Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category


One of our favorite casserole dinners is an adaptation of a dish I found many years ago in Molly Katzen’s Still Life with Menu cookbook.

The recipe includes some of my favorite ingredients — roasted poblano peppers,

Mexican cheeses (like cotija and queso fresco), and tortillas,

smothered with a tangy buttermilk and egg custard.

It’s the kind of dish you can make in a hurry using canned roasted peppers, or that you can spend more time on, roasting and peeling the poblanos yourself.

Either way, it’s always a crowd-pleaser and something my friends all ask me to bring to pot luck dinners.

Recipe adapted from Still Life with Menu, by Molly Katzen

2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 fresh poblano chiles, roasted , peeled and sliced*
2 4 oz cans whole green chilies (you can also use roasted red peppers if you like, and you can also add things like chicken, crabmeat, or sautéed shrimp)
12 corn tortillas
2 -3 cups grated cotija and queso fresco cheeses, mixed (you can  also substitute Monterrey Jack)
salt and pepper to taste
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter or oil a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onions and garlic.  Sauté until onions are translucent.  Add the roasted or canned green chilies, roasted red peppers and shrimp or crabmeat if you are using them.
Tear the tortillas into bite sized pieces and spread 1/3 of them in the bottom of the pan.
Distribute 1/3 of the chili-onion mixture and 1/3 of the cheese over the tortillas.  Repeat these layers twice more, saving a healthy amount of cheese to sprinkle on top.
Beat the eggs and buttermilk together with salt and pepper and slowly pour this mixture over the casserole.
Top with remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until bubbling and browning on top.

*To roast fresh poblanos, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the whole peppers on a baking sheet and roast them for about 10 minutes, until they begin to char.  Turn the peppers and return them to the oven for another 10 minutes or so.  When the peppers are charred all over, remove them from the oven and let them rest, covered with aluminum foil, until they have cooled.  Carefully peel away the charred skin and remove the seeds before slicing them into strips.

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Fresh tomatillo salsa

I am not sure why it never occurred to me that I could make tomatillo salsa with raw tomatillos.  In previous summers I had made salsas with roasted or par-boiled tomatillos, but never with the raw, unadultered fruit.

The other day, in a hurry to come up with something to accompany the chiles rellenos I was working on, I decided to experiment.  The result was an eye-opener.  Not only was this the easiest salsa I had ever made, it was tart and tangy with just a little bit of heat (the jalapeño provided that).

It went perfectly with the rellenos, and equally well later in the week on eggs for breakfast, and again (when I made a second batch) on some pan seared albacore tuna. It goes with everything!

Here’s the recipe:

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Makes about 1 cup

8 – 10 medium fresh tomatillos, outer skin removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
½  to 1 fresh jalapeño, seeds removed
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp coarse salt (more to taste)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Put first 5 ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process until everything is chopped fine.  Add salt and whir again.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is, or let the salsa sit for about 15 minutes and drain excess liquid.  Can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Quick, tasty and colorful — it’s a burst of summer in a spoon.  I think you could also freeze it (if freezing works with pesto, why not with this?) and  give yourself a reminder of summer months from now when the sun hasn’t shone for weeks.

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We all want to eat healthy food (at least most of the time!), and, if you are anything like me, there’s not a lot of time or energy left at the end of a busy day to invent and prepare new, tasty meals.  That’s why I try to keep a few things on hand that make dinner prep easy and give me time to relax and enjoy good food even after a long day at work.

Pasta (one of the staples I always have in my pantry) paired with homemade pesto (this is something I make on weekends and then keep refrigerated or frozen for use later) has always been one of my favorite go-to, quick dinners.

This version, which includes some tofu (handily disguised so any tofu rejecters in your house won’t even know it’s there) for extra protein and flavor, is particularly delicious.

For this dish I used Parsley Pesto (which I made by combining one bunch fresh parsley, stems removed, 3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, three cloves of garlic, a generous pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in the food processor) and 12 ounces of medium firm, organic tofu (I like the local, Ota brand).

After whirring the pesto and tofu together in the food processor I simply tossed about a cup of the mixture in a big bowl with some al dente pasta.

The result was fresh-tasting and also hearty.  It’s a new favorite in our house!

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We’re in the thick of blueberry season now and I can’t stop myself from buying more every time I go to the grocery store or the farmer’s market.  The berries are plump and juicy, perfectly sweet, and the ideal addition to oatmeal or waffles.  They are also great eaten alone.

Given my recent interest in making jam, though, and my discovery of a tantalizing recipe for Savory Blueberry Jam on the beautiful blog Z Tasty life, I had to give blueberry jam a try.  I was particularly intrigued by the idea of a savory jam that was intended to serve with cheese and crackers.

I also liked the idea that I could make this jam on the stovetop.  And to top it off, blueberries are so naturally full of pectin (the ingredient that makes jellies “jell”) that you don’t need to add Sure-Jell to make the jam thicken.  All in all, a simple and tasty idea, I thought.  And I was right.

