fontas food

eating my way through suburbia

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bread and Spices: Bread Baking Day #4

Those who know me well know that baking is not my forte. I love baked goods (who doesn't?) but the precision required by baking sometimes escapes me. Imagine my glee when I finally got around to trying out Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread...baking that relies more on just slapping things together rather than weighing and measuring ingredients. Somebody pinch me!

Since first trying out the no-knead bread, I've tried a bunch of different variations on a theme. Different flours, different shapes, different baking pans. In the back of my head, I've been thinking about adding seasonings to the bread and also about making rolls. When I read about the current Bread Baking Day challenge, I knew the time had come.

(I do hope that "herbs" qualify as "spices". Hmmmm. I might just have to make some gingerbread as well, just to be sure.)

No-Knead Herb Rolls

3 cups all-purpose flour, just scooped and levelled
1 T. salt
1/2 tsp each dried thyme, oregano (Mediterranean, not Mexican!), and basil
3/8 tsp active dry yeast
1.5 cups potato water (water left over from boiling potatoes...if you don't have any kicking around or--more likely--you haven't made potatoes the night before trying this recipe, go ahead and use plain water)

olive oil

Day 1: early to mid-afternoon

Combine flour, salt, and herbs in a large bowl. Warm the potato water to around 80 degrees F and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let the yeast dissolve in the warm water and, when it's all kind of foamy, add the water to the flour mixture. Stir until the mixture forms a shaggy dough.

Coat the inside of a second bowl with a wee bit of olive oil and transfer the dough to the new bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place.

(By "warm", I mean 70 degrees or so. If you're like me and you don't keep your house that warm, put the oven light on and just set the bowl in the oven.)

Day 2: morning

Place a clean cotton dishtowel on a cookie sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Using a dough blade, cut the dough into four equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a mini-loaf and place on the cotton towel. Sprinkle with more cornmeal and then cover with a second clean dishtowel.

Set aside for two hours.

Thirty minutes before the two hours is up, place a covered cast iron baking dish in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. (Note: if you have used your oven as a rising place, make sure to take the dough out before you turn on the oven. Trust me on this one.)

When the oven has come up to temperature, take the pot out, de-lid it, and arrange the little loaves in it. Cover and put it in the oven for 25 minutes.

When the 25 minutes is up, remove the lid and continue to bake it for 20 minutes.

Then it's ready to come out of the oven and cool down a bit before becoming the perfect vehicle for any type of homemade soup. Mmmmm.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

(Corned Beef) Hash Marks: Part 2

Last night saw the second installation of our Corned Beef Hash Off. This time around, it was M's turn to man the spatula!

M's corned beef hash starts with uncooked vegetables, includes celery as an aromatic, and uses tinned corned beef. Whereas my entry in the hash off was based on hash's basis as a use of leftovers, M approached the dish as an "economical meal".

M ran into pan issues as well; using two different pans caused the hashes to cook differently. No matter, it looked great in the pan:

And even better on the plate:

As I expected, her expertise in corned beef hashery was evident in the finished dish. Lots of crispy bits and a good ratio of vegetables to meat.

The next hash off will be back at our house, with W at the stove!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Soft Foods, Day 1 (or, What to Eat After Dental Surgery)

The question of "what to eat after dental work" is one that we've all probably faced at some point in time. Sometimes that question is modified by the exact nature or location of the surgery. Luckily for me, yesterday's apicoectomy took place on one of my front teeth so, although I have no desire to eat anything that requires me to tear into it, I'm not really limited in my ability to chew. Even so, soft food seems appealing at the moment.

First up on anyone's list of soft foods has got to be eggs. Guess what I had for lunch?

Yep, scrambled eggs!

Sure, they seem ordinary but scrambled eggs can present one with a sublime eating experience. The trick to it is all in the cooking. Say good-bye to the days of tossing some beaten eggs into a hot pan and giving them a stir so they don't form an omelette. All that technique will get you is overcooked eggs.

The trick to good scrambled eggs is temperature selection; low and slow is the way to go.

So melt some butter over medium-LOW heat and then pour in your lightly beaten eggs. Stand there and stir them continuously while they set up. Oh, and if they look like they're done in the pan, they're overcooked. Take them off the heat when they look "not quite done" and they will be perfect on the plate.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Recipe : Roasted Winter Squash Soup

Butternut squash is the crowd favourite for making squash soup but, for my money, I'll take a red kuri squash soup any day. Red kuri squash is sweet and not at all fibrous, making it the perfect squash for anything requiring a puree.

And it's hard to beat that colour!

Roasted Winter Squash Soup

1 winter squash, seeded and quartered
1 T. olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
4 cups chicken broth
a sprinkle of nutmeg
a sprinkle of white pepper
1 cup whipping cream
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place squash chunks, cut side down, in a baking dish. Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the dish with about 1/4" of water. Roast squash for 45 minutes then remove from oven and let cool slightly. When it's cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh with a spoon and set aside.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sweat onions in oil until soft then add squash flesh and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let the soup simmer until the squash is very soft. Season with nutmeg and white pepper.

