Wednesday, September 17, 2014

lime meltaway cookies (we are melting in the heat)

This evening we went for a walk and it was beyond hot out. So warm that I kept waiting for that moment when our forward momentum would stir up some kind of breeze or cool air, but no, it was like marching through honeyed heat.

I commented to my husband that this kind of heat reminds me of the opening chapter of "To Kill a Mockingbird". He responded that it reminded him of the scene in the "Great Gatsby" where they all decide to go into the city and it is so unbelievably hot from the weather and the tension in the room between Tom and Gatsby. I loved that we could have this kind of discussion (and shout-out to our high school English teachers!)

So, it is hot and I am just longing for fall. Today I sat down with my stack of beloved October/November issues of Martha Stewart magazines that I have collected over the years, and put yellow post-it notes on all the recipes and inspiration that I am just storing up. Until then, it is just hot.

Last weekend we had a friend over for dinner and I decided I wanted to make a nice little cookie to go along with a bowl of berries for dessert. My husband has been loving limes lately and I decided to take inspiration from that. These days, my first stop for recipe ideas/direction is the Smitten Kitchen website. Sometimes I just get that feeling that the internet is too big to be trusted. Like, if I google something, who knows what ill advised instructions will come up? However, I know if Deb has posted a recipe, it has been appropriately vetted and tested. Also, she has her recipes organized in the most helpful fashion. Check out the index here.

It was on her site that I found this recipe for lime meltaway cookies. If you're not familiar with a meltaway cookie, I think they can be best described as a little crumbly shortbread-like cookie that is so full of citrus zest it is almost too puckery but that wonderful sourness is tempered by a lovely outer coating of powdered sugar. I do not think I have ever had a homemade lime meltaway cookie, but I recall someone used to send my Grandma special little bags of a gourmet cookie line version and we loved them.

I am pleased to share that these cookies are completely worth making from scratch. I baked them and rolled them in powdered sugar while dinner prep was wrapping up and somehow we ended up with a West Wing episode on in the kitchen and so, pre-dinner, my husband and I and our dinner guest ate cookies and watched TV. (I never did get around to putting together the accompanying bowl of berries).  It was one of those lovely relaxed Saturday evenings. We all agreed that the cookies were very good. The next morning, I woke up wondering if I was accurately recalling the cookie from the night before and so I snagged one with my morning coffee. I was pleased that it really was that lovely.

The great news is the recipe makes a ton- I think I ended up with about 4 dozen of them - and they keep very well.

The original recipe is to use "key limes" but I have neither the patience to track down or juice those darlings, so the directions below reflect that I used regular limes.

lime meltaway cookies

12 tablespoons room-temperature butter
1 cup confectioners sugar (divided into 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup- you don't use it all at once)
grated zest of 1 regular lime
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (apparently 2 cups is just a little too much)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

1) With a hand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attached, whisk together the butter and 1/3 cup of the confectioners sugar until it is fluffy.

2) To the butter sugar mixture, add the lime zest, juice and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: flour, cornstarch and salt.

4) Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until combined.

5) Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a round log about 1 inch in diameter. Roll in parchment paper and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

6) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/4 inch thick rounds and place about 1 inch apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets (take care to keep the remaining dough in the fridge until needed.)

7) Bake cookies until just pale golden, about 15 minutes. While the cookies bake, place the other 2/3 cup of powdered sugar in a shallow or ziplock baggie.

8) Remove baking sheet from oven and allow cookies to cool, ever so slightly, on wire racks. But while still warm, toss, roll, dredge in the powdered sugar. The heat of the cookie with melt the powdered sugar just enough to form a soft coating. Cookies can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

roasted pears and a persistence in celebrating fall

Make fun of me all you want, internet, I love fall.
Unfortunately, I live in southern california and we do not really have fall weather. Things will get cooler for a little bit around November/December but nothing close to what the rest of the country has. However, I persist in my celebration of fall things, regardless of the green palm trees around me. Case in point? It was 106 today and I was trying on fleece pullovers at Patagonia (which a friend affectionately refers to as Pata-gucci, as in fancy). Also, last weekend I roasted a turkey breast and made a lovely turkey soup. I feel this all shows commitment to my love for fall. In addition to the turkey cooking, I made a large batch of steel cut oatmeal to sustain me for a week of breakfasts.

When I was a kid I adored the single serving instant oatmeal flavors like "brown sugar" and "cinnamon apple". They were so loaded with sugar that I even loved to eat them raw. I have transitioned in my oatmeal tastes and now appreciate the nutty texture of steel cut oats. My only complaint being how long it takes to cook, which is why making a big batch on sunday evening and reheating smaller portions for the weekday morning is a win for me.

