Strawberry Banana Bread

The bounty of berries and stone fruits available right now makes this household very happy, especially the two-year-old fruit fiend. As much as I love apples and pears in the fall, there’s something very gratifying about filling up our shopping cart in the summertime with 6-8 different varieties of fruit. This week we went home with plums, apriums (which look like apricots, but are sweeter and juicer thanks to the plum in them!), white peaches, nectarines, blueberries, and strawberries.

We’re definitely embracing the strawberries these days, as their window for consumption is shorter than that of other summer fruits. The strawberries that we buy from our grocery store come from just up the coast at Swanton Berry Farm and are so sweet and irresistible.

Hey! Who stole my garnish? 🙂

It’s time for another “Blogger’s Choice” recipe swap, hosted by A Taste of Home Cooking. I was assigned Carrie’s Sweet Life, from which to choose a recipe to make and then share with you. Carrie is the mom of two adorable little girls, and I love reading about all of the delicious things that come out of her kitchen. When I saw her recent post about Strawberry Banana Bread, I knew that it would be the perfect use for some of our strawberries.

I made a few changes, but nothing major. I used butter in place of the olive oil (best choice health-wise? No, but my favorite banana bread recipe calls for butter and I’m addicted to the flavor that it produces). Instead of mashing the strawberries, I chopped them up so that you get more intense bursts of strawberry flavor in every bite. I also swapped out 1/2 a cup of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour, added a bit more salt, and reduced the amount of orange zest by 1 tsp. to really highlight the strawberry/banana flavors. Oh, and I mixed everything by hand instead of using a mixer. My changes are reflected below. Thanks, Carrie, for a fun, seasonal twist on banana bread. Hooray for strawberry season!

Strawberry Banana Bread

(Slightly adapted from Carrie’s Sweet Life; originally from Cook with Sara)

1/2 cup butter (8 TBS.), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup fresh strawberries, chopped
3/4 cup mashed banana (I used 2 bananas)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the strawberries, banana, vanilla, and orange zest and stir until well-combined. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture, mixing just until flour disappears.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean (mine took about 1 hour and 10 minutes). Cool on a wire rack, then remove from pan, slice, and enjoy. I especially enjoyed it the next morning, toasted up in the toaster oven with a little butter on top.

Blueberry Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

I have a 2 year old! Saturday’s weather was sunny and warm, perfect for Levi’s birthday BBQ at the park. He ran around, he played with sticks in the dirt, he colored on butcher paper with crayons, he blew bubbles, and he devoured chips and salsa, a grilled sausage (bockwurst is his personal favorite) on a sesame challah roll with arugula and sweet mustard, baked beans (his Uncle Lars’s contribution to the party – thank you!), potato salad with spring vegetables and mustard vinaigrette, and of course, his special birthday cupcake. Like most 2 year olds I know, Levi can really power through the blueberries; they are his favorite snack, so I knew that blueberry cupcakes were in order for his birthday celebration.

I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for peach cupcakes with a brown sugar-cream cheese frosting. I simply swapped the peaches for blueberries and had the blueberry cupcake I was envisioning. The brown sugar in the frosting really sets it apart from regular cream cheese frosting. I know that Levi approved when I saw the look on his face when he licked the beater 🙂

I topped the cupcakes with a mint leaf (our plant in the backyard is flourishing!) and, of course, a blueberry. Then I packed them into  my handy new 36-cupcake carrier, where they arrived at the park in perfect shape, ready to be devoured and washed down (by the adults) with some Pale Ale and Amber Ale from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

See that ice in the bottom tray of my cupcake carrier? When I read that the mercury was going to hit the 80s on the day of Levi’s party (what a relief, since last year the cake time at his 1st birthday party was cut short due to drizzle!), I filled some of the cups in the bottom tray with water and stuck it in the freezer (a tip that I read in one of the Amazon reviews). It seemed to help because despite the heat, the frosting didn’t melt! Of course, I kept the carrier in the shade as well.

He was one happy birthday boy. Happy birthday, dear Levi, happy birthday to you! And let’s hope Mommy and Daddy survive the terrible 2s!

Blueberry Cupcakes

(Slightly adapted from the peach cupcakes with brown sugar cream cheese frosting on Smitten Kitchen; makes 24 cupcakes)

3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) buttermilk, sour cream or full-fat yogurt
3 4.4-ounce containers of organic blueberries, washed and dried (set aside 24 blueberries for decorating the tops of the cupcakes)
24 fresh mint leaves

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and set aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugars together, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition, and then add the vanilla. Gently mix in the buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the blueberries.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and powdered sugar.
  • In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the sugar-cornstarch mixture and vanilla, beat until frosting is smooth and light. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until it thickens back up a bit, about 30 minutes, then spread or dollop on cooled cupcakes. Decorate with a mint leaf and a blueberry, if desired.

