Monday, May 25, 2015

Pausing for Cheesecake

Cheesecake got me back in the kitchen. Sadly, I haven’t spent much time there lately other than to dash in for quick meals before rushing to the next task. But with Shavuot arriving, I had to take some time out to bake cheesecake. After all, it’s cheesecake!

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that marks the day Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Festive dairy dishes are traditionally served, which may be due to Shavuot falling in spring when sheep, goats and cows are producing an abundance of milk. Luscious treats such as cheese blintzes and cheesecake are happily eaten to celebrate. Our community in Seattle even hosts a cheesecake bake-off each year. I’d love to do that here in the Methow Valley some year!

I just got some new little spring form pans in at the store – so cute! – which inspired me to try making baby cheesecakes using a terrific recipe for New York style cheesecake that I’ve tweaked and baked countless times over the years. I prefer its classic, simple flavor, adorned only with a few berries.  Let me tell you, this one is dense and rich and creamy.

While the crust is usually made with graham crackers, any cookie crumbs can be used. Shortbread, ginger snaps or vanilla wafers made wonderful crusts, too. For these mini cheesecakes, I decided on chocolate wafers.

When making cheesecake, you really need to plan ahead. It’s important that all the ingredients are room temperature so that they blend together easily. Once baked, cheesecake must chill for at least six hours or preferably overnight. It’s a marvelous dessert to make ahead, especially since it will keep for a few days in the fridge. Something else I learned more recently is that you get the smoothest texture possible when the filling is whizzed in a food processor rather than using a mixer. I definitely recommend this method.

Being back in the kitchen baking was quite restorative and a welcome respite. Those tasks I mentioned earlier? More transition. We have decided it’s time to move our life here completely, which means packing up 20 years in Seattle and moving it to a house here in the valley. This house is over 100 years old and we are painting, pulling carpet, hanging drywall, ripping out cabinets and getting to know it inch by inch, making it our home. It’s by the river and the soothing sound of water rushing by is already familiar.

And there’s yet one more very big transition … Isaac graduates from high school next week! Which means 20 years of full time parenting is winding down. There are no words for all the emotions I’m feeling. I’m a proud mama with much to celebrate.

So I guess that’s all the big news. And I didn’t even mention them until the end of this post. I guess I’m still coming to terms. It’s been a whirlwind, many weeks counting down towards Isaac’s graduation, the end of an era, a new beginning, a new house. But I’m happy.

Cheesecakes with Chocolate Crust
Makes 6 – 4 ½ inch spring form pans or 1 – 9 inch spring form

1 ½ cups finely ground chocolate wafer crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Juice of ¼ lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the spring form pans on a rimmed baking sheet. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the chocolate wafer crumbs and butter until well mixed. Divide the crust mixture evenly between the pans and gently smooth onto the bottoms. Set aside.

Place the cream cheese, sugar, flour, lemon juice and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it begins to come together (the bowl will be very full). Add 3 eggs and pulse a few times. Add the remaining 2 eggs and egg yolks and pulse. Scrape the sides and bottom carefully with a spatula. At this point, turn the food processor on and blend until the batter is very smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the 6 pans and smooth the tops. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until just set. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cheesecakes cool.

Once cool, cover each one and pop into the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours. They will keep for up to one week. Serve with fresh berries.

If baking in a 9 inch spring form, increase the baking time to 1 hour.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Winter Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

And just like that, it is February. Winter is slipping by and when I’m not in the store I’m enjoying every snowy moment I can outside. I do think it may be my favorite season in the Methow Valley. But then I’ve said the same about spring, summer and fall.

With the snow and skiing comes some richly satisfying meals of long simmered stews and roasts. At the same time, I do start craving fresh, lighter flavors around about now, which fortunately coincides nicely with the abundance of citrus that pops up in the markets.

We are kicking off a new year in our Tasting Jerusalem group and cooking with cumin (Beth shares some terrific background on the history of cumin here). I tend to use cumin with meat, but with all the Cara Cara and blood oranges, limes and Meyer lemons piling up on my kitchen counter I couldn’t help but wonder how cumin pairs with citrus. I was optimistic as cumin is so versatile.

Not much to it here: I started mixing up a simple vinaigrette and, rather than my usual lemon, I squeezed a lime. I added a generous scoop of cumin along with olive oil and salt and gave the jar a good shake.

