Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Stories + Cooking After Thanksgiving + Some Squash Recipes

Thanksgiving Weekend is always a blast! Even though I don’t have family here, this holiday is never a lonely affair. Over the years, I have spent Thanksgiving dinners with my adoptive family and friends who have become family. I am thankful for all the good people who surround me, for their open minds and hearts, for their warm homes that have always made me feel welcome, and most of all, for their friendship and support.

Thanksgiving is also extra-special because it happens to be our anniversary. DFJ and I made this decision last year when we reminisced about how awkward our first Thanksgiving celebration was. To make a long story short, we were at a dinner where people without families got together at my friend’s house. Because we didn’t really know most of the guests, they assumed that we were married… Ummm, no we’re not and we haven’t even really talked about whether we are dating or not either… See, quite awkward, right?

 
This year we went to a gathering of good friends who, like us, do not have families in town. We have some people originally from the country, Pennsylvania (DFJ), Florida, and Colorado. The rest of us are from all over the world, Philippines (me), Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, Iraq, Iran, and Romania. Great company, interesting conversations, and wonderful food!

 
One of the best things about Thanksgiving is all the leftovers. Oh my, what a treat to not have to cook Friday and Saturday but still have a plate full of different kinds of amazing food! We finally ran out of leftovers yesterday, so I had no choice but to cook again. There were potatoes that started sprouting, Brussels sprouts left on a stalk, a head of broccoli, and kale begging to be cooked. Since I am still on a Tamar Adler kick, I followed her advice and roasted everything (except for the kale)! I washed everything first. Then, I proceeded to chop the potatoes in even sizes for even cooking, picked the Brussels sprouts from the stalk, cut the broccoli into batons, and tore the leafy parts of the kale from the stems.

All potatoes were then placed in one big roasting pan, the Brussels sprouts in a round pan, and the broccoli in another round pan. It is best to cook different vegetables in different pans, unless they come from the same family (all root vegetables, all leafy vegetables, all stalky vegetables can be cooked in one pan). The vegetables in each pan got a good douse of olive oil and generous sprinkles of salt. I also added some sprigs of thyme and rosemary in the potato pan. All the pans were placed in the oven, which was preheated to 400 degrees F, and cooked for half an hour.

When everything was done and completely cooled, I moved them into containers for storage in the fridge. Before washing the oily pans, I tore the kale into small pieces and rubbed the oil off of the pans with the leaves so as not to waste good olive oil. This way, I won’t have to use too much olive oil to sauté the leaves in. After the leaves were well oiled, I poured about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and heated the oil over medium heat. When the oil was hot, I sautéed a large clove of garlic (minced) until it was golden brown. The kale was then added by batch and cooked until wilted. With each batch of kale that I tossed in, a sprinkle of salt was added to season it.   

 
Tamar Adler gives the smart advice to cook everything ahead of time so we have a whole week’s worth of food at the ready. Let me tell you, the broccoli didn’t go too far because we ate them way too fast. See that small serving left in the bowl in the picture above? I had to use my will power not to eat them all right then. They were so good! Like delicious, salty, oily chips in the form of slightly burnt broccoli. The potatoes were just perfectly done and the Brussels sprouts browned on the outside the way I like them. Right now, I am not quite sure yet what to do with the vegetables. One thing I know for sure is that there won’t be too much hard work going on in my kitchen this week. Three quarters of my work is already done! Tamar Adler has plenty of suggestions in her book for what we can do with roasted vegetables. I will definitely let you know what we do with our roasted vegetables later this week.  

 
As for The Food Matters Project, I decided to forgo on this week’s recipe, Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon, chosen by Jen of Prairiesummers. I read the recipe and it sounds really good and fairly simple to make. If you want the original Mark Bittman recipe, visit Jen’s website. For other interesting spins on the recipe, check out the The Food Matters Project website to see what the rest of the creative members came up with. Sadly though, this is something that will have to be bookmarked for another time. Over the past few months, I have been on some sort of squash soup kick and since they were all so delicious, I would like to share those recipes again.

Last month, I made a really delicious Butternut Squash Tikka Masala that made me forget I was not actually sitting at an Indian restaurant.

 
 
Earlier this month, I made a hearty and savory Kabocha Squash Soup. 

 

I would also like to share something so amazingly good that I made earlier this year that has the butternut squash and apple combination, Roasted Butternut-Apple Pasta Sauce.

