Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seattle Summer Salad

Aaaaaaaaaand….we’re back!

In what seems like a long time ago, and a place now far away, Mike and I finally up and decided to move. We’d been wanting to for years, my job search in Florida was going nowhere and had been that way for awhile, and we really wanted a change of pace. We were in a rut. So, we picked a date based on our apartment lease end date, bought tickets, sold most of what we owned, and fled sunny Florida for rainy Seattle.

So here we are! I’m typing this from our new apartment in Ballard, surrounded by boxes in various states of unpacked. It feels good to cook again, with all of my kitchen equipment, pots, knives, spices – and the quality of ingredients here has been phenomenal so far. Everything tastes fresh, rich, full-flavored. I was even swooning over the cabbage I bought at the farmer’s market.

So, to celebrate the abundance of summer produce, I put together a salad that highlights it. Fresh Rainier cherries, sweet fennel, roasted green beans – they all also are refreshing and light for these afternoons where the temperature in the apartment actually climbs into the mid 80s, since most residences here don’t have central air. So as not to mask the flavors of the fruit and vegetables, I dressed the salad with a simple shallot vinaigrette, also adding a little allium flavor without big pieces of onion. I used a cheese that’s made here in Seattle, at Pike Place Market, called Beecher’s Flagship. You can often find it in the fancy cheese section at grocery stores across the country (I even saw it at Publixes in Florida), but you can substitute it with a nutty, full flavored cheese such as Manchego or Swiss.

So, we have landed and have hit the ground running. The kitties are adapting, we’re already complaining that it’s too hot when it’s 79F for a high, and we’re just loving the city.

seattle summer salad

Seattle Summer Salad

Serves 4


1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar

1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower

1 medium shallot, minced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. ground fennel seed, optional


1 head red or green leaf lettuce

1 medium fennel bulb

1 lb. cherries

1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped

1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed

4 oz. Beecher’s Flagship cheese, or any nutty cheese (Manchego or Swiss would work well)


Combine the ingredients for the dressing, and set aside. This will make more dressing than you will use in this salad, the leftovers may be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Pre-heat the oven to 375. Spread the green beans on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt, and roast for 30 minutes, or until beginning to brown on the edges. Remove and allow to cool.

While the green beans are roasting, toast the hazelnuts in a nonstick pan, pit and halve the cherries, and shred the cheese. Chop and wash the lettuce, and thinly slice the fennel either with a mandolin or a very sharp knife.

When all of the ingredients are assembled, toss the salad ingredients with the dressing. Divide between four plates, making sure the heavier ingredients are equally divided.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vegetarian Brown Rice Jambalaya

It’s been a busy week, but I figured I’d make a dish in honor of Mardi Gras, being a former Catholic. This particular post also benefits from the long, long side trip we made to Florida’s first and brand new Trader Joe’s aaaaaaaaall the way down in Naples.

Since I like to make everything healthier, and brown rice is much tastier than white, I’ve substituted brown rice for the white rice usually used in jambalaya. I added extra vegetables, since I like lots of vegetables and less starch, and I also used meat substitutes, Tofurky sausage and Trader Joe’s chicken-less strips; definitely no seafood, and seafood substitutes are rare. I make this in more of the New Orleans style: protein cooked with the celery, pepper, and onion trinity; tomatoes; rice cooked together with all of the ingredients.

The ingredients list looks a little lengthy, but that’s mostly the herbs and spices. Feel free to use one to two tbsp. of Cajun seasoning instead of the last five herbs and spices, if you want something simpler.

As the meat substitutes are cooked with the liquid ingredients, they may become a little softer but do take on the flavors of the herbs, spices, and tomato. If you’d like the protein to be firmer, remove the meat substitutes after browning and add them back 5-10 minutes before the rice is finished cooking. This will give the proteins a little flavor without sacrificing the firmness from browning.



Vegetarian Brown Rice Jambalaya

Serves 8


2 tbsp. olive oil

4 large vegetarian sausages (Tofurky, Field Roast), sliced

8 oz. non-chicken strips

2 large onions, diced

6 stalks celery, diced

3 bell peppers, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups brown rice

7 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup tomato sauce

4 bay leaves

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1-2 tsp. cayenne, depending on spice tolerance

1/2 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. celery seed

1 1/2 tsp. onion powder

2 tsp. garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Tabasco to taste


Heat olive oil in a large, heavy stainless steel skillet or a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sliced vegetarian sausage and non-chicken strips, and cook, stirring often, until evenly browned. Add onions, celery, and peppers, stir well, sprinkle with salt, and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for 60-75 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Remove bay leaves before serving. Adjust salt and Tabasco to taste, and serve with extra Tabasco at the table.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dijon, Leek, and Drunken Goat Cheese Risotto

