Peas Au Gratin

Peas Au Gratin

My husband and I just returned from a weekend in Arizona visiting our daughter who's away at college. It was an awesome time seeing her there in her element, all grown up and living away from us and all but it also made me long for the times when my kids were little and, of course, still at home.

Coincidentally, around the same time a friend had asked me for a potatoes au gratin recipe, and it reminded me of one of our family favorites that I hadn't made in quite some time - Peas Au Gratin. It's been one of my kids' favorites for many years - even choosing it over potatoes au gratin, broccoli au gratin, and any other vegetable you could slather in a creamy cheddary sauce, top with sharp cheddar cheese and bake in the oven until bubbly and melty on the inside, and crispy on the outside.

Anyway, food can be very sentimental, evoking sights and sounds of the past, so this evening I made the Peas Au Gratin and served it alongside a rotisserie chicken I picked up at the market. Simple and satisfying - in more ways than one.

fresh green garden peas I picked up at Gelson's, shelling only took a few minutes

Serves 4

Oven 350 degrees F

2 Tablespoons salted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon of white pepper (or finely ground black pepper)
pinch of nutmeg (I use fresh grated)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided (I used an aged New York sharp cheddar cheese)
*2 cups shelled fresh green garden peas OR one 16-ounce bag of frozen peas (either will work well), see Cook's note

(*2 cups shelled peas are equal to approximately 2 pounds of unshelled peas/peas still in their pods)

To make the cheese sauce: In small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Then add flour, salt, and pepper and stir to combine, making a roux or paste.

Next add milk and stir or whisk constantly until mixture is thick, bubbly and smooth. This is your b├ęchamel or white sauce - the base for your cheese sauce. Add a pinch of nutmeg and stir. Remove from heat and immediately add 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is melted in and completely combined.

Place peas in medium size baking dish, pour cheese sauce over, and mix together. Sprinkle remainder of cheddar cheese over top and bake in oven for 30 minutes until dish is bubbling and hot, and top is lightly browned. Place under broiler for an additional 2-3 minutes, keeping an eye on it so  it doesn't burn, but allowing it to get crispy on top.

roux on the left, b├ęchamel sauce on the right

before oven on the left, just out from broiler on the right

Cook's note:  When using fresh green garden peas, first rinse the pods. To shell hold each pod vertically with a seam facing you, pinch the stem then run your thumbs down the seam, pulling open at the same time, like you're opening a book. The pod should pop open exposing the peas. Remove the peas by running your thumb or fingers through the inside of the pod. Rinse peas before using.


Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala? You may be wondering, "where did a girl from Texas, now living in California with no Indian roots learn how to cook this dish?"  Well, I'll tell you.  TV.  Yep, I saw an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay several months ago where he challenged the owner of a restaurant called Saffron in Hudson, NY - Chef Marianna Vadukul - to a throwdown. Her signature dish was, you guessed it - Chicken Tikka Masala. I actually don't remember who won the throwdown but I was impressed with Chef Marianna's style and story and I listened intently as she explained how she made it. 

I've made this dish a couple of times since then and it's best served on a brisk, cool evening - perfect for this time of year. It's vibrant, very spicy, and the chicken just melts in your mouth. I can't get enough of this dish and in fact am making it again next week for friends. If you've never cooked Indian food before, I think this is a nice way to start.

This recipe is based on my recollection from watching the show. At the time I don't believe Chef Marianna's recipe had been published yet. In doing my research for this blog posting today however, I found where she has since posted it and my version is almost spot on. Regardless of which way you make it, it's a delicious way to spice up your life.

tomato puree (I used store-bought this time), fresh ginger, and fresh garlic

adding spices to the mix
Isn't it beautiful?
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into large bite-size pieces and lightly salted with kosher salt
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 large white onion, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 2 inches of ginger root, minced (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 28-ounce can of tomato puree (I used Muir Glen Organic)
2 Tablespoons ground turmeric
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons garam masala
1/2 Tablespoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 cup Greek yogurt (I used Fage Total)
kosher salt to taste
fresh cilantro for garnish

In large, heavy pot over medium heat saute the onions in oil until caramelized. Add garlic and ginger and cook for about one minute longer. Add tomato puree, turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Taste and salt if needed. Cook until mixture is hot and bubbling.