 

If you so wish, go ahead and click on the links for the recipes. They are all very good, I promise.   

 
Now it’s time to get back to the grind!
Christmas is just right around the corner, so hang in there friends!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Oyster Omelet

Making eggs is something that I’m really bad at doing… until Tamar Adler taught me how to respect eggs and make them fly. I am one of those people who buy fresh farm-raised eggs at the farmers markets. Or if those are not available, I get the organic and cage free eggs from the grocery store. The company that I support is Oakdell Egg Farms, they are generally nice to their chickens.

Factory produced eggs come from hens injected with hormones and antibiotics to speed up their growth process and increase their productivity. These cause them to become crippled because their bodies are developing too fast. They have never experienced running around outside, pecking on grubs, and basking in the sun. These hens just sit for the most part of their lives, unable to move because other than the fact that they are most likely crippled, they live in very cramped and restrictive dwellings. Terrible, right? This is why I do not want to support companies that treat chickens horribly and would rather spend some extra dollars on eggs that are produced humanely. Also, I do not like the thought of ingesting icky eggs in my body. That is so unappetizing! Eggs that come from hens that suffered their whole lives cannot be good for anyone.  

Back to cooking eggs though… I entrust this duty to DFJ, he really is better at making them than I am. Cooking eggs requires a watchful eye and some patience. When cooking eggs, these qualities escape from me. It’s probably because I am running late for work and rush the whole process so I can eat and head off to start a busy work day.

Tamar Adler says that she saves the egg making process for a time of the day when she is fully awake to be able to put enough thought into cooking them. For the past two weekends, I have been doing the same and the results were fabulous… in the form of delicious omelets. An omelet is just like a scrambled egg that you don’t scramble too much with some delicious toppings or fillings. It can be open-faced, folded in half, or rolled. You can fill it with anything! Yes, anything… omelets are not limited to the regular onion, tomato, ham, and cheese fixings. There are plenty other things you can put in or on your omelets. Explore the different options. You will be surprised to find out that the best omelets you end up eating are ones with freshened up leftovers from a few nights ago. Think leftover stir-fries, chopped up pieces of cooked meat, leftover roasted veggies… be creative!

 
Oysters and cauliflower on my omelet? Yup!


 
This was one delicious breakfast. It made me think of something that I would order at a seaside restaurant somewhere warm and exotic. This omelet just tasted of so many wonderful things and made me smile. Mornings should always start out with leisurely breakfasts like this. Eating a special omelet in our jammies with some DFJ almond latte and bagels.
 

Oyster Omelet

Filling/Topping:
2-3 teaspoons of the oyster oil from the can
1 large clove of garlic, minced (2 if the cloves are tiny, and more if you really love garlic)
1/8 of an onion, diced
¼ of a bell pepper, diced
¼ cup cooked vegetables, chopped (I used boiled cauliflower seasoned with oliveoil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese)
half of the oysters in the can (8-10 oysters)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
a big squeeze of lemon (about ¼ of a lemon)
 
Omelet:
3 eggs
a small splash of yogurt whey (the liquid stuff in yogurt) (you can also use heavy cream, milk, or water)
a big pinch of salt
dash of freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp chili powder (paprika or cayenne would be great too)
olive oil or butter for cooking
 
fresh basil, to sprinkle on top (fresh cilantro and parsley)
lemon wedges, to serve

Filling/Topping:
In a small pan, heat 2-3 teaspoons of the oil from the can of oysters over medium heat. Using this oil will give an additional oysterish flavor. When the oil is hot, sauté the garlic until golden brown. Add the diced onion and cook until soft, translucent, and slightly browned at the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the diced bell pepper and chopped leftover vegetables and cook for a minute. Add the oysters and cook for 2 minutes. Season with soy sauce and stir to make sure everything gets flavored. Turn off the heat, squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the pan, stir, and set aside.

Omelet:
Use a medium sized, non-stick pan to make your omelet. I like my omelets fluffier and the less they spread out, the fluffier they are. Pour just enough olive oil to form about a 4-inch diameter on the bottom of your pan. If you like to use butter, use a tablespoon (more or a little less, I prefer less, but it’s your call). Heat the oil over medium heat. As the oil is warming up, lift the pan and carefully tilt it from side to side so the oil coats the entire bottom and the sides of the pan.

