January 27, 2010

If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.

~ Helen Keller.

January 26, 2010

Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup for the Soul

I’ve had a tough week and it’s only Tuesday.

You’d think I’d have had the nerve (and the brains) in my youth to have my wisdom teeth out back then. Instead, because of many reasons, including bad ones like fear and procrastination, I put it off. Now, it’s time to pay for years of procrastination.  I’ve sounded rather like a pirate at night. “Arrrrgggggh. Grrrrrrr. Eeerrrrrrgggg. Ayyyyyyeeee… “ These are the sounds of pain I’ve emanated as I’ve tried unsuccessfully to drift off to sleep as my lower jaw throbs from the pain of a neglected impacted wisdom tooth.

And I’m fairly certain my husband doesn’t think it’s all that sexy.

So Thursday morning I go in for oral surgery. I’ve decided to plan ahead and put together at least the broth for this soup so I can enjoy lovely soul-warming healing soup Thursday night and Friday. This is an older recipe from Gourmet magazine and trust me, well worth the extra effort of making the broth from scratch and chopping and preparing spices.  The rich hearty flavor of this soup really is spectacular. Don’t wait until dental surgery to try it out.

For stock:

• 3 carrots, coarsely chopped

• 3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped

• 2 onions, coarsely chopped

• 1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)

• 1 head garlic, halved crosswise

• 3 1/2 quart cold water

• 25 cilantro stems

• 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California

For finishing soup:

• 3 whole allspice

• 1 whole clove

• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

• 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

• 1 medium white onion, chopped

• 2 garlic cloves

• 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons chipotles in adobo, finely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

• 1 cup medium-or short-grain brown rice

• 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

• 20 (7-to 8-inch) corn tortillas

• 6 tablespoons vegetable oil

• 1 (15- to 19-ounces) can black beans, rinsed

• 2 (7-to 8-ounces) firm-ripe avocados

• 2 limes, cut into wedges

• 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

Make stock:

Bring all stock ingredients to a boil with 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in an 8-to 10-quart heavy pot, skim foam.

Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered, skimming foam occasionally, 2 3/4 hours.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board, then pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. Reserve

1 cup stock and return remainder to cleaned pot.

Finish soup:

Toast spices in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking skillet occasionally, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 2 minutes.

Transfer spices to a blender along with onion, garlic, chipotles with adobo sauce, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, and reserved stock.

Blend until mixture is smooth and spices are ground, about 2 minutes

Add purée to stock in pot along with rice and sweet potatoes and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, covered, until sweet potatoes and rice are tender, about 45 minutes.

While soup simmers, discard skin and bones from chicken and cut or shred meat into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Stack tortillas and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips, then toss with oil. Spread strips in 1 layer on 2 large baking sheets and season with sea salt.

Bake, stirring frequently and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until deep golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

When rice and sweet potatoes are tender, add chicken and beans to soup and simmer, uncovered, until just heated through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, quarter avocados lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

Season soup with salt and pepper, then serve with lime wedges, chopped cilantro, avocados, and tortilla strips.

January 25, 2010

Soft like ghosts

Sometimes Monday’s creep up on me and I’m not quite ready.

The slightly panicked and sudden rush of Monday morning and getting ready for the week of work catches me off guard.  At 5:30 this morning, I found myself jumping out of my soft warm bed and rushing... fixing children’s lunches, packing backpacks with finished homework and Girl Scout cookie orders then racing out the door with a cup of coffee in a travel mug.  It's is a blaring wakeup call and stark contrast to such a relaxing weekend.

Soft gray wisps of clear winter light filled my kitchen and living room early Sunday morning.
Before anyone else in the house woke up, I sat alone in the quiet, soaking up the few moments of rare solitude daydreaming about some new photography projects, recipes I’d like to try and writing.  Writing and writing and writing... I can't seem to stop, it's become a lovely consuming passion and although the rest of my life can feel like it's still moving 100 miles an hour, early morning stillness inspires me and helps me think

*photo by one of my favorite Flickr photographer friends, Cassie Kammzell she lives in Spokane and does gorgeous ethereal work.

January 23, 2010

Cowboy Caviar

You know those family recipes that get passed around by every grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister-in-law, cousin and neighbor?  THIS is definitely that recipe.

My husband has an amazingly large and wonderful family.  They are all adorable, and quite honestly, the weird thing is, there is not a dysfunctional one in the bunch.  (don't most families sport the obnoxious drunk uncle or a bitter gossiping second cousin or something?)  Well Kevin's family, every last one of them have warm personalities and generous hearts.  Maybe that's one of the reasons the food at the many gatherings is always spectacular.  Lot's of love goes into every recipe.

