February 26, 2010

Riffs on Friday Night Flatbread

Fig, Brussels Sprouts and Walnut Flatbread with Balsamic Drizzle and Palotai Dolcetto
Most Friday nights you'll find us cuddled up over a creatively concocted pizza while catching up with Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill on PBS. This is our adult carry over from the years of Friday pizza-and-movie nights we separately had had with our young kids. Our current pizza nights bind us as we build our new life together while remembering fondly those parts of our pasts. The routine is comforting, the pizzas are always original and interesting, and it's a nice cushion between the work week and the weekend.

Our most recent pizza was a riff on Robin's flatbread with sauteed Brussels sprouts over at Vegetable Matter's. I used her flatbread dough recipe but added a spoonful of our friend Mary's sourdough starter. Yum. It was a great dough to work with and had magnificent flavor and texture.

I added about 1/3 cup diced pancetta and a sliced shallot to the browned butter, threw in about a dozen sliced dried figs, and doubled the walnuts which I had first toasted. As the flatbread baked, I reduced some balsamic vinegar which was drizzled over the warm pizza to finish.

The flatbread is delicious with Palotai's 2007 Dolcetto of southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley. I've written about Palotai Vineyard and Winery before, and their European styled wines continue to impress as we find ways to serve them. Here, the soft tannins get along nicely with the green vegetables, usually tough to match, and the jammy cherry notes work in harmony with the walnut and fig.

Cozy up! Tonight is Friday pizza night!

February 23, 2010

Savasana, Sushi and a Sense of Community

Miso Soup
A ritual of friendship is the best way to describe my Monday nights for the past many years. A group of us gathers at Body Balance Yoga Center at 5:30 p.m. for a hatha yoga practice. Our common interest in yoga brings us together, and the heartfelt sense of community can be discerned from the first om of each class all the way through savasana, or final relaxation. After our practice we walk up the street and around the corner to Ami Sushi for dinner together.

Sometimes there are a dozen of us, sometimes only two. We are younger; we are older. We are nurses, teachers, firefighters, counselors, retired, business owners, biologists, artists, surgeons, administrators, interpretors. We are all students.

Our post-yoga outing used to be called "Girl's Night" but over the years one man, then another, has been invited into the group. Now we just call it "Sushi Night" and everyone is invited.

Photo courtesy of Marti Barrand
Conversation ranges from intimate to superficial as we discuss relationship, health or work issues or a cool new pair of Keen's found on sale. Occasionally someone has a good cry in their Kirin. Sometimes we are silly (a wasabi-eating contest with rules made up on the fly and a one-month yoga pass as the grand prize comes to mind.) Regularly there are lifted glasses in celebration of the previous weekend's promising hot date, a painful but necessary breakup, a loved one who is making good recovery from illness, a new pregnancy, acceptance to a new school or job or an upcoming vacation. We toast to life.

Kwang H, Young and Kwang C
Our hosts at Ami, brothers Kwang C, Kwang H and their father Young, know us well by now. They know how many glasses to bring with the beer, who takes ice in their water and who doesn't, who prefers just a little rice in their roll, and who just simply won't eat raw fish. Kwang H has a penchant for checking on the welfare of any missing members and fills us in on the upcoming arranged marriage of his older brother. All three men offer us tremendous hospitality. When Young brings out complimentary beer or sake and offers us a salute we feel like part of the Ami Sushi family. And the sushi is always impeccably fresh, delicious and beautiful.

San Francisco Roll at Ami Sushi
After the last sip of sake or nibble of Kabuki roll, we walk the couple of blocks back, usually at a slower pace than our "getting there" walk. We linger on the sidewalk to offer or receive the last felicitous words of encouragament, insight and support. Hugs are passed around, and off we fade into our own worlds again knowing that we belong. Knowing that walking life's road is more wonderous with the reinforcement of friends by our side.

Since I have this sushi outing on a regular basis, I'm not likely to create my own sushi at home. But, this miso soup is a good recipe to have under your belt. It makes a nice breakfast or warming beverage, and I highly recommend it for whatever ails you.

Miso Soup
Feel free to experiment with miso pastes; the yellow tends to the salty, the white heads toward sweet. Even mixing a little white, yellow and red can be good. Don't boil after adding the miso paste-- it is said to destroy the health properties of the miso.

4 cups water or low-salt mushroom or chicken stock
2 - 4 tablespoons miso paste (to taste)
2 - 3 ounces firm tofu (2 handfuls), chopped into 1/3-inch cubes
a handful of spinach, washed and stems trimmed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
two slices of ginger, about the size of quarters
a pinch of red pepper flakes

In a medium sauce pan bring the water or stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and remove from heat. Pour a bit of the hot water into a small bowl and whisk in the miso paste - so it thins out a bit (this step is to avoid clumping). Stir this back into the pot. Taste, and then add more (the same way) a bit at a time until it is to your liking. Add the tofu, spinach, green onions, ginger and red pepper flakes, immediately remove from the heat. Let it sit for just a minute or so. Serve in bowls.