Mike and I went out the weekend before for Valentine's Day because we like to go on a weekend evening rather than during the week, when Valentine’s Day falls on a weeknight. Also, it gave me the opportunity to put together a nice dinner on Valentine's night itself!
I like to poke around when I'm trying to think of what to cook to see if anything piques my interest. I came upon a recipe I've seen a few times, Leeks Vinaigrette with Burrata Cheese and Mustard.
I really like the idea of using mustard in more places, but the expense (and seeming scarcity in north Orlando-area stores) of burrata kept me from trying this recipe. However, my mind jumped to the idea of making risotto, and leeks are a versatile spring vegetable that are great in risotto. (it's been spring in Florida pretty much since early January!) Adding mustard was what I was nervous about. Mustard is in the background of a lot of dishes, adding a little pungency that rounds out flavors, but using it as a main ingredient, I was worried it would overwhelm the more delicate flavors of the other ingredients. I wanted to add one other main flavor, but didn't want to go with fresh mozzarella (as an analog to burrata from the Epicurious recipe) because the mild flavor wouldn't stand up. For some reason, drunken goat cheese (a semi-firm goat cheese that’s soaked in red wine) popped into mind - it's firm, not too mild, but also isn't overwhelmingly "goaty." In the dish, it gives a nice creamy dairy sweetness to contrast the pungency of the mustard.
When I was cooking this, I did add the mustard a small amount at a time so that if it just didn't work, or ruined the dish, it could be saved. Interestingly, I ended up increasing the amount of mustard I used, by about double. I threw in some lemon zest at the end and it really brightened the risotto and brought all the flavors together. And I did add a little half and half to enhance the creaminess, though usually that’s a no-no!
I am by far not an expert on risotto, but it's thought that risotto is a fussy, difficult dish -- it definitely isn't. It does take time and a little attention, but it's easy once you get the feel for when to add liquid. A simple way to remember is if you drag a spoon across the bottom of the skillet and no liquid rushes in, it's time to add more. Here's a great video of Giada De Laurentiis making risotto, if you’ve never made it before, that’ll show you how easy it can be.
Unfortunately my picture below isn't an ideal picture of risotto, because if it's not photographed immediately it loses the "lava" fluid texture that you're looking for right off the stove.
mustard risotto

Dijon, Leek, and Drunken Goat Cheese Risotto

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as an appetizer or first course
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
3 large leeks
16 oz. arborio rice
4 cups vegetable broth (plus more if needed)
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup sherry
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 oz. drunken goat cheese, shredded
zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper
Cut off the tough green tops of the leeks (these can be saved for soup broth). Cut off the roots and thinly slice the tender green and white portions of the leeks and rinse off dirt in a colander. Heat butter and olive oil in a large, heavy stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook for 2 minutes, then add sliced leeks and  sprinkle with salt. Cook leeks for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are beginning to brown lightly.
While leeks are cooking, add vegetable broth to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Depending on the rice, it may take more than 4 cups of broth so you may want to keep additional broth at hand.
Add rice to the skillet and stir until well combined. Cook for one minute to toast the rice slightly, then add white wine and one ladle of broth from the saucepan. Stir until all liquid is absorbed, then add another ladle of broth and stir slowly. As the rice absorbs the liquid, continue to gradually add broth and stir. The rice will begin to absorb the liquid more slowly, so it will take more time between adding ladles of broth. 
When the rice is tender and creamy but the grains are still distinct and have a little chew, turn off the heat. Stir in remaining ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Penne alla Vodka

Quick post today! Penne alla vodka is one of my favorite crowd-pleasing recipes, and it seems to go especially well over Valentine's Day. I like to serve this in kind of a cliche manner, with Caesar salad, garlic bread, and red wine.

You may substitute the vodka for broth, but the reason that vodka is used is that there are alcohol-soluble flavors in tomatoes that are released when alcohol is added, giving a richer and more full flavor to the dish. A good portion of the alcohol is cooked off, but not all of it. If you'd like more of the alcohol removed, add the vodka before boiling instead of after. 

If you'd like, you can substitute half and half for the heavy whipping cream, but the final sauce will be a little more finicky and the dairy liable to separate. If this happens, a quick blend with a stick blender will remedy the situation but you'll have a smoother sauce. Though personally, that's how I prefer it and how it's pictured below.



Penne alla Vodka

Serves 6


16 oz. penne pasta

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 - 1 tsp. crushed red pepper, depending on spice tolerance

4-6 (or more!) cloves of garlic, minced

28 oz. can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup vodka

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, plus additional for the table

Salt and pepper to taste


Prepare pasta as directed.

While the pasta is being prepared, heat olive oil in a large stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, stirring quickly, then add canned tomatoes and stir. Increase heat to medium high and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in vodka, and cover and let simmer until pasta is cooked.

While pasta is draining, remove the lid from the tomato sauce. Add heavy cream and Parmesan cheese and stir until smooth, then add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, blend with a stick blender. Combine pasta and sauce and toss well, then move to a serving dish and serve immediately. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Orecchiette and Broccolini in a Smoked Gouda Sauce

So, hi. It’s been a few weeks. I’ve been working through a lot in my personal life, and finally ready to get back at it! I’ve missed feeling the creative spark, I really have.

This idea came from a pretty tasty smoked gouda cheese that I found at Costco recently. One interesting thing about many smoked goudas available at the grocery store that I’m not sure a lot of people are aware of is that it’s a pasteurized processed cheese. There’s actually many types of processed cheese, not just Velveeta or Kraft singles, too. And maybe it makes me a bad “foodie,” but when I’m cooking, I do like to use Velveeta in macaroni and cheese – it has a great, smooth melting quality, doesn’t separate, and makes a creamy macaroni and cheese.

