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Adventures in early literacy

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Golden Baskets

These are nothing short of amazing.  Sweet and spicy little Thai appetizers, or a main course, from Steven Raichlen.

16 small muffin tins, 1 1/2 to 2 inches across (we used a regular-sized muffin sheet, and while the cups disappeared inside of them, it otherwise worked fine)
Asian sesame oil or spray oil
16 3 to 4-inch Chinese gyoza wrappers

For filling:
12 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots (green onions), minced (about 3 or 4 Tbs worth)
1 Tbs minced fresh ginger (I eyeballed the ground stuff)
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 tsp curry powder
2 Tbs packed light-brown sugar, or to taste
2 Tbs fish sauce or soy sauce, or to taste

For garnish:
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced finely as possible
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, minced
cilantro sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 375.  Brush the muffin tins with sesame oil, or spray, and press wrappers into each.  Trim off excess dough if you have it.  Bake until the shells are browned and crisp, ten to fifteen minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Trim fat from chicken and mince (this was an exciting opportunity to use the huge cleaver we received for Christmas.)  Heat canola oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.  Add garlic, shallots, ginger, chilies, curry powder and cook, stirring continuously, until lightly browned, about three minutes.

Add the chicken and saute until cooked through, another five minutes, crumbling with a wooden spoon.  Add the sugar and fish sauce and cook another minute.  Taste and add either more sugar or sauce – the mixture should be salty, sweet, and spicy.

Place about a tablespoon of filling in each shell, garnish with cucumber, pepper and cilantro – serve hot.


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Cheesy Smoked Iowa Chops w/ Honey-Ginger Marinade

This recipe is from Paul Kirk, the “Baron of BBQ.”  This was our first time ever having pork chops that were smoked, and the result was to-die-for.  Explosive smoke flavor, outrageously moist – you’ll want to have them again and again.

Note:  Recipe for 6 servings.  Adjust accordingly.

For the marinade:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup clover honey
2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, pressed

6 Iowa chops (we used 1 1/2″ thick boneless chops from the meat counter)
2 tsps peeled grated fresh ginger
6 slices Monterey Jack cheese
6 slices sharp cheddar cheese

Meat fresh from the butcher is the way to go.

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Put the chops into a large Pyrex dish or a Zip-Lock, cover with marinade, turn to coat, and let sit 2-3 hours or over night, turning occassionally.

Note:  I didn’t have apple juice, so I just used apple cider vinegar, in a smaller quantity.  Seemed fine.

Chops and marinade, ready to go.

When you’re ready to cook, a few things happen at once.  First, prepare an indirect fire in the grill (I used a smoker box, but a charcoal grill set up for indirect would be fine, or just light one side of a gas grill.)

Preparing charcoal fire for smoker.

Second, remove the chops from the marinade.  Then transfer the marinade to a sauce pan and bring to a boil over med-high heat, simmer five minutes, then set aside.

Note:  the smoke flavor is a personal preference thing.  I used soaked wood chips, a mixture of 70/30 apple and hickory, adding more as necessary throughout.

Place the chops in the barbecue, cover, and smoke at 230-250 degrees for thirty to forty-five minutes, brushing frequently with reserved marinade (I found my temperatures dropped too quickly if I brushed any more than once every ten minutes, but I have kind of a tempermental [cheap] barbecue.)

Have a good heat monitor.

The aroma is sure to make neighbors envious.

After thirty to forty-five minutes, turn and continue to smoke, brushing with marinade (I used a new brush at this point, but that’s me) until no longer pink in the middle, another half hour or so, depending on your temperatures (they’ll be pink on the edge from the smoke, so use an instant-read thermometer if you’re unsure.) 

When the chops are done, sprinkle them with grated ginger, and place a slice of Monterey and cheddar on each, cover and smoke until the cheese has melted, about two minutes.  Serve immediately, and enjoy.

Isn't that one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen?

Perfect smoke ring on the outer edge.



Mother’s Day, Charbroiled Burgers and the best Chocolate Chip Cookies

There was no post last week because for Mother’s Day my Mom and I met up in Seattle for a girl’s day out. Something we haven’t done for a long time. We spent Sunday in Seattle Center and in the Queen Anne area shopping (the Marketplace there is awesome and has really nummy gelato) and eating. We checked out Easy Street Records, my new favorite store, and picked up several great CD’s to jam with on the drive home. If you love music and haven’t been to this place you have to go. Before we shopped we ate lunch at Racha Noodles and Thai Cuisine. Probably the best Thai I have ever eaten. I had Pud Thai and Mom had the Racha Special dish with spinach, wide noodles and chicken breast, all topped with peanut sauce (her fav). She had the Racha Special to drink and it was so beautiful. See pictures below! 

