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Phil’s Phavorites

I turned 30 this year – that’s right, the Dirty Thirty is upon us.  I’ve never been too concerned with age, with birthdays, so this wasn’t a tough one for me.  It helped that my husband whisked me away to Catalina to celebrate – ahh…

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I have such fond memories of summer days spent in Catalina with my grandparents, who would take us away for the week in their boat.  We’d gorge ourselves on salt water taffy, dive off the boat with Grandpa, and explore the island by golf cart.  Total paradise.  I was a little concerned that going back as an adult would ruin all of my idyllic images of this place, but luckily it has held up over time.  We spent three days there, kayaking and camping down the coast (hence the dry bag stuffed full of clothes and the lack of pictures since I had to leave my camera at home).  It was heavenly – crystal clear waters, seals leaping in front of our kayaks, spending the night on our own private beach – our very own Blue Lagoon.

Of course, I packed provisions, and Phil’s Phavorite cookies were at the top of the list.  I started tinkering with this recipe years ago, and knew I had a winner when I gave some to Phil to try.  A good friend (now in Boston with his fabulous girlfriend), Phil is one of those rare critics who will tell you the truth about your dishes, and he raved about these.  I’ve made some changes to them since he’s last tried them, so we’ll have to have a re-taste to see how I’ve done.

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They may not have photographed well, but believe  me – they taste way better than they look.

Chris and I paddled up to our island paradise and started to set up camp.  We were rushing through so we could fill our empty bellies with these cookies.  Unfortunately for us, the seagulls had the same idea.  We turned our backs for just a few minutes, and the cookies and the plastic bags they came in were strewn all over the beach.  It’s no wonder I hate birds.

We’d had a little early taste test the night before, so I’m confident in saying that this was the best-yet incarnation of Phil’s Phavorites.  Something about those yogurt-covered pretzel pieces.

Got your attention now, right?  Would you believe they’re (relatively) healthy?

Phil’s Phavorite Cookies

2 medium sized bananas
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped raw almonds (or any other nut or seed you happen to have on hand)
1/4 cup chopped yogurt covered pretzels (the salt is delicious on these, so even plain pretzels would be great – this is a good recipe to get rid of those pantry odds-and-ends)

Mix bananas, molasses, honey, corn starch, applesauce, water, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients, leaving the add-ins until the end.  Form dough into balls and bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookie holds together.  I make about 30 cookies with this recipe, but you can play with the sizes to make as many as you want.  Or you can make one big cookie.  And send it to me.

Puttering

I have to resist the urge to be always puttering in the garden.  There’s so much space left to dig up and plant, so many suckers to pinch and worms to squish!  The pictures in the post below are of our first two veggie beds in the new house.  They’re both packed full – brussels sprouts, peppers, tomatoes, squash and melons in the first bed, and tomatillos, beans, cucumbers and potatoes in the second.  Everything’s growing bigger and faster now that we’re farther from the beach, but we’re also getting new pests – I just about died when a huge grasshopper jumped out at me from the brussels (this is its baby brother I caught a pic of later on).  I’m working on training Norman to hunt them down for me.

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Yikes.  Never thought I’d miss hornworms, but here we are.  Something about the hopping really freaks me out.  Sadly, Norm doesn’t seem to care at all, so it looks like I’ll be resorting to shrieking and running away when I see them.

Much of the garden is still in its incubation stages, but the brussels sprouts are finally at their harvest size.  I just love the way these look on the stalk, so it was tough to pop them off one by one.  Knowing how delicious they’d be, I made it happen.

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We had a delicious summer meal of veggies and grilled chicken, topped off by these beauties, roasted until they were perfectly caramelized and sweet.  From the looks of it, we’ve got enough for about 10 more meals like this – should be a delicious summer!

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Things Are Happening

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Words.  Coming soon to a blog near you.

Easter

We had our first family Easter this year at the new house. It’s not destined to become a tradition right away, because I still love going to my mom’s house for Easter. We play croquet, have good wine and company, and feast until we go into food comas.
I had to replicate some of what I loved about my family Easters, so I started by hiding plastic eggs with scratcher lottery tickets inside all around the yard, just like our friend Joe used to do.  And it just wouldn’t be Easter without bunny bread!