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad for dinner may conjure up images of summer evenings, but this one is about as wintry as you can get, and (dare I say) just as comforting as a bowl of soup. Endive cooked in butter becomes nutty and caramelized, pairing perfectly with sautéed apples, baked walnut-encrusted goat cheese, fresh baby spinach leaves, and a sweet-slightly tart pomegranate vinaigrette. We loved the juxtaposition of warm goat cheese, apples, and endive with the cool spinach and the pop of fresh pomegranate seeds. It’s everything you want in a dinner salad, with winter flair. Since we are traveling the day after Christmas to spend time with family, and probably won’t get a chance to post until the new year, we’ll leave you with this festive salad as a way to say Merry Christmas and Happy 2012!! We look forward to the coming year, when we will celebrate our blog’s 5th anniversary (crazy)! There is also a little family venture that’s been brewing that we will reveal soon . Thanks, readers (whoever you are; I love finding out who is actually following along!) What’s your wish for the new year? See you then!

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

(From the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Fine Cooking; Serves 4)

1 cup pomegranate juice
6 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts*
3 TBS. butter
2 large Belgian endives, halved lengthwise with core left intact, each half cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 firm, medium-sweet apples (like Fuji or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 medium shallot, finely diced (about 3 TBS.)
1 TBS. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. (4 lightly packed cups) baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)**
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives***

* We used walnuts instead.
** Optional, yes, but they look so pretty, don’t they? And they add a refreshing pop to the salad.
*** Our store was out of chives, so I omitted these.

  • Position a rack in the center of an oven and heat to 425°F.
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the pomegranate juice to about 1/4 cup (it should be syrupy), about 15 minutes (mine took about 12).
  • Meanwhile, mash the goat cheese in a small bowl with a fork until smooth (I must have used a dryer goat cheese because it didn’t mash well. I skipped this step and went straight to forming it into rounds). Form the cheese into four 2-inch-diameter rounds. Put the hazelnuts (or walnuts) on a small plate and press the goat cheese rounds into the nuts on all sides to coat. Transfer the cheese to a small baking sheet and bake until the nuts brown and the cheese softens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • While the goat cheese bakes, melt 2 TBS. of the butter in a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the endives flat in the pan (they’ll fit snugly), sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side starts to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.
  • Melt the remaining 1 TBS. butter in the skillet, add the apples and shallot, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, shaking the pan often, until the apples start to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the pomegranate juice to a medium bowl. Add the vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper; whisk until combined. Gradually whisk in the oil and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, toss the spinach and apples with half of the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the endives on 4 large serving plates, top  with a mound of the spinach mixture, and then the goat cheese. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Serve.

Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze

My son is obsessed with the garage. It’s no surprise. His father and his grandfather (my dad) love it as well. It’s where they spend many a Saturday, working on projects of various sorts. The other evening as we were getting ready to start dinner, Levi made his usual “uh? uh?” sound while pointing emphatically towards the garage. There’s no ignoring that request. Once inside, we turned our backs for 20 seconds while we opened the garage door and got out the BBQ in anticipation of grilling some pork tenderloin, and he had climbed about 6 rungs of the extension ladder that’s propped up agained the wall. Parenting fail. When we got him safely on the ground,  he pointed to the BBQ and blew three times (the indication of it being hot). “You’re right,” I say, “It’s not hot yet, but it will be soon. We’re going to grill some pork tenderloin tonight! Are you hungry?” (Oh, and by the way, never do that again. You scared the sh!t out of me).

A jar of apricot jam in the pantry inspired this pork tenderloin, which came from El Salchichero, our community butcher. We decided to make a sweet and spicy glaze by combining the jam with some minced rocoto pepper from our backyard. These peppers are spicy – almost like a habanero – so we used them sparingly. Some fresh Meyer lemon juice added a little acidity to balance things out.

When the coals were hot and the tenderloin had been marinating in a little olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, I asked Levi to get the  BBQ tongs and bring them to daddy. Not surprisingly, he knows where they’re located and is always eager to help if it means retrieving something from the garage. After grilling, we allowed the pork tenderloin to rest so that it would be nice and moist when we sliced into it. The glaze caramelized nicely on the outside and imparted a subtle sweet and spicy flavor. Not bad for a quick weeknight meal. Levi enjoyed it too. Climbing an extension ladder makes for a good appetite.

Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb.)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh rosemary, chopped
apricot jam (about 1/2 cup – I used 1/2 of a 9.5 oz. jar)
1/2 a hot chili pepper (such as a jalapeño, serrano, or rocoto), minced
fresh lemon juice (I used 1/2 of a fairly large Meyer lemon)

  • Place the tenderloin in a baking dish (or on a big plate) and drizzle a little olive oil over it. Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Using your hands, rub the oil and seasonings all over the tenderloin. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the apricot jam with the minced hot pepper, lemon juice, and some salt & pepper. Mix well. Taste and add more ingredients as necessary to balance the flavors. I ended up adding a little more lemon juice and more peppers after tasting.
  • Take the tenderloin out of the refrigerator as you prepare a charcoal grill. When coals are ready, brush the apricot glaze on the tenderloin so that it covers all surfaces. Place on the grill, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes. Brush more glaze on the top, flip the tenderloin, and glaze the other side as well. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Continue glazing and flipping every few minutes, until the inside of the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees and the outside is nicely caramelized. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for several minutes. Slice and serve with your starch and vegetable of choice. We had couscous, grilled summer squash, and a salad.

Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

Here we are in the heart of grilling season. There are a lot of enticing recipes out there – most of which revolve around meat – but I’m going to share something a little different, and if you’re a cheese-lover like me, you are sure to get excited about this one. It’s a cheese plate on the grill! A grilling cheese like halloumi or yanni can withstand the heat of the grill without melting. It softens nicely on the inside, and appealing golden grill marks form on its exterior. The creamy, slightly salty taste is a brilliant match for the sweet rosemary-grape-walnut relish and the the rustic, grilled garlic bread. The relish gets a delicious sweet, smoky flavor from cooking the bunch of grapes directly on the grill (I bet you’ve never grilled grapes before!) The garlic bread adds a nice savory counterpoint. Try this as an appetizer at your next BBQ, or as a dinner in itself (as we did) served with a salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Dining al fresco makes it taste even better.

Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Fine Cooking)

1 medium red onion, cut into 3 to 4 thick slices
2 Tbs. plus 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. halloumi cheese, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slabs (we used Yanni, a Mediterranean grilling cheese)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small loaf of ciabatta (about 8 oz.),cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 large bunch seedless black or red grapes (about 1-1/4 lb.)
2 to 3 tsp. balsamic vinegar

  • Prepare a charcoal or (high) gas grill.
  • Drizzle the onion slices with 2 tsp. of the oil and lightly season them with salt and pepper.
  • Pat the cheese dry and drizzle with 2 tsp. of the oil.
  • In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil, the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper; brush the mixture evenly over one side of the bread slices.
  • Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the walnuts while still hot and transfer them to a medium bowl. Mix in the rosemary.
  • Place the onion slices and the bunch of grapes on the grill. Cover and grill, turning once, until the grapes are bursting and the onions are grill marked, about 10 minutes. Transfer the grapes to the bowl with the walnuts, and the onions to a cutting board.
  • Use tongs to pull the grapes from their stems as well as crush them one by one before dropping them into the bowl with the walnuts & rosemary. Chop the grilled onions and add them to the bowl. Season to taste with the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set relish aside.
  • Clean and oil the grill grate. Place the bread and cheese on the grate and grill uncovered, turning once, until there are nice grill marks on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the bread, cheese, and relish among 4 plates (if enjoying as an appetizer) or 2 plates (as a main dish) and enjoy immediately. A lighter bodied red wine pairs wonderfully with this meal.

And yes, I’m aware of the sippy cup in the background of our pictures. “You know you’re food blogger-mom when …”

Fruit & Nut Granola

Jump-start your new year’s resolution to eat healthier by making a batch of fruit & nut granola! It freezes well so you can enjoy it with milk or yogurt throughout the start of the year.

Before Christmas my mom and I were browsing the baking section at the store, when we excitedly came across barley malt syrup (look for it in your natural foods store next to the molasses). It added a nice malty depth of flavor to the granola, but next time I think I’ll use more so that the flavor is more pronounced. For whatever reason, the dark brown color and the viscosity made me use it more sparingly than I should have. But the nice thing about granola is that if you (for the most part) keep the proportion of oats, oil, sweeteners, and mix-ins, you can add any combination of things, depending on what’s in your pantry. For example, we used half olive oil and half melted butter, a combination of barley malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup, and whatever nuts were in the freezer (almonds, walnuts, and pepitas). I’m sure every time we make it, it will be different!  How fun!

And it’s not too late to surprise someone with a homemade gift! We love these glass jars we found at Dig in Santa Cruz. They come in several shapes and sizes for gifting your granola in a variety of ways (or storing it for yourself, of course).

Fruit & Nut Granola

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

6 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), not roasted
2/3 cup chopped almonds or pecans (or whatever nut floats your boat!)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup dried currents

  • Preheat to 375 degrees.
  • Stir together all the ingredients, except the fruit, in a large bowl and stir until combined.
  • Line 2 large (17-by 12-inch) rimmed baking pans with foil, and then parchment paper.
  • Spread mixture evenly onto pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (be careful, it browns quickly towards the end), 20-30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through baking, if one is on the top, and the other is on the bottom.
  • Transfer granola, in the pan, to a cooling rack, continuing to stir occasionally for about 30 minutes. When cool, stir in the dried fruit. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze, up to one month.  If you leave it out, the fruit will soften it, but it will still taste delicious.

I have to share some pictures from Levi’s first Christmas! Here he is about to open his stocking on Christmas morning:

I’m pretty sure the best thing about Christmas was the wrapping paper and boxes!  Yippee!

We hope everyone has a safe, festive, and fun New Years!

