Sunday is normally Robert’s night to cook. Frequently he gets the night off due to family events or those times when I feel like making a meal with lots of prep work that just isn’t suited for the weeknights when I normally cook. So, for a long time now he has gotten by on a pretty small repertoire of tried and true dishes including tuna fajitas, green (or red) chili stew and his famous “bastard ramen” (noodle stir-fry.) Recently, he decided it was time to branch out a little. I suggested that he try making a chowder (yes, in case you’re wondering, it is still chowder weather here in Seattle.) Last night, Robert took my suggestion and made chowder but not your average, everyday chowder. Instead, he made a very special Salmon & Sunchoke Chowder!

They have been selling sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) at our farmers market for a couple of weeks. Sunchokes are knobby, brown tubers similar in appearance to ginger. They can be eaten raw, in which case they taste sort of like a nutty water chestnut, or they may be cooked just as you would cook potatoes or any other root vegetable. I don’t know if this is always true with sunchokes, but the ones at our farmer’s market have been amazingly cheap ($1.00 per pound) making it nearly impossible to resist buying them. Last week, I used them to make a delicious sunchoke and potato puree. When he decided to try his hand at chowder this week, Robert thought it would be fun to add in a few sunchokes.

To make Robert’s Salmon & Sunchoke Chowder, do the following: Open a beer and turn on some sort of punk rock or 1980′s music. Relax for a moment, then begin cooking. Cook about a cup of diced onions in bacon fat (or oil) until soft. Then, add a couple pinches of dried thyme and a spoonful of flour and cook for another minute. Add a couple handfuls of cubed sunchokes and/or potatoes and then slowly stir in a few cups of chicken stock (enough to just cover the vegetables.) Simmer until the vegetables are just cooked through. If you like, add a small handful of frozen corn. Gently, lower a fillet of skinned and deboned salmon into the soup and cook through. Once cooked, break the salmon apart into bite-sized pieces using a large spoon. Add cream, half and half or whole milk until it looks like chowder and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve with crusty bread and a salad on the side.

Robert rarely follows recipes when he cooks so this is my approximation based on what I observed. This is obviously a very rough recipe but that makes it very adaptable too. You can add or subtract vegetables as you wish. You can also easily substitute any seafood for the salmon. Salmon does make it a very colorful chowder, however. I buy the frozen skinned and deboned salmon at Trader Joe’s. It’s not the most premium fish out there, but it is wild (very important) and cheap and incredibly easy to use in this recipe. Sunchokes need only to be scrubbed before eating, but I prefer them peeled for this dish. They are firmer than potatoes, even after lengthy cooking, so this soup has a nice texture to it (or, as Robert says, it gives you some breathing room – if you accidentally cook the soup for too long, you don’t have to worry about everything turning to mush.) We enjoyed this chowder very much. It was tasty and unique and the perfect remedy for a cold, rainy June evening. Yippee, Robert has a new recipe to add to his list!

I was charged with making the dessert for our family get together this weekend. The prospect of making dessert is always exciting for me because I rarely make dessert and, therefore, this gives me the opportunity to try something completely new. The only problem is figuring out what to make. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there are billions of dessert recipes out there! It’s like a whole other world of cooking that I know nothing about. When you only make dessert a few times a year, choosing a recipe from the masses can be pretty tough.

In general, I prefer fruit-based desserts (notable exceptions being creme brulee, anything made with spicy Mexican chocolate, and my family’s Christmas cookies which all fall into the nutty, buttery category.) Since it is spring and rhubarb is really the only “fruit” in season in Seattle right now, I narrowed my choice down to rhubarb something (crisp, cobbler, pie, something.) Not only would this be in keeping with my goal to eat more seasonally, it would also allow Robert to dust off his pet name for rhubarb: disco celery!

