Monthly Archives: April 2012

I Can Make A Soufflé!!

Few things intimidate me in the kitchen (other than chefs who yell, but I think they are mostly on TV).  One of those things is soufflés.  They look difficult.  They look fussy.  What if they don’t poof up right, or if they fall down?  What if it tastes bad because I did it wrong?  But then I realized, who cares?  I can always order pizza if they don’t turn out, right?  Besides, attempting a soufflé gave me a reason to buy something new I’ve been wanting for my kitchen, mostly just because they are so darn cute.

Ramekins! Aren't they adorable? Yes, I'm a food geek.

So…new ramekins in hand, I decided to start with a simple cheese soufflé.  If it turns out I’ll move on to chocolate.  Don’t want to waste good chocolate on a botched first attempt, after all.  I made my soufflés, and in the process, I made a realization:  I am an idiot!  Soufflés are not difficult, and they aren’t fussy.  I was silly to be scared of this poofy little thing.  They were actually pretty quick to make, turned out perfect the first time, and they were delicious!  I can’t wait to make more!

Cheese Soufflé! I did it!

Cheese Soufflé
(adapted from Cooking Light)

2 tsp. unsalted butter, softened
8 tsp. grated Parmesan
2 1/2 tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. 2% milk
2 tbsp. dry white wine
1/4 tsp. salt
2 oz. shredded swiss cheese (I used smoked swiss)
1/2 cup finely chopped chives
2 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites

Coat each of 4 (1 cup) soufflé dishes evenly with 1/2 tsp. butter.  Sprinkle each dish with 2 tsp. parmesan cheese, tilting to coat sides and bottom.  I didn’t have one cup dishes; mine were 6 ounce dishes, but they worked just fine.  Combine flour, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and black pepper in a saucepan over medium heat.  Gradually add milk and white wine, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Cook for 4 minutes or until mixture is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add salt, chives, and cheese.  Stir until cheese melts and mixture is smooth.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir in egg yolks.  Place egg whites in another large bowl.  Beat with a mixer on high speed until medium peaks form (do not overbeat).  Gently stir one-quarter of egg whites into cheese mixture.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.  Spoon into prepared dishes.

Ready to go in the oven. In retrospect, I could have used 5 or 6 dishes instead of just 4 since mine were a little smaller than the recipe called for. But these still worked great.

Place dishes on a baking sheet, and place in 400˚ oven.  Immediately reduce oven temperature to 375˚.  Bake for 17 minutes or until puffy and golden.  Serve immediately.

Fresh out of the oven! Aren't they beautiful?

What’s the most intimidating thing you’ve tackled in the kitchen?

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Tropical Tilapia Tacos

What do you do when you have a stack of tortillas staring at you?  Invent a new taco of course!  My daughter and I were trying to decide what we want, both throwing out ingredient ideas that sounded good, so instead of deciding on just one, we threw a bunch of them together.  The result?  A scrumptious, juicy, tropical fish taco I have a feeling will be reappearing on our menu all summer long.  And no, I don’t mean a taco made from tropical fish. That would just be wrong.

Claire suggested calling these “Speedy Gonzales Tacos” because they were so quick to make.  Somehow, that just didn’t sound right either.  Poor Speedy!  But you get the picture.  If you’re up for food in a flash, this is the recipe for you.

Tropical Tilapia Tacos

Tropical Tilapia Tacos

2-3 tilapia filets
1 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 mango, diced
1 cup pineapple, diced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
2 poblano peppers
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
Corn tortillas

Turn the broiler on and place poblanos under it.  Cook until the skin is black, turning once.  Take out and put in a plastic or paper bag to cool and steam (makes it easier to remove the skin).  Sprinkle tilapia filets with cumin, salt & pepper, cayenne and garlic powder.  Heat a teaspoon of oil in a skillet.  Cook tilapia 2-3 minutes per side.  In a bowl, combine mango, pineapple, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and red onion.  Remove skin and seeds from poblano peppers, chop and add to the bowl with the fruit.  Toss to combine.  Warm corn tortillas in the oven.  Add a piece of fish and top with fruit and pepper mixture. Eat!

We served these with chips and my famous tomato/tomatillo salsa.