I then set about combining all the flavors and textures I am craving: crunchy romaine, soft avocado, sharp red onion, sweet oranges and puckery Meyer lemons. A drizzle of the cumin vinaigrette and voila! We started eating our wintery salad.

My optimism paid off. Cumin’s distinctive, warm, earthy flavor really came through and balanced the bright, citrusy flavors of the salad beautifully. It was a deeply satisfying salad that seemed to bridge the gap between the snowy winter outside and the piles of citrus inside. What a special time of year.

Winter Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

These are the ingredients I used to create a salad with some punchy flavors and textures – feel free to use any citrus or other produce that is in season. I think some pomegranate arils would be delicious, too.

Romaine or other crunchy lettuce, roughly chopped
Baby greens such as spinach or kale
Red onion, finely chopped
Avocado, diced
Meyer lemon, finely chopped (including peel)
Cara Cara oranges, peeled and thinly sliced
Blood oranges, peeled and thinly sliced
Cumin Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Assemble your greens and remaining ingredients on a platter or individual plates. Drizzle with cumin vinaigrette and serve.

Cumin Vinaigrette
Makes ½ cup

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (roughly 2 large limes)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a cover and shake until well mixed. The dressing can be kept in the refrigerator for a week.

This recipe has been shared on the 28 Days of Salad Project which you can check out here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mushroom and Cherry Beef Stew

With the arrival of a new year, I have been reflecting a lot. I am coming up on the first anniversary of owning the store, soon it will be two years since we moved to the Valley and 2015 has always hovered in the distant future as the year my youngest, Isaac, graduates from high school. And now it’s 2015. Whew! These past couple of years have been a journey and we are still in the midst of it. I’m excited to see what discoveries this year will bring.

For now, though, I want to share a winter stew with you. This is one I’ve been making for years and I can’t believe I haven’t shared it yet. While it’s fun to try new recipes, having a repertoire of tried and true staples is important. It’s comforting to create a familiar dish, to slip into the quiet rhythm of cooking and relax. This gives me time to ponder the recurring theme of “how did I get to this stage of parenting so quickly?” while I cube beef and slice onions.

This beef stew is a little different than more traditional stews with potatoes and carrots. Chunks of beef are simmered in red wine and beef broth along with earthy mushrooms, tart dried cherries, cinnamon and allspice. As the stew cooks, the cozy scent of warm, fragrant spices fills the kitchen.

Recently I learned about making beef bone broth and what a revelation! Instead of cooking the bones for an hour or two as I had done in the past, the bones are first roasted and then simmered for twelve to eighteen hours, yielding the richest, most nutrient-dense broth possible. After chilling the broth, I skim the fat and save it for cooking and then freeze the broth in jars. If you have access to homemade bone broth, please use it in this stew.

After cooking for a few hours, the beef is meltingly tender and it’s hard to stop taking little tastes. Like most stews, the flavor improves as it sits and is even better if you prepare it a day ahead (making it a terrific dish for guests). I find that cooking and eating a familiar dish like this one grounds me and is a constant during this time of transition. I’m happy to settle in with a savory bowl and just be.

Mushroom and Cherry Beef Stew
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Simply Classic by Kay Baxter and Lucy Bauer Footlik

3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons rice flour (can also use all-purpose flour)
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon allspice
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or beef fat
2 medium onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
4 ounces dried tart cherries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup good quality beef broth
1 pound mushrooms, quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, salt, allspice, cinnamon and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the beef cubes and gently toss to coat them. Add a tablespoon of fat or oil to a Dutch oven and heat it over medium-high heat. Add a 1/3 of the beef and brown it on all sides (about 5 minutes). Remove it to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining meat in two batches, adding a tablespoon of oil each time.

