Taqueria Pickles


When I go to our favorite taqueria in town, I look forward to raiding the salsa bar after we pick up our al pastor tacos or carnitas burritos. Although I love the mild green tomatillo salsa, the smokey chipotle salsa, and the brightly colored salsa fresca, I go straight to the escabeche – pickled jalapenos with carrots and onion. They are so hot that one little bite of carrot needs to be chased with a big gulp of horchata, but they are so, so good. So good in fact that we decided to share the love this year by making our own version of “taqueria pickles” to give to our close family and friends for Christmas.

We turned to Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Food for guidance. It’s one of my mom’s favorite cookbooks and one that I often borrow because I love the simplicity of her recipes and how they highlight seasonal produce. While dining at Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse a couple years ago, I ordered a fall fruit bowl for dessert. The waitress presented me with a wooden bowl containing several sweet dates and a couple small seedless tangerines. This humble-looking dish was the perfect way to end a meal and paid tribute to the season. If you haven’t heard of her, Alice (let’s pretend the two of us are on a first name basis) is the pioneer of the “slow food movement,” which celebrates local, sustainable, fresh, and seasonal produce of the best quality. If you can’t make it out to Berkeley, California to eat at her restaurant, you should at least treat yourself to one of her cookbooks. It’s because of her that we pay attention to the little signs at our grocery store that tell us where our produce comes from.

We used Alice’s method for fresh-pickled vegetables, but added a generous amount of sliced jalapeños, as well as whole cumin seeds and coriander seeds to make them more “taqueria-style”. We also decided to can them so they’d last longer. Our taqueria doesn’t add cauliflower to theirs, but we thought it would be delicious – it was! (And since it’s in season, Alice would approve).

I also want to dedicate this post to Dustin’s grandma, who taught us the canning process. We love you and want you to know we’ll continue the annual canning tradition of making your bread & butter pickles, chile sauce, and strawberry jam! ❤


“Taqueria Pickles” (Spicy Pickled Jalapeños & Carrots)

(Adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe in her book The Art of Simple Food and the blog Simply Recipes)

jalapeños, thickly sliced
carrots, thickly sliced
red onion, sliced
cauliflower, cut into florets

apple cider vinegar
distilled white vinegar
sugar
bay leaf
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
dried oregano
garlic cloves (un-peeled)
garlic cloves, peeled and halved
salt

  • Wash, trim, and cut your vegetables.
  • For about 3 1/2 cups pickling brine*, combine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup distilled white vinegar, 1 3/4 cup water, 2 1/2 TBS. sugar, 1/2 a bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, pinch of dried oregano, 2 whole garlic cloves, 2 peeled and halved garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt.
  • Bring brine to a boil, then add the vegetables in the order of their cooking time, beginning with the vegetable which will take the longest. Add the carrots first and cook them until they are cooked through but  still a little bit crisp (simply scoop one out to test – about 20 minutes). When you think the carrots have about 10 minutes left to cook, add the jalapeños. Add the sliced onion and the cauliflower florets when you think the carrots are almost done – they will take only a few minutes.
  • If you want to can the pickles – transfer the hot vegetables into mason jars, and fill the tops of the jars with brine. Screw the lids on the jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let them sit on the counter until you hear them “pop!” Then you’ll know they’re canned! Once opened, they’ll keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.
  • For refrigerator pickles, allow the vegetables to cool completely after being removed from the brine. Once the vegetables are cool and the pickling brine has cooled to room temperature, divide the vegetables between mason jars (or to another container) and cover with brine. Refrigerated, they will keep for a week. Enjoy with your favorite Mexican dishes.

* When we made our pickling brine, we didn’t measure any of the ingredients, but we kept in mind the ratios from the original recipe. Alice calls for 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar (which, she says, you can easily sub with red wine vinegar) but we used apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar after reading other recipes for pickled jalapeños. We also didn’t use quite as much water as the recipe calls for. When it comes down to it, feel free to tweak things here and there. Taste the brine before you add the vegetables and add more sugar or vinegar or whatever you think it needs. Have fun with your food, and enjoy pickling the bounty of the season.

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.

Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling


This Thanksgiving we survived an 8 hour car ride with a toddler down to San Diego, where Levi had his first zoo experience. He was excited about every animal he encountered but was especially enamored by the elephants. Once Levi was tuckered out, we headed back to my mother-in-law’s house, where we watched plenty of football, drank plenty of San Diego micro-brews, and had quite a feast: a turkey breast roulade stuffed with brandied fig & cranberry stuffing, gravy, sweet potato gratin, and sautéed brussels sprouts with pancetta, shallot, mushrooms, and balsamic (which actually converted one member of the family who was a self-professed brussels sprouts hater. I was so proud). For dessert we indulged in a vanilla bean cake with salted caramel frosting. It was a wonderful evening and we went to bed feeling thankful for family and the way in which good food and drink bring us together.