Tropical Tilapia Tacos with Chips & Salsa

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Deconstructed Greek Salad

I don’t have air conditioning in my little house.  It doesn’t bother me most of the time; the climate here in Portland is relatively mild.  But when we do have hot days, the very last thing I want to do is heat it up more by turning on the oven or having things bubbling away on the stovetop.  This weekend we had a couple of warm days (it’s about time!).  That meant that dinner involved more “meal assembly” than actual cooking.

I would have made my own hummus for this, but I had scored some at the farmer’s market on Saturday – Cilantro Jalapeno flavor!  In addition to that, the goat lady had the most delicious feta I have ever tasted so I had to buy some.  From there, it was but a short leap to make some sort of greek salad.  But not being in a lettuce mood, we opted for more of a greek dipping buffet on a plate.  Some fresh veggies and pitas, a visit to the olive bar at the grocery store (or open a jar or two) and we were all set.

Claire calls this a greek salad puzzle, because it’s all the pieces of a greek salad, and they fit together perfectly in your belly. 🙂

Deconstructed Greek Salad

Deconstructed Greek Salad

Hummus (whatever variety you like)
Pita bread
Cucumber
Red or orange bell pepper
Baby carrots
A variety of olives
Feta cheese

Slice veggies and cut pita bread into wedges.  Arrange everything around a pile or bowl of hummus and dive in!

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Four Onion Chowder

I’m definitely becoming a farmer’s market addict.  This week I came home with so many goodies, I planned almost my entire menu around it.  A rainy evening was the perfect time to pull out my onion chowder recipe.  And it was the optimal showcase for the spring onions, chives and fingerling potatoes I bought at the market this weekend.

Fresh chives, spring onions, red onion, and shallot.

If you aren’t familiar with spring onions, they look like green onions on steroids.  I usually only see them at farmer’s markets and usually only in the spring.  I’m only guessing here, but that might be how they got their name.  In any case, if you can’t find them, or if it’s not spring, you can use leeks instead.  With spring onions, you can use all of the white and green parts, just like with a green onion.  With leeks, just the white and light green parts.  Really, I think with this recipe, any combination of any types of onions you like would work beautifully.  As for the potatoes, I used fingerlings because I had them (and because they don’t require peeling!), but feel free to substitute any potato you like or have on hand.

For a vegetarian version, I would suggest simply eliminating the pancetta.  Add a little liquid smoke to replicate the smoky flavor if desired.  Use veggie broth instead of chicken.

Four Onion Chowder

Four Onion Chowder
(Adapted from Food 52 three onion chowder recipe) 

2 tbsp. butter
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 bunch spring onions (or leeks)
1-2 shallots
2 stalks celery, sliced or chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
2-3 cups chicken broth
1 pint fingerling potatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
2 cups half & half
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped
Salt & pepper

In a soup pot or dutch oven melt butter and cook pancetta.  When some of the fat has rendered from the pancetta, toss in the onions and shallots.  Saute until tender, but don’t brown or your soup will be brown.  Add garlic, thyme and bay leaf.  Stir to combine.  Add chicken broth.  If you like a thicker chowder, just add 2 cups. If you like it a little soupier, add 3 or more.  Add corn.  Bring to a boil.  Add half & half and potatoes.  Turn heat off.  Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Add chives, parsley, salt & pepper.  If needed, turn on the heat for a few minutes to make it hotter, but don’t bring to a boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

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Broiled Red Snapper

I arrived at Farmer’s Market Saturday just in time to snatch up the very last piece of fresh Red Snapper from the fish vendor.  It pays to go a little early!  Caught the day before, this was as fresh as you can get without going out and catching it yourself.  Absolutely beautiful.  I always like red snapper because it’s so mild, and easy to cook.  A simple sprinkle of a few ingredients and a short stay under my broiler yielded a delicious dinner in about 10 minutes.  Perfect for a sunny spring day.

Since I also scored some fresh goat cheese at the goat farmer’s booth, I paired Mr. Snapper with Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese.  It was a match made in heaven.