Reduce the heat, add the remaining oil, onions and cherries. Cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Stir often and mix in the sugar, vinegar, wine, broth and mushrooms. Return the beef to the Dutch oven and mix everything together. Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 2 ½ hours, until the beef is very tender. Remove the lid and bake for 15 minutes to thicken the stew a little. If it seems a bit dry you can add a bit of broth or red wine, but I haven’t had this happen. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash some of the beef chunks against the side of the pan and stir in. Taste for salt and set aside to cool. If serving that day, you can reheat the stew covered in the oven or over low heat on the stove top. Or, cover and refrigerate it until ready to serve. Reheat it (covered) in a low oven or on low heat on the stove top.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dukkah-Spiced Carrot Latkes

A cozy season has arrived and we are blanketed in snow. Winter came roaring into the Valley unexpectedly a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Instead of the predicted rain, two feet of snow fell – heavy, wet and fast – and we had some adventures, including hiking in the dark up to our cabin when the car got stuck, a power outage and a tree falling over our road and blocking us in.  I woke the morning after to this view out our kitchen window.

I discovered that losing electricity in the winter is a little easier than the summer since we can melt snow for water and use a snowbank as a refrigerator if we don’t feel like pulling the generator out. I didn’t bake the pies I planned for Thanksgiving, but Sam made it home (hiking the last portion of the journey!) and we were all together, for which I was very thankful. Living here, I am continually learning to adapt and adjust my plans and expectations as I never know what will happen. So now in addition to snow tires and sandbags, we have headlamps and snowshoes in our cars and a chainsaw for fallen trees.  And we’ll keep shoveling!

The snow signaled the start of a festive season and December has quickly become a happy blur of busy days in the store, school concerts, gathering with friends and making holiday treats.  We are well into celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah and before the holiday ends I wanted to share some new latkes I made.

Latkes are small vegetable pancakes that are fried in oil and eaten during Hanukkah. Potatoes are the traditional vegetable to make them with but really, if you can grate it you can make a latke out of it, so zucchini, sweet potatoes, parsnips and even apples appear in latke form, too. With eight days of latke eating, it’s fun to try different varieties!

This year I made some with carrots and seasoned them with dukkah, the ingredient we are cooking with this month in our Tasting Jerusalem group. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that is popular in the Middle East. The mixes may contain nuts, dried chickpeas, seeds and spices, and they all involve freshly roasting and pounding the ingredients. There are many variations and I’ve shared my own recipe here on Eating Rules, which includes almonds, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and salt.

After grating the carrots, I mixed in eggs, green onions, rice flour and a generous scoop of dukkah.  I heated oil (the main ingredient in Hanukkah cooking!) and fried small patties until they were golden and smelled fragrant.

I served with them with thick, plain yogurt and a pinch of dukkah and we devoured them. The latkes were crispy outside and soft inside, and the warm, earthy flavor of the dukkah blended nicely with the carrots and creamy yogurt.  A true Hanukkah treat!

Wishing you a very happy holiday season!

Dukkah-Spiced Carrot Latkes
Makes 8 latkes

1 pound carrots, scrubbed and grated (no need to peel them)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup green onions, finely diced
2 tablespoons rice flour (can substitute all-purpose flour)
2 tablespoons dukkah (recipe here)
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
Plain yogurt for serving

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, eggs, onions, flour and dukkah and gently stir. Add some salt and pepper and taste. If you use salt in your dukkah mix you may not need anymore.

Line a plate with paper towels to transfer your latkes to when they are fried.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and pour enough oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is hot, add ¼ cup scoops of the latke mixture to the pan (I fried 4 at a time) and lightly press each to form small pancakes. Fry for a few minutes and when golden on the bottom and gently flip to fry the other side for a few minutes.

Remove the latkes from the pan and drain them on the paper towel lined plate (there won’t be a lot of oil, but you want to remove any excess so they don’t get soggy). Fry the remaining latkes and drain them.

Serve hot with dollops of thick yogurt.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pumpkin White Bean Soup for Alyssa’s Baby Celebration

We are celebrating with soup today! This is how much I love soup … I’m bringing it to a party, a party in honor of my friend, Alyssa. Alyssa is the creator of Everyday Maven and is welcoming her second baby in January. I am delighted to gather with a wonderful community of food bloggers to share recipes and good wishes for her.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Alyssa both in Seattle and here in the Valley. She is vibrant and beautiful and creates incredibly delicious, healthy food. My family has enjoyed quite a few of her recipes (I’ve made her chocolate mug cake more times than I can count!) and I appreciate her step-by-step instructions and attention to detail in every recipe.

