Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pickled Grape Tapas with Sparkling Gruet

The fruit of goddesses, wonder of wonders, the magical elixir of fruit which carries us through... the grape strikes again.  With its depth of complexity, utility and finesse the grape can transform itself into so many elemental textures, flavors and shapes... how its possible, I've yet to understand, but I thank the gods for the grape daily (in my own way... in fact it may be time for a quick worship).  Now we are of course talking about the table grape in the recipe that follows which, viticulturally speaking, is an entirely different animal than the Vinifera grape used for winemaking across the globe.  But I'm going to put it up on a pedastel anyhow and after you taste your own pickled grapes, I think you'll do the same.

You may be wondering what the heck I'm doing with grapes in February and that's a darn good question.  I don't want to encourage anyone else to rush out and buy grapes which have been trucked in from Mexico or some other far away place, but my friends left them in my fridge last week and what else could I do other than try out Molly Wizenberg's Pickled Grapes recipe from her fabulous book and my bible of late, A Homemade Life.  I'd been waiting with baited breath to try this and served with a excellent bottle of sparkling wine, this made for a happy kickstart to my birthday last night.  (sorry for the pda... but we are horribly unphotogenic* and the pictures showing the least of our faces turned out the best).  I modified her recipe just a scoach and served the grapes on toasted bread with goat cheese and splash of olive oil. Good luck and enjoy!
*See below.

Pickled Grapes
(adapted from Molly Winzenbergs, A Homemade Life)

-1 lb seedless red grapes
-1 cup white wine or regular white vinegar
-3/4 c sugar
-1 1/2 tsp brown or yellow mustard seeds
-1 tsp red chili flakes
-1 cinnamon stick
-1/4 tsp sea salt

Rinse grapes thoroughly and pick over, composting any bruised fruit.  Carefully pull off stems and gently trim away the stem mark from each grape with a sharp paring knife.  Put grapes in large glass bowl.

Bring remaining six ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat.  Pour over grapes, stir gently and let cool to room temp.  Using a slotted spoon transfer grapes into two clean mason jars, dividing evenly. Pour remaining brine into both jars until full.  (If your jars aren't quite full, don't worry about... there's plenty of brine to keep these grapes busy pickling.)  Refrigerate over night. Dream of pickled grape tapas... 

Pickled Grapes Tapas
-a loaf of good crusty bread, thinly sliced
-Fresh goat cheese
-1 jar homemade pickled grapes
-extra virgin olive oil

Slice baguette or loaf of your choice thinly.  Arrange on baking sheet, dollop each slice with chevre and give each one a healthy dose of olive oil. Toast in the broiler of your oven, or even better in a toaster oven, for ten minutes.  Set aside.

Using a slotted spoon, fish out several of your grapes.  Dice with a large knife, doing so gently as these suckers have a tendency to squirt out from under your knife across the kitchen.  Lucky Lula.   Spread diced grapes over toasts and serve.  Enjoy!

I almost forgot the Gruet! I bought it yesterday as a Happy Birthday to Me present and I couldn't have picked out a more thoughtful gift.  I adore sparkling wine and I'm just beginning to forge into the world of bubbles beyond those named after the seal in that Disney film.  So this was in the mid-special price range for me, 15 bones, and worth of every dime.  This bottle is a non-vintage Blanc de Noirs, meaning it's made from red grapes which are undoubtedly Pinot Noir.  What's fun about Gruet is that it hails from New Mexico, a state which boasts 42 wineries and three AVA's (American Viticultural Areas).  Who knew? 

Lula's really getting a sniffy sniff of bubbly here and I think she'd tell you she smells peaches and custard and loves the feel on the tiny, elegant bubbles on her palate.

I hope they'll be more Gruet next year and I think JJ hopes he'll stop making this face in pictures... Cheers!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Prune & Chocolate Cake

Hi friends,

  Apologies for already (!) being a delinquent blogger... but Valentine's Day turned out to be quite the hubbub up here in Hood River.  No wild pronounciations of love or romantic drama, just the onset of six lovely ladies visiting my new hometown, coupled with a few busy days at the winery and sharing a home with the petsitting challengers of the decade, Shredder and Tank.  More about them later.... 

