Category Archives: Side dishes

Not Your Mama’s Plantains

We watch a lot of cooking shows, like a lot a lot.  I’ve noticed that most dishes focusing on Puerto Rican food have plantains in it.  I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to visit my parents in Puerto Rico over the Thanksgiving holiday.



on the beach

San Juan fort

Being that I had never tried plantains before (shocker, I know), I was so excited to try them on this trip.  I tried so many different versions and was so stinkin’ disappointed that I didn’t really care for them.  Not to let that stop me, I kept trying them.  Over, and over, and over, and…you get the idea.  To those of you who like the original plantain, I am so jealous, and this recipe is probably not for you.  Although the recipe may provide an interesting change…maybe?

When figuring this recipe out, I was thinking about my favorite way to indulge in starches.  I love mashed potato leftovers formed into patties and pan-fried.  I was hoping plantains wouldn’t be any different.

To start, take two ripe plantains.  They should be fairly soft (again, I have no idea if this is traditional when using plantains, but it is what I did).

ripe plantains

Peel the plantains, mash ‘em, and lightly cover the mush with salt and pepper.  I love salt, so it is a must for me.  If you don’t like salt (whaaaaa????) then leave it out.  I must warn you…if you leave it out, you may end up with bland goop.  That’s just my very biased opinion.


Ok.  Now that we have established that I love salt, I will remind you, yet again, that I have had a long-standing love affair with scallions.  Unfortunately, I was out and no interest in going to the store.  The next best option was to use sliced washed leeks.  I sautéed them in butter for just a few minutes to slightly soften them.  If you use scallions, there is no need to soften them.  Now combine everything, and add a few tablespoons of flour, just to firm up the texture a little bit.  I also added about 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro, just for a little extra flavor and the pretty green color.


Next, take ¼ cup of the mixture, flatten it between your hands and coat the patties in seasoned breadcrumbs.  Once all the patties are formed, place them on a plate and refrigerate for an hour or so.  This will ensure that they stay together during cooking.

Finally, heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and add just a little bit of oil to keep the butter from browning.  Cook the plantain patties until both sides are browned, turning only once during cooking.

Now comes the best part: time to chow down.  I decided to serve them with the most delicious spicy mango sauce that my amazing mother made and sent home with us from Puerto Rico.  It is unfortunately almost gone…she may have to mail more.  That wasn’t too subtle, was it?  Maybe she will even post the recipe sometime (it is that amazingly good, and you haven’t lived until you try it.  For real.)


Happy February to you all, and here’s to many more delicious meals in 2014.


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Cha cha chayote


dear santa


I know they’re not tropical, but I wanted to share these letters, because sometimes your dog gets run over by your school bus, and sometimes you just want books to read, and maybe having books will help you learn to spell better, too, oof. #childhood

And with that, here’s today’s recipe!

Actually, this is more a guideline. And an invitation to experiment, if you will.

Chayote au gratin
Adapted from The Essential Caribbean Cookbook

For four servings:

  • 2 chayote squash
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Cheese, whatever kind you’d like, shredded or crumbled
  • Breadcrumbs or stale bread pulsed in a food processor
  • Salt, pepper, other spices to taste
  • Hot sauce or salsa to serve

1. Place the chayote in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 20 – 30 minutes, until squash can be pierced with a knife but still has a little give (in other words, it won’t be all the way cooked yet).

2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and beginning to color.

3. Once the chayote are done boiling, remove from the water and slice in half lengthwise. Allow them to cool enough so that you can handle them without burning your fingers. Using a spoon, scoop out as much flesh as you can, leaving the skin and a thin shell intact. Remove and discard the very inner core (you’ll see that it looks different from the rest of the flesh) and roughly chop the rest of the flesh.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked onions, chopped chayote flesh, and some cheese (use as much as you’d like!). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and other spices that you’d like to use. (You could try curry, red pepper, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, whatever. The world is your chayote.) Place the chayote shells in a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking dish and fill with the onion/chayote/cheese mixture. Sprinkle with a little more cheese and breadcrumbs.

5. Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the tops are golden and bubbling, and the chayote is easily pierced with a fork. If you think the tops are browning too much, cover loosely with foil until the chayote are done. These are great with hot sauce, and also reheat well.



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Tomatoes II: Wrath of Khan, or, “It is very cold in THE FREEZER!”

Much like Admiral Kirk and his inevitable defeat of Khan, I have defeated the tomatoes. (Or should I say, “TOMATOOOOOES!”)


I’m not sure if this shot captures the mess that I felt was all over the little kitchen after dealing with the tomatoes, but lemme tell you: it was a battlefield. There were tomato guts, skins, and tears all over the counter and in the sink. I submit the above as evidence, lest you think the life of bloggers is all pretty pictures of food and happiness and sunshine, all the time.

But the battle was completely worth it, because look!:

ready to go

Thanks to a brilliant suggestion by Braeden’s mom, I easily defeated most of the tomatoes by blanching, peeling, lightly chopping, and freezing them in quart-sized freezer bags.

tomato jam

A halved recipe of this tomato jam also happened. It’s been spread into breakfast sandwiches with fried eggs and blanched kale, on toast with sweet pickled jalapeños, and on toast with feta sprinkled over top. In other words it’s very versatile, and what are you waiting for? You don’t even have to use all the listed ingredients – I used a bit less sugar, no ginger, and just a squeeze of lime and didn’t bother with sterilizing and canning since it will be eaten within a few weeks anyway. Easy, peasy.

