Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beans'n'shoots make for a great soup!

Finally, it feels like summer out here! The weather over the last couple of weeks has been sheer bliss - warm and sunny, clear skies ... can't help but walk around with a smile :)

So, what else is awesome right now? The bounty that is coming from my veggie patch! Everyday yields a handful of tomatoes, a slew of greens, some squashes, maybe some chard, a motley assortment of herbs, all goodness! And today, as I was puttering around the patch, fighting those damn slugs, Alice Waters came to mind. Funny how I often think of some of my favourite chefs when I'm down and dirty in the veggie patch :)

So, with Alice on my mind, I ended up grabbing a slew of pea vines - I've eaten these in salads at several restaurants, but never cooked them up, so today was going to be a first - *so* exciting! Vodka didn't quite share the excitement - I couldn't quite get him to nosh on a few leaves. He cocked his head with the "You're crazy!" look and ran off to get his ball :)

Chez Panisse Vegetables has a killer recipe for a Pea and Pea Shoot Soup - except I didn't have enough peas to make this :) So, I went with fava beans instead (sadly, frozen, but they tasted pretty good!) and decided to let the soup stay thick and smooth instead of straining it.

[I feel like I'm tainted for life - as much as I absolutely *love* fava beans, I can't think of them without remembering Hannibal Lecter's quote from Silence of the Lambs! *grrrrr* ... and no! I refuse to quote it here :) ]

Fava Beans and Pea Shoots Soup
Green is *good*!

Servings: 2

1/2 large red onion

3 cups shelled fava beans

2 handfuls pea shoots

10-12 leaves of spanish mint

4 cups of water (or 2 cups stock + 2 cups water
1 t olive oil
1 t ghee (clarified butter)

salt for seasoning

freshly ground pepper
grated aged cheddar for garnish

Peel and thinly slice the onion. Heat the olive oil in a pot and saute the onions till translucent.

Add the mint and saute for another minute.
Throw in the fava beans along with 2 cups of water/stock and cook partially covered, on medium, for 6-8 minutes till the beans are cooked.

Set aside a few pea shoots for garnish and toss the rest into the soup. Cook for a few more minutes till the pea shoots are wilted before taking the pot off the heat.

Once the contents have cooled a bit, puree the soup to a relatively smooth consistency - the pea vines may still remain stringy/chopped up, that's totally fine - it actually adds a neat texture to the soup.

Season with salt and a slew of freshly ground pepper!

Heat the ghee in a pan and lightly saute the leftover pea shoots till wilted.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and garnish with the crispy pea shoots and some grated aged cheddar cheese.


We wolfed up this soup with some toasted whole wheat pita bread - an earthy and chewy complement to the fresh, smooth soup. The fava beans lent a creamy, nutty flavour to the soup. And the pea vines made it taste really fresh - all that green goodness!

Ok, so this *has* to go to the current edition of Weekend Herb Blogging (Kalyn's brainchild) - hosted this week by Zorra from Kochtopf - thanks to both of you for starting/hosting this event!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Magical 'shroom soup

Well, hello! Magical 'shroom catch your eye? :)

As tantalizing as that sounds, we're really talking about the soup here. Fabulous tasty mushrooms that made for a magical soup!

So, the mushroom love is stronger than ever around here - even Vodka is on mushrooms now! His holistic vet suggested, no, insisted that he start consuming a medicinal mushroom mix - beefs up the immune system, restores body balance, support natural killer cell activity, all that good stuff. In fact, there are volumes of research about medicinal mushrooms here, here ... and here. I'm sure there are a zillion other sites out there talking about similar stuff.

So, I'll eventually get around to talking more about holistic meds and pooches and immunity and chinese herbs and all that good stuff pretty soon. In the meantime, let's just focus on this simple and delightful mushroom soup :)

Deborah Madison has a yummy Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone - sounded a tad bit heavy, so I decided to rework it a bit. Obviously, the white mushrooms were replaced by criminis - so much richer and earthier, don't you think? And the cream was quickly replaced by some fabulous Quark.

