Pork Scaloppine with Lemon, Capers, and Arugula with Zucchini Pancakes

I’ve always loved to read cookbooks; I certainly grew up around plenty of them, along with every issue of Gourmet since the late 60s. We have three shelves in our own kitchen that are filled with cookbooks and another bookshelf in the living room that’s reserved for food magazines (because apparently it’s in my genes; I can’t throw them away). The cookbooks’ colorful bindings caught Levi’s eye at a young age. In fact, he invented a game with his grandma called “count the cookbooks” – we stand in front of the shelves and he makes his counting sound, which sounds like “one-two-one-two” repeated over and over, while pointing to as many as he can.

I’ve been drooling over this particular one for a while now; I bought it as a gift for my mom several years ago and just recently acquired it last Christmas, thanks to my aunt and uncle – Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis. For more than 25 years, he was the chef at Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley (retired in October), which I’ve mentioned before is one of my absolute favorite restaurants. The set menu in the fancy downstairs restaurant changes nightly and revolves around whatever fresh, seasonal ingredients are available on that particular day, and the café  upstairs offers seasonally inspired pastas, pizzas and more in a slightly more casual, kid-friendly environment. Heart of the Artichoke features several menus for each season, prefaced with a section called “Kitchen Rituals” where he shares 14 “cooking moments” – either small cooking projects for 1 or 2 people, or simply a food experience/memory, such as eating oatmeal for breakfast as a child.

This meal in the “Spring Menus” section was beckoning to me back in March, but I was jumping the gun a bit with my seasons and zucchini had not yet appeared at the store. Now that it’s June, it’s plentiful, and I’m glad that I saw the bookmark in my cookbook, reminding me to make pork scaloppine with zucchini pancakes! It’s a wonderful feeling when you sit down to dinner, take that first bite, and exclaim “hey, I’d pay for this.” That was the case for this meal, so naturally, I’m recommending this cookbook for those who strive to eat simply and by the seasons!

The thin slices of pork for the scaloppine come from the lean end of a boneless pork loin (ask your butcher to do this and hopefully yours will happily comply as ours did). They cook nice and quickly and remain tender. The sauce takes under 60 seconds to make but is full of bright flavors (in fact, if you decide to halve this recipe for a family of 2-3, I’d recommend making the full amount of sauce; it won’t go to waste). You simply heat olive oil in a skillet, add garlic, capers, lemon zest, and parsley and let it sizzle for just under a minute. You pour this awesome concoction on top of your slices of pork and top with verdant, peppery arugula and lemon wedges. You can see why taking that first bite made me happy. And I haven’t even gotten to the zucchini pancakes yet!

Grated zucchini and finely chopped green onion bound with egg and a little flour are fried in olive oil and scream “beginning of summer!” While they make a great accompaniment to the pork scaloppine, I plan on making them on their own as an appetizer sometime in the near future; Maybe topped with some minted yogurt or a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese. I made the zucchini pancakes first and kept them warm in a low oven while we cooked the pork (because we only have so many skillets), but they would be best eaten hot out of the pan!

Pork Scaloppine with Lemon, Capers, and Arugula

(From Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis – Serves 4-6)

12 thin (about 3/8-inch-thick) slices pork loin
Salt & Pepper
1/2 cup olive oil (give or take)
2 TBS. roughly chopped parsley
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 TBS. capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 lb. arugula, chopped (we bought baby arugula and left the leaves whole)
Lemon wedges

  • Season both sides of the pork slices with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Heat 2 cast iron skillets over medium-high heat. When the pans are hot, lay 6 slices of pork in each pan and cook for about 2 minutes, or until nicely browned. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove the scaloppine from the pans and transfer to a warm serving platter.
  • In one of the pans, heat 2 TBS. of olive oil over medium heat. Add the parsley, lemon zest, capers, and garlic and let sizzle for a bare minute. Turn off the heat. Spoon the sauce over the scaloppine and top each slice of pork with a handful of arugula. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Zucchini Pancakes

(Also from Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis – Serves 4-6)

8 to 10 small zucchini, about 3 lbs.
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
3 TBS. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano (optional – we decided to omit this as we wanted a pure zucchini flavor, but Tanis says that adding the cheese reminds him of eating a zucchini frittata, which sounds delicious)
Olive oil for frying

  • Grate the zucchini using the medium holes of a box grater. Toss the grated zucchini with the salt and let drain in a colander for about 20 min. Squeeze very dry, using a clean kitchen towel.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the pepper and scallions. Add the flour, then add the grated zucchini and the cheese (if using). Mix thoroughly.
  • Pour olive oil into a cast iron skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat over medium heat. Carefully place spoonfuls of the zucchini mixture into the pan and flatten into discs with a 2-inch diameter. Make a few at a time, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Turn them once, letting them cook for about 3-4 min. on each side or until golden. Keep the heat at moderate so they don’t brown too quickly. Serve immediately or transfer to a warm oven until the entire batch is cooked. Serve with the Pork Scaloppine.