Serves 2 - 3.

February 19, 2010

The Luck o' the Irish

Oatmeal Stout Gingerbread Cake
Maybe with Valentine's Day just behind us I'm pushing the season to bring up Saint Patrick's Day so soon, but forget Valentine's Day as the most romantic holiday of all. And the Fourth of July comes in second to Saint Patrick's Day in the fireworks department, as far as I'm concerned. Leprechauns win out over cupid in the area of love. Even with no Irish bloodline, I'm one lucky lassy.

Saint Patrick's Day not quite two years ago a charming man with dazzling good looks and kind but impish eyes knocked on my door. He whisked me off for a first date of winery touring here and here, and later to a friend's Saint Paddy's Day party. The luminescent energy between us wasn't to be missed; we picked up auspicious blessings from winery owners, friends, and even my amazing wonderdog Murray before the day was over. We've been nearly inseparable ever since.
This dark spicy stout cake takes me back to all the delicious surprises the leprechauns had for us that magic day. While a true Irish Guinness would work wonderfully in this cake, I used a regional oatmeal stout from Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene, Oregon. It's available by the pint at most North West groceries. You may want to include it in your St. Patrick's Day menu.

You are really going to like this.

Oatmeal Stout Gingerbread Cake
Adapted from ">Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook

1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness stout**
1 1/4 cups dark unsulphured molasses
1 cup better, room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
3 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 tablespoon oatmeal stout or Guinness stout

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 9" x 5" or one 16" x 4" loaf pan and dust with flour.

In a large saucepan, bring the stout and molasses to a boil; then set aside to cool. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet in two or three batches, alternating with the cooled molasses mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just gently just until batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s) and bake for 60-70 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool in pan about 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack until completely cool.

Mix all glazed ingredients in small bowl until of a consistency where it will pour out in a thick ribbon, adding more stout or powdered sugar as needed. Pour slowly down center of cooled cake(s), allowing glaze to flow off edges. Garnish with additional freshly grated nutmeg.

**Try very hard to make this cake right before lunch, as the remainder of the pint is nice finished off with a corned beef sandwich.

February 12, 2010

Garam Masala

If there was a scratch-and-sniff internet, you and I could both be enjoying the exotic scent experience I'm surrounded by at the moment. If I close my eyes the toasty aromas of cinnamon, cardamon, coriander, cumin and fennel could easily convince me I was in a far-away place.

But here I am. The gray dampness of winter persists in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe you are in the American East, where it's snowing for the third time in rapid succession. While we may yearn for daffodils, warming spices continue to comfort this winter. In the Ayervedic tradition, these spices are said to nurture the vada and kapha dosha's in winter and encourage digestion for everyone. Some research indicates that the premier male aphrodisiac is cinnamon, an important ingredient in garam masala.

All I know is cinnamony garam masala is showing up on our Valentine's Day dinner menu. Make of it what you will, Gentle Reader.

There are as many recipes for garam masala in the Indian kitchen, I'm told, as there are marinara sauce recipes in the Italian kitchen. Everyone has their favorite, and it is better than anyone else's. This one is a combination from several books and online sources.
Garam Masala
2 three-inch pieces of whole cinnamon stick, placed in a small baggy and crushed with a meat mallet
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns (I used mixed peppercorns; that's what I have)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon black cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Place crushed cinnamon, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, green and black cardamom seeds, whole cloves, and fennel seeds on a dry baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes until very fragrant and you feel all the goodness has been coaxed out. Check frequently to avoid any burning. Remove spices from oven and cool.

Place all toasted seeds, salt and red pepper flakes into spice grinder and grind until very fine. Store in a glass jar and use right away. Spices loose their special freshness after about one month. I like to make only what I can use within a week, or better yet, what I will use for one meal at a time. The scent of the toasting spices is heavenly, and I like to enjoy that as often a possible!

February 9, 2010

Where Credit is Due

Beef Stroganoff
Any discussion about my love of good food and cooking must begin with my parents. And since this project, in large part, is about my love of good food and cooking, I must pay Mom and Dad tribute at the infancy of this endeavor.

Phoenix, Arizona; summer of 1969. I was an eight-year-old skinny, gangly-legged girl with a shock of blonde pixie-cut hair and bruised and band-aided knees. I was a tree-climbing, book-reading, fort-building girl. My Dad had given me a microscope the Christmas before, and that summer an inordinate amount of time was spent looking at dog hairs, moth wings, gutter water amoeba, and even my little brother's tooth scrapings on its slides.

