Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food: Soba Noodles

Now that we've seen some 80 degree temps here in Detroit ( not 80 degrees consistently, just scattered here and there like the tree pollen all over my driveway), I've started thinking about summer foods. For example, burgers (or rather anything) on the grill, fresh seafood, salads... So today I've decided to share with you one of my favorite, one-dish, "salad" recipes for the warm weather - Peanut Soba Noodles.
This is one of my standard summer staples. It's fresh, super easy and quick, tastes of wonderful Asian flavors, has hearty and good-for-you Soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles, and is scattered with veggies galore. Just thinking about crunchy and slightly spicy, thinly sliced radishes, sweet and crisp sugar snap peas, and cilantro (yes, those of you who think this tastes like soap can leave it out but you really don't know what you're missing) is enough to get my mouth watering. It also has one super special ingredient that I'm sure you won't mind using on a sandwich or some crackers later - gooey but super tasty natural peanut butter (yes, the stuff that you have to stir and put in the fridge afterwards).

I know you're going to enjoy this one because not only is it fast, tasty, and fresh, it's one of those things that after you make it once you don't really follow a recipe any just begin to throw in whatever strikes your fancy - shredded carrots, golden raisins, green onion, diced apple, water chestnuts, bok choy, etc. - you get the picture. It also keeps very well in a container to throw in your lunch box - in case you want to take some to work for your lunch (eating them with chopsticks, of course). But pack a napkin and a Tide pen just in case you're a little sloppy with the noodles :)

I think I'll have a second helping.

Asian Peanut Soba Noodles

  • 8 oz of soba noodles (or one package), cooked per instructions, drained, and rinsed well (use your fingers to help you get each individual noodle rinsed)
  • 3 T fresh peanut butter
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime
  • 1 T low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 1/2 T sriracha (you can always add more on top once you serve it)
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/4 c fresh, chopped cilantro
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of sugar snap peas
  • 1/4 c roasted peanuts

  • In a bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy, lime, vinegar, sriracha, and honey
  • Toss together with the cooked/drained/rinsed soba noodles, cilantro, radishes, sugar snap peas, and peanuts
  • Serve in bowls and slurp up with chop sticks (or twirl around a fork like you're eating pasta)!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food: Lamb Chops with Chipotle-Cherry Sauce and Wild Rice Cakes

When I was younger I didn't have much exposure to lamb. That is with the exception of an occasional Greek gyro at the county fair...the kind that's wrapped in foil to gently steam the pillowy pita, filled with seasoned, processed, rotisserie meat that melts in your mouth, and topped with cool Tzatziki sauce, warm tomato slices and paper-thin onion slices. But this isn't really something a purist would consider to be a true lamb I guess it doesn't truly count.

It wasn't until a few years ago I had even thought to make anything with lamb. Which I suppose could be seen as strange with all of the recipes I would continually see on television cooking shows and in my magazine subscriptions. I'll admit I was fairly intimidated by it since I lacked familiarity. So if you haven't cooked lamb yet, never fear, we all were in the same position once.

If you're a newbie, I recommended starting with lamb chops. They seem fancy but are surprisingly simple to cook and work wonderfully when prepared just like a simple steak - with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. And even though they are kind of a pain to get all of the meat off the little bones when eating, they taste quite lovely.

I was given a cookbook years ago called Contemporary Southwest - The Cafe Terra Cotta Cookbook by Donna Nordin (you can still purchase it here). Although there are a lot of great Southwestern-style recipes in this book, this is one of my favorites. It's fairly simple and a modern take on what you would expect to be served in an upscale restaurant in New Mexico or Arizona. It's hearty, simple, yet elegant. And very flavorful and satisfying.

I like a lot of things about this dish. First, the smoky, spicy, and sweet sauce, next, the hearty, chewy, nutty, rice cakes, and third the warm, earthy lamb. The cakes reminded me of something I might have had at a contemporary vegetarian restaurant like Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta and I highly recommend them as a side dish for any sort of meat dish -or- as a main element of a hearty vegetarian meal.

Lamb Chops with Dried Cherry-Chipotle Sauce

  • 1/2 cup sun-dried cherries
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 c dry red wine
  • 2 small chipotle peppers (canned chipotles in adobo), chopped
  • Lamb Chops
  • Soak the cherries in enough water to cover overnight or for at least one hour. Do not drain (you will be using the liquid).
  • Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until slightly caramelized.
  • Add the cherries and their soaking liquid, stock, and wine, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the chipotle peppers.
  • When the mixture has cooled, pour into a blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Preheat the broiler in the oven. Lightly coat the lamb chops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place under the broiler (~4-6" away from the heat). Cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until desired doneness (this will accomplish med-to-med well for 1" thick chops).
  • Balance on top of rice pancakes and drizzle with chipotle cherry sauce.

Wild Rice Pancakes

  • 1 cup wild rice (dry)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced thinly (both whites and tops)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c flour
  • Cooking spray
  • Prepare the rice according to package instructions (Most wild rice blends will cook 1 part rice to 2 parts water, simmering covered for 50 minutes with 10 minutes of rest).
  • Combine the celery, onions, garlic, and seasonings and set aside.
  • When rice cools slightly, add to the vegetable mixture. Stir in the eggs and then the flour to form a moist batter.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Coat bottom with cooking spray.
  • Spoon batter onto pan, pressing down with the spoon to form pancake shaped patties.
  • Cooked until golden brown approximately 2-3 minutes per side.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food: Banana Coconut Cake

When Jonathan's parents were in town a couple of weekends ago, I decided to bake them a birthday cake (his Mom's birthday was on St. Patrick's Day and his Dad's birthday was right before Easter). I had originally planned to make this, but didn't realize chocolate had been given up for Lent. So I decided to whip up something a little more tropical...and (selfishly) make a recipe that had been taunting me for weeks sitting at the top of my literal stack of things to try.