Roasted Figs with Prosciutto & Blue Cheese

Three ingredients make an easy and elegant appetizer. I’ve been anticipating the first figs on my parents’ tree and finally this last weekend it was time!  Time to halve them, sprinkle them with crumbled blue and goat cheese (half and half to please everyone in the family), wrap them in strips of prosciutto, drizzle with honey, and bake until warm. A perfect match for a glass of wine and your favorite people.

Roasted Figs with Prosciutto & Blue Cheese

(Adapted from Pink Parsley)

12 fresh figs
Your favorite blue and/or goat cheese
Thinly sliced prosciutto, about 1/4 lb, cut into 16 strips (1-2 in. thick)*
2 TBS. olive oil
2 tsp. honey
freshly ground black pepper

* a note on our prosciutto. So we thought we’d be all economical and buy the prosciutto from the deli counter at our local grocery store, but their meat slicer sucked and they were unable to slice it as thinly as we would have liked. We still made it work, but the figs were a little tricky to wrap, and weren’t as pretty as I intended. However, when it comes to figs, the beauty really is on the inside  🙂

  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  • Trim the stems off the figs and cut in half lengthwise. Place cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle with crumbled blue and/or goat cheese. Carefully wrap a strip of prosciutto around the center of each fig half, allowing the ends to overlap underneath the fig.
  • Whisk together the olive oil and honey and drizzle over the figs. Crack some black pepper over the figs.
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until the figs are warm and the prosciutto is a little crispy. Serves 8.

Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Blueberries in Red Wine Syrup

Ott’s Berry Farm in Modesto produces the biggest, juiciest, tastiest blueberries. After thankfully receiving several containers of them last week from our friend Chris at the Farmer’s Market, we wanted to highlight them in a simple dessert. This flavorful (dairy-free!) olive oil cake was delicious topped with blueberries that had been warmed in a simple red wine syrup infused with lemon verbena.

Olive Oil Bundt Cake

(Slightly Adapted from the Feb. 2010 issue of Food & Wine )

5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon finely minced lemon verbena*
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

*Original recipe calls for finely grated orange zest

  • Preheat the oven to 325° and butter and flour a 10-cup bundt pan.
  • In a bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and lemon verbena at medium-high speed until smooth.
  • Gradually beat in the olive oil until creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the cake flour with the baking powder and salt.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating on medium speed between additions.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack. Let the cake cool completely before cutting into slices and serving.

Blueberries in Red Wine Syrup

  • Combine equal parts red wine and sugar in a saucepan (about 3/4 cup each was a good amount for this cake)
  • Add a branch of lemon verbena. If you don’t have any lemon verbena, try a sprig of rosemary, lavender, or some fresh mint!
  • Simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes or until it boils down. Cool and remove the herb.
  • Warm several big handfuls of blueberries in the syrup before serving. Spoon on top of slices of olive oil cake.

Pan-Fried Red Trout Fillets with Mizuna-Mango-Manchego Salad & a Simple Mango Cocktail

After weeks of writing about Swedish food and travel adventures, it feels both strange and comforting to once again be blogging from our own kitchen! This is a meal that we made a few days after returning home, but it had to wait in line until now! My cousin Nikita came over to cook dinner with us and this is the menu we came up with together.

Red Trout is a delicious, mild fish that goes well with whatever seasoning you choose. We decided to pan fry the fillets in a skillet, marinated in a garlicky-lime concoction that Dustin threw together in the food processor. The salad was Nikita’s creation – I love fresh mizuna because of its mildly spicy flavor. The cubes of manchego cheese add great texture and earthy flavor to the salad. The mango provides the sweetness to offset the slightly spicy-citrusy dressing. We served the fish and the salad with simple steamed white rice. And don’t forget the cocktails – the combination of mango, lemonade, and ginger beer is really refreshing. Serve over ice and sip in the backyard before dinner!

Pan-Fried Red Trout Fillets with Citrus & Garlic

1/2 a white onion
4 cloves of garlic
zest of 2 small limes*
juice from 1 lemon
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 trout fillet per person

*We used lime zest because we needed the juice for our salad dressing. You could use the zest of the lemon in its place.

  • Combine the onion, garlic, lime zest, and lemon juice in a food processor, and process for about 5 seconds. While machine is running, add some olive oil until it becomes the consistency of a paste. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spread the mixture over the trout fillets and place in a Ziplock bag to marinate for a bit.
  • When ready to cook, heat a pan or skillet over high heat. Add a little olive oil to coat the bottom. Remove fillets from bag and place in the pan skin side down.  Cook for about 3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve with steamed rice and the delicious salad below.

    Mizuna-Mango-Manchego Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

    a few big handfuls of mizuna, washed and dried
    1 mango, cubed
    about 4 ounces of manchego cheese, cubed
    olive oil
    juice of 2 small limes
    cayanne pepper to taste
    paprika to taste
    salt & pepper to taste

    • Place the mizuna in a salad bowl. Add the cubes of mango and the manchego.
    • In a small jar or container with a tight-fitting lid, combine some olive oil, the lime juice, cayenne, paprika, and salt & pepper. Shake vigorously. Taste and adjust seasonings (and amount of oil, if needed).
    • Pour over salad and toss gently.

