Memorial Weekend BBQ… and Sandra & Kathy in the same corner!

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Sandra and Kathy sharing real estate

Though still a bit frazzled having arrived just over a week ago, I’m back in California for an extended visit (sissy getting married!) and finding myself assuredly falling back into old habits. The commute to work first veers towards grabbing a convenient cup of coffee for the drive; gym clothes, work shoes, and all other essentials now reside in my (borrowed) car; and I thoroughly enjoy being able to order things such as soy lattes or buckwheat organic spinach crepes at the farmers’ market.

Memorial Day weekend brought about a mini reunion – old friends, new friends, crisscrossing circles, kiddies, babies, and adults alike. Best of all, Sandra and Lolo made the drive up to Norcal to partake in the weekend festivities.

We first drew ambitious plans of cooking up a storm at a friend’s backyard BBQ. However, as the weekend and time quickly passed us by, Sandra and I settled to raid the Campbell Farmers’ Market for the freshest of veggies and the sweetest of fruits in order to toss together a few simple but tasty salads for our party contribution.

Cherries in season at the Campbell’s Farmers Market

I defaulted to creating a super-sized version of kohlrabi slaw, but substituted sesame seed oil and a touch of olive oil for the fish sauce to accommodate the vegans, and added just a splash of rice wine vinegar (3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar). Of course, some extra found goodies were also added: chopped green onion, cilantro, rainbow carrots, cucumber, and pickled ginger/beets (found at a kraut stand that additionally offered kimchi and pickled jalapenos). The ginger/beets painted my originally color diversified salad with a uniform shade of magenta, but nonetheless added great crunch with just a hint of “sauer.”

Kohlrabi slaw bathed in magenta.

Sandra and Lolo endeavored together on a beautiful chopped veggie salad and an additional fruit salad. The chopped salad, lightly tossed in a lemon and olive oil, with a pinch of salt and pepper included a variety of mixed greens, cherry heirloom tomatoes, oven roasted baby beets, half a pound worth of shaved parmesan, and a Sandra-requirement… two jumbo Haas avocados. We desperately searched the market for perfectly ripened avocados, and next a Trader Joe’s, but finally sped into trusty Whole Foods as the last resort. Not the first time a Whole Foods has saved the day!

The fruit salad nicely balanced out our array. The farmers market yielded wonderfully sweet and seasonal fruits that filled two big bowls with strawberries, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, and juicy white and yellow peaches (plus a squeeze of lime juice to macerate everything).

lovely fruit salad

Asparagus waiting to go on the grill

Yes, we know – it’s been a while since Sandra and I have made a squeak in the blog-o-sphere. But hopefully the days of being MIA are behind us as the fantastic weekend together brought about a few new ideas and delicious inspirations… stay tuned!

Another Gorgeous Day and a Curried Yogurt Dressing

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During yesterday’s jaunt into town, KJ and I stopped for lunch at an overly Euro-chic cafe nestled on a busy street corner, adjacent to a parking garage, across from a questionable looking Eroski market, and with al fresco dining that soon contained a jubilant crowd of smokers.  We were desperate and hungry.  While KJ inhaled and lauded a burger, I chose a filet of salmon, cooked “al vapor” (sounds much better than steamed al Holiday Inn) on a bed of mashed potatoes and salad, dressed with a creamy yet light curry sauce.  It was (surprisingly) delicious!

I had to steal that dressing.

Today, I attempted to recreate this little touch of goodness to accompany a fresh salad nicoise.  A few spoonfuls of thick Greek yogurt serve as a great base for creamy dressings.  With ingredients easily layered in thereafter – why not a bit of fragrant curry?

Curried Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients (to my best approximation and enough to dress about 4ish side salads):

Whisk together…

  • 2 heaping spoonfuls of thick Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons Curry Madras
  • 1 teaspoon Garam Masala
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • good olive oil and white wine vinegar at a 3:1 ratio
  • salt to taste

Yes, I need to take better notes next time, but dressings are thankfully forgiving and can be adjusted to taste quite easily.  I added oil and vinegar until the yogurt became diluted to a just barely creamy consistency and whisked until all the clumpiness smoothed.  This probably entailed 1/4 cup of oil, more or less.

With another gorgeously warm spring day before us, we enjoyed lunch again al fresco, but in the comforts and tranquility of our own backyard.  Simply lovely.

Spinach and tuna salad, with a creamy curried dressing. Baked curried sweet potato fries on the side. Yummmmm.

Roasted Stuffed Tomato

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I love variety in a meal.  It’s a bit more effort, however I prefer to have 5-6 small appetizer portioned accompaniments rather than large entrée foods.  It keeps the palate entertained and leaves you wanting more at the end.  That was my grandpa’s motto to always eat to the point where you want just a bit more and stop – then you’ll have just as much enjoyment the next time.