Broiled Red Snapper

Broiled Red Snapper

1-2 Red Snapper filets
Bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese
Lemon zest
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Lemon juice & wedges

Preheat your broiler.  Lay out the fish on a cookie sheet.  Top with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs, parmesan, some zest from the lemon, and salt & pepper.  I didn’t measure these ingredients, just did a light sprinkle to cover the surface of the fish.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and squeeze a wedge or two of lemon on top.  Place under the broiler for about 8-10 minutes until brown on top.  When you stick a fork in the middle the fish should separate easily when done.

Pasta with Spinach & Goat Cheese. Perfect side dish with the fish or by itself!

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Roasted Chickpeas

Finding healthy snacks is always a challenge.  I’m sorry, but chomping on baby carrots just doesn’t do it for me when I’m craving something salty and crunchy.  During our brief gluten-free period, the cracker, pretzel and friends were missed greatly.  But luckily, there was still the chickpea.

The first time I saw fried chickpeas in a restaurant I thought it sounded crazy.  Who wants to eat a fried bean?  But, much to my surprise, these crunchy little tidbits were delicious and addictive.  On that particular occasion they were fried, but at home, I find it easier – and healthier – to bake them.  They are great for snacking, or for a nice salty crunch to go with the soup, salad or sandwich of your choice.   Feel free to mix up the spices however you like, it’s fun to experiment with different combos, but they are also good with simple salt & pepper.

Roasted Chickpeas

Roasted Chickpeas

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 tsp. chili powder

Pat chickpeas dry after rinsing and draining.  Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and the seasonings you like.  Spread out on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 400˚ for 20-30 minutes, until they reach the crunchiness level you like.  Commence munching.

Roasting the Chickpeas...So easy!

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Frozen French Fries Are Evil!

In the battle of good and evil, french fries are at the forefront.  Most people don’t know this, but it’s true.  At least, it’s true if you love potatoes as much as I do.

The more research I do about food, and the more I read ingredient labels, the more irritated I become by the amount of chemicals and added sugar and oil I’m eating without even knowing it.  And while I’m not advocating giving up all processed foods (hello, chocolate!), cutting down on them substantially just seems like good sense.  I was in the process of grabbing a bag of frozen french fries at the store (yes, I get lazy sometimes), when I read the label, which went like this:  potatoes, vegetables oil (palm oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and/or canola oil), salt, dextrose, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, annatto, vegetables (for coloring).

Just for contrast, here’s the french fry ingredients from a major fast food place:  potatoes, vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor (wheat and milk derivatives)**, citric acid (preservative), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent)), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent). **CONTAINS: WHEAT AND MILK (Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.)

Maybe these added ingredients are benign, simply helpers in the world of making them look good and not stick together.  But that doesn’t mean I want to eat them if I can avoid it.  Aside from the chemicals in there, both of these french fries have dextrose in them.  Why?  Potatoes taste great without added sugar.

So I put down the bag, went home and made my own french fries.  I did have to sacrifice an extra 5 minutes or so, but it was worth it.  The ingredients in mine are potatoes, olive oil, garlic and seasonings.  That’s it.  And that is good.

Homemade Red Potato Fries

Homemade Red Potato Fries

Red Potatoes (or you can use any kind)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Fresh or dried herbs (optional)
Garlic (optional)

Cut potatoes into sticks, toss with a little olive oil (a tablespoon or two) and whatever seasonings you like.  Spread out flat on a baking sheet and bake at 400˚ for about 30 minutes.  Bake a little less if you like them soft and squishy (I do), or a little longer if you want them crispy and brown.

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Blackberry Pear Crisp

Farmer’s market doesn’t open in my town until next month, but an indoor fruit and veggie market just opened recently down the street from me.  They source almost all of their goods (except for citrus) from the local area, so it’s close enough to a farmer’s market for me, with the added bonus that I don’t get rained on while I shop.

This week when I stopped by the fruit market, I saw a beautiful sight, the first blackberries of the year!  They grow like wildfire around here in the summertime, so seeing them automatically makes me think of blue skies and sunshine.  So far this spring, there has been very little blue skies and sunshine, so I looked at these berries and saw hope!  Hope that summer is actually on its way!

In the height of summer when the berries are extra ripe and sweet, I don’t even add sugar when I make this.  But some of these early berries were a little on the tart side, so I added a little just to soften the bite.  The pears also added a little natural sweetness too.  This dessert has the added benefit of being pretty healthy, at least until you top it off with a big scoop of berry ice cream.