This fabulous, quick, easy and healthy dip is perfect for any get-together. There is not a Richard's affair where it is not featured.  Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas lunch, New Years Day, Birthday parties... someone in the family makes sure to whip up a batch to share.  The only problem has been that every one of us stands around the bowl inhaling the beany-ambrosia until the bowl is empty or the chips are gone.  Even then, we've been known to polish off the remnants with a spoon.  Cousin Janine requests a bowl of this be ready and waiting for her in the fridge as soon as she returns home from a business trip.  It really is pretty amazing with just a tiny amount of effort required.

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 can white corn, drained
1 jar pimento
1 small or med can sliced Jalapenos, (Embasa brand) chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves minced fresh garlic
Mix together and set aside.

Boil together:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
allow to cool then pour over and stir into the other mixture

Avocado and cilantro add a nice touch but aren't entirely necessary.  The sweet, tangy spicy flavor will get you every time and your whole family will be clamoring for the recipe.  I highly recommend taking a few copies of the ingredients with you to appease the masses.

January 22, 2010

there is something about a book

365:5, originally uploaded by lynda*naranjo.
I’ve had a love affair with books since I first learned to read.

I remember spending rainy recesses in grade school, hidden in the corner of the library on the floor with a stack of books. Most of them were about heroes. I read about Greek Gods and the Titans in Greek Mythology, the legends and lore of Nordic Gods and Goddesses, Fairy Tales and stories about Saints and Superheroes. My friends would escape the rain on school days by playing tetherball and four square in the gym but I loved the quiet sanctuary of the library.

I think the books you read form who you are and who you become. Almost everyone has a book they remember clearly from their childhood and still love, and often adults find a book, THE book, that has such meaning for them that it changes their lives and sometimes changes them as a person. My favorite novel when I was a kid, aside from the stacks of library books I poured through at recess, was Harriet the Spy. I totally got her. She was a little dorky, something of a tom boy and created her own mini-adventures in the middle of her suburban life by spying on people. It suited me perfectly. I read and re-read Harriet the Spy and wore the same tennis shoes, ate the same tomato sandwiches and drank the same egg creams that she relished. I carried a notebook with me everywhere and made notes about what I thought about my parents, their friends, our neighbors, my teachers and the kids in school. I still make mental notes about people, I just don’t use a notebook… it would be far too obvious (and probably rude) 

As an adult, it's hard to put a finger on THE book that has made the biggest difference in my thinking and life.  It's hard to choose.

I love the smell of a book, the sacred quiet of a library and the feel of a heavy book in my hands. With the new online writing community, the Kindle and electronic access to any sort of writing at any given moment, I sometimes think I’m old fashioned and out of date in terms of my passion for a solid, material version of the written word. I want to hold a book. I want to turn the pages and not be tempted at the end of every paragraph to surf the net for more information or click on a link that the author has so thoughtfully included that will whisk me into a new direction. When I read, I want it to be different than when I watch TV and sometimes online reading leads to the ADD mentality of rushing into a new piece of information before fully digesting the idea of a sentence or the beauty of the words that a writer has so meticulously strung together.

Last night the hubs and I went to see The Book of Eli. The plot in a nutshell was that the world had suffered an apocalyptic war and civilization basically melted away by the effects of blazing sun and war. Almost all of the books that were not destroyed were burned by the survivors and the information that had been stored electronically was (of course) unavailable. The main character however, had in his possession a bible. The only one left on the planet. He protected it because it was so much more than paper and words bound in leather. It was ideas, inspiration, words that could heal the human soul just by reading them or listening to them. The words were a source of power and hope.

I will never own a Kindle. I’ll be old fashioned and nerdy and treasure real and solid books for the rest of my life. Powell’s would never be the same if it were simply walls and shelves filled with computer screens, I would miss so much the treasure hunt and brushing my hands along the backs of so many books, using my all of my senses to pick out the perfect book that will become my constant companion for the next week or so.

I used to watch a homeless man that stayed overnight every night in the exact same alcove in NW Portland. The stoop was small, just enough room for his sleeping bag with a bare light bulb that kept it well lit all night. He arrived at the alcove like clockwork in the evening at 8:00 PM to situate his belongings on the cement. He had a sleeping bag that he stored in an orange knapsack and every time I saw him from across the street as I walked home from work to my apartment, he was propped up with the knapsack behind his head, reading a book. I called him The Reader. I always wondered if he bought his books or found them or if he borrowed them from the library. I thought that perhaps, as bad as I might imagine a life on the streets and out in the cold would be, if you could at least have books, you could escape. You could live someone else’s life, feel things, see new places and find adventure through books no matter where or who you were.