If the Khan tomatoes are still tormenting you, though, may I suggest something else? Something green, perhaps?

green tomatoes

If you have the chance to get your hands on some green tomatoes, do it. And then fry them. With a gentle salting, followed by a quick dredge in seasoned flour, a light bath in an egg whisked with buttermilk, and a hefty coating of spiced cornmeal and breadcrumbs, those green tomatoes will be the happiest of green tomatoes in the world. Who wouldn’t want happy tomatoes? (Aside from Khan, that is.)

I adapted my recipe from here and was craving a Mexican spice profile at the time. After making them again, I didn’t see a reason to change the spices. Even the leftovers were good cold, straight from the fridge. I happened to have a few tomatillos on hand and put together a quick, fresh salsa of tomatillos, a few small tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, lime, and salt to spoon over the fried green tomatoes, but they actually didn’t need a condiment. Even Braeden, the Condiment King, ate one or two without adornment.


Give it a shot. I was intimidated at first (dredging, coating, and frying, oh my!), but I promise this formula actually keeps the coating stuck on the tomatoes.

(And on your fingers. But this is a battle, so you should expect some minor injuries.)

battle wounds

A glass of sangria while you work couldn’t hurt, either.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Notes: The first time I made these, I followed the original recipe measurements for the flour, egg/buttermilk mix, and cornmeal coating but ran out before I finished frying the last tomato, leaving me in a frenzy of mixing more to finish it off. Having enough coating just depends on the size of your tomatoes. The below measurements will likely make a little more than you need, but you should know that the flour, egg/buttermilk, and cornmeal combo also does wonders to other things that may be lurking around your kitchen – pickled okra, leftover slices of grilled eggplant, slices of already cooked sweet potatoes, for example. About the seasonings: I used cumin and two other spice blends (Goya Adobo and Ancho Chili and Lime), but use whatever you’d like. Do let me know if you try something you’re particularly excited about!

  • 3 medium-large green tomatoes
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs (plain, Panko, homemade, whatever you have)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
  • 1-2 teaspoons Ancho Chili and Lime seasoning
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying

1. Slice the tomatoes into ¼ inch rounds and arrange on a plate, lightly salting each slice. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. In a wide, shallow dish or bowl, combine the flour and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. In another shallow dish, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Set aside.

4. In one more shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, and seasonings.

5. Heat about a 1/4 cup of oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. While the oil is heating, arrange your assembly line: sangria with straw (optional), sliced tomatoes, flour bowl, buttermilk-egg bowl, cornmeal-breadcrumb bowl. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place near your skillet.


6. Once oil is heated, start coating your tomatoes. Dredge both sides of a tomato slice lightly in flour, then coat both sides in the buttermilk-egg, and finally coat both sides in the cornmeal-breadcrumbs. Place in oil. Quickly repeat with more tomato slices, filling pan in a single layer of tomatoes. Cook about 3 minutes per side (they’ll be nicely golden-brown) and remove to paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all your tomatoes, replenishing the oil if needed. If you have leftover coating ingredients, experiment with other things in your refrigerator! (Just don’t save the cornmeal-breadcrumb mixture, since it will be contaminated with the raw egg.)

side one

side two


7. Serve with salsa, barbecue sauce, tomato chutney, or eat plain. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator – they’re good cold or gently crisped in an oven.

with salsa verde

Yes, tomatoes, it has been lovely doing battle with you, but I have won yet again.

In conclusion, I leave you with these words of wisdom:

“Ah Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us ‘Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.’? It is very cold in SPACE!”


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Spring hash + spring links

roof, again

Guys, hanging out on a roof on a Friday spring evening is fun. I highly encourage it.

If hanging on roofs isn’t your thing this spring, can I suggest something else?

Spring hash

I’m going to be that food blogger and tell you: “Oh, this old thing? Why, I only make this when I don’t know what to make.”

But seriously. When you take fresh produce and cook them together for a bit and add something zesty, it’s hard to go wrong. Even if you think you can’t just whip up something, you can. K?



kale kale everywhere

Spring Hash
Inspired by a sauteed spinach dish from Boqueira

Notes: This is sort of a warm salad, sort of a side dish, and all kinds of delicious. Be sure to have all the ingredients prepped beforehand, as they get thrown in the pan pretty quickly. To make a light meal out of the Spring Hash, serve with some bread (a sourdough variation of this bread is pictured) and olive oil for dipping. Of course, a fried or poached egg would feel right at home on a bed of these greens, too. And if you don’t have these exact ingredients, don’t fret – this recipe is made for compromisin’. (Doon doon doon doon doon doon doon doon.)

  • 1 bunch of spinach (or about two cups of packed spinach leaves), roughly chopped
  • 4 – 5 leaves of kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks (leaving the heads intact, just because it’s prettier that way)
  • onion, chopped, to taste
  • something crunchy – sliced almonds, chopped cashews, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup raisins (golden, preferably)
  • pickled vegetables, if you have any and want to add them
  • 1/4 cup (or so) apple cider vinegar (or another vinegar of your choosing, but I’d stay away from a heavy balsamic for this one)
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons mustard – I used a ramp mustard, but I think a grainy dijon or something like that would be good too.
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • herbs to sprinkle on top, if you have them – chives, lemon thyme, or parsley, for example
  • olive oil

1. Toast your crunch (nuts, pepitas, etc.) – I like to toast them in a dry skillet for 5 – 10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to ensure they don’t burn. You could also toast them in the oven on a baking sheet – detailed instructions here. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and mustard; taste and adjust ratio to your liking. Set your crunch and the vinegar-mustard aside.

2. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add your onion and sauté until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins. Add the asparagus, stir to coat in olive oil and add more oil if needed. Cook a few more minutes, stirring occasionally, until asparagus turns bright green and begins to soften, but still has some crunch. Add the kale, stir to coat, cook 1 minute more. Add spinach and vinegar-mustard, stir to coat everything. Add more vinegar-mustard if you’d like it to be more saucy. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in the crunch, add any additional add-ins such as pickled veggies, chopped tomatoes, or whatever you fancy.  Taste and add salt and pepper as you like.

4. Dish up! Garnish with herbs, scallions, or a grate of cheese.



Need more spring-time food inspiration? I thought you’d never ask:


  • Pasta with kale, pinto beans, and pepitas in a chipotle-yogurt sauce – inspired by this post but with a few tweaks.

chipotle pasta

  • Last but not least, something to sip on: make your own ginger liqueur. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but used lemon zest instead of orange and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean. Next time I make it (and from the looks of it, that will be soon) I might reduce the sugar a teensy bit. I know a liqueur is supposed to be sweet, but the beauty of making your own is that it doesn’t have to be. My favorite way (so far) to use the liqueur: In a tall glass add 1 shot liqueur, 1 shot rum (Mt. Gay Eclipse, to be exact), a few dashes of bitters (preferably Angostura), and a squeeze of lime. Stir, fill half of glass with ice. Top with ginger beer, stir. It’s like a dark and stormy, but, well, stormier.*

ginger liqueur, pre-strain

I’ll leave you with that – the stormier drink is calling my name, and the last three episodes of Arrested Development are itching to be watched. Speaking of Arrested Development, check back on Monday for a special, Bluth-filled post. It’s sure to be a mouthful.


*That was totally a reference to a June 2011 post on Gilt Taste entitled “The Classic Dark ‘n Stormy, Made Stormier” and I went to go find the link so that I could share it with you but IT’S GONE! I’ve been wondering if something had gone awry with Gilt’s recipes, as they hadn’t updated since last fall, but now I can’t find any of the recipes. Anyone out there know what happened? Did I just miss the giant, flashing link that says “GILT TASTE RECIPES ARE STILL HERE” in my panic-ridden state? In any case, I have a cached version of that post, which, more to the point, contains a recipe for homemade ginger beer. Stay tuned.

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the roof

Remember that glorious Russian feast I keep promising you? Today’s the daaay!

But. (I know, I hate buts too.)

You’re not getting any pictures of the food. I had some, quite a few actually, but they are no more. My purse (with phone) was rather traumatically stolen at the end of April (hence April being a rather rough month), and alas, those darn thieves just didn’t want to return my fancyschmancy phone with all the pictures of food on it. I hope they enjoyed the Merriam-Webster word of the day and Kittens of Instagram as much I did. So, I had the phone remotely erased. Which, honestly, probably doesn’t matter anyway, since it’s almost definitely in some warehouse or en route to being completely out of reach. Hey! Maybe someone is enjoying his or her my fancy phone right now. Really glad I paid $100 three weeks before to have the shattered screen fixed. I’m sure everyone involved appreciates it. (Ahem.)

Ironically, “figure out how the Cloud works so I can back up all my pictures” was on my to-do list, nestled inside a little black Moleskin notebook, which was also in the purse. I was on the verge of celebrating my lack of will to do anything (you know, since the to-do list was stolen) when the nice police (and I say “nice” quite sincerely – the police were wonderful) returned a few of my belongings, including the to-do list notebook but noticeably not including the phone or wallet. (Seriously, punks? You want my library card? I hope you check out lots of books about how assaulting people in the middle of day is rude. But hey, thanks for taking my voucher for a $15 brunch entree with unlimited mimosas out of my wallet before you took the rest of it. I’ll be needing that.)

Loathing sarcasm and the urge to throttle glass bottles against the ground aside, I’m starting to get over it. I went outside the other day (by myself!) and only looked behind me, like, 10 times to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Baby steps.

Aaaaaanyway. All that is to say: I have no pictures of past food adventures, save for the few that survive on instagram. I have learned my lessons: I will take pictures with a real camera from now on. I won’t walk on sunny, quiet, pretty [deserted] streets (in my own neighborhood, no less) anymore. I’ll try my hardest not to be afraid, which is something I already struggle with. I’m sure somewhere, sometime, someone wise said something along the lines of: “What are you waiting for? Get on with your life.”

So here we are.


The second annual Old Russian New Year’s Party was another success. Really, when you combine good food, infused vodka, and wonderful people, I don’t know how you can go wrong. Most of the food was more suited for mid-January consumption, when it’s cold outside but you can still drink just enough vodka to feel comfortably warm and be able to climb onto your roof.

Old Russian New Years, take two

Bread: black, rye.


Badrijani nigvzit.

Pickles: cucumber, red pepper, okra.

Cheese-carrot-garlic spread, baklazhanaya ikra, lobio.

Vodka: lemon, pepper, plain, honey, and caramel.

Feuerzangenbowle (pictured, in part, above)

Sunflower seed butter cookies, toffee chocolates, pomegranate seeds.

