Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes with Apple Butter

It is getting cooler here. The leaves are changing and Halloween is any day now. It is only a matter of time for the other holidays to be creeping up around the corner. When it gets to this time of year I crave so many different things in a very random and somewhat schizophrenic manner too. But it is okay because I know it and admit it. Years ago Brian and I spent the holidays in San Francisco. We ate at a Thai restaurant for Christmas Eve and an Indian buffet for Christmas Dinner. We now always think about spicy peanut sauce, and curry on and around Christmas dinner. Living in Phoenix a friend’s family always had Tamales with their holiday dinners; even for Thanksgiving. We think of them often and crave some of them with salsas along with rice and beans.  Let us not forget Pizza. A few years ago we were in London for Thanksgiving. We ended up eating pizza on that particular Thursday. There is something so appetizing about pizza or tamales, more so than the tradition of turkey.

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes with Apple Butter and Sour Cream

So this morning I got up and after walking the girls, and bringing back coffee for Brian, I wandered into the kitchen to make some potato pancakes. Why potato pancakes you might ask? Well for a couple years I worked for a Kosher catering company. It was now that we would start to prep for their Hanukkah celebrations. Potato Pancakes (aka: Latkes) were always on the menu. Latkes or Potato Pancakes are delicious, scrumptious, and desirably indulgent if you ask me. When made right they are light, crispy, slightly salty, and tender. When they were making them in the catering kitchen it was not uncommon for the other pastry chef and me to sneak a few and indulge in them while sitting on top of 50# sacks of flour for a break. While I was walking the girls and breathing in the cool morning air I thought of those mornings and had to whip a batch up.

Frying up the Potato Pancakes

Now there is arguably many ways to eat potato pancakes. There are some I know who are die hard “Jewish Deli” traditionalists and get theirs with a side of thick sour crème to dip the pancakes into. Others I know will indulge with a smear of apple sauce across them. And if you were to ask my friend Rumi (and also the other pastry chef I worked with at this company) the best way to eat the potato pancakes was with a sprinkle of salt across them, nothing more.

As always, I tend to go a little differently as most with my palate. I prefer some apple butter and sour cream. Yes, in my opinion the rich sweetness of the apple butter mingle well with the slightly sour and rich crème on top of these crispy pancakes. But what can I say? This Italian American girl who grew up in New Jersey really did not know much about Potato Pancakes until I worked for this company. I really didn’t know about many of these foods before I left New Jersey. Now, I crave tamales, Thai spicy peanut sauce, Indian curry, and pizza; while most are eating very traditional foods. In my mind I would still love to be sitting with Brian indulging in something foreign in a faraway city, rather than eating out of tradition. I would much rather be picking up tamale from my friends mom and enjoying this Mexican tradition than cooking the same meal again and again. I would love to sit on those sacks of flour and enjoy some Latkes with Rumi as the holiday approach rather than eating something “pumpkin spiced” like most I know are during this time of year. It is always better to try new things. Just think of the new memories you create by doing so. Like the potato pancakes I shared with Brian this morning. And he agreed, the apple butter is a real nice touch!

Apple Butter I made the night before to go along with the Potato Pancakes.

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes (serves 4)

3 cups of peeled and grated, Russet Potatoes (from about 2 large potatoes)

2 shallots, minced

½ cup of A.P. flour

½ tsp of baking soda

1 tsp of sea salt

2 eggs

Vegetable Oil for frying (*see note)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Sour Cream, for serving

Apple Butter, for serving (recipe below)

First, take your grated potatoes and place in a kitchen towel or a piece of cheese cloth and squeeze them over your sink. You are doing this to wring out all the excess moisture. Keep squeezing until the potatoes are quite dry. This is important because it is what makes the pancakes light, skipping this step will result in a soggy pancake.

Next, place your grated potatoes in a bow. Over the potatoes sprinkle the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Toss it well to coat the potatoes. To this add your eggs and stir until mixture is combined.

Then, place a large frying pan over medium heat.  Once pan is warmed through, poor about ¼ inch of oil in the pan.

Finally, gently place about a ¼ cup full of your potato mixture into your hot oil. Slightly flatten the mixture, and once the edges are golden and browned you can flip to pancake to cook on the other side. Once both sides are golden and firm place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with some sea salt and black pepper and serve while still warm.