Knowing that Alyssa will be a busy mom to two sweet boys soon, we all wanted to share dishes that are quick and easy to prepare and will nourish her family well. With the arrival of the snowy days here, I have been making more soups and they are marvelous lunches for me to bring in to the store - I fill a thermos with steaming soup and lunch is ready to go. With her baby arriving in January, I want Alyssa to be able to prepare a filling, warm lunch to sustain her and her family on those damp, chilly days of Seattle winter. Plus, she can make a double batch and pop some in the freezer.

This Pumpkin White Bean soup is one I have made often over the years. It is hearty and simple to make, especially since it uses pantry staples that are easily kept on hand. Beans, pumpkin puree and tomatoes form the base of the soup. The original recipe calls for using black beans, but one time I had only white beans and I found they worked even better since I prefer the color of the soup more.

Onions and garlic are softened in olive oil, and then the beans, pumpkin and tomatoes are added and simmered in chicken stock. I also include carrots sometimes for extra veggies and to enhance the orange hue. A quick puree with an immersion blender creates a smooth, luscious texture. Cumin seasons the soup while a splash of sherry vinegar brightens it. Earthy, creamy and warm, this soup is full of flavor and should help energize a lovely mom with two little ones. Congratulations to you, Alyssa!

A huge thank you to Faith of An Edible Mosaic and Liz of  The Lemon Bowl for hosting this celebration! Please be sure to check out all the talented cooks below celebrating Alyssa and her expanding family today.

Pumpkin White Bean Soup
Serves 6-8
Adapted from New Kosher Cuisine for All Seasons
by Ivy Feuerstadt and Melinda Strauss

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ pound carrots, sliced (you don’t have to peel)
1 28 ounce can tomato puree
1 28 ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 15 ounce cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
32 ounces chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Fresh green herb for serving, such as parsley

In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium low heat and saute the onion and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, tomato puree, pumpkin puree, beans, chicken stock, red wine and cumin and stir. Increase the heat to high until the soup just starts to bubble, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes to infuse the flavors and soften the carrots.

Remove the soup from the heat and puree it with an immersion blender until smooth, being very careful not to splatter any hot soup. Stir in the sherry and salt and pepper the soup to your taste. Garnish with a sprinkle of green herbs when serving.

This soup easily doubles and freezes well.

Alyssa's Baby Celebration:


Spaghetti Squash Hash from Eats Well With Others


Hearty Garbanzo Soup from Sweet Life Bake
Pumpkin White Bean Soup from Blue Kale Road


Slow Cooker Red Wine Pot Roast from Jeanette’s Healthy Living
Lemon Pepper Chicken with Arugula from Virtually Homemade
Roast Chicken Ratatouille from An Edible Mosaic


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Crispy Chocolate Bars

I love Halloween. Growing up, it was always a favorite holiday of mine – dressing up in costumes, spooky walks in the dark and then sorting and snacking my way through my bag of treats at the end of the night - loads of fun! Over the years, I watched my two boys create costumes, trick-or-treat through our dark neighborhood and gleefully dig into bags filled with candy.

Halloween this year is particularly nostalgic for me as it’s the last year I have a boy at home. While it’s been quite a few years since either of my sons knocked on doors for treats, having a child at home (even if he towers over me!) makes it extra special with candy corn, spiders and pumpkin carving.

I started thinking about some favorite childhood chocolate bars, and when I saw homemade crunch bars featured on Food52 last week they practically leaped off the screen at me.

A few years ago I realized I had not been giving milk chocolate the recognition it deserves.  I inhaled many (many) bars of dark, dark chocolate over the years and ignored milk chocolate in any form. Then I went to an evening of chocolate tasting and it all changed. When I saw we were beginning the tasting with discs of milk, I wrongly assumed it would be sugary and bland. After one small taste, I quickly learned otherwise. Good milk chocolate is rich, smooth and creamy, with hints of caramel. I kept tasting. Bliss.

So when making homemade chocolate crunch bars, I knew I had to use pure, good quality milk chocolate. I also decided to increase the decadence a bit and use chocolate crispy rice cereal. I stopped there with the tweaking, though. I wanted to keep it simple and resisted adding sea salt or cacao nibs, as I tend to do. This is an iconic childhood candy bar and you can’t mess with tradition. Instead, it replicates the original candy bar but seriously elevates it - none of the cheap, flavorless chocolate from the bars of my youth.

