Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm back.

It's been awhile, but I'm back. It saddens me that this whole summer has nearly passed and I haven't contributed any recipes. But alas, the delectable freshness of summer remains upon us. I still have time.

Traveling has kept me from the kitchen this summer. I embarked on my 30s, traveled to Haiti, the pacific northwest, Alaska and I don't want to forget to mention the magical week of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, Abigail Washburn - to name just a few - rocked my socks off. I'm still tappin' my toe.

In Seattle, I got to check out a restaurant called Delancey. The writer of one of my favorite blogs, Orangette, created this chic gourmet pizza shop with her husband. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in Seattle. Her blog site is worth a visit as well. She is an inspiration.

Alaska! Enough said.

Traveling aside, I do want to share one of my favorite summer treats: spinach. I like spinach. I eat it raw, boiled or sauteed; its all yummy to me. I'm pretty sure that I'm healthier just looking at the deep rich green color - full of vitamin A,K, and little C along with some other health benefiting vitamins and minerals. Sometimes (well, all of the time) I wish my backyard wasn't a concrete parking lot just so I could have a garden full of succulent, scrumptious, savory spinach. I'd stroll up and down the rows of spinach singing sonnets while picking spinach leaves and chewing on their sweetness. One day I'll get my garden.

This spinach dish goes great as a side item with anything from a burger to salmon. Its sauteed with onion and topped with bacon and any blue-veined cheese preferred. And for an added bonus, because spinach is so healthy, it omits all the calories that plague bacon and cheese. (I've successfully convinced myself of this last part, so please let me remain in this bliss.) Be mindful, if buying raw un-packaged spinach remember to wash it thoroughly. Dirt and sand can remain nestled between the leaves.

This recipe does work with either large leaf spinach or packaged baby spinach. It's your choice. If it's large leaves, just chop them up a little.

Sauteed Spinach

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onions

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

10 ounces fresh spinach, stems removed

2 strips bacon

2-3 tablespoons blue cheese (Gorgonzola works well too)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

Heat bacon in a large skillet on medium-high heat until browned. Set bacon aside to cool and then drain grease from skillet. (May use clean skillet here with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil if you prefer not to cook in bacon grease.) In same skillet, at medium-high heat add onion and stir until it begins to soften, apx. 1 min. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Next, add spinach stirring until just wilted, apx. 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, crumble the 2 strips of bacon and then stir the crumble into the saute. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve while still warm.

modified from Eating Well in Season

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Preparing for Pies

So, about that pie crust I mentioned last week... I thought I should share it since we're approaching the season of pies. There are some yummy ones to come, so be prepared.

I used to think that making my own pie shell was a daunting task; a chore to complicated to accomplish. I suppose some recipes could be, but this one convinced me that the challenge is not that bad. Sure, it's much easier to unwrap a frozen crust, pour all of the ingredients inside and then toss it into the oven in its perfectly pie shaped foil pan. But one must ask herself if its worth it. I think you know the answer.

This recipe makes enough for two crusts. But if your plan is to make a pie that needs a top crust, then this recipe will just make enough for one.

Pie Crust
(modified from the Miracle Baking Powder Pie Crust)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teas salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, slightly chilled

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar into a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 cup of the above flour mixture into a small bowl and then cut in the shortening and butter until it resembles coarse meal. Set aside.
Next, stir the rest of the flour mixture in a separate bowl while adding the ice water. Once mixed, blend in the coarse flour mixture until both mixtures are completely combined.
Roll the dough into a ball. Then wrap dough and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.
After chilled, separate dough into 2 halves. Use rolling pin to flatten each half. Press into desired pie pan.

It freezes well for apx. 1 month.

This may be a beginners pie crust - its that easy. I promise. The end product is a tender, flaky crust that the store-bought one just won't give you.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More, please

I'm exhausted from having too much fun. I didn't think that it was possible to have too much fun, but I managed it. Family came into town and we spent our days skiing, eating, drinking beer, snowshoeing, and eating some more. It's great sharing our home and doing things with the people we love. Next time, I'll just have to pace myself a little better. I live a tough life, I know.

