Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


The Recipe Project

In the interest of saving space, I've embarked upon a project. The first step of this new project has been to sit down with years worth of cooking magazines and cut out individual pages of recipes that I like or still want to try. I currently have a four-inch pile of these pages and I've only gone through about half of the Cooking Light issues (with the issues of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, or any of the other half dozen titles I've bought over the years).

My next step is a little ways off yet but eventually I'll have to DO something with all these sheets or they'll be no use to me. Originally I thought I might just put the sheets in binders but I'm going to have inches and inches (feet?) of these recipes from magazines and I can't even begin to think of how to organize them all. One of the big problems with saving recipes out of magazines is that there are often recipes that run for more than one page, or recipes on opposite sides of the page that don't go together organizationally (main dish on one side, dessert on the other, frex).

Now I'm reconsidering this plan I'm a bit at sea about what to do. I've been pondering several options for a re-design of Nikchick.com for a year or so. I could try to put all these recipes into a format where they could be saved and searched-for on my recipes page. My feeling is that would be a LOT of manual data entry but I'd probably be happy in the end. I could just put them into some sort of recipe organization program for use on my computer but not as part of my webpage. I have at least three of those programs (each with their own benefits and drawbacks).

I still have a while to go on step one so I have a while to figure out step two. Pasting all these recipes to note cards like I did in high school is not among the options I'm considering.

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Life Marches On

Although I've been up to a few things since my last update I find that I've been having a hard time putting my brain in gear to do any writing of substance. I've been popping off a few updates via Twitter or on Facebook but I've really got to make a change if I'm going to get back to any blogging of substance.

Even though blog-wise things have been a bit dead, I have still been up to a few things. I've managed to reconnect with a few friends, get out of the house with my husband for a little adult-time, still trying to figure out what we're going to do with Kate for high school, preparing to chaperon Kate's class on their Alaskan cruise in May. Since I'm still procrastinating on diving back into "real" blogging, I thought I'd do a little recap. Here's what I've been up to in the last couple of weeks:

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo
OK Go / Notre Dame marching band - This Too Shall Pass
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Chickpeas with Broccoli Rabe and Bacon
Szechuan-Style Tofu with Peanuts
Tuna Noodle Casserole with Leeks and Fresh Dill
Lamb Köfte with Yogurt Sauce and Muhammara
Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta, and Pine Nuts
Brown Soda Bread
Beef and Guinness Stew
Turkey Sloppy Joes on Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
Overnight Blueberry Muffins
Crockpot Butter Chicken

A Morning for Flamingos
Escaping the Endless Adolescence
True Compass: A Memoir
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl
Summer Knight
Death Masks
The City & The City
Child 44

Protesting Health Reform, GOP Attempts To Bring Senate Hearings To A Standstill By Blocking All Proceedings
Tea Partiers Call Lewis 'N****r', Frank 'F****t', At Capitol Hill Protest
Health bill protesters jeer at man with Parkinson’s disease
Dennis Hopper dying of prostate cancer
Alex Chilton dead in New Orleans

Planning my garden
Haircut and color
Baking up electronic files
Planning another Freezer Cooking Party
Playing Dragon Age: Origins
Playing Dragon Age: Awakenings
Playing Mass Effect
Playing Mass Effect 2
Roasting coffee

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You Need Food to Live

With the pantry reorganized and the Hunger Awareness Week behind me, I decided to go ahead and do an inventory of the freezers, then cleaned and restocked the fridge. After not shopping during the hunger challenge my produce was in a pretty sorry state and I also rid myself of a few things that had gotten lost in our cheese drawer round about last summer sometime (I need a bigger cheese drawer so things don't get buried or pushed into back corners!) but the waste from the fridge wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. My kitchen stores are in such a state that if Gordon Elliott were to pop round for an episode of Doorknock Dinners he and his chefs would be fixing me quite the meal indeed. HA!

One handy little habit I'm cultivating is to use a magnetic notepad on the fridge to write down pantry items as they get used up. No longer will I end up with three jars of cumin because I remembered that I used it but can't remember that I bought a replacement, or conversely forget time and time again that I've used the last of an ingredient but keep forgetting to buy a replacement. I've used the notepad technique on and off for a few years and encourage Chris and Kate to leave their requests on the list as well but under the current, reorganized pantry the notepad system seems to be working much more smoothly than in the past.

I'm pleased to say that I've replicated my success with the "Old Reliable" French Bread recipe and have produced yet more edible bread for the family. This may become a regular routine, at least as long as the price of flour and yeast remains a fraction of the price of "artisan" breads at the grocery store. I started buying bakery bread when I was doing my research into high fructose corn syrup and discovered it was in everything, including our grocery store bread.

I've tried three new recipes this week with good results. Two I pulled from my copy of the Cooking Light Annual 2010, one I pulled up from Southern Living, which is about as far from Cooking Light as you can get (and has the cup and a half of half-and-half, four large eggs and ten strips of bacon to prove it). All three are online through MyRecipes.com so I'll just go ahead and link to them there. I was able to make all of these with ingredients that I already had around the house, still cooking from the freezer and the pantry with what I have on hand.

Spinach and Bacon Quiche
Penne with Sage and Mushrooms
Singapore-Style Noodles

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More Small Steps

I feel like I've been doing a reasonable job harnessing my enthusiasm to get things in order since Christmas.

We had a productive family meeting last week where we divided up household chores and established something of a schedule, which makes me very happy. Of course, we haven't begun the schedule yet and we know that saying about plans and contact with the enemy, but just having something (a plan) where there used to be nothing (chaos) counts a progress. I'm also slowly crossing small, irregular jobs off my list.

One thing that I did this weekend was a small chore that I've been meaning to take care of for years. Literally for years! It took less than five minutes. Home security experts advise homeowners to replace 1/2" screws in your deadbolt strike plates with screws 3" or longer so the strike plates are secured to the house's frame instead of the doorjamb. You can also replace the whole deadbolt, replace the wimpy two-screw plate with a four-screw style but even just changing out the screws in the existing hardware makes your deadbolt lock a ton more effective. I had some 3" wood screws left over from last year's planter box project. Zip, zip, DONE. Improved security.

Lest I seem like I'm patting myself on the back excessively, I'm not expecting anyone to be thrilled to read that I've replaced some screws, remembered to clean the oven, changed some light bulbs. I'm just pleased to be checking off a number off little things that had been piling up. Even small forward progress is satisfying.

I've also been trying out a bunch of new recipes since Christmas. I've had some decent luck with some recipes out of a slow cooker book I got for Christmas, from the author of the blog http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/ and the current issue of Bon Appetit as well as my tried and true go-to Cooking Light. Here's what we've been eating around here: Spaghetti and meatballs all'Amatriciana, Breakfast Risotto, Crockpot Lamb, Morning Glory Muffins, Spaghetti with Fennel, Ham and Lentil Soup, Turkey Orzo Soup, Cooks Illustrated's Turkey Tetrazzini, Three-Cheese Baked Penne, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Fritatta from Eating Well, and Alton Brown's Cheesy Grits. Not a bad start to the new year!

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November Food Recap

It all started around my birthday. I got a great response to my call for birthday recipes and my head was swimming with the possibilities. Chris threw me a delightful brunch with a dozen friends, rich with food and cocktails. In fact, it was Serafina's first day with their new seasonal menu and everything but two Serafina standards was new to me.

