Laptop Confessional

I’ve got a confession to make:

I’ve got a big ol’ crush on Richard Branson!

This book –  Like a Virgin offers a glimpse beneath the mane. Great business mind, kind heart, likes to break the rules (for good), empowers his employees to take exceptional care of customers. An all-around Rockstar who is not afraid to take risks. And he owns his own private tropical island.

Yeah, that last bit kind of gets me. The risk part, not the island part. I could take some lessons from Sir Richard’s example and dismantle my own aversion to risk. One of his mottos after all is “Screw it, let’s do it!” I could definitely benefit from more of that attitude in my life, more courage to go for it and pursue what interests me and what I find personally fulfilling. Damn the consequences!  And… that tropical island bit wouldn’t hurt either.

 

More Ways With Wasabi

More Ways With Wasabi Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion

I think everybody knows how to eat wasabi with sushi, but there is so much more to this cute lil’ plant! I am fortunate enough to have a local source for fresh wasabi from Oregon Coast Wasabi, but they do ship, so that means you can too. And not just the root (or more accurately, rhizome) which is the most familiar part, but the whole plant. Yup, you can eat the leaves and stems as well and you should, because they are delicious! You can even grow your own wasabi at home because they sell plant starts. I’ve got one on my front porch in a pot that I completely ignore but it continues to grow for me. Unconditional wasabi love, sigh.

The stems are one of my favorite parts of the plant. They have a crunch like celery when they get bigger in size, but with a wonderful peppery punch of flavor. I snack on them as is. They would not be out of place on a crudité platter with some creamy dreamy dips (hummus, ranch if that’s how you roll, others). I’m convinced that adding some chopped bits for crunch in chicken or tuna salad would rock. When the plants are smaller, the stems look and taste a bit like chives on steroids. I add them to mashed potatoes along with some crumbles of blue cheese. Soooo good!

The leaves can be enormous and almost prehistoric looking! Beautiful, dark green and heart shaped, cue the awwwww. They have a deep green/verdant flavor with a distinctive aromatic heat at the end when eaten raw. I like to tear a few into a salad for some added interest or when I need a peppery bite on a sandwich. Think arugula or watercress and you get the idea. I bet these leaves would be delicious as a stand-in for boring butter lettuce in lettuce wraps or as a bread substitute – fill with chicken or egg or tuna salad, maybe even a burger. I’m definitely making that for lunch soon!

More Ways With Wasabi Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion

More Ways With Wasabi Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion More Ways With Wasabi Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion

More Ways With Wasabi Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion

I have found that the more you process the fresh wasabi leaves, either by cooking or through other machinations, the mellower they get. In one flash of inspiration I blanched the leaves and used them in place of spinach for spanakopita. It was good, but I was surprised to find it far less assertive and wasabi-like than I had expected. But really, how can you go wrong with cheese and greens wrapped in pastry?! I would make it again. But where the leaves really shone in my book was in a pistou.  I whirled up a whole mess of them in my mini food processor with lemon juice, lemon zest, hazelnuts (not too many, they can overpower), salt and olive oil. That’s it and the result was a paste of magical bright deliciousness with multiple applications that I’m still discovering. And accidentally vegan too! We found it tasty on cauliflower gnocchi one night as well as over roasted potatoes and slathered on a pork tenderloin another. I expect it would be equally good atop toasted rustic bread with tomatoes for a riff on bruschetta.  I can attest that a spoonful stirred into brothy soup is absolutely transformative and swoon worthy. If you want it to have more sinus-clearing clout, you can add in some pure wasabi powder or seasoning salt or even a sprinkle of Coleman’s dry mustard in a pinch to amp it up. Who knew wasabi was so versatile? Now you do, so go git yourself some!

 

Your Are A Badass

This book spoke to me on many levels. The author’s voice is delightful and was a total joy to read! I wish I could write like this, goals.  Like a trusted, potty-mouthed friend who wants to help light a fire under your ass so you will reach your goddamned potential already. No Eeyores allowed!

There is so much no-nonsense wisdom packed in here as well. One bit that sticks out in particular for me (and I may or may not have it framed on my wall as a reminder) is about how you shouldn’t assume that just because something you enjoy comes easily to you it doesn’t have value. And can (hopefully) make you rich. That was sort of revelatory for me because I think I had it in my mind, somewhere deep, that work is both hard and, well,  kind of sucks. I like this idea much better!

This is a book I will probably go back to over and over again when I need a shot of courage. Well, this and maybe some tequila. But seriously, it is very difficult to step out of the socially sanctioned rat race and try to do your own thing. I’m doing this and I often feel simultaneously naughty and terrified. It helps to have a voice of reason and encouragement to turn to at these times.

I like just seeing it on my shelf too  – its a good reminder that I am indeed a badass! And I’m getting closer to owning it.

 

Pickled Red Onions

 

I’ve never met an onion I don’t like. Seriously. Even from a young age I was all about onions. I can remember when I was in elementary school and making myself toasted cheese sandwiches on white bread, tillamook mild cheddar with green onions on top. For breakfast, of course! Now that I’m all grown up, I still can’t get enough onions. I’ve been known to eat a slab of sharp cheese (think Cougar Gold, one of my favorites) on top of a slice of onion. Fuck crackers!