Quark is pretty prevalent in Europe, but is still hard to come by in the U.S. Luckily, for us in the Pacific Northwest, we have Appel Farms in Ferndale, WA - they sell their Quark at PCC. This midly, creamy curd cheese is so flavourful and makes for a fabulous cheesecake [take that as an impending recipe warning! :)] Plus, Vodka is pretty much hooked onto it, what with its high protein content and anecdotal cancer-fighting properties when combined with flax-seed oil [take that an impending pooch-nutrition blog warning!]

Finally, a handful of fresh herbs perfectly complimented the 'shroom flavours and balanced out the earthiness.

'Shroom Soup with Curd Cheese
'Creamy shroomy goodness!

Servings: 4-6

1 lb crimini mushrooms
1 t butter
1 cup chopped leeks
4 garlic cloves - chopped
4 sprigs of lemon thyme - stripped from the stems
1 T flour
1 quart of water (OR water+nonfat milk OR mushroom stock)
1/2-1 cup nonfat Quark cheese
Finely chopped parsley and chives
1 T goat cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix up the goat cheese with the chives and parsley and set aside while the soup is being made. This gives the goat cheese enough time to absorb the flavours of the herbs.

Coarsely chop the lot of mushrooms, after setting a few aside for garnish (if desired).
Melt the butter in a soup pot and lightly sauté the leeks, garlic and thyme in it for a few minutes.
Throw in 1/2 t salt and 1/2 cup of water and cook covered over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

Raise the heat, throw in the chopped mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Now, stir in the flour, add the water (or stock) and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 15-20 minutes.

Coarsely puree the soup, return it to the pot and stir in the Quark cheese. Season with salt and pepper while keeping the soup warm.

If you set aside some mushrooms for garnish, now is a good time to sauté them over high heat in a bit of butter - it should take 4-5 minutes for the mushrooms to get colored and mildly crispy [this is seriously tasty stuff!]

Check for seasoning before serving topped with the herbed goat cheese.


A plain-looking soup that explodes with flavour! I can see this being a great winter warmer when made with cream, but the lighter, thinner version was the perfect warmer for a rainy Seattle evening :)

I'd love to say I grew the mushrooms, but I obviously didn't! But I did get the chives and parsley from my veggie patch! Which means I get to ship this post off to Wiffy of Noob Cook for this round of Grow Your Own [that happy event started by Andrea!]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Borek-ing again!

A few months ago, I waxed on and on about Boreks - those awesome Anatolian stuffed breads that I could potentially live on forever (along with a plethora of fruits and wine and cheese and nuts and ...) :)

I have no idea why it took a few month to try make these boreks again - maybe because we indulge in other bread variants so often? These are pretty damn close to the more traditional indian stuffed naans and parathas, they even seem like distant cousins to the calzone. I poked around more trying to find variants of this bread/stuffing and found that the traditional Turkish borek recipe actually uses phyllo dough! Very different from the street food recipes that Anissa talks about in her books.

Borek Edition I used a simple feta-parsley-broccoli filling - somewhat traditional and quite delightful. This time around, I chose to go with an interesting olio of flavours - a slew of onions and leeks, olives, some tomatoes, cheese ... and nuts! I wandered by the delightful Vios Cafe a while ago and picked up some Kasseri cheese and greek olives. Seriously, their Kasseri is probably the best I've found in the seattle area and definitely more well-priced than Whole Foods or any other specialty store! Yay for local ethnic markets :)

I used the same dough recipe outlined in Borek I, just with a different filling.

Onions'n'Olives Borek
Bread is *good*! Stuffed bread is mo' bettah! :)

Servings: for 4 stuffed boreks


1/4 red onion - chopped
2 cups leek greens - chopped
3 scallions - chopped (along with the stems)
12-15 olives (mix) - pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 tomato - chopped
1 cup kasseri cheese - grated
1 T red pepper flakes
1 t salt
3 T - ground almonds
1 t olive oil

1-2 t olive oil for cooking the boreks

Saute the onions, scallions and leeks in the olive oil till lightly browned.
Mix these with the rest of the ingredients and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes.

How to work it

Flour the work surface and a rolling pin.
Take a ball of dough and roll it out as thinly as possible, flouring it all the time till a 12" diameter circle is formed.
Sprinkle a handful of the filling over the lower half of the dough.
Fold the plain side of the dough over the filling to make a half circle.