Of all of these morsels, the badrijani nigzis are definitely my favorite. Affectionally dubbed “vegan egg rolls” by a friend who happens to be vegan, they are Georgian (the country, not the state), spunky, and fabulous. For ease of terminology, let’s call them eggplant rolls. The eggplant rolls are a work of genius – simple, garlicky, genius. You take strips of lightly fried eggplant, make a filling of ground walnuts, garlic, onion, and celery, roll the filling into the strips, and garnish the whole dish with bright pomegranate seeds that give the perfect tangy punch to foil the rich, garlicky eggplant rolls. Well done, Georgia. Well done.

Eggplant Rolls (Badrijani nigvzit)
filling adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen, method adapted from this lovely post

Note: These will be especially delicious in the summer, when the eggplants are fresh and delicious. However, I fear you won’t be able to easily track down pomegranates in the summer, and the pomegranate seeds really add a little somethin’ to the dish. I’m working on substitutes and hope to report back later with success. [Update: Maybe fresh currants would be nice? They’re slightly sour and have the same sort of burst-in-your-mouth qualities, and are slightly easier to come by in the summer than pomegranates.] The filling will likely make more than you need, but it makes an excellent spread for toast or in a sandwich, would be great thinned with pasta water for a unique sauce, or would almost definitely be delicious dolloped on a lamb chop or baked potatoes. Go ahead, get crazy.

Also: these are best prepared at least two hours in advance of serving, and are even great prepared a day in advance. This allows the garlic to mellow and the flavors to meld.

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a sliver of onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small rib of celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (original recipe calls for hot Hungarian, I had sweet Hungarian. Adapt for your tastes.)
  • finely chopped parsley and cilantro, totaling about 3 tablespoons combined (again, adapt to taste)
  • 5 tablespoons vinegar (I used red wine, the original recipe calls for tarragon)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • pomegranate seeds to garnish (just seed a whole pomegranate, you’ll find uses for any leftover seeds)
  • vegetable or peanut oil (or any other oil with a high smoke point)

1. Prepare the eggplant: slice the top off each eggplant. Unless the peel seems particularly thick, there is no need to peel. Slice eggplant from top to bottom into roughly 1/4 inch thick slices. (Really wish I had pictures, but look! Google does.) Lay the slices in one layer on a paper towel-lined sheet and liberally apply salt. Let sit at least 30 minutes to expel liquid, then rinse and drain the slices in a colander. Pat dry and set aside.

2. While the eggplant are expelling the liquid, prepare the filling: grind the walnuts and garlic in a food processor or mortar and pestle. If you are without either, chop everything up as finely as you can. Place in a bowl and add the onion, celery, paprika, cilantro and parsley, vinegar, water, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Set aside.

3. Cook the eggplant: In a lage skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant in a single layer and don’t crowd them too much. Work in batches if you have to, adding more oil if needed to prevent sticking. Cook the eggplant until golden brown and easily pierced with a fork. (I’d guess about 5 minutes per side.) If in doubt, try tasting a little nibble – if the texture is chewy or rubbery, cook a little longer. It should be soft, and delicious. Set the cooked strips aside on more paper towel-lined sheets.

4. Assemble: when the eggplant is cool enough to handle, place a spoonful of filling on one end of a strip. Roll the eggplant closed. (Reference google if you can’t picture it.) Place seam-side down onto serving platter, cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

5. Serve the rolls at room temperature garnished with pomegranate seeds.


Don’t be put off by the name of this next one: Eggplant caviar. Or, if you are put off by the name and afraid others might be too, here it is in Russian: baklazhanaya ikra, pronounced “bach-luh-zhahn-ah-yah eek-rah.” One of many versions of a poor man’s caviar, this tastes anything but. It’s silky, garlicky, and perfect spread on slices of black bread. My host mother in Russia would make this often, and her version included zucchini, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and presumably a mystery ingredient only available in Russia, as I have been haunted by and as yet unable to recreate her version. Luckily, Anya von Bremzen saves the day again. Below is an Odessian version of the dish.

Baklazhanaya ikra
adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen

Note: This is another dish best made in advance, to allow the flavors to mellow and meld.

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped (and peeled, if you like)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped parsley and/or cilantro, to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Pierce the eggplant in several places with a knife and bake on a baking sheet until soft, about 50 minutes, turning midway through. Set aside to cool (and turn off the oven.)

2. Once cool, cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp and place into a large bowl.

3. Add the onion, tomato, garlic, oil, and vinegar, mashing everything together with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Serve garnished with cilantro and/or parsley. I enjoy it best on slice of black bread, but white or rye are nice as well. It’s also great in an omelet or as a pasta sauce. I’m also dreaming of using it on pizza (specifically, grilled.)


Last but not least, a vodka infusion. Last year, I gave you a lemon vodka that took a whole two weeks to infuse. Guess how long this year’s took? Less than a day. And it was, dare I say, even better than last year’s. I’m also guessing it would welcome a spot in your summer cocktail repertoire.

Lemon-infused vodka
adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen (starting to sense a theme here?)

  • grated zest of 2 lemons (zest only, no white pith)
  • 750 ml good-quality vodka (I used Skyy, Ms. von Bremzen suggests Stolichnaya)

Add the zest to the vodka and infuse at room temperature for at least 4 hours, but no more than 12. (I did around 8). Strain and chill.

