Fireworks, Firetrucks, Pancakes and the Fourth!

Sleepy towns and big parades. The fourth of July is synonymous with fireworks, firetrucks and pancakes. At least it used to be before the summer of 2020. My brother and his Family used to have a vacation place in the seaside town of Manzanita, OR. In winter, a quiet place where you might not see a soul unless you were having dinner at the local pizza joint.

In the warmer months, it comes alive and is filled with the cries of happy children playing on the beach, racing their bicycles up and down the main drag or simply running amuck the way kids do when they are allowed to be kids.

The sidewalks are filled with people and strollers and dogs. Lots of dogs. The people stroll breezily along, dodging in and out of the many shops or carrying boogie boards and kites as they make their way to the beach.

The beach is at the end of the main street, right near that pizza place, which is also the doughnut shop and the coffee stop (next door). All three reside under the same roof with two or three manning the one cash register and a buzz of activity in the kitchen beyond. I have yet to have a better pizza elsewhere and don’t consider it an official start of the day until I’ve sat outside on the bench, with my dogs, my brother and a bag of breakfast. Sometimes a doughnut and cappuccino, other times the breakfast croissant and fresh orange juice. Either way, after a bike ride on the beach, stopping at Marzano’s makes me feel like it is the beginning of a glorious day!

On the fourth of July, all those people could be found at the firehouse, eating pancakes before the big parade. I have never actually eaten pancakes at the firehouse, but I couldn’t help but remember the many years of riding my bike past the sign that announced that particular big pancake feed. The night before, there were already chairs lined up and down the streets to await the parade that followed. It was tradition. I hope it still is.

Yesterday, I awoke to the sound of people walking by our house, in packs. I sat at my desk watching them carry folding chairs.  Some wore masks and some did not.  The chairs  were set up on the corner, just past our street.

Even our sleepy town has a fourth of July parade and this year, even though it was not the usual gathering, the firetrucks, the medics, the police and even the Mayor, did a drive by through the neighborhood, honking horns and sounding the sirens to the delight of the children, young and old.

I couldn’t help but make a stack of pancakes.

Happy Fourth (on the 5th)!

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Pancakes & the 4th

Pancakes, hot cakes, breakfast cakes. Easy to make and perfect for a lazy Sunday morning or a quick bite before heading off to the Fourth of July Parade.

The batter can be used a day or two later as well. The cooked pancakes can also be frozen to pop in the toaster for that quick, off-to-work kind of affair too. Just add syrup, berries or both.

  • Author: Stacey Bender

Ingredients

Scale

1 1/4 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)
1 TB brown coconut sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt

2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cream on top, plain yogurt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 TB maple syrup
2 TB butter, melted and cooled slightly

Blueberries, optional

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites to fluff and then whisk in the milk, yogurt, vinegar and syrup.

3. Whisk the egg yolks and then whisk in the melted butter.

4. Add the egg white mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just unit it comes together (lumps are okay).

5. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the other mixture.

6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

COOK

On a hot griddle wiped with some coconut oil or other non-burning fat, plop spoonfuls of the batter spaced an inch or two apart. If using berries, drop the berries onto the wet surface of the pancake now. Let cook, undisturbed, until bubbles form on top.

Using a spatula, flip the cakes over. The tops should be golden. If not, add a little butter to the pan and let it seep underneath. Continue cooking a few minutes more.

Serve with butter and a good-quality maple syrup, or topping of your choice. Grilled pork sausages or bacon and fresh peaches are a flavor explosion not to be missed in these lovely months of summer.

 

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut (Granola)

What, are you looking at me? I’m not a unicorn!

In this crazy world, I feel less like I am a nut (there are plenty of those crazy kind of nuts to fill that bill; you’ve been reading the news?!) and more like eating a big handful of them (the edible variety, that is).

One of my favorite things, lately, is to start my morning with a semi-small bowl of really good (high emphasis on that), full-fat, plain, Greek-style yogurt mixed with Vital Proteins collagen powder, tossed about with blueberries and (wait for it…) finally, topped with a healthy scoop of my homemade granola. My granola, by the way, is chocked-full of three kinds of nuts and four kinds of seeds. Healthy stuff here!

I mix up the batch with just enough sweetener (maple syrup and coconut sugar) to counter-balance the tartness of the yogurt, but not enough to make me feel like I am eating something you know, overly sweet. There are coconut chips in there too, which crisp up to the perfect texture and leave you fully satisfied about not having added more sugar! Trust me on this. Just wait and judge me later. If you are on the sweet tooth train, by all means, add more. I don’t think it is needed. My humble opinion, not everyone else’s.

My fat of choice (to create the toasty quality needed for a proper granola), is olive oil. Why, you ask? Because that is usually the most appropriate oil I have in my pantry. Yes, I suppose I could use butter, but I’m thinking that could easily burn and I have been known to forget to check in on the items in the oven (as my husband likes to remind me; don’t ask about last night’s soup prep, but I digress). I sometimes mix in little dabs of coconut oil too, but lately I have been keeping it a little less coconut intense. That might change at any moment, but for now I leave it sitting on the sidelines for cooking something else.

If I were treating my granola like my smoothies, there would be ample bits of ginger to add a fiery heat. Instead, I choose cardamon, cinnamon and vanilla to tweak the flavor bursts instead.

I mixed my last batch nearly 2 months ago, so it was time to make another batch.  This never went stale, by the way. It was good to the very last bit.

Did I mention how easy this is to make? I usually refrain from saying that because that statement is usually met with the rolling of eyes, “oh, please…”!  But this one really is easy!

My current favorite yogurt is Alexandre (CA), followed closely by Ellenos (WA). These are available locally to me, Ellenos is local. Sorry. I bet you also have some great yogurt local to you. Try that one.

