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My favorite kitchen tool: a sharp knife. If asked if I have a tomato corer or a garlic peeler or an onion chopper, I just pull out my ten inch chef’s knife. No gadgets for me. Kitchen gadgets just take up space, and I am not willing to share my limited space with silly little unitaskers. If the item only serves one function, it does not deserve a spot in my kitchen.

 

I honestly don’t remember much from culinary school, (sad) but I use my knife skills daily, so that alone almost makes the money spent worthwhile. Almost. I remember as the instructor of Cooking 101 passed out the black knife bags complete with straps and zippered pockets. I opened my brand new knife kit, ripping the Velcro straps apart to reveal shiny steel blades in evenly spaced pockets. I reached in to pull out one of the shimmering blades, and sliced my finger open. Stupid boning knife. The giant bandage on my hand certainly reminded me to act with caution around these tools during the first few weeks.

 

But, sharp knives soon changed from alien beings that I feared to absolute necessities that I could not cook without. Learning how to cut quickly, cleanly and correctly takes time, and lots of practice, but makes such a huge difference in all cooking. Food cooks unevenly when cut unevenly, herbs bruise when minced with a dull knife, and bread just squashes into a lumpy mess instead of falling into clean slices. Expensive knives are not necessary; my favorites are Forschner brand, only about thirty dollars for the larger knives. Very reasonably priced for tools that last for years.

 

Why am I talking about knives when the title of this post is carrot, cauliflower and coconut curry? Because the vegetables need to be sliced thinly and evenly so they cook evenly. Such an easy dish to make, don’t ruin it with giant, uncooked clumps of cauliflower! Take the time to really prepare all your ingredients, as the dish is so fast and easy to cook. I chopped up everything first, then started heating the pan.

Carrot, Cauliflower and Coconut Curry

Serves 2 to 3 people

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp sesame oil

4 large cremini (or button) mushrooms, quartered

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

1 cup carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on a bias

1 cup thinly sliced cauliflower florets

1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tbsp green curry paste (Green is my favorite, it is vegetarian and the ingredients include ginger, garlic, and lemongrass, yum! Red and yellow curry pastes will also work. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, start with just a bit of the curry paste, and taste as you go. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out!)

2 green onions, sliced on a bias

Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the vegetable oil and then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Add the sesame oil, garlic, carrots and cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium and add coconut milk and curry paste. Cook until sauce bubbles vigorously and thickens, and vegetables are crisp/tender. Stir in green onions. Serve with brown rice, rice, coconut rice, rice noodles, soba noodles, whatever you have!

 


My sister, the graphic designer, the yoga-student, the vegetarian, the concert-obsessed, does not cook. She can heat leftovers or make herself a bagel or cheese sandwich or burrito, but if it requires more than five minutes of prep time, she gives up. So many sad little recipes wanting to share their nutritious, delicious flavor combinations with her, but they remain only pretty photos and lists of ingredients, never to experience the real world.

So, when her yoga instructor announced to the class that their final would include a potluck of vegetarian dishes, guess who little sister ran to? Great guess, her big sister, the chef and professional home kitchen-messer-upper. She asked me to make a quinoa salad I prepared for her friend’s wedding a year ago. She promised to in return do the dishes, and she did not go back on her word. She returned from the yoga class with a huge grin stretched across her face and demanded that I add that recipe to my blog, as several people had requested the recipe. So, finally, here is the much requested recipe for quinoa and black bean salad with jalapeño vinaigrette.

Quinoa Salad with Jalapeno Vinaigrette

1 cup quinoa (I used red, but regular quinoa works just as well)
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, cleaned and small diced
3/4 cup Jalapeno Vinaigrette
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water. Add the quinoa to the boiling water, reduce heat to medium high and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir occasionally. I under cook it slightly because it will soak up the dressing and soften more over time. Not a fan of mushy quinoa! The grains will puff up and be tender, but they should still have a bite to them if cooked properly. Drain the quinoa well, then return it to the pot it was cooked in and add the vinaigrette, black beans green onions and chopped bell pepper. Mix well and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. I like this salad a little saucy, so I sometimes stir in a little more vinaigrette before I serve it, but that is just a personal preference. My sister prefers it drier! I also like to add corn, but my sister doesn’t like it, so I left it out. Feel free to experiment and add other ingredients, that is the best part of cooking!