A few days into my 41st year, I was assaulted by yet another food extravaganza! I choose the word assaulted on purpose because I've never had an experience quite like it. Ray and I went out to Elemental @Gasworks which I hadn't even heard of before let alone been to (I'm a bit out of the loop on the hot new high end places these days) but Ray had and thought I would enjoy. I'm glad Ray had been to the restaurant before and warned me a bit about it because it apparently has a bit of a negative reputation with some foodies and I could easily have been put off by the experience if I hadn't been warned in advance. Here's the deal: if you're going to go to Elemental, you'd best be prepared to have the experience wash over you and be willing to go with it. Host and owner Phred Westfall said approximately five sentences to us through the entire multi-course dinner. He offered us a table, asked us if we were ready for a cocktail, asked if we had any food allergies, and um, pretty much nothing else. There was no pretense, no gushing over how the greens were locally sourced or this vintage of wine came from the Yakima region. Nothing. No explanation whatsoever. When a small poultry dish of some sort was set in front of us I actually tried to ask Phred if it was quail or something else... but he dropped the plate and was off again without a word of acknowledgement. Another time I had fallen behind on the wine pairings, to the point that I hadn't even tasted the glass in front of me when he was ready to serve the next course... and there went the wine glass, bye-bye, I don't even get to taste it because it no longer goes with the food in front of me. the lighting was also very dark, so honestly it was hard to see what we were eating! I can really see how this would rub some food-lovers the wrong way!

That said, I had a fabulous dinner. The food was EXQUISITE. Yes, many times I was forced to stick my finger in a sauce and say "I think it's mustard... and hazelnut..." or "Yes, there's some sort of fish with this salad... I'm not sure what it is... it's GOOD though." I had the best lamb chops I've ever had in my life, that had me unashamedly gnawing the bones to get every scrap of meat right in a public restaurant. Each course was served with a generous pour of a paired wine and wow, by the time we finished dinner I was a little woozy. I wish I could even remember (or knew to begin with) what I'd eaten! It was lovely and they're clearly very talented, kind of the anti-Herbfarm (where they give you a little menu of what you've eaten as a keepsake).

The following week I took advantage of another birthday gift, this one from John and Jenny, who gave me a gift certificate to Theo Chocolate. Wednesday night I attended one of their Chocolate University classes, "Chocolate: Exotic and Erotic" where I learned how to make simple chocolate scrubs, lotions, and lip balms in the first half and then listened to a lecturer from Babeland (NSFW) who delved into the erotic and sensual (chocolate lotion, chocolate candles, chocolate body paint, and ahem, more) and was a great presenter, lots of humor. I passed on picking up a "better then chocolate vibrator" but did gluttonously spend the rest of my gift certificate plus some picking up assortments of chocolates (including their collection of scotch-infused chocolates, using great single malts like Oban and Talisker!) and several seasonal varieties plus a couple of body scrubs and lotions from our earlier presenter, whose products I was familiar with already.

Rounding out November was Thanksgiving. We spent this Thanksgiving with John and Jenny and their extended family, which was a great deal more fun than staying home just the three of us let me tell you! We participated in the potluck dinner by contributing Kate's favorite Pumpkin Pie (which she made herself) plus some Wild Rice Stuffing, a cranberry-pear-ginger cobbler (recipe I'll post later) and a cranberry-vanilla bean sorbet that didn't set up properly in the ice cream maker but was really yummy anyway. We ate SO MUCH, sampling everything we brought, plus turkey, gravy, bread stuffing, brussels sprouts, grean beans, and more. So good, a really nice night.

I've bene doing a little more cooking again after a bit of a hiatus where Dragon Age consumed me and pizza, beer, and xbox sounded like the best thing in the world. I'm better now. A couple of the recipes I've been particularly pleased with include Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew and this Corn, Clam and Mussel Chowder, without the mussels.

I've been tinkering again with my website, hoping to find a better way of displaying my recipes for people who want to browse or print them but I'm still unhappy with the way things are so I'll keep limping along with the current format for now, I suppose.

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Cooking for the Pramas Party

Unbeknownst to Pramas, I was plotting his birthday party for a couple of months before it happened. It all started with me beguiling him into agreeing to put our Belize money into a patio. I wasted no time in getting that started because my secret plan was to have it done in time for a birthday barbecue. Fortune favored me on that and I was able to get a company to come out and do the patio in pavers for what it would have cost me for a concrete pour (taking advantage of a company that had just the right number of pavers left over from a bigger job). Then, I got a great deal on a grill during a Memorial Day sale and was able to do a lot of landscaping improvements while Chris was away at Enfilade and Book Expo.

Luckily for me, Chris is used to my compulsion to make sure all guests are well fed and while he did think I was going a little overboard for a barbecue with half a dozen people, he put up very little resistence, even getting the extra chairs out of the attic "just to be safe".

Even though I was expecting up to a dozen more people to show up, we had plenty of guests, including friends from San Francisco and Vancouver, BC who made it over. The surprise kept rolling as people kept arriving over the first three hours of the party.

I didn't get as far into the last minute cooking as I'd wanted because I misplaced my big pasta bowl which was the only bowl that would fit the pesto pasta dish I'd made and left me running around with things half completed when people started arriving in numbers. I managed to get out some chips, Pramas's famous hummus, fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, cherries, strawberries... I still have a pineapple left, which I might try grilling up for game night), Salada de palmito, where I substituted fig-balsamic vinegar instead of using red wine vinegar, pesto pasta, a full spread of cheese and salumi salami with some of Mark Bittman's Parmesan cream crackers and Smitten Kitchen's rosemary flatbread, a couple of different types of tofu on skewers for our vegetarian guests, North Carolina-style Pulled Pork, hamburgers and sausages from Columbia City's own Bob's Quality Meats on buns from Columbia City Bakery. (I also couldn't resist a loaf of their whiskey cake with espresso glaze, which we never even got around to slicing.) I also baked two Guinness Chocolate Cakes. Believe it or not, I had originally intended to have another salad (Avocado and Belgian endive), fresh salsa (Salsa Criolla), and chicken satays with homemade peanut sauce and some homemade ice cream but I flat ran out of time on those. Game night should certainly benefit from remainders this week!

It's taken me a couple of days to feel recovered after the last push on getting the house, yard, and food set up to my liking for the party but I'm definitely feeling in the swing of cooking again if nothing else.

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Cooking and eating

I've been getting back in the swing of cooking around here again but not back in the swing of blogging about it. During my recent silent period I did a bunch of work in the back yard of the house, including finally putting in those raised beds that I've been talking about installing in the side yard for years now. I've got tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, basil (sweet and Thai), and several other herbs, doing really well. The strawberries are unhappy, the onions were looking pretty sad even before I got them in the ground. Jury is still out on the beans and peas. I'm still hoping to see some sunflowers and wildflowers from the seeds I spread.

The other night I cooked up a couple of halibut cheeks wrapped in prosciutto (inspired by Cook Local's Prosciutto wrapped halibut with asparagus sauce and then grilled, along with scallops with basil (from the garden!) also wrapped in prosciutto that came out pretty well. I've been keeping a steady stream of asparagus in the house from the farmer's market and just loving it. The farmer's market has been a great source of inspiration lately, full of strawberries, rhubarb, great bunches of mint, spring onions, amazing tomatoes, Columbia City Bakery's baked goods, and lovely rarities like kohlrabi and sunchokes. I also baked Blondie and Brownie's fabulous raspberry-rhubarb pie though I used about half as much of the chai-oatmeal crumble topping as called for and might cut it back even further in the future, I've been on the Cooking Light minimalist-style of pie baking for too long, I guess.

