Friday, October 31, 2008


On my first trip to England to visit T1's family, we landed at London Heathrow and were met by T1's Mum and Pop. We then jumped in Pop's car for the long car ride back to Liverpool. I can't remember why we just didn't fly into Manchester Airport which would have made more sense but I'm glad we didn't. In retrospect, the car ride, which took the whole afternoon gave me a chance to see the beautiful English countryside. I'm glad we drove the 200 or so miles instead. Thanks to Pop's impeccable driving skills we made the journey in good time and along the way we stopped at a Granada rest stop on the side of the motorway to stretch our legs and get a drink and a prawn sandwich. The rest stops in England seem quite civilized compared to the ones you see here in the states. It was clean for one thing and the cafeteria area offered hot plates as well as pre-packaged sandwiches. It was here in the steam table that I saw for the first time, a savory, coiled, snake-like rope of mince occupying it's own pan and bathed in it's own gravy. "What the heck is that?" I asked T1. She said it was a Cumberland sausage. I never got to try one while in England but the image of that thing sitting there waiting for my fork remained in my mind all these years.

The Setting: Solvang Countryside

Fast forward to last week. We were in Solvang on our road trip. I did a little research on Solvang before the Folks came out and ran across an image of what I thought was a Cumberland Sausage. Turns out it was a Danish sausage called a Medisterpolse. Looked very similar to my memory of a Cumberland sausage. We went to a local supermarket in town called Nielsen's to pick up provisions so I beelined over to the refrigerated meat case and that's where I found the Medisterpolse. Needless to say, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to try this thing and bought it.

Medisterpolse from Nielsen's
(my thumb went through the package)

The next morning I cooked it up in our kitchen equipped room to have for breakfast with some scrambled eggs, potatoes, fruit, pastry and bagels.

Medisterpolse Done!

Now That's a Breakfast!

It rocked! Although the label doesn't reveal the ingredients, (sometimes when it comes to sausages, you're better off not knowing) I could taste perhaps pork or veal and a hint of mild spice like allspice or clove maybe. Anyway, it all went together well. A few years ago while visiting Solvang, I had a sausage with an order of aebleskivers and it was served on the plate with some berry jam. I can't remember if it was Medisterpolse. It didn't share the same coiled shape, but the jam complimented the sausage nicely. For this Medisterpolse, I ate it with a good strong mustard.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cranberry Scones

Hot Cranberry Scones

I'm admittedly not much of a baker. Unlike stove top cooking, baking is more of a science, demanding precision and perfect timing for best results. I always end up taking a peek and letting all the heat out of the oven, sabotaging the outcome. My baking repertoire is limited to recipes that come with pre-measured ingredients packaged in a handy box. "just add wet ingredients to form a dough. Don't overmix". That much I can manage.

I've never eaten a scone until I met T1. Come to think of it, I don't think I even knew what one was. After she turned me on to them, I was hooked. They're usually pretty dense, fluffy on the inside, crumbly-even crunchy on the outside with just enough sweetness.

For some reason I was craving scones this morning. We didn't have any scones in the house but we did have a package of scone mix my Mom sent to us with an excellent personal review. I read the back of the package and all it required was a cup of milk and some melted margarine or butter. That much we had. Just to be fancy, I tipped in a bag of dried cranberries (craisins) in the mix and 20 minutes later, I had 10 hot, fluffy scones.

Straight out of the oven

The best way to eat scones is hot with a dollop of English clotted cream, a sort of halfway between cream and butter, and jam. We usually get jars of clotted cream from the Continental Shop British store in Santa Monica and sometimes find it at Cost Plus World Market. Today, Kerrygold Irish butter stood in for the clotted cream. Luckily, we had a fresh jar of Hartley's Best Blackberry Jam "proper English stuff!".

Cranberry Scone with Butter and Jam

If you find yourself in the mood for hot scones, see if you can find Ivy Cottage Original Scone Mix. It lived up to my Mom's recommendation and is so easy to make even a baking challenged guy like me can manage to crank them out with convincing results. Craving satisfied!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lemony Green Bean, Radish and Fennel Salad

Lemony Green Beans with Radish and Fennel

This is an easy salad of haricot verts, radish and shaved fennel to go with the Portuguese cod fish stew last night. Just parboil beans until tender, rinse and cool, slice radishes, and thinly shave fennel bulb using a mandoline. Thicker pieces of fennel can be tough so make sure they're nice and thin. Toss the ingredients and dress with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper. Garnish with chopped fennel fronds and lemon zest.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Caldeirada de Peixe

Caldeirada de Peixe

Trolling around the internet for something to make for dinner tonight, I came across this recipe for caldeirada de peixe or "Portuguese fish stew". I started my search by assembling the ingredients I had on hand, frozen wild Alaskan cod fish and potatoes, and came across this recipe which intrigued me.