But I must admit, that while I no longer favor the instant oatmeal flavors, I do appreciate a good serving of brown sugar alongside my slow cooked oatmeal.
Having recently ended a month of no sugar, I wanted to see if I could reintroduce oatmeal without as much sugar and keep it interesting, flavorful and cozy. To go with the oatmeal, I had a bag of pears I put to good use by roasting in the oven with just a smidge of sugar and lemon juice and some butter.

I followed Molly Wizenberg's recipe here, with my only difference being that I started the pears out with about 1/4 cup of water in the bottom on the pan.

What I ended up with was fork tender pears, glazed with just a bit of sweetness and perfect for tucking into warm oatmeal. The caramelized edges softened up and kinda melted into the warm grains, creating perfect pockets of sweetness. I found myself so looking forward to breakfast because I think one of the powerful things about food is how it helps us feel cared for. That sense of nourishment and caring is not limited to when others cook for us, but can also be found when we make food for ourselves. I have started commuting into work in downtown LA one or two days a week (I take the train) and this week I carried along a little serving of oatmeal and pear with me, to heat up at my desk. After the bustle and anonymity of the ride in, it felt nice to have something so comforting.

I hope you're able to create the space you need this week to nourish both yourself and those you love. And if you have recipes/rituals that you look forward to each fall, I would love to hear about them!

Monday, September 1, 2014

drinking coffee without milk- my thoughts on a month of whole 30

I debated (big time) about whether or not to share/write about my experiences on a month of eating "Whole 30". For those of you unfamiliar, here is more info, but I describe it as eating non-processed "whole" foods to help reset eating habits. Basically, it is eating veggies, meat and fruit for a month. No grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sugar (except where sugar is naturally occurring in fruit/veggies).

My disclaimer to this story is that I have never been a fad diet person. I have never done a juice cleanse or gone vegan or eschewed gluten (one glance through the blog archive of recipes makes that pretty clear).

I write this from day 30 of this experience. I have learned quite a bit and it has helped me in some different ways. I thought I would share a few notes for those of you considering a whole 30 challenge or for those of you just curious:

So, how did I arrive at the decision to do whole 30?

  • My eating habits had been declining. Whereas once I tried to make reasonably healthy choices and not overdo it too often, that was no longer the case. I found that when I paused to review what I had eaten that day, veggies were not showing up in those reflections. I was eating a lot of sugar and all my clothes were feeling too snug. In July, I developed both a terrible ear infection and a bizarre skin condition that turned out to be an autoimmune disorder (don't worry it wasn't serious or contagious). But it all made me pause. Sitting in the doctors office I realized that I was ready to do something different because clearly the way things were going was not working. A theory I often ascribe to is that people do not change until they are ready to change. So, I had just hit that point where I was ready to change. 

What have I learned through this experience?

  • Sincerely love fruits and veggies again
    • I found that I fallen into that trap of relying on fats and grains to make me feel satisfied. It took a few days to shake this off and re-discover that I genuinely love a good chopped salad and few things are as satisfying as a great piece of fruit.
    • I still hate bananas though.
  • My body works for me, I don't work for my body
    • At the end of week two, my husband and I went for a very long hike up a local mountain peak. It was amazing to realize that two weeks prior, I don't think I could've done this. For me, the whole point of exercise and eating well this past month is to learn that I want to be able to do things and not be limited because I am out of breath or on a sugar crash. I want to be able to say "okay body- let's go do this" and not hear back "uh, yeah, you've been feeding me nothing but garbage, so no, we can't make it up that ridge to see the beautiful view."
  • That I really love to cook
    • I was concerned that because I wasn't creating these indulgent delicious dishes, that I would just get bored and the kitchen wouldn't be as fun. It was nice to see that wasn't the case. Not all dinners were home-runs, but within my own self-imposed restrictions of whole 30 I found the creativity to put together some dishes we loved. 
  • Eating out/ food culture in general is not catered towards helping people make good food choices
    • There were times that I would have working lunches and there would literally be just one item on the menu that I could order (and I'd still have to ask them to hold back a bunch of stuff). Granted, the whole 30 restrictions make things tricky, but I was genuinely surprised at how few times there were good food options. (And I live in southern California!) That said, I never had to skip a meal or "force" myself to break a meal because there weren't good choices. Most often, it just came down to planning ahead and reminding myself "You're choosing to do this and it's not like you've never had a french fry before or never will again."
  • Sometimes, I can be part of that food culture problem. 
    • Until I was on this side of things, I didn't realize that me bringing in a big cake or a plate of cookies and sending out an email blast to all my co-workers about it could be an insensitive thing. Now I get that and feel badly about the times when I was not sensitive to the needs of those around me.
    • Don't worry, I still plan on bringing in the occasional treat but will try not to put it where someone would have to walk by it 35 times a day. I don't want to be a "sugar pusher". 
    • Also, the occasional treat may mean a mint lime watermelon salad. Who said that isn't a treat?

