Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

I slept late today and, besides making a big breakfast for Keith and his dad, I've accomplished almost nothing. It's great.

Yesterday's Christmas Dinner was so fabulous I just have to share a picture of it:

That's pan-seared duck breast with red wine and cherry sauce, artichoke hearts au gratin (with gruyere cheese), kohlrabi-fennel salad with capers in a lemon-Dijon vinaigrette, rosemary roasted root vegetables, and steamed broccoli with garlic, butter, and olive oil.

And for dessert, a lightly orangey cranberry pie, served with homemade egg nog ice cream:

Keith and I made dinner together and had a great time, while his dad and a couple of our friends hung out in the kitchen chatting. We played music and had an enjoyable day that culminated in a delicious feast, then ended on movies and a nice hard sleep. Really, isn't that what Christmas is all about?

I'll be back to posting soon, especially as I tackle sewing and some other new projects in the coming year. But first, I'm going to digest all this food and spend today at the arcade goofing off. I've earned it!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Keith and I have both been GO-GO-GO for the last week, since we put off our holiday prep until the last minute, and now we're playing catch-up. One thing we have noticed is a tendency to get pretty tired if we don't eat balanced meals. This sounds like a no-brainer, but when you're baking and sampling and tasting stuff all day, you forget to eat real food and it all wreaks havoc on your blood sugar. So we've been trying to start each day off right with a balanced breakfast.

This breakfast is another of my favorites; I have it a lot when I'm home alone, though Keith likes it too. It feels like a fully-balanced meal, which it is, but it's simple to make and fits soothingly into a single bowl. It goes very nicely with coffee, and keeps me happy until lunchtime so I don't get any snack attacks. I call it the Breakfast of Champions because it really does make me feel all energized and healthy, and then I go on to a productive morning whenever I have it!

I'm not entirely sure, but I think I was inspired to come up with this recipe once when I was craving the cheese grits of my homeland; polenta, the yellow-corn version of hominy grits, is easier to come by in these parts, and it makes this recipe taste so gloriously Italian. If you don't see polenta or grits (NOT INSTANT! NEVER INSTANT!) in the store, then the coarsest cornmeal you can find will do.

And don't be put off by the directions - it looks like a lot of steps, but it comes together in the time it takes your partner to have a leisurely shower.

Serves 2

2 cups water or broth
½ cup polenta/grits/coarse-ground cornmeal
¼ cup crumbled bleu cheese or parmesan
½ Tbsp butter
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped kale or spinach
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp water
¼ cup spaghetti/pizza sauce
2 eggs
¼ cup pine nuts

Pour 2 cups water or broth into a medium-size pot and bring to a gentle boil. Once it simmers, whisk the polenta in with a fork. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice as it cooks. If it finishes before you're done with the rest of it all,

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet, and add the kale or spinach. Saute 1-2 minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbsp water. Continue to cook until the greens are bright and wilted (this will just be a few seconds for spinach, but it'll be another minute or two for kale). Add the spaghetti sauce and continue to cook until heated through.

Transfer the kale mixture to a plate and rinse out the skillet, or get another skillet. Cook the eggs however you like them - I like mine scrambled, Keith likes his fried, and sometime I want to try this with a poached egg because I think that sauce effect would be nice in this dish. Set aside.

Stir the cheese, butter, and salt into the polenta until melted throughout. Divide evenly into bowls, then top each serving with an egg and half the kale-sauce mixture. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately with hot coffee or tea.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beefy Pumpkin Stew

This is one of my winter favorites - we both just love it. It's hearty, very filling, warming, and delicious, and so easy! The crockpot does most of the work, and the spices make the whole house smell delicious by dinnertime.


1 small pumpkin or butternut squash (about a pound)
1 lb cubed stew beef *
1 medium-sized rutabaga or potato, cubed
1 medium-sized turnip, cubed
1 large carrot, sliced
¼ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup pearl barley
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 heaping tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika or chipotle powder
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cinnamon
Hot sauce to taste
4 cups water or broth

* To make this vegan: Use mushrooms instead of beef.

