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!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

It’s that awkward time in between winter and spring where in an attempt to somehow magically control the weather, I wear dresses and flip flops, but end up freezing. Really, the reason I want it to get warmer is so I can wear dresses instead of maternity pants. But I can be patient. In the meantime, plum trees are blooming all over town and they’re beautiful and remind us of Japan. We can also take advantage of the last of the winter produce, like all those root vegetables that are crying out to be roasted until they’re sweet, nutty, and caramelized.

In this pasta, we simply toss orecchiette (I know it means “little ears”, but I like to call them “little hats”) with cubed roasted root vegetables (we used sweet potato, parsnips, carrots and beets but use whatever combination you like), pine nuts, and goat cheese, resulting in a hearty pasta with a touch of creaminess. Soon we’ll have fresh peas, asparagus, rhubarb, and fava beans galore, but until then, enjoy the flavorful vegetables in this dish!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

a couple small golden beets with greens – beets peeled and cubed, and greens washed and roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, cubed
a couple parsnips, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
a few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
a handful of pine nuts
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
1/2 cup chicken stock, warmed
soft goat cheese, crumbled to taste (we used a log of Cypress Grove goat cheese)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Give your beets about a 10 min. head start in the roasting process (they take a bit longer than the other vegetables): Place on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Season with some salt & pepper and throw in the oven (not literally).
  • While beets start roasting, toast the pine nuts in a large skillet, stirring frequently until fragrant and golden. Set aside. Place the other cubed root vegetables and the garlic cloves on another baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Season with a little salt & pepper. Place in the oven to join the beets. Roast until all veggies are tender and caramelized, 20-30 min (depending on how small they are cut), stirring once or twice during that time.
  • In the same skillet that you used for the pine nuts, sauté the beet greens in some olive oil until wilted. Season with a little salt & pepper, and squeeze half a lemon over them.
  • Get some water boiling for the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and add to the skillet with the beet greens.
  • When the veggies are ready, remove from oven. Pick out the garlic cloves, and peel and chop (when cool enough to handle). Transfer the roasted veggies to the skillet with the pasta and beet greens. Add the chopped roasted garlic. Gently toss everything together, adding a little chicken stock at a time to keep the pasta moist. Add the pine nuts and goat cheese (to taste) and gently mix in (it’s ok if the goat cheese melts. It makes the pasta nice and creamy). Divide among bowls with some Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Serves 2-3.

Chili-Lime Peanuts

Put a spicy, salty snack in front of me, and a pint of cold beer in my hand and I’m pretty much a happy camper. Unfortunately, I won’t stop eating the snack and might spoil my dinner. Despite my own personal weakness, my intention for making these zesty peanuts was to have something to offer before our Mexican BBQ without spoiling my family’s appetites! When I saw the recipe in the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, I know I had to make them. Okay, fine. It was an excuse to use my current obsession: Sriracha hot chile sauce. The combination of that and the lime will excite your taste buds! Because my grocery store only had roasted & salted peanuts (instead of the raw, Spanish peanuts the recipe called for), I had to modify it a bit — cutting the time in the oven from 30 minutes to 12 minutes, and using only 1/2 a tsp. of salt. Oh, and I probably doubled the amout of hot sauce, knowing me! The recipe below is the original version.

2 cups raw Spanish peanuts (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1 TBS. olive oil
2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the peanuts with the oil, salt, and sugar.
  • Scrape nuts onto a rimmed baking sheet in a single later.
  • Roast until fragrant and beginning to darken, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
  • Transfer nuts to a large bowl. Add the lime juice, hot pepper sauce, and cayenne pepper and toss to coat.
  • Allow to cool completely. Then serve. Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

