Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes


I know winter is the worst season for buying tomatoes. Living in Maryland, we know for certain they're not local or flavorful this time of year — too often they're firm to the point of being hard though they look pretty enough.

But there is a way to "make lemonade" from these lemons of a tomato, to use their flaw (hardness) as a strength by putting them to work as edible containers for a flavorful filling; and to concentrate and sweeten what small flavor they might have by roasting. The result is an inexpensive and utterly delicious meal for a family of four. When tomatoes go on sale for around $1.99/lb. this time of year, this meal comes together for about $5 (and that's using organic ground beef, even less if using regular ground beef) since you only use a half-pound of meat.

Since the ground beef we use is pre-packaged in 1 pound packages (from Costco), I usually brown the whole pound, and freeze or refrigerate half the cooked meat for another meal. Pre-cooked ground meat is a great freezer staple to make quick work of weekday meal planning. Throw it into a pasta sauce with olives or mushrooms for a quick bolognese, mix it with tofu and peas in a chili garlic sauce for 30-minute Spicy Mapo Tofu over rice, or scramble with eggs and your favorite greens (we love watercress or spinach) and fry as a fritatta. But I digress...

First the ground beef is browned with aromatics (onions and garlic) and herbs. Next the pan is deglazed with broth or water which is then added to the roasting pan, so maximum flavor is extracted from a mere half-pound of ground beef! When the beef is mixed with cooked rice and dried fruit, you have a versatile filling that is equally good stuffed in chayote squash, zucchini, and eggplants as in tomatoes. Whichever veg you use, be sure to have lots of bread to sop up the tasty sauce!



For the tomato shells:
8 medium tomatoes

Cut off top ¼ of each tomato and keep aside. Line a large plate with paper towels.

With a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and insides of the tomatoes. Place each tomato upside down on the paper towels to drain. Chop up the tomato innards and keep for the sauce.

For Filling:
2 TBL olive oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
3-6 cloves garlic
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
¼ -½ cup raisins or currants
4 cups cooked cold rice

To Roast:
1 cup broth or water
3 TBL olive oil


5-A-Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It seems to me that many winter vegetables get a bum rap. They're hearty enough to withstand the cool to cold weather so they're either thick-skinned, thick-leafed, or buried deep in the ground. This means they often require a bit more preparation to clean, peel and cook, but the pay-off is worth the extra effort.

We love winter greens, squashes and root vegetables as much as their more highly-touted spring and summer cousins. And among the best in season now are Brussels sprouts. At this time of year they are especially sweet, whether cooked or raw. And if you are lucky enough to live near the California Monterey Coast, where you can buy whole stalks directly from the growers, or near a Trader Joe's, where you can buy really fresh sprouts still on their stalks for only $3.49, then you are in for the best treat of all: Roasted Brussels Sprouts on the stalk!

OK, so the roasting-on-the-stalk bit might be a little over-the-top, but wouldn't this be a great way to serve them for a dinner party or buffet table. (Many thanks to the Trader Joe's associate who shared the idea of roasting on the stalk.) It's quite a dramatic presentation, and each guest can cut away the sprouts directly from the stalk. But even if you remove the sprouts prior to roasting, the concentrated sweetness and tender bite of roasted Brussels sprouts will win over even the most ardent cruciferous-veggie-hater.

Whereas 2 years ago we discovered the delight of roasted Kale Crisps, this year we'll be converting friends to these sprouts. The best part for the cook is that they are unbelievably easy to do: toss in oil, lay on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in 350F/180C oven for 20-35 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. I like to leave the sprouts whole, even when they're not on the stalk, but if you elect to cut them in half, you can roast them even more quickly.

If roasting on the stalk, remember to give them a good dunk in vinegar-water solution (2 TBL vinegar for every quart/liter of water), then a rinse in clean running water and let them dry completely before roasting. I use a slightly lower oven temperature when roasting the whole stalk so the leaves don't burn before the centers cook, about 325F/170C. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast for 40-60 minutes, rotating the stalk and turning the pan around at intervals during roasting to ensure individual sprout heads don't burn. Unlike the Kale Crisps, these sprouts should not be crunchy!

Why bother with Brussels sprouts, you ask? Because they, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in fiber and powerhouses in terms of beneficial nutrients. In study after study, cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and different types of cancer, including colon, lung, prostate, breast cancers. WebMD calls cruciferous vegetables the "Super Veggies."(a) We'll call them the "Super Crus." And the top 3 Super Veggies? Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli — the Über-Super Crus! This is food as medicine at its best!

So if eating healthy or trying new foods is on your new year's resolution this year, put some or all the "Super Crus" on your must-try list — most are greens, some are root vegetables, a few (wasabi and mustard seeds) are seasoning agents: Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, mustard greens and seeds, horseradish, collard greens, broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, mizuna, napa cabbage, turnip root & greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, arugula, watercress, red radish, daikon, wasabi.(b)

Now, if you've read through that list and are thinking to yourself, "Ick" or if memories of sour, grey-looking vegetables filled your mind's eye and nostrils, I hear you. I really do. Often the vegetables on this list are over-cooked, and by that I mean, boiled to death. When over-cooked, they can emit a strong odor — sulphurous and heady, and pretty unpleasant all around. The odors come from the very same nutrients and phytochemicals that provide all the health-protecting properties for which the Super Crus are so touted.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Roasting, gentle steaming, pan-frying, flash-cooking are all methods that generally keep the vegetables delicious smelling and tasting. So please don't give up on Brussels sprouts or any of the Super Crus just yet. Give this or any one of the recipes below a try. And if some of these vegetables are just plain unknown to you (Choi Who?), these recipes will also provide quick, easy and tasty introductions to some of the more tender Asian greens in the family Brassicaceae.

If you enjoy South Asian flavors and really want to give Brussels sprouts a go, also try Brussels Sprouts with Coconut & Mustard Seed (2 Super Crus for the price of one, photo above).

More posts featuring cruciferous veggies:
Kale Crisps
Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries
Greek Plasto (Greens with Cornbread Crust), the slow-cooker version and the original
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Indian-spiced Daikon, Carrot & Cauliflower Pickle (another two-fer)
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
Roasted Belgian Endive
Purple & Squeak (Red Cabbage & Okinawan Sweet Potatoes — it's very purple)
Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad (with or without the fish)
Greens & Cheese Pie
Flash-Cooked Watercress
Garlic Braised Chinese Mustard Greens
Aloo Gobi (Potatoes & Cauliflower)
Namasu (Daikon, Cucumber and Wakame Salad)
Sauerkraut Soup

(a), "The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables," by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
(b), "Taxonomy of Common Cruciferous Vegetables"


Veggie Challenge: Tomato-Summer Squash Tian

I love it when friends include me in their culinary adventures. Whether it's finding exotic ingredients in our neighborhood ("There's an Indian grocery store where?"), or sharing ideas for how to tackle the latest CSA delivery ("What do you do with a snake gourd?!"), or spreading a habit of eating rice for breakfast — that sense of discovery and genuine fun that comes when someone's eyes light up with wonder is truly a joy for me. One of the reasons T. calls me a food evangelist.