*Note: when frying I like to use rice or peanut oil. Both have a high smoke point and a clean flavor. But if you prefer another kind that is fine too, just keep in mind an oil like olive oil can burn and smoke easily if it gets too hot.

Apple Butter (makes about 1 ½ cup)

4 medium apples, Pink Lady or Honey Crisp work well

¾ cup of sugar

2 tbsp of honey

1 cup of dry white wine

½ tsp of cinnamon

½ tsp of vanilla extract

First, peel and core your apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch pieces and place in a medium sized pot. Over the apples pout the sugar, honey, wine, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir it well. If needed, you can add a bit of water to the mixture as you want the apples to be almost covered by liquid.

Next, place the pot over a medium heat and stir it frequently until it starts to simmer. Once it is simmering, you should lower the heat a bit. Continue to simmer the apples stirring them frequently. You are looking for the apples to become tender, somewhat caramelized, and most of the liquid cooked out of it.

Then, remove the apples from the heat and let it cool for a bit. Once cooled puree the mixture until smooth. If there is a lot of liquid in your puree or the puree is “runny” you can place it back in a pot and over low heat. You will want to stir the mixture constantly until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened. Once it is there re-move from the heat.

Finally, when your puree is ready you can place in in a clean jar or container and refrigerate it until ready to use. Apple Butter will keep up to a month.

Family Meal Tostadas

There was a catering company I worked for a couple of years back called Nosh Away, and there was a real a sense of “family” between us. I mean when you work the way we did: producing huge meals and events, it was not uncommon I guess. You see for each event you have to pack everything up, load it all in a truck or two; and then travel to events. Once you are there everything gets unloaded and set up. Once that is done you have to prep all the food for plating and serving. When it is all over you have to wrap things up, pack it all up for return to the kitchen. We would finally unload, clean it up, and then start again for the next event.  It was often done in close quarters with make shift tables of sorts, so working like a team makes things work efficiently and somewhat smoothly.  Sounds crazy I know, but we always were able to laugh at it as we went along. 021 Very often when we were at our main kitchen during the week we had family meal. One of the staff would cook a meal for us all to enjoy. We would sit in the break room, enjoy our meal and chat about life. It really was like we were a “little family”. We all had our favorite meals. Sometimes if the main kitchen forgot to ask myself and the other pastry chef for something they needed (usually a time consuming pastry…like a wedding cake) they would make us one of our favorites. For Rumi, my dear friend and fellow pastry chef; it was Latkes a.k.a potato pancakes. They were yummy, but if it was my choice; I always wanted tostadas. And yes, after eating these foods we would agree to just about any of their requests. 030 If you are not aware of what a tostada is you have been missing out. Especially, the way my old coworkers made these. The tostadas were made with corn tortillas and pinto beans that have simmered a while creating a depth of flavor. We would add toppings and of course freshly made salsa. I was in heaven eating them. I personally think they are so good because you get so much satisfaction in just a few bites. You see the tortilla is fried until it is crispy so you get this nice “crunch” factor. Topping the tortilla with the simmered beans; then adding some salsa, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream – you get it all. The richness from the beans, the spicy kick from the salsa, the cheese and sour cream adds a calming factor to it all, and  the lettuce adds a bit more crunch and refreshing cleanse to it all. Weird I know, but this is weird good! So good! 027   I have made this “family meal” at home for my husband and he has become a fan! I have made it for my parents and uncles on one of their visits. Although different to how and what they normally would eat, they did enjoy it. I can remember my Uncle Dave raving over the salsa. Personally, I think that is why a dish like this is so delicious and comforting. You customize it on your plate and make it your own. I; much like my husband Brian like to try and get a little bit of it all in each bite. It is total taste gratification. I made this meal again last week and Brian was telling me how he thought this meal is blog worthy. So here it is, but not just because I wanted to tell you about the meal itself. More important is how I miss those old coworkers. We have all gone our separate ways and try to keep in touch. We sometimes get together for a meal, although as time goes by it gets harder and harder to all get together. I miss them all. I have never worked with a greater group of individuals. I miss the old Nosh Away crew…love you all like family!  I think we should all get together for an old fashion family meal. 032 Pinto Bean Tostadas (feed 2 or more) *This recipe is easily doubled and tripled. 1- 15 oz can of pinto beans 1 clove of garlic, chopped small 1 shallot, chopped small 1 tomato, roughly chopped 2 tbsp of olive oil 1 tbsp of honey 1 cup of veggie or chicken stock ¼ tsp of chili powder Sea Salt to taste Corn Tortillas (about 2-3 per person) ¼ head of lettuce, chopped small Sour Cream ¼ - ½ cup cheese, (Queso fresco or cheddar) Hot sauce 1 lime, sliced Salsa Verde (recipe to follow) Vegetable oil (for frying) First, place a four quart pot over medium heat. Once warmed through add your onion and garlic and stir and simmer until fragrant. Add in the can of beans (liquid and all) and stir well. Add in the chili powder, stock, tomato, and honey. Let is all simmer and stir every so often. Next, make your salsa (recipe below) and chill. Place a 10 inch frying pan over medium heat and fill with about ½ inch of vegetable oil. Once oil is heated through add your corn tortillas, one at a time. Let them “fry” until bubbly and golden and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle each one with a bit of sea salt when draining. Then, you bean mixture should be reduced a bit. Remove from the heat and I like to mash a bit of the mixture. Either with the back of a wooden spoon, or using a hand held emersion blender. Only mashing or pureeing a bit. Stir it well and season it to taste. Finally, to serve place you beans in a bowl and have your tortillas on a plate. On the side have your cheese, sour cream, salsa, and lettuce.  If you like you can also add hot sauce and limes. Assemble as you wish and enjoy! 024 Salsa Verde (makes 1 ½ cup) 1 onion, quartered 1 jalapeno, or 2 serrano peppers, stem cut off and roughly chopped 1 clove of garlic 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves and tops of stems only 1 -2 limes, zested and juiced Sea Salt to taste First, in the base of a food processor place all but your limes and sea salt. Pulse your processor a bit to break down you ingredients. Then, add your lime zest and a bit of juice at a time while your processor is running. You are looking to add the juice until your mixture is broken down and as smooth as you would like it. Finally, place the mixture in a bowl and season with a bit of sea salt. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (Lasts up to a week in your refrigerator.)

