Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice, plus getting comfortable with new surroundings.

When I first moved to Phoenix, Az. I was not sure I was going to like it. I mean I moved there from New Jersey where I spent the majority of my life living about 20 minutes from Manhattan. Living there you could go in just about any direction and encounter Polish food shops that make you smell like a kielbasa by the time you walk out, Spanish food that would make you swoon, Italian delis in abundance, Middle Eastern food shops that had cumin aromas, Chinese take out counters a plenty, sandwich shops where freshly sliced cured meats were pilled high on hard rolls, bakeries that baked crispy crusty bread, and get cookies from shops that melted on your tongue and went perfectly with coffee or tea. While living in the Trenton and Princeton area of New Jersey in my last few years there you could stand on almost any intersection and hear language from anywhere in the world. With all the universities, colleges, and a huge Seminary there I felt in some ways I was more submerged in ethnicity than I was in the Northern half of the state. It was living there that Brian and I fell in love with eating sushi and spending endless hours in coffee shops sipping cappuccinos and pondering thoughts on life. It still is my most favorite area of New Jersey…and as for that coffee shop I spent endless hours in - I walked in there about two years ago and the barista looked at me and asked: ”Danielle, would you like your usual?” I kid you not. Almost 12 years later not only were some of the same staff around, but they remembered me and my drink! You do not find occurrences like that too often.

Lats time we visited our favorite coffee shop in Princeton, NJ

When I moved to Phoenix there was such an adjustment. I didn’t find those ethnic shops on every corner. I couldn’t find a hard roll, kielbasa was vacuum sealed in plastic at the supper market, attempts at Chinese take out for a while were a bust, and of the Italian delis we explored had a somewhat sterile feeling. There might not have been Spanish restaurants to stroll into, but there was Mexican. Plenty of Mexican food. Tacos, tortas, chilis, pasole, menudo, enchiladas, and to our discovery- salsas came in so many varieties besides hot, medium or mild. We really enjoyed exploring all that we could about Mexican food.

But one evening after dinner I was telling Brian I felt there was something missing living in Phoenix. I was not homesick for New Jersey, but I missed the variety that New Jersey offered us. Everything here was a drive away. There was no walking to a corner store to grab what you need. I also didn’t feel there was a place to go and hang out at like we did at the coffee shop in Princeton. There was Starbucks (yuck!) but that was about it. They were not open late, they were a drive away, and they did not make you feel like you want to spend and hour there philosophizing. That is when Brian told me he passed a new coffee shop that opened up on his way to work. Put your shoes on and lets go. Low and behold a shop that was roasting it’s own beans right there. The owners were working the counter and the espresso they poured was damn good. They were open early, and stayed late. Finally some bit of normalcy for us.

The scenery and surrounding of Phoenix were a bit different for me to get use to.

About a month later I was reading an article about an Ethiopian restaurant in Tempe. I begged Brian to go, and finally he gave in to give it a try. When we walked in you were hit with an aroma of spices, it almost made me drunk. The nice lady who waited on us explained to us how to order and how to eat in an Ethiopian manor. It was truly a divine experience. We at with our hands and marveled at the many stewed dishes in front of us along with the Injera (crepe like bread made with teff). The best dish there was a lentil stew cooked in berbere spices. We left there with full bellies and senses pleased.  Between the coffee shop Brian discovered and this Ethiopian restaurant, living in Phoenix became a bit more tolerable.

Fast forward to today in Seattle. There are plenty of ethnic food shops to wonder into. The aromas of them are amazing and it is not uncommon we find ourselves the only non ethnic people in any one of these places. There are coffee shops on every corner, and I do not have to get in my car to get everywhere in this city. I also discovered a spice shop (again in waking distance) that sold berbere mix. (If you want to know more about this spice mix or purchase it for yourself you can find it here.) I picked some up and have been playing around trying to recreate the lentil dish of that restaurant in Tempe. Low and behold I have come close, and possibly as close as I think I could. Brian and I have been enjoying these lentils with some rice and a bright green salad on the side to cut the rich spiciness of the lentil stew. Although I have not yet attempted to make Injera, this stew is more than satisfying to curb our indulgent cravings. No matter where you move to or travel to it may take some adjustments to get use to. But what I did learn I carry with me…like lentils stewed in berbere. One of the many things I cherish and learned while living in Arizona.

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice over Rice.

Stewed Lentils in Berbere Spice (serves 4) 

(*Note: We personally like this mixture a bit spicy. The rice - in my opinion - mellows out the spiciness. If you prefer things a bit more mild feel free to use 1 tbsp of berber spice mix to start. you can always add more in the end.)