I like the tomatoes well roasted and soft when I cut into them.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:
4 medium-sized tomatoes, cored
1/6 lb ground beef
2 tablespoons tomato pulp, chopped
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons egg, beaten
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon double concentrated tomato paste
4 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated (Set aside 2 tablespoons to top tomatoes)
1 large pinch salt
1 large pinch pepper
1 teaspoon Worchestire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon basil

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Slice the tomato tops off and set aside to use as a top – makes for a nice presentation.  Core tomatoes, remove seeds and discard.  Keep pulp and set aside.  Take care not to puncture the skin when cutting and scooping the tomatoes.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining the ingredients.  Set aside 2 tablespoon Parmigiano Reggiano to top.  Gently work mixture until just combined – do not overwork meat.  Fill each tomato with stuffing, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cover with tomato tops.  

Bake for 60-75 minutes until softened.

Enjoy!

Chicken Noodle Soup

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Very rarely do I turn down a bowl of piping hot soup, even in the midst of summer.  Chicken noodle soup loaded with garden fresh vegetables was on my mind, especially since it had been a chilly day out.  I figured Lolo wouldn’t mind some soupy goodness to warm the soul for dinner.  I complimented the fresh vegetables with a nice light chicken stock with loads of noodles – an extra bit of comfort never hurt anyone. 

Ummm….I could taste it already.

To give the broth a taste of homemade goodness, I made a small batch of a quick stock from scratch and added some additional store bought chicken broth.

Oh how I do miss the soups my mom used to make.  They would take all day to cook.  I should have written down the recipes when I had the chance.

Serves: 2 

Ingredients:

Chicken Stock:
1 ½ lbs chicken back, skin and fat removed
3 cloves garlic
3 stalks celery
½ onion, halved
2 teaspoons dried thyme
10 whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
6 cups water

Soup Ingredients:
2 small carrots, sliced
1 small zucchini
1 leek, white parts only
2 cups egg noodles
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 lb ground chicken
1 tablespoon egg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh pepper
½ teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon half and half
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

Clean and remove all fat and skin from chicken backs, cut into small pieces.  In a medium stock pot, add all ingredients for the stock into pot.  Heat pot on high until it comes to a boil.  Then turn down to a low and let cook for 1 ¼ hours.

In a small bowl add chicken, salt, pepper, soy sauce, egg, half and half, garlic and onion powder.  Mix together.  Set aside.

Cut leek in half lengthwise and submerge into a large bowl of water in loosen trapped dirt in between leaves.  Rinse a few times to ensure all dirt has been removed and then slice into thin half-moon circles.  Set aside.

Thinly slice carrots on a diagonal.  Cut zucchini into bite sized pieces.  Set vegetables aside.

After broth has simmer for 1 ¼ hours, discard chicken and all aromatics.  I have a strainer spoon that I use to remove all of the unwanted bits from the broth.  Add the additional 2 cups chicken broth and carrot and cook on high until the pot comes to a boil, then again turn to low until carrots become tender.  Then add zucchini chicken, and leek; cook on high until it comes to a boil.  Turn down heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add noodles and cook until noodles are cooked through.

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free (Not So Beautiful) Pancakes on an Otherwise Beautiful Day….

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The weekend here in Mallorca was absolutely glorious.  We’ve been settling into warmer temperatures (t-shirt weather), breathing in the luscious scent of almond blossoms, and greedily enjoying blue skies and sunshine sans tourists.

In preparation for her 13 km walk for charity at school, KJ and I took our cameras and went for a leisurely 10 km walk just out of the village, down the mountain, through a few rolling hills, and towards the next town over.  It’s probably one of the prettiest trails (in my books) on this island.  If it weren’t for the winding asphalt road just alongside the rustic stone lined path and the occasional zippy car, I’d think that I had stumbled straight into a romance-chick-flick, the kind set in the idyllic foreign countryside where the unknowing American gets swept off her feet by some suave guy (yeah, hubby is my suave guy, though these other elements in my story are a bit convoluted).

Passing almond orchard and huge finca along the walk.

Almond trees blossoming.

KJ decides to scale a tree in search of almonds.

After the day hike on Saturday, I woke up famished the next morning and craving pancakes (and fuel for Crossfit WOD 12.3 later… ouch).  I reverted back to a recipe that I had tried a few weekends ago for a grain-free yet wonderfully fluffy pancake.  That day, the pancakes came out perfect.  Today – not so much.  They looked, actually, rather terrible and burnt as the stove simply didn’t want to cooperate with me.  Fortunately, the disfigured cakes still tasted good – KJ thought even better than the last time – and its ill-fated looks were easily masked by a colorful fresh fruit salad.