You could mix this vodka with some bubbly water and a little simple syrup, or during the summer with some sopping ripe, crushed raspberries. But really, this vodka is so tasty you should just drink it like it was meant to be: icy cold and straight up, followed immediately by a little bite of food (we found that pomegranate seeds made excellent chasers).

I leave you with (again, I know) the wise writings of Anya von Bremzen, on how to take the proper shot of vodka.

how to drink vodka

Until next time, with promises of more pictures.


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What to do with all that zucchini

I love zucchini!  We usually have quite a few growing in our garden, but unfortunately this year we were hit with a pretty crazy Colorado hailstorm just when things were starting to look good. Boo.  Lucky for me, we have a decent  little farmers market where I can get an abundance of fresh zucchini on a weekly basis!

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a creative recipe to make something new, and came across something pretty awesome. Zucchini fries!! Yum!!


Zucchini Fries
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

  • 3-4 medium sized zucchini, cut into 3 inch sticks
  • 1 ½ cups bread crumbs (I used plain old bread crumbs, but I think Panko would provide a better crunch)
  • ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground crushed red pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • A splash of heavy cream
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper

After all of the zucchini is cut, place them in a colander and sprinkle with a generous amount of kosher salt. Let the zucchini sit for at least an hour to draw out the moisture.  When they are done, place them on a paper towel and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper in a large bowl.  I like to mix them in glass pie plate.

Mix the eggs, heavy cream, and cayenne pepper in another bowl or pie plate.

Toss some of the dry zucchini in the egg mixture, and then toss in the breadcrumb coating. Make sure they are all covered and then transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Continue with the rest of the zucchini until they are all ready for the oven.

Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown. You will want to turn them over halfway through baking.

Serve and enjoy!

I made this awesome dipping sauce that I found with the original recipe, but added a generous amount of crushed red pepper to make it spicy. It was delicious! My children, of course, chose to dip theirs in ranch.


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To Spring, and Mother’s Day, and Daylight and Green Things

First, a dedication:  here are Edvard Grieg’s “To Spring” and Christian Sinding’s “Rustles of Spring” for all the mothers out there, especially to my own mom and others who faithfully drove their kids to music lessons week after week.  The Grieg piece is beyond me now, but I surprised myself recently when I sat down at the piano and discovered I can still sort of play “Rustles of Spring” (it sounds a lot harder than it really is).

It makes a lot of sense that Norwegian composers would salute spring in their music.  Even here where we live in Germany, winter is long, cloudy, and dark, and the arrival of spring is a welcome change.  This year we had an early teaser with several beautiful weeks in March, then it turned gray and cold on us.  Finally now every day is longer and lighter, the trees are all covered with new leaves, it’s getting warmer, and I have a couple of springtime recipes that go together very nicely – nettle turnovers and Spargelsuppe.

A month or so ago I was talking with my friend Rebecca and she mentioned some kind of whipped up green appetizer they’d sampled somewhere in the Black Forest.  The chef wouldn’t say what it was, but he did say no, no, and no when she guessed ingredients such as spinach, peas, and asparagus.  I wondered if it might be nettles, and that set me to looking up recipes and gathering tips.  Stinging nettles grow all over around my favorite walking route, but around that time we hit a busy and rainy spell and I didn’t make it out to pick any until the other day.

In my reading I learned that nettles have historically been valued as a spring food source in northern Europe, especially in places like Scandinavia and the Baltics.  In fact, when I gave Rebecca a sample of my nettle turnovers she mentioned that her neighbor from Lithuania said they always used to gather nettles for soup and dry them for tea.  Rebecca got me started on this nettle tea with lemongrass and I really like it.

Nettles don’t even grow where I come from on the dry side of the Evergreen State, so I didn’t know what they looked like until I pulled one out of my little flower garden after we moved to Germany (bare-handed gardening, ouch!).  Ever since then I’ve been careful to avoid nettles when I’m out walking, and it felt a little funny to be purposefully seeking them out.  Although they are thriving along all the nearby country roads and trails, it seemed like a good idea to gather my greens off the path a ways where people don’t walk their dogs.  Other than that, my only tips are to go gathering before the plants get tall and start to bloom, wear gloves, hold the top of the plant with tongs, snip to remove the top few sets of leaves, and drop the cuttings into a basket or other container (and don’t touch them!).



When you get home, use the tongs to hold each stem while snipping off the leaves, then dump the leaves into a big bowl of cold water to wash away any dirt or bugs, which will settle to the bottom of the bowl (well, the bugs might float, but you can pick them out with a spoon).  I found lots of conflicting advice about blanching time, ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes, and just today I came across a New York Times article from last week that said blanching is not necessary – the leaves can go straight into a sauté pan and the heat will deactivate the sting (and next year I might be brave enough to try it with young early spring nettle leaves).  I put a big pot of salted water on to boil, thinking I’d go with a minute, but I chickened out and left the leaves in for almost three minutes just to be sure they wouldn’t sting me.  I didn’t think to try to weigh the leaves, but I started out with a big pile of leaves, and after blanching, chilling in cold water, draining, and squeezing excess water out I had a solid ball of green stuff about the size of a softball.  I would say it was about a pound of leaves, or maybe a quart and a half to two quarts of loosely packed leaves before blanching.



