The seductiveness of sushi

I'm orginially from Colorado, and I thought I would never see the day that someone else would agree with me that there is yummy sushi in Colorado...now, I know what you're thinking...


And the honest answer? I have no idea how Colorado can have good sushi. And truly, I prefer not to think about it and instead, just enjoy the fruits of the sushi chef's labor. The sushi I ate in college, the first sushi I had ever had, far exceeded any of the sushi I had while I lived in Monterey, CA for two years, and even in many places I've eaten in Oregon (though Hawaii beat the pants off any of it, and I now have some favorite places in San Francisco too).

But I did eventually learn, from a friend in Hawaii, and my friend Keiko here, and through lots of trial and error with Loving Boyfriend by my side, to make my own (although there is still much to learn!). Recently, my parents discovered sushi after a new restaurant opened up in my hometown, and I could think of nothing more bonding than to try and make it together while they were visiting us a while back (I started this post quite some time ago, but didn't finish it until our latest sushi soiree so that I could get better pictures of the process). Besides, we are blessed by having a large asian market only two blocks from our house where we can get all kinds of goodies for making sushi.

As part of the fun, we took them to the market and got broiled unagi (freshwater eel, we buy the seasoned kind), spicy daikon sprouts, sweet and succulent enoki mushrooms, mochi-covered ice cream in cappuchino, azuki bean and mango flavors, and a very big bottle of sake that the woman behind the counter helped us pick out. We even found fresh edamame (soybeans) still in their pods at the farmer's market and very fresh yellowfin tuna (for searing), salmon, and Dungeness crab meat at the fish market.

broiled unagi

daikon sprouts

enoki mushrooms

edamame (just boil for 5 min, then salt)

You can pretty much put anything you want into sushi rolls. We usually cut up a mixture of sprouts, long matchsticks of carrots and cucumbers (english cucumbers work best, without the seeds), avocado, cream cheese (excellent with salmon), and the enoki mushrooms, sometimes even fake crab (I'm not sure if this has a 'real' name), tofu, freshly smoked and very thinly sliced lox, and the fish...lay it all out on a cutting board, then let our friends make their own rolls. Cut everything into long, thin strips. Sushi is a fabulous food to make with lots of friends - a perfect excuse for a party!

It does help to buy a couple of those bamboo sushi mats, but it's not necessary. Also, you'll want to buy a few packages of Nori, or seaweed, that's been toasted. You can get most of this stuff at your local grocery store...but do make sure that you buy the freshest fish available, and even ask if it's sushi grade. It should not have any fishy smell whatsoever...it should smell like the ocean (and no, not that rotting seaweed smell at the beach, the ocean...cool, clean saltwater on an ocean breeze). The rice is the most important part about sushi - you want it cooked, cooled and sticky! Here's the recipe we use:

Sushi Rice
1 3/4 cups sushi rice 2 cups water 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt

Wash the rice well and drain. Cover with the measured water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 12 minutes then leave to sit for 5 minutes with the lid on. Meanwhile, heat the vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved then leave to cool. Turn the cooked rice out onto a flat tray to cool. When cool, place in a bowl, stir in the vinegar solution, and mix with a wooden spoon. This makes enough sushi for 4-6 people - and we always end up with leftovers (which I let Loving Boyfriend eat because I'm not so hot on leftover sushi), but you'll probably have to experiment to get the right amount every time. We're definitely still learning!

You want your work space as dry as possible - especially if you're not using sushi mats. Lay out your peice of nori in front of you with the shiny side down, on the mat if you're using mats. We've had debates aboutOnce you have everything cut up and laid out for accessibility, make sure your work surface is whether or not the lines should be perpendicular or parallel with the mat, but I really don't think it matters. Try both, and see what you think! Practice makes perfect, after all. Take a small bowl filled with warm water, dip your fingers into it (to keep the rice from sticking too much), and place a mound of rice on top of it. Using your dampened fingers, spread the rice in a thin layer (this first picture may be a bit much) out to the edges of the nori, leaving a few centimeters on all sides and about an inch towards the top. Like so:

Next, lay out all your goodies that you want in the middle of the roll (not too much!):

Pat everything down so that it fits:

Then take the bottom edge of the roll and fold it over (in this picture, she's folding from the top, but I find it easier to fold towards the top, rather than from it...but then again I'm only 5'0," so this may have something to do with that - just do whatever is easiest for you).

Squeeze it together along the length of the roll to make sure it's tight and won't fall apart on you - you can even fold the mat over and use it to squeeze things, or just use your hands.

Dip your fingers back in the bowl of warm water and run your finger along the inch-long space that didn't have any rice - this will allow the seaweed to stick to itself. Then connect the damp side to the rest, and seal your roll, smoothing things out as you go.

