Stuffed Peppers & a Winter Salad

Remembering the opposite of California winters...Montana Decembers.
How's winter weather for you? E. Coast, hope you can find a place to put all that snow. On this coast, N. California's been unseasonably warm, then BAM filling up the driveway potholes wet this last weekend. Time for the kind of food that involves roasting tasty things in your oven and lots of citrus to combat the damp/snow/whatever-cold-you're facing.

So, a simple stuffed pepper recipe that'll please a crowd or make your lunch routine easy-peasy. And now that it's February we're remembering those eat-more-salad resolutions from last month...am I right? No gagging on kale and a bunch of raw veggies, this one's delicious I promise!

Stuffed Peppers

6 red peppers (try for ones that have fairly flat bottoms)
1 box of 5-minute cook couscous (I bought Near East's Mediterranean curry, Parmesan & mushroom are both good too)
2 Aidell's Chicken & Apple sausages, sliced in small pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
Small bunch of cilantro

Preheat oven to 350. Slice very top off of peppers, right below where the stem joins the pepper set aside, then hollow out the seeds. Place the peppers, open side up on a baking sheet.

Add a little olive oil to a frying pan and once hot, add the diced onion and saute for 5 or so minutes on medium heat. Add in the diced garlic and sausage. Start couscous below. After sausage is starting to brown, remove the pan from the heat.

Follow the directions on the back of the couscous box, subbing in veggie/chicken stock if you want a bit more flavor. If you're not using boxed couscous, you typically just need to bring the pan's water/stock to a boil, add salt/spices, then pour in the couscous and remove from the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes or so until all the liquid's been absorbed, then fluff with a fork.

Add your frying pan ingredients to the couscous and stir all together. Fill the peppers with the mixture, packed in a bit, up to the top. Stick your pepper lids on and cook in the oven for about an hour. They're done when the pepper skin is starting to wrinkle and you can pierce it with a knife.

Winter Salad (for 2)

2 generous platefuls of mixed greens
2 mandarin oranges
Handful of toasted pecans
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
4-6 cubes crystallized ginger (like from a bulk bin), finely diced
Herbed croutons (if you're lucky enough to have a day-old baguette lying around, toast the bread with a bit of olive oil and make your own)
Either champagne vinaigrette or a citrus-based dressing

Assemble, toss, dress, serve with peppers. Stay warm!


This Would be Garfield’s Second Favorite Dish

Tell me friends, is there anything better than melted cheese? You know, the kind that stretches off whatever food it’s lovingly attached to and sticks to your fork, face and plate? That cheese for me is mozzarella, the glory of Italian cheese. Add a little marinara and then you’ve struck gold.

Okay, big build up I realize. The thing I love about this one is it's a recipe for a fairly simple meal that transports just as well for lunch the follow day (or 2). There are a couple of labor intensive pieces but honestly, you’ll be happy with the effort as soon as it’s out of the oven and on your plate. Promise.

I mean hey, I didn't start this until 10pm so you’re bound to be a smarter person, start earlier and maybe have even better results! (Yep, I'm that person yawning over the oven at midnight because she HAD to have fresh cookies). I'd love to hear how it turns out for you, or your customizations.

Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Alexandra Stafford’s recipe on Food52

2 globe eggplants, sliced fairly uniformly into ½ inch thick rounds
Salt & Pepper
1.5 cups flour (purists would probably say white, but ww worked fine for me)
4 large eggs
3.5 – 4 cups Panko breadcrumbs
2 cups Parmesan cheese (fresh grated is best)
4 Tbs olive oil
1 large jar of your favorite (or homemade) tomato sauce
8 oz mozzarella (comes in a log with sliced rounds, grated is fine too)
Fresh basil (a must!)

Your zucchini breading station
Grab a bowl and toss the eggplants around with a pinch of salt. Place a colander in the sink and let them sit there and drain for a while, around 30 minutes. (I was tempted in my hunger to skip this step. Don’t. It’s completely worth having crispy eggplant and less extra liquid as you dish it up later).

Heat oven to 425 and stick 2 baking sheets in to preheat. Lay out your station for eggplant breading, beginning with a bowl for the flour and a shake of pepper, a second, smaller bowl for the beaten eggs and a third with the combined breadcrumbs, 1.5 cups of the cheese and a shake of S&P.