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On the fine china, no less!

The rest of the day was mostly new stuff I’d never made before – sparkling white wine sangria, honey baked ham, delish chocolate cake with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and a lovely vegetarian frittata, adapted from Gourmet.  Well, they call it a frittata, but the ones I know are always started on the stovetop, so I don’t know if this counts.  Maybe it’s an egg casserole.  No, that doesn’t sound as nice.  Frittata it is!

Baked Asparagus and Yellow Pepper Frittata

2 lbs asparagus
2 yellow bell peppers
3 shallots
1 clove garlic
2 medium summer squash
3 green onions
1 Tbsp butter
14 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (or cream if you dare)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Trim asparagus and diagonally cut into 1/4-inch-wide slices.  Cut bell peppers into 1/4-inch-wide strips and mince shallots and garlic.  Halve squash lengthwise and diagonally cut both zucchini and green onions into thin slices.

Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water blanch asparagus 1 minute and drain in a colander. Immediately transfer asparagus to ice water to stop cooking. Drain asparagus well in colander and pat dry.

In a large skillet cook bell peppers, shallots and garlic in butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until peppers are softened, about 7 minutes. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir in asparagus, bell pepper mixture, zucchini, and green onions.  Pour mixture into baking dish and bake at 350° until golden and set, about 40 minutes. Cool frittata on a rack if you want to have it at room temperature, or just start serving!

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It made for a really pretty presentation, and was really tasty to boot.  I think it was a hit.  Tough to fit so many people into our tiny dining space, but we somehow made it work and had a great time.  Cheers!

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You Can Stuff It

I am always proud of myself when I’m able to come up with a recipe on my own, using whatever I have in the fridge.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or pretty looking, but this one turned out to be both.

chicken

First, I boiled some noodles and made a “kitchen sink pasta sauce” with all of the veggies I had in the fridge – this one can be adjusted to accommodate all your remnants:

olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 leek, white and light green parts diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
splash of red or white wine
1/2 fennel bulb, diced (fronds saved for garnish)
1 small turnip, diced
beet stems, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 (15oz) cans diced tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
s&p to taste

Saute the onion, leek and garlic in olive oil until softened.  Add a swig of wine from your glass, then add the vegetables in order of firmness (if you’re using any greens they should be added last).  Cook until the vegetables are slightly softened, then add the tomatoes and paste.  Cover and cook until everything is soft.  Depending on your preference, you can blend some of the sauce or just leave it all chunky – I use an immersion blender to make it a little more creamy.  This is a great sauce to make when you need to use up all your fresh produce – it also freezes really well.

Next up, stuffed chicken breasts!  Usually these are done by putting stuffing between the skin and meat, but all I had were skinless, so improvised.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts a la Carrie

olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch spinach, washed and stems removed (should’ve thrown them in the sauce!), cut into bite sized pieces

~1 cup ricotta cheese
handful shredded mozzerella cheese
1 egg

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of any fat and seasoned with salt and pepper

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Preheat the oven to 425°.  Saute the garlic in olive oil until golden, then add the spinach and cook until wilted.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Mix together the cheeses with the egg, then add the spinach to combine.  Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise, and stuff each breast with your spinach and cheese mixture.

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Tie the chicken in two places using kitchen string.  Heat a heavy ovenproof skillet over medium heat, then add a little olive oil.  Cook the chicken breasts until browned, about 2 minutes on each side.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Cut off the twine and serve in a fancy-pants presentation so it looks like you meant to do it, and weren’t just cleaning out the fridge.

Donut Fries

Yeah, this was exactly what I needed to see this morning – I was already craving sweets, and now Donut Fries have been brought into my consciousness.   Thank god I can’t get them here.  Oatmeal it is!

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Seriously, though – how good do those look?  I’m trying to stay sane with my food choices, but between this and finally having the zombie recipe for my very own, I’m having a tough time.  Sigh.

