Messy Potatoes

Messy PotatoesSome of the best things are born of near disasters, and that applies to cooking. If every dish turned out perfectly, where would that leave creativity? If you haven’t seen the Netflix series, The Chef’s Table, I highly recommend it. Watch acclaimed cooks in action, and hear their stories of disaster, success and everything in between. In my favorite segment, the pastry chef drops a dessert tart and begins to implode until the head chef looks at it with a different perspective, a deconstructed one, and reinvents it into, Oops! I dropped the lemon tart. Learning to save a dish is a talent, and as Julia Child was fond of saying, “never apologize” for your cooking.

So where am I going with this? I love creamy Yukon Gold potatoes. Something that good doesn’t require much fuss, and I have a recipe perfect for showing them off. Essentially, I slice them into 1/4 inch rounds and steam them for about 15 minutes until soft. Then I remove them from the pan along with the steamer, and return them to dry them off. And here’s where I learned a lesson. Instead of worrying about keeping their shape intact, I add olive oil, smoked paprika, and salt/pepper, and stir them, allowing them to break up and absorb the oil and seasonings. Simple. Yes. And you just can’t go wrong. A little of the paprika goes a long way, and I’m careful not to over smoke them, but as always, cook to your palate!

If you’re saying to yourself, what about all those carbs, I have some thoughts. The first is to choose small potatoes so the skin to flesh ratio is higher. Second, you were going to eat those skins and benefit from the nutrients, right? And third, waxy potatoes are lower in starch and thus have less of an effect on your blood sugar than the standby russet that you slather with butter and eat with steak. And last, consider whether you want to be a food purist, or if you can feel okay eating a variety of foods, eating less of some and enjoying them more. There’s a lot to be said for the happiness factor and how it positively impacts your health. Sometimes, that’s just as important as anything else.

Messy Potatoes
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the potatoes until tender but not falling apart, about 15 minutes; remove from the stove and put the potatoes aside. Remove the steamer from the pan and empty the pan of any remaining water. Return the potatoes to the pan and dry them over medium heat, stirring as needed. Add the olive oil, smoked paprika, and seasoning. Keep stirring them allowing the potatoes to break up slightly and absorb the olive oil and seasonings. Add more olive oil if they seem too dry. Serve immediately.
Yields 4 – 6 servings

SHOUTOUT: It’s hot outside so check out Canarino Gelato in downtown Edmonds. They recently moved to a bigger space and are making 24 kinds of gelato on site. Coffee lovers try the affogato, your favorite gelato bathed in two shots of espresso.

Tidbit: look for garlic scapes at the farmers markets. They’re the flowering part of the garlic bulb and are delicious sautéed. Removing them helps the garlic bulb to form, so it’s a win-win!

Farms for Life

Snow Peas

Snow Peas

I don’t know about you but I try never to forget how privileged I am to buy fresh, quality food and make healthy choices. It’s easy to overlook the fact that for many people, whole foods, especially fresh fruits and veggies, aren’t available or affordable. Recently I did some research for Farms for Life, (FFL) the non-profit organization I volunteer for, and discovered that in this country, we waste as much as 40% of the food we buy. Unfortunately, much of it is produce because of the variables and challenges in farming. The reality of it is, sometimes farmers lose more money by harvesting crops than not, so economics forces them to turn them under.

This is where FFL comes in. We buy produce that would otherwise be wasted, and deliver it to people who need it, usually in transition, often women with children. When you’re strapped for cash and your groceries come from food banks, fresh veggies are often not provided. Sadly, individuals in that position often say they’d like to make better choices if only they had the option. Oftentimes, the food in their cupboards is high carb, and when you’re diabetic, that isn’t what you should be eating.

The other thing I learned since I started volunteering is we have a high rate of cooking illiteracy in this country. With fast food readily available, more convenience stores than grocery, and busy schedules, people have lost the skill of cooking. How often do we hear that we should cook more at home because it’s less expensive and more nutritious? It sounds reasonable, but what if you don’t know how? Recently, Michael Pollan wrote about that very issue in his article How  Can we get America Cooking? One Crumb at a time?