3/4 cup lentil (brown, green, or black variety are good)

1 small onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic chopped

3 tbsp of tomato paste

1 &1/2 tbsp of berber spice, ground

6 cups vegetable stock or water

sea salt to taste

First, place all the above ingredients (besides the sea salt) in a heavy bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Next, keep the pot at a gentle simmer. Be sure to stir it often. You are looking for the lentils to absorb almost all of the liquid of your pot. The ruminates will form a bit of a sauce.

Finally, once the lentils are cooked though and your mixture has thickened you can remove it from the heat. Season it with sea salt to your preference. If you feel you would like your mixture a bit more soupy feel free to stir in a bit more of water or stick to loosen it us a bit. If you would like a smoother consistency feel free to remove a couple of ladles of your lentils and puree in a food processor and return the mixture back to the pot and stir it all together. Serve while warm.

New Jersey visit and a salad to recover.

I am back after a week long visit with family in New Jersey. Both Brian and I grew up in Bergan County, New Jersey; and it is where our parents still reside. Over the last several years Brian’s brother and his family have moved an hour away, and in the last few so has my sister. She also lives about an hour away (in and opposite direction from Brian’s brother) with her family. So even though we visit for a week, we spend it traveling back and forth along Northern New Jersey trying to see and spend personal time with them all. It is great to see everyone, but there is never enough time to catch up with everyone. Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

I will say that our time with the family on this trip was well spent. I had two days with my sister and her family. We got to meet our newest little niece, Noelle (10 months old).That was thrilling; staring at this chubby, curly haired little one and noticing that everything she looks at seems to fascinate her. Noelle’s older sister Gia (6 years old) has recently formed quite an interest in cooking and baking – yes, I am thrilled! I promised I would bake with her during our visit, and we did just that. I showed her how to make made French bread; she was amazed by working with yeast and learning about it. She took the bowl of dough that was wrapped for resting and rising to show her mom and my parents. Whispering to them - “It’s the yeast in there. It is working to rise the bread.” We also had to make cookies, as I brought her a new cookbook all about cookies. Of all the recipes she picked out Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies …a girl after my own heart.  The days went by too fast, but we cherished every second we had.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

On another night we went to Brian’s brother’s home to eat dinner. Brian’s niece, Lora (13 years old), told us about the latest trends in fashion (she is a little fashionista).  Lora then asked us about gnocchi. She remembered eating them and thought it was with us. We were not sure if we did, but Brian explained to her that I make them and they are not too difficult to make. A couple of days later we were in his parent’s kitchen rolling out gnocchi dough from scratch. It was fun to show her how to make them and I think she was impressed how easy it was. She asked a lot of good questions about the process, but more than anything I am so happy Brian and I got to spend that time with her. We then all sat around the table feasting on gnocchi and sharing family stories. It was a good time, and many memories were made. (Recipe for the gnocchi can be found here, and the tomato sauce can be found here.)

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

The Gnocchi Lora an I made.

Besides the back and forth with family across the northern half of New Jersey, we did escape for a day to New York City. We spent a few hours in the Guggenheim, stopped in at a favorite bakery, finally got to drink some really great coffee (I’ve lived the Pacific Northwest too long and we are spoiled here when it comes to coffee. We toured Chelsea Market, and then in the evening we got together with some of Brian’s old high school friends. It was a great evening together, and while we were there we realized that we have not all been in the same room together for 13 years! We made up for the lost time, laughing and catching up on life. It was time extremely well spent.

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

By the time we got home to Seattle we were exhausted. The week went by like a cool breeze on a warm day. It was enjoyable, yet too quick. Before we knew it the time was gone, and our regular life started back up. We had a great time with all our visiting, but I think we ate way too much! I walked to the market and picked up some really nice seasonal veggies and felt that a hearty salad was in order. We needed the boost of veggies after the crab heavy diet we indulged in while we visited. We ate one too many pasta dishes, pastries, bagels, gnocchi, pizza, ice cream, and more. I guess that is what vacation is all about? So in the meantime Brian and I will be happy with a hearty salad or two. This particular one was great with fresh asparagus that was just picked from a local farm, sweet English peas, and a tarragon dressing. The brightness of the fresh tarragon gives this salad more depth than any ordinary oil and vinegar dressing. If you are like us and needed the break from all the heavy eating you will not be disappointed. It was light and fulfilling. I am missing the family and few friends we got to catch up with. (And there were so many we didn"t get to see.) Hopefully it will not be too long before we see them again, but will eat more veggies in prep for our next trip!