I ended up moving away from downtown NW a few years ago but I always made a point to drive past The Reader whenever I was in NW. He’s gone now. I wished I’d stopped for a minute to take him a cup of coffee and a sandwich and ask him what he was reading.

"Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are"        ~François Mauriac

What book has made you into who you are?

January 21, 2010

Food Movie Fetish

I am a sucker for a good food movie.

My husband teases me about how usually, I have the same taste in movies as a 12 year old boy.  Among my favorites are Spider Man, ALL of the X-Men movies, Cat Woman, The Mummy and Tomb Raider series, and all Terminator flicks. (when the TV series The Sarah Conner Chronicles were cancelled, I mourned) I actually only own 3 DVD movies and one of them is Bat Man Returns.   However childish and weird it might be for a chick like me to have such a thing for over-the-top-action-adventure, I redeem myself somewhat in terms taste, because I also find great delight in curling up with a really good glass of wine and a great Food Movie.  (Dots and Doritos pair better with my Super Hero movie viewing sessions)

One of the most romantic films about food and love and the combination of the two, is Mostly Martha.  A few years ago, there was a cute/decent re-make of the original called No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the original, I think, is the best.  It opens with the female lead, a renowned chef who is describing a decadent dish and the presentation of it to her therapist.  It's about how a strict, cold hearted, persnickety, serious professional chef finds love. It seems very true to form in terms of portraying the life behind the scenes of a well known high end restaurant and there are subtitles so be fairly warned, but it is oh so worth it. 

Also, this little gem of a movie is where I heard my favorite Food Movie line ever:

"The best chef's are known by their simplest dish."

January 20, 2010

The Culinary School Restaurant

One of the best things about working at a Culinary School is that every once in a while, I am treated to some of the most fabulous food in Portland.  The students are incredibly amazing actually, and after attending the program for about only 8 months, they are producing elegant, and exquisitely flavored food, that is so delicious, every time you take a bite I swear your eyes roll to the back of your head.  (it really is that good)

The Oregon Culinary Institute restaurant has had phenomenal five star reviews and it's been one of the best kept secrets in town.  I've noticed lately we've been receiving more calls for reservations though, so the secret must be getting out.

Chef Josh Blythe of Wildwood, Genoa, Roux and Ripe fame is the Executive Chef Instructor who works with OCI students on the line and with the creation of such mouthwatering delicacies as Butternut Squash Fritters with Quince dipping sauce and Blood Orange and Pomegranate Salad with mild spicy fresh arugula greens, pistachio, and ricotta.  The Winter Menu features those specialties as well as entrees such as Dungeness Crab Paperdelle with white wine, Meyer lemon, shaved white truffle, fennel pollen and cream.  Pictured at the top of this entry is Chef Josh's special Dider-Braised Duck Leg with roasted apple, bacon stuffing.
(I personally have to say that particular salad is the best combination of goodness and greens I've EVER had) He has a passion and an incredible talent as a chef and as a teacher and passes that on to his students.
The dessert and breads are created by the Oregon Culinary Institute Baking and Pastry students and are simply decadent.
The fact that it's four courses, in a swank and hip open air kitchen environment, and only costs $9 for a 3 course lunch or $18 for 4 course dinner that will knock your socks off.  

The students study flavor profile, technique, method, and culinary artistry throughout the program and when they get to the last part of their schooling, their talent and skill shines through.   They become family by the time they reach the end in the restaurant practical part of the program and just before their externship the public can enjoy the fruits of their labor and be a part of their immersion into the real world of the culinary industry.
I highly recommend making a reservation
You are in for a real treat and a wonderful experience!  I'm lucky enough to be able to hang out with these amazing chefs and their students. 

I love my day job ; )

January 19, 2010

For the Love of Pancakes

Kevin and I escaped to Cannon Beach for the long weekend.

In the evening, we curled up next to the fireplace to relax and do some reading and writing while the rain and wind echoed on the roof of the little cabin. We went for walks and hung out at the local library to check out their book sale. We visited a fabulous tiny little breakfast restaurant called Lazy Susan Cafe that was recommended to us by a friend and although I drooled over their delicious looking pancakes, I ordered eggs with sautéed vegetables. (Delicious, but still, not the pancakes I craved)

I have to say, I LOVE pancakes. And I miss pancakes when I’m watching what I eat.