Speaking of Cooking Light, it remains my go to for excellent, good-for-you recipes but I have been branching out a bit. After many years of almost but not quite getting a grill, I finally have one and the weather's been cooperating so I've been going through Steven Raichlen's books for recipes and techniques, or doing a little more experimenting via new-to-me food blogs. I also have a bit of a food crush going on for Eating Well magazine right now. Picked it up on a whim and was pleased to note their nutrition and health advisory board includes people like Marion Nestle (author of Food Politics and Safe Food) and Brian Wansink (currently the Executive Director at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of Mindless Eating). The rest of their advisory board members are similarly prominent nutrition scientists, professors, and researchers but Nestle and Wansink jumped out at me in particular because I just finished reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food which quotes both Nestle and Wansink; I read Wansink's book last year myself.

Anyway, I'm interested in the sorts of things that are appearing in Eating Well at the moment and it's a fresh take on food and nutrition that I really appreciate. My current favorite recipe is their Huevos Rancheros Verdes, which I've been making for a couple of weeks now. Dead easy and everyone in the family likes it! I'll post it below. Give it a try, if you like it you might like the rest of Eating Well Magazine, too.

Heuvos Rancheros Verdes
Eating Well Magazine May/June 2009

1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1 scallion, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
3 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup salsa verde
8 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine lettuce, scallion, cilantro, 1 tsp. oil, lime juice, 1/8 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a bowl. Set aside. Combine beans and salsa in another bowl.

Coat both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray. Place tortillas on a large backing sheet in four sets of overlapping pairs. Each pair should overlap by about 3 inches. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the bean mixture over each pair of tortillas and sprinkle with 3 tbsp. cheese each. Bake until the beans are hot and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack each egg into a small bowl and slip them one at a time into the pan, taking care not to break the yolks. Season the eggs with remaining 1/8 tsp. salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook undisturbed 5 to 7 minutes for soft-set yolks. For hard-set yolks, cover the pan after 5 minutes and continue cooking until yolks are cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more.

To assemble, place an egg on top of each pair of tortillas and top with a generous 1/4 cup of the lettuce mixture.

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Dinner 2/9/09

Dinner 2/9/09
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I haven't gotten around to doing any posting of new recipes yet, but I've tried quite a few new dishes already in 2009. Tonight's dinner was roasted vegetable couscous (photo here) and which you can find online at MyRecipes.com here. I followed up with some tea-poached pears in chocolate sauce made from the cooking liquid, served with a little Greek honey yogurt (recipe from The Veganomicon).

So far 2009 has been good for getting my head back in the cooking game. I received some gift subscriptions to cooking magazines over the holidays, though I am sad to note that Bon Appetit is now half the magazine it used to be (literally! I compared the March 2009 issue to the March 2001 issue still on my shelf and it's half as many pages). My latest new cookbook is the aforementioned Veganomicon. I'm in no danger of converting to the lifestyle ("I'll eat your food, but I won't join your cult!") but I would very much like to have more modern, less hippy vegetarian recipes at my fingertips. I like vegetables! I like soy! I am not satisfied with the old school vegetarian recipes ("slather tofu strips in barbecue sauce, broil.") any more than I'm satisfied with the old school family recipes that involve opening a couple of cans of condensed soup, mixing with hamburger, and calling it a "casserole".

The Veganomicon has potential but the authors are already running afoul of one of my hardcore recipe peeves: don't measure things in "one carrot" or "a small onion"! What is a small onion to you? What if I don't have a small onion, only a jumbo onion? How much chopped onion do you want me to end up with? That kind of easy-breezy writing style has a place but I prefer a little more precision in recipes. I might branch out or do my own thing after I learn a recipe but I grit my teeth every time I have to stop and figure out for myself what they're asking for when I'm first trying out a new dish.

Anyway, maybe I'll get back to the Veganomicon later.

Recipes I've tried but haven't written up so far in 2009:
Mixed Vegetable Biryani
Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken
Gratin of Belgian Endive with Bacon
Vegetable Tagine with Preserved Lemons
Kalamata Olive Bread with Oregano
Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pork with White Beans
Cherry Tomato Spaghetti with Toasted Pine Nuts
Roasted Root Vegetables in Maple Glaze
Pork Chops with Ancho Chile Rub and Raspberry Glaze
Peanut Crusted Chicken with Pineapple Salsa
Sesame Noodles with Broccoli
Satay Burgers
Roasted Tomato-Beef Goulash
Lemon Chicken with Olives
Baja-style Grilled Tempeh Tacos
Creamy (vegan!)Tomato Soup
Kasha Phyllo Pie

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2008 Recipe Round-up

Because of all the things that were going on in my personal life last year I didn't ever really get a chance to keep up my recipe pages as I would have liked. I did do some cooking and I posted a few of the more successful recipes I tried as individual blog posts but I really wanted to have the whole thing cataloged better for my own use and for those of you who've told me you like using my recipe pages as a resource.

In that vein, I've finally put several of my favorite recipes that I tried out in 2008 onto my recipe pages where they belong. This certainly isn't everything I cooked in 2008 and not even all of the successful recipes but it's a start and better than nothing at this late date.

Apple and Raw Beet Salad
Baked "Manicotti"
Beans and Wild Mushrooms in Fennel Broth
Broiled Fennel with Lime and Parmesan
Cabbage Braised with Ham and Reisling
Chunky Lentil Soup
Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth
Curry Udon Hotpot
Espresso Black Bean Chili
Fennel Broth
Fennel, Carrot, and Cranberry Salad
Fresh Pea Soup with Mint
Honey Cured Pork Loin with Juniper-Fennel Seed Rub
Lime Peanut Salad
Napa Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Oven-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Sesame Crusted Swordfish
Spinach and Pear Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Toasted Wheat Germ Soup

I have several recipes that I've tried since the new year started and I will try to get those up in the coming weeks so I can stay on top of this project better in 2009. In addition to the reorganization taking place in the house, I'm hoping to do a little reorg on my webpage and social networking sites.

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Cooking Digression

Things around here have been a bit chaotic of late and I've been doing far less cooking than I intended when spring started. When I have mustered the time or energy or preparation to do a little cooking, I've been relying on things like ready-to-grill kabobs from Metropolitan Market. We haven't done the CSA this year and I've barely visited the farmer's markets. Even so, I did manage to try a couple of recipes that were good enough that I felt I should pass them along.

First, I have tried yet another winner from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. If you haven't bought this book yet, why not? It's seriously the most unique, delightful, astonishing collection of recipes I've had the pleasure to discover in a long time. Here's an example:

Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad

2 cups unsalted raw peanuts
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350. (Since it's summer, I moved this step to the toaster oven to keep the heat down and it worked just fine.)

Place peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan a couple of times for more even browning.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Gently stir into the tomato mixture to combine. Just before serving, fold in the peanuts. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

The other success I had was serving a fresh pea/mint soup from Cooking Light alongside some wild salmon patties.

