March 29, 2010

Vanilla Sugar

One of the simplest kitchen tricks I know is to make a batch of vanilla sugar and  keep it on hand for mixing into tea or coffee. Also you can use it as a special boost of flavor for baking. 

... all you do is find a good brand of vanilla bean and pop one or two of them whole, into a clear glass jar that you've filled with superfine sugar.  In just a few days the warmth and vanilla nuttiness will scent the sugar and be ready to use for whatever you like!

March 28, 2010

Fruit Salsa


Every spring and summer, on Friday nights, we celebrate the end of the work week with a fresh fruit salsa.  When the kids are with us, they help me peel the mangos, chop the sweet onion and dice the avocado.  
It's the perfect time to recap about the past week of school and work and plan the weekend activities.  


This easy fresh recipe is always best if the ingredients are organic and purchased that day, on the way home from work.  (In Portland, the best place to buy mangos is New Seasons!)



The flavors are bright and contrast beautifully; the sweet slippery juice of the mango blends well with the sharp tang of onion, the crisp fresh burst of flavor from cilantro. The buttery coolness of the avocado compliments the bright fruity and herbal flavors.  
I serve this particular salsa with black bean or blue corn chips and sometimes mix in drained black beans.  
Another fabulous way to make it into a hearty nourishing meal rather than an appetizer is to put the chips onto a baking sheet then top them with sauteed chicken chunks and shredded monterey jack cheese and warm them in the oven until the cheese is melted.  


Top with fruit salsa and dinner is served!


Ingredients:

2 mangos (diced into smallish bits)
1 small sweet onion chopped 
1 red pepper diced
2 ripe but firm avocados slipped out of their skins and diced 
3 fresh tomatoes chopped
1 bunch of cilantro chopped
1 lime, juiced 


First of all... relax!  The more you enjoy the process of cooking and the more you focus on making something colorful, fragrant and delicious to nourish you and your family, the better your creation will be.


Chop all fruit and veggies.  Sometimes I substitute fresh pineapple for the mangos, it just depends on what fruit looks best in the market that day.


Mix them together gently and squeeze the lime over everything.


*This particular recipe can also a lovely side or topping for grilled fish.  Serve warm flour tortillas on the side with shredded jack cheese and black beans and you can have a delicious fruity fish taco that is refreshing to eat in the spring and summer.


Enjoy!

March 26, 2010

Spring Break Spring Board

... I'm skipping off into the sunset and a fun filled weekend (and the WHOLE week of Spring Break) with my lovely children!



We have dinner plans with the grandparents since my sister and her new Beau are visiting from Sun Valley Saturday night. (a great recipe for fruit salsa is on deck) followed by a relaxed and creative Sunday — quite possibly beginning with blueberry pancakes and a steaming mug of chai tea.


Inspiring photos, quirky blurbs from writing class, a 16th birthday party celebration for Lizzie, a special news spot on channel six "Cooking with Kids" (starring my kids of course) and some new delicious recipes will be featured next week.  Also stay tuned for a special visit from the kids Grandma Marilyn (she makes the worlds BEST cinnamon rolls and Worm Cake) so don't forget to check in!


Have a sublime weekend kittens.


(photo by girltripped, via we heart it)

March 25, 2010

Cage Match Supper Club.

An odd and beautiful string of words, don’t you think my darlings?

Last night Kevin and I hosted the first of many gatherings for a small group of friends who like to cook, eat and drink. As you can tell, the now official title of our little dining club was quickly decided upon after a few glasses of wine.

The Cage Match Supper Club players include:



Matt and Mary -- our fabulous neighbors in the little red house across the street. They have an adorable toddler (and another little one on the way), a great backyard garden, and a wicked smart sense of humor.


Chet and Heather -- avid soccer players and blushing newlyweds with a passion for the outdoors and good beer. (Chet is also a team mate on the Lompoc Soccer team with my Subtly Amazing husband)


Then, finally of course, last but not least, Chad and Laurie -- Chad plays soccer with Kev and Chet. His girlfriend Laurie is a beautiful, vivacious, warm-hearted blonde who totally gets Chad’s sense of humor, which is no small feat.

                                 Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s what I mean:

                                       (Chad is the guy in the soccer uni spooning Daisy Duke)

Our night started off at the Culinary School restaurant where Kev and I work.



We brought with us a couple bottles of Pinot Noir and ordered a gorgeous buttery chardonnay, Rombauer Chardonnay (my favorite) and then proceeded to make plans for our dinner group over savory appetizers of marinated pancetta wrapped prawns with celery leaf salad and Meyer lemon.
 