So I decided I’d attempt this healthier version of the buttery creamy flapjacks I’ve come to adore. The flavor is amazing and knowing they are actually really good for you makes them all the better. And since citrus fruits are all the rage and in season now, I recommend whipping up a little orange butter too. Just use a tiny bit; it’s well worth the calorie splurge.

For pancakes

• 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, sifted

• 3 tablespoons sugar (I used honey instead)

• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

• 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

• 2 large eggs

• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla

• 1 ripe large banana

• 1/2 cup toasted nuts, chopped (pecans are nice, chopped almonds or walnuts are healthiest, but if company is coming, Macadamia nuts are decadent!)

For orange butter

• 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

• 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest

• 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

• 1/8 teaspoon salt

First: Make orange butter:

Stir together all orange butter ingredients in a small bowl until combined well.

Then: whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Cut banana into bits and fold into batter along with nuts. (Batter will be very thick.)

Spray skillet or griddle with a non-stick olive oil cooking spray. Working in batches of 3, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake into hot skillet and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a large plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm. Serve with orange butter and real maple syrup.

This is especially lovely served with fresh orange slices and frozen blackberries on the side. Also, great pancakes can be a fantastic dinner for a change of pace.  (Kids LOVE to mix it up)

January 16, 2010

somewhere between Portland and the rest of the World

The hubs is whisking me away to the beach, to a quiet hide-away for a weekend of writing.

Relax and enjoy. I'll , see you soon lovelies~

January 15, 2010

Chai Tea

I had breakfast the other day with one of my favorite people in the whole world and splurged.  I ordered my forever-favorite, the customary dark chocolate mocha, and it was decadent~especially after 10 days of going without cream, chocolate or sugar!  For as exquisite as it was though, I admit, I couldn't help but eyeball Jeff's steaming cup of Chai.
It reminded me of how much I love the slow brewed gentle sweetness of good Chai Tea. 

I used to make this every morning, alongside coffee.  It was wonderful to pour into a thermos and sip throughout the day.  Holly introduced me to this recipe and after many years of buying Oregon Chai, which was already made up in a cardboard container, I switched.   Under Holly's tutelage, I bought my own stash of spices and haven't looked back since.  A huge benefit to making it from scratch is that A; it makes your kitchen smell like heaven and B; it's only as sweet as you decide.  My favorite way to make this is to use vanilla soy milk in place of regular milk and if you do need to add a dash of sweeteness, just stir in a tiny bit of honey or brown sugar. 

Most of the spices needed can be found in the bulk section of New Season's or Whole Foods, or you can easily order them online OR find them at an Indian Spice Market.  If you LOVE homemade chai in the morning, purchase these little magnetic backed spice tins and just snap them onto your fridge for easy access.  They look lovely and make it so easy to brew at a moments notice.

Chef Beekrum here at the Culinary School uses spices that his family sends him directly from Nepal and he makes a recipe similar to this one early mornings for the students in Term 1.  The warmth of the spices brewing draws them into class. 

bring 2 cups water to a slow boil while adding
8 crushed cardamon seeds
12 cloves
1 nickle sized piece of dried ginger root (or a knob of fresh ginger, which Holly loves!)
1/2 stick of cinnamon and then
let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
add 1.5 cups milk or soy milk and bring back to a slow boil.
simmer another 15-20 minutes and remove from heat.
add 2 tablespoons loose black tea and stir into brew, then
let sit for 4 minutes.
strain into mugs or chai cups and sweeten with brown sugar to taste.


January 13, 2010

catching light

catching light, originally uploaded by uncommonmuse.
I will love the light for it shows me the way
yet I will endure the darkness
because it shows me the stars.

-Og Mandino

January 12, 2010

Soul Warming Comfort Food on a Rainy Tuesday Afternoon

There is a hollow in my chest, a longing for warmth, sunshine and summer.

It seems like it hits me every year at this time, directly after Christmas and New Years.  The grey rainy weeks that fill in between starting the New Year and the romantic inclinations of Valentine’s Day in February are sparse and dreary. It’s still dark outside in the morning when I wake up, and January in Portland is soggy. Dismal really. If I hadn’t promised myself I would stay strong and eat healthy food and take walks (rain or shine) you might find me contentedly cocooned in blankets on my couch watching an endless marathon of Sex in the City re-runs and gorging myself on cheesy, gooey, warm comfort foods that are laden with fat and calories. My personal form of Urban Hibernation is to eat things I shouldn’t and try not to budge out of a cushy pillow enhanced nest.

However my lovelies, I am steadfast... and one of the main reasons I’m sticking to my healthy cooking spree is a purely vain one: I want to slide languidly into my jeans without having to jiggle, shimmy and shake then hold my breath for the remainder of the day. I don’t want to feel like a sausage stuffed into my clothes.

