the rainy kitchen

cooking through the rain in southeast alaska

share your table

I hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating the New Year. If you did something traditional, if you did something new, if you slept through it, whatever you chose, I hope it was what you wanted and that you were happy. This time of year is filled with resolutions, reflections and the general concept of starting anew. I am not big on making resolutions. We all have things to work on. For me, I feel like I am adding to that list every day, so going out of my way to add something else, simply because of the calendar, is somewhat exhausting. That being said, it’s pretty much impossible for me to get through a new year without thinking about what makes me feel good, what makes me feel bad, what I’d like to carry forth and what I’d like to let go of for the coming year.

I like to eat. More than liking to eat though, I like to share my table. I like to eat because it is something I do with people I love. Good company makes good food better. The simplest meal, enjoyed with the best of friends, can feel like the most decadent thing on earth. There is no doubt in my mind that love enhances food.  I don’t mean the love that goes into cooking it (though I think that’s important too), I mean the love that goes into sharing it. When you’re sharing food with people you love and it comes out terribly, they forgive you and you let it go. Once I made one of my favorite Julia Child salmon recipes for some dear friends and I used purple carrots instead of orange, thinking it would be so pretty. What actually happened is the carrots turned the sauce purple. It was still yummy, but it looked like something out of Harry Potter. And I was with people that I love. And we laughed. And we ate. And dinner was purple. And life was perfect.

I am thankful that we are fortunate enough in our lives to have the means to share our table. When I was in college and I could barely afford to pay my rent, I would go the farmers market and spend $10 on tomatoes and fresh basil so that I could make a simple pasta dish for friends coming to share my tiny table, in my tiny house. It doesn’t take much and I am sure it has made me a better person. For all the “personal growth” I have left to do, this is one thing I will not change. I will always share my table. Even if I am not always as gracious a host as I hope to be, and if sometimes I have moments of anxiety wanting everything to be “just so” before people arrive, I will share my table and I will keep those other things on the aforementioned list.  I have learned so much about my friends and my family over the dinner table. Stories that go on for days, arguments that remind me to listen more and talk less, confessions of love, stories of loss and the finding of God, all the world’s problems solved over a filet of fresh King Salmon and salad greens from the garden. For those moments, I am grateful. Many dinners in our house are last minute, friends staying to eat after stopping by to say hello, or an afternoon visit that has quietly dwindled into the evening. These are some of my favorites, as they leave no time for worrying if the laundry is done, or the kitchen is clean, they only leave time for the good stuff.

I do not consider myself a “foodie”. In fact, I have a slight aversion to that word and I tend to recoil a bit when people refer to me as such. After much thought as to why this is, I think I’ve realized that to me, the term “foodie” seems to put food above all else. It’s all about the perfect and hard to find ingredients, the technique that took hours to achieve, whatever the new fad is. For me, that’s not what’s so good about food. What’s so good about food is that it has the ability to bring people together. Sure, all those things are to be appreciated and yet they are not what motivates me to go into my kitchen and start chopping the garlic after working all day. Sharing my table with the man I love (and anyone else who might pop in) is what motivates me to do that. I have come to feel that community starts with sharing your table. Simple food and eating it with loved ones new and old, is a small thing to offer, and I am glad I can do it.

My challenge to you in 2013, which I submit with gratitude for your taking the time to read this, is to share your table, however humble it may be.  Invite those old friends that you’ve been missing, ask the new friends that you’re intrigued by. Don’t worry if your house is a mess or you don’t think you’re a very good cook.  If you wait for perfection, you’ll never do it. Remember, the food will be better in the company of friends, with good stories.  Get to know your community. Learn what others value. Share your table. And in the wise words of Ms. Child, “Bon appetite!” Happy New Year.

In our dining room we have one of NikKi McClure’s prints.  When I saw it (already a fan of Nikki’s work), I felt like my life philosophy had been put on a lovely piece of art work. Clearly, it had to be in our home. I look at it everyday, and I am so glad it’s there as a constant reminder. Thank you, Nikki for giving me permission to use this image.

post party lemon curd

It’s been forever since I’ve posted. The truth is this is the darkest time of year. Which means I want to hibernate and I start resorting to store bought ravioli and five minute sauces – or rice and beans.

That being said, we had our annual holiday party the other night, which was so much fun and inspired Bret and I to get into the kitchen together. For one of the cocktail choices at our party we made Whiskey Sours. I have posted before about Meyer Lemon Whiskey Sours, this is essentially what we made, only we used regular lemon because of the quantity we would be making.

