There go the “clackers”

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For me, it starts with the wayward hair that won’t go easily into place. From there, it progresses, to a split end… and then many, many more… ends that are split. Time is something that passes, without bold indication, but rather with small changes; mostly undetectable, until suddenly they are, detectable… and bothersome.

I awoke this morning to a sound, rhythmic, familiar. It sounds like this: tststst…tststst…tststst…? I know this sound, so I don’t even question it, the sound. I was still asleep. Later on, it occurred to me, my hair was having a very bad day; how long had it been since my last cut?

And later still, I am cooking, chop, chop, choppity-chop, chchchop…love to chop…; I was in a groove. Then thwack-a-thwack, thwack, thwack. Hate the thwack in the distance! But then enters the tststst…tststst…tststst! What the Hell is going on? I of course know and turn knowing what I will see.

Thwack-a-thwack, thwack, thwack. I look to my left and there sits Ginger… so busted! Itching her ear. Itching, itching but then getting up and walking… tststst…tststst…tststst… really? Buddy is following close behind… tststst…tststst… The clackers, we call them the clackers because of the sound that their nails make, now, as they cross the hardwood floors, it reminds us of the high heels of a clacker.

It’s been 6 weeks, 3 days and several hours since we last dropped off our beloved clackers at the boutique in Ballard, where on Wednesday, Ginger and Buddy will be spending the day. I know this because… of tststst…tststst…tststst… the sound that tells me we will be visiting Victoria soon; time to de-clack.

20140422-134132.jpgBuddy: “Hey Ginger, do you think we are getting shaggy?”
Ginger: “You are Mr. Stinky, but my hair looks good long.”
Buddy: Ya, well I can hear your paws from the other side of the house.”
Ginger: “Do you think we are going to see Victoria soon?”
Buddy: “We like Victoria.”

Like clockwork… yes, clockwork, for them, it starts with the wayward hair that will not brush easily from their eyes. From there it progresses to the shagginess that starts gradually, almost undetectable, until the twigs begin to attach themselves, following Ginger and Buddy in from the yard. Finally they look a few inches rounder; their slim frames hidden beneath their new coat. And then comes the clacking, the inevitable sign that we are quickly approaching seven weeks from their last cut. The toenails have once again given them away and served as a reminder that we will soon be making a trek to Ballard and perhaps eating out at one of the many places we love to eat at in that part of town, perhaps Staple & Fancy, Bastille…or Delancey?

20140422-155647.jpgGinger: “I am feeling restless, do you feel like going for a run?”
Buddy: “No, I’m comfy.”

Raw beet & asparagus salad

This is just the kind of thing Ginger and Buddy like to eat.

Buddy and Ginger are big fans of salad but for some reason, they just don’t like the lettuce (unless it comes fully dressed, and that’s not on their diet). So, I thought this might be the perfect meal to send them off for a day at the spa. Asparagus is in season and available locally right now so I love to leave it raw; the flavor is crystal clear. I like to peel the thorns from the stems but to many people, this would be considered fussing. The beets are also in a nice state right now so I opt to keep them raw as well. I make up a little dressing for Tom and I but Buddy and Ginger require none.

For the dressing, I put a pinch of sea salt, a few grinds of pepper, a little chopped garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a spot of Dijon mustard into a mini jar (only a few inches tall by half as wide), filled it the rest of the way with olive oil and shook it up until it became creamy.

I then carefully peeled a golden beet and sliced it thin on my mandolin. The asparagus got stemmed, the tips reserved and the thorns lightly peeled away. Next, at a diagonal, I sliced them thinly into pieces.

I had a fresh container of Buffalo mozzarella which I squeezed of excess moisture. I divided some of the beets and asparagus onto two small plates for Buddy and Ginger then tossed the rest in a bowl with just enough dressing to lightly coat the vegetables.

This was then divided onto two, slightly larger, plates for Tom and I. Next came torn pieces of the mozzarella, scattered over all of our plates, and a drizzle more of the dressing with a sprinkling of sea salt for Tom and I.

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Ginger: “Do you see what I see?”

20140422-135237.jpgBuddy: “Sure do…!”

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! !
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Don’t worry, their next course involved fish.

But…

20140422-200509.jpgOh, If you are curious as to what became of the asparagus tips (Tom’s favorite part), I roasted them off to eat with our Easter lamb (Buddy and Ginger, gently and with supervision, licked the bone).

The Dirty Dozen

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Why is it that we call a sandwich, when filled with mashed-up egg and drowned in mayonnaise, a little seasoning and perhaps a hint of “vegetable” (celery?) an egg “salad” sandwich? I’m okay with this, but just asking?

I also used to question the “devil” in deviled eggs. This is just something I do, question things. But some of you probably already know that, or would really rather not (know).

I am not an easy one to crack. As a child, I wasn’t one for breakfast, especially involving eggs, yet an egg salad sandwich, as well as a deviled egg was, in fact, amongst my favorites. Perhaps, to do with the mayonnaise, which by the way, I am quite fond of too. So, how is it a brother of mine, an actual sibling of the blood relation, does not eat salad dressing? Ever? As in, nope, never. I glop it on, or at least used to, before I understood the amount of effort it took to glop it back off my body. I loved the creaminess of a salad dressing which often involved mayonnaise. These days, it is the acidity in the dressing that takes priority over the cream, for me. There is an art to the perfect balance of savory to sweet, and tangy to tart. We aren’t here to talk salad though. We are here to eat eggs! Deviled eggs, for Easter (something ironic about that perhaps)?!

Into making a good quality mayonnaise, goes an egg (or two). So, why is it that to this mayonnaise we actually insert more egg, the hard cooked yolk part, to make it deviled? What is it to be deviled, again? Is it to do with the cayenne or the mayonnaise? I believe it is to do with the cayenne, but the devil is in the mayonnaise (at least devilish for our health). So now you know, this is the type of random bits of information I so often ponder.