Add chicken and cook over low-medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked through. Stir in yogurt - mixture will turn a vibrant orange. Serve over basmati rice or caulirice with lots of cilantro to garnish.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Note about ground turmeric:  It can stain your cooking utensils, hands, clothing, etc.  For the most part it will wash off within a few washings, but to be on the safe side  you may wish to wear an apron and avoid using wooden or plastic utensils as it's possible they may stain.


Hash Brown Potato Pancakes

Hash Brown Potato Pancakes

We used to love to make potato pancakes with our leftover mashed potatoes as a kid and they were goooood. This new spin on them, though, I think is even better.

Idaho russet potatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, fresh green onions, bright red bell peppers AND a little crispy pancetta thrown in just for good measure (okay, for good taste).

This is the pre-packaged pancetta I often buy at Gelson's,
or you can go to the deli counter and have them slice it for you

cooked pancetta, red bell pepper, green onions, Idaho russet potato, eggs, garlic

Serves 6 (serving size one 5-in pancake)

2 medium to large size Idaho russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
10 pieces of thinly sliced pancetta, cooked (or cooked bacon or ham)
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, chopped (green and white parts)
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
lots of fresh cracked pepper
2 Tablespoons canola oil, plus more if needed
creme fraiche or sour cream, for garnish
fresh chives, for garnish

In large bowl mix together potatoes, pancetta, cheese, garlic, bell pepper, onions, eggs, salt, and pepper using your hands.

Heat skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Form patties and place in hot skillet. Cook approximately 1-2 minutes per side or until browned. Do not overcrowd pan and work in batches until done.

As you remove patties place on paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil or moisture. Use paper towels in between layers as you stack them on the plate.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream, and chives if desired.

use your shredder/grater attachment for your food processor and it will grate the potatoes in a few seconds
(if you don't have a food processor, grate by hand using a box grater)

mixture ready to be formed into patties and fried

frying patties

cheesy and yummy!


(Not Tricked Up) Tuna Salad

(Not Tricked Up) Tuna Salad
I don't know about you, but I have a habit of trying to trick up my tuna salad with all kinds of things - pecans, pine nuts, dried cranberries, pickles, celery, etc.  I just don't know when to quit.

Well this time I did it. I refrained. I only added 3 ingredients (aside from salt and pepper) to my tuna and it was quite possibly better than I've ever made before.

Maybe it's the tuna (I used the fresh caught tuna my sister-in-law Deb purchased from a Garibaldi fisherman at the dock, then canned herself the same day) or maybe it's the simple goodness that comes from creating just the right flavor profile that enhances the tuna, but doesn't steal the show. Either way I can take credit for neither. My other sister-in-law Sunny made it this way last week and since then, I'm a convert.

Deb canned the tuna adding
absolutely nothing except the fresh tuna
no water..no salt..nothing

to the tuna I added red onion, red apple and mayonnaise
(plus salt and pepper)

Serves 2 (about 1/2 cup each)

3/4 cup tuna, drained (just use your favorite kind)
1/2 of a very small red onion or 1/4 of a regular size, diced
1/4 of a red apple, diced
2 Tablespoons good mayonnaise (I used Best)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
lots of fresh cracked pepper

In medium bowl mix all ingredients together. Serve with crackers or make a sandwich using your favorite bread.


Blackened Fish Nuggets with Remoulade Sauce

Blackened Fish Nuggets with Remoulade Sauce

My sister-in-law Deb sent us home from Portland with some of the fish we'd caught. She vacuum-sealed then froze it, and we hand carried it back home. Of course, I couldn't wait to have more of the stuff I'd caught with my bare hands (ok, I used a fishing reel) so I opted for blackened fish nuggets - an old favorite.