We ate a lot, but I typically don't mind that activity. My family tends to center activities around meals and always make time for a snack. We got to check out some wonderful restaurants around Denver like Japoix http://www.japoix.com/- a mouth watering Japanese/French combination and Fogo de Chao http://www.fogodechao.com/- a Brazilian steakhouse. Each dinners was accompanied by a glass of wine and dessert. Okay, maybe each dinner had two glasses of wine and second helpings of dessert. That might explain my lethargy.

As much as I enjoy dinning out, I prefer to cook when I can. Cooking says what I sometimes cannot. Its a way to express my love. I enjoy nothing more then seeing someone chewing with a mouthful while "mmming" and then going back for more. I'd do it everyday if I could. Since my father prefers foods that come from a box and I insist to cook from whole foods, I had to find something that would appease us both and not lead to arguments. After all, its how I show my love.

This recipe came from my friend Faith when I was planning a brunch for a group of girlfriends a few months ago. I got into a panic when the quiche recipe that I had just wasn't turning out. She hadn't made this quiche before but claimed that it came from one of her most reliable hometown cookbooks: Miss Aimee B's . Based on how this quiche turned out, I'd have to agree. I made the quiche for the brunch and then made it again the next day when there weren't any leftovers. Faith is an honest friend.

I use a homemade pie crust with this recipe. I prefer a sweeter crust then the store bought ones. But its perfectly fine to skip this step and go to the store for this part. No judgment from me - I swear. Making the filling is a cinch, aside from lightly beating the eggs on their own, all the ingredients get tossed into a bowl and then poured into the crust. The bacon adds enough salt for my liking, but if you prefer the no-meat edition by omitting the bacon, a little salt may be necessary for flavor enhancement. Even though the original recipe calls for frozen spinach and low-fat milk, I use fresh spinach and whipping cream. I'm not willing to trade flavor for calories. But for those more health conscious, low-fat milk is an option.

I made this quiche for four dainty women and even they had a hard time saying no to seconds. They finished all the contents in a 9-inch pie pan. I'm proud of them.

Oh, and my father insisted to my mother that she take the recipe home.

Copper Mountain Spinach Quiche (Modified from Miss Aimee B's Cookbook)

1 9inch deep dish pie crust

2 1/2-3 cups fresh baby spinach, stems cut off

2 tbs flour

10 slices cooked bacon

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup sweet yellow onion, chopped

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1cup cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the raw pie crust for 10 min at 350. Then combine cream and mayonnaise and beat until smooth. Stir in the egg and then onion. Once combined, blend in bacon, spinach, flour, mushrooms, cheddar and Swiss cheese. Pour into partially baked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until set. Serve warm.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Swallowing hard

Its hard to think about much else when there is so much pain and tragedy in Japan. My heart goes out to all those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Japan is a beautiful land filled with wonderful people, so to see tragedy strike is heartbreaking.

My prayers are with you, Japan.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I bought a forbidden treat last week and I have to confess, I loved every savory bite. Over Super Bowl weekend I've convinced myself that gluttony is ok and that processed foods and additives don't matter; an American tradition I'm not willing to give up. So last Sunday on my counter there sat bags and bags of chips alongside of pre-made salsas, tortillas, bean & cheese dips and gooey, greasy satisfying chicken wings. But among all of these yummy snacks there sat - in all of its glory - an orange bag housing my favorite crunchy edible treat. Upon seeing the bag, saliva seeped from my mouth and dripped down my shirt. I set my plate of food onto the table and then ripped open the bag and took one - not wanting to seem greedy - of the orange crunchy miracles and placed it onto my tongue.

When I have a bag of Cheetos(R) in my hands my self-control lands somewhere outside of the window. Everyday until the bag is gone I minimize lunch and dinner, leaving more room for artificial cheesy puffiness. Now, I'm a relatively healthy person. I cook from whole foods, minimize meat consumption, am conscious of food labels announcements of sodium, ugly ingredients I can't pronounce and those superfluous calories. But when I have an orange bag of crunchies sitting on my lap, health awareness of pushed into a place I cannot consciously go.