However – what this meant was that we had a lot of egg yolks left over. We also had some lemon juice. So, after doing some internet research, we decided to make lemon curd, which I happen to think is a total treat and had never made before.

I ended up finding this recipe on About.com, which I must admit is not where I get many recipes. We chose it after digging around and discovering that it called for 6 egg yolks and no whole eggs – perfect for our situation.  We made three batches. It was easy and a delicious use of our leftover yolks and lemons! Now we have our holiday gifts too!

lemon curd

Lemon Curd (makes apx. 2 cups)

6 egg yolks
1 c. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1-2 tbls shredded lemon zest
1/3 c. lemon juice

Simmer a few inches of water in a medium sized pot. Whisk sugar and egg yolks together in a medium sized metal mixing bowl for about two minutes or until “smooth”. We did not find that it ever got smooth, the sugar doesn’t dissolve until it heats up, so I would say whisk until totally combined. Whisk in lemon juice and zest.

Put the bowl on top of the pot (double boiler style) making sure that the water is not touching the bowl. Stir constantly, scraping the bottom and the sides of the bowl regularly. After 7-10 minutes it will start to thicken up and will stick easily to the back of your spoon. We did one batch that we didn’t let thicken long enough – so if you’re in doubt, let it thicken longer.

Once thickened remove from heat and add the butter once slice at a time. Continue stirring and let each slice melt before adding another. We found that about half way through we had to add it back to the turned off water just so that the steam would keep the bowl warm enough to keep melting the butter. Maybe if you used  deeper bowl this would be less of a problem, our bowl was somewhat shallow. Just an idea.

Once all the butter is thoroughly mixed in, you can poor the mixture into jars. Cover the jars with plastic wrap and push it down lightly onto the curd to keep a film from forming. Once cooled, put the lids on and store in the refrigerator. Will keep for about 3 weeks. Enjoy on toast, with berries, on cakes, or however else you like it!

cranberry sauce with ginger

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! This is one of my favorite holidays. I am looking forward to spending the day with friends and family and I am thankful that we can all be together. We are doing a fairly traditional Thanksgiving meal which includes, of course, cranberry sauce. I have been making my cranberry sauce in the manner below for several years now. It’s not an exact science. It’s simple and contains no processed sugars. My friend Elyas came over last night to help me make the beautiful red sauce for our table tomorrow. I was lucky to have a fantastic assistant, but believe me, you could do it in no time without one too!

Pour about four cups fresh cranberries into a heavy bottomed pot. Add 2-3 cups orange juice (I use fresh squeezed). Turn on medium heat and let simmer. Mince 1-2 tablespoons fresh ginger and add that in. Let cook, stirring regularly for about 30 minutes or until the berries have all popped open and the mixture is thick. You can add more or less orange juice and ginger depending on the flavors you like. I like lots of ginger, I think it adds a unique flavor to a traditional dish and tones down the tartness of the cranberries, the orange juice will also do this, add more or less depending on how much bite you like from your berries! Enjoy with loved ones smothering on whatever you like at our table of giving thanks.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving my dears.

My helper inspecting the beautiful berries.

acorn squash soup with sage and nutmeg

It’s cold and blustery in Juneau. We have some snow on the ground and the Taku winds are howling. Time to make soup. Due to the time of year, and the fact that I had one sitting around, an Acorn squash soup seemed like the right thing to make. So, I picked up another one and some fresh sage while I was out and about. Bret happens to hate the texture of Acorn squash, so a pureed soup seemed the only possible option.

Acorn Squash Soup with Sage and Nutmeg

2 acorn squash
2 sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
6 sage leaves
1 celery stock
1 tbs freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbls butter
1/4 c. of heavy cream
1 tbls freshly  ground black pepper
kosher salt
olive oil
6 c. vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the “guts”. Lay on a baking sheet skin side down. Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes. Quarter them and add them to the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the cookie sheet in the oven and roast for an hour or until the squash and the sweet potatoes are soft. When those are getting close to being done, chop the onion, garlic, celery and sage and saute in olive oil over low heat until onions are translucent and zucchini is soft and lighter in color. Turn off the heat. Remove the squash and potatoes from the oven.  Warm up your stock. When it’s warmed up, puree the sweet potatoes with the onions etc. and a cup or so of vegetable stock in a food processor. Put it into the soup pot. Once the squash is cooled enough to remove the skins, do so. Now, puree the squash with some of the stock that’s left.  Once all the squash is pureed, add it to the soup pot and mix in with the rest of the warm stock. Turn on the heat, mix all together as it warms. Add butter, heavy cream, nutmeg and a pinch or two of salt and the black pepper. Mix all together. Grate a bit more fresh nutmeg on each serving before eating.