The turnovers use the same method as spanakopita triangles, and I think it would work very well to use a spanakopita recipe with nettles instead of spinach.  When I was getting ready to do something with nettles I didn’t have any feta, but I did have some mascarpone I bought with a vague purpose in mind, plus some shredded emmentaler, and the combination turned out very well.  I added an egg as a binder to keep the mascarpone from melting all over the oven, and continued the green theme by finally thinking to use some of the mass of chives growing on the edge of the terrace.  The result looked like it was bursting with chlorophyll! Next year I’ll try to go out gathering much earlier in the season and make some beautiful spring-green filled turnovers for St. Patrick’s Day.


Nettle Turnovers

  • 1 ½ to 2 quarts nettle leaves, trimmed, washed, blanched, drained, and squeezed as described above
  • 250 grams mascarpone (cream cheese or ricotta would also work)
  • ¾ cup shredded emmentaler (or any “Swiss” type cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons snipped chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 10 sheets phyllo
  • ½ – ¾ cup butter, melted

Place the squeezed-together lump of blanched and drained nettles on a cutting board and roughly chop.  Blend the cheeses, nettle, and chives in a bowl and salt and pepper to taste.  Beat in the egg and set aside.

Place a sheet of phyllo on your work surface and brush it lightly with melted butter.  Put another phyllo sheet on top and brush it with butter.  Cut the double layer of phyllo into four strips with a pizza cutter or knife.

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Place a tablespoon or so of the nettle filling on the end of one strip, then fold into a triangle (like you would fold a flag).  Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet and brush one more time with melted butter.  Repeat this process until all of the phyllo is used up – you should end up with 20 turnovers.  Poke the top of each one in several places with a fork.

Bake at 375 F until the turnovers are golden brown.  Based on the spanakopita recipes I read, I thought it would take around 15 minutes, but it was closer to 25 minutes (just keep an eye on them).

Cool slightly and serve, or they are also good at room temperature.  I didn’t try freezing the turnovers before baking, but baked frozen turnovers were very good warmed in the oven (I let them thaw first, but I don’t think it would be necessary).


Spargelzeit! Asparagus Season!

Signs are popping up all over, advertising frische Spargel in the produce markets and Spargelmenu in restaurants.  Germans celebrate Mother’s Day the same day as Americans, and Spargel is traditional for Mother’s Day dinner since the date coincides with Spargelzeit.  Germans do love their asparagus, especially the white kind that is covered while it grows to prevent photosynthesis (hmm, good thing we have a good shot of green stuff from the nettles in this meal).  I have developed a real taste for asparagus – I actually like the green kind better, but I am also very fond of traditional German Spargelsuppe made with white asparagus.

One thing about white asparagus, it has a tough, somewhat bitter skin, and you have to peel the stalks.  Well, I was surprised when I stopped at a local produce store to learn that they have a giant asparagus peeling machine that does the job in no time.  However, the last bundle I bought came from a little roadside stand, with no fancy machine in sight, so I peeled the spears myself (really not too time-consuming).  Even so, I had soup on the table pretty quickly, and it is a good pairing for the nettle turnovers.


Adapted from the Dr. Oetker German Cooking Today cookbook

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound white asparagus, peeled and tough ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 1¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives
  • Dried or fresh parsley, chopped (to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan and stir the asparagus pieces around in it until they are coated.  Let the asparagus cook in the butter for about five minutes, until it releases water.  Sprinkle with flour and stir to mix the flour in and coat the asparagus.  Add wine, water, and milk and stir until the liquid is smooth.  Let it simmer uncovered until the asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.  Puree in the blender or using an immersion blender.  Stir in crème fraîche and chives and season to taste with parsley, salt and pepper.  In restaurants here, the soup is frequently served with a big dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a few croutons, and it is really good that way (but you can always substitute another spoonful of crème fraîche and it will still look pretty and taste like that flavor you looked forward to all winter long).  Happy Mother’s Day!



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When You Have a Poblano Sighting…

I love the gastronomic adventure of living in Germany, but as I may have mentioned, there are a few tastes of home that I really miss.  I can generally find jalapeños and serranos, but poblano chiles are something of a rarity.  Fortunately, there are several of us who look out for each other: whenever one of us spots poblanos, that triggers the alert.  One day a while back, I went with Deana and Gariann on a Saturday outing and the topic of poblanos came up.  That very week, Deana saw some and bought enough for all three of us.  Last time, I saw them first and called Gariann from the produce aisle.  Deana was on vacation, but Gariann passed the message on to Pat, who was tied up and wouldn’t make it to the store for at least four hours.  Knowing the poblanos are a hot commodity around here, Gariann went and bought her own plus a dozen for Pat.  Did I mention poblanos run around $6-7 a pound here?  So yeah, we pay a couple of dollars each for them….the first time I kind of winced as I bought $20 worth, but I decided since I don’t think twice about an occasional 0.2 liter glass of soda that costs three euro (yep, $4.00+ for less than seven ounces), two dollars a pop for poblanos is all relative and ultimately reasonable for treat.

Well, it’s poblano feast time around here.  Some of my chiles were roasted and frozen for future use, and I have three recipes to share – two are super-easy and the other one is well worth the effort.

The first step is to char the skin and then quickly steam the chiles by wrapping tightly so the blistered skin will peel right off.  I generally cut a slit in the poblano and cut away the seed clump before charring, but it is also fine to do it when you are peeling.  I have the best luck charring over a hot (450 F.) gas grill – turn every couple of minutes to char evenly and they’ll be done in no time.  Then put them on a plate, cover tightly with foil, and let them sit for about 15 minutes before pulling the skin off with your fingers.  I also know people who hold individual poblanos with long tongs over a gas stove burner.  If neither of those options is possible, you can char the peppers by turning frequently in a hot frying pan or put them a few inches from a hot broiler and keep a close eye on them.

