Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grilled Vegetable Tacos

A visit to a Farmers' Market is entertainment, a photo op, a dining event as well as a food shopping excursion. (link and link) One recent Saturday trip to the University District Farmers' Market was memorable for good company and my shopping bag filled with beautifully ripe peaches, artisan breads, interesting cheeses and one head of a vegetable oddity, romanesco. H and I strolled the aisles twice, chatting with a few vendors and sampling an item or two as we selected our treasures. How funny that a cheese seller didn't know the origin of the name "Pluvius" for one of his products and I did - Pluvius is/well, was a small town in Pacific County, SW Washington state. Not familiar? well, maybe you know nearby Pe Ell, or maybe not. Name familiarity aside, I didn't care much for the cheese; a bit too salty. 

The big find of the day was waiting for us in the Market Bites area, a location for the prepared-food vendors. While we didn't love the ginger lemonade, oh! my! goodness! the grilled vegetable tacos were over-the-top delicious. Bite-sized pieces of mixed vegetables were piled on a lightly-oiled hot grill, dusted with cumin and chili powder and quickly seared. Large flour tortillas were quickly warmed on one side, filled with grilled vegetables and a scattering of cheese, folded and crisped on the same grill. Served with a wedge of lime, these treats had us rolling our eyes in delight, so busy enjoying the taco that we didn't pause to talk.

Guess what I made for lunch on Sunday? Grilled Vegetable Tacos, of course, but prepared inside on my stove-top grill. Vegie tacos are a new must-have favorite for lunch or dinner. Maybe add some eggs and enjoy them at breakfast. Change up the vegetables, add mushrooms or cowboy beans or even some crumbled chorizo or bacon. Whatever, just get grilling. 

Grilled Vegetable Tacos

Fresh vegetables are essential, though frozen corn could substitute for fresh. I recommend the following, cut into bite-sized pieces:
1 small zucchini
1 poblano chile
1 ear corn
3-4 large leaves of curly kale
3-4 scallions (or 1/4 cup sweet onion slivers)
a handful of small multi-colored peppers ( or 1 whole sweet red pepper)

2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon each of ancho chile powder and chipotle chile powder OR substitute your favorite grocery store chile powder

6-inch flour or corn tortillas
a handful of cilantro, chopped
1 cup of shredded cheese (pepperjack, cheddar, or your favorite)
lime wedges
  1. Use a spray, or paper towel and a bit of oil, to lightly oil your grill (or griddle, wok or extra large fry pan) and preheat over medium to medium-high heat.
  2. Place the vegetable pieces in a large bowl; add the oil and spices; toss to coat well.
  3. Plop the seasoned vegetables onto the grill and cook until warmed and softened, but not browned or crispy. Move the cooked vegies to the cooler end of the grill.
  4. Place tortillas on the grill to warm one side but not brown; then turn over. Sprinkle cilantro and cheese shreds on half of a tortilla, mound grilled vegetables on top and fold over the top pressing down lightly to hold it together. 
  5. When the first side is lightly browned, carefully turn over to brown the second side. Remove to a platter and hold in a warm oven.
  6. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.
  7. Cut each folded, filled tortilla in half for easier handling, or leave whole. Serve with lime wedges and salsa, and offer some sour cream and sliced radishes or avocado if you like. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Romanesco Regrets

This strange, other-worldly looking vegetable caught my eye at the University Farmers Market this month. Spiky green whorls on a cone-shaped head of broccoli-green cauliflower-looking something. What was that strange vegetable? Romanesco.

While it's all the rage recently on foodie sites (link and link), romanesco is truly an ancient plant, an edible flower of the Brassica family, first documented in Italy in the 16th century. If you're a mathematician, you have no doubt noticed the Fibonacci spirals, the fractal patterning... or maybe not. For all of its visual oddities, romanesco behaves like a more ordinary cauliflower when cooked. I tried SO hard to love it, but ultimately failed. I separated the whorls, tossed them with olive oil, dusted them with cumin and curry, roasted them in a hot oven and sprinkled parmesan shreds on top - bleh. It was still cauliflower, attractive but still cauliflower. Thus ended my first and last encounter with romanesco. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mexican Mac and Cheese

I couldn't help myself, didn't even try to resist the impulse. I just raced headlong into macaroni and cheese production, ready to enjoy several versions of that savory dish. Everyone makes some version of mac 'n cheese, right? You start with short tube pasta, make a white sauce, add cheese, toss in some seasonings etc. and bake. It's the choice of cheeses and "seasonings etc." that make the difference. Oh what a difference!

