Sunday, September 28, 2014

Roasted Beet, Walnut, Feta and Kale Salad: The harvest

We are headed into harvest time and I once heard Chef Michael Chiarello describe it as a time where one foot is in the summer and one foot in the fall.  I found it such a beautiful description - that split of the seasons, the moment that the year has a perfect balance.

Sometimes harvest is something different, which is what I experienced today.  For the past 4 years, I've been cooking the teachers at Children's elementary school a meal, twice a year, always on the Thursday that I set up for the semiannual book fair. It's at the Teacher's preview luncheon, when teachers have an opportunity to choose books for their wishlist boxes and enjoy the book fair without 30 or more kids running around and asking a million questions.  Over the past 4 years, I've cooked and served a light lunch to some fantastic teachers at our school, favoring simple wholesome food.  I've cooked chili  most often, as it is always a huge hit with the teachers.  This year I decided to go with a different menu, kale salad with pecans and Parmesan cheese, turkey arugula meatballs on top of a small dinner roll with provolone cheese, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I served freshly cut apples as well as an assortment of drinks.  

With my two loyal and regular assistants by my side, we began serving the teachers.  One helped keep the kale salad flowing, and one made sure that there was enough of a rationing system so that all the teachers would be able to have some meatballs.  (I had hand rolled exactly 124, which makes 62 mini-sandwiches, and I knew there would be some people who would want more.)  My favorite part of the day, was looking over to see that teachers had grabbed chairs and were sitting around in a circle together.  They laughed while eating, and I saw shoulders relax, jokes made, and overall a feeling of warmth and goodness.

That was my harvest today.  I think through the continual planting of consistent food and service, teachers have come to appreciate the moment of respite in their day in the food that they ate.  I saw the harvest of goodness, happiness and kindness today and it made me smile.

In honor of the harvest, both of the bounty of the earth and the bounty of human happiness, I made this wonderful beet salad.  I often roast two kinds of beets all at once, peel the skin off, slice and leave them chilled in the fridge so that I can add them to a salad whenever I wish.  I candy the walnuts all at once, and leave them in a tightly sealed container so that I can enjoy them whenever I want.  I make the dressing ahead of time, so that whenever I feel like it, I can have this salad at my beck and call.  It's the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and nutty all in a harvest-themed salad.  I've served it multiple times at church functions, always to rave reviews.  You can enjoy it on your own, but I guarantee that if you share, you'll also notice a harvest of good will and love.

Roasted Beet, Walnut, Feta and Kale Salad
Serves 5 to 6

3 medium bunches Lacinato/dinosaur kale, washed and rinsed well, roughly chopped (8 cups chopped) OR 8 cups of baby kale

1 or two colors of beets, roasted, sliced

½ cup finely chopped red onions
¼ red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
¼  teaspoon fine grain sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups whole walnuts (You’ll need only 1 cup for this salad, but go ahead and make extra)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter

¾  cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

If you've never dealt with dinosaur/lacinato kale, you’ll need to remove the stem before trying to eat it.  I've found the fastest way is to simply grab the stem with one hand, and with the other, start at the base of the leaf, and it a quick motion, strip the leaf upwards until the stem is left stripped.  Wash, dry very well in a salad spinner, and then roughly chop.

In a large jar, add chopped red onions.  Pour red wine vinegar and sugar over onions and shake vigorously so as to coat onions with vinegar sugar mixture.  Add olive oil, salt, and pepper and set aside until rest of the salad is done, so that onions have time to pickle.  It’s okay if the dressing separates and the vinegar stays around the onions because it aids in the pickling process.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, add walnuts, sugar and butter.  As butter and sugar begin to melt, continuously stir mixture.  Heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until sugar is melted and and butter coats nuts.  Immediately turn nuts out onto a piece of parchment paper, and begin separating the nuts into individual pieces.  Move quickly, otherwise nuts will clump together.

Once all the components are prepared, put together the salad.  If using dinosaur kale, toss kale with dressing and massage and let dressing help wilt the kale for about 6 minutes.  Then place kale on desired serving plate and add sliced beets, walnuts, feta and a nice bit of freshly ground black pepper.

If using baby kale, quickly toss kale with dressing, and then add beets, walnuts, feta, and a healthy grind of black pepper on top.  Serve immediately.  Both versions are really lovely, with the regular tuscan kale version being a sturdier salad, standing up to a bit of time delay while the baby kale does not.  If you can serve it immediately, baby kale is an excellent choice.  If it is going to sit for a while, then definitely use the tuscan kale.

