Loving Boyfriend's thing

Now get your mind out of the gutter!
Not that kind of "thing."

Loving Boyfriend has a "thing"
for cucumbers.

A thing for cooked cucumbers.

Now, I know that you're all on my side
(what other side is there?)
so that when you hear those two words together:
"cooked" + "cucumber" =

you want to throw up.

Think about it: cuke even rhymes with puke!

I, myself, would never bastardize a delightfully crisp cucumber by cooking it.

But Loving Boyfriend, being the adventurous soul that he is, never ceases to toss a few cukes into a stir fry, a bulgogi-type dish, a casserole...

all the while cackling evily and ignoring my gagging noises in the background.

The first time he told me he wanted to make Sauteed Salmon with Cucumbers, I immediately thought, "Oh no, not again."
(Blech. Gag. Cough.)

But the fact of the matter is: I was wrong.

So, so wrong.
Yes, that's me admitting that I was wrong.

Enjoy it while you can, LB.

Because I am never wrong.
Except maybe this once.
Don't worry, it won't happen again.

(This, of course, does not mean that you were "right,"
only that I was mistaken.)

This time, and this time only, sauteed cukes were incredibly delicious. So delicious, in fact, that although the recipe says it will feed "4," it really only feeds "2..."

in one glorious, hedonistic sitting.

Try it, you'll see. This has become one of our favorite dishes (really). It looks heavy in all of its luscious creaminess, but it's not. It's just perfect, and light, and oh so tasty.

Sauteed Salmon with Cucumber, from the Four Seasons Cookbook by Shirley Gill

1 lb salmon filet, skinned
3 tbsp. butter
2 spring onions, chopped
1/2 cucumber (we use English cucumbers so we don't have to seed them)
4 tbsp. dry white wine
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
2 tomatoes, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the salmon into thin strips. Melt the butter in a large saute pan, add the salmon and saute for 1-2 minutes. Remove the salmon strips using a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the spring onions to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the cucumber and saute for 1-2 minutes, or until hot. Be extremely careful not to overcook the cucumber, or the texture will be lost and remember: overcooked cuke still = pu... Remove the cucumber and keep warm with the salmon. Add the wine to the pan and let it bubble until well reduced. Stir in the cucumber, creme fraiche, 1 tbsp. of the chives and the salt and pepper to taste. Return the salmon to the pan and warm through gently. Sprinkle the tomatoes and remaining chives over the mixture and serve at once.

**PS. Yeah, um, those of you who have been with me since the early days of my little blog might be wondering what happened to The Challenge. Well, truth be told, ever since the couscous incident, we pretty much haven't opened the book since. Five days of trying to make that stuff edible sort of burnt us out (I really do hate wasting food...even if it means I have die a slow death of eating awful, unsatisfying food that I've cooked myself). The Challenge itself, I think, is over because we are so behind but after opening the book once more to get this little gem of a recipe out, you might be seeing a few more recipes in the future. We'll see.


Prosciutto-wrapped packages of Spring

Nothing says "SPRING" to me like the thin, bright green spears of asparagus.

(Except, perhaps, for the first sunny day after months and months of gray skies and torrential rain...) One of my favorite ways to eat asparagus is simply blanched or steamed until just tender, drizzled with a light touch of fruity olive oil and sprinkled with salt.

Yet no matter how hard I try to be 'proper,' 'polite,' or 'grown up,' I simply cannot eat it with a fork and knife...I have to pick it up gently and eat it with my fingers, snapping off small bites with my teeth. To me, asparagus has always been a finger food. I especially love the surprise of finding it on appetizer platters for dipping in hummus or creamy vegetable dips.

But when I saw this appetizer on the first few pages of Gourmet magazine when I picked it up this month, I was sold: Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with truffle butter. You already know how I feel about truffles, but this is finger food at it's finest, complete with a big, welcome "hello" to Spring. Plus, with all the basketball games going on lately, there was even a perfect excuse to make it.

Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with truffle butter, from Gourmet

1 lb. medium asparagus (not too thin, or it won't stand up to being wrapped in the salty goodness of the prosciutto)
salt, to taste
1/2 tsp. white truffle oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 lb. of thinly sliced proscuitto (having your butcher place wax paper between each slice is a huge time-saver and makes for a much prettier presentation)

Prepare a large bowl filled with ice and cold water. Trim the asparagus and steam over boiling water until crisp-tender (~4 min.), then place in the cold water with tongs to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry gently. Season with salt.