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

2 teaspoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped green onions
4 cups shelled green peas (about 4 pounds unshelled)
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I used half vegetable broth, half chicken)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
Cracked black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions to pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas, broth, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until the peas are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Stir in juice, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Place half of pea mixture in blender and process until smooth. Do this carefully as hot liquid expands very fast in a blender; I recommend holding the lid down with a kitchen towel just to be safe. Pour pureed soup mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining pea mixture. Strain this half of the pureed soup mixture through a sieve over a large bowl, reserving the liquid; discard the solids. Return strained soup to pureed soup mixture. Ladle about 3/4 cup soup mixture into each of 6 bowls; drizzle each with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle each serving with 1 teaspoon mint. Garnish with cracked pepper, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

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Game Night again

Our game night has been pretty sparse since Jess and Tim both moved to California within a month of each other. The last couple of weeks it's been down to just three of us getting together, four if we're lucky. Tonight it was three again.

Luckily for us Kate is getting to that age when we can play adult strategy games together and still all have fun. Tonight we played 3rd edition MagBlast. We've been MagBlast fans through all the editions. It's been a little jarring to go from the more 'serious' science fiction version of MagBlast to the most recent version with the Kovalic art and the more 'wacky family game' feel but we're still all on board. Kate was very excited to play as this is one of her favorite games ever. We had fun but had to gang up on and kill Kate once it got to be 11:00 since it's still a school night for her. Poor kid, someday she'll be able to stay up as late as she wants. Heh.

Ev's currently on a restricted diet as he tries to sort out some allergies and whatnot so I went to Metropolitan Market and just let myself be inspired by what was available. Between all members of the group we've got to be carb conscious and avoid wheat, soy, dairy, and seafood at the moment. I was going to make some of my favorite sesame noodles with shredded chicken with some rice noodles but remembered there was also soy in the dish and decided to look elsewhere for dinner. Instead I bought a bunch of Indian-inspired ingredients. I made a Sri Lankan eggplant curry from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, some peppered cauliflower, some packaged Neera's Urad & Channa Dal (a hit, will definitely try again, along with others in this line), rice, Sharwood's papadums, and a round (or two) of tamarind martinis. Kate helped a lot with the food prep tonight, which was great! She helped with something in every dish and made several things largely on her own (including the cauliflower, the papadums, and the dal). She also made dessert, a rosewater and strawberry sorbet. Good meal!

Tomorrow Pramas is headed for Enfilade in Olympia. I have to get up for 6:30am yoga. Kate and I are staying home for a "girl's weekend" with Rosie (the World's Sweetest Pitbull [tm]). Monday we're having people over to play Descent. Next week looks to be busy as I continue to catch up from the Month of Travel ad prep for Book Expo. I fly out on Thursday!

Not too bad of a day, I'll say.

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Food is Fuel

Doctors appointment at the crack of dawn tomorrow but today was all about the fennel broth.

Met with the nutritionist today. It's energizing to be told I'm doing the right things. She seems to find me amusing, she laughs a lot. "Oh Nicole!" she gasps, and writes things down. She asks about my recent cooking forays and I try to give her an idea of the sorts of things I've been successful with. I tell her about Super Natural Cooking, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and A New Way to Cook. I tell her about soba noodles, tofu and vegetables... about homemade fennel broth, curry noodles, braised cabbage and smoked ham. "I've written a cookbook but nothing like this," she says, jotting, jotting. We laugh and joke for half the appointment. This talk invigorates me. I'm doing the right things, approved by a professional. She is looking forward to my restaurant recommendations from Vegas after GTS.

This afternoon Christine needed a ride home after an appointment at the PolyClinic. I caught a distinct vibe that she might also need some fennel broth so I whipped some up and brought it with me, then ran off to get Pramas and groceries and returned with provisions enough to make Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth. I improvised a bit with the recipe (the original calls for saffron noodles but I substituted a bed of sauteed spinach and roasted root vegetables) and bought but forgot to add the creme fraiche and chopped herbs but it was delicious anyway and we ate like royalty.

The recipe, as it appears in A New Way to Cook:

Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth

4 ounces saffron noodles (or tagliatelle or linguine)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups fennel broth
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 1/4 lb. sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp creme fraiche
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs

If using noodles, boil in salted water until al dente, drain and run under cool water. Toss lightly with 1/2 tsp. oil to keep them from sticking together (this is where I wilted some spinach and roasted cubed parsnips, fresh fennel, carrots, sweet potatoes and a couple of mushrooms for good measure).

In a small saucepan bring the fennel broth to a boil and reduce to about a cup and a half to concentrate the flavor. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

In a small skillet, toast the coriander seeds over low heat until fragrant. Grind into a medium-fine powder with a grinder, blender, or mortar and pestle.

Sprinkle the scallops lightly on all sides with mixture of salt, cayenne, and sugar. Thoroughly coat the scallops in the coriander. Shake off excess.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 2 tsp of the oil to coat pan and heat for 30 seconds. Add scallops in a single layer without crowding in the pan (cook in two batches if necessary). Cook for about 2 minutes per side.

Stir the creme fraiche into the broth.

At this point I layered the veggies into shallow bowls, arranged the scallops on top, and topped the whole thing with the hot broth. I should have garnished with herbs, but I forgot both the herbs and the creme. It was just dandy anyway.

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Mark Bittman

Coming clean about my vast collection of too neglected cookbooks, I have to admit that poor Mark Bittman has been among the most neglected. For years I've had his cookbooks on my shelf. How to Cook Everything, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, The Minimalist Cooks at Home. I received How to Cook Everything Vegetarian off my wish list this Christmas. Over the years I've browsed each book idly but cooked precious little. I've marked a single recipe (Fish Simmered in Spicy Soy Sauce) as "very good" but I can't tell you how many years ago it was that I tried it.

This is shameful behavior on my part because Bittman deserves better.

It was a little over a year ago that I started to reawaken to Bittman. I can trace the moment exactly: it was when every foodie blog and cooking site went absolutely nutso after his No Knead Bread in the New York Times. What really won me over to Bittman was when I started getting New York Times video content through TiVoCast. The Minimalist segments were right up my alley and Bittman's goofy, good-humored personality won me over immediately. It was the first time I'd seen or heard him instead of just reading him and that was the key.

He's recently started a blog at the New York Times website, Bitten which has quickly become one of my favorites. today's tip on parboiling brown rice in advance so you can use it in quick recipes later as you would white rice is a nifty trick. Though I don't shy from just taking the time brown rice needs not everyone has that luxury and so they miss out on whole grain specialty rices, which is a shame.

Once I've plowed through the list of recipes I want to try out of Super Natural Cooking and A New Way to Cook, Bittman's recipes are next on the list for trial. I may even screw up the courage to try the No Knead Bread (though my anti-bread aura is nearly as strong and infamous as my anti-technology aura).

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Official: My new favorite cookbook

This one is a real winner! I'm ashamed of myself that I've never done more than look through some of the pretty photographs in this book before now. Maybe if I'd read this glowing review in The Atlantic Monthly ...which it turns out I completely agree with, seven years late.

Yesterday I made a simple fennel stock from scratch from the recipe in this book. Glorious! It was hard not to just sit down and eat the broth as it was. I had something else in mind for the stock, though, and for dinner we moved on to the recipe for Beans and Wild Mushrooms in Fennel Broth. I used the pressure cooker to cook up some dried Great Northern beans from scratch instead of using canned, so I followed the recipe for Basic Cooked Beans from the book, and then combined my beans and broth with the remaining ingredients for the soup. I used oyster mushrooms because they were plentiful at the store but this soup would be incredible with something more like a morel instead. Chris, upon trying the soup, proclaimed that had he been served this soup in a fancy restaurant he would not have been disappointed.

