Archive for January 2015

Warm Date Cake with Toffee Sauce

January 28th, 2015 — 8:02am

DSC05211Speaking of dates, this recipe for Warm Date Cake with Toffee Sauce is one I’ve wanted to share for a while. It was, hands down, my favorite dessert of 2014. I should have made it for this month’s Iron  Chef Dinner, which highlighted all things made with dates, but I generally like to try dishes I’ve never made before for Iron Chef. I first made this cake when Larry and I had another couple over for dinner in late-fall. I found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, which was tweaked from a recipe featured in the Sunday Suppers cookbook, which was inspired by a version served at Cafe Moto in Brooklyn. Which is all to say this cake has a cult following. Oh man, is it good—sweet and sticky, dripping in warm butterscotch with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top—you’ll find yourself with a new-found deep appreciation of date cake.

Here’s the recipe for Warm Date Cake with Toffee Sauce.

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Iron Chef Dates Dinner

January 27th, 2015 — 9:14am

From left to right: Moroccan-date bonbons; date and goat cheese crostini; broiled salmon with date chutney; couscous with clementines, chickpeas, olives and dates; chicken stuffed with feta and dates; sweet date hummus with sliced apples; date bars; date balls; dates.

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Chili with Roasted Squash Cornbread

January 23rd, 2015 — 11:05am

DSC05450I tried new chili and cornbread recipes recently, and really enjoyed both. The chili is hearty and flavorful from a tomato-chili pepper paste, cinnamon, cocoa powder, honey and beer. It’s one of those dishes where you can’t help but analyze the flavors. What exactly am I tasting right now? What is that ingredient? The roasted squash cornbread  was equally interesting. The bread is wonderfully moist with a beautiful, golden hue, and of course, makes the perfect partner for chili.

Meat and Bean Chili with Market Carrots (slightly adapted from Epicurious; serves 6-8)

2 tbsp oil
1 pound ground or finely diced beef
1 dried pasilla or ancho chile, and 1 dried anaheim chili rehydrated (I broiled and skinned a poblano pepper in substitution for the ahaheim)
32 oz canned tomatoes or 2-3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp mild ground chile powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
4-6 cups of stock or water (I used vegetable broth)
1/2 cup beer (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat. In a small skillet over medium heat, briefly toast the dehydrated chiles until charred. Submerge the chili peppers in the hot water and let stand for about 30 minutes. Remove the seeds and stem, and place the flesh in a blender with the tomatoes and mix until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the meat and onions until the meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Add dried spices and stir for about 1 minute. Add the tomato-chili pepper mixture, cocoa powder, beans, carrots, honey or maple syrup, garlic and bay leaf. Add stock or water to cover, about 4-6 cups. Simmer about 45 minutes to 1 hour over medium-low heat. Add salt to taste. Feel free to add 1/2 cup of your favorite beer and cook another 5 minutes. Serve with grated cheese, sour cream and fresh cornbread.

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Oatmeal Pancakes for a Lazy Sunday

January 16th, 2015 — 10:06am

DSC05442On the last Sunday morning of 2014, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen posted a picture of these oatmeal pancakes on her Facebook feed along with the message “Current recipe for a lazy Sunday: Rain. Freshly-squeezed clementine juice. Toy Story 3. Oatmeal pancakes so delicious, nobody will figure out they’re also healthy. What’s on your agenda?”

And just like that, I needed to make these pancakes part of my lazy Sunday, too. Granted, I didn’t get around to it until the following Sunday, but that gave me an entire week to look forward to them. The thing about pancakes is that I can never get enough. My husband and I were recently reviewing pictures we took over the course of the past year, and—no big surprise—more than half of the pictures I took were of food. “And there’s more pictures of pancakes than anything else, my husband observed. It’s true. There’s nothing that lures me in quite like a good pancake recipe—especially if the recipe is accompanied by a great photo. My brain is wired to respond: must. make. those. pancakes. I’ve tried dozens of pancake recipes, and it’s clear that I’m nowhere near stopping. Any good lazy Sunday deserves a decent stack.

This particular recipe incorporates both oat flour (that you simply make by grinding rolled oats in a food processor) as well as cooked oatmeal (which I made a day or two beforehand so as not to delay pancake gratification on Sunday morning). I also bought out-of-season strawberries (which I rarely do), because I wanted to complete the full picture Deb had put in my mind with her photo of oatmeal pancakes nestled up to a pile of sliced strawberries. These pancakes were delightful. I especially enjoyed the interesting texture variation from the oatmeal. I will make them again.

Here’s the recipe for Oatmeal Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen, slightly adapted from Good to the Grain. Make them part of your lazy Sunday.

