Curried vegetable-potato samosas

Those of you that have been reading for a while know that I'm an avid recipe-follower. Sure, I'll make adjustments to a recipe - add in ingredients that I think taste better, or are more in-season, fresh herbs for dried, or occasionally low-fat ingredients in place of their full-fat versions if I'm in a "keeping my girlish figure" or "need to eat healthier" kick. But over-all, I'm a slave to recipes, as some of my blog friends have even alluded to with good-natured teasing and gentle urging to break out of my shackles. Most of the time, I'll look in my fridge, see what I have left over from the week's farmer's market or grocery shopping and spend countless minutes looking through cookbooks or magazines for any recipe featuring a single ingredient that I don't want to go to waste. This, I know, is a fat waste of my precious time.

So last week, coming home after a long day of work and without a recipe in mind, (usually, I shop with a few recipes I want to make in mind, but also get what looks freshest, sounds tasty, whatever I've been craving or I've never seen before and simply CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT), saw I had a few potatoes left over from the farmer's market (looked tasty), swiss chard (looked freshest), baby walla walla onions (been cravin') and half a jar of left-over sweet and sour carrot chutney from our trip to San Franscisco (COULDN'T LIVE WITHOUT). Hmmm... everything needed to be used up, so how could I use them all in a semi-coherent dinner?

This is what I came up with...I call them Curried Vegetable-Potato Samosas because I don't know what else to call them. I don't really know if these fit the definition of a samosa, because they weren't triangular and they weren't fried, but that was the word that came to mind. I boiled the potatoes until they were tender, then mashed them up with a little olive oil. I sauteed the baby walla wallas, bok choy, and swiss chard together with some frozen petite peas, then added about a tablespoon of curry powder, a bit of salt and pepper. But how was I going to get this delicious-tasting mixture to my mouth? Ah, there's nothing like a little pastry to do the trick. I grabbed some totally frozen phyllo dough from the freezer and attempted a quick-thaw in the microwave.

Don't do this.

Yes, there is always a disaster when I attempt to do something completely on my own. See here, here and here for evidence of this if you don't believe me. Let the phyllo dough thaw in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, then let it come to room temperature before you attempt to use it, if you have the foresight. I, myself, completely lack foresight. My hindsight, however, is 20/20. If you do like I did, your phyllo dough will dry out, melt together and turn into a big mess when you try to unroll it. :) For the record, in an attempt to somewhat redeem myself, I did thaw it in 5 second intervals, rolling it around to try and get gentle, even thawing...but it still wasn't pretty.

Instead, be a good girl (or boy), let it thaw properly, unroll it gently and keep it covered until you're ready to use it. If you do so, you will be able to pull single sheets of phyllo dough apart (covering the rest until you're ready for it), lightly butter (with melted butter and a pastry brush) or spray each sheet with cooking spray as you do until you've got 3-4 sheets laid down, and make perfect little food packages. Me, I just tore off as much as I could get apart, sprayed the whole bunch, and lopped said potato-mixture into the middle, rolling it up as best I could. Finally, I sprayed (or you could butter) the top, and put the finished product on a cooking sheet covered with parchment paper... The second disaster was that I ran out of cooking spray, as I was in too much of a hurry trying not to let my improperly thawed phyllo dough dry out, so the outside of the last one didn't get sprayed, didn't brown very well and thus, didn't look very appetizing (but it did still taste good, thankfully). If you do everything properly, your somosas will be crunchy on the outside, with brown layers throughout (unlike mine), and soft and flavorful on the inside. Alternatively, you could deep fry them, but this is much healthier. I served them with the sweet and sour carrot chutney (Divine.) and this was my bungled attempt at freeing myself from recipe slavery. It wasn't exactly pretty, but it didn't taste too shabby either. There could be lots of variation on this particular dish - hopefully your attempts will be a bit more elegant than my own. Good luck, my friends. May the chef-force be with you. Or may there at least be a little food-fairy to watch over you and protect you from follies like my own.

**I'll be gone until Monday for field work down at the coast (yay Marine Biology), but I'll add the address - there isn't a website - for the chutney when I return. Have a great rest of the week, and weekend, and hopefully I'll be coming back with some fresh Dungeness crab that needs to be used up (considering that's the animal I work with - smart foodie scientist pick their experimental subjects carefully!).


Beans, beans...musical fruit

Beans, beans, musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let's eat beans for every meal!

My step-dad loves to make people laugh. When I was a teenager, he used to love to embarrass me out in public. Pulling his hat down so that it met his eyebrows, sucking his lower jaw up so that his bottom lip completely encompassed his upper one and walking like an ape was a favorite past-time of his whenever we walked out of movie theaters. He would sing silly songs, like the one above, to make us giggle and make sure we would eat those funny looking legumes we often found on our dinner plates. His hugs were like wonderfully-suffocating bear embraces (and still are!), so that you were left gasping for air and "knowing that you were loved."