Even children come indoors to escape the afternoon summer heat in Phoenix. That summer Arizona Public Service, the utility company, sponsored an afternoon television cooking show for kids. We sent our self-address stamped envelope away and received the show’s companion recipe booklet in order to follow along with the demonstrations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. When all the other neighborhood kids went inside to watch "Dark Shadows", I was learning to cook.
My mother, bless her soul, cheerfully allowed me complete and free access to her kitchen, and provided me with whatever ingredients necessary to try out the simple recipes such as Sunburst Salad. That, as I recall, involved setting a canned peach half on a canned pineapple ring, making a smiley face on it with raisins and setting around it radiant spokes of celery stalk. I stood for hours at the sink filled with cool water and all my Mom's measuring cups and spoons, verifying that there were exactly three teaspoons in a tablespoon, eight ounces in a cup, two cups in a pint and two pints in a quart. The only thing Mom asked was that I clean up my own messes and to try hard not to do anything too dangerous. (Thank God flambé wasn’t suggested in the APS show, or I am sure there would have been an insurance adjuster involved in this story.) Mom conveyed that she trusted me with her tools, her stove, and her knives, something I didn't fully appreciate until I became a mother myself. Her confidence in me became my own.

That summer I prepared my very first meal for our family. Iceburg lettuce wedges with Thousand Island dressing, canned green beans, and ooh la la, the piece de resistance; Pickle-in-a-Poke Steak. That elegant focal point involved hammering out a cube steak, wrapping it around a sweet gherkin, frying it up in a skillet and dousing it with bottled barbeque sauce. Yum, right??

Well, apparently, yes, yum. Here’s where my Dad comes in. Because my Dad, God bless his soul, lapped up that monstrosity like it was something straight out of the Cordon Blue School of Cooking, saying things like, “Pammy, this is delicious; really, really good!” Those magic words were all the support I needed to move on to bigger, better, fancier dishes, like Pigs in a Blanket and Surprise! Burgers. This was no small thing on my Dad’s part, because this man knows good food. His parents were exceptional cooks, and he had grown up appreciating a fine meal. And, as evidence suggests, also appreciating the intense efforts of sincere little girls.

What a little encouragement will do for a kid. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.
This stroganoff recipe was a specialty of my Grandpa Stevens’, my Dad’s dad. It is as classically delicious today as it was all those Sunday suppers so many years ago, and is an infinitely better way to serve beef than Pickle-in-a-Poke Steak. It is incredibly delicious with the right Pinot Noir, and the one I recommend for this dish is a Palotai Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2006. This Umpqua Valley vineyard and winery has a history of Hungarian-style winemaking, and is currently run by John Olson and his family. Their oaky, husky Pinot with deep cherry fruit pairs wonderfully with this Eastern European dish. Their motto is, "Do right, and fear no man, " which enamors me all the more, as I can hear my Dad give me similar advise.
Grandpa's Beef Stroganoff

1 1/2 pounds beef sirloin, well trimmed, cut into 2" x 1/2" x 1/2" strips*
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow onion, halved lengthwise, sliced into thin half-moons
1 pound crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced

salt and white pepper to taste1/3 cup dry Sherry
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) sour cream or crème fraîche

Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add meat in single layer and cook just until brown on outside, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to meat to bowl, leaving juices behind in pan, and keep gently warm. Bring meat juices to a boil briefly to reduced a bit.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced shallots and onions to butter and reduced meat juices. Sauté until tender, scraping up browned bits, about 4 minutes or so. Add sliced mushrooms, sautéing until liquid evaporates, another 10-12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Splash in the Sherry, scraping up the browned bits to deglaze the pan. Add meat and any accumulated juices from bowl. Stir in sour cream or crème fraîche. Simmer over medium-low heat until meat is heated through but still medium-rare and evenly coated with the sauce, about 2 minutes.

*It is much easier to slice the meat perfectly if it is ever so slightly frozen.

February 5, 2010

Seed, Flame, Bowl, Life

Yumm Bowls
Let me just say right from the start here that I detest fast food from just about every angle. What the whole business has done to our farming and food production practices, to our palates, and to our sacred family dinner hour is one of the saddest unravelings of our modern culture. Don't even get me going on fast food's evil twin, soda pop. If perhaps you're sensing a big "but..." coming from this rant, you'd be right. To every rule there is the exception.