Dreaming of Zombies

I have a bit of an obsession with filled dumplings – I blame the delicious cheese zombies of my youth.  In the middle schools and high schools of the Bay Area, kids are raised on hot, buttery rolls filled with melted Velveeta – my mouth waters just thinking about them.  Next time I’m home I’ll have to bribe my mom to whip some up.  Mmm, zombies.  Must. Eat. Brains.  Or. Cheese. Filled. Bread.

The healthier substitution to fulfill my zombie cravings are bierocks (recipe adapted from Cooking Light).  They are meat-filled dumplings filled with peppery cabbage and turkey – easy (and very affordable) to make, they freeze perfectly and are a great comfort food.  I always make a big batch so we’ll have lots of easy, grab-on-the-way-out-the-door lunches in the freezer.

Bierocks (makes 24 dumplings)

For the dough:

1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp yeast (2 envelopes)
1 cup warm water
1 cup milk (I only had soymilk this time and it worked great)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
~7 1/2 cups flour (white whole wheat if you’ve got it)

For the filling:

1 small onion, diced (1/2 cup)
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 small head of green cabbage, finely shredded (about 4c)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

First, prepare the dough – dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let stand until it starts to bubble a little.  Add the milk, oil, salt and eggs and mix well.  Add 6 1/2 cups flour and stir it in until a dough forms.  It will be a little sticky, but turn it out onto your floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth and elastic.  Add more flour by the Tbsp as necessary – I usually get to around 7 cups to make a nice moist dough, not sticky but not dry.  Place the dough in a large bowl and cover.  Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

While you’re waiting for that, cook the turkey and onion in a large nonstick pan until the turkey is browned.  Add the cabbage and cook until it’s wilted, about 8 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and remove from heat.  Chill this mixture until you’re ready to assemble the dumplings.

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Your dough will make about 24 dumplings, so start by dividing the dough in quarters.  Cut each quarter into 6 equal pieces, then roll each piece out to a circle about 5-inches in diameter.  Add about 1/4 cup of your turkey filling to the center of each dumpling, then pinch the circle together.   If you end up with extra dough, just form it into rolls and bake them off for dinner.

Place your bierocks (seam side down) on ungreased baking sheets about 2″ apart, cover and let rise 20 minutes in a warm place (now would be a good time to preheat the oven to 375°).

doughBake for 14 minutes, or until golden brown and screaming at you to dig right in.

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YUM!  Didn’t think I was going to make it to the end of this post without grabbing one of these out of the fridge and nuking it for breakfast – oh well.  They’re great – the pepper gives them a little bite to balance out the sweet dough, and if I can keep my hands off of them, we’ll have lunches for weeks to come.

Inside pic courtesy of Cooking Light (my dough was softer than this – I adapted their recipe to have less flour, so you can choose which pic is most appealing!):

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No Beets?

Mmm, tastes like dirt.

We’ve started.  Yes!!!  I have my first beginnings of a vegetable garden in my own home – it might be the first time that I truly feel like a homeowner, knowing that all the love and care I put into this place is going to turn it into something I can enjoy for years to come.

My family and the Obamas have this in common, but a glaring difference is that they will have some kind of a no-beet ordinance in place – the ruby jewels are not welcome at the White House.  Maybe if I could sit Barack down and force feed him some of this delicious (and striking) risotto, he’d change his tune.  Jen, this is your response for more recipes, and I know how you’re a beet lover just like our president!  Try it and see if it’s the answer, will ya?

This recipe, as it came together, made me think of my uncle Ray Ray, who introduced me to both beets and risotto, separately.  And just because this seems like the perfect excuse to show one of my favorite wedding pictures courtesy of Melissa McClure, here’s Ray Ray marrying us off!

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Okay fine, back to the beets.

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Beet and Beet Green Risotto
You can use any greens in this risotto, but it’s such a treat to be able to use the “whole beet” in all its glory.  Be sure to use a green with some bitterness, as it serves to balance out the sweetness of the beets and the creaminess of the risotto.

2 Tbsp butter
1/2 of a medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, quartered and diced (about 1/2 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch beets (mine had three medium sized beets) with greens attached
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
about 5 cups chicken broth
hard cheese (I had a super yummy Romano sitting around)

First, prepare your beets – sever the greens at the base of the beet and set the fruit aside.  Chop the stems into bite-sized pieces and reserve for another use (I’m going to use mine in a stir-fry later this week).  Chop the leaves in bite-sized pieces and wash and dry them well.  Turn your attention to the beets now, washing the dirt off and peeling them.  I used a small vegetable peeler, and was getting the coolest red rainbows!