Olive and Parsley Sauce

I hate it when I look back at the week (okay, past two weeks) and wonder…Where did it go? That is what I am feeling like right now. It really seems like I have worked and come home, turned around and did it again. But then I remember that we did just come back from a weekend getaway in Portland, Oregon; and I did recently go out and have dinner with my old coworkers and friends. Plus we got to visit with my friends and their new baby. So I have done more than just work, it is just that it has been so compacted that I have not had time to stop and reflect on it. I did get a moment this past weekend. Brian and I were running errands and stopped in a cafe for a snack and a glass of wine, it was a lovely break. We caught up with ourselves and were talking about all that we have been doing and where we are going. Brian reminded me that I have yet to post the recipe made him for the dinner I the other night. He said he really enjoyed it…As did I, although; his was with steak and mine with tofu. It was after we came back from our trip from Portland indulging in one rich and decadent food item after another. We needed a light and satisfying meal. One that was brightly flavorful packed with protein, and light in our belly.

I whipped up a simple and purely flavored Olive and Parsley sauce. It was quick and simple to make and would honestly go great with just about anything really. You just toss it all into a food processor and puree. Place it in the refrigerator to marinate together as you grill your protein of choice and you are done. I had some radishes that I sliced and tossed them along with the combo, but feel free to omit them if you like. I just personally felt the bright and peppery crispness from radish complimented the briny flavor of the olives in this sauce, they also and had a contrast to the richness of the steak I made for Brian. But feel free to mix it with whatever you like. We indulged with some cheesy toast, but again you can eat with it what you like. Just be sure to take your time to enjoy it.

Parsley and Olive Sauce, with grilled Steak and some Radishes. (yes, my streak was slightly overcooked, but I tried!)

Olive and Parsley Sauce (makes about 2 cups)

2 cups fresh parsley leaves

1 ½ cups green Sicilian olives, pitted

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

Juice of 1 lime or lemon

½ cup of olive oil

Sea salt for seasoning

First; in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment place your parsley, olives, shallot, garlic, and jalapeno – pulse it a few times to break it all down. You are looking to just chop it a bit, not puree.

Next, add in a bit of your olive oil and pulse a few more times. Once the olive oil is incorporated add the remainder in a steady stream with the processor running. When finished turn off. Your mixture should be broken down but not too pasty like. Remove your blade and stir in your lemon or lime juice. Place in a clean bowl covered in plastic in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Finally, remove the sauce from the refrigerator and taste. You may want to season it with some sea salt depending on how salty your olives were. When ready, spoon your sauce onto your plate and place sliced protein over it. If using. Sprinkle your radishes over it all and enjoy.