      Mango-Lemon-Ginger Cocktails:

      Mango Vodka (we used Absolut – it’s from Sweden! :))
      Ginger Beer

      • Fill a highball glass with ice. Add a shot of mango vodka. Top with lemonade and then ginger beer. Stir and serve. See? That was simple!

      Banana-Blueberry-Oat Muffins

      These muffins pretty much sum up everything I like in a muffin: The taste of banana bread, the tangy burst of seasonal blueberries in every bite, and the hearty texture (and health-benefits) of oatmeal. I came across this recipe on one of my favorite blogs – Vintage Victuals. I made only a few changes to her recipe: I didn’t have any wheat flour so I used regular all purpose flour (so they’re not quite as healthy as she originally intended), I didn’t have any apple sauce on hand so I used the same measurement of vegetable oil, and instead of buttermilk or sour cream I used the plain yogurt that was in the fridge. I still think they turned out great! Tomorrow I think one of these muffins will fuel me before rock climbing at the gym. Happy Weekend, everyone!

      Banana-Blueberry-Oat Muffins
      (From Vintage Victuals)

      1 1/2 cups flour
      1 cup oats, rolled or quick
      1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
      1/4 cup sugar
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      1 teaspoon baking soda
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
      2 eggs
      1/4 cup vegetable oil
      1/4 cup plain yogurt
      1 cup mashed ripe bananas (I used 2 bananas)
      1 cup fresh blueberries

      • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin pan or line with baking cups.
      • In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk until completely combined.
      • In a small bowl, beat together eggs, oil, yogurt, and bananas. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until almost completely moistened. Add blueberries and continue stirring just until completely moistened, being careful not to over-mix. Batter should be lumpy.
      • Fill muffin cups about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This recipe yielded 16 small-ish muffins for me, but I could have just as easily made 12 larger muffins.

      I ate one (ok, fine … two) right away (almost burned my mouth, but I was impatient and they smelled so good), stored some in an airtight container (which will keep for a few days), and froze the rest for a future breakfast or snack.

      Blueberry Streusel Muffins

      What makes blueberry muffins even better? A crumbly cinnamon & sugar topping! I made these several times in Japan for my students. In true Japanese fashion, the students would always request that the muffins be divided into quarters. Then they would eat one quarter at a time (until they had eaten a whole muffin) with a small dessert fork. Picking up a whole muffin and biting into it must be an American thing! Anyway, cultural differences aside, this is a very easy and delicious muffin recipe that’s even better made with fresh blueberries. Try this crumb topping on any muffin!

      Blueberry Streusel Muffins
      (From Annie’s Eats via

      1 ½ cups flour
      3/4 cups sugar

      1/2 tsp. salt
      2 tsp. baking powder
      1/3 cup vegetable oil

      1 egg

      1/3 cup milk

      1 cup blueberries (or more)

      For streusel topping:

      1/4 cup sugar
      2 TBS. and 2 tsp. flour

      2 TBS. cold butter, cubed

      3/4 tsp. cinnamon

      • Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease or line 8 muffin wells with muffin liners.
      • In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture.
      • Fold in blueberries. Pour into lined muffin cups; fill to the top.
      • Make streusel topping by combining the listed ingredients and mix well with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over tops of muffins.
      • Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes. Makes 8 large muffins.

      Happy Easter! Part 3: Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze

      I love rhubarb. It’s a vegetable with an identity crisis because it’s usually prepared and eaten as a fruit would be. The night before Easter, we ate dinner at La Posta, where my mom ordered a salad special that contained thin slices of raw rhubarb. I tried a bite and agreed that its subtle flavor and light crunch was appealing and a nice change from the usual baked or stewed rhubarb. Happy to have enjoyed rhubarb in its pure state, we baked it in a puff pastry tart for a light Easter dessert the next day. It was simple to make and the orange glaze on top is the perfect match to the tart rhubarb!

      Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze
      (From the April 2009 Gourmet)

      1 cup fresh orange juice
      1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
      1/2 cup sugar
      3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally (about 1/8 inch)
      1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17 1/4-ounces package), thawed
      1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

      • Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
      • Stir together orange juice, lime juice, and sugar in a bowl. Add rhubarb and let stand, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
      • Meanwhile, cut pastry in half lengthwise, then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Arrange pastry rectangles side by side on an ungreased large baking sheet.
      • Make a 1/2-inch border around each pastry rectangle by lightly scoring a line parallel to each edge (do not cut all the way through). Prick pastry inside border all over with a fork.
      • Strain rhubarb mixture through a sieve set over a bowl, reserving liquid. Top 1 pastry rectangle (within border) with half of rhubarb, overlapping slices slightly. Repeat with remaining pastry and rhubarb.
      • Bake until pastry is puffed and golden (underside of pastry should also be golden), 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on it. The pastry can easily go from golden to black!
      • Meanwhile, boil reserved rhubarb liquid in a small saucepan, skimming foam if necessary, until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 15 to 18 minutes.
      • Transfer tarts to a rack. Brush rhubarb and pastry with glaze and sprinkle with zest. Makes 8 servings.