Puree the soup in batches, using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender). When the soup is completely smooth, return the soup to the stove and add the cream. Allow the soup to warm but don't let it boil.

Season to taste with salt.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

(Corned Beef) Hash Marks: Part 1

At several times during our friendship, M. and I have talked about the merits of corned beef hash. We both have ideas about what constitutes "good hash" obvious mustard seeds or other whole spices, the potato : meat ratio, and other crucial hash characteristics.

For a while now, we've been talking about having a "hash off", where we each prepare corned beef hash and compare the different preparations. At this point, I need to say that I have never made corned beef hash, although I do consider myself a devotee of it. As in any family, there is a division of labour here. I'm in charge of things like programming the sprinkler system, feeding the dogs, and household laundry. The Spouse is in charge of certain other things: household repairs, lawn care, and corned beef hash.

So, over the months of "yeah, we should do that" discussions, we decided that we would have a three-way "hash off". M, the Spouse, and I would each prepare our version of corned beef hash for a dinner. We would record tasting notes for each dinner and then, after all hash entries had been consumed, we will tot up the totals and crown one of us as "Hash Queen" or "Hash King".

After checking our schedules, we decided that tonight (Friday, October 19th) would be the first night of hash. I volunteered to go first, for several reasons.

* I know from other competitive venues that the first entry in a scored competition generally is scored "tougher". You tend to want to save your top score for something that's out of this world. Since I'd never made hash before, I figured it would be better for me to take a hit just because of my place in the line up, rather than one of the hash experts.

* M and the Spouse have to work all week and I don't. Since we'd decided to have our first competition on a Friday evening, it would be easier for me to prepare for the dinner than either of the other two.

* And, in case I was starting to sound too selfless, I'd taken a corned beef out of the freezer, thinking to make my own rye bread and then have Reubens for dinner. When we'd settled on Friday for the hash off, it just seemed sensible to use the corned beef I'd originally planned for Reubens for hash instead. (Yes, I am on close, intimate terms with my inner Scotsman.)

Hash Marks

In order to compare the different hashes even though they will be consumed at different times, M and I came up with tasting criteria. We each were presented with a "Hash Marks" form, on which we ranked six different characteristics of the hash: texture, crunchy bits, aromatics, potato:beef ration, saltiness, fat factor.

All diners completed a form (or at least made some sort of markings on the form), which was then sealed in an envelope, dated, and put aside. When each hash entry has been consumed, we will break open the envelopes and total up the scores.

As a newcomer to "slinging hash", I decided to approach the dish from its roots. What is hash, if not a dish of leftovers?

With that in mind, I pre-cooked everything and then combined them all in a pan for the final touches.

Corned Beef Hash

4 T. butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 tsp. thyme
4 cups cooked corned beef, shredded (I started with a 4-lb. uncooked corned brisket)
4 lbs. Sierra Gold potatoes, washed, quartered, and boiled until tender-firm
1/2 cup whipping cream

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sweat until soft.

Stir in thyme, then add potatoes and shredded beef. Sprinkle mixture with whipping cream.

Cook over medium-high heat, turning the mixture over every five minutes or so (or however long it takes to build up some crust).

Things I would do differently next time:

* I'd divide the ingredients into two different pans; there was just too much stuff in the pan to form really good crunchy bits

* I'd use way more onion; the onion I did use was lost beneath the flavour of the corned beef. It needed more "presence".

I have no idea when the next hash off will be but I do know that it will be at M's house. She's an expert at hash so I fully expect to be spanked. Fear not, dear reader, her entry in the hash off will be blogged here...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Recipe : Membrillo

Quinces are still available at the local farmers' markets and a great way to eat them is as membrillo.

Although I'd never tasted it before, pictures of this reddish jelly-like paste drew me in. It just looks so exotic and exciting! (Okay, maybe I don't get out enough.)

At any rate, the recipe for membrillo couldn't be any easier and, when its sweetness is combined with the saltiness of prosciutto and manchego, the results of that recipe couldn't be tastier.


1 kg quince

600 g sugar
1 T. balsamic vinegar

Peel, core, dice the quince, and place all the pieces in a medium-sized pot. Cover the fruit with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to simmer the quince until very soft, about 30 minutes.

Drain the quince and puree it in a blender or food processor (please remember to be careful when pureeing the hot fruit!).

Weigh the fruit puree and then return it to the pot. Add an equal weight of sugar and cook over low heat until a thick paste is formed, anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar. (The longer you cook it, the redder it gets. The batch I made was cooked for about an hour and is only reddish brown.)

Pour the paste into a greased mould (I used an 8 x 8 baking dish) and let it cure overnight.

Wrap in plastic wrap or foil and then store the membrillo in the fridge.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Recipe : Braised Pork Shank with Chiles

Recently, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes blogged about Chile Verde. In the past, I've attempted to recreate the "green chile" available at the El Rancho Hotel of Gallup, New Mexico. I think I succeeded in that attempt but I had never tried the thick, porky stew-like Mexican dish available here in California. I'd planned on using my Bledsoe pork shoulder for chile verde but then changed my mind (as I am wont to do). However, after buying a pork shank from Bob Sorensen of Coffee Pot Ranch at the Auburn Farmers' Market, I figured it was incumbent upon me to defrost some of my roasted Anaheim peppers, get off the stick, and make some chile verde!