My friend Lisa says she CRAVES salty snacks every once in a while. I do especially when the weather is cold and rainy.  She and I have cheered each other on for the past few weeks so I think she might love this. It's a less sinful version of French Fries that appeases the salty/crisp hankering we all seem to get now and again, but without the greasy high calorie sucker punch to the midsection. 

3 large baking potatoes (about 2 1/3 pounds) peeled, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide planks, each plank cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon shichimi togarashi*
1 teaspoon sugar
Place rack in top third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Place potato strips on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat. Roast 25 minutes. Using spatula, turn chips over. Roast until tender and golden brown around edges, about 25 minutes longer.
Mix salt, shichimi, and sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle over chips.

*Special Tip: I HIGHLY recommend is to go the extra mile and visit an Asian grocery market or just go online to find a jar of the fabulous Japanese spice blend, Shichimi Togarashi.   It's a super flavorful blend of black peppercorns, dried tangerine peel, ground red chile pepper, ground poppy seeds and garlic powder.  It's bright and spicy with a smoky undertone and without any added fat, it makes these frites magically delicious(and addicting)
Plus, you can use it as a flavor enhancer on so many other things.

I’ve served these fries as an opening act in folded parchment cones at a party before and they were gone within the first five minutes. Guests were unabashedly licking their fingers. 
But tonight, I want to build my fort on the couch with every feather pillow in the house and a cuddly blanket, throw this perfect movie into the DVD player and settle back for an evening of guilty pleasure.  

January 11, 2010


I've got a knack for making the perfect poached eggs.  They're easy, delicious, healthy and really simple.  Cooking without heavy ingredients has been a bit of a challenge but I'm getting into the habit and high quality basic ingredients seem to taste best when they can shine on their own.  Fresh local eggs cooked perfectly are a great way to start the week. If you like, serve them up with a few fresh herbs sprinkled on top or try a few strands of watercress to add a crisp refreshing crunch.

Here are a few fail safe tips:
fill a saute pan with water.  Add a pinch of salt and a couple of dashes of vinegar (it keeps the eggs from developing those wild stringy-strands) bring the water just to a boil then turn the heat completely off.  Crack your eggs into the water then cover the whole pan with the lid.  I set the timer for 7 minutes which leaves my eggs a bit gooey on the inside and perfectly firm everywhere else.  Scoop out of the water with a slotted spoon and serve.  Picture perfect every time. 

A very cool photo project by Jon Huck features portraits of people and what they ate for breakfast... check it out.  Lots of Cheerios...

January 9, 2010

The Perfect Brew

Although I've missed mocha's during the last week, I've still enjoyed my morning cup of coffee.
Without cream, without sugar, without chocolate... even stark and dark and bitter and alone without the accompaniment of delicious additions, it is my favorite beverage.

I've discovered one of the best ways to brew coffee is in this lovely glass, 70's style coffee maker, the classic Chemex.  Kevin bought me one for Christmas a few years back at a cool store downtown Portland, Canoe, and I've been in love with it ever since.  It uses unbleached square paper filters and is the most gorgeously pristine way to brew java.  Basically, you start with the best, freshest roasted coffee beans you can find, grind them well and pour gently boiling water slowly over the top.  Start with just a bit of hot water at first, so that the ground coffee "blooms" and then continue with the rest.

This week I've been careful to avoid many of my old favorites but coffee is something I've decided to keep as a part of my morning ritual.  When the coffee is very high quality and you brew it beautifully, it still is quite a treat, even without the cream and goodies.

January 8, 2010

Wintery Inspiration

All week I’ve been good. I haven’t indulged in the tall, achingly delicious morning Mocha’s topped with cream and chocolate shavings that I’ve craved. I’ve resisted gorgeously golden floral-hoppy IPA’s at the end of my looooong workdays at the Culinary School and it’s paid off actually. I’ve lost a few pounds and wiggled into jeans that have been one size too small for the past 6 months. I feel lighter and inspired to keep going. I’m sure I’ll be posting about delicious cheese, recipes that include sinful amounts of butter and decadent bacon,but for today, I’m going to be good.  Setting goals for 2010 has been fun and enlightening actually, and so far, it’s working. My other major goal was to write every day. It was a simple sweet commandment from my new writer friend and it’s stuck with me. I’m completely inspired to keep going.