      Fresh Cranberry & Mint Sauce (and other Thanksgiving tales)

      Once upon a time there was a condiment that not only went well with turkey, but could also be drunk as a cocktail. Seriously. The tartness of the cranberries, and the burst of citrus and mint would be even better with champagne or rum. This is how it works:

      In a food processor, simply place a big handful of fresh cranberries. Add half of a whole tangerine (yes, peel and all) that you’ve cut into several pieces. Add a few tablespoons of maple syrup (you can always taste and add more later). Add a handful of fresh mint leaves. Pulse for a few seconds at a time until its consistency makes you happy. Taste. Add some more maple syrup if it’s too tart. Before serving, stir in some grapefruit segments and any extra juice. Serve as a condiment with turkey (or other meat). Or place mixture in the bottom of champagne flutes and fill with champagne to the top, or make a cranberry version of a mojito!

      On our Thanksgiving table this year we had cranberry sauce 3 ways. This was obviously one of them. My brother made a spicy cranberry sauce that had been simmered with some rocoto peppers. And my mom made a sweet cranberry sauce that was studded with pomegranate seeds.

      Instead of place cards on our Thanksgiving table, my brother and I collected fresh figs from my parents’ fig tree outside. I wrote everyone’s names using a silver permanent marker and used them as “place figs.”

      To get the Thanksgiving festivities underway, we tasted the second batch of my brother Lars’s beer — this time a Scottish Ale — and oh my gosh it was so good!

      Look at that beautiful foam on top!

      And it tasted so delicious with the spiced nuts and a cheese plate.

      I swear the food was extra-delicious this year, probably because this was our first “real” Thanksgiving in two years. You may remember last year when we were living in Japan, we had to roast a chicken breast in lieu of turkey. Here are the beautifully golden turkeys that were slow cooked in the smoker all afternoon.

      The smokiness complimented the corn-bread and chorizo stuffing that my mom made, using the recipe in the 2008 November issue of Gourmet. The stuffing on the right was made with cubes of focaccia with bits of roasted lemon that gave bursts of flavor with every bite.

      Yes, I fit a ridiculous amount of food on my plate. But I had to try a little of everything, clockwise from top: smoked turkey (dark meat, please!) with gravy, roasted beet salad with mustard vinaigrette, arugula salad, stuffing with roasted lemon, corn-bread and chorizo stuffing, sautéed sliced brussel sprouts with garlic and bacon, creamed pearl onions with thyme, roasted butternut squash with sage, and last (but not least) Lars’s garlic mashed potatoes.

      Good thing I saved room for dessert, because we had an entire line of pies to choose from that my Uncle Rick made: Chocolate cream, coconut cream, pumpkin, and pecan. And yes, I had a (small) slice of each. They were exquisite!!

      We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

      Fresh Fig Walnut Cake

      My parents have a fig tree in front of their house. This is the time of year when the branches start to get heavy with figs, and we pull out the fig recipes or try to give them away to people who love them. This cake was a great way to use some of them up. It’s a good dessert, and an even better breakfast. It could also be baked as a quick bread in a loaf pan. Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s recipe for Fresh fig walnut quick bread.

      1 and 1/2 cups chopped ripe figs
      1/4 cup dry sherry
      1/2 cup olive oil
      1 and 1/2 cups sugar
      2 eggs
      1 and 2/3 cups flour
      1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
      1 teaspoon baking soda
      1 teaspoon cinnamon
      1/2 teaspoon cardamom
      1/2 teaspoon salt

      • Preheat oven to 350.
      • Soak figs in sherry for 15 minutes.
      • Combine oil and sugar in a bowl. Beat until light-colored. Add eggs and beat again until thick and creamy.
      • In another bowl, combine flour, walnuts, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix into egg mixture. Then gently fold in figs.
      • Scrape batter into greased and floured pie dish or cake pan. Sprinkle some cinnamon-sugar over the top.

        • Bake in center of oven until top is firm to touch, and cake tester comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes (if using loaf pan, bake for 75 minutes).
        • Cool 15 minutes, turn out, cool completely and enjoy! Or you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill overnight or up to 4 days before serving, or freeze up to 1 month.

          Endless Summer: Yogurt Panna Cotta with Watermelon

          Let’s stretch summer out as long as possible, shall we? This is a great panna cotta recipe that uses yogurt so it has a nice tang to it. While watermelon was refreshing, my family preferred the nectarines that we enjoyed over the leftover panna cotta the next day. But after tasting this recipe, you may not have any leftovers. This recipe is adapted from the one in the July 2008 Gourmet that is accompanied by lemon-thyme peaches.