Fennel and fish go well together so I used last night to hit my goal of having fish once a week and whipped up a recipe of Sesame Crusted Swordfish with Cilantro and Coconut Chutney, once again from A New Way to Cook. Simple, easy, and very yummy.

Another excellent bonus of this book is the author includes nutritional information for each recipe in an index, so I could quickly calculate the calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber of these dishes. I've been spoiled by having Cooking Light as my go-to source for recipes all these years and have been finding that I really want to have the nutritional breakdowns for the things I'm cooking at home. That information is not included in most cookbooks, so extra bonus points to Sally Schneider for figuring out and including the information in hers.

I expect I'll properly update my recipe pages over the weekend for my own reference. I am kicking myself because I made some excellent baked beans with kale at some point this winter (prepped the dish ahead and put it in the freezer for later use) and I've now forgotten where among my vast collection of cookbooks, magazines, and online resources I got the original recipe! Updating my recipe pages is one way for me to keep track and I've been terribly lax about it these last several months. No more!

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Today's Excellent Meal

I just adore Heidi Swanson's food blog, 101Cookbooks.com so when I was thinking of what to make for lunch today (which turned into a bit of an impromptu Bed Day when Kate went over to a friend's house for the day) I immediately thought of the gorgeous Vegetarian Split Pea Soup recipe she just posted. Inspired, I added her Curried Egg Salad on a piece of whole grain dark toast.

It turned out great! The soup really benefited from the garnishes: olive oil, smoked paprika, and just a hit of lemon zest. Wow, what a winner!

Heidi's book, Super Natural Cooking, is also an excellent resource. I highly recommend browsing around Heidi's generous blog archives and if you like what you see, give the cookbook a look for yourselves.

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Nikchick Eats More Veggies

Met with a nutritionist today. Wow, was that RIGHT up my alley. It was great to have my gut instincts validated by a professional who gave thumbs up to my recent food choices and was able to laugh at my enthusiasm when I blurted out things like "I already have that in the fridge!" or "I have a great recipe for that!" in response to her suggestions. Her selections of rubber foods to demonstrate portion sizes for everything from peanut butter to pork chops were a hoot. Hooray for nutrition therapy, that's what I say.

Am continuing to move my diet back to including many more vegetables. Now, I'm a former vegetarian and I have a broad palate and no fear of veggies or soy but I've also got a weakness for meat and cheese. I am, after all, a Midwestern girl at heart and the daughter of a hunter to boot. Trying to be a vegetarian in my dad's house meant a lot of iceberg lettuce. Blech.

Three more recent recipes, simple but different enough, both from the Kathleen Daelemans book that I've referred to before.

Oven-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

1 pound peeled carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound peeled parsnips, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Put vegetable chunks in a ziptop bag with the oil and shake to coat evenly. Pour vegetables onto a baking sheet in a single layer, salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered 25-35 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until vegetables are cooked through. My parsnips were softer than my carrots, so I would recommend judging doneness from the tenderness of the carrots first.

Fennel, Carrot, and Cranberry Salad

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 head fennel, cored and grated or finely julienned
2 carrots, peeled and grated or finely julienned
1/4 cup dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey and olive oil. Combine fennel, carrots, and cranberries in a medium bowl and toss with half the dressing. Refrigerate for at least four hours. Before serving, drain off any water given off by the fennel and re-dress with the remaining dressing. Season to taste, serve immediately. This salad was absolutely delicious and went great with a broiled herb-crusted tilapia fillet.
EDIT: That should be 1/4 cup dried cranberries, NOT 14 cups dried cranberries. Yikes!

Apple and Raw Beet Salad

1 tsp. grated ginger root
1 pound beets
1 large Granny Smith apple
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I actually used 2 Tbsp raspberry vinegar and 1 Tbsp cider vinegar)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Grate fresh ginger directly into a medium bowl (definitely use a microplane grater for this if you have one! It also works to press the ginger through a heavy duty garlic press if you have that instead). Grate beets and apple with a large-sized grater (I used my food processor for this but you could use a box grater just as easily). Toss until ginger is evenly distributed. Add vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil to the bowl and toss to coat evenly. Adjust seasonings if desired. Serve immediately or chilled.

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Cooking Again

Monday I had a minor procedure done at Virginia Mason and when dinner time rolled around, I did not feel up to being on my feet and cooking anything. I was also definitely not in the mood to drive (or ride the bus!) anywhere in the cold and damp. Luckily for me, my sweetie is a capable cook and stepped up to the plate.

It's undoubtedly a factor of my childhood poverty that drives me to keep my house ridiculously stocked with food. That tendency has served me well (like the summer when I was pregnant and my grad student husband didn't have a job... we lived on little but my stores got us a long way through what could have been an even more unpleasant situation) and came to my rescue again this week. Chris was able to pull from a selection of foods that I'd prepared in advance and chose some lean pork chops that had been frozen in a ginger-soy marinade. We had the spinach-pear salad with them and called it a good meal.

Tonight I was in the same frame of mind but for a different reason. After a week that involved a lot of stress and a lot of running around, today was Bed Day. I made a thermos of hot tea and took it to bed with me, where I watched my ancient VHS tape of Groundhog Day (from back in the days when you didn't have to watch commercials before the movie you just bought), read my Cooks Illustrated 2007 Annual, lounged, napped, and never got out of my jammies.

Pulling together a dinner from leftovers and what we had in the fridge, I sliced a couple of remaining pork chops and sauteed the strips, heated some leftover Black Japonica rice that I'd served this week with some sweet and sour tofu, dug out some whole wheat tortillas, shredded romaine, a little extra sharp cheddar and a jar of salsa to make a hearty and delicious meal. I wanted to make my favorite tomato, avocado, and preserved lemon salad but when I went to cut into the avocado it was gross so I improvised a tomato-hearts of palm salad with balsamic and lime instead. I was inordinately pleased with the dinner.

Lest I give the impression that everything is a success, I made an egg and vegetable dish for breakfast that took so long to prepare it turned into lunch. First I had to slice and grill (or roast) several slices of zucchini and eggplant. I had bottled roasted red peppers so I didn't do those from scratch, though they undoubtedly would have tasted far better. When the veggies were roasted, they were layered in a baking dish with a chopped mix of herbs between each layer (I used fresh parsley, oregano, and thyme) and four hollows made and then four eggs cracked into each hollow. The whole thing was topped with a little tomato sauce and grated Parmesan and baked. I was feeling pretty good about it (the directions for the recipe I was following said bake for 7-10 minutes until the yolks set) but my yolks absolutely would not set! I baked for 10 minutes. Nothing. Five minutes more, still not even close. I tried giving the whole thing a zap in the microwave and the yolks finally set. Once the dish was done, it was fine and all but pretty much not worth the work. As I said to Chris, it's no Eggs Beatrice (though to be fair, it doesn't have the better part of a stick of butter in it, either).

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What are you cooking?

Visiting with a friend recently, he asked me what I'd been cooking. I realized that I my usual convention season cooking hiatus had extended itself through the holidays and was clinging on. I haven't been nearly my usual cooking self.