**This is a very rich soup! I think it’s best eaten with a fresh and simple green salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.**

a word on leftovers

We had a busy and fun weekend that included Sunday brunch to celebrate my dear sister’s birthday. She was not supposed to be in town so it was rather last minute and it turned into quite the unplanned feast with friends. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon!  So, last night I wanted to make a simple dinner, as I had dishes to wash, dogs to walk, and was kind of wiped out.  I had some leftover baked king salmon from dinner Friday night and more from the brunch. I also had some broccoli that needed to be used up. So, I made a quick and simple pasta sauce.  I think it’s great to make meals with leftovers. Meals using leftovers are generally simple to do and they feel good! You use up your leftovers and you don’t have to eat the same thing again and again. Perfect. What do you do to reinvent leftovers?

Pasta with Salmon and Broccoli

2 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1 large broccoli flower
2 tbls capers
2 lemons
1 cup baked salmon
fresh thyme
olive oil
dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb pasta of your choice

This sauce only takes a short time to cook, so I would suggest putting your water on for the pasta when you start cooking the sauce. Coat a pan with olive oil and saute chopped garlic and olive oil. Meanwhile break the broccoli flower apart and cut the floret’s in half  or thirds length wise. Once the garlic and onion is translucent, add about a half a cup of dry white white wine. Let it cook for a few minutes before adding the broccoli. Add the capers and the juice of two lemons.  By now your water should be boiling, add the pasta. Right before straining the pasta, add a couple ladles full of pasta water to the sauce. Strain the pasta and drizzle with olive oil.  Add the leftover salmon to the sauce. Combine the pasta and the sauce, add the greens of a few sprigs of fresh thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Mix together and serve.

roasted brussels sprouts

I love Brussels sprouts, so good. This time of year they are in season and plentiful. One of my favorite things to do with them is roast them. If you’ve been reading this blog at all, this will not surprise you! The days of mushy steamed Brussels sprouts are over. If that was your experience with Brussels sprouts and you haven’t had them since, try this, it might change your mind.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 lbs sprouts
2 cloves garlic
crushed red pepper
olive oil
sea salt
lemon – optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash sprouts and remove the loose outer leaves, cut in half. Lay out on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a couple pinches of sea salt and a pinch or two of crushed red pepper. Put in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until sprouts begin to brown and are soft, but not mushy! If you want, squeeze the juice of about a half a lemon on them when you take them out. This will mellow out the flavor a bit. Personally, I like the strong flavor of Brussels sprouts. These are great served right away and also make delicious leftovers to add to salads, rice, or just to eat alone. Enjoy and have a lovely weekend!

arancini, fried yumminess!

The other night we had a little dinner party at our house and our friend Katie brought up Risotto she had made. Katie makes great Risotto and this was no exception, it was awesome and there was lots of it! Thank you, Katie! I have been wanting to make Arancini balls for quite some time, but I so rarely make Risotto, that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Good news for me: Katie left us with the leftover Risotto, the main ingredient for Arancini.

Arancini are fried balls of rice,  stuffed with whatever you like. They are so good and as it turns out, really fun to make!
Some people make it all from scratch, but I think leftover Risotto is the perfect thing to use for this.  I did a very basic stuffing, but next time I will experiment more. I am thinking blue cheese, mushrooms and caramelized onions. Mmmm.

Arancini

leftover Risotto. Apx 3 – 4 cups, cold
cheese, meats or veggies you’d like to use for the stuffing (I used mozzarella and peas)
2-3 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 – 3 cups bread crumbs
canola oil or another oil that you can heat to a high temperature

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Form the leftover Risotto into fairly good sized balls, using about a half a cup of rice for each ball. Push a hole into the middle with your thumb and shove in whatever you’d like to find in the middle of your fried goodness. Like I said above, I used mozzarella and peas, but you can use meat, more flavorful cheese, whatever you like. Once you’ve stuffed them and closed them back up into a nice ball,  place on cookie sheet.  I found that if my hands were wet when I rolled the balls, it was easier. Once you have made all the balls, put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Before you take the balls out of the fridge, get your breading goods together. I used three pasta bowls. One for flour, one for eggs (well whipped with a fork) and one for bread crumbs. Roll the balls through each in that order, letting the extra egg drip off before rolling in the bread crumbs. I stopped and cleaned off my hands a couple of times.