It was a glorious week though, good times, good memories and of course, plenty of good food and wine.  I'm sorry I didn't have the forethought to share with you, but I will give a shout out to Anna's amazing handmade samosas we ate on Valentine's night, an amazingingly perfect and moist carrot cake whipped up by Steph and a fabulous showing of cocktails at the Sapphire Hotel in Portland. If you make it, try the 'Going Up?' It was like a taco in a glass.  Goodness all around.

We also had this... Prune & Chocolate Cake.

A snack cake that uses no butter and relies on dried fruit and olive oil for moisture.  We could call it 'guilt-free' cake or 'heart healthy,' but I'll just call it "Tasty, tasty," as my Dad would sing off-key about anything chocolate or cake.  I prefer something like this for breakfast, but for those who don't swing that way, enjoy it as a hearty dessert topped with fresh whipped cream or a simple whiskey sauce.  Enjoy!

Prune & Chocolate Cake
(adapted from

10 oz. dried prunes
1/3 c brandy
1/2 c buttermilk or plain yogurt (I always prefer yogurt if its on hand, then buttermilk.  If you have neither, add 1T white vinegar to 1c milk, let stand 5 minutes and substitute.
1 egg
2 T olive oil
6 T brown sugar, packed
3 T maple syrup
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 salt
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder, heaping
6 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate chips

Pour brandy in saucepan and add half of your prunes.  Heat over low heat until warm then set aside until cake is ready to go in the oven.  Put remaining prunes in your food processor (sorry, I will always assume you have a food processor!) along with buttermilk and puree.

In a large mixing bowl whisk your egg, add maple syrup, brown sugar, olive oil (xtra virg not necessary!) and prune puree.  Mix with a fork until consistent.  In another mixing bowl measure dry ingredients, add dry to wet and mix just until just combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.  * (Roughly chopped chocolate will work as well, but for some reason I always like chips better.  They're just the perfect size for a real chocolatey bite.)

Butter and flour your baking pan of choice.  One 9" layer cake pan works well, but I found 2 mini loaf pans were adorable.  Pour batter into pan(s).  Return to reserved prunes and slice in half.  Push prunes into batter in a pattern of your choice.   Bake at 350 for ~ 35 min for the 9" pan and 45 min for the loaves.  Allow to cool, remove from pan and invert so prune side is face up.  Enjoy!

You didn't think I'd forget a new pic of Lula, did ya?

This was snapped earlier this week during the rainshower of sunshine we've had in the Gorge.  She was pretty wiped during this afternoon's baking sesh', given all the harassment from Shredder and Tank over the past weeks.  We are housesitting for two of the most indpendent, free-spirited, self confident (those are not the adjectives we use around the house) dogs I've ever met.  Dog one, Shredder*, has consumed, mouthed destroyed the following in ten days time:  JJ's Valentine's cigars, a new wine stopper from my dear uncle, socks upon socks, other people's socks, other people's underwear, Lula's bottle of Tums, a banana, JJ's sweater, Anna's glasses case, a wine glass (he's ok), a chocolate bar (still ok) and about four pieces of firewood.  He's hell on wheels.  Tank* on the other hand lives to consume more sophisticated fare.  Her entire existence revolves around the rapture of hearing kibble rattle into her bowl, so much to the point that I have to drag her out of the house to even go pee.... so hopeful is she that I may bless her with another scoop of weight watcher kibble.  They are quite a pair, Shredder and Tank, and I'm relatively nervous their parents may never return from the Caribbean.  Until then, JJ and I are enjoying the hot tub and the convection oven with abandon.   Ah, housesitting...
*To protect identities, real names have not been used.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Creamy Orange Soup that's not Butternut Squash!