Stir oil into butter until incorporated. (Alternatively, make your own truffle butter with real truffles if you've got them). Thinly coat the slices of prosciutto with the truffle butter, then roll up the asparagus spears in the prosciutto, leaving the tip and end visible. You can roll your asparagus packages up a little more than I did - I didn't read it as carefully as I should have and only wrapped the ends, but it was still a big hit :)


Lasagna Roll-ups

I have a weakness for lasagna whenever I go to an Italian restaurant. I can't help it. It doesn't matter that there are many other dishes on the menu that sound delicious or that I wouldn't have the slightest idea how to make at home (something I try to make sure I usually get at any other type of restaurant). Yet I simply see the word 'lasagna' on the menu with its layers of cheese and marinara and sausage and some gene way down in the recesses of my DNA gets turned on and starts pumping out messages to my brain to make the neurotransmitters go go go and my mouth starts drooling and my brain instantly says: LASAGNA...MUST HAVE LASAGNA ...ORDER LASAGNA NOW!!!

So, inevitably, I do (what's a girl to do when she's up against her own DNA?!). This same thing happens to me when I see an eggplant parmesan sandwhich (at lunchtime) or fried calamari on a menu too. Mmmm...fried calamari.

I've made a lasagna at home once or twice, sure, but it's never been had the same effect on me as ordering it out. I do like to make it however: layering on the noodles and ricotta and cheese is pure culinary enjoyment. Recently, however, I was flipping swiftly through the channels (I'm not a big TV watcher) and lo and behold, out from the TV floated that sacred word: lasagna... I stopped. I went back. It was Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian. She's not usually a show that I watch, but she was making Lasagna Rolls - tablespoons of ricotta, parmesan, lusty dark-green spinach and salty prosciutto spread onto lasagna noodles and rolled up into a nice little package you can really sink your fork into.

What can I say? This kicked the DNA into gear, and I promptly went out to my neighborhood grocery store and bought myself the ingredients. So I'm a slave to my DNA. Yeah, yeah. So are you! All I know is, that at least in this department, my DNA has never let me down. These are excellent. A perfect balance of cheeses, savory fillings, and sauce (sauce on the light side, just enough to add a touch of tomato flavor while allowing the other ingredients to shine).

Try Kitchen Queen's ideas for your mis en place to help everything go smoothly! Giada calls this 'fast food, the Italian way', but it takes about an hour and half! We still loved it, and I even think it would even be an impressive dish for guests.

Lasagna Rolls, adapted slightly from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian (tv)

Bechamel Sauce:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg (freshly ground, if you can)

8 oz of low-fat ricotta cheese (you could use whole milk ricotta instead - I'm trying to watch my 'girlish figure')
1 bag of baby spinach (I'm not sure of the size I used - whatever the normal size is)
1 cup grated parmesan
4 slices prosciutto
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 tsp. salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
6 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 cup marinara sauce (I just used about 1/2 can of crushed organic tomatoes with basil and oregano since I had it in the cupboard)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 450F. Fill a flat saucepan with straight sides with water. Add about a tbsp. of olive oil and a bit of salt to the water, then bring to a boil. Add a few lasagna noodles to the pan (I had to do two at a time, and each of mine are only 1/2 rolls because my pan is not that big - that's why they aren't big and voluptuous up there in the picture, but they were still tasty, I promise).

While this is cooking, place the entire bag (or you could also use thawed frozen spinach if you want to) into a saute pan and saute until wilted with a tiny splash of water. Once wilted, squeeze as much of the extra water out as possible and chop. Add this to a small bowl with the ricotta, 1/4 cup of parmesan, about 1/2 of the egg (I halved the recipe because I was just cooking for two people - you could always double it if you have more people to feed, then you wouldn't have to waste the other half - we just give it to our dogs), salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, and set aside.

Remove the cooked noodles from the pan when they are al dente, or just tender but still firm to the bite (about 8 min.) and place them in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet (or non-stick foil if you want to save oil and dishes). Add more noodles to the pan and repeat as these become al dente.