I can lick the bowls clean for you Mom

how to store the granola after it is made

Good to go for another month, or two

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Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut Granola

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Total Time: 28 minute

Ingredients

Scale

2 cups quinoa flakes

3 cup oat flakes (or rolled oats)

1/2 cup almond slices

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup chia seeds

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

1/2 cup chopped, raw cashews

1 1/2 cup chipped coconut

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup brown coconut sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cardamom

2 tsp vanilla paste

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt

1/3 cup hemp seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
  2. Mix all together making sure it is all evenly coated
  3. Put on rimmed baking sheet, evenly spread
  4. Bake, stirring occasionally for approximately 30-45 minutes
  5. Let cool before storing in an airtight container(s)

Notes

  1. You can use any variety of nut. I sometimes use pistachios instead of hazelnuts.
  2. You can skip the quinoa flakes and add more oats.
  3. If you like things sweeter, add more sugar or maple syrup.

 

A simple past: lots of garlic, not much fuss (aglio e olio + some…)

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I have worked at my share of Italian restaurants over the years and eaten at even more.

The first (that I worked at) was Umberto’s, which used to be in Pioneer Square next the Kingdome. For those that don’t know, the Kingdome was the home to Seattle Mariners long before we had Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park with it’s Gawd-awful pink sign), but I digress. The Kingdome has been gone so long now (via a staged explosion that will remain a historical event) that many of the (newer) current residents of Seattle, might never have attended a ball game at the “Dome”..

At the time, I lived down the block from Umberto’s, in a loft overlooking Waterfall Park. I loved going to work each day, which was less than a 3 minute walk through (back then) fresh air.  I was usually welcomed into the space with the enchanting (and delightfully fragrant) smell of garlic, still cooking.

Our clever chef welcomed in the lunch crowd by first, heating several pans of olive oil with chopped garlic, then immediately walking about the restaurant, infusing it’s tantalizing smell around each table before opening the doors for service.

It was at Umberto’s that I perfected my cooking of swordfish (after an emergency visit to the kitchen while preparing my first roof top dinner party; our chef helped me make the sauce 30 minutes before my guests arrived; a sauce I still prepare today (except using fresh orange juice rather than from concentrate).

I also learned to make my favorite pasta, radiatori pepperoncini which kept me baffled by how damn good it was, how light it seemed and (later learned) how bad it was for my fat watching, calorie counting, 1990’s  twenty-something-self. I ate it anyway, demi-glacé, heavy cream and all.

Next up was The Poor Italian, a humble, family-owned place where Grandma was the main chef in the kitchen and all recipes were hers. Well she was the owner’s-wife’s-mother and well, he was kind of a jerk. The staff was very close though and we all felt a little bit like family.

We hung out together, ate together and generally looked out for one another. The music for dinner service came from a CD player behind the service bar, where each of us had to keep feeding it, one CD at a time; the good ‘ol days.

The Poor Italian is where I was introduced to Stan Getz, along with an “almost” affection for some opera. I also learned how to properly pound a chicken breast for Italian chicken classics and the most delicious way to make calamari (calamari steak, doré-style).

As it turned out, I didn’t learn “Grandma’s” technique well-enough because even though calamari doré was my favorite thing on the menu, when I cooked it for my future husband, while we were still dating, it went immediately into the trash. This was one of only a few meals that went the same way in 27+ years. Needless to say, I have never made it since. No complaints being heard either.

I moved on to Ristorante Buongusto, a neighborhood joint owned by two Italian brothers who couldn’t have been more different from one another. One was the executive chef, a smart-ass, loud-mouth womanizer, whose wife left him for another woman. The other was the front-of-house guy; sweet, elegant and wildly charming; his wife was none of those things. The food was un-fussy but superb. Buongusto gave me an appreciation for simple food with lots of flavor. I learned of a mixture called battuto which consisted of olive oil, chilis, garlic and herbs which was used for dipping bread. Tom loves this. I also learned to make tiramisu, aglio e olio and fresh puttanesca sauce, plus gained a lot of fond memories of the neighborhood where my husband and I first lived for years before and after we were married.

Then was my time at Italia. I adored working at Italia. Italia was a lovely, quaint, authentic restaurant/retail venue owned by then, Mayor Paul Shell. It was located in a terrifically quaint building clad in brick, ivy and history, just north of Pioneer Square. It was there that I learned how to make tomato sauce that was authentic, pepperoni pizza that was superb and appreciate sweet breads without knowing what they actually were at first. I ate the sweet bread pappardelle every night for a week before realizing I was eating, well, you know. Talk about an education. If you have to look it up, don’t. Just go to a great restaurant and try it.  Poor Tom ate that pepperoni pizza every night I worked, after I finally came home late at night, no wonder he has reflux.

What I will pass onto you, from my experience, is this:

Restaurants will always be a fabric of our society, even in the wake of the current pandemic that is threatening their very subsistence.

The fabric is different now, that much we know. The question isn’t will they go on (?) but how (?) and in what form (?).

I hope the generations that are yet to come will be able to find the same joys that I and many others have found in the existence of restaurants, both working and dining.

I hope they continue to be a “necessary business” because they make all of our lives more educated, civilized, social and enjoyable.

Salute!

As a last word, I will also say this:

All you need to know about making great food is to keep it simple, keep it real and the rules are not always best to be followed.

Are we Italian?

What’s not Italian about my medallion?

I have the wink down! Still working on the paw gestures.

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Spaghetti Aglio e Olio + some…

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is a traditional Naples staple. Garlic is sautéd in olive oil and chili flakes before tossing with fresh cooked pasta. As delicious as this is, it is far too simple for me. Here I have combined the simple preparation of that dish with the added flavors of my beloved radiatori pepperoncini. The combination of techniques results in a highly flavorful and fully satisfying pasta dish that you can tweak to your own liking, by removing or adding ingredients at your whim.