I'm turning that around and have been trying a bunch of new recipes. Here are a couple of easy, tasty salad recipes that we've given the thumbs up to:

Napa Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
from Cooking Thin by Kathleen Daelemans

1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
1 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro leaves (or, if you're Marc, sub in parsley)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, grated
1 cup toasted peanuts (I used low salt dry roasted) roughly chopped

Whisk together sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together cabbaqge, cilantro, scallions, and carrot. Toss in peanuts. Toss all with dressing until evenly distributed.

Spinach & Pear Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
from Seattle and King County Public Health

2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pears, cored and sliced lengthwise
8 cups torn fresh spinach
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together the water, vinegar, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, and black pepper. In large bowl, add the pear slices and 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add remaining dressing, spinach and onion and toss to coat

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Soup for the Sick

Thursday was kind of a hectic day. Did some running around, got caught out in the rain without my jacket, missed my turn and drove all over creation before making it to Jenny's with lunch, and just generally feeling like I was running about two beats behind all day. I blamed it on poor sleep the rest of the week and soldiered on. Made Garlic Herb Soup and garlic bread for the fellas for game night, stayed up way too late with Ray and Tim (and the great NPC debate of '08) into the wee hours of Friday morning and when I finally went to bed I had my worst night of sleep yet that week. I'm a stomach sleeper and want to roll onto my stomach whenever I'm on the verge of sleep and all night long I would roll sleepily onto my stomach only to jerk awake with acid reflux. This is not a problem I normally have but early Friday morning it was pure torture. I slept horribly, got up to take stomach meds or just get a drink to soothe the burning feeling at least half a dozen times.

Friday I was a wreck. I tried to sleep late but ringing phones and a work crew power-washing the house across the street just prolonged my agony. I would fall heavily asleep to vivid dreams for a few minutes and then be jerked awake by a ringing phone or the sound of heavy equipment or crashing ladders. When I finally gave up and got up for the day my eyes burned, my head felt throbbed, and my sinuses were radiating pain down into my teeth so that it hurt to even chew. I found no comfort in food except nibbling some sweet, mushy canned pears and the remains of the garlic soup. I wanted nothing last night but biscuits and more soup, which my sweetie kindly prepared for me. I comforted myself with the Smile Time episode of Angel ("I'm going to tear you a new puppet hole, bitch!), which is permanently saved on my TiVo for times like this.

Got some sleep last night and woke up feeling about 70% better from that alone. More soup today, though I have to resort to canned soup now because all the garlic soup is gone. I was wondering what to do for dinner because Pramas is playing Spirit of the Century and I don't feel like going out to the store but JD and Kris came to the rescue by choosing today to post Kris's Hearty Baked Potato Soup recipe. My super-stocked pantry comes to the rescue yet again, I have all these ingredients on hand. Soup for the sick, I say!

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Cookie Madness

Today was cookie making day at Ray and Christine's. We were joined by Family Frogtaco, Michelle, and Auntie Carol. Kate and Charlotte were on hand for cookie decorating and Zoey/Keegan occupying. While the ladies baked, our Sunday afternoon game group got together in the other room to play some old-stylee D&D. Some rock band was played, much food and drink was consumed.

We ended up making:
triple ginger biscotti
lemon-rosemary refrigerator cookies
earl grey shortbread
chocolate rads
Rona's wicked rocky road clusters
spritz cookies
Mexican wedding cakes
crescent cookies
cranberry-walnut bars
Israeli Spiced Egg Sticks

and this year's new-recipe winner, Michelle's Mexican Chocolate-Pepper Cookies from Cindy's Itty Bitty Baking Book. Wow! Those were fantastic and I'm hooked.

I took a bunch of photos but I'm completely exhausted and just need to veg out, maybe do some logic puzzles in bed with a nice heating pad or something. I'll try to get what recipes I have posted if they aren't already up and will put a photo set of the cookies online as soon as I have the gumption to tackle the project. For the moment we're swimming in cookies and I'm coming down hard from my big time sugar buzz.

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Kate's Perfect Pie

Kate made pumpkin pie yesterday. We used some fancy prepared pie crusts from Whole Foods that came out good. If you're the type that makes pie crust by hand, more power to you. Meanwhile, the filling is so simple a child can do it and the results were perfect!

Maple Pumpkin Pie

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

Preheat oven to 425°.

To prepare filling, beat 1/2 cup sugar and next 5 ingredients (1/2 cup sugar through eggs) at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add milk and pumpkin; beat well. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° (do not remove pie from oven); bake an additional 50 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack.



Operation Cook for Tomorrow

Success! Operation Cook for Tomorrow has been successfully executed. It's only 2:30 and already I have completed:

One batch of Short Sharp Chops
One batch of Pork Ragout
One batch of Vegetarian Polenta "Lasagna"
One batch of Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Beans
Two Alabama Meat Loaves

Beans are soaking for Red Beans and Rice

Still on the agenda:
Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Proscuitto
Chicken Tetrazzini
Moroccan Chicken and Lentils

I also have some additional ingredients that I might get creative with. I still have two thick-cut boneless center cut pork chops, a pound and a half ground beef, about a pound of hot Italian sausage, a bag and a half of frozen meatless "crumbles", mushrooms, red peppers, a red onion, two danish squashes, a couple of cans of pumpkin and some other goodies. Some Pumpkin Bread is definitely in order, if nothing else.

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Guinness Cake and Ice Cream

I stayed up late making a double batch of ice cream custard (batter? what do you call it before it's ice cream?) last night so I can quench my desire to pair the Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream from David Lebovitz's excellent book Perfect Scoop with Guinness Chocolate Cake and feed it to the boys at the GR Summit this weekend. (As the only woman at Green Ronin and a mom to boot, I always refer to the rest of the guys as "the boys"... I can't help it.)

After a hard day of agenda items and reality checking, isn't cake and ice cream really just a necessary thing? I mean, seriously.

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By request, my recipe pages have been updated with my mother-in-law's recipe for MOUSSAKA.

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Risotto close-up

Risotto close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday's farmer's market resulted in the following for dinner:

Lemon Asparagus Risotto
3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups (1-inch) diagonally cut asparagus (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Bring broth to a simmer in a large saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add rice and rind; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, and cook 3 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.

Add 3 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes). Stir in asparagus. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in cheese and juice. Sprinkle with thyme.


Fiddlehead and Morel Salad

Miner's Lettuce Salad with Fiddleheads and Morels. I didn't have 100 year old Balsamic vinegar, but I successfully improvised the rest. I was determined to have a few things that I'd never picked up from the farmer's market before. Fiddlehead ferns and miner's lettuce were it. I prepared them according to the recipe from San Francisco’s Fifth Floor Restaurant that MSNBC put up. I've linked to their version rather than type up my own, since my contribution was to make the salad with the miner's lettuce.

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Recipe Pages Updated


Baby Watch

Our friends at Frog Taco are expecting young master Keegan to arrive any time now, so I whipped up a couple of containers of freezable dinners for them (one pan of lasagna rolls and one pan of chicken enchiladas verdes, which I just realized are somehow missing from my recipe pages: this must be rectified this weekend!), grabbed the advanced copy of Evan's card game (Walk the Plank, coming soon!) that I brought home from the GAMA Trade Show a week ago, and added to the car another giant box of books that Kate had outgrown and been "saving for Zoey" for years now. Kate and I swung up to Queen Anne to pick up Pramas and from there out to Evan's place for the delivery of the goods.

