Spring may not be the typical season for stews, but they are comforting and sometimes we need a little comfort even when the sun is shining and the nights are warm. On one such pleasant evening, my family gathered around our garden table to enjoy this stew.  The recipe comes from 660 Curries, by Raghavan Iyer, that a friend generously gave to me as a thank you gift. Choosing from over 600 curries is a bit of a challenge.  This one stood out because it is composed of ingredients I generally have in stock (and perhaps you do too): potatoes, apples, carrots.  I also happened to have a leftover grilled pork tenderloin on hand, but the recipe below calls for uncooked pork.  Either works well.

Since it was a glorious spring evening,  I served Indian Pork, Potato, and Apple Stew with a shredded cabbage and carrot slaw to lighten the meal.  It also paired beautifully with a jar of Curried Cauliflower Pickles (which I need to make a double batch of next season, because one pint is NOT enough for our dinner table).  The stew was a tasty blend of rich flavors mingling with the sweet apple and heat from the spices.  This is quite a tasty stew for any season.

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I fell in love with carrot cake, when I fell in love with my husband. For years I had an exclusive (some would say dependent) relationship with chocolate. Given a choice of ice cream, cake, cookies, snacks, drinks (you get the picture), I would almost always sway towards the chocolate offering. So you can imagine the shock and ensuing protest when he suggested we serve carrot cake at our wedding. I still do not know how he convinced me, but I did give up the vision of rich chocolate cake with richer, thicker chocolate frosting willingly agreed to carrot cake. One of our marriage’s first big compromises.

Key to our agreement was that we found an absolutely fantastic bakery, The Buttery in Santa Cruz, that baked up the most luscious carrot cake imaginable. This was 10 years ago and I still remember how delicious it was! This recipe is NOT from The Buttery, I adapted it from one clipped from a newspaper years ago, but it is the next best thing. It includes the absolutely key ingredient BUTTER! Flip through a pile of carrot cake recipes and you will see how rare this ingredient is. Almost all of the carrot cake recipes in my collection call for vegetable oil, which makes a nice moist cake, but fails to deliver the distinctive buttery note that reminds me that chocolate (while a delicious intoxicant) is not the only way to celebrate an occasion. The cream cheese frosting is super creamy and just sweet and tangy enough to add a nice counterpoint to the rich cake.

This particular cake I whipped up for a very special person to celebrate her 65th birthday. Which brings me to another reason to love carrot cake… there is no need to wait for a birthday or wedding. Carrot cake is fancy enough to hold its own on these occasions, but simple enough for an afternoon snack. Really, it is full of carrots and nuts and raisins; it is practically health food!

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Cheesy Kale and Orzo

May 22, 2012

At nearly the age of four, our daughter sat in disbelief  in front of a bowl of mac and cheese served by a friend of ours.  “But it’s not green?”  She couldn’t fit the bowl of creamy goodness into her limited epicurean understanding of the world, mostly because her mother had apparently spent her ultra-formative years fooling her into thinking that all mac and cheese had pureed spinach or kale as an integral part.  But before you jump to conclusions and label me a crazy mom who withholds hard-earned icons of American childhood (probably no hot dogs or Oreos either!), consider that the addition of these rich greens actually makes the dish taste better (and triples the nutritional value of course)!  And not just to adults either, our kids prefer this as well.  Just look at the happy girl then and now! (But you are right about the Oreos, we have held back on those.  Perhaps you know of a fantastic recipe to make them at home and would like to share a link below!)

Cheesy Kale and Orzo is the next generation of mac and cheese at our dinner table.  It satisfies our kids’ desire for cheesy pasta, yet holds its own as a more sophisticated side for grilled salmon (our protein of choice these days).  The orzo cooks in the fashion of a risotto, so it has a chance to soak up the white wine and rich chicken broth.  Kale, steamed and blended fine, mixes in and colors the dish a deep green. Fresh cut chives and Parmesan add a bit more flavor and creaminess at the end.

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Horchata

May 13, 2012

Sonoma County may be a culinary destination for other reasons, but in my family we are most grateful for the abundance of fantastic taquerias.  Within walking distance of our house there are many places to enjoy a tasty taco, crunchy tostada or a big @#* burrito. Our kids share our love of Mexican food (which is a family requirement along with love of pizza).  They generally gravitate towards a simple bean and cheese burrito with a Horchata to wash it down.  My husband and I recently discussed that we need to branch out a bit, or our children will think that every restaurant features the cuisine of Mexico!