That beer in the background? It was a German Hopf Helle Weisse – a type of Hefeweizen. It paired wonderfully with this meal.

Argentine Hot Dogs (with Chimichurri, Pickled Red Onions, Marinated Queso Fresco & Chorizo)

It’s nearing the end of summer, and you’ve probably had your share of hot dogs, but these Argentine dogs are as far from yellow mustard and ketchup as you can get.  Grilled all-beef hot dogs get an array of colorful and flavorful toppings: a verdant chimichurri with the addition of finely chopped sweet red and yellow peppers and grated carrot, sweet and tangy pickled red onions, queso fresco marinated in olive oil and yellow flecks of lemon zest, and spicy ground chorizo. Yes, chorizo on a hot dog. It’s a hot dog elevated to a new level.

I came across this recipe when I was reading the food section in our local newspaper. I made only a few changes. I thought these dogs deserved something better than your typical white hot dog bun, so we bought some soft steak rolls, cut them in half lengthwise and made a slit in each half, creating hot dog buns with some substance. I also went in a different direction with the pickled onions. The original recipe calls for pouring a simple syrup and grenadine over them, but since I didn’t have any grenadine and didn’t have a need for buying a whole bottle, I decided to just use my method for quick cucumber pickles (adding a little vinegar, agave nectar, and salt), but adding more agave nectar to make the onions sweeter, in order to counter-balance the acidity in the chimichurri. The chorizo adds the perfect amount of spice, and the marinated queso fresco adds a cooling, creamy counterpoint. See why this hot dog is in a different dimension?

Levi especially enjoyed these hot dogs. I wish we had taken a picture, but his plate contained a de-constructed version of an Argentine hot dog. The pieces of hot dog and queso fresco disappeared first, but he seemed to enjoy all the components of this meal!

The pickled onions and the marinated queso fresco are made the night before, and the chimichurri can be made the morning of, so everything comes together quickly at dinner time. All you have to do is cook the chorizo, grill the hot dogs, and assemble! Make these Argentine hot dogs while the grill is still out. Quick! Summer is fleeting.

Argentine Hot Dogs

(Slightly adapted from the San Jose Mercury News, original recipe by Carole Wendling; Serves 2)

For the Chimichurri:

1/2 a bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 TBS. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely diced red and yellow peppers
2 tablespoons grated carrot

For the Pickled Red Onions:

1/2 red onion, sliced
2 TBS. white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
agave nectar to taste
Kosher salt to taste

For the Marinated Queso Fresco:

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper to taste

To Assemble:

2 grilled beef hot dogs
1 sweet or sour steak roll – cut in half lengthwise, with a slit cut into each half to form 2 hot dog “buns”
4 ounces ground chorizo, cooked

Wow – that’s a long list of ingredients, I know! But everything is so easy to make. Here we go …

  • To make the pickled onions, place the sliced onions in a bowl and add the vinegar. Add a good drizzle of agave nectar (or you can use honey or sugar) and season with a little salt. Stir to combine. Taste and add more sweetener if needed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Combine the marinated queso fresco ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Make the chimichurri. Combine the first six ingredients in a food processor; pulse to pesto-like consistency. Season to taste with salt. Fold in peppers and carrot. Set aside. Can be made several hours ahead. Cover and chill. Take out of refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
  • Lightly toast the buns on the grill, grill the hot dogs, and top with cooked, crumbled chorizo, chimichurri, pickled red onions, and marinated queso fresco.

Simple Pan-Roasted Pork Loin Chops

That is one beautiful piece of meat, isn’t it? It’s from that new charcuterie shop in town that I mentioned in the last post. The owner knows our family now. We’re there on on a weekly basis to pick out something special for dinner, as well as some fun impulse buys like beef jerky, smokey beef sticks, or perro calientes (yes, those would be hot dogs). Last week they had these beautiful thick-cut pork loin chops that were calling out for a simple preparation so that they could take center stage. Just a quick marinade of olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary from the garden, garlic, salt, and pepper readied them for a sear in a hot skillet before finishing up in the oven.

At our natural foods store across the parking lot, we found some bunches of tender asparagus that we roasted alongside the pork chops, and we made some rice pilaf to round out the meal.