What I ended up making is nothing like the Chile Verde of Simply Recipes but it was a filling, home-style version of this classic Mexican dish.

And it tasted damn good!

Chile Verde

Serves 2

1 T. olive oil
1 fresh pork shank
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. cumin seed
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
2 roasted and peeled Anaheim peppers*
250 mL white wine

* you can substitute tinned chiles if fresh are not available

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Brown the pork shank on all sides and then remove from the pan. Reduce heat slightly and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Saute until they are just beginning to soften, then add the cumin seed and oregano to the pot. Continue to cook until the herbs are fragrant, then add the bay leaf, peppers, and wine.

Return the meat to the pot, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until the pork is tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the pork shanks from the pot and cut the meat from the bone. Return the meat to the pot and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

Serve with rice, refried beans, and tortillas.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Local Food: Blue Goose Produce

The latest darling in the Sacramento localvore scenery is undoubtedly Granite Bay's Regionale. The upscale produce market in Quarry Pond's has a good selection of local and not so local produce but the prices are a little higher than one might hope for (okay, quite a bit higher...the same German butterball potatoes I'd just bought at Newcastle Produce for $1.50/lb were selling for $2.99/lb at Regionale!) and it is a long way from Fair Oaks.

However, if you're interested in local produce at lower prices and not quite so far away, let me recommend Loomis' Blue Goose Produce on Historic Route 40. Located in the old Loomis train station, Blue Goose Produce offers local fruits and vegetables, all natural pork from Sheridan's Coffee Pot Ranch, local grass-fed beef, and mandarin products from Westview Growers, a mandarin farm located in Newcastle.

While you're shopping, you can talk with the mandarin farmer or, if you're lucky like we were, taste some of her homemade mandarin cake . Or you can talk with one of the other ladies working the till...perhaps the one whose beef is in the freezer or the one whose persimmons are for sale.

Blue Goose Produce is a real gem in the local food scene and shopping there gives you a good chance to meet your food's producers.

Blue Goose Produce
3550 Taylor Road
Loomis CA

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Local Food : Bledsoe Pork

A trip to the downtown market this Sunday past allowed me the opportunity to buy some pork from John Bledsoe. I've been lucky enough to have his pork once before a couple of years ago but, as he sells at either the Davis market or the downtown Sacramento market, it's not a product that's made it into my regular rotation.

More's the pity!

The Davis Wiki puts Bledsoe Pork in Woodland but a more in-depth article from Edible Sacramento puts the Bledsoes in Woodland and the pork elsewhere (another article places his Durocs in Dunnigan).

Initially, I'd wanted a pork loin roast but, after seeing the size of it (it was the whole loin!), I opted for a pork shoulder instead. The roast I purchased was a shade over 3 pounds and had some skin attached. (How do you spell crackling? Crackling? Cracklin'? Cracklin?)

As I walked away from his stall, John Bledsoe called out "225 for 5 hours".

Those who know me, know that I can't leave well enough alone and so, rather than following the simple instructions, I went out on my own.

The skin was scored and then rubbed with a 1:1 mixture of freshly ground pepper and freshly ground sea salt. The roast was placed on a rack within a roasting pan and allowed to rest while the oven heated up to a balmy 425.

The roast was put in the oven and, after 30 minutes, the temperature was reduced to 250. And there it sat for 4 hours (or until the internal temperature reached 170).

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Recipe: Quince and Apple Crisp

It can be hard to get into the Thanksgiving mood when all your friends and neighbours are still a month and a half away from thinking about it. So, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving every year but, this year, I felt like it.

A dinner of roast chicken, sausage stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and caramelised onion mashed potatoes was followed by a quince and apple crisp.

The Rome apples are from Patrick's Garden, a local organic farmer who sells at the Sunrise farmer's market. I also picked up two quinces at the market to include in the dessert.

Quince and Apple Crisp

3 cups water
1.5 cups sugar
2 quinces, cored, peeled, and cut into eighths
3 apples, cored, peeled, and cut into quarters (I used Rome apples)

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat water and sugar over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to heat until the syrup sends up little bubbles; you don't want to boil it but it needs to be hot enough to poach the quince.

Add the quince sections to the syrup and reduce the heat to a good simmer. Cook for 15 minutes until the quince are soft. Remove fruit from the syrup and set aside. Reserve the syrup for another use (may I recommend using it to sweeten your tea?).

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and oatmeal in a medium bowl. Cut in butter.

Butter a 1.5 liter baking dish. Combine the quince and apple and put both into the buttered dish. Top with oatmeal mixture and bake for 55 minutes.

Serve with cream or ice cream.

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Recipe: Borscht

October 6, 2007

A few weeks ago, the eGullet Foodblog followed the week of Pille, a young Estonian woman. One of her dishes that week was borscht; the picture alone stayed with me for weeks. (See Pille's pictures and recipe on her blog, Nami-nami.)

When I saw piles of beets at the farmer's market this morning, I knew that borscht was in my future.