All this week I’ve also had some great conversations with my friends about goals and ideas for this new decade. My friends inspire me. All of us are re-thinking life quality enhancing things, like our eating habits, our perception of age and how we spend our free time and what we want to do in the future. My friend Kristen has always told me about her life-long love affair with Paris and she’s making plans and goals to move there one day. I picture her living in a fabulously stylish old world apartment in the heart of the city, shoe shopping at the most elegant boutiques and sipping champagne at lunch at a corner café. It all starts with a dream and a plan, I think if you envision something and write it down; it’s that much closer to becoming a reality.

Happy Friday my lovelies. Be sure to cherish your daydreams and give into them. It’s the beginning of goals plans for the future.

and Kris... this is for you. 
Photos of Winter in Paris by The Cherry Blossom Girl

January 7, 2010

Company Roasted Chicken with Shallots and Meyer Lemon Sauce

An old friend from high school (another Heidi!) just emailed me for an idea for the perfect supper fit for kids, the hubby, co-workers and her boss.
I feel so honored, and sort of like the Dear Abby of dinner!

I swear this is one of the most memorable dishes I’ve made. I ripped the page with this recipe from out of my mother’s Sunset Magazine and made it for dinner one night a few years ago.  Now my husband swoons whenever I mention it. It’s not only the perfect go-to company dish, It’s rather seasonal too; Meyer Lemon’s are at peak flavor this time of winter and although you could always substitute them with just a regular grocery store lemon, Meyer Lemons elevate the recipe to new heights. Trust me.

For a medium sized dinner party, I’d probably do two of these. Even if you are simply feeding your own little family, two is perfect if you’d like delicious leftovers for lunch the following day.

1 4- to 5-lb. chicken

1 tbs kosher salt

2 medium Meyer or regular (Eureka) lemons

2 1/2 tbs olive oil, divided

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 pound shallots

1/2 to 3/4 cup reduced-sodium or homemade chicken broth

1/3 cup dry white wine

Rinse the chicken inside and out; pat dry with paper towels. Loosen skin of breast and thighs and work some salt under skin. Rub remaining salt all over chicken and in cavity

Preheat oven to 375°. Zest lemons. Slice 1 lemon; juice half of the other.

Pat chicken dry, inside and out. Rub zest under as much of the skin as possible and rub any remaining zest inside cavity. Rub chicken all over with 1 tbsp. olive oil and the thyme. Put lemon slices in cavity.

Set a V-shaped rack in a heavy roasting pan large enough to hold shallots. Put chicken in rack, breast side up. Add shallots to pan and drizzle with remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil, turning them to coat.

Roast chicken, basting every 30 minutes or so, until chicken leg moves easily and skin is brown and crisp, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours (remove shallots after 1 hour and set aside). Tip chicken so juices from cavity pour into roasting pan. Transfer chicken to a carving board and let rest, covered with foil.

Meanwhile, make sauce: Pour pan drippings into a measuring cup with a pouring lip. Trim tops from shallots and squeeze soft insides into a blender. Pour off all but about 1 tbsp. fat from pan drippings and add drippings to blender. Add 1/2 cup broth and the wine and pulse until smooth.

Pour sauce into roasting pan. Cook, scraping up brown bits and adding more broth if you want a thinner sauce, over medium-high heat on your biggest burner (or straddling 2 burners) until sauce turns a nutty brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tbsp. reserved Meyer lemon juice, or more to taste. Pour sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a serving bowl. Carve chicken, discarding lemon slices; serve with sauce.

Serve with oven roasted garlic cloves and new potatoes tossed together with olive oil and fresh rosemary and a salad. Delicious with a crisp Pinot Grigio, like a local favorite by La Bete.

... and my lovelies, the cherry on the cake: Add THIS album to your iPod, it's the perfect playlist for cooking a roasted chicken.

January 6, 2010

Walking in the City

Holly reminded me last night that although I’ve been steadfast in my goal of eating and preparing fresh organic foods that are good for my body, I’d forgotten to mention anything about the dreaded ‘E’ word in my blog. At first I pretended not to know what she was talking about. Edamame? Endives? Eucalyptus? She stopped me before I could continue avoiding the subject by impressing her with E words. “Exercise.” Ugh. I have this sort of irrational hateful relationship with exercising on purpose actually. I swam competitively for years and the daily doubles, swimming dozens of laps and doing flip turns in cold overly chlorinated water in goggles and a Speedo has scarred me. If it’s a form of physical fitness that requires any sort of lycra I run the other direction. Matching sweat tops and bottoms, track suits and workout gear that looks like you are going to a night club rather than a gym annoy me. Maybe I’m a work-out wear snob.