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

Scale

1/2 lb fresh spaghetti

1/4 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp chili flakes

5 pepperoncinis, sliced

1/4 cup fresh, diced tomato

6 oz torn or cubed roast chicken, skin removed

1/2 cup veal demi-glacé

a few tablespoons heavy cream (indeed)

12 oz grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or to your liking)

1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley

Instructions

Cook the pasta and drain (saving a little pasta water if you prefer to use that over demi-glacé or stock.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil to hot, but not burning and add the garlic and chili flakes. Cook a minute or two, being careful not to let it brown.

Add the tomatoes and pepperoncini, then the chicken; cook another minute or two.

Add the demi-glacé (or stock or pasta water) and heavy cream.

Simmer a few minutes to thicken.

Stir in the pasta to coat and heat through.

Toss in 1/2 the parmesan and 1/2 the parsley to coat.

Divide amongst warm pasta bowls and garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley.

Notes

For the pepperoncini, you could substitute fresh chopped chilis, such as jalapeño or you could use a roasted hot pepper, such as from the brand “Jeff’s Garden”.

For the chicken, you could also grill, poach or sauté fresh skinless, boneless chicken breast, or omit it altogether for a vegetarian meal.

I’ve also omitted the pepperoncini and used Nicoise olives instead if you prefer to keep it on the not-so-spicy side.

 

 

Preserved Lemon Pork Meatball Pappardelle (for a civilized dinner at home)

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Finished dish

Restaurants are closed but your kitchen is still open for business; am I right?

There are hungry mouths to feed (even if just your own).

The thought of yet another frozen pizza is quite possibly starting to lose it’s previous appeal?

If you are one that likes to eat something (sort of) fancy but have picky kids, this might be just the thing.

If you are not a great cook but you like to eat well, then give this a try.

If you are on a tight budget or even if you can throw down a big wad of cash, this fits the budget.

If you are a meat and potatoes guy, a lover of pasta and meat, or get excited about anything containing the word meatball, or just want to try something new, well, look no further than this.

This meal is for everyone who still eats meat, hasn’t given up on gluten and knows the joy a simple act of grating parmesan can bring.

This meal is therapeutically easy, relatively quick, quite inexpensive and even forgiving, if you need to improvise by substituting ingredients that you already have hanging out in the pantry or the fridge.

No ground pork? Grind your own in a food processor; any cut of pork will work.

No pork? Try using ground chicken, lamb or beef instead.

No pappardelle pasta? Use fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti.

No pasta? Substitute with rice.

No preserved lemons? Use extra lemon zest and a bit more salt. You could also add in some capers instead.

No chicken stock and/or no vermouth? Use all stock, all vermouth or substitute white wine, or even pasta water instead.

Bread crumbs? Make your own with any kind of bread or use that can of bread crumbs your mother bought last time she was in town (oh wait, that was my Mom). Add chopped olives (or not), it will still be good.

No butter? Do you have milk or cream? I bet you have mayonnaise? You could even use that!

What I’m saying is this. Make something delicious, satisfying and fun. Keep cooking. Start cooking. Eat well. Eat often (but not too often). Feel good and above everything, stay home and stay safe!

Let’s all get though this and come out stronger on the other side!

Step one: Dig in pantry for preserved lemons from Irma

Step 2: Make meatballs

Step 3: Make sauce

Step 4: Add cooked pasta

Step 5: Ring the dinner bell, they’ll be sure to come running from the home office!

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Preserved Lemon Pork Meatball Pappardelle

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Yield: 4 servings (approximately 18-20 meat balls 1x

Ingredients

Scale

MEATBALLS

1 lb Ground Pork

1 cup (homemade) Olive Bread Crumbs (recipe to follow)

Juice of 1 Lemon plus it’s zest

1/4 of a Preserved Lemon, chopped

3 Cloves Garlic, chopped

2 TB Dijon Mustard

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

Fresh, Ground Pepper to taste

1/2 bunch Italian Parsley, chopped

Peanut Oil for cooking the meatballs

PASTA

1 TB Olive Oil

1 Shallot, chopped (approximately 2 TB)

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped

1/4 cup White Vermouth

1/2 cup Chicken Stock

2 TB Lemon Juice

12 TB Butter

1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan Cheese

3/4 lb Pappardelle Pasta

GARNISH (option 1)

2 cups Baby Spinach

1 TB Olive Oil

1 clove Garlic, chopped

1 tsp course Sea Salt

many grinds of fresh Peppercorns

2 wedges of Lemon

GARNISH (option 2)

1 cup Kale

12 TB Olive Oil

1/2 tsp course Sea Salt

many grinds of fresh Peppercorns

1 clove Garlic, chopped

1 TB grated Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Place a handful of flour in the bottom of a baking pan.
  3. In a bowl, combine all ingredients through Italian Parsley.
  4. Using your hands, mix to combine.
  5. Form into small, bite-sized balls and place on the prepared baking pan.
  6. Shake the meatballs to get lightly coated in flour.
  7. Cover the bottom of a fry pan with peanut oil and brown each side of the meatballs, transferring them to a paper towel-lined plate as they finish.
  8. Cook and drain the pasta (I save a little of the pasta water in case it is needed for the sauce).
  9. Remove the paper towel from the meatballs and place pan in oven while you prepare the sauce.
  10. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the shallots and garlic.
  11. When the shallots and garlic are softening, add the lemon juice and stir. Add the vermouth, then the stock.
  12. Simmer a few minutes to reduce the liquid slightly (you might have a little more than 1/2 cup).
  13. Stir in the butter; it should slightly thicken.
  14. Add the cooked pasta, stirring to coat. Add the cheese and toss together using metal tongs. Once the pasta is heated through, season as needed; you might add a little more liquid, or not.
  15. Top with meatballs and your choice of garnish (see garnish instructions below).
  16. I always add an additional grating of Parmesan over top.