What helped keep whole 30 going?

  • Partnering with my husband in this challenge and splitting grocery/cooking responsibilities.
    • It felt like a team effort and the whole "team" mentality is very motivating. When one of us was weak and ready to given in, the other person would step up. Plus it was fun to joke with each other about just how hard it was to walk past the cheese display at trader joes. 
  • We stopped watching TV/Movies for the month too.
    • Yeah, August was like a whole detox month for me. I think changing multiple behaviors (eating/tv/exercise) all at the same time was very helpful. Sometimes changing one thing is more disruptive (does that make sense?) Plus, no tv meant more motivation to get out of the house and less commercials reminding me of all the food I wasn't eating.
  • I got a fitbit a few months ago.
    • I really loved keeping track of my steps. During August, I had the goal to hit 10k steps daily (about 5 miles). I think during a time when it sometimes feels like restricting oneself, I think it's helpful to have a distraction in another (albeit complimentary) direction. 
  • One night a week we would get salads to-go, and take the dogs to the park. 
    • It completely helped to have a break on a weeknight and have someone else (ie a restaurant) do the dishes.
  • Planned fun events for the weekend.
    • Nothing would be sadder than sitting at home on Saturday morning watching other people's brunch on my instagram feed. We went on hikes, to the beach, to a concert, etc. Often times we needed to bring snacks for ourselves and, I am not going to lie, eating bananas and nuts while everyone around you has a Dodger dog was a little rough. Another low point? At an outdoor concert watching people with icy cool bottles of rose wine. That one nearly broke me.

Did I lose weight?

  • Yes, but the amount is not as important as gaining new eating habits. Also, weight loss is not necessarily the best indicator of a healthy diet (remember when people were eating only cream cheese and bacon for breakfast in those crazy zone diets?). Long-term, I feel like I now have the tools to make better eating choices. 
So, if I am not going to talk about weight are there any positive physical effects I will share?
  • I did not realize how truly crummy I was sleeping before. But around day 10, I started sleeping like a rock. I now fall asleep and stay asleep much better than I think I ever have. I attribute this to less sugar and more exercise. It has helped my daytime outlook quite a bit.
  • More even energy- I used to really crash in the afternoons and evenings, but I am feeling more even keeled.

Now what? Am I only going to share recipes for hempseed cookies and broccoli spinach wraps on the blog?

  • Heavens no. If you're looking for a specific whole 30 meal guide and recipes there are lots of great blogs out there already doing that. I love baked goods and yummy things and have no plans to change that. What will change is how often I eat them and, most importantly, the portion of them I have. 
  • However, I also do not want to contribute to a food culture that says only fattening things are delicious and worth celebrating, so on the blog I am going to make a conscious effort to share some dishes and foods that I love that, if we had to label it, skew more towards healthy.
What are you going to eat tomorrow (day after the whole 30 challenge is over)?
  • For sure I will be putting some milk in my coffee. Also, have a piece of chocolate. I really miss chocolate. 
Do I think everyone should do a whole 30 challenge?
  • No, I haven't joined a cult. I will say that challenging myself to change my behavior and learn new things is very energizing and I am glad that I did it. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

For my Dad, chocolate cake with half-n-half

If I was with my Dad on Sunday I would plan a gorgeous brunch feast. My Dad is a great lover of food and time in the kitchen. He introduced us to such wonders as spaghetti with sauce made from scratch, smoked black cod oven steamed with carrots and potatoes, and served his own version of pho every new years day. There are many other dishes that should be in that list too but my personal favorite is chocolate cake with half-n-half.

My Dad is a fisherman. When we were very young he would have to leave for what seemed like most of the summer to fish further up north, in Bristol Bay. His departure always would occur before Father's Day and so my mom would set aside a Sunday dinner ahead of time to be his Father's day celebration. I don't remember too much about those meals, but I always remember my mom would buy a small glass jar of marinated artichoke hearts as an appetizer for my Dad. It was the only time they were purchased during the year as they were expensive and it is my first recollection of artichokes.