Rinse and dry the pan you used to saute the spinach, and begin cooking the bechamel sauce (the sauce is REALLY good). Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 min. Whisk in the milk, and increase the heat to medium-high. Keep whisking until the sauce is simmering and becomes thick (she says about 3 minutes, but it took more like 5-7 for mine...but I think I forgot to turn up the heat too). Whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

At this point, all your noodles should be about finished. When they are, butter a glass baking dish and pour the bechamel in until it forms a layer about 1/2 of an inch or so thick on the bottom of your dish (or heck, just throw the whole thing in there). Then put about 3 tbsp. of ricotta mixture spread out on each lasagna noodle and pat down with a spoon or your hand (not too thick!). Starting at one end, roll the noodle up. Lay each roll into the baking dish with the seam side down, not touching, and repeat until all your noodles are used up. Spoon marinara over the rolls in a line across the top, then sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining parmesan.

Cover tightly with foil, then bake through until the sauce bubbles (about 20 min). Remove the foil and bake for another 10 until the cheese becomes golden. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Perfect with a salad, some crusty bread for sopping up any extra sauce, and a glass of red wine. We also had some rosemary olive oil cured California olives with it. Giada serves it with extra warmed marinara on the side, but we actually liked it without. Enjoy!


Caviar for Beginners

My adventure inside the Ferry Street Marketplace in San Francisco, CA a few weeks ago was amazing. While exploring the website before my trip, I came across the link to one of the first stores you see when you walk into the building: Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.

My first experience with caviar was in Mexico when Loving Boyfriend and I picked up a small glass jar at a specialty foods store in Puerto Vallarta. I had been wanting to try it, and with the exhange rate being somewhat favorable towards my pocketbook, I figured the time was ripe to enjoy a bit of fancy-schmancy food on a warm sandy beach with my then-tan boyfriend (do remember that we live in Oregon, where we are continually pasty white for the majority of the year). We bought some crackers and grabbed a plastic spoon and off we went to the beach before we had to ship out back to the chilly Northwest.

We sat down on the beach, opened up the jar, lopped a dollop on a cracker and tasted the caviar. I honestly don't remember what kind it was, but it was quite salty. And fishy. But strangely satisfying when the tiny, round morsels *popped* in your mouth. We ate as much as we could before we felt fishy-salty saturated, and then proceeded to try and give the rest away, as we had to catch our plane and we didn't want to waste such an extravagant food item.

You should have seen the looks we got when we came up to strangers on the beach in Mexico, admist all of the vendors hasseling the poor tourists, and asked them if they wanted what remained of our jar of caviar.

Mostly we got wrinkled noses and exclamations of "Fish eggs?! No thanks. EW."

Especially trying to give it to younger couples, thinking that they might be adventurous, like ourselves, but without much money to spend on such delicacies. But then we happened upon an older, French couple. The husband immediately said, "No thank you." But the wife, ah, the lovely wife: she asked us what kind it was. She took it! The evil side of me thought: ha ha ha ha ha ha...sucker! (Nah, I don't really have an 'evil' side...it just made for a better ending.)

Anyway. By the time I had made my way to the Ferry Street Marketplace, I had decided I was going to do a caviar tasting at the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe. I walked right up to it, sat down on one of the black leather stools, and when offered the menu, proceeded to pick out the cheapest tasting menu I could find, the American Sampler for $15. As they say, a "generous" 5-gram portion of 7 of their sustainably farmed caviars.

A gorgeous presentation, complete with a slice of fresh lemon, a sprig of dill, a tiny edible violet, and an elegant mother-of-pearl caviar spoon. Clockwise from the top: American Golden Caviar, Gold Pearl Trout Caviar, Wasabi Whitefish Caviar, Ginger Whitefish Caviar, Truffled Whitefish Caviar, Beet and Saffron Caviar (that's the gorgeous red one centered in the top picture), and finally, Hackleback Sturgeon Caviar. All served on homemade buckwheat blinis with a dollop of creme fraiche.

I also ordered myself a bit of champagne to set my morning brunch (and subsequent food shopping heaven) off on the right foot (hmm...maybe that's why I ended up buying so much that day...).