Lay out a few metal cooling racks. Spread the eggplant out on dishcloths and pat your first round to prep them for their 3 part dressing before the oven. Tap them around in the flour, dip in the eggs then roll in the cheese/Panko mixture, press it over the whole surface to make sure everything sticks. Place your eggplant rounds on the cooling racks for temporary storage. Your fingers will get completely cheesed and sticky after a while, and your kitchen counter will look like the Pillsbury dough boy tried his hand at baking.

Once all the eggplant’s ready, remove your pans from the oven and pour 2 Tbs of oil over each to coat. Arrange the eggplant over the pans in a single layer. Stick in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked to your liking, then flip and cook for another 5-10 until you can see the cheese turning a little golden but without anything browning too much.

Leave your oven on. Grab a 9x13 baking dish and pour a generous coating of tomato sauce over the bottom, about 1/3 of the jar. Spread half of the eggplant over the bottom, with however an artsy formation you’re feeling. I liked the “shingling” suggested for this recipe even though that required far more eggplant than I ended up with. Pour over another third of the sauce, then sprinkle/place half of your mozzarella on top. Continue with the rest of your eggplant and sauce. Then add the rest of the cheese.

Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and the sauce looks pretty thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle basil and extra Parmesan over the top and serve with some toasted French bread and a big glass of Merlot!  

- Herby: dried or fresh – a few shakes would shine well, either in the sauce or sprinkled in top. Say oregano, thyme or Herbs de Provence
- Spicy: You could add a shake of cayenne or some roasted red peppers into the sauce
- Meaty: If you prefer protein in your main course, ground turkey could be browned off and added to the layering process or flaked rotisserie chicken could give it a Chicken Cacciatore feel
Cheers to Monday from Miss Julia

How fitting that Food and Wine featured their "old school eggplant parm" for #meatlessmonday last week. Honored to be on the same wavelength...as I drool over their Instagram lately.

Hope it's a good week for everyone!


Baking Procrastination

Time to come clean: I’m a recipe hoarder. Not just cookbooks either – though the majority of my Barnes & Noble/local bookstore gift cards DO go towards books in that genre. The glossy pages of soba noodle stir fries and fudge cakes just suck me in, even when I have 10 recipes for each already. So…that’s where that money goes.

But online recipes, that’s where the real gold mine is. There’s an accurately titled “Baking and recipes” folder on my computer (note the separate focus there) where somewhere in the ballpark of 500 or more recipes live. And the number only grows: semi-daily thanks to Deb, Molly, Food52 and others.

So, more often than not I continue to add and not to actually make. But, for a change I thought I’d sort back through in the name of a very large bag of carrots that came home with me from gleaning at Boxx Berry Farms a few weeks ago in Bellingham. What to do with carrots in the summertime, when you’re tired of raw chunks on salads and it’s way too hot for the lovely carrot soup I posted back in March?

Let me tell you. LOTS. Carrot cake obviously (see below) and that happened. But also pancakes. Cupcakes. And alas, summer soups! And something absolutely wonderful I discovered about carrot recipes in general. They’re truly carrot-y. They don’t try to hide the orange or mask it with a bunch of add-ins beyond your warm spices or typical complements like raisins. So carrot crusaders read on, and make one of these tonight for dinner, dessert or better dessert dinner. Promise your nose won’t turn orange.

First, your classic carrot cake. Logically, made in a rush of my empty kitchen the day before I moved out, I got a bit creative with what spices were easy to access. Hence, the ingredients mixed in stove top pots.

Modification of Deb's Classic Carrot Cake 

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1.5 tsps ground ginger
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots
1 cups coarsely chopped walnuts/pecans (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup rum (for later, I'll explain!)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9" cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper (easy to trace if you flip them over and use the bottom as an outline). Then butter and flour the paper as well. I wouldn't skimp on this step, it sounds like extra work but saying it from experience, it's worth it for the cake to come out all in one piece as far as your own baking sanity goes.

Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk sugar and oil until blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time (it'll feel pretty gritty at first). Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, nuts and raisins, if using them. Divide batter evenly among two 9" cake pans, tapping pans a bit to settle the batter.

I found my cake started to develop little air bubbles in the batter after about 30 minutes and was done soon after. Be sure to check it early and watch for browning around the edges and that gentle rise in the middle. Check with a toothpick for done-ness. Now the rum! While the cake is still hot, pour about 1/4 cup on top of each cake so it soaks in all around the edges. This will help the cake come out better too.

Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks to finish cooling. I find it helps to first run a metal knife around the edge of the cake a few times then place the rack upside down on the cake pan as it sits on the counter, inverting it onto the now right-side up rack and peeling off the paper. If it doesn't want to come out tap/bang if necessary the bottom of the ban with the blunt end of your knife and that should help. If it doesn't look perfect it'll still taste great and cream cheese is an excellent BandAid for most things!

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (straight from Deb)
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (gotta be the real thing!)

In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly. If you have a piping bag with a star tip you can do fun frosting designs around the outside. If not, layer your cakes simply. Place your first cake on a plate, frost the top, then sandwich your next cake over. Frost the sides, the top, and decorate with extra nuts or raisins if you'd like.

This makes a beautiful tall cake, even better the next day after the rum has fully soaked in. Enjoy!
(Look at those egg yolks! If you have friends/neighbors/farmers you can get free range eggs from, they're worth their weight in gold.)


Carrot Soup ala Deb

Something about wintery weather, those breezes that suck your lungs a little dry and a fresh dusting on snow that grows to ankle deep by afternoon...it makes me want to eat more bright, sharp foods. Orange is a color you can't miss in a snowstorm, and case in point I crave that earthy carroty (apparently yes, that is a word) crunch in the winter. Even better when served warm in a bowl or mason jar to warm your hands up.

So, in sweeps Deb from Smitten Kitchen with my dinner recipe for the week. If you haven't had the immense pleasure of reading her food blog yet, you're in a for a treat. If you haven't visited her site in awhile - go back through - you're bound to find the best recipe for anything from banana bread to meal you'd want to make for the pickiest relatives. Her titles are basically poetry...who doesn't drool a little at the thought of Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel??!

Anyways, here it is. Carrot Soup, fitting for our first real snowy weekend of the winter here in Bellingham. 8 inches in a day, we were all in need of a little warm broth. Lots of listening to this. I tweaked the spices and ingredients a bit, here's the original if you want to peek. It looks like a lot of steps, but read through first and you can overlap what you're working on.

(the version here was doubled, generously served 6 with leftovers for lunch)

3 Tbs. olive oil
3.5 pounds carrots, washed and peeled, then sliced in thin rounds
3 ribs of celery, chopped finely
1 very large onion, chopped (shallots would also be excellent)
10 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced
1/2 tsp corriander
1 tsp cumin
1.5 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne
Generous shake red pepper flakes
Dash of salt
Grind of  pepper
3.5 cups veggie broth (more if you want it thinner)
For later: generous 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat olive oil over medium, add onions and carrots. Saute for 10 or so minutes. Add celery and the rest of the ingredients/spices and let brown for a bit longer, another 10 minutes or until pretty tender. Put on the lid and take off the heat. Get out your blender, and ladle it into it in batches, pureeing and pouring into a large bowl. Transfer back to the cooking pot once you've finished.

Crispy Garbanzos
3 cups canned garbanzos, washed, drained, patted dry
1.5 Tbs olive oil
Generous grinds of Himalayan salt (Trader Joe's pink salt is my favorite)
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala

Next, heat the oven to 425. In a bowl, drizzle the garbanzos with oil and toss them in the spices. Lay them out on a baking sheet to toast in the oven. Keep an eye on them, mine took only 10 minutes or so to start getting crisped. Move them around with a wooden spoon have way through cooking.

Lemon-Tahini Dallop
5 Tbs tahini paste (not too expensive if you buy in bulk)
4.5 Tbs. lemon juice, or more
Pinch of salt
5 Tbs. water, you might need more

For the dallop, combine everything in a shallow bowl and whisk it until combined. If it's too tart add more water, or if you love the flavor of tahini cut back on the lemon juice.

Sesame Pitas
Large pitas (white or wheat), sliced into wedges
Himalayan sea salt
Hulled sesame seeds

You're almost done! Brush your pita wedges with olive oil and sprinkles with sea salt and sesame seeds. Crisp them in the oven for 10 minutes or less until browned, add the garbanzos half way through to reheat them for serving.

Get out your favorite bowls, gather your friends and family and dish up! Swirl in the tahini individually, garnish with garbanzos and parsley. Dip and go with the pitas, so you don't leave any behind in the bowl. Makes such easy leftovers for lunch the next day too. If you find spices to add/tweak let me know! It's a good canvas for trying out different blends of herbs and spices.

Stay warm friends. Brrr.


