Scene in Spain, #20

We arrived in Ponferrada early in the morning and sat tiredly in the hotel lobby until our room was ready. (The staff were amazing – brought us wonderful coffee and fruits and kept apologizing that the room wasn’t ready despite us arriving before most people would even be up!)

When we finally moved out to walk around, we found out there was a festival happening – what timing to catch the final day when we weren’t even aware it existed! It looked like a Renaissance Fair. There was a display of birds including these two rather sarcastic looking owls:

IMG_3293 IMG_3295

There were also a ton of food vendors. We stopped at this one because it smelled amazing.


This is where we got the delicious festival food I posted earlier (a looong time ago, actually) – and I still have yet to grill jalapenos!



Can we still have a pumpkin thing? Yes.

I am a fan of simple tasty recipes that also are healthier than the alternative. I’m also a fan of quick. This is even easier than the black bean brownies (yes, you read that right) and is also just two ingredients. Just a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. Mix thoroughly and then you bake per the instructions on the box. I generally make cakies (cookies that are pretty cake-like) by dropping spoonfuls on a baking sheet and baking the amount of time for cupcakes. But you could do cakes or proper cupcakes too, of course. Enjoy!


Pardon the interruption…

Wow. I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted something. I know that right after the last post in August we went on vacation and I took hundreds of photos in Spain, planning to post them while there but I never did. And then when we got back I got really busy with work and also I was just a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff I *could* post that I got paralysis about it all and so didn’t do anything. I even took more photos on my walks around home and work and have other items to post about crafts I’ve done with my mom, but I’m just so overwhelmed by choices! AAAAACK!

I have more time off coming up with Thanksgiving, and my plan is to spend some time organizing my Spain photos and doing a lot of posts about our travels there, as well as my usual items. In the meantime, here is a picture of some food we enjoyed in Ponferrada, Spain. As it happened, the first day we were there was the last day of a festival they were having – so we got wonderful festival food for lunch. And this reminds me – I really need to grill jalapenos! That was amazingly tasty.



As July 4th approaches, I’m preparing to smoke pork shoulder in the Southern tradition. Not only it it a national holiday, it’s my husband’s birthday – and he’s loved pulled pork ever since my father introduced him to it. My father taught me, and then I got his old smoker when he upgraded to a new one. Smoking pork is an all-day affair with a big payoff at the end. I did it for Memorial Day weekend and the results were fantastic.

I start by lighting the fire before 6am – pork is smoked over indirect head and “low and slow” is the only way to go. Once the coals are hot, I add water-soaked hickory chips on the coals to generate the smoke.


It’s important to have the coals up on a grate, because there will be a lot of ash created – the foil lining the bottom helps with cleanup.

Now I put on the meat – this is about 4 pounds of pork shoulder (aka “boston butt” and don’t ask me why) cut in two pieces.


This has marinade basted on it that is very important – we use Wicker’s original and there is zero reason to look for anything else. It’s perfection. Close the lid, and now we’re smokin’!


For the rest of the day I keep checking the smoke and the coals – every 15 minutes or so (maybe 30 at max) I need to add coals and/or wood chips. Now, there are people who will tell you that adding more wood chips after a certain time is meaningless because no more smoke will penetrate the meat. Perhaps they are right. There is no doubt a time that I add the wood chips solely to torture my neighbors with the fantastic aroma.

After an hour or so, the meat starts to tighten up and become firm and the color darkens.


I’m continuing to baste with the Wicker’s and I turn the meat every so often to make sure the indirect head is generally distributed. Again, some people will tell you that once you close the lid you should never open it again until you are done. I say to them: my results are amazingly tasty so shut up.

After about 10-12 hours the meat has a nice bark on it and eventually it will start to feel “loose” – loose means it wants to fall apart on its own. This is what you want.


At this point, you remove the meat and if you’ve done things right you only need a couple of forks to pull the pork apart into delicious shreds.


The more pink you see the better – that is how far the smoke penetrated. It is juicy and delicious!

I serve this with red onion, amazing barbeque sauce, vinegar-based cole slaw, and baked beans. Many people use a bun and make a sandwich, but the bun to me is just taking up room on my plate that I could fill with pulled pork! The bark is intensely tasty and a prized treat as well.

Now I’m hungry, and I have days yet before the 4th….

Bon appetit!