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts. Quarter each half and carefully cut the rind off until the whole pumpkin is peeled. This is the most labor-intensive part, but if you're slammed for time, they do sell pre-peeled chunks of butternut squash in the grocery store; it won't be quite as good as fresh, but it's still tasty. Dice the peeled pumpkin into 1" cubes and put them in the crockpot.

Add all the remaining ingredients to the crockpot. Turn it on low and cook 8-10 hours. As it nears the end of the cook time, give it a good stir and check the seasonings. Enjoy with hot yeast rolls or cornbread.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Turkey-Leek Pie (with vegetarian option)

In the winter, I often make this vegetarian leek-artichoke pie with excellent results. Today I was craving it, and I had some leeks, but I didn't have any artichoke hearts. So I dug around in the fridge and improvised, taking the opportunity to use some of the huge gallon bag of turkey I had left over from Thanksgiving weekend (we froze most of it, but I had some I'd thawed this week). The result - even better than the original.

And with this crust, it's unbelieveably simple. You don't even have to roll the crust out or dirty up a bowl! It really is "easy as pie." Make it gluten-free with brown rice flour instead of wheat, if that's your thing.

To make it vegetarian, just leave out the turkey and throw in another cup of veggies - artichoke hearts are great, obviously, but so are potatoes or even beans. You could throw in some chunks of frozen tofu as well, and I was just thinking how good pine nuts would be. If you want to leave the egg out, just increase the milk to a full cup. This is a very flexible dish! And soooo comfort-foody. Just serve it with a salad for a delectable dinner.

Serves 4-6

1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup unbleached white flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp milk
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

In a glass or metal pie plate, combine dry ingredients and whisk to blend. Add the milk and olive oil, then gently mix until it forms a dough. Use your hands to pat it into place over the bottom and sides of the pie plate. (A few tiny holes or rips are fine, just pinch them together if you can.) Set aside.

1 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large leek (or 2 smaller ones), white and light green parts, sliced & rinsed
1 cup kale (or spinach), rinsed and chopped
1 medium-sized turnip (or potato), diced small
1 cup cooked turkey (or chicken), diced
Salt & pepper to taste
Dash nutmeg
Fresh thyme (optional)
¾ cup milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp flour, any kind
½ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese, divided

Melt the butter in a big saucepan or wok over medium-high heat, and add the garlic. Saute for a minute or two, then add the leeks, kale, and turnip. Stirring occasionally, cook until the leeks and kale begin to wilt. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and thyme if using. Add turkey and cook another minute or two more.

Whisk the egg into the milk, then add the flour and whisk to blend. Pour into the pot with the veggies and turkey, and stir for a minute until warm throughout. Take it off the heat.

Spread all but 1 Tbsp of the gorgonzola into the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the veggie mixture on top and smooth it out evenly. Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbsp gorgonzola crumbs on top and bake for 30-40 minutes or until set firm. Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: If you're pressed for time after work, you can make the filling and crust a day ahead and refrigerate them separately; then just dump in the filling and cheese and throw it in the oven when you're ready.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Thyme for Gorgonzola Latkes!

It's starting to feel, not just like December, but like the holiday season. It's the doing nice things for people and getting them back in return, accompanied by good food and wintry weather. Like today, for example.

Last night was the last night of Chanukah, so I had a couple of friends over for latkes. I had sweet potato latkes spiced with cumin, served with homemade applesauce and sour cream, with a spinach-tangerine salad on the side. We sipped amazing pear martinis and enjoyed warm, fresh-baked cranberry-apple pie with a ginger hazelnut crumble topping - a la mode, of course!