Christmas Marzipan Loaf

You know how there are certain traditions, certain ways of celebrating a holiday or baking a cake that you grow up with and those become the only way? NPR wrote a great piece recently about family food traditions and it got me thinking. For me, the holidays mean a lot of family traditions – ones I know I’ll introduce to my children someday until these ways become their only way. Soon they’ll be that one kid who opens stockings Christmas night instead of morning ha!

Christmas morning wouldn’t be right without a marzipan loaf, served warm on a Christmas plate with a drizzle of lemon icing on top. If you aren’t familiar with marzipan, I’m pretty excited for you to try this. I’ll let you chose, but a mug of candy cane tea does go pretty darn well with it. Just saying.

(Blogging faux pas fixed....see picture below, Happy belated Birthday miss Kyla :)

Christmas Marzipan Bread

Yeast Dough
¼ cup sugar
½ cup warm milk (like 110 degrees or so, I usually just stick a finger in to test it – shouldn’t scald you but should be a bit uncomfortable)
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/3 cups white flour
Pinch of salt
4 Tbs. butter
1 egg, beaten

1 log Marzipan (my favorite is the Odense brand in the shiny foil tube)

¼ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
3 Tbs. water

To make yeast dough
Stir 1 tsp sugar into warm milk and sprinkle with yeast. Let stand 5 minutes or until frothy. Stir gently.

Sift flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Melt butter, stir into yeast mixture. Pour into flour mixture with egg, combining to make dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth.

Let rise in a warm place/proof box 30-40 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Next, on a floured surface roll out the risen dough to an 18x12 inch or so rectangle.

For filling
Warm marzipan for 10-15 seconds to soften it, then roll it out on the counter. Cut it into 15-20 pieces and evenly distribute it across the rolled out dough. Then roll up tightly, burrito style! Lightly wet ends with water to seal the dough and place that side face down on the pan. Cut the rolled up dough in half.

Cover the breads and let them rise in a warm place for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

For glaze
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon glaze over warm breads!

Also, I refuse to let go of the holiday music spirit quite yet. If you're in the same boat, be sure to listen to some good tunes both as you're baking and eating. Especially if it's June and you need to get in the spirit, this will do the trick: Warm & Fuzzy Christmas.

Happy New Year & happy eating to all!



Tomorrow I’ll post my favorite Christmas bread recipe! Just a few end of year thoughts for now. 

Epiphany. Stripping the house of colored lights,
Christmas tins nestled among tissue,
the last of the candy canes crushed or eaten.
Presents unwrapped and stockings folded
the past year slides off gently
the bright egg still smooth, still whole.

sometimes it’s easier to write about
the brilliance of nothing.
the missed connections
that out of the blue feel fatal.
mary oliver, send me a bright parrot
with your words held in its mouth,
write the melancholy for me
so I can speak only of the light.
Resolutions…I know we’re all familiar with writing them! What is it, an average 8% success rate or something? I definitely don’t have any claim on resolution keeping – the only one I remember from last year was a lofty (!) goal of a poem a day. That happened for January and a some random days in-between (above).

Honestly, I think often we’re too hard on ourselves. Resolutions are usually black and white always this and never that/this many times per week/overarching life changes. Embracing small is something I know I’ve struggled with this past year.

So I’m proposing life restoration practices for resolution starters this year. Just a few I'm thinking on...I want to restore my relationship with writing – restore being active more often after getting over an injury – restore and strengthen eating mindfully & restore taking more time to breathe and be slow.

Happy, happy New Year’s everyone!!


It's Almost Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of the season, here's a classic Thanksgiving dish recipe from my kitchen back at home. I could live without the turkey and mashed potatoes at the table, but not without this! Credit to my mom, who dreamed this one up.

Sweet Potato Casserole Puff 

4 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup milk/soymilk
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. butter
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbs. ginger (fresh grated best, worth it)
Pinch of salt

Cook sweet potatoes, diced and peeled. Quick to steam (15 or less minutes). Once done, remove from heat and mash while hot, adding milk, brown sugar, salt, butter and spices. Place in a greased casserole dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes with the lid on, should be starting to brown just a bit around the edges.

¾ cup granola (crunchy best, maple or nutty kind) - Bear Naked's my fav
½ cup pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. butter, melted

Combine all ingredients but butter. Drizzle butter over top and mix together. Layer topping over baked sweet potatoes. Bake for another 10 minutes with the lid off so topping gets nice and crunchy. Should be browned and steaming!

What's your favorite Thanksgiving dish? Do you have family tradition sides you always make?