Sunday, June 27, 2010

Apple Oven Cake

On weekends, I really enjoy making breakfast. I put on the coffee and start whipping something up. My latest things are muffins (I've begun experimenting with all sorts of versions) and this, an Apple Oven Cake. I made it this morning and thought I'd share it with you. It's really tasty and is especially nice in the fall when apples are "in", but since apples are always "in" around here, you could really make it year-round.

It's super easy and quick, and delicious! I think you'll get hooked on it, too.

Apple Oven Cake

3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 sweet apple, such as Fuji, peeled and sliced
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup each flour and milk
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 425. Melt butter in a 12 inch ovenproof frying pan over high heat (pictured in the recipe was a cast iron skillet, so if you have one of those, you may want to use it). Add brown sugar and cinnamon, swirling to combine. Add apple and cook until just starting to soften, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, whirl together eggs, salt, flour and milk. Pour egg mixture into pan (over the apples and brown sugar) and bake until puffed and brown, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve right from the pan.

Says: "Serves 6" (um! more like 3). Each serving has 189 calories, 5g protein, 9g fat, 23g carb, 203mg sodium, and 124mg chol.

Recipe courtesy of Sunset Magazine, Oct 2009.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Salads for Summer

Summer is here - and you know what that means: time to make salads! I am a salad fiend and have enjoyed eating them since I was a kidlet. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day.

Here are some of the ones I make frequently. In fact I'm making the lentil salad tonight and serving it along side falafels in pita with shallot yogurt, feta, roasted peppers, eggplant dip, and dolma (stuffed grape leaves).

Egyptian Lentil Salad

2 cups green lentils
6 cups water
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 cup thickly sliced green onions (incl. tops)
1 small hot green chile such as a jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. grated lime peel
2 Tbsp lime juice
3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro or parlsley

Rinse lentils, sort and discard any foreign material. Drain well. In a 4 qt. sauce pan, combine lentils, water, 2 garlic cloves, and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until lentils are tender (about 25-30 min). Drain, then discard the garlic and bay leaves. Let lentils cool for 15-20 min.

Transfer to a large bowl and mix lightly with onions and chile. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine oil, vinegar, lime peel and juice, minced garlic, and cumin. Cover, shake well, and pour over lentils. Stir mixture lightly. Season to taste with salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature until flavors are blended (about an hour). If made ahead, cover and refrigerate until the next day but bring to room temp. before serving. Garnish with cilantro or parsley. Makes 4 entree servings or 8 side dish servings.

Pairs well with grilled sausages and a good beer.

Green Bean and Fingerling Potato Medley

For about 4 servings
Fingerling potatoes, approximately 3-4 per person (try to get them all about the same size)
Green beans, enough for the number of people you are cooking for
1 clove garlic, minced
3 green onions, sliced thinly

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
zest of 1 lemon, and the juice of that lemon
salt and pepper
fresh lemon thyme if you can get it, otherwise regular thyme, to taste
mix the above, then add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Fill a large pot with enough water to cover all the potatoes but do not yet add them to the water. When it comes to a boil, add salt, then the potatoes. I cooked mine for about 7-8 minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling, trim the green beans, prepare the dressing and mince the garlic and onions. Set aside.

When the potatoes are done, take them out of the water and place them into a large mixing bowl. For simplicity's sake, in the same boiling water the potatoes were in, add the green beans. Blanch for approx 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook the beans. They will lose all flavor. When done, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve the vibrant green of the beans. The best way to do this really is to "shock" them in a bowl filled with ice water.

Add cooked green beans to the potatoes in the bowl, then the vinaigrette, garlic and green onions. Give it a stir, taste for seasoning. Enjoy either warm or at room temperature.

Pairs well with just about anything, especially roasted or BBQ'd chicken, and a glass of Pinot Grigio or other crisp white wine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with whole grain mustard sauce

Lest you think I am vegetarian, I'd better get a meat recipe in here! With all the veggies, photos of veggies, souffles and the like, it was looking a bit vegetarian around here. Not that that's bad.....heaven knows, most of us aren't eating enough of them! In fact, the cookbooks I've acquired recently are vegetarian because I needed some inspiration to make more interesting veggie dishes.

Pork is a strange ingredient for me to select for my first meat recipe, because I'm not really a pork eater. I made this mostly for my husband and a friend who was coming over for dinner Saturday night. They both loved it. Super easy. Try it sometime.

It's Pork Tenderloin in a zesty Dijon Mustard Sauce over Egg Noodles. The noodles soak up the sauce which is really key to this recipe. I also prepared steamed broccoli alongside it.

Pork Tenderloin with whole grain mustard sauce

2 cups uncooked medium egg noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 12 (1-inch-thick) slices
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Cook noodles according to package directions, drain.
While the noodles cook, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the pork with pepper and salt. Place pork in pan; cook 5 minutes, turning once.