While the oil is heating up, crack the eggs into a bowl and pour in the yogurt whey. A splash of liquid makes for fluffier eggs, so you can use a small splash of cream (for richer and creamier eggs), milk, or water, they all do the job. I use the yogurt whey for added flavoring so I don’t have to use as much salt. Add a big pinch of salt, a dash of freshly ground black pepper, and some chili powder (paprika or cayenne would be good too). Whisk or beat everything well together. 

When the oil is hot but not smoking, pour the eggs into the pan. Give it about 6 seconds to set. Using a flat-edged wooden spatula, nudge a section to the middle and tilt the pan to the vacant spot so the unset eggs flow onto the surface of the hot skillet. Allow it to set for a few seconds before you nudge different sides and let the remaining unset eggs cook. Do this one or two more times, until the runny eggs refuse to do anything more than a slight jiggle. You want to leave the top just slightly undercooked so the toppings will have something to stick on. Gently scoop the fixings evenly on top of the omelet and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro, or parsley for added taste. Serve omelet from the pan, with lemon wedges.


Have a blessed Sunday friends!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Boiled Cauliflower with Pasta and Leftover Meat


Cooking is really not as daunting as some of us think it is. The first step is simple and only requires you to walk a couple of steps and head to your kitchen. Once there, start with something basic like boiling water, even the best cooks do that. This is just one of the many things that I learned from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace.

For the past two weeks, I have been devouring her book... Reading it slow, going back to previous pages, rereading everything until her cooking tips and recipes are etched in my memory, taking copious notes, and cooking everything that I thought was interesting (which is pretty much everything she talks about). Heck, she even makes boiled broccoli and cauliflower sound mouthwatering! So, I did those and was very pleased with the results.


Today I am going to share an incredibly simple recipe that took my breath away, literally, because I scarfed the food down so fast in the serving dish it was in... My competition was in the form of an adult male who just might eat everything the second I look away. On a more serious note, that meal was one of the best I have procured in our kitchen that left me and DFJ so impressed with its simplicity and goodness.

It all started with something so mundane as boiling water. In her book, Tamar Adler teaches us how to make a pot of boiling water go a long way. So, I did just that. Since I needed to cook some Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving dinner, I boiled them first and reused the same water for the cauliflower and the pasta. The rules of thumb for making a pot of water go a long way are the following: #1: be generous with the salt, your water should taste like pleasant saltwater and #2: start boiling less starchy ingredients (like leafy greens) then use the same water to boil more starchy ingredients (like potatoes or pasta).

Remember the Whole Wheat Butternut Squash-Carrot Pasta that I made earlier this week? That was part of this dish. Even though I recommend you try making that or this, you can also just use store bought pasta, no biggie. Whatever you have on hand will work.

This dish also involved some great ingredients that would otherwise have been less than special when left on their own... leftover meat and discarded greens. We had some leftover ground beef from our dinner a few nights ago and some chunks of drumstick and thigh meat from a store-bought roasted chicken. I tore up the chicken chunks and heated them in the pan along with the ground beef AND then added discarded outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and the leafy things that come with a head of cauliflower. So, if you have leftover cooked meat lying around, go ahead and chop 'em up then stir fry them with some wilting greens that you have in the fridge. You can then toss this meat and leafy green sauté in your pasta to make it special!


I love humble meals like this that satisfy your belly and your heart. It is really delicious too in a simple and honest way. It doesn't take too much time and effort but you end up with something really delicious and almost fancy! No one would ever know that you just saved leftover food from going into the compost or garbage disposal. *wink*


 
Boiled Cauliflower with Pasta and Leftover Meat
Inspired from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

water
salt
head of cauliflower, chopped into batons (save the cauliflower leaves and thick stalks... you can add these in the leftover meat stir fry below)
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

pasta (I used my own homemade Whole Wheat Butternut Squash-Carrot Pasta)
Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano

leftover cooked meat
leafy greens and or stalks that are at the end of their lives, chopped (the greens and stalks from your cauliflower and/or kale, spinach, arugula, Brussels sprouts, beet greens, what have you... don't be afraid to toss them in)

Fill a large pot a little over half full of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a rolling boil over medium heat. When the water is boiling, add a tablespoon of salt (more or a little less). If you have some non-starchy vegetables (i.e. artichokes, leeks, string beans, cabbage, and so on) that you want to cook, drop them in the water and cook until done. In my case, I had some Brussels sprouts that I cooked for about 12 minutes. When they are done cooking, move the vegetables into a bowl or colander using a slotted spoon. Make sure the vegetables are not piled too high to allow them to cool down without softening too much. Remember, you want to save the water, so don't throw it out. If you don't have any vegetables to cook beforehand, then go ahead and cook the cauliflower until tender when pierced with a dinner knife. Remove the cauliflower using a slotted spoon. Place in two large serving dishes to make sure that there is only one layer of cooked cauliflower batons. This allows the cauliflower to cool down without turning into mush.