KJ suggested that we have breakfast outside.  Sunlight was kind to the food and turned out to be rather good for the soul, as we ended up basking in the outdoor warmth, working on art projects and sneaking the occasional snack, until late afternoon.

Breakfast al fresco... and afternoon ice cream.

Gluten Free Pancakes (adapted from Nourishing Days “Grain Free Fluffy Coconut Flour Pancakes“)

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt & 1/4 cup frothed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • optional – 2 tbsp ground flax, 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • olive oil for frying

Combine and mix together dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, salt, flax, and chia seeds.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs until smooth, mix in mashed bananas, vanilla, agave, and yogurt.  Slowly mix wet ingredients into the dry.  I diverged from Nourishing Days recipe by using frothed milk rather than regular milk – with the thinking that some extra air added into the pancake mix would enhance the fluffiness. My Nespresso milk frother, probably one of my all time favorite kitchen gadgets, came in super handy.  Once the milk is frothed, gently fold into the mix.  If the mixture is too liquid-y (very much dependent on the type of coconut flour used and how finely it is ground), slowly add more coconut flour until the batter thickens.  I added about an extra 1/4 cup.

Heat a bit of oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low temperature.  Once the pan is hot, ladle a couple of tablespoons of batter into pan.  Spread out slightly, if necessary, until the pancake is ~2-3 inches in diameter.  Cook for a few minutes, until the edges begin to dry out and the bottoms start to brown. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

Top with fruit, yogurt, preserves, honey, whatever the taste buds might crave and enjoy with a side of sunshine!

Stir Fried Chicken with Leeks

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I love me some leeks.  Leeks with calamari.  Leeks with beef.  Grilled leeks.  Stir fried leeks.  Mixed in with some eggs – simply perfect.  Since KJ is (surprisingly) scallion obsessed, I threw some leeks – more or less jumbo scallions – into the shopping cart to test the waters with a basic, go-to Asian stir-fry.  If the recipe took, it would get quickly absorbed into our fast and easy weeknight/school-night repertoire.

But rather than going about my usual cook/by/feel ways – a tendency with stir-fries, I thought I’d read up to see if there was something different I could do or add to make a simple dish even better.  Yes, I really wanted this recipe to take.

What I found were a few tips from a recipe for pork and leeks, published in Saveur, which explained “reverse” stir-frying – adding vegetables in before meat.  In the past, I’ve always done just the opposite.  However, according to the article, cooking veggies first tends to be more forgiving since vegetables will release water and stick less if the wok is not hot enough.  Also, the recipe suggests that slicing the leeks on the diagonal releases fragrance faster.  Huh.  Go figure.  I had always thought it just looked prettier that way.

So with a few new tricks up my sleeve, I started with dinner.  Or rather, KJ started with dinner while I documented (I am loving my new camera).  So nice to have an extra set of hands around!

Stir Fried Chicken with Leeks

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 2 free range chicken breasts, thinly sliced into strips
  • 4 leeks, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil

For the chicken marinade:

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Stir fry leeks first, chicken second.

First, prepare the chicken – combine ingredients for the marinade and add the sliced chicken.  Mix thoroughly and set aside.

While the chicken is soaking in all that goodness, slice  and cook the leeks.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large wok over high heat; give the oil a couple of swirls in the wok to thoroughly coat the surface.  Once the oil is heated, add the sliced leeks.  Constantly stir and cook the leeks until they are fragrant and just begin to brown, ~3-4 minutes.  Remove from wok and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil, again swirl to coat the wok surfaces.  Add chicken and cook, constantly stirring, until chicken is slightly browned and just caramelized (add an additional drizzle of honey or a bit of brown sugar if a slight caramel crust isn’t achieved yet), ~2-3 minutes.  Once the chicken is cooked through, add the leeks back in, stir to mix, and cook for an additional minute.  Salt and pepper to taste and drizzle the extra tablespoon of sesame seed oil.

The recipe took.  Yay!

 

Radicchio Apple Endive Roquefort Salad

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As a child, I was not a fan of nuts or fruit in a veggie salad. Now that I’m all grown up – where did time fly, I love texture in my salads. Although I never tire of a simply tossed green salad, tonight I wanted something more. I had a taste for some sweetness with my veggies, and figured apples would hit the spot!

To make things a bit more indulgent, I turned to my “go to” ingredients of avocado and Roquefort. They never let me down.