Heat a nonstick griddle over medium heat.
Place the filled dough on the hot griddle and cook for a couple of minutes on one side.
Brush the dough lightly with olive oil.
Flip the pastry over, brush with oil and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes. Both side should end up crispy and somewhat golden.


About the same opinion as last time - these KICK ASS! They're so easy to make too! Kasseri rules. Adding the ground almonds lend a great consistency to the filling - that's a real winner. And the generous helping of red pepper flakes totally kicked up the heat - love it!

I think Borek III will be happening pretty soon, these things are addictive :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

That long overdue bread pudding!

This is turning out to be a relatively quiet morning ... well, except for the fact that Vodka has played nonstop for an hour and is now demanding food - whining, grovelling, even rubbing his nose against his food bin! But this is the time to be that unyielding dog-momma. He has an appointment in a few hours with the oncologist - and yes, it means he needs to show up on an empty stomach. And yes, that means sheer hell for me trying to keep him distracted.

How on earth do you distract a labrador retriever from food, anyway???

So, what could be a better idea than a blog post for distracting myself from distracting him from food, huh? :)

This is a seriously long overdue post - a few weeks ago, I blogged about this awesome mango yogurt ice that we ended up serving with a quick'n'easy bread pudding - and it totally kicked ass. Well, it is finally time to talk about that bread pudding! The mango yogurt ice was truly refreshing and incredibly flavourful, but it definitely needed some substance to go with it, something a bit dense, chewy, moist. And it seemed like a bread pudding was the most obvious answer.

I've always served my bread pudding with a decadent whiskey sauce, but this time was going to be a little different. I wanted to skip using any cream this time around, opting for indian flavours instead. That's how the cardamom ended up being the primary flavour in the bread along with a honey-based sauce. There really was little need to add a super creamy, rich flavour since we were gunning for a light summery dessert anyway.

Cardamom-Honey Bread Pudding
Replete with flavours and aromas of India!

Servings: 4-6 (or maybe just 1?!!)

6 thick slices of crusty, stale french bread
1 t freshly ground cardamom powder
3 T honey (this was from the Ballard Farmers' Market - among the best I've ever tasted!)
1 t vanilla
2 cups nonfat milk
1 egg or 1/4 cup of egg substitute
1/4 t grated nutmeg
a pinch of salt

Shred the bread into 1" cubes and arrange these pieces, tightly packed into a baking dish (preferably glass). The dish I used was a 6"x6" glass pan, about 2" tall.
[Most recipes call for just packing the slices tightly into the dish, but I prefer to shred the bread into cubes before packing them in - this seems to let the bread take in a lot more of the flavours. Plus you end up with many more crispy ends - Yum!]

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, milk, cardamom, vanilla and nutmeg till well-blended. Now, add the honey and whisk some more till the liquid is frothy.
Pour the liquid over the bread and let it stand for about 1 hour, pressing the top every 10-15 minutes with a spatula (this ensures that the top doesn't dry out).

Bake the pudding for 50 minutes or till the top is puffy and browned. Let it cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes before cutting up.

We skipped the traditional whiskey sauce and served it with somewhat-melty mango yogurt ice.

Deeeeee-liiisshhh! This was so damn good! And so easy to throw together. Mango seriously kicks ass. And it totally danced with the cardamom/nutmeg flavours.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Holding a good thought for Vodka ... plus some Cherry Compote

It truly feels like life has come to a standstill.

So much so that I don't expect even blogging to give me any respite. Vodka was diagnosed with mast cell tumors (yes, again!) early last week. He was diagnosed with one of these last year, but it was successfully removed. And it seemed like that was the end of story. A happy ending. But the tumors are back. And there are several small lumps. As well as a large one that has probably penetrated his lymph gland. The next week is going to be filled with visits to various doctors - the oncologist, a holistic vet, a nutritionist ... Basically whatever it takes to try making the kid healthy again.