You can then cut your rolls into gorgeous little circles of sushi to eat. If you use a really sharp knife (I use a filet knife), they'll cut smoothly, but if you don't have one, dampen the blade of the knife you are using with a bit with water to prevent it from sticking to the rice.

Arrange your presentation and *Tah-Dah!* You did it! You made your own sushi!
Now enjoy with many cups of sake (of course)!


I'm not naming any names...

...but it wasn't me. Or Loving Boyfriend. However, I was glad to see that this kind of stuff occasionally happens to someone besides me :) Happy Monday!


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
I can't wait to hear about yours...

and for those of my friends outside the US -
I hope you had a wonderful weekend too!

I love Thanksgiving. How could someone that loves food not love a holiday that practically demands that you sit down at a table full of friends and family in front of a spread like no other the whole year? As I've become accustomed to living far away from my family and being a student with little monetary means, Thanksgiving has become more of a time to enjoy myself with friends, and Christmas is now the holiday I can't imagine not going home to spend it with my family. This year, we were graciously invited to spend it with friends from our Supper Club and their family...and my first thought? Whew...stress free!

I haven't always gotten off so easily. We've hosted Thanksgiving the last two years at our house...two years ago with about 14 friends, and last year we cooked the entire meal (yes, we're crazy) because my father and my stepmom were able to join us from chilly Alaska for the weekend. Thanksgiving usually has it's shares of disasters. Two years ago, we almost burnt the house down. I decided to make a pumpkin cheesecake - armed with a brand new (to me) springform pan second-hand from the Goodwill (don't follow in my footsteps...I repeat...do not buy your springform pan from the Goodwill!). After the butter dripped all over my oven, un-beknownst to me, Loving Boyfriend made his famous apple pie and turned the oven up to 400F. Soon after, the entire oven was engulfed in flames! We freaked out, Loving Boyfriend threw a glass full of WATER on the butter-fire, which of course caused the fire shoot out of the oven, and we freaked out even more. I finally closed the door and turned the oven off - which put the flames out - all of this only about 30 minutes before our 14 guests arrived.

Last year was full of days of stressful preparation, most of my paycheck in food supplies and last minute rushed shopping trips for gadgets I didn't have and didn't know I needed - like a turkey baster, or a roasting pan... and nothing terrible happened thank God. It was my first time cooking a turkey, and it came out surprisingly well. We brined it overnight in an apple cider mixture, and it turned out juicy and delicious. Our biggest dilemma was realizing that the roasting pan we bought didn't really fit in the oven, and so tipped forward (because we had to push it all the way to the back of the oven, where that little lip on the rack is) and allowed all the juices to run to one side while the other side burned. Luckily the burning didn't flavor the turkey like charcoal, and Loving Boyfriend saved the day by making a tin-foil lip on the front side of the rack.

So this Thanksgiving really was stress-free. We were in charge of the mashed potatoes and the stuffing. BTW - Loving Boyfriend and I are having an argument about whether or not you can have both mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes in the same Thanksgiving meal...he says no to two types of potatoes in the same meal, I say that's ridiculous, you're 'supposed' to have both...anyone supporting me is welcome to voice their agreement :) So there, LB!

I found this recipe in Gourmet last month, and it was delicious, although a little too mushroomy for my tastes (if there is such a thing) so next time, I think I'll use mostly veggie broth, with only a cup or two of the reserved liquid.

Rustic Porcini and Onion Stuffing, from Gourmet

1 1/2 (1-lb) Pullman or round loaves, torn into 1-inch pieces (20 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter plus additional for greasing dish
4 1/2 cups boiling-hot water
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (sometimes called cèpes; 54 g)
10 oz fresh white mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch wedges (3 cups)
1 large onion, halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
4 large shallots, quartered
2 celery ribs, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread bread in 2 large shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until dry, 20 to 25 minutes total. Transfer bread to a large bowl.

Increase oven temperature to 450°F and butter a 13- by 9-inch baking dish (3-quart capacity).

Pour boiling-hot water over porcini and soak 20 minutes, then drain in a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl, squeezing porcini and reserving soaking liquid. Rinse porcini under cold water to remove any grit, then squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.

While porcini soak, heat butter (1 stick) in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then cook white mushrooms, onion, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Add celery, carrots, garlic, and porcini and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Stir in thyme, sage, parsley, salt, and pepper, then add vegetables to bread, tossing to combine.

Add 1 cup reserved porcini-soaking liquid to skillet and deglaze by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Add remaining soaking liquid and salt and pepper to taste and pour over bread mixture, tossing to coat evenly.

Spread stuffing in baking dish and cover tightly with buttered foil (buttered side down), then bake in upper third of oven until heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake stuffing until top is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more.

• Stuffing can be assembled (but not baked) 2 days ahead and chilled, covered.
• Stuffing can be baked 6 hours ahead and kept, uncovered, at room temperature. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until hot, about 30 minutes (test center with a wooden pick for warmth).