For the harvest.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Pepper Tofu: When the tables are turned

For SH - for revealing something about me I didn't know

Those who know me well know that I'm kind of inflexible.  If I have a schedule on any given day, before the day starts out, I've carved out mini projects that will take place all day long.  Work out.  Cook dinner (in the middle of the day because I can't in the evening.)  Read.  Bake cookies to give away.  Plan lessons.  Volunteer.  Practice music.  Blog.  Write letters.  Call doctors.  Call dentists.  Each day, I carve out what I need to do and get myself mentally behind all the tasks.  If' it's not in my calendar, I'm generally unwilling to do something.

Last week, I got a text from good friend asking me what I was doing.
SH:  U working this afternoon?
Me: I'm just finished with the dentist.  Not teaching until 330.
SH: Want to try a restaurant?
Me: Where?
SH: San Carlos.  If no, we can just have lunch together.
Me:  What kind?
SH:  American, we can split a burger or try the chicken sandwich.  Johnson's salt box
Me:  I'd rather eat with you at home.
SH:  Are you sure?  Could be fun to try something new.  My treat.
Me:  I have sausage kale pasta.
SH:  Come on you have the time
Me:  I ate out on Saturday. I am surprised you are craving American.
SH:  I'm not, trying to spread my wings.
Me:  Hmmm.  Can I fry you a banana?  A round one.
SH:  When are you home?
Me: 10 minutes
SH: I'm going to kidnap you.
Me: You psychological.
SH:  We walk afterwards.  Must take advantage of our freedom.
Me:  You a force of nature.

I tried politely to push my own agenda of staying at home but it didn't work.  SH didn't know this, but I had my afternoon at home carved out.  There were some phone calls that needed to be made, a bunch of cookies that I had planned to bake, a dinner for the family I had planned to cook, but suddenly I found myself on my way to lunch.  I wasn't sure how it exactly happened, but I decided just to relax and give it a whirl.

As we sat down and waited for our food, SH turned to me and said, "You know I channeled you earlier."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"I pretended I was you and didn't take no for an answer," she said with a smile.

"What are you TALKING ABOUT?" I repeated.

"I noticed that when you want something, you ask more than once.  Sometimes you ask two or three or even four times, so I decided I would keeping asking until you came."

"What are you TALKING ABOUT?" I asked incredulously.

"You're persistent.  I wanted to see if I was persistent if you would come and it WORKED!!" she said gleefully.

"I'm persistent?" I said in wonder.

"Yes.  When you really want something, you won't take no for an answer."

This conversation really blew my mind, because there flew out the window my self-perception that I am easy going and a go-with-the-flow type of person.  Instead I got "persistent" as a label.  And I'm not sure if being persistent is exactly good.  Flies are persistent.  As are weeds.  Grey hairs are persistent.  So are children.  Wrinkles are really persistent and so is the layer of fat on around my belly.  As far as I can tell, persistent isn't necessarily a flattering thing.

I decided to take my persistent label today, the unflattering version, and turn it into something good.  Although I was kind of tired, I decided to be persistent and create this recipe that had been rattling in my head for a while.  I saw a version of it in Saveur, and decided to play around with it and make it much more me.  The chopping took a bit of time, but I was persistent; the frying took a bit of time, but I was persistent.  Thankfully the bringing of everything together was quick, but I was persistent anyway.  I texted SH and told her to come over to taste it, and was prepared to be persistent, but she readily agreed.

Push your way through cooking this one.  You won't regret your persistence.  It's peppery, flavorful, and oh-so-good with steaming hot white rice.  Can't you just taste it in this picture?

Black Pepper Tofu
Serves 4

1 cup canola oil
1 ¾ lb. firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
½ cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. finely chopped ginger
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
12 cloves garlic, crushed
4 jalapenos, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into slices

2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons molasses
16 small scallions, cut into 1 ¼″ pieces
Cooked white rice, for serving

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Toss tofu and cornstarch in a bowl until evenly coated. Fry tofu until browned all over, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside; discard oil, and wipe skillet clean.

Return skillet to medium heat canola and sesame oil. Add ginger, shallots, garlic, jalapeno and bell pepper; cook until soft, about 8 minutes.

While ginger garlic mixture is cooking, mix together black pepper, soy sauce, sugar and molasses.  Add to skillet with ginger garlic mixture.  Sauce will immediately begin to concentrate and thicken.  Add tofu to skillet; cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Stir in scallions; serve over rice.

Sometimes persistence does pay off.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Childhood Chocolate Chip Cookies: When the color of your childhood changes

For my friend JHP - it isn't good-bye.