Picture taken by Daniel Finucane of River Rock Photography. Use him! http://www.riverrockweddings.com/

I am a married woman! I also work at a new job (banquet chef at a Portland brewery) and live at a new address. The last few months involved insane amounts of planning, packing, lifting, running, stressing, worrying and just plain ol’ craziness. Very, very glad only memories remain from that period of my life. Still, I could have fit in time for blogging if I really tried, but the real reason I slacked so much on my online recipe sharing: I finally felt happy. Sounds strange, right? Honestly, I started blogging because I needed something to feel good about. The same routine every day, the same people driving me insane, the lack of creative control at my job, it all put so much pressure on me that I needed an escape, any escape, to feel in control again. I love my job so much now; I no longer get stress headaches or scream at my fiancé (now husband!) just to release the rage. I actually get to make food that I like, I write my own recipes and menus. Love, love, love it. I started focusing more on creating recipes for my new banquet menu at work, and still continue to work on that gigantic project. Never-ending, but in a really great way. Finally, my little sister/roommate started pestering me to jump back into blogging (I think mostly to test her title of official taste tester of all meat-free items) and here I am, back at the keyboard again. Now that I am here, I wonder why I ever stopped. Oh yes, that’s right. I need to measure stuff when I cook if I want to post the recipe. Not really my thing. I prefer to just throw things together and taste test as I go. That method doesn’t translate well for those who haven’t spent years in a professional kitchen, however. Oh well, I guess I will dust off the measuring cups and spoons shoved in the back of my kitchen drawers. Here is a recipe for a vinaigrette that my husband made for a salad we served to some friends, and it was such a hit, they all asked for the recipe. So, we made it again, and measured the ingredients this time. We then served it to my family, and even my spice-hating mom fell in love. She said she will never buy bottled dressing again!

Jalapeño Vinaigrette

So simple to make, and it lasts for a long time in the refrigerator if you want to make a large batch. You can also make this in a blender, just add all the ingredients except the oil, blend well, and then slowly drizzle in the oil with the motor running. I use vegetable oil, I find that olive oil can get bitter when blended too much, and just over powers all the other flavors. I skipped the detail cutting on this batch by using the blender, as you can tell if you look at the picture!
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1 cup oil (vegetable works fine, or plain olive oil, not extra virgin though, too strong)

Combine all ingredients except oil in a bowl. Whisk the oil in slowly, until completely combined.

My good friend bought a new house this year with ten acres of land. The property came with a tractor and also acres of strawberries. Her husband loves the tractor so much, he jokes that they bought a tractor and got some land for free. Boys and their toys! I prefer the strawberries myself. The most generous soul on the planet, my friend let her friends (including me, yay!) pick the berries and take them home for free. What an opportunity! If only my apartment freezer could hold more . . . oh well. I picked a good quantity of the large, red berries (although not so sweet this year, way too much rain) and enjoyed the sunshine with my friend. I took the berries home and de-stemmed the ones that escaped my fingers during the drive. I froze some in freezer bags, and also made a batch of my favorite freezer jam. Ok, so this jam includes sugar, which I am trying to avoid, but I just had to make it anyway. Everything in moderation, right? Sometimes I just need a piece of toast with homemade jam, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I rush out the door. At least I can proudly say I made this jam myself, I even picked the berries myself.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Yields 5 (8oz) half pints

Buy the Ball brand No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin. The recipe is on the package!

4 cups crushed strawberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 package Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin

Stir sugar and contents of package in a bowl until well blended. Stir in 4 cups of crushed fruit. Stir 3 minutes longer. Ladle jam into freezer jars and top with lids. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes.