She was right though. Good healthy food is not going to help me wiggle into a cocktail dress come mid February or look irresistible lounging by the  MGM Grand Pool for a lovely girls-weekend in March with Kristen. Holly ticked off various local gyms that offered yoga, tai chi and Pilates classes. As much as I appreciated her efforts, I decided to forgo for now the organized classes but still somehow incorporate her suggestion of exercise.

So, I’m breaking out the VHS tapes of Rodney Yee. But better yet, I’m going to walk every day. When I lived in NW, I had a fabulous little apartment on 22nd and walked to and from work. I walked to the grocery store, the post office, the library and Powell’s. It was perfect. I could look into people’s windows, see how many pet owners resembled the dogs they were walking, reduce my carbon footprint, feel the wind on my face, and show off my stylish red umbrella. But best of all, it was the easiest way to burn calories and stay in shape. I could eat almost everything and never gained a pound.

I don’t live in NW anymore, but on weekends I drive there with my subtly amazing husband to wander our old neighborhoods and haunt the places we used to frequent. I’m going to use my Portland Hill Walks book and also reacquaint myself with downtown by walking around the city blocks at my lunch breaks, rain or shine. Portland is a gorgeous city to walk around in and it’s a plan that’s not only good for the soul, but also the waistline.

January 5, 2010

Rock Stars with Knives

I’ve worked with Chef Instructors and Culinary Students for the past eight years and they are some of my favorite people. It’s an entire culture unto itself actually. The world of food embraces all sorts; foodies, wine connoisseurs, personal chefs, restaurant chefs, pastry cooks, bakers, home cooks, food writers and specialty food markets. I could go on forever and create a virtually endless laundry list of fabulous jobs or simply food related categories that the people I interview and work with are passionate about. Nowadays there are even such jobs as salt and tea sommeliers, single plantation bean coffee connoisseurs and Chocolatiers. Magazines such as Food and Wine and the Food Network have elevated the industry to new heights and Chefs have become in a way, the new Rock Star.

There is a big difference usually, between foodies (Foodie itself is becoming a rather worn out title) and chefs. One of the differences is that chefs love to please others with their cooking and foodies mostly appreciate good cooking but would not necessarily want to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of an actual chef. Hot kitchens, extreme stress levels, relatively low starting wages, sharp knives, working holidays, late nights and long hours are a reality of a restaurant chef. Most foodies would melt in the industrial kitchen on the line being rushed along and having to yell out “yes chef!” under extreme duress.

What really draws people to this industry in general is their profound love for cooking, but not only do the tougher parts of the industry not deter them, for some, the industry is appealing for those exact reasons. In some ways, restaurant cooks are a part of an edgy-elite club of modern day pirates; some are heavily tattooed and proudly bear the slanted burn marks branding their forearms and the telltale scars on their fingers from wayward knives. They have to be unquestioningly loyal to the captain of their ship (the executive chef) and their crew. Many chefs are drawn to the stress, the heat, camaraderie and real modern day adventure of working in a thriving kitchen, like a moth to a flame (literally - the gas flame on an industrial stovetop). It’s a lifestyle choice. Working in a kitchen is the sort of job that constantly excites them keeps them on the edge of their seat. Maybe it’s a direct connection to life - feeding people, working with food; feeling, and seeing, smelling and tasting it. It’s in essence what keeps us all alive, and good food, REALLY good food makes our lives more delicious and memorable.

It’s my opinion that foodies, food writers and general home cooks like me, love to cook from the safety of our own kitchen and read about the alternative adventure of a chef’s life from the safety of our desk. We venture out to experience and taste for a moment, the exciting whirlwind lifestyle of a chef by going to restaurants. Chefs seem younger, exciting, incredibly hip, energetic and more alive somehow. I think it’s because they know what they want to do in their life and they aren’t afraid to pursue their calling. With all of the hurdles, often without a safety net of a “regular” job, they approach food and cooking with more commitment than the average person. Maybe chefs really are the new brand of Rock Star.

*A couple of great books that really put you into the heart of an industrial kitchen and into the middle of a cook’s life are Heat by Bill Buford and my favorite,Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a culinary students cult classic)
Cook On.

January 4, 2010

Looking Ahead to 2010

I’m day dreaming today of the year in front of me.

For once in my life, I’ve set official goals, personal goals, professional goals, creative goals. Sitting in my offi-cal (part office + part cubicle) I’ve been taking ‘inspiration breaks’ instead of smoking breaks like most of my coworkers. I’ve joined my smoker friends before, outside in the cold air, rocking back and forth, side to side in effort to keep warm, but since I don’t smoke, it’s more of a second-hand smoke break which isn’t quite as rejuvenating as I’d like.

