Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Favorite

Looking at the wealth of Persephone onions we had in the root cellar, i.e. garage, I knew I had to try out Mary Ann Esposito’s recipe for Roasted Onion Soup. The soup had a couple things going for it. One, when onions are slow-roasted they transform from bitingly sharp to sweet and mellow. And two, lots of red wine.

I followed the directions and oven roasted the assortment of red and yellow onions, leeks, and fresh thyme from my garden. Then added the two cups of red wine to the rimmed cookie sheet. The smell in my kitchen was heavenly. After most of the wine reduced, I added the onions to a soup pot with beef broth and few seasonings.

I did modify the recipe slightly. It called for each serving to be topped with a slice of bread, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and broiled. I wasn’t sure my bowls could go in the broiler.  So I tossed some bread cubes I had stashed in the freezer with olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt and toasted them in the oven until they were golden and crunchy. Then I topped each bowl with the croutons and cheese. It definitely worked and the croutons added a nice crunch. This soup of very simple ingredients was incredibly savory and rich. I think it’s my new favorite.

Roasted Onion Soup

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I used to experiment a lot in the kitchen, making up my own recipes. But Trevor kind of got me out of that habit. He used to be a strictly by the book cook. He’s loosened up a bit, so I now do a little more “freestyle” cooking.

I saw a couple of PBS cooking shows last year that featured stuffed winter squash: “Totally Vegetarian” and “Caprial and John’s Kitchen.” Both gave me the idea to try my own version. I used several ingredients I had on hand — onion, shallot and garlic from Persephone, prosciutto, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

The great thing about this dish is that you can really play around with this recipe. Try cooked quinoa, barley or millet instead of a wild rice blend. Nutty Gruyere or Asiagio cheese would be great instead of Parmesan. Use pecans or walnuts. Cooked crumbled Italian sausage would be delicious instead of prosciutto. Or omit the meat altogether and it’s a perfect vegetarian meal. Mushrooms would be a good addition, too. The idea is to use great winter flavors that work well together. Also it’s OK if your filling is a little salty because the sweetness of the cooked squash will balance it out.

Freestyle Stuffed Winter Squash
Serves 2 to 4

1 buttercup, acorn or kabocha squash, about 2 ¼ pounds
olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 4 oz package of wild rice blend
1 tablespoon butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
kosher salt
½ teaspoon each dried thyme and dried sage
olive oil
2 cups of chard, spinach or kale, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
3 oz of thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
3 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs (optional)

½ cup white wine
¾ cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of butter

Preheat oven to 400˚ F.

Cut squash in half from stem to bottom to form two “bowls”. Scoop out seeds with a spoon. Slice off a small sliver from the bottom of the “bowls” so they will sit evenly on a cookie sheet. Place halves on rimmed cookie sheet and brush all sides with olive oil and season lightly with salt and black pepper. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is fork-tender in the thickest part.

While squash is in the oven, follow package directions for rice, omitting seasoning packet. Add a pinch of kosher salt instead.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot, onion and garlic. Season lightly with salt. Cook 10 minutes until soft and slightly browned.  In the last minute of cooking add sage and thyme. Remove from pan and add to a large bowl. Put skillet back on heat and add a little olive oil. Add chard and a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add chard to bowl with onion mixture. Put pan back on heat and add a little olive oil. Add prosciutto to pan and fry until crispy and brown. Add prosciutto to bowl.

When rice is done, add to bowl with other filling ingredients. Add pine nuts, ¼ cup Parmesan and bread crumbs. Mix together. Taste and season as needed with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.

In the same skillet you used to fry prosciutto, add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add butter and stock, simmer until lightly reduced and thickened, adding salt if necessary.
Leave squash on the cookie sheet and stuff cooked squash halves with filling. (You may have a little filling leftover.) Top with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler and broil until cheese is melted and lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes at most.

For a very hungry person, one stuffed half is a good serving. But you can cut the half in half and it’s still a filling portion. Spoon sauce around squash on plate and enjoy!