Winemaker’s dinner – food porn

My husband and I are fortunate to live in the heart of Washington’s wine country. Within an hour of our home there are well over 200 tasting rooms and growing. Of course, we all have our favorites and luckily the two of us agree that Terra Blanca is top notch (and the people there are very friendly, too!). We belong to their wine club and enjoy visiting their gorgeous facility. We recently attended a winemaker’s dinner there that featured their signature wine, Onyx. This is what we got to enjoy:

This is what a wine dinner table looks like when you're having a seven course meal with seven different wines...

This is what a wine dinner table looks like when you’re having a seven course meal with seven different wines…

first course - Cocoa dusted sea scallop with roasted wild mushrooms and fig syrup. Paired with 2002 Onyx

first course – Cocoa dusted sea scallop with roasted wild mushrooms and fig syrup. Paired with 2002 Onyx

second course - Roasted beet tartare with goat cheese, sumac powers, beet chip, and arugula pesto. Paired with 2003 Onyx

second course – Roasted beet tartare with goat cheese, sumac powder, beet chip, and arugula pesto. Paired with 2003 Onyx


third course - pork with greens, red wine jus, and barley truffle risotto. Paired with 1999 and 2006 Onyx

third course – pork with greens, red wine jus, and barley truffle risotto. Paired with 1999 and 2006 Onyx

At this point we had a palate cleansing lavender scented sorbet with vanilla-honey and apple, but I didn’t get a decent photo of that. It was lovely!

fifth course - Duck breast with roasted parsnips, dark cherry gastrique and braised Swiss chard. Paired with 2000 Onyx

fifth course – Duck breast with roasted parsnips, dark cherry gastrique and braised Swiss chard. Paired with 2000 Onyx


sixth course - Lamb crusted with pepitas, with black current veal jus and potato croquette. Paired with 2009 Onyx

sixth course – Lamb crusted with pepitas, with black currant veal jus and potato croquette. Paired with 2009 Onyx


seventh course - Chocolate gateau with wildberry jam, Hawaiian sea salt, vanilla bean creme, and caramel glass. Paired with 2007 Onyx

seventh course – Chocolate gateau with wildberry jam, Hawaiian sea salt, vanilla bean creme, and caramel glass. Paired with 2007 Onyx

The pork had two pairings because the winemaker (Keith Pilgrim) and his wife (ReNae) had differing opinions of which was better. The vote of the room was for the 1999 Onyx, which means Keith gets to keep being the winemaker as that was his choice. Both were excellent, but I picked the 1999 as well.

The beet salad made me nervous as I had a traumatic beet experience as a youngster that involved a salad bar and an assumption that something was a spiced apple when it was, in fact, a beet. But I tried everything and I did enjoy the beets – I suspect the roasting had a lot to do with that. I’ll not be running out for beets, and I probably enjoyed the goat cheese more, but I cleaned my plate.

The lamb was my absolute favorite of the food dishes (though the chocolate cake was divine!). Although the 2009 Onyx is really young it is amazing already. We walked out with several bottles to enjoy at home.

All in all, if you have the chance to attend something like this – DO IT! We hired a car service so we could enjoy and be safe. It’s certainly an extravagance, but we had a wonderful evening and met some really interesting people.

Bon appetit!








Black Bean Soup is good food

When the weather gets colder soup becomes a very attractive meal. I love making soup for guests because I make it the day before and then have very little prep when people come over. This week I made black bean soup and I thought I’d share it because it’s ridiculously simple and tastes wonderful.

1 cup (ish) chopped onion

1 cup (ish) chopped carrot

1 cup (ish) chopped celery

1 seeded/chopped red bell pepper (can be yellow or orange)

1 seeded/chopped jalapeno (optional)

1 seeded/chopped habanero pepper (optional)

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cans black beans (sure, you can go to the trouble of soaking your own beans, but I don’t)

2-4 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock to keep this a vegetarian dish) – amount depends on consistency you want

I happened to have matchstick carrots on hand for my salads-in-a-jar that I make for lunch at work, so I used those this time.


