Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dos Salsas Verde

I'm currently learning Spanish via Rosetta Stone at work so I want to use it whenever possible, thus the title. Actually my two green sauces really have more to do with a discussion regarding my food processor. As pictured above it is obvious that this isn't one of your new fangled state of the art food processors.

Nope. This beast is at least 30 years old. I know this because my older sister received it for a wedding present, and if my memory serves me correctly, she was married in 1976. Sometime probably around 1980 she very graciously gave me her Hamilton Beach food processor as she had moved up in the world and bought herself a brand spanking new Cuisinart. Now mind you, beggars can't be choosers and I was tickled pink to have such a food wizard in my tiny Cassel Crag Apt. kitchen. I have been using it ever since, minus the grater attachment which I busted up real good once while trying to grate a particularly hard piece of Parmesan.

I have been recently thinking that I might owe myself a new food processor but after I used this steadfast kitchen workhorse this weekend for three different things, I have decided it still has many more productive spins left in it! I just have to continue grating cheese by hand (which I don't really mind).

This weekend I made blueberry scones and used my processor to do the tedious task of cutting the flour and butter together. I also made these two sauces: Pesto, which I mixed into nice, thin angel hair pasta for Saturday night dinner and Chimichurri, a sauce from Argentina which is used to accent grilled meats. We will dollop it on top of our grilled T-bone steaks for Sunday dinner.
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1-2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. pine nuts (I used local walnuts I get from a co-worker and keep in the freezer)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 generous Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Put the cloves of garlic into the bowl of processor with steel blade attachment and run until garlic is minced. Add basil leaves and nuts and pulse until very finely chopped. Scrape down bowl. Run machine while slowly pouring olive oil through feed tube. Stop and scrape down bowl thoroughly a couple of times. By hand, fold in Parmesan cheese and seasonings to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate with plastic wrap over surface of sauce for 1-2 days or freeze.
Chimichurri Sauce
2 large garlic cloves
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup lightly packed fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
With food processor fitted with steel blade, combine garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt and sugar and process until garlic is minced. Add the parsley and lemon juice and pulse until parsley is finely chopped. With machine running, pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the sauce is well blended. Serve as an accompaniment to grilled meats or seafood.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Salad Caprese

Last night I wasn't feeling very inspired to cook as I had taken on the challenge of cleaning out my spice and baking cabinets yesterday. Some of the spices and herbs I found in the bowels of that cabinet have probably moved with me since I came to Salem in 1990 from Seattle. Needless to say it was a jumbled, unorganized mess. Below is a pic of the mishmash I took out:
While I was at it I thought I might as well go for it and clean out the entire space. My friend Janet would be proud of me. She was (and probably still is) one of the neatest people I ever knew and her apartment always looked spotless. I took a trip to the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond and purchased functional clear glass jars for individual spices, labels, and a Lazy Susan (what an apropos name for that gadget). I then went next door to the World Market where I found a large selection of spices and herbs in manageable quantities for .99 cents each. Eureka!

An hour later after pouring the spices into their cute little jars and labeling them I felt such a sense of satisfaction. As well, the room and my hands were very fragrant with the heady smells of the spices. It smelled like walking into an Indian spice store. Below is a pic of the final results:
So, back to my original statement above, I whipped together some spaghetti with meat sauce and to accompany this Italian dinner we had Salad Caprese made with slices of vine ripe tomatoes (from the store, not our garden!), basil (from our garden) and slices of fresh whole milk mozzarella balls. The salad was dressed with salt, pepper and drizzles of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Truly a masterful summer salad!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Garden of Delights

The Husband has a wonderful vegetable garden going this year so I thought I would share a picture of the season's first tomato, almost ripe and ready for picking. We have plum and Big Boy tomato plants that will go so well with the sweet basil which is thriving. Many bush bean plants were put in the ground and we should be ready to harvest some in the next couple of weeks; small, tender haricot verts, left on longer to become long crunchy green beans. These are perfect steamed and then seasoned with salt and pepper or sauteed with a few small bacon pieces then dressed with a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar.

The corn couldn't be better than just cut directly off the cob, steamed for a matter of a couple minutes and a sprinkle of salt and a pat of butter applied. There are also corn puddings to be made and a delightful corn, basil and tomato salad I discovered last year which I hope to share when all my garden elements are ready to harvest.
Of course, every year we have a couple of pumpkin plants which tend to take over the garden; always amazing the tremendous growth from just two little seeds. Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are always the end goal for the pumpkin harvest and also roasting the seeds to share with Gladys as they are one of her favorite treats.

Each year we have a vegetable garden I am so thankful for all the work and effort The Husband puts into it and the enjoyment we get from its bounty. Thank you dear!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Patience Is A Virtue

The old adage "Patience is a virture" is so true in life, particularly when you are cooking. My blog is subtitled Success and Failure in the Kitchen and today's efforts would certainly fall in the latter category.