Over the years we've been to New Orleans many, many times and one of the places we used to go to is The Gumbo Shop. They serve blackened fish nuggets there, which is really the same thing as blackened fish, except in bite-sized pieces. While the fish nuggets are spicy deliciousness... my favorite part is dipping them in this amazing garlicky New Orleans-inspired remoulade sauce. This remoulade recipe is my rendition of the sauce they serve at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, a New Orleans' (and now global) institution. It's really, really good if I do say so myself. The secret to this spectacular condiment is using Zatarain's Creole Mustard.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Remoulade Sauce:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Zatarain's Creole Mustard
1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
6-8 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

In small bowl mix all ingredients together. Chill until ready to serve.

Fish Nuggets:
3  4-ounce fillets of rockfish (or snapper, catfish, or other similar)
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup blackened seasoning blend (I used Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blend for Blackened Redfish), see Cook's note
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons clarified butter (or 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil plus 1 Tablespoon salted butter)

Heat a cast iron skillet to high heat while you're preparing the fish. Do not add clarified butter yet. Pat fillets with paper towel to dry, then lightly salt on both sides with kosher salt and cut into bite-sized pieces.

coated and ready to be pan fried

Place blackened seasoning blend and flour in large plastic ziptop bag and mix well. Add pieces of fish, seal, and shake till fully coated. Set aside.

Add clarified butter to hot pan and allow to melt and get very hot. Carefully add fish pieces and fry at high heat for about 1 minute per side in well-ventilated area. Remove and place on paper towel to absorb excess butter. Serve immediately with remoulade sauce and wedge of lemon.

Cook's note: If you don't have blackened seasoning mix, you can follow this recipe from Cooks.com to make your own.

Did I tell you I caught some great fish? ;-)

PS, This post has been entered into the GranTourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition!


Catch and Eat - Adventures in Oregon

these are just some of the gorgeous crabs we caught and ate

It's a really great feeling when you can go out and catch or harvest your food right before eating it. I can't explain it, but there's just something really satisfying about it. When I was a kid, my dad would hunt and fish and we'd have deer meat and fish all year round, but I never really appreciated the feeling you get when you yourself are the one doing the catching. It's like when you grow your own vegetables and fruits - it's rewarding on so many levels.

I just got back home from several days in the Portland area visiting family. It was an adventure from beginning to end. We began in Portland eating at a great restaurant called Urban Farmer. Their theme is farm-to-table and the menu was outstanding. I had the most amazing heirloom tomato salad with blueberries, pine nuts, and bacon.

Heirloom Tomato Salad at
Urban Farmer Restaurant

Wow, was it good. There were so many other wonderful dishes we ate, too, but right now I want to talk about the stuff we caught and ate so you'll just have to go to Urban Farmer and check it out for yourself!

We went to Portland to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law Debbie and David Hirschfeld whom we hadn't seen in quite awhile. My other SIL and BIL Sunny and Bill Hirschfeld also joined us from New Mexico (bearing fire-roasted Hatch chiles, I might add!). Deb and David live in Portland but have a cottage on the coast in Barview directly on Garibaldi Harbor/Tillamook Bay. That's where we spent most of our time and what an amazing time it was.

David took us on a deep sea bottom fishing charter with the Siggi-G folks. Captain Joe and his Deckhand Tom were the most hospitable seamen you could ever imagine. We had a great time. Captain Joe knew just where to go to get the best fish and crabs and we all left having met our full limit.

The Siggi-G runs a great charter in Garibaldi, Oregon (a great place to fish - the waters are plentiful with
Dungeness crabs, rockfish, sea bass, Ling cod, Steelhead trout, salmon, etc.). Captain Joe and Deckhand Tom
are the best and know all the best fishing spots. The charter includes cleaning your fish and boiling your crabs.

We all caught lots of fish! Left to right are sea bass (I think) and btw, that's Captain Joe on my left, thorny rockfish,
not sure what Bill has, Ling cod, and a tiger rockfish. Quite a haul!

