22 December 2006

Feel Better Soup

It seems that soups have been on my mind a lot lately, but hey, it's officially winter now. 'Tis the season for warm soups!
My work days are filled with chats about menus, service, procedures, construction, sodas and creamers. Opening a restaurant is hard work, and I know I'm only being exposed to a fraction of it. We spend lots of time talking about wonderful food and horrible food (usually someone's bad experience at a restaurant recently).
And while I'm surrounded by discussions of wonderful food, it seems I haven't been cooking too much lately. Perhaps that's why I was eager to make a great soup for a friend who was not feeling well.
The soup was a basic chicken noodle. What sets it apart is its homemade egg noodles borrowed from my Great Grandma Peach's recipe.
I'll share the ingredients and the techniques. I won't, however, tell you exact portions of ingredients. Now this isn't because I've turned into a food snob whose dishes are too good to duplicate. Quite the opposite.
I simply don't keep track. The meal came from the heart, guided by close attention to my sense of smell and taste.

I started the soup by roasting bone-in chicken thighs that had been drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
While the chicken is roasting, take out celery, two medium onions, a few carrots and sprigs of herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary.
Rinse/peel veggies. Roughly chop a couple of the celery stalks, carrots and one of the onions. Place the rough chopped veggies in a stock pot. Rinse the herbs, and place in the pot, stem and all, if you're lazy like I am.
Take remaining veggies and slice more thinly for the soup. Store covered in the fridge for now. Fill the stock pot three-quarters of the way with water. Add a generous dose of salt. Then add a little more. Set aside.
Once the chicken is cooked through, remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle it. At that point, get ready for the mess.
Ready yourself by donning kitchen gloves if you have them. Set up your meat cutting board, a garbage bowl for skins and a storage container for the chicken.
Begin removing skins and pulling meat from the bone. As you remove the meat, pull it apart into bite-size chunks. Put the meat into the bowl. Place the cleaned bones in the stock pot.
Once this process is complete, cover the chicken and stick in the fridge. Put the stock pot on the stove top and turn on high. (It should be filled with veggies, herbs, salt, water and bones.)
Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Now it just needs time. A couple of hours.
Start on the noodles by taking about two cups or so of flour. Add salt. create a well in the flour. Crack two eggs into the well. With a fork, break the yolks and begin slowly incorporating the flour. Be gentle with the eggs during this process, too much handling will toughen the noodles. Once you get the dough formed, generously flour the board and the top of the dough and roll with a rolling pin. Repeat until the dough is thin (think pie dough only a bit thinner).
Then I take a pizza cutter to cut the noodles from the dough. Once they're cut, toss with a little more flour and spread them out on a flat surface to dry for about an hour. Once they've become slightly dry, move them to the fridge until the last minute.
When the soup stock tastes right, remove from heat. Pour through a sieve or cheesecloth to separate solids. Discard veggies, herbs and bones. Return liquid to pot. Add remaining veggies as well as frozen corn and peas to the pot. Bring to a boil to cook veggies. Pull the chicken and noodles from the fridge to rise to room temp.
Once veggies are cooked through, turn the heat to lowest setting and let set for a couple of minutes. Add the noodles and immediately stir to make sure noodles don't stick. Add the chicken.
Stir soup and keep on low heat for a few more minutes.
When the soup is done, serve immediately or store in covered containers for the fridge or freezer.
Serve with a green salad and warm bread!

15 December 2006

Pumpkin Squash Soup

The past 24 hours here in Vancouver, Wash., have been wild. We had driving winds that took down tree limbs, fences and power lines. A tree along Main Street was uprooted and slammed onto the car windshield of a woman driving by. She was not hurt, but her car is surely out of commission for a bit.

Today the winds calmed down, but the wild weather did not. During about a two-hour span this afternoon we had sun, rain, sleet and snow. The snow was big and flaky and blowing around. For about 45 minutes it was beautiful and felt very Christmas-like.