Hearty  vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Tarragon Dressing (serves 4)

**Note: if fresh peas are not available, feel free to use the frozen ones. They will work out just fine.

½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 cup fresh peas

1 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp mayo

2 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp Sherry vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

4-5 leaves of lettuce (romaine or green leaf), chopped small

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

First; place a pot of salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil. Next, cook you quinoa to its packaged instructions. When quinoa is done cooking place in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Next; in a bowl place your mayo, Dijon, tarragon, shallot, garlic, and sherry vinegar in a bowl. Whisk it all together then slowly add in the olive oil. Your dressing should become thick and emulsified. Season it with sea salt and black pepper and set aside. At this time your salted water should be boiling. Place your asparagus and peas into the boiling water. Let them al simmer together about 3 minutes. You veggies will turn bright green and be cooked perfectly. Strain the veggies into a colander and rinse several times under cold water to chill the veggies and stop their cookie process.

Then; toss the veggies and the quinoa with a bit of the dressing. Again season with sea salt and black pepper if you feel it needs it.

Finally, upon serving place the lettuce across the bottom of your platter. Pile the dressed quinoa and veggies over the top of it. Sprinkle it all with the crumbled goat cheese. And drizzle with the remaining dressing if you like.

My Grandmother, and all my gratitude.

I have noticed several friends on Facebook taking part in a “Gratitude Project”. Where every day in the month of November you express at least one thing you are thankful for. I must admit I was invited to participate, but there is something about it that scared me a bit…Could I come up with that many different things without repeating myself? I am sure that I could, but I let the opportunity slip me by. But over the last two week I really gave it some thought. Is there only one thing I could name in being the single thing that I am so grateful for over everything else? Then the other day a friend of mine posted some pictures of her family when they first came to the United States. That is when it hit me: the one thing I am most grateful for my life is captured in this picture below. It is the day my maiden Grandmother left Italy to come to America. My Grandmother, and her brother Enrico; Italy,1947

My grandmother Tina was only sixteen when this picture was taken. On her arm is her older brother Enrico (Uncle “Riggy” as we called him), escorting her to the plane. This was in 1947 after World War II ended. During the war she met my grandfather Frank. He was a soldier for the American Army stationed in Italy. After the war was over and he was back in the states he wrote her and her family. My grandfather asked if she would like to come the United States, and if she pleased they could be married. But you need to remember that my grandmother was only sixteen; my grandfather was twenty-six. My grandmother’s family felt there was not much opportunity for her in Italy given the circumstances they were facing because the village where they lived was bombed and partially destroyed from the war. Her family paid a local doctor to falsify her birth certificate making her 18 and legal to come to the U.S.

My grandmother came here with nothing. She had barely any money, belongings, and did not know the language. It sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Coming to a foreign country to be married, barely knowing anything or anyone at such a young age. (Even more surreal is how the families arranged for my Uncle Riggy to marry my grandfather’s sister a couple of years later, but that is a whole other story.) Although, if all of this wasn’t the case I would not have my mom and my uncles. And without that, you would not have me or my sister. My grandmother’s courage to take this chance with her life is the single one thing I have the most gratitude for.

My Uncle Frank, my Mother Rita, and Uncle Sal

With my gratitude, and a Thanksgiving menu to plan, I need to get to work. I was thinking this year that I should reflect on my Italian heritage a bit more then I usually do for this meal. This year I was thinking of making a White Bean and Artichoke Spread to be served with bread and an assortment of raw veggies as a starter. My grandmother really liked artichokes, I think to her it was something that she ate and reminded her of Italy and her home. I only wish she was here to try this dish. But I know she is here in spirit as she always is. Thank you Grandma, my love for you never fades…it grows stronger in my cooking. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

White Bean and Artichoke Spread, with assorted crudite

White Bean and Artichoke Spread (makes 2 cups)

1 - 14oz can of artichokes, drained

1 – 15oz can of white beans (cannellini), drained

1 clove of garlic, peeled and trimmed

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tbsp of olive oil, plus extra for garnish

Parsley, chopped for garnish

Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste

Assorted crudité and sliced bread to serve

First; in the bowl of a food processor fitted with its blade attachment place you artichoke hearts, white beans, and garlic clove. Pulse your motor until you break down your ingredients into a fine chop.

Next; add in your lemon zest and juice, along with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Begin to let the motor run and slowly drizzle in your olive oil. Keep it pureeing until it is all a smooth paste and emulsified. Taste it to adjust your seasoning.