We're all trying to hold positive thoughts. And right now, the cute monkee deserves every happy wish he can get, so gather all that goodwill and send it his way, please? :)

I'll keep posting about how things go, especially all my learnings about animal nutrition - I've amassed more knowledge in a week than I knew in 9 years. And I'm hoping some of this can be put to good use - hopefully Vodka can be nursed back to health, even if all those tumors can't be eliminated, we're hoping his body will learn to live with them and control them instead of the other way around. And hopefully, all that we learn in the course of his treatment will help other pooch parents out there - in terms of diet-related treatment and preventive options.

That said, here's a pic to bring a smile to anyone's face. Aunt Nupur and Dale sent Vokkee these awesome rawhide chews a few months ago. And he totally revelled in noshing them :)


And, maybe, now that I started writing, I'll even post a recipe to keep the theme of this blog going :)

The last couple of weeks have been insanely hot and even humid here in the Pacific Northwest. So much so that I've been craving icecream even more than ever! It was time to hit an eastside favourite - Thenos Dairy - that serves Vivian's Icecream. Not only do all their flavours kick some serious butt, they have this insanely awesome cantaloupe icecream! It is a seasonal favourite and sells out in no time at all. So, if you're in the 'hood, I would strongly recommend that you hit this icecream joint on SR-202 - trust me, you won't regret it! Weeeeellllllll ... you might regret the waistline, but not the gastronomic pleasure :)

A recent trip to the farmers' market resulted in a bounty of cherries - well, it was one of the last crops of Sweethearts, so that's my excuse for the cherry overload :)

A hot evening + mountains of cherries + maple icecream = a super decadent dessert :)

Poking around that insanely overused Ultimate Desserts book revealed a recipe for a cherry compote. The original recipe called for orange rind and almond extract. I went with a more summerly flavour by using orange blossom water instead. And tossed in a handful of sliced almonds for a good, nutty measure :)

Nutty Cherry Compote
Top that melty icecream or eat it straight! :)

Servings: 6 (if served as a topping)

1/2 cup of dry red wine
1/4 cup succanat (I used this instead of brown sugar)
1 T orange blossom water
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1-1.5 lbs Sweetheart cherries (am sure other varietals would work well too)
Several dollops of Vivian's super awesome maple icecream :)

Remove the pitts from the cherries - I didn't bother to preserve the full cherries and just chopped them up into halves while removing the pits :)

Combine all the ingredients EXCEPT the cherries, almonds and icecream in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water.
Stir over medium heat till the succanat completely dissolves.
Turn up the heat and boil the liquid till it becomes somewhat thicker and syrupy.

Now throw in the cherries and bring back to boil.
Reduce the heat a bit and simmer for about 10 minutes.
You might end up with some foam, which you can easily skim off the surface.

Serving suggestions:

* Once cooled to lukewarm, spoon over a dollop of icecream.

* On a hot, humid day, chill the compote and serve it over some yummy icecream or with whipped cream :)


Serious cherry heaven. Next time around, I want to try this with a liqueur like Sambuca or Mangalore instead - am sure that's going to be pretty awesome too!

This goes to Sunshine Mom of Tongue Ticklers for her Food In Colour event. The theme for August is Red.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mouthful o' muffin!


They stain my fingers red. And my teeth. And often, my face is covered in streaks of red as I desperately stuff my face.

And yes, they make me happy. Very happy. They make Vodka super happy too - he can lick all the raspberry juice off my face. *so* much of fun, eh? :)

Today was definitely a raspberry day. I probably ate a couple of those baskets from the farmers' market. The berry appetite was sated, but I still wanted to do something with the rest of them. And I've been trying to come up with several lowfat variants of muffins anyway, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a recipe out. Besides, nothing like a load of juicy berries to make up for any shortcomings in my "lowfattitude". Hey, can I trademark that word?

So, in the spirit of some fabulous lowfattitude, I skipped the eggs, used some fatfree cottage cheese to lend some creaminess to the muffins and added a bit of cinnamon for extra flavour.

If you're using frozen berries instead of fresh ones, thaw and drain them before tossing them into the batter.

Rasberry Cottage Cheese Muffins
Stuffin'. A muffin. Into my mouth :)

Servings: 12 regular sized muffins

2 cups white whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur's organic flour - seriously kicks ass!)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup cottage cheese (fat free)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup nonfat milk
2 T butter
1 T Earth Balance (whipped spread)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1-2 cups raspberries
2 t vanilla soy sorbet (lowfat)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tray with paper cups.