So after a lazy afternoon at Mon Ami working online, I decided it was a soup night. And being a Friday, the fridge was empty. I peeked at the pantry shelf of canned goods. A can of pumpkin puree became my inspiration.

The result was warm, creamy and the perfect balance for a light meal. Of course, I'm quite sure that fresh pumpkin and squash would have a more robust flavor, this meal was quite good for a dish straight from the pantry (and freezer). If I had some fresh greens a wonderful salad with a little olive oil and sea salt would have been the perfect pair.

Pumpkin Squash Soup

1 can pumpkin puree
1 can chicken stock
1 package of frozen, cooked squash
1 cup of milk
1 cup of sour cream
Olive oil
Spices (see below)

Thaw the frozen squash in the chicken stock on the stove top. Once thawed, add the pumpkin, milk and sour cream. Whisk to combine. In a small bowl combine spices. I used salt, white pepper, ginger, ground coriander and paprika. The combined spices were probably roughly a tablespoon. Use whatever spices you like, or simply go with salt and pepper.

Stir in spices. Let soup simmer over a low heat for five to 10 minutes. Taste. Add salt if needed. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil to finish.

I served the soup garnished with scallions and chopped walnuts. I would have added sour cream to that if I'd had any left.

07 December 2006

Chili Night

So Dina wrote me the other day asking about my chili recipe. I'm sure most of you have your own chili recipe. And frankly, there's nothing too special about mine, just a little twist on the way Mom always made it.
About a year ago I managed to get Seth in the kitchen to make chili. In order to make it a bit more interesting for him, I decided to have him add beer. It made him have fun making dinner, and the results tasted pretty good.
Chili is pretty fool proof. Get the tomatoes and meat down, and everything else is gravy. Add corn if you like. Skip the beans if you want. Add less liquid if you like it thick, more if you like it thin.
Here's the recipe. If you have some good chili tips, ingredients or recipes, please leave a comment and share them with others here.

Seth's Chili

1 pound of ground chuck or sirloin browned, grease drained

1, 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes
2, 6-oz can of tomato paste
1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium-dark beer such as an amber
chili spice mix (store-bought or created from chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, red pepper, ground coriendar, salt and black pepper)

Add the canned ingredients to the browned meat in a large soup pot. Add one can of water using the 16-ounce can and the beer. Stir and add spices. Bring chili to a slow simmer for about 20 minutes to cook out the alcohol. The chili could be served then or allowed to slowly simmer for another half hour or so until ready to serve.

Around here we pile on Fritos, sour cream and shredded cheddar on our chili.

27 November 2006

Thanks, Dina

A nice column from our friend Dina on the joys of Thanksgiving cooking. Includes a reference to Amy and a certain quote in our kitchen nook.

26 November 2006

Thanksgiving exhale

It's been a while since my last posting. My excuse is that I quit my old job, flew home for a few days, started my new job and then hosted the in-laws for a week over the Thanksgiving holiday.

It was a busy few weeks, but all is going well. Very well.

Seth and I hosted our first holiday here in our home, and it felt very good. I managed to pull off the traditional meal, complete with a brined, 15-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, my Grandma Pat's cornbread dressing, giblet gravy (my personal favorite), cranberry-apple bake (thanks, Janet), green beens and carrots steamed with orange zest, rolls and a pumpkin pie.

I even started the day out with Mom's bacon and onion quiche recipe she got as a college student at Oklahoma State from a friend enrolled in a French class. With the quiche I served a fruit salad and warmed pumpkin bread I'd made the night before. It was wonderful. Seth even put on Bing Crosby's White Christmas album as Thanksgiving is the day it is officially OK to begin listening to Bing! What a treat.