    Asparagus Pesto Pasta

    My cousin Nikita emailed me this recipe a few weeks ago and said that we had to make it together. Embedded in the email was a mouth-watering picture that drew me in: two asparagus tips neatly garnished a tangle of green pasta, dotted with pine nuts and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. How could I say no? For the entire week I looked forward to this meal. I love that our family is so food oriented. We can plan an entire evening around the food, whether it’s a holiday, or a weeknight meal like this one. And while we’re eating one meal we’re already talking about the next one! Anyway, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. I thought I’d had it prepared every way until I saw this recipe. What a great idea – blanching asparagus and turning it into a pesto with baby spinach, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil! It tastes so fresh and surprisingly the asparagus flavor was not as strong as we thought it would be. But it’s just subtle enough to remind you of its presence. Leaving some whole pine nuts to toss in at the end adds the perfect crunch to this beautifully verdant pasta dish.

    Asparagus Pesto Pasta
    (From Simply Recipes)

    1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise
    3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
    2 cloves garlic, peeled
    1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
    1 cup pine nuts
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
    Juice of 1/2 a lemon*
    1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
    8 ounces of dried pasta or 12 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini, or spaghetti**

    *we used a lime from our tree instead

    **the original recipe suggests mixing regular pasta with spinach pasta for a medley of colors

    • Bring two pots of water to a bowl – one large one for the pasta and one medium sized one for the asparagus.
    • While the water is heating, put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large skillet. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside. (You will use 3/4 cup of the pine nuts for the pesto and 1/4 cup to mix in whole).
    • Salt the asparagus water and drop the spears into the pan. Cook for only 2 or 3 minutes, until the spears are bright green and barely tender. Drain under cool water to stop the cooking. Cut the tips off, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.
    • Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor. Process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.
    • Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus pesto.
    • Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.

    Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts

    Reasons to love this dish: 1) It’s Green! Using both the beets and their greens means less waste (and less money at the store). 2) If you used red beets in this recipe, you would have pink pasta! Valentine’s Day idea, anyone? Ok, that’s a silly reason to love this dish. 3) The earthiness of the beets goes so well with the slightly bitter greens, the sweet onions, and the toasty pine nuts. Really, it’s a brilliant combination. We halved the recipe below because it serves 4-6. It paired beautifully with this 2007 Roussanne from Lavender Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.

    Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts
    (From the Feb. 2009 issue of Bon Appetit)

    cup pine nuts

    4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
    2 large onions, quartered lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    2 bunches 2-inch-diameter golden beets with fresh healthy greens; beets peeled and cut into wedges; greens coarsely chopped
    12 oz farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
    1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

    • Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.
    • Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and the sliced onions to the same skillet. Sauté until beginning to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to sauté until onions are browned and caramelized, about 30 minutes longer.
    • Add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Scatter the beet greens on top of the onions. Drizzle with remaining 2 TBS. olive oil, cover, and cook until greens are tender, about 5 minutes.
    • Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the beet wedges until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets to a medium bowl.
    • Bring the water back up to a boil and add the pasta to the beet cooking liquid. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
    • Stir onion-greens mixture and beets into pasta. Add pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Divide pasta among shallow bowls. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve, passing additional cheese at the table.

    Chocolate Chunk – Hazelnut Blondies

    I was in search of a dessert that Dustin could take in his lunches all week when I came across this recipe. These blondies were simple to make and are very adaptable. You can top them with any combination of nuts and/or chocolate that you like. You’ll find that the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the crunch of the nuts compliments the sweet, chewy base. The perfect afternoon pick-me-up! The only challenge I encountered while making these was keeping my kitties off of the counter and stove while I was baking them. They sure are determined little guys.

    Chocolate Chunk – Hazelnut Blondies
    (Adapted from the recipe Blondies with Pecans and Chocolate Chips on Epicurious, from the July 1998 issue of Bon Appetit)

    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    10 tablespoons (1
    1/4 sticks) salted butter
    2 cups (packed) brown sugar
    2 egg

    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    4 oz. (1 bar) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

    3 oz. (a couple handfuls) roasted-salted hazelnuts, chopped

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and a flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Set aside.
    • In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
    • Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sugar to blend.
    • Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract.
    • Gradually stir in the flour mixture (the batter will be pretty thick).
    • Pour into prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the chopped chocolate and nuts.
    • Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the pan comes out with moist crumbs attached.
    • Cool the blondies in the pan, then cut into squares. Makes about 24.