Unfortunately, that thought went straight out my head when I was looking at the fresh dill, wondering whether or not to buy any. I didn't and then cursed myself when I was cooking the borscht. After checking my Gundel's cookbook to see if Hungarians made borscht and, if they did, which seasonings they used, I decided to season my pot with caraway seed rather than dried dill.

(I have no idea whether or not Hungarians make borscht or not. I do know that there is not a recipe for it in the Gundel's cookbook. There is, however, a very interesting-looking recipe for a caraway-seasoned broth served with poached eggs. That will be in my future too!)

Serves 4 as a main course.


1 T. olive oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. caraway seed
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 medium beets, peeled and cut into matchsticks
5 cups vegetable broth (I made mine with Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes)
1 cup Brussels sprouts, cut into chiffonade
1 cup beet greens, shredded

salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche and chopped fresh chives for garnish

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Add the onions and cook until soft. Stir in the caraway seeds and continue to cook until they are fragrant. Add carrots and beets to pot and then all of the broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat.

Cook for about 20 minutes or until root vegetables are just tender; add the Brussels sprouts and beet greens. Continue to cook until all vegetables are soft.

Season with salt and pepper. Garnish each bowl with a spoonful of creme fraiche and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Sept. 25, 2007

The taste of fall is undoubtedly the taste of roasted Roma tomatoes.

roasted tomatoes

These were stirred into some penne, along with fresh basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The tomatoes were roasted using a method (sort of) described by Russ Parsons in the LA Times.

In his article (which might require registration but it's free and they don't spam you), Russ writes:

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and jam them into a baking dish. Scatter whole garlic bulbs over the top, season generously with salt and pepper and then pour in what may seem like way too much olive oil. Then you just let them bake ... and bake ... and bake.

I did all of that, realising too late into the project that he didn't say at what temperature. Hot oven? slow oven? Given the time I started this project (3:00), I opted to go with a hot oven. After a half hour or so, the sound of bubbling olive oil convinced me to reduce the temperature from 400 to 350.

Whatever. It worked and the tomatoes do taste like sun-dried but without the leathery texture. Perfect for pasta!

Recipe: No Knead Bread

Sept. 24, 2007

No cruel hoaxes here! This is, without a doubt, the easiest bread in the world to make and yet the end product tastes like centuries of baking history went into it...

Here is a picture of my second loaf (even better than the first). It's day-old at this point but everyone should see the crumb:


The crust is crisp yet chewy and it shatters when you first bite into it. As the bread cools when it's first out of the oven, you can hear the crust crackling. < !!!> My only complaint is a tough-to-slice bottom crust.

At any rate, on to the how-to's...

The NY Times article:

(make sure you watch the fact, you can watch the video without reading the article!)

The recipe:

(except only use 1.5 cups of water and use extra salt...if you watch the video, you will notice the discrepancy between what Bittman's recipe says and what Jim Lahey does)

Other things that are crucial knowledge..."instant yeast" is also called "bread machine yeast". I don't have any of that but I did have fresh compressed yeast, so I figured out an equivalent and dissolved the yeast in the water. Apparently, active dry yeast will work as well too, using 1/3 tsp. proofed ahead of time.

And just in case anyone doesn't have a NY Times login, here is the recipe I've been using:

* 3 cups of flour (just scooped out of the bin, not spooned into the cup and then levelled...apparently, this can make a difference of a substantial number of grams in the amount of flour used)
* 2-3 tsp. salt (okay, I confess, I didn't measure this. I just poured what looked like a good bit into the palm of my hand and then added it)
* 1/4 of a 17g cube of fresh compressed yeast (or, if you prefer, 1/4 tsp. of instant yeast or 1/3 tsp. active dry yeast, proofed in some of the water)
* 1.5 cups water (for my first loaf, I used 1/2 cup of milk in which the yeast was dissolved for some of the water and for my second loaf, I used 1.5 cups of potato water)

Mix all the dry ingredients up until well combined. Add the water and stir until everything is wet. The article says you'll have a "shaggy" dough and that's exactly what you end up with.

Cover the bowl with SaranWrap (or some other brand) and leave it somewhere where it will be 70 degrees for 12-18 hours.

When the time is up, dump the dough out onto a floured surface and form it into a boule by folding in the edges. Put the dough, seam-side down, on a clean cotton cloth that has been covered by cornmeal (or wheat bran or something). Sprinkle the top with more cornmeal and then cover with the cloth.

(Watching the video for that part makes it all much easier.)

Let it rest for 2 hours.

Thirty minutes before that 2 hours is up, put a heavy, lidded pot into the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I've been using my enamelled cast iron braising pan (a very pretty red one, I might add) but I have heard of people using Pyrex and/or corningware. When the oven comes to temperature, take the pot out, de-lid it, and flip the dough into the pot. Cover and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes is up, remove the lid and continue to bake it for 15-30 minutes. then it's done.

My first loaf was cooked hatless for 15 minutes and was slightly underdone. The second loaf was cooked for 20 minutes and was perfect.