GARNISH (option 1)

  1. Just as you are about to add the pasta to your sauce, put the salt and pepper in a dry sauté pan and heat for 1 minute on low.
  2. Turn the heat to medium and add the olive oil and garlic, stir and let cook 30 seconds before adding the spinach.
  3. Toss the spinach to coat using metal tongs and cook just until wilted. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the spinach to the heated pasta before topping with the meatballs.

GARNISH (Option 2)

  1. You can do this before you have started cooking the meatballs if you like.
  2. Wash and dry the kale.
  3. Remove the hard stem and discard.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients except the kale.
  5. Tear the kale into pieces adding them to the bowl as you go.
  6. Using your fingers, gently massage the kale with the mixture to rub all the flavors in and soften the kale.
  7. Let sit until you are ready to garnish.

My (personal) Best Chocolate Chip Cookie: Dip, Eat, Repeat…

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A silver plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk on a cloth napkin
I know these are serious times. We are watching and waiting for life to go back to a more normal kind of scary.

In the meantime, as our global world, and more specifically, this small bit of my world that is located in King County within the Pacific Northwest, where our twelve legs reside (and ten spend time in the kitchen), we turn to something humble and familiar. A batch of cookies. Simple and comforting cookies that bring melted butter and sugar together, take a swing dance with flour, salt and baking powder, stir in vanilla and chocolate to reward us with fresh-from-the-oven comfort and success.

My late Grandpa George (on my Father’s side) taught me to dip cookies properly! In a tall glass of cold, whole milk; holding them just long enough to get moist, but not soggy and never too dry. If he were here today, he would tell us all to keep a positive mind, which can heal even a weak body, eat lots of cookies and be sure you dip them in milk.

He would also be taking in more stray dogs, giving them shelter and food, knowing that their capacity for love was larger than our own and rewards us with healing powers too.

I have been craving chocolate chip cookies for months now. Well before toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks became the most coveted commodities.

We could be talking about doom and gloom, but let’s talk about the humble and almighty, classic chocolate chip cookie instead!

There are so many recipes out there. How is that possible? So instead of just winging it again, a long while back, I went to Pinch of Yum for a little inspiration and instruction (rather than making my “healthy” low butter, whole wheat, cardboard cookies yet again). I found this post and have been referring to it since (and that makes my husband happy…).

I love a soft cookie but actually prefer it to have a crisp edge.  I don’t want it to be burnt (like my Dad) and certainly not doughy. It should be light and fluffy; soft and gooey. This recipe hits all the marks! I think Lindsay’s secret is in the melted butter, which seems weird at first, but works.

I always cut back on sugar, because most desserts just seem too sweet; that’s what I did here. In fact, the sugar in this recipe is replaced by Monkfruit sweetener.

No skimping on the chocolate though. Now’s a good time to use that good dark chocolate bar that you have been saving. Break into the milk chocolate that is stashed away for your secret craving, or just buy a good bit of chocolate specifically to make these! Yes, do that (but only if you have to go the grocery store anyways)!

For the chocolate, we splurged on Lilian’s Chocolate Chips which have Stevia rather than sugar (because we can all stand to cut down on sugar).

The butter I use is 100% Irish (and not because of a nod to St Paddy’s Day, but if that helps, then go with it).  You can use any butter you like, preferably without salt. No fake butter allowed though! Seriously. I can’t believe I actually have to say that.

The flour. Let’s talk about flour.

I have been sabotaging my own baking for years. I tried making them healthy with whole wheat, or buckwheat, or whatever flour, other than white flour, that a nutritionist might conjure up. Today, we are using white flour, but, for the record, not just any white flour; we are using bread flour.  

DO NOT Overcook! Unless you like them crisp (or burnt, of course). Enough said. Or is it? Let me know?

A silver plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk on a cloth napkin

Dip, Eat, Repeat!

Zoe: Ahhhhh, Spring is near.
Winston: I smell something cooking, or is that you roasting Zoe?

Zoe: La-zzz-y weekends…
Winston: The only thing that’s going to get me off this couch is food. I hope mom used carob in those cookies so I can have one.

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Light & Fluffy Chocolate Chip Cookies

A silver plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk on a cloth napkin

Adapted from Pinch of Yum’s, “Best Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies”, these are a cut above the rest of the recipes out there (in my humble opinion, of course). The melting of the butter first may be the trick to their texture.

These take minimal time to make and will satisfy the cookie monster in all of us.

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 9-10 minutes
  • Total Time: 51 minute
  • Yield: 24 cookies 1x
  • Category: dessert snack
  • Method: baked

Ingredients

Scale

2 sticks of butter (16 TB), melted and cooled (I use Irish butter) Note: I tried my last batch with 12 TB butter and 2 TB olive oil.

1/2 cup raw Turbino sugar

1/2 cup brown coconut sugar (I tried my last batch with 1/3 cup)

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

2 large eggs

3 cups bread flour (I used King Arthur’s)

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 cup chocolate chunks (cut from a mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars)

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350-degrees F
  2. Using a stand or hand mixer, on high speed, cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla bean paste.
  3. Add the eggs and blend, on medium speed, just until incorporated (approximately 15 seconds).
  4. Add the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Mix, gradually increasing speed until the mixture comes together and forms a crumbly, wet mound of dough.
  5. Add in the chocolate and mix on high until just incorporated.
  6. Form into 24 clumps and shape into cattywampus balls as you put them on 2 baking sheets.
  7. Bake for 9 minutes then check for doneness. They should be just beginning to turn golden and will have puffed a bit with the chocolate chunks melted. If they still seem wet and not cooked, cook another minute or two but beware of over-cooking!
  8. Let them sit on the baking sheet until they are completely room temperature (unless, of course, you are eating them warm; in that case, by all means, dig in after they are cool enough to touch).

Notes

This recipe easily doubles.

If you like, you can add more chocolate chips, chunks or pieces.

If you like nuts in your cookies, mix them in when you mix in the chocolate.