My mom never buys jam, she just stocks her giant freezer full of homemade jam during the summer. Blackberry jam, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, jam from any kind of berry she can get for a reasonable price. As a child, I always hated helping Mom pick berries. The sun beating down on me as I squatted by the low plants (we always picked berries on the hottest day of the year), slowly filling the pint containers, my fingers stained with juice. I hated squishing the berries with sugar and feeling the dribbles of sugary juice hardening on my arms as I worked. Hot and sticky work. But even then, I knew the importance of this task. My summer labor filled a freezer full of berries and jams, ready for the rest of the year. When I moved out of my parents’ house eight years ago, I immediately started to miss the huge, icy, over-stuffed freezer in my parents’ garage. A little apartment freezer just doesn’t hold nearly as much. I drifted away from making my own products, and started to get lazy at meal time. Now, I am trying to return to my roots, and trying to keep my freezer full to bursting with as much as I possibly can. My next challenge (which scares me, I’ll admit!) canning!

A photo from work of a dessert using local strawberries. Not at all healthy, but definitely delicious! I threw some strawberries in a blender with mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and some heavy cream. Super fast strawberry mousse in only a couple of minutes! You just have to watch it carefully, to make sure the cream doesn't overwhip, because then you would have sweet, strawberry-flavored butter!

My sister, a vegetarian, loves the bean and cheese burritos we ate growing up. A flour tortilla spread with canned refried beans, sprinkled with grated Tillamook cheddar, micro waved for a minute and rolled up. An easy recipe even my sister can make! (Just kidding, Diana!) Very simple and ingenious, but I associate canned refried beans with the taste of vomit. I just can’t stand them. I also prefer to stay away from shortening-filled, white flour tortillas. I love corn tortillas, which typically consist of just corn masa, water and salt, but sometimes I just want a burrito.

I decided to try a fat-free whole wheat tortilla recipe with my kind of ingredient list: short! Just whole wheat pastry flour, water and sea salt. The fewer ingredients and steps included in the recipe, the more likely I am to try it. If you love store-bought white flour tortillas, this recipe may take some getting used to. I love the nutty taste of whole grain products; I will always choose whole grain over white when presented with an option. So, this recipe worked out perfectly for me. Simple, quick, easy and no added fat.

Finish off the tortilla with some of my favorite items: pinto beans, queso fresco, and avocado pico de gallo. A yummy, slightly more time-consuming version of the menu staple of my childhood. Not that time-consuming if you think ahead though! I soak the beans overnight, cook a large batch, and use them throughout the week in many applications. I can do that, because of my love of beans, but cooked beans also freeze well if your family or stomach complains of bean overload. The rest really comes together quickly, although I am less likely to attempt the long versions of these items during hot summer days. The less I turn on the oven or stove top, the better. Prepare for many blog posts involving green salads and fresh fruit during the summer!

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Yields about 4 large tortillas

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour and 1/2  cup of water. Mix well. Add more water if needed, to get the mixture to a dough consistency. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is soft. Make it into balls (4 to 6 depending on size). Roll each ball out as flat as possible on a floured surface.  Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the rolled out tortilla to the pan and cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute or until it is bubbling and starting to brown. Then turn it over and cook for another 45 seconds. Wrap each tortilla in a clean kitchen towel as soon as it comes out of the pan.  Serve immediately. These tortillas are better freshly cooked, they don’t reheat as well.

Fill with warm, cooked pinto beans, queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo. Enjoy!

I usually spend a lot of time planning and preparing for family holidays and special occasions. This Father’s Day, however, I decided to go simple. What better than burgers? I make fun of my dad constantly for single-handedly keeping McDonald’s in business. He loves the coffee drinks, and the hamburgers, and the cashiers know him by name. I would understand his fast food fascination if he experienced few home-cooked meals at the kitchen table. But, his wife (and professional chef daughter!) keep his stomach full (if not fat, those who know him understand!). So, I really see him as my biggest challenge. I may never convert my family to live a fully organic lifestyle, but can’t I at least reduce the number of fast food napkins in the glove compartment?