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

My Notes: Like I said above, it was a little mushroomy for my tastes, but everyone else seemed to like it. I also may not have gotten the bread quite dry enough because it was very moist, although I read some suggestions about it not being moist enough...but this also could have been because it sat, covered in tin foil for almost an hour, until we ate. And if anyone can tell me what a "Pullman" loaf is, I'd appreciate it...the bakery where I got my bread didn't even know, so I just used a loaf of crusty "American white."

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!


The last farmer's market of the season

Eugene's farmer's markets are wonderful, and a large portion of my Saturdays are spent there for the majority of the year. They're a meeting place of food lovers, chefs, home cooks, people who want to know where their food is coming from, and that it's raised sustainably, and some I'm sure just because it's so nice to browse all the gorgeous produce. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end at some point. We just had our last Saturday farmer's market of the year last weekend, and I'm sad to see it go. Lucky for me, the Holiday Market picks up right away once the farmer's market ends and lasts at least through Christmas. This is where I found truffles last year...no, not the chocolate kind...but plump, round, earthy Oregon truffles...dug up, by hand, from the forest...so that's something to look forward to. But then, until May of next year, the grocery store will be my only access to locally grown, organic vegetables and fruits, and it's much harder there to learn about what I'm eating, touch the hands that grew it, or even to know what's in season.

Not that I don't love our grocery store - PC Markets have great access to organic, in-season foodstuffs, and I'm lucky enough to have one just two blocks from my house. But I will definitely miss those lazy Saturday mornings browsing the market, amazed by all of the gorgeous displays of colorful vegetables, the smokey scent of roasting peppers, and beautiful fresh flowers. I'll miss the excitement of finding that one fruit or vegetable that's just come into season that I've never even heard of, seeing the first tomato or huckleberries or apples or fresh porcinis and chanterelles of the year, and especially, long chats with my favorite farmers. And I have to admit, it was this market, and these farmers, that turned my love of food and cooking into a full-blown passion over the last couple of years I've lived here. How could I not fall in love with it? How could I not yearn to cook with this amazing bounty available to me every week?

I'll miss my Saturday morning ritual, but in this holiday season, and with winter settling into the Cascade Mountains and as my home becomes inwardly cozier with fires every evening to heat the house from the chill outside, I have more opportunities to snuggle on the couch with Loving Boyfriend and relish the warmth and satisfaction of all the comforting foods of the season, and I'm thankful. Thankful for all the glorious, healthful produce the local farmers have provided me this year and for allowing me those slow mornings to clear my head, meet the people that grew the food that has blessed my table, and shake the hands that picked it. Indirectly, it's also allowed me meet all of you, too, and as most of you that have been reading know already, I'm incredibly thankful for that too.


Other blogger's recipes

Well, I know that we all try to come up with stunning recipes every day to WOW our readers and make others want to rush home, drop their bags as soon as they walk in the door and make our recipes. Okay, I admit that's what I do, but since I'm still very much learning, I am well aware that mine aren't exactly stunning every day...admittedly not even most days, but I love you all for still coming back to see me anyway :).

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I find myself drooling over someone else's recipe while I'm reading it, I immediately have to print it out, rush home, drop my bags as soon as I walk in the door and make it!

Unfortunately, most days this scenario generally goes more like me printing it out, finding I don't have everything I need to make it and desperately waiting for the weekend to come so that I can actually have some time to cook. This goes double for when I'm sick, like I have been lately, and have no energy to try and find a new recipe to add to my repertoir. Thank goodness for other blogger's recipes! Recently, I was finally able to make two of the recipes I'd been drooling over for quite some time...

And I'm here to be the judge and tell you - they're both fabulous! I'll be making them again and again, I'm sure. So, if my opinion means anything, these women know what they're doing when
it comes to the kitchen!

The first was dinner a few nights ago. Lo and behold, Farmer Steve, our disappearing CSA farmer, out of the blue and after no contact from him for over a month, left an apologetic letter and a huge box of potatoes, green peppers, delicata squash, and some little yummy sugar pumpkins. First I was shocked, then felt bad for him, then pleased with the bounty before me, and then I realized there were three little perfect pumpkins right in front of me ...hmmm...didn't I have a recipe here that I've been dying to make from pumpkins? Yes!