Blood orange and fennel salad with watercress and shaved red onion followed, and I ordered the entrée of seared sea scallops with mustard braised Savoy cabbage. Heather nearly wept with pleasure over her entrée of pan-roasted chicken breast with baby red potatoes and herb and Meyer lemon jus.



Chad came up with a list of ground rules and we were off and running. Every six weeks each couple will take a turn hosting, and the host couple chooses the theme and gets to invite an additional couple. We are already planning theme dinners including a Fiji dinner party at the Zimmers, a Dim Sum brunch, a *gourmet* corndog affair, and an Italian pasta dinner where we all have to wear shimmering mafia-style track suits, sunglasses and multiple gold chains.

Here's the cookbook I'm going to order right now so I can use it when Kev and I host:
I will make delectable treats just like this:
and this:

I still can’t get over the awesomeness of our supper clubs name.

March 24, 2010

Photos from a Weekend in Vegas

It's been a little over a week I know.  But here they are, as promised!








March 21, 2010

Sunday Night Carrot Ginger Soup

It's Sunday evening and the comforting familiar scent of homemade bread and Carrot Ginger soup is wafting throughout the house.


The children are relaxed.  Spencer is checking his Facebook and slowly but surely healing after a weekend of the stomach flu.  Emma is fixing my hair as I write this recipe... the cure for Spencer's weekend illness.


Sunday's are my favorite day of the week.  Most often it's the relaxing quiet late morning breakfasts and a day of cooking and planning for the meals we'll eat in the coming week.  Tonight, I will curl up with my kids, the bread we made in the bread machine and of course, this flavorful, silky, slightly spicy, healthy and gingery soup.


Ingredients:


2 tbs light sesame oil
1 large sweet onion peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
2 tbs minced ginger
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
2 pounds carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups organic low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup canned unsweetened lite coconut milk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp Thai Kitchen Red Chili Paste
1/4 cup minced cilantro (or more.  I can't get enough of it)
Heat the sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add the diced onion and ginger and cook for about 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the carrots and cook or 2 minutes.  Add the broth, coconut milk, and salt.  Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the carrots are tender enough to pierce with a fork.


When the soup is finished cooking, remove it from the heat and cool slightly.  Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, returning the pureed soup to a large saucepan.  Add the lime juice and red chili paste.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Just before serving, garnish the soup with the chopped cilantro.

March 13, 2010

Leavin on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow is the big day my lovelies!  Kristen and I will be sipping champagne and wearing our aviator sunglasses on a plane to Vegas.  I'll be sure to snap lots of photos and post them when we return.
... Sunday night we'll be front and center at Carrot Top.  Whoa.

(top image via a cup of joe)

March 12, 2010

Kitchen Vixen

I overheard a student in the Baking and Pastry program at the school today talking about making Jameson Whiskey Caramels as a St. Patrick’s Day treat.  I drooled.

I composed myself and walked back to my desk with dangerous ideas bubbling in my mind about all sorts of decadent things I could do with caramel, whiskey and sugar. I imagined a heavenly dessert/breakfast that would make my subtly amazing husband turn to putty and fall madly in love with me all over again.

My fantasy looked something like this:

He wakes up in the morning to the warm sweet smell of soft bread baked with custard and cream. With one bite, rich white chocolate coats his hungry lips like vanilla tinged liquid silk and the nuance of smoky caramel whisky flavor perfectly mingles with the first sip of fresh roasted hot coffee…

This Sunday morning, before jumping on a plane to Vegas with my friend, I planned spoil Kevin with a breakfast-y baked good so delicious it would make his teeth curl. My cooking will surely intoxicate him, endearing him to me forever and make him wait breathlessly for my return from Sin City.



I fantasized myself a baking Kitchen Vixen and the recipe for a killer Bread Pudding would be my superpower.


I penciled out the formula:


First, recreate the kick-ass world shattering bread pudding recipe I found on Epicurious last year. (But I’d add the secret man-seducing ingredient of melted white chocolate)


Then, make decadent mesmerizing lure-you-into-a-food-coma-oblivion Whisky Caramel Sauce to drizzle over the top.


The following recipe will tempt husbands, not to mention the rest of us, to madness. Don’t resist. Make it. Feed it to your loved one. Eat it. You’ll curse me yes, but you will love me too, just like my subtly amazing husband will.


Fair warning though: you may have to buy a super sized pack of ass covering granny panties at Costco since every bite of this concoction is sure to go straight to your behind, just like it will mine.


Come to think of it, maybe super amazing bread pudding won’t make my husband fall in love with me all over again.