Yet, it will not stop me from making a batch of deviled eggs for Fiesta Friday (because it makes good party food) and another batch for Easter (because it makes good Easter food). Plus, Tom will insist on coloring eggs and what else am I going to do with a dozen hard cooked eggs (rhetorical question)? The first batch will be clean (I am sure you are relieved). The second batch will be dirty; from the stain of the dye soaking through (kind of festive though).

I like a good old fashioned deviled egg as much as the next person, but if we decorate the outside of an Easter egg, I think it only fair to decorate the deviled egg too, so I usually dress them up a little. I also like to crank up the flavor without getting too wild; (truffle oil will sneak into the ones going to the party; not Tom’s favorite). Tulip petals are their Easter dress.

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Deviled eggs, Chez Stacey style

I’ve shed my need for so much mayonnaise, so to lighten things up, I now use plain yogurt (the local kind) to make it creamy. I love the addition of truffle oil which is a natural partner to an egg. Tom continues to proclaim himself a non-truffle eater so I fill his eggs first then add the truffle oil to the mix (for me and any other guests that might be joining). Truffle oil is strong, so adjust the quantity to your taste by adding it a few drops at a time. If you have fresh truffles, truffle shavings would be delicious to mix in. If you don’t like truffle, simply omit it altogether.

INGREDIENTS

6 eggs, hard boiled, cooled and peeled
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
4 TB plain yogurt
1 tsp chopped fresh chives
1 TB chopped Spring onion or shallot
1/2 tsp white truffle oil (+/- to taste), optional

For garnish: fresh chives cut into 2 inch lengths. Good quality ham cut into 2 inch x 1/8″ strips, smoked paprika, tulip petals

PREPARE

Cut the cooked, peeled eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop the yolk, out from the white and place in a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredient and mash well with a fork.

Chop one of the cooked egg whites and add to the bowl mixing well.

Fill the center of each cooked egg white with spoonfuls of the yolk mixture.

Sprinkle with smoked paprika and top each with 2 chive strips and 1-2 ham strips.

20140419-100305.jpgTo serve, put each deviled egg on a tulip petal placed on a platter or individual plates. Admire momentarily and watch them disappear.

One from “the book(s)”

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20140416-200953.jpgBalsamic Braised Chicken Thighs

This is one of those meals that is restorative for me, both from the fragrance during the braise and the memories of the time during which I developed the meal. After a long recovery from surgery years back, I was finally well enough, both to cook and to enjoy eating again. While Tom was at work, I made use of the mishap ingredients already hanging out in my kitchen (yes, the endive was there also, two weeks old and not fit enough to go naked, which is why it got sugar-coated). I have this recipe written in my journal (volume 5), dated May of 2006. I can uncover it’s whereabouts quickly by flipping through pages and scanning for a date nearing that time. This continues to be a favorite chicken dish for my husband Tom, who truth be told, is much more of a breast man (so still not sure what he is doing with me).

The vinegar is nicely offset by its’ sweet counterparts, making for a well balanced mix. The distinct essence of the Balinese long peppers is just subtle enough to add a unique flavor without overpowering the other players.

I like to leave my potatoes whole, but you could just as easily cut them in half depending on their size. A mix of colors might be nice here as well, such as purple and red, to add more visual interest. This goes together quickly, making it great for a weeknight but is elegant enough for a dinner party.

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INGREDIENTS (for braising liquid)

1 1/2 cups Prosecco (you could also use sparkling wine or vermouth)
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon (approximately 2 generous TB)
1 TB fig paste
1 TB honey
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB chicken demi-glacé (if solid, cut a 1/2″ x 3/4″ chunk)
1 TB chopped fresh rosemary
3 Balinese long peppers (optional)*

PREP (the braising liquid)

Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a light boil.

Reduce the heat and let simmer, uncovered, until the flavors meld (approximately 10 minutes).

*Long peppers are very fragrant but not a typical ingredient. I have a box in my pantry that I got several years ago from a specialty food store. I use them when I want to add an exotic flavor that is not over powering; this is why I use only two or three at a time and why they remain in my pantry (still effective after all these years, by the way). You can omit them and this dish will still be tasty, but lacking that extra layer; like the bracelet that would add to the outfit, but not make the outfit.

INGREDIENTS (for chicken)

1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup semolina flour
1 TB olive oil for sautéing

2 sweet onions, skin peeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices
25-30 small baby Dutch potatoes, rinsed
2 Belgium endive, rinsed
1 tsp natural sugar
Rosemary sprigs and lemon wedges for garnish

PREP (the chicken)

Rinse and pat dry the chicken thighs

Season chicken with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the semolina flour to coat thighs, shaking off excess.

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Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, low-side Dutch oven until hot. Add the olive oil and brown the chicken thighs on one side. Turn the thighs over, cook for one minute then add in the onions. Be sure that the onions end up slightly under the chicken. Pour over the braising liquid then add the potatoes, pushing them to submerge in the liquid.

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Bring the liquid to a simmer and transfer to a 375 degree oven (not covered). Baste every 15 minutes for approximately an hour.

After 45 minutes, add the Belgium endive and let cook for 5 minutes or until just tender. Remove and cut them in half lengthwise. Set aside.

When the chicken is done (it should be tender and juices clear), remove the pan from the oven, cover and let rest for 10 minutes while you finish the endive.

To finish the endive, heat a sauté pan to hot. Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of the pan and set the endive in cut side down. Allow this to sit, undisturbed for a few minutes as it caramelizes. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh pepper. Squeeze in the lemon juice.

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PLATE

Divide the potatoes and onions among four plates.