Keywords: Soft chocolate chip cookies

 

 

 

 

Mexican Made Easy! Mole Pork Tacos (rapidemente)


a gluten-free pork mole taco with lettuce and radish on a black cutting board

Ahhhh, he just might be right after all.  No, not Winston, and certainly not Tom, but that pesky Groundhog.  Let’s just say, Phil let us down in our neck of the woods last year. But, signs of young green leaves (and even color) are popping up, and it was a gloriously sunny (but damn cold) day. So lets say Phil had a reprieve. I think he knew it was a special day for another furry friend.

So let’s bring on the warmth from the South and wipe down that kitchen window to let more light in!

This particular cut of pork, the loin cut, packs a punch of flavor and pulls apart in juicy moistness thanks to pressure cooking and Oaxacan Mole Sauce by Bunches of Bunches Provisions.

What’s this all about?

Well, I’m glad you asked!

Having had purchased two duck hindquarters during one of my binge grocery shopping trips, duck mole was on my mind! Wait, wasn’t she just talking about pork?!

Oh baby, these are the dinners (my) dreams are made of.

Imagine my disappointment when I found the duck showing signs that the grocery trip had been a few days longer ago than I thought…

Disappointed as I was that I had already worked up my dinner plans, only to make that unfortunate discovery, I swiftly (albeit begrudgingly) switched my focus to finding “plan B” (AKA, freezer diving for replacement meat). I wasn’t willing to exit the train to Mole Town so soon!

I scanned the freezer until I spied something promising and pulled out two, 2-inch thick cut fillets of pork loin and immediately went to work.

Thaw meat.

Put in Zip-lock bag.

Add stuff (in this case: Cara Cara orange skin (can also use blood orange or other sweet orange) and segments, plus 3 TB previously mentioned mole sauce).  

Let marinate (I didn’t have a lot of time to spare though, so rather than an overnight stay in the fridge, this concoction only took a one-hour soak).

Pat meat dry then brown the meat.

Add liquid (fresh-squeezed orange juice).

Pressure cook!

Add to taco shells with other good stuff.

Rapidemente!

Winston: “Hey, why did Mom throw out the duck?”
Zoe: “I don’t know; we like duck!”
Winston: “She knows you turned 11 today, right?”
Zoe: “Well, I’m not wearing my rain hat…” (editors note: FINALLY a sunny day in the PNW) Winston” “Happy birthday little sis. It looks like she made a special treat for us too!”

A big toast to my little Speedy Gonzales! Zoe turned a young 11 today and still only looks and acts like she is 3 1/2 years old!

Can we please throw a party?

Never one to miss a party! -GB

“Ginger (Princess) Bender: portrait by Bill Casto” (AKA, Grandpap)

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Mole Pork Tacos with smashed avocado, radish & lettuce

These can be made very quickly for an effortless week night dinner, but would easily be welcome for lunch, brunch or as part of a taco bar to serve to a crowd.

The pork is lean but flavorful and could also be used in quesadillas or stuffed poblanos just as well.

I am not one to use jarred sauces but Bunches of Bunches Provisions was a happy discovery! Now I can enjoy a more authentic Mexican meal without the traditional time intensive process.

  • Author: Stacey Bender

Ingredients

Scale

2 Cara Cara Oranges, torn into segments (with skin on)

3 TB (for marinade) + 1-2 TB (for cooked pork) Oaxacan Mole Sauce by Bunches of Bunches Provisions

1lb pork loin cut into 2 thick pieces

1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

Olive oil for browning

Hard taco shells (see note)

Crisp lettuce, cleaned, dried and sliced (approximately 1-2 leaves per taco)

Thinly-sliced radishes (approximately 1 radish per taco)

Avocado (approximately 1/8 large per taco)

1 tsp Fresh salsa per 1/4 avocado

Lime juice for seasoning

Sea salt and pepper for seasoning

Torn cilantro, cleaned and dried

Instructions

  1.  Squeeze the orange segments into a Ziplock bag and add 3 TB mole sauce. Add the pork, turning to coat. Squeeze out air, seal and put in refrigerator until ready to cook. You can let it sit overnight or if short on time, try to let it sit for at least 1 hour.
  2. Remove pork from bag (reserve marinade) and pat dry.
  3. In the bowl of an electric pressure cooker (or Instant Pot or sautè pan, brown pork in olive oil. If using an electric pressure cooker or Instant Pot, turn to high pressure and set time for 20 minutes. Pour over the 1/2 cup fresh orange juice and reserved marinade. Close the lid and press start.
  4. When the pressure naturally releases, open the lid, remove the orange segments and shred the pork with two forks; add a TB or more of the mole to taste.
  5. In a medium-small bowl, combine the avocado, sea salt, pepper, lime juice and salsa. Smash with a fork until combined but chunky. Stir in some chopped cilantro.
  6. Heat the taco shells in a 350-degree oven for 5-8 minutes.
  7. Put the pork down in the bottom of the shells first.
  8. Top with the lettuce, radish, then avocado smash.

Serve immediately!

Notes

I love San Juan Island brand salsa or Salsa Rosa brand, medium hot.

I like to add some additional torn, fresh cilantro on top.

I also like to drizzle some fresh crema over top. Simply mix plain yogurt or sour cream with fresh lime juice and/or a bit of water and stir well to get a good drizzling consistency.

Cabbage is also a fine substitute for lettuce.

 

Anatomy of a Smoothie

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peach smoothie in vitamin cup before being blended

There are several reasons I like to make smoothies for breakfast:

  1. They are tasty.
  2. They go together quickly.
  3. They can be healthy (notice how I didn’t say they are healthy? Excess sugar and fat, I’m talking to you).
  4. They are portable!

There are a few things I do the same with my smoothies almost each and every time.