Note that this recipe is more a method than an exact recipe, since the timing will depend on the thickness of your pork chops.  Have a reliable meat thermometer handy. These were definitely some of the thickest we had ever eaten, but this method produces pork chops that are nice and caramelized outside and still moist inside.

Pan-Roasted Pork Loin Chops with Rosemary

2 thick-cut pork loin chops
4 TBS. extra virgin olive oil, divided
fresh rosemary, chopped (approximately 1 large sprig)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
kosher salt
freshly found black pepper

  • Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator so that they can come to room temp before cooking. Place in a small baking dish (or a ziplock bag) with 2 TBS. of the olive oil, some chopped fresh rosemary, some roughly chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Rub the seasoned oil all over the pork chops. Let sit (at room temp) for at least 30 min.
  • Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Heat the remaining 2 TBS. olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. When nice and hot, add the pork chops and sear for 3-4 minutes. Flip pork chops and sear on the other side for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer pan to the oven and bake, uncovered, until a (reliable) meat reads 160 degrees, or the meat juices run clear, 12-15 minutes for very thick pork chops (for thinner pork chops, begin checking after 6-9 minutes). Transfer to a plate and let rest for a couple minutes before digging in.

Sweet Potato Gratin & Breaded Pork Chops

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream” — The Julia Child quote that came to mind as I was happily (and liberally) pouring cream over my baking dish of layered sweet potato slices, seasoned with chopped sage, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Then I dotted the top with butter and thought, “How about both?” Vegetables turn heavenly when they’re baked with cream and butter. What’s not to love?

No marshmallows here (the idea itself offends me), but we love how the sweet potatoes speak for themselves in this simple, seasonal dish. I got the inspiration from the Fall for Vegetables article in the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking, but used this recipe for the cooking time and oven temperature.

Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet potatoes
Fresh sage, chopped
Kosher salt & Freshly ground pepper

  • Butter a gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Peel your sweet potatoes and slice thinly (you can use a mandoline, if you have one, but I didn’t so I just sliced them by hand to about 1/4 inch or less).
  • Layer sweet potato slices in your gratin dish.  Sprinkle each layer with fresh sage, salt, and pepper.
  • Add cream to just below the potatoes, dot with butter, cover with foil, and bake until almost tender, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes more. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Breaded Pork Chops

It’s incredibly easy to make your own breadcrumbs. In Japan we always used panko (which, did you know, is made from crustless white bread?) but here I throw some leftover baguette pieces in my food processor, add some sage and oregano, process it, and Voilà! Italian breadcrumbs; Perfect for breading boneless pork chops. Just season your pork chops with salt, coat in beaten egg, dredge in the homemade crumbs, and fry in olive oil until golden and crispy on both sides. Add a salad and a big spoonful of sweet potato gratin, and you have a comforting meal for a chilly evening.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall “Steak & Potatoes”

Levi turned 5 months today. He recently rolled over for the first time and surprised the crap out of himself (not literally).  In all the excitement of watching my little boy go from newborn to smiley guy, I feel like summer never happened. Now it’s September and I can hardly believe it.  It’s hard to completely let go of summer when you feel like it never happened, but also when there are still beautiful tomatoes and summer squash at the farmer’s market and in the CSA box. I don’t care what the calendar says. But looking at all the fall issues of food magazines got me craving sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other fall produce. I decide to create an “in between seasons” dinner — steaks, tomatoes, and zucchini on the grill, and a sweet potato side-dish in the oven.

Fine Cooking helped inspire me.  In their Cooking by the Calendar article, they featured a late-summer meal that involved a quick grilled steak, brushed with a mixture of mustard, brown sugar, salt & pepper. We used that marinade on a new york steak. Then Dustin found some beautiful heirloom tomatoes that we halved and grilled for just a few minutes, giving them a delicious smoky flavor, while preserving their tomato essence. The summer squash was locally grown and a nice companion for the tomatoes. The sweet potatoes taste like my favorite ravioli dish, without the ravioli. Roasted sweet potato cubes are tossed with brown butter & sage. This might be my new fall side dish! The entire meal was flavorful, colorful, and bridged the gap between summer and fall. Now I think I can bid farewell until next year.