I've actually been trying to write this post for over three weeks, but haven't had the words.  I've also not had the time, but I think if I had the words, I would have made the time.  But finally, tonight, I've given myself the time and space to try and put down in words some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head, with no words to describe them.

I'm not a good-enough word smith to put together eloquently the feelings that need to be represented, words to describe what it is like to experience the death of a childhood friend.  There is this profound emptiness that comes over the once full memories of childhood and a change in the color of those memories.  What were steady, consistent, innocent memories suddenly change and become different, more faded and less bright.  My friends and I lost a bit of our childhood in the death of our friend - not that the memories changed, but the innocent feelings about those memories are less so. 

A few of us have been sharing childhood pictures of us, some Halloween, some church retreats, and seeing her present in those photographs pinches my heart because even though she is still in the photographs and our memory, she isn't here on earth.  It's almost like the pictures lie to me - that she existed, but no longer so.  Wrestling with that, with her absence on this planet, is not something that I ever imagined doing.  She left, too quick, too soon, before I was ready.  I do have my reassurance that she is with our Heavenly Creator and Father and that finally her body is at peace.  We will meet again in heaven, and for that knowledge, I am grateful.

My friend loved cookies.  She loved chocolate chip cookies.  And I've made this particular permutation of cookie 11 times since her passing.  It was my own way to grieve I guess, a way for me to feel closer to someone who has gone, a way for me to feel better, to taste sweet innocence again, to share cookies with those whom I love.  Maybe it's my desire to master something of my childhood, to slip back into the past memories, but whatever the reason, I made them each time thinking of my friend.  They are rich, sweet, crumbly, the stuff of childhood.

JHP - When I get to heaven, make sure you pretend to like these cookies.
Childhood Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 4 dozen

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
½  teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position rack into center of oven.  Preheat oven to 375

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat butter until fairly smooth.  Add both sugars and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes until mixture is light and creamy.  Scrape down sides of the bowl.  Add egg beating and scraping the bowl as necessary.  Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine.  Mix in chocolate.

The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks.  Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers.  (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)

Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls.  Arrange cookies on pan, and using the pal of your hand, slightly smoosh them down so they will spread.  Bake for 12 minutes or until tops are firm and the edges golden brown.

Serve warm.  Or cold.  Or with a cold glass of milk.

Printable recipe

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Green Goddess Dressing: For all the strong goddesses I know

To all my fellow women who fight the good fight for their children and families - you are amazing.

It's been a tough week for the women in my life these past few months.  I have a friend in hospice after a short but frenzied battle with cancer.  She lives for two young children who will soon suffer an anguish that is like no other.  She battles on to spend any additional day with her kids.

I have another friend who fights to get the best education for her autistic child, who is currently not being served in his school.  She battles daily to get what her child needs, often times being defeated by the system, but she herself, never gives up fighting for more.

Still another friend deals with a child recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  This means that for the immediate future, every carbohydrate, every bit of food has to be measured, calculated, and balanced with insulin. There is an incredible amount of math involved in every single meal (mostly addition and division) and nothing food wise is just picked up and consumed on a whim.  The entire family is on standby and she still calculates, measures, weighs all the food that will go into her child.

There are those moms who daily battle with food allergies.  I'm currently trying to figure out how to keep #2 safe in a classroom where no one seems to have gotten the memo that she is allergic to peanuts without offended or upsetting anyone else's food choices.

There are my friends who have to take care of aging parents while taking care of young children.  They do it with a smile on their face, sweat on their brow, while the burden of two generations weighs on their shoulder.

I have dozens more stories of the amazing women in my immediate circle who are going through great lengths for their families.  They sacrifice and push themselves for they can.  They are the better for it on the other side of the challenge, but the road through the challenge is not easy.

Women - we are doing it all.  We are doing the best we can.  The road has been hard and the battle has been unpredictable.  But we still go at it, strong, fierce and determined to do what needs to be done.  And for these women, I'm so very proud to be their friend and to be a fellow woman.

These women, these goddesses if you will, I offer salad.  Delicious salad with a dressing aptly named - green goddess.  The dressing is creamy, sophisticated, vibrant and fresh.  It enhances almost anything it touches.  (I'm partial to it with carrot sticks and cucumbers.)  The dressing is almost as good as a good woman.