  1. Ice first.
    1. if I have a frozen fruit, I cut the amount of ice, subbing it for the frozen fruit, of course.
  2. Next comes fruit. This is my only source of sugar. No kidding!
    1. Part of that fruit is half of a banana, minus the peel.  his adds a little creaminess and body
  3. I add fresh ginger; because I like it a little spicy.
  4. I add lemon or lime, including the peel. It intensifies the citrus flavor and I hear the peel is good for the liver so, win, win!
  5. I add collagen powder (specifically Vital Proteins, unflavored). I find it frustrating that a lot of that expensive powder gets stuck in the bottom of the Vitamix cup when I am using the single serving glass to mix, so now I dilute it in a bit of water first.
  6. I add almond milk.
    1. If out of almond milk, I add regular milk.
    2. If out of milk, I add a dollop of yogurt and water.
    3. If out of yogurt, I just add water.

And those are the usual suspects.

peach smoothie blended in a drinking glass with straw

The unknowns are:

  1. What kind of fruit?
  2. Vegetables or no vegetables?
  3. A little extra something? Cinnamon, nuts, cocao…?

I like to add something green, but typically only if I am not using berries. Kiwis are perfect with pineapple, and regular apple if you want to go green.

I wonder if there is a pea under here or if it’s in the smoothie?

Sleeping alfresco always makes me dream of meat for breakfast, not smoothies. Although my food is a bit on the smooth side.

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A Smooth Smoothie

This smoothie has the sweet taste of summer with a peach from our neighbor’s tree (uh, shhh…) and gets its’ body from home-made almond milk rather than the typical banana. If you don’t have home-made almond milk, try adding 4 or five almonds in as well.

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: none
  • Total Time: 46 minute
  • Yield: single serving
  • Category: Breakfast
  • Cuisine: Healthy

Ingredients

Scale

34 1-inch Watermelon “cubes”

23 Ice cubes

1 Peach (peeled, seed and skin removed)

1/2 Red Apple (such as Gala, Braeburn, Honey Crisp…); core removed, peel left on

(1) 1/2-inch sliver Key Lime (or 1/4 sliver regular lime), skin on

(1) 1/2 to 1-inch knob of Ginger Root (depending on how much you like ginger), skin removed

1-inch top cut from a Wheat Grass plant, cleaned and patted dry

1 scoop Collagen Powder (diluted in a few tablespoons water)

4 TB homemade Almond Milk (thick)

Instructions

In the order listed above, add the ingredients to a Vitamix and blend in “smoothie” mode.

Pretty simple, right?

Notes

To make home-made almond milk, soak 1 cup of almonds overnight in a bowl of water.  drain and rinse.  Add to a Vitamix with 2 cups water and blend.  It will be thickish which you can dilute with water as you use it. For this smoothie, I like to leave it thick and get the extra liquid it needs from the diluted collagen powder.

Leftover-ish: A Frittata

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I’m not the biggest fan of leftovers.

That’s no surprise, seeing that I change my mind about what to eat on any given day, even after going to the store to get the ingredients.

I guess I can’t make that statement wholesale since I have been known to eat cold pizza without even bothering to close the refrigerator door, or scoop a few spoons of black beans from their container for a quick snack, or polish off the little corner of hamburger I saved myself from eating the night before (Tom always tucks it into a wrap of plastic for me, just in case).

Yet still, I can’t get behind true leftovers. The kind that you reheat and eat for lunch the next day, or worse, for dinner that week, dumped hastily onto a plate and barely resembling the lovely meal it used to be in its’ prime and throwing it into the microwave.

Maybe it’s because I know how good it looked when it came right out of the oven and now, sitting there in the fridge, it just looks cold and pale? Maybe even a little sad. Or maybe it’s because the tantalizing smell that came from the nights before are now silenced sitting in the cool air, picking up the neighboring smells?

Well, I guess that can’t be entirely true since I have already admitted to the pizza thing…

Perhaps I just like to eat something new?

I mean, I do like it if it is leftoverish…

Lefoverish:

/ˈleftˌōvər ish/

noun

  1.  Leftovers made into something new; Remaining surplus redefined

The steak and broccoli from dinner were made into a leftoverish frittata.

adjective

  1. Made from partially used ingredients

This delicious steak and broccoli fritatta is leftoverish.

Even though this frittata is leftoverish, its’ leftovers can be disguised as new. Just heat and serve neatly on a plate with freshly-dressed greens. Frittata is a leftover even I can get behind. In fact, going against my usual judgement, we might need to have it as a true leftover today. Well, leftoverish, I’ll need to make another fresh salad!

Steak & Roasted Broccoli Frittata

You begin by whisking eggs, yogurt, blue cheese and pepper in a medium bowl (break in some chunks of cheddar cheese slices or grate some into the mix as well).

Then, you chop the broccoli, potato and steak up a bit into smallish chunks.

Your prep area will look something like this.

Next, warm the olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan and add the potatoes, then broccoli and steak. Stir and let it warm up a bit.

Notice my super-cool, non-stick Green Pan from Food 52.

Next comes the egg mixture poured over top. We are looking to let it set up a little before transferring to the oven. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides a bit, keeping the egg mixture intact.

When the frittata has cooked halfway (around 5 minutes in), crumble the rest of the cheese over top and finish cooking.

When the frittata is fully set and cooked through, which should take about 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven, let it rest for 5 minutes, covered. You could also transfer it to a warming drawer until you have gathered up the guests and set a proper table.

Cut it into wedges, and if you feel fancy, serve it alongside a pile of Spring greens dressed lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. Pea vines are a nice addition if you are doing this in the Springtime.

Voila! Leftoverish steak and broccoli frittata.

Frit-ta-ta…ta…ta..ta
I’m dreaming of frittata..ta…ta…ta in my Spring sunbeam…

Wake up Zoe, it’s time to eat!

Don’t worry Ginger, we will save you a bite.