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Books I Read in 2014

January 15th, 2015 — 8:53am

Last year, for the time, I kept a running tally of the books I read. Now, it’s interesting to look back at that list and see how my interests and priorities shifted during the year. I started with a heavy focus on food memoirs—diving into former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s hilarious memoirs, followed by Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, in preparation for my trip to Paris last spring. I also read a few books for work along the way, as well as a collection of short stories from one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro. When I found out I was pregnant in July, I began reading baby books in earnest.

My two favorite books that I read in 2014 were Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and the last book I read, City of Thieves by David Benioff. I wish every high school and college graduate could receive a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s a beautiful collection of advice columns dedicated to answering questions about life and love.  Strayed is wise and compassionate, and her responses are so deeply personal.

I’m just finishing up my first book for 2015—Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I should start another list, but something tells me I’m not going to have quite as much time for reading this year.

Books I Read in 2014
Tender at the Bone:Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Seams Unlikely by Nancy Zieman

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…for Good by Mark Bittman

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme

Dear Life by Alice Munro

Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice in Love & Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the help of 50,000 Strangers) by Daniel Jones

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Chery Strayed

The Guide to Having a Baby: Important Information, Advice and Support for your Pregnancy by Robin Elise Weiss

For the Sins of My Father: A Mafia Killer, His Son, and the Legacy of a Mob Life by Albert DeMeo

Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Baby Bargains: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on baby furniture, gear, clothes, strollers, maternity wear, and much, much more! by Denise and Alan Fields

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering by Kelly Wels

City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff

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Sweet and Savory Root Vegetable Stew

January 14th, 2015 — 11:33am

DSC05526One day last week, I arrived home from work to find a bag on our front doorstep. Inside the bag, I found two glass quart jars of soup and a recipe, along with a lovely note from Larry’s Aunt Ellen, who we affectionately refer to as Tía Elena. It was such a great surprise, especially in the throes of subzero wind chill temperatures.

A few days later, we enjoyed hot bowls of stew, and both remarked how tasty it was. The stew is filled with seasonal root vegetables, and has a wonderful balance of sweet and savory flavors. For us at least, it wasn’t filling enough to make an entire meal, but it was a great addition to our sandwiches. The recipe is from Terry Walters’ Clean Food, which I just reserved at the library and hope to explore further. This stew is a great way to use root vegetables, which are so abundant this time of year. I’m hoping to stock up on ingredients at this week’s farmers’ market, so I can try making the soup myself. Also, a note about the Ume plum vinegar, an ingredient I wasn’t familiar with. Ellen said she purchased it at Willy St. Co-op, and that a small bottle is sufficient since you only use a few dashes.

Sweet and Savory Root Vegetable Stew (from Clean Food; serves 6-8)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 shallots
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
2 medium rutabagas, peeled and diced
2 turnips, peeled and diced
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 celeriac, peeled and diced
1 fennel blub, halved, cored and diced
1 cinnamon stick
Vegetable stock
Ume plum vinegar

Heat one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the shallots and ginger for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes, celery root, fennel and cinnamon stick. Add enough stock to just cover vegetables. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat, discard the cinnamon stick and puree the soup with a handheld blender to thicken the liquid and blend the flavors. Season to taste with a few dashes of vinegar and serve.DSC05506

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French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

January 13th, 2015 — 8:05am


I’ve made this salad repeatedly over the past year. Ever since I came back from Paris last May and devoured David Lebovitz’s latest cookbook, My Paris Kitchen, this salad has been a permanent part of my repertoire. I’ve made it for lunches, I’ve made it for potlucks, I even quadrupled the recipe and made it for an open house brunch we hosted at our new home this past summer. I’ve received more requests for this recipe than any other in recent history—probably because it’s so tasty, and healthy. I buy the French green lentils at Willy St. Co-op. I’m sure they’re available at other specialty stores, and I do think they are important to the flavor of the dish. The only other recommendation I have is to make sure you wait until the salad cools to room temperature (even if you have to put it in the refrigerator for a bit) before adding the goat cheese or feta—otherwise, rather than distinct, crumbled pieces, the cheese melts and becomes incorporated into the dressing.

French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts (barely adapted from My Paris Kitchen; serves 4-6)

1 1/2 cups French green lentils (I found these at Willy St. Co-op)
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup  olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese

Rinse the lentils and put them in a medium saucepan. Cover with lightly salted water, and add the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, decrease to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the finely diced vegetables and cook for 5-10 minutes, just until the lentils are tender.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing the vinegar, salt, mustard, oil, and shallot in a large bowl.