 

NOTES: This sauce keeps well covered in the refrigerator for up to one week. I will be honest and I enjoyed a bit of its leftovers tossed with pasta a couple of days later.

Mango Salsa

We have approached that in between season here in Seattle. The farmer’s markets are somewhat bare when it comes to fruit and veggies. Besides cabbage and some root veggies that are dominate I am left uninspired. As always we try to eat local, fresh, and with the season; but now is when I find it really difficult to do. This is when I venture outside my realm and dip into the fruit and veggies that come from elsewhere. The makings of a great mango Salsa

This is when I find myself indulging in dried fruits, more frozen fruits, and at the moment: something a bit tropical!?! I was walking through Whole Foods the other day and there were a huge pile of mangos.  They were bright yellow, and had a slight give to the touch. I knew they were ripe so I picked some up with no particular plan in mind. (I will still never understand why I do things like this.) The mangos sat in my fruit bowl about two days. I kept glancing at them but I was waiting for inspiration to strike.  It just so would happen that we were having a gloomy day with it being real rainy and windy. I wanted to brighten it up - make it feel warm and sunny like the spring day we all wish for. Then, I thought of those mangos. I grabbed my umbrella and through on my rain boots and headed down to Pike Place Market. One red onion, some jalapenos, fresh mint, limes, and fresh shrimp…I knew the perfect meal for us to enjoy.

Mango Salsa

I got home and started in on making some fresh tortillas. (Sorry, after living in Phoenix for ten years with fresh ones always available the store bought ones here do not compare.) Once the tortillas were made; I quickly minced and diced away at the mango, and other ingredients. Squeezed some lime juice over it all and popping it all in the refrigerator to mingle together and chill out for a while. Meanwhile, Brian cleaned the shrimps and we tossed them in some olive oil salt and pepper. We placed the shrimps on a piping hot grill pan and let them sear until they were cooked through. The tortillas, some sour cream, hot shrimp…topped it off with the mango salsa I made and a bright and cheery meal was served. I made us feel the warmth of spring and summer coming. I forgot all about that rain and wind I battled to get my ingredients. I must thank the mangos though. They were sweet, juicy, and so ripe that they were perfection.

Mango Salsa on a Shrimp Taco

Mango Salsa (makes about 2 cups)

*Although I made this to go with Shrimp tacos, this is a great condiment for any grilled fish, grilled chicken, and even over tofu (the way I ate it).

2 mangos, diced

¼ cup red onion, small diced

1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced small

About 2 – 3 sprigs of mint, leaves picked and finely sliced

1 lime, zested and juiced

Pinch of Sea Salt

First; in a bowl place the mango, red onion, jalapeno, mint, lime zest, and juice. Sprinkle some sea salt over it and toss it well. Cover it with plastic wrap directly on it and place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Finally, upon serving remove the salsa from the refrigerator and toss again. Give it a taste, if you feel that your jalapeno is a bit strong in the mixture feel free to sprinkle a bit of honey (1 tsp) or a bit of sugar (1 tsp) over it all and toss again. This will help the flavors mellow out a bit…but only if you feel it needs it. Serve immediately.

Note: this is one of those items that I like to make the day I am eating it or the night before at the most. It will keep for a day or two if refrigerated and wrapped well, but letting it longer than that it will begin to get mushy. 

The good and the bad; well not so bad!

This year is just moments away from its end. In my family it was not uncommon that at the stroke of midnight of the New Year we would snack on piece of Italian pork sausage. It was believed that what you eat reflects on what type of year you will have. The sausage represents a fatty and prosperous new year to come. What you eat after that is all up to you. Trying to be mindful that in the New Year a healthy and fit lifestyle is for the best I truly question what should I be eating. Eating something rich and fatty at the stroke of midnight is one thing, but what you eat the next morning sets the tone for the day; let alone the week and year to come. What to eat?

Onion Rings with Curry Dipping Sauce

Getting back to the sausage; what do you eat when you are a vegetarian? It has to be indulgent. Fatty and indulgent! I thought long and hard about this. I came up with a really simple solution. Onion Rings. Ask any vegetarian you know, a deep fried onion is decadent and somewhat gluttonous. Pair it with a nice rich dipping sauce to smear each ring through is a luxurious taste bud euphoria. The crunch on the battered onion, all nice a deeply golden is like vegetarian gold! But what else? What do I eat to set a tone for a fit and healthy year to come?