I had never really connected those dots until I volunteered for FFL. Sure, the produce was delivered to agencies, but the recipients didn’t know how to cook kale, chard, arugula and other farm-fresh food. That prompted the formation of the Education Committee, to teach people how to cook simple, fresh meals in a supportive environment. When I began co-teaching, I realized how much I took for granted when it comes to the kitchen. Delicious, wholesome food is grounding, and nothing brought it home more than when a woman in a class participant said, “when I came today I was sad, and after I ate your food I felt happy.”

Let’s do our part to promote nutritious food and fellowship. Support your local farmers, donate fresh food to a food bank, plant a garden, spend time with a child in your kitchen, invite someone over for dinner; teach someone to cook, or take food to someone in need. Or at the very least STOP WASTING FOOD. Small thing are the impetus for change, and if we all stand together in the kitchen, our communities become better places for all of us.

Herby Stuffed Snow Peas

Herby Stuffed Snow Peas

Herby Stuffed Snow Peas
FFL  is all about fresh produce. That said, it’s springtime, so look for those tasty snow peas at your favorite market. And what pairs perfectly with snow peas? Mint! Below is a simple recipe  for an appetizer you can make in minutes. I leave the stems on for easier eating, and if your peas are tender, there’s no need to blanch them. This is one of those recipes where you cook to please your palate. The amount of herbs and honey depends on the sweetness of your peas and tanginess of the cheese (rhyme intentional).

20 fresh, tender snow peas, about 1/4 lb.
1/2 pound cream or goat cheese, depending on your preference, room temp.
1 thinly sliced chopped chive or to taste
3 medium mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon honey or to taste

With a sharp paring knife, slit the straight edge of the pea open, starting in the middle and working your way toward the ends. Combine the cheese, chives, mint and honey. Using a small spreader stuff the peas with the mixture, or if you prefer to pipe the filling, use your piping bag or make one. Enjoy and share!

SHOUTOUT: to all my fellow hardworking volunteers at Farms for Life who work tirelessly to help people improve their lives by eating better. If you’re feeling generous and would like to support FFL, we welcome donations of any size, and on May 5th, you can participate in GiveBig sponsored by the Seattle Foundation.

TidBit: farmers markets are gearing up and if you’re looking for produce-friendly recipes, what better place to look than a farm? Check out the ones at Root Connection located in Woodinville.

Kale Salad with Miso and Pistachios

kale saladIf the very word, kale, makes you want to scream, please forgive me. Recipes abound, but the compelling reason I have for sharing this one is the miso vinaigrette. Since discovering it, I have to admit I’ve used it almost exclusively on everything green.

If you haven’t jumped on the kale bandwagon, I’m okay with that. No single food is magic, and when one becomes the rage, people tire of it. So let’s just enjoy our kale like we do other nutritious vegetables in the brassica family, (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, you get the idea); at the same time, appreciate all the cool nutrients it provides, especially, vitamins K, A and C. I could go on about the other health benefits, but you can assume any vegetable as dark-green and beautiful as kale, is loaded with healthy stuff.

I’m not sure what I was searching for when I discovered this particular recipe, but I love the story behind it. Chef and TV host, Andrew Zimmerman, says he tried a kale recipe made by monks at a Detroit farmers market and loved it so much, he experimented until he came up with his own version. So there you go. A kale recipe imbued with good karma from monks, and a versatile vinaigrette you can make in minutes. I’ve taken to doubling it because the one as written is only enough for the salad. Personally, I find it handy to come home on a workday with a salad dressing in the fridge and greens ready to go.

Something delightful and grounding happens when you combine miso, apple cider and sesame seeds, and I’m taking the liberty of calling it synergistic. Although that’s probably not exactly the right use of the word, I can’t think of a better one. I anoint my sturdier greens with this vinaigrette and am never disappointed.

Be sure to take a minute or more to massage the kale even though you might feel silly. The lemon juice and salt  help break it down so the vinaigrette coats the kale more evenly. Until last night, I neglected to add it, due to, well, laziness! I have to admit I liked the salad better without the extra acid and salt.

Also, the 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds for a single recipe seemed like too much, so I tried it with only one and didn’t find it nearly as flavorful. That said, when I double the recipe, 3 tablespoons is plenty! So there you have it. A new salad with an enticing vinaigrette to add to your repertoire. Be sure to add the pistachios to the salad if you have them. The crunch is pleasing crunch and everyone likes a pop of color.