I spent a few months in Belize at one point in my life and was delighted to find pickled onions everywhere!  One particular dish from my time there that I still make to this day is called garnaches. Its basically a smashed bean tostada, but with pickled onions plus or minus carrots and cabbage on top, sometimes a bit of crumbled white cheese and lots of Marie Sharp’s hot sauce (at least in my world). The flavors and textures combine perfectly.

Now I keep a jar of pickled onions in my fridge to liven up so many things. Garnaches, hummus on toast, mexican tortas, sandwiches, grilled cheese. Anything that may benefit from a pickled onion snap. The possibilities for onion lovers is endless.

To make your own easy pickled onions, cut up some onions (red onions turn a pretty color, but white or yellow work fine too). Put them in a jar and add a brine. I mixed apple cider vinegar and warm water to dissolve some honey for my last batch, but you could experiment with different vinegars and sweeteners if you like. Just none of that fake sugar shit. That stuff’ll kill ya. Adding some herbs might be fun too – I think some fresh tarragon might be nice. Or maybe go the non-sweet route and leave out the sugar product, then add dill or even garlic. Tuck them snugly into the jar, put the lid on and let them marinate in the fridge for a bit. Mine were tasty even after a day and I’m still snacking on them 2 weeks later with no signs of impending spoilage or symptoms of botulism. Having a jar in the fridge ready to go is so satisfying for my onion loving heart.

 

Hummus Among Us

I made the weirdest hummus today! But wait til you hear how I ate it, that’s even more bizarre.

So I make homemade hummus pretty frequently and always (loosely) follow the basic recipe – garbanzos, tahini, lemon, olive oil, salt, take some liberties with other add-ins and flavourings. But that’s the basics and its so good. Today however, I got a wild hair and just ran with it.

Cooked up some dried garbanzos (or chickpeas, if you will) in my slow cooker. With a slow cooker (AKA CrockPot), this is really easy; you can even put them on before you go to bed and they will be done in the morning then store them in the fridge for a couple of days until you get around to using them. You can skip this step and use canned, but I just find it kind of satisfying to make my own. Plus, they are way less salty. Back to hummus, garbanzos and a bit of their liquid went in the nutri bullet (or whatever inferior blender you have) then I added cumin (not so weird), some salt and a splash of pickle juice plus the habanero and jalapeno peppers from a jar of Aidan’s Atomic Pickles, level 3. I get it that these parts are usually what gets thrown out after all of the delicious pickles are eaten, but it seemed too good to throw out! Sometimes I use the leftover pickle brine a few times by adding carrotts or other good pickling veg, but I digress from my hummus story. Blended all of that up until it was just right with a little olive oil added to achieve texture perfection. So how did it turn out, my pickled pepper hummus? Fucking awesome!

Best part though? Eating it the next morning spread on jalapeño cheddar sourdough toast with pickled red onions and sprinkled with savory granola for crunch. Yesirreee!

Forgot to take a photo with the crunchy granola topping on the toast…you’ll have to imagine it there.

Don’t Let Yourself Get Too Comfortable

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.  -Brene Brown

 

I’ve been cooking with reckless abandon and a devil may care attitude for as long as I can remember, but I still get intimidated at times. And I think that is good for my growth!

Case in point: my sweetie and I were left to our own devices on Christmas day this year with nary a commitment in sight. We had planned to take ourselves out to a dive bar breakfast, but once the cold foggy morning dawned, the lure of a cozy house complete with warm fireplace and cute cuddly dog was too hard to resist.

What to make though? Should be something special given that it was Christmas, but not require a trip to the store which would defeat our whole hermit plan…then I got it. But I kept quiet and let the thought roll around in my head for a while before saying it out loud. I knew he would pounce, but I was feeling unsure of myself. Can I actually pull that off? Leap of faith time: “How about eggs benedict?”

Then I was committed. And I did it, not without vulnerability, feelings of clumsiness and uncertainty, but I did it. And I felt a sense of accomplishment  like I haven’t felt in a long time, because I chose to stretch myself. What’s your “eggs benedict”? Hint: Doesn’t have to be about cooking either 😉

The Savory Breakfast Revolution is Alive and Well!

If I can make my husband shake his head and say WTF to a new recipe idea, I know I’m probably on the right track.

This one was inspired by a new condiment we got in our swag bags from the Portland Wedge cheese festival in October. Kindly provided by Rogue Creamery was a blue cheese powder. My mind was on fire with all of the fun things I could do with it – popcorn topping, mashed potatoes, very sophisticated mac ‘n cheese, creamy soups. Then out of nowhere a new idea emerged…

Savory granola with blue cheese powder.