Crab and Cream Cheese filled appetizer

Racha Special

Racha Special

Pud Thai

After lunch and shopping we headed to the fountain by Key Arena to wait for the James Taylor/Carole King concert to start. We really enjoyed watching the kids play in the water and attempting to do some self shots (inspired by Eliza, of course). Then we headed in to the arena. The concert was amazing! Mom had seen James Taylor before so it might not have been as mind-blowing to her as it was to me. I was just taken aback by how fantastic these legends still are! No offense James and Carole, but you’re no spring chickens, but you still got it!!! BIG TIME! 

Mom and Me at the Fountain

After the concert we were hungry (no WAY we were going to spend money in the arena-robbers, all of them!) so on a recommendation from the hotel desk clerk we headed across the lake to Joey’s. Salad, nachos, and a drink for each of us really hit the spot. We walked back to the hotel and crashed (I did at least-Mom was coughing all night so I don’t see how she got any sleep, poor thing). Monday morning we got up and headed in search of breakfast. We ended up at 14 Carrot Cafe in Eastlake for biscuits and gravy and huevos rancheros. SO good! Very non-traditional versions of things, but a must try! After breakfast we headed home. Sad. 😦 It was such a fantastic weekend we’re going to have to make it a tradition.  

14 Carrot Cafe

Biscuits and Gravy

Huevos Rancheros

14 Carrot Cafe Library

Now on to charbroiled burgers and chocolate chip cookies.  After a grueling day of yard saling (if you could even call it that) we decided to fire up the charcoal grill and grill burgers on it for the first time. I’m the burger queen, according to Kev so he prepped the grill and I did the rest. It was actually a lot easier than grilling on propane and so much tastier. The store didn’t have any good ground turkey when we were there so we got organic ground beef instead. A special treat. 🙂 I mixed about 1/2 tsp garlic and onion medley, 1/4 tsp seasoning salt, 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper, and about 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce into the meat before making them patties. I sprinkled a little cayenne pepper on Kev’s patty since he likes a little heat. Once the grill was ready to go (Kev insists I mention how impatient I am waiting for the grill to be ready) I cooked the burgers for about 5 minutes on one side, then flipped them and cooked them about 4 minutes on the other side, putting cheese on top about 2 minutes before they were done.  They were actually a little too done so next time I’ll cook them 4 minutes on one side, flip them and cook them 3 or 4 minutes on the next side, putting the cheese on as soon as I flip them. Regardless of the done-ness the taste was awesome! Kev topped his with sweet onions, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Mine was topped with barbecue sauce. Simple. 

Cheeseburgers right off the grill

After dinner I whipped up a batch of my all time favorite chocolate chip cookies. I don’t think I’ve ever given out the recipe here, but they are too good to keep to myself. The recipe actually comes from a kids cookbook book called the Alpha Bakery which is, amazingly, still available from Amazon. It is a cookbook I can highly recommend if you have kids, or even if you don’t. When I was baking as a little kid this was pretty much the only cookbook I used for cookies and lemon bars (it is by far the best lemon bar recipe).  Anyway, here’s the cookie recipe from it: 

1/2 cup brown sugar 

1/2 cup white sugar 

2/3 cup butter, softened (it is very important to soften the butter, not melt it in order to get the perfect consistency) 

1 egg 

1 1/2 cups flour 

1/2 tsp baking soda 

1/2 tsp salt 

6 oz. chocolate chips (1/2 a bag) 

Mix both sugars, the butter and the egg with a wooden spoon until they are creamed together. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. The dough will be very stiff (if you are feeling a little wimpy you can throw this all in your stand mixer to make it easier on yourself-if you want to build some arm muscles skip the mixer). Add the chips. Drop spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet and make for 9-12 minutes, or until they are light brown on top. Don’t wait until they are darker brown because they will cook more on the sheet when you take them out and you don’t want to overdo them. When you take them out let them cool on the sheet for a minute before removing them to a cookie rack or a brown paper bag to cool. This recipe is so easy and so perfect it is the only one I will ever use. If you aren’t completely satisfied when you make them I will personally mail you a batch. 🙂 

This should give you enough reading for a while! The Maine trip blog is still in the works-there are lots of pictures to add! By the time I post it you will have forgotten we ever took the trip. 😉 