Cream the butter, whipped spread and sugar in a bowl till well blended and smooth.
Add the cottage cheese and buttermilk and mix a bit more.
Stir in the cinnamon along with the vanilla sorbet and beat for 2-3 minutes till thick and creamy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Mix the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mix, about 1/2 cup at a time.

Once the ingredients are well blended, stir in the raspberries, trying not to break them too much. They will probably break up, but it is pretty heavenly to bit into a piece of raspberry in a muffin, so try to keep that option alive as much as you can :)

Spoon the batter into the lined muffin tray and smoothen the surfaces. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 F.

Stick a toothpick into the muffins to make sure they're baked before taking them out of the oven. Once removed, let them cool in the tray for 10 minutes before removing the muffins and setting them on a cooling rack. Once they're at room temperature, stick them into an airtight container. Or eat them up :)


Chewy - yummy wheat flour - earthy and delicious!
Moist - raspberries and cottage cheese worked wonders.
Juicy - courtesy of the raspberries - *so* good!

As someone says ... "Yom!" :)


Happy Vodka loves those berries! :)

[Photo Courtesy: Stephanie & Shawn of Dog-E-Central]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008






"Little ears"


I'm definitely going to nail that before we go to Italy :) Until then, guess I'll just go with 'Li'l Ears'!

So, this is another recipe from the backlog - I made this several weeks ago as a quick fix for dinner. I'd only cooked li'l ears a couple of times before and was pleasantly surprised by how easily the pasta picked up flavours and yet didn't get gooey. Guess they're pretty thick ears! :)

The highlight of this recipe was the garlic chives from the veggie patch - they lent a fabulously fresh flavour and aroma to the dish. Garlic rocks! So do chives. So together, they can only kick ass, right? A coarse pesto of sort with these chives, some parsley and pine nuts lent a gamut of flavours. And the cauliflower ... seriously, I'm falling in love with it all over again. The cauliflower picked up all the flavours and still stayed a bit crunchy - guess this was one of those few times when I lucked out and blanched the cauliflower *just* enough!

Li'l Ears and Cauliflower with Chives-Parsley Pesto
Eat a ear or 3, please?

Servings: 3-4 moderate servings or 2 super-hungry servings

4 cups of cooked orecchiette
(I honestly don't remember how long these have to be cooked, all I recall is that I used this fabulously chewy tri-colour orecchiette from Whole Foods - tomato, spinach and no-flavour)

1 T olive oil
a generous handful of garlic chives
another generous handful of italian parsley
2 serrano peppers
15-20 pine nuts
(you could substitute with walnuts here)
1 t sea salt

1 t olive oil
8-10 sundried tomatoes - chopped
(if these are the dry variety, soak them in warm water for 5-10 minutes before chopping them up)
3 scallions with the stalks - chopped
1/2 head of a medium cauliflower - cut into large florets

Heat a pot of water with a T of salt to a roiling boil. Place the cauliflower florets in the hot water, cover and boil till tender (but not mushy) for about 7-9 minutes.
[ Another option here is to just steam the cauliflower - you can place the florets on a steaming rack in a pan over boiling water, cover tightly and steam for 7-10 minutes]

Use a pestle to create a coarse, chunky paste of the pine nuts (or walnuts), parsley and chives, serrano peppers and salt (you could just grind them up instead). Stream in the olive oil slowly and continue crushing the pesto till the oil is soaked in.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the scallions lightly.
Stir in the pesto along with the sun-dried tomatoes and saute for a couple of minutes.
Now throw in the cauliflower and the pasta and stir for a couple more minutes.

Season with salt, maybe garnish with more chives? Or even throw some freshly grated parmesan on top?


Happy, tasty, easy-fix pasta. And replete with home-grown herbs. Yum!

Off this goes to Jessica of Finny Knits who is hosting this round of Grow Your Own (started by Andrea).

Ooo ... this is a bonus! I can even send this to Michelle at Greedy Gourmet for this week's edition of Presto Pasta Nights (that popular pasta event started by Ruth (Once Upon a Feast) :)