I bought some plump local blueberries yesterday and pondered what to do with them. I decided on a pound cake (more like 5 pound cake) recipe from one of my favorite old cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzan. It is filled with vegetarian recipes and includes a number of delicious dessert choices. I have made the following pound cake once or twice before but today I decided to adapt it by adding lemon zest and blueberries to the mix.
This is a project where a large stand mixer is almost a requirement. The cake mix becomes so voluminous as it is beaten through the various stages that it almost oozes out over the bowl. It is quite satisfying to make this particular cake for that very reason. This however is where I made an egregious error. I beat everything with the mixer instead of by hand as directed. I put my cake batter into my prepared bundt pan all the time wondering if it was all going to fit. It did, coming right to the very edge of the pan.I put it in the oven at 350 degrees, set the timer for one hour and went off to putter around the house. Approximately 20 minutes later I started smelling smoke and wondered who was barbecuing outside so early in the day. I wandered back into the kitchen, only to see in horror, smoke pouring out of the back burner. I cautiously opened up the oven door to see a small bonfire burning at the bottom of the oven where big globs of batter were spilling over from the cake pan above and burning away. Quickly I turned off the oven, hoping and praying I wouldn't have to call my colleagues from Fire Station 2 to make a house call, and waited for the flames to die down. I removed the cake, scraped out the bottom of the oven well then turned the oven back on and returned the cake with a cookie sheet safely placed underneath.

The cake was done after another 20 minutes with no more disasters.....or so I thought. Once out of the oven I immediately turned the bundt pan over onto a cooling rack and started shaking at the pan to release the cake. Why oh why didn't I heed the directions which clearly stated "wait 10 minutes before taking cake from pan?? The results below speak for themselves my dear readers.
Oh well, the bright side is the cake tastes fantastic. Okay so it certainly won't find itself on the cover of Bon Appetit Magazine but there were a couple of salvageable hunks I was able to cut off and share with my Mother-In-Law and Gladys and her family and The Husband doesn't really care one way or the other what it looks like, as long as it doesn't contain mushrooms!

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake
(Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzan)
1 pound butter
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract or lemon extract
1 Tbsp. baking powder
4 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups blueberries
zest from one lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a full sized bundt pan.
Cream together butter and sugar with an electric stand mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Remove from mixer and add sifted dry ingredients alternating with milk and vanilla combined, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly WITH A WOODEN SPOON just enough to blend without excess beating. Add blueberries and lemon zest and mix until combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake in oven (with a sheet pan on lower shelf to catch any drips - (PLEASE HEED MY WARNING ON THIS ONE!) Bake for one hour or until wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out dry. Cool cake for 10 minutes in pan (HEED MY WARNING ON THIS TOO!) before turning out onto a plate. Cool completely before slicing.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Last night on the Food Network (my favorite channel, much to the Husband's chagrin), they showed the annual Pillsbury Cookoff show which apparently has been going on for many decades. The premise being that contestants prepare dishes in a variety of categories using at least one Pillsbury product. The winner in each of the categories received $5000 and the "Best in Show", a cool Million.

Back when I was a girl, my mother purchased one of the Pillsbury Cookoff recipe books and we made a few recipes from it but the all time favorite for me has always been the Chicken Squares, or as they have come to be known in my circle, Squickens. This recipe has served me well for many years at potlucks and office functions and folks always ask me for the recipe, which I gladly share. These can be made with a variation of ingredients, i.e. ham or turkey(Squamens or Squirkens) and I bet a variety of finely chopped and well drained, sturdy vegetables such as broccoli and carrots would make a nice vegetarian option (Vegerckens).

Well, tomorrow is my dear co-worker's birthday and we have a tradition in my office to bring treats to have out for the birthday boy or girl so that we may all celebrate together and graze at the snack table throughout the morning. Since I know one of her favorites are "Squickens", I thought I would get out my very well used, rather fragile recipe written when I was in high school, and whip up a batch. I would like to note that one should really put one's glasses on when one gets up at 6am to make these as one can accidentally set the oven on the wrong temperature if one isn't careful and one can nearly burn the entire batch (thus the slightly charred look around the edges of the final product). Forewarning!!

1 8 oz package of cream cheese
6 Tbsp melted butter
4 cups cooked, cubed chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
2 8 oz. cans of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (store brands work just as well)
Seasoned or Plain Bread Crumbs to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350 deg (NOT 400 deg!). In medium bowl, blend cheese and 4 Tbsp butter until smooth. Add the next 6 ingredients; mix well. Separate the crescent dough into 16 triangles onto parchment or silpac lined cookie sheets. Put approx. 1 Tbsp of filling in the middle of each triangle.
Fold the three corners of the triangle together at the top and press well to seal, forming a nice little packet. Brush the tops of each with the reserved 2 Tbsp. of butter and sprinkle with some bread crumbs. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on rack. Refrigerate if not eaten immediately. Any leftover filling makes wonderful sandwiches, particularly on a nice piece of whole wheat bread. Enjoy and have a few copies of this recipe available if you serve to friends because I guarantee they will want one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Culinary Eggs-Periment

I've never made, nor for that matter, have I ever eaten a souffle. Reading various recipes over the years, they always seemed doomed for disaster. Have we all not heard of the harried cook making a special supper of a souffle for his/her company and it falling before it ever reaches the table? Additionally, it is something that has to be timed so that your guests are seated and ready when the main event comes out of the oven. A souffle awaits no one.