Andrew Zimmerman’s Miso Vinaigrette (doubled & slightly modified)
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons brown miso or whatever kind you have
2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

The traditional way to make a vinaigrette is to gradually whisk the olive oil in last. This recipe readily emulsifies, so you can put everything in a jar and give it a good shake. Use what you want and refrigerate the rest for later in the week.

Red Russian Kale

Red Russian Kale

ShoutOut: Bar Dojo at Five Corners in Edmonds has a fantastic brunch on Saturday and Sunday. My fave is the Prawn & Avocado Tempura Omelet. It sounds strange, but is amazing. The crispy potatoes that accompany many of the dishes are the best I’ve ever had. Wow!

Tidbits: If you’ve tried kale and don’t like it, maybe you haven’t met the right one. Look for dinosaur (Lacinato also called Tuscan) or Red Russian, which is a little sweeter than curly. Kale grown in cooler weather is sweeter too, so now is a good time to buy it.


Hummus by Request

hummusIt’s always fun to cook for people who enjoy what you make, and equally so to share recipes. To be honest, my friends didn’t exactly request my hummus recipe, but it received rave reviews at my neighbor’s art studio tour, so I’ll take that as a nod. Hummus doesn’t have much in the way of cachet, but it’s a versatile work horse, easily turned into something delicious; that said, you’ll often find a jar of the basic recipe in my fridge.

I don’t know about you, but these days, I watch my grocery pennies. Those small tubs of hummus at most stores will run you close to $5.00. For half that, you can buy enough dried garbanzo beans, fondly known as chickpeas, to make several batches. True, tahini, the other main ingredient, isn’t cheap, but you only need about 1/4 cup and a jar will last you a while.

Hummus recipes on the web abound, but my specialty is to cook the beans (technically a legume) in my slow cooker for a creamy end product. You can double the recipe but just be aware you’ll have a whole lot of hummus on your hands. You’ll notice that my recipe doesn’t call for soaking the beans. It’s been a controversial subject for years, but I don’t bother with it and my beans cook up nicely. The tiny amount of baking soda helps soften them, but I’ve cooked them without it and had a good end result. Not adding salt until the end also has opposing camps. I add 1/2 teaspoon when I start the beans, and 1/2 teaspoon about 3 hours in. If your beans are very old and dry, they may not soften, but I’m assuming you’re starting with beans that haven’t sat around for years and still have a modicum of moisture.

So what can you do with hummus once it’s ready? The obvious thing is to spread it on pita bread or crackers for an appetizer. Beyond that, it’s a great sandwich spread and particularly tasty smeared on toast for breakfast. You can serve it at any temperature. My neighbor, Tom, loves it warm. His wife, Jonlee, enjoys it cold; room temp is my preference.

Once you have the basic recipe, make it your own. Add smoked paprika, cumin, curry, nutritional yeast, feta or you name it. My brother makes his own bacon so why not add some? Have some fun with it; think about your favorite herbs and spices and experiment; divide the bean mixture in half and make two different kinds.

In case you were wondering about the nutritional content, The World’s Healthiest Foods website notes that 1 cup of garbanzo beans has almost 15 grams of protein, only a little less fiber, and hardly any fat (4.25 grams). Now doesn’t that just make you happy! It’s time to get those beans cooking. In only a little more than five hours, you’ll have hummus to call your own and tastier than any you’ll find in a store.

Slow Cooker Hummus
1 generous cup dried garbanzo beans (about 1/2 pound), rinsed and picked over for stones (I’ve never found any but who wants to break a tooth)
3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic, crushed, or lots more if you love it
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
pine nuts (optional garnish)

1.  Put the beans, water, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in your slow cooker. Turn it to high for about 15 minutes and then reduce it to low so you don’t boil the beans. Alternatively, if you’re going to be away for more than 5 hours, start them on low. In 2 to 3 hours, stir them and add the remaining salt. Total cooking time will depend on your cooker, but start checking them at 4 hours. Add a little more salt if they’re really bland.