Combine the wine and mustard; pour into pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into pan; bring to a boil, and cook 1 minute or until thick. Serve pork with sauce and noodles.

Recipe courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine, October 2001.

Serves 3-4.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The first tomatoes of the season

As we venture into our garden every afternoon, another surprise awaits us. This is what is simply so much fun about growing our own food: watching it grow! When we come home from work, one of the first things we do is to go outside and see what's new - it's like reading the newspaper every day to find out what's happened in the world. Our voluminous tomato plants are giving forth little cherry tomatoes on a daily basis now, just enough for that day's salad. They are so cute. "Still Life with Yellow Pear Tomatoes nestled in a Bed of Thyme". I love the little flowering bit of thyme in the upper left hand corner and how the shape of the stem on one of the tomatoes mimics the shape of the thyme.
The Early Girl tomatoes are turning redder each day and I look forward to making an Insalate Caprese one of these days with fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil. I dream of other dishes to be made: stuffed tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, marinated tomatoes, and gazpacho.

Nothing says summer like fresh vine-ripened tomatoes. I encourage you to grow your own. They really take up no space and can be grown any number of ways: in the ground, in pots, and even in these upside down hanging baskets you see at the nurseries. Either way, fresh, vine-ripened organic tomatoes are expensive to buy. Why not grow them yourself?

Souffle Recipe

Sorry for the confusion. I'm learning Blogger as I go. I thought I could post to a new page called Recipes but it looks like I cannot. Here is the recipe I used for the souffle the other night:

Savory Cheese Souffle

For a 4-6 cup souffle mold, serves 4

1-1 1/2 Tbsp soft butter for the souffle dish and the collar
2 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese for the souffle dish
2 1/2 Tbsp butter for the souffle
3 Tbsp flour
1 cup hot milk
1/4 tsp paprika
a speck of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 grinds of white pepper
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1 cup (3 1/2 oz.) coarsely grated Swiss cheese

Prepare the souffle dish by buttering it and dusting it with Parmesan cheese. Make sure to include the collar. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and slide rack into lower third of the oven.

The sauce base:
Cook the butter and flour together in a saucepan until foamy - about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add the hot milk.  Simmer and stir slowly for a minute or two to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in seasonings, then one by one, the egg yolks.

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Whisk a quarter of them into the sauce to lighten it, then delicately fold in the remaining whites, alternating with sprinkles of Swiss cheese.

Turn the mixture into the souffle dish and set in oven. Reduce heat to 375 and bake 25-30 min. until souffle has puffed up several inches into the collar and has browned nicely on top. The souffle should not jiggle as this means it is likely still raw in the middle. Remove collar and serve at once!

To make a vegetable souffle:
After making the sauce base, fold in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of well-seasoned cooked chopped spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, or broccoli, or like I did, raw grated zucchini. Complete the souffle as directed but use only 1/3 cup Swiss cheese.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Farmer's Markets

Today I visited my local farmer's market looking for fruit. Naturally, I ended up with much more than that, which inevitably happens when I go. It started innocently enough: "Oh, I need onions". Then, "Wow, look at those green beans". Then, "Mmmh, that squash is unusual - think I'll try it". Pretty soon I had two canvas shopping bags brimming with all sorts of stuff. What can I say: farmer's markets are intoxicating to me. I can't pass up fresh vegetables - I am addicted to them - so it's good that there is a farmer's market nearly every day of the week somewhere in my county.

I highly recommend seeking one out and going on a regular basis if you're not already doing so. Not only will  you support your local growers, who are being squeezed by corporate farming in this country, but you are more likely to eat "locally", which means that your food has not travelled great distances to get to you, adding to pollution and our dependence on fossil fuel.

Supermarkets might be convenient, but there are downsides. They are not typically buying the majority of their produce locally and since they have so many stores and buy in such volume, imagine all the trucking going on! Fortunately there are more signs up in the produce departments of the supermarkets I've visited that say "Grown Locally", but it's usually a small section, not the bulk of what they have out, which means that what they're buying has been shipped from all over.

So, why does so much produce come from areas that are not local to us? We aren't we eating what's in season where we live? I think there's something exciting about anxiously awaiting a fruit to come back into season. For instance, when I went on Sunday I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of all the stone fruit: plums and nectarines for example (which ended up in my bag). And I personally don't want pumpkins at any time other than in the fall. I can wait!

Another reason to love farmer's markets is that many of the farmers, though they may not have received organic certification, do not use pesticides and toxic chemicals. Just ask.