Do not turn the stove off just yet, now it is time to cook the pasta. Place the pasta in the water and cook until done. If using fresh, homemade pasta, you will know they are done when they float. For dry pasta, cook according to the package directions or until al dente.

Back to the cauliflower, drizzle each dish with some olive oil while still hot, sprinkle a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese on top, and give everything a gentle toss while also slightly mashing the cauliflower. Set aside close to the stove to keep it warm.

While the pasta is still cooking, heat leftover meat in a bit of olive oil in a large pan. When the meat is hot, toss in the leafy greens and chopped stalks and cook until wilted or tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is done, use a slotted spoon to scoop them from the water into the cauliflower dishes. If drops of water fall, that's ok, that bit of hot water will help all ingredients come together. Add the sautéed meat and vegetables into the dish. Toss everything together until well-mixed. Add more Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!
 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Whole Wheat Butternut Squash and Carrot Pasta Tossed in Stir Fried Vegetables

Making gnocchi requires patience, gentleness, and acceptance. None of which I had last night when I finally pulled myself together to make this right before bedtime. So folks, please do not attempt to make gnocchi right before sleeping. It is a project for a day when you have nothing else on your schedule but to make gnocchi. 

Patience and Gentleness:
When you stir in the initial ¾ cup of flour, stir gently but thoroughly. Do not rush the process and do not over knead. When you’re adding in more flour, do it a tablespoon at a time until the dough just holds together. The goal is to add as little flour as possible and to not handle it as much. I made the fatal mistake of not following these important directions and ended up adding 14 more tablespoons of flour, which ended up turning my supposed-to-be-soft-and-pillowy-gnocchi into whole wheat butternut squash-carrot pasta. It didn’t turn out so bad though. In fact, it was actually very good! But considering that my original intent was to make gnocchi, I failed on that account.


Acceptance:
Accept the fact that homemade gnocchi will look whimsical. It will turn out billowy when dropped in boiling water and won’t stay smooth and blemish-free, like store-bought ones. I usually prefer the rustic look over store-bought, but since I have never made my own gnocchi before, I thought it was supposed to turn out smooth. The dough was so freakin’ sticky and just stuck to everthing, so more and more flour was desperately added while the dough was gently kneaded until it finally came together. I then pulled off small chunks and rolled these into pieces of rope a bit at a time. It was the best way to do the job rather than rolling the whole dough into a rope.



To make a long story short, what originally started out as a plan to make gnocchi turned into butternut squash and carrot whole wheat pasta! Cooking is always a learning experience. Thank you Joanne for choosing this recipe for The Food Matters Project this week. I am already planning to redo this in the near future and make gnocchi, not pasta. If you want to learn how to make carrot gnocchi, for real, hop over to Joanne’s blog to see the original Mark Bittman recipe.



Now then, on to this delicious butternut squash and carrot whole wheat pasta tossed in a vegetable stir fry! The butternut squash-carrot combination is utterly good and using those two ingredients to make pasta is pretty amazing. This pasta is soft and sweet with a nice, nutty texture. All the vegetables that were tossed together in the sauté complemented each other perfectly… caramelized onions, flavorful shiitake mushrooms, and garlicky kale are the best of friends.


Let me tell you, this was heaven on earth, literally. Everything was so deliciously earthy, each bite felt like a celebration of all things good in life. This is why I love to eat healthy… because it just tastes so darn good!