To freeze the poblanos, you can put them on a plastic-lined tray in the freezer and then transfer to a freezer bag after they are frozen, or you can first cut the chiles into strips, which are called rajas (rrah’-hahss) in Spanish.  To use in recipes, thaw the chiles at room temperature for an hour or so.

The first recipe doesn’t really have a name.  I guess we’ll call it…

Poblano Potato Cakes

  • 2 medium baked potatoes, cooled and peeled
  • 2 poblanos, stems, seeds, and skins removed (char and steam as described above), cut into narrow strips
  • Salt, pepper, and Mexican seasoning to taste (I use Don Enrico brand Pico de Gallo seasoning mix)
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • Corn oil or other vegetable oil for frying

Use a coarse grater to grate the potatoes onto a plate.  Stir in the poblano strips and season to taste.  Sprinkle on the potato flour and mix lightly with a fork to combine (I believe potato flour is the same as potato starch – in German grocery stores it is labeled Kartoffel Mehl and it is used for potato dumplings).


Spread half the bread crumbs out on another plate or cutting board; heat a thin layer of oil in a frying pan (use a pan that is at least as big as the plate full of potatoes).  Pour the beaten egg over the potatoes and mix with a fork to combine.  Divide the mixture into four portions and press together into patties.  Lift the patties with a pancake turner onto the crumbs, then sprinkle the rest of the crumbs on top and press them in.


Fry the potato cakes until golden brown, turning once.  Serve plain or with your favorite topping (I like crème fraiche mixed with Tapatio hot sauce).  The quantity given will make four side servings, or you could eat two of the potato cakes with a salad and call it a meal.

Next up, we have a nice easy and satisfying pasta dish.  It’s great when you want to take something for a potluck that is OK microwaved to reheat, and it also hits the spot whenever some cozy comfort food is in order.  This pasta dish could best be described as “rajas con crema meets mac and cheese.”  I’ve made it with a couple of different kinds of sturdy pastas: fregola sarda, which is solid little nuggets of pasta, is really good, and this time I used casarecce – I liked how it held the sauce, and the shape seemed to go well with the chile strips.  Macaroni or rigatoni would be fine but leave it a bit chewy so it has some substance.


Poblano Pasta

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 ¼ cup milk
  • Good melty cheese, quantity to taste (I used three thick sandwich-size slices of gouda – munster or gruyere would also be good)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (maybe more, depending on the cheese)
  • 2 poblanos, seeded, peeled, and sliced (see instructions above, before the recipes)
  • 8 ounces pasta cooked al dente
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche, if desired

Cook the flour for a few minutes in the butter, then stir in the milk and whisk over medium heat until it starts to thicken.  Add the cheese and salt and whisk until melted and smooth.   Stir in the chile strips and pasta and crème fraiche if you are using it.  You can serve the pasta straight from the pan or turn it into a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 (it might need a little more milk if you do that).

The last recipe needs a little background.  Not long ago, Gariann had a milestone birthday, and she and her husband had a Thai cooking party to celebrate the occasion.  Well, two of the guests were the afore-mentioned Pat and her partner Sue, Thai cooks extraordinaire.  And guess what Pat, Sue, and Gariann taught us how to make?  Thai scotch eggs – yes, really!  I’d never heard of them before, but I guess they are really a thing.  And let me tell you, they were delicious!  You start with boiled eggs and wrap them with a red curry-spiked ground pork mixture, then roll them in panko crumbs and chopped peanuts, and they are deep fried and served with a coconut milk-peanut sauce.  Well, I’ve gotten into traditional Scottish fare since our Christmas trip to Edinburgh, and after the Thai party, I got to thinking about other possible variations, and not surprisingly my thoughts turned to a Mexican influence.  And that, my friends, is how I came up with….

Poblano Scotch Eggs

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeds, stems, and skins removed; cut each chile in half lengthwise
  • 1 pound ground pork (use unseasoned meat, not sausage)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tapatio bottled hot sauce (or your favorite brand)
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • a generous bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • ¼ – ½ cup finely chopped peanuts or pistachios, if desired

Cook the eggs to the desired degree of doneness – for hard-cooked eggs, put them in a pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil; as soon as the water starts to boil, take the pan off the heat and cover.  After 9 minutes, drain the hot water and fill the pan with cold water.  Peel by gently cracking all over; it is easier if you can find the little hollow spot on the big end of the egg and work your finger under the thin membrane that surrounds the egg.  Soft-cooked eggs are harder to handle, so use extra care if you like them that way.

Once the eggs are peeled, wrap each one in a long strip of poblano and secure with a toothpick.  Combine all the seasonings with the pork, then mix in about half of the beaten egg.  I started out with a tablespoon of Tapatio and a half teaspoon of cayenne, and then I took about a teaspoonful of the mixture and cooked it in a pan so I could taste the spice level.  We like our spicy food to have a kick, so I bumped up the heat with more Tapatio and cayenne – if you like a milder spice, start out with less seasoning and cook a little bit so you can taste test and adjust accordingly.  My poblanos were very mild, but if you have hotter ones you might want to cut down a little in what you add to the meat.