Some year, when my Dad returned home from fishing, he made us this cake. As with so many things in childhood, the first occurrence is faded back and a tradition feels like it has always been. In my family, my Dad has always made a box chocolate cake and served it piping hot from the oven with a puddle of half-n-half. I do remember him saying that when fishing in Bristol Bay he would sometimes make a box chocolate cake for the crew on the boat (some boat kitchens have ovens) although, now that I think of it, I don't know that the crew got the half-in-half.

But get it we did. The alchemy of chocolate cake with half-in-half is not unlike the "warm cookie from the oven dunked in a glass of milk" phenomenon. It is like that but full commitment. Instead of just one cookie, it is a whole slice of cake and instead of just a dunking, it is a full baptism of cold silky dairy. The cake soaks up the half-n-half so quickly that the carton is left at the table for frequent re-pours. The soaked up bites of cake take on a custardy, almost bread pudding-like consistency. That warmth is counteracted by the coolness of the half-n-half still puddled around.

The recipe is really hardly a recipe: The cake is made (and for the flavor profile to be there for me, it has to be a box chocolate cake. There isn't a traditional brand, but it does need to be plain. No chocolate chips or anything.) Let it pause ever so slightly after exiting the oven but do not flip it out of the pan. Wedges can be cut directly from the pan so that it is just as warm as you can handle it. Serve with a carton of half-in-half. Don't kid yourself and buy the pint size, get the full half-quart. Being able to pour over as much as you want is one of the magic luxuries of this dessert.

And really, that is it. My older sister has found this to be a good weeknight dinner guest dessert solution. The cake batter is quickly whipped up and slid into the oven just before sitting down to dinner, so that as dinner wraps up, the chocolatey fragrance begins wafting around and the cake is ready for dessert. I had thought that maybe this cake would be one of those "only our family loves this tradition" kind of things, but I have happily witnessed others enjoying it as well.

Recently, I have been going through some difficult personal issues. A strong source of comfort in the past few weeks have been my parents. I get text messages from my Mom that they are praying for me and I picture my parents at their dining room table, with the morning mugs of coffee and the beagle snoring in the corner and realize they are the same people who planned special Father's Day meals before my Dad would have to leave his three baby girls for the summer to provide for them. It must have been very difficult. But when he would get home, there would be chocolate cake.

And so maybe that is just one of the lessons from my Father- that even in difficult times, there can be the sweetness of cake, there can be moments of joy. Happy Father's Day Dad. I love you so.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What is inspiring (lately)

March is kind of a rough month, isn't it? There is no Valentine's day to brighten it up and the weather is turning towards spring but is not spring yet. The result being everything just looks a bit dirty and beat up from the winter without the hopeful green buds of new growth to pull us along.

But, despite my gloomy outlook on March in general, I do find myself inspired these days and thought I would share these sources with you, with the wish that you would be similarly inspired through these last weeks of winter.

This movie
  • I tend to love any and everything Jane Austen and Kerri Russell is too darling in this film. (At any given point in time I have an Austen novel on my nightstand. Right now, it is Pride and Prejudice. Do you have an author that you're almost constantly reading?)
This blog
  • I love Elise's blog because it embraces caring for home and loved one's- nurturing relationships and creating beautiful welcoming spaces. Inspired by her, I now have houseplants. (Please see the picture below. That I have managed to keep a fickle fiddleleaf fig alive is a source of great pride.)
This new scarf collection
  • Blockshop Textiles just released their Spring/Summer line and it is gorgeous. While some women dream of Birkin bags or Tiffany jewelry, a handmade, hand stamped piece of wearable art is where it is at for me. Yes, I consider it an investment. But after I took the plunge last year and purchased one of their scarves, I have not regretted it once because I have worn it like four times a week.
This chocolate peanut butter cheesecake
  • This cheesecake is over the top in the best possible way. I made it last weekend and brought it into work where it was well received. One thing I love about cheesecake in general- it is so rich and decadent that while it is a bit of work to make, it will serve a crowd. 
This pasta roller
  • A pasta roller was part of my valentine's gift from my husband (don't worry, I asked for it!) I have been intimidated about making my own pasta but I am amazed at really how easily it all comes together. It is time consuming but the results are just beyond delicious. 
Eating dinner here
  • A few weeks back, I was able to spend a long weekend in Seattle with my sister and her husband. I have been a fan of Molly's blog for a while and took the opportunity to dine in she and her husbands restaurant. It was one of those rare times when the actual event lives up to the anticipation of it. The food was just crazy good and the staff could not have been nicer people. As I write this, I am swooning at the memory of one of the desserts: a lemon budino. (Budino is like a type of Italian pudding, but I suspect the word may also translate as heaven.) To further emphasize how much we loved it, I should disclose that after 2 appetizers and 3 pizzas (split amongst three people) we ordered all three desserts on the menu because when the food is that good, you just pray you can live up to the opportunity. If you live in the Seattle area or will be visiting, I highly recommend it. 
Oh, and this blog too
  • Please do not think that because this is last on the list that it is somehow of lesser value in my mind. This blog of 3191 Miles Apart is a celebration of everyday beauty. The authors also publish a quarterly magazine that is written by them and a collection of photographs, recipes, musings and general loveliness. (The paper stars in the top picture are from instructions in one of last years issues.) Without pretension or preaching, the writers share their worlds in a way that encourages engagement in the beauty of daily life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