Lastly, the supermarket is simply not as fun as going to the farmer's market. There you are, outside in the fresh air and sunshine, meeting the growers, asking them questions about their produce, like how to prepare something you haven't tried before. That's what intrigues me the most about farmer's markets: feeling a personal connection with the people that are growing the food I eat.  You're not gonna get THAT from your supermarket!

For a list of Farmer's Markets in Southern California, I've included a link for you to find one. For Orange County, try this:

So, get out there and buy something fresh, preferably organic and in season, local to your area, support your regional farmers, and most of all, have fun!

For the recipe of the Green Bean and Fingerling Potato recipe I created from the well, green beans and fingerling potatoes I bought at the farmer's market on Sunday, click on the Recipes page. Let me know if you prepared it and how you liked it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What's growing in our garden

After years of growing flowers we grew tired of constantly fussing over them, so last year, my husband decided to start an organic vegetable garden. We don't have much space, but he did his research and heard about "Square Foot Gardening". It made a lot of sense, so he decided to give it a try.

Many things did not do well. We planted them at the wrong times, overwatered them, didn't really know how to care for them (so much for not fussing over the garden!). In this, our second year, we've learned a few things. Honestly, I only do two things with this garden: help decide what to plant, and water it when my husband gets busy with work. My motto has been: "You grow 'em, I'll cook 'em." I do NOT have a green thumb. He, on the other hand, took horticulture in high school, so that makes him the expert between the two of us.

Currently we have onions, which are all that remain of the winter "crop" and the typical summer "crop" veggies: zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant. Radishes have also been planted. Radishes are the all-time easiest things to grow apparently any time of year. Even if you are only moderately fond of radishes (like me), there is nothing like a fresh one. Talk about flavor! A great addition to any salad or crudite platter.

More tomatoes flank the other side of the lawn, as well as butternut squash and another attempt at green beans (which we haven't gotten the hang of yet. They are always being devoured by something evil like snails or worms of some kind). Four kinds of tomatoes grow: Roma, Yellow Pear, Early Girl, and Red Cherry.

No garden of mine would be complete without herbs. Even when I lived in apartments and had no garden, I grew them in pots and had them near my kitchen window or growing on a balcony. At the moment, we have marjoram, thyme, lemon thyme, parsley, and oregano. Dormant at the moment are tarragon and sage. The only thing I miss is cilantro, which I have found somewhat finicky, but I'll give it another try. And you're probably wondering, "what about basil?", and that would be a good question. I always grow basil indoors, on the kitchen sill, because snails just LOVE it.

So that's what's happening in our garden at the moment. I'll update as things sprout.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pass the peas, please!

Last year, we decided to start a "Square Foot Garden" in our backyard. We are no green thumbs, let me tell you, but we are learning. Many things we've attempted have failed, some have done quite well. The cucumbers, for instance, were incredible; the tomatoes, fairly easy; strawberries, really easy; eggplant, moderately successful; zucchini, surprisingly a flop!

This year we've tried some of those things again and in addition added something new: peas. To our delight, they were super low maintenance, were fun to watch grow on a daily basis, and fattened up quite nicely on their vines.

The other day, Batch #1 was picked and shucked for dinner that same evening. Ah, they were moist and succulent in their little pods, surprisingly good even raw! Once steamed, they were served plainly with butter and good quality sea salt. Nothing more was needed. Simple, yet divine!

Batch #2 was picked as well though these had been apparently left on the vine a bit too long and were a little dried out. These, I decided, would be made into soup. Coincidentally, a few days earlier on an episode of Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa" on the Food Channel, she made a simple pea soup that sounded good. I made it last night so I could use them up as well as the onion I had just plucked out of the ground. How bad could that be? Here, the recipe from Ina.

Pea Soup

1 leek, white part only, should total about 1 cup
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped

Place all these in a soup pot and saute for about 10 minutes. Then add:
2 cups chicken stock
1 carton frozen peas (or fresh, blanched first for a few minutes)

Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Ina added 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, but I am not a fan of mint, so I omitted it.

Add 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, stir.
Puree the whole thing in batches in a blender.
Test for seasoning and then enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A culinary journey

Welcome to my blog! It documents my culinary journey, and my mission is to get the most out of the food I prepare. I love to cook and I love all the different ways to bring flavor to the foods I prepare: spices, herbs, sauces, even the way in which foods are prepared: braised, sauteed, roasted. Boring food is not worth eating, so if you enjoy food as much as I do, then I welcome you to join me in finding ways to enhance the eating experience by maximizing flavor.

I enjoy eating well, so this blog is designed to track my progress in preparing the best meals I can, in terms of both health and enjoyment. My focus is on whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and quality protein. Processed foods and artificial ingredients don't have a place in my kitchen.

My hope is to not only keep a log of what I cook and eat, but to inspire you. I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will share your thoughts and culinary creations with me.

Bon Appetit!

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