Horchata is a sweetened rice drink infused with just enough cinnamon to make it interesting.  It is served cold, over ice, and is the perfect balance to a hot and spicy meal.  Given that we often make our own Mexican-inspired food at home, we decided it was time to make horchata as well.  After researching several recipes, I settled on one adapted by David Lebovitz.  It is so incredibly simple that I have happily made it many times already.  Long grain white rice is ground into a powder and soaked with cinnamon over night.  The bits are then strained out and the liquid sweetened and mixed with milk. Done.  I love that by making it at home, I can control the amount of sugar that is in the drink.  Our kids love it and so do we.  According to myth, this drink is also quite the hangover cure, though I can not personally confirm that.  Horchata is a  refreshing drink for any spring or summer day.

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Mango Avocado Salsa

May 9, 2012

One of the many wonderful things about salsa is there are no shortage of excuses to make it.  Any time of year, any weather, any occasion, there is a salsa to fit the bill.  This most recent concoction folded beautifully into a pre-Cinco de Mayo/ baby shower (yes, Fresh Lime Margaritas were included, of course! ).

Mango Avocado Salsa combines sweet tart mango with creamy avocado spiked with red onion and jalapeño and doused with lime.  This palate pleasing mix is equally at home on a piece of grilled salmon or chicken as it is on a tortilla chip or quesadilla.  It is the kind of dip that makes you want to whip up another batch as soon as the first is gobbled up.  If you are unsure how to cut a mango check out this post.  I would love to hear what creative ways you come up with to serve this salsa!

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One trip to the Farmers’ Market is enough to know that spring is truly here.  Mounds of fava beans, pea shoots, and strawberries compete for space with kale, beets, and last season’s  potatoes.  My kids and I headed over last weekend to pick up some fresh foods and the obligatory honey sticks.  When we returned home, our house was unpleasantly warm thanks to unseasonably sultry weather.  It may have been too hot to cook, but it was the perfect temperature to put together some quick refrigerator pickles.

Pickled Spring Vegetables are an Asian-inspired quick pickle.   Quick pickles are a fantastic use for all sorts of vegetables and do not require time or canning equipment.   I used Easter egg radishes, fresh nantes carrots, and leeks from our trip to the market, though you could also use cucumbers, onions, daikon radishes, or just about any other vegetable you want to pickle.  The brine is based on rice wine vinegar and lime juice that tempers the sweetness.  These pickles have hints of flavor from slices of ginger, garlic and cilantro.  Slice up the veggies and pour over the brine.  The pickles will be ready to eat in under an hour.  Letting them sit overnight will intensify the flavor, if they last that long.

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Day by day, our children are taking over our lives with a force that eclipses their small stature.  First was the living room, invading the space with a pulsing tide of toys and other detritus.  Slowly their influence oozed into our music, favoring 90’s grunge rock for no explicable reason.  The most recent conquest was the meal plan.  Though they are both enthusiastic eaters of most dishes I serve, they now each direct the selection of one dinner a week.  What seemed benign at first quickly spiraled into many successive nights of pesto pasta, hamburgers, and spaghetti and meatballs.  My kids, who would eat anything, had a very short list of items they would actually request.  Luckily with some gentle encouragement, they happily incorporated some new meal variations that keep them (and their parents) satisfied.

Baked Chicken Flautas are crispy, crunchy flour tortillas wrapped around a moist, mildly spiced bean and chicken filling.  They hit on all of my children’s favorite notes: finger foods, beans, cheese.  They are tasty enough to appeal to the adult set as well.  Whip up some Chipotle Salsa for a dip to make these flutes really sing.  Feel free to change the filling around.  Not a fan of beans?  Leave them out and increase the chicken.  What to make them vegetarian?  Omit the chicken and add crumbled tofu or corn to the mix.  Really, anything you would throw in a taco can be rolled up in these tortillas and baked.  We ate these for dinner, but they would be great as a party appetizer as well!  So, how about you?  What are the family pleasing meals that grace your table?

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