Bruleed Graprfruit

Over the past couple of years I have gotten into the habit of always having fresh fruit on my counter and dining table. When you walk by and see the apples, tangerines, pears, and sometimes bananas staring at you it is much easier to keep up with a wholesome snack rather than chips. Eating something fruity and refreshing would be perfectly fitting for this fit and healthy year. With the grapefruits on our table; slicing one and carefully running a knife along its pith is one step closer to a tasty, refreshing, and good for you attitude for the New Year. Placing some brown sugar over the top and brulee-ing your grapefruit brings your ordinary grapefruit to an elegant height. It is delicious, and believe me; once you try it you will be questioning why you have not tried this sooner. i will be making this for breakfast New Years Day. Out with the old, and in with the new. Good eating habits for the New Year. The bad habits are gone…well; onion rings are not so bad. At least the onion is a vegetable.

Almost gone- Onion Rings with a curry dipping sauce

Onion Rings (feed 4 – 6)

1 large onion

2 cups of flour

½ tsp of baking powder

½ tsp of sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

½ tsp of ground black pepper

1 bottle of beer (12 oz)

Vegetable oil for deep frying

First; in a bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, sea salt, black pepper, and beer. Be sure your mixture is smooth and not lumpy. If you feel your batter is too thin you may add a bit more of the flour, but if you do this - only add a little bit at a time to be sure of your batter is where you would like it.

Next; take your onion and trim the bottom end off of it. Peel off the outer skin and discard of it. Holding the onion steady against a cutting board, slice your onion in ¼ inch thick pieces so that you have nice and evenly sized rings.

Meanwhile; take a four quart pot and fill it with oil until it is about two inches deep. Place the pot over medium heat and wait until you see wavy lines appear in the oil. You can then drop a bit of the batter you made in the oil. If it sizzles right away your oil is ready. If it does not just give your oil a bit more time on the heat before testing again.

Finally, place a few of your sliced onion rings into the batter and coat. Remove them from the batter (one at a time) and let the excess batter drip off. Place the coated rings gently into the hot oil and fry until they are golden flipping them half way through. When they are golden remove them and let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with more sea salt if you wish. Serve warm.

Curry Dipping Sauce (makes about ¾ a cup)

¼ cup of mayo

¼ cup of Greek yogurt

1 tbsp of Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp of curry powder

¼ tsp of powdered ginger

¼ tsp of garlic powder

1 tsp of honey

1 tsp of vinegar

Sea Salt to taste

First, in a bowl whisk together all the above ingredients. Be sure all is mixed well and smooth. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour to let the flavors bloom and develop

Finally, remove from the refrigerator and stir again and taste. You can adjust the seasoning as you wish. Serve with your warm onion rings and enjoy.

Tasty and refreshing Bruleed Grapefruit

Bruleed Grapefruit (serves 2, but can be multiplied)

1 large grapefruit

2-3 tbsp of brown sugar

First, slice your grapefruit in half across the center to expose the starburst wedges inside. I also slice a small amount off the top and bottom of the grapefruit so it will sit flat to expose the center.

Next; with a sharp knife, run along the pith and each little section of grapefruit. (This will make scooping the fruit when eating easier.) Drain off any excess juice that may rise to the top of each half of fruit.

Finally, evenly spread about 1 – 1 ½ tbsp od your brown sugar across the top. If you have a torch in your kitchen, gently torch the sugar until it melts and begins to caramelize. If you do not have a torch you can achieve the same result by using your broiler. Preheat the broiler to low and carefully watch the grapefruit until your sugar is caramelized and remove. Serve immediately.

Fresh Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is upon us. This is my most favorite holiday of them all, and why shouldn’t it be? A whole, entire day that is dedicated to food- more or less. So yes! I love this holiday. Traditionally this was my mom’s holiday; and we would cook with her nonstop starting about Tuesday evening onto Thursday. We all had assignments. We would chop the veggies and brown the Italian sausage for the stuffing, organize ingredients for a soup, mix up some honey butter for biscuits, prep the veggies for our side dishes, and also execute a beautiful antipasto platter for a starter. Fresh Organic Cranberries. I love the crimson hue they posses.