Of course on a purely selfish note, one of the most fun ways to join in a food adventure is to receive foodstuffs. Some are homemade or souvenir gifts, some are pantry excess — but they are always appreciated and sometimes a culinary challenge. Since our most recent move, we find ourselves within hollering distance of our good friends who subscribe to a CSA. With weekly deliveries of fresh produce and precious little time to deal with their bounty, they will send us their bounty's bounty with pleas of not having time to deal with the veggies before they go bad. A few weeks ago this meant the equivalent of 2 Trader Joe's bags-ful of produce which included cauliflower, broccoli stems, green beans, eggplants, bell peppers, fresh pepperoncini peppers, red potatoes and yellow summer squash from their CSA, and mountains of tomatoes, basil, chives from their garden! This week it was 3 spaghetti squashes and a sweet potato that was as big as a spaghetti squash! This is what I tell them, and is, in fact, what I do with a great deal of fresh vegetables that we don't have a specific plan to use and which is threatening to give us the stink-eye: Roast Them!

Let your oven do all the hard work of softening, sweetening, and gently dehydrating your produce so it will keep through the week and provide you with gourmet-quality pantry staples that will make weekday meal prep a snap! Eat as is as a side dish to another entree; or toss with pasta, potato, rice, couscous or your favorite grain or noodle and you have an instant meatless meal. Add cooked meats or fish or beans for extra protein. Or with a little extra effort, a provencale vegetable tian/casserole materializes from grated veggies, cheese and eggs!

This is just a quick look for how we dealt with the 2 bags of produce we received over that first weekend. You can do this! I hope you try it soon.

Clean and cut, if desired, and drizzle all with olive oil. The potatoes are pared just for a bit of aesthetic value.
Pierce whole vegetables like the peppers to allow steam to escape.

Roast at 375F. I don't even preheat the oven to roast veggies.
Start checking the smallest veggies after the first 35 minutes.
Remove vegetables as they become cooked through:
Potatoes pierce easily with fork,
Peppers and eggplants collapse,
Broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower will brown on
the edges and become tender.

Green beans were added to pan with potatoes after 35 minutes
and the whole pan was removed after another 25 minutes.
Bell peppers and eggplants were turned after the first 35 minutes, and left for another 30.

Pepperoncini peppers were left whole,
and bell peppers were seeded and peeled
and everything was covered in more olive oil.
Eggplants were peeled for use within 2 days.
(Try in Grilled Eggplant Salad with Coconut Milk)
Potatoes, beans and roasted cauliflower were eaten as they were.

While the first batch of veggies were roasting, the yellow squash and some of the tomatoes were quickly grated and tossed with cold leftover rice, chives, eggs and cheese as an adaptation of one of our favorite dishes from the Canadian cookbook classic,1000 Classic Recipes — a tian of tomatoes and summer squash.

(Adapted from 1000 Classic Recipes, by Hermes House publishing)
Serves 4 persons as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish
This is the perfect end-of-summer dish that puts to best use those less-than-perfect summer veg — the will-not-sun-ripen tomatoes and the monster squashes that were lurking under the blanket of leaves! The rice makes this surprisingly light in texture, but the parmesan delivers a wallop of satisfying savoriness under the herb mixture.

3 medium yellow squash or courgettes, coarsely grated (avoid seedy core)
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
fistful of chives, minced
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBL olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked rice
3 large eggs, beaten
3 TBL full-fat plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp fresh
pinch of dried or fresh thyme
5 TBL grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Pre-heat 375F/190C.

Place squash, tomatoes, chives and garlic in tian, or baking dish, and season to taste. Toss with oil and spread in baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until water is drawn from vegetables and they soften.

Meanwhile combine rice, eggs, yogurt, herbs, cheese and season to taste. Remove vegetables from oven, and take out about 1/4 cup vegetables from baking dish. Stir hot vegetables into egg mixture to temper eggs, then pour all egg mixture into dish and mix well with vegetables. Redistribute mixture around dish, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until eggs set and knife inserted in the center comes back clean.

Cool briefly then slice to serve. Shown here with more roasted vegetables
from this marathon session: cauliflower, red skin potatoes, and asparagus.
Garnished with roasted basil.


Dining In: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Soup

There’s still time to take advantage of sweet summer corn. Fresh steamed or grilled corn on the cob is hard to beat — and I admit I’ve had my fair share of the cob this summer.

But when I overheard a fellow volunteer at Food & Friends describing a corn soup she had served at her Fourth of July get-together, something caught my ear and imagination. Buttermilk. Buttermilk, she swore, was the key ingredient in her favorite chilled soups, including this corn one she devised for this party. Unlike other dairy products used in chilled soups — yogurt or sour cream, for instance, buttermilk, she told me, adds body without coating the palate. I had never used buttermilk in a chilled soup before so this was too intriguing to pass up. I begged the recipe from Dyane, which she generously shared, along with all her hints for tweaking the recipe.

This soup calls for 2 pounds (about 1kg) of corn, and I intended to use all fresh corn off the cob. Events conspired against me when we had a guest in town and I had to prepare the soup in advance but did not yet have fresh corn on hand. Instead I took Dyane’s cue to use frozen corn, namely Trader Joe’s Super Sweet Corn, for the base, which I cooked and pureed with the buttermilk, and chilled overnight. I added fresh corn off the cob and the reserved buttermilk (per Dyane’s tip) before serving — the tender kernels added texture and an extra touch of freshness to the finished soup.

We loved this soup, as did our visitor from Cyprus. Dyane was right about how buttermilk adds depth and creaminess without heaviness in texture or taste. I would like to make this soup again while fresh corn is in season, and try it with all fresh kernels. To be honest, though, the TJ’s frozen corn was pretty darn good in this soup and left no gummy kernel skins, which is what I was afraid frozen corn would do. Another nice note was the jalapeno — de-seeded, it added little heat, but really seemed to lift and highlight the buttermilk in a symbiotic way. Don’t leave it out even if you don’t like spicy foods — it really accents more than adds spiciness.

Best of all, this was easy enough I could do it in our tiny hotel kitchenette. So if I could do it here, you can definitely do this!

Thanks, Dyane, for sharing your wonderful recipe with us, and now everyone else!