It was a lovely evening, and I baked an extra pie for the guy at the coffee shop, who's been a huge help as I sit there for hours every other day working on my business plan for my startup. This morning, I got an idea for gorgonzola latkes with fresh thyme, and I remembered him saying how much he liked latkes, so I whipped up a batch of the new recipe and plated them up with applesauce and sour cream. Miraculously, the latkes remained reasonably crisp and the pie held up as I walked the whole spread up to the coffee shop, where I was greeted with an enthusiastically appreciative reception and an enormous peppermint mocha.

Of course I ate a few of the gorgonzola-thyme latkes myself, and they're MIGHTY tasty. They might be my favorite latke recipe from now on. Try it yourself and see what you think - it doesn't have to be Chanukah for you to enjoy the miracle of oil!

Serves 4

3 medium-sized Russet potatoes
½ a small onion
½ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1 egg
1 sprig fresh thyme
3 Tbsp flour or matzo meal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder (optional)
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp baking soda
Dash of black pepper
Peanut oil (or veg or canola) for frying

Peel the potatoes, dropping each one into a bowl of water as you finish peeling it to keep it from discoloring. Pat the potatoes dry and grate them with the coarse side of a box grater, or run them through the food processor - you want them very coarsely grated, not minced. Working quickly, pile the grated potatoes into a colander lined with a towel, and squeeze repeatedly until you get as much moisture out of the potatoes as you possibly can.

Transfer the dry grated potatoes to a large bowl, and grate in the onion. Stir in the gorgonzola, egg, and thyme leaves.

In a separate bowl, combine the matzo meal (which is MUCH better for this than flour), salt, garlic powder, paprika, baking soda, and pepper. Whisk so it's evenly blended, then add it to the potato mixture and mix well. Set aside so the matzo meal can soak up the remaining liquid while you heat the fry oil; turn the oven on to about 250 F.

Pour the oil into a heavy skillet, so the bottom is covered by a quarter-inch or so. Heat over high heat until a small piece of potato sizzles vigorously when you drop it in. Scoop up the latke mix between a spoon and your palm, about two tablespoons' worth, and roll it into a rough ball shape so it holds together; drop that into the oil and flatten it with the back of your spoon. (Make sure the middle is quite flat so the inside cooks through.) Fry for a few minutes until the sides start to look golden-brown, then flip to cook the other side, and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Depending on the size of your skillet, you should be able to do 2-3 latkes at a time.

As you work, pop the drained latkes into a dish in the oven so they stay warm and crisp until you're ready to serve with sour cream and applesauce. A fruity saiad with a vinaigrette complements the latkes very nicely!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


It is EXTREMELY December out there. The sun is shining, but the temperature is 40 with a wind chill of 25; the winds are strong enough to knock you back a few steps, and I can hear it blowing from inside the house. Today I woke up watching our massive Douglas fir, swaying like a yoga teacher through the skylights over the bed, and then I bundled up in several layers of jacket, coat, hat, scarf, gloves, warm thoughts, and headed out to the farmers' market.

First stop at the farmers' market was hot coffee, and then I hiked briskly through the wind while thinking back on the summer of peaches. No more peaches now, that's for sure. I noticed quite a lot of turnips but almost none with the greens, which are my favorite part, so I asked and one lady told me that the weather had already wrecked a lot of the greens. It's pretty early for that, but there's one more sign we're in for a hard winter.

Once I got home, I snuggled down, and here I am for the rest of the day, sipping hot tea in my jammies with cats piled all around me. I'm about to work on screenwriting for the rest of the afternoon, but first, some pictures I've taken since the start of December...

The ultimate winter meal, pot roast cooked with potatoes, turnips, and carrots in rosemary and Black Butte Porter.

Fry and Davey, snuggled up warm in a little chair in my sewing room. (They do this a lot.)

Leftovers Soup, made with leftover pot roast, potatoes, and carrots with barley and lentils, in a broth made from red wine and leftover gravy. Unholy delicious on a cold rainy night!

Our hens snuggled up out of the wind on a chilly night.

And finally, my little fire, which I'm going to try and keep going as best I can while I sip hot tea and knock out the rest of this screenplay.

Happy Chanukah!