I love great burgers, but so few I eat actually fall under that category. I don’t like burgers super-huge and beefy, I enjoy not feeling sick after eating one! So, the first step in my burger-making day included a trip to New Seasons. I picked up ground beef, ground pork, organic buns (made with beer!), tomatoes, pickles (finally, a source for the elusive organic pickle!) and locally grown red leaf lettuce.  Including ground pork in the burgers always gives them a flavor I prefer. More levels of interest for my tongue, and not as heavy. The combination, plus the high quality of the meat, made my brother ask for the ingredients in the recipe. After I recited the list he said “Really, no Worcestershire or anything?” I guess it sounded too simple! Two of my brothers even asked for seconds. Not that strange, considering their bottomless pit stomachs, but still flattering!

Beef and Pork Burgers

Yields 8 four-ounce burgers, but feel free to go smaller or bigger! (I prefer smaller myself)

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tbsp garlic powder

1/2 tbsp onion powder

1/2 tbsp kosher salt

1 green onion, thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix evenly and well, but be careful to not over mix. The more you mix, the tougher the meat becomes. Form into 8 patties and refrigerate. Preheat the grill (or a sauté pan, if you lack an outdoor grill, or just prefer a house perfumed with tasty burger aromas!) over medium-high heat. Add the burgers to the grill, and do not touch. Burgers only need one flip! The more you mess with them, the more juice they lose and then they dry out. They are also more likely to fall apart. Let the burgers cook, untouched, until they look about half done. They should lift easily off the grill with a spatula at this point. If they have to be forced, they are not ready yet. Flip the burgers and continue cooking until they are done. Because pork is included in this recipe, the burgers should be served well done. Add cheese (if desired) just before they finish cooking, and serve on a bun with your favorite condiments.

See that large metal grain bin? My dad made that! Yes, I am a proud daughter who enjoys bragging about how her daddy made the thing with Bob’s face on it  outside of Bob’s Red Mill. My dad designs and repairs feed mill equipment for a living, which I never understood the appeal of (smelly, hot, physical, not my kind of job . . . but wait, that describes my job perfectly! I guess I am a daddy’s girl!). I did help him out when I was younger, for less than a week. I could not take more than that! My “helping”  included  screwing large nuts and bolts into large, metal grain bins, in the pouring rain, and complaining about it constantly. I remember shivering in clothes completely soaked through, and screwing small pieces of metal into larger pieces of metal with numb fingers. But, I also remember the rides to and from Bob’s, talking and laughing with my dad, telling stories and planning where to stop and eat. I remember my brother helping my dad operate the crane, and standing in awe as they lifted giant sheets of metal into the sky. I remember touring the mill with Bob, meeting the other employees, and eating a brown bag lunch in the cafeteria with the piano in the corner. I remember feeding the ducks in the pond, smelling the musty air in my dad’s service truck, shopping in Bob’s little store, and  buying some oatmeal or rice flour for my mom. Great memories about a place that I now frequent as a customer. I feel like I contributed in some very small way, to building a part of my favorite store/restaurant.

We visited Bob’s on Saturday for breakfast, the best breakfast anywhere, ever. Tender biscuits, perfectly cooked over-easy eggs, and the best part, the hash browns. Crispy on the outside, perfectly seasoned and not greasy at all. You can really taste the freshness of everything, and how much love goes into every menu item. I ordered my new Saturday favorite, the hash brown casserole with biscuits. Way too much food for one meal, but to go boxes exist for a reason, right? My boyfriend prefers the classic hash browns, eggs and toast, a little boring for me, but no menu item at Bob’s disappoints. We left with to go boxes stuffed with breakfast for the next day, ready to enjoy the sunshine.

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