poppy seed dream cookies

My love of shortbread is not be underestimated. It was one of the first recipes that I made that  really hooked me into cooking and baking- that I could create with my own paws in my own kitchen a cookie that I adore so much? Then there are no limitations in life.

I am, a bit of a shortbread purist and find myself eyeing skeptically any recipe that claims "shortbread" but includes too many additions like chopped toffee, etc. To me, shortbread cookies are best left unmussed and if one should add to them, it really needs to be justified. Enter poppy seed dream cookies.

These little cookies are from the shortbread cookie section of a wonderful Greg Atkinson cookbook, West Coast Cooking. I actually stumbled into the cookbook while in Vegas. My husband and I had a reunion with Alaskan friends in Vegas and all went to dinner at Jose Andres restaurant Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan. I adore Jose Andres' food (that lucky Gwyneth Paltrow got to cook with him at her house!) and the Sangria is particularly lovely. Anyway, after dinner we all marched around the Cosmopolitan and stopped in at a little specialty cooking store. It was there that I first saw the West Coast Cooking cookbook. Because we were walking around, I did not purchase it (backstory: I was ready to swear on my Sangria-buzzed life that I could walk all over Vegas and still carry this cookbook, but my husband in his wisdom prevailed). However, the next day when I went to Amazon-it, I found that it was no longer in print (Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Paperback copies are available now here). Oh, the heartbreak. A few weeks later my husband was going to be out of town for an international trip and surprised me by setting up a present-a-day for me to open while he was gone (don't worry, I realize that I am completely spoiled). I believe around day 3, this book made it's appearance. So, that very long story is to say that anytime I make anything from this cookbook, I think of the lovely time in Vegas catching up with friends, Jose Andres Sangria, and my sweet husbands gifts.

After all that build-up of anticipation around this cookbook, I should say that I adore it. Being a west coast girl my whole life, I love seeing the voice and style of the food captured in one tome, which Atkinson does so well.

Normally, when I make cookies, I eat one or two the evening I make them and take the rest into work to share or give them to my husband to take into his office. When I tasted these cookies I knew I was in trouble - they are that wonderful buttery shortbread thing where they are not too sweet and with the tenderest crumble. I kept them at home and did not share. The poppy seeds give a nice textural nuttiness. Also, they are a bit saltier than I am used to for shortbread, but I found that I liked it.

As we head into baby shower and bridal shower and graduation parties and mother's day and spring tea  party season, I think these cookies would be most welcome at any of those events. Just a little bit different, but still all the refinement of a shortbread cookie.

poppy seed dream cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Here is where you do something rather interesting with the butter: melt half the butter (1 stick) in the microwave. Put the other half (1 stick) in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Then pour the melted butter over the cold butter and mix on medium speed until all the butter is smooth and creamy.

2) Add the powdered sugar and almond extract to the butter and mix until light and fluffy.

3) All at once, add the flour, cornstarch, poppy seeds and salt and mix on low speed until it all starts to come together and form a dough.

4) Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 3 inches in diameter. Wrap the cookie dough log well in the plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or until it is quite firm. I found I needed a bit longer than an hour.

5) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into 16 rounds and evenly space the cookie slices over the baking sheet.

6) Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on cookie racks. Store extra cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. I found mine kept for about 5 days. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

For the Love of Salmon - Salmon Riesling

Hello friends! I am thrilled to be sharing the first guest blog post from my sister Elizabeth. We both share a love and passion for food and cooking. She makes such elegant food and this salmon recipe is one of them. Poaching the salmon in Riesling wine adds a lovely sweetness to the sauce and I think would be very welcome for a Spring dinner. Please welcome Elizabeth to the blog! 