I like it spicy, so I use both the jalapeno and habanero peppers. The usual warnings about handling hot peppers apply! Carrots/onion/celery are a standard mirepoix that is a great start to any soup. After all the veggies are chopped, saute them in a large pot with about 4 tablespoons of butter (don’t forget the garlic!):


Once the veggies soften (this smells divine, by the way) add the black beans (do not drain) and stock:


Let this simmer a while (there is not a specific amount of time; you just want the veggies nice and soft). While it’s simmering, taste the broth – if you feel a need you can add red pepper flakes or ground pepper, but honestly I rarely need to do that. There is plenty of great flavor in the base ingredients.

This is a pureed soup. While you can now transfer to a food processor/blender to puree that is really kind of a pain. I highly recommend a stick blender so you can puree it right in the pot:



After pureeing, I let it simmer a bit longer so I can again sample for flavor. Then remove from heat, let the pot cool a bit, and cover and put in the refrigerator overnight. This really helps the flavors meld, plus it makes the next day’s meal a snap. Just reheat on the stove, and serve with some nice bread and fresh avocado (or sour cream, or whatever sounds good to you!).



Bon appetit!

Turkey in the fryer

Yes, most people would post their Thanksgiving turkey items actually on Thanksgiving. But let’s face it, this wouldn’t do any good for anyone on Thanksgiving itself (I’ve always found those tv segments full of recipes that happen when it’s too late to be useful annoying) and I was busy eating, watching football, walking, and enjoying time with family.

A few years ago my sister bought an infrared turkey fryer and transported it to my parents’ home to be used for the Thanksgiving turkey. It worked amazingly well. After that instead of taking it back to her house she left it with us. Thanksgiving moved to my house and so did the infrared fryer. It’s hooked up to a propane tank. Once it’s heated up (about 10-15 minutes is what I allowed) you drop the basket with turkey into the fryer (turkey is oiled):

Then you put the cover on, which is important because it also heats up and helps brown the skin:

This is an eleven pound turkey; the fryer can handle up to a sixteen pound bird but we definitely don’t need one that big!

It takes just 10 minutes per pound, and you don’t do anything to it in the meantime. This means the kitchen is free for doing all the other things that go along with the meal, which is much much simpler. The fat drains out the bottom into a container drawer that can be pulled out and cleaned pretty easily. They claim you could take it to make gravy, but ick. Not gonna happen.

After 110 minutes I used a meat thermometer to make sure the bird was at least 165F, which it was. I recommend an Ove Glove or two for this stage, because it’s really really hot inside the fryer!

It does take two people to pull the basket out and get the bird out onto a plate. My husband helped here, and nearly dropped the bird. That could have been comically tragic (we wouldn’t have starved – there was plenty of other food). In the end, it looked and tasted great and there are plenty of leftovers. My apologies for this photo, but I was focused more on getting everything to the table and didn’t take the time to pull out the tripod and do this properly….

If you do a big sit-down meal for Christmas or anything else, I do recommend considering an infrared fryer. For Christmas we just lay out a ton of food and let people graze, so I’ll just be cleaning the fryer out and putting it away for next year…




I poached an egg!

This morning as I went through my twitter-feed while lying in bed (don’t judge) I ran across a tweet about a perfect poached egg (via @DrQuilter) and thought – why not?

So I favorited it because twitter doesn’t really have a “I might read this later” button and hitting “favorite” even if you’re not sure is the only thing you’ve got. This is annoying to those of us who value precision and accuracy (which are not the same thing, she said accurately) but I digress.

Later I got up and decided Saturday morning of a holiday weekend was a good time to go through a rather long list of “tweets-saved-for-later” and so I read the post about a perfect poached egg. It finished with this recipe:

If you’re going to poach an egg, and don’t want to spend 20 mins cleaning the pan here’s what to do:

  • Get some microwaveable clingfilm
  • Get a cup
  • Push the cling film into the cup, and crack the egg into the cling film
  • You should be able to tie the clingfilm around the top of the egg,
  • Drop egg into boiling water, and poach normally, it’ll taste great, and you wont have to spend ages scrubbing cooked on egg of the damn pan.

Note: I desperately want to correct the typos in this, but in the interest of accuracy I have simply pasted it in. I felt you should know.

Now, I’ve never poached an egg so “poach normally” was not actually useful instruction. I asked the internet and got “4 minutes in boiling water” as an average answer, so decided it must be true (it was on the internet, after all).