      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.

          Birds, stay away from my Honey-Nut Granola Bars!

          Since granola bars are difficult to find in the land of the rising sun, I decided to make them! I was really happy with how these turned out. I used the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal website, but I added salted almonds because who doesn’t love sweet & salty together. You could also add chocolate chips, any chopped dried fruit, or coconut, or substitute maple syrup for the honey for a different flavor.

          4 1/2 cups Old Fashioned Oats (or 4 cups Quick Cooking Oats)
          1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (such as walnuts and/or salted almonds)
          1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
          3/4 cup butter (170 g), melted
          1/2 cup honey
          1 tsp. vanilla
          1/4 tsp. salt

          • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
          • Combine all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.
          • Press firmly into a jellyroll pan (15-1/2 x 10-1/2 inch)
          • Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly* 
          • Cool completely, and cut into bars. Makes about 24 “Nature Valley-size” granola bars.

          *A note on baking time: Japanese ovens don’t like to make things crispy. My granola bars were chewy, but a regular oven may produce crunchy ones. Both are good results!

          You’re probably wondering what these granola bars have to do with birds. Well, yesterday we ventured out into the rain to visit Kobe Kacho-en, a bird & flower garden in Kobe. We walked around in a giant green house, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over giant lily pads that were just begging to be walked on, flowers that looked like they belonged in the Amazon, and baskets hanging above our heads cascading with colorful blossoms. Then we transitioned to the bird rooms: a duck, swan, chicken, and crane room; a penguin room; a tucan room– slightly scary because the birds swoop down over your head and you can feel the air from their wings–and lastly an owl room, featuring species from around the world, both big and small. In each room you could purchase a small paper cup of bird seed to feed them. They also sold bags of shelled walnuts and almonds in the gift shop (an anomaly in Japanese grocery stores), meant for your pet bird, but we got excited about them too!

          Indoor Jungle

          HUGE lily pads – aka stepping stones

          “Purple ribbon flower”

          New friend


          Bouquets in the air



          Penne with Spinach, Feta, & Toasty Pine Nuts

          In American supermarkets, it’s the packaging that persuades us to buy things; catchy slogans, bright colors, and promises of nutritional value catch our eye and convince us to make (sometimes) unnecessary purchases. In Japan they set up little stereos around the store that blast catchy tunes about vegetables, fish, fried foods, or the monotone voice of a woman talking about the 3 varieties of pork chops that are on sale. We always leave the store still humming one of the songs and it usually continues for the next hour or so. It’s slightly annoying, but apparently a good marketing tool. Today we bypassed all the noise and went to a quiet aisle that contains a meager amount of import food items. There we discovered pine nuts packaged in clear little bags in between the coconut milk and the sweet chili sauce. There were only two left. Delighted, we added them to our basket and allowed them to guide the direction of our meal. Spinach (oh no, back to the vegetable song!) and feta immediately came to mind, so this was the result (inspired by a recipe on Recipezaar).

          1/2 lb. penne pasta
          2 TBS. olive oil
          1 clove garlic, minced
          4 oz. (or more to taste) crumbled feta cheese
          1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
          A few large handfuls of baby spinach
          1/4 cup pine nuts

          • Cook the penne according to package directions. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-low heat, until fragrant and golden, stirring frequently. Set aside.
          • Drain the penne. Heat the olive oil in the skillet. Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds. Then stir in cooked penne.
          • Add the crumbled feta and Parmesan and stir until it just begins to melt. Turn off the heat.
          • Add the baby spinach and stir until barely wilted. Stir in the toasted pine nuts and serve!