Inspiration breaks entail spending a minute or two on a blog that is beautiful and intriguing, I listen to a piece of music that transports me or I simply make a list of ingredients I’m going to buy at the grocery store in order to make a fabulous and healthy meal for tonight’s supper.

So here I am, envisioning 2010 for a few minutes at least before starting back in on my paperwork,a fabulous trip with a friend in March, trying my hand at new, healthier recipes filled with vibrant energy laden ingredients, lot’s of writing projects that stir my soul and plans to work more efficiently fill my to-do list in the next few months.
I also intend to be more engaged with everything that comes my way; interactions with friends and family, my work at the Culinary School, my photography, the things I choose to cook and write about.
I’m feeling excited to get started. I have a good feeling about this year, sort of a swelling sense that big things are coming together and I’m putting wheels into motion.

So here’s to looking ahead and setting the foundation for transformation and a remarkable year, and if you have a minute, tell me what your vision is for 2010!

January 2, 2010

Morning Turkey Sausage with Sweet Onion and Green Apple

Breakfast shouldn't be boring.  And for me, I need something more substantial than a few berries and yogurt to get me through the morning.  Since this morning was my first attack against my growing waistline, I decided to fix turkey sausage according to a recipe in a diet cookbook I've been following somewhat.  (I say somewhat because I always HAVE to add a little more flavor.  What fun is eating if it tastes like cardboard and water?)  The cover of my book sports a guy that reminds me a little of Jack Lalanne, he is super tan, oddly muscular with huge white teeth and a bright red one piece spandex unitard.
Don't ask me why or how I found this particular book, I just did.  I tried the diet once before and followed it to the letter, losing exactly 9 lbs and 1 dress size in only 6 days.  I actually fit beautifully into the dress I'd picked out for Jud and Caroline's wedding.  

I changed the recipe just a titch... it's a little easier and I think, tastier, this way:

1lb ground lean turkey breast
1/2 of a Walla Walla sweet onion, diced
1/2 of a Granny Smith Apple, shredded or diced, whichever you have time for
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of turmeric root powder (fabulously known for it's flavor and also for anti-inflammatory properties)
a pinch of sea salt to bring out the flavors
a couple grinds of fresh ground pepper to liven it up

gently mix together with your hands until just blended, (ground turkey will take on a gorgeous golden hue from the turmeric powder) and form into large flattened meatball size patties.  Spray a skillet (cast iron if you have one) with Olive Oil cooking spray (Trader Joe's has a good one) and let sizzle on each side for about 3 minutes over medium low heat.

This should make enough to last you the week if you eat one at a time.  I served mine up with a beautiful pink grapefruit sprinkled with a little cinnamon.  

January 1, 2010

a Last Toast to the Amber Liquid (at least for now)

another pint, originally uploaded by uncommonmuse.
I've never been svelte.

Even in high school I was of pretty average weight. I'd dreamed of being lithe and thin, the body I imagined to be perfect resembled a ballet dancer more than Mae West. As luck would have it I'm a "type D" Endo-Ecto body shape according to the current health and fitness book I'm reading. AKA: Mae West bod.

Part of my problem for many years has been my unquestioning love for good food. I adore cheese, sweet cream in my coffee, warm bread, rich soups, decadent flourless chocolate torte, a perfectly done steak, pasta, crispy savory bacon, and yes, a good beer now and again. When you work at a cooking school, delicious 4 course meals beckon daily, like a siren, luring me to the schools restaurant dining room. I love the comforting smell of good food cooking and the sensual experience of making divine meals for my friends and family, and I LOVE enjoying a crisp IPA with a friend in the warm and dimly lit corner of a dive bar now and again. (for some reason, I prefer dive bars to any other kind. Give me vinyl covered bar stools and 70's style neon any day over shi shi trendy bars that use the word infused as a title for a vodka) Today, my writer friend Lisa and I began the new year in exactly this fashion. We walked in the rain, sipped the perfect beer at the perfect pub and discussed our goals of the future year and had a generally fabulous conversation. One thing we decided though, (halfway through our beers of course) is that we both want to become fitter and more lean versions of ourselves. Basically, we decided to cut back on the decadent foods and great beer Portland has to offer, at least temporarily, and cook and eat in a healthier fashion. For the next week at least, I'm going to try.

So I've stocked up on broccoli, salmon, wild brown rice, fresh ginger and green tea and I'm starting the day tomorrow with a half grapefruit, black coffee and a homemade turmeric and spice turkey sausage. I plan to feature healthy recipes until I am finally either channeling my inner skinny self or until I cannot stand to cook and live without bacon.

Wish me luck.