Monday, January 18, 2010


The most amazing thing happened on Saturday. A huge bag of vegetables showed up unexpectedly on our doorstep. Our very own veggie fairy left us onions, cabbage, leeks, winter squash, potatoes, parsnips, farm-fresh eggs and what we think is a turnip. We are planning on putting this bounty to good use making Roasted Onion Soup, Stuffed Acorn Squash, Roasted Parsnip Bread Pudding and Butternut Truffle Soup. We made Moosewood’s Roasted Winter Vegetables last night in which the veggies are coated with a healthy dose of sage, thyme and olive oil and roasted in the oven. It was delicious.

And we had another magical food experience on Saturday night that also involved Persephone Farm. To celebrate our six-year anniversary Trevor and I went to Clarklewis, one of the restaurants that helped establish Portland as a foodie Mecca.

We went with the intention of really splurging. Every course was amazing. Even the bread and butter. Fleur de sel or some sort of specialty salt was sprinkled on the butter and it made every bite sing in my mouth. We ordered the cheese plate to start. Usually Trevor and I don’t like the same cheese, but we agreed each cheese was outstanding. I think my favorite was the Tasmanian blue cheese. But the Taleggio and cow-sheep blend cheeses were excellent. And the fried almonds.  And it was made even better with a glass of a slightly minerally, non-oaky Chardonnay.

Unfortunately they were out of the crab-stuffed endive salad, so I got a basic mixed greens with walnut salad. And Trevor tried the beet terrine salad that utilized Persephone beets. The thin layers of beet and cheese brought out the best of both ingredients.
Clarklewis sous chef Kai (hopefully I am spelling his name right) who is a regular customer at Persephone’s stand in the Farmers’ Market recognized Trevor and came out to greet us. Then he sent us a plate of gigantic gulf shrimp swimming in Meyer lemon sauce with pine nuts and a perfect dab of winter squash puree. I don’t even like shrimp and I scarfed it down. Trevor said, “This doesn’t even taste like shrimp, it tastes like lobster!”

Next up we had orecchiette with sausage-like meatballs and hedgehog mushrooms. The tender little ear-shaped pasta perfectly held the sauce. And the entreés did not disappoint. I had the double pork chop, which came with this wonderful corn cake that was a cross between cornbread and a soufflé. The savory center was like a custard. Trevor had the steak (topped with an outrageously good seasoned butter) and fingerling potatoes.
I protested when it came to dessert, but Trevor was determined. The kitchen was out of his first two choices, but the chocolate rum gelato was still a winner. I think we were in the restaurant for close to three hours! But it was perfect, the food, the ambience, the wine. Like I said. Magical.

Clarklewis restaurant

Moosewood Restaurant and Cookbooks

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nostalgia on a Cookie Sheet

I grew up baking with my Aunt Esther in my grandmother’s kitchen. We’d hang up a sign on the kitchen door reading “Ye Olde Bake Shoppe” and make something delicious. So I was a baker long before I became a serious cook.

My Grandma Lupe didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, except for her favorite: peanut butter cookies. She’d magically appear right before the first batch came out of the oven and sneak one off the cookie rack as they were cooling.

Not surprisingly, peanut butter cookies became my specialty. I always entered a variety of my baked goods at the Ventura County Fair and I won many ribbons. But I earned blue ribbons for peanut butter cookies a total of five times. For three years in a row I was unbeaten.

I had the Betty Crocker recipe memorized for a long time. Of course, I did a few minor tweaks to it to make the cookies softer and sweeter.

When I was baking peanut butter cookies this afternoon, all these memories swirled up as my Kitchen-Aid beat the butter and peanut butter together. Unfortunately I don’t remember the recipe by heart anymore. I had to go by the Joy of Cooking’s recipe, which is not bad. But at least I do remember my tweaks.

So no produce from Persephone Farm in this recipe, but I did use locally ground flour from Bob’s Red Mill. Better go make a sign to show the Bake Shoppe is open.