[I feel at this moment you might think I’m a pathetic cook. This is not true – I’m quite a decent cook and make up great recipes all the time. I am not a traditional cook in that I learned all the normal techniques one might expect a cook to know. But I can take stuff that is sitting around and make a tasty meal out of it, and usually healthy too. Soups are a favorite thing to make and with the coming of fall I may post a couple of my favorites. I also once took third place at a local chili contest I definitely should have won, but I digress. Again.]

“Well,” I said to myself, “the man is wending his way back home on airplanes and you’ve got a day to do whatever you want even though you already know that means yardwork even though you don’t really really want to do that it has to get done but first maybe you should try this egg-poaching thing.”

I’m a bit rambling when I talk to myself. Don’t judge.

So I went downstairs and got out the required ingredients and put a pot of water on to boil. Boiling water takes a while. I am not that patient, but I persevered. In the meantime I assembled the egg-in-clingwrap:

step 1: put the clingwrap in a bowl

step 2: crack egg into bowl-lined-with-clingwrap


Step 3: figure out how to “tie” the clingwrap around the egg


Gosh, doesn’t that look yummy?


So, I have an egg wrapped up in clingwrap…. And finally the pot of water boils. Woohoo! It’s time to POACH!

Step 4: drop clingwrapped egg into boiling water


Step 5: wait

I set the timer for four minutes. Four minutes is a surprisingly long time to stare at a clingwrapped egg in boiling water (yes yes, I took it off the boil briefly for the photo above). I made toast. I made coffee. I wandered outside and looked for frogs (spotted Uptown Frog, if you wondered). I came back in and watched the timer count down to zero.


Gosh, doesn’t that look yummy?


I set the thing onto a towel briefly to get the excess water off and then onto my plate, where I unwrapped my egg. If I never deal with hot wet clingwrap again, I’ll be fine with that. Also, perhaps some non-stick spray would have been a good idea. I will probably never know, because I am fairly certain I’m not doing this again.

uhm. Breakfast is served?

I got my toast and cut into my egg. Okay, that was pretty cool. Even though I have no doubt that Masterchef would be appalled at the technique, they could definitely not fault the yolk.

Yes. Breakfast is served.

Verdict: this egg tasted great. However, the trouble I went to was not worth the final product and I don’t think I will bother doing it again especially since I have a foolproof way to do eggs-over-easy without actually having to ever flip the egg (I will document this soon because I know you are dying to hear it now). It is much faster and also gets me the lovely yolk to go with my toast, which is all I really want anyway. Also, I make a great omelet. That’s not just my opinion. That’s the opinion of the people who have eaten my omelets. Perhaps I will share that someday too.

Do you have an easy and tasty egg recipe? Share it in the comments!

Avocado WHAT???

A friend of mine on twitter (@NomdeB – and if you’re on twitter you should check her out!) has been trying a lot of interesting recipes lately. She blew my mind when I read a tweet about how much she was enjoying avocado chocolate mousse.


I mean, honestly. I love avocado – a lot. I wish it were a little less calorific, but at least it’s healthy fats and it is very satisfying. I will have half an avocado as a side dish with dinner sometimes. Big fan. But I’ve never considered it a dessert food.

So, I was intrigued. She sent a link for a recipe (there are a LOT of recipes out there – astonishing!) and I bought a few avocados. Unfortunately, they needed more time to ripen because she had made it clear they needed to be really ripe and soft for this to work.

By the time they were ripe, I’d lost the link. She had send another in the meantime, but it was more complicated (i.e., more than three ingredients). I went online and poked around and decided that I could make it up myself. I’m like that in the kitchen. So I got out my ripe avocado, some honey, and some dark chocolate cocoa powder.

one ripe avocado for dessert, please.

I scooped my avocado out of its skin and pulled out the pit. Then I dumped some (okay, maybe three tablespoons?) of dark chocolate cocoa powder on it and some honey (again, maybe three tablespoons? I’m terrible with viscous liquid measurements). Then came the tricky bit.

You see, the recipes all assume you have a food processor. I don’t. My friend had told me she uses a blender – and while I do own one (a fairly recent acquisition) it wasn’t handy and I was ready to go. So, I dug out my inner pioneer woman and pulled out a potato masher. You heard me. I own a potato masher and I’m not afraid to use it.

