Imperfect Pickles

There is a tendency in life (and certainly online) to show only the perfect.  Unfortunately, a beautiful picture is just that – beautiful, but only a picture.  It doesn’t always tell the whole story.  When I started this blog, the purpose wasn’t to show off a perfect life, but rather, a real one.

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There are always going to be moments when things don’t go our way, aren’t what we hoped for, and we feel frustration for all the imperfections of the things we can’t control.

A nice little example is my effort with pickles this year… I kept waiting this summer to share my newest amazing fantastic pickle-findings with you, but after three botched attempts, I need to chalk this one up to failure.  Cucumbers have a very short growing season and I missed it.  This is not to say that there are no pickles.  I made loads of them.  They taste okay, but they didn’t turn out how I wanted them to.  Some were too big and are floating around in the jars.  Some turned out a bit wrinkly.  Some didn’t seal correctly.  The funny part is that I couldn’t let it go.  I tried the damn thing three times!!  At some point in time, Albert Einstein described insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  This pickle effort could possibly be described as cuckoo, crazy, or possibly insane.

When do you decide you have had enough?  How do you move past hurdles when it becomes clear that success is not within your grasp?  How do you know when to change gears?  At some point mid-August, I had to admit defeat in the 2013 pickle category and it didn’t feel good.  But, that’s the truth.  My message today is:

Know that you aren’t the only one to get frustrated.

Know that you aren’t the only one who fails.

We all do.

Truly.

We just usually don’t like to admit it, and we certainly don’t want to broadcast it to the world or Facebook.  So, without further ado, here are some photos of imperfect pickles.  I will try again next year.  Or I won’t.  We’ll see how I’m feeling about it next summer.

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Anthem

Some days I need an anthem to keep moving.  To get that chin up.  Or, to deal with bad attitudes all around… Often, P!nk’s infectious lyrics and bold beats are just the ticket.

We were lucky enough to attend P!nk’s live performance last night.  She was in Seattle performing her Truth About Love Tour.  As I have mentioned before (Life Lessons on the Playground), I really respect P!nk’s ethos of feminine strength and her no-nonsense  attitude.  Her music often inspires me to be my own best person… and lately, to stop taking cr*p from unthinking people.

P!nk’s concert was fantastic.  She is a fabulously talented performer that grabbed the audience from the first note and didn’t let go for two hours.  I had heard that her concerts are part-rock concert and part-cirque de soleil-esque theatrics and she did not disappoint.   She spent much of the concert in the air doing amazing trapeze-type tricks while also singing her songs beautifully.  It was a high energy, emotionally-charged rush that was just what I needed after a long week.

Here are a few snippets of the concert.  It won’t do her justice, but might give you just a little taste of the fun we had.  In the last clip of “So What” you can see that she literally flies right over us!  It was really a fun time!

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

Here we go again…

Butternut squash soup last week… butternut squash salad this week.  As we enter new seasons, I see that I might possibly get a bit obsessed with seasonal ingredients from time to time.  Corn, figs, and now butternut squash.  Oh well, there are worse things, I suppose.  This was the recipe that I was dreaming about as summer ended and the beginnings of fall were in the air, but have only, just now, gotten a chance to share with you.

I fell in love with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen last October and it’s memory stayed with me all year long.  It is hearty and fresh and perfectly fall.  It also makes me laugh every time I make it because we have a joke among a few of our friends about farro.  Each and every time it is spotted on a menu, all anyone ever has to say about it is, “oh, farro, that’s an ancient grain.”  What does that even mean anyways?  As it turns out, farro is a whole grain that hails from Italy, has a nutty flavor and a nice amount of tooth to it.  It is quite delicious.  If you are curious to know more about farro, click here, or simply try the recipe below.

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Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

Source: Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup semi-pearled farro 
1/3 cup toasted pepitas 
3 ounces ricotta salata or another salty cheese, crumbled or coarsely grated (I use french feta)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel squash, then halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut squash into approximately 3/4-inch chunks. Coat one large or two small baking sheets with 2 tablespoons oil total. Spread squash out in single layer on sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until pieces are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Set aside to cool slightly.

While squash is roasting, cook farro in a large pot of simmering salted water until the grains are tender but chewy, about 30 minutes. (Since there are so many varieties of farro, however, if your package suggests otherwise, it’s best to defer to its cooking suggestion.) Drain and cool slightly.

While squash is roasting and farro is simmering, in a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, water, 1/2 teaspoon table salt and granulated sugar until sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in onion; it will barely be covered by vinegar mixture but don’t worry. Cover and set in fridge until needed; 30 minutes is ideal but less time will still make a lovely, lightly pickled onion.