Zoey was quite the little chatterbox! There was a time when there was some concern that she might have a speech delay or something but those days are long gone. Chris had barely stepped into the house when she unleashed such a string of pent-up excitement it was hard not to laugh out loud. In fact, I didn't even try to stop myself. I was talking to Evan and missed the first part of the tirade but it ended with something about "big sister" and "be here soon" and "his name is Keegan" which was just frickin' adorable. Of course Pramas (who barely spoke "three year old" when Kate was three, and it's been a long 8 years since those days) didn't understand a word and his baffled response just added to my delight.

Kate was a sweetie and read a couple of the new stories to Zoey so we adults could chat a little. Rona offered us some quite excellent brownies right off the bat, which made me all the more greedy to win the baby pool this time around (winner gets a basket of goodies!). Friends and family had all bought into the propaganda/wishful thinking that Keegan was set to come early and my original guess has long passed but so has everyone else's too, so we all just guessed again. Grandpa Robert and Grandpa Lou both picked tomorrow (Rona's birthday) and Grandpa Al and I are on record for Sunday. 05/06/07, what a cool numbered birthday! Do it, Keegan!

Since I'd cooked up two dinners already, I was not in the mood to cook up a third so Kate and Chris and I stopped at Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon for dinner on the way back to our end of Seattle. I was sorely tempted to get my usual (pan fried home-made noodles and whatever they call Lover's Eggplant over there) but opted for something a little different instead and got the Dragon's Delight (I think that's it) which was soft tofu and spinach in a peanut sauce that was very much like the Fettucine and Tofu with Peanut Sauce I make...without the fettucine. Just what I wanted.

Tomorrow I'll get the recipe pages updated. I'm falling behind!

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Seitan Success

The Seitan Jambalaya came out great. In thinking about the taste and texture of the faux beef from House of Vegetarian, I was pretty sure I was going to have to both marinate and fry the seitan to get what I was looking for. To judge by the jambalaya, I was correct.

The Cafe Flora Cookbook warns "Because seitan develops a "wheaty" flavor when it sits in a stew or sauce for a while, it's always best to add seitan at the last minute, just before serving." This does make me suspicious of the Seitan Potpie from The Voluptuous Vegan since it involves essentially stewing the seitan and vegetables in a soy milk bechamel, but the Seitan Sancocho from The Passionate Vegetarian follows Cafe Flora's rule and makes me even more hopeful for that recipe.

The technique for the jambalaya included marinating the seitan (I did it overnight) and frying it in a little oil before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. A couple of the pieces that were cut more like strips (vs. chunks) did come out too soft and "wheaty" and, while still edible, were not the fake-meat experience I was looking for. The larger pieces came out great, like pieces of chicken or pork, with less of the soft texture.

I'm sure this information is thrilling to, oh, Colin and maybe Rob but I'm pleased with how the seitan experience has gone so far.

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Recipe Pages Update

I've posted new recipes to my recipe pages. I've also cleaned up a few recipes for which the links were broken or pointed to the wrong page. You can now find:


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New Cooking Obsession

Ever since we came back from New York and our fantastic outing to House of Vegetarian, I've been craving more of that Faux Orange Beef with Broccoli. Surely, I thought to myself, it's possible for me to make that dish (or something very like it) at home. It's not that I want Orange Beef with beef...I'm specifically craving the fake meat version. I need to learn to cook with seitan.

So on a whim, I picked up a couple of packages of seitan to have on hand. I've cooked with tofu for years. I've made the occasional tempeh dish. I've got a shelf full of vegetarian cookbooks. I can find something to do with seitan until I'm confident enough with it to try recreating House of Vegetarian's Orange Beef.

But noooo. Straying off into seitan territory put me off the charts. I searched through four Moosewood cookbooks, not even a mention of seitan. Laurel's Kitchen? Nothing. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone? Almost Vegetarian Entertaining? Nothing, nothing. Googling for seitan recipes was similarly frustrating. Apparently, people who eat seitan are content to just dump some barbecue sauce on the stuff and broil it. It's the bland, uninspired, no-fun vegetarian cooking that I suffered through in my high school/post-high school years (when my dad thought "going vegetarian" meant I was going to eat iceberg lettuce salads two meals a day and shopped accordingly). Many of the recipes I did find included instructions for making your own seitan from scratch at home: considering my general inability to make break, biscuits, or even grow herbs in a pot, I generally leave that kind of thing to the professionals. I'm not ashamed to buy my bread from a baker and my yogurt from the store, thanks. I started to worry that I'd made a mistake.

Thumbing through The Voluptuous Vegan I finally found a few bona fide seitan recipes, though in the end I chose not to make them. Just knowing they existed calmed my seitan panic. The Passionate Vegetarian has the largest selection of seitan recipes in my cookbook collection and even has a two-page spread talking about the ingredient, makers of commercially available seitan, and the different forms seitan takes. It also includes a little lecture (because what's some vegetarian cooking without a little lecture on whole foods or sustainability or how gosh darn fun veganism is, really...) on the imperfections of seitan: "Before you go deep into seitaning, here's one important caveat: Seitan is not a whole food. It is made of of part of the wheat grain--its protein--and as such it is as fractionated and inherently unbalanced as white flour, bran, or wheat germ. Since one of my core beliefs is that foods should be eaten as whole as possible as often as possible, seitan--easy and appealing though it is--should be an occasional choice, not a several-times-a-week or daily vegetarian mainstay (unlike soy, beans or soyfoods)." Ah! Poor, imperfect seitan; not lavished with attention by judgmental vegetarian cooks because of its imperfections? I started to feel bad for my little packages of wheat gluten.

To give ol' Crescent Dragonwagon her due, she does go on to give several references for people who would shun her advice and want to get into cooking with seitan anyway, and she includes a dozen seitan recipes in her cookbook. In fact, she gives seitan pretty thorough coverage and plenty of opportunities for use. And really, she says right out that she's the "passionate vegetarian" so I can hardly hold it against her that she has strong opinions. Still, I hate to be lectured now as much as I ever have and I was put off from trying anything out of her book just yet.

Thankfully, the Cafe Flora Cookbook came to my rescue. I have Seitan Jambalaya marinating in my fridge at this very moment for tonight or maybe tomorrow. I'll report back on how it turns out.

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This is a plug for GroupRecipes.com, a social networking site for foodies. I signed up a couple of months ago but haven't really had time to poke around with it until today. It's "in beta" but like Flickr and Gmail, I'm finding the "Beta" to be pretty robust.

The interface is a bit of a pain considering I have a lot of my favorite recipes already up on my own recipe pages, and uploading photos that are too big can choke the upload system and screw up your uploads, which I found out to my chagrin. Still, they have really neat features that I can see myself getting a lot of use out of. For example, after you enter a recipe into their system, they give you the option of cutting and pasting the code for the now HTMLitized recipe so you can put it up on your blog or elsewhere. That means if I put a new recipe into Group Recipes first, I can just put in the straight text instead of hand coding the HTML for every recipe in EditPad Lite (which is how I've been doing them all). A definite boon for a clumsy tech-lover like myself.