I remember as a kid my Grandpa used to bring home huge, whole, split salted cod fish called bacalao or bacalhau. He would char pieces of it right over the gas stove and we would strip it up and eat it over rice, salt and all, with hot ocha tea poured over it ochazuke style. The cod would soften as it rehydrated and the salt would flavor the tea turning it into a kind of dashi broth. As I grew older, I learned that bacalao was brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese who used it in their cooking. In fact, the Portuguese took it wherever they traveled as did the Spanish (I guess just in case the local fish weren't biting). Bacalao in one form or another can be found all over the Mediterranean from Turkey to Morocco, to the Caribbean, South and Central America and Hawaii. You can probably map the 17th century global economy by documenting the presence of salt cod around the world but I won't bother doing that, I just like to eat it.

So how did I come up with caldeirada de peixe? By googling cod fish, potatoes and Portuguese. Seemed like a natural combination. Although this stew is not made with salt cod, my memories of bacalao put me in the right mindset to cook something new using what I had.

I browned a sliced onion, a red pepper and a couple of minced garlic cloves. Next I added a layer of potatoes and chopped tomatoes. The recipe I found called for piri-piri sauce which I didn't have so I improvised with some cayenne and turmeric. Next was the secret ingredient, ground nutmeg. Nutmeg isn't a spice I use very often so I was surprised at how well the nutmeg went with the cod and the potatoes. I put in just enough for the "What's in this?" factor, but the stew could have stood up to a pinch more. Fish broth or clam juice would have been perfect in this recipe but all I had to work with was chicken broth so I used a couple of cups of that instead. The addition of a cup of white wine would have sealed the deal. The pan was covered and allowed to simmer for about fifteen minutes and right before the potatoes were done, I seasoned the broth, added the cod and a handful of chopped parsley (cilantro would work equally as well), and let it cook gently for another ten minutes or so.

Then end result turned out well I thought. The cod was flaky and the broth was rich, flavorful and just slightly spicy hot. The ground nutmeg, however, really pulled this dish together. It would have definitely been even better had I had all the ingredients on hand. Next time I'll make sure I do. This one's a keeper!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup

T1 was busy in the kitchen while I obliviously goofed around on the computer in the next room. I had no idea what she was up to so I just left her to it because I knew I had something good and tasty to look forward to. Before I knew it, she comes into the room announcing "lunch is ready". Wow! I know time can fly by especially when I'm mindlessly surfing around. It's odd how at times when on the computer, it's almost as if you live an out of body existence. Kind of like the movie Altered States :) (Now if that reference isn't dating myself...) Anyway, in what seemed like a few minutes, or just enough time to open a can and heat up some soup, T1 made a pot of market fresh home-made vegetable soup from scratch.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Beans Beans They're Good For Your Heart...

Romano Bean and Kidney Bean Salad

We eat a lot of beans in this household. You've been warned!!! Just kidding. We eat them because we like them. They taste good, fill you up, can be prepared in many ways (although we eat a lot of them in salads like this) and they're really good for you. There is some truth to the childhood song, "Beans beans their good for your heart...". With the amount of fiber they contain, anywhere from 9 to 22 grams per half cup, eating beans may hold the key to lowering cholesterol, controlling hypertension, aiding in digestion and keeping your lower insides healthy. I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on T.V., but there is a lot of information out there regarding the benefits of a high fiber diet. Look it up for yourself. As for the second line of that childhood song, who doesn't let one rip once in a while? That's Mother Nature's sense of humor.

Okay, now that you've completely lost your appetite, these are Romano beans with kidney beans, parsley, olive oil and red wine vinegar. One bean short of a three bean salad.

Get Stuffed

Stuffed Pimiento Pepper

These little pimiento peppers from the farmers market were the perfect size for stuffing. The farmer I bought them from told me they would be super sweet and they sure were. They remind me in shape of those miniature pumpkins you find in the supermarkets this time of year with pumpkin like ridges.

I cut the tops off and hollowed them out with a spoon. The stuffing was a mixture of a baby garbanzo bean, toasted couscous blend from Trader Joe's, some minced garlic, minced onion, minced mushrooms, grated Parmesan cheese and mashed up anchovy filets. The couscous was cooked and drained and the rest of the ingredients were sauteed in a little olive oil to draw out the water in the mushrooms and to combine the flavors. After cooling down a bit, everything was mixed together and stuffed in the pepper containers. The peppers then went into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes and they were done. We had the stuffed peppers with a little tomato sauce and pan fried salmon.

Pan Fried Salmon with Stuffed Pimiento Pepper

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes with Bocconcini and Basil

Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes

The zebra heirlooms I found at the farmers market last Saturday couldn't have been more perfect. They were vine ripe and firm with tight skins. The flavor was intensely bright and tomatoey. There was even a slight berryness to the finish which makes sense seeing as how tomatoes are classified as a fruit. Eat enough supermarket tomatoes and it's easy to forget what tomatoes are supposed to taste like.