In a large bowl, mix together butternut squash, farro, red onion and its vinegar brine, the crumbled cheese and pepitas. Toss with 3 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil, use the 4th one only if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings. Eat now or later. Salad keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

I enjoy serving this salad over a bed of baby spinach.  I always know when I have found a fantastic new recipe – my particular “tell” is that I find myself sampling multiple spoonfuls out of the serving bowl, just to make sure I’ve gotten it just right… you may find yourself doing the same on this one!  In fact, it was eaten so quickly, I never got a great photo of it plated and beautiful… sorry about that, you’ll just have to take my word for it – Delicious!

Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday I figured out that I have been making this particular soup for 14 years.  This is by far my longest standing, go-to recipe.  The first time I made it was after graduating from college, right before I moved to San Francisco to start work and become an adult.  I love knowing that little fact – so much was about to happen in my life… There is a small tradition in my family of writing notes on actual recipes (when the dish was made, if any changes were made, how successful it was, and lastly, if there was an occasion).  These small bits of information are completely informal, with no rhyme or reason, but provide so much history!  This recipe, made by Marilyn Weissman, was originally published in our local newspaper in November 1993 as the winner of a community cooking competition.  My recipe (with notes) is a photocopy from that newspaper piece, but I see that Marilyn still lists this recipe on her website My Global Kitchens, another great place to poke around for recipes, I’m sure!

This comforting fall soup differentiates itself by bringing together some unique flavors.  Creamy butternut squash combined with the spicy and bright tastes of ginger and lime create a lovely fall soup you won’t soon forget.  I made this for our dinner last night, and I also ate it for lunch today and realize now that it really is better the next day.  The flavors have a chance to mellow and meld and is just oh, so comforting.

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Butternut Squash Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 lime, juiced (or to taste)

salt and white pepper (to taste)

Saute onion and ginger in butter, add garlic and cook until onion becomes translucent.  Add squash, broth, and water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer 25 minutes or until soft.  Put in food processor in batches (or use immersion blender to save time and dish washing), return to heat and stir in lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Can make two days ahead.  Garnish with thinly sliced lime and ginger strip.

I usually serve this recipe with homemade croutons and a simple green salad.  It can also be frozen for later use.  The pictures above show the recipe doubled.  You will also notice a few other time savers that I usually stock in my freezer, pre-minced garlic and ginger by the company, Dorot.  I know you can find an assortment of these frozen herbs at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, among other stores.  If you enjoy making soup, I highly recommend investing in an immersion blender (also pictured above), this tool simplifies the process of blending hot liquids and is relatively inexpensive.  I use mine all the time.

This soup is one of my personal markers that fall has arrived – I hope you love it too!

Enjoy!

Homemade Hot Sauce

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Let me start by saying that I love hot sauce.  I will put it on almost anything and it is definitely my favorite condiment in the refrigerator.  When a friend brought over dinner for us the other day, she included some hot sauce that she had made herself last year.  I kid you not, when I say that I almost licked the bowl clean.  The hot sauce recipe was from The Pantry at Delancey, a fabulous new hands-on cooking school in the Ballard area of Seattle.  My friend, M, went to one of The Pantry classes last year and learned how to make this delicious sauce (along with yummy fried chicken and succotash).  I have yet to attend a class at The Pantry, as their classes sell out very quickly, but it is high on my list of things to do.  (Anyone want to join me?)  So when M suggested we make this hot sauce together a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance!

This southern-style hot sauce is so fun because you control the heat.  The recipe was easy to follow.  The most time consuming thing about it is pushing the roasted chile puree through the strainer.  Next time I will look for a strainer with just a little bigger holes to make it go a bit faster.  We added a few habaneros, as well as all the peppers you see below, and the result was delicious.  It is spicy, but not burn-your-tongue-off-spicy and the white vinegar adds a nice balancing effect.  We doubled the recipe below and it made approximately 6 half-pint jars.  You store this sauce in the fridge, but I doubt it will be there for long.  I am already into our second jar and it is going quick!  I will definitely be making this again sometime soon.

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the Pantry at Delancey’s Southern-Style Hot Sauce

yield: 2 cups

8 ounces sweet chiles (we used bell peppers)

6 1/2 ounces medium chiles

1 1/2 ounces hot chiles

1 cup distilled vinegar

1-2 tablespoons water

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt (to taste)

Trim the stems off of the chiles, leaving the base that the stem attaches to.  Toss the chiles in enough olive oil to coat them.  Roast them in the oven or on the grill until you get a nice char on them.  Set aside to cool.  If desired, peel the skins from the chiles (we did not peel the skins off).  Puree the roasted chiles in a food processor or blender with enough vinegar to keep them moving.  Push the pureed chiles through a strainer, extracting as much of the pulp as possible.  Add the water, salt and the rest of the vinegar and chill in the fridge for a few days.  You can eat it immediately, but it gets better with time.  Store in the fridge.