Weird, I know, but stay with me. I took my usual sweet granola recipe and turned it on its head. Oats combined with smoked almonds, pepitas, chopped pecans, black sesame seeds and the blue cheese powder bound together by coconut oil, a bit o’ honey with a dash of Worcestershire sauce to harken back to the Chex mix days of my youth. Stirred together and baked in the oven. The house smelled AMAZING! It wasn’t as nicely chunky as the sweet variety, probably due to the insufficient sugar product to bind, but the taste did not suffer one bit. This morning I topped some cottage cheese with this new creation and it hit every right savory note. I think I’ll try it on plain Greek yogurt too; that’s usually sweet, but I bet we can bribe it over to the dark and savory side with this yummy topping. If I can keep my kids from eating it right out of the bowl that is. Oh and my husband? Yeah, he’s a believer now.

following the rules is overrated

i chafe at being told what or how to do something. i quit my full time job in favor of mercenary work that allows me control of my time. i avoid flu shots when i can get away with it. my way to get “there” may be different from yours since i drive for work and typically know 3 or 4 alternate routes. i don’t like punching a time clock so i have consistently avoided jobs where my punctual presence for a prescribed amount of time is required. and you already know how i feel about recipes.

some rules make sense to follow though. traffic lights are good. i wear my seatbelt. avoiding mixing bleach with ammonia is a solid idea. ignoring ikea directions is probably not a recipe for successful furniture building. theft, rape, murder – i’m ok with rules prohibiting those.

wisdom is knowing the difference.

i ignored grammar rules and avoided using capital letters in this entire post – did that affect the conveyance of my meaning? sorry to my 7th grade teacher mr whipple, but the answer is no.

The Sandwich

What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner?

Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, soft squishy rolls, that crazy crack that is green bean casserole?

Well not me, nope, I live for the sandwich the next day.

Toasted everything bagel, cream cheese on both sides, thinly sliced red onion, turkey and cranberry sauce. Lettuce if you wanna make it healthy. You’re welcome.

Canned Cranberries Have Their Place, But…

Can-shaped cranberry loaf is definitely the stuff of my childhood Thanksgiving memories.

And why were those cranberries included in the meal anyway? Nobody seemed to ever eat them and the jiggly red mass wound up in the trash. Sad and untouched. It was really just obligatory holiday table decoration. Maybe they were neglected because they were so bad.

We can fix that though. Easily. Just make your own! Throw some raw cranberries in a saucepan, add some water (not too much) and as much sugar as you like. I stay on the tart side, but you do you. Then get it cooking at a good bubble but not a boil until those babies start snap crackle and poppin’. Reduce it down til it’s almost how thick you want it, and keep in mind it will thicken up more as it cools. That’s it, voila, cranberry sauce.

This next bit is where you can get creative. Cranberries and sugar are super all on their own, but some other add-in options if you want to experiment might be orange or lemon peel plus or minus some of their juice, cinnamon sticks (very pretty), star anise (extra pretty), apples. I’ve even seen recipes that include booze! Totally brilliant, I’ll probably try that this year. Don’t mind me crouched in the corner with the bowl of tipsy cranberry sauce and a big ol’ spoon hiding from my family. Use your imagination and say no to the can! Unless you are doing so for nostalgic purposes and then I wholeheartedly approve (as if you needed MY permission).

Possibilities…

Basic Soup Skillz

I love soup. It is warmth and comfort in a bowl that just keeps getting tastier the longer it sits around. Day three is primo in my book.  I also think of it as a good way to get my veggies in the fall and winter months when salad sounds decidedly cold, stark and unappetizing.

Ever do that thing where you ask each other what your final death row meal would be? Well, ok, maybe my friends and family are weirder than yours, but my meal is definitely my mom’s navy bean and ham soup. I can still taste it in my mind! She made hers by boiling the beans with ham hocks and the whole house smelled like heaven. I can remember chilly winter Sunday nights, cuddled up with a bowl sitting in front of the tv with my dad and watching one of the movies we liked (Kelly’s Heroes, The Great Escape, LOTS of James Bond movies). She made many wonderful soups, but that one was always my favorite. I’m waxing nostalgic; I’ll give you that recipe next time I make it. Now back to basic soup. I make my own soups using my mom’s technique, but, of course, I’ve added my own twists! Shocker.

 I made turkey soup last weekend from a stock I created using a carcass I had saved in the freezer (don’t throw those bones away after a good meal!). Chicken or ham hock would work to make stock too. I just threw the bones in the slow cooker, covered with water and added some bay leaves. You can also add veg scraps here, like carrot stumps, celery butts, onion ends. You can either compost that stuff or cook it! Later that day, presto, stock. Drained off the liquid for the soup and threw away everything else. I don’t always make my own stock, most of the time it is Better Than Bouillon, and that works great too.

Pretty much every soup I make begins with lightly sautéed carrots, onions and celery. Mirepoix, if you’re fancy, or um, French. From here, you can go in any direction.  Just add the sautéed veg  to the stock (or vice versa) plus some chopped up meat and/or beans if using and whatever seasonings you like.  Don’t skip sauteeing the veg first though, because that’s how you amp up the flavor. Your soup will be sad and bland if you don’t. You’ve been warned. I usually add some herbs (dried basil, thyme and sage from my brother Tony’s awesome yard) and a shit-ton of salt if I’m using homemade stock. Let it hang out on low for a bit for the flavors to mingle and get to know each other. You can do this in a pot on the stove (faster) or in the slow cooker (um, slower).  Then boil up some noodles on the side, or use up some leftover sides (pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes). Ladle the soup over the starchy item in individual bowls so nothing gets mushy. I like hot sauce on mine. Another shocker.

 

 

The Mindset Needed To Create This Fritatta

“Don’t let failure be final”. -Steven H. Shomler

 

I love this quote and it lends itself beautifully to the concept of embracing improvisation; in cooking and in life. If you give up after one fuck-up and remain afraid to try new things, you will never progress.