Each one was unique, and this caviar was a far cry from our first experience on the beach. Not fishy at all, just slightly salty and having that clean, 'fresh from the ocean' flavor (granted, none of these came from the ocean...must have been the salt). The blini and creme fraiche complimented them superbly, and best, each of them had that deliciously satisfying *pop* on the tongue. Also true, each portion was a "generous" two bites. The flavored caviars are infused with the flavors they are named after (I asked, and they incubate the eggs gently with the resident fungi, vegetable or other flavoring agent for several hours), and now I'm hooked...a dangerous affliction for one who has a weakness for buying food and a small wallet. But, I did, on this occasion, refrain from purchasing the whole store and only came home with their brochure (damn 8 hour car ride!). So, my advice is: Don't try to give caviar away in Mexico. If you get the chance and find yourself near the Ferry Street Marketplace, go there and indulge yourself the 'right' way, and you won't end up with any leftovers. For a reasonable price, you can feel like you're sitting on (or, in this case, eating) a million bucks.

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe
1 Ferry Building #12
San Francisco, CA
Phone: 415-288-8630


On Love and the Art of Cooking

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, condolences, encouragements and emails. It was really wonderful to come home after such a sad time to so many kind comments from this community of friends....sort of like a big, much-needed virtual hug. I truly, deeply appreciate you all.

I have been feeling somewhat listless and unmotivated since I returned home...avoiding the kitchen and really not doing much of anything at all except for lots of catching up on sleep. I'm not sure why I haven't felt like cooking this last week, given my love for anything to do with food, but perhaps it felt like too much work to go shopping, to get out all the necessary equipment and do the necessary prep work...or too much hassle even to decide what I wanted to make.

Perhaps in times of stress, your mind becomes so bogged down that it's easy to forget the reasons why you loved something in the first place: because it soothes your soul, it grounds you and brings you home, or it relaxes you (or energizes you) so completely that the rest of the world fades away... and then suddenly you realize that you have forgetten about what was stressful, and find yourself humming a tune as you roll out dough, chop vegetables or create your mis en place. It might be sort of like exercise - how I avoid it, make up excuses and exclaim exhaustion all so that I won't have to go, even while subconsciously I am very much aware that I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I do actually drag my @$$ to the gym.

But this weekend, the kitchen could be avoided no longer. I had promised to make my roommate a birthday dinner and cake on Sunday night, and I knew that I had Book Club on Monday evening. Our book this month? The Julie/Julia Project, whereby Julie Powell cooks her way through Julia Child's first volume in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking series and begins her own blog to chronicle her adventures and disasters. I loved the book - the relationship between Julie and her husband reminds me so much of LB and I that it's almost uncanny and she often had me in stitches with her comments about one thing or another. Since we had decided at our first meeting that we would be called the "Food 4 Thought Book Club," and this month reading a book about food, we - of course - had to have French food to go with it.

So, even dragging my feet and having done everything possible to avoid taking those first steps into the kitchen, I dutifully did it anyway. I figured that I'd probably feel better after I ate something tasty anyway, so I chose my recipes and trudged my way over to large expanse of counter that divides our kitchen. I pulled out the necessary ingredients, the measuring cups, knives and cutting board, and began slowly, one recipe at a time. I began with the simple French cookies I had selected for book club: Pistachio financiers...

...only to find that I instantly relaxed into the act itself. The knots in my shoulders began to ease as I chopped nuts and measured sugar. There was a certain satisfaction in spooning flour into a measuring cup and swiftly dragging the back of a butter knife across it, leveling the top. As I cracked eggs and whisked dough together, the whir of the Kitchenaid mixer took the sadness of the last two weeks slowly out of my muscles and the feeling of listlessness floated quietly away. When I finished with the financiers and began to make dinner, I found I was finally focused on the task at hand; my mind no longer wandering incessantly. And by the time the cake was iced, dinner was on the table, and we were sitting together and chatting about the day - I heard that first sound of 'mmm...,' and I was feeling more like myself than I had in a long time.

The hardest part of being home with my family was that I felt so incredibly helpless watching the people that I love most in my life wrought with grief. A job that has literally been at a standstill, as I wait for products I've ordered to come in, did nothing to assuage the ennui that developed once I had returned. But finding my way into the kitchen, although struggling with those first few steps, brought the realization to me that this is why I cook.