Finally, scoop up your puree into a bowl you would like to serve it in. Sprinkle the top with your chopped parsley and a bit of olive oil. Serve it with your assorted crudité and bread.

Note: Spread can be made ahead of time wrapped and stored in an air tight container. Keep no more than one week.

We have come a long way. (Brownie Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache)

I cannot believe it, but this week Brian and I are celebrating a big anniversary. Twenty years ago we went on our first date. I can remember it like it was last month, and besides our move to Seattle I think we would both agree that it was the best decision we ever made. Brian and I, autumn 1993

When Brian asked me out I honestly thought I would have a nice night out with someone who I found interesting. I was ready to go off to college and move on with my life. I was not looking for anything more, and why would I - I was only 18. But that night I realized I was actually having a conversation with someone who was a really listening to me. He was asking me questions, sharing things about himself, and laughing along with me. A couple of weeks later I was ready to go off to school and Brian said to me that he wanted me to go off and have fun and experience college, and if it works it works. That is just what we did. We kept in touch, called often, and saw each other on breaks. We were three states away from one another but it worked for us. We had our lives, our school, our hobbies, and then we had each other.

Brian and I in Maine, in the late 90's.

Now I can wax on forever expressing how much I care for him and how I knew he was the right person for me, but that would be boring for most to read. (I know we are not that interesting!) The thing is, we always mutually respected and cared for one another. I know it may seem weird to some - celebrating the anniversary of our first date when I personally can never remember our wedding date. But to us, nothing else really matters. Yes, I can truly say that the care and love we have has grown as time has passed; but that is when you know you have it good. Somehow we got it right. Relationships are never easy, but when you have the right person next to you and hold your hand it is more like a the icing on a cake. If you take your time, it will go on smoothly.

Early 2000 (We have come a long way!)

So what might this anniversary and time have to do with food? Nothing really. But it was Brian who pointed me in the direction of culinary school. Without that I do not think I would be as pleased or happy with my career. There is one dessert I created and would make at the bakery we had in Phoenix that was Brian’s favorite. It was a brownie cupcake topped with a white chocolate ganache and seasonal fruit. He loved it and often asked at the end of the day or week if I could bring one home for him. So I am making it special for him to celebrate. He deserves it. I don’t know how we did it, but we did. We have come a long way! For twenty years with me, he can have all the cupcakes he wants.

Happy Anniversary Brian, thank you for two happy and wonderful decades!

Brownie Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganche and topped with seasonal berries.

Brownie Cupcakes (makes 13 cupcakes)

6 oz unsweetened chocolate (chopped)

1 ½ cups of butter

1 cup of A P flour

1 cup of almond flour (or almond meal)

1 tsp of baking powder

pinch of Salt

4 eggs at room temperature

2 cups of sugar

2 tsp of vanilla extract

First, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a double boiler over medium to low heat. melt together the chocolate and the butter until smooth. Let cool slightly.

Next, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, almond flour, baking powder, & salt) and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and the sugar. Once mixed add the vanilla and the chocolate mixture and stir well.

Finally, fold your dry  dry ingredients into your chocolate mixture until evenly combined. .Fill into cupcake wrappers 1/2 way full. Bake about 35 minutes, until your brownie cupcakes are still oft but set in the center. Remove from the oven and cool bout and hour before topping with White Chocolate Ganache.

Brownie Cupcakes being coated with the White Chocolate Ganache

White Chocolate Ganache

*Note: this is enough for 2x's the recipe above, but cutting the recipe in 1/2 is just as easy.

1 lb of white chocolate (28% cocoa butter)

6 tbsp of butter, at room temperature

5 oz of heavy cream

1 tbsp of vanilla extract

First, over a double boiler melt the white chocolate and the butter together. Once all melted and cohesive add the cream and combine. Be sure all is heted through and stirred well.

Next,add the vanilla extract to the mixture and stir well.  The mixture will start to become somewhat set so you need to work with it quickly at  this point.

Finally, pour a bit of the ganche at a time over each cupcake. Do not over fill! Pour until your ganache reaches the top of your cupcake wrapper. Let cool slightly before topping with seasonal berries / fruit.

** NOTE: Once cupcakes are done you can store them uncovered or loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. Be sure cupcakes are at room temperature when serving. When the cupcakes are cold they are quite firm and hard.