The Joy of Cooking

Bob’s Red Mill Flour

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pork with Pork

If, like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction, you don’t “dig on swine,” I feel sorry for you. I’m with John Travolta’s character, “Pork chops are gooood. Bacon is goooood.”

The only better thing than pork, is pork with pork. As in pork scallopine Saltimbocca. It’s a boneless pork loin chop pounded good and thin, then topped with sage leaves and prosciutto. Yum. This is another Lidia Bastianch recipe. And one of our all-time favorites.  It’s the kind of meal that makes you want to clean off all the crap on the kitchen table, light some candles and use your good cloth napkins.

Lidia recommends pairing the scallopine with polenta, but I first made it with Parmesan mashed potatoes instead and have never looked back. We also sauté some spinach and garlic with olive oil as she recommends.

And it’s not too hard to prepare. The pork sautés quickly, and the tantalizing wine sauce just takes a few more minutes. For this meal, the potatoes take the longest. I do have one tip, though. If you are using frozen pork chops, made sure they are completely thawed before trying to pound them out. If they are still frozen in parts, you won’t be able to pound them evenly. You’ll have big hunks and then holes in other spots. Also, use the bumpy side of the tenderizer just for a few whacks, then switch to the smooth side to avoid getting holes in the meat.  But really this is a relatively easy meal that is fancy enough for company. But it’s great anywhere, anytime. We even made this on a camping trip once.

Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rhymes with pokey

We’re heading into the bleak season for locavores. The PSU Farmers’ Market is closed until spring and opportunities for getting local food are fewer and far between. But I’m thankful for two things. 1. The Hillsdale Farmers’ Market is open two Sundays a month until May and 2. Trevor’s early Christmas present to me: a burlap sack filled with Persephone Farm potatoes, onions, shallots and a few winter squash.

We will be eating a lot of potatoes this winter. But when it’s cold and gray outside, steaming potatoes in just about any presentation are so filling and warm. One of the best uses for all these potatoes is gnocchi. We get our Potato Gnocchi recipe from Lidia Bastianch’s Lidia’s Italian-American Cookbook. I think I’ve mentioned how Trevor and I had a love-hate relationship with this book when we first started cooking with it. Well it’s now changed to a walking-around-in-a-daze, almost-too-infatuated-to-eat, straight-up love relationship.

But the first time we made gnocchi, I think I was cursing Lidia’s name. Our first ill-fated, gnocchi-making adventure lasted about six hours. By the time we were finished, the kitchen was covered in tomato sauce, and Trevor had sustained a deep gash in his hand and had bled all over his shoes. It’s really a testament to the strength of our relationship that we remained married after that ordeal. And somehow we decided it’d be a good idea to make gnocchi again.

To be fair, our main frustration in making the recipe that first time is that we didn’t know what was (or have) a potato ricer. I had a vague idea, and Trevor attempted to fashion one from a can — hence blood-covered shoes. A potato ricer looks like a giant garlic press. Peeled, hot boiled potatoes are squished through it and fluffy little strands of potatoes come out. Another key to good gnocchi is making sure the potatoes are completely cool after they are riced.

And getting the right amount of flour can be tricky. I’ve learned with this recipe to measure out 2 cups of flour, set a timer for 10 minutes and then slowly fold/knead in the flour a little at a time until the time is up or almost up. The dough shouldn’t be too sticky or too dry. The only way to really learn how to get it right is to make the gnocchi a few times.

Happily, today we are gnocchi pros. It’s still time-consuming (more like two hours instead of six), but we put the extra gnocchi in the freezer and have many more meals that take only as long as it takes to boil water and heat up sauce.
Usually we have Lidia’s tomato sauce with the gnocchi, but a few weeks ago we decided to try her Gorgonzola Sauce, also in her Italian-American cookbook. It took our gnocchi to a whole new level. Of course, how could a sauce with butter, two cheeses and cream not be heavenly? Especially with Rogue Creamery’s Oregonzola cheese. It was like the best mac and cheese you’ve ever had in your life. I highly recommend it for your must-try list.

Lidia’s Italian-American Cookbook
Oregonzola cheese