Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Making Leftovers that Taste New

Yesterday I told you about the leftover Cornish game hen meat from Sunday dinner and how I planned to turn it into spring rolls. Well, mission accomplished, and they were terrific! We had them for dinner with some Asian vegetable broth. Simple, not heavy, and not something you get at home very often.

In these hard times leftovers are a more important part of a families overall weekly meal plan. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver a Sunday chicken always resulted in another meal during the week. Before this recession kicked in I wasn't very big on leftovers and since my husband enjoyed taking them to work for lunch it wasn't difficult getting rid of them. But now I have a different perspective and more time to think about it.

It isn't always necessary to get fancy with your meal as long as it looks fresh and delicious. Our Saint Patricks Day Corned beef was extended for two later meals. The first was a simple Corned
beef sandwich on rye with mustard, served with a crispy coleslaw, and dill pickles. The second was a Corned Beef Hash that I created using leftover cubed beef, a large mostly baked potato chopped into squares, chopped onion, and green pepper. To get the potatoes real brown and crispy I placed my cast iron skillet right on top of the hash in the pan. The whole thing was served with a poached egg on top. It was brilliant.

The recipe for the spring rolls is so simple I made it up. The frying is my biggest concern but I used as little as possible of lightly flavored olive oil in my cast iron pan. I also wouldn't hesitate to try an oven method with spring rolls. Once they've been wrapped up just spray them with a little cooking spray and bake until golden and crispy looking. You'd be surprised by how tasty and authentic you can make these at home.


12 Spring roll wrappers (I use Bahn Trang Spring Roll Skins from PCC Market)
1 cup leftover chicken chopped into little pieces
1/2 cup of sliced cabbage (like for coleslaw)
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 green onions chopped
1 T dried lemongrass
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Oil for Cooking (I use about a 1/4 inch in bottom of 9 inch skillet).

Mix together everything in a small bowl except wrappers and oil. Taste to make sure it is seasoned appropriately. Take 2 spring roll wrappers, soak in water to create flexibility, place on flat surface, put about a 1/2 cup of mixture on wrapper, and then roll. Be sure to tuck in the ends at the start of the roll to make it nice and neat. Repeat until mixture is used up. (The wrappers freeze very well).

Heat oil in skillet to medium hot. Place no more than 3 rolls at a time in oil and cook until golden and crispy. Place on napkin to remove oil. Heat up oil again and add remaining rolls.

Serve with Sweet Thai Chile Sauce. Makes about 6 spring rolls.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Twist on an Old Favorite

You can usually tell when my husband is out of town because all I eat is peanut butter sandwiches and that doesn't make for a very interesting blog. Fortunately he is back and I did some fun things for Sunday dinner last night. Basic dishes made with a bit of a twist.

I had defrosted two Cornish game hens and with the leftover brown rice in the refrigerator the meal was basically covered. Stuff the rice inside the birds and roast for an hour at 425 degrees. It couldn't be simpler or more boring. I picked up one of Mario Batalli's cookbooks and he imparted the brilliant suggestion of brining small poultry. I have been brining my turkeys for Thanksgiving for the last 7 or 8 years and it has made all the difference in the moistness of the meat so I felt perfectly comfortable doing it my hens.

Using a big soup pot filled with cold water I added a cup of Kosher salt, 4 crushed garlic cloves and 4 circles of fresh ginger slightly smashed, a 1/2 cup sugar, a couple of teaspoons of pepper, and two Cornish game hens. After covering with a lid I put them in the refrigerator to float around for 6 hours. When they were done swimming in brine I pulled them out, dried them with paper towels, stuffed them with brown rice, basted them with olive oil, and placed them in a 425 degree oven for an hour. In the last 10 minutes of cook time I basted them with some Sweet Thai Chili Sauce and then basted them one last time as I removed them from the oven.

They were a huge success. The meat was moist, salty but not too salty, and delicious. You could taste the garlic and ginger flavors in the meat as well. It was a real treat. My husband ate his entire hen but I only managed half. Tonight I'm going to be using the remaining hen, some cabbage, onion, and lemongrass to make Spring Rolls for dinner. More on that later.