A note about timing, since I'm at home, I've been able to bake in the morning. That means I mix the dough in mid-afternoon and do the turning out at around 8 in the morning.

And that's it! Bittman doesn't really go into the science of why it works, just that "time does the work for you".

September 19, 2006

Well, a lower back injury has sidelined my cooking since shortly after the fettucine meal but yesterday I finally felt good enough to actually think about what to make for dinner. Circumstance postponed the meal until tonight and here it is:

Spicy Black Beans

Spicy Black Beans served with Scrambled Eggs, Chorizo, and Salsa

Why "under pressure"?

Because I used my pressure cooker to make the beans. It took all of TWELVE minutes! How cool is that?

So here's the recipe...

1/2 lb. black beans
1 T. bacon fat
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp. Mexican oregano
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 cups chicken broth

Pick over beans, removing any shrivelled or damaged ones. Place remainder in a large pot, cover with three inches of water, and let soak for at least 4 hours. The beans can soak overnight if needed.

After soaking, drain and rinse the beans. Set aside.

Melt bacon fat in pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in jalapeno and garlic cloves; cook for another minute or so. Add oregano and pepper, stir, and then add chicken broth.

Close pressure cooker and heat until it comes up to pressure. Regulate heat to maintain pressure. Cook for 12 minutes.

Remove from heat and let the pot cool. DO NOT OPEN IT!

Once the pressure has been released (check by flicking the release valve), remove the lid. Check the beans for doneness. If still too firm, cook uncovered over medium-high heat.

To serve, top with scrambled eggs, cooked chorizo, salsa, avocado slices, and plain yogurt (or crema, if you have some).

Total pointage (including avocado and chorizo and all the fattening stuff): 13 points

June 16, 2006

I was home alone today and so was able to cook one of my favourite foods: Fanny Bay oysters. (And what luck to have found them one day before the fishery was closed for red tide!)

Since I don't have an oyster knife and it's been at least a million years since I've shucked an oyster, I just put them on the barbecue. Once they were cooked (three of them didn't open), I scooped them out of their shells and put them on a bed of sauteed spinach.

To go with, I also grilled some prawns, which were served on top of an avocado and tomatillo salad, and tossed up a beet salad. I tried roasting the beets (on the barbecue, since the oven is on the fritz but who cares because it's a 100 degrees outside!) and didn't cook them long enough. What a shame because I swear they were the sweetest beets I'd ever eaten (yeah, I picked through looking for the softest pieces).

So, the point damage...

Oysters: 1 point
Spinach: 1 point (from the olive oil in which it was sauteed)
Prawns: 1 point
Avocado & tomatillo salad: 4 points
Beet salad: if I'd been able to eat it all, it would have been 1 point

And the photos...

The plate:

Seafood Plate

The oysters:


And the glamour shot:

Fanny Bay oyster...perfection!

Recipe: Chicken Scallopine with Vanilla and Garlic Veloute

May 3, 2006

When I read about "The Spice is Right II" challenge on Tigers & Strawberries, my mind started to whirl. My first thought was to try something with mace but, with temperatures nearing the 90s this week, I just couldn't get into the idea.

And so my entry is vanilla.

Vanilla is, without a doubt, my favourite spice. Just a whiff of it brings back memories of the kitchen of my youth and watching my mum bake. She never used a measuring spoon for vanilla extract, opting instead to simply fill the cap of the bottle. In my culture (Canadian), it is most definitely a sweet ingredient.

The challenge then was to use vanilla in a savoury recipe. And so I offer Chicken Scallopine with Vanilla and Garlic Veloute...

Vanilla Chicken


1.5 cups chicken stock
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1.5 T. butter
2 T. flour
freshly ground pepper
salt to taste


4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
flour for dredging
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

1. Bring stock to boil in a small pot. Add vanilla bean scrapings, the pod, and the garlic. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for 30 minutes.

2. When the stock has finished steeping, strain the liquid to remove the large solids.

3. Make a roux with the butter and flour. Slowly add the hot stock, stirring until thickened.

4. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm while the chicken is prepared.

5. Pound chicken breasts out to 1/4" thick. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.

6. Heat oil in a large pan until shimmering. Quickly dredge the chicken in the flour and fry until nicely browned on one side. Turn and do the same for the other side.

Makes 2 servings.

The vanilla truly added a subtle roundness to the veloute. Fabulous!

(and lest anyone think I willy-nilly threw all Weight Watchers concerns to the wind, each serving has 9 points if you eat half of the sauce on one plate ... which of course I did!)

May 2, 2006

After a weekend of over-indulgence, I'm back on the smorrebrod bandwagon. Yesterday, it was smorrebrod made with thinly-sliced Jewish rye bread (from the October Feast Bakery's ovens), spinach (Watanabe Farms, a certified organic farm in West Sacramento), fresh dill, and deli roast beef all topped with a poached egg.


Today's smorrebrod was an experiment for me. I'd cooked a pork shoulder on Sunday night and had some leftovers to use up. While the pork was cooking on Sunday, I also stewed some rhubarb. When I was tasting the rhubarb for sweetness, I thought "Hey, this might go well with that pork. It'd certainly be better than serving apple sauce with it!"

