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The summer has been a whirlwind of travel, eating, hiking, friends, and more eating. A cheeseburger at a roadside drive-in after a 5 day backpack can be supremely delicious, but meals at a friends house, or at our house with friends visiting truly stand out.

Recently, our friend was coming through town on an incredibly hot day and we fired up the grill for some fajitas. He commented that "Better Chicken Fajitas" were definitely better than college cafeteria food. Even better than most fajitas you pay too much for at a restaurant. We made fajitas again for other friends at their place and nothing was more simple or more delicious.

Chicken Fajitas
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1/3 cup lime juice , from 2 to 3 limes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 jalapeno chile , seeds and ribs removed, chile minced
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, breasts pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1 large red onion (about 14 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (do not separate rings)
1 large red bell pepper (about 10 ounces), quartered, stemmed, and seeded
1 large green bell pepper (about 10 ounces), quartered, stemmed, and seeded
8 - 12 plain flour tortillas (6-inch

Mix lime juice, 4 tablespoons of the oil, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, chile, and cilantro in a small bowl. Add 1 tsp salt and 3/4 tsp pepper. Measure out 1/4 cup of the mix and reserve. Add another teaspoon of salt to the rest of the marinade. Place chicken breasts in marinade for 15 minutes. Probably a good idea to keep the marinating chicking in the fridge. Brush the peppers and onions on all sides with the rest of the oil and season with salt and pepper.

On your gas grill, light all the burners on high and let grill heat for 15 minutes. Scrape grill once hot, then leave one burner on high while turning the rest down to medium.

Place chicken on hotter side of the grill and the onions and peppers on the cooler side. Cook chicken until nicely browned (4 to 5 minutes) and then flip. Cook on the other side until chicken is no longer pink (4 to 5 minutes, or 160 degrees with thermometer). Remove chicken to plate and tent with foil. Simultaneously, keep an eye on the peppers and onions. Cook pepers until slightly charred with blistered skin, flipping a few times (about 8 to 10 minutes). Cook onions until tender and charred on both sides (10 to 12 minutes).

Don't turn off the grill yet! Set all burners to medium and warm the tortillas, cooking about 20 seconds per side. Keep tortillas warm as they come off the grill.

Slice the chicken into nice sized strips (1/4 inch) and toss with 2 T of the reserved marinade. Separate onions into rings and slice peppers into strips and toss those two with the rest of the marinade. Serve up the chicken and veggies on a platter with the tortillas and enjoy. A little bit of sour cream is a nice accompaniment, but really these fajitas shine on their own.


freaks and their fennel

Given the look the cashier gave me, you would have thought that I was buying a dead rodent or some other foul thing -- not a creamy bulb of fennel for Potato-Leek Soup with Fennel. She didn't even really ask me what it was, just sort of stared at me until I told her what it was. When she found it in her produce glossary, she still seemed wary, as if it were really something different altogether. When I was a cashier and a customer purchased something I didn't recognize or hadn't used before I liked to hear what they were going to make with it. Assuming my cashier was curious as well, I launched into a brief explanation of fennel and what it tasted like and what I was going to make with it. She didn't even look in my direction.

I feel like somewhat of an outcast in this town - what with my basket piled high with produce, oils, and whole grain breads and everyone else shoving themselves full of everything pre-packaged and artificial. I think my gardening skills are going to have to vastly improve before we settle down in a rural area because sometimes its hard enough to find what I want here in a suburban area. I remember when a friend of mine moved to Wisconsin and lamented the lack of shallots at the grocery store. Its hard to be a serious food snob sometimes.

As for the soup, its a nice twist on the usual potato-leek. The original version calls for watercress, added at the end and wilted just slightly. I wish I could find it here and I can just imagine the looks I would get for buying something that looks like it was harvested from a marsh. If you can find it, it really brightens the soup.

