Category Archives: Appetizers

Things I Will Miss

tomato basil relish

This meal  – fresh mozzarella topped with serrano and tomato-basil relish – was our last hurrah at the cabin. Good old caprese needed an update, and this slightly spicy, briefly seared version is what I’ll be eating for the rest of the summer.

Because there is still a whole lot of summer left. Although I have that empty, summer’s over feeling I get whenever we leave the lake in our rear-view mirror.

Things I Will Miss

Waking up to this every morning
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And saying goodnight to this every evening
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Commuting by boat instead of car. No car seats. No traffic.

priest lake

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Phone games and videos are not an option. Instead, we listen to records and catch butterflies when we’re bored.

priest lake

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But the kids are never really bored because they can wade in for a swim any time they want. Plus, you always have a cousin or a grandma or grandpa to play with. Is there anything better than that?

the lakshore

And although we had many, many sunny days at the lake and loved every minute of soaking up the sun, it is the thunderstorms I will miss.

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Especially when you get to wait them out on the dock with a gin and tonic.

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Find the fresh mozzarella and serrano and tomato-basil relish recipe at cheese.about.com

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Kosheri Dumplings

Kosheri Dumplings

Over the years I’ve compiled a mental list of foods (pad thai, almond milk, yogurt) that for me, are simply not worth making at home. No matter how many other bloggers swear how easy they are to make and how amazing the homemade results are, in my kitchen it’s just not happening. Maybe the results are mediocre, maybe the time and effort just aren’t worth it to me, or maybe I just can’t deal with another soggy pouch of almond pulp in my kitchen.

And then, there are recipes that completely win me over. Goodbye, frozen Trader Joe’s potstickers with the weird aftertaste. Hello, homemade dumplings.

kosheri potstickers

Homemade dumplings/potstickers are a little bit time consuming, but for me, totally worth the effort. After one batch, I’m obsessed with all the new combinations I can make. Swiss chard and mushrooms! Carrot, ground pork and cilantro! Spinach and cheese!

Dumplings, I’ve found, are the perfect vegetable delivery vehicle for kids. But really, who doesn’t like a dumpling? Serve them at your next party as finger food, make a big batch for dinner and freeze half for later, pack homemade dumplings in lunches or as a snack to take to the park.

Kosheri Dumplings
Makes 48 or more dumplings

This recipe proves that just about anything goes when it comes to dumpling filling. If you like pierogies, then you’ll love this starchy dumpling stuffed with an Egyptian inspired blend of rice, lentils, cinnamon, nutmeg and a little bit of Swiss chard.

Kosheri dumpling with sour cream

Kosheri dumpling with sour cream

Ingredients

3/4 cup green lentils
3/4 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves finely chopped and stems discarded (or saved for another meal)
1 package circular or square-shaped dumpling, wonton, or gyoza wrappers. Any size is fine but slightly larger ones (4.5-inch) are easier to fold
Sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the lentils and rice separately.

Place the lentils in pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked but still slightly firm. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Just before the butter starts to brown, add the rice, 1 1/2 cups water, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and place a thin towel over the pan. Put the lid back on over the towel and let the pan sit for 5 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork.

While the lentils and rice are cooking, saute the Swiss chard in a drizzle of oil until the leaves are fully wilted but still bright green, 5 minutes. Lightly salt.

Combine the lentils, rice and Swiss chard. Add salt to taste.

Lightly flour a work surface (I use sweet rice flour, but regular flour would work fine). Set out your dumpling wrappers, a small bowl of water and a large sheet pan dusted with flour or covered with parchment paper.

Grab a dumpling wrapper, dip your finger in the bowl of water and wet the perimeter. Place a small teaspoon of filling in the middle. Fold the wrapper over and pinch it shut along the edges. Fold in the two corners (if using a square wrapper) and pinch them shut. If any part of the wrapper doesn’t stay shut, brush it with a little water and pinch it shut again. After a while, you’ll find your rhythm.

folding_potstickers

Folding Potstickers

At this point you can freeze the dumplings or cook them. (Freeze on the sheet pan then transfer to a freezer bag. Later, cook them by placing the frozen dumplings directly into a hot pan with oil, like below)

Heat a thin layer of sunflower oil over medium-high heat in a wide nonstick pan with a lid. When the oil is hot, cook a batch of dumplings for about 2 minutes until the bottom is brown and crispy.