Not wanting to freak the family out, I just filed that little thought away in the recesses of my brain. Before lunch today, that little thought popped its little head up and reminded me of the possibility. And so, today's lunch was more thinly-sliced Jewish rye, about a cup of mixed cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, and leftover pork shoulder (lightly warmed in the micro-nuker) all topped with stewed rhubarb (rhubarb compote, in fancy foodie talk):


After eating that, I wish I'd opted to "freak the family out" on Sunday night. It is a flavour match made in heaven!

April 3, 2006

Asian-style chicken cups

I first made these "chicken cups" in March of 2005 but thought I'd try them with an Asian twist to them. They turned out to be pretty darn good!

On the outside?

Napa cabbage

Inside is chicken and water chestnuts, seasoned with ginger, white pepper, and sesame oil:

Inside the chicken cups

4 points (1 point more than last year because of inflation...just kidding! the extra point is for the sesame oil)

April 3, 2006

Another smorrebrod variation...

Smorrebrod: Day 3

1 slice Euro-style “health” bread
1 tsp butter
1 cup baby spinach leaves
2 oz. rare roast beef, thinly sliced
4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp. extra-hot horseradish

Total points: 6

April 2, 2006

Tonight was stovepipe pie again, although this time I made it with chicken and leeks instead of beef and mushrooms.

Chicken Stovepipe Pie

March 31, 2006

Today's smorrebrod:


1 slice Euro-style “health” bread
1 tsp butter
1 cup microgreens
1 slice Virginia ham (a thin slice is all you need!)
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
1 T. minced red onion
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard

Total points: 7

March 30, 2006

Inspired by an article in the April 2006 issue of Saveur, I made smorrebrod for my lunch today:


1 slice Euro-style "health" bread
2 tsp butter
1 cup microgreens
2 oz. smoked salmon
2 T. minced red onion
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 T. smoked mustard
1 T. capers

Total points: 7

March 27, 2006

Stuffed Portabello

I cut the stem out of a portabello mushroom, chopped it and then sauteed it lightly with a diced tomato. After seasoning with some garlic, salt, and pepper, I put it back in the mushroom cap and topped it with 1 oz. of grated gouda cheese (Pleasant Valley Gouda, purchased at Edaleen's Dairy in Lynden WA on the way home from BC last week). I baked it for 15 minutes at 350 and then ran it under the broiler for a few.

4 points (almost all from the cheese), 1 dairy serving, and 2 veggie servings.

March 9, 2006

And so was my chicken tonight!

Dinner was a chicken breast, pounded out to about 1/4" thickness. The chicken was covered with a very thin layer of prosciutto (15g of prosciutto so very thin indeed!), the same amount of gorgonzola cheese, and four asparagus spears. Then I rolled them up, wrapped them tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerated them for an hour.

Before they went into the oven (preheated to 350), I unwrapped them (duh!), rolled them in a lightly-beaten egg, and then in fine dry breadcrumbs. They baked for 45 minutes and this was the result.

Stuffed Chicken Roll

I calculated it as 4 points...the 1/2 ounce of this and the 1/2 ounce of that really added to the flavour without adding to the points.

February 23, 2006

In case you're wondering where you might purchase your own chevon roast for this recipe, I highly recommend Copeland Family Farms.

Braised Chevon

2 large leeks, white part only, sliced lengthwise
3 carrots, chopped into 2" lengths
1 T. olive oil

1/2 cup raisins
1 cup boiling water

2-3 lbs. chevon shoulder roast
1 T. olive oil
3 T. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
3-4 cups beef broth
1 T. lemon zest

1 T. butter
1 T. flour
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.

Toss the leeks and carrots with 1 T. olive oil until lightly coated. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 45-50 minutes.

When vegetables are finished, reduce oven temperature to 350. Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.

Cut roast into large chunks (my roast ended up in 4 pieces) and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in ovenproof pan over high heat. Add chevon to pan and cook until nicely browned. Remove from pan and reserve.

Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup of beef broth. Add roasted vegetables, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Return meat to pan and add 2-3/4 cups of beef broth. Stir in lemon zest. Drain raisins and add them to the pot. Cover and put in oven for 1-1/2 hours, checking on it every 30 minutes or so. Add more beef broth if required.

When the 90 minutes is up, remove the meat from the pan and keep warm. Strain the braising liquid, discarding all the vegetables and raisins. Defat the liquid and return it to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Combine flour and butter in a small bowl. Whisk into braising liquid until the butter has melted completely. Cook until thickened slightly. Stir in lemon juice.

Serve meat with sauce.

I reckoned that my 2+ # (uncooked weight) roast made 4 servings. A very conservative estimate of points (including the raisins) puts it at 9 points per serving.

February 2, 2006

I used this recipe (click) to make an Armenian lentil and spinach soup for lunch today. The only modification to the recipe was the substitution of sweet paprika for the hot and the addition of a sprinkle or so of cayenne (can you tell I have no hot paprika?).