The biggest mishap came from the pie. A self-proclaimed awful baker, I was reading (and mixing up) two different recipes. I wound up tossing the batter of one because I thought I'd screwed it up only to find out after speaking with my mom on the phone that I hadn't messed it up at all. Oh well. Randy saved the day by running to Safeway to pick up an extra can of pumpkin and evaporated milk. The pie baked up OK, and a few leaves made from crust covered a minor imperfection.

The day was exhausting and an intense delight. Randy said he thought the whole Thanksgiving meal seemed like too much work. Perhaps. But the hours of preparation, fretting, tasting, estimating times and fixing my mistakes made my day. And when I sat down to a beautiful table filled with food and surrounded by family, I know that moment alone was enough to be thankful for.

This afternoon I'm back to the kitchen to make a soup. Leftover turkey and Grandma Peach's wide noodles.

Happy holidays indeed.

07 November 2006

Morocco revisited

Since Dina was going to be stuck at home on her birthday, we decided to take dinner to her. She was craving a taste of Morocco, so I volunteered to bring the main dish.

This was my first attempt at cooking Moroccan food. Ever. I'm glad for this.

Had I tried to cook the dishes before going there, I likely would have found it complicated. I would have certainly misunderstood the food, not to mention the people.

Having visited Moroccan families in their homes, sampled their food and shared great times with friends over steaming communal dishes of chicken, dried fruits and couscous, I have a better understanding of the food, and, of course, the people who lovingly prepare it.

Wander the markets in Meknes and Fez to see vendors selling dried apricots, figs, dates, prunes and raisins. Nuts of all kinds. And spices shaped into mounds so colorful and brilliant they become a piece of art on their own. The food isn't mysterious. Nothing comes in boxes with unpronounceable chemical names. In fact, on your plate it looks very similar to the raw product in the market.

So for Dina's birthday I make a chicken dish cooked with apricots, prunes and almonds. I added saffron and some tagine spice I bought from Abdul's friend Yassin. The spice mix is called "head of the store." Abdul told me this refers to the man who runs the shop. Each man creates his own spice blend. Yassin's was delicious.

Here's the basic way I cooked this meal. I'm not offering amounts because this dish is simple enough. Simply add what you need or what you have available. Don't make it complicated. Enjoy the company and the recipe is a success.


Bone-in chicken (I used thighs)
Olive oil
Saffron (if available)
Dried apricots
Dried prunes
Whole almonds
Onion, sliced
Spice mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Create a spice mix by combining red pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, cinnamon and salt. Use about 1/8 to 1/4 tablespoon per serving.

Fill a small dish with about a cup of warm tap water and drop in a few threads of saffron. Set aside. Slice onion, set aside.

Add olive oil to coat a large pan. Heat to medium-high. Add chicken, salting while cooking. Lightly brown one side. Flip and brown the other. Add saffron water and all other ingredients. Stir over medium heat. Add about a cup of additional water and cook down for about five minutes. Remove from heat.

Place chicken pieces in an oven-safe dish. Pour liquid and other ingredients over the top. Cover with foil and bake 40 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of chicken pieces. If you are making this dish for a dinner party, simply leave in a warm oven until ready to serve.

As an appetizer I served this Moroccan salad. I took some to Abdul, who said he approved. I made it with eggplant. And go easy on the red pepper; the amount called for makes it very spicy. The recipe is simple, but I suggest prepping all of the veggies and spices first. That will make cooking the dish very easy. Serve this room temp with some bread for dipping.

I got this recipe from a random Web site, so no credit to me!



2-3 green peppers (this salad can be made with eggplant instead of green peppers)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 small tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, minced
2 tsp. red pepper
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
olive oil

- Put the green peppers on an open flame or under the broiler until the skin is burned black; put the peppers in a plastic bag rubbing briskly between the hands to remove the burned skin (if you are using eggplant instead of peppers, char them in the same manner, but simply scrape off the burned skin with a fork)

- Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium to high heat; when the onions have become soft add the peppers, tomatoes, red pepper and other spices; when the tomatoes are soft add the tomato paste; lower heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes

- Allow to cool before serving, sprinkle with minced parsley

26 October 2006

Better than Marie Callender's

A few Sundays ago I got a hankering for Chicken Pot Pie. I'd made the dish before, but it had been a while. And I think I used Veg-All. I wondered if I could make a pie better than Marie Callender's.