Ilva's fabulous Risotto di Zucca e Taleggio...or Risotto with Pumpkin and Taleggio Cheese. You can find her recipe here. The recipes that Ilva posts on her blog, Lucullian delights, always make me drool incessently on my keyboard and her pictures of Tuscany are a welcome respite from the boring doldrums of a science lab where they play with fruit flies all day long (not me, just them). The recipe is simple, and delicious. I also had the pleasure of making my way to the cheese counter at my local supermarket to try and find this Italian cheese I'd never heard of before. Taleggio. Lucky for me, the cheese steward pointed me right to it and assuaged my fears that we wouldn't have it here. It was not what I was expecting at all - I think I had assumed it would be something like parmesan - hard and grateable. It's nothing like that! It's almost like a brie. When I got it home and unwrapped it, I was even more surprised...it smelled like dirty gym socks! "Slightly pungent," she says...Ha! I briefly considered grating out some parmesan, but the taste was actually very pleasant and mild, so I cut it into mushy cubes, and threw it in when the risotto was still slightly chewy.

My only advice would be to add the cheese a bit at a time, then taste, because when my temporary roommate, N., smelled it, she asked if she could have a bowl without cheese on the side. I acommodated her, but then I had too much cheese because I added it without accounting for the missing rice...so it was very, very creamy...but still tasty!

The second recipe is from Orangette, a blog I only recently found. It's her Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Ricotta, Orange Zest, and Bourbon . One word? YUM. These little jewels were devoured by everyone in the house within a day a half. They're sweet, but not too sweet, rich but not too rich, and dense, but light in the mouth. They're awesome. I made them to take to a potluck, but Loving Boyfriend, after tasting them, said we were picking up chips on the way because he didn't want to share. My biggest problem was that I only own a 6-cup muffin tin, and they take 30 minutes to bake, so it took me quite a while. Curiously, though, the second batch turned out the prettiest.

If you haven't been to either of these women's blogs, do so. See what they're up to, laugh at their ancedotes, and by all means, try one of their recipes. It's a great way to try something new without having to do any of the brain-work...and an ideal way to spend your time when you're not feeling up to homework or being creative, but get bored watching tv and have a headache too bad to read...basically my life these last few days from the cold I caught from LB. Thanks a lot, LB!


For the love of chocolate

First, a note: Loving Boyfriend just had his very first first-author scientific journal article accepted for publication yesterday...so I'm very proud of him!

Slow Food is a fantastic organization that I whole-heartedly endorse, even with my meager graduate student stipend. In their words, it's

"an educational organization dedicated to stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; to the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community; to the invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions; to the creation of a collaborative, ecologically-oriented, and virtuous globalization; and to living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life.

Slow Food is also simply about taking the time to slow down and to enjoy life with family and friends. Everyday can be enriched by doing something slow - making pasta from scratch one night, seductively squeezing your own orange juice from the fresh fruit, lingering over a glass of wine and a slice of cheese - even deciding to eat lunch sitting down instead of standing up.."

Every bit of that description is something I believe in, and also work at trying to do in my own life. I've been a member of Slow Food Eugene for almost a year now, and although I've drooled at the very mention of each event they were having (turkey tastings, dinners at wineries and peach orchards, demonstrations of different cuts of meat and where they come from, apple tastings...the list goes on and on), for one reason or another, I haven't been able to attend a single one. Boo.

But when I first saw the advertisement for this gem: For the Love of Chocolate, there was no way I was missing it. I teamed up with McAuliflower, the creative mind behind Brownie Points, and we traveled our way to Junction City to meet other chocolate enthusiasts and learn all we could learn about this aphrodisiac (although they don't condone this description, who could argue about how sexy and tempting a rich, luxurious piece of chocolate is?) in three hours.

First of all, I think we were perhaps the youngest people in the room, which I was somewhat surprised about. Perhaps since this is a college town, and eating the 'slow food way' isn't always the cheapest way to go although I don't think it necessarily has to be expensive), students are less likely to want to pay $30 to go and learn about chocolate! But I'm happy to be supporting something I believe in, and I love meeting 'grown-ups,' especially grown-ups that love food as much as I do. :) Imagine walking into brightly-lit room, filled with roses in simple, round, clear glass vases with miniature antique chocolate advertisements on the front. You choose a table, setting your things down, only to see in front of you a set up like this:

CHOCOLATE. Mmmm.... Then, while we browsed the silent auction offerings that were a benefit to Eugene's School Garden Project (a very worthy cause as well), we had cups full of thick, molten chocolate from places like Madagascar, Venezuela, and Columbia.

The tasting itself was led by Paul Albright from the E. Guittard Chocolate Company. They've been making chocolate since the 1800s and it's still a family-owned company, specializing in high-end chocolate (one of their competitors include Valrhona and Ghiradelli). Cocao beans come from cocao trees that grow in seven major regions along the equator, with the most (and best supposedly) coming from the Ivory Coast.

Our first order of business was the single-origin varietal chocolates, encompassing bittersweet dark chocolates from Northern Madagascar, Northern Colombia, Northern Ecuador, and Western Venezuela, and a blend of several. My favorites were the Columbian and Ecuadorian chocolates, and it was interesting that you could actually taste the different varieties of cocao beans (criollo and trinitario - they have actually done a lot of standard genetic breeding to get the most productive varieties possible) that grew in each particular region both in the single chocolate and the blend.