Well, here I am diving into my first blog post. Nichol has been at my heels for over a year; trying to get me to contribute to her blog.  Seeing as she and I don't let a week go by where we are not discussing our latest culinary triumphs and failures-I suppose my humble addition of a post was just in the natural progression of our sister/friendship.

So where does one start when presented with the task of writing their first food post? Well-it must start back at my roots, or I should say OUR roots as Nichol and I are sisters-and have a myriad of food memories from our childhood. Let me start with one of the firsts that we have known from early toddlerhood- the wild Alaskan salmon.

Growing up in the small town of Haines, Alaska- wild salmon has been the staple in our smokehouses, our freezers and on our dinner plates.  We smoke it, pickle it, broil it, BBQ it, and have sent many a tourist into a feeding frenzy at our prized salmon bake.

Adulthood has afforded me the luxury of being quite particular with the manner in which my salmon is prepared.  I eye restaurant menus warily whenever I see salmon listed on the menu; because-lets be frank-few cooks know how to honor the mighty salmon and give it the care it is due.

Nichol was visiting me in my home in Seattle a few years ago and I shared with her a recipe I had recently discovered from The Fiddlehead Cookbook; a culinary treasure from Juneau that she has featured here before for their North Douglas Chocolate Cake. It is from that same treasure trove that I present to you a salmon recipe that is worthy of sharing with friends at your dinner table.

Salmon Riesling

Preparation and Cooking Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Accompaniment: Hot Jasmine Rice and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

2 lbs fresh wild salmon fillets-cut into 4 portions
(I prefer Sockeye-the flesh is firm and flavor unbeatable. The recipe calls to skin the salmon-I left it on as it made no difference in my cooking experience. The skin is considered the best part by some! Do make an effort to remove bones prior to cooking.)
I've included a video here of Gordon Ramsay's technique to help you out if needed.

3 tablespoons all purpose flour, season lightly with salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup Riesling wine ( a nice glass to sip on while you cook is highly recommended)
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 cup heavy cream

1) Rinse and pat dry the 4 fillets. Lightly dust salmon fillets with flour.

2) Heat butter is a stainless steel pan over medium high heat. (Note: nonstick does not do a great job of browning the fish.) When butter foam subsides, place salmon skin side down in pan. Brown fillets lightly on both sides; approximately 2-3 minutes each side.

3) Add wine and tarragon to pan. Cover pan with lid and reduce heat to a slow simmer. Poach fish very gently for about 8 to 10 minutes until it flakes easily. Remove salmon fillets to serving platter and cover with tinfoil to keep warm while you finish the sauce.

4) Add heavy cream to the pan of remaining wine sauce-raising the heat to high. Cook rapidly until sauce has thickened and reduced to about 3/4-1 cup of liquid. Be sure to stir frequently to keep sauce from scorching on the bottom. Pour sauce over fish and serve at once with rice and a squeeze of lemon.

Enjoy the salmon the way it was intended!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

roasted potato halves with 7 minute egg (and a few other simple pleasures)

I love the weekends for resting- for slowing down, sipping my cup of coffee with dogs snuggled at my feet, playing around in the kitchen, long phone calls with family, and feeling that sense of "centered" calm.

Over the holidays, I felt like I was finally able to return to myself- the last few months have been so harried and frankly, 2013 was not a good year. I do not usually go in for new years resolutions, but this year I am committed to keeping some of the calm and peace from the holiday break in my everyday life.

One of the things that has helped me keep hold of peace and being centered is taking regular walks with my husband and the dogs. We got a second dachshund over Christmas (I'll post pictures of him here in the future. He is an absolute sweetheart.) We wake up around 6:30am, feed the dogs breakfast and hit the neighborhood by 6:50am. We live in an old neighborhood- that is, homes that were all built over 40 years ago. It's a great unpretentious neighborhood with families and lots of other dogs and cats. In the evenings, we regularly see possums and, unfortunately, skunks too.

In the morning, the edge of the skyline is like dipped water color paper- the gray blue of early morning now tinged with peach orange of sunlight. The birds are awake and a few other dog walkers, but for the most part it is quiet and still. One of the great things about living in an old neighborhood is that each house has evolved it's own character, both in terms of building structure and plant life- chain link fences that ceased to be chain link when they became covered over with bougainvillea. There is one section of the street that boasts orange, light pink and hot pink bougainvillea all barely restrained by fencing, pouring over the top of the walls. On another street, plain block wall is blanketed by purple morning glory. In January everyone's bird of paradise are in full bloom. I nearly walked right into a hummingbird this morning feeding on some flowery bush jutting out into the sidewalk. Oh, and the camelia tree's. In June we will have jacarandas but now we have camelia's.

