Surprise! Surprise!

I was raised by a mother who took mealtime very seriously. Mom believed that dinner was a time to display our best manners, to chat, and enthusiastically enjoy all that she had lovingly prepared. She was a great cook, and dessert was always a highlight.  My brother and I were expected to arrive promptly for dinner and stay until we had polished off all that was served. If we balked too much, dessert was definitely off the table.

There were those painful nights when the most dreaded vegetables were served— like lima beans or asparagus—and Gary and I would eye each other knowingly. This could be a long night.  Mom was wise to our attempts at diffusing the situation: we’d spread food across the plate as if it had disappeared; we’d casually spit disgusting bites into a napkin, or desperately drop the worst to our loyal collie, Duke, who sprawled sympathetically under the table.

Mom finally relented and allowed us both to pick one item that we could pass on, but we couldn’t arbitrarily change it the next week.  For years, lima beans were my biggest contender: they were big, dry, and wretchedly hard to swallow with no redeeming flavor.

Overall, I pride myself on being open to new foods and welcome new taste treats; but still, I’d dismiss lima beans whenever there was a choice.

All that changed recently when I watched Rick Bayless prepare a dish called Banana Pepper, Leek Soup with Lima Beans and Smoked Meat. I was fascinated by the creamy, thick, green soup that was reminiscent of Vichyssoise, the fabulous chilled potato-leek soup. The concept was just enough to open the door and give me a reason to give it a try. I reasoned the bean’s texture might actually work in its favor!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup

The soup is prepared much like its French counterpart, but substitutes lima beans for the potatoes and eliminates the cream.  It begins with a quick sauté of smoked meat, like shredded ham hock (yes, it works!), then removed and saved for the finish.  Sweet root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips are roasted or grilled ahead and held for the finish.

The actual soup is quite simple. Leeks and shredded peppers, such as pasilla, are sweated in the smoke-flavored oil and cooked down until meltingly soft.  All of this is pureed with half of the defrosted frozen baby lima beans and a good chicken stock. I opted to not over puree the soup, which added to its rustic appearance and charm.

The soup is returned to the soup pot and reheated with the other half of the lima beans. The smoked meat and roasted vegetables can be reheated with the soup, too. Since they are colorful and have so much flavor, I preferred to strew them across the soup when serving—visible and not lost in the soup.

That’s it.  Add a sprinkling of cheese, a little fresh herb such as cilantro or parsley and be prepared for a surprise!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup with Root Vegetables and Smoked Meat

Inspired by Rick Bayless’s soup: Crema de Chile Güero y Poros con Carne Ahumada

Ingredients
½ pound root vegetables (2 carrots and 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thick slivers)
6 ounces smoked meat, like smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or smoked jowel
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ pounds (about 6 small) leeks, washed, roots cut off, cut in half lengthwise and each half sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
3/4 to 1 pound (about 4-6) fresh güero or pasilla chiles stem, seed,  slice ¼-inch thick
1 pound bag frozen baby lima beans (defrosted)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Garnish:  handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
A few tablespoons grated Mexican queso añejo or other such as Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Toss the vegetables lightly with oil, salt and pepper, and roast the vegetables at 450°. Toss one or twice, cooking 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Can be grilled 2-3 minutes.)
  2. Using fingers to shred (or a knife to cut), break the ham hock (or one of its stand-ins) into bite-sized pieces. In a large (5- to 6-quart) soup pot, add about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat and add the smoked meat until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the meat onto a paper towel to drain, leaving behind as much fat as possible.
  3. Add the butter, leeks and chiles into the pot, cover and return to medium heat.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks and chiles are very soft, about 10 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks and chiles look thoroughly melted and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes more.  Scrape the leek mixture into a blender jar, add half of the bag of the lima beans (about 1 ¾ cup) and the broth.  Blend until smooth and return to the pan.
  4. Add the remaining beans and the charred vegetables to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium heat, add more stock or water to thin if very thick. Taste and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon depending on the saltiness of your broth.  Let simmer for a few more minutes, then ladle into warm soup bowls, sprinkle with the crispy meat and garnish with fresh herbs and cheese. Serves 6-8.

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.

Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

Magic Moments

It was early evening. An impromptu visit for tapas at La Rambla Restaurant in historic McMinnville turned out to be an utterly magical experience.  Their small plates of brilliantly flavored dishes are aptly described as Northwest inspired cuisine from Spain.

La Rambla is well known for their Wine Spectator award winning regional and Spanish wine list. It’s a thoughtful volume expressly selected to enhance a varied and robust spread of foods. The restaurant is a welcoming place: gorgeous luminary pendants suspended from the high ceiling cast a warm ambiance while guitar music drifts by in the background. It’s all beautifully orchestrated for conversation and fine cuisine.