Christmas Eve, Uncle Jimmy, and Chocolate Bottom Pecan Pie

Christmas Eve at my father’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Fran’s home was always so special to me. It was not because it was Christmas, it was not due to presents, and it was not due to the food (although it was always awesome). It was because it was one day out of the year that my father’s family was all together. It was a night that I got to spend with all my family and I cherish the memories that I have from those nights. What I value more than anything else of those times is the time I would spend with my uncles. I have more respect for them then I will ever be able to express. I have formed much of the way I view life by what I have learned from all of them. I also knew that if I was to ever marry, that man had big shoes to fill because I would compare him to all of my uncles.

My father in the center with the bow tie. My uncles and cousins surrounding, My sweet Uncle Jimmy in the bottom right corner.

I do not have favorites; but my Uncle Jimmy (married to my father’s Aunt Marge) was kind, sweet, gentle and had a good soul. He will always have a special place in my heart. Very often on Christmas Eve I would find myself sitting on the couch next to him. He has given me many words of wisdom on that couch. One year he explained to me that he did not know how many years he had left, that he was an old man now. He went on to explain how much he adored my boyfriend (now my husband), that he knew he was the right one for me, and how he looked forward to us getting married.

My wedding day, with all of my Father's Uncles and Aunts. (Uncle Jimmy is holding my hand.)

But of all the Christmas Eves, my most favorite memory of him is the year that my father, along with all of his cousins got Uncle Jimmy a pecan pie as his present. You see often my family would go out with my Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy for coffee and dessert. It never failed that every time my uncle would express that he wanted to order the pecan pie, my Aunt Marge would cut him off exclaiming that they will be ordering an apple a la mode with two forks! My father said “If I can get anything for my Uncle I will get him the pecan pie he always wants.” All the cousins followed hoping my Uncle Jimmy would find the humor in it all. As we sat opening presents my Uncle ended up with about “five” pecan pies. He was grinning and laughing at all of them when he turned to me and said, “Danielle, why are they all giving me pecan pie? I am not sure if I even like pecan pie!” I laughed so hard, I cried.

My Uncle Jimmy passed away a few years after that. He did get to see my husband and I get married, and I miss him something terrible. When I had my bakery I thought of him often and created this dessert in his honor: A Chocolate Bottomed Pecan Pie. I think it was worthy of his love, and all the wisdom I gained in life from him. Below is the recipe for the pie followed by a recipe for the crust. I hope you will give it a try and share it with someone as special as Uncle Jimmy and make some memories like I have of him. Happy Christmas!

Partially eaten Chocolate Bottomed Pecan Pie

Chocolate Bottom Pecan Pie (Makes a 10 - 12 inch pie or 3 small 4 inch pies)

(***This recipe easily doubles...even triples.)

6 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, finely chopped (60-70% cacao recommended)

2 cups Pecan Halves, toasted and cooled

3 Eggs

1/3 cup of Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

¼ tsp Salt

¾ cup of Real Maple Syrup

1 nine inch pie shell (recipe below)

First, preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle of oven. Place your chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a double boiler stirring frequently until melted. Also, have your pies lined with your Pate Sucree (recipe following) and par baked for at least 15 minutes.

Next; in a large bowl whisk together your eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, and maple syrup until evenly smooth.

Pare baked pie shells, melted chocolate layer, and toasted pecans

Then, pour your melted chocolate into the base of your pie shell and spread it to completely cover it evenly. Place the toasted pecans evenly over the melted chocolate.

Finally, pour your egg and maple syrup mixture over the pecans. Tap the filled pie gently to shake out any air bubbles that may be trapped within the nut filling. Place it in the middle of your oven and bake about 45 minutes until the center is set and slightly puffed. Remove and cool before serving. (Can be held up to 4 days refrigerated.)

Pate Sucree A.K.A. Sweet Crust (enough for two 10 – 12 inch pie shell or six small 4 inch)

2 ½ cups of AP flour

8 oz of cold butter, cut into small piece

¼ tsp of salt

3 tbsp of four

4 tbsp of sugar

2 egg yolks (large), beaten

¼ cup of ice cold water

First; in the bowl of your food processor place your flour, salt and sugar. With the dough attachment pulse it all together to mix.

Next, place your cold butter into your food processor and pulse with your flour mixture is combineded and your butter is no bigger than the size of peas

Then, whisk the yolks and the water together. Slowly add it to your butter and flour mixture. Keep this up until all of your mixture forms a ball.

Finally, remove the dough from your food processor. Kneed it lightly and wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to use. After chilling in the refrigerator, remove and roll out until you have a desired thickness and lay into your molds (Pie shell, Tart, or mini pastries). **If pare baking be sure to place it in a 375 degree oven and bake about 15 minutes, or until slightly golden.

Lithuanian Borscht (Friendship and the love of soup.)