We learned about what the percentage of cocao on packages meant - for instance, 'cocao' is both the cocao liquor (or the roasted and ground up beans) as well as the amount of cocoa butter - or fat, that is added, and varying amounts of both can equal to the same percentage (ie. 70% cocao can mean 0% fat, 70% cocao liquor, or 10% fat, 60% cocao liquor - but apparently only in-the-know chefs and the company can tell you what your particular chocolate bar is made of). I also learned that 'theobromine' is the compound found in chocolate (and also in tea!) that is toxic to dogs...I've always wondered that.

We tasted semi-sweet and bittersweet dark, milk, and white chocolate - as well as the difference that the grind makes. Hold the chocolate morsel just between your tongue and the back of your front teeth to get that sensation. The viscosity, or amount of fat added, also makes a difference in both mouthfeel and taste (who knew there was so much to know about chocolate!). We also learned a little about how chocolate is made...I don't remember all of it, but I do remember that cacao is fermented in the places where it is grown and reaches the processing factories in the form of dried beans. From here to the bar of chocolate, it is the companies that choose which and how many types of cocoa are to be used and how they will be processed. This complicated process sets out from the same point but yields very different results.

After fully saturating ourselves with every type of chocolate imaginable, we tasted savory and sweet chocolate nibbles. The menu included: Vella Dry Jack Cheese, Mole Salami by Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (Mario Batali's father's business, apparently), Chicken with a delicious chocolate mole Sauce, and the dark and soft Chocolate Cherry Bread from Eugene City Bakery. My favorite was the unusual, savory-sweet salami! To finish the evening off, McAuliflower and I swooped in to make bids on the silent auction, and because of our watchful eyes - I won a vintage bottle of 1982 Carmenet Red Table Wine from Sonoma for a great price! That's only four years younger than I am! Loving Boyfriend and I like to dream about some day having our very own wine cellar - okay, well, at least a wine refrigerator - so this is our first bottle of vintage wine. I think I might just have to enjoy it with a big bar of chocolate one of these days to celebrate (I've heard it should be drunk before too much longer).


Culinary Confessions

I've been seeing more and more bloggers spill their hearts and secrets onto their blogs - they made me laugh so often, that I just had to follow suite...

1. I have spices that are so old I have no recollection of how long I’ve had them.

2. I have a weakness for buying any kind of food-related item that I’ve never seen before in brief moments of impulsiveness (Loving Boyfriend teases me endlessly about this).

3. I sometimes sneak in the house, remove the price-tags, and hide my food-related purchases as soon as I get home, so that LB won’t know I bought more food-related items.

4. I have many food-related items bought impulsively that have never been opened.

5. I sometimes re-arrange the dishes in the dishwasher after LB puts them in there because I don’t think they fit as well when he does it.

6. If I make something and it ends up that I don’t really like it, I’ll try to weasel out of eating the leftovers and leave them for LB (ie. I’ll have unexpected lunch plans the next day or lab meeting or…).

7. The (white plastic) silverware divider in my silverware drawer has food particles that have somehow magically appeared out of nowhere from my clean silverware and collected in the tops of each of the silverware spaces. Exactly how this happens when I only put clean silverware in there (I promise! And I'm good at doing dishes!) still causes me endless confusion...

8. Even though I see the food particles in the silverware divider every day when I open the drawer, I have yet to clean it out. Even once. (EW.)

9. I collect items in the freezer for using ‘some day.’ But ‘some day’ sometimes never comes.

10. I hate wasting food. I’ve been known to devise whole meals around that little bit of leftover radicchio in the refrigerator…including buying more ingredients to make it…thus, having more leftovers that I don’t want to waste either.

11. That said, I sometimes waste food.

12. If something I’m cooking doesn’t end up working out like I think it will, I’ve been known to give it to LB, but not to eat it myself, out of sheer spite of my own frustration.

13. If something has rotted in my fridge for a long period of time in a Tupperware container because I have forgotten that it’s in there, I’ll just throw out the Tupperware so that I never have to open it and see what it looks like, or worse, smell what it smells like.

12. Sometimes if LB makes something I don’t really like, I’ll eat it anyway and pretend to like it (but I won’t eat the leftovers then either). (I do like it most of the time, though, honey!)

13. I secretly love Stovetop stuffing, made in the microwave, with butter. I also love those roasted chickens you can buy already roasted in the grocery store.

14. I have yet to figure out how NOT to make a complete mess of my kitchen and myself I’m baking. I’m especially prone to getting flour all over my face. I’ve even accidentally poured batter into the motor of my hand-held mixer. And killed it. That’s how I got my Kitchenaid mixer. I still make a mess, even with the Kitchenaid mixer.