 

Whole Wheat Butternut Squash and Carrot Pasta Tossed in Stir Fried Vegetables
Inspired from Whole Wheat Carrot Gnocchi, The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman

Whole Wheat Butternut Squash-Carrot Pasta:    
11 oz butternut squash
5 ½ oz carrots
salt
¾ cup whole wheat flour + 14 careless tablespoons (which means, the size was more or less a tablespoon)
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 
Sautéed Vegetables:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a large yellow onion, sliced
3 large shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 kale leaves, leaves sliced thinly and stems diced
salt
freshly ground pepper
about 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
generous amount freshly grated Parmesan cheese
 
1/3 of the pasta made above
½ cup of pasta water


Place butternut squash and carrot chunks in a medium sized pot. Add just enough water to cover the chunks and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat on to medium high and bring the water to a rolling boil. Uncover the pot, stir, turn the heat to medium low and partially cover. Allow vegetables to keep boiling gently until they are tender. The total cooking time is about 40 minutes. You will know the vegetables are done when the carrots pierce through easily with a fork. Drain well (save the water, this makes for good pasta water or soup later). Return the vegetables to the pot, uncovered, and turn the heat on low. Allow the vegetables to dry out for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off. Meanwhile, sift the flour into a small bowl.

Mash the vegetables with a fork or potato masher thoroughly until all clumps are gone and the mixture becomes creamy. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well to make sure everything is well-combined. Add ¼ cup of the flour at a time and mix. Add more flour one tablespoon at a time if it remains super sticky. (Since, the mixture was so soft and ended up sticking all over my hands every time I touched it, I added a total of 14 more tablespoons.) Stop when it begins to hold together.

Lightly flour a clean, working surface. Pinch off a chunk of dough and roll into a thin rope. Keep repeating until all the dough has been rolled out. Cut pasta into 1 inch pieces and place in a flat container. Store in the refrigerator for at least an hour to give the pasta some time to set (in my case, I stored it overnight).

Pour the vegetable water (from the boiled butternut squash and carrots) into a medium sized pot and add a cup or more of water. Use your judgment to determine how much would be enough to cook 1/3 of the fresh pasta you made. Bring the vegetable water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add a very generous pinch of salt. Place just enough pasta to completely cover the bottom of your pot. You don’t want to pile them in the pot. Cover the pot and allow the water to boil again. Once it is boiling, the pasta will float on top. Leave the pot partially covered and let cook for another minute or two. Since the pasta is fresh, the total cooking time is only about 7 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

While the water is boiling, sauté the vegetables. Start with heating the olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic and sage until the garlic turns golden brown. Toss the onion slices and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and brown on the sides. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the mushrooms and kale stems and cook for about 3 minutes until the mushrooms pieces are shiny and fragrant. Toss in the kale leaves and let cook for about 2 minutes until it wilts. Season with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Using a slotted spoon, move the pasta from the pot into the vegetable pan and half a cup of the pasta water. Stir and let everything cook together for about 3 minutes or until all the liquid has dissolved. Season with freshly ground nutmeg and a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Stir well to make sure everthing is coated with the cheese. If you wish to, add more salt to taste and an optional small pinch of red pepper flakes for a little spicy kick.

Serve immediately and savor!

 
 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

502

Cold, Sunday afternoons are meant for taking long, long naps. Especially after only six hours of sleep every night for the past couple of days. That was my body’s way of telling me that I am physically and mentally tired. Physical tiredness is something I love and actually even crave at times. This morning I made scones, went on a 3 mile hike with friends, went to a Body Flow class, did some shoulder strengthening workouts, and made a big thing of fried rice for lunch. Normally, that would leave me feeling awesome. But there are some mental and emotional angst that I have also been harboring and that kind of stress is hard for me to deal with. Last Friday, it was heightened by a very stressful day at work which involved running (Sonic speed) after a student headed straight to a construction zone. Then again, today, due to an argument that started when my friends and I discussed Initiative 502, legalization of cannabis in Washington State.

Let me make this clear before going any further, I am not a political person and as a non-American citizen, am unable to vote. However, I am disgruntled about the passing of Initiative 502 in Washington State and Colorado. I am strongly against it for the plain and simple reason that I believe there are enough evils out there. My fear is that being able to buy an ounce of marijuana legally might increase the risk of kids getting ahold of it... they could get it from older friends, older siblings, somehow find their parents’ secret stash, who knows? If young individuals see that smoking pot is not such a bad thing because it is legal, they might look forward to the day they turn 21 so they can start getting high. It might be like the excitement of finally being able to drink legally.

Initiative 502 might have some cons that I care about such as getting marijuana dealers out of business and decriminalization of marijuana users. As for the rest of it, it is too much for my brain to wrap around. This article is a really good write-up on the opposition of I-502. Check it out.