Top, slightly askew, with one or two thighs. Put one endive half alongside.

Spoon over some of the sauce and garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a wedge of lemon.

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Put the lime in the coconut

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I am not a patient one – no, no and no. Wish I were… but no. For that, I have Tom. I’m the one who has to cross the street when there is no traffic coming while red; why the he…ck would I wait; other than to miss the diminishing sound waves from the father standing on the corner with his young daughter, informing her that “the woman crossing the street is a law-breaker” (oops, well, something to consider in this town, perhaps).

I am the one who has her foot on the gas pedal the second the light turns green. I am the one that looks from line, to line, to line at the grocery store and quickly changes lanes if there is a person down the way that might have one item less than the person ahead of me… and I am definitely the one that wishes she could wiggle her nose to make “the problem” (insert one from long list of problems) go quickly, very quickly, away.

At home, most “problems” can be fixed by trying it for myself first (yet failing). Trying it again, with more urgency and frustration (yet again, failing), then quickly, very quickly, calling for Tom to help. Problem solved. Tom always has the magic touch and almost always makes the problem go away… find my black long sleeve cotton shirt; the one that I got at Istina’s, not Betty Blue. Put the drawer back in the track (which is now slightly broken from my effort). [Tom here - Whaaaaat is this?] Untangle the necklace that will surely never untangle again. I can’t get this d*mn drawstring back through the waist of my pajama pants (problem solved), well, you get the idea.

Lately, I have been having a battle with the computer modem wifi thingy. Oh, how it likes Tom, but so does not like me. I wake up earlier than him on a weekend morning (Ginger makes sure of that). I shuffle (err… drag myself) out to get coffee and my mobile devices, plus take care of Ginger and Buddy’s needs, I climb back into bed, ready to tuck in and get some work done. Problem. No connection. Now I have to get back out of bed, go deal with the connection and hope for the best. Well, I can hope, but hope is never a reliable solution. Unplug… 1… 2… 3… re-plug. Should be good, right? Wrong. Again. Nope. Once more (for Tom), damn, T o o m m m m m, h e l p? He has the Midas touch.

Uh, oh. I forgot to factor in the what-happens-when-Tom’s-gone, solution. He has been traveling and it didn’t cross my mind, until it did. I came home from work, ready to get back to work. Problem. No connection and Tom’s Midas touch is in Boston, not Seattle. I muster up a good deal of positive thinking and go in for the fix. Nothing. I go back, slowly, breathing calmly and trying to channel Tom. I unplug the thingy Tom said to unplug (not the yellow one, which I couldn’t figure how to make release anyway) and count to four (1-2-3). Then plug it back in. Nothing. I continue this scenario, changing the count times, the position of the device, and the time between tries. Nothing. I contemplate, again, about the yellow thingy and should I give that a try? No, it still will not budge from it’s slot. I give up several times, going back to my iPhone (which always has a cell connection at least) but quickly cave and go back in for more.

Uncountable tries later, I began wondering if unplugging it and running around the room with it in my hands a few times would in fact help. I picture this in my mind and begin feeling a bit silly. Back to giving up. Okay, seriously, what is it I have to do? If I started jumping up and down begging for cooperation, would that work? It didn’t. Tom was not responding to my emails or my texts (pesky 3-hour time difference). Not sure what it was I thought he could do from Boston (I don’t think there’s an app for that, yet).

I was in my final round of coddling the device when I realized not even a single white dot of light was shining (there are three dots). Did I break it even further? Panicking (just a little), I started pulling at all the cords and moving it around in every direction it would allow while it still hung on by the yellow cord. The furthest left connection (as opposed to the middle connection with which I had misunderstood needed the unplugging) was slightly ajar and as I flitted about, I inadvertently shoved it back into place. All three lights lit up and (sky opening up, singing hallelujah) sent me skipping back to my seat to give my devices a try.

Ironically, as I sat down and picked up my phone, I saw a text message waiting. It was from Tom and said this, “Unplug far left grey round cord of white Airport for the count of 4 (1-2-3-4) (NOT I,000) and plug back in. Give it about 3-4 min to reset after to see signal.”

So it turned out, I had been unplugging the wrong cord all along. This time though, I figured it out all by myself (sort of).

So, as for dinner, calamari (fried this time) to start… since he’s not here.

20140411-204252.jpgIt’s blurry cuz I was inpatient and worked up (or hungry?).

And a quick finish because I used up my patience.

20140411-210526.jpg Ahhh… Peace at last (and buttery smooth scallops over lentils, arugula and balsamic).

So, here it is Friday again and rather than jump up and down, I decided to whack, whack a shell, put the lime in the coconut and fill it up with shrimp. Heading over to Fiesta Friday with a little Island delight.

Coconut prawns with mango mustard

I think it is essential to treat yourself to a big swig of coconut water, fresh from the shell, as you cook these. Ginger and Buddy enjoyed a bowl of it too while I sipped on my coconut infused gin + tonic.

This is a personal favorite of Tom’s (to do with his love of Hawaii and all things tropical island) so to let him know I care, this one’s for him but we hope you enjoy. Happy Friday to all. Head over to Angie’s for more good food, friends and fun.

INGREDIENTS (for prawns)

1 lb fresh prawns
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
A few shakes of cayenne pepper
3/4 cup soda water
1 cup Shredded coconut (unsweetened)

Canola or peanut oil for frying

PREPARE (prawns)

Peel, devein and clean the prawns. Pat dry, well.

Combine the flour, baking soda and powder, salt and cayenne in a medium bowl. Add the soda water and whisk until smooth. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, or up to several hours before proceeding. The batter will be enough for at least 1 lb of prawns and possibly a little more. Discard any unused portion.