As you have read in my previous post, and those who know me; you already know that I come from one big and loving family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, distant cousins, in-laws and honorary relatives; we love each other unconditionally. Growing up this way I never felt the need to have a lot a friends, I knew I always had family to rely on and always be there for me. Do not get me wrong, I do have friends but I have learned something about myself over time. The friends that I have I hold near and dear to my heart and treat like family. I guess that is the result of having a large family that is such a part of me. Over the course of life: growing up, high school, college, moving on, more schooling, marriage, and travel I have been gifted with a beautiful friendship.  My dear and true friend Wayne has been a part of my life through thick and thin. (I know when he reads this he will probably be embarrassed by what I have to say, but it is all true.) I love him like family and no matter how much time passes, how far away we live from one another we can always pick up the phone or send an email like there has been no time lapse. We pick up where we left off; just like that we are catching up and filling each other with the details of our lives. We have been there for each other through good times and bad, physically and spiritually.  I just love that we have this connection as though time may not exist and I value it more than all the cookbooks in the world.

Not too long ago I was looking though some recipes and came upon one for a Lithuanian Borscht that I found intriguing. It is a soup made with beets as its base and served chilled with a hot boiled potato on the side; of course I had to give this recipe a try. As I started to make it I thought of Wayne, his wife is from Lithuania; and of course I called him to see if they knew of the soup.  To my surprise they were stunned to hear that I was making it. Apparently it is an extremely common dish served throughout Lithuania and they both love it. Since then every time either of us makes it or eats it we text each other pictures of our soup. Low and behold I was making the soup all wrong.

Wayne would comment that my soup was not “pink” enough. I was told you would never add chives like I once did.  Another time I served it with a baked potato…I think I could hear the eye rolling through the phone. What was I to know about this soup? I was raised in an “Italian American” family and I studied French cuisine in school; this Lithuanian soup was so foreign to me. I had to get it right; I had to learn the traditional way of making it. So through a series of emails & photos Wayne and his wife Ovidija sent me step by step instructions, measurements, and suggestions. When my lesson on the traditional Lithuanian Borscht was done my eyes were opened and so were my taste buds.  It was so light, delicious, bright in flavor, and perfect for the hot weather of the summer.  The contrast of the chilled soup and the hot potato is like nothing else. It is perfection. Brian and I slurped our way through all that the recipe made and we enjoyed each and every last bit of it.

I do not know many that would go through the trouble of step by step instructions on a family recipe like Wayne and Ovidija did for me. (Wayne explained that his recipe is just the way that Ovidija’s grandmother taught it to her.) This recipe and friendship makes me thankful for so many things. I hope that someday we can sit at the same table and share it together and not through a phone, emails and pictures. This is just another connection we have now in life, chilled soup.

Lithuanian Borscht

Ovidija’s Chilled Lithuanian Borscht (serves 4)

1 ½ - 2 # of beet roots (boiled, chilled, and grated), about 2 cups

2 cups of grated cucumber (peeled before grating)

1 cup of scallions, chopped small

¼ - 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh dill

½ - 1 tsp of salt, to taste

2 pts. of Kefir

A couple of boiled potatoes (1 – 2 per serving), served hot

Hardboiled egg, optionally served along the side of soup (1/2 per serving)

First, boil the beets with their skin on. It is neater this way. When tender plunge hem into a bowl of ice water and remove the skins. With a food processor or a grater, grate the beets and place in a large bowl. Chill until the beets are cold.

Next; add the grated cucumber, scallion, and dill to the bowl. Stir in the Kefir and salt and admire the color that transforms before you. If you feel it is too thick you can add a bit of water (a smidgen at a time) until you reach a desired constancy.

Finally, to serve, ladle the chilled soup into a bowl and serve with a boiled potato on the side. If you wish you can also serve with a half of a boiled egg to go with each serving. Garnish with some extra dill if you like and serve.

*Note: I like to add a squeeze of lemon to my serving. Not in the traditional recipe, but my own little touch.

 

Linguini and Clams - Dinner with la mia famiglia!

In the last couple of weeks I had the pleasure of my family visiting. First my sister came with her daughter.  They spent just under a week visiting with my husband, I, and my two uncles who also live in Seattle. After they left, a week went by and phase two visitors arrived. This time it was my parents, and I was so pleased to spend time with them. I had not seen them since last summer and as time goes on I really cherish the bits of time I spend with all of them when given the chance. I guess this is the price to pay when you move so far away.