          1 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)
          2 TBS. water

          1 1/4 cups heavy cream

          1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

          1/4 cup mild honey

          1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

          sliced fresh, seasonal fruit of your choice

          • Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small heavy saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften. Stir in cream and 1/8 teaspoon salt, then heat gently over medium-low heat, stirring, until gelatin has dissolved.
          • Whisk together yogurt, honey, and vanilla extract, then whisk in cream mixture.
          • Pour mixture into 4 ramekins and chill, covered, until set, at least 8 hours.
          • Turn out of the mold first or simply top with the fruit and serve in the ramekin. (The panna cotta can be chilled for up to 3 days).

            Full of Thanks

            Things I’m thankful for (in no particular order):

            1. My kitten
            2. German Shepherds
            3. My family
            4. My husband
            5. Forgiveness
            6. Good wine

            The hardest time to live abroad is over the holidays, especially a year when your birthday and Thanksgiving finally fall on the same day. This was our second Thanksgiving without family or turkeys (the latter are about as common in Japan as English speakers. Ok, not really. Even rarer). But regardless, we’re still very thankful for each other and our small Thanksgiving feast sans the bird. Actually, we had part of a bird. We roasted some chicken breasts with lemon slices, garlic, and thyme under the skin. They turned out really moist and delicious, but there are no pictures to do them justice because our silly Japanese-style oven/microwave thing didn’t crisp up the skin to our liking! So sorry! Anyway, these are some of the highlights from our Thanksgiving sides and dessert:

            Mixed Greens, Apples & Candied Pecans with Red Wine Vinaigrette:

            I made a mistake and included celery in this recipe (I had a leftover stalk from the stuffing), and it turns out Dustin doesn’t like raw celery. Only in soup. Oops. So he had to pick his out. We’ve only been married 2 years. Give me a break.

            1 Fuji apple peeled and sliced
            1 stalk of celery, sliced
            2 big handfuls of mixed greens
            candied pecans (or nut of your choice)
            1/2 shallot, chopped
            olive oil & red wine vinegar
            salt & pepper

            • Combine the olive oil and vinegar to taste in a small bowl (I like my salad’s fairly vinegary). Season with salt & pepper.
            • Stir in the shallot, celery and apple slices. Toss with greens, and throw in a handful of broken glazed pecans before serving.

            Creamed Onions with Thyme & Sage:

            We saw this in Food & Wine and wanted to try it. My mom always uses pearl onions in this dish, but the regular onions tasted great and were easier to find in Japan. The recipe serves 12, so we quartered the recipe below (Although he did the math. Fractions have never been my friends).

            2 tablespoons unsalted butter
            4 large onions (about 2 pounds), cut into 1-inch dice
            1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme
            1 1/2 teaspoons chopped sage
            1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
            1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (we used black)
            1 1/2 cups heavy cream

            • In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes.
            • Add the thyme, sage, nutmeg and white pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
            • Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.
            • Season with salt, transfer to a bowl and serve. (The onions can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat gently).

            Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting:

            (From Ashley of Delish. You can find the original mouth-watering recipe here)

            For the Cake:

            4 eggs
            1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
            1/4 cup vegetable oil
            1/2 cup applesauce
            2 cups pumpkin
            2 cups all-purpose flour
            2 teaspoons baking powder
            2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
            1 teaspoon salt
            1 teaspoon baking soda

            For the Icing:

            8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
            1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
            1 tsp vanilla extract

            • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
            • Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, apple sauce and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
            • In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
            • Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13×10″ baking pan.
            • Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.
            • To make the icing: Using an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled cake.

            This cake was the perfect ending to a day of cooking and eating. Since September I’d been saving one lone can of pumpkin that I found at the import store, and was waiting for just the perfect recipe inspiration to come along. A few days ahead of time, I made my own apple sauce for the cake. This was a great recipe from that made lots of leftovers.

            Apple Sauce:

            4 apples – peeled, cored and chopped
            3/4 cup water
            1/4 cup white sugar
            1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

            • In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.

            (Redemptive) Banana Bread

            The first time I made this banana bread in Japan, I added a cup of salt to the batter instead of sugar. Salt & sugar are packaged in the same clear bags here, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters on the packages! I didn’t notice my unfortunate substitution until I licked the spoon at the very end. It’s almost been 2 years now, and since then I’ve redeemed myself with plenty of successful loaves of this banana bread (the recipe I grew up eating, originally from Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s book City Cuisine). We’ll be enjoying it for breakfast for the next few days toasted with butter. It’s also good with peanut butter! Yum!