Regarding the fully assembled cake, if you want a little less raw banana flavor, I'd recommend finding a recipe for caramelized bananas and use those in the middle instead of raw slices (they were a little tart tasting since they were raw). Also, I didn't have two cake pans so I cooked one layer and then the other, trying to make sure the batter was about equal. It worked out just fine...only took a short time longer than baking both layers at one time. And make sure your custard is cooled completely before applying. A spatula/"spoonula" like this works great for scooping and then spreading. Putting the coconut on the cake will make a mess all of the countertop...but when you see how pretty the finished product turns out, you won't be complaining. Besides, the countertop coated with toasted coconut is relatively easy to clean up (luckily it's not sticky).

Banana Coconut Cake
Adapted from the Food Network


  • 7 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 2 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 1/3 c all purpose flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/3 c roughly chopped hazelnuts
Filling (Coconut Custard)
  • 1, 13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 c skim milk
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 5 egg yolks (MM Tip: You can freeze the egg whites to save them for another use...thaw in the refrigerator overnight prior to use)
  • 1/3 c cornstarch
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • Zest from one orange
  • Fresh juice from one orange
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 bag unsweetened coconut flakes, gently toasted on the stove top until golden brown (be careful not to burn)



  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Butter and flour one 9-inch cake pan
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until it is light and fluffy
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition, and continue to beat until very light and fluffy
  • Add buttermilk and mashed banana and mix well
  • In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder), then add to batter and mix at low speed on the electric mixer until moistened
  • Fold in hazelnuts and pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared cake pan (If you have two, 9-inch pans, you can bake both of these at one time)
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
  • After removing the cake from the oven, allow them to cool for five minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack
  • Repeat with second half of the batter
  • Assemble cake when thoroughly cooled
Coconut Custard
  • Combine the coconut milk and milk and stir together
  • In a bowl, mix 2/3 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup cornstarch and stir with a fork until free from lumps
  • Mix the sugar and cornstarch together with the egg yolks and 1 cup of coconut milk mixture; Whisk until smooth and set aside
  • In a heavy saucepan, bring the remaining coconut milk mixture to a boil and then pour it into the bowl with the egg yolk-sugar mixture, whisking constantly
  • Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium and continue stirring, cooking until small bubbles start to form on the surface - you have just made custard!
  • Remove from the heat and pour into large, wide bowl
  • Cover the top of the custard with a sheet of parchment touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming
  • Cool completely in the refrigerator
To assemble the cake
  • In a large bowl, gently toss banana slices with the orange juice, zest, and sugar
  • Place one cake layer on a serving dish or cake plate
  • Spread over the top of the layer with a thin coating of custard
  • Place bananas completely over bottom layer, so that no cake is showing
  • Spread with another layer of coconut custard over the top of the bananas
  • Place the second cake layer on top of the first and generously cover the entire cake with coconut custard
  • Garnish liberally with toasted coconut flakes

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gardening: Growing Update

The past few days have been GORGEOUS - definitely with a capital 'G' - here in Detroit. I mean who would complain about mid-70's in Michigan at the end of March/start of April? Hopefully Mother Nature isn't playing some sort of April Fools' trick on me...
When I walked Riley around the neighborhood the other evening I could smell the grass and warm air and damp earth and it truly smelled like warm weather and Spring once again. (OK, besides the nice smells I also sneezed a little with the tree pollen that's suddenly appeared too). I even saw a bunch of active golf carts on the course next door. Ah to be out in the warmth and sunlight once again! Can you tell I'm excited?
So with all of this said, it's about that time of year again where I start giving you my garden/plant growing update. Although I don't plan to start as many seeds this year, there'll still be plenty to share with you.
Some Stonecrop Sedum is on its way up....
The Allium are getting closer to forming flower shoots...
Creeping Jenny is starting to turn green once again (many of you may recognize this as something people put in their window boxes and planters in the may not have realized it can be grown as a perennial).
Nothing nicer than some fuzzy Poppy leaves...makes me smile thinking about the pretty (though fleeting) bright pink, papery flowers they'll show me in a few months.
And the herb garden is starting to come back (do you know how tired I am of buying herbs all winter knowing I have all of these in my garden?!?)
Here's a small sampling...there are some Chives...

and Oregano

and Salad Burnet (it smells and tastes like cucumber!)

some Germander (can't say I've used this in anything yet...)

Spring Tulips are on their way up and out...

and my Peonies are showing the beginning signs of life.

Oh Rhubarb, I can't wait to cook up your tasty deliciousness...(so much better than what I can find in the grocery store)

And the smell of some gorgeous, fragrant Hyacinths...just in time for Easter Weekend.

Enjoy the pictures...hope they start to get you thinking and inspired to start some spring cleanup in the yard and flower beds...and start thinking about what you want to plant around the house this year. I know I can't wait!
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