You can search for other users in your area or search for people who like the same recipes you do or just browse by who is active at the moment. You can watch your friends' activity and automatically see their newest recipe contributions or see comments from other users on recipes you've submitted, delivered to your My Stuff foodie homepage. There's a tastes survey you can fill out so that Roger the Recipe Robot can help predict if you'd like a certain recipe or suggest other recipes that you might enjoy. You can rate the recipes of other users, print them, flag them as interesting or unique, and manage your recipes with their Recipe Manger (including recipes on other sites, so in theory I could just add all the URLs for my own recipes pages and have them all as part of my recipe file at Group Recipes, if I wanted to). You can browse recipes by cuisine, ingredient, or "flavor", by what's popular today or what's new on the site. You can create or join groups like Crockpot Cooking or Cookbook Reviews or Brazil. You can create your own "Food TV" if you've got the ability: I watched Ani Phyo's Raw Food Kitchen's "Mediterranean Dolmas" (made with collard greens) and "Spanish Breakfast Scramble" episodes this afternoon, and learned all about raw food cooking (which is way more interesting than I'd thought). You can also add restaurant reviews (and add photos), so it's not just about cooking but about food in general.

I've only just started exploring GroupRecipes.com but so far I'm really, really liking it. I highly recommend it to my fellow foodies. If you join up, friend me. I'm Nikchick, natch.

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Today certainly felt like spring. Sunny and low 60s most of the day, which I was immensely glad to see. I spent a distressing amount of time on the phone and the web today trying to figure out the best way to solve our citizenship crisis with Kate; I was under the impression that the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 covered her even though we'd never applied for a Certificate of Citizenship or any other such thing (and in fact had been discouraged from bothering with it by the consulate). Passports are running at 10 weeks of delay at the moment, and I expect it to get worse as we approach the end of the year deadline for anyone crossing the border to need a passport. Certificates of Citizenship, on the other hand, are currently about 2 years behind. The border patrol is currently hung up because even though Kate clearly met the requirements for citizenship at birth, she was never issued any official paper other than her birth certificate and so, depending on how the border agent feels, either receives a "oh, yeah, no problem; meets all the requirements" or a "this child is missing form N-600 and stamp I-551 and has never made a legal entry into the United States at any time during the last eleven years of crossing the border!! Commence freaking out!!" I was told by one agency that she could apply for passport or Certificate of Citizenship (though they recommend the passport because it is both proof of citizenship and a travel document), but told by another that one of the requirements for a passport is the Certificate of Citizenship. Thankfully, I think we can put together the documents we need (merely a notarized list of everywhere I've lived/worked/gone to school during my life, my marriage license, my divorce decree, my own certified birth certificate, plus the same for her father...) and be able to resolve this without a two year wait and spending hundreds of dollars. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, in between bouts of governmental bureaucracy, I went out to pick up Sammy from the vet. His neutering went fine and he's pretty much his old self again already, though I have some pain meds to feed him for a couple of days. Next week sometime we have the vet's okay to start the process of trying to actually introduce him to Bonnie.

I'd planned to get a lot of other things accomplished this afternoon but after Immigration all morning and traveling hither and yon to get a remote Flexcar so I could pick up Sammy in West Seattle, I'd barely settled down to get some work done when Kate's school called to tell me she had a fever and I had to come get her. Luckily, I had the Flexcar. Unluckily, that meant I couldn't use the Flexcar for the errands I had intended the rental to cover. After bringing Kate home and making a stop at the grocery store for OJ, Tylenol, and Kate's request of sloppy joes for supper, my time was up.

I got back and decided to just call it a day and get some yard work done while the weather was nice, before the HOA decides to start policing my bushes again. Trimmed away a lot of dead and overgrown plant life and came in smelling of blood and dirt (thanks rose bush!) and rosemary and lavender.

Updated my recipe pages a little with this great recipe for some easy Avgolemono (Greek egg-lemon soup) that we just love. Also fixed the link to the excellent Thai-style Ground Beef recipe; I hadn't noticed it was broken until I went to fix it recently and couldn't pull it up from my own recipe page. Finally, for all the Guinness Cake lovers out there, I finally added the Chocolate Guinness Cake to my recipe pages.

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Guinness Cake

I made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake (from her book Feast) for game night Tuesday. I haven't put the recipe up in my recipe pages, but it's online at another food blog here.

This cake is REALLY GOOD. Several of the guys had second pieces. I had some for breakfast yesterday (because I was hacking off a slice for Chris to bring to John and Jenny) AND I had a second piece when Kate came home from school and wanted some cake for a snack. (I made up for it by having vegetables for dinner! Nothing but big piles of raw vegetables!)

I want more cake now. MORE! NOW!!

There is no more Chocolate Guinness Cake but I can't stop thinking about it, rich and dense and chocolaty without being too sweet, topped with its head of cream cheese frosting.

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My husband made Maple-Frosted Maple Cupcakes tonight. Yum!



A Slice of Life

I started to write a whine about how the last week has been a blur, how I was just too damn busy to take the time to go to this month's Seattle Arts and Lecture series event tonight (Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and recipient of one of the MacArthur Genius grants, which had the potential to be interesting), all my frustrations with phone trees and petty bullshit...

Then I said screw it and updated my recipe pages instead.




Food Bliss

My new issue of Cooking Light arrived today. Typically, when a new issue arrives, I look through it greedily, in case there is anything that I can make without running to the store, this very day. Today, sadly, the pantry was "bare" for the snappy recipes I'd have liked to make. Tomorrow, however, is another day!

I've developed a system for going through the magazine and noting which recipes I'd like to try this month. Usually I make note of a dozen more than I end up making, but that's entirely because the magazine is so deliciously attractive.

My system is to write down the name of the intriguing recipe on the right hand side of a legal pad, along with the magazine issue and page number, e.g. Scalloped Potatoes with Shallots, Mushrooms, Roasted Garlic and Thyme. On the left hand side I make note of the ingredients needed for that recipe, e.g. 4 heads garlic, shallots, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, milk, flour, thyme, Yukon Gold potatoes, Pecorino Romano cheese.

This list then doubles as my shopping list (or pantry double-check list). I've found that I'm distractable and forgetful enough that it really helps to have the shopping list broken out by recipe. I can't count the number of times before I broke my list out by recipe that I came home with all the ingredients but one (usually something crucial, like buying all the marinade ingredients but not getting the bay scallops) because I forgot which ingredients were for which recipes. This usually results in having stray cans of artichoke hearts or jars of pimento hanging around the pantry, looking for a home. After two years of this behavior, I had quite the mish-mash in my pantry!

I look forward to game night every week, if only to have the chance to try out another one of my Cooking Light recipes.

This weekend I'm hoping the weather holds enough for me to go out and do a little yard work. I'd like to get my garden prepped and transplant some of the herbs to the empty flower box. I'm definitely ready for spring.

My friend Ashley was recently diagnosed as having Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. She and I could be twins, our "symptoms" are so the same! She's been evaluated, has done lots of reading on it, has taken a spate of online tests. We score similarly on the online tests and I recognize myself in some of the light reading I've done (though nothing as in-depth as Ashley has done). I suppose I should talk to my doctor about getting an evaluation myself, just to be sure. I would be pleased if I could effectively treat some of my symptoms, especially my distractibility and forgetfulness. Losing my keys or forgetting my lunch in the microwave happens so often, it's a running joke here at the house. Even Kate gives me a hard time about it!

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