I think I did it. The secret to good homemade pot pie is to make a homemade sauce. Anything canned simply tastes too salty. It overpowers the veggies. Making a white sauce isn't difficult, and once it's tackled it opens the door to lots of hearty dishes.

The best part about the pot pie was it was way easier than I thought it was. The trick to cutting down on the prep time is to have the chicken already cooked and use the ready-made pie dough. Although I didn't try it, I'm thinking that you could prep the whole thing and pop in the fridge if you wanted to wait a bit to cook it. The leftovers kept us happy for days.


Two cooked chicken breasts, cubed
Two medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
One small onion, diced
One large potato
1 cup peas (thawed, if frozen)
2 cups warm milk
3/4 cup flour
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
One package of Pillsbury's ready-made pie crust (in the dairy section of the grocery store)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a deep pie pan with crust. Set aside top crust.

Combine the chicken and vegies in large bowl. Set aside.

Warm the milk just enough to take the chill off (in the microwave is fine). Have the milk, flour and a whisk handy next to the stovetop. Melt the butter over low heat, watching until the white flecks and foaminess is nearly gone. Then, slowly add the flour while continuously whisking. The mixture will begin to thicken. Whisk, cooking the flour and butter together on a low-medium heat for about a minute. Be sure not to burn the mixture, pulling it away from the heat or lowering heat as needed. Then slowly add the milk in small batches. Whisk to encorporate. Repeat until all the milk is used. Let the sauce cook over the stove top until thick. It should take only a couple of minutes until it can coat a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the sauce and pour into the bowl of veggies and chicken. Mix to coat. Pour the veggie and chicken mixture into the pie shell. Top with second crust and crimp edges. Cut a few vent holes in the top crust with a sharp knife. Brush with melted butter for a more golden crust if desired. Cover with foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 10 minutes or until crust is golden and sauce is bubbling through vents.

Crab Roll

Last weekend our friends Jake and Tiff introduced to the fun adventure of crabbing. We camped on the Oregon coast and got up early to head out on the water. The good news is the weather was fabulous. The bad news is the crabbing wasn't so good. Nonetheless, we made it back with some crab (albeit sympathy crab given to us by the guy who rented us the boat).

I pulled out all of the warm, fresh, flaky meat from the crab and asked Seth to slice four potato rolls left over from our dinner the night before. We plopped the sliced rolls down in a pan of melted butter, pulled them out and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I put a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, some salt and pepper into the crab meat. I toss around to coat. Then piled the crab mixture onto the rolls. We ate them like sandwiches. Then we wished we'd caught more crab!

Nothing beats simple, fresh food.

14 October 2006

Avocado smoothie

This recipe is inspired by our trip to Morocco. As I was on the rooftop of Abdul's family home, I was looking at several potted plants. In a fun conversation with one of Abdul's brothers, I discovered what each plant was. He spoke Arabic; I spoke English. We pulled on our knowledge of a little Spanish and together we were able to communicate largely through gestures, smelling and touching the plants.

I saw a small avocado tree, which I recognized by the leaves. I often buy them dried in Mexican markets to make my Oaxacan black beans (I'll share that recipe sometime). I asked what they did with the avocados in Morocco. Through motions, he shared with me that they make a blended drink out of them. I was sure I misunderstood.

In fact, I had not. At a cafe in Marrakesh I ordered an avocado smoothie. Theirs was made with milk and it had hint of banana in it. It was great. Of course, I LOVE avocados.

Here's my twist on that tasty snack. For those who are counting, it's very healthy, pulling from three food groups at once!