Cooking usually makes me feel better… but, right now, I cannot muster the energy to make the Food Matter’s Project, Whole Wheat Carrot Gnocchi, chosen by the awesome Joanne of Eats Well with Others. (I love that girl... even though we have never met, I consider her one of my blogging buddies.) Joanne, tomorrow night your FMP pick is our dinner! Friends, do come back in a few days for the recipe. Cross your fingers that I won’t mess it up!

Have a great week everyone!
 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Fall Book Reviews



I started reading this book when I was on a train to Portland and it demanded my attention from the first page until the very last. War chooses no one and either strips humanity out of us or brings it out.  The characters, who come from different backgrounds with their own stories to tell, are captivating. This is a World War II story that seamlessly transitions from Frankie Bard, who reports about the suspense and despair of London bombings and desperate refugees travelling through Europe; Emma Fitch, who faithfully waits for her husband in a coastal town in Massachusetts; and Iris James, who believes in keeping the order of her job and life to keep her mind off of the war. Each character’s story rang through me and made me see how awful it must be to suffer through war. This book is haunting, vivid, and simply beautiful.
 
To Laur, thank you for giving me this book. I loved it! :)  

 
 


This book is a heart wrenching story of a young adult’s special relationship with her family’s black maid set in the 1950s. During a time of great family strife, Jubie’s mother takes all her children and their black maid, Mary, on a trip to Pensacola that will end up changing their lives forever. Along the way, civil rights and anti-integration movements are cleverly depicted and described through the eyes of a very observant child. The author beautifully portrays the special bond formed between a white child and her black nanny during an important time in American history. The Dry Grass of August will definitely leave you heartbroken, touched, and proud of how far this country has come since the mid-20th century.   

 

 

This is a sweet, lighthearted memoir of a young woman who has the whole world in front of her. After facing a family tragedy, Jenna manages to carry on and live her life fully. If you follow her blog, Eat, Live, Run, you will find that the book is pretty much a collective account of her early twenties. I found the writing to be a little dry and quite lacking of emotion. Although the amazing person that Jenna is does not really shine through in the book, her story is inspiring. Through her own experiences, she tells us to not be afraid to listen to our hearts and follow our dreams. Jenna also shares delicious, family friendly recipes that make this book a keeper.

 



I got this book from Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. The sales clerk recommended it to me and said that the author actually used to work at Powell’s. This beautiful book is one that you cannot put down. Isabel, the quirky character whom you cannot help but love, just draws you into her sweet life. Memories of her bittersweet childhood pop up every now and then and intertwines with the present. Isabel is a single lady, lonely yet content, who finds joy in discovering vintage things that used to be someone’s greatest treasure. This book is whimsical, hippie, and incredibly charming… it gives readers a good glimpse of a woman’s heart and mind when she’s contemplating, feeling happy, or longing for someone desperately.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce

I love this week’s Food Matter’s Project, Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce, chosen by Aura of Dinner with Aura! Check out Aura’s website for the original Mark Bittman recipe. Also visit the FMP website to see what creative spins the other members came up with.  

 
Since yesterday was Veterans Day, today is a holiday… which means no work for me! However, even more than Veterans Day being a holiday, let us not forget the real purpose for this day. Thank you to all the veterans who served and are serving the country. We honor all of you!

DFJ is still away and while he was gone I have finished reading a book, worked out for three hours on Saturday, wrote a blog post, had a nice dinner at my friends’ house, caught up on emailing friends, did yoga for two hours straight yesterday, watched two movies in a row while folding three loads of clean laundry, and baked this tart (see picture below).

 
Even though I kept myself busy, I still whined and complained about being lonely and was not at all a pleasant girlfriend to talk to every time DFJ called. What in the world is wrong with me? Have I not learned to be a strong, independent woman over the past 29 years of my life? Ladies, if you have these weird tendencies that I have when your man is away, please try your best to keep it to yourself. It’s a big turn-off. Geez, I better get my act together or DFJ will decide never to come back home.

Enough about the whining though! Let’s talk about good stuff… like these fritters! I veered a little from the original recipe to use up the ingredients that I already have at home. Instead of corn and scallions, I used zucchini and onions.