Steak with Quick-Grilled Heirloom Tomatoes & Summer Squash

1 new york steak (about 1 lb for 2 people)
1 TBS. extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling over the veggies
1 TBS. Dijon mustard
1 TBS. brown sugar
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 heirloom tomatoes, halved
1 summer squash, halved

  • Prepare a medium-high heat charcoal grill. In a small bowl, combine 1 TBS. of the oil, the mustard, brown sugar, and some salt & pepper. Brush all over the steak and set aside.
  • Drizzle and rub the cut tomatoes and squash with olive oil, and season with salt & pepper.
  • Grill the steak, flipping once, until medium rare (until the steak reaches 130 to 135 degrees). Transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest.
  • Grill the  squash and the tomatoes, cut side-down for a few minutes, until some nice grill marks form. Take the tomatoes off the grill, and cook the squash just a few minutes longer.
  • Slice the steak against the grain and serve next to the tomatoes and squash, and these delicious roasted sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter & Sage

(Adapted from the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking)

2 sweet potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh sage
butter (about 2 TBS)
splash of orange juice

  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender.
  • Meanwhile, cook chopped fresh sage and a pinch of salt in melted butter until butter browns.
  • Add a splash of orange juice (or a squeeze of lemon, if you have one) and toss with the potatoes.

Turkey-Pesto Burgers with Grilled Onions

Do you ever go to the store with no idea of what you want to make for dinner? Last Monday was one of those days. I went to the Butcher counter and started to panic because it was almost my turn and I couldn’t focus: Hmm…that fish looks nice and fresh…So do those steaks…Dustin would like steak…But I feel like chicken…hmm…boneless and skinless chicken thighs…Would those be good on the BBQ?…no…oh, ground meats…what about … ?? “Can I help you?” The butcher asked, startling my train of thought. So I asked for the thing that was right in front of me – ground turkey thighs. Whew. Now that the protein was taken care of, things started to fall into place in my brain. I remembered that we had fresh basil at home, as well as tons of mizuna so I immediately thought of pesto and went straight to the bulk aisle for walnuts to add to it.

So that was my boring thought process of how I ended up mixing pesto into our turkey burgers. The result was a really moist, flavorful burger. I called Nikita (if you haven’t noticed, we love to cook and eat dinner together) to inform her of the menu, and soon she came over to enjoy them with us, bringing with her some summery micro brews and a bag of Kettle Chips (our favorite flavor “Buffalo Bleu”). We ate our burgers on sesame-wheat buns (brushed with olive oil and lightly grilled), with sliced tomato, grilled white onions, and mayo. They were sort of messy (think Carls’ Jr. ads) but delicious. I can’t wait to see what happens next time I’m under pressure at the meat counter!

Turkey-Pesto Burgers with Grilled Onions

2-3 cups of basil leaves, washed and dried*
a big handful of walnut pieces, lightly toasted in a skillet
1 clove of garlic
a handful of Parmesan cheese
juice of 1/2 a lime
about 1/4 cup of olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb. ground turkey
hamburger buns of your choice
1 sweet white onion, sliced into thick rings
tomato slices

*I didn’t have quite enough basil, so I added some mizuna leaves. It gave the pesto a wonderful bite to it. You could also add arugula for the same effect.

  • First, make the pesto: Combine the basil, mizuna (if using), walnuts, garlic, Parmesan, and lime juice in a food processor. Process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, until it reaches a good consistency. Season with salt & pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Pour pesto into a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until use (Makes about 1 cup – more than needed for the burgers, but you can freeze it if you want).
  • Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Season the top with salt & pepper. Add 3 or 4 heaping spoonfuls of pesto to the bowl. Mix with your hands until pesto is incorporated into the meat. Divide meat into 4-5 portions (depending on how thick you like your burgers), form patties, and place on a plate. Cover and chill while you prepare the grill.
  • Brush the tops and bottoms of the buns with olive oil and set aside. Brush onion slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Grill onions until nice and charred, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  • Grill burgers about 4-5 minutes on each side. When the burgers are almost done, grill the tops and bottoms of the buns until golden and toasty.
  • Assemble burgers how you like – we used this order: mayo, patty, grilled onions, tomato. Dig in!

“Thai” Basil Stir Fry

One of our favorite Thai dishes was the inspiration for this meal, except that we used regular basil instead of thai basil – the kind that everyone has tons of right now that screams caprese salad or pesto. Well, we wanted to do something a little different with ours. We found it was the perfect addition for a stir fry! Mizuna, carrots, and green beans were sitting in the CSA box waiting to be used, which we coated in an almost-perfected sweet/spicy/salty sauce. As usual, the measurements I’m giving you aren’t specific, but there are some guidelines. Trust your tastebuds! When we were done, it tasted pretty darn close to Thai take-out! If you desire to give your basil a break from Italian food, we recommend this dish.

sesame oil and canola oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
a spoonful of hot chile paste and/or 2 small dried chiles, sliced
2 scallions, white and light green parts chopped, and dark green parts chopped and reserved for garnish
a couple generous handfuls of mizuna leaves
(it cooks down a lot, so don’t be shy)
4-5 small carrots (or 1 large) , sliced into medallions and blanched for 1-2 minutes
(you can skip the blanching if your slices are thin)
a few handfuls of green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
soy sauce
rice vinegar
fish sauce
brown sugar
a handful of fresh basil leaves, washed, dried, and sliced