Use a deep pan to heat up your oil, you want it to be enough oil to easily cover the balls (I cooked 2 at a time), about 4 inches worth. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. When I fry things (which I don’t do very often) I like to let the oil strain off in a wooden bowl lined with paper towels, but you can get a plate or whatever and line it with paper towels. Once you’re all ready, put your first ball of goodness in the oil. I cooked them two at a time. After about 3 minutes, when they’re a nice golden brown, remove and put on the paper towel. Eat them while they’re still warm. You can serve them with marinara sauce or anything else you like! Just enjoy immediately. Fun and yummy!

 

roasted figs with goat cheese, thyme and honey

Figs are still in the grocery stores. They are so yummy and there are endless things you can do with them. I have only started playing with figs in the kitchen over the past couple years. I have found a few recipes on line for roasting figs with goat cheese with a variety of other ingredients. I really like thyme with goat cheese and I generally have good honey on hand. So, the other night I made this appetizer to share with some friends coming for dinner. It was quick, easy and good.

Roasted Figs with Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey

8-10 fresh figs
goat cheese
olive oil
good honey
fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse figs and cut off the tops. Slice an X in the top of the figs, going fairly deeply into the fig. Stuff each fig with a goat cheese (about a teaspoon’s worth in each fig). Drizzle olive oil into a baking dish. Put each stuffed fig in the dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the figs have started to get soft and juicy. Remove and transfer to a platter drizzled with honey. Drizzle more honey over the top of the figs and add more fresh thyme. Serve alone or with a sliced fresh baguette. If you serve with a baguette, the entire fig can be smeared across the bread. Otherwise, you can just pop the whole figs right in your mouth. One of the best parts of serving with bread is to use the bread to soak up the honey and the juices from the figs on the plate. YUM!

 

cannellini stuffed peppers

There are so many delicious ways to stuff peppers. The little boats that half peppers make are perfect for filling with various ingredients to make a simple meal with so much flavor. I make stuffed peppers a few different ways. This recipe with Cannellini beans makes a yummy vegetarian dinner with plenty of protein.

Cannellini Stuffed Peppers

1 small onion
5 cloves garlic
2 c. chopped zucchini
1 c. chopped mushrooms
3/4 c. chopped kalamata olives
1/2 c. chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
fresh basil
1 tbs crushed red pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbs capers
1 29 oz. can of cannellini beans (or two 15 oz cans)
6-8 bell peppers (red, yellow and/or orange)
paremesan cheese
olive oil
salt
fresh spinach
balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large and deep sided pan, saute onion and 4 cloves garlic in olive oil. Add the zucchini and mushrooms and let cook. Add the olives, sun dried tomatoes and beans. Stir all together and add the red pepper (if you don’t like heat you can add less, this will give it a nice kick though), oregano, capers, a handful of freshly chopped basil, a couple pinches of sea salt, and stir all together. Let cook for 5 minutes or so and turn off heat.

Cut your bell peppers in half and remove seeds and core. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of your baking dishes (you’ll probably need two). Stuff each half of the pepper with as much of the filling as you can fit in. You don’t want it overflowing much though, because it will just fall out. Cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 20-30 minutes or until the peppers are soft and roasted. Sprinkle the peppers with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

In a large saute pan, saute one clove of garlic in olive oil. Add about one large handful of fresh spinach for each half pepper you have, saute briefly, just long enough to slightly wilt the spinach. Transfer the spinach to a large platter and drizzle with good balsamic vinegar. Place the stuffed peppers on top. Enjoy!

* If you have leftover stuffing, use for dinner later in the week by making a pasta sauce out of it. Simply warm up in a pan with olive oil and add a couple ladles of well salted pasta water before straining your pasta. *

avocado and poached egg salad

As I mentioned earlier on this blog, we have chickens in our yard here in downtown Juneau. They are so much fun and they are laying eggs like crazy right now, which is awesome. Because of this, I am making a lot of meals and snacks using the eggs.  I also have a lot of cherry tomatoes that I grew in my house. So, I made this for dinner the other day. It was quick and yummy. Try it!

Poached Egg and Avocado Salad

* Makes enough for one

1 egg
1 large avocado
handful of cherry tomatoes
1 lemon
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
olive oil

Pit and slice the avocado into about one inch chunks. Put in a bowl. Slice the handful of cherry tomatoes in half and add to the avocado, squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss together. While that is sitting, poach an egg. If you have never poached an egg, there are instructions in this post. Once egg is finished place on top of salad, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.  Let sit to cool down for a minute or so and enjoy! The whole thing will take you 10 minutes or less. A great lunch or light dinner.