Serves 6 persons
Except where noted, the rest of this post will be in Dyane’s voice, as I am reprinting her recipe (with her kind permission) as she sent it to me, with minor changes for syntax and to include metric measurements.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium size onion coarsely chopped
½ lb (226g) tomatillos, husked, rinsed , and quartered
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
(I like a lot of garlic)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3-1/2 cups (28oz/830ml) chicken stock (or vegetable stock would work)
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus a pinch for garnish
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, plus some for garnish
1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
(I increase the buttermilk by another 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60-120ml) depending on soup consistency while blending)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper
2 16 ounce (1kg) frozen bags  of corn which were unthawed,
you could you fresh, can, whatever combination to make up to 28-32 ounces
Lime, lime juice
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions being to brown (you don't want any brown color in this soup)

2. Add the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Add the corn cook for 3-5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the chicken stock, cumin, cilantro, and cook 5-7 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. (Note from 3T: I used a hand, or stick blender) Add the buttermilk, salt and peeper and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and cumin.
When blending I did it in batches: 3/4 of the soup was blended with the buttermilk, 1/4 was not blended with the buttermilk and this was added to the end to not have the jalapeno diluted/cooled too much by the buttermilk. Also, because I like a little more heat I increased the jalapenos and increase the cilantro per my taste.  Adjust salt and pepper.Serve this chilled. Before you do hit it with a shot of lime juice to brighten the taste. Have lime also on the side so your guests can adjust accordingly.

Back to 3T:
More recipes with corn:
Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp
Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon

Dining In: Plasto Revisited, the slow-cooker version

When things get hectic and I don’t want to think too much about meal-planning, there are certain recipes I reach for, metaphorically anyway because some of them I can do from muscle memory — I’ve made them so often! Piccata-style chicken or pork is one such dish, and pasta with tuna and capers is another (we really do like capers, don’t we?). Fortunately, I can still rely on these stand-bys even when cooking on a hotel (yes, we’re still here) two-burner cooktop.

Lately, though, we’ve had a hankering for another favorite that normally requires an oven — the Greek cornbread layered with greens known as Plasto (see photo). Plasto has been a regular part of our menus since we were first introduced to it way back in 2007 by Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. Following Laurie’s recipe, wild and other leafy greens are long-cooked with onions, garlic and herbs, then mixed with cheeses and sandwiched between layers of cornbread dough and baked. It’s a scrumptious meat-less meal, and is equally good warm from the oven or cold while hiking or traveling.

But being oven-less here in a hotel, we needed a way to adapt the recipe for a slow-cooker. Actually, I often cook the greens in a slow-cooker anyway when I’m planning to make Plasto. Once the greens are cooked and cooled, they will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days until the day I want to bake, then I have only to add the cheese, make the cornbread dough, and bake.

Although I had never tried one, I had seen recipes for quickbreads made in a slow-cooker so I was certain I could find a cornbread or cornmeal dumpling recipe that would work. I knew I wanted to cook the cornbread with the greens — part of what makes Plasto so tasty is that the bread absorbs some of the savory liquid from the soupy greens while it bakes, otherwise we’re just be eating greens with a side of cornbread. Don’t get me wrong, I love cornbread and greens, too, but Plasto is a different taste and texture experience. Anyway, a long perusal of the internet revealed one key difference between breads/biscuits that are baked in an oven, and those baked in a slow-cooker on top of a liquid — be they stews, soups, chili, or whatever: and that was 1/3 less chemical leavening, as the added steam from the liquid below it gives the dough a helpful lift as it also bakes.

And it worked! Once the greens were completely cooked and filled the room with their savory aroma and whiffs of dill and oregano, I stirred in feta cheese, then topped it with my usual cornbread dough minus one teaspoon of baking powder. The result was perfect — just the right mix of greens and cornbread to satisfy our craving for Plasto. The biggest difference we noticed was in the texture of the bread — it was much lighter and more moist due to the steam-action, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was also different not to have the corn-y flavor coming from both sides of the greens, and of course this version is not as portable as the original either. But it’s definitely a keeper for days when I know I can cook the greens the same day the dish will be served. It is also a nice alternative to turning on an oven during the hot summer months.

Another concession I made in this Plasto, given the limits of the micro-kitchen, is that all the greens (turnip, collard, kale) were frozen. A time-saver and sanity saver when counter space is nonexistent and colanders are limited. One of the things that we love about Plasto is the complexity of flavor that comes from using a mix of greens, especially if a couple of them have a bitter edge like the mustards, endives, or kales. At minimum I try to use 3 different greens but have been known to use as many as 5, and at least 2 greens in the mix will always have a bite.

(With thanks to Laurie for introducing us to the original version, which is now firmly in our culinary DNA, and from which this is adapted)
Serves 4 persons

For the Greens:
3 lbs (1.36kg) cleaned weight mixture of greens: kale, spinach, collard, chicory, mustard, turnip, Chinese mustard, rapini, watercress, etc. (unless you’re using frozen vegetables that are already cleaned and weighed, you’re going to have to eye-ball the approximate pre-clean weight of each green: consider that kales, western mustard and turnip greens, and collards have heavy, thick stems that will be discarded; while almost the entire bunch of spinach, chicories, Asian greens, rapini and cresses is edible)
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 cup (120ml) water or broth
sea salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 tsp Aleppo pepper (Korean pepper flakes can substitute)
3 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
3-5 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all greens, oregano, dill, water, salt, and peppers in a 6qt/L slow-cooker, and set on LOW.

Meanwhile, cook onions and olive oil in a separate skillet set over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until garlic is fragrant, abour 4 minutes. Add cooked aromatics to the greens and stir in well.

Cover and leave greens on LOW for 7-8 hours. When cooked, you can continue with the recipe below, or cool the greens completely and refrigerate until needed, then mix in the cheese and sandwich between layers of your favorite cornbread dough in an 8” round cake pan and bake.

To Finish:
1 cup (8oz/240g) sheep’s milk feta
1 quantity Cornbread Topping (below)

Once greens are cooked, combine crumbled feta with greens. TURN Slow-cooker to HIGH.

Top with cornbread dough, keeping away from the edges of the pot to give the dough room to rise as it bakes. Cover, and do not peek for at least 30 minutes. Check with toothpick to see if cornbread is cooked through. May need another 10 minutes to finish.

Remove cover to allow steam to escape so it does not drip back onto your bread while it cools and sets for 15 minutes.

Serve with extra feta and olives, or your favorite green salad.

1 cup (100g) all-purpose flour (do not substitute self-rising) 1 cup (170g) medium-grind cornmeal 3 TBL (36g) granulated sugar 2 tsp (7.5g) baking powder 1/3 cup (78ml) olive oil, or melted butter 1 cup (236ml) milk 1 lg. egg, beaten

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Combine oil, milk and egg and beat well to blend. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just enough to combine — do not overmix.

Add as directed above, or use to top your favorite slow-cook chili, soup or stew. Cook as directed above.

To adapt this recipe for baking in a conventional oven, add 1 more tsp. of baking powder to the dry ingredients and bake in a square cake pan, or better yet, a pre-heated 8” skillet with 1 TBL of butter melted and swirled to coat the sides. Bake at 400F/200C for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes away clean.

Dining In: Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Veggies

Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Vegetables — sounds like something I could expect from my favorite Italian chain (no, not the one with the tree). Curly corkscrew pasta, with ridges to catch every bit of a garlicky, herb-rich sauce. Salmon marinated in garlic, parsley and oil. Broccoli, cauliflower and green beans bathed in garlic-butter sauce. With a glass of pinot grigio, this is a wonderful meal to enjoy al fresco with friends. What’s not to love, right?