Enjoy on just about anything.  This hot sauce dresses up a basic quesadilla or eggs and would be a perfect accompaniment to a bowl of chili con carne!

Enjoy!

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Chili Con Carne

How many of us were making chili last weekend to celebrate the changing weather and the start of football season?  There is something so natural about making a big pot of soup or chili as the weather begins to turn and we need something to warm us from the inside.  I have mentioned that soup is one of my favorite things to make and I think I will make an effort this season to post more soup recipes, because even if they are not terribly gourmet, they make for great weeknight meals in winter.  They are easy to freeze or make ahead and I find them to be nicely soul satisfying.

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Over the years we have tried many different types of chili recipes.  Chili is the kind of food where people have very strong opinions about what makes chili, chili – high heat, no heat, with beans, no beans, etc…   This is a good time to mention that I was a vegetarian for about 20 years, so the idea that I am making chili con carne at all is something that my younger self might have scoffed at.  But, now that I do eat meat, my husband loves to kid me about being a “recovering vegetarian”.  So even when we make meat dishes, whatever we make is usually loaded with vegetables too.  This is relevant because as we start talking about chili, you will see that I am in the camp that believes in incorporating lots of beans, tomatoes and vegetables to round out this hearty dish.  But do what pleases you.

The chili we love most comes from epicurious.com.  We have been making this recipe for a couple of years now and it is always gobbled up.  The original recipe is called Chili Con Carne with Chili Cheddar Shortcakes and is from Gourmet magazine.  What I like about this version is that it is very classic and a nice base for whatever you like to add.  You make the whole recipe in one pot, which certainly cuts down on clean up.  The cider vinegar adds a nice tang, that you wouldn’t know you want, but you do.  The carrots mellow things out.  I also recommend using a lean or extra lean type of ground beef since you don’t drain the meat in this recipe, but rather just add to the vegetables that are already cooking.   Lastly, the thing I love most about chili, in general, is all the interesting toppings one can add!  We usually make up a batch of cornbread and then add chopped onion, avocado, grated cheese, sour cream and hot sauce (of course)!  I made a double batch of the below this Sunday and we had plenty left over to freeze.

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Chili Con Carne

serves 6 generously

  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 carrots, sliced thin
  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck, ground coarse in batches in a food processor or by the butcher 
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried hot red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • two 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 19-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
In a large pot cook the onions in the oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened.  Add the garlic and the carrots, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the chuck and cook it over moderate heat, stirring and breaking up any lumps, for 10 minutes, or until it is no longer pink.  Add the chili powder, the cumin, the paprika, the oregano, and the red pepper flakes and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the tomato sauce, the broth, and the vinegar, bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer it, covered, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Add the kidney beans, the bell peppers, and salt and black pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until the bell peppers are tender.
This recipe is easy to make for a crowd.  It can be made a day or two in advance, as the flavors will only get better as they have time to mingle.
Enjoy!

Figs in the PNW

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So it was brought to my attention this summer that figs can grow (and even ripen) in Seattle!  I had no idea.  Ciscoe Morris is a gardening expert in the Seattle area and he tells us that one can grow figs in the PNW! (click here for the seattletimes.com article)  If this bit of news excites you as much as it excites me then check out Raintree Nursery to learn more about the different types of figs that will do well in your climate.  I loved a quote from their site that reads, “If you are among the many people who associate a fig tree with only a hot dry climate, you are in for a delicious surprise.  Fig trees thrive in the Pacific Northwest and much of the nation.”  A delicious surprise, indeed…

If you have been paying attention, you might know that I have a thing for figs.  I might even be developing a reputation… (fig jam, panini sandwiches, and I haven’t even told you about the fig painting that hangs in my dining room!  Yeesh.)  So, after learning about the above, I thought, “What a perfect thing to ask for for my birthday this year!”  Well, wouldn’t you know it, two fig trees were already riding around in my husbands backseat.  I believe his immediate thought upon receiving my fabulous brainstorm, via text, was something along the lines of, “Seriously, woman!?!?”  ESP or just on the same page… we’ll never know.

So… my birthday present this year was a couple of fig trees that someday, just might grow into big trees and maybe, just maybe… will produce figs!!  The giving and planting of a few trees is just about the best birthday present a girl could get in my book.

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Artichoke Spinach Lasagna

So our family is going through this kindergarten transition very well, but there are some signs of stress.  My baby is becoming a young man and I feel so, so proud of him.  The day feels long without him and even though I was ready to sell him to a band of gypsies by the end of this summer, I miss him.