Crunchy, crispy and creamy, the puffed rice and rich, milky chocolate are dreamy together. A true classic. I pulled the pan of bars out of the fridge late at night to check them and started cutting off little slivers … be warned, this is dangerous. Many slivers later, I slid the pan back into the fridge.

Watching my younger son snack on these crispy chocolate bars this week warms my heart, and I know yet another treat I’ll be sending off to my sweet boys in college.

Crispy Chocolate Bars
Adapted slightly from Food52
Makes 1-9 inch square pan

20 ounces good quality milk chocolate, chopped bars or discs
3 cups chocolate crispy rice cereal

Line a 9 inch square pan with foil and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a medium sauce pan over very low heat, stirring often, until it is creamy and smooth. Remove from heat when there are still a few pieces and keep stirring until they finish melting. You can also microwave the chocolate until melted and smooth.

Scrape the chocolate into a large mixing bowl and pour the rice cereal over. Using a spatula, gently fold the cereal and chocolate together until it is mixed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and pop into the fridge for a few hours, or until firm.

Remove the chocolate from the pan by lifting the edges of the foil. On a cutting board, cut into desired sized bars and begin nibbling. Store the bars in a cool area.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Zucchini and Tomato Salad with Herbed Yogurt

We have entered a new season and, with Rosh Hashanah last week, the start of a sweet new year. After our summer of wildfires here in the Methow Valley, these stunning autumn days are welcome. Mother Nature is raw and fierce and beautiful in turn.

I’ve been busy chasing life this summer. I’ve made new friends and learned new skills. My new store is bustling and we recently launched a newly redesigned shopping website and I’ve neglected Blue Kale Road. Now, as we ease into fall and its sunny days and crisp nights I find a comforting time to reconnect with old friends. Although I try to slow down, our new season is already moving at a quick pace - Sam is back at college, Isaac is in his senior year, and life is full and good.

I love spiced pear cake at an autumn potluck, community gathering at a local cider pressing and seeing the first Delicata squash. We still have an abundance of tomatoes and zucchini at the market, though, reminding us that the best of summer is lingering for just a bit longer.

This month, the Tasting Jerusalem theme is to pick any new recipe from the book to try, so I chose a salad with tomatoes and zucchini in mind. Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad is a combination of grilled tomatoes and zucchini, stirred into an herby yogurt mix. Why I hadn’t tried this one yet is beyond me, because it is filled with so many of my favorite ingredients. First of all, the yogurt mix alone is truly fantastic and makes a tempting dip on its own. Fresh mint, parsley, chiles, garlic, walnuts, date syrup and lemon are stirred into thick yogurt. Divine.

The recipe calls for charring the tomatoes and zucchini on the stove top and then finishing in the oven, but since I’m looking for any opportunity to continue cooking outside I grilled the veggies on the barbecue.

The vegetables are then chopped and folded into the yogurt mix. I decided to serve the veggies and yogurt side-by-side in order to get the individual flavors as well as a mix of the two. In honor of Rosh Hashanah, I used pomegranate syrup instead of date syrup, which added a tart richness.

Crunchy, vibrant, creamy and bold, this is a gorgeous dish. It would be marvelous alongside simple grilled fish or make a hearty appetizer served with crusty bread. If you still have access to summer’s tomatoes, you won’t be disappointed.

Fall. It’s good to be back.

Zucchini and Tomato Salad with Herbed Yogurt
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2 pounds yellow or green zucchini
4-5 large, ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups thick, plain whole yogurt
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1-2 fresh chiles, to taste (original recipe calls for red, but I had a jalapeno on hand and used that), seeded and finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup, plus more to drizzle (original recipe calls for date syrup, so if using date syrup increase the lemon juice to 2 tablespoons
2 cups walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a barbecue on high. Slice the tomatoes and zucchini in half lengthwise and brush with olive oil. Place the vegetables cut side down on the grill and cook until lightly charred and soft. Remove from the grill and let cool.

In a bowl, combine the yogurt and remaining ingredients and stir gently. Spoon the yogurt onto one side of a small platter or serving bowl. Chop the vegetables roughly and spoon them next to the yogurt. Drizzle with additional pomegranate syrup and garnish with mint. Serve immediately.