This is exactly the mindset needed to create something out of (seeming) nothing. Like this frittata. I made it this morning from odds and ends I found in my fridge and pantry. It took me some time and lots of experimentation to get a good feel for how to throw stuff together like this. Has every single one turned out perfectly? No. But so what? They were still edible ( most of the time). I just filed away the errors I made or the tweaks I thought would improve the dish and incorporated that knowledge into my next effort. Cooking without a script is so much fun though – there is reward in that all by itself.

Back to that frittata: It is a cozy Saturday morning here at HavenHome and I knew I had some goodies in the fridge from last night’s dinner and lunch last week to use up. So I chopped up the tater tots, some red onion and leftover cooked bacon. Tossed that into a greased baking dish. Added some diced green chilis from the pantry and some pepperjack cheese. Then whizzed up some eggs and coconut milk (unsweetened and unflavoured). Seasoned with salt, pepper and dried tarragon from the garden (I am obsessed with tarragon right now and add it to whatever I reasonably can). Baked it in the oven until done. So good with crusty baguette toast topped with butter and marmalade. If I didn’t have shit to do today, I’d also have a ruby sunrise (champagne and ruby red grapefruit juice. WAAAAYYY better than a lameass, boring mimosa).

Cooking is science, but it is also art. No wrong answers here. The worst thing is to become so afraid of failure that you stop trying. Cooking can be a daily, creative outlet that nourishes both body and soul. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

 

 

 

 

Just Like Kool & The Gang Sang…

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate” -Oprah

Everyone needs a champagne stopper. It instantly removes the barrier from going ahead and opening that bottle of sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco or, my favorite, cava. It allows us to celebrate more often without having to commit to the whole bottle (if you’re a quitter. JK).

*

Celebration and sparkling don’t have to be reserved for just ultra-special occasions. I keep a bottle ready to go in my fridge at all times because I like being prepared to celebrate at the drop of a hat. A book contract, a windfall, surviving a challenging work week, the full moon, Tuesday night. Big things, little things, silly things, why not?

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And I believe in the inherent value of celebrating as much as possible. Because celebration is the manifestation of gratitude and that’s a great place to have your attention. Keep focused on what is good, what is working, what is right with the world.

*

So get yourself one of these gadgets, get something nice chilling in the fridge and pay attention to what needs celebrating. However small or seemingly insignificant. Try it, it’s fun!

*

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle”. – Albert Einstein

 

Pimento Cheese

Fancy Cheez-wiz. You can claim you are too sophisticated and you don’t love this, but no one will believe you.

Long story, but through my dear husband we wound up with a refrigerator full of cheese. I’m not kidding, the bounty took up an entire shelf. And all good stuff too. Picnics are fun and all, but there are only so many cheese and cracker plates I can stomach.

I was leafing through my  book of old recipe clippings, from ancient days when I used to take the newspaper everyday. I know, crazy. I came across one for pimento cheese using fancy cheeses. Yes! Of course I didn’t have the same cheeses as in the recipe nor an inclination to obey their prescribed amounts, but it still turned out sinfully great!

Into the food processor went some regular cream cheese (room temp, believe me on this detail) and chunks of various cheeses including Jefferson Cheddar and Touvelle from Rogue Creamery, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, and Face Rock Creamery Horseradish Cheddar. You can really take liberties on the cheese selection (I sure did). I also added some chopped up roasted red and yellow peppers (I roasted my own, but you could get them out of a jar too), some celery seed and a splash of milk just to aid mixing. Chill it. That’s it. End of story, easy cheesy delight! The next day it was even better. This makes a lot so the next day I stirred some into hot cooked pasta for the most decadent mac and cheese you can imagine. Also guiltily good by the spoonful right outta the fridge. Shhh, don’t tell.

*Rogue Creamery pic

Squash Soup

Autumn is my favorite season of the year; I love the colors, the smells, the beginnings of a chill in the air and this soup is Fall in a bowl. Make this for your friends and they will think you are fancy as fuck! They don’t have to know how easy it is. For real.

My kids love this soup. We often eat it as an alternative to that sickeningly sweet condensed mess that most people call tomato soup. It also happens to be pretty healthy, just by accident, not by virtue. I suppose you could add some more rich and fatty elements, but I really don’t think it needs it. No need to gild the lily! It is especially good with a crusty grilled cheese sandwich on the side for dippin’.

I have no idea why so many recipes call for peeling the squash first. If you roast it, there is no good reason to make yourself crazy doing this. Just hack that baby in half, put it on a sheet pan and throw it in the oven to roast. This is a good tip for roasting pumpkins for pie or other uses as well.

I’ve used both acorn and butternut squashes and pumpkin for this soup. Pick what you like. Cut it, place cut sides down on a lined sheet pan or any other baking dish and roast it in the oven at somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees, you decide, until it is easily pierced with a fork. Let it cool a bit until you can easily handle it (I usually skip this step due to my own impatience and pay the price of burned fingers). Use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds and other stringy stuff from the middle. Then scoop out the flesh into a blender. Incidentally, my dogs (and cats I have had in the past) go nuts for the leftover skin; waste not want not! Add a spoonful of broth paste (I use Better Than Bouillon @betterthanbouillon), chicken or veggie. Salt and pepper. Thin out with a milk type product (I usually go non-dairy) and blend til smooth. You can thin this out as much as you like, just adjust the amount of liquid added. Then pop it into a pot and warm it to serving temp on the stove. I like to finish mine with a drizzle of Navidi’s @navidiscamas white truffle oil and some good grindings of black pepper.