I would eat soup twice a day everyday if I could. And what's stopping me? I admit though, I'm not very good at cleaning up leftovers and this quality is not helpful in the presence of a big pot of soup. JJ often shows up for dinner to find that I've somehow 'accidentally' made a vat of soup yet again and we both feel daunted by the task ahead... soup for dinner, soup for lunch tomorrow, soup for a snack and then perhaps soup again for dinner the next day. I've taken the soups name in vain at that point and slop, onto Lula's kibble it goes. So clearly what I'm the need of, are easy and delicious soup recipes that make a small pot of soup. Then dinner is simple dreamy affair of soup, homemade biscuits or rolls (toast in a pinch) and a salad.  And I can do this several times a week, to feed my deep seated love for soup. So here is one of many recipes to come, featuring my good friend cumin and including a note on homemade broth. (For some ridiculous reason, I hadn't come to my senses on the vast superiority of homemade broth until last week and I vow to never go back.) This soup is jiff to throw together and gives you a wonderful creamy winter soup that's a change of pace from the ubiquitous butternut squash. We enjoyed at our family reunion in Yachats last month and everyone, small and tall alike, seemed to like it. Or at least they ate it...   Good luck!

Sweet Potato Soup
*** Remember to reserve all your veggies scraps for broth as you go thru this recipe.
-3 lg sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed.
-1 lg yellow onion, diced
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely.  (I've found using a spoon works best for peeling ginger).
-1 jalepeno, diced.
-1 quart veggie broth
-Zest of one small lime
-1 heaping tsp cumin
-1/2 tsp powdered ginger
-1/4 heaping tsp white pepper
-1/4 cup all natural creamy peanut butter
-1/2 cup low fat sour cream
-1 sm lime, juiced
-1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped.
-Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 or 2 T oil in your largest soup pot over low/med heat.  Add chopped onion, let breathe for 3-4 minutes, then add garlic, fresh ginger and jalepeno.  Cook over low heat for 10 min or until onions have softened nicely.  If your onions begin to brown, turn the heat down!  Add cubed sweet potatoes, broth, lime zest and spices.  I'd add about 1/2 tsp salt at this stage, adjust to your preferences.  Turn to High, bring to boil and then let simmer on Low for 30 minutes. Pull out your immersion blender (What's that? You don't have an immersion blender??  This is simply a must (!) and the one kitchen gadget I will ever try to force on you. I think they run about $40 and work like a dream boat on all kinds of assorted soups and sauces).  If you're hip to this modern luxury, blend until almost smooth.  Alternatively, remove soup in 2 cup amts and blend in your stand blender.  Good luck, this is very messy and tedious.  Now you'll really want that immersion blender. 

Stir in peanut butter, lime juice and sour cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste and a wee bit of cayenne if you like a kick. Like all soup, it's best if you can make it ahead of time to let it medley. I almost always find soup better the next day. But if it's time to serve, garnish with a dollop of greek yogurt, sprinkle generously with cilantro and enjoy!

*** Homemade broth. The truly easy version!

Check out your produce drawer. What do you have in there that's old and possibly funky? Gather what you have, discarding dirty vegetable ends and coarsely chopping. Rinse. You'll be starting a slop pile with these veggies. To the slop, you'll add onion peels and ends, potato peels (if they've been washed!), carrot peels, broccoli stems, cauliflower stems, radish greens, garlic peels... you get the idea. Now sacrifice just a few of your 'good' veggies.. half an onion, a few carrots, some celery. **This is the part that kept me, stupidly, from making my own veggie broth in the past. I thought why buy vegetables to turn into broth, when I just stock up on Organic Vegetable Broth at Grocery Outlet for $.99? But not everyone likes Gross Out like I do and not only can store bought broth be quite spendy, but it smells unpleasant. That's never a good thing. Ok, back to our homemade goodness.

It works best to give yourself a few days to build up your slop. I just have a plastic bag going and instead of composting scraps for a few days, into the bag they go. Now when you have good stash, heat a little oil in your soup pot. Add all your chopped 'good' veggies and cook over low/med heat for 15 minutes. This will help release fresh flavor in your broth. Then add slop and fill your pot to the brim with water. If you a growler on hand, it’s almost the perfect amt. Add any other dried or fresh herbs you have on hand... bay leaves, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram and rosemary are good options. Don't worry about amts and add roughly 1 tsp salt. Bring to boil, then turn off completely and let sit overnight. Strain and pour into jars or tupperware. Freeze or refrigerate.

My freezer, happily full of veggie broth.

