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:

Breakfast

Spaghetti Squash Hash from Eats Well With Others

Lunch

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

Dinner

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

Snack


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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Aspen Grove and Much to Share


It has been quite a while, much longer than I anticipated, and I’ve missed being here. I can’t believe it’s almost summer – Happy June to you! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m embarking on an exciting new chapter. Well, the doors of Aspen Grove, my home and kitchen store, opened in early April. (Check out our new website!) The big day arrived and I officially hung the “Open” sign for the first time. It’s been a busy, happy blur ever since!


We kicked things off with an opening party. It was a joint celebration with our friend, Leslie, who had just opened her beautiful spa, Nectar, next door (lucky me!).  We had yummy food, Prosecco, a cookbook drawing


and, of course, cookies.


It was a festive day and wonderful to meet more of our community. My brother, Tim, even traveled from Washington, DC to be here! Since then, I have continued to learn and learn and learn. I have definitely pushed myself in new directions, way outside my comfort zone, and this has been a good thing.


I’ve been reflecting on the past nine years, how a love of food and cooking led to my becoming a chef, which then led to starting this blog three years ago. Now, a home and kitchen store feels like a natural next step to take in this journey. This has definitely been a family venture, with everyone pitching in. I’m grateful to them, our friends and our community for all of their support!


I believe it is good to challenge yourself, stay open and just see what life brings. But boy, it can be exhausting and overwhelming! Happily, I’m finding balance again and it feels good.


The valley exploded in yellow and green at the start of spring and now the farmers’ market is open. I’m really ready to plunge into cooking with some gorgeous produce!


I’m back in the kitchen, finding new loves like radish kimchi


and making old favorites like fudgy chocolate cake.


And if you’re ever in the Methow Valley, I hope you stop in and say hi!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chocolate Date Truffles


With the snow melting away and the sun shining, I feel warm and hopeful and glad to wear something other than snow boots.  My skis are put away and I’ve even slipped on some flip-flops. My toes are happy!

Spring is a time for new beginnings. Soon the wild flowers will emerge from the earth and there’s talk of planting seeds on the radio. I, too, am embarking on a new beginning. When we moved to this beautiful valley last summer, I knew I was starting on a journey but had no idea what direction it might take.


I mentioned previously that I’ve been keeping busy (an understatement!) with a new project. I’m delighted to tell you a bit about it now – it’s a kitchen and home store! A fantastic opportunity emerged and I decided to jump on it. I’m beyond excited! You never know what life will bring, do you? I’ve been learning and planning and painting and designing and ordering and falling into bed exhausted every night. But it’s thrilling and a whole new adventure to embrace.


Needless to say, I haven’t been cooking much lately and I miss it! One evening before I collapsed I just had to get back into the kitchen. I made a little sweet that didn’t involve any cooking but still scratched the itch (and was delicious!): Chocolate Date Truffles.


My dear friend, Tristan, gave me the original recipe (thank you again!). Raw cashews are whirled in the food processor with honey, cacao powder, vanilla and shredded coconut to create a rich, lightly sweet truffle to scoop and roll. I began nibbling right away! The original recipe calls for rolling in citrus zest, nuts or seeds, but I decided to stuff some luscious, plump dates with it instead. What an indulgent treat! These didn’t last long and I know I’ll be making them again soon.


Off to the shop now – I can’t wait to share details and photos with you in a couple of weeks after we’ve opened.

Chocolate Date Truffles
Makes about 22
Filling adapted from Nourish and Heal, 2014

1 cup raw cashews, soaked in a bowl of water for 20 minutes and drained
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for garnish
22 whole, plump Medjool dates

Add the drained cashews and honey to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides once. Add the cacao powder, vanilla, kosher salt and coconut and process until well combined, stopping again to scrape the sides.

Scrape the filling into a small bowl, cover and chill for about an hour. You can prep the filling the day before serving and leave to chill overnight, too.

To assemble the truffle dates, slit each date open along one side and gently remove the pit. Place a small scoop of filling into each date and shape it to fit smoothly. Arrange the dates on a serving plate and scatter a little coconut over the top. Indulge!

Friday, February 28, 2014

One Spice, Two Spice


A fire, a blanket, a snowy day, a cup of tea and a new cookbook. What could be better? Especially when the cookbook’s title is a surprise, arriving in the mail just in time to curl up for a cozy weekend of reading with a furry friend.


My new cookbook came compliments of Joanne, of the lovely blog Eats Well With Others. We are participating in the Food Blogger Cookbook Swap, a terrific event being hosted by Alyssa of Everyday Maven and Faith of An Edible Mosaic. The idea behind the swap is to share books from our collection with other food bloggers. I sent a book to someone and received one in return. So much fun!