In the past year, I switched from the orange bag with Chester Cheetah to buying the "healthy baked cheese puffs," thinking to myself that I can eat twice as much because they are made from organic processed powder cheese and disodium phosphate. Seemingly disgusting, right? My taste buds thought so too at first, but they quickly settled. Any kid - in their right frame of mind - would throw down baked cheese puffs and spit out what does not stick in their teeth and shout, "Gross!" Perhaps its my grown-up sophisticated taste buds that help me to imagine that baked cheese snacks are an exotic twist on the original Cheeto. At least that's what I have to tell myself. I mean disodium phosphate has got to be healthier when the claim "organic" is slapped next to the label.

But, then the unthinkable happened. I was sitting on the couch, innocently eating baked cheese puffs when my eye started to itch. I went to the mirror and saw a hive forming. Strange, I thought. So, I took an anti-histamine and went to sleep. A few days later the same thing happened after eating baked cheese puffs. I cried.

I live in a land of health consciousness; a land where people sneer if you don't bring your own sacks to the grocery store and spending extra money on organics is expected. Not that I disagree with that, but you can imagine what people would say about my Cheeto secret. (My embarrassment amongst fellow health-conscious Coloradoans was the other reason I switched to baked cheese puffs.) When in the store, before I switched to the organic version, I'd tuck the forbidden treasure under my bulk organically dried black beans, broccoli, and eggs produced from cage free, whole grain-grass fed chickens. I'd hide the orange bag and dart to the flax seed department trying to avoid any stink eyes given to me from other shoppers. And now, because of my allergy to baked cheese puffs, I'm resigned to endure this again.

Perhaps you're wondering why I've devoted an entire blog post to Cheetos. The truth is that this blog is about things that I love and well, Cheetos made the cut.

But in all seriousness, I've learned a good lesson from this situation. To me, what gives life its quality needs careful consideration and devotion. And if that means indulging in a handful of Cheetos from time to time in order for life to have a little more happiness, then changing that may not be worth the trouble.

Cheers to Cheetos and to a life of happiness!

The end.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

And then, Winter Came

It's cold in Denver. Very Cold! I walked 10 blocks to the grocery store and had a snot cube when I got there. Gross, I know - but that's how cold it is.

Other than a grocery trip, I've stayed nestled in my home, away from the cruel, unforgiving air. The white snow seems playful and is pretty from behind my window, but after my walk I decided it's best enjoyed from my couch while sipping a cup of coffee. That was a good decision. The coffee is scrumptious -warming my frostbitten limbs -as it trickles down to my stomach. I'll keep snow at a distance today.

I went to sleep last night, knowing that I wouldn't leave my house today. Last night was bitter outside too. Most of the schools in the Denver area already announced closure by the 5pm news. Despite a city used to snow, it shut down. I think everyone was looking for an excuse to stay home. I was.

Today turned into a productive day. I practiced yoga, wrote in my journal, looked through recipes, read, made a good lunch, read some more. I baked 4 loaves of bread and the sweet smell of yeast is looming over my head. It's been a good day - I'm planning on a movie later.

Aside from coffee, I crave soup on this kind of wintry day. I can't think of anything else I'd rather have. This is what forced me to walk to the store. I would have driven, but my car wouldn't start. There are not many things I'd walk 10 blocks in negative degree weather for. My stomach is a bit controlling.

I came across this soup recipe last autumn in a cookbook entitled EatingWell in Season: The Farmer's Market Cookbook. The recipe has everything good purred into a soup. It's rich, flavorful and creamy. Mmm... I love creamy! But, believe it or not, the soup contains no cream. Nothing against cream - we are inseparable friends and a bit possessive of each other's company - but my winter thighs need their distance. This recipe is a delightful compromise between maintaining flavor while keeping the fat content down. So, instead of cream giving this soup its richness, it is the vegetables that do it. Imagine that.