Since one of my goals of this cooking blog is to venture out and try new (and sometimes scary) recipes, now is as good a time as any to try my hand at the classic cheese souffle. I searched through a few of my cookbooks and have decided to go for the recipe included in Julia Child's very complete and thorough The Way To Cook cookbook. Since Julia's recipe is so detailed and there are so many souffle recipes available, I am not going to write out this recipe today.

One of the things I like about the idea of a cheese souffle is that the ingredients are so very simple: eggs, milk, cheese, butter, a few seasonings, lots of air and voila, an impressive dish. I was able to obtain local eggs, milk and wonderful Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese, thus practicing my utilization of local products for the majority of this recipe.

In reading this particular recipe, the process seems quite simple. I made a bechamel sauce and when thickened, added the seasonings then the 4 egg yolks after the sauce had cooled a few minutes. I whisked each one individually until well incorporated.

This stood for a few minutes while I got out the much beloved Kitchenaide mixer (Thanks my darling man, The Husband, for the best gift you ever gave me) and beat 5 egg whites until stiff, shiny peaks formed. In everything I've read about souffles, this is a key step. Apparently if the whites are overbeaten, it will result in a dry, tough souffle. The next step was to fold the sauce mixture into the whites. I took a large dollop of the whites and stirred them into the sauce to lighten the mixture, then gently folded the sauce into the rest of the whites using the classic folding method of cutting through the mixture in the middle, going down to the bottom and repeating until everything was well incorporated. The grated cheese was also folded in a handful at a time. The key to this process is to not overfold and deflate the volume of the whites.

This mixture was poured into my prepared dish which I buttered and dusted with 2 Tbsp of parmesan cheese. I then attached a greased aluminum foil collar around the dish using straight pins in order to create a method for the souffle to rise above the top of the dish without collapsing on itself.

The oven was preheated to 400 degrees and when I put the souffle in, I turned it down to 375 degrees where it baked for 25 minutes. Accoring to the instructions, it is imperative that the oven door is not open during the first 20 minutes of cooking or the souffle will deflate like a man in a cold shower.

The souffle actually needed 30 minutes in my oven but it turned out just fine. It was very tasty, airy, perfectly seasoned and most cheesy. It was served with asparagus, tomatoes dressed with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, crusty french bread and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Though it was a fine dinner, it may be awhile before I attempt again, as it was a lot of work and, call me a redneck if you will, scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese are just as good with far less effort. I'm glad I gave it a whirl and now I can check that off my list of things to do before I die!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Life Is A Bowl of Cherries

YEAH! The local cherries have arrived.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Goober's Sausage Rolls

I must refer to my Great Auntie Don again as I discuss this recipe for sausage rolls. When I was in high school, my friend Debbie and I took a trip by bus up to Vancouver,B.C. and stayed a week at Auntie's lovely little home in West Vancouver. It was such a memorable trip as, other than trips with the high school band, it was the first trip I had taken without my family. Two other friends also went at the same time. Gladys and her best friend stayed with her cousin who had an apartment near Stanley Park, which I thought was so grown up and sophisticated!

We had such a fun trip exploring the city by public transit with my auntie giving us directions and telling us that all of the bus drivers in her neighborhood knew her and indeed they did. We went downtown, to Stanley Park and even took a bus to Horseshoe Bay with a packed lunch my auntie sent with us. The lunch included the most delectable sausage rolls and scones studded with raisins and spread with cream cheese and raspberry jam. These sausage rolls are so named because she gave a piece of one to her neighbors big black lab whose name happened to be Goober. Debbie and I thought it was so very funny hearing her say in her lilting English accent "Goober, would you like a sausage roll?" Only 16 year old girls would go into spasms of giggles over something like that.

Sausage Rolls are a recipe that not only my great auntie made, but also my English grandma (her sister) and my mother. So, in order to keep the tradition alive, I felt like trying my hand at making some. Despite the fact that there was a daunting part about actually making a dough and having to roll it out (my fear of pie dough loomed), these turned out quite nicely and as I took my first bite I fondly recalled my English great auntie.
Goober's Sausage Rolls
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp cold lard, diced into cubes
3 Tbsp cold butter, diced into cubes
12 oz. bulk pork sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)
1 egg and small dab of cream, beaten for glaze
Make pastry by putting flour and salt into a bowl and adding the lard and butter. Rub the fats into the flour until mixture results into fine crumbs.
Stir about 3 Tbsp. ice water into mixture and gather into a smooth ball of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out pastry onto a lightly floured surface to make a rectangle about 12 inches long and 4-5 inches wide. Cut lengthwise into two long strips.
Divide the sausage into two pieces and shape into two long rolls approximately the same size as the pastry. Lay a roll on each strip of pastry. Brush the pastry edges with water and fold them over the meat, pressing the edges together to seal them well.

Turn the rolls over with the seam side down. Cut each roll into eight pieces and place onto a baking sheet.
With a pastry brush, glaze each piece with the egg/cream glaze. Bake in oven 30 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Cool on wire rack.