This is also the time of year when the citrus trees are producing. So many of the houses have old lemon, lime or grapefruit trees. It still amazes me to see them growing in yards next to concrete driveways and kitchen windows.

It is a regular neighborhood but I love it's coziness and diverse style. From the way I am writing you might think it is a fancy neighborhood, but I can assure you, it is not. And I love it all the more for that. I love the quirky yards and the daily walks are so nourishing. It helps clear my head and gives my husband and I a chance to really visit. Sometimes we talk about trivial things and other times we can have meaningful conversation. All the while, the dogs march along side. Lots of people stop and wave because the sight of two darling dachshunds is too much fun and I like that we can bring some cheer just by being out in the neighborhood.

One of the other things that is helping me right now is just cooking. And by 'just cooking' I mean, making meals even when I haven't gone grocery shopping and all that is in the house seems to be a hodgepodge of ingredients. But there is so much satisfaction from pulling that hodgepodge together. I also think that after being on a computer for a good portion of the day for work, I crave tactile tasks. The other night I mopped my kitchen floor and it just felt so lovely to have a task in front of me that I could understand the full measure and width of.

But back to cooking, I am talking about very simple stuff. For example, this roasted half potato with a 7 minute egg. It does not get more basic than potatoes and eggs but isn't the magic of cooking that by treating ingredients in a special way, they become more than the sum of their parts?

This roasted half potato is basically like a giant hash brown. But instead of chopping potatoes into cubes and blanching, etc, they are just halved and placed cut side down on a baking sheet with melted butter. Walk away for 30 minutes, open the mail, unload the dishwasher, stick a load of laundry in and then come back and boil an egg. While the egg boils, slice up some scallions (or not), pull the sizzling potatoes from the oven, squidge the perfectly cooked egg on top of a potato wedge- letting the golden yolk puddle out- and salt and pepper all. So very simple but in some ways more nourishing than braving the 5:30pm dinner rush hour at the grocery store to return home with yes, fresh groceries, but also exhausted.

So, that is what I am up to these days- taking care of myself and my family and trying to be a little more purposeful about it. Really stopping to ask myself, 'what do I need right now?' What I find is that it helps me give permission for what I really need, instead of skirting around the issue and filling that need in an unsatisfactory way (mindless TV watching, instagram bingeing etc.) I also find most often that the answer to what I really need is simple things- a good walk in the neighborhood and a home cooked meal.

roasted potato halves

This recipe is from the blog Smitten Kitchen. Everything Deb makes I immediately want to make and since these potatoes were posted back in November, I have made them several times. Less time than a full on baked potato and infinitely less work than mashed potatoes, I think they fit a nice weekday space (or just as easily, weekend brunch). The original recipe calls for a parsley leaf on each potato, which is lovely, but on a weeknight, I just cannot manage the extra effort.

3 tablespoons butter
3-4 russet potatoes, well scrubbed and cut in half lengthwise

1) Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. (yes, very hot.)

2) Once potatoes are scrubbed and cut, pat all sides dry with paper towel or clean kitchen towel. Put the cookie sheet in the oven with the butter on it. It takes about 60 seconds for the butter to melt. Once the butter is melted, pull the cookie sheet from the oven and sort of tip the sheet around so that the butter coats the surface.

3) Liberally salt the cut side of the potatoes and place, cut side down, on the cookie sheet. Makes sure each half has a nice layer of melted butter under it. Roast potatoes for 30-35 minutes, until fork tender and cut side is nicely crisped.

7 minute egg

I think a 6 minute egg is the traditional soft boiled egg, but I like my yolk a little less runny.

fresh eggs

1) Heat a small pot of water until a rolling boil. (You want enough water in there to cover the egg).

2) Once the boil is going, lower the egg into the water, put the lid on the pot and set the timer for 7 minutes.

3) As soon as 7 minutes hits, pull the egg out of the water, place in a separate bowl, and put the bowl in the sink and run cold water over the egg for a few minutes.