Lightly dust the shrimp with flour, then dip into the batter. Start with 1/2 cup coconut on a plate and press each prawn onto the coconut shreds, each side. Add more coconut shreds as needed.

20140411-212021.jpgThey can be prepped to this point several hours in advance.

Fill a heavy pot with enough oil to cover the prawns. I use my deep cast iron skillet and fill it a few inches deep (you can cook in batches if you need).

When the oil Is quite hot, add the prawns and let cook until golden and cooked through (approximately 3-5 minutes), be careful not to let them burn or overcook. Remove with a slotted spoon or metal tongs. These are best served right away.

INGREDIENTS (for mustard)

1/2 cup course chopped, peeled champagne mango (sweeter than a regular mango)
1 TB Dijon mustard
1TB lemon juice

PREPARE (mustard)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend. If it is too thick, add a little water and continue to process.

TO SERVE

Divide the mustard into little sauce cups. Cut off the diamond tips of a Thai coconut, poke a hole in the top and drain the water into a cup (to drink later). Crack open the coconut and tear it in half. You can clean it of it’s meat now or wait until you have finished your appetizer (in which case you might want to line it with a wax paper square, folded).

Fill each coconut half with prawns, a lime and tuck in the small sauce bowl.

20140411-222826.jpgSo, “put the lime in the Coconut” and have yourself some fun,

The C h i c k p e a Under pressure

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I am a big lover of legumes and Chickpea was the first. My husband often tells me I am full of beans and most times, he means this quite literally. I suppose I first fell in love with Chickpea at Godfather’s pizza in Alaska when I was young. My brothers were there for the pizza and video games, I was in it for the salad bar where I could pile my plate high with hard boiled eggs, sunflower seeds and chickpeas. If I became the recipient of an occasional spare quarter for a game, all the better. Pizza was not my thing. Yes, I know, what kind of kid doesn’t like pizza? Well, I didn’t like breakfast either but you all know how that turned out?

This longtime love of Chickpea (AKA Garbanzo), was elevated when breaking, quite literally, out of the can. I used to be completely satisfied eating and cooking with canned beans. They are convenient, tasty and usually tender. I casually mentioned this to my former boss once (the same one who got me to eat spinach – stay tuned for that…).

In context, We had been conversing about food and making things from scratch. I, with great authority (which shows I had none) said that there was no reason to cook your own beans because they were perfectly good from the can. She had a strong opinion to the contrary. It was at this point that I embarked on the long and frustrating journey of cooking the perfect bean.

Older, wiser and armed with a pressure cooker, I am now convinced that a homemade batch of beans is both convenient and a staple to many a great meal. I have my Sister-In-Law, Irma, to thank for the epiphany regarding the cooking of dried beans. She uses a pressure cooker, which I had always been fearful of but since converting to, have never looked back. So, without further ado:

C hi c k p e a
Under pressure

The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it is many things in one. It is chickpea soup if you ladle it into a bowl with the liquid, it is a side dish if you scoop it out of it’s liquid with a slotted spoon and it is an ingredient if you are making one of many different things such as hummus, salads, baked goods, soups and so much more.

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You will need a pressure cooker for this. If you don’t have one but are intrigued with this idea, less than $100 is worth investing, if nothing else, in cooking beans. There is no need to soak overnight and the cooking time is cut in half. There are many other uses though, so it really is money well spent.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed
3 cups water
1 celery stalk, cleaned and trimmed
1 onion, cut in half, skin removed
3 cloves coarsely chopped garlic
The juice of 1 1/2 lemons
a few drizzles olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/2 bunch fresh thyme (tied together makes it easier to remove; cooked in a cheese cloth pouch makes for a more aesthetically pleasing broth, sans dark green speckles).
1 – 1 1/2 tsp sea salt (approximately)

COOK

Put all the water, celery, onion, garlic, juice of one lemon, one drizzle olive oil, bay leaf and thyme in the bowl of an electric pressure cooker. Set it to high pressure and set the cooking time to 24 minutes.

It will take 10 minutes or so to work up to the right amount of heat and steam before the timer clicks down. Once the time is up, allow the pressure to work itself down by itself (which will take another 15-20 minutes or so),

Once the lid has released, remove it and check the chickpeas for tenderness. I like mine al dente; easy to bite through but not mushy and falling apart. If they are still a little tough, set the cooker to simmer and let simmer till done.

When they are cooked to your preferred consistency, add the salt, another drizzle of olive oil and the juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon. Turn the cooker off and let cool in the liquid. Once mostly cooled, check the seasonings and adjust to your own liking.

Remove the thyme stems (leaves will have scattered about unless you cooked them in a cheese cloth pouch). Remove the bay leaf too and press on the onions and celery with the back of a spoon. They should begin to melt into the broth as you press on them. You can remove and discard any large pieces, if you wish.

You now have a wide range of options, as mentioned above. Store the unused chickpeas in their liquid.

Munch often and eat well but don’t forget that beans go bad quickly so try not to forget you made them (not likely, right?).

20140408-231236.jpgOh, and don’t forget to pick a Sweet Pea….

20140408-231349.jpg…starting to ripen.

20140408-231451.jpgin the sun.

k e b a a a b

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20140404-155136.jpgKebab, kebab, kebab

I just wanted to be able to say k e b a a a b. It’s very catchy. It sounds quirky if said with a certain twang and mysterious if an accent is used. Plus, I really do just like the way it sounds.

I also didn’t want to feel left out since it seems to be rather popular as of late. Everybody’s making them. I might not jump from a cliff if everyone were jumping but I would make a kebab…and so I did. Twice actually. I will spare you the lengthy goings on of my beet powder chicken kebabs tucked into naan with grilled asparagus and fresh mozzarella. Instead I will tell you about my, “I really want to make kebabs right now so I can bring them to Angie’s party kebab”. Kebab, kebab…k e b a a a b!