This goofiness evolved to include good-natured torturing of teenage suitors coming to our home when I reached dating age. He'd reach out to shake the poor boys' hands, engufing their tiny appendages in his enormous retired football player-sized hands (he played for the University of Colorado Buffaloes in college), invite them in to see his "gun collection" and show off his trophies for skeet and target shooting...in fact, at a recent wedding of a good friend of mine, when LB met one of my ex-boyfriends, the guy jokingly told him to be sure if he ever pissed my step-dad off, to be sure to "Run in a zig-zag!" There was also the annoying habit of his of flicking the outside lights on and off and on and off and on and off if I stayed out there too long after he heard the car come into the driveway. Luckily, I wasn't the only one whose boyfriends he picked on...my brother in law, Chip, the man who married my oldest sister, still has the endearing nickname of "Cow-chip."

Yo, cow-chip, how's about getting me another beer while you're up?

All of this, of course, drove me crazy when I was younger. But as I grow older and start thinking about what kind of a parent I'd like to be, I see the merit of this type of harassment...
My favorite joke of LB's - now Dr. LB - is his claim that the only people he'll really require anyone to use his credentials when addressing him, are the young men that come to court any future daughters: "Mr. LB? Mr. LB? I didn't spend 5 years getting a Ph.D. to be called 'Mr.," son - that's Dr. LB to you!" He he he...

Yep, my step-dad is one-of-a-kind. A unique individual - he helped me weed out the weak men in my life, and figure out the good, strong ones (he does like LB); he taught me the value of laughter as the best medicine for anything, and best of all, he taught me to eat my beans.

This recipe belongs to another dad I know, and one of the first gourmet home-chef's I ever met, even before I had realized my own love of food and cooking. My step-dad's specialty is "Taters- N-Onions" and Mickey-Mouse pancakes - those were the only two dishes we ever got when mom was out of town, but they were sure tasty in their own right. These I just call "Peter's Beer Beans." I've made them countless times, but I recently brought them to our Supper Club dinner to accompany homemade enchiladas and they went over really well. They're easy, and delicious.

Peter's Beer Beans, courtesy of Dr. Peter Fields
Serves 6.

2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
1 bottle of beer - use a good beer, nothing too watery, but no stout (Sierra Nevada or Bridgeport IPA or any amber or pale ale works well)
2 tsp. sugar
2-4 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp. chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add beans to onion. Pour in 1/2 to 3/4 bottle of beer, then add sugar, vinegar (to taste), garlic cloves, and chili powder. Simmer, uncovered until beer is cooked down. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!


Change is good

Spring is all about change. As winter leaves us (albeit slowly), and whispers of summer blow gently in on the breeze, there is an almost tangible sense of the world renewing itself...life is emerging from the ground, in the buds on the trees, and even from the animals we know and love. Lives change too...Loving Boyfriend has finished his degree, and our days of eating lunch together every day in the same building, of bouncing ideas off each other for projects and experiments, of having him just around the corner when I need a partner in crime to escape for a sunny day are now numbered...I still have almost an entire year of research left to finish my own degree. This type of change can be bittersweet - I feel simultaneously proud of him, sad to let this part of our lives end (we met the beginning of my first year), and yet still looking forward to and excited for the life we'll begin together in Hawaii next year.

Love is definitely in the air this Spring - several of my favorite blogger friends (as well as college friends, Eugene friends, and even family members) have recently had their lives change as well - in the best way possible. They're "tying the knot" with those they've fallen in love with, and I coudn't be happier for each of them! If you get a chance, stop by Clare, Michele and Molly's blogs and give them a virtual congratulations - not only are they wonderfully sweet women, but their blogs are full of delectable recipes and gorgeous photography.

Spring also brings feelings of a new beginning for me. As if the proverbial "slate" has been wiped clean and fresh. As the clouds begin to break, the sun comes out and the ground begins to dry, I find it's much easier to want to take the dogs for their evening walk. My muscles ache to get exercise - to get outside and garden, to go hiking, backpacking, or climbing. And just as I found that I wanted more hearty dishes, starches and warm, homey "comfort" food with the arrival of winter, I find that I'm now craving fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as lighter, cooler and most of all, healthier foods.

When I saw this dish (basking in the pure simplicity and laziness of an hour of lounging on the couch in my pajamas and surrounded by cooking magazines), I immediately wanted to make it: Salmon and Barley Salad. It's supposed to be a side dish, but we found it made a filling and delicious main course for two...perfect for a warm spring evening. I have a new love for barley, after making a fresh-tasting simple vegetable barley soup a few weeks ago (I'll post that too, eventually), so you'll probably be seeing a bit more of it here in the future. It's hearty, because it's packed with fiber, but doesn't feel heavy. The salad has cucumbers and thin slices of purple onions, and is topped with a vinaigrette made of lemon juice, dill, and a flavorful olive oil that make it a perfect accompaniment to the salmon. This one will definitely be made again in our house.

Salmon and Barley Salad, from Martha Stewart Living
Serves 2 as a main course, 6 as a side (or, maybe 4?)

1/2 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 lb. salmon filet, skinned, cut into 1 inch chunks
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. coarsly chopped fresh dill
freshly ground pepper
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4" slices
lemon wedges, for serving

Put barley and 1 1/4 cups of water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until the water has been absorbed and barley is tender, around 30 minutes. Fluff with a fork, cover, and set aside.