Pour 1/4 cup water in the pan and quickly put on the lid. Turn the heat to medium-low and steam the dumplings for 3 to 5 minutes until most of the water is gone and the wrappers look translucent. Remove the lid, return the heat to medium-high and saute for a minute or two, shaking the pan a bit as the dumplings crisp up.

Serve kosheri dumplings hot or at room temperature with sour cream.

More Potsticker Recipes
Yellow Split Pea Potstickers
Pork and Shrimp Potstickers
Shiitake Mushroom and Tofu Potstickers

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Keeping it Simple

Before you get all excited about some extravagant holiday recipe that you think I might be posting, you should know that we are keeping it simple around here.

This is kale, by the way.

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This season, I’ve found that a 3 year old doesn’t require an over-the-top “Christmas is Coming!” extravaganza in order to be happy. For starters, she is very excited about our homemade lookin’ tree.

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She loves our simple spruce decorations on the table, who she has named Clementine and Pinecone.

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She doesn’t care that I mangle the words to the Christmas songs I sing to her at bedtime completely out of key. This is the first year she’s really aware of the characters who come out this time of year – snowmen, reindeer, santa, elves – and I don’t know who’s enjoying their jolly presence more, me or her.

I am grateful this year for my little family and for my bigger family who will be arriving this weekend from the Northwest. Things are likely to start getting much more extravagant once they arrive. With a grandma in the house to help out, I expect a flurry of baking and present wrapping and big holiday food.

I am grateful that the horrendous cold I’ve had all week has started to abate and that a friend tipped me off to the spicy chicken soup at Tacos Delta. If that doesn’t heal you, I don’t know what will. I’m grateful it’s raining today, because after 3 days of near 80 degree weather, I’d completely had it with this whole Southern California Christmas thing. One cannot properly enjoy a mug of hot cocoa if one is sweating to death while drinking it.

Speaking of which, once you introduce a 3 year old to marshmallows and hot chocolate, there is no going back. It really is shocking how many of those tiny white puffs she can eat in one sitting, or rather, would eat in one sitting if I didn’t eventually cut her off.

Which is why a snack like this is so perfect for the holidays to combat a marshmallow overdose:

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Yes, I know. Kale chips are so 2010. To be honest, I never really understood the kale chip craze. But this version,  tossed in soy sauce and sesame and coconut oil, was an “ah ha!” moment. They are crispy and salty and just a teeny bit sweet from the coconut oil. They are delicious and addictive and made out of kale, for Pete’s sake, so eat as many as you like.

This recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Crispy Kale and Tofu Salad with Coconut. In that recipe, didn’t love the coconut chips added in with the kale, but using coconut oil instead is perfect. The chips are hard to resist right out of the oven, but they’re also really good crumbled over farro, brown rice and quinoa.

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale (I use lacinato, the one with dark green, long leaves)
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Rip the kale leaves off the stems, discard the stems. Roughly chop the leaves.

In a large bowl mix together the oils and soy sauce.

Add the kale and toss it with your hands until it’s evenly covered.

kale

Spread the kale out in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. After the 20-minute mark, keep an eye on the kale so it doesn’t burn.

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Brightly Colored Things: Quick Pickled Beans, Carrots and Cabbage

pickled_cabbageThis recipe for quick pickled veggies finally quieted the urge I’ve had to pickle. I knew I was never going to really pickle, at least not at this point in my life, when the idea of spending a long Sunday afternoon putting up jars of canned produce is laughable. Let’s be clear: I love cooking and being in my kitchen, but if I were to have a long, child free Sunday afternoon presented to me I would not spend it in my kitchen sweating over canning jars.

I would go to a matinee and see Blue Jasmine. Or hop a morning flight up to Seattle and meet friends for a meal here,  a restaurant with reviews that pain me to read because I feel so very far away from Seattle and restaurants like Bar Sajor.

Still,  the desire to open my pantry (or in this case, refrigerator) and see jars filled with brightly colored produce is hard to resist. I knew there was a quicker, easier solution that would give me both the pleasure of pickling and instant gratification. If you find yourself short on time and patience with a craving for the vinegary bite of something pickled, then you will love quick pickling as much as I do.