Well, here’s more. What if all the hard work has been done for you, and this whole meal could come together in 20 minutes, not including pasta cooking time? It did for us with this meal, because the whole thing materialized with just 3 things in my shopping basket at Trader Joe’s: frozen “Bean So Green” seasoned vegetable mix, frozen salmon filets in chimichurri sauce, and pasta. Okay, this particular corkscrew pasta is not from TJ’s but you could substitute any of the bowtie, penne or rotini pastas that TJ’s does have and it will be as fabulous. Just slice the slightly frozen fish (it’s easier to slice that way) into bite-size pieces, and saute in a skillet with a small bit of olive oil. You don’t even need much oil because the marinade has oil too. Once the fish has taken on a little color, increase the heat to high, and add half the bag of frozen veggies and half the quantity of cooked pasta, stir together, cover and allow to steam and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of that pinot. Stir through again about half way through the cooking time. Voila, dinner!

Normally, you would expect to see the fish and veggies seasoned from scratch on these pages, but these are not normal times. At least not for us. This was made in a hotel room. True, it’s a room with a fridge and kitchen cooktop (no stove, but at least I can boil water for pasta, and saute and fry in a skillet or wok), but it’s in a hotel nonetheless.

If you’ve stopped by here in the last few months, you may know that we have been house-hunting since January. Well, we’re still house-hunting. But the lease on our rental house ended in April and we did not want to be locked into another year lease, so we moved out. Nor did we want to be tied to an apartment lease either, so we opted for long-term hotel lodging. Judging from the quizzical looks we get from friends and colleagues, this option freaks a lot of people out. For us, though, it is usually part of every move we’ve made (5 in the last 14 years), so we know the drill: store your stuff, find a hotel with kitchenette, look for permanent solution — in this case a house to buy.

So with a few kitchen necessities, and in this case lots of fabulous products from a source we like and trust, we can at least keep ourselves fortified and our spirits up while we transition yet again.


Dutch Split Pea Soup

You might not guess it at first, but these are dried peas. Don’t they look inviting... Promising loads of nutrients and sweetness packed into their compact dehydrated form?

No? Is that just me?... Well, be that as it may, I’ve been remiss not to post this sooner. Our area has been repeatedly deluged with snow. Historic quantities, they say. We haven’t lived here long, but it does seem to be quite a lot. And we’ve been spending an unnatural amount of time in this cold, wet stuff while house-hunting every weekend in nearby Fredrick County. It’s hard work but someone has to help stimulate the economy by buying a house, right? Why not us.

So while doing our part for the economy (“You’re welcome.”), we often come home cold and hungry. What you really want when you feel this way is something waiting for you at home that’s hearty, and hot. Some rib-sticking goodness that warms you up from the inside out. One of our favorites is from the New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill — a Dutch-style split pea soup with the astounding name of Snert. I’ve adapted this recipe to be prepared in a slow-cooker in two parts, first to make the broth, then to make the soup. Remember that ham bone from the guava-glazed ham we had for Christmas? It’s been biding its time in the freezer until now, waiting to provide its supporting role in this soup.

So let’s get cooking...

(adapted from New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill)
Serves 6-8 persons

For the broth:
1 ham bone
2 smoked ham hocks
4 ribs of celery, or half of a medium celery root, aka celeriac
1 large onion studded with 3 spice cloves
2 large bay leaves
2 large carrots
6-10 whole black peppercorns
2 blades of mace
4 quarts/liters cold water (Note: if you’re not finishing the soup in a slow-cooker, use 3 qts/L water. I’ve learned to start with more water when making dried pulses and beans in a slow-cooker because I usually use the slow-cooker when I DON’T want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen (I know, but it happens) and bean/pulse soups have a way of thickening when you’re not paying attention)
Place all broth ingredients in 6qt/L slow-cooker. Turn on LOW for 8-10 hours. Skim surface of broth to remove impurities as they rise.

Remove ham bone and hocks, separate meat from bones. Strain broth into clean non-reactive container, return meat to broth and cool completely. (You can start this process the night before and in the morning strain the broth and add the dried peas directly into the still warm broth. This will reduce your cooking time by a couple of hours.)

Finish the Soup:
1 lb/455g dried green split peas, washed well and picked over to remove small pebbles
other half of celery root, if using (optional)
sea salt to taste
1-1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 lb/455g smoked sausage such as kielbasa
1/2 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced (about 1 cup)

Return broth to slow-cooker. Taste for seasoning and add sea salt as needed, and pepper. Add split peas, stir well, and set on LOW for 7-8 hours, or on HIGH for 4 hours if you want soup sooner.

Meanwhile, slice kielbasa into rounds and pan-fry until nicely browned and cooked through. Set aside until needed.

Check soup consistency about three-quarters of the way through cooking time — it should be thick but loose, not a dense mash. If it is thickening more quickly than expected, you can add a half cup of boiling water to the pot to keep it going for a little longer. Or if you’re ready to dine, go ahead and turn the cooker off. Stir in the parsley, and taste for seasoning. Add most of the kielbasa (I reserve a few pieces to garnish the soup).

Serve with your favorite bread, ours is Bruschetta, of course. And yes, that’s olive oil drizzled over the top, too... just because. Does this look like something that would make you forget even something being billed as “Snowpocalypse”? Here’s what we could see...

This was T. taking on the Sisyphean task of keeping up with the falling snow
in the middle of the first storm we got in December,
which was record-breaking for its time...

The next morning, still more shovelling!...

Now fast forward to February, and earlier this month: more snow.
Lots more. It kept coming all night and day.

And when it stopped, it really stopped. For good. We hope.
(The fence is almost 4 ft. high)


5-A-Day: Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries

A whole bowl full of goodness: dark green Chinese broccoli, soft wolfberries, toothsome shiitake mushrooms, crisp slices of woodear fungus, carrot coins and fresh whole ears of sweet baby corn. A vegetarian’s delight that could make a believer of the heartiest carnivore!

The preparation could not be simpler. Fresh vegetables and rehydrated fungi are stir-fried together with a kiss of sesame oil, sugar and salt for a total cooking time of about 6 minutes!

Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, is a member of the mustard family (Brassica) along with all those other favorites: cabbage, broccoli, choi sum, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, and rapini. It can be confused with its cousin, choi sum, but there are a few cues in telling them apart. Like its more distant cousin, the Western broccoli, the sweetest part of the vegetable is actually its stem, though I suspect the leafy greens contain the best of its nutritional goodness. No matter, you’re going to enjoy the whole thing!