15. I get most of my kitchen equipment from the Goodwill…a dehydrator, a pasta maker, many knives, the list goes on and on…


Potato Encrusted Halibut with Roasted Onions and Fennel

Have you ever been eating out at a restaurant and seen something on the menu (or in my case, something on someone else's plate) that just sounds (or looks) so delicious that you think to yourself, "mmm...I have to try and make that at home"?? This was one of those times. Loving Boyfriend and I were at the Steelhead Brewery last week for a going-away dinner for a friend and the woman sitting next to me ordered potato encrusted halibut. Yummy. And having a freezer full of wild Alaskan halibut that needs eatin,' the wheels started turnin.' Their version has tarragon and asagio cheese, which I'm sure is fabulous, but I didn't have either of those ingredients on hand. What I did have was some thyme (left over from the potato leek soup), some potatoes (also from the soup making), some goat-zarella cheese (a texture like mozzarella, but with a slight goat-cheese taste to it), cheddar cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, and the Internet at my disposal.

I've already told you my fear of not using recipes that I am trying to overcome, so this was my attempt at being flexible...unfortunately for me these times usually end up disasterous...but read on. I didn't print off a recipe, but instead, got ideas from the Internet for how to get the potato to stick to the fish. After thawing two fillets out, I turned the oven on to 400F - then lined a baking pan with tin foil and cut up a fennel bulb and quartered a couple of small onions. While I roasted the vegies with olive oil, salt, and pepper, I mixed together a couple of tbsp. of real mayonnaise, some whole-grain, dijon mustard, and some fresh thyme. I skinned the fillets, patted them dry, and salt and peppered them. In another bowl, I grated yukon potatoes (what I had on hand, but russets would probably work better) and then squeezed them dry with paper towels (they have a TON of water in them!!). I then added enough goatzerella and cheddar cheese to give a little flavor without being too cheesy (if there is such a thing).

After ten minutes in the oven, I removed the pan, moved the veggies over to the sides of the pan and placed the fish fillets right in the center. I slathered them with the mayonnaise mixture, then added the potato mixture on top, gently pressed it in with my fingertips, and stuck the whole thing in the oven.

Here's where the disaster started. After about 15 minutes in the oven, I figured that the fish must be done, turned the broiler on because the potatoes weren't browning like I wanted them too, and...oh, did I forget to mention that our oven is almost 100 degrees on the high side? About 5 minutes later, the
fire alarm with its newly-put-in-battery-from-the-Halloween -shindig went off. As I ran and started fanning the fire alarm, the oven, as a safety measure I guess, kicked itself off. I left the fish in there for a few more minutes hoping it was finished cooking and pulled it out. It was still raw in the center. Now my potatoes were crusty, but my fish wasn't done, and my oven wouldn't turn back on.

Sooo...out came the frying pan. I added some olive oil, heated up the pan and seared the fish on the bottom until it was cooked through (can't tell from the picture though, huh?). All in all, it was actually delicious. Crispy potatoes on top with the soft, tender flesh of the fish beneath. There was the slight tang of the mustard/mayo mix and a gentle suggestion of thyme. I would definitely eat it again, although I've learned my lesson with broiling in my oven. I served it with a simple salad and Loving Boyfriend's homemade oil and vinegar dressing (it's different every time!), and the roasted vegetables on the side. The roasted fennel and onions were awesome, especially the fennel which were wonderfully carmelized. After dinner we discovered our kitchen drain is plugged...completely.
Ahhh, adventure in the kitchen.


Happy Birthday to Vickie

Happy birthday to Vickie!

This is a sugar-free, dairy-free (and low fat!) dessert of yummy deliciousness made in honor of Vickie's special day. The recipe can be found at:


If you haven't checked out Vickie's site, The Moveable Feast Food Blog, go check her out - she makes me laugh every day and even though I won't get to meet her anytime soon, she's quickly becoming a friend. Have a wonderful, scrumptuous, fun-filled happy day, Vickie!

My notes on the recipe; This was very tasty and my first attempt at a cake that didn't include lots of butter or cream or sugar (whew!). The leftovers of the cake itself makes a good breakfast bread as it's not too sweet and is somewhat dense despite it's airy look.