2.  Drain the beans and reserve the liquid. Cool the beans slightly and put in a food processor or blender; process until slightly textured. Add the garlic, lemon juice and tahini and continue processing. Slowly pour in the olive oil. Add some of the reserved liquid if it’s too thick.  Add more lemon juice and salt if desired. Serve or refrigerate.
Yields 3 cups


Tabouleh Salad with Feta

Tabbouleh SaladIf you listen carefully, your garden will take you what to make for dinner. That’s what happened to me today. Cucumbers plus tomatoes plus mint equal tabouleh salad. Well, almost. I have to admit, I take some liberties with the traditional recipe but that’s the fun of cooking.

Tabouleh comes to us from the Middle East, the base of which is bulgur, a form of wheat. The handy thing is, because it’s already steamed and crushed, a good dousing of boiled water cooks it in an hour or less. Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mint, parsley, and a lemon juice, olive oil dressing round out the traditional ingredients. Mine also includes chopped olives and feta. Search the web and as with most recipes, you’ll find lots of variations. Gluten-free friends, don’t despair! You can make your own version of tabouleh with quinoa. And, you can go vegan simply by omitting the feta.

This recipe is in the cookbook I co-authored with my good friend Carol Orr, Good Times at Green Lake. It’s tried and true, and you don’t even have to turn on the oven. When we tested our recipes, Stewart joked there should be a key with the number of pans each one used. We didn’t do that, but tabouleh is a dishwasher’s dream: a one-pot meal that shines.

Make your tabouleh ahead of time, call your friends, and sit back and relax. If your soiree is the next day, get your no-knead bread dough started and bake it right before your guests arrive. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh-baked bread alongside a gorgeous summer salad to make your friends happy.

Tabouleh with Feta
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups boiling water
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 roma or plum tomatoes (about 1/2 lb), seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted
4 ounces feta cheese, diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Put the bulgur into a large, heat-proof bowl and pour the boiling water over it; cover with a heatproof plate or something similar. Let stand about 1 hour; drain the liquid if there is any.

2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper; set aside.

3. Add the cukes, tomatoes, onions, mint, olives, feta, and parsley to the bulgur; mix well. Pour the dressing over it and mix again. Chill for about 2 hours or for however long you prefer. Adjust the seasoning if you like.
Yields 6 servings

SHOUTOUT: If you’re looking for a good place for breakfast in addition to the Portage Bay Café, check out Louisa’s on East Lake for certified comfort food and a homey neighborhood atmosphere.

TidBit: Gardeners, when you thin your greens, don’t forget to save them for a microgreens salad. They’re full of nutrients, and you can supplement them with your grownup ones.




Hash2I don’t know about you, but hash regularly made the rounds on the menu when I was growing up. You remember it don’t you? The can with the brown label, showcasing little chunks of potatoes and beef? My mother would dump the contents into a pie pan, smooth it out, make small indentations and bake it with eggs. Actually, I liked it, but I’m not sure about my siblings.

These days, I don’t very often serve anything straight from a can, but having said that, I’ve never looked for a hash recipe either.  The word, hash, means to chop into small pieces, and although it doesn’t have cachet, it’s one of those dishes that lends itself to leftovers and a weekday night. Nothing wrong with that! On the most basic level, it’s simply meat and potatoes.

I’m guessing you might have your own idea of what hash should taste like, so forgive me if my version doesn’t own up to yours. That’s the beauty of cooking; there’s room for everyone’s interpretation. The foods we prefer depend on a lot of things: culture, what we ate as children, where we live, proximity to grocery stores and farmers markets, and how much time we’re willing to invest in what we put into our bodies.

Last night, it just so happened I had a small chunk of beef and leftover potatoes  that set me on the road to hash. All it took was some chopping and sautéing and within minutes, our dinner awaited in white bistro bowls. Most good things start with onions especially hash; celery, (I always have it on hand for making stock) adds a pleasing crunch and a pop of color. Speaking of which, I freed a roasted red pepper from my freezer which complemented the potatoes nicely.

From those few ingredients, you could go anywhere. I pilfered my bag of frozen Parmesan rinds and threw in one of those. I love thyme, and added sprigs from my garden along with my trusty salt and pepper. Where you go with hash depends on what you have on hand, and herbs and spices that speak to you. It’s hard to go wrong, and easy to go right, so when you have the basics and feel a little nostalgic, bring some hash into your life. Below is a basic recipe, but please tweak the amounts and decide where you want to go with your spice palate: Southwestern, Indian, Mediterranean? I make my hash a little chunkier (okay a lot) than is traditional but feel free to chop your ingredients as fine as you’d like. And most of all, have fun!