Lemony Pork Kebabs tucked in naan with spinach, hummus and green olive yogurt sauce

This pork mixture is delicious pan sautéed as well, which sometimes I make tossed in parpadelle with sautéed spinach and a quick pan sauce made with wine and lemon juice. You can form approximately 25-30 pieces from this mixture so if you don’t plan on using them all, they freeze nicely for a night when you need something quick and tasty for dinner.

I am assuming you know how to make hummus, or at least know where to buy a good one, so I am going to save my not-so-secret hummus recipe for another time (I do use a secret ingredient though). I used the humus from Whole Foods for this dish because it is actually quite good and saved me an extra step (I am picky about my humus so I was happy to find one that I liked).

INGREDIENTS (for kebabs)

1 lb ground pork
3/4 cup freshly made breadcrumbs (using olive bread will score brownie points)
3 thin slices fresh lemon, chopped (peel in tact, seeds discarded)
Juice of said lemon which in my estimation, is around 3-4 TB
1/4 of a preserved lemon
3 cloves chopped garlic
4-6 green olives (such as picholine). pits removed, chopped
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB grated Pecorino Romano cheese
A few pinches sea salt along with freshly grated pepper
A large wad of fresh cilantro, chopped

INGREDIENTS (to finish)

1-2 naan per person
1-2 TB hummus per naan
1 handful baby spinach per naan
1-2 TB yoghurt sauce per naan (recipe to follow)
1 kebab skewer per naan

TO PREPARE

Combine all of the ingredients for the kebabs in a mixing bowl except the salt and pepper; using your hands, gently but thoroughly mix together. Grind over the pepper and sprinkle with a little salt. You won’t need much due to the olives, cheese and preserved lemon.

Form into small balls and flatten ever so slightly.

20140404-153924.jpgOddly formed, I know.

Thread three pieces onto each skewer (I like using the small skewers). I don’t bother soaking them in water first but you may if you wish.

Over hot coals, on an oiled grate, grill the skewers approximately 8-10 minutes, until cooked through. Turn them a few times to evenly brown.

20140404-155709.jpgAs they are cooking, I grill the naan alongside.

20140404-161730.jpgI had good company.

TO ASSEMBLE

Spread the humus on each piece of warm naan. Top with spinach, then dollop over a spoonful of sauce. Place one skewer on top.

You can serve, skewer in tact, and let each person remove the skewer before picking up the naan, folding it in half to eat like a sandwich.

Ahhh, comfort food.

INGREDIENTS (for yogurt sauce)

4 green olives, pitted and chopped
1 fingertip wad of fresh cilantro, chopped (approx. 1TB)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 thin slices fresh lemon, chopped
1 tsp chopped preserved lemon
1 cup plain yoghurt
2 TB grated Pecorino Romano cheese

PREPARE (yogurt sauce)

Combine everything except the yogurt and cheese in a small bowl. Put the yogurt in another bowl and add the olive mixture then the cheese, adding a little more cheese to taste if needed.

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20140404-154608.jpgWait, not so fast…

Before heading over to the Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday, take a few minutes for a Friday chuckle.

20140404-153152.jpg I like the way he says kebab; check it out here. If you don’t want to hang around for the whole thing, fast forward to about 2 minutes, 5 seconds into it.

20140404-164613.jpgOh yeah, I forgot that an accent can also make kebab sound sexy

If you still need to finish your drink before heading out, take a look here (go about 1 minute, 45 seconds in).

Okay, now, run to the party (It’s Fiesta Friday). We are already late.

Please Remove Your Shoes

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20140331-195149.jpgCrispy halibut with raw beet, apple, cabbage slaw

When Buddy came to visit us with his Foster Mom, Michelle, three years ago, he walked right in as if he had always lived here. He came in the door, alongside Sophie (a shitzu who was also sadly looking for a home), said his proper hello then proceeded to make a beeline straight to the living room where he confidently climbed into Gingers “raft” (code name for her living room bed). Ginger, had no reaction. This was a strong indication that he may, in fact, be here to stay.

To give a little context to the significance of this move, I need to let you know that Ginger was not on board with our decision to provide her with a little brother. In fact, she had no idea that this was a real consideration. Ginger was ten years old at the time and had always been the center of attention. Ginger is far more interested in the people we meet than their dogs and through her actions around the other dogs, she was very clear about her desire to be an only child. Ginger is a little territorial. She also doesn’t like to share.

So when Buddy made himself at home in her very special bed, Tom and I both looked at each other with wide eyes and took a deep breath. Then… nothing happened. We were elated and at the same time, quite surprised.

Our next step, as Michelle suggested, was to take them for a walk together. Buddy plowed forward like a bull dog, hind feet propelling so fast I thought he might do a summersault. Ginger competitively tried to get ahead but they both ended up strolling together, side-by-side. They tromped through the wet grass at the park and sniffed everything along the way, including each other. It was still wet out from the rain and the mud coated their little paws making patterns on the sidewalk as they marched onward.

When we returned home, Tom took Buddy and I took Ginger, into our arms and carried them to the back door to wipe their feet with the paw towel. Michelle was puzzled by this and said, “Oh, they have to wipe their feet?”, as if this might break the deal.

We don’t have many rules in this house, but one that we make everyone abide by is, “please remove your shoes”. We even provide guest slippers in a bin next to our door, yet they rarely ever get worn. Most people don’t have a problem with this rule, but it is obvious that not all people have this one. Buddy doesn’t like the rule. He likes everything about living here but continues to try and wear his dirty shoes in the house. When I open the door from the backyard to let him in, he sheepishly looks up at me and hesitates when he sees the towel in my hand. I can see his eyes darting to and fro, looking for an alternate route. He usually takes two steps back and requires a little coaxing to come inside (screen door practically shutting closed and thwacking him on the butt).