Green Goddess Dressing
Serves 6 

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (7 or 8  scallions)
1 ½  cups chopped fresh basil leaves
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
2 teaspoons anchovy paste (near the canned meat section of your local grocery store)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream

In a blender add all ingredients except sour cream.  Blend until just smooth.  Add sour cream and blend just a bit more.  Use immediately over salad your choice of salad (I like romaine with cucumbers and tomatoes), or refrigerate if not using immediately.  

With cucumbers, tomatoes and romaine, the perfect salad to go with any meal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Miso Slaw: On goodness

Right now, Daughter #1 is in the process of contemplating a run for student office.  There are forms to fill out, hoops to jump through, essays to write, speeches to memorize and votes to be won.  I did not push her into running, because quite frankly, I never ran for anything in my life nor have I won any sort of public office (or private office for that matter) ever.  It's never been something I've desired and although I've seen children of my friends and students of mine all run for office, many of them winning, it's never been something that I've wanted to push Children into.

But I am proud of Daughter #1 for trying.  She hates public speaking, so the speech should be an interesting challenge, and has always been much more about smaller roles vs. the larger roles in leadership.  Some may say that I'm not grooming her for greatness, and my response is I'm not grooming her for greatness.  I'd rather groom her for goodness.

She's decided on her own that she'd like to run for the office of secretary.  She already heard the descriptions of all the offices and decided that the one where she would be happiest doing her job is the one where she neatly takes notes, records accurately the meetings, and conscientiously takes care of all the minutes and processes.  Admittedly a part of me wishes that she would just risk it all and run for president, but she has made her decision.

Should she win as secretary, I hope that she has time to think about goodness.  About being good to others, being kind and generous to those in need, and serving more than the people whom are obvious, but rather those who are invisible.  I hope she uses her position of leadership, albeit a lesser one than president, to teach goodness and to lead through example.  I know that there are many types of leadership, some great, some not so great, but I hope that she will choose to practice goodness in her leadership and that she makes others feel good when they are around her.

Now, this salad is not a salad of greatness; this salad is not going to win me any cooking competitions, recipe competitions, or public office.  It is, however, a salad full of goodness - good vegetables, good flavor, good crunch.  It's the salad that makes you feel good when you see it and feel good after you've finished it.  There is crunch and chew that just makes you feel good.  It's simple chopped up vegetables with a wonderful miso sesame dressing that is at once creamy and light.

Miso Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso paste
1 teaspoon grated fresh peeled ginger
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

6 cups shredded green cabbage or a mix of green and red cabbage
2 large carrots, julienne
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

In a blender or mini chopper, place vinegar, miso, ginger, honey, sesame oil, and vegetable oil.  Blend together until mixture is emulsified and uniform.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl mix together cabbage, carrots, scallions.  Toss with as much dressing as needed.  Add sesame seeds.

Serve immediately.

Printable recipe

Goodness.  Yes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

S'mochi: When it feels right

I know people find this hard to believe, but in my daily life, there are more situations where I feel awkward and out of place than feel at home. I sometimes tell myself that I was not meant for the outside world, as the place where I am happiest is often in the four walls of my home, most specifically in my office (like right now) or in the kitchen (like in a few minutes.)

It's part of the reason I tend to gravitate towards the same places to eat meals, the same friends' homes to hang out, the same routines, and the same route to school.  I feel awkward and out of place more often than not in the outside world but I understand who I am and that I have my own idiosyncrasies.  That being said, I try hard not to let my desire to be comfortable stop me from pushing myself when I'm uncomfortable.  I know I grow when I stretch myself, but I also give myself permission to retreat back into my hole.

I do find myself finding unexpected moments of feeling right and in the proper place.  Today, while volunteering at school, Son's teacher asked me to direct the kids in a particular activity, so I had a chance to sit in a circle of kids and discuss a book.  Scrunched up on the floor with 13 kids looking on was a great experience and it made me smile.  And it caught me off guard, that surrounded by tiny kids, on a floor, talking about a book impromptu could make me so at peace.  It felt so right.

This little tasty bite is another one of those unexpected feel-so-right moments.  It definitely caught me off guard as it seemed to be in concept, a conflict between the best of east and west; delicious, melty chocolate, and soft squishy mochi have no business being smooshed together between two crunchy graham crackers but suddenly - one bite?  It feels just right.  It feels perfect.  It feels comfortable.

It's simple to execute but the result is a not-too-sweet, gooey, chewy, yummy something that makes all that is awry in the world straighten up.  I was inspired by this pic  but took it my own direction.  It's the kind of thing you can easily make only one of or you can make a bunch of without much struggle.

These were the mochi that I found at my local Japanese market.