Mom's traditional recipe called for Velveeta, and while I loved it as a child, I'm over it. Seattle's Blue Onion Bistro (now defunct) featured a tangy blue cheese version (link) that was interesting once, but never my absolute favorite. Martha Stewart's recipe (link) is terrific and has a posse of followers, while other crowds favor Ina Garten's (link) or a host of others. I like change and tend to experiment with a variety of cheeses and add-ins, whatever sounds interesting at the moment. Seafood mac 'n cheese? why not? Greek mac 'n cheese with merguez sausage? yum. Southwest or Mexi mac 'n cheese? yes, please.

What prompted this particular carb-cooking spree? I'm not sure there was one specific reason, but it might have been due to...

  • Seattle's recent dry spell, a 49-day near-record run, that ended with a few days of cool, wet and windy weather. Okay, okay,  only .01 inch of rain was recorded, but it was cool and windy weather and perfect for comfort food.
  •  RL, who doesn't do mac 'n cheese, was still out of town; that meant I could cook whatever I liked, guilt free, with no funny comments to listen to.
  • Poblano peppers really needed to be used or they would grow wrinkly and wither away. Not a good excuse? It worked for me. 
Restraint finally kicked in and I made a few small casseroles, two servings worth each, so willpower shouldn't be an issue. They will reheat easily and can be frozen, both bonus features when preparing comfort food. 

Plain Mac 'n Cheese is a tasty dish, and pepping it up with some heat takes it over the top in deliciousness. Who can resist pasta, chorizo, onions and hot peppers smothered in a spicy cheese sauce and topped with buttered bread crumbs. Not me. Full disclosure: I ate two helpings at lunch and settled for a small green salad for dinner - it was worth it! And now I need to swim a gazillion laps to work off some of that comfort. Sigh.

Southwest Pasta (aka Mexi Mac 'n Cheese)

2 cups cavatappi pasta (or elbows, penne or another short, hollow shape)
4 oz Mexican chorizo sausage (or use 1 tsp chipotle chili powder and 1 tsp smoky Spanish paprika)
1 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 cup frozen Mexicorn (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
1 rounded tablespoon flour
2 cups milk (I use 1%, but a bit more cream add extra richness)
1 cup pepperjack cheese, chunks or shreds
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, chunks or shreds
salt and pepper to taste
several dashes of hot sauce (green tabasco, CajunSunshine, etc)
1/4 cup panko or fresh, buttered breadcrumbs


  1. Preheat the oven to 35o degrees F.
  2. Cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. Use a small sauté pan to cook the chorizo over medium heat until it releases its spicy oil; you want it cooked but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  4. Saute the vegetables in the same pan until soft but not browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the flour begins to color. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly to avoid clumping, and cook until the sauce smooths and begins to thicken. Add the cheese, a few handfuls at a time, and stir to blend. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.
  6. Add the pasta, chorizo and cooked vegetables to the sauce; mix gently with a spatula to coat. Pour into a buttered small casserole dish and pat down gently but firmly. Sprinkle panko or breadcrumbs over the top; bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese bubbles and the topping browns.
  7. Remove from the oven and let the dish sit on a rack for 5 minutes to firm up the sauce a bit. Dish up a generous helping and enjoy... a bit of heaven on a plate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sweet Breakfast Strata

aka Bread Pudding, Baked French Toast Bits, Breakfast Custard Casserole, ...

If ever there was a way to guarantee a smiling start to a morning, this might be it. It worked for us on Monday. Some sort of culinary magic occurred in the oven when a few ordinary ingredients were transformed into decadent morsels of sheer delight. Magic? how else could the last few slices of French bread, a few eggs, some vanilla with cinnamon and sugar plus a handful of cranberries turn into something SO INCREDIBLY TASTY?! Do I sound enthusiastic? Oh yes, this is the new alternative to my usual fruit, yogurt and granola breakfast.