To cover the poblano-wrapped eggs with the pork mixture, divide the pork into four portions and pat each one out on a square of wax paper or parchment paper.  Think of an interrupted Mollweide map projection as you are patting the meat out, but you don’t need to worry about exact precision.  Place an egg on the meat and use the parchment to bring the meat all around the egg and press it together, then repeat with the other eggs and you will end up with four softball-sized meatballs.  If you are making one of these Mexican scotch eggs for someone who doesn’t like poblanos, simply skip the chile-wrapped-around-the-egg step (as I did in the photo below).


Put the bread crumbs on a plate and drizzle with melted butter, mixing to blend evenly.  Beat the tablespoon of milk into the remaining half of the beaten egg – you’ll coat the meatballs with the egg, and it is easiest to do if you have a small round deep bowl (like the one in the photo, an ice cream dish from Ikea).  After you dip the meatballs in the egg mixture, roll them in the crumbs and then, if desired, in the chopped nuts, pressing the crumbs and nuts into the meat.


Now here’s the easy part – instead of deep-frying, I baked the meat-covered eggs on a rack at 375 F for about 45 minutes.  The little bit of butter in the crumbs gave me a nice crunchy crust without the mess of frying, and it also is more economical since it takes quite a bit of oil to have it deep enough to do the job.

I didn’t try the microwave for leftovers, but reheating in the oven (uncovered) gave very good results.  One of these eggs makes a very generous serving, so depending on the rest of the menu you might go with half an egg per person.  These are really good with a spicy tomato or tomatillo salsa, rice, a simple roasted winter squash, and a crisp green salad.  Mexican scotch eggs are fun to make with people, so get a few friends together and try something new and delicious.


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For that “Eat More Vegetables” Resolution: Easy Scalloped Potatoes and Cabbage

First, Happy New Year!  We had a great holiday season – Kara home for a few weeks, a quick trip to Scotland, friends over for Christmas dinner, several successful shopping excursions, and we even watched our neighborhood New Year’s fireworks with Janessa’s kids in Colorado via the iPad and Skype.

I also made a haul in big beautiful reference cookbooks (the girls know me well)!  Janessa gave me the new Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook with 2,000 recipes from 20 years’ worth of the magazine, and I really like the format, with each recipe preceded by a “Why it Works” explanation of the recipe refinement process at America’s Test Kitchen – I’ve tried several recipes already, and they’ve been really good.  Kara’s gift is The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.  By Amanda Hesser, the book draws from the last 150 years’ Times archives, and the recipes include cooking notes, serving suggestions cross-referenced to other recipes with their page numbers, and period details (that feature is just right for a social history nerd like me).

Today’s recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and I followed it fairly closely.  However, I recently came across another scalloped potato recipe that included sauerkraut; although I’m not crazy about sauerkraut, I was intrigued by the idea.  I do like fresh cabbage, so I decided to add some to the scalloped potato recipe.  I also reduced the onion somewhat, omitted the garlic and cheese, and substituted dried marjoram for fresh thyme and vegetable stock for chicken broth.  The only other change was in the ratio of cream and broth – instead of the cup of heavy cream called for in the original recipe, I had some little bottles of Kaffeesahne (10%, which I think is about like half and half) that I wanted to empty so I could use the bottles for another project.  The three bottles yielded about 1¼ cups of cream, and I topped off the 2-cup measure with about ¾ cup vegetable stock.  If you prefer, you can switch to heavy cream for an even richer flavor or cut it back some with lower-fat milk to save a few calories.

The “Why it Works” preface recommends Russet potatoes, which, as a native of Grant County, WA (the leading potato-producing county in the country), I truly love.  Unfortunately, russets are not too common in Germany, so I used a medium-starch white potato and it worked just fine.  The suggested technique of simmering the potato slices in the cream and broth mixture before baking does result in an extra pan to wash, but don’t let that scare you off – the recipe is fast and easy and makes the best scalloped potatoes ever, with tender potato slices in a just-right consistency sauce and a perfectly browned top (even without the cheese).

Scalloped Potatoes and Cabbage

Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ small onion, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper (plus more to grind on top)
  • 6 small potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin (1/8 inch)
  • ¼ of a small head of cabbage, cut into short shreds (about 3 cups)
  • 1¼ cups light cream
  • ¾ cup vegetable stock (you could swap out part of this for white wine)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Shredded cheese for topping, if desired (recipe suggests 1 cup cheddar)

Melt the butter in a 3-quart or larger saucepan and cook the onion for about five minutes, until it is tender and starting to brown (sprinkle in the marjoram, salt, and pepper during the last minute or so).  Add the rest of the ingredients except the cheese and heat until simmering.  Reduce heat to low and simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 425 F. while the mixture is simmering.

When the potatoes are barely starting to get tender, pour the mixture into a greased 1½ quart baking dish (a fairly deep 8 x 8 pan will work) and spread evenly.  Sprinkle cheese over the top if desired.  Bake on the middle rack until it is golden on top and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.  Let rest a few minutes to thicken the sauce before serving.

Leftovers:  this was just as good warmed up the next day – I stored the potatoes in the covered baking dish, kick-started them in the microwave to chase away the chill, and then finished warming (covered) in the oven with the rest of our dinner.  After the potatoes’ second appearance, there was still about 2/3 of a cup left, so I added some milk and vegetable broth and whizzed it around with the immersion blender.  I’ll take potato soup for lunch!


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