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 
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 
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.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moroccan Popcorn

We are doing a happy snow dance here! While we’ve had cold temperatures, the snow has not been falling, making for a very unusual winter. Happily, though, today it’s snowing steadily and I’m feeling quite cozy watching the pretty flakes float down. We can ski and sled! 

It’s been awhile since I shared what’s cooking in my kitchen. I have a new project in the works and can’t wait to share it with you (soon!). In the meantime, here’s what we’re cooking with for Tasting Jerusalem this month – ras el hanout. 

My love of homemade spice blends is well known and I am quite pleased with this month’s ingredient. I’ve written about ras el hanout before and, since discovering how versatile this Moroccan blend is, I have sprinkled it liberally. Ras el hanout literally means “head of the shop” in Arabic, and you can personalize your own mix easily. The blend I make includes cumin, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and black pepper. A little sweet, a little spicy, a pinch instantly jazzes up a dish.

Or a snack. We pop a lot of corn on the stove top and like to try different toppings (nutritional yeast is a favorite one, although we think it could do with a better name - we’ve been calling it “Sunshine”). Why not sprinkle some ras el hanout on popcorn? With flaky sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil? Well, I gave it a whirl and Moroccan popcorn was born.

Warm, crunchy, smoky and salty, this is some good snacking, especially while watching football. We’re getting our blue and green on around here and will be wildly cheering for the Seahawks on Sunday during the Super Bowl. I love all the Seahawks spirit and energy I’ve seen both in the valley and in Seattle! Happy munching and go Hawks!

Moroccan Popcorn
Makes a large bowl

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Olive oil for drizzling
Ras el hanout (homemade recipe here)
Flaky sea salt

Have a large bowl ready. Warm the coconut oil in popcorn maker over medium high heat. Add the popcorn and start turning the handle. When corn stops popping, immediately pour the popcorn into the serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ras el hanout and flaky sea salt to taste. Start munching!