          Almond White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

          In search of something different from the usual chocolate chip, I saw this recipe on the nest and was immediately drawn to it. I have to bring something to a potluck tomorrow and the old Japanese ladies are always clamoring for “American style” cookies, so I thought I’d give these a try. As usual, we couldn’t get one of the ingredients – almond extract – so I just used vanilla instead. Even though they’re less “almondy” than they should be, they turned out great! I’ll definitely be using this recipe again.

          2 1⁄4 cups flour
          1 teaspoon baking soda
          1⁄2 teaspoon salt
          1 cup (230 grams) butter, softened
          1 1⁄2 cups sugar
          2 eggs
          1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
          8 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
          1 1⁄3 cups slivered almonds

          • Mix flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
            • Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until well blended.
              • Gradually beat in flour mixture until well mixed. Stir in chocolate and almonds.
              • Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet.
                • Bake in preheated 375°F (190 C) oven for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned (12 minutes in a Japanese oven).
                  • Cool on baking sheet 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

                    Have you ever seen a Japanese oven? It doesn’t look like an oven, does it. Well, this is what I have to work with. It’s actually a microwave too! I don’t really like this oven. It’s small (I can only bake 9 cookies at a time), the buttons are hard to read, and it doesn’t brown things very well. I always have to add more minutes to the cooking time!

                    Yeah, it took me a while to figure all that out. It appears to have special settings for potato croquettes, milk and tempura shrimp. How specific!

                    And here’s the teeny tiny Oishii kitchen! Can you believe that’s our stove in the far left corner!?

                    Cardamom Spiced Cashews – New Year Nuts!

                    Cashews are transformed when they’re sautéed in a skillet with yummy spices. These were a part of our New Years Eve spread, along with cheese fondue with bread, veggies, and apples (a Genco-family tradition), and spinach-artichoke dip (my contribution this year).

                    Thanks to my Mom for passing on this simple recipe:

                    • Sauté the cashews in a little butter and olive oil.
                    • Jazz them up with some cumin, cardamom, coarse salt, and cayenne pepper, and stir until they are golden and fragrant.

                    Happy 2008, everyone!

                    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.

                    Asian Chicken Salad with Crunchy Ramen Noodles and Honey-Sesame Cashews

                    Today was one of the first hot days of summer in Osaka. We rushed home from our evening kids’ ESL classes and felt like something that was fast and refreshing. After looking over a few recipes for Chinese Chicken Salad on this is what we came up with. The addition of the instant ramen noodles was inspired by a whitewater rafting trip my family and I took a few years ago in Oregon. The cute, young river-guides prepared a salad reminiscent of this one, while the rest of us waded in the water of the Rouge River. Oh, and we made the cashews because I love something sweet and spicy to eat alongside the salad. They compliment the Asian flavors well!

                    What we drank: 2004 Luna Bianco, Italy

                    For the Dressing:

                    2 teaspoons brown sugar
                    3/4 teaspoon soy sauce

                    1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
                    1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
                    1 1/2 tablespoons rice (or sushi) vinegar

                    For the Salad:

                    A little less than half of a head of lettuce, chopped
                    3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, boiled and shredded
                    2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
                    1 green onion, chopped
                    1 small can of mandarin oranges
                    1 package of instant ramen noodles (discarding the seasoning packet)

                    For the Cashews:

                    a few handfuls of salted cashews
                    sesame seeds
                    chili powder

                    • Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Taste and adjust to your liking and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
                    • In a large bowl place the lettuce, green onion, sesame seeds and chicken. Toss with your fingers. Place in fridge to cool for 10 minutes.
                    • While the salad is chilling, spread the cashews onto a cookie sheet. Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chili powder to taste. Mix with your fingers, coating all the cashews. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir. Bake for 3-5 min. more or until just barely golden. Remove while hot to a non-stick surface and allow to cool.
                    • Take the salad out of the fridge and add the ramen noodles. Dress, toss, arrange mandarin oranges, and serve with cashews on the side (or feel free to sprinkle on top if you desire)!