I take his tiny paws, one at a time and gently brush the towel back and forth to remove the dirt then give a little squeeze to dry the moisture. The second I release his fourth paw, he catapults out of my hands as if he were a wind-up toy, heading toward the treat jar.

Balanced nutrition and healthy foods are a key to building a stronger body. The first time I took Buddy’s little paws in my hands, they were so thin and frail, I feared I would snap them in two. Just this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that his feet felt big and his legs felt sturdy. The little twigs that used to be in their place have grown strong and healthy and a diet rich in nutrients, devoid of chemicals and fillers have played a big part.

Needless to say, he did stay and even Ginger thinks he is kind of swell (although won’t admit it). So with a spring in their step and all shoes removed, Buddy and Ginger join us at the table for our family dinner, halibut tonight.

Crisp halibut over raw beet, apple, cabbage & blue cheese slaw with mint aioli
Serves 2 plus enough for two small pups

As usual, Buddy and Ginger get their fish cooked in foil, sans seasoning and they take their slaw undressed, minus onion. You can use any dense white fish, or even salmon, instead of halibut. I like using golden beets in the Springtime and red beets closer to Fall.

INGREDIENTS (for slaw)

2 cups shredded napa cabbage
2 small or 1 medium golden beet, cleaned & peeled
1/2 red apple, cored, sliced and julienned (squeeze lemon juice over to keep them from turning color)
2 green onions, sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 TB mint aioli (recipe to follow)
1 oz. good quality blue cheese, crumbled (I used Rogue Creamery Reserve)
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

PREPARE (the slaw)

Parboil the peeled beet. Slice the beet very thin (helps to use a mandolin). Set aside six slices for garnish.

Mix together the cabbage, beets and onion in a medium bowl. Squeeze in the lemon juice and sprinkle over a pinch or two of sea salt

Toss in the aioli and mix well. Add the blue cheese, carefully mixing it in.

Season to taste and let rest at room temperature as you cook the fish.

INGREDIENTS (for the mint aioli)

1 TB rice wine vinegar
1 TB lime juice
1/2 tsp Thai hot sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1 TB chopped shallot
1 egg yolk
6 TB peanut oil
1 TB hazelnut oil
1/4 cup packed fresh mint

PREPARE

Process the the vinegar, lime juice, hot sauce, sugar, shallot and yolk in a food processor. Slowly add in the oil until emulsified. Add the fresh mint and process until smooth.

INGREDIENTS (for the fish)

3/4 – 1 lb fresh halibut fillet, skin removed and cut into 2 pieces
Sea salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or all purpose)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten (or spanked ever-so slightly)
1/2 cup panko

COOK (the fish)

I don’t typically measure out the flour or panko, so don’t get too hung up on the quantities listed above.

In addition to lightly seasoning the halibut with salt & pepper, I also lightly season the flour with the addition of smoked paprika.

Rinse and pat dry the fish (friendly-like). If you have a small dog(s), consider trimming the ends of the fish off to cook in foil for them (trust me, they will love you even more if that’s possible).

Dust the fish (no feathers necessary) with the seasoned flour then dip it into the egg letting the excess drip off. Press the fish into the panko on each side.

Heat a pan until hot and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the fish and let cook, undisturbed until it has formed a nice brown crust. Flip it over and cook through a few minutes more, depending on it’s thickness. If you like, you can transfer the pan to a 375 degree oven once it is flipped and continue cooking it in the oven.

TO SERVE

Put three beet slices down on each plate. Put a mound of slaw in the center and top with a fillet of halibut. Serve with a small bowl of aioli alongside. Alternately, you could drizzle some sauce on the plate before you put down the beets. A sprig of mint makes a nice garnish.

20140331-204953.jpgFriends without dirty shoes (on a clean-ish floor); paws washed for dinner.

Since he’s not here…

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To this day, calamari continues to remain on Tom’s, “I really won’t eat that” list (I’m working on him though). It was actually the first (of only a few) things that I have cooked for him that he actually wouldn’t/couldn’t eat. Full disclosure: this particular calamari steak turned out so badly, we both had to throw it away. I later found out that he strongly dislikes squid, so it already had a black mark (heh, heh) against it, however, on our first date, he managed to choke down, without mention or commentary, the other four foods that he strongly disliked (I, of course, happened to make them all in one dinner, lucky Tom). To think, I was quite pleased with myself for cooking him, what at the time, was my most impressive meal. It was what I cooked myself when I wanted to be fancy. It also happened to include four of my favorite things: lamb, eggplant, mushrooms and legumes. Well, they do say opposites attract.

That was over twenty-one years ago and I am much better at cooking calamari now, and cooking in general. I think Tom is (secretly) starting to like squid, but baby steps are in order here. [Tom here, uh, Hell no] I would never subject him to another dinner of calamari doré, so I will happily take my squid to Fiesta Friday this week but I won’t say “more for us”, instead I’ll say “since he’s not here!”

Simple Sautéd Calamari with garlic, olives & tomato

The first time I was able to cook fresh squid (not previously frozen), it was a game changer. Hard to come by, but I highly recommend it if you find some.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 lb squid (calamari) (both tentacles and tubes)
1-2 TB olive oil and a pad of butter
1 small tomato, diced
3 good quality olives of your choice, pitted, sliced or chopped
2-3 TB fresh courtly chopped Italian parsley

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COOK

Rinse and drain the calamari tubes and tentacles; dry with paper towels. Season the calamari with sea salt and pepper. To a hot sauté pan, drizzle in some olive oil. Throw in the chopped garlic followed by the calamari, toss once or twice and quickly throw in a handful of diced tomatoes, good-quality olives cut in pieces and chopped, fresh parsley (if you like, melting a little butter in is nice too). Then squeeze in juice from a lemon wedge and voila – a quick and tasty first course. Serve with a slice of grilled bread.