RL reported he much preferred this dish to a typical French toast, in fact "...don't bother making the regular kind again." I was captivated by the contrast between a crunchy crust and the creamy, custardy center. Sweet but not too sweet, the flavor pleased both of us, though a drizzle of warm maple syrup was a welcome addition. 

Photo: Note the crunchy browned crust... yum!
The word strata implies layers of some sort, and that works well when you have a lengthier list of ingredients added to the bread cubes. I took license with the idea and tossed everything together in a mixing bowl, ignoring the whole layering thing. It worked just fine. This strata comes together quickly, and that's a bonus on any morning. Better yet, the dish actually benefits from being prepared the night before and baked the next morning. Add cooked sausage or bacon and some savory elements, substitute other flavorings for the vanilla and leave out the sugar and presto! you have a savory strata. This is a dish that invites experimentation.  


    *Try using a wider, flatter dish or even muffin tins to increase the ratio of crunchy to creamy.
    *It's important to use bread that is several days old and a bit dried out, or to lightly toast the cubes before adding the egg mixture.
    *Let the prepared dish sit a bit (or even overnight) before baking to allow the bread to soak up the flavored liquid, and rest a few minutes after baking to firm up any loose custard.

Sweet Breakfast Strata
Serves 2

2 cups small bread cubes, day old, or I suppose even stuffing mix works
     (I used sliced French bread, left from dinner last night)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used orange-flavored cranberries)
butter to grease the baking dish

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F .
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 4-cup baking dish with butter.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings until well blended and frothy. Add the bread cubes and gently mix with a rubber spatula until all sides of the bread cubes are coated. Add the cranberries; toss to mix.
  4. Turn the mixture into the buttered baking dish, pressing down firmly with the rubber spatula (but don't smoosh it out too flat!).
  5. Rest for 20-30 minutes so the bread absorbs much of the liquid, then bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 30 minutes or so, until the top is golden brown and crunchy.
  6. Remove from the oven and let the dish sit for 5 minutes to firm up the custard. 
  7. Serve plain, or accompanied by heated syrup or a scoop of honey-flavored yogurt. (Certain unnamed relatives would say it requires a scoop or two of ice cream alongside.)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Almond Cookies

Almost Awesome Amaretti

Memory fails me at times, little details disappear, and it's a bit annoying. Why did I buy a package of almond flour/almond meal, was it some new recipe that appeared tempting? I wonder what it was... or when it was... and why didn't I follow through? At least I know the package came aboard in 2012, since I write the purchase date on everything I stock on the boat. 

That small, puzzling package came in handy yesterday when we had dinner guests. RL manned the BBQ for his famous barbecued salmon (link), I prepared sides of Mixed Pepper Salad and Potato Salad, and toasted some garlic cheese baguettes. The menu was hearty so I knew dessert should be light, perhaps grilled fruit or sorbet and cookies. We filled our plates at the buffet and, as predicted, no one had much room for dessert. Skip the grilled peaches, pass on the sorbet, but oh my, watch the pile of chewy little cookies quickly disappear. 

Yesterday the cookies were crisp on the outside with chewy interiors, reminiscent of a coconut macaroon without the coconut. Today we nibbled away on the remaining half dozen and found them crunchy throughout... the verdict? delicious either way.   

For the next batch I'd process the batter longer, aiming for a smoother texture. Grinding the sugar finer might help too, if I don't purchase special Baker's sugar as suggested in the original recipe. My food processor struggled to incorporate the last 2 egg whites and create a smooth batter before the dough clumped into a lumpy dough ball. I'll use the stand mixer if I bake these at home. (In a perfect world there would be room for the KitchenAid in a boat galley!)

The basic amaretti recipe invites playing with flavors, like substituting lemon or lavender for the vanilla, something to complement the heavy almond lusciousness. Another day perhaps, since I have some almond flour left to work with. 