Makes 3 (but just as easily you can make 1 or 6)

3 graham crackers, broken in half (I found a knife made cleaner cuts than trying to rely on simply breaking)
3 pieces of hard mochi
45 semisweet chocolate chips (15 chips per s’mochi)
1 teaspoon cooking oil

In a fry pan over medium heat add oil.  Add unwrapped mochi and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until it is golden and puffed up and squishy.

While mochi is cooking, place chocolate chips on top of graham crackers.  Add hot mochi on top of chocolate chips.  Allow mochi to melt chocolate chips for about 30 seconds, and then squish the graham cracker on top.

Open your mouth and take a huge bite.

Printable recipe
S'mochi S'more S'il-vous-plait

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lemon Mascarpone Torte: Sometimes you really just need it to be easy

My readers will notice I did not post much in June.  That's because June turned out to be the craziest month of all time for me with a teaching schedule that went completely haywire, with multiple school districts with different calendars letting their students out at varying times, which affects me because suddenly half of my students want morning lessons.  Add to that summer students, my kids STILL in school, and church VBS and my stress levels go through the roof.  There were many moments when I felt like the world was reeling around me so quickly that I couldn't keep anything in place and intact.

All the while all of this craziness was going on, I still kept on riding my bike as much as possible.  It's a way for me to keep my stress levels under control because on my bike, you just can't help but smile.  I can't help but smile.  I wear the goofiest helmet of all time and it makes me happy and it makes me laugh.  (Should you want to emulate my incredible fashion sense, buy it here.)

Every once in a while, one of my friends will look at me as we are in the middle of an intense conversation and say something like, "I can't take you seriously when your head looks like a watermelon."  Then I'll take it off.  But while I'm on my bike, moving around my neighborhood, back and forth between school and home, my helmet stays on my head.

Unfortunately I can't do Costco shopping on my bike, so I usually run home, leave my bike and then hop into the car.  During my most intense time in June, I discovered I need something at Costco, so as it is my habit, I dumped my bike and excess equipment at school and went  to Costco.  I parked, flashed my membership card, and with my mind on figuring out and calculating how quickly I could finish what I need to do at Costco, I barely noticed the people giving me funny looks. As I ran towards the fruit section, I happened to pass a mirror section, which I quickly moved past, when I caught a flash of green on my head in the reflection.

Green as in my watermelon helmet.  Green as in the watermelon helmet that I DROVE to Costco with, got out of the car with, and ran around half of Costco with.  I sheepishly began laughing at myself, removed the helmet and shook my head at my own nuttiness.  Was I that intensely insane that I couldn't remember to take off a helmet?  Evidently yes.  My life had reached a fever pitch that made things so crazy that a watermelon helmet in the middle of Costco could completely happen.

I'm always grateful for the month of July because life slows down for me.  No more lunches to pack, students flit in and out of my life on vacation and then back off vacation, and a general slowing of the mayhem that is motherhood.  And during the slowdown I find myself feeling lazy and wanting simply to do less and do things simply.  It also gets warmer so it's less compelling to be in the kitchen.  I decided to go ahead and try and do a no bake cheesecake recipe, drawing inspiration from a bunch of different sources, but mostly this one.   
The result?  Summer easy yummy fun.  The main commitment is time to chill and set it, which clocks in at around 8 hours, or overnight (or up to 3 days ahead of time) but the end result is totally worth it, and it's easy!  No ovens to turn on and nothing complicated to do except layer, and you can probably even do it with a bike helmet on, should you feel so compelled. 

Lemon Mascarpone Torte
Serves 5 to 6

2 cups (16 oz mascarpone cheese)
⅔  cup heavy cream
⅔  cup prepared lemon curd
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Kosher salt
About 15 whole graham crackers
Blueberries, for serving

Line a 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing 4 inches of overhang.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the mascarpone with the heavy cream at medium speed until smooth and just firm; do not overbeat. Fold in the lemon curd, lemon zest and a pinch of salt.

Spread a 1/4-inch-thick layer of the lemon cream on the bottom of the pan.  (I used a broken off piece of graham cracker to do this - YUM!)  Arrange a single layer of graham crackers on top, breaking them to fit.  For a prettier edge, break the crackers a little bit short of the edge so that the outside will be cream and not a layer of graham, essentially leaving a border around the edge of your pan.   Repeat the layering with the remaining lemon cream and crackers, finishing with a final layer of cream.

Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Uncover and invert the cheesecake onto a platter. Remove the plastic wrap. Serve with blueberries.

Printable recipe

Cutting into yumminess.


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