Inspired by this delicious-sounding recipe for Cornmeal Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream and Rhubarb Compote, I decided to try my hand at making a rhubarb upside down cake. I followed the cornmeal cake recipe exactly as written. Instead of making a separate rhubarb compote, I whipped up a simple rhubarb topping for my cake. For the topping (or I guess it would actually be the bottom since this was an upside down cake,) I cut up about 4 cups of rhubarb. In a large pan, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and added the rhubarb along with 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest. I let that cook for only a minute or two and then turned off the heat. After resting for a few minutes, I was left with a pretty watery mixture. I knew the liquid would thicken up eventually during baking but, since I was using a spring form cake pan rather than a one-piece cake pan, I was worried that the sugary liquid would leak out of the pan and cause a fire in my oven. And, sure enough, as I was spreading the cake batter over the rhubarb, some of the liquid began to dribble out the sides. To be safe, I placed a large baking sheet on the rack below the cake to catch the drippings. 45 minutes later, I had a perfectly cooked upside down cake and one very caramelized baking sheet!

Later that evening, my mom told me I should have just lined the cake pan with tin foil (duh – why didn’t I think of that?) Oh well, it didn’t matter in the end. I didn’t burn the house down, and now I know, if I ever make an upside down cake again, not to use an unlined spring form pan. And, the cake turned out really good! It tasted like sweetened cornbread with a nice, layer of rhubarb jam on top.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned how tiny our Broadway farmer’s market was compared to the more established markets around town such those in Ballard and West Seattle. Well, I am happy to report that things seem to have picked up a bit this year. There are still only a handful of farm stands selling fresh produce, but I know for a fact there is at least one that wasn’t around last year. Although the offerings are kind of slim at this point, it is still very early in the season. I’m sure the produce will become much more abundant over the next few months. In addition to the farm stands, there are more prepared food vendors this time around which helps give this year’s market a much livelier spirit. The recent sunshine is no doubt helping out in that regard as well. Many of my memories from last year’s market involve farmers huddling under their tarps trying to stay dry while the few patrons brave enough to face the rain ran around trying to do their shopping as quickly as possible. Give us a sunny day here in Seattle and people will gladly spend all morning wandering around the farmer’s market.

Although the variety of produce is much more modest this early in the season, I still managed to find a number of interesting things; things I probably never would have paid much attention to if it wasn’t for my brand new cookbook: Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets by Deborah Madison. This was actually part of our annual staff gift at work along with a reusable shopping bag (can you tell I work for an environmental company?) This is a perfect gift for me as I am a longtime fan of Deborah Madison. Her early cookbooks, The Savory Way and The Greens Cookbook, are classics in my family and, although I’m only part of the way through it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this new book also makes the list of favorites. Not only is it a fantastic collection of recipes, Local Flavors is also a really great reference guide for some of the less common fruits and vegetables that you often see at farmer’s markets. In preparation for this book, Deborah visited farmer’s markets across the nation, and she recounts plenty of interesting stories from them making this a very pleasant book to read. Deborah’s recipes are all very simple, allowing the exceedingly fresh and flavorful produce that farmer’s markets are known for to shine through. Some recipes feature regional fare that may not be available everywhere, but most rely on ingredients common to all farmer’s markets.

After reading through the chapters related to spring vegetables, I felt ready to approach my farmer’s market with new eyes. I excitedly picked up two vegetables I had never used before: sorrel and lovage. Sorrel is a leafy green with a bright, lemony flavor. It can be used raw in salads or may be cooked. Lovage is an herb that has a flavor similar to that of celery. From my new cookbook, I decided to make Risotto with Sorrel because it was so simple and therefore seemed like it would be a good showcase for the sorrel. The basic risotto is made from nothing more than butter, onion, Arborio rice, vegetable stock and lots and lots of sorrel. A few herbs and some cream are stirred in right at the end, but I actually thought it tasted great even before adding those extra ingredients. The sorrel cooks down to a deep olive-colored puree. It was amazingly buttery in texture, and I was quite surprised at how little of its signature tart flavor was lost even after cooking for nearly 45 minutes. The risotto tasted very Greek to me, like a complex spinach & dill flavored rice with lemon even though it was only made with sorrel. I served the risotto with salmon and a mix of braised spring vegetables including baby turnips, asparagus and green garlic which I seasoned with a dusting of minced lovage. It was a perfect springtime meal!