Wolfberries (lycium barbarum) are commercially marketed as “goji berries” and are available both in Chinese and Korean groceries, and in most health food stores. Some high end supermarkets may also carry them in the natural foods aisle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), wolfberries are thought to strengthen, or tonify, the liver and kidneys, and Western science has shown that they contain nutritionally significant amounts of important nutrients including the anti-oxidants Vitamin C, linoleic acid, thiamine, beta-carotene, and riboflavin. In TCM, wolfberries are included in tonics to boost immune system function and for certain eye disorders, but most interestingly, it is also prescribed for the treatment of dry winter skin! We usually buy wolfberries in Chinese groceries (where it may often be sold by its pharmacological name, Fructus lycii), and all the packaging I’ve seen recommend that the berries be cooked before eating — so this is not something we eat out of hand either plain or in trail mix. We do, however, add them to cooked oatmeal, substitute them for raisins in oatmeal cookies, and throw them in to soups. When cooked or boiled, as in soup or oatmeal, the berries don’t really have a distinct flavor, but baked in the cookies they retain a mild tartness similar to cranberry.

Woodear, or black, fungus (might also be labelled as mok-yee) is most often sold dried. Once rehydrated in cool or warm water for 20-30 minutes, the fungus swells to 2-3 times its dried size, so a little goes a long way. Woodear does not really have a distinctive flavor, but is mostly added for the pleasant crunch it adds to stir-fries and soups. TCM also recognizes that woodear is useful to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Together with fresh baby corn and carrots for additional sweetness and chew, these ingredients join for a dish as colorful as it is nutritious. And tasty!

(adapted from Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)

2-3 pieces of dried woodear
4-5 dried shiitake or other black mushroom
1 bundle of Chinese broccoli, about 1lb/450g
4-8oz. (113-226g) fresh baby corn, washed and cut in half
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried wolfberries
3-4 medium cloves of garlic, minced

Prepare the vegetables:
Soak shiitake and wood ear fungi in separate bowls for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all are fully re-hydrated (will depend on the size and thickness of the fungus).

Clean gai lan, baby corn and carrot using a mild vinegar solution. Peel and slice carrot crosswise, at a slight diagonal. Separate leaves of gai lan from stems, and cut thicker stem pieces into 2” pieces.

I like to rinse the wolfberries, with a gentle rubbing action to loosen any grit that may have settled on them during processing.

Prepare the Sauce:


Roasted Butternut Risotto with Pan-fried Cod & Salmon

Whether the weather outside is frightful or delightful, creamy risotto always fits the bill: either hunkering indoors while the weather gods dither or warming up after a day of cavorting in crisp fall air. Here, roasted butternut squash provides a rich and satisfying foundation for an unexpected foil — curry-dusted wild salmon and cod.

This unlikely fusion came about this way: we had only one cod and one salmon filet in the freezer, we had roasted butternut squash in the fridge, and I was craving risotto. Butternut squash risotto was a no-brainer, but I wanted fish, too. Well, butternut soups are often seasoned with curry powder, ostensibly the spices act as a foil to the rich squash; and we often pan-fry fish dusted with curry spices, so it seemed like there was potential there. But how to tie the seemingly disparate classics, Italian risotto and Indian spiced fish? Answer: Two spices that are found in neither classic recipe but which compliment both and literally marry them in perfect union.

The key turned out to be using chicken broth infused with fresh ginger and cinnamon, which lifted the flavor of the butternut brilliantly without taking over. Both are also used extensively in Indian cooking and so did not fight with the curry spices in the fish. T prefered the cod with the risotto, while I liked the richer flavor of wild salmon better with this combination.

Although this recipe developed as a way to use ingredients we already had on hand, this combination was a winner with us both and something we will plan for in future. Although this recipe may look daunting at first glance, it's really and truly quite do-able when you roast the squash ahead of time — throw it in when you have something else going in the oven anyway. We had roasted squash on hand for this recipe because we roasted it when we were baking Stuffed Tomatoes earlier in the week. And enriching a store-bought chicken broth with ginger and cinnamon is something that requires little attention from the cook as it simmers on a back burner. Go on, you can do this.

Last Friday evening, the weather was in fact quite dreary and wet most of the day. But with a warm and colorful bowl like this to cheer us indoors, we say, "Let it drizzle, let it drizzle, let it drizzle!"

Whenever I make risotto, I still hear Valentina Harris, author of "Risotto! Risotto!" in my head coaxing and wooing risottos to their creamy finish. Chef Harris was our guest risotto instructor at Leiths, and the method I follow is hers although this recipe is my own.
(For 4 persons)

Prepare the Squash:
2.5 lb or 1kg butternut squash, washed well
2 TBL olive oil

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds.

Oil baking pan, and place squash in pan with the cut side down. Place in cold oven and set temperature to 350F/180C. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the flesh is pierced easily with a knife.

Cool for at least 20 minutes (or completely if doing this step 1 or more days in advance). Scoop out flesh — it will be pretty smooth and creamy, but you can blend or puree it to ensure a uniform texture (I don't dot this) and set aside.

*Squash can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. Re-heat in microwave to heat through before continuing.

Prepare Broth for Risotto:
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 slim finger of ginger, well scrubbed and sliced lengthwise
1 stick of cinnamon

Bring all broth ingredients to a rapid boil in a 3 or 4 qt/L saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Ready to use, but for deeper flavor, allow broth to cool with ginger and cinnamon. Remove ginger slices and cinnamon, and return to full boil for 10 minutes before continuing with risotto.

Leave broth on low simmer while making risotto.

Prepare the Fish:
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
scant 1/4 tsp cayenne (red chili) powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garam masala
juice from half lemon, about 2 TBL
1 filet Alaskan cod, about 6 oz/ 170g
1 filet wild Alaskan salmon, about 6 oz/ 170g
2 TBL olive oil

Combine coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and garam masala.
Cut each filet into 1-inch pieces.
Toss fish with lemon juice, and coat with spice mixture. Set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes while you finish risotto.

For the Risotto:
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 TBL olive oil
2 TBL unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Carnaroli rice (if using arborio rice, you may need only 5 cups of broth)
1/4 cup brandy
2 cups/360g warm roasted butternut squash puree
6 cups Infused Chicken Broth, kept simmering and with a soup ladle nearby

As always with risotto, have all ingredients ready and within easy reach before starting.

In a 5-6 qt/L pan, cook onion with oil and butter over medium heat until onion is absolutely translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Increase heat to medium high.

Add rice, and stir well to coat with oils. Allow to cook for another 40 to 60 seconds, until the rice starts to squeak or squeal. Add brandy, and stir well. When all liquid has been absorbed, add one ladle of simmering broth, stir in and allow broth to be completely absorbed. Add second ladle of broth, stir until broth is absorbed. Add third ladle, stir, absorb.

Add butternut squash puree, and stir through with rice. Continue adding broth one full ladle at a time, stirring continously and allowing liquid to be absorbed each time before more is added. This will take another 10-12 minutes.

Cover and let rest while finishing fish.

Pan-fry Fish:
Pre-heat skillet over medium high heat.
Gently pat dry fish pieces, being careful not to rub off spices.
Add 3 TBL oil to skillet, and add fish, being careful not to crowd pan.
Brown fish on all sides. Remove to warm plate, and repeat with any remaining fish.