As you would expect, the seafood is mouth-watering.  Consider Grilled Local Oysters with cava gastrique, truffle snow, and roasted garlic snow, or Fried Calamari served with red aioli, onions, peppers and chives.  There’s even an assortment of paella offerings to mull over (allow 45 minutes lead time).

la-rambla-tapasWe nibbled on house smoked almonds while awaiting the arrival of Pork Migas, a bonanza of house smoked pork, bacon and chorizo, filled in with fried bread and pimenton. The Sautéed Green Beans showcase al dente beans topped with melting Valderón blue cheese and hazelnuts. Both are rich and shoutingly good!

I always appreciate the thoughtful addition of alternative beverages. Offered here, an assortment of lightly sweetened fruit flavored house sodas. I opt for the rhubarb with bitters and soda water, a balanced blend well suited for lively tapas.

Darkness had settled as we left the building and headed out into the rain soaked night. The starlight sky was actually a magical light show amid the profile of historic buildings. Above, a network of twinkling lights dotted the web of tall trees, then the sparkles seemed to dart and dance their way down the street and disappear into the distance.

The Tostada: Meal in a Flash

These days a tostada is an easy go-to meal.  A satisfying and tasty plate can be whipped up in no time with a few odds and ends pulled from the fridge.  I learned about precooked crisp corn tostada shells during my last trip to Mexico, and decided if they are good enough for the fine cooks of Querétaro, they are good enough for me!  The Guerrero brand has always been reliable.Guerrero tostadas

I recently had plenty of jerk pork left from a grilling episode, but roast chicken is equally good.  Warmed refried beans are a nice touch, but I had chili spiced sorghum ready to go.  Top it with crunchy lettuce or cabbage slaw and pass the salsa.

Jerk Pork Tostada
Jerk Pork Tostada

It’s that easy.  Additional garnishes are always welcome:  avocado, chopped tomato, cilantro, or grated cheese.

Jerk Pork and Sorghum Chili Tostada

Ingredients
Tostada shell, Guerrero is good
2-3 tablespoons warmed Refried Beans or Sorghum Chili
2-3 tablespoons Jerk Pork, sliced
2-3 tablespoons Cabbage Slaw
Garnishes: sliced avocado, chopped tomato, cilantro, grated cheese, salsa of choice

Directions

  1. Heat the tostada shell in the microwave for about 1 minute.
  2. Warm the refried beans or Sorghum Chili and spread on the tostada.
  3. Add warmed or room temperature jerk pork.
  4. Top with the slaw, add sliced avocado, and garnish with tomato, cilantro, grated cheese and spoon on the salsa. Yield:  1 serving.

Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

EcoQue Portable Grill
EcoQue Portable Grill

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork
Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

A Prelude to St. Paddy’s Day: Sauerkraut Stew

Every now and then I crave sauerkraut, and it doesn’t have to be an artisan-style fermented quality; good old Steinfeld’s pickled cabbage is just fine with me.  Perhaps it’s a strange and sudden precursor to St. Paddy’s Day, but I need my cabbage.  The corned beef will just have to wait.

Sauerkraut stew (640x480)
Root Vegetables with Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

When this happened on a recent rainy day, I looked around to see what might work without a dash to the market. I always seem to have sausage odds and ends in the freezer, random unused portions from other projects.  Lucky me, I came up with a nice sized link of kielbasa and a couple of bratwursts.

While the sausage defrosted, I heated up the Le Creuset pot and quickly sautéed an onion and a clove of garlic.  In went a chopped carrot, a turnip, and some creamer potatoes, halved.  The sausages were cut into chunks and tossed into the pot to pick up a little color.  Once that happened, I added a cup or so of beef stock to deglaze the pot and create a broth.

For seasoning I dug out my jar of dried juniper berries that had shifted to an obscure corner of the spice cabinet from lack of use. There’s nothing like it, and it’s precisely for times like this that I am so happy for juniper berries.  I do a quick sniff test and grab a few and drop them into the pot—love their resin-ish smell.  A little rosemary, a bay leaf, and a few grinds of black pepper are added to the mix.

I rinsed and drained the sauerkraut.  It’s not something I do without thinking twice, because it seems such a waste.  But in this case, there’s a lot going on and it’s just as well to knock it down a notch. Into the pot it goes and it is all brought to a simmer; then it’s covered with a lid and left to simmer for 30 minutes.

Clearly this amalgamation is not totally Irish, but it is doesn’t matter.  It does the trick and incredibly, and there’s more good news.  Once the flavors blend overnight, the sauerkraut mellows a bit, and it is even better.

Root Vegetables and Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and in slivers
1 carrot, peeled, cut into chunks
1 turnip, peeled, cut into chunks
9 oz. creamer potatoes, cut in half if large
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, cut into chunks
8 oz. bratwurst, cut into chunks
1-2 cups beef stock, as needed
6-8 juniper berries
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Directions

In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. When aromatic, add the carrot, turnip, potatoes and toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, add the sausages and lightly brown to take on color.

Deglaze with beef stock, add the seasonings, and the drained sauerkraut.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls.  Serves 4.