  • Heat a splash (about 2 tsp.) of sesame oil, and a bigger splash (about 2 TBS) of canola oil in a wok until very hot.
  • Add the garlic, chile paste and/or dried chiles and stir fry for 1 minute.
  • Add the scallions and stir fry for another minute.
  • Add the mizuna and green beans and stir fry for 3-4 minutes until mizuna is wilted and green beans are still slightly crisp. Add the carrots and cook a minute or two longer.
  • Add about 1 TBS each of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add about 2 tsp. each of mirin and fish sauce. Add about 1-2 tsp. of brown sugar. Stir everything together.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking (remember, fish sauce is salty so don’t add too much without tasting!)
  • Turn off the heat and stir the basil into the stir fry until it’s wilted.
  • Serve on top of steamed jasmine rice and garnish with reserved green part of scallion.  A dry Riesling would go great with this meal.

    Grilled Lamb Gyros with Tzatziki & Summer Chickpea Salad

    We’ve been thinking about gyros ever since we went to a Greek Food Festival with our friends last month. I think my favorite part of a gyro is the tzatziki. The cucumber, lemon and yogurt make for a refreshing sauce that goes perfectly with grilled meat, tomatoes and onions. Last night we made our own version of a gyro by wrapping pita bread around grilled lamb that was marinated in olive oil, herbs, and garlic, some homemade tzatziki, and a summery salad of chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and herbs that I found in one of my favorite Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Some grilled summer squash rounded out what we deemed the perfect summer BBQ meal.

    Last night was a wonderful night to eat outside. Not only are we approaching the longest day of the year so it stays light long enough to finish both dinner and dessert (and a bottle of wine or two), but it’s been staying warm until the sun goes down. Also, we planted a little vegetable garden today and wanted to be near it! Some sugar snap peas will soon be growing up bamboo sticks. Grow, peas, grow!

    We also planted two varieties of tomatoes (Early Girl and another that I’ll have to get back to you on, but it’s an heirloom variety), an artichoke, a zucchini, and basil! Look how cute this little sugar snap pea plant is! I haven’t gotten around to photographing the other plants yet, sorry!

    Unrelated to vegetables, the hydrangeas are gorgeous right now! Don’t they make you want to be outside? My cats love to jump around and try to catch the bees that hover over their flowers. Sometimes they do little back-flips in the process and it’s very entertaining to watch. Cats really do always land on their feet! Ok, now let’s get to some recipes …

    Summer Chickpea Salad
    (Slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver)

    1 small red onion, thinly sliced
    1 clove of garlic, minced

    2 fresh red chilies, de-seeded and sliced

    2 handfuls of yellow pear tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), halved

    2 limes

    extra virgin olive oil

    salt & freshly ground black pepper

    chili flakes

    1 14 oz. jar of chickpeas, drained

    a handful of fresh mint, chopped

    a handful of fresh basil, finely ripped

    7 oz. feta cheese

    • In a bowl, combine the sliced onion, garlic, chilies, and tomatoes. Dress with the juice of 1 1/2 limes and about 3 times as much olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili flakes (or whatever combination of spices you desire).
    • Heat the chickpeas in a pan. Add 90% of them to the bowl. Mush up the remaining 10% and add these to the bowl as well (Jamie says they give a nice, creamy consistency. They sure did).
    • Allow salad to marinate for a little while and serve at room temperature. Just before serving, add the fresh mint & basil. Taste one more time and adjust the seasoning. You can also add the juice from the remaining lime half if you think it needs it. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad and gently mix. Serves 4.


    1 english cucumber
    1 cup yogurt

    2 garlic cloves, minced
    juice from 1/2 a lemon
    1/4 of a small red onion, minced (optional – we had some leftover from the salad)
    a handful of fresh oregano, chopped

    salt and freshly ground black pepper

    • Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Grate the cucumber onto a kitchen towel or heavy duty paper towel. Pick up the towel and squeeze the excess moisture out of the cucumber. Do this several times until no more water is coming out of the towel.
    • In a small bowl, combine the grated cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, red onion, minced garlic, oregano, and salt & pepper. Mix well. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for a little while so the flavors can mingle. Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning if necessary.

    Grilled Boneless Leg of Lamb Gyros
    (We explained to our butcher that we wanted to grill lamb to slice to make gyros. He was very helpful and offered to sell us the boneless legs that they usually use to make the marinated lamb cubes. The moral of the story is – don’t be afraid to ask your butcher if you don’t know exactly what kind of cut of meat to get! They are there to help you out!)