Black Sea is Brilliant!

Black Sea; Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden is my kind of “cookbook”. 4 things I love about it*:

  1. It has a sexy cover
  2. Lots of beautiful pictures of food and places.
  3. Provides historical background.
  4. It includes Turkey! The next big stop on my lifetime itinerary.

*Noteworthy that none of these mention recipes, heehee!

Do Yourself A Favor And Read Chillpreneur

4  valuable things I learned from Chillpreneur, many thanks to Denise Duffield-Thomas:

 1.       Making money doesn’t have to be hard or painful.

 2.       Just start! It doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate.

 3.       Protect the golden goose (take care of myself or I will lose my creative energy).

 4.       I have valuable stuff to share and it won’t suit everyone’s taste, but that’s ok.

Scalloped Potatoes, the “Recipe”!

Ok, so now that you have the background on the significance this dish holds in my family, I can tell you how to make it. Kinda. It turns out different for me each time and I am ok with that. Adds a bit of excitement. If you, however, like things to be predictable, you have certainly stumbled into the wrong territory here. Turn back now and return to the safety of your cookbooks, hurry!

I’ve used all kind of potatoes in this dish and any of them will work. Use what you got. Russets, golds, reds, purples, whatever. I’ve even made this with some sweet potatoes thrown in with russets and one time I made the whole thing with parsnips instead. I was getting a CSA box at the time and had to do something with them. For the record, it was good, but maybe even a little too delicate for my taste. I crave this dish when I want something hearty and comforting, decidedly not fancy or challenging to my palate in any way. Just  being honest!

This dish can easily be made vegan with non-dairy milk. I steer away from cow’s milk myself, but I do add cheese. I like sharp ones such as an aged cheddar or even a blue. Stronger cheeses don’t require adding as much to give good flavor.  Sometimes I’ll add ham or hot dogs (Reserve judgment! Its family tradition). Green onions are a nice addition, leeks would also be good. Anything oniony combined with a sharp cheese is perfection in my world. I’ve gotten more creative with add-ins in the past (green peas, sausage, peppers, jalapenos), but these days usually stick to the basics (potatoes, cheese, some onion thingy, plus or minus a pork product).

Heat oven to 375, 400, something like that. Grease a baking dish, I use butter or whatever. Slice potatoes into rounds, peel them or not, I don’t care. Put the potato slices in a big mixing bowl and sprinkle them with flour or cornstarch. Dice up some butter (vegan or regular) and toss that in the bowl. Grate and add some cheese, or leave it out. Same with the onions and other mix-ins. Salt and pepper. Pour over some milk (I use unsweetened almond or coconut), it should be pretty wet, but not soup. Toss it all together until there aren’t any big clumps of flour hanging out. Tip that all into the pan and kind of pat it down. Add more grated cheese to the top if you want. Cover with foil and put it in the oven. Cook until the potatoes are tender; I don’t set a timer or watch the clock, but I think this takes about 30-40 minutes generally. Then remove the foil and let the top crisp up. I’ve even been known to up the heat to broil on this step when I’m impatient. You are going to want to dig in right out of the oven, but you will be rewarded it you wait a little bit first for it to cool. Plus avoid tongue burns that will definitely ruin the experience!

The Historical Significance of Scalloped Potatoes

This dish is legendary in my family. I am the youngest of 6 (sadly, now 5) and this was a crowd pleaser when we were growing up. My mom totally rolls her eyes at us when we (still) ask her to make it. From her perspective at 81 years old, it is too fussy and time consuming and she ain’t got no time for that. My mom would never be accused of being overly sentimental, but that is definitely a big part of her charm!

I first started making it for myself and my hungry, clueless-in-the-kitchen college roommates. And it WAS time consuming. At least how it was written in The Joy of Cooking, which was my only cookbook at the time and I had yet to learn to bend recipes to my will. There was peeling, soaking, layering and pre-cooking involved. But I did it anyway because it was a taste of home and a bit of comfort to all of us big kids living away from our parents for the first time.

Many years later, my dear (late) chef brother opened my eyes to a better way. He did that a lot! He was probably my biggest role model and  inspiration in cooking without rigid recipes. He was a classically trained chef, but ironically, never followed a recipe and made it all look effortless, fluid and fun. Maybe the recipes were in his head, IDK. Anyway, he took all kinds of liberties and was something of a MacGyver in the kitchen (you’ll have to be as old as I am to get that reference). I remember one time I was hanging about while he catered a fancy meal for a bunch of fancy people at an estate deep in the wine country of St Helena, California. VERY far from any kind of market. He was making a skewered chicken app and forgot the skewers. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ripped some rosemary stalks from the yard and threaded the meat onto those. Genius! Looked and tasted fucking amazing. He would do shit like that all of the time. Miss him so.

So back to scalloped potatoes – my brother and I were together one Christmas far from home and decided to make the old family favorite. So I started to peel and chop and was about to start parboiling, layering and pre-heating the milk when he (thankfully) stopped me. “You know you can just mix that all up in a big bowl and toss it into the baking dish right?” Mind. Blown. Duh. So I’ve made them that way ever since and it is way more fast and fun and I never measure a bit. Just trust myself to make it look right, even if it is different every time. Which is part of the fun.