Potato-Leek Soup with Fennel and Watercress
adapted from Soup (Williams-Sonoma)

2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 to 3 baking potatoes (about 1 pound) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel (about 1 pound) white part sliced
6 cups chicken broth
1 bunch watercress, stems cut off

Saute leeks in olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or stockpot until soft and lightly brown (5 minutes). Add potatoes and fennel and cook, stirring occasionaly, until softened (10 minutes). Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for a half hour or so partially covered, until potatoes are quite soft and can be mashed with a wooden spoon (20 minutes or so). Add watercress, if you can find it, and cook until just wilted. Take soup off heat and blend it, in batches. Return blended soup to the stove and heat on a medium-low flame until hot. Serve with some crusty bread. A dash of Tabasco gives the soup an extra kick.



It might be a little late to write a post about the new year, resolutions, promises, et cetera. I'm sure there are those out there whose best intentions for self-improvement have already been foiled. I've been thinking about my own intentions lately, partly due to the new year, partly because I just turned 27 yesterday. Having a birthday right after the year changes over gives some added weight to resolutions, at least to me. My resolution is to ignore my silver hair. No plucking, combing over, dying - nothing. I used to think that since my grandmother, also a redhead, stayed red until her sixties; that I had it made. But as the grays come in, I discovered that she dyed in secret. I'm ready to accept the fact that I'm getting closer to thirty, about to have a "career", and that my hair won't be red forever.

So, other than that, I'm taking it pretty easy on the resolutions this year.

And now that I'm living an extended life - being away from my core home most of the year and having family/friend networks in two cities- my birthday will be drawn out over several days. I don't mind really. It gives me a great excuse to eat lots of cake, drink lots of wine, and see the people I love over and over again. Those I don't get to see now, I hope to see again before I turn 28 and start writing about wrinkles, or some such thing.


by request

Molasses-Spice Cookies
adapted from The Best Recipe

2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
12 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup molasses

Oven heated to 375 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl. In another bowl, cream butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add egg, vanilla and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients and beat until dough forms, about 30 seconds.

Roll dough into balls, using about 2 tablespoons of dought at a time. Roll balls in granulated sugar. Bake until soft and puffy, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.


winter break

Now that I can knit and bake and watch TV without feeling one iota of guilt, that's about all I've been doing since the end of autumn quarter. I only have two weeks of freedom before its back to libraries and copious coffee drinking -- so I'm trying to make the most the time. First on the agenda was the baby sweater. Knitted in a soft, soft Rowan yarn -- this is the first fully fashioned item that I've cranked out. The moment of truth is yet to come when my niece, who is in the 98% percentile of growth, tries it on. Even though she is only four months, I made it in the 9 months size and am holding my breath a little. All in all, it came out really well and props to Deborah for helping me choose the color.

Now on to cookies. For Christmas the boyfriend, his mom and I are heading to North Cascades to get a little peace and quiet and snow. I made these Ultimate Oatmeal Cookies to sustain us through vigorous cross country ski adventures. Last time Nick and I went cross country skiing it ended up with lots of falling and sore, sore bums. This time we'll have these delicious cookies to make us feel better. Made with chunks of chocolate, tart cherries, and pecans these are the cookies that eat like a meal.

Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie
from the hard working Cook's Illustrated folks

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 cup rolled oats
5 oz dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped ( about 1 cup)
4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
12 T. butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another medium bowl, combine oats, cherries, chocolate and pecans.

In large mixing bowl, or standing mixer, cream sugar and butter for 1 minute. Add egg and vanilla, and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low until combined. Add oats and chunks mixture and mix until combined.

On two large baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone liner, drop 16 scoops of dough, using 1/4 cup measuring cup. If there is any dough remaining, partition it out among the 16 cookies. Roll each scoop of dough into a sphere and lightly flatten until an inch thick. Stagger cookies on the sheet so that they are about 2 inches apart in all directions.

Place both cookie sheets in oven and set timer for 12 minutes. When 12 minutes are up, rotate sheets from top to bottom and front to back and cook for 5-8 minutes more. Cookies should look slighly underdone and be cracked on the surface. Allow to cool 5 minutes on the sheets and then transfer to wire rack.

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