Now for dessert. Being a child of the sixties I was around when Pineapple Upside Down Cake was all the rage in desserts. It has gone out of style since then but it still remains one of my favorite yummies. One of the things I love about this dessert is that it is rustic yet sophisticated. I adore using my few pieces of cast iron cookware and this recipe is perfect for it because it goes from stove top to oven and that is something cast iron does very well.

The only fresh fruit I had available to me yesterday though was apples. I'm good with that because I like to eat as seasonally as I can and apples are something that are available all the time. Also because I live in Washington State they didn't have to travel very far! The recipe I found for Apple Upside Down Cake is delicious but if you use cast iron like I did then you need to increase you oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Apple Upside Down Cake

4 or 5 tart cooking apples
lemon juice
2 T butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Confectioners Sugar

Peel apples and remove cores. Slice apples very thinly; sprinkle lightly with lemon juice to keep from turning brown. Place butter in 9 inch round shallow baking dish or medium cast iron skillet. Melt butter in 325 degree oven if cooking in a baking dish or on the stove top if using a skillet. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter. Overlap apple slices in dish; work from the center to the outside until bottom is covered with apples. (I had many more apple slices then needed for a single layer so I just layered them on until they were all used up....it was fine!)

Place egg in medium size mixing bowl; beat well with electric mixer. Add sugar gradually and beat until mixed. Mix cream and vanilla together. Sift flour and baking power together. Add cream and vanilla and flour and baking powder alternatively into the egg mixture until all mixed in. Finishing with the flour for some reason makes a better cake. Pour batter over apples in pan and place in oven.

Cook for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out of center clean. Let cool ten minutes and then turn out onto cake plate. The top of your cake should be caramelized apples. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar for presentation. This cake can be served warm or cold.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Arrowleaf Bistro, Winthrop, Washington

Dining out in the Methow Valley has been an up and down battle. My favorite restaurant closed after a couple of years and since then it has been hit and miss. But if we want to do something kind of fancy without hitting the wallet too hard we go to the Arrowleaf Bistro in Winthrop.

Last weekend was Winthrop's Balloon Roundup. It ends on Saturday night in downtown Winthrop when they close off main street and light up a hot air balloon. It is really cool to see one up close and in the dark. After we watched them bring down and deflate the giant balloon we wandered down the street to Arrowleaf.

We were seated immediately at a window table in front of the restaurant. They started by serving a lovely white bread from the Rocking Horse Bakery with a sweet, herb butter. We ordered their Corn and Wild Rice Fritters with Cherry Mole to start. They were a bit dry but I enjoyed them with the sauce. (I'm still looking for the perfect Corn Fritter!)

For my entree I enjoyed their locally raised beef steak with a roasted shallot vinaigrette and served with hand cut frites. Very tasty. The beef is not completely organic but it has been grass fed and then finished with corn. The steak and frites are always a winner at Arrowleaf. My partner ordered the Vegetable Pot Pie and when it appeared out of the kitchen it looked impressive enough to get the notice of another patron. However, it was less impressive to the palate. A simple vegetable stew in a creamy sauce, poured into a large pottery serving bowl, covered with a large piece of puff pastry, brushed with egg for a golden finish, and then baked until done. Nice to look at but only average in flavor.

I haven't tried anything on their dessert menu yet but I did notice that they were offering a Creme Brulee, a Stout Cake with toffee crumbs and chocolate fudge, and a local Pear Strudel. Everything sounds pretty good to me but I'd probably go with the Pear Strudel. They grow wonderful pears in the Methow Valley.

If you'd like to try a glass of wine with dinner the Edna Valley Syrah was fantastic!

So when in Winthrop please give the Arrowleaf Bistro a try.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Recipe from the 70's is Worth Re-Visiting

If we are fortunate we grow up with a Mother or a Father who appreciates treating you well on your birthday. As in, "you can have whatever you want for dinner." Parents might be a bit more challenged in that area these days because thanks to television children are exposed to many, many things, including Lobster and Filet Mignon.

It's not as if we didn't have a television but in those days it wasn't such a central part of life that it is now. I believe we were allowed a single hour of TV viewing a day. And, of course, TV itself was different in the 1960's and early 70's. There wasn't nearly as much programming. So not much chance of we children broadening our horizons too much. I believe they served big, bright colored squares of replicated food on Star Trek.