I quickly sautéed some finely chopped shallot in olive oil and added the berries and sugar (I used a bit less than one cup of sugar — these berries were already pretty sweet) to the pan.

Balsamic vinegar, chopped rosemary, nutmeg and pepper went in next as the berries began to simmer.  As the liquid evaporated and the berries broke down, the jam thickened nicely and the fragrance of berries, rosemary and balsamic vinegar perfumed my kitchen.

After about 15 minutes the jam was ready and I spooned it into jars (I didn’t sterilize them — I’ll keep this jam in the refrigerator and use it within the next few weeks).

You can find the recipe here.

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Cooking in someone else’s kitchen can be a real challenge.  You can’t find the salt, you don’t have your favorite knife, their oven is not like yours.  Fortunately, my most recent experience was easy and fun.  And, even better, the food turned out well!

This kitchen was at the home of my friend A, someone I have known, we calculated, for about 40 years.  His kitchen is a work of art — a room he designed in a house he has built (is technically still building) in the hills above Oakland, CA.

The occasion was a fourth of July barbeque.  Everyone was bringing something, and I decided to contribute two small salads — one with roasted sweet potatoes and one with watermelon — variations of traditional fourth of July potato salad and fresh watermelon.

The dishes are both easy to make (I hesitate to even call what follows recipes, they are so simple) and can be pulled together in less than an hour, including the time needed to peel, dice and roast the sweet potatoes.  Next time you are cooking in a friend’s kitchen — or even your own — you might want to give them a try.

Watermelon Salad with Feta, Parmesan, Basil and Mint

1 small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch basil, sliced very thinly
1 small bunch mint, sliced very thinly
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss watermelon cubes in a generously sized mixing bowl with Feta, Parmesan, basil and mint.
Add lime juice and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes and then transfer it to a serving bowl using a slotted spoon (there will be a lot of “juice” in the bottom of the bowl; I prefer to serve the salad with only a little of it).
Serve at room temperature or cooled in the refrigerator.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ (or less, to taste) cup finely chopped sweet onion (like Vidalia)
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss diced sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet.  If your baking sheets are small, use two so that the potatoes are not touching.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
Transfer the roasted sweet potatoes to a medium sized serving bowl and toss with the remaining olive oil, diced onion and lime juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like a lot of black pepper with this salad).  Serve at room temperature.

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Now that berries are finally here I find myself coming home from the farmer’s market loaded down with more fruit than even I can eat.  The solution?  Make jam, and make it right away, before those berries get overripe.

How do I find the time to make jam?  I use my handy dandy bread machine!  Yes, my bread machine (an older version of this one) has a jam setting that makes jam-making easy and fun.

So far I’ve made two batches — strawberry (with amazing Hood strawberries, a particularly flavorful small berry that is only around for a few short weeks in the early part of the strawberry season) and raspberry.  Both were amazing, though if I had to choose, I’d give the raspberry a slight (very slight) edge.

The recipe is really easy and quick (one note — this only works in bread machines with a “jam” cycle).

Bread Machine Berry Jam
(adapted from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensberger)

3 cups fresh strawberries or raspberries
1 cup sugar
¾ package of Sure-Jell (or other powdered pectin)
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (use more or less to taste)

If using strawberries, crush the berries roughly before adding them to the bread machine.  This step can be skipped with raspberries.

Put all of the ingredients into the pan of the bread machine and let them sit for about 15 minutes or until the the sugar begins to dissolve.

Set the Bread Machine on the JAM setting, push start, and let the machine do the work.

When the jam is ready, spoon it into canning jars, cover and refrigerate.  Your jam may be a bit runny at first; it will thicken as it cools.

These jams will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.  You can also spoon jam into plastic bags and freeze if you want to keep it longer.

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Despite the chilly weather and continuous drizzle (interrupted by occasional bursts of hail) it must be spring.  How do I know?  There is locally grown asparagus at the farmer’s market.

I am a big fan of this vegetable, especially when I know it’s been grown locally and when the spears are crisp and sweet almost all the way to the base of the stalk.   I have prepared asparagus lots of ways; grilled, roasted and poached and sauced with everything from a simple drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice to a more complex mustardy, balsamic vinaigrette.

My affection for asparagus is probably why Mark Bittman’s column about Asparagus Pesto caught my eye.  I clearly had to make this.

I followed MB’s recipe, substituting hazelnuts (I live in Oregon, after all) for the pine nuts and quadrupling the amount of garlic in the original recipe.  The resulting puree was lovely — bright springy green in color

and bursting with flavor.

I quickly boiled up some fresh rigatoni (also from the Portland Farmer’s Market) tossed the noodles with the pesto, topped it all with some lightly steamed fresh peas in the pod, and sat down to a plate of spring perfection.

Why not give it a try at your house?

Asparagus Pesto

Kosher salt
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as desired
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and shock with ice water to stop the cooking.  Reserve some of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the cooled asparagus pieces to a food processor and add the garlic, hazelnuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid.

Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time to finish mixing.

Serve over pasta, fish or chicken.  Top with chopped hazelnuts and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.  Keeps, covered and refrigerated for a day or two.

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