Almond Cookies
base recipe found online at 
Yield: 2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups almond flour or almond meal
1 1/4 cups Baker's superfine sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp)
1 tsp almond extract (didn't have any, so substituted 1/2 tsp lemon oil and 1 tsp ground lemon zest)
Extra sugar to sprinkle on top
  1. Preheat the oven to 300: don't skip this step since these cookies come together quickly. Use silpats or line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Use a food processor to thoroughly blend the almond flour and Baker's sugar. (If you don't have Baker's sugar, substitute regular granulated and grind it fine in a blender or food processor before adding the almond flour.)
  3. Add the vanilla and almond extract; pulse several times to mix.
  4. Add the egg whites, one at a time, with the processor running. Keep mixing until the dough is smooth. (I wonder if using extra large eggs might help in this step?) 3/14/2013 No, it will just give you flat cookies that fail to puff up!
  5. Place small teaspoons of the dough on the covered baking sheet, an inch or so apart. The dough will not spread, so spacing isn't critical.
  6. Dust the tops with sugar, add slivered almonds or chocolate bits or disks if desired. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Store in a cool, dry location. The cookies will crisp up as they sit longer in storage.
Update Note March 14, 2013
I tried a batch today using egg whites from a carton. The package suggested 3 tablespoons of egg white as the equivalent of 1 extra large egg. The 9 tablespoons of egg white were w-a-y too much liquid and produced flat cookies. I'll use a 2 tablespoon equivalent next time IF I use egg whites from a carton.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vegetable Frittata

Eggs are so much more than a breakfast dish. They are a long-time, reliable friend in my galley, a versatile ingredient with almost limitless possibilities. Remember the platters of deviled eggs served as appetizers at oh so many cocktail parties in the '60s?  or James Beard's egg foo yung pancake recipe from the '70s? or the cute little mini muffins or quiche squares with artichokes, spinach or canned green peppers that appeared at every appetizer buffet in the '80s? Somewhere along the way crustless quiche and puffy omelets took over breakfast, brunch and late-supper offerings and became my go-to favorites for a dish in a hurry. Add a green salad and you had a complete meal... 

(Sound the trumpets, hit the drums) ... and then I found frittatas. They are delicious, take little time and no work to prepare, and are equally tasty warm or cooled, with or without accompanying sauces or salsa. What's the difference between omelets and frittatas you ask? French omelets are cooked in a pan and then folded or rolled around fillings, but Italian frittatas begin with a mixture of cooked fillings and raw eggs which set up in a pan and are finished under a hot broiler or by flipping and finishing the uncooked side in the pan on the stovetop. Sources disagree on the authenticity of a broiler vs a pan finish for the second side (link and link), but I find frittatas work well either way. 

Hilary and I prepared frittatas both ways this week. She preferred a flipped pasta frittata, warm for lunch on day one when we cooked and cold for a quick supper snack later on. I'm especially fond of the puffier, broiler-finished frittata, especially on mornings when flipping seems too daunting a challenge for a sleepy cook. (Don't ask.)

Frittata ingredients vary every time I prepare one, sometimes using pre-roasted vegetables and meats, other times beginning with fresh produce and/or meats. Change the herbs and spices to complement the other ingredients and you will marvel at the versatility of this simple dish. This week's Southwestern creation featured sweet peppers, poblano pepper, Mexican chorizo sausage and onions with fresh cilantro and mixed cheeses. OK, I mixed cultures because it  certainly wasn't Italian, but it was delicious.

The recipe below is for a vegetable frittata, a base recipe to adapt and adjust to fit available ingredients and your own preferences. Change it up with different vegetables, add some braised greens or chopped or slivered meat, omit the cheese or substitute a different one, try it with Italian herbs or Indian spices. Slice after slice, it's a winner. 