            1 stick of butter (120 g), softened
            1 cup sugar
            2 eggs
            3 ripe bananas
            1 TBS. milk
            2 cups flour*

            1 tsp. salt
            1 tsp. baking soda
            1 tsp. baking powder
            1 cup chopped walnuts**

            *I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of all purpose flour

            **I omitted this time, per Dustin’s request

            • Preheat oven to 325 degrees (160 C). Butter a loaf pan.
            • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
            • In small bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Mix in milk and nuts (if using).
            • In another bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
            • Add banana mixture to creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.
            • Pour into loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

            2nd Anniversary Apple Raspberry Crisp

            I surprised Dustin with one of his favorite desserts tonight. It’s the least I could do after he (secretly) planned a wonderful Anniversary trip to Universal Studios Japan last weekend! This recipe makes 1 small apple crisp, just enough for two:

            • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Butter a small baking dish.
            • To make the topping, combine about 1/4 cup flour,1/4 cup brown sugar, a few dashes of cinnamon & nutmeg, a dash of salt, and 1/4 cup of oatmeal.
            • Cut 30 grams (just over 2 TBS.) of cold butter into bits and combine with the dry ingredients with your fingers until mixture becomes crumbly. Set aside.
            • Core and peel 1 large apple and cut into 1-inch pieces. Throw into a small bowl. Add the zest of 1 lemon and about a tsp. of lemon juice. Add the raspberries and a small handful of brown sugar. Mix together and pour into baking dish.
            • Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden. Let cool for at least 20 min. before serving.

            Here are some pictures from our little trip:

            We stayed 1 night at the Hyatt Osaka on the club floor! One of the perks was free champagne and appetizers. We especially enjoyed these giant corn nuts! When my family came to Japan for Christmas last year, we ate corn nuts like these at our hotel. One of the servers, a girl in her 20s, refilled our corn nut dish so often that every time she brought them to our table she would say, “nuts again!” We never caught the young girl’s name so she is now referred to as “nuts again girl.”

            Here is Dustin enjoying his champagne.

            We treated ourselves to a nice Italian Dinner at a restaurant inside the hotel called Basilico. I ate a blue crab salad with cabbage and lemony mayonnaise, followed by gnocchi with handmade pancetta and creamy fontina sauce. Dustin had king crab bisque and then bucatini with tomato sauce, onions, pancetta, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. We split a crispy margarita pizza, and then finished off our meal with creme brulee with berries!

            On Sunday we went to Universal Studios, which was really fun and also a little humorous because all of the attractions (of course) were in Japanese! For example, before the ride “E.T.”, Steven Spielberg came up on the screen to give an introduction. Something didn’t quite fit when he opened up his mouth it was dubbed in Japanese!

            Our favorite ride was a new roller coaster called “Hollywood dream.” We were impressed that each person can select what kind of music he or she wants to listen to while the ride is going! I went with hop hop and Dustin chose J-Pop (Japanese Pop) 🙂

            Thank You, Dustin! 🙂

            Garlic and Rosemary Pork Tenderloin & Spinach Salad with Asian Pear-Maple Vinaigrette

            Finally, finally it’s cooling down enough to use the oven for dinner! We’re still trying to make use of the Asian Pears that are in abundance at our market, so we decided to toss them in a vinaigrette sweetened with maple syrup and seasoned with fresh tarragon. They made the perfect addition to a fresh spinach salad. Our market  also had lovely looking pork tenderloins that were very small; perfect for two.

            For the Pork:

            1 small pork tenderloin
            1 clove of garlic, chopped
            3 sprigs of rosemary
            Worcestershire sauce to taste
            olive oil

            • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
            • Season tenderloin with ample salt and pepper. Oil a baking dish with olive oil and place tenderloin in dish. Rub chopped garlic and rosemary into the tenderloin. Coat exposed surfaces of tenderloin with Worcestershire sauce.
            • Place in oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until done.

              For the Salad:

              2 TBS. olive oil
              1 TBS. cider vinegar
              1 TBS. maple syrup
              1/2 TBS. chopped fresh tarragon
              1 tsp. whole grain mustard
              1/4 tsp. salt
              1/2 an Asian pear, cored and cut into matchsticks
              a few handfuls of baby spinach

              • In a small jar (or use an almost-empty mustard jar and omit the tsp. of mustard), combine the ingredients for the dressing, except the pear, and shake. Transfer to a bowl and add the pear matchsticks. Spoon on top of fresh baby spinach leaves.

              Poached Asian Pear

              This dessert, featuring Asian pears (which are in abundance right now at our market), was an experiment (his words) conducted by my husband. The result? Delicious! When we were in Santa Cruz in August, we enjoyed dinner on the patio of Gabriella with my parents. Dustin ordered a poached pear for dessert and has been talking about it ever since. This is what he did, and what I got to eat along with a glass of champagne (lucky me!)

              • Fill a medium sauce pan with enough water to cover the Asian pear, and put it over high heat.
              • Add about 2 cups of sugar, and bring it to a boil.
              • Turn the heat down to simmer and add 1 cinnamon stick, 2 glugs of spiced rum, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
              • Peel the pear (leaving the stem intact), lower it into the liquid, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes (or longer), checking it until it’s soft.
              • Ladle some of the liquid into another pan and reduce it until it’s thick and syrupy.
              • Cut the Asian pear in half and drizzle with syrup. (We served the pear alongside of some baked puff pastry. It soaked up the extra syrup and tasted sort of like baklava. Yum!)