Oh the crabs! So fabulous and plentiful - beautiful Dungeness crabs practically crawling onto our boat!
The Siggi-G folks boil them for you straight off the boat.

While you wait, the Siggi-G folks clean your fish and boil your crabs for you. We went straight home after that, and while Deb cleaned the crabs, Bill snacked on one and we all prepared for a fabulous fresh-caught meal. After getting up at 4:30am that morning, donning much-needed rain gear, and going out on the open sea for this fishing adventure, I have to tell you I was really hungry and ready to chow down.

the cookies were devoured immediately,
we couldn't wait for dinner (sorry Deb!)

Deb cleaning the crabs

Bill snacking on the fresh crab we'd just caught - yum!

On the way out to Tillamook Bay we stopped at Shafer Vineyards in Forest Grove. This vineyard was beautiful and the husband and wife owners Harvey and Miki Shafer were on hand to pour the wines for a tasting. They started this vineyard back in 1978 clearing the blackberry patch from the land and planting the grapes themselves. In 1981 they opened the winery. Although they've won many awards over the years, they still hand craft every bottle of wine they sell (at a more than fair price I might add) and they do it very well. We drank lots of their wines on our visit.

Shafer Vineyards - It's hard to believe wild blackberry patches once occupied this beautiful hillside.
The grapes you see are about 6 weeks away from harvesting. The Shafers hand craft wonderful, affordable wines.

We also stopped for a sake tasting at US artisan sake maker - Sake One.  Interesting visit and delicious sakes.

Delicious award-winning sakes made right here in the US, in Oregon to be exact!

Dinner on our last night visiting family was so much fun. We went to Deb and David's coast neighbor's beautiful home - Terry and Stephanie Lewis - and had a wonderful time.

Sunny made her fabulous green chile enchilada casserole with Hatch chiles she brought from home (New Mexico). Deb made delicious chipotle cilantro shrimp. Stephanie served up fresh caught and locally smoked oysters and salmon. And I made my Creamy Artichoke Habanero Dip.

We drank the wines from Shafer Vineyards, the sake from Sake One (actually I don't think we got to crack open a bottle of sake, but it was there just the same), and my Rangpur Gimlets. A great time was had by one and all.

Great family, friends and food!

Have you ever seen purple bell peppers?? We found these at a local Mexican market that had a small open-air produce area supplied by local farmers. None of us had ever seen them before. If you have, please leave a comment and let me know.

beautiful purple bell peppers from the local farmer's market and gorgeous tomatoes from Deb's garden

Lastly, if you'd like to see more photos of scenic Oregon, please go to my Facebook page. Here's a quick preview:

Chow for now!


Award-Winning Sesame Noodles

Award-Winning Sesame Noodles
Sesame Noodles

I was meandering around Foodgawker and saw a picture of a version of these sesame noodles. They looked completely appetizing and it made me crave them. I hadn't eaten yet, and the recipe said "easy" so I thought I'd whip up a quick bowl.

I keep a fairly well-stocked pantry (oh, who am I kidding - I'm an ingredient hoarder, there I've said it) so imagine my surprise when I realized I didn't have fresh green onions on hand. Well, I had them, but let's just say they were less than fresh. Anyway, you might say, "It's just one ingredient, who cares", but I have this thing about really liking them in Asian noodle dishes. I was too hungry not to make the dish so I decided I'd just use cilantro instead, and throw in some red bell peppers for crunch and color. Not a bad selection indeed. Future versions of this will definitely include all of the above. Needless to say this is a fabulous, and yes, easy dish.

In fact, Let's Dish calls them Easy Sesame Noodles and The Pioneer Woman calls them Simple Sesame Noodles. You can call them anything you want, just call me when you make them for dinner. Yum! I made quite a few changes to the sauce and I was really pleased with the results. With this recipe, I think you can hardly go wrong no matter how you may decide to tweak it.