To serve, place one-fourth of risotto in warmed bowls, and top with fish and chive or scallion garnish. The richness of the risotto and spiciness of the fish promise that this dish can hold its own against a fruity red wine. Our go-to weekday wine is Trader Joe's Charles Shaw, and we called on a Merlot for this experimental meal, and it was fine. But now that we have reclassed this unlikely combo as worthy of a special occasion, next time we will look deeper in the cellar.


Roasted Belgian Endive

Roasted Belgian endive is one of those dishes that is infinitely more nuanced and addictive than its name first implies. Both sweet and savory, and meltingly tender, this works equally well as a vegetarian entree served on top of mashed potatoes, or as a side dish with roast chicken. We used to live in a place where this vegetable was grown so it was abundant and cheap, and graced our dinner table a couple of times a month, at least. Now it is more of a treat, both in price and in availability — when he sees it on the table, T usually exclaims, “Roasted endives — is it my birthday?!”

If you know Belgian endive as a raw vegetable, you know it has a bitter edge. Some people seek out that edgy bite, many others shy away from it. But once baked this way, Belgian endive mellows, allowing the underlying sweetness of the raw vegetable to come through. It is assembled from a few common pantry staples, so when you spot this delectable vegetable in your market, you know you can put this together without searching out a lot of other ingredients. To make this dish, look for large spears that are creamy white, tinged with pale yellow at the tips.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 slice of whole wheat bread
2 TBL fresh grated parmesan
1kg/2.2 Belgian endive
sea salt (optional)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) very dry white wine or water
2 TBL. + olive oil

Tear bread slice into smaller pieces and place in the small bowl of a food processor with the parmesan. Process briefly to make coarse bread crumbs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Cut endive lengthwise in half, and lay with the cut side up in a baking dish that will hold all the tightly -packed cut vegetable halves. The endive will shrink as it bakes, so it’s okay to squeeze them in together even if they look uncomfortably tight in the dish, just keep the flat side facing up. Season with a few grinds of fresh pepper and salt (we usually omit the salt — the saltiness of the parmesan is enough for us). Pour broth and wine over and around endive. Scatter bread crumb mixture to cover the vegetable, then drizzle with olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs (you may need more than 2 TBL.)

Cover with a sheet of wax or parchment paper, then aluminum foil. Bake in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, then remove foil and parchment, and continue roasting until vegetable becomes translucent and softens, and crust is golden brown, about another 10-15 minutes.


Mis-en-place: Prepping Bulk Produce

Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, PROVIDED you actually use all the stuff you buy before it takes a turn. With stable items that are frozen, canned or otherwise shelf-stable, this isn’t generally a problem. But what about fresh produce?

Two of our favorite items from the warehouse store, Costco, are the fresh bagged spinach and the sweet peppers. Thing is, both come in 4 lb.quantities which is a lot for one household to use quickly unless you’re expecting a crowd. The photos above show the full quantities of each item after their vinegar washes.

For the spinach, the biggest problem is simply space. That volume of spinach just won’t fit in the fridge in our kitchen. We don’t eat a lot of raw spinach, though T. will occasionally make a spinach salad. The rest will be flash-cooked so it’s ready to use in a variety of dishes: omelets, dressed in sesame or garlic dressing as a side dish, added to pan-fried noodle dishes, topping for ramen or soba, filling for a pie or lasagne. One of the most time-consuming chores when using fresh greens of any kind is washing it, so by doing the whole quantity at once you’ve saved yourself valuable prep time for the rest of the week. My 16” wok will fit one colander-ful of cleaned spinach so it takes 3 turns on the wok to cook all the spinach, but with only 5 minutes cooking for each panful. Drain the cooked spinach, pressing lightly to remove as much water as possible, cool, and store.

Most importantly, valuable fridge real estate is preserved when those 3 colanders of fresh spinach now fit in 2 flat quart-size containers that stack neatly. Cooked spinach will also keep a bit longer than fresh, but I would still use it up in 4-5 days. After 2 days, I make it a point to re-heat the spinach thoroughly either in whatever it is cooked with or to the point of steaming in the microwave if used as a side dish or topping for noodle soups.

The sweet peppers we love for their wonderful sweetness, and they’re great for snacking on just by themselves. But with their rich colors, they’re also a welcome addition to stir-fries, stews, fajitas, omelets, and just about anything that would benefit from their color and sweetness. We probably use about half the peppers fresh, then I clean and trim the remaining peppers, vacuum seal them and freeze until needed. Most are cut into strips, but I like to leave a small quantity in halves so I have the option to do other things with them — cut into chunks for stews, or leave in halves and stuff for baking. When we have a filling leftover from making potstickers, gyoza, or even last year’s fried olive delights (remember those?.... so good...), pepper halves make perfect vessels for baking off the leftovers and treating yourself to a nice light lunch or an appetizer.

So whether you’re shopping at a warehouse store, or your local grocery is having a too-good-to-resist sale on your favorite produce, or your CSA box comes with loads of veggies you don’t plan to use right away, set aside an hour or two to prep them the more delicate, perishable ones right away, even if you’re not certain what you will do them later. Knowing you have them on hand and ready-to-use, will make it more likely that you will find creative ways to add them into your week-day meal planning or last-minute brain-storming.

Happy Cooking, Everyone! And remember, “Cook food, but serve Love.”


Muffuletta Olive Salad

If you’ve visited this site before, you may have noticed I have a fondness for briny or pickled things. So one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans was less about Mardi Gras and more about the New Orleans famed Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery. (I don’t want to know what this says about my psyche...)

Muffuletta is basically a type of sub or hero sandwich made with Italian deli meats, a particular type of bread, and provolone and mozzarella cheeses — but the thing that is said to set the Muffuletta apart from mere mortal sandwiches is the olive salad which is part filling, part condiment. The salad is a conglomeration of olives, pepperoncini, pickled onions, capers, veggies and assorted seasonings. Once assembled, the sandwich is wrapped and allowed to rest so the salad has a chance to permeate the bread and meats with its oily goodness and create a delicious mess. My kind of sandwich!

Anyway, earlier this year while searching the Web for something entirely different, I repeatedly came across references to Muffulettas — maybe a dozen times in one search session. As I understood it, this was a sign from the universe that I could no longer wait to visit New Orleans to sample a Muffuletta, I’d just have to make one here.

First I read a couple of dozen recipes for that key ingredient, the olive salad, and used as a starting point the one that had the highest ratings or most positive comments from others who have actually had a Muffuletta from Central Grocery. After gathering everything in the rather lengthy and pricey list of ingredients (except the bread — I did not find the right bread, and used a ciabatta instead), I realized it might be more cost effective to buy a ticket to New Orleans instead! Just kidding. Sort of.