Vegetable Frittata
serves 3-4

3 large eggs (use 4 for a 10-inch fry pan)
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
2 cups vegetables, chopped or sliced to bite size (onions, peppers, broccoli, kale asparagus, etc)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mixed dried Italian herbs or sliced fresh basil or Italian parsley
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Parmesan, jack, cheddar, or your favorite)
  1. Crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl, add the water and whisk well. Set aside.
  2. In an 8 or 10 inch ovenproof nonstick skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, but not brown. Add the other vegetables and cook for a few more minutes to soften - you don't want to fry anything crispy, just soften them up a bit.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and your choice of herbs. Stir briefly to incorporate.
  4. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the vegetables, using a fork to move them around as necessary for even distribution.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let cook until the egg mixture begins to set around the edges. Gently push away from the edge and tilt the pan to let the uncooked flow into the gap. Repeat around the other sections of edge. 
  6. When the edges are set and the middle is still somewhat liquid, sprinkle the top with the cheese.
  7. Place the skillet in a preheated broiler, about 2-4 inches below the heat, and cook until the top is set and begins to brown, usually just a minute or two. Don't overcook the eggs or the frittata will become leathery and tough.
  8. Cut into 6 to 8 wedges and serve. Offer toppings of sour cream, salsa, sliced tomato or avocado, etc. if desired.

Updated: 9 Sept 2012
Talk about timely! Punchfork posted a page today with links to 270+ frittata recipes. Check out these variations, with photos, for frittata inspiration at

Updated: 22 June 2013
Pinterest acquired Punchfork, and the previous link no longer works. Use the following link for frittata photos and recipes:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fattoush Salad

Greek salad? no, it's my version of Fattoush. 

Photo: Fattoush salad with a dollop of hummus and extra pita chips
We typically eat a lot of salads whenever we're in town during late summer and autumn months, reveling in the luscious flavors of seasonal, local tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. Meal after meal we enjoy Greek salad, panzanella (bread salad), caprese salad, roasted pepper salad... oh, the list goes on!  But lately I can't get enough of a Middle Eastern salad, fattoush. This dish, resembling a loaded Greek salad with seasoned and toasted pita chunks, features the sour tang of a sumac-based seasoning za'atar. If you haven't encountered za'atar or sumac before, you owe yourself a taste sampling.

Sumac is the main ingredient in the spice blend zatar, or za'atar. (link) As you can see from the labels, I buy my sumac from Penzeys Spices. They have an online store and a widespread network of brick-and-mortar retail stores. Penzey's Seattle store has been open for over a year, but it seems easier for me to order online and not have to battle downtown traffic and the related parking challenge. Following many months afloat each year I tend to postpone the re-entry experience of busy city traffic for as long as possible. Steep hills, one-way streets, traffic cameras, crowds of pedestrians that dart about everywhere outside of crosswalks - stop! back to the food.

I no longer buy the za'atar separately but order larger quantities of ground sumac and mix up my own blend. There are any number of recipes available online, try a Google search and check it out. It's fun to tweak each new batch a little, adjusting ingredients or proportions to change up the flavor. How do you use this blend? RL loves za'atar-seasoned pita chips to use as handy hummus scoops. 

Za'atar also works well as a dry rub, adding its distinctive sour tang to roasted chicken or lamb. Use it to flavor lamburgers or meatloaf, even roasted vegetables. Just don't forget to try za'atar in this delicious fattoush salad.


For the Salad:
1 head romaine, cut or torn into bite-sized strips
red onion, sliced into thin half-moons (&/or green onion rings)
ripe tomatoes of any size, beefsteak to grape tomatoes, chunked
seedless cucumber, bite-sized chunks
fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, torn
mint, cilantro, basil, oregano leaves (optional)
pita bread pieces, sprinkled with za'atar, toasted, 
Kalamata olives, seeded and halved (topping)
Feta cheese in chunks or crumbles (topping)

For the Dressing:
Use a 3:1 ratio of olive oil and red wine vinegar (or vinegar and lemon juice blend). 
Add salt, freshly ground pepper and za'atar to taste (start with a scant teaspoon of za'atar and adjust as desired). 

To Prepare:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Assembling on a baking sheet, sprinkle the rough sides of split pita breads lightly with za'atar; bake until dry but not browned, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool and cut or break apart into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Use a small bowl and whisk together the dressing ingredients, adjusting seasonings to taste.
  3. Use a large salad bowl or platter to combine the salad vegetables and fresh herbs. Add a small amount of the dressing and toss to coat. Add the romaine and a bit more dressing and toss to coat lightly. Just before serving add the pita pieces and more dressing, as rquired. You don't want soggy bread, but the pita should carry some vinaigrette.
  4. Top with the kalamata olives and feta cheese, sprinkle a little more za'atar over all and enjoy.

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