The recipe - Roaster Pear-Butternut Soup - is simple and to the point. There is not much brain-work that goes into it and the measurements can easily be adjusted to your liking. Amazing things can happen when the smell of pear, butternut squash and leeks are roasting in your home - like your neighbors might come knocking on your door to forgive you of the 10ft statue in your front yard just for a taste. It might be wise to indulge them.

It is a filling soup as all the good fiber expands in the belly. So, be conscious if you're saving room for dessert. It will leave you feeling good and full, not fat and lethargic. It might even give you a little energy to get outside and shovel the snow; or at least stay awake for a movie.

I've altered this recipe slightly. I typically use either blue or Gorgonzola cheese. The cheese is such a nice compliment that I strongly encourage it. Also, I use 1 can of diced tomatoes instead-for simplicity sake. Like I said, the measurements of each vegetable/fruit are up to you, but here is a guideline.

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton

2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-3 inch chunks
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered or 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 leek, pale green and white parts only, halved and lengthwise, sliced and washed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teas salt, divided
fresh ground pepper to taste
4cups vegetable broth
1/2cup blue cheese, Gorgonzola or Stilton or any other blue-veined cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, 1/4 teas salt and pepper into a roasting pan; tossing to coat. Spread evenly onto pan and roast until vegetables are tender. apx. 45-55min. Let cool a bit.

Place 1 cup of roasted veggies into a blender and then 1 cup broth. Puree until smooth and then pour into large saucepan. Do this until both vegetables and broth are gone.

Once everything is blended, cook soup another 10 min on medium-high heat in saucepan or until warm throughout.

Separate into bowls and then garnish with cheese. Enjoy with some warm bread!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tribute

December was more then I could bear. It was a tough month and one that I could have lived without. For all I care, it could be erased off of the 2010 calendar. If that was possible, then a friend would still be living and my uncle-in-law would have woken up from his nap. I wish erasing months could happen.

Tragedy isn't something that I'm familiar with. I'm not sure if that is a blessing or unfortunate, since I don't know how to respond to its presence. But, it showed up unannounced, uninvited and ready to be confronted (I must mention that I don't like confrontation either).

During December, my emotions spilled out everywhere leaving a sappy mess all over the kitchen floor. Sadness laid its black ugly spot but all of the mops that I used could not clean up its stain. All of my creative juices turned sour and my rationality was diluted. I was a mess.

But somehow - amidst all of the grief - I managed to reflect on what makes a man great; the things that make people say, "Gee, what a nice guy, it shouldn't have happened to him." For the two men I knew, they had many. But for my friend, I couldn't stop thinking about how well he loved. He had an amazing ability to look beyond a stereotype and love anyway, taking judgment away. I admired this about him because, I've always been terrible at it.

So, in his honor, I've been working hard to rid myself of judgment. It's not easy, but I'm doing it. Not judging somebody or thinking I've got things all figured out feels really good. I highly recommend it.

In my quest to end judgment on others however, I've stumbled across something else worth mentioning. This something else has - unfortunately - dictated my life. Because of it, I've closed open doors and have said no to attainable dreams. I've tolerated its constant nagging to the point that I believed it was real. I clench my teeth realizing that I've been under its control. So, I'll tell you - that when I took away judgment on others - the sky opened up and rays of sun shone down allowing me to see that this whole time, I've been judging myself. Its sad that I've cowered and kept my tail between my legs for 29 years, but I guess there's redemption in understanding it now. That is at least, what I envision any wise senior citizen telling me.

Now I can say with sincerity that it wasn't my 4th grade teacher with the fuzzy mole on her nose telling me I couldn't live my dreams, it was I. The forces of judgment kept me stooped down, knee-bent in a corner unable to peak out behind it. But now, all of that will change.

I've practiced taking that big hairy cloud of self-judgment off my shoulders and I'm somewhat amazed at what I've found. There's a lot of love in there and a lot more spunk too. Some might say those are my true colors (isn't there a song about that?). Whatever it is, I like it.

My friend would be happy for me - that's just the type of guy he was. I think there is something to be said for someone who is still affecting lives, even after he's passed on.