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Bacon, Leek, Corn + Gorganzola Fritatta

This is based on my leftorverish steak and broccoli fritatta but using bacon, chicken, leeks and gorganzola instead

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 10 miniutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 51 minute
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Brunch

Ingredients

Scale

8 eggs

3 TB full-fat yogurt

2 oz gorganzola piccante (separated into 1/2 oz and 1 oz mounds)

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

34 oz sliced leeks (2 leeks, pale green and white part only)

1 corn cob

2 thick cut slices bacon (approximately 2 1/23 oz) cut into horizontal slices

1 TB butter

Instructions

  1. Whisk the eggs, yogurt, 1/2 oz gorganzola cheese and pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Remove the corn from the cobb
  3. Add the bacon to a non-stick pan and turn to medium heat.  Cook for a minute or two until just starting to brown.
  4. Add the butter, leeks and corn, cooking for approximately 3 minutes, until the leeks and corn begin to soften and become fragrant.
  5. Add the egg mixture and let cook a minute or two to set. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides a bit, keeping the egg mixture intact.
  6. Crumble the remaining gorganzola cheese over top, making sure to evenly cover the circumfrence.  You can do this as you are letting the bottom set but work quickly so as not to burn the bottom.  You could alternatively do this step when the bottom is set and you have removed the pan from the heat to help you work.
  7. Transfer to the oven and cook 10-15 minutes, until set and cooked through.
  8. Scrape the outside edge with a rubber spatula to loosen from pan and let sit (covered or in a warming drawer) for 5 minutes. This is a good time to prepare more drinks, setting up plates and start corralling people to the table.
  9. Cut into quarters and top with fresh herbs.

The Italian – a breakfast bagel

Steeped in a rich history of culture, politics and ethnicity, a bagel is so much more than a hand-sized, par-boiled biscuit with a hole.  Originating in Poland, the round, hand-formed bread, if given a right to vote, would lean to the left and would certainly never have voted for you-know-who.

Bagels may no longer resemble the harder, more chewy version they started out as, but as they made their way to North America, they overtook the almighty doughnut in popularity (Tom has no idea why, as much as he loves bagels, he’d always have a doughnut given the option).

Although bagels share similarities to doughnuts, they are more serious in nature and certainly more versatile than their airy, sugary counterpart.

So rather than letting them take on the pizza (and losing that battle as Tom points out), this morning I opened my freezer, took out a bagel and decided to let it go Italian.

Toast a bagel, smear with spicy, pickled peppers, top with your favorite salami, scrambled egg and a final layer of cheese.  Heat and eat or serve!

 

Do you think one of those is for us?

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The Italian – a breakfast bagel

Saturday, Sunday, everyday brunch!  Let me introduce you to the Italian breakfast bagel.

Easy and quick enough to make before running out the door in the morning (especially if you cook the eggs the night before), this open-faced, hot, cheesy delicacy holds its’ own as a casual brunch whether you are binge watching movies or sipping a Bloody Mary with friends.

Toast a bagel, smear with spicy, pickled peppers, top with your favorite salami, scrambled egg and a final layer of cheese.  Heat and eat or serve!

Buon Gusto!

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 4 minutes
  • Total Time: 14 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Category: breakfast/brunch
  • Cuisine: Italian, Jewish

Ingredients

Scale

1 Parmesan bagel (you could use plain or onion bagels alternately)

3 eggs

2 TB milk

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1 TB sliced Mama Lil’s peppers (out of the jar, some of their oil will be there too)

4 thin slices Gusto brand Napoli salami (or salami of your choice)

2  slices Provolone cheese

Rosemary or oregano sprigs for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. If frozen, thaw the bagel and cut it in half.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Whisk the eggs with the milk and slowly scramble in a little butter until light and fluffy.
  4. Finely chop the peppers in their oil.
  5. Toast the bagel and spread each cut side with 1/2 the chopped peppers.
  6. Top each half with the salami followed by half the eggs and then top with cheese.
  7. Put on a baking tin and cook for 4 minutes or until the cheese is melted and heated through.

Notes

I used three eggs but you could easily get away with two.  I scramble them without salt or pepper so I can set a little aside for the pups.  If you use really good eggs, you won’t even notice the absence but do add a little if you like.  I put the pepper on while I am assembling (Tom is a stickler for pepper on his eggs, but errs on the side of not adding salt).

You could switch up the peppers for sun-dried tomatoes or plain, roasted red bell peppers if you don’t need the spice (guess who wants spicy).

Many cheeses work here instead, especially the melting variety.  I actually used the extra-thin, pre-sliced white cheddar I can buy at Whole Foods, but provolone seems more Italian.  If you use extra thin slices, you can double them up.  The benefit to pre-sliced versus other is simply a matter of saving time.  Fresh mozzarella would also be delicious, in which case basil is a must.

The salami I used was approximately the same size as the bagel.

I put a sprig of rosemary on top while they were in the oven.  The sprig was then removed before eating but the heat imparted a soft flavor of herb without overpowering.  You could also sprinkle some chopped, dried oregano or fresh chopped rosemary over the peppers before adding the salami.

I tried one bagel with the salami on bottom and one bagel with a slice of salami on bottom, and a slice of salami under the cheese.  I prefer the former for the texture, but the latter showcases more of the meat.  You decide which you prefer.

Keywords: Brunch, Breakfast, Italian Bagel, Pizza Bagel

 

 

 

 

The food is always tastier on the other side of the water bowl…

This weekend I was going through my old draft posts and came upon this one written a couple years back that never made it’s way out into the universe.  I’m guessing we had our hands full during that time period.  Now finally at time of publish (today), many of you know that Buddy is no longer with us.  This post gave us some happy memories of his larger-than-life personality that was particularly animated around the dinner bowl.

Always waited patiently (and fashionable) for supper.

The food is always tastier on the other side of the water bowl…

Why is it we always seem to want what we can’t (or maybe shouldn’t) have?