Still looking for the perfect dish to serve at that upcoming Mother’s Day brunch? How about Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid? I made this last weekend, and it was awesome. I’m not really in the habit of making extravagant breads such as this, but I might just need to start. Although it looks complicated, this bread is actually pretty easy to put together, and much of the work can be done the night before. The dough is much easier to work with than a regular bread dough because it contains butter which keeps it from being too sticky during the kneading process. The end result is a soft, rich, slightly sweet bread. The blueberry and cream cheese filling is wonderful, although nearly any filling would be good here. Poppyseed with rum-soaked raisins or lemon curd with sweetened ricotta cheese sound like excellent alternatives to me. Or, like the recipe suggests, you could even do a savory version with mushrooms and cheese. Yum!

This recipe comes from a really great baking website called The Fresh Loaf. If you are interested in learning to make delicious bread, be sure to check out this site. They have wonderful written lessons for beginners and even a few helpful videos. There are also book reviews, a community forum, baker blogs, and plenty of recipes for scrumptious-looking breads (and some desserts too.) All of the recipes have step-by-step instructions with pictures. So far, I have only had a chance to try the Daily Bread and the Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid. My sister made the Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bread, and she said it was really, really good. It’s enough to make me want to buy a huge jar of yeast and spend each day baking a new kind of bread!

Leftovers are kind of a big deal in my household. I’m not a fan of waiting in long lines and paying downtown prices for lunch so I usually try to plan dinners that work well as leftovers. That way, I can take them with me to the office to have as my lunch the next day. Sometimes, no matter how good a planner you are, you end up with leftovers that just won’t do as a lunch. Perhaps you simply miscalculated and didn’t make enough extra food for a full lunch or maybe you ended up with only one component of the meal, like vegetable stir-fry but no rice. Or, perhaps you made something that is currently on the microwave blacklist at work (fish is banned at my office.) When this happens, you have a couple of choices. You can suck it up and throw the food away. You can wait until you have accumulated other oddball leftovers and eat it all together as one big leftovers feast (and hope that nobody makes fun of you for eating spaghetti with a side of curried vegetables.) Or, you can take your leftovers and repurpose them into a whole new meal. That last one is my favorite option because it forces you to be a bit creative.

Friday night, Robert and I went to our neighborhood Korean joint, Kimchi Bistro. Normally I get the Soon Doo Boo but, since it was such a nice day and spicy tofu soup didn’t seem appropriate, I decided to boldly try something new: grilled mackerel. I love mackerel, and this one was certainly delicious, but it was also enormous! I ate most of the rice and stir-fried cabbage that came with it, but I could only manage to eat half of the fish before I was completely stuffed full. I decided to take the rest home with me even though half of a crispy, charred mackerel didn’t seem like it would be very good as is for lunch the next day. It was time to get creative and do a little repurposing!

Well, if I had had the time to go to Uwajimaya for ingredients, I would have made the Grilled Mackerel Salad from my Thai cookbook. That’s one of those recipes that always sounds good to me but that I never actually consider making because, you know, when am I ever going to have grilled mackerel in the house? But, I barely had enough time to go to the grocery store on Saturday let alone to make an extravagant salad. So, for all you Top Chef fans out there, I considered this my own personal quickfire challenge: what can you make out of leftover mackerel in a short amount of time using a limited number of easily available ingredients?