Easter Cooking

Creamed Eggs and Biscuits, Kevin Style

After hunting for and finding all the eggs and york peppermint patties my fantastic hubby hid for me, I got cracking on our traditional Easter breakfast: Creamed Eggs over Biscuits. My family has eaten this meal every Easter for as long as I can remember. The last couple of years I have cheated and used canned biscuits. However, since then we have learned all about the crap in canned biscuits so we refuse to purchase them any more. So, I called my mom and asked her for her biscuit recipe. Turns out, she uses the one in the Joy. You can find it under Biscuits, Rolled in the index.  Or, just follow these simple instructions:

Ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 5 or 6 Tbsp chilled unsalted butter, diced, 3/4 cup milk

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut in diced butter. Work the butter until the chunks are pretty small and all pieces are coated in flour. Add the milk all at once and stir until most of the mixture is moistened. Make a ball with the dough and knead it against the side of the bowl a few times to pick up all the extra little bits of flour in the bottom and on the sides of the bowl. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick, or thicker if you like bigger biscuits. Cut out biscuits with your favorite cutter and place on a cookie sheet. Bake the biscuits at 400 for 10-12 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top.

Wasn’t that easy?  Hopefully you aren’t all reading this going “No way I’m every trying that!” because it really is easy and homemade biscuits taste so much better than canned. Not to mention the chemicals you are saving your family from, and the garbage you will not contribute to the landfill. Need I go on? I didn’t think so. 🙂

Now for the gravy, which is equally as easy. You need 5 or 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped up, if you do creamed eggs. You can just have biscuits and gravy by leaving out the eggs.  To make the white gravy melt 2 Tbsp butter in a small pan. Whisk in 2 Tbsp of seasoned flour (if you have it) and after the butter and flour are mixed whisk in 1 cup of milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer and stir until gravy gets to desired thickness. What really makes this gravy special is the seasoned flour my granny sends me from Kentucky. It’s just perfectly seasoned.  AFter your gravy has thickened, stir in your eggs until they are coated in gravy and pour over biscuits. Then stuff your face and remember to only make it once a year or you will be the size of a sumo wrestler in no time. 😉

Now I have a cherry pie in the oven, but that’s for another blog.

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3 Cheese Ravioli in Mushroom Pancetta Sauce

Since my mom was in town last weekend we decided to make ravioli again. This time I used an extra cheese for the ravioli and a new sauce to top everything off.

Pancetta Mushroom Ravioli

Check out my previous post for ravioli making instructions. It wasn’t as easy to make this time, for some reason. There was a lot of yelling and frustration at that stupid dough, but it tasted great in the end! We added about 1/4 cup fontina to the filling this time to really make it special.

What you will need for the sauce:

1 large pot (big enough to hold the sauce and cooked ravioli), 3 Tbsp olive oil, 5 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 cup pancetta, 3 cups mushrooms (your choice-shitake, crimini, oyster, or white), 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth, 4 Tbsp unsalted butter

In 3 Tbsp of olive oil I sauteed 5 cloves of garlic with about 1 cup of pancetta. Once the pancetta was crisp I added about 3 cups of white mushrooms. Saute until the mushrooms have softened (about 5 minutes) and add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth or stock. Cook until sauce is reduced by half. Add 4 Tbsp unsalted butter and cook, shaking the pan, until the sauce thickens and looks velvety.

Transfer your cooked ravioli to the pot and cover with sauce. Serve with parmesan grated on top. We enjoyed our ravioli with some delicious bread with hunks of garlic inside from a local bakery and a fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Our wine for the night was H3 Cabernet Sauvignon. Yum yum.

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Artichokes and Pancetta in Spaghetti

I know, more Italian. But I LOVE it SO much!!! That and this is a Mario Batali recipe. ‘Nuf said.

We halved his recipe since we really should never eat 6 servings of anything. Unless one of you would like to come haul us out of the house in a wheelbarrow in 10 years. Anyway, here is the recipe and I’ll walk you through it, too.

First of all, I took a major shortcut and used artichoke hearts from a jar. It might have been better with fresh artichokes, but you know, I didn’t miss it. Plus, it cuts out a big step. I still soaked them in the bowl with the lemons, but I’d probably skip this next time since it’s only real purpose was probably to tenderize the artichokes. Since mine were already tender it was an unnecessary step.