In our neck of the woods we have a lovely "fast food" chain of restaurants called Cafe Yumm. Cafe Yumm was started over 30 years ago by a woman, Mary Ann Beauchamp, who just wanted to feed her kid healthfully. She created a delicious sauce that she put on bean and rice based bowls with fresh veggies and other nutritious ingredients. Eventually, she and her husband opened a deli where she sold her bowls, which has since evolved into the nine-location Cafe Yumm franchise enterprise of today. The modern, green-feeling restaurants greet you with the words, "Seed Flame Bowl Life," suggesting the cycle of healthy eating. Still focusing on beans, rice and liberal appearances of the luscious sauce, their motto is, "Soul satisfying... Deeply nourishing." And it is.

Living a good 30 miles away (and before this summer it was over 60 miles) from the nearest Cafe Yumm, I craved the nutritious, delicious fast food bowls all the time. Necessity being the mother of invention, I went on a quest to learn how to recreate the bowls at home, especially the umami-leaning sauce. Here is my adaptation of the addicting sauce recipe I found on a now-defunct blog called Chick Chat. It's pretty close to the commercially available Yumm Sauce, and is at least as good.
Original Yumm Sauce
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup almond meal (Trader Joe's carries this)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 15 oz. can low-sodium garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon curry powder

Throw all ingredients into bowl of food processor, and blend until very smooth. Makes about 3 1/2 cups sauce. Store tightly covered in refrigerator. Keeps about one week. Use on sandwiches, lightly steamed veggies, burritios, and wherever else your imagination takes you.

Roasted Garlic
Replace the fresh garlic for 6-8 cloves of roasted garlic.

Add one canned chipotle chile to mixture before blending smooth.

To build an original Yumm Bowl:
(Makes 2 large bowls.)
In each of two deep bowls, layer 1/2 cup or so of hot brown rice. Drizzle liberally (we go whole-hog here, maybe even 1/3 cup each) with Yumm Sauce. Drain and rinse one can of black beans and divide among bowls. Top bean layer with your favorite fresh salsa. In each bowl, layer on 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1 chopped tomato, 1/2 sliced avocado, and 2 Tablespoons sliced black olives. Add a small dollop of sour cream and some coarsely chopped cilantro. Feel free to riff on this, using various beans, rices, salsas, cheeses, veggies, etc. Yummmm!

The whole shebang takes only about 15 minutes of active time to prepare; 20 minutes total if you use basmati rice; 40 if you use brown rice. I usually make extra rice and throw it in bowl-sized portions in the freezer to make Yumm Bowls with on the fly. Now that's fast food!

February 2, 2010

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Lemon Apricot Poppy Seed Scones

Breakfast has always held a special charm for me. To help my young working parents in their morning rush when I was a wee one, my Great Aunt May and Great Uncle Cecil fed me breakfast then took me to day care. Not only were Aunt May and Uncle Cecil great cooks, but they also somehow imparted the importance of breakfast to physical and spiritual health.
Even though I'm not much of a morning person I don't get far down the daily line without breakfast. Breakfast is the meal necessary to stoke my body's metabolic fire. Even when trying to loose weight (or maybe I should say especially when trying to loose weight), I highly recommend beginning the day with a simple breakfast of a little protein (one egg, yogurt, cheese, etc.), a little carb (toast, cereal, etc.) and a little fruit as a way to get your calorie-burning engine running. I'm less likely to gobble up everything in sight at 11 a.m. that way, too.

I adapted this recipe from a 1998 Bon Appetit one for cranberry-orange scones. Its buttery richness definitely gives it what I consider a "feast day" designation, something reserved for, say, a breakfast-in-bed Sunday treat that nurtures the spirit. The bright citrus and tangy sweet apricot flavors along with the poppy seed crunch are sure to radiate sunshine on your day.

Apricot Lemon Poppy Seed Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
zest of 2 lemons
3 Tablespoons poppy seeds
3/4 cup (1 1/2) sticks cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup dried apricots, plumped in hot water if necessary, sliced thinly
1 cup cold buttermilk, plus 2 Tablespoons additional for brushing tops

Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Mix first eight ingredients (flours through poppy seeds) together in mixing bowl. Add butter, rubbing with fingertips while tossing in the flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, trying for nothing larger than pea-sized butter bits. Mix in dried apricots. Gradually add buttermilk, stirring until moist clumps form. On a lightly floured surface, turn dough out and need briefly to bind, about 4 turns or so. Pat dough into a 1" thick round. Cut into 10 wedges. Place wedges on parchment lined baking sheet and brush tops with additional buttermilk. Space them about 2" apart, as they do expand. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool ten minutes.

While scones are cooling, whisk melted butter, powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth, adding additional lemon juice drop by drop until glaze is thin enough to brush over scone tops, but substantial enough to make a thick glaze on the warm scones. Serve warm or room temperature.

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