    2 lbs boneless leg of lamb

    salt & freshly ground black pepper
    extra virgin olive oil
    several cloves of garlic, minced
    fresh rosemary, chopped
    fresh oregano, chopped
    about 1 TBS red wine vinegar

    • Make a dry rub out of enough paprika, cumin, salt and pepper to cover every surface of your lamb. Place in a baking dish or pie pan.
    • In a small bowl, combine enough oil, minced garlic, chopped herbs, and vinegar to create a pesto-like consistency. Rub this mixture all over the lamb. Allow to marinate for at least an hour. Two is even better. Prepare a charcoal grill (we used mesquite charcoal for a delicious, smoky taste). Let lamb come to room temp before grilling.
    • Remove the lamb from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally until the meat reaches an internal temperature of about 145 degrees for medium-rare. Let rest 10-12 minutes before thinly slicing.
    • Assemble the gyros by heating up some whole wheat (and/or regular) pitas on the grill. Top with a few slices of lamb, a spoonful of chickpea salad, and some tzatziki. Alternatively, you can enjoy “de-constructed gyros” by placing all these components on your plate and enjoying in whatever order/combination you like!

    Happy Easter! Part 2: Lemony Couscous with Peas, Mint, and Pea Shoots

    This may have been another Easter side dish, but my fork kept gravitating to it on my plate, as if it were the main dish. We dressed couscous up for spring with peas, cumin seeds (ground in a mortar and pestle), fresh mint from the garden, refreshing pea shoots (I love how much delicate pea flavor is concentrated in the shoot), and a scattering of crunchy almonds. It would be delicious on its own for lunch, with kabobs, salmon, or ham for dinner … ok, pretty much anything! The measurements aren’t specific because depending on how much couscous you make, you add the other ingredients in proportion to that, using your own judgment.

    Lemony Couscous with Peas, Mint, and Pea Shoots:

    1 package of couscous
    olive oil
    green onion
    snow peas
    ground cumin seed
    fresh mint, chopped
    1-2 lemons
    fresh or frozen peas
    salt & pepper
    a splash of tangerine (or orange) juice
    pea shoots
    almonds, roughly chopped

    • Cook the couscous according to package directions, adding some olive oil or butter along with the hot water. When it’s ready, fluff with a fork and set aside.
    • In a large serving bowl, toss in some sliced green onion, snow peas that have been cut in half, some ground cumin seed, chopped fresh mint, and the juice of a lemon.
    • Add the couscous (it’s ok if it’s still warm) to the bowl, and a few handfuls of peas. Gently combine. Taste and add more lemon juice. Season with salt & pepper. (Can be refrigeratred overnight at this point, covered).
    • Just before serving, add a splash of tangerine juice to the couscous salad and gently stir. Arrange the pea shoots around the bowl. Sprinkle some chopped almonds on top.

    Couscous making its debut next to the Easter ham.

    Egg-Noodles with Green Garlic, Chiles, Cilantro & Steak

    Dustin thought up this comforting dish using my leftover steak from dinner the night before at Cafe Cruz, where I conquered the delicious (and unwieldy) open-faced “Bistro Steak Sandwich” – a piece of garlic bread, topped with a perfectly medium rare steak, and finished off with a handful of thin, crispy onion rings. Well, I should say I conquered the garlic bread and the onion rings, because there was a lot of steak left over! Lucky for us, leftover steak is great for throwing into recipes! We also had some lovely green garlic to use from my family’s Two Small Farms CSA box. Green garlic looks like green onions, and you can chop it up as such and use in any recipe where you’d use regular garlic. It has a more subtle garlic flavor, which worked really well in this simple, olive oil-based pasta dish!

    Egg-Noodles with Green Garlic, Chiles, Cilantro & Steak :

    2 “nests” of egg noodles (about 1/2 lb. total)
    3 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
    1 TBS. butter
    1 stock of green garlic, white and green parts chopped (remove the outer layer of the stock if it seems too tough)
    2 canned or fresh mild green chiles, chopped
    a handful of cilantro, chopped
    salt & pepper
    leftover steak, cut into bite-sized pieces

    • Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet until butter melts.
    • Add the green garlic and saute for a few minutes until tender, about 3 minutes.
    • Add the green chiles and cilantro and saute for a few more minutes.
    • Meanwhile, in boiling salted water, cook the egg noodles according to package directions and drain.
    • Add the steak to the skillet and stir until heated through. Season with salt & pepper.
    • Pour the drained noodles into the skillet and stir to coat with oil and combine with the other ingredients. Divide between two bowls and enjoy!