Anyway, get started by chopping all your veggies. You want to basically mince half of a medium onion and thinly slice 4 cloves of garlic. In case I haven’t already mentioned it, we LOVE garlic so I did 6 cloves. The more, the merrier if you ask me.  Also chop up your artichoke hearts (about half a small jar) into bite sized pieces. If you like pancetta go ahead and use at least 2 oz. of it diced. You can use more if you really like it. Next time I’m thinking I’ll use an entire 4 oz package. You should be able to find pre-diced pancetta in your deli section.

Now that you are all ready to go, put about 1/8 of a cup (remember, this is if you are making a smaller batch) of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a medium to large-sized pan. Heat the oil and add your onions, garlic and pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened (or until the onions are starting to be see-through), about 10 minutes. Add the artichokes to the pan. If you used ones from a jar also add the wine at this point. 1/4 cup of dry white wine. We used a Pinot Gris, which also went very well to drink with dinner. Cover the pan and simmer over moderately low heat, about 5 minutes or until everything is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Artichoke Pancetta Sauce

While all this is cooking get your water boiling for your noodles. Cook the noodles about a minute less than you normally would. Drain the noodles, but set aside about 1/4 cup of the noodle water to add to the sauce. Add the drained noodles and the reserved water to the pan with the artichokes. Toss everything together for about a minute over medium-low. Remove from heat and add about 1/4 cup parmesan.  Sprinkle more parmesan on top. We also LOVE parmesan. 🙂

Artichoke Pancetta Spaghetti

Pinot Gris and Artichoke Pancetta Spaghetti

And now for something completely different… (hope I didn’t just break a thousand copyright laws by stealing a Monty Python title)

Spring is here! Okay, not officially, but we are doing yard work and gardening anyway. So far we have ripped up grass (remember our friend from a previous post?) and planted shrubbery and now lots of pretty perennial bulbs between the shrubs. And in the back we have improved our garden (I say “we” but really should say Kev) and are now convinced our vegetables will grow without us even having to plant them. That’s how awesome the garden is. Pictures of the garden forthcoming…

Spring Flowers

Spring also means spring break, which means my mom is coming to visit!!! YAY! And to really top things off, my bestest friends from Las Vegas will be in Portland for a conference next week. Double YAY! March might be my favorite month so far this year. Tonight Kev made the best corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes I’ve ever had (sorry Mom) and to accompany it I had some Irish Cream on the rocks. Aside from green, these are really the only Irish things I know. And no, I don’t like beer. Sorry, it’s so not yummy.

And now I’m off to finish a super challenging puzzle. Hope you all had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Until next time, Happy Eating!

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Cheddar Jalapeño Stuffed Burger

Burgers are just about the only thing I make without a recipe. That’s because it is really hard to mess up a burger, in my opinion. They are so versatile, you can make them barbecue, plain, stuffed, or you can even use Mexican spices and green chiles for a fiesta! Tonight I decided to spice things up a bit and stuffed our burgers with cheddar and jalapeños.

We used organic beef tonight because that is what we could find in the store, but we usually use turkey. Turkey burgers are our faves! But, all they had was Foster Farms and we don’t do that.  Anyway, on to the “recipe”:

Start by putting your meat in a bowl and adding ground pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and some garlic salt. I’d say about a tsp of each. Mix it all up really good with your hands. Divide your meat mixture in to two or four sections, depending on how many burgers you are making with a pound of burger (should any burger ever be smaller than 1/4 lb? I don’t think so.). Take one chunk of the meat and patty it like a normal burger. Then jab your thumb in the center of the patty, but don’t stick it all the way through.You should have a nice, deep bowl in the center of the patty. Fill this bowl with two slices of cheddar cheese and diced pieces of fresh jalapeño (if you can’t handle a ton of eat put less jalapeño, or just add extra cheese and leave out the peppers-yes, Mom, I’m talking to you). It works best if you put one slice of cheese, then the jalapeños, then the other slice of cheese. Now work the beef from the edges of the patty to cover up the stuffing.  Now you’re ready to cook!

Heat a skillet to medium heat. I use a grill skillet so the burgers still get those grill lines on them, but any skillet will do. Cook the burgers about 8 minutes on each side for beef, about 6 minutes for turkey. We cheat and use a thermometer. When the centers and edges are at 160 degrees its done for us. If you like your beef ones rarer you can cook them to 150.  About a minute before the burgers are done stick your buns in the oven with a slice of colby jack so the cheese gets melted and buns warm. Then serve up! Kev likes his with some grilled onions on top and I like mine with just ketchup and a pickle on the side.