With all this preparation and anticipation can you believe we would just open a can of cranberry sauce? It really doesn’t make any sense. Then one year I saw someone make a fresh cranberry sauce on TV. They mixed together fresh cranberries, water, and sugar and cooked it until it the cranberries had burst and it all rendered down into a nice jam like consistency. I was so intrigued. The next day I went to the store and purchased a bag of fresh cranberries. When I got home I made it and I can remember my parents being as fascinated by it as I was. The taste was wonderfully tart, and the texture of the whole cranberries that squish as you eat it is a lifetime better than the jelly substance that calls itself a sauce. Why were we not doing this sooner?

Fresh Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Over the years I have made many attempts at altering this recipe to get the flavor just right. I have added orange zest and juice to mellow out the tartness of the cranberries, and now do a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon to balance out the acidity of it all. This recipe makes a small serving, but it is easily doubled or tripled. If you add it to your Thanksgiving feast I think you too will see the difference and prefer it hands down. And I am sure you will be making it year after year as we do now.

Thick and 'Jam-like" just the way I love it!

Fresh Homemade Cranberry Sauce (makes about 1 ½ cups)

2 cups of fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over

½ cup of sugar

2 tbsp of brown sugar

¼ tsp of ground cinnamon

1 orange, zested and juiced

2 cups of water

First; in a small pot with a lid place your cranberries, sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon and toss together. Add in the orange juice, zest, and water and stir it together.

Next; place the pot over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. You will want to keep a lid over the pot during the first few minutes that your mixture begins to simmer because the cranberries will begin to burst, but be sure to check it every so often and stirring it a few times.

Finally; once your cranberries are burst you will want to keep a close eye on it. Once the liquid in the pot begins to reduce and thicken you can remove it from the heat. (I like to see that it coats a spoon, but that is just my preference.) Let it cool slightly and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for at least a week / week and a half.

Grilled Cauliflower Steak with Roasted Pepper and Basil Coulis

Where do I begin? I am sorry it has been a while, but I have been finding it harder and harder to sit down and write. With summer days being beautiful and longer, filled with breezes off the sound and sunshine…I have been finding it more difficult to sit down and actually write. Maybe I have been distracted? We are getting ready to pack and move into a new apartment. (I’m very excited about this apartment; it has a gas stove!) Brian and I have become an Uncle and Aunt again. (My sister had a healthy baby girl just three weeks ago.) I have been coming home after a long day on my feet from this new job tired. Also, last week Brian flew in to Phoenix to spend time with his parents and niece who were vacationing there. So, maybe my mind has not been too focused on just one thing?

Either way, I was cooking for one last week. With Brian away; it was just Martini, Latte, and I. The girls were fine eating their kibble and rice I treated them to. I opted for light, simple meals, and an opportunity to use the grill!!! With a head of cauliflower in the refrigerator I thought a cauliflower steak was calling to me. To dress it up and to make more use of the grill I roasted off some bell peppers and made a roasted pepper and basil coulis. A nicely grilled cauliflower steak is meaty and light at the same time. The bold and rich flavor of the coulis liven it up and makes it a bit more of a fancy dish without being fussy. It is a great dish for one and a great dish for a crowd; not to mention light and satisfying for a warm summer day. When you try it you will thank me, trust me.

Grilled Cauliflower Steak with Roasted Pepper and Basil Coulis

Cauliflower Steak with Roasted Pepper and Basil Coulis (feeds 4)

1 – 2 heads of Cauliflower (depending on size)

½ cup of olive oil

3 – 4 bell peppers; red, yellow, or orange

1 clove of garlic

About 6 – 8 basil leaves

3 tbsp of red wine vinegar

2 tsp of honey

Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste

1/3 cup of Pine Nuts, toasted

First, set your grill to high and heat until it is about 400 degrees or higher. Meanwhile slice your cauliflower about an inch to an inch and a half thick. You have to keep in mind the stem of your cauliflower and try to slice it so it keeps intact. (You might end up with smaller lose pieces; I like to save those for a salad or crudité platter.)

Next; place your bell peppers on the grill and begin to char the outside of the skin lightly, turning every so often. You are looking to evenly char the outside of your bell pepper. Meanwhile, brush your cauliflower with olive oil and season with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Once the peppers are charred place them on a plate to cool. Place the cauliflower onto the grill and cook on each side about 2 minutes. You are looking to get light grill markings on the cauliflower and for the cauliflower to be tender when pierced with a knife.