Lula keeping warm on a winter day just right for soup.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Arugula Sausage Lasagna with Amavi Cellars Semillon

Lula scamming for leftovers

Hi folks,

Well, I'm jumping on the blogging bandwagon, better late than never. I said I'd start a blog as soon as I had high speed internet and well, that was awhile ago. So friends, family (perhaps exclusively Mom and JJ) welcome to a portal for those of us who like to talk about what we ate, what we're gonna eat and what you ate. I'm going to give you the good, the bad, the ugly and the stuff Lula managed to steal off the counter. Its called Lula's Kitchen because she's my biggest fan and honestly, she's eaten quite a bit of it. Lula should start a blog called, "How to enjoy leftovers mixed with kibble and How to steal freshly baked goodies off the counter." Until that comes out, here's my blog...

Dinner tonight!
I finally did one of those things I always fantasize about and read in career women's magazine tips... I made dinner ahead of time! How delightful. Since I'm not much a career woman at all, this allowed JJ and I time to see a matinee of "Up in the Air" and scurry home to dinner that needed a mere 10 minute warm up. Lasagna, always a pretty pedestrian dish in my book and given my love/hate relationship with cheese, not a huge favorite of mine. But I slung this together with what was on hand and was pretty pleased. Good luck!

Arugula Sausage Lasagna.
Fit for a small family or serves two with leftovers.
-8 lasagna noodles
-1 16 oz. jar tomato sauce of choice (I find most canned tomato sauce also pretty pedestrian, but Muir Glenn Organics puts out a pretty zesty Tomato Vodka sauce. I bought mine at Grocery Outlet for $2.99, so keep your eyes out!)
-4 oz fresh arugula
-2 c. fresh ricotta (see note below for homemade ricotta tips)
-1 c. grated swiss cheese
- 2 links veggie sausage. (I like Tofurky Spicy Italian or I'd probably like real pork sausage even more. Do as you will.)
-Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water for no more than 5 min. Drain. Layer 8x8" pan with 1/2 of tomato sauce, then cover with handful of arugula leaves. Spread 4 lasagna noodles across, trimming when needed to make fit to pan. Spread evenly with 1/2 of ricotta cheese, sprinkled with salt and pepper. Add half of the sliced sausage, more arugula and dollup more tomato sauce across layer evenly. Cover again with 4x noodles. Add remaining arugula, topped with remaining ricotta, topped with remaining sauce and finish with the cup grated swiss.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, then cover with a reserved piece of foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Serve warm or cool to room temp, refridgerate and re-heat later to serve. We enjoyed this with a green salad tossed with a spicy maple vinaigrette and warmed seeded baguette slices smeared with yogurt butter spread and Spike.

* Homemade Ricotta. The truly easy version...
- Rinse your largest soup pot with cold water. Heat 1 gallon whole milk and 1 tsp salt over low/med heat. Let the milk start to steam and create small bubbles on the surface. It should take at least 10 minutes to get to this stage. If you'd like, you can use a thermometer and wait for it to read about 180F. At this stage, take pot off heat and add a generous 1/3 cup white vinegar. Stir gently as curdles form and let rest for 10-20 minutes. Prepare a colander with doubled up layers of cheesecloth (These can be bought at most grocery stores for a few dollars and should be rinsed out and saved to use again!) When curdles seem done forming, skim off with your largest slotted spoon. Take the time to tap your spoon, draining off as much moisture as possible. When all curds have been removed, take the edges of your cheesecloth and tie them around your kitchen faucet. ( Or other convenient hanging place). Use cheese at will, within 3 days. Reserve leftover whey for baking bread, replacing water for cooking pasta or pouring over your dogs kibble.

** We opened a bottle of 2007 Amavi Cellars, Columbia Valley, Semillon with this meal. I've read alot about Semillon lately and from what I heard, I was skeptical... oily, fat and honeyed are often descriptions and Semillon is very seldom planted in North America. It was fabulous. Very big and effervescent without being crisp and light. A great white wine in winter months, when you crave more hearty substantial food and drink. Lots of tropical fruit, without any cloying sweetness. From the Walla Walla AVA, so nice I'd drink it twice.