On the menu for tomorrow night: S’mores in a pan for dessert. Yum.


Crepes, Crepes, and More Crepes!

Yep, that’s right. We ate crepes three times (actually I ate them four times!) the last two days. On Sunday morning we went to breakfast with some friends from Seattle and I had super delicious apple crepes. As soon as we got home I knew crepes would be the challenge for this weekend. Since we ate them at a cafe in Santa Monica I have been dreaming of crepes filled with ham and cheese followed by one filled with chocolate and strawberries. First, though, I had to learn how to make the actual crepes. Luckily crepes don’t require any strange ingredients so we didn’t have to go to the store first.

Here’s how to do it:

In a large bowl whisk together: 4 eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 Tbsp melted butter, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt.  Whisk until smooth. If you are having a hard time getting rid of lumps you can transfer the batter to a blender and mix it that way. Or, just mix the whole thing in the blender to start with!

Heat a medium sized skillet (one with low edges) or a crepe pan, lightly greased with a little butter, over medium heat.  Spoon a small amount (about 4 Tbsp) of batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter spreads out across the bottom of the pan. You have to do this fairly quickly because the batter starts to cook pretty fast. Cook the crepes until they are light golden brown on each side, about 1 minute on each side.

Cooking Crepe

Monday morning we ended up spreading raspberry jam on them with a little sprinkling of powdered sugar. It was really tasty! After dinner (delicious flank steak from Trader Joe’s) I made a chocolate ganache (1/2 cup milk brought to a boil in the microwave and them poured over half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and whisked until smooth) and chopped up some strawberries.  Then I cooked up some more crepes and filled them with chocolate and strawberries. When I say they tasted like heaven, I’m not exaggerating. So yummy I dreamt of them last night.

Ganache and Strawberries


Inside of the Crepe

Finished Dessert Crepes

Before I made the chocolate and strawberry crepes I made miniature Key Lime Pies. Isn’t this one cute!?

Mini Key Lime Pie

I still had some crepe batter left over so I covered it with saran wrap and stuck it in the fridge (you can keep it like this for about 2 days). This morning I heated some smoked ham from the deli and grated some monterey cheese to fill the remaining crepes. Oh so good!

Ham and Cheese Crepe

If you are ever in need of a quick, easy meal I can highly recommend whipping up some crepes and filling them with whatever kind of yummy stuff you have around. You won’t be disappointed!

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Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Due to a lack of time and energy this weekend I made breakfast instead of a big dinner. Hopefully my energy will be back next weekend because my goal is to make a pie since I haven’t done so for about 10 years.

This morning I made homemade ricotta pancakes with fresh blueberries. They were pretty easy and really yummy. We didn’t think the ricotta made a super huge difference, but they were a lot more moist than my pancakes in the past.  The recipe is from Food and Wine. My only advice: half the recipe. It make a lot of pancake so unless you have a big family, or a small one with a really big appetite, you are going to want to half it or third it (it calls for 3 eggs so thirding might be easier). Recipe here.

It was a really nice breakfast and we look forward to leftovers all week long!

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Chicken Marsala…for weeknight cooking? Yes!

Tonight Kev is sick so I decided to force him to rest and make dinner myself. I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Marsala for a while and didn’t realize how simple it actually was. It always looks so fancy! I started cooking about 6:20 and we ate about 7:15. Not too bad for the first time I’ve every made something, if you ask me! It would probably look a lot nicer on the plate if you added some asparagus or a sprig of parsley, but we didn’t have either. Oh well, how it looks isn’t the most important thing for Thursday night dinner.

Chicken Marsala and Pasta

Basically, roll your chicken (I had 6 tenders) in this flour mixture: 1/8 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano (or more if you like it a lot). In a large skillet melt 4 Tbsp butter in 4 Tbsp olive oil. Lightly brown one side of the chicken in the oil. Flip the chicken and add about 1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh makes all the difference), 1/2 cup marsala wine and 1/4 cup cooking sherry. Put a lid on your skillet and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken half way through. That’s it! You have chicken marsala. How easy is that? Because chicken seems pretty sad by itself I cooked up some angel hair pasta and dressed with my made up pasta sauce: a few Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 1 tsp parsley. Toss the pasta in the sauce and then add some freshly grated parmesan to the top. Yum.

This is the recipe I followed, although not exactly. Instead of pounding chicken breasts thin I just used chicken tenders. Either way apparently works because this dish was really tasty! I really love the gravy-like smooth and creamy consistency.