Then, remove the cauliflower from the grill and let them rest. Scrape away the charred skin of the bell peppers and discard. Cut away the stem, core, and seeds from the bell peppers and discard as well. Place the roasted pepper “flesh”, garlic, and about a tablespoon of olive oil in the base of a food processor or a blender. Pulse it until it is broken down before adding the basil, red wine vinegar, honey, sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Puree again until it is smooth and pour-able. (You might need to add a bit of water if you feel your puree is too thick, but only a bit at a time.) Be sure to taste it to adjust the seasoning.

Finally, layer your grilled cauliflower steaks onto a plate or platter. Drizzle a bit of your roasted pepper and basil coulis over the tops of your “steaks”. Finish them with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and serve. Serve warm or room temperature and enjoy.

When life hands you lemons, make a Lemon Lavender Yogurt Pound Cake. (And some Fresh Brandied Cherries!)

It has been a really long and stressful week. As much as you would like to plan life, you never can. Things come up and you have to deal in order to move on. If you do not, you get stuck and nothing good will come of it. Like the saying - “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” My mom and dad, on their 2012 Seattle visit.

I had to make a trip back to New Jersey this past week because my father had a heart attack. I did not tell the family I was coming, I just packed my bag and flew out early the next morning. I went straight from the airport to the hospital. I surprised my father and mother standing in the doorway of his hospital room and stayed by my mom and dad’s side the whole week. I made sure my dad was comfortable, and that my mom was taking care of herself. I made many phone calls, countless texts, numerous emails, and checked Facebook constantly (as it was a main source of getting in touch with so many).

My mother and I spent about 14 to 16 hours a day in the hospital. We came home only to get a bit of sleep, shower; turn around and to do it again. As it turns out, all seems to be much better with my father. His cardiologist made sure of it. Knowing that, and my mom telling me she was just as well, I grabbed a flight back to Seattle to head home. As I was back I explained to Brian I was happy to go and help, but I was happy to be home. I was drained, tired, and had eaten nothing but hospital cafeteria food all week. I needed to bake something.

Lemon and Lavender Yogurt Pound Cake with Fresh Brandied Cherries

I walked to the market with my two dogs and looked for inspiration. I saw the bags of cherries on display…oh, how I love cherry season. I had to get them and make something. But then I started to think how nice they would go with a lemon pound cake. I headed home with my dogs and started in on baking. I whipped up a lemon and lavender yogurt pound cake. On the side, I mixed the cherries (after pitting them) with some sugar and brandy. It was great together, and I cannot wait to eat a little bit each night until it is gone. I guess sometimes when life hands you lemons you need to make a pound cake.

So yummy, I wanted to keep eating and not take this picture.

Lemon and Lavender Yogurt Pound Cake (Serves at least 10)

2 ½ cups of AP flour

¼ tsp of kosher salt

¼ tsp of baking soda

2 cups of sugar

8 oz of butter (room temperature)

1 tsp of vanilla extract

2 tsp of lemon zest

1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice

4 eggs

1 cup of Greek yogurt

1 tbsp of lavender, heaping

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 by 5 loaf pan and set aside. In a bowl whisk together your flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, place your butter and sugar and mixed together until light and fluffy.

Next, add in your vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice and mix it all in well. Add in one egg at a time while you are scraping down the sides of your bowl constantly to ensure that all is incorporated well.

Then, once your butter mixture is all light and fluffy add in your flour mixture. Mix it until just incorporated. Then stir in your yogurt and lavender. Be sure all is well blended and pour into your prepared loaf pan. Place it in the center of your oven and bake about an hour until a toothpick is inserted in the center of it and comes out clean.

Finally, let cool in the pan at least an hour before removing it. Slice and serve. Can be eaten alone; or with the Fresh Brandied Cherries. This pound cake can be made a day ahead, and/or wrapped in plastic wrap and left at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Fresh Brandied Cherries along side a Lemon and Lavender Yogurt Pound Cake

Fresh Brandied Cherries (makes 3 cups)

*I know that this process can be tedious, and your fingers will be cherry stained, but there is nothing like a bright and fresh cherry. It is well worth your time to stem and pit them. I usually use and old movie to pass my time while I do something like this!

4 cups of cherries, well washed

1 tbsp of sugar

1 oz of brandy (or more if you wish)

First, remove stems and gently cut youth cherries in halve. Once they are halved you can remove the pit with your fingers. You might need to slice the side of the cherry holding on to the pit in half again in order to get the pit removed. Place all your pitted cherry halves in a bowl.