3/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 small, ripe avocado
1/2 ripe, browning banana
honey to taste

Dump the first three ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until you get a smooth, light green yogurt. Taste. Add honey to achieve desired sweetness, which varies depending on the banana.

Eat immediately. You could try to keep some in the fridge, but not for too long. If you do, however, put plastic wrap directly on the mixture to keep air from browning the avocado.

Don't tell the picky eaters about the avocado. Enjoy!

12 October 2006

Too many tomatoes?

Fresh fruits and veggies are never a bad thing. Here's something I cooked recently that was inspired by the bumper crop of huge red tomatoes from our garden. I suspect that a large can of diced tomatoes would substitute just fine. If you have access to good markets, try using a few different types of fresh tomatoes.

In most recipes I write I offer approximate amounts of ingredients. If an exact amount is neccesary I will make that clear. I always say, add more of things you like, less of those you don't. This recipes serves four.

Oh, and one other thing. I don't have some elaborate test kitchen. I'm just offering instructions on how I cooked a meal. If you see something that you think looks incorrect, send me an e-mail.

1 pound Italian sausage
4 large tomatoes diced
1 small onion chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
Few handfuls of bagged spinach leaves
1/4 cup of milk
salt and pepper to taste
Rigatoni pasta (or corkscrew, or anything you have on hand)
Grated mozzarella cheese

Brown sausage in a deep-sided pan. Drain excess grease once meat is cooked.

To the browned meat, add tomatoes (including juices if using canned), garlic, onions and milk. Bring to a simmer over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes while pasta cooks.

Boil pasta in salted water until tender. Drain water and set aside.

Add spinach leaves to sauce and stir, allowing the leaves to wilt. Add drained pasta to the sauce and stir to coat pasta. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.

Need sides?
Try a small salad and cheese toast.
To make cheese toast,
turn the oven on to broil and line a cookie sheet with foil for easy cleaning.

Lightly butter a slice of bread (regular sandwhich bread is just fine). Sprinkle garlic powder on the buttered side of bread. Place the bread on the foil. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Place the bread under the broiler and watch (seriously) until done. This could take just a minute.

08 October 2006

Welcome to my table

After Julia Child’s death in 2004, I was reading a story in a newspaper summarizing her contribution to the foodie trend well before the likes of Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis when I ran across a quote from the original vivacious cook.

“The dinner hour is a sacred, happy time when everyone should be together and relaxed,” she had once said, eloquently articulating a sentiment I’d long felt.

My own love of the dinner hour comes from my childhood. I can remember busting through the front door and seeing my mom hovering over hot, bubbling grease with flour-dusted fingers and watching chicken thighs turn a brilliant gold. Along with the fried chicken always came mashed potatoes. The real kind, made from a pile of dirty spuds, peeled and boiled and whipped together with butter and milk. And, without fail, she'd take some of the grease and make a cream gravy speckled with black pepper.

Even as a kid, it registered that this was a special meal, but not because of expensive cuts of meat. She spent no extra cash on pre-cut chickens; she bought the whole bird and cut it up herself. The meal was special because it was a labor of love. It took time. It made a mess. But it was impossible to not have a wonderful feeling sitting around that dinner table.

Food is powerful.

It feeds our bodies and spirits, serving as a cultural touchstone.

And while we may still be able to connect and be sustained by our contemporary food culture, it surely lacks an essential element of that sacred, happy time about which Child spoke.

My goal is to help people make those connections once again. To buy fresh food, trusting their guts not their grocery lists. To learn a few basic kitchen skills that open the door to creativity.
And, most importantly, to cherish the dinner hour.


Watch this site for weekly recipes. I'll post a quick how-to on a meal I've made recently.

Sometimes I'll also post some of my favorite family recipes. And I may also sneak in some tips, fun stories and happenings from my kitchen.

I hope you find this useful, heartwarming and fun.

Above all, enjoy.

- Amy