With dogs, seemingly, there is no exception!

For this, I may be to blame (with my dogs, that is).

Thinking through this, it is likely I am to blame!

Perhaps leading by example, I am?  For instance, recently, I brought to work a perfectly delicious lunch.  Not a super-fine-dine lunch, but a lunch that was rivaling those in the lunchroom.

Yet, I ate a bad lunch instead.

Often I have a very good lunch awaiting me in the communal fridge at work, yet if another lunch presents itself, free or otherwise, I am more apt to go that direction instead.

So why is it that given the chance or opportunity to eat something other than the lunch I so carefully prepared (which took actual time, I might add), I will happily take it and make it my lunch instead?

I’m referring to brought in lunches, for seminars, or going out for lunches, not stealing lunches from the communal work fridge, just to be clear.

In addition to my inclination to opt for somebody else’s lunch, I live in a state (and city) where you can throw a peanut in any direction and hit the front of an amazing place to eat.  Yet, when it comes to going out to dinner, we never go?

Tom and I always look forward to the places in other states, other cities, that we can’t frequent (without a plane, train or long haul in an automobile).  So why would we not just simply frequent these great eateries in our own city?  At least more often that is…

If that weren’t enough, air travel is no exception.  I pack a pretty mean picnic to take up in the air.  I make much effort for good eats and take many precautions, so as not to lose things at security (which has happened on previous occasions, such as goat cheese in Maui, dammit), ensuring that a lovely meal, eaten on porcelain plates, with metal utensils, laid out on linen placemats, will be enjoyed alongside wine, sipped from glass vessels, to wash it all down, properly.  Yet, I always stop at one of two favorite pre-boarding retailers to grab some nosh, just-in-case (!!!) it is needed.  Of course it is not!  However, I eat it instead.  Every. Single. Time!

And to make matters worse, I also end up purchasing the plastic box containing fruit, cheese and crackers that are usually less enticing than those that are currently stashed neatly in my bag stowed under the seat right in front of me. Or, if a free meal is offered (say, we were able to upgrade to first class) I would eat that meal instead.

No way is that meal better tasting or better for me than the one I have so meticulously packed.  And yet…

…the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the saying goes.

Buddy and Ginger had taken up a new eating routine.  Even though they eat exactly the same, high-quality, well-prepared food (made with duck or rabbit, fresh vegetables, sweet potato and turmeric), they continually are always switching sides of food service areas.  Ginger peers at me as Buddy is hand fed his food and then swoops in to eat whatever he has left behind.  Buddy reciprocates by finishing her meal; the both of them sure that the other is eating something better.

I can still feed myself.

Buddy making his move…

So, as Erma Bombeck once, (not) so eloquently said, the grass is always greener on the other side of the septic tank.  Ginger and Buddy have decided that their life is actually greener on the other side of the water bowl, and we will continue to let them think this is true, as long as they continue eating (we know they are eating the best meals they can!).

Ginger: “Your dinner was better than mine Buddy”.   Buddy: “It tasted the same to me.”

Ginger: “I wonder what they’re having?” Buddy: “I think they call it old and fashionable.”   Ginger: “Kind of like us!”

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Easy (psuedo) Butter Chicken

Buddy was the biggest fan of rotisserie chicken; I bought the organic, plain rotisserie chicken, once a week during the last 6 months of his life.  He never turned it down.  Not once.  In fact, sometimes I think it was the chicken that kept him going.  Something to look forward to.  We ate so much rotisserie chicken during that time that I wasn’t sure Tom would let me ever buy one again.

This Butter Chicken recipe is something that came from the need to make rotisserie chicken into our dinner…again.

It is so easy to make that it almost makes itself and can be served over rice or tucked into warmed rounds of fresh naan.

The chicken becomes quite fragrant with a wonderful texture. The whole house will smell like you are making a big pot of chicken soup but the flavor will hint more of Indian fare.  Dial up or down the spices depending on your affinity for tumeric and such.

If you plan to share any chicken with your dogs, be sure to buy a plain (unsalted and unadorned) chicken which I have only been able to find at Whole Foods.  Save some meat off to the side for them to eat since they won’t be able to eat butter chicken with leeks.

  • Author: Stacey Bender
  • Prep Time: 10 miniutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 26 minute
  • Cuisine: Indian

Ingredients

Scale

1/2 lb meat from a rotisserie chicken (skin discarded, *bones reserved for broth)

2 TB butter

2 cups sliced leeks (light green part only)

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp finely-chopped jalapeño (minus seeds, adjust to your desired heat level)

2 tsp finely-chopped ginger

1/4 tsp ground pepper

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground tumeric

1 tsp ground cardamon

1 TB tomato paste

2 cups chicken broth*

1/2 cup plain yogurt

Juice of 1/2 a lemon (more to taste as desired)

Instructions

  1. Shred the chicken fairly fine.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium Dutch Oven.
  3. Add the leeks, garlic, jalapeño and ginger.  Sauté over medium low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Ladle a ladle full (if using fresh) or pour a little of the broth over and let cook to soften the leeks, approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Add all of the spices, tomato paste and stir.
  6. Add the chicken and yogurt along with the rest of the broth and bring to a simmer.
  7. Cover, lid slightly askew, and let simmer for approximately 30 minutes.
  8. Add lemon juice and season with salt as needed.
  9. Serve hot, over rice, in Naan or however your creative mind might dream up.

Notes

If you plan to share any chicken with your dogs, be sure to buy a plain (unsalted and unadorned) chicken which I have only been able to find at Whole Foods, otherwise it will be too rich.  Save any chicken for them off to the side as dogs should not eat Butter Chicken and should never eat onions or leeks.

As pictured, I served over rice, roasted eggplant and garbanzo beans, topped with sliced tomato, green onions and mint.

You can freeze the meat in Ziplock bags for an easy meal later.