I took them around to taste all that the city had to offer. I love sharing in that first taste that someone gets to experience; I mean it is something personal that you get to participate in together…hopefully always memorable. Seeing the city through the eyes of my four year old niece is fun; and sharing all that I love here with my sister and my parents was more than fun. We ate, and ate, and ate some more.

 

I also cooked a bit. I made a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies with my niece. (Nothing special there, just your average cookie recipe – like my Aunt Kim did with me when I was little.)  We sandwiched the cookies with vanilla ice cream and enjoyed eating them outside.

I made a family dinner of Linguini and Clams for my parents and my uncles.  It was nice to cook and serve them. Since I do not see them often it is a rare occation to cook and serve them. So on a very hot and humid day in Seattle; one of the hottest days this year has seen, while my parents were cooling off by the pool I was in my kitchen (with no air conditioning just two fans) cooking up some Clam Sauce and boiling water for the pasta. Needless to say by the time I was done cooking I was flushed, sticky and could have used a jump in the pool myself. Although I would have not changed a thing, I had so much fun cooking, serving, and sitting down with all of them for a family dinner in our very small apartment. Some special memories were made!

Linguini and Clam Sauce (serves 6 – 8)

 

2 pounds of Linguini

4 pounds of Fresh Clams (I used Little Necks)

28 oz can of Tomatoes, whole & peeled – crushed by hand

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 small onion, chopped small

1 tsp of crushed red pepper

¼ cup of olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

2 ½ cups of dry white wine

Fresh Basil (2 – 3 hands full) torn

Sea Salt and fresh Black Pepper to taste

Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated for serving

 

First, place a large pot of salted water on high heat to boil and place a large sauté pan over medium heat. When your sauté pan is heated through add in your olive oil. When your olive oil is fragrant (about a minute) add in your garlic, onion, and crushed red pepper. Stir it ell and simmer about 3 – 5 minutes. You want your onions to become clear and be careful your garlic does not get too browned.

Meanwhile, in a large colander place you clams and give them a good rinsing. You want to be sure no sand or grit remains on them.

Next, add your tomatoes to your sauté pan and simmer together stirring it well. Season it with the sea salt and the black pepper. Once it is simmering about 5 minutes add in your wine and raise your heat to high. Stir it well and let it all simmer away together. Let it all cook together about 10 minute before lowering your heat back down to a medium.

Finally, your pot of water should be boiling. Add in your linguini and keep stirring it well to prevent it from sticking. Set a timer to the boxes suggested cooking time (usually 9 – 10 minutes) and let it boil away. I feel that linguini has the tendency to stick together do to its shape and size so be sure to stir it frequently.  Once you add your pasta to the water you can add your clams to your sauce. Pile them in and stir well. Cove you sauté pan with a lid and let them steam in the sauce. When your timer rings for your pasta you should drain it, and remove the lid from your sauce. You should see that all your clams have opened and are marrying with the sauce.  Place a bit of the sauce in a large serving bowl. Place your linguini in over and toss well. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the linguini and give another tossing. Sprinkle it with the fresh basil and a drizzle of Olive Oil if you wish, and serve.

*NOTE: If you notice any of the clams do not open please remove them from your dish. You do not want to serve a bad clam to your guests.

**This dish usually has sauce that will settle on the bottom of the serving bowl. Be sure to ladle the extra sauce over the dish when serving.

 

 

 

 

Rosemary Shortbread is Independence!

As I walk throughout my neighborhood I am surrounded by an abundance of flowers springing up everywhere. Among all of this there are Sweet Peas and huge Rosemary Bushes multiplying overnight.  Sweet Peas are growing along the busy road sides, out of rock walls and everywhere you turn. Some of the rosemary bushes I see feel as though they have doubled in size overnight. They are so beautiful and sway in the breeze bringing a beautiful smell that I wish I could bottle. All of this brings up so many memories as I see and smell them.

You may not know but several years ago I was searching for a name for my bakery and I felt so lost. I already had a menu of sweets in mind, but could not settle on a name. I asked others for help but still nothing was satisfying. I came across someone carrying Sweet Pea Blossoms. They were so delicate, dainty, and smelled beautifully. She told me that she grew them in her garden. So I went home to see how feasible it would be to grow them in my own yard. (You have to remember that this is when I lived in Phoenix. It is really hard to grow much of anything in the dessert unless you dedicate a lot of time to it!) In my research it said that a Sweet Pea blossoms are to be described as a casual splendor, accompanied by subtle aromas. A light bulb went off; I had a name for my bakery: The Sweet Pea.  And believe it or not I always made a Rosemary Shortbread that I was planning on having on the menu. So you can see how this time of year as I walk around I am reminded of all that went on not too long ago.