Mackerel is similar to salmon in that it is strong-flavored and oily so I started thinking along the lines of what I would do if I had leftover smoked salmon. Then, it was obvious: use it as a spread for crackers! I removed the bones and flaked the mackerel into a small bowl. Then, I mixed it with mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice and, for crunch and a sweet note, finely minced granny smith apple. That’s it! The mackerel was already so flavorful that I didn’t need to add any seasonings. I served this on whole wheat crackers, and it was a perfect lunchtime treat. It may not have been the most creative way of using up my mackerel, but it was definitely easy and delicious. What is your favorite way of repurposing leftovers?

It was caucus day in Washington State today! I had a total blast at my caucus. I met a bunch of my neighbors and got to witness plenty of mayhem and revelry. And, my precinct elected me to serve as one of our four Obama delegates! That means I will be representing the Obama supporters from my precinct at the Legislative District Caucus in April. Who knows, maybe I’ll make it all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver (doubtful.) I’m really looking forward to this next caucus, especially since three of us Obama delegates are knitters! We’re going to have a really fun time.

In honor of today’s events, I got up early and made these Democratic Party-inspired cookies. The cookie cutter that I bought was supposed to be a donkey but it really looks more like a dog or hyena or something. Still, at least they are very patriotic-looking hyenas. I brought the cookies over to my parents’ house this evening where my whole family congregated to share stories from our respective caucuses and watch the caucus results on the news. Hooray for the democratic process!

A couple of months ago, I started making my own yogurt at home. Two things brought this on: 1) on the final day of our neighborhood farmer’s market in November, I bought some fresh yogurt and learned that it was so much better than most commercial yogurt, and 2) a few weeks after that, my sister mentioned that she had been making homemade yogurt so I figured that I could be doing it too. A quick internet search informed me that it was really quite simple to do.

Although making yogurt does take a good chunk of time from start to finish, it doesn’t require much active time. All you need is a reliable kitchen thermometer, some milk (I’ve been doing a half gallon each week which results in 4 to 6 servings of yogurt), and some prepared “starter” yogurt. The starter yogurt is where you get your active cultures from so you need to make sure you buy a yogurt that contains active live cultures. Once you have made your first batch of yogurt, you can use that as the starter yogurt the next time (I do buy a fresh starter yogurt every so often just because I don’t like the idea of some part of my yogurt, however small, being more than a couple of months old.)

In a pot, heat the milk over low heat, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. When the milk reaches 180 degrees (at which point any bad bacteria will be killed), remove from heat and allow to cool back down to 115 degrees. Once the milk has cooled, whisk in a couple of tablespoons of prepared yogurt. The final step is to incubate the yogurt for at least 6 hours so that the live cultures can do their business. The yogurt must be kept between 110 degrees and 90 degrees during this time in order to avoid killing off the cultures. There are several methods you can use here. My preference is to put the yogurt into a large, clean jar, insert the thermometer, top the jar with foil, wrap it with a few kitchen towels and place it in the oven. If the temperature begins approach 90 degrees, I turn the oven on to the lowest setting (around 100 degrees) for a few minutes. I have found that the temperature of the yogurt doesn’t drop too much over time unless it is really cold in my apartment. In fact, I rarely need to turn the oven on at all; once winter is over, I may just leave the yogurt out on the counter to culture. I’ve heard that leaving the oven’s pilot light on is sometimes all you need to maintain the correct temperature. You can also use the hot water bath method (for example, filling an insulated ice chest with hot water and putting the container of yogurt in it.) Or, if you are in doubt, you can always buy a yogurt maker.

After 6 hours, check the yogurt to see if it has thickened to your liking. If not, let it rest for longer, checking again every hour or so. So far, my yogurt has been ready at 6 hours every time. The result is a much milder yogurt than you get at the grocery store. It has much more of a smooth milk flavor than the tangy commercial yogurt you may be used to (although, I’ve heard that the longer you let it incubate, the more sour it becomes.) Homemade yogurt also tends to be a bit stringier in texture which is kind of strange at first, but I’ve gotten used to it. My favorite way to eat homemade yogurt is topped with honey and toasted walnuts, although I’m sure in the summer I will enjoy it often with fresh fruit.