These sweet potato and zucchini fritters are delicious and oh-so-pretty! Earthy, juicy, sweet, and savory. Not to mention crispy, crunchy, and oily… but way better for you than French fries! The fritters are just simply seasoned with salt and pepper and although they are good eaten alone, they certainly liven up when you pour a good amount of the sauce over them. The lime juice-fish sauce-soy sauce-garlic-ginger combination tampers the oiliness and adds so much flavor to the fritters! You must not forgo making the sauce, ok?

 
 
NOTE:
The fritters took some preparation and that included grating the sweet potatoes and the zucchini, which was a really good arm workout. The frying also took some time, so patience is necessary here. It is kind of tricky for these fritters to hold together well, so make sure you drain the liquid out of the grated sweet potatoes and zucchini. You can either press them against a strainer or do what I did. I simply covered the sweet potatoes and zucchini with a heavy duty paper towel and pressed it until the liquid soaked the towel. I only did it once, but maybe do it twice to make sure most of the liquid is gone.



After the initial grating and dicing, the rest of the process is pretty easy. Mix everything in a large bowl, heat up some oil, and fry away!


 

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce, The Food Matters Cookbook, Mark Bittman

Fritters
2 cups grated sweet potatoes, packed and drained of liquid (see note above)
1 cup grated zucchini, packed and drained of liquid (see note above)
1 bell pepper, diced (1 heaping cup)
1 cup onion, diced
3-4 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
salt and pepper
canola oil for frying
 
Dipping Sauce
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
pinch of chile flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
2 pinches of brown sugar (more or less to taste)
 

Fritters:
Place the sweet potato, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, and pinches of salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. (I added 6 pinches of salt and 2 generous grinds of the pepper.) Mix everything well with a fork.

Add the flour a tablespoon at a time and mix well. Pour in the beaten egg and mix some more until everything is well incorporated.

Cover the bottom of a large pan with oil, about 1/8 of an inch. Turn the heat on to medium high. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan. Before dropping a spoonful, make sure to pack it tight with your fingers to make the fritter hold together better. Make sure to space them out so they do not get too crowded. This will make it easier for you to flip them when they’re ready. Slightly flatten the fritters very gently with your spatula. Cook each side until it turns brown, about 4-5 minutes, turning only once.

Serve hot with the dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce:  
Pour in the lime juice, fish sauce, and soy sauce in a small bowl. Stir well. Throw in a pinch of chile flakes, then add the minced garlic and ginger. Add the brown sugar a pinch at a time until your desired taste is reached.    

 
P.S.
Cooking ain’t perfect! So, do not be discouraged if some of the fritters fall apart. Just carefully scoop them off the large pan and move to a smaller one.  Continue cooking them in another burner. They are just as good and instead of the crunch that the whole fritters give, the fallen-apart ones are chewier. I served them on top of rice, poured on some sauce, and voila… a simple and delicious meal!


 
Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sweet and Salty Brussels Sprouts

I probably wouldn’t have been a food blogger if not for DFJ. Food is something that I have always loved and taken hands-on interest over the past four years. Each time I made something, notes were meticulously taken on what ingredients were used, added, or substituted, how the food tasted, and ideas on how to make it better next time. The only thing missing then was sharing the recipes online for everyone.

After I met DFJ, my interest in cooking skyrocketed and since then, I have been cooking with fervor. Our first date was dinner at his house and the many other dates that followed after that was cooking together at his house or an occasional invite to my house for dinner. It feels so good to have someone to cook for… it is my way of saying, I care for you and love you oh so very darn much! After he gave me an iPad, I discovered food blogs and was inspired to start my own. It is one of the best things I have ever done… I love the feeling of excitement I get when something I make in my own kitchen turns out so good that it just has to be shared with the rest of the world.  

Right now, I am sitting at home in the semi-darkness before 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, sipping wine while blogging, standing up to do some forgotten chore when I feel like stretching, and just contemplating. DFJ is away on the other side of the country for a job interview and it feels so lonely here. I have already cleaned the kitchen, finished reading a book, worked out for 3 hours both at home and at the gym with my friend, Anna, napped twice, declined an invitation to a hockey game, but still I’m lonely. What else is the best thing to do to while away my time??? Uh, blogging! Thank you my food blog for keeping me company on this cold night!      

On the last day of the Farmers Market in town, I dragged DFJ out of the house. We scoured for different squashes, apples, potatoes, the last of good bell peppers, and scored this Brussels sprouts stalk.


I was inspired by Jenna Weber’s recipe for Caramelized Brussels Sprouts and decided to create something similar. Jenna’s blog, Eat, Live, Run, is one of the first blogs I stumbled upon a year ago and to this day, remains my favorite.