I cook because it's one way I can take care of the people I love. Through the carefully constructed sustenance that I offer them on a plate, I am not only feeding them, but also giving them a gift straight from my heart, filled with ingredients selected with their happiness in mind, and made with my own two hands... and sometimes with the ache in my feet and my back and the sweat of my brow (especially in the summer!). But the smiles, the widened eyes, and those delicious sounds of enjoyment I get in return after that first bite, is all I need to feel gratified...like I've made some difference to them, helped them in some way, comforted them even the tiniest bit.

Pistachio Financiers, from Food and Wine magazine
A recipe I picked up while I was looking for reading material for working out on the stairclimber this last week...

1 cup whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
5 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
25-30 shelled pistachios

Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter and flour 30 mini muffin pan cups. Grind the almonds in a food processor to a fine powder (or use 1 cup almond meal/flour). Whisk together the sugar and almond powder together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated, then the butter and followed by the flour. Spoon the batter into the mini muffin cups and decorate with pistachios. Bake until golden brown - about 16 minutes. Let cool slightly, then run a knife around the edges and remove from the pan onto a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

NOTE: The recipe said this made 30, but I used a tablespoon to fill the mini muffin cups and only got 16 - so, taper accordingly for your needs.


Sad news.

Hi everyone -
I just wanted to let you know that I won't be blogging for a while.
There's been a death in my family, and I need to be home with them.
I'll be back in another week or so, hopefully, so please come back and say hi then
because I know I'll need the distraction. :)

Please be sure to tell those that you love, that you love them
...and live each day that you have to the fullest you can.

Be well,


My Dear Loving Boyfriend: I have a confession...

...I've fallen in love, with another.

I know that we've had great times and laughed and dreamed together now for three fantastic years, and I promise this was only a one-day stand. But you have to understand how passionate I felt about this - it was as if some Divine Power designed him, just for me. He was just incredible, and gorgeous. He had such strong, majestic features - everyone that walked towards him and saw him from a distance just can't help themselves: they have to go and find out what he's about. And just like them, I couldn't help myself either...I was drawn to him.

And on the inside - oh, yes, on the inside - he's amazing. He's so full of adventure, offers such new and exciting things, and is just bursting with all kinds of knowledge. I confess: I spent all day with him while you were doing your interviews at Berkeley...I drove straight to the City to be with him after you left...and I didn't leave until after dark.

Tsar Nicoulai truffled whitefish caviar

But I laughed and smiled all day! I felt ecstatic to be there with him, and he taught me so much in our short time together. We shared sustainably grown caviar and champagne together in the morning, ate Miette Patisserie gingerbread cupcakes and Parisian macroons on the pier while we watched ships come in from the Bay. We explored the spices at Boulettes Larder together and dreamed of the goose stock, homemade creme fraiche and leg of lamb slow-cooked in pomegranate molasses we would make someday. We browsed an entire bookstore devoted mostly to books on food and cooking and tasted specialty olive oils, home-made granolas and Cowgirl creamery cheeses (Mt. Tam was my favorite) spread thickly on crusty Artisan bread. We finished off our perfect day together with Michael Ricchiuti chocolates and a glass of rich, red California wine.

Miette Patisserie gingerbread cupcake

And oh, the gifts. The glorious gifts I brought home with me from him! It was as if he knew every ingredient I have been longing for and presented it to me on a silver platter! Himilayan Pink Sea Salt, Spanish piparra peppers, pomegranate molasses, woodear mushrooms, Grains of Paradise, and the most perfect white glass cake stand I could have ever imagined from Italy.

I'm sorry, my love. I just couldn't help myself. I hope that you can forgive me for my weaknesses and someday, let me return. I know it may sound crazy, but I hope that you will come then and meet him too...I just know that you'll love him as much as I do.

My new love:
the Ferry Street Marketplace, San Francisco, CA

* * * * *
Loving Boyfriend and I were both offered jobs in the Bay area while we were there (Yay!) and had a wonderful time visiting friends. We had a very long (20+ hours!) home because of bad weather, so I'm very glad to be home! He's now in Madison, WI for his final interview. He'll be returning on Wednesday, and then hopefully we'll be able to figure out where we're going to be living for the next 4-5 years!

Stay tuned for details on my American Caviar tasting and my trek to the "Gourmet Ghetto" in Berkeley (of Chez Panisse fame)...and I'm also going to make something with that delicious harissa too!