Unless I can convince him that granny panties are sexy.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding Recipe


• 3 1/2 cups whipping cream


• 1 cup milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)


• 1/2 cup sugar


• 18 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt),coarsely chopped


• 7 large egg yolks


• 2 large eggs


Preparation:


Preheat oven to 275°F. Arrange bread cubes on baking sheet. Bake until light golden and dry, about 10 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to rack; cool completely. Increase oven temperature to 350°F.


Combine 3 cups whipping cream, 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup sugar in heavy large saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add 10 ounces white chocolate (about 1 3/4 cups) and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk yolks and eggs in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in warm chocolate mixture.


Place bread cubes in 2-quart glass baking dish. Add half of chocolate mixture. Press bread cubes into chocolate mixture. Let stand 15 minutes. Gently mix in remaining chocolate mixture. Cover dish with foil.


Bake pudding 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer pudding to rack and cool slightly. (can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with foil and refrigerate. Re-warm covered pudding in 350°F oven for 30 minutes before serving.)

Whiskey Sauce:


• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


• 2 teaspoons cornstarch


• 2 tablespoons cold water


• 1/3 cup sugar


• 1/3 cup bourbon


To make the sauce, bring the cream to a boil, combine the cornstarch and water, and add the mixture to the boiling cream, stirring constantly. Return to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn the mixture. Add the sugar and bourbon, and stir. Pour over the top.



Remember fellow Kitchen Vixen’s:



No regrets.

{photo of Bread Pudding from Epicurious via Uncle Beefy}












March 11, 2010

Countdown to Vegas

... three more days and Kris and I are flying to Vegas for a girlie vacation! 

We've picked out our shoes and outfits and planned the itinerary to include many hours of reading by the pool with foofy drinks with little umbrellas in them.  

Portland has been dreary.  I am so ready for a reason to wear sunglasses.

March 10, 2010

The Kitchen Sink


*H2O, originally uploaded by *6261.
I stood at the kitchen sink looking out into the night at the neighbor’s house and the tiny string of Christmas lights that glittered around the edge of the window. I plunged my hand into the warm soapy water fishing around for the dishcloth.

In this particular place, this very ordinary place, I felt a sense of awe and comfort. No matter how flustered or confused or lost I’d been over the past few years, in the kitchen, I felt peace. Cooking for my children reconnected me to them. The ritual of dinner at the dining room table brought us together after our week apart, and after they were in bed, tucked in and kissed goodnight, I washed the dishes.

The kitchen sink is a mother’s alter.

The children were with me tonight. It was again, finally, my weekend. They were each asleep, in their own beds, in our own new house that Kevin had bought for us. And I was cleaning up the kitchen and doing dishes. The warm lingering smell of roasted chicken and garlic mashed potatoes hung in the air as I rinsed the last few dishes and swirled my hand around in water, a thin delicate film of soap bubbles skimming the surface.

I washed the backsplash and polished the faucet with the dishcloth, silently thanking God for bringing me here. Touching the sink, reverently outlining it with clean soap, I thought about how tonight was a long way from my old sink, my old kitchen, in my old house.

Again the thought of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz came to mind.
A woman who was swept up by a hurricane and brought into a new life. Everything changed for her, from the mundane black and white landscape of Kansas to the colorful and rich world of Oz.

                                                              She even found better shoes.



~an excerpt from a project I've been working on.

March 9, 2010

Nutella Coffee in the Afternoon

I own my vices. And they aren’t so bad really. At least in the grand scheme of things.



Comforting guilty pleasures I could never give up are long hot baths, Sex in the City and What Not to Wear re-run marathons while hibernating on the couch, oversized pink bunny flannel pajamas, wine, red licorice, Journey Ballads and of course:


Coffee and Chocolate.


I do feel a little guilt when I indulge. But not too much.



You see, coffee and chocolate (mostly dark chocolate) have redeemed themselves and are not the villainous snack foods they used to be. 



In the afternoon, after hanging out in the cubicle and touring the Culinary School, it’s hard to keep from running across the street to the little convenience store for sugar and preservative laden snacks. Sometimes I have to give in to afternoon cravings.


Today I discovered the perfect afternoon coffee/chocolate pick-me-up that isn’t quite as toxic as my favorite prepackaged goodies. (Corn syrup and red dye No. 40 are listed as the main ingredients in my usual afternoon treat of Mike and Ike’s Hot Tamales and Red Swedish Fish)


From now on, Nutella will be permanently residing in my desk drawer and if I can keep myself from eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon, I’ll be enjoying a little of it warmed up and stirred into my coffee.

Nutella Espresso for One



1 Tbs Nutella
1 shot of espresso (or just some strong fresh brewed java)
steamed milk... as much or as little as you like.