No, my Mother could safely expect us to choose our favorite meal from her catalog of well-tried recipes. I ran the gamut of choices. There was one year I was having a Bisquick pancake obsession and that is what we had for my birthday dinner. I had a long love affair with my Mother's spaghetti (you aren't noticing an affection for carbs are you?), and it was my choice for birthday dinner on many occasion.

But in my teen years I settled on a single favorite that I requested every year and that was my Mother's lasagna. It was saucy, delicious and it smelled wonderful cooking in the oven. Over the years I've made lasagna many times but never with my Mother's recipe. I used a McCall's recipe that was detailed and full of original Italian herbs. I actually haven't made lasagna in a long time for a couple of reasons; 1. It takes forever to make from scratch and 2. It makes a lot of pretty fattening food. But as I was talking to my Mom the other day she mentioned that she made her lasagna for visiting family and it was a big hit. I then did what I should have done 25 years ago and asked her to send me the recipe. I made it last night and it was as good as I remembered it. The ingredients are simple but they match wonderfully well together.


1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. leaf oregano, 1 tsp. parsley flakes, 1/4 tsp pepper.
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce w/cheese (they no longer make this, just add a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan).
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 5 3/4 oz can mushroom steak sauce
1 2 1/2 jar sliced mushrooms
1 small package of lasagna - cooked and drained
1 pint of cottage cheese
1 egg beaten
1 Tbs. milk
2 4 oz. packages shredded mozzarella cheese

Brown meat, onion and garlic in large skillet; mix in seasonings. Add tomato sauce, paste, mushroom steak sauce and sliced mushrooms; cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool. Cook lasagna noodles according to pckg. instructions, drain. Mix cottage cheese, egg and milk. Layer row of noodles, cottage cheese, meat sauce and mozzarella, then repeat with second layer in 12 x 8 baking pan. (I actually managed 3 full layers and a last layer of noodles, sauce with the remaining mozzarella and some freshly grated Parmesan). Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.

You can play with this recipe with fresh herbs and mushrooms. You can also use no boil noodles but I don't like the results as well. The key ingredient might be the mushroom steak sauce so don't leave that out. You can get it at your grocers. It's Dawn Fresh by Giorgio. I added just a little sugar and balsamic vinegar to the completed lasagna sauce just to taste at the end.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stories of Bouillabaise

In 1973 my family took the biggest vacation that we had ever had. We were pretty middle class and in those days flying was still considered to be a luxury and was priced accordingly so we hit the road to California in a long 4 door sedan. Driving from Seattle with my sister and I in the enormous backseat, my father carrying with him tickets for Disneyland, one of our first stops was in San Francisco.

Somehow my Dad had specifically been told that we had to eat at the elderly but renowned Aliotos restaurant on the San Francisco waterfront. Open since 1925 you can still find the place alive and well where it has always been. For our family this was a very big treat and it was also the first time I've was introduced to bouillabaise.

Now since I was only 11 years old at the time my memory might be a bit hazy. Reading up on Aliotos today there is no bouillabaise on the menu but apparently cioppino is a long lived specialty of the restaurant. I might have to conclude that it was cioppino that I ate but since the two soups are so similar I can live with that. I remember seeing squid for the first time in someplace other than an aquarium and the rubbery feeling it had in my mouth. Most children would shy away from that, and I could be a very picky eater, but the experience of eating at the fancy restaurant with the gracious waiters and cloth napkins made everything taste delicious.

My other bouillabaise story occurred in the Canadian Rockies if you can believe it. When my husband and I were pretty newly married, and very young, I worked as a travel agent. My husband was a big skier and we were always looking for new travel adventures to have with my travel agent discount. I wrote to VIA rail and requested a discount on travel between Vancouver and Banff and they were kind enough to offer me half off. Since it was an overnight trip we reserved a cabin for 2 on the train.

We are so grateful for that experience now because you can no longer do it without selling some of your assets. The train still runs but it is a tourist train and is priced like the Queen Mary. Our double cabin consisted of 2 leather benches facing each other with an enormous picture window. While we were being served our lovely dinner in the dining car the porter turned our benches into wide beds, one top and one bottom, with heavy curtains that snapped shut to give you privacy. It felt like being in a Western movie! The experience of waking up to stare at the incredible view of the Rockies out my window as we click clocked along is probably not something I'll have again.