About six years later at the time of closing my bakery, my husband and I were dealing with so much stress. Besides the closing of our business and the failing economy in Phoenix, my father had become gravely ill and was hospitalized for about a month. Brian’s job was becoming increasingly difficult and weighing on him like a ton of bricks. My husband’s aunt who we adored had passed away unexpectedly and we took it really hard. On top of it all Brian lost his job when they laid-off half his company. What a few months of hell. Time for a rebirth, time for change, and time to move on.  Seattle bound we were which leads us to now. (I moved here exactly 2 years ago this past week!)

We came to Seattle for a new start, and to regain what we had. I guess you can say we were looking for our independence again. With all the greenery and growth here it was the perfect move to make. It seemed like there was “life” here if that makes sense to anyone? Room to grow if you will. So I find it a bit ironic that I see all these splendors of nature here that I had to search for in Phoenix. Sweet Peas galore and rosemary a plenty….or just for remembrance, like in Shakespeare?

The Fourth of July is this week and many of you will be BBQ-ing it up. With red, white and blue food and desserts decking out your tables; however I might be going about it a different route. Sweet Peas freshly picked from one of my walks through our hood. Let us not forget Rosemary Shortbread – you always should remember where you came from, and how you got there. Happy 4th to you all! Happy Cooking!

Rosemary Shortbread (makes about 30 cookies, depending on size)

These cookies are wonderfully light and mildly sweet. The mixture of rosemary along with the honey creates not only a beautiful aroma when baked, as well as a lovely taste with a buttery goodness. They are great any time of day, and especially lovely with tea! I am sure you will become a fan, as so many of our customers and friends have. 

4 cups of AP Flour

1 tsp of sea salt

1 tsp of baking powder

2 tbsp of fresh rosemary, chopped

1 pound of butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp of honey

1 cup of powdered sugar

2 Tbsp of granulated sugar or sugar in the raw

First; in a bowl stir together your flour, sea salt, & baking powder and set it aside. In a standing mixer cream together your butter, honey, and powdered sugar. Once your butter, honey, and powdered sugar are creamed together you can mix in the rosemary. When that is all well combined you can then add your flour mixture. Add it in slowly until it is all combined together. It will begin to all become one form when it is ready.

Next; line a sheet pan with parchment and press your shortbread batter into your pan evenly across it. I like to press it into place, and then place another sheet of parchment across the top of it.  With a rolling pin or a study even jar (depending on what will fit within the rim of the baking sheet) gently roll over the shortbread dough to be sure it is all evenly placed within the pan.

Then; remove the top layer of parchment and with a knife carefully score where you would like your cookie to be cut. Once that is done, with a fork prick each cookie evenly. (This is so heat will escape the shortbread while it bakes without it deforming the shape of the cookie.) Sprinkle the top of the shortbread with either the granulated sugar or the sugar in the raw. Place the sheet pan in the freezer so that the shortbread will become firm before braking.

Finally; pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Once your oven is at temperature you can place your chilled shortbread in the oven and bake about 30 - 40 minutes. You are looking for the cookies to have a slightly golden blond look to them around the edges of your pan, and a nice firmness to the touch. Let cool about 10 minutes before re-cutting the cookies along the scores you made. Be sure they are cool to the touch before lifting off of the pan.

Hacking into Spring

It has been a while since I last wrote. That was not by my own doing. You see my blog was hacked…not once but twice. As a result to the hacking my husband and I had to remove all of the info I had on here in order to restore my blog. Only to have us go through several attempts to get it all up and back running again. The weird thing of it all was that I felt so annoyed by the fact that my blog was hacked. When I was explaining the situation to my coworker she exclaimed that hacking was like internet graffiti. That was it; I felt she hit the nail on the head – Internet Graffiti! I thought the explanation was too perfect. So that is where I have been. I am sorry it has taken me this long. I have missed writing. I have been creating a number of new things in my kitchen. I have had some hits and some misses. I have been working on a soup that I feel tastes just like spring; I had tasted and tested a few baked items. I am sad to report that I have had some misses there. It is frustrating to think you have this terrific recipe that only turns out more or less blah in every which way. I had also been reminiscing of my home life growing up and matching my memory to recipes. That was the greatest part of my latest experimenting. (My next post will have a lot to do with that.)

All in all it has been a great spring so far in Seattle. Brian and I are enjoying the days as they grow longer. Martini and Latte have been enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. Pictured below is Golden Gardens. It is a beach and park I like taking them to when the weather cooperates. I hope spring has been just as lovely for all of you too! I am happy to be back!