So once the salad was made and allowed to sit overnight, I couldn’t wait to assemble the actual sandwich. Some writers were very particular about the actual order of layering the meats and cheese, something I respect because I know that can affect the final flavor. I followed this order: bread, mozzarella, provolone, ham, mortadella, genoa salami, olive salad; then dutifully wrapped my sandwich in plastic and let it sit for a couple of hours.

All in all, it was a delicious creation. And, as promised, a very messy sandwich. Was it as good as I had built it up in my mind? After 20 years of imagining and lusting after this sandwich, there’s really no way it could be. But it was worth trying, and if I do find myself in New Orleans in the future, I will still find my way to Central Grocery for the Real Thing. Despite the Bad News (see below).

The olive salad, though, is useful in many other things and I will definitely make it again. It would make a great pizza topping all by itself, and is an instant gourmet flavor boost to any tuna or chicken salad with mayo for sandwiches and wraps, or mix with macaroni or tortellini for a picnic pasta salad. Whether you decide to go for the Muffuletta or not, this olive salad is a handy fridge staple to have on hand especially with the summer picnic season just ahead.

Update: Learn more about the
Sicilian heritage of the Muffuletta sandwich and how to make the traditional bread for the real thing at Rubber Slippers in Intaly.

(based on jenn’s Real N'awlins Muffuletta)

1/2 cup pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pickled cauliflower florets and carrots (giardiniera)
2 TBL capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini (pickled peppers)
2 TBL chopped marinated cocktail onions
1/2 tsp raw sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive container, and allow to marinate at least overnight.

The Bad News: This recipe came from which has the added feature of providing nutritional information for the recipes on the site, which is a very Good thing. The bad news about the Muffuletta, though, is that one serving size (which is 1/8 of jenn’s full recipe) has a whopping 973 calories, 556 of which are from fat. But that isn’t even the worst of it — are you sitting down? — it also has 3,242mg of sodium in one serving. The sandwich in the photo above is probably just shy of 2 servings...

Another handy pickle to have in the fridge: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle


JD's Zucchini Saute

Once upon a time there were two best friends — mechanical engineers by training and trade, and they were both named John Joseph. These best buddies loved to make people laugh, to dance, to take things apart and, most importantly for our purposes, to eat.

One John Joseph actually went by the Italian version of this name, Giovanni Giuseppe, as he was born in that faraway land and had come to the U.S. as a young boy; we met Gio last year in Remembrances of Caponatas Past. The other John Joseph was of Irish descent and here we’ll call him JD. Both men enjoyed being in the kitchen, but were very different kinds of cooks. Gio picked up a pot of his mama’s homemade ragu every week to use for his bachelor meals, most of which featured this ragu. (Hey, with homemade ragu, how can you go wrong?!) JD was more of an experimental cook, who thrived on innovation in the kitchen as well as the workshop. One of his signature original (he swears) dishes was a quick saute of zucchini that requires only the most basic pantry staples, yet produces an addictively tasty and easy vegetable side dish. I’ve been making JD’s saute for over 20 years now and everyone who tries it, wants the recipe and is amazed how simple it is to prepare. This is perfect both for quick weekday meals and for serving in your best dishes to guests.

Thanks, JD...

For 2 persons
Plan on 1 medium-sized zucchini per person, and this recipe easily doubles and triples

2 medium zucchini, about 1 lb/455g
1 TBL olive oil
1 medium to large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp *dried basil
1/2 tsp *dried oregano
1/8 tsp *dried thyme
(* Someone once asked me why I don’t use fresh herbs for this, and the simple answer is that JD used dried herbs, and out of habit I do too with this particular recipe even when we have a garden full of basil, oregano and thyme...)
1-2 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 drops soy sauce, about 1/4 tsp (See Hint for controlling soy sauce drops below)
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Wash zucchini well, trim ends and slice to about 1/4” thickness.

In wok, or large skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat until garlic is fragrant. Add sliced zucchini, and saute until zucchini just begin to become translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add dried herbs and butter, and stir to melt butter and distribute herbs. Continue cooking until zucchini almost reach desired doneness — we prefer them to be slightly translucent but not completely limp, about 5 minutes for 2 zucchini (longer cooking if making larger quantities). Sprinkle soy sauce over, and stir well, cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from heat and correct seasoning. The soy sauce has to “cook” a little to achieve the right flavor but you don’t want it to scorch.

Serve with your favorite pasta or roast chicken.

If you have any leftovers, add with leftover spaghetti or diced potatoes, and eggs to make a great frittata for lunch the next day!

Hint for controlling shoyu when pouring or dribbling: If you have one of these soy sauce servers (at most Asian markets, they are less than $2 filled, then you re-fill them when empty), it’s easy to control the amount of soy sauce you add when pouring or drizzling drops of soy sauce as you cook. Simply place your finger over one opening as you tilt the bottle to pour. By quickly lifting your finger from the opening, you allow either a stream of liquid or just a few drops through, depending on how long your finger is off the opening. By also keeping the angle of the bottle tilt shallow, you can literally control the liquid drop by drop!


Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables in Egg “Custard” Sauce

Once farmers’ markets re-open and spring vegetables appear, they seem such a luxury after months of root vegetables, squashes and winter greens! This is a simple and unusual preparation that seems more decadent and rich than it really is. I learned the method from a housemate in London who was also a student at Leith’s and hailed from Bari, Italy (near the “heel” of the Italian peninsula). It is a sensuous decadent pasta coated with melting slices of zucchini dressed in a "custard" of barely cooked eggs. Prepared correctly, this sauce will remind you of the best carbonara — a flavor-packed, unctous sauce clinging to every strand of pasta. And like carbonara, the ingredients are few, so quality is important.

Costi prepared his mother's recipe for this sauce with only 5 ingredients: zucchini, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and fresh eggs. I’ve made this dish regularly since I learned it from him, but I also include a touch of garlic as a personal preference (but Costi would not approve). In this instance, I’ve also added asparagus because it was also seasonal and its flavors would marry well with the other ingredients.

The method is simple: thinly sliced zucchini are gently sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil until translucent, then the hot cooked pasta is heated through with the vegetable. Off the flame, beaten eggs are added and gently stirred through to combine. And when I say "copious amounts of olive oil," I mean enough to make most people faint at the thought of it — when I helped Costi make this dish for a dinner party thrown by our host family in London, he used almost a liter of oil for an 8-person serving! The hostess almost had a heart attack watching him devastate a prized bottle of olive oil she had brought back with her from their family’s last trip to Italy.

I cut back a bit on the amount of olive oil here, but this is about as far down as you can take it and still retain the creaminess of the original. I rationalize the amount of oil in this dish by thinking that 1) olive oil is at least a monounsaturated oil, approved by the American Heart Association for reducing bad cholesterol, and 2) we have this only once a year.