What started out at first as a kitchen science experiment has become a weekly thing in my household. One of my favorite things about making yogurt at home is the lack of waste. I always felt so guilty “recycling” those tiny plastic cups all the time. Now, I am getting my milk in returnable glass bottles from Golden Glen Creamery in Bow, Washington (via either Madison Market or Pike Place Creamery.) The only thing that gets thrown away is the cap to the milk! Robert calls this my hippie yogurt and claims I should be living on a commune somewhere. He’s trying to make fun of me but, if doing something that is good for the earth, good for the local farmers, good for me and happens to taste great makes me a hippie, than so be it!

For this week’s winesday, I picked up a bottle of Barnard Griffin 2005 Fumé Blanc. I’m always looking for new varietals to showcase on winesday so it seemed like the perfect choice. Well, it turns out that Fumé Blanc is just another name for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all a marketing ploy (apparently designed to sucker in newbies like me.) Oh well, the point of winesday is to learn about wine; now I know Fumé Blanc is just a made up name. But, I love Sauvignon Blanc so I didn’t mind!

Barnard Griffin Winery is located in south-central Washington where the Yakima, Columbia, and Snake rivers all meet up. They have been producing award-winning wines since 1983; one of their most highly regarded wines, in fact, is the Fumé Blanc. The 2005 Fumé Blanc is said to have aromas of fresh flowers, herbs and vanilla. Complex melon and citrus flavors are backed by a hint of grassiness. The 2005 vintage shows good acidity and crispness.

For dinner, I made a recipe from my brand new cookbook: Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. This is a really great cookbook for anyone interested in eating a bit healthier (but not too healthy, butter and cheese are certainly not taboo in this book!) Heidi provides great recipes and ideas for how to incorporate more whole grains, natural sweeteners and so-called “super foods” foods into your diet. I’ve had great success with the few recipes I’ve had a chance to try. Her Wild Rice Flour Pancakes proved to be deliciously rustic, perfect drizzled with warm maple syrup. The other night, I made Giant Crispy and Creamy White Beans using the jumbo Greek beans I got in my stocking this year. In this recipe, the beans are cooked until tender, sautéed with butter until crisp on the outside and then tossed with onions and greens. Be sure to check out Heidi’s wonderful blog, 101 Cookbooks, for more great recipes.

The recipe that I made for winesday this week was Heidi’s Clemenquat Salad, a crunchy winter salad made by combining clementine wedges, sliced celery, slivered kumquats and toasted walnuts in a lemon vinaigrette. I didn’t actually choose this recipe because I thought it would be a particularly good match with the wine (riesling might have been more appropriate) but because the recipe just looked so darn good (Heidi takes amazing food photos that will make your mouth water.) Plus, I had never actually eaten kumquats before. I always was drawn to kumquats as a child. Of course! They looked like oranges meant for small dolls, what child wouldn’t want to play with them? But, somehow I was never able to convince my mom to buy them for me. I think she thought I wouldn’t like them, and she was probably right. They are more of an adult flavor.

The salad was delicious. The bitter/sweet flavor of the kumquats and clementines paired nicely with the vegetables and walnuts. I threw in some baby spinach to make it more salad-like. I served the salad alongside smashed celery root & potatoes and red snapper with the lightest of all curry-cream sauces (I thought a bit of curry would add an exotic touch consistent with the unusual fruits in the Clemenquat Salad, but I kept it very light so as not to conflict with the wine.) The wine was great as well. It was a nice, not too overly crisp Sauvignon Blanc, falling more towards the tropical fruit end of the scale than the super grassy, super zippy Loire Valley style Sauvignon Blancs.

Well, my family and I shared another wonderful Christmas holiday together. We ate some great food, listened to our fill of Christmas music, and traded a few nice, sensible gifts. And, to top it all off, it actually snowed. In Seattle. On Christmas Day. I can’t even remember the last time that happened!