It does taste a bit better with the sauce, because it's flavor remains vaguely reminiscent of the whole wheat flour used. My only complaint with the sauce is the arrowroot powder - it always makes anything I use it in a rather snotty texture - does this happen to anyone else or just me? Is there a way to prevent it? But it still tastes lovely on the cake and doesn't taste snotty in the mouth (thank goodness!). Also, I used frozen strawberries in lieu of the fresh ones because I couldn't find any - it being almost winter here, this is not surprising, even though we were still getting fresh strawberries at the farmer's market just a few weeks ago. I didn't thaw them out, just poured the hot sauce over them and they thawed just right on their own. The tofu cream, however, was a nightmare. Anyone made this before? Mine didn't get creamy at all, just chunky! I had it in the kitchenaid mixer with the wire wipe, so maybe I should have used the paddle or something or perhaps there is something you can add to make it creamier. She claims there is too much water in the soft tofu, and I did drain the firm tofu for a few minutes, which might have caused my problem. I would definitely try this again as we have a lactose intolerant member in our book club and I would love to make desserts that she could eat as well, so if anyone has tips that would be helpful, I would appreciate it. Overall, it was a tasty dessert, and really easy.


It's dark and dreary...

Even as I write this at 3 pm in the afternoon, I feel the darkness encroaching...I hate daylight savings. Elsewhere in the world, people live just fine without daylight savings...why must we be tortured un-needlessly? Getting up in the morning in the dark, and having it become dark before I even leave work in the afternoons makes me tired and cranky...especially when it wasn't like that only a few days ago! Plus, the days are colder and we haven't re-supplied our woodpile for the winter yet and have no heat. All of this makes me crave lots comfort foods...bread (lots of bread), lasagne, shephard's pies, and warm, fill-your-belly soups. I saw this recipe a month ago and wanted to make it, but just hadn't got around to it. Then, daylight savings crept up on me, and my hips, thighs and butt started screaming out to me for more padding..."We need warmth! Feed us!" ...one must always keep her hips, thighs and butt happy!

It was time.

I gathered up all the ingredients, pulled the rest of the leeks from the garden, chopped the potatoes up and threw everything in the pot besides the cream. It was really quick and easy, and incredibly creamy for having only 1/3 cup of cream stirred into it at the end (but I think it would be just as yummy even without the cream for my non-dairy friends). The toasts are great - satisfyingly crunchy and meltingly cheesy; and it makes wonderful leftovers (well, I'd make the toasts fresh, of course). I'll definitely make both again and may even keep the toast recipe in my repertoir for other dinners or snacks as well.

Golden Potato Leek Soup with Cheddar Toasts, from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon butter
3 cups thinly sliced leek (about 3 medium)
6 cups cubed peeled Yukon gold potato (about 2 1/4 pounds)
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (14-ounce) cans vegetable stock...or an equivalent amount of homemade
2 thyme sprigs

Cheddar Toasts:
8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices diagonally cut sourdough French bread baguette
Cooking spray
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper or I used paprika b/c for some reason I can't find ground red pepper to save my life...is there something I'm missing here???

Remaining Ingredients:
1/3 cup whipping cream
freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

To prepare soup, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leek; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally (do not brown). Add potatoes, water, salt, broth, and 2 thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.

To prepare cheddar toasts, place baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes or until toasted. Turn slices over; coat with cooking spray, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon cheese over each slice. Bake 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Sprinkle evenly with red pepper.

Remove pan from heat; discard thyme sprigs (they lose most of their leaves in the soup). Partially mash potatoes with a potato masher; stir in cream. Sprinkle with lots of black pepper, and fresh thyme...this really helps with the flavor...and I added a little extra salt. Serve with cheddar toasts. Other garnishes could include bacon and/or cheese for extra pizazz and flavor.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 1 cup soup and 1 toast)

CALORIES 299(25% from fat); FAT 8.6g (sat 4.7g,mono 2.7g,poly 0.6g)


Loving Boyfriend's "Off the Cuff" Stir-Fry

As I've told you before, Loving Boyfriend has a completely different philosopy on cooking than I do...the no rules philosophy. One of his favorite ways to show this off is by making stir fry. He was so proud of this one, and I do admit it was extremely tasty, he asked if I would share it with all of you. I said, "Yes, if you'll write it!" He even took the picture (I'm so proud).

So here's a guest appearance by his truly, Loving Boyfriend...

To make my ‘off the cuff' stir fry I did the following:

In order to properly make a tasty stir-fry, only one true ingredient is necessary...absolutely no plan! Stir-fry is the cooking equivalent of abstract art. You never know exactly what it is, but if enough people say it is good, it is. This particular creation existed in the form of the following vegetables: celery, carrots, cucumbers, jalapeño peppers, ancho chiles (green), onion (always a must), mushrooms (those little ones – enoki, this stir-fry works great for using up sushi leftover veggies, or any leftover veggies for that matter), and radicchio.