The freshness of the eggs is especially important in this dish, because the eggs are just barely cooked so they retain their creamy texture and do not “set” or scramble. I actually prepared this last spring when we were still on Oahu and zucchini, asparagus, and eggs were all local and fresh. When buying “farm fresh” eggs at the farm or market, let the proprietor know that you plan to use the eggs in a semi-cooked state and ask for the freshest they have on hand. Until I can find all these again in our new local area, I’ll wait and continue to dream of our next taste…

Serves 4 persons
This dish contains semi-cooked eggs and, even when using the freshest eggs possible, should not be consumed by pregnant women, young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised or weakened immune system (including those who are taking or have recently taken a course of antibiotics) without first consulting your physician.

1 lb. fresh or dried fettuccine, or other flat pasta

½ lb. zucchini
1 lb. asparagus spears
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cup olive oil (not a typo)
sea salt to taste
fresh grated Parmesan, about ½ cup, plus extra for the table
4 large very fresh eggs, preferably organic and without antibiotics

Bring water to boil for pasta. Warm pasta bowls/plates. (See hints for warming plates below.)

Wash and dry the zucchini and asparagus well, preferably in a vinegar wash. (See original Gai Choy post about cleaning vegetables to remove pesticides, wax and dirt and a link to an NPR story about cleaning vegetables.)

Slice the zucchini cross-wise on the diagonal. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the asparagus lengthwise into thin strips or ribbons.

Wash eggs well, and dry. Beat eggs together with ¼ cup oil. Set aside.

In a skillet or wok large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta, heat ½ cup olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic becomes fragrant. Add another ½ cup oil and zucchini, and stir gently to coat vegetable with oil. As zucchini absorbs oil, add another ¼ cup and allow vegetable to absorb new amount. Continue cooking until zucchini just starts to become translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta (remember to salt the water just before adding your pasta).

Add asparagus ribbons, salt to taste (but remember that the Parmesan will add saltiness too), and combine to coat asparagus with oil. Continue to cook until asparagus just becomes bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Add Parmesan and stir.

Drain pasta, but do not rinse, and add hot pasta directly to skillet with the vegetables, and stir through to combine. Immediately pour beaten eggs over everything, and stir well but gently. Cover for 5 minutes.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls, garnished with extra Parmesan if desired. (If you don’t always warm your pasta bowl or plate — *guilty!* — this is one dish where you really want to take that extra step.)

With a garlicky bruschetta and glasses of Pinot Grigio or Soave, you’re set for a spring fling al fresco! Happy Spring!

Hints for Warming Bowls/Plates:
* If you’re making garlic bread, put your plates in the oven as it’s pre-heating. Remove them from the oven to put in the garlic bread, and keep covered with a clean towel. Or if you’re like us and use a toaster oven for this task, put the stacked plates on top of the toaster oven while making your garlic bread — if you have 4 or more plates, you may have to rotate the plates around to get them all warm.
* Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and pour ½ cup into each bowl just before serving. Set aside for 1 minute, pour off water and dry.
* Find your warming tray and put it to use! We have one that uses 2 votive candles to keep serving dishes warm at the table, but it can pull double duty here by warming your pasta bowls while you are preparing the meal.
* In the microwave, place a 1/4 cup or so of water in each bowl, stack them and place in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your oven. Remove water and dry.


Packed for Travel: Miso-glazed Chicken

My bento is ready to go and so am I. An unexpected trip to the Bayou State has presented itself and I will be away one week. Airline meals being what they are, I usually pack my own when I can, like this easy meal of rice, pickled plum, (umeboshi), pickled ginger, sesame burdock and carrots (kinpira) and miso-glazed chicken. Simple flavors, lots of rice and ginger for a sometimes queasy stomach, and I'm good to go. Miso glazed chicken is quick and easy enough for weeknight meals, but elegant enough as well for your next dinner party.

1lb (450g) boneless chicken
3/4 cup (375ml) water
1/2 cup sake, or dry sherry, or apple juice
1 slice fresh ginger
TBL. mirin
3 TBL. sugar
4 TBL. white (aka "shiro") miso paste

Combine water, sake and ginger in saute pan. Lay chicken in pan, and bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook about 5 minutes.

Turn chicken over in pan, and add mirin, sugar and miso paste. Cover and simmer another 5 minutes.

Remove cover and continue cooking until liquid thickens and coats chicken. Turn meat to glaze both sides. Remove from heat. Garnish with green onions, or sesame seeds.

Island bounty

Colorful papayas, bananas, lychee, dragonfruit
Papayas&Apple bananas --- Lychee(top)&Dragonfruit ---Taro,Russetts,Okinawan sweets&Red-skin Sweets --- Long beans,Squash blossoms&Red shallots

As a fairly new resident in Hawaii, I’ve really enjoyed combing through local farmers’ markets, ethnic groceries, even supermarket produce aisles to find what’s local and fresh here. Of course one expects to find tropical fruits (papayas, mangoes, dragonfruit, bananas, pineapples) and Asian vegetables a-plenty, and there’s certainly no shortage of these. What took my breath away is the abundance of unexpected delectables that are also grown locally: mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, strawberries, apples, oranges, and corn (corn?!). (And one of the local papers reports that coming soon…. blueberries from cool volcano slopes!) ©2007 setsat3

Another striking thing about the local produce is the variety that one will find in each category.

Do you like beans? You’ll find Kentucky green, yard-long, flat romanos, wing, sugar snap, and snowpeas.

How about sweet potatoes? They come in three colors – Okinawan purple or white flesh, and the traditional red-skinned yellow flesh (none of these are the orange yams called “sweet potatoes” on the Mainland).

Squash fan? Try zucchini, tongan or upo; or the hard-skinned kabocha.
Kona coffee beans
Kona coffee

Then there are the papayas – sunrise (orange flesh) or rainbow (red-orange) , or the unripe green ones for cooking;
and the luscious mangoes -- ripe greens, purples, reds, and deep orange Manilas.

And if you like cabbage, you’ve come to the right place – napa, Chinese mustard (also called gai choi, not US “mustard greens”), bok/pak choi (regular & baby sizes, white or green stem), choi sum, Chinese broccoli, green or white head cabbage.

Apple bananasApple bananas
Bananas that are locally grown include regular (Cavendish), apple, WIlliams, and saba (Philippine cooking bananas); but one can also find baby varieties, red eating and cooking varieties (separate types), as well as plantains in many shops.

But the crème de la crème for me is definitely the local mushroom bounty – fresh shiitake, shimeji, enoki and oyster mushrooms . . . . all year long. Mmmm.

The Hawaii Agriculture and Food Products Directory is compiled by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture compilation of Hawaii fruits and vegetables, showing peak availability, month-by-month. In addition to fruits of the tree and vine, there are also eggs, milk, pork and wonderful grass-fed beef --- all locally produced.

Other local products to look for:
  • coffee, of course, both from the Kona coast and from the other islands;
  • fragrant honeys;
  • vanilla beans;
  • Hawaiian Heritage chocolate;
  • macadamia nuts and oils;
  • alae sea salt (a wonderful finishing and preserving salt mixed with red clay);
  • farm-raised sweet shrimp and white-flesh moi (fish);
  • and award-winning goat cheeses from Maui and the Big Island.