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Dice the beets into 1/2″ pieces.  In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and leave it on low heat on the stove.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion, leeks, garlic and saute a couple of minutes.  Add the beets and cover the pan, allowing the vegetables to steam a bit.  After 5-10 minutes, the onion will be soft and you can add the rice.  Saute the rice for about a minute, then start gradually adding chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir the mixture occasionally until the broth gets absorbed by the rice, then add another 1/2 cup.  Continue like this until your beets are softened and the rice becomes soft and creamy.

Take the risotto off the heat and add your cheese – I left the measurements off the cheese, because it’s really all in your preference.  I grated about 4 Tbsp of romano and mixed it into the risotto, and it was just cheesy enough to add a little bite, but didn’t overwhelm the yummy dirty beet flavor. Try to save a little cheese to grate on top – I forgot, and missed having some pretty white on top of this strikingly red dish.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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And here’s what my bowl looked like 10 minutes later:

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Mmm, ready for seconds.  I hope it’s not too late to sow some of these seeds so we can enjoy this straight out of the garden.

Detox

Back from our honeymoon in windy Oahu!  The problem with going on a vacation when you live in San Diego is that the weather is often better where you came from – I know, I’ve got problems, huh?  The upside is that the wind and rain forced us to do lots of relaxing, so we had a sleep/eat/drive/eat/sleep kind of a trip – lots of plate lunches from shrimp trucks and delicious shaved ice with ice cream on the bottom and dim sum – ono, brah.

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Yum.  It’s definitely time to detox from all the vacation food, so I ran straight out to the produce store yesterday and stocked up on all things vitamin-rich.  The first thing I made was something I’ve been craving – one of our stand-bys that’s simple and comforting but also spicy and healthy.

I’m pretty sure I got this from a Bon Appetit at some point, but now it’s on an old curry-streaked tattered recipe card with no indication of its source.

Lentils and Butternut Squash with Walnuts

2 lbs butternut squash (1 medium), peeled, seeded and diced in 1″ cubes
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 tsp curry powder
1/3 to 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (we didn’t have any this time so I used pecans – same same)
1 1/2 cup lentils
Garnish: you can use chopped cilantro, lime juice, yogurt or a mixture of any!  Or just pop it plain.

Toss the squash, shallots, oil and curry powder in an ovenproof baking pan and bake at 425° for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, cook lentils in a pan of boiling water until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Remove the squash from the oven and sprinkle nuts over the top.  Bake 10 minutes more or until the squash is tender.  Combine with lentils and garnish as desired.

Chris and I cooked this one together, and he was stoked to have a cooking lesson, as evidenced by this review:

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Game On!

I got married last weekend, and the whole thing couldn’t have been more perfect.  I’m still on a high from it!  As I begin this new married life, I’m resolving to re-enter the blogosphere (but for realsies this time) to document the wonderfulness.

Where to start up again?  Easy enough – instead of doing any kind of bought wedding favor, we decided to have a cookie bar of homemade treats that our guests could take home in bags.  I made cookie dough until the freezer burst at the seams, and my sweet mama spent most of wedding week baking them off!

Picture from the amazing Melissa McClure Photography

wedding cookie bar

We made my favorite bar cookies, Dorie Greenspan’s Blondies, and 5 other amazing treats.  Souplantation provided the Peanut Butter Cookie Cups which rounded out the mix.  One of the favorites was a recipe from my mom for Ranger Cookies – she got this recipe from her babysitter when she was little, and has been making them ever since.  I got many questions as to the secret ingredient, so I thought I should share the recipe here:

Ranger Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups Wheaties cereal (secret ingredient!)
2 cups coconut
Cream butter and sugars, add eggs, vanilla and the dry ingredients.  Can add milk if the dough is too dry.  Press into balls and flatten with a fork, then bake at 350° for 8 minutes or until lightly browned.