Ingredients:

Serves: 4

Salad:
1/2 lb of radicchio, cut into bite sized pieces
2-3 endive bulbs, thinly sliced
1/4 small apple, sliced paper-thin
1 avocado, cubed
¼ cup Roquefort cheese, crumbled
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Roquefort Vinaigrette Dressing:
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Roquefort crumbles
Fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste

Wash radicchio leaves and dry in a salad spinner. Cut radicchio into bite sized pieces and set aside. Cut the endive bulbs in half and wash. I put them in the spinner too to remove excess water. Place the halved endive on a cutting board. Cut to remove stem in center of bulb and toss. Then thinly slice endive about 1/8” thick, and set aside. Also thinly slice apples. I like the apples cut paper-thin.

In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients and set aside and dress just prior to serving.

In a small bowl, combines all dressing ingredients and mix. I cream and completely incorporate the Roquefort into the dressing.

Dress salad just before serving. Carefully toss salad, take care not to mash the avocados in the process.

Enjoy!

Monster Burgers!

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I’ve been contemplating having a burger night at our house for the past several weeks.

Okay – I’ve been craving burgers for the past several days.

Fine… KJ ordered a burger at lunch the other day and it looked and smelled so delicious that the idea for burger night soon propelled into motion.

During our usual Saturday venture into the city, KJ and I gathered all the ingredients for Jamie Oliver’s Elvis Burger – big fat juicy patties with a few twists on ingredients, such as the addition of parmesan cheese and tarragon.  We quickly hoarded the last two loaves of beautiful bread, speckled with sesame and poppy seeds, from our beloved Swiss cafe.  The big loaves, split in half and toasted, would make for perfect buns.

Starting in the late afternoon on the prep, we had four big juicy patties ready and refrigerated within half an hour or so.  Perfect, as friends Van and D would join us for our early evening burger feast!

...our beautiful loaves from Horno Helvetico

so delicious!

Jamie Oliver’s Elvis Burger (with some liberties taken)

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 dried red chilli – finely ground
  •  1/2 of an onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • a sprig of fresh tarragon, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • a handful of breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  •  a good pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1kg  ground beef
  • oil, for frying
  •  salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bag salad mix
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 4 ciabatta rolls
  • handful of pickled gherkins

... adding the onions, nutmeg, and tarragon

... next the mustard, egg, parm, and MEAT!

In a large mixing bowl, combine onion, tarragon, egg, breadcrumbs, mustard, Parmesan, nutmeg and beef. Shape into four patties, refrigerate for half an hour to allow the patties to firm up.

Once the patties are ready to be cooked, heat a large frying pan or griddle over high heat with a bit of oil.  Season the burgers with salt and pepper; cook them for about 10 minutes (longer for well done), turning them over every minute or so, until they are juicy and pink.

... assembling the patties

In the meantime, split the rolls into two and toast – we placed the rolls in the oven at 150 deg C for a few minutes.  For the accompanying salad, mix tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.  Add dressing as desired.  Once the burgers are finished, sandwich the cooked ‘Elvis’ burger between the toasted rolls.  Serve with a few gherkins and a helping of salad.

Make sure extra napkins are on hand and attack!

... even without all the extras, little D strategizes on how to go about the burger

Van strategizes a bit better.

Scallion & Sweet Potato Soup

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During our farmers market outing, KJ and I also picked up some gorgeous ginormous stalks of green scallions.  Long, flowing, huge and wonderful.  However, when cooking, I’ve become so accustomed to simply grabbing a red or white onion out of the vegetable basket that the scallions remained a bit neglected in the back of fridge for the following few days.

I was in luck, however, when I stumbled upon a recipe for scallion soup (courtesy of Saveur) while on the hunt for new warm comfort recipes.  The original recipe adds a bit of butter to cook the green onions and finishes with a big helping of heavy cream.  I wish I could say that I omitted those two ingredients out of a healthy conscience, but truth be told – I simply didn’t have butter nor cream on hand.  Nevertheless, the soup turned out very smooth, minus the extra calories, with simply the addition of an extra potato (I used two potatoes instead of the one that the original recipe calls for).  Also, sweet potatoes were substituted for the Russet potato used in the original.  I found the sweetness to actually nicely balance the strong flavor of the onions.

Scallion & Sweet Potato Soup (adapted from Colman Andrews’s “Scallion Soup,” from Saveur Issue No. 47)

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 7 large stalks of scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups (1 liter) chicken stock
  • 2 cups (1 pint) of water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt & pepper

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Set aside one chopped stalk of green onions for garnish; add the rest into the pot.  Stirring often, cook until the onions are soft, but not browned (~5 minutes).  Next, add the sliced sweet potatoes (I used the white variety), stock, and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and allow the soup to a simmer.  Cook until potatoes have softened, ~25 minutes.  Finally, using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth and creamy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon into individual bowls and sprinkle a bit of reserved chopped scallions over each.

KJ said that she could eat this soup every day – coming from a teenager, about the best compliment one could ever hope for!  Considering the simplicity of the soup, well, she just might be eating it much more often than she had wished….

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