Zebra Heirloom Tomato Caprese

When it comes to produce this fresh, simpler is better so I chose to prepare them in a classic Caprese style salad with mozzarella bocconcini, some basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and fresh cracked pepper.

Close up

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Santa Monica Farmers Market

Santa Monica Farmers Market Cornucopia

This morning I paid a visit to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. The market, located at the intersection of Arizona and the Third Street Promenade has always been a favorite of mine and is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Saturday market has always been a little more relaxed and casual than the Wednesday version with less hustle and bustle and fewer professional chefs making serious purchases to compete with. Although there are half the stalls as found midweek, you can still find just about anything your heart (or stomach) desires as long as it's in season and grown locally-or more or less locally. I've heard of one farmer who travels all the way down from the Sacramento area to attend the Wednesday market.

Shopping at any Farmers Market makes good sense. I may not be a full fledged practitioner of locavorism (yet), but the quality, freshness and flavor of locally grown produce can't be beat and I may have to convert. It's a no brainer that eating locally grown food is good for our environment, besides, I'd rather put my money in the pockets of our farmers that do all the hard work rather than the middle men and corporations that drive the transglobal food industry. An added bonus is that in general, farmers are really down to earth folks (no pun intended) and answer any questions you may have and generously share their favorite recipes and preparations for their produce. If they don't already have samples out, just ask and most will give you a taste. Try doing that at your local supermarket.

Beautiful Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes

Yellow Lipstick and Pimiento Peppers

On this visit, I found several different squashes, Japanese eggplant, hydroponically grown arugula and Chinese celery, some cool looking yellow lipstick and pimiento peppers, lots of fresh herbs, two different types of fingerling potatoes, some amazingly crisp and sweet cameo apples (thanks for all the samples apple lady), bok choy, gai-lan, long beans, romano beans, and the last of the zebra heirloom tomatoes. I also picked up a nice whole wheat loaf and some corn rye from the Breadman.

With all this great stuff to work with in the kitchen, I can't wait to put paint to canvas and see what I come up with.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Steak and Potato Soup

Steak and Potato Soup

What a difference a day makes. As I mentioned in the previous post, it's been really hot lately. Well today, Mother Nature gave us some much needed relief from the heat. I woke up this morning and it was drizzling and overcast. Now this finally felt like fall. I don't even think the temperature topped seventy degrees. It was perfect soup weather.

We had some leftover steak in the fridge. It got sliced up and put in the pot along with a cubed potato, onions, carrots, green beans, sliced crimini mushrooms and beef broth. I seasoned the pot with some dried Italian herbs, a little garlic powder, a dash or two of Maggi seasoning, salt and cracked pepper. Simple yet effective especially on a cool day like today. Goes great with a crusty baguette.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Like a Heatwave

Yesterday it was unbearably hot. The temperature was in the mid nineties all day but felt more like a hundred. What's going on? It's already October!

Extremely hot weather always seems to diminish my appetite. I don't feel like eating anything heavy. The thought of cooking over a hot stove may sound nice when it's cold and dark outside but yesterday felt like August in Death Valley-inside the house as well as outside. We needed something simple and light.

I've always liked the concept of making a meal out of several small plates. Eastern Mediterranean cultures have meze, the Spanish have their tapas, the Japanese have izakaya, in Hawaii they serve pupus and so on. Most of the savory small plates that comprise these ways of eating are traditionally served with drinks but can also be served as stand alone appetizers or more often here in L.A. these days, are combined and shared to make up a whole communal meal. What's nice about this style of eating is that it's casual, not confined to courses and you get a taste of everything. Go back for seconds of your favorites or order another plate. Have some of this and some of that, have a bit to drink and eat a little more. Our Christmas eve tradition is to start with a nice breakfast then pull out all the stops and get right to work cooking little dishes of our favorites and eat them all day into the night, something I look forward to all year. Sorry, I got off on a tangent... back to last night's dinner.

Cannellini Bean Salad

Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta

Pasta with Shrimp, Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Basil, Olive Oil and Toasted Garlic

I wouldn't really define last nights dinner as any of the above ways of eating (alchohol wasn't included and there wasn't a lot of variety) but if it had anything in common, it was made out of three small light dishes. The first was a refreshing cannellini bean salad dressed with olive oil and lime juice. The second dish was brussel sprouts with red onion and pancetta (a dish I copied from a local Italian restaurant) and the filler was pasta with shrimp, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and toasted garlic. It was light, that's for sure. The flavors where more summer like than fall but felt appropriate for our hot weather. At least I didn't sweat through dinner.