~Spoon the Nutella into a pint glass (if it is too stiff, pop in the microwave for 10 seconds)
~Pour in hot espresso and top it off with some steamed milk (I whisk it right in the pan to make it frothy)


Stir well and enjoy without guilt.


March 8, 2010

Naked Fish in Parchment with Asparagus and Orange

I read on Face Book from a posting by my friend Kelly that she just got rave reviews from her doctor about her cholesterol. 

I'm impressed and inspired.


Kelly is one of my old friends from High School and has followed this little gorgeous bits blog from the beginning. She's tried some of the recipes and given me fantastic feedback.
It seems she enjoys cooking and food as much as I do, but she must be doing something right to have dropped so many cholesterol points in such a short amount of time.

My friends and I are all still relatively young and vibrant, but we are finding out that good health just doesn't come as easily as it used to... there suddenly seems to be some hard work involved, and we have to pay closer attention to what we eat.

The advice our parents used to dole out about health and longevity as we smiled and nodded and crammed Double-Stuff Oreo's down our throats is suddenly starting to make sense.

Unfortunately, I have had an ongoing unabashed love affair with cream, butter and bacon.  Those particular fatty and salty ingredients seem to be my achilles heel and last year, I had to adjust my diet in order to protect my aging bod from high blood pressure.



Now I'm playing with new recipes, and I've been trying to cook more "naked" food.


I think, when we cook we need to think seasonally and locally,  making sure the main ingredients are things you can find at Farmer's Markets or in the organic/local section of the neighborhood grocery store.

Fresh organic ingredients may cost a little more, but if you use fewer ingredients in a recipe,  (avoiding added dairy products, bacon and rich sauces) it can be very affordable. 
Plus, you and your whole family eat much healthier by eating organic, so try to think about spending money on groceries as "preventative care". 
Additional benefits: You support the community, small business and local farmers and impact the environment in a positive way.


Once I get into the habit of sticking to simple basic ingredients, not only can I accomplish cooking delicious food, but I really do feel better. As much as I crave thick cream sauces, rivers of butter or melted cheese and crispy bacon, my body doesn't feel so great after eating it.
I need to remind myself BEFORE I take a bite of a cheese burger or add that splash of whole cream to my coffee, about how heavy I feel with that in my system. 

When you eat clean food, you feel lighter, leaner, refreshed and energized.


This practically-naked-fish recipe is the perfect way to keep your cholesterol in check. Added bonus is, you will impress your family and friends by  presenting dinner in snazzy looking parchmant paper packages (which is a totally cool bad-ass June Cleaver move)

Also, this particular recipe cooks the fish perfectly.

Ingredients:
 
4 15x15-inch squares parchment paper
4 5-to 6-ounce fish fillets (such as halibut or cod; each about 1 inch thick)
a few pinches of sea salt
a few grinds of cracked pepper
12 fresh tarragon leaves (you can use fresh dill or dried tarragon, but I like fresh tarragon the most)
2 knobs of unsalted butter, cut into 4 small chunks
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 Tbs orange juice (fresh squeezed if at all possible.  Just the right amount from 1 large orange... )
1 Tbs fresh orange zest (double-duty from the same orange)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place parchment squares onto work surface. Generously butter half of each parchment square; top buttered half of each with 1 fish fillet. Sprinkle fish with sea salt and cracked pepper; top each fillet with 3 tarragon leaves, then 1 piece of butter.
Arrange asparagus around each fish fillet; pour 1 tablespoon orange juice over each.
Top it off by sprinkling on a bit of orange zest.

Fold parchment over fish and asparagus, folding and crimping edges tightly to seal and enclose filling completely. Place on 2 rimmed baking sheets, spacing apart. do ahead Can be made 4 hours ahead. Chill. (which makes this the perfect "company" dish)


Bake fish packets 17 minutes.

Slide packets onto plates and serve.

March 5, 2010

Culinary Artistry

It was a gorgeous Friday in Downtown Portland. 

This morning, Kevin and I ran across the street to the school just in time to see Chef Roy Perez and the students plating up their gorgeous and delicious creations from their Culinary Artistry class.  I snapped a few photos so my lovely blog followers can see some of the delightful dishes the students here at the Culinary School where I work make... 
as the chef pointed out, people dine with their eyes, so the food should look as beautiful as well as taste sublime.

Term III students have only been in class for about 6 months and they are creating some absolutly amazing dishes.  (the food tastes even better than it looks.  Trust me.)
Awaiting the inspection and taste from the Executive Chef instructor...
one student created a thin crisped sliver of a potato with a delicate herb pressed into it... like a tiny edible stained glass window.  All of the other students asked her for her secret technique.
As a belated warning: Vegatarians, look away.