This serving of 2 cups worked out to 1.5 points and also took care of two veggie servings:

Armenian Lentil and Spinach Soup

November 1, 2005

Earlier this week, I pondered making a shepherd's pie sort concoction in a springform pan. Then I thought, "Oooooo. Wouldn't it be cool if it were in individual ring molds?" And then I doubted my ability to make it all stick together and filed the idea in the back of my brain.

Two days later, the latest issue of Saveur arrived and, lo and behold!, there was my idea on page 59! Theirs was made with pork confit and was decidedly French but it showed me that my idea wasn't completely out to lunch.

Yesterday, I devised my plan. I would make the beef as in the draadjesvlees below but with a change in the seasonings. The cloves in the dish created a new flavour for us; I quite liked it but it didn't agree with Wayde.

And so I thought, "What are the seasonings I associate most with shepherd's pie and meat pies?"

Mushrooms, onion, and pepper, of course!

So, the method for cooking the beef as exactly as the Dutch do it but using the more English seasonings of 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns, and one onion, quartered.

Once the beef was done, it was browned in a hot oven for a few minutes then allowed to cool. Once cool, it was shredded and set aside.

The shredded beef would be moistened with gravy made from the braising liquid and topped with sauteed mushrooms. The mushrooms in turn had been "thickened" by sprinkling them with a tablespoon of flour and then adding just a wee bit of the braising liquid.

Gravy was made by completely removing all the fat from the braising liquid and then thickening it with a flour and water slurry. This had to cook for a fair while (30 minutes?) to get rid of the flour taste. It was also fairly pale and there were no pan drippings to give it colour.

Burgess Gravy Browning to the rescue! (I've since learned that gravy browning is not readily available in the US so I guess it's a good thing I had a bottle stashed in the cupboard!)

The mushrooms would be packed on top of the beef and then topped with mashed potatoes.

But what to cook it in? I didn't have ring molds or even small springform pans. No problem...we'll just go to the store and get some!

Ha! Two stores later, we decided to head to the big-box home improvement store and buy a length of stovepipe. Once back home, it was cut into 3.5" lengths.

Do-it-yourself ring molds!

The assembled pies were baked for around 45 mintues in a medium oven. And the results?

See for yourself...

Stovepipe Pie

Even came in at 11 points.

June 29, 2005

Broth with farina dumplings makes a lovely light meal (which is especially nice after you've pigged out on a buffalo burger for lunch!):

Broth with farina dumplings

2 cubes Knorr vegetable bouillion
6 cups water
1 egg
1 T butter
80 g Fritsch Nockerl Grieß

1. Prepare dumplings as directed on the farina package by combining the egg and the butter until well mixed. Stir in farina until completely moistened. Set aside and let rest for 3-5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil and, when boiling, add bouillion cubes. Stir until cubes are completely dissolved.

3. Using two teaspoons, form farina mixture into dumplings (much like one would form quenelles). Drop dumplings into boiling broth and cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for another 5-10 minutes. Serve.

June 15, 2005

It's become a personal challenge of mine to cook chicken on the grill every day this week and NOT get bored with it.

So, for day four, I decided to take part in eGullet's Burger & Meatloaf Cook-off. Since it's too hot to turn the oven on, I cooked the meatloaf on the grill and, since I had my own personal challenge to eat "grilled chicken", I made the meatloaf out of chicken!

Meatloaf, cooked on the grill

The meatloaf ingredients are:

1/2 cup finely minced onion
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, minced
4 small boneless, skinless chicken thighs, minced
1 egg
1.5 tsp. chipotle chile sauce
1/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

This makes 3 servings at 5 points per serving.

It was accompanied by salsa, a zucchini gratin (also cooked on the grill), refried beans, and tortillas.

June 14, 2005

This time, it was part of a soup...Asian noodle soup:

Asian noodle soup

This is based on a recipe from Bon Appetit. The base recipe is here:

Roast Chicken Noodle Soup with Chrysanthemum

The changes I made (besides cutting the recipe in half) were:

* no star anise (I couldn't find any at my store and it's not a spice I stock)
* substituted mizune for chrysanthemum leaves
* substituted pounded and grilled chicken breasts for the roast chicken
* no sliced onion (I forgot! What can I say?)
* substituted Chinese wheat noodles for Chinese egg noodles (on a whim)
* added chopped green onions and chopped cilantro as a garnish

7 points

April 25, 2005

My attempt at a "points-friendly" terrine was successful. Yippee!

And now that I know it was successful, I can post all about it.

The main ingredients (I did take a picture of all the ingredients but it didn't turn out):


The full list of ingredients (all weighed so that I can figure out the nutritional information before I eat it) is:

50 g Westfalian ham
285 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
435 g pork tenderloin
100 g Swiss chard
30 g shiitake mushrooms
112 g onion
50 g green garlic
fresh sage
fresh parsley
white pepper

I ran the chicken through the food processor and then mixed in the sage and some salt. For the pork, I ran about 2/3 of it through the food processor, coarsely chopped the rest, and mixed in the parsley and some salt.

The onions and mushrooms were also chopped up in the food processor and then cooked in some olive oil until "dry". I add a splash of sherry and cooked them some more then seasoned with salt and pepper.