Blackberry Pear Crisp

Blackberry Pear Crisp

1 pound blackberries
3 pears, sliced
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup nuts
4 tbsp. butter, cut up in small pieces

Mix fruit and 1 tbsp. sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch in a baking dish.

In a food processor, add flour, remaining sugar, oats, nuts and butter.  Pulse until it resembles large crumbs.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this in a bowl with 2 butter knives.  Sprinkle on top of fruit.  Top with a few more dabs of butter if desired.  Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes (a little longer if needed) until topping begins to brown.  Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Blackberry Pear Crisp a la mode

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Fire Pot Soup

Tofu is one of those things I have been trying to enjoy more.  It’s a great source of plant-based protein, and since we are eating a lot less meat these days, it just seems like a good idea to expand our horizons.  I started out really hating it.  But, being a little stubborn about things like this, I’ve continued trying.  After cooking and eating it many different ways, believe it or not, I have come up with a few ways I actually like it.  In my opinion, the key to enjoying tofu is to not think of it as a substitute for meat.  It’s not.  There is no way I have ever eaten it where it reminded me even a little bit of meat.  Trying to pull this off is futile, and in many cases, really disgusting, not to mention disappointing.  Accept tofu for what it is, a food unto itself, and enjoy the unique qualities it has to offer.

One of those unique qualities is that rather than having much of a taste of its own, it tends to take on the flavors of whatever you cook with it.  This is one of the qualities that makes it terrific in soup.  It adds a little texture (I like the extra firm tofu that actually holds its shape), and soaks up all the flavors in the pot.

For this soup, you don’t have to use tofu if you’re dead set against it.  Make it with just shrimp, or just tofu, or neither, or both.  It would also be excellent with chicken.  And though the name might lead you to expect something excessively spicy, I found it to be rather mild.  You can make it more or less spicy by adding or subtracting chile peppers (or chopping them up instead of just stabbing them), and/or adding or subtracting curry paste, which does have a kick.  This is the recipe I used, and I would rate it a medium on the spicy scale – enough to make my nose run, but not to make my eyes water.

Fire Pot Soup

Fire Pot Soup
(adapted from Eat, Live, Run)

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled & deveined
8 oz. extra firm tofu, cute into small cubes
3 tbsp. thai red curry paste
Canola oil
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn (thai basil is preferred, but regular basil works fine too)
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 – 14 oz. can coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
Lemongrass – 1-2 small stalks, smash with flat of knife
Juice from 1/2 lime
2-3 red or green Thai chiles (or you can use serrano peppers), pierced a couple of times with a knife
Cooked rice

Heat a drizzle of oil in dutch oven or soup pot.  Add shrimp and saute less than a minute, just until it’s turning pink and curling.  Remove shrimp and set aside along with the cubed tofu. Heat another drizzle of oil over medium high heat.  Add curry paste and stir and mash together with oil until combined.  Whisk in coconut milk and broth.  Add fish sauce, brown sugar, salt, basil, lime juice, lemongrass and chiles.  Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Coarsely chop the cooked shrimp and add both that and the tofu to the pot.  Heat through and serve over rice.  Be sure to remove the chiles and lemongrass before eating!

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Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

I had a friend once who had a lemon tree in her living room.  That tree smelled so good I could hardly stand it.  I’ve wanted one ever since, but I know the chances of me killing it are, well, close to 100%, so I’ve resisted buying one of my very own.  I’m hoping Claire will grow up to be one of those people who can keep plants alive and thriving.  She’s showing great promise so far in that area!  In the meantime, I still love lemons, and use them in cooking just about every chance I get. Alas, I have to get them at the store instead of my living room.

This pasta takes about 10 minutes to make from start to finish, and is light, fresh and just plain tasty.  Perfect for springtime.

Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

1 small package spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced in ribbons
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Cook spaghetti until tender, but still firm to the bite.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet.  Add garlic and crushed red pepper, cook 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, cook one minute.  Transfer mixture to a large serving bowl.  Add zest and juice from the lemon.  Drain pasta and add to bowl.  Add basil, parmesan, salt and pepper and toss to combine.  Taste and add more salt & pepper if needed.  Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and lemon wedges.

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