Now for the bouillabaise. Whenever my husband and I have a hankering for staying at a castle we find an old Canadian Pacific Hotel to stay in. The Empress in Victoria with it's super fantastic Bengal Room and the Chateau Lake Louise with it's spectacular view of the lake. But our favorite is the Banff Springs Hotel. On this trip as we toured it's giant halls our noses tripped over something delicious. We followed our noses to a small wine bar on the premises that normally did not serve much in the way of food. Apparently on the day we were there they had received a fresh load of seafood and so they were in the process of cooking a large batch of bouillabaise. Unfortunately for us it wasn't ready yet so we were never able to taste their concoction but I will never forget it's wonderful aroma.

So for me bouillabaise has always meant fancy and special. It also meant that I never considered making it myself. Something on the order of garlicky escargot - you only get it at a restaurant where they know what they're doing. But I ran into a recipe a year or so ago and I thought of a way that it might be done at home easily and inexpensively. I do the exact recipe except I cut it in half and the only seafood I add is Trader Joe's seafood mix ($5.99). It is frozen and includes shrimp, bay scallops, and calamari rings. I then purchase about 6 clams and 6 mussels from the fishmonger ($2.50) and throw them all in to finish the soup. It couldn't be simpler or tastier. Here is the recipe as I originally found it.


1 LB Fin Fish (red snapper, flounder,trout)
1/2 to 1 LB Shrimp, lobster, scallops, crab meat, any or all
18 small Clams, mussels, or lobster claws, any or all
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lg onion finely chopped
2 shallots minced
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
28 oz can tomatoes (coarsely chopped) with liquid
2 Cups fish stock, claim juice, or chicken stock
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each thyme, basil, saffron
Pepper to taste
Fresh topped parsley for garnish

Cut boneless pieces of fish into bite size pieces. Remove shells from shrimp, lobster, crab. Scrub clams and mussels. Saute onion, garlic and shallots in oil on low heat until lightly golden. In a large pot, put in all liquids and seasonings except parsely. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add all seafood, mix and simmer 10 minutes. Serve hot in large bowls with crusty bread and a tossed salad.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Soup for Dinner

I can think of few things that stretch a budget longer than a big pot of soup. In the days when cooking was done with food from your own garden and barn it was even more important. In the old large fireplaces a cooking pot hanging over the fire might remain there the entire week while the cook of the house continually replenished it with additional ingredients as they became available. I imagine that they obtained some deep flavor profiles with that method!

I have a copy of the original "Housekeeping in Old Virginia" written in 1877 by Marion Cabell Tyree. It is frightening in many ways because it constantly refers to how to get your servants to do the things that she describes in the book. We know, of course, that these servants are really slaves and it isn't pleasant to think about. There is also the inherent sexism of the time. A message of how to best be a good house wife so your husband will be happy with you. But then again you can find that message stated just as clearly in "Good Housekeeping" magazine as late as the 60's and 70's, long after slavery had been abolished. But if you can overlook that stuff the book really gives you a window into the kitchens of the past and soup was a big part of it.

There are recipes for every type of soup you can imagine in this ancient cookbook and some that you can't - i.e. Brown Calf's Head Soup. There is oyster soup and economical oyster soup, vegetable soup, okra soup, chicken soup, pea soup, four recipes for turtle soup, and six recipes for calf's head including the brown one already mentioned. You are covered on your calf's head recipes. Fortunately we have other options now and it is still a great value to make a big pot of soup. The first recipe that I'm going to give you lasted us over a week. The good thing about this soup is that it actually improves with time! I found this recipe in Bon Appetite and it was copied from a restaurant in Cape Cod called Siena.


2 T Olive oil
1 LB fresh chorizo sausage
2 cups chopped and peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves
2 T chopped fresh thyme
5 cups of low-salt chicken broth
3 15 ounce cans of black beans, drained, rinsed
1 LB skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and next 4 ingredients. Saute until sausage is cooked through, breaking up sausage with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme; saute 2 minutes. Add 5 cups broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 20 minutes. Add beans and chicken; simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes, adding more broth if desired. Discard bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
(If you want to make this a day ahead it will only taste better. The chorizo adds the spice in this soup.)