As we’re entering the Christmas season and there’s a definite chill in the air, I’ve been allowing the oven to do most of the cooking in the evening, which frees us to relax and focus on the things that are important, like playing with our ever-changing, ever-moving 19 month old.

Spinach-artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizers to bring to parties, so I associate it with festive gatherings. We were pleased to bring that spirit of festivity into a weeknight dinner. Portobello mushroom caps are filled with a spinach-artichoke filling and then topped with seasoned panko breadcrumbs. The end result is nothing short of comforting – the perfect hybrid of stuffed mushrooms and spinach-artichoke dip. For a side dish, I roasted some cubed butternut squash with olive oil, thyme, and sage. Even Levi could not resist their caramelized edges. A salad of mixed greens with apple & pomegranate seeds completed the meal.

We wish you many comforting meals during this season of Advent (break out the good wine!) with the people you love, enjoying every last bite.


Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling

(From the Dec 11/Jan 12 issue of Fine Cooking)

3 TBS. olive oil 
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (1 TBS.) 
4 medium portabello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed*
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 TBS. mayonnaise  
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
9 to 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry**
9 oz. frozen artichokes, thawed, lightly squeezed dry, and chopped*** 
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Romano cheese

* Fine Cooking recommended using a butter knife – it worked great!
** I used fresh baby spinach, sautéed, squeezed, and roughly chopped
*** I used marinated artichokes for more flavor, drained and roughly chopped

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS. of the oil and about two-thirds of the minced garlic. Brush the insides of the mushroom caps with the garlic oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the mushrooms oiled side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until just tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and 1/2 tsp. of the thyme with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the spinach and artichokes and season to taste with salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, combine the remaining garlic, 1 TBS. oil, and 1 tsp.  thyme with the breadcrumbs and cheese.
  • Spoon the artichoke mixture evenly into the mushroom caps and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until the crumbs are golden-brown and the filling is hot, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting


I blinked and my newborn became a 1-year-old. He walks, he points at things, he babbles, and he eats everything with gusto, especially cake, as we now know. I picked my favorite cake/frosting combination for Levi’s birthday cupcakes – yellow cake with chocolate, because I know he’s not picky and I’d be the one licking the beaters. I used the best birthday cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen – yellow cake with chocolate sour cream frosting – but made cupcakes instead of a layer cake and topped them with festive sprinkles. The recipe made 36 cupcakes, and I even had enough batter to make a little personal cake for Levi to eat on his actual birthday. So yes, we were eating cupcakes for days, and they were delicious. This recipe was exactly what I had hoped it would be. The cake was nice and moist with a little tang from buttermilk, and the frosting was nice and chocolate-y, but not too sweet. I decided to omit the espresso powder this time, since Levi was going to be eating a good amount of frosting, but I can definitely see how adding it would have brought out the flavor of the chocolate even more, and next time I will!


At the end of a 1st birthday party, there’s that rite of passage when you stick a slice of cake or a cupcake in front of the birthday child and stand around and stare at them to see what they’ll do. At first they hesitate; they might curiously poke at it, as Levi did, but soon they discover that what has been placed in front of them is actually edible. After a while it gets pretty messy, and the only people who think that the baby with frosting all over his face is cute is the parents. Yep, I was that proud mom. I’m also proud to share these cupcakes with you (which are actually the first I’ve ever made from scratch!) They were made and decorated with love for our little boy. Happy Birthday, Levi! And many more.


Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Sour-Cream Frosting

(From Smitten Kitchen)

For the Cupcakes:

4 cups plus 2 TBS. cake flour (not self-rising)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with the festive cupcake liners of your choice.
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  • At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (it’s ok if the mixture looks curdled). Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  • Spoon the batter into the muffin tins so that they are 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick entered into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the muffin tins, using a knife to loosen them if some of the cake is sticking to the edges of the muffin cups. When completely cool, frost cupcakes (recipe below) and decorate with sprinkles!


For the Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (makes 5 cups):

15 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until it melts. Remove from heat and allow to cool until tepid. You want your chocolate and your sour cream to be around the same temperature so that the chocolate doesn’t seize when you add the sour cream.
  • Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly, whisking quickly until the frosting mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in 1 TBS. increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.
  • Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This took only 10 minutes for us. If it becomes too hard, leave out at room temperature until it softens again.

The Birthday Boy!

Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread


Saint Patrick, you braved captivity in Ireland and later returned to spread Christianity throughout the land. Rather than eradicating the native customs and beliefs, you incorporated them into your teachings so that the Christian message was more easily understood by the people; a respectable model for Christian missions today (says the Religious Studies major in me). Today we remember the day of your death by drinking Stout and loading up on carbs. I hope you’re not offended. I hope someday people remember me by eating and drinking!

I love a good Irish soda bread on Saint Patrick’s Day. I adore its crumbly texture, crusty outside, and slightly sweet, brown interior, topped with generous amounts of butter. I eat way too much, and it’s so, so good.

This is the second year we’ve eaten this particular Irish soda bread. Last year my Mom made it as part of a corned beef & cabbage dinner. This year we made it to accompany a bacon-wrapped stout & cheddar meatloaf. It’s from an article in Bon Appetit titled A Slice of Ireland, which includes captivating pictures of Ireland’s stunning, verdant countryside (where apparently there are as many versions of soda bread as there are cooks), and the account of one man’s quest for the perfect one. Mrs. O’Callaghan’s recipe is treasured for its simplicity (no add-ins like nuts or seeds) and authenticity.

The only changes I made were halving the recipe, using teff flour instead of whole wheat flour (we had some leftover from our teff galette), using a food processor to make the dough, and baking the soda bread on parchment paper, instead of spraying a baking sheet with nonstick vegetable oil spray. We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread

(Slightly adapted from the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups teff flour (or whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 of a stick chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine both flours, the sugar, and the baking soda. Pulse until combined. Add the butter and continue pulsing until it resembles little peas. Add the buttermilk and pulse until the dough just comes together (or as the original recipe says “shaggy dough forms”).
  • Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface, kneading until it comes together, about 10 turns.
  • Form dough into a 7-inch round that is 1 inch high. Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut a large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough, almost all the way to the edges of the round.
  • Bake in the center of the oven until it is deep brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. A bamboo skewer, when placed into the center of the bread, should come out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool, slice, and serve with butter!

(And a special thanks to my Great-Aunt Lois – one of our faithful readers – who made the beautiful potholders in these pictures!)

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!

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole (and Thanksgiving ’10 Recap)


Bring on the Turkey leftovers!  Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? We did too, but we didn’t get around to photographing all the food this year between taking turns holding a teething baby (both his top teeth are coming in right now and he’s less than thrilled about it) and cooking two of the vegetable side dishes. So regardless of the lack of pictures, here is a Thanksgiving recap:

My dad made his usual smoked turkeys like last year, and we snacked on spiced nuts and two varieties of cheese (an aged goat cheese and a cheddar). Once again, my brother provided some awesome beer to wash everything down. We had stuffing two ways – one with cornbread, and one with roasted lemon. There was the usual cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, beets, and butterflake rolls from Gayle’s Bakery, and we contributed roasted brussels with chanterelles and cream, and a sweet potato gratin. My mom made a fresh kale salad with pomegranate seeds and sliced persimmon. Lastly, my uncle Rick made four amazing pies for dessert: pumpkin, pecan, coconut cream, and “crack pie” — a recipe from Momofuku in New York. It’s an oat cookie crust with a filling mainly consisting of butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk. Here is the recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit. Yum.


Despite teething-fussiness, Levi enjoyed his first Thanksgiving! He even added beets to his food repertoire (delicata squash, butternut squash, yellow zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, apples, bananas, rice cereal, and oatmeal cereal. He has also tried cinnamon and nutmeg). I can’t believe he’s 7 months old already!


My favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the leftovers. When there’s so much on your plate, it’s hard to truly appreciate the turkey, but later in the week it can take center stage! We enjoyed our annual turkey sandwiches at the Christmas tree farm last Friday (we found the perfect little picnic spot in between the trees), then last night we thought that the smokiness of the turkey would pair well with black beans, so we decided to make turkey-black bean quesadillas with spicy guacamole.


Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole

  • Combine 1 ripe avocado, 1 small clove of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a small lime (reserve the other half), and 1/2 a minced serrano chile in a small bowl. Mash and combine. Taste and season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • In a small sauce pan add 1 can of black beans, drained. Then jazz them up a bit — add whatever spices you want.  We added some cumin, chile powder, coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Add a splash of water, too. Heat, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until beans are hot. Turn off the heat. Squeeze in the other half of your lime.
  • Assemble your quesadillas with flour tortillas, grated Monterey jack cheese, a few spoonfuls of black beans, and some leftover sliced Thanksgiving turkey. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat. When one side is nicely browned, flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Serve with spicy guacamole and a salad.