The sauce consisted of (in approximate ratios):

1 part hoison sauce
1-1.5 parts soy sauce
3/4 part sugar (honey would have been good but I didn't think fast enough)
some tabasco drops
Finally, a finger dipped in to ensure taste (adjust flavors as necessary and make sure to taste the sauce before you cut up the jalapeño...it burns)

To make the stir fry:

1. Make sauce
2. Cut up veggies
3. Heat peanut oil in pan
4. Add onion and hot pepper. Cook a few minutes (1-3)
5. Add other veggies in order, so as not over-cook any of them
6. Add sauce
7. Mince an Emeril amount of garlic (garlic press works best) into pan (ie. LOTS of garlic!)
8. Stir and let cook a little, about 2-3 min. You can also add some flour or arrow-root powder or cornstarch to the sauce if you like a thicker style sauce.
9. Serve over the rice I forgot to mention earlier.

There you have it!

(Isn't he cute?)


Halloween Shindig and the Pumpkin You've All Been Waiting For

Well, I know I bragged incessantly about the perfect pumpkin that Loving Boyfriend had so graciously given me, but I confess that it had to go to a higher purpose other than my foodie longings...the Halloween Shindig. Now, we don't have parties very often (well, not ragers anyway) but occasionally, you have to give the people what they want...and I do have to say, we're good at what we do. When we do have one, we go all out...and I've heard they are

The "White Trash" party for our housewarming was hilarious...people who didn't come in character actually left the party to go get decked out in trashy attire...but that's another story.
It's Halloweentime, and we filled the house from front yard to back yard full of Halloween horrors.

I know I talked about carving an apple tree into my perfect pumpkin...but that didn't happen, so instead, we hung a zombie from the apple tree.

Entry into the party required a costume, and a brave heart...there were even ghouls coming out of the carpet in the living room (Loving Boyfriend is very proud of this one). There were no real lights in the entire place, just black lights, red lights, and blue lights...

The dining room was complete with a kitty from pet cemetary (I was not the one who hung it from the ceiling fan, I promise! All you weekend kitty bloggers, I'm sorry!) And we had some food (the decorations took all day and I didn't get to make any food!) - mostly orange chips, gummy worms, candy corns, and roasted pumpkin seeds with curry powder and cinnamon and sugar (okay, I did take time out to make those). We also provided apple cider with ice made from filling a glove with water and freezing it so that when it's removed it looks like a hand. I thought this was a great idea, but getting the glove off of the ice proved to be rather difficult, so next time I'll freeze bugs in ice cubes instead.

And of course, the kitchen...a foodie witch's dream...

The backyard was our graveyard...

And of course, the pumpkins. I couldn't get my camera steady enough to take decent pictures of them lighted - it was raining and I couldn't simulataneously get far enough away and put the camer on something to steady it...but here's Loving Boyfriend's perfect pumpkin (plus another one we did...the girl from the Exorcist):

Honestly, believe it or not, I considered buying another pumpkin last night and attempting to carve a kitchenaid mixer in it for all of you...but it didn't happen. Instead, I gave into my longings and I finally got to make some Halloween treats last night (for us, as we didn't get a single trick-or-treater...booooo...). This was right before I watched what is possibly the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life...I think I lost brain cells the entire 2 hours it was on. Jason X. Did you know there were TEN Jason movies? I had no idea! It was the only scary movie we could find on the television (which still is beyond my understanding...it was Halloween, after all!), and my brain regrets that I wasted 2 hours of my preciously short life watching it. It wasn't even scary enough I got to snuggle up to Loving Boyfriend and feign fear. But hey, it was still a good Halloween, and I spent it making caramels (the first real cooking I've done in almost a week!) and with my honey.

Butter Rum Caramels, from Gourmet, October 2005

vegetable oil
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick (1/4 cup unsalted butter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp dark rum
1/4 tsp. vanilla

You'll also need: parchment paper and a candy thermometer

Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper and oil the parchment. Bring brown sugar, cream, butter, salt and 1/4 cup rum to a boil over moderate heat in a 3-4 quart heavy saucepan. Stirring frequently, and watching so that it doesn't boil over, boil until the thermometer reaches 248F (firm-ball stage)...they say this takes about 15 minutes, but on my stove, it took closer to 25. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1 tsp. of rum and the 1/4 tsp. of vanilla. Pour into the pan and let cool until fi
rm (1-2 hours). Invert onto a cutting board and discard parchment. Turn the caramel over so that the glossy side is up and cut into 1-inch squares. Store in an airtight container for up to one week with parchment paper between layers of caramels.

My notes: These didn't come out as thick as the picture in the magazine, so next time, I would either use a smaller pan or double the recipe to get that real caramel square shape. In addition, have you ever lined a pan with parchment paper? It's impossible to do it so that it isn't a big mess! This was the hardest part of the whole thing...are you supposed to cut the corners or just push it down into the pan and hope for the best? grrr.... I also would maybe cook it until it reaches about 230 F because they're a bit more chewy than I like them...I prefer them soft and pliable than stick-to-your-teeth hard, but they are tasty!
And don't forget to turn over the caramel so the glossy side is up...I promise you it will stick very well to your cutting board if you forget! Enjoy!