So, when I feel a little out of control, I either make lists or I make food to freeze.  I guess the idea is that even if I don’t know what is coming around the bend, at least there will be food to eat in the freezer.  I am someone who does not love to cook.  But, I do like projects.  So I enjoy cooking recipes in large batches and then breaking them down and freezing them in sizes that make sense for different sized gatherings.  Then, on any given day (when things get even crazier than they are today), I have a bunch of homemade meals ready to thaw in my freezer.  We have our standbys, our favorites and these meals are fabulous because they make the house smell wonderful and like someone has been cooking all day.  But, it wasn’t me… at least not that day.

So for the last three days, since Sam started Kindergarten, we have been cooking nonstop.  I have FILLED, and I mean FILLED our freezer.  Mission accomplished.  This mama is feeling the intensity of big changes in our family…

This recipe is adapted from an Artichoke Spinach Lasagna I found on allrecipes.com.  Double the below quantities to make enough to freeze.  Not only is this a great method of cooking for busy families, but it is great to have some meals available to share with friends or for impromptu entertaining.

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Artichoke Spinach Lasagna

yield: 8 servings

olive oil cooking spray

9 uncooked lasagna noodles (I prefer no-cook Barilla)

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable or chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 (14 ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry

1 (28 ounce) jar tomato sauce

salt & pepper to taste

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 (4 ounce) package herb and garlic feta, crumbled

(double or triple for freezing of multiple future meals)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a lage pot of lightly salted water to boil.  Add noodles and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente; drain.  (Or skip this step if using no-boil lasagna noodles).

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium high.  Saute onion and garlic for 3 minutes, or until onion is tender-crisp.  Stir in broth and rosemary; bring to a boil.  Stir in artichoke hearts and spinach; reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread 1/4 of the artichoke mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish; top with 3 noodles.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese over noodles.  Repeat layers two more times, ending with the artichoke mixture and mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle crumbled feta on top.

Bake, covered, for 40 minutes.  Uncover, and bake 15 minutes more, or until hot and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Enjoy tonight or 3 months from now!

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Side note:  Another important thing I want to mention is how happy it makes me that Muir Glen brand of tomatoes has decided to get rid of the BPA in their cans.  Tomatoes are notoriously difficult to deal with for corporations because of their high acidity.  They lead the industry in their choice to take the chemical of BPA out of their canned goods.  More and more companies are trying to get with the program, but for now, I trust and applaud Muir Glen for making the choice to help us keep our families safe from chemicals in our food.  Just FYI, the way you can tell if your cans are free of BPA (when talking about tomatoes only) is the copper lining color that you see below.  Thanks, Muir Glen!

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1st Day of School Oatmeal Cookies

Well, it happened.  The first day of kindergarten has arrived and the world appears to still be turning.  All seems okay!  The boy will come home in a few hours and we will have some homemade cookies to greet him.  It may be real, or imagined, but I believe I was greeted with these same cookies when I was in school.   This is not a complicated or secret recipe, by any means, but it is worth remembering!  It is the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies on the inside of the Quaker Oats container.  We’re not raisin fans in this house, so we sub in some Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chips instead.  Hopefully, it will be just the taste of home that our kindergartener needs after his first day!

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Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies

yield: about 4 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned uncooked)

1 cup raisins (or chocolate chips)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.

Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack.  Cool completely.  Store tightly covered.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

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Some days there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  And some weeks there just aren’t enough hours to make tomato sauce… So what does one do when the tomatoes are ripe and abundant in the garden, but you don’t have enough time to can or eat them all before they go bad?  The answer?  You make slow roasted tomatoes.  “Notes on Dinner” has done a lovely job outlining how to slow roast tomatoes.  Her recipe is based on a menu item at a fantastic local restaurant’s menu.  Vios Cafe is a wonderful restaurant in Seattle and is extremely family-friendly with an entire area devoted to kid play.  One can enjoy a glass of wine, while eating delicious food, and everyone is happy.  But, until you are able to make it to Vios, cook yourself up some of their slow roasted tomatoes.

I must admit that I am never patient enough to truly slow roast, although I know they are delicious.  I typically cook the tomatoes on 350 degrees for an hour or two depending on the size of the tomatoes.  Add a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and whatever other herbs or flavors you wish, you let the tomatoes caramelize on the pan.  You will end up with a flavor that you won’t believe.  The already deliciously fresh tomatoes become even more full flavored and amazing.  After tasting these, you really won’t need much inspiration for what to do with them.  Spooning them off the pan and straight into your mouth is one very good idea, but here are a few others if you need some encouragement.

  1. Roasted Tomato Tartine
  2. Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato & Pistachio Salad
  3. Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart

Roasted tomatoes are wonderful to have around.  We will use them in soups, pasta sauces, on pizzas, in salads, and on antipasti platters.  Roasted tomatoes have a rich, sweet, concentrated flavor.  They are fantastic…  Enjoy!!