Bring wine, 5 cups of water, peppercorns, bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. of salt, and 1 tbsp. lemon juice to a boil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, then simmer 5 minutes. Add salmon, and cook about 4 minutes. using a slotted spoon, remove salmon to a dish, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Whisk together remaining 1 tbsp. lemon juice, oil, dill, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt in a small bowl. Season with pepper. Toss together barley, salmon, onion, and cucumber in a large bowl. Gently fold in vinaigrette. Divide among plates; garnish with dill sprigs and serve with lemon wedges, and flavorful tomatoes, if you've got 'em.



Sometimes, the most difficult thing about being busy is not being able to stick to your "routine." Humans, by nature, are creatures of habit. When we're children and beyond - including the college students in the classes I teach - we will chose a seat the first day of class, and more often than not, will return to that same seat the rest of the semester. Most people have a 'morning routine' and a 'bedtime' routine...we'll wash our faces, brush our teeth, eat in the same place every night...those types of things. Me, I like to come home from work, feed the dogs (or nag Dr. Loving Boyfriend to do it, as every good Dr. has a good woman to keep him in line), set to work preparing dinner, eat it at the table, in my chair, then relax and do whatever I'm feeling like that evening. And let me tell you, I really like to read my food magazines, get ideas for things I want to make, go to the grocery store, all that foodie-type stuff...

But being so busy lately, my food magazines have been piling up, unread. My fridge, usually bursting to the hilt from my trips to the farmer's market, has become devoid of vegetables and other perishables, save what we purchased for single dinners while Loving Boyfriend's parents were here), and I haven't opened a cupboard, planned a meal, or banged around a pan in weeks. This weekend was my revenge.

Last week, after working long hours non-stop, after entertaining (although, Loving Boyfriend, being the gem that he is, did most of the cooking) for nearly a week every evening, I dropped one of my precious experiments on the floor at the very last step. It was horrible. I knew it would take me an entire week to re-do that single part of my experiment. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw things. I called Loving Boyfriend and whined. And then I did as every foodie must do: I prompty went out, drove straight to my favorite kitchen store, and bought myself a pan I'd been wanting for quite some time - a madeline mold. This weekend, I finally got to use it.

Sometimes, comfort for me is in following my routine. Sometimes it's taking a hike or getting out in the sunshine when I've been couped up inside a building for too long. Sometimes it's driving an hour to the coast just to sit in front of that big grey ocean and let it work its magic on me. Sometimes it's just laying around on the couch watching a movie or reading a book or a magazine. And over the last year, comfort has become getting into my kitchen, banging some pans around, and making something to eat. This weekend, comfort came in the shape of those soft, cake-like distinctively shell-shaped madeline cookies, and a steaming cup of hot tea.

May you find your own little piece of comfort today.

Orange-Cardamom Madeleines, from Martha Stewart Living
Makes 2 dozen

1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 tbsp. good-quality honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
2 tbsp. strained orange juice

Brush the molds of a madeline pan with butter, then set aside. Make the batter: Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat, then stir in honey and vanilla. Let cool 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom together in a small bowl; set aside. Stir together the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl and fold in the the flour mixture until combined. Add the butter mixture and fold in until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, filling each mold halfway. Tap the pan against the counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake until cookies are puffed and golden around the edges; about 7-8 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Unmold cookies onto rack and let cool completely.

Make the glaze: Stir together the sugar, orange zest and orange juice in a small bowl until the glaze is smooth, thick and opaque. Coat the ridged side of each cookie with glaze using a small pastry brush. Let set 15 minutes. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but truly, they are best the first day as they begin to get a bit soggy after a few days.

My notes: The glaze wasn't as thick as it needed to be - the first round soaked right into the cookie instead of sitting on top of it, so I added more confectioner's sugar until it was a bit thicker. Also, it's difficult to only fill the molds up halfway (what's halfway in a madeline mold?!), so mine ended up being a bit bigger and I only got about 1.5 dozen. The cookies are quite sweet due to the glaze, but the cardamom leaves a very nice spicy bite at the end. I do think they are best with tea (I like Earl Grey with them) to cut through the sweetness of the glaze.


Big News!

Hi everyone!

I'm sorry I've been missing for the last two weeks with nary a word...Loving Boyfriend just become Dr. Loving Boyfriend! He successfully defended his dissertation on Friday! Due to all of his hard work coming to completion, I've been trying to finish a series of time-sensitive experiments so that I could celebrate with him (and hang out with his parents) and haven't had even 5 minutes to sit down at my computer since my committee meeting (I know, boo hoo, but I'm being honest!)...so please accept my apologies for not getting on here to tell you what's up.

Needless to say, I also haven't set foot in my kitchen since my committee meeting either, so I haven't had anything to post (this really does make me want to cry)...but rest assured that I have big plans in the future...as soon as his parents leave on Thursday. So, thank you for stopping by, once again, I'm sorry that I suddenly disappeared, and I hope you'll come back and see us again soon. Thank you for all of your kind comments - I've missed all of you and I'll be doing the rounds soon to see what you've been up to! Talk to you soon!