes have gotten nice and golden and crusty. The garlic will be done also.

While the potatoes are still hot, cut them into smaller, bite sized pieces. Jeremy Jackson recommends a serrated knife. In a good sized bowl, toss the potatoes with the vinegar. Press the softened garlic out of the skins and mush it into a paste. Add it to the potatoes and toss the whole thing again. Taste for salt and pepper.

Let the whole thing cool a bit, and then spread the créme fraîche on top, sprinkling the pine nuts over last.

 

Same-Old-Same-Old

I am fond of making it up as I go along. Normally, I feel that this is a superb way to live my life, and I wouldn’t change it if you paid me to. Lately though, I’ve been having to live a little less spontaneously. I guess this is what you get when you are hauling an 8 month old around with you everywhere you go.

I miss it a bit–the spontaneity. In addition to that, I’ve been in a rut in the kitchen. I hate being in a rut when it comes to cooking and eating. Sometimes I find a new recipe or ingredient that I get a crush on for a minute or two and I eat it a lot, but then I move on or change it up. My husband and step-sons could probably eat the same 7-10 meals for the rest of their natural lives and be totally thrilled about it. I am not like that at all. To help with all of this, recently I’ve done two things: One, I joined a cookbook club and two, I started actually using all of the cookbooks I already owned. Even when I don’t actually make a recipe from a new cookbook, just looking through them on a more regular basis inspires me to try new things.

So, I compromise with myself. I plan a menu once a week because it makes my life so much easier to shop only once or maybe twice a week. I use as many new recipes as I figure I’ll  have time for. I usually have at least one or two old favorites. This keeps me from feeling stagnant, and while it isn’t exactly spontaneous, it’s not totally same-old-same-old either.

Last week I made quesadillas with black beans and avocado–pretty simple. What really made dinner special though was the salad that I made to go with it. I got some really good looking cilantro and a gorgeous red cabbage. And a mango. I sliced up the cabbage very thin on the mandolin, and I slivered the mango and added it and a big handful of roughly chopped cilantro to the bowl. Then, I squeezed a lemon over the whole thing and added just a sprinkle of salt. You could just as easily use a lime, if that’s what you have on hand. I tossed it up and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours, until dinner ( I often prep things for dinner while Lilli, my 8 month old daughter, takes her afternoon nap). It was fantastic. Crisp and refreshing and sweet and tangy all at once, the perfect counterpoint to the hot sauce I drenched the quesadillas in. Add a tequila and tonic and you are all set…



Mango Red Cabbage Slaw
serves 2-3 as a side

  • 1/4 small to medium red cabbage, sliced very thin
  • 1 just ripe mango, peeled and sliced into thin wedges lengthwise
  • juice of 1 lemon (roll it on the counter first to get as much juice as possible)
  • chopped cilantro–as little or as much as you like. 
  • pinch sea salt, to taste

Combine everything in a bowl and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or so. Keeps well for a day.