Joanne chose well for me. She noticed from my blog that I revel in spices (so true!) and thoughtfully selected one called One Spice, Two Spice by Floyd Cardoz.  The author grew up in Mumbai and Goa and now cooks in New York City. He shares some personal bits throughout the book and gives a little history of each recipe.


Right away the title intrigued me and I knew I’d enjoy diving in ... I was right. The book brings together two cultures, American food cooked with Indian spices. I traveled in India seven years ago and really appreciate Indian flavors. The first section I flipped to was the condiment chapter. Chutneys, pickles, raitas and dressings – yes, please! I began marking recipes to try and Boodie’s Ketchup, named for the author’s mother, is top of the list. This tomato-based condiment is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, shallots, garlic, cayenne and vinegar. Need I say more? And as I perused other chapters in the book many other recipes leaped out.  Come summer, this pretty Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mint and Basil is sure to refresh.


I’m always happy to add fresh inspiration to my cookbook shelf and appreciate this chance to meet fellow food bloggers. Thank you for your delicious choice, Joanne! And thank you to Alyssa and Faith for hosting. Now back to my menu planning!

A lovely group of bloggers joined together for this fun cookbook swap. Please feel free to stop by for a visit and check out some of the new inspirations they received:

A Baker's House
An Edible Mosaic
avocado bravado
Blueberries And Blessings
Cheap Recipe Blog
Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Create Amazing Meals
Cucina Kristina
Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Cupcake Project
Dinner is Served 1972
Done With Corn
Eats Well With Others
Everyday Maven
Flour Me With Love 
From My Sweet Heart 
girlichef 
Great Food 360° 
Healthy. Delicious. 
I'm Gonna Cook That! 
Je Mange la Ville 
Karen's Kitchen Stories 
Kitchen Treaty 
Olive and Herb 
OnTheMove-In The Galley 
Our Best Bites 
Paleo Gone Sassy 
poet in the pantry 
Rhubarb and Honey 
Rocky Mountain Cooking
Shikha la mode 
Shockingly Delicious 
Sifting Focus 
Spiceroots 
Spoonful of Flavor 
Tara's Multicultural Table 
The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler 
The Suburban Soapbox 
The Whole Family's Food 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Steak and Zhoug


I enjoy discussing homemade condiments here and I’m delighted that this month’s Tasting Jerusalem features one of my very favorites, zhoug. I’ve shared my love of zhoug before, the fiery, green herb sauce that I discovered through Bob’s host mother many years ago during my first visit to Israel. Just a bite transports me away from the winter chill here back to those hot summer days.


This versatile condiment is popular in the Middle East and a true pantry staple. A quick whirl of fresh cilantro, parsley, olive oil, garlic and chiles in the food processor is all that is needed to create zhoug. Fragrant, spicy and vibrant, it livens up any dish it graces. Especially welcome during this time of season!


We usually dollop some in chicken soup or scoop a bit onto a plate of scrambled eggs. This past weekend, though, steak was on our menu and I started thinking about chimichurri sauce, the Argentinian green sauce traditionally made with parsley, olive oil, garlic and vinegar and served with grilled meat. Why not serve zhoug with steak in a similar manner? I grabbed my bunches of herbs, smashed some garlic cloves, chopped chiles (I had red fresno chiles on hand rather than jalapenos, which added pretty little flecks of red) and glugged olive oil and soon we had steak and zhoug on the table.


I have to say, steak and zhoug is absolutely delicious! A few years ago I learned the best way to cook a steak using a combination of stovetop and oven and have been doing it this way ever since. The spicy kick of zhoug complemented the simple taste of the beef beautifully and seriously got my taste buds tingling. As I look out at our gorgeous white wonderland and watch our cute pup bounce around in the snow, I savor the spicy flavors of the Middle East and feel warm inside.

Steak and Zhoug
Steak recipe from The Week

Steaks, let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes
Kosher salt
Grapeseed oil
Zhoug to serve (recipe here)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a bit of kosher salt over each steak. Heat a cast iron pan large enough to hold all the steaks over high heat and let it get hot. Pour a very thin layer of grapeseed oil in the pan. Lay each steak in the pan and let sear for a minute or two. Flip the steaks and let sear for another minute.

Take the pan and place in the oven for five to six minutes, depending upon the thickness of each steak and your preference for how cooked you like them (if you use a thermometer, 115 degrees is the rare end of rare).

Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for five minutes to collect the juices. Spoon on dollops of zhoug and serve.