Jan 012018

Happy New Year
Happy New Year! January 1st is always a time for new beginnings, when anything seems possible in the year ahead. Today dawned beautiful – sunny, cold, and crisp – and seems like as good a day as any to get back into the spirit of creativity that the challenge to “make something daily” embodies. Way back on January 1, 2012 I resolved to make something every day, and I did, for the better part of that year. I’m going to give it another shot this year, under much different circumstances.

Back then I was a stay-at-home mom with two young kids, restless and feeling a bit stifled by domesticity, looking for something to grow my own creative self apart from parenthood. These days, six years later, I work full time and have other demands, but have found myself again in a place where I need another shot of creativity.  My creative acts might be smaller this time (lunchtime work doodle? Fancy Saturday snack for the kids?) but my plan is to be mindful about taking even just a few minutes every single day to make something. In a perfect world, I might be able to post about it daily too, but I can’t get too uptight about that because life happens.

So, to kick off 2018 right, today I made black-eyed peas and rice (Hoppin’ John) with collard greens. This is a New Year’s Day tradition for our family, and the kids love it (around here, we call any dish with a hearty green and dried beans “beans and greens” and it’s a favorite dish). I gave the beans an overnight soak, rendered the fat from a smoked ham shank, and cooked the greens with more of the ham, finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar for some acidic balance. Now I’m going to relax with the family, sip a glass of something bubbly, and raise a toast to you, dear reader. My hope for you is that 2018 is filled with family, friends, love, and that you find the time to make something daily!

Cook the Collection #10: The Fondue Cookbook

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Sep 072015

Header illustration for cook the collection projectThis project is well-intentioned but boy is it slow. All this time and I’m just on the tenth book – that’s kind of ridiculous. I’ve got this dead wood of not-great cookbooks hanging over me that I would like to pare from my collection, but I feel I should cook at least one thing from each before I do.

The Fondue CookbookThe thing is, there are cookbooks that have great, accessible recipes, and there are cookbooks that have luscious, aspirational photographs and head notes, and a few treasured cookbooks have both. Then there are the cookbooks that might not be so great but they’re meaningful in some way (for instance I like to bring back a cookbook as a souvenir when I travel), and the books that are family heirlooms. Another group of cookbooks are the workhorses of the collection – the reference and technique books and the general books that get turned to over and over again. Finally, there’s a large group of books that have marginal recipes, poor illustrations and uninspired writing. These are my bane! These are the books that I want to toss into the recycle bin (or at least the donation box at the local library).recipe page from The Fondue Cookbook

The Fondue Cookbook, however, is not one of those dreary books. This book is a specialty book for sure – we got it as a wedding gift along with a fondue pot (and no I was not married in the 70’s, surprisingly) – and it is full of fondue recipes and nothing else. The very first recipe, for traditional cheese fondue, is a solid recipe that gives great results. This is my go-to cheese fondue recipe, and when my daughter asked if we could have fondue the other day, it’s the one I turned to. Later this month I’ve promised the kids we’ll make chocolate fondue, and I’m sure I’ll turn to this book again.

Lean and Clean Turkey Burger {Recipe}

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Mar 262015

lean and clean turkey burger with recipe

These lean and clean turkey burgers and heavy in our dinner rotation lately. Right now my kids are obsessed with “make your own” dinners. Make your own tacos, make your own pizza, and make your own burgers – basically anything that they get to assemble on their own is a hit. We have “make your own ” burgers just about weekly, and like to rotate between beef burgers, salmon burgers and ‘clean’ turkey burgers.

This recipe is quick and simple to prepare, and fits in with the kind of healthful eating we try and stick with. We like to fix oven roasted potatoes instead of french fries, and usually serve peppers, carrots, or cucumbers alongside as well.

Lean and Clean Turkey Burger
(Serves 4)


  • 1 lb lean ground turkey breast
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying burgers)

1. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. The mixture will be really soft and sticky. Wet your hands with a bit of water before you form the patties to keep the meat from sticking to your fingers. At this point you can put the mixture in the fridge to chill if you’re not ready to cook yet, otherwise proceed to the next step.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat while you begin to form the patties. Once it’s hot add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and then as you make a burger set it right into the hot pan and pat it down a bit, then move onto the next one.