Come on over to Angie’s place for Fiesta Friday to check out all the other great food and weekend inspiration.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Favorite weekday breakfast recipe…hmmmm. Does anyone actually have time to make a recipe for breakfast during the week? I do need to eat breakfast because without it, I am grumpy, and hungry. I like to reserve eggs for the weekend, unless they are hard boiled, in which case I will eat one with sea salt and pepper. I think a slice of rosemary toast, with butter and raspberry jam is divine, but that’s not really a recipe, now is it?

Mid-week breakfast – my recipe
Serves 1
Disclaimer: Written for office commuters. Can be adapted easily in the stay at home/home office kitchen by simply ignoring the “to go” jargon and just implementing at home. The broiler is a fine substitute for a toaster oven (in fact, the toaster oven is actually the substitute for the broiler in the commuter world).

Flailing about in the morning of a weekday, having barely shaken off dinner from the night before, I find a pack-and-go kind of breakfast to be the best choice. In my case, often, it is the only choice. I don’t always (okay, rarely) make lunch in the evening since I spend my time making dinner, however, I do need to have something for breakfast and if it means spending 5 minutes less putting on eyeshadow or ironing my top, well, priorities and all. 5 minutes is like 5 cents was to buy a gum ball once, and time being precious these days (all days really), I pack it and tackle it at work (multi-tasking, of course).

INGREDIENTS

Alarm clock – set 5 minutes earlier than the 20 minute “snooze” button.
Good black coffee, pre-set to go off without any effort (Tom always comes through).
Pantry and fridge stocked with healthy ingredients (such as fruit, yogurt, juice, cheese and grains).
A magic bullet or good blender.
Dogs that do their business without lolly-gagging.
Small bowls, cups and baggies “to go”.
The ability and inhibition to throw things together quickly (while half-asleep) and finish assembling at the office to eat while reading email.
An office that has a toaster oven, a microwave and white porcelain plates.

INSTRUCTIONS

“Don’t sweat the small stuff”. “Variety is the spice of life”. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Eat well, work smart and remember the important stuff!

A few of my favorites:

THE GOOD
Avocado half with sea salt and citrus

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This might be one of the easiest and most perfect breakfasts for someone like me on a weekday in that, it is self contained, creates it’s own bowl, is healthy, is filling and is an avocado (which might actually be one of the most perfect foods – I heart avocado). My sister-in-law, Irma, taught me this and all I could think was, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?”.

STEP 1

Grab an avocado and a lime on your way out the door.

STEP 2

Go to the office, log onto your computer, then head to the kitchenette. Yes, yes, get some water; must stay hydrated.

STEP 3

Cut the avocado in half, lengthwise. Cover the half with the seed in wrap, to save for the next day (or share with a co-worker). Cut a wedge of lime. To the other half avocado, sprinkle with sea salt (do you keep yours in your drawer?) and squeeze over the lime.

STEP 4

Get to that meeting you are late for, avocado in the palm of your hand. Eat avocado, scooping with a spoon as you converse with meeting attendees. This is of course conducive behavior for some meetings and some – not; use your judgement.

20140325-164144.jpgYou could even add a scoop of cottage cheese if you are feeling fancy (or rather, not so fancy).

THE BAD
English muffin with tomato, basil and cheese

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Not bad in it tastes bad, or even that it is bad for you. This is healthier than a “typical” breakfast sandwich, quick, easy to assemble and cook, but best of all, feels like a civilized breakfast that can be transported to the office with almost no effort. Share one-half with a co-worker; no need to be an oinker.

STEP 1

Pack an English muffin (I use whole wheat), a small tomato, a few leaves fresh basil and a few slices of cheese into a travel bag. For the cheese, I switch between fresh and hard mozzarella, cheddar, Comte, gruyere, lite Jarlsberg, or whatever specialty cheese I might have picked up that week. It is extra convenient (and requires even less time) to use pre-sliced cheese (not Kraft singles) which is what I resort to on the busiest of mornings (pre-sliced cheese, not Kraft that is).

STEP 2

Go to the office, log onto your computer, then head to the kitchenette.

STEP 3

Toast the English muffin lightly in the toaster. While it is toasting, slice the tomato, sprinkle with sea salt (which I keep at the office) and fill up a glass with ice water (to keep hydrated).

STEP 4

Put the toasted muffin halves on a piece of foil and lay a slice of cheese on the top of each muffin half; top with basil leaves then tomato. If you prefer a bubbly top, reverse the tomato with the cheese. Put the muffins into a toaster oven (in a pinch, use the microwave) and set it to “toast” which should take a few minutes during which you can begin reading emails or doing something work-related.

STEP 5

Eat at your desk as you read/answer emails. Be sure to wash your hands and your keyboard/mouse often.

THE UGLY (to make you feel pretty):
Super healthy smoothie “to go”

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Okay, so here is a solid (or not so solid, pun-intended) recipe; I am not on the juicing craze of the rest of the world, but I have to admit that when my husband went out of town a few months ago, I got into the habit of doing this (he would remind me I also ended up in the hospital, but, it had nothing to do with this, honest). I would fill the cup of my Magic Bullet with fruits, spices and yogurt the night before to be ready for a fresh puréeing of it in the morning, right as I walked out the door (glass with lid, in one). The combination below is my favorite; the addition of citrus and ginger, combined with extra cinnamon and cardamon make for a bright, sunny flavor. I don’t actually measure, rather haphazardly throw the various ingredients into the cup (but the quantities listed below, I tested for you). I use Grays Harbor plain yogurt (a local yogurt in Washington) which is not low-fat but has much less fat than a full-fat Greek yogurt would have. The wheatgrass powder adds an extra dose of healthy; helping to extend energy, detoxify and increase our immune system (and who doesn’t want to do that?).