You Could Just Have a BLT, But a BELT is Better!

My sweetie loves BLTs and so does my mom. I’ve never really been a big fan, but I do understand their appeal, in theory. Very simple, good quality elements come together and elevate the whole sandwich.

How could I put my own spin on it though and make it more appealing to myself?

Then it hit me – no one eats BLTs for breakfast, but they should! I think there could be a niche for them there in my world. I am all about the savory breakfast after all!

I always cook my bacon in the oven these days on a foil lined sheet pan to make the cleanup easy. No more standing over a pan patiently turning bacon strips while the fumes coat my hair and then having to deal with the disposal of a shitload of grease. For my sandwich I chose pepper bacon and then picked some cute lil’ cherry tomatoes and basil from my yard. I chopped those guys up along with some white onion. Tossed all with olive oil, salt and pepper then roasted in a slow oven on a lined sheet pan til soft and squishy. Cooled them down and ran them through the food processor with some balsamic vinegar. I left it pretty chunky. Once the bacon was done, I fried up an egg, toasted an English muffin and spread some of the tomato onion mix on there. Then layered the egg, bacon and lettuce. My egg got a shot of Tabasco, but you don’t have to.  

From Expert To Novice. Again.

I am so not following the recipe in my working life right now! And I say that not so much in a proud way (at least today), but more in a scared shitless and totally uncomfortable way. Ugh.

I’ve managed to go from having a solid, regular, full time job in a niche in my field where I excelled to now a part-time position in a different, nichier niche where I have no idea what the fuck I am doing! And it shows!! Expert to novice is definitely not how the recipe for professional success is written, but here I am.

And how am I doing with that you ask? Not well! I like being the one who knows, the one who people look to for guidance, the one who can do the work and do it well almost in her sleep. It is so much more comfortable to have all of the answers rather than to be asking all of the questions. I don’t want to traverse this sea of mediocrity again damn it, I’ve already made that journey plenty of times! But this time the distant shore is really where I want to be: self-employed in a creative way on my own terms with plenty of time to spend with my kids while they are still at home. Guess I better suck it up and stay the course.

There is no substitute for experience though and that just takes time. Trying to force something to cook faster won’t turn out well. It will be burned on the outside and raw on the inside. And I just keep reminding myself that cooking without a recipe was not easy at first, but now it is effortless and fluid, like breathing. I’ll get there.

Slightly Slimy Spinach Gets a Second Life as Joe’s Special

We buy a lot of greens in this house. For smoothies, salads, tacos (I’ll tell you about that one later), but frequently, despite our best efforts, the greens turn on us. You know, when the leaves look fine one day and then a wet, inky blob the next? Total bummer. You just have to throw that shit out.

But what about when there are just a few rogue leaves polluting your bag of otherwise perky greens? I’ve got the perfect vehicle – Joe’s Special.

Joe’s special has a special place in my heart because my dad loved it and so do I. It was something we would excitedly order whenever we went out for breakfast and happened to find it on the menu (rare) or would cook up for ourselves on leisurely weekend mornings. I still make it at times and think of him; miss him. I take a lot of liberties with it though (duh, see name of this website). And in my adult life, I have learned that it is also a perfect dinner when I want something easy, meaty and satisfying.

Sautee up some chopped white onions and add some crumbled up ground meat or meat-like product. I’ve used everything from vegetarian TVP to leftover hamburger patties; in these pictures it happens to be turkey sausage. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, if using raw. Then add your spinach to the pan and cook it until it is shrunken down; no worries if there are a couple of slimy bits in your greens going in, they will still taste ok once cooked. I’ve also used other greens here like baby kale, arugula, but spinach is traditional. I like to season with garlic salt and lots of black pepper. Sometimes I add some chopped jalapeno if I’m feeling spicy. Then add some scrambled eggs to the pan, or tofu if you are going veggie. Cook til the eggs are how you like them. The proportions are totally up to you – I tend to go heavy on the spinach and lighter on the meat and eggs, but you do you. If you are feeling cheesy, feta is super yummy on this. In my mind, Tabasco is the perfect finish. Serve with toast, wrapped up in a tortilla or all by itself.

Summer Fruit Cocktails

Ever have the disappointment of picking a bad watermelon? Crack it open ready for a firm fleshed taste of summer and instead finding a sodden, mushy mess? Ugh. Been there. But do not despair, just add booze!

This idea was born out of necessity. We were going to a family barbecue and had promised to bring signature drinks. We have become known in certain circles for creating special cocktails for different events. It is creative, fun and we like it.

We were having a heck of a time getting this one to come together though. I really wanted to make use of a somewhat funky cucumber mint vodka we had lingering in our bar, but it just tastes weird on its own. Adding gin and making a play on a vesper helped, but still wasn’t quite up to snuff. Taking it more in the direction of a vodka tonic was better, but still not great.

Coincidentally, I made a watermelon misstep that saved the drink! Watermelon pureed in the blender with fresh mint and cucumber then combined with the cucumber vodka, gin and seltzer made an incredibly refreshing cocktail just right for a backyard barbecue. All kinds of riffs you can do with this one too. Use any melon or combo of melons. Use vodka, gin or both like we did. Use a flavored sparkling water or even a clear soda if you like it sweet, or maybe tonic water if you want a bit more bite. Sad summer fruit instantly redeemed.