3. Cook the burgers for about 7 minutes per side, until the patty is entirely cooked through. If you want to add cheese, top the burgers with a slice once you’ve flipped them and they have about 3 minutes left to cook. Pepper Jack cheese is delicious on these!

4. Serve on hamburger buns with your favorite toppings. Some of our favorites to choose from are bread & butter pickles, salsa criolla, lettuce, tomatoes, avocados or guacamole, and ranch dressing.

lean and clean turkey burger

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Dinner Prep with a New Mandolin

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Mar 142014
new mandolin potatoes

Layering potatoes and cheese for a potato gratin

I got a shiny new mandolin as a gift awhile back, and up until now I’ve been a bit nervous to use it – I’ve heard so many horror stories about slicing off bits of fingers along with paper thin potatoes – but I wanted to make a potato gratin and the mandolin was there, just waiting for me to grab it. After I skimmed the user’s manual (deceptively thick, it had instructions in 16 languages) I peeled four potatoes and away I went. Wow – this thing slices so easily I was through those potatoes in like a minute, and the finger guard worked great so I avoided giving myself a trim. I put about three layers of potato slices in a pan with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese in between each layer, and added milk up to the top of the potatoes, covered the whole thing with aluminum foil and into the oven. Easiest potato gratin ever – and we all loved it, even the little guy once we convinced him to give it a try.

Look at how thin these onions are; they're almost translucent.

Look at how thin these onions are; they’re almost translucent.

It turns out that the mandolin sliced the potatoes so quickly, easily and uniformly that I decided to use it on a red onion as well, to put in the roasting pan under a pork tenderloin. I just chopped the root end off, peeled the onion and sliced it up, in a fraction of the time it would have taken me with a knife. The next time I make up a batch of caramelized onions (one of my favorite things) it’ll be such a breeze.  Suddenly I want to slice everything with the mandolin! I wish I’d have overcome my fear sooner – what a time saver in the kitchen.

(Disclosure: The post above contains an affiliate link and if you happen to make a purchase through it I’ll receive a small commission)

Meatloaf Cupcakes

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Jan 062014


meatloaf cupcakes

My daughter has been wanting to make meatloaf cupcakes for awhile now, ever since we saw a picture of them somewhere (probably on Pinterest, right?). Whenever my kids make a dinner request that isn’t complete junk food I try to accommodate them so last night we made up a batch. Now, I didn’t go all out with piping on the mashed potatoes a la frosting on top (and I think while that would add to the presentation it seems more appealing to eat the potatoes on the side). There are some changes I might make next time to make them a little more cupcake-like – a more domed-top, and maybe trying to find a way to get the sides a bit more browned/less steamed, but it was a good dinner and it’s nice to have little pre-portioned serving sizes.

They were easy to make – almost as simple as a regular loaf. I used my go-to meatloaf recipe from The New Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated – of course as always with a few changes. I had to use beef only instead of a meat mix because the local butcher (which sells an incredible meatloaf mix) was totally crazy this weekend and I walked out without getting anything. Then instead of forming one big loaf I just rolled the mixture into balls and put them into muffin tins. I used metal tins and didn’t prepare them at all (no greasing, etc) and I didn’t have any problems with the cupcakes sticking to the sides or bottoms. One regular meatloaf recipe yielded 11 regular sized cupcakes (and it doesn’t need to be exact – you could end up with 10 bigger cupcakes or 12 smaller ones). If you give this a try, do make sure to put the muffin tins on a cookie sheet in the oven to catch any overflowing fat.

Eggplant, Red Pepper and Cherry Tomato Pasta

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May 012013

We had a delicious meal the other night and I think I’ve found another tricky way to get my suddenly veggie-adverse 3 year-old to get a few vitamins in without him knowing. He’s kind of obsessed with pasta and noodles right now, so I roasted eggplant until it was soft and almost like a puree, then added it to onions, red pepper and cherry tomatoes to make a pasta sauce. The eggplant and sauce ended up coating the pasta, so although he picked out all of the peppers, tomatoes and onions I know he got a helping of eggplant.