    Veggie Crudités with Minted-Pea Yogurt Dip

    Green foods are sometimes not as photogenic as others, but putting that aside, this dip is fresh, healthy, and a good match for cold, crunchy, seasonal veggies. We served this dip while we were watching the Oscars on Sunday – with radishes, carrots, Belgian endive, red and yellow bell peppers, and snow peas. What I love about Jamie Oliver’s recipes is that they are so simple and really showcase the ingredients that are in them. This dip tastes like the beginning of spring to me – the mint and the lemon really brighten up the peas. In the spirit of the way Jamie writes his recipes, the amounts are given in “handfuls” rather than exact measurements. We like that approach. Taste and adjust things to your liking.

    Minted Pea & Yogurt Dip

    (From Jamie’s Dinners)

    2 handful of fresh mint leaves
    12 oz. of plain yogurt (I accidentally grabbed non-fat at the store, which was fine, but if I made it again I’d use greek yogurt)
    4 handfuls of frozen peas (let thaw in the fridge for an hour or so before making the dip) or fresh
    2 handfuls of Parmesan cheese
    Juice from 1 lemon

    Salt & Pepper to taste

    In a food processor, blend together the yogurt and the mint leaves for about 30 seconds. Add the Parmesan cheese and the peas and blend until smooth and it becomes a lovely green color. Add the lemon juice and salt & pepper and blend to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Because my yogurt was thinner than I anticipated, I ended up blending in some extra peas at the end. Don’t be shy with the peas. That’s what this dip is all about! Serve with veggie crudités.

    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!

    Halibut & Cannellini Beans In Tomato-Rosemary Broth

    Halibut!? Why did we have that? Just for the Halibut!! Haha. Sorry. Bad joke but a delicious fish! This meal was lighter than we were expecting, but it was warm and comforting on a cold night. It definitely needs to be accompanied by lots of sliced bread to soak up the extra broth and a dry white wine. I flagged this recipe last year in Cooking Light and just now got around to trying it. The recipe below is for 2 servings.

    2 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    salt & pepper
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes (or canned tomatoes)
    3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1/4 cup dry white wine
    1 (14oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
    1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

    • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
    • Sprinkle fish evenly with salt freshly ground pepper.
    • Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.
    • Remove fish from pan; cover with foil to keep warm (or place in low oven).
    • Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
    • Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt & pepper, if desired.
    • Remove from heat; stir in rosemary. Serve immediately along with sliced bread.

      Parmesan Herb Croutons

      Turn that stale bread on the counter into crunchy, little satisfying bites! Last night we went over to my parents’ house for dinner and pumpkin carving, so I brought these croutons to use in the salad. I was inspired by the homemade croutons by Ashley of Delish and wanted to try them myself. They are also great as a crispy topping for soup.

      Cut your bread into small pieces and throw them onto a rimmed baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil (I used garlic-flavored olive oil), then sprinkle with some coarse salt, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese, and some chopped fresh herbs (I used a combination of parsley, oregano, and thyme). Mix with your hands, making sure all the bread pieces are coated. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes and then stir around. Continue to bake for another 4-5 minutes or until they are golden and as crispy as you like them.

      Check out our works of art from last night!

      Barbequed Trout with Herbs & Potatoes

      When I was a little girl, I refused to eat seafood. It’s really unfortunate because I must have missed out on a lot of delicious experiences. For example, in Felton, a small town outside of Santa Cruz, there is a restaurant called The Trout Farm Inn where you can C.Y.O.T. (catch your own trout) in the pond before the chef prepares it for you. All those years my family enjoyed the taste of the freshly caught fish, while I enjoyed chicken or something that was “safe” to me at the time. Well, tonight I realized what I’d been missing. My Mom prepared (and Dad grilled) the simplest and most delicious trout — seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, mint, garlic chives (also known as Chinese chives), and garlic chive-blossoms. Along with sautéed potatoes from our local farmer, a green salad with radishes and a vinaigrette, and a dry chardonnay, this meal was a gorgeous one.

      Place the butterflied trout skin-side down and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, chopped mint, chopped garlic chives, and garlic chive blossoms. If you’re my Dad, gently use your finger to make one of the trout’s mouths say something vulgar.

      Heat your grill. Medium heat is best so the fish is cooked through without burning the skin. Place the fish skin-side down on the grill and close the lid. Cook for about 10 minutes.

      Serve with locally grown potatoes sautéed in a skillet with olive oil until they’re brown and crispy in spots.