There are a million recipes for quick pickling out there, most of them pretty much the same. But I found this one on epicurious to have the right balance of tart/sweet/salty/spicy flavor. I’ve changed it only slightly, using coriander seeds instead of dill because that’s what I had on hand, slightly less salt, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes to add some heat. It might take a few batches to find your own perfect blend of spices and salt/sugar ratio. Experiment with different types of vinegar,  too. I used apple cider vinegar, so can only vouch for that, but I’d like to try these with white vinegar and especially with unseasoned rice vinegar.

Open your refrigerator right now and there is something in there you can pickle. Green Beans and carrots are my favorite, followed by red cabbage and cucumbers. I doubled the recipe from epicurious so I had enough to pickle about 1/2 pound of greens beans and another 1/2 pound of peeled carrot sticks, plus half a head of thinly sliced purple cabbage. And one small cucumber.

Just cut the brine ingredients in half if you’re pickling fewer veggies, like a single jar of pickled beans or carrots.

Quick Pickling Brine Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups water
2 cups vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons salt (I used kosher)
2 tablespoons dill seeds or coriander seeds
a generous pinch of red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, cut into quarters

Instructions:

I don’t boil any of my veggies before pouring the brine over them. I like my green beans and carrots to be really crisp. If you’d like, you can drop the beans and carrots into salted, boiling water for 2 minutes, then drop them into a bowl of ice water to quickly cool before pickling them. Boiling the veggies first might make them more likely to soak up flavor? If you try it, let me know.

Arrange your veggies, either raw or parboiled, in whatever container you’re using to pickle.  I combined the beans and carrots in a jar and put the cabbage in a glass dish with a lid. Tupperware works great, too.

Bring the brine ingredients to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour the brine over the veggies. Let cool completely, uncovered. You can do this on your counter or in the refrigerator. When the liquid is cool, cover the containers and refrigerate as long as you can stand before sneaking a bite. I thought the veggies tasted pretty great after a few hours and even better after about 8 hours.

green beans and carrots about to be quick pickled

green beans and carrots about to be quick pickled

I think a jar of pickled beans and carrots would be the perfect appetizer to set out on a hot summer night. Impressive, tasty and easy to make.

Pickled veggies are also a way that I try to sneak more brightly colored veggies into my diet. We all know that our plates and salad bowls should be a rainbow of colors; the more color on your plate, the more nutrients there are. But sometimes I’m just too tired or short on time to cut up those carrots in the fridge or the red pepper on my counter. Salads end up being a bag of pre-washed greens dumped directly into a bowl and dressed quickly with olive oil and lemon. Boring and pathetic, I know, but it’s the truth.

I’m trying to get more brightly colored veggies on O’s plate too, but it’s challenging. Not necessarily because she doesn’t like veggies –  she’s fairly open to trying them and can surprise me by wolfing down a bunch of broccoli or steamed carrots when I least expect it. But she also frequently leaves the veggies on her plate untouched or chews up a mouthful of tomato or red pepper, only to spit it all out. Texture is often the culprit. The skin on bell peppers, chewy brussels sprouts, chalky potatoes and leafy greens are all no go’s.  But the color of veggies is often a big draw. Serve purple potatoes and suddenly O is interested.

Like most kids, she loves color. Why, as adults, do we let black, white and gray creep into our lives and then overwhelm it? And beige. Eckh, beige. I am firmly against beige. But before I had O, my closet was mostly a collection of black or white-shirts and dresses and dark blue jeans. This could not continue after I had a baby, especially a little girl. The bright colors of kid’s clothing are so inspiring. Just take a look at her drawer:

O_clothes

If you’re currently expecting a girl or have a girl under 2 years of age and think that steering her towards green and blue and red and orange will prevent her from loving the stereotypical pinks and purples, good luck with that.  You think your daughter isn’t going to wear hot pink shoes and pants to preschool with a pink and purple dress and insist on only using the pink and purple rubber bands for ponytails? You think she won’t insist on the hot pink plastic table at Ikea instead of the charming wooden red one?

As you give away all those gender-neutral clothes that your toddler daughter now refuses to wear, just remember that pink is a powerful color. I had forgotten that before I had a girl. I have several pink shirts in my own closet now, thank to O. I don’t wince anymore or try to suggest orange or green to her when she tells me 20 times a day that her favorite color is pink.