Summer Fruit Cocktails – Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion KC is me Summer Fruit Cocktails – Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion KC is me IMG_9800 IMG_9800

 

 

 

 

Bagel Breakfast Strata

Bagel Breakfast Strata? Sure, why not?!

So I had a couple of forgotten everything bagels and a neglected tub of chive cream cheese that were begging to be used. This rainy Sunday morning, inspiration struck! What if I made these into a breakfast strata? For those not in the know (or younger than 50) , a breakfast strata is a baked eggy, custardy, brunchy kind of casserole thing that uses cubed bread as a base.

I love bagels. The chewy salty outside of a well-made, REAL bagel is sublime. But not nearly  as perfect without a cream cheese partner. I could have simply used the bagels mixed with the eggs and other stuff here, but incorporating the cream cheese as well was simply irresistible. Might just be crazy enough to work.

How to add the cream cheese though? Mix it in with the eggs and milk? Spread it on top after baking? There had to be an answer…then it hit me. Keep it simple stupid!

Heat up the oven to 350. Grease up a baking dish, I used 9×13. Spread cream cheese on a couple of bagel halves, I don’t care what kind of either one you use. Stick the 2 halves together and then chop them up into cube sizes. Toss those into the baking dish with whatever other stuff you want or need to use up. I added chopped red and yellow peppers, a handful of spinach, sausage, some purple onion and a small can of diced green chiles. Then I mixed up some eggs and (almond) milk with salt and pepper and poured that right into the baking dish (you need enough of the egg mix to saturate everything). Mix it all together until everything is moist. At this point you can cover this and let it sit in the refrigerator for a while so the bagels soften up a bit to make it more custardy. Even leave it overnight. I baked mine right away the first time because I’m impatient and it was fine, but letting it sit for at least an hour before baking was better. Bake until done ( eggs set, not runny, brown on top). Let it cool a sec before you cut it. It is good hot, lukewarm or even cold straight from the fridge.

The Humble Bean

Who doesn’t love the creamy lardy goodness that is refried beans? Whether at your local Mexican joint with a fishbowl sized margarita on the side or at home out of a can, they satisfy, right? What if I said you can make them at home cheaper, healthier, tastier and pretty damn easily? Don’t believe me? Here’s how:

 Step 1: Get yourself a slow cooker! Godsend. I start this in the morning before I leave for work.  I pick out some dried beans, usually pintos, sometimes black beans for this. I throw enough beans in to cover the bottom of the pot then add a couple of inches of water above the bean level. I put in a big spoonful of coconut oil (but any oil would work here, you could even use lard 😉) then add bay leaves, a couple of whole dried chilis, sometimes a couple of smashed and peeled garlic cloves if I’m feeling it. Then I set it to low and forget it until I get home from work later.

The house smells great when I get home and here’s where the magic happens. Turn off the heat on the cooker and drain the water. I am not super thorough on the water drain because a little bean juice helps the alchemy that ensues. Remove the bay leaves (toxic to eat, I always put in 3 so I know exactly how many I need to fish out later), take out the peppers, but leave the garlicky goodness (if using). Then I add some salsa, (red, green, whatever you like) or if I’m out of salsa sometimes I’ll substitute V8 juice. Just some extra liquid to flavor things and help thin the mixture for the immersion blender that will turn everything nice n’ creamy dreamy. A regular manual potato masher works too, but is more work and hard to get them really creamy. Might need to add liquid as you go along to get the desired texture and you can leave it as chunky as you want. We tend to go a little more liquidy in our house. I’m usually adding spices and seasonings and correcting as I’m blending but you can add it all in the beginning or the end. I use typical Mexican spices like chili powder, cumin, sea salt, sometimes oregano. Spice blends work here too, you could even just use a packet of pre-made chili or taco seasoning.

We use the beans to make all kinds of yummy meals including tostadas, tacos, tortas, burritos. You can also add meat to any of these, if that’s your thing.

Stuff To Make With Beans

Tostadas: Take those crisp corn tortilla shells you can buy near the other tortillas in the grocery stores and top them with a smear of the homecooked non-refried beans from the slow cooker. Then sharp cheese and a simple coleslaw made from shredded cabbage, colorful peppers, onions, cilantro and a dressing of plain yogurt/sour cream/mayo whatever you have on hand mixed with seasoned rice vinegar, salt, pepper and celery seed. And of course Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce!

Tacos: Get those cute lil’ tiny corn tortillas and put a dollop of beans on there, some quick pickled red onion, cilantro and cotija cheese. Add taco sauce or salsa.

Burritos: Beans, cheese, white onion and salsa. Classic.

Torta: Any combination of the above on a bolillo roll for a tasty Mexican style sandwich. I always add fresh cilantro to mine, but I realize some people think it tastes like soap.

Bruschetta

 I love this recipe when we have a shit ton of tomatoes to use up or we just feel like having a light summer dinner. It also works great as an easy but impressive appetizer.

We grow cherry tomatoes in our backyard pots, so that’s what I use, but any ripe tomato would work. We also grow basil, which is super easy, even for brown thumbs like me. There is no right or wrong here as far as proportions – I am more moderate in my garlic quantities, but my sweetie goes for the vampire repellant level.

Chop up some variety of ripe tomatoes. Ok to mix and match. Add as much chopped garlic as you like. Throw in some chopped up basil. Toss it all with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar plus salt and pepper to dress. Once I used a lemon balsamic vinegar and that was really good. You can get creative here.