      Crispy, Crunchy, Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes

      So if you haven’t noticed, panko breadcrumbs are one of our favorite ingredients. In this recipe they are sautéed with garlic and parsley and make a lovely crispy topping for baked tomatoes. Yes please! Try this side dish with chicken, fish, whatever. It comes (once again) from the 12 Best Foods Cookbook, but we of course used panko breadcrumbs instead, and cut the serving size down a bit.

      2 TBS. olive oil, divided + more for greasing pan
      1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
      3 large plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
      1 clove garlic, finely chopped
      1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
      a handful of chopped parsley
      freshly ground black peppe

      • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 C). Brush a square baking dish with oil (or coat it with cooking spray).
      • Salt the cut sides of the tomatoes with half the salt. Set them aside.
      • Heat 1 TBS. olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange tomatoes in 1 layer, cut side down, in the pan and cook until lightly browned, 3 minutes. Put the tomatoes cut side up in the prepared baking dish. If the skillet is burnt, wipe it out.
      • Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 TBS. oil. Sauté the garlic until it starts to turn color, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the breadcrumbs, parsley, the remaining salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Sprinkle the seasoned breadcrumbs over the tomatoes.
      • Bake the tomatoes uncovered for 10 minutes, until the breadcrumb topping is browned. Cool 20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

        Tuna & White Bean Salad with Pesto Crostini

        I spent a few hours on Christmas day sitting in front of the fireplace with my new 12 Best Foods Cookbook. Now that we’re back in Japan, it’s been a fun challenge to think of new recipes that use these foods. Of course before we got the book we used tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, onions, walnuts, sweet potatoes, soy, oatmeal, black beans, salmon, spinach, and chocolate (some more than others), but now we have some extra motivation to eat healthier in 2008. Since onions are most beneficial eaten raw, I wanted to incorporate them into a vinaigrettey tuna salad. Adapted from the nest.com.

        1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
        1/2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
        2 cans of tuna, drained (in Japan, they’re only 80 grams each)
        1/2 a red onion, sliced
        a handful of chopped fresh basil
        1 TBS. fresh lemon juice
        salt & pepper to taste

        • Combine the beans and olive oil in a large bowl and mix well.
        • Add the tuna, onions, basil, lemon juice and salt and pepper; mix to combine.
        • Serve with toasted baguette slices with a dollop of pesto. Serves 2.

        Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Caramelized Onions & Fresh Basil

        Before heading off to our Christmas party/gingerbread man-decorating-extravaganza, I wanted to jazz up our usual weekend lunch, so I came up with these quesadillas using things that were hanging out in our refrigerator. I’m obviously not the first to come up with this combination, but they were so light and tasty.

        • Spread a thin layer of goat cheese (I used a soft, spreadable variety) onto a flour tortilla.
        • In a frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and throw in some sliced onion. Cook, stirring frequently over low heat until light brown.
        • Remove onion slices and place them on the spread goat cheese. Chop up some fresh basil and sprinkle on top, then cover with a second tortilla. Cook in the same pan that you cooked the onions in, a few minutes per side.

          Bacon-Wrapped Chicken & Sage w/ Creamy Lemon Pan Sauce

          We’ve entered the season of Christmas party-planning madness, so that’s why we haven’t been around for a week. And after I write this we’re off to eat Udon Nabe at my student Mieko’s house (thick noodles simmered in broth with tofu and veggies–hopefully that will manifest itself as a post sometime soon; realistically after Christmas). In the meantime, this was a really yummy chicken dish that we threw together the other night with ingredients that we had on hand (featuring our flourishing sage on the balcony). Wish us luck tomorrow as we play games, make Christmas crafts, and do a gift exchange with 20 children who don’t really understand English 🙂

          4 boneless, skinless chicken fillets (or chicken tenders)
          4 sage leaves
          4 slices bacon, raw
          flour for dredging
          juice from 1/2 a lemon
          1-2 TBS flour
          salt & pepper
          1/3 cup chicken broth, warmed
          cream, to taste

          • Season the chicken with salt & pepper.
          • Place a sage leaf on top of each chicken fillet and then wrap the bacon slices around them. Dredge in flour (holding bacon in place) and tap off excess.
          • Pour enough olive oil in a pan to coat the bottom. When hot, add the chicken and fry for a few minutes on each side, until the bacon is crispy and the chicken is golden brown. Set aside and cover with foil to keep warm.
          • Remove all but a little of the oil and return the pan to medium low. Add the chicken broth and whisk in a little flour at a time until thickened to your liking. Add the lemon juice . Season with salt & pepper. Then add a drizzle or 2 of cream around the pan.
          • Plate the chicken and spoon the sauce on top.

          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 Allrecipes.com 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.