STEP 1

Quickly, very quickly, throw the following ingredients into the cup of a Magic Bullet, Vita-mix, or food processor and purée until smooth:

1/4 banana, peeled
A handful blueberries
A few slices fresh mango
1 TB wheatgrass powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamon
4-5 slivers of peeled fresh ginger (or just grate some in, to taste)
Juice of wedge lemon or lime
1/4 – 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup or so fresh squeezed grapefruit (or apple) juice

You can do this the night before and purée just before heading out the door; still do it quickly or else you have missed the whole point. If you don’t have a Magic Bullet, transfer the smoothie to a glass jar with a lid after puréeing.

STEP 2

Go to the office. Yes, you will still be logging onto your computer, then going to the kitchenette (to get water, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate).

STEP 3

You can join a meeting, head to your desk or whatever your calendar has in store for your morning. A sippy cup is usually acceptable in most of the above. It is also okay to have already finished the smoothie in the car, bus, train, subway (you get the idea). Easy! Healthy! Makes you pretty (yes, even you, pretty-boy).

Share your favorites. I would love to hear how your week goes down and how you feed it in the a.m.

What the duck?

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Rumor has it that it’s now Spring. I awoke chirping and cheerful. I’m not one to spring out of bed singing, but I did have a spring to my step; visions of sunshine and sunsets. Of flowers, Fiesta, Friday and fun. Buddy bounced happily behind me as I zipped room to room getting ready for work. Ginger languished behind, stretching, doing yoga moves and, most likely, contemplating breakfast. Soon she joined in and followed as we went back and forth, knowing we would soon land in the kitchen, where we would all replenish for the start of a happy Spring day. There would be squirrels for them to bark at as they looked through newly cleaned windows, there would be sunbeams to nap in, and plenty of time to snuggle.

I looked through my journals between sips of coffee to see where I had been on this day in years past. Turns out, I had been eating tuna tartare with blood orange, olives and avocado; seared halibut with mint aioli and beets. I munched on frisée salad with grapefruit vinaigrette flavored with Argan oil; and I lightened a soup of cauliflower with Pernod. This all started me thinking about asparagus and morel mushrooms, artichokes and goat cheese. I will soon find Spring onions and baby leeks, pea vines and sweeter beets.

It’s a good day when there is something to look forward to and something new to celebrate. Like standing in the sun or ending a long work week. Like I said, rumor has it that Spring has sprung.

The thing about rumors, is sometimes that’s just what they are. It must have been a rumor because as we rushed off to work, the air was shockingly cold and there was a layer of frosty ice on the car that was persistent and thick. All I could think of, as I scraped off the windows was, “what the duck?”.

Roast Duck Tacos

Tonight I will be bringing duck tacos to “Fiesta Friday” at Angie’s the Novice Gardener’s fabulous, ever-growing online party.

This is not so much a recipe as it is an explanation of a process. I usually make these when I have made roasted duck legs for dinner, one, maybe two nights before. I always be sure to roast off a few extra legs to make tacos, or wontons, or to garnish a soup.

This is a little like street food and can be packaged cutely (or not) for a party. I eat them quickly, as soon as they are assembled; sometimes standing at the counter, waiting for more tortillas to cook before even serving Tom his first one. They are easy, “Easy like Fiesta Friday” (to the tune of “Easy” by Commodores, written by Lionel Richie, no less). No extra frills or fuss, but they get the job done, always leaving me wanting more (Tom and the dogs agree as they may not have had theirs yet).

INGREDIENTS (quantities, for the most part, are left out because it is dependent on how many tacos you are making).

4 Duck hind quarters or legs
(+/-) 1 tsp each: Sea salt, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin
1/4 tsp 5-spice

Fresh flour or corn tortillas
Black beans, freshly cooked (or canned)
Shredded red cabbage
Diced red onion
Lime juice
Pinch of sugar, sea salt, pepper
Fresh basil, julienned
Finely grated pecorino Romano cheese

COOK THE DUCK

In a 300 degree oven, roast the spices until fragrant. Remove and let cool. Grind in a grinder or manually with a mortar and pestle.

Rinse the duck and pat dry. With kitchen scissors, trim off extra flaps of fat (set aside to render fat for other uses). Season with the ground spices, rubbing them evenly into the meat and under the skin.

On a heated grill pan (or skillet), brown the duck, skin side down.

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Transfer to a 300-degree oven and let roast for approximately 1 1/2 hours or until crispy skin and succulent, tender meat.

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One hind quarter will yield 4-6 tacos; shown here is 6 legs (not full hind quarters)

ASSEMBLE

Shred the duck meat and keep warm.

Drizzle the cabbage with lime juice and toss to coat.

I like to use fresh, homemade tortillas or really good quality, store bought. If you are lucky and live near a taqueria that makes their own fresh (and willing to sell some) go there. I have found a local store that actually sells, fresh, uncooked tortillas which are quite good. It is also easy, but time consuming, to make your own.

If uncooked and fresh, cook off the tortillas (each-side) on a hot, non-stick skillet, until slightly-browned and bubbly. Set aside into an enclosure of kitchen towels to keep warm as the rest cook. Otherwise, heat the tortillas wrapped in damp towel in the microwave for 30 seconds or to whatever method you are accustomed.

Top each tortilla with a sprinkling of duck meat followed by beans, onion, then cabbage. Sprinkle with cheese then scatter over basil. Grab a bite and join the others at Angie’s.

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