I love opening her drawers and having nothing but hot pink, dark pink, purple or rainbow-striped pants to choose from. I love opening her closet and seeing a dozen sundresses with obnoxious floral prints. Color is good. Color makes us happy.  And there is nothing that brings an explosion of color into your life like having a child.

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And So it Begins. Again.

Roasted Beet + Greek Yogurt + a dash of Red Wine Vinegar

Roasted Beet + Greek Yogurt

I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to start writing this new blog of mine. A day when O is sleeping or otherwise occupied, the house isn’t a total disaster, work is under control and I feel well rested and inspired. The shopping has been done, the bills paid, the random piles of paperwork dealt with and I have a meal cooked and beautifully photographed to share with you all.On this perfect day I am showered and my legs are shaved and I have even put lotion on my elbows. There isn’t a pile of clean (but wrinkled) laundry setting on top of the dryer and another pile inside the dryer.  Maybe – and this is getting completely crazy now – the yard is even weeded and I have mailed a birthday card to a family member before their birthday has passed. And to repeat, all this is accomplished and I am not draped over the couch, a shell of woman who’s energy and creativity has been completely  drained out of her body.

Why, two and a half years into this whole motherhood gig am I still learning that a moment like this will never, ever present itself?  I should know by now that the only way to find time for something I really want to accomplish is to shove it to the front of  the line,  no matter what. Sometimes this “thing” is a big work project, sometimes it’s starting this blog that I’ve really been wanting to start, sometimes it’s exercise or a phone call to a friend and sometimes it’s as mundane as re-organizing the tupperware drawer. Which you should do, by the way, as I guarantee your irritation level with the world will immediately drop several degrees. Which reminds me of a happier lesson of motherhood: there is so much pleasure in the little things now!

Every time I open that organized drawer of tupperware and can easily find  a lid for every container it’s the equivalent of what I use to feel like after a $75 massage. Last week, O and I went to Huntington Gardens and instead of rushing around trying to enjoy all 120 acres we sat on a bench under a tree not far from the entrance and pretended it was a boat sailing out to an island. We  “fixed” the boat with little twigs that we pretended were our tools.

Crouching in the sun at Huntington Gardens

Crouching in the sun at Huntington Gardens

So much in life is harder now that I have a child, but happiness is in such close reach all the time and so easy to find in such little moments throughout the day that it all evens out. Usually.

So today I finally made time to start this new blog, a continuation of my old blog but with a new look and a new focus. I needed a change, although I wasn’t sure what. And then suddenly I did:  Vegetables. I needed more of them.

We are not vegetarian, not by a long shot, but I want to get more vegetables on my table and in my kid’s lunchbox. Who doesn’t?

I thought I’d start with something simple and pretty. I also thought I’d woo O in with this Beet + Yogurt dip because it’s her favorite color: pink. She was suspicious and didn’t fall for it. But if you invite friends over for a summer dinner, they probably will. The color is really gorgeous. The flavor is mostly of roasted beets, but eating them in this totally new form shocks the taste buds in a good way. It’s the type of dip that everyone’s eyes will immediately be drawn to. I recommend serving it with raw veggies and spicy olives and tasty bread and few other dips – like tapenade, hummus, tzatziki and an oregano and feta spread like this:

Oregano & Feta Spread

This sort of combination of appetizers should always be eaten outdoors with chilled rose or ice-cold beer. No matter what type of day they’ve had, everyone at your table will feel happy and lucky. I promise.

So, cheers! Or, like O says every time we clink glasses, “Happy Birthday!”

Bon Appetit’s Beet Yogurt with Herbs

Ingredients

3 medium red beets (about 1 pound), trimmed on both ends
1 1/2 cups plain 2% fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint plus torn leaves for serving
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon (I didn’t use this, don’t really care for tarragon)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
salt to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450°. Place beets in a small baking dish with a lid and add hot water to come 1/2-inch up sides of the beets. Put a lid on the dish and cook beets until tender, about 1 hour. Remove beets from baking dish, let cool slightly, then rub off skins.

Grate the beets on a cheese grater

Mix beets, yogurt, chopped mint, tarragon and vinegar in a medium bowl; season with salt and more vinegar, if desired. Cover and chill at least 3 hours to let flavors meld.

Top beet yogurt with mint leaves.

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