 It is even better if you let this marinate a bit, even for a few hours. Just cover it and let it sit on the counter for a while. We usually go for a martini length of time here (time it takes to drink a martini).

Toast some bread slices and spoon tomato mixture on top, with or without grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Italian bread or baguette are best, but I’ve been known to use whatever bread we have lurking around in the freezer for this. It’s meant to be low stress, so use what you got. The toast is just a vehicle for this summer tomato goodness. You need to eat it right away though or else it will become soggy, but then you could just put it into a bowl, eat it with a fork and call it Panzanella salad instead!

Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me

Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is meBruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me

Asparagus Potato Soup

I love roasted asparagus! But what to do with the left over parts of the stalks? I have always just snapped the stalks to see where they naturally break in order to find the most tender parts for roasting, but it kinda hurts to throw so much of it away.

I tried using the reject parts to make vegetable stock once, but it tasted sort of weird and looked murky.  I do have a non-discriminating old dog who eats them like jerky sticks, but I really wanted to find a way to make them tasty, for human consumption. Enter this soup.

I chopped up the more tender parts of the leftover stalks into thin rounds and discarded the really woody end parts. Sautéed some shallots in olive oil (butter would be good here to, alone or in combo with the oil). Added most of the asparagus parts for a minute or so, but kept a few aside as well. Peeled a few  soft, sprouting, aged potatoes found in the bottom of a fridge drawer and diced them up. Added potatoes to the pot and enough stock to cover (I used veggie because The Vegans were dining with us) and simmered until potatoes were tender. Put the whole lot in my Magic Bullet with a bit of almond milk (but other milks or creams, unsweetened of course, would work) and blended til smooth. You could use an immersion blender here too. Leave it as chunky as you like. Then back into the pot, corrected seasonings with salt and pepper and added in the reserved asparagus parts. Warmed for a few minutes until the asparagus was no longer crunchy. Off the heat I stirred in a bit of truffle oil ( totally optional but really good) and served it with left-over bread croutons (see recipe).

Next time, If I’m  feeling more fancy, I may add some fresh tarragon to the seasoning of this soup since I now grow my own! I am happy with it though considering it is made from usually discarded remnants. And it happens to be vegan, for those who care about that stuff.

Breaking Breakfast Rules

Breakfast and its cousin brunch are often a desert wasteland for those of us of the savory persuasion. You have your breakfast cereals; sugary nuggets bathed in milk. What else is dunked in milk and eaten? That’s right, cookies. Basically they are the same thing. Or you stay over at a friend’s house and they go out of their way to make you a special breakfast… 10 to one you are getting pancakes or waffles. I can feel my blood sugar plummeting now. You say smoothie, I say fruit milkshake. And please explain to me how breakfast bars are any different from bar cookies?

Too much sweet! Don’t get me wrong, I like dessert. Just not for breakfast.

When I was a kid, I was the weird-o who made toasted cheese sandwiches or ate leftover cold pizza or even fried rice for breakfast. Travelling in Japan was a dream come true – savory breakfast stuff everywhere! Ramen, rice and miso oh my! Same with Eastern Europe; nothing wrong with charcuterie to start the day in my book.

My kids are apples that have stuck pretty close to my tree on the breakfast front. This has presented some opportunities for creativity over the years. One result was the development of savory oatmeal. Hear me out and don’t scrunch your face all up like that. Oatmeal is just a grain so no reason why it can’t be savory. Think rice pilaf or risotto and you kind of get the picture. So next time you are making oatmeal for breakfast (we use steel cut, but any variety works), cook it in broth instead and top it with savory delights like cheese, nutritional yeast, green onions, green chiles, salsa, beans, smoked almonds. It works.

Cooking Without a Recipe is Scary. At First.

And I think this is a good metaphor for life as well. We all are just trying to figure out what makes us happy, or in cooking, what tastes good. Recipes offer a promise that things will turn out well. The problem is, what tastes good to you or what makes you happy may not follow the recipe. Recipes are safe, predictable and offer a tested and trusted way to a specific result. But what if that is not the result that suits YOU? Or, what if the act of cooking, or living life your way is the reward in itself?

For much of my life I have stubbornly proclaimed that I am not a baker. Why? Because baking is more science-y and requires following the rules. Unlike other cooking, I couldn’t see a way to improvise to my heart’s content and also produce baked goods that were actually edible. I resisted baking for years and I lived down to my own expectations every time I did try it. I could not find any joy in the process of following a recipe.

Then something changed. I gave myself permission to screw around with baking recipes, treating them more like suggestions as I routinely do with my general cooking. Two things happened; I learned I could do it my way with good results and I was a whole lot happier baking. Now I turn out homemade pizzas, focaccia, muffins and cakes like nobody’s business. And they are uniquely, imperfectly, deliciously mine.

Now I’m applying that same found wisdom to my life. I have jumped ship and departed from the generally accepted recipe for a happy life. I no longer have a leash (steady job), but neither do I have a recipe to follow either. I am making this up as I go along, finding work that suits me and fits into the rest of my life. I’m a little (sometimes a lot) scared about it, but I just keep telling myself that I don’t have to follow the recipe and everything will still (probably) turn out ok. And I am already much happier in the process.