The theme for this year’s Christmas Eve dinner was Greece. Check out our menu:

Lamb Stifado (which we made sans potatoes)
Garithes me Aginares kai Manitaria (Shrimp, Artichoke, and Mushroom Casserole with Bechamel Sauce)
Roasted Lemon Potatoes
Dolmathes (Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves) with Tzatziki sauce
Yiganthes (or, what I like to call Jumbo Greek Beans)
Steamed Green Beans
Greek Salad
Grilled Pitas, Roasted Peppers, Mixed Olives and Peperoncini
Greek wines: Naoussa Boutari Red and Vin de Crete, a white wine by D. Kourtakis

Everything was wonderful, and it actually ended up being a pretty easy dinner to put together as many of the dishes could be made ahead. And, as usual, we began discussing next year’s dinner while enjoying this year’s dinner. Next year’s theme will be a return to a family favorite: Mexico. That means homemade tamales – yes!!! Happy holidays, everyone!

For this week’s winesday, I picked up a bottle of 2002 Semele Ribero del Duero from producer Bodegas Montebaco. Ribero del Duero is a wine-producing region that is located along the banks of the Duero river in northern Spain, just southwest of Spain’s most famous wine region, Rioja. Ribero del Duero almost exclusively produces red wine, most of which is made from Spain’s signature grape, tinto fino (aka: tempranillo.) Other varietals are grown mainly so that they can be blended with tempranillo, a common practice in Ribero del Duero. The Semele wine that I bought is 90% tempranillo and 10% merlot.

I’m always struggling to find vegetarian recipes (other than pizza and pasta) that can be paired with red wine. This week, when I was browsing recipes on, I noticed that there were a lot of Mexican dishes being matched up with Spanish reds such as Rioja and Ribero del Duero. This struck me as interesting for two reasons: 1) I never really think of Mexican food as being good wine food because it is often so spicy, and 2) Spanish food and Mexican food are very different from one another so why would the wine from one country be such a natural fit for the cuisine of another? But, I decided to roll with this idea and pair my wine with a homemade tortilla soup. Instead of topping the soup with the traditional crispy corn tortillas (which, I suppose, means it can no longer be called tortilla soup,) I served it with fancy quesadillas on the side.

My soup turned out good, but the quesadillas were the real hit of the night! I was inspired by this recipe for Roasted Squash, Red Pepper, and Jack Cheese Quesadillas, although I took it my own direction. I roasted acorn squash, onion and garlic together until well-browned and then pureed everything in my food processor. To assemble the quesadillas, I spread a thin layer of the squash puree on a flour tortilla, added some grated Beecher’s jack cheese, sprinkled on some smoked paprika (a Spanish ingredient that, however weakly, ties the meal back to the wine,) topped it with another tortilla and then seared the whole thing in a pan until it was browned and crispy on both sides. It was really good. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I slathered the outside of the tortilla with butter before cooking it! The squash puree helped keep everything melted and soft (I absolutely hate it when melted cheese starts to solidify as you are eating it.) And, the squash flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. In fact, Robert commented that it seemed like the quesadillas were simply made with some really good, mysterious cheese.

Tempranillo is one of my favorite grapes so I was excited to try it from a wine region other than Rioja. I was particularly intrigued by the description at the wine shop, “black as night with tootsie roll.” You’ve got to love those unusual wine descriptions! It was quite dark indeed. It had a nice dark cherry and spice flavor. Like all tempranillos I’ve had, this wine was very drinkable, by which I mean well-balanced and easy to drink lots of. While it may have been a bit heavier on the tannins than I anticipated, something I try to avoid when pairing red wine with vegetarian food, the tannins were smooth, not harsh. The wine actually went really well with the meal (particularly those creamy, cheesy quesadillas!)

Newer Posts »« Older Posts