That all said, I decided to use some of the smoked gouda to make a pasta dish. Maybe a grown-up macaroni and cheese? I usually like to add frozen broccoli to my mac and cheese, so I thought I’d try broccolini for this dish. I say broccolini and not broccoli rabe – they’re two distinctly different vegetables. Broccolini is mild tasting and more tender, and broccoli rabe can be bitter and has a distinctive flavor. Though they’re not necessarily interchangeable, if you’d like to use broccoli rabe or any other green vegetable (asparagus, regular broccoli, etc.) in this recipe, feel free!

For a pasta shape, I wanted to go beyond penne and use something that would “hold” bits from the sauce, which is why I went with orecchiette. The dip, or curl, in the pasta shape allows each piece to contain some of the sauce, which is why it works well for pasta dishes that have chunky pieces, like vegetables, olives, nuts. If you can’t find orecchiette, you can use any medium cut pasta; penne, rotini, cavatappi are a few good ones.

And to round out the flavor of the sauce, I added some lemon zest to give it some freshness and tarragon for an herbal sweetness, both to cut through the richness of the sauce. The sauce will be thinner than what might be expected for “macaroni and cheese,” but that’s intentional. It has a lighter texture and doesn’t feel as heavy as a roux-thickened sauce does.



Orecchiette and Broccolini in a Smoked Gouda Sauce

Serve with a side salad, a steamed vegetable side dish, or top with protein of your choice to round out the meal.

Serves 4


8 oz. uncooked orecchiette

1 bunch broccolini, cleaned and chopped

3/4 cup (6 oz.) 2% milk

6 oz. smoked gouda, shredded

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

zest from one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste



Prepare pasta as directed. One minute before the pasta is finished cooking, add broccolini. Drain pasta and broccolini and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Combine pasta and sauce in a serving dish and stir to ensure that the pasta is evenly coated. Let sit for two minutes, stir again, and serve.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Sangria

Another sangria, this time modeled for the winter holidays. The juices in this version are sweeter so little to no sugar is needed, but feel free to add it if you like a sweeter drink. It goes together very quickly; if you’re short on time or need something last minute for a party, this is perfect -- you may even have these ingredients at home!

I love the orange slices and cinnamon -- they add fresh flavor and a bright burst of color. I decided to throw in some cranberries at the last minute for a little extra visual appeal, but they won’t add any flavor since they’re still whole. These could potentially be a choking hazard, so when I put it out to serve, I either serve in a pitcher with a straining lid, or remove them all together.

I love this served warm as well, as a mulled wine on a chilly evening – not that we get that many in Florida!

winter sangria


Winter Sangria

Makes 6-8 servings


1 orange, sliced

2 large cinnamon sticks

4 whole cloves

1 750 mL bottle of medium bodied red wine (Merlot works well)

1 1/2 cups orange juice

1 1/2 cups cranberry juice

1/2 cup brandy

1/4 cup triple sec

1/2 cup sugar, optional

Additional cinnamon sticks as garnish, optional


Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher (at least 64 oz.). Chill at least 4 hours, though it may be served immediately if needed. Keeps for up to 4 days, so it may be prepared well ahead!

Serve over ice with a cinnamon stick for garnish, or add sparking water to make a lighter drink. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or more for larger parties.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Maple, Mustard, and Pecans

I love the fall and winter for the abundance of produce available. There are so many combinations of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains that the weather turns warm again before I run out of ideas!
In the last few years I've re-discovered Brussels sprouts. When I was growing up, my mom loved Brussels sprouts but boiled them to death, so I only knew them as army-green balls of nastiness. Because of that, I avoided them for a long time, until I had them browned instead of boiled. Caramelizing the Brussels sprouts brings out the natural sweetness and cooking for a shorter period of time reduces the amount of sulfur compounds released and increases the amount of vitamins retained during cooking. Since Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family, they benefit from similar treatments – broccoli and cauliflower are delicious when roasted, and cabbage itself is best when cooked over a short time.

An easy way to try out Brussels sprouts on those who are uncertain about them is to shred them. I clean and trim the sprouts and run them through the slicing blade on the food processor. In one of my favorite recipes, I like to pair what I think of as "typical" fall flavors with Brussels sprouts, so I add mustard, pecans, and a touch of maple syrup. The mustard also compliments the sprouts as they are in the same biological genus (Brassica).

shredded brussels

Brussels Sprouts with Maple, Mustard, and Pecans

Serves 4 as a side dish


  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Shred sprouts using the slicing blade of a food processor. This can also be done by hand using a very sharp knife. Heat a large skillet over medium-high and add pecans. Stir occasionally for 5 minutes or until toasted. Remove pecans to a dish, then heat olive oil in the skillet. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute. Add sprouts and thyme, and cover for 1 minute. Remove cover, turn heat to high, and cool for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining ingredients and reserved pecans, and heat through, adding salt and pepper to taste.