Susan’s Weekday Hash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 celery stalks, sliced on the diagonal
4 medium cooked potatoes (whatever you happen to have), diced
5 to 8 ounces cooked beef, diced (I didn’t have that much so I added diced chicken)
1 fresh or roasted red pepper, diced
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
4 sprigs thyme or 1 teaspoon dried, or other fresh herbs such as oregano

Sauté the onions and celery in the olive oil over medium heat. Cook about five minutes until the onion and celery have softened but still have some bite. Add the potatoes, meat, red pepper, Parmesan and herbs of choice. Stir well and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the veggies are nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 – 4

SHOUTOUT: If you’re ever in Kingston and have a hankering for clams, try the ones at the Main Street Ale House to the left as you walk off the ferry. Our server raved about them and with good reason. The sauce was amazing and we couldn’t stop dipping our bread.

TidBit: It’s been years since I’d made yogurt but this simple recipe by Marion Cunningham doesn’t require any special equipment and comes out ever so creamy and tasty. Bonus: it’s a fermented food which means it’s good for digestion.

Zucchini bread

zucchini breadIt wasn’t until last summer when we grew zucchini for the first time that  my brother let me in on the joke: in Anchorage, your doorbell rings and no one is there but a giant zucchini  awaits on your porch. My response would be, yay! Last year, I had to admit being in somewhat of a panic when like many people, I didn’t harvest my zucchini while it was slender because it was oh so fun seeing how big it would grow. Yes, it isn’t as flavorful, but that works well in Z bread.

Fortunately, I remembered my ancient food processor has a grating attachment and bingo, my jumbo-sized veggies were shredded in minutes. So then what. I’ve made zucchini gratin and the usual sautés,  but haven’t done much with the green giant otherwise. It stood to reason that bread might just be the solution to my mounds of grated zucchini in need of some magic. And that’s when my Web search began for a recipe. Not just any recipe, but the very best zucchini bread. The one that spoke to me created by Elise Bauer, received rave reviews with adjectives including magnificent, amazing, delicious, and lovely to name a few.

The recipe as written is excellent, but like many of the reviewers, I made changes to suit my cooking style and increase nutrients. Making a recipe your own is always fun and a good way to improve your skills, not to mention use things at hand. For starters, spelt flour is more nutritious than all-purpose, and as for currants, food science author, Jo Robinson, says they have more plant nutrients than most dried fruits, and I think they’re underappreciated. As for the salt, frankly, a pinch just wasn’t enough; salt not only heightens flavor but masks bitterness.

While my bread was still warm from the oven, I made the rounds to my neighbors. When I get the nod from Gerry, I know I’m on to something good. Jonlee confirmed it in an email with the subject line, yum: “this is the best zucchini bread we’ve ever had.” My neighbors are all superb cooks in their own right, so superlatives from them are a huge compliment. I don’t know about you, but when my doorbell rings this summer, I can only hope I’ll be blessed with a zucchini or better yet, a loaf of zucchini bread!

Zucchini Bread Recipe (My changes are in parentheses)

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar (1 1/4 cups natural cane; it’s less processed)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • *3 cups grated fresh zucchini
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted (organic)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Pinch salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (substitute half with spelt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional; I used walnuts)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (1/2 cup dried currants)

*To remove the water, sprinkle the grated zucchini with a teaspoon of salt;  let sit about 10 minutes and squeeze.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 5 by 9 inch loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter.
3. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture and stir it in. Add the flour, a third at a time, stirring after each incorporation. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmeg over the batter and mix. Fold in the nuts and dried cranberries or raisins if using.
4. Divide the batter equally between the loaf pans. Bake for 55 minutes (check for doneness at 50 minutes) or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

SHOUTOUT: Curious about where capers come from?  Ever wonder why eggs foam? Check out Harold McGee’s tome, On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the kitchen. Packed with food facts and fun to read, this book has all the answers to your cooking questions.

Tidbit: Basil is bountiful! if you don’t have time to make classic pesto, whirl your basil with olive oil, a clove of garlic and a little salt and freeze it. You don’t have to add nuts, and cheese is optional (or you can add it before you use it for a fresher taste.)

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