First the ham:


As you can see, it just covers the bottom of the pan. The rest of the pan is lined with the Swiss chard (which had been lightly steamed to soften it and then refreshed in ice water):


The chicken mixture went in first and then I added the green garlic, kind of pushing it into the meat a wee bit:

Green garlic

The mushroom mixture was spread on top of that and then the pork mixture was added:


And here it is, ready to go in its water bath:


It went into a bain marie for 1.5 hours then came out and sat under a foil-wrapped brick until it was cool (about 3 hours). Then it was wrapped tightly and put in the fridge.

I didn't get around to eating it for two days but finally had it for lunch today:


That serving (two 1/4" slices) was 3 points.

March 12, 2004

Can you believe this is only 6 points?


Makes 10 servings

4 cups low-fat plain yogurt (yogurt must not contain gelatin)
5 4" puff pastry squares, cut in half diagonally
1 egg white
1 tsp water
2 T turbinado sugar
2 T granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup Trader Joe's cinnamon almonds, roughly chopped
2 T. honey

The night before

1. Put the yogurt in a yogurt cheese strainer or in a colander lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The afternoon of

2. Preheat oven to 400F.

3. Mix egg white with water; brush on pastry triangles. Sprinkle each triangle with the turbinado sugar.

4. Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

5. Scrape the vanilla bean into the yogurt cheese. Add sugar and mix well. Return to the refrigerator.

Right before serving

6. Place one pastry triangle on each plate. Top with 1/10th of yogurt cheese mixture (about 1/4 cup). Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Drizzle with honey.

December 4, 2004

I was inspired by today's trip to the the farmer's market. The feature in tonight's meal was a bunch of "fresh onions"...onions pulled before they form the bulbous "root" (or whatever an onion is, botanically speaking).

Our furnace happened to crap out this morning and, since my inner Scotsman's sense of frugality extends to OPs (other people's money), I decided NOT to call the repairman until after the weekend (when the "emergency service" rates would not apply). So, anything that involved the oven was a big bonus.

The menu was braised beef shanks, onion and Serrano ham tart, and pan-browned Brussel sprouts. The wine was a Central Valley Pinot Noir (Steel Creek...very thin, don't bother with it) and the music was provided by Ray Charles.

A fab evening...

Braised Beef Shanks

Braised Beef Shanks

Onion Tart

Fresh Onion and Serrano Ham Tart

Braised Beef Shanks, Onion Tart, and Pan-browned Brussel Sprouts

Braised Beef Shanks, Onion Tart, and Pan-browned Brussel Sprouts

The entire meal was 10 points...

October 26, 2004

Green chile!

Not just any green chile but green chile that will remind me of the green chile I recently had at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico. We'd stopped there on our way out to Texas as my research had turned up two interesting places to eat in Gallup: the El Rancho and Panz Allegra.

By the time we got to Gallup, it was later than we'd hoped for and the El Rancho made an easy landmark. In other words, we found it first.

Like the rooms in the hotel, the items on the menu are all named after famous movie stars who spent time at the El Rancho during its heyday. There, on the lunch menu, was the Anthony Quinn...a bowl of chile, your choice of red or green.

I asked for a bowl of the green and was asked in return if I wanted beans with it or not. My first impulse was to say "no" but, I must have looked hesitant, as our waitress asked if I'd like to try a small taste of it before I committed to ordering it. As she said, "It's not like chili con carne and you might as well try it out first."

I agreed and soon enough she came back with a small bowl of green chile.

It was fabulous. Unbelievably good. (Apparently, I'm not the only one in the world who thinks it's incredible.) I definitely had to have some more of it and I wanted it with beans.

The dish came in a deep soup bowl...a mound of perfectly cooked pinto beans covered with the green chile and served with two warm tortillas. Heaven!

The waitress had said that it contained hamburger where I'd been expecting ground pork. To me, this means that I can use whatever meat I want in my attempts and so, since I have chicken breasts in the freezer, I will be making mine with chicken.

I bought some Anaheim peppers at the market on the weekend and I will be roasting them on the Weber. My plan is to eat this for lunch tomorrow (doesn't chile always taste better the second day?).

And so my quest begins...

The peppers, waiting to be roasted:


And all the ingredients, ready to go:

Chile ingredients

For those who desire recipe format, here it is:

2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder (see Note 1)
1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and crushed (see Note 2)
8 Anaheim peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 chicken breast, minced (see Note 3)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1. I just added this for colour and a little oomph. I usually buy California chili powder and New Mexico chili powder from the Hispanic foods aisle and then blend them at home.
2. Feel free to substitute ground cumin for this. I happen to be out of it at the moment so I toasted 1 tsp of seeds in a frying pan and then crushed them with the back of a spoon.
3. Again, this is a case of using what's on hand. Feel free to substitute 6 oz. of ground chicken if you like.

1. Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and reduce heat to medium-low. Sweat the onion mixture until the onions are translucent and soft but not brown.

2. Stir in the spices. Then add the peppers. Stir until well mixed. Add the chicken and stir.

3. Add chicken broth and bring mixture to a good simmer.

4. Reduce heat, cover, and let cook for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

And here it is, simmering:

Chile, simmering