Drain the lentils and mix them into the dressing while still warm. Remove the bay leaf and thyme, and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Add a few grinds of black pepper and mix in the parsley, chopped nuts, and goat cheese. Add additional salt to taste. Serve the salad at room temperature. DSC03706

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Japchae (Korean Glass Noodles with Vegetables and Beef)

January 12th, 2015 — 8:58am

DSC05414Japchae is a special occasion Korean dish made with sweet potato noodles, vegetables and sometimes beef, and flavored with soy sauce and sugar. It is usually served with sesame seeds and and may be served hot or cold. I came upon this recipe sometime late last year—I can’t even remember where—maybe the Dane County Farmers’ Market e-newsletter? I made the dish when I had a few days off work over winter break. I doubled the recipe to make it worth the while since the directions seemed somewhat involved, and it made a huge amount that offered leftovers for days. While the recipe recommends serving the dish at room temperature, I also liked it warm.

Japchae – Korean Glass Noodles with Vegetables and Beef (barely adapted from; serves 4-6)

10 oz glass noodles (I used Bun Tau Lily Bean Thread noodles from Yue Wah)
⅓ lb lean cut of beef, cut into 2″ long and ¼” thick sticks
1 bunch spinach, trimmed and cleaned
1 medium carrot, cut into 2″ long and ⅛” thick sticks
1 small onion, thinly sliced
6 shitaki mushrooms, sliced
¼ lb oyster mushrooms, sliced

For the beef marinade :
1 tablespoon soy sauce (low sodium), ½ tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon rice wine, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ¼ teaspoon pepper

For the mushroom seasoning :
1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the spinach seasoning :
½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the noodle seasoning :
3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted), 1 teaspoon pepper

Mix together the beef marinade in a shallow dish. Add the the sliced beef to the marinade and marinate for 1-2 hours or up to overnight.

Using a medium pot, boil water over medium-high heat. Blanch mushrooms for a few seconds. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and and rinse them in cold water. Squeeze out excess water. Place in a small bowl.

In the same boiling water, add the spinach and blanch for a few seconds. Drain, rinse in cold water and squeeze out the excess water. Place in a separate small bowl.

Mix the mushrooms and spinach each with their seasoning ingredients separately.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onions and carrots separately with salt and sugar to taste over medium heat for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl.

In the same skillet, saute beef and cook until done. Reserve the juice from the meat in the pan. Set the meat aside on a plate.

Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot over medium heat. Add the noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes (or follow package directions). Drain and rinse the noodles under cold water.

Add the noodles to the skillet with reserved meat juice and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add the noodle seasoning and toss well. In the large bowl with onions and carrots, add the spinach, mushrooms, and toss with noodles. Adjust seasoning for your taste. Serve at room temperature.

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Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

January 9th, 2015 — 8:29am


One of my favorite recent meals was a spinach and turkey lasagna I made using a recipe from The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings. The recipe was posted on Design Sponge about a month ago. Lasagna is one of those great comfort foods I especially crave this time of year. I like how this recipe includes a bounty of veggies—spinach, celery, carrots, onion and garlic, basil and canned tomatoes. One commenter recommended doubling the amount of meat in the recipe—from 1/2 pound to a pound—but I decided to stick with the original recipe, and am glad I did. Because of the emphasis on veggies (and a scaled back quantity of meat), this lasagna is lighter than other lasagnas that can feel so weighed down with meat and cheese. But it’s extremely flavorful and delicious—certainly one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever made. It’s probably not the best option for a weeknight dinner since you essentially make the sauce from scratch, but if you have a bit more time, it’s well worth the effort. I made this lasagna for a small, laid-back dinner party last month, and the dish was eagerly devoured. The original recipe says it serves eight with leftovers, but in my experience, it served closer to six generous portions—and alas, no leftovers.

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna (from The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings; serves 6)

Get the recipe here.

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Brussels Sprouts Salad

January 7th, 2015 — 10:58am

DSC05386I’m not usually a big fan of Brussels sprouts, but when they’re done right, they can be quite delicious. I recently made this recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad, which was featured in a 2008 issue of Saveur. Shaving the Brussels sprouts was a pain. I started with a mandoline, but soon got frustrated and resorted to thinly chopping them by hand. In the future, I will definitely try using my food processor. The nice part about this salad is that you don’t cook the Brussels sprouts at all. You simply add walnuts, pecorino cheese, olive, oil, lemon juice and black pepper to the shaved Brussels sprouts, and you have a simple salad with an abundance of flavors. I especially enjoyed the citrus taste from the lemon juice and the saltiness from the pecorino cheese.

Brussels Sprouts Salad (slightly adapted from Saveur, Oct. 2008; serves 4)

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
2 cups toasted walnut halves
⅓ cup grated pecorino, plus more for garnish
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Shave Brussels sprouts into very thin slices using a mandoline or food processor. Alternatively, you can slice the Brussels spouts into very thin slices by hand.

Add walnuts, pecorino, olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste. Depending on the saltiness of the cheese, season lightly with salt to taste.

Toss the salad until just combined. Using a peeler, shave more pecorino over the top. Drizzle with additional olive oil and pepper to taste.

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