Remember that homemade Sriracha sauce and chile paste I made recently? Comes in real handy with this dish, but
you can definitely use the Huy Fong brand (the one with the rooster on the bottle) instead.
Yes, those are Italian capellini noodles, but they worked darn good doubling as Asian noodles!

Serves 2-4

8 ounces whole wheat capellini pasta (about 1/2 of the package you see above), or you could use regular angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
(Once cooked and drained, toss with small amount of toasted sesame oil to keep moist)

2 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar (I used O Ginger Rice Vinegar)
1 teaspoon chile paste
1 teaspoon lightly toasted sesame seeds (optional), see Cook's note
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, chopped (optional)
Sriracha sauce to taste (or let each guest add their own)

Ingredient missing from this shot...garlic, oops!

In large bowl mix soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chile paste,   sesame seeds, and garlic.

Add noodles, cilantro, bell pepper, and green onions if desired, then toss together. Add Sriracha sauce to taste or serve alongside and allow your guests to add.

with Sriracha sauce

Cook's note: To toast sesame seeds, place in heated skillet over low to medium heat and allow to lightly brown while occasionally stirring. Will only take a couple of minutes.

*My Sesame Noodles are a Top 5 Editor's Pick in the New York Times Readers' Recipes: The Potluck!


Project Food Blog...Eeek, I'm a Contestant!

Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of food bloggers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance and a shot at earning the title of The Next Food Blog Star (oh, and a not too shabby monetary award of some 10,000 clams).

All I have to do in order to compete in Challenge # 1 is to define who I am as a blogger and what sets me apart from the rest. Well, the challenge might as well have been to re-build a v8 engine from scratch because I haven't a clue where to start. Seriously, I've been noodling on this for days. I've started blog entries, scratched blog entries, written, re-written, thought, re-thought and what have I got to show for it? You're looking at it...
<insert photo of large goose egg here>

It's called a "challenge" for a reason. I have had the hardest time coming up with a proper submission for this very first challenge. I mean, I love blogging but it's easier to talk about food, cooking, and eating than it is to talk about me. Eeek! But the fact of the matter is that I want to be in this contest. I want to make it to the next challenge where I get to cook something, so here I sit baring my soul.

I guess what I can say is that I, like many of you if you're reading this blog, love and have a fascination for food. I always have. I'm the one who asks you while you're eating your breakfast what you think you might like to have for lunch. I like to be prepared...and I like food. I think about it a lot. I don't just think about eating it - I think about cooking it, photographing it, discovering new varieties of it, and then I just get so darn excited that I'm about to burst..

See I'm thinking about it now - this is the
pork banh mi sandwich I recently got from
the Nom Nom food truck...Yum Yum!

..and then I just want to shout about it from the rooftops to anyone who will listen and I want to show you the wondrousness of it all. I have an overwhelming desire to share and the great thing about doing it via a blog is that you, the reader, can opt in or out at will - a luxury my family and friends don't enjoy, I might add. Nope, they are my captive audience, whether they like it or not.

I don't have a magic formula that I follow, or so much as a plan for that matter. I blog what I feel passionately about, how I feel about it, and do it when I'm moved to do so, and I hope it resonates with you. I was recently lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles Times Food and Wine Celebration where I sat in awe and listened to Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) and Aarti Sequeira (The Next Food Network Star and Author of the blog Aarti Paarti) talk about why they blog and what advice they'd give to bloggers. They both agreed that the best gift you can give is of yourself, from the heart. You're the only you there is - and that's a beautiful thing.

But the greatest part of all is hearing from you. It's like Christmas morning every time I see that I have a comment. The anticipation kills me and I can't wait to read it. Thank you for that. I hope I give as much as I get out of this. For me, blogging feeds the soul.

The gorgeous Ree Drummond
at the LA Times Food and Wine Celebration
I picked up Ree's new book and she kindly
signed it for me. She has an allure and aura
about her that is so utterly charming.
and the lovely Aarti Sequeira
just as captivating and warm in person