There’s nothing fancy schmancy about this recipe… but it is so delicious in a very down-to-earth kind of way. All you need are a few basic ingredients tossed together in a pan and voila, an awesome Brussels sprouts dish!



If you’re not a big fan of Brussels sprouts, you might change your mind after eating this. Really. It is garlicky, crunchy, and flavorfully sweet. Although I like the taste of Brussels sprouts, I can understand what it is about them that makes some people gag. The soy sauce and honey mix in this dish will do the trick, it accentuates the sprouts nicely and leaves you with a more subtle taste without completely masking its naturally bitter flavor.


The nicely toasted Brussels sprouts with salted candy coating makes for a lovely side dish!


Sweet and Salty Brussels Sprouts

1 tbsp honey
1 tsp soy sauce
 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, sliced
5 oz Brussels sprouts, sliced
1/8 tsp salt
pepper, freshly ground

In a small bowl, stir together the honey and soy sauce. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown. Add the shallot slices and sauté until nicely browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until glistening and slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir quickly. Pour in the honey and soy sauce mixture. Stir to make sure everything is well combined and let cook for 3-4 more minutes.

Serve right away.

 
This dish goes really well with meat and rice!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kabocha Squash Soup

For the past couple of weeks, clouds loomed overhead, making everything look so dark and dreary. I felt the need to make something warm and comforting. Thus came to mind the makings of this soup. It did the trick and lifted my spirits up. Thoughts of having it for leftovers made me look forward to coming home after a long day of work. This soup made me forget my worries (for the moment, at least). Comfort food at its best!

 
The cooking process takes a little over an hour. Please do not let it daunt you though, sometimes, a long cooking process is almost therapeutic.

You start with cutting the squash open and giving it an olive oil, salt, pepper, and sage rub. Then you roast it for about half an hour. On the upside, if you roast the squash before putting it into a soup, you won’t have to deal with all the pain that comes with removing the thick skin off. All you need to do is scoop out the now softened flesh and dump it into a pot with the chicken broth.

 
While the squash is roasting, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients and sauté them. You just set aside the sautéed veggies and throw it into the soup when cooking time is almost over.  

 
Kabocha squash has a rich texture and a natural sweetness which makes for a good, savory soup. Since I like to chew my food, I stir fried some vegetables to give this soup a delicious, chunky oomph. The addition of earthy Shiitake mushrooms and juicy bell peppers adds character to the soup and the fresh ginger lends a nice, spicy warmth and zing.

This rich and creamy squash soup is what you need for cold and rainy days. If food can feel like a warm hug, this is it.   

 

Kabocha Squash Soup (Makes 4 servings)

2.4 lbs. Kabocha squash (more or less)
olive oil
fresh sage leaves
salt
pepper, freshly ground
 
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
6-8 pieces shiitake mushrooms, torn into small pieces
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 inch nub of ginger, crushed and minced
 
2 ½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp allspice
fresh basil, to garnish

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Slice the squash in half or quarters and scoop out seeds and strings. Place the squash pieces in a roasting pan. Slather the flesh with olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter the sage leaves on top and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients.   

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes until it starts to soak up the oil. Toss in the ginger and let cook for about a minute until it is fragrant. Stir in the diced bell pepper and let cook until it glistens, about 2 minutes. Turn the burner off and remove the pan away from the heat. Set aside.

Allow the squash to cool down first before handling it. Burning your fingers is not worth it! In my case, I roasted it the day before and kept it in the refrigerator. Scoop the squash pulp into a medium size pot. Pour in the chicken broth and cover. Turn the heat on to medium and bring to a rolling boil. Once the broth is boiling, remove the cover and mash the squash with a potato masher, a fork, or a thick wooden spatula (what have you). The first mash will still leave you with some chunks, that’s ok.

Cover the pot partially and allow to boil for another 3-5 minutes. Mash some more until the squash resembles a puree. Turn the heat down to medium low and let cook, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes until the soup thickens. Stir in the sauteed vegetables, pour the heavy cream, and toss in the allspice. Let cook for 10 more minutes. Taste and see if you need salt and pepper, I didn’t need to add any.

Serve hot with a garnish of fresh basil. Best enjoyed with some good bread, or better yet, a radish with fleur de sel bruschetta.