Next, sprinkle your pitted cherries with the sugar and the brandy and toss well. Let it all macerate in the refrigerator at least an hour before serving. You are looking for the sugar and brand to flavor the slight tartness of the cherries and have the cherries release a bit of their juice.

Finally, toss your mixture again before serving. Place in a jar or container and keep refrigerated for up to 4 to 5 days.

Note: These cherries are great with this recipe, but also great when served with something chocolaty or even ice cream.

It 's a Small World when it comes to Crab Cakes!

I was thinking of how we now live in the Pacific Northwest and crab is almost always in season. I think it was time I make some. I pondered over recipes, and ideas of what to make. Finally a light bulb went off - crab cakes! I may have never had any, but I know they are loved when made well.  I picked the brain of all I knew who have had or have made them. What makes crab cakes good? What made them great? What goes with them best? Is there a binding ingredient that is better? Should I fry them or bake them? My questions were endless. But after about two weeks of research I came up with a recipe I knew Brian would love. A recipe I felt would let crab shine, with a bit of zip to it all. So last week I headed downtown to Pike Place market. There is a counter there that sells cups of crab cocktail that Brian loves. Since he eats it often and enjoys it I knew I could trust them. As I approached the counter and spoke with the salesman and had one of the smallest world moments I have ever encountered living in Seattle. The salesman asked where I was from…turns out we were both from New Jersey. Wait it gets better - he was from Fair Lawn, and his wife was from Garfield. When I told him I was from Garfield and my husband was from Hackensack he started to laugh. I left the market with a new friend made, and the lump crab meat for my cakes!

When I got home I prepped all my ingredients for the crab cakes and I told Brian all about my new friend at the fish counter. He was laughing in disbelief and inquisitive over the crab cakes. I thought that some Southwestern spice (being we lived in Phoenix for ten years) would match well with the Pacific Northwest crab. Combine that with a fish salesman who grew up two towns away from me, my life was coming full circle in this recipe! I lightly fried up the crab cakes spiced with chili, served them with a light cilantro infused lime cream dressing, and a light cabbage salad on the side. Brian was delighted with the end result. He cleaned his plate and packed up the leftovers excited for future lunches. He told me that they were the best crab cakes he ever had. If I did not know better he is just trying to get me to make them again!

Southwestern Crab Cakes with Cilantro spiced creamy Lime Dressing

Southwestern Crab Cakes (feeds 6)

1 ½ lbs of lump crab meat

¼ cup of onion, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

¼ cup of mayo

2 eggs

1 tsp of kosher salt

¼ tsp of black pepper

¼ cup of panko bread crumbs

Olive oil for frying

Avocado, to slice and serve along side if you like

First, look over all of your lump crab meat to be sure there are no shell fragments left in it. In a bowl mix together your onion, jalapeno, mayo, eggs, salt and pepper. Once all combined add it with your lump crab meat and gently fold it all together.

Next, place a large nonstick frying pan over medium high heat.  Sprinkle your panko crumbs over your crab mixture and fold it all together. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to your nonstick frying pan and heat the oil through.

Crab Cake mixture gently folded together

Then; add your crab mixture using a measuring scoop - measure ¼ up of crab mixture at a time into your pan. You might need to flatten them out a tad. Be sure to leave enough room when scooping the crab cakes to flip them over. Once your crab cake is golden, flip it over; let it gently fry and get golden on the opposite side.

Crab Cakes gently frying to a golden color.

Finally; place your done crab cakes on with a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the remainder crab cake mixture, adding in a bit of olive oil at a time when needed. You can serve them right away or place them on a baking sheet and can be reheated in the oven upon serving. Either way, be sure to serve warm.

Cilantro Spiced Creamy Lime Dressing (serves 6)

1 cup of light sour cream

Juice and zest of 3 limes

¼ cup of cilantro, minced

2 pinches of kosher salt

1/8 tsp of ground coriander

First, place all your ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Place your bowl in the refrigerator and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Finally, spoon a bit of dressing over your crab cakes when serving. Mixture can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Cabbage Salad (serves 6)

½ head of green cabbage, cored and sliced thinly

2 carrots, grated

2 tsp of olive oil

1 tbsp of rice wine vinegar

Pinch of kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a bowl and toss together.  Let it marinate together about 15 minutes before serving. Toss again before serving.