I mashed and squished and mashed. Eventually it became clear that the smaller bits of avocado were not going to succumb to my potato masher skills – and nobody wants to find a green glob of avocado in their chocolate mousse. So, I got out a large spoon and started flattening the bits against the side of the bowl. This took a lot of time and dedication and I was wondering if @mamaofletters son might be able to do better given how dedicated he was to his celery/lettuce cake. I persevered until it was smooth.

Yes, I took a small taste at this point – and was amazed. It was chocolate mousse, and very rich. I divvied it into four small bowls and garnished with raspberries.

there’s avocado in this!

I offered my husband one but he demurred (mind you, it’s unclear he paid attention while I made this to realize what I was up to. He asked what I was making pretty far along into the process and I said “chocolate mousse.”) so I put three into the refrigerator and took one out to the deck.

It was gone quick. Very tasty and rich and chocolaty. The small portion was plenty and I suspect I will do this again – though I may get out the blender next time. Of course, the extra work I put into this meant I burned off calories so I enjoyed it even more!

Bon appetit.

Salad Days

After reading on my friend Rich’s site about his experiment with making salads-in-a-mason-jar I decided to give it a go myself. I find that despite my best intentions if I buy lunch during the day at work I don’t always  make healthy choices. I make sandwiches sometimes but honestly it’s a little tedious and I wasn’t always taking the time. I also took frozen meals – those are okay sometimes but I always like salad as long as it’s got good variety. By making a week’s worth myself on Sunday, I’ve got the whole lunch thing dealt with and no stress or excuses about eating healthy.

The first week I had two working lunches, so I only made three salads. The key to this is the order in which the ingredients are placed into the jar. A wide-mouth quart mason jar is what I used based on Rich’s recommendation. Since this is the whole meal, I want it to be satisfying.

The order is this:

dressing on the bottom (I used low-fat dressing and am in love with a toasted sesame ginger version right now) – I just pour it into the bottom of the jar. Not all of it will be coming back out. This is (for the dressings I’m using) 100-150 calories based on probably putting more than 2 tablespoons into the jar.

veggies that can handle being on contact with the dressing for a while come next – I put matchstick carrots on, and the coleslaw mix (just the cabbage, not actual coleslaw). I just got some broccoli slaw to try next time, which I already know I love.

I add chopped red pepper and red onion on top of that, and then chopped cucumber. I also sometimes add sugar snap peas if I have them. And grape tomatoes work really well because you don’t have to slice them. I’m all for less work.

If you want, you can also add cheese. I’ve used crumbled feta but honestly you can also skip it if you have enough variety and a tasty dressing.

Next I add a protein (hey, this is the whole meal!). I’ve gotten the pre-cooked chicken breasts and they work great. I also used chopped ham and enjoyed that. The first time I tried an experiment with lump crab meat I happened to have on hand. More later on that. Total calories for average protein input for me is about 100 calories. That means even if I add a bit of cheese, which I usually forget to do, the whole thing is still under 300 calories and is mostly colorful veggies.

Finally, cram the top with lettuce. You need a lettuce that can stand up to the test for a week – so softer varieties are probably a bad idea. I’ve been sticking with romaine (because iceberg lettuce is just stupid) and it’s worked great!


the first three salads-in-mason-jars

Here are the three I made the first week (left to right):

1. light blue cheese dressing and chicken breast

2. light toasted sesame ginger dressing and chicken breast

3. light blue cheese dressing and crab meat

All the rest the veggies were the same though others would probably tailor this more. For the assembly line version, it’s easier not to bother and just let the dressing be the variety.

Day one I took the crab salad to work.

salad and bowl, time for lunch!

I had a large soup bowl in my office, but it wasn’t up to the task.

we’re gonna need a bigger bowl…

Fortunately I also had a supply of plates:

not as pretty as it could have been

It’s great how when you dump the salad out it’s in the right order and the interesting veggies and dressing are all on top! That didn’t happen the first time since I had to move from bowl to plate. Lesson learned. I use the plate now.

So – the crab. It was fine. It was not oh-my-gosh-awesome to be worth the expense and I do worry that it might not hold up as well over time. The chicken was very tasty and has been my favorite protein addition so far.

The salads are large, flavorful, and filling. I am carving out time on Sunday (it takes about 30 minutes total) to make my lunches for the week. I have had one that I ended up waiting 8 days to eat, and it was just as fresh and tasty as the first one. I highly recommend this for busy people who want to eat well. This way, you know exactly what is in your salad. Bon appetit!