Eggplant, Red Pepper and Cherry Tomato Pasta
serves 4-6

1 eggplant, roasted
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup water
1 box penne pasta (or whatever other type you’d like to use)
olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper

1. Roast the eggplant by slicing it in half lengthwise, sprinkling it with kosher salt and placing it cut side up on a sheet pan to bake in a 400 degree oven until it is soft and the tops are browned. When its done, remove it from the oven and scrape out the inside, discarding the peel.

2. Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat, then add the onions and peppers and saute them until they begin to soften and brown lightly.

3. Add the roasted eggplant and stir well to break up the eggplant and combine with with the peppers and onions.

4. Add the minced garlic and cherry tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Also add kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste.

5. Turn down the heat to medium low and add  1/2 cup water to the pan, stirring well. If the sauce begins to dry out too much, add more water from the pasta pot as needed.

6. Meanwhile, salt and boil water and cook the penne pasta according to the package directions.

7. When the pasta is ready, add it to the sauce along with a bit more water if you need to, then mix the pasta and sauce well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

8. Serve topped with shaved or grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

Apr 252013

When it’s nice out in Seattle you have to grill out – I think it’s actually a law or something. Last night was so beautiful and we were all in the mood for beef so I grilled up some steaks with onions and chiles. I love cooking the onions and green chiles on the grill in a cast iron pan because they pick up some of that smokey campfire flavor that adds a lot to the meal. For these heavily seasoned steaks – topped with an assertive onion/chile mix – I don’t mind using sirloin tip steaks since you don’t need a delicate cut for this dish.

Asparagus season is starting and since one of my all-time favorite foods is grilled asparagus I had to fix that also. I served the steaks and asparagus with a side of steamed white rice (I like to eat the onions and green chiles on top of the rice as well).

Grilled Cowboy Steaks with Onions & Green Chiles
serves 4

4 beef sirloin tip steaks
1 small red onion
1 medium yellow onion
1 7 oz. can whole green chiles
1 medium jalapeno
1 small red chile pepper
garlic powder
kosher salt
black pepper
vegetable oil for sauteing the onions and peppers.

1. Generously season each steak (on both sides) with the cumin, garlic powder, kosher salt and black pepper.

2. Cut the onions and peppers into thin slices, put them into a bowl and season them with salt and black pepper.

3. When the coals or hot (or the gas grill has preheated for 10 minutes or so) put a cast iron frying pan onto the grate and let it heat up for a minute or two, then add a splash of vegetable oil and the onions and peppers. Mix the vegetables well to separate any onion rings cover the grill to let them cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (you can also prepare the onions and peppers on the stove top over medium high heat if you’d prefer or if you don’t have a heavy cast iron pan that can handle the grill heat).

4. Add the steaks directly over the coals/heat and let them cook for three minutes. Flip them and cook them for another three minutes, then move them to an area of the grill with indirect heat and let them cook for 2-6 minutes more, depending on the thickness of the steaks, the heat of the grill and how done you prefer your steaks. When the steaks are to your liking, remove them from the heat and let them rest on a platter for a few minutes.

5. Keep stirring the onions and chiles occasionally to keep them from burning to the bottom of the pan – they’re done when they’re softened and are beginning to caramelize.

6. Top each steak with a generous scoop of the onions and chiles – you should have some left over to pass at the table as well if people would like more.

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Aguadito Con Cerdo {Cilantro Pepper Pork Stew}

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Apr 182013

Aguadito is a Peruvian style soup (or stew) that is a great use for leftovers in the kitchen. In fact, it tastes better when you use leftovers. We usually make it with the turkey carcass after Thanksgiving, but you can also make an amazing version using leftover grilled meats from the barbeque, or don’t use leftovers at all. We made it the other day using pork loin and it was incredible. It’s got a deep flavor from the peppers and herbs, and the vegetables add a great fresh note. It’s hearty enough to serve as a main dish with the rice and meat/poultry and is so warming on a cold winter (or here, spring) day.

Clockwise from the main photo: red onion, garlic, cilantro, red pepper, green pepper

This is one of my husband’s specialties, and I’ll have to have him make it again so I can take proper notes and write out the recipe because I want to do it justice. Think of this as a sneak peak!