4) Once the egg shell has cooled down enough to touch, gently peel the shell off the egg. (I always find this a bit tricky as the egg itself is still pretty soft in the center. So, in general, I boil one more egg than I need as a spare in case I split one open while peeling.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

shredded brussels sprouts salad

Please just pretend to ignore the mound of cheesy potatoes in the picture above and instead focus on the brussels sprout salad in the lower right hand corner. It is equally as good and far more likely to make the menu cut now that we have entered the new year.

Like a more elegant cousin to cabbage, brussels sprouts are good both roasted and shredded in a salad. I would argue shredded brussels sprouts hold their own a bit better in a salad and do not wilt quite as much. The result is plenty of crunch factor to enjoy.

I love to buy brussels sprouts on the stalk- it is like a bit of theater in the produce aisle to see them stacked up on one another. As common as they have become, during my last grocery store checkout, the customer behind me politely asked what it was I was purchasing. This led to a whole discussion on brussels sprouts and how best to cook them. (I always like it when food helps us connect to one another).

When I buy these, I have to be careful when I bring the groceries in to quickly put the brussels sprout stalk away- one time I left the grocery bag on the floor for a few minutes and much to my surprise my mini-dachshund Harriet grabbed ahold of one end of the protruding stalk and made off with one of the green globes.

I generally roast these up with pancetta until crisped but in December we joined friends for a casual dinner one evening (soup and salad and gingerbread house decorating) and I thought a nice vinaigrette slaw of sorts would be a good contrast to all the heavy food around the holidays. It was and we liked the dish so much that I included it with our New Years day ham dinner.

The recipe is from a blog called Alaska From Scratch and from the write up, sounds like it is based on a recipe originally from Michael Chiarello. I love the bright vinaigrette and accents of sharp cheese. I have made this recipe both with the bacon and without (when served with the ham dinner, I omitted the bacon.)

shredded brussels sprouts salad

juice from 1 lemon
juice from 1 orange
1 large shallot, minced
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, my preference was for a little less)
salt and pepper
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
2 dozen brussels sprouts, stems removed
1 cup sliced almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup pecorino-romano cheese, fresh grated

1) Cut each brussels sprout in half and use a large butcher knife to finely chop to shred.

2) Place the shredded sprouts, almonds, cheese and bacon in a large bowl.

3) In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon and orange juice, shallot and stream in the olive oil. Whisk together until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste (if including the bacon, be easy on the salt.)

4) Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat. Give a quick taste to check for seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

banners and bulbs for the new year

Are you like me and both love taking down the Christmas decorations to have the clean slate of your home back but also miss the festivity of the lights and accessories?
My mom used to hang pink fairy lights on our very oversized houseplants through February. After all, it would still get dark pretty early in the evening and the extra lights help keep the winter blues at bay.

Besides keeping Christmas/fairy lights up longer, here are two of my projects this winter: forced bulbs and small banners.

Forced Bulbs
Forcing bulbs is nothing new and there are lots of forced amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs that start showing up in December. Indeed, I think they make a good addition to traditional Christmas decor- the fresh green shoots are a nice contrast to all the pine trees and holly. But, I also think it is lovely to carry the look into the new year- does anything symbolize the hope and optimism of a new year like the fresh sprouts of a plant?

There are lots of online sources for how to force bulbs. I put some bulbs right at the rim of the jar and others at the base- to give it a terrarium look. I used whatever pickle, jam and olive jars I had around and washed up some rocks from the back yard.

A good friend of mine showed me how to do forced bulbs a few years back. In truth, there may be a little difficulty finding the bulbs this far into winter (I found mine in the clearance bin at the local gardening store- the low price being an extra bonus). The bulbs I am forcing include amaryllis, narcissus, and grape hyacinth. The small bulbs of the grape hyacinth in particular are shooting up seemingly right before my eyes. This is a very easy project and one I think even kids would like.

Small Banners
I love to live with printed words around me- my house is filled with stacks of books and quotes on post-it notes stuck to edges of picture frames. I created this oversized chalkboard for capturing menu's and quotes- really any written inspiration.

A few weeks back, I put together a couple of banners on a Saturday- the one pictured below has a favorite Mary Oliver poem written across the note cards. It is pretty basic- just some yarn and note cards. It would be fun to dress up with ribbon and maybe customize the paper with watercolors. I like that you can go as simple or as involved as you please.

For placement, I draped this banner across the frame of the entry way mirror, but it could just as easily be tacked up on a wall or pinned up on a bookcase/dresser.

As far as content, poems (some of my favorites are in the 2013 blog archives), quotes collected from books (or pinterest), or even new year goals and resolutions are all sources I thought about for this project.

I would love to hear the ways you keep the the house cheery through the winter!