I love my day job.

March 4, 2010

Fancy Schmancy Chandalier

I love this.

This weekend, I think I'm going to have the kids build as many paper airplanes as they can and then we'll stick them into the vintage crystal chandalier hanging over our dining room table.

The perfect contrast, blending high brow glamour with a dose of fun.

March 3, 2010

Packing Early for Vegas

I’m starting to get excited about my trip to Vegas.  It’s only 10 days away!



My friend Kris and I have never travelled together, but we’ve talked about it often and we used to imagine renting an apartment together in Paris for a summer. (I still think in the not too distant future she may be living in Paris) But for now, we are celebrating our Birthday’s this year with a Girls Trip to Sin City, where we simply plan to lounge in the sun by the pool, drink fruity-frothy cocktails, walk the strip at night and laugh our asses off. (She bought front row tickets to Carrot Top )


I’ve been daydreaming all day about travelling. I’ve packed my suitcase in my mind and decided to take Cup of Joe's advice: How to pack a suitcase like a French Woman. It’s smart and fashionable to have just a few, well chosen stylish necessities in your bag:

A wide headband so I feel like Brigitte Bardot in Contempt.

Classic, breezy white linen pants and cuffed cotton black shorts, a French style nautical striped shirt and black strappy espadrilles that tie in a bow.

A fabulous classic black halter tie bathing suit fit for a silver screen siren to wear by the pool.

Glamorous Jean Seberg style dress (I may actually find one at Target!)

And of course, my gogeous gold flecked big floppy I bought in Vegas when the Subtly Amazing Hubby and I went there last year...


Viva Las Vegas Baby.

Speaking of Jam Jars...

...in case you don't have your own to recycle, these little lovely containers can be found among other goodies online at Burgon & Ball

March 2, 2010

Jamie's Jam Jar Dressings

Hello again Lovelies.



I promised I’d post the simplest, fastest and most delish salad dressings today… all you need is a little recycled jam jar and some basic pantry ingredients:

Jamie Oliver's Jam-Jar Dressings

1. French dressing
Peel and finely chop 1/2 of a clove of garlic • Put the garlic, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar, and 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • Put the lid on the jar and shake well.

2. Yogurt dressing
Put 1/3 cup of plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • Put the lid on the jar and shake well.

3. Lemon dressing
Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon • Put the lid on the jar and shake well.


4. Balsamic dressing
Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • Put the lid on the jar and shake well.


Drizzle over your greens (radicchio, butter lettuce, arugula, beet greens from the crisper drawer… )









March 1, 2010

Gorgeous Greens

Crazy good idea: Fresh Salad.  Every single night of the week.



My darlings, I am not big on cooking a complicated meal on weeknights that requires a lot of work. I’m crazy about cooking in general, but I’m one of those that enjoys spending open-ended hours in the kitchen on the weekends... with no rush involved. I love writing out ideas for meals, making grocery lists and I enjoy shopping at cool and stylish little grocery stores more than I enjoy shopping at Nordstrom.  Leisurely cooking is creative joyful time. 

On weeknights, I need to cook but I’d prefer the bare minimum of prep time.  Working all day is tough enough.  I just want to eat and relax when I get home.

I’ve been reading yet another fabulous cookbook by Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals. I am not only ga ga over his straight forward, British tinged writing and cooking style, but I love the whole idea behind this book. Jamie Oliver believes that our society relies too often on convenience foods, drive through and restaurant dining. We have gotten away from the family table and making our houses into homes by making delicious food in our own ovens so that the smells of cooking fill our cozy living quarters.
His book is about making great food and keeping simple, rather inexpensive ingredients in our cupboards and at our fingertips so we have no excuse not to throw together a healthy meal.



This week, I am going to try what I believe to be one of his most revolutionary ideas: The idea is to line the vegetable crisper drawer in your fridge with clean cotton dish towels, then, while you are at the market, pick up several different varieties of lettuces and greens.
Once home, rinse them well, use a salad spinner or towels to get rid of the excess water, tear them into salad size bites and put them into the crisper drawer. Once that’s all said and done, slightly dampen yet another clean cotton dishtowel and put it over the top of the greens to keep them extra fresh.
Every night, all you have to do is reach into the drawer of the fridge and toss a handful of greens into your bowl.
Genius.



He has another spectacular time saving recipe for making your own salad dressing in a leftover jam jar to drizzle over the top of your greens...


I’ll post that little tip tomorrow my loves!