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Apr 062013

First off, let me just say this is one of my kids’ favorite meals, and since it’s also a very easy meal to make it’s one of my favorites too! Plus they end up eating a lot of spinach without mentioning anything about yucky green stuff which makes it even better. Ok, here goes (pay attention, ’cause this is gonna go quick)! You need:

  • 1 package bulk Italian Sausage (My family likes the mild version, but feel free to use the sweet or hot instead).
  • 1 jar Spaghetti Sauce (I like Barilla – use whichever brand you prefer. If you want to be fancy you could use a sauce with sausage in it).
  • 1 clamshell package fresh baby spinach (I think its about 10oz. but more or less won’t hurt and you could even use a box of frozen spinach instead).
  • 1/2 box of your favorite pasta (if you’re going to use the full box, double the rest of the ingredients).

Roll the bulk sausage into meatballs. The easiest way to do this is to score the meat with a knife in the packaging, going vertically and horizontally with about an inch between each line. Then just grab a square of meat at a time and roll it up into a ball. This will give you uniformly sized meatballs that will cook evenly.

Cook the meatballs in a dutch oven or other deep pan over medium high heat. Turn the meatballs after a few minutes so that they brown on all sides. If the meatballs don’t release from the bottom of the pan and turn easily, wait a minute more and try again.

While you’re cooking the meatballs chop the spinach into little pieces, and after the meatballs are browned add the chopped spinach and stir well. If you’d like to take out some of the fat you could remove the meatballs from the pan (drain them on paper towels on a plate) and pour out the excess fat, then add the meatballs and spinach back into the pan.

Once the spinach is wilted add the jar of sauce, along with a little bit of water (I throw in about 1/2 a jar of water).

Simmer the sauce and meatballs for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened some and the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions.

When both the sauce and pasta are done, drain the pasta and either plate it up with the sauce or mix it together with the sauce and meatballs and then serve it. I have a child who likes his noodles plain on the side so I don’t mix the meatballs and sauce with the pasta, but its nice if you do mix it because then all of the pasta ends up evenly coated with sauce.

I find that I don’t need to season the meatballs and sauce with salt and pepper, but you can try them and adjust the seasonings to your tastes.

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Apr 012013

I hope you all had a happy Easter! Wow, the weather was absolutely unbeatable this spring weekend here in the Pacific Northwest and we really got a chance to enjoy it. We kicked off the holiday weekend on Friday, dyeing Easter eggs and eating Bacalao a la Vizcaina. The recipe for this salt cod stew with tomatoes and garbanzos was passed down to me from my Peruvian mother-in-law – this is the traditional Good Friday meal in Peru.

If you have trouble finding Bacalao (salt cod) check with a European or Latin American market or food importer, or ask the fishmonger at your local supermarket if they can order it for you.

Bacalao a la Vizcaina
serves 10

1 1/2 lbs. Bacalao (salt cod)
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 10.75-oz. can tomato purée (305g.)
5 cups water (I usually actually use four tomato puree cans full which is about 5 cups)
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
2 4-oz. jars diced pimientos (with liquid)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 bag frozen shoestring potatoes
olive oil for sauteing onions and garlic
white rice to serve on the side
parsley for garnish

1. Prepare the salt cod by soaking it in several changes of cold water – overnight is best. If you need to do it the same day, start by covering the cod with boiling water and letting it sit for 30 minutes, then draining that water and covering it with cold water, changing it a few more times with a hour soak between changes. The saltiness can vary from fish to fish, so the longer you soak it the more likely you won’t have overly salty stew. 

2. Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until it has softened but not browned.

3. Add the tomato puree and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the water and fish and bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fish is cooked through, softened and has broken into small pieces and the liquid is almost all gone. This should take a few hours – if the stew begins to look dry too quickly you can add more water with no problem.

4. Add the pimientos and garbanzo beans and cook another 20 minutes (use this time to fix the rice and shoestring potatoes that accompany the dish).

5. Just before serving, add the heavy cream and stir thoroughly. Serve the stew with white rice, and top it with some shoestring potatoes and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Of course, if you’re not serving 10 people this is the kind of recipe that tastes even better the next day, so you’ll be happy if there are leftovers – and if there are not quite enough leftovers for the amount of people eating, you can always add another can of garbanzo beans to stretch the stew.

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