Cooking in Snohomish

The Snohomish area is growing as never before. With Snohomish county's booming population, high-density neighborhoods are appearing right next to farms that have stood for generations. Cooking in Snohomish explores the culinary possibilities in this beautiful region of the Pacific Northwest. My philosophy is to find fun and interesting recipes, and use fresh, organic ingredients whenever possible. If you enjoy cooking, please share your experiences. I love hearing others' cooking tips!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cooking guides

Sometimes, it's great to have some cheat-sheets handy when cooking. The Food Network has a section with some helpful guides. The one for Herbs and Spices is not exhaustive, but it has lovely photos. It also has a section on spice blends, which is nice.

Penzeys Spices also has a lot of information on spices, herbs, and spice blends. Their catalogs are treasure-troves of recipes and helpful cooking hints for numerous spices and herbs. Their products are varied and of the highest quality... we received a Penzeys herb pack as a wedding gift and loved it. Unfortunately, there are no Penzeys stores in the Snohomish area (or even in Washington, for that matter), but it is easy to place an order online.

Do you have any helpful cooking guides to share?

Banana Bread

Anyone else love banana bread? It seems that there are as many recipes for it as there are people. Some have nuts, raisins, and cinnamon. Some just have lots of banana-y taste. But all require you to get out the mixer and grease a baking pan, right?

Thankfully, no! If you are the proud owner of a breadmaker, then you can enjoy quick, delicious banana bread with a minimum of effort and clean-up. I use this recipe from the All Recipes website and it is great. Every time, I make it a little differently. I always add extra flavor... I usually choose between vanilla or almond extract, plus some cinnamon and nutmeg. I often throw in a about 1/2 cup of raisins as well.

I also have a delicious cranberry bread recipe. I will have to post that sometime soon.

Cooking Bacon

Do you love cooking (and eating) bacon? Probably not as much as my husband does. :) The only bummer is that cooking bacon usually equals = greasy mess.

The other day, however, I found this fantastically easy recipe for cooking bacon. The bacon came out perfectly crisp and needed no flipping or draining. It also required no grease-spatter clean-up afterward. The method was baking the bacon in the oven!

Here is a great blog entry that explains how. Also, the blog entry here has a photo that shows how to lay out the bacon in the pan (it really does help to use foil).

Mmmm... what a great idea for cooking bacon! Do you have any special cooking tips or hints?

Snohomish Produce

A little while ago, I talked about trying a local produce delivery service. I must say that I'm very pleased with The Organic Produce Shoppe so far. Their menus are varied, and the produce is obviously farm-fresh. On the first order, I received a $5 discount and a detailed confirmation phone call. I ordered the "Small" box ($21) as well as a pound of blackberry honey ($5). The produce arrived in a large plastic bag that was tucked into a sturdy coated cardboard box (the service reuses the boxes). The fresh carrots included in the order were the best I've ever tasted. They were marvelous in salads and the Garlicky Hoisin Stir Fry. The blackberry honey is from a Snohomish apiary and is delicious in tea and cooking. (By the way, if you're curious about how honey is made in the Snohomish area, take a look at this website.)

The quality of the produce is, on average, about what I expect from organic. In some cases (like with the carrots), the quality is much higher than what I've seen at typical grocery stores. In other cases (like with the organic pineapple delivered last week), the quality seems a little lower. However, I have not found a store yet that has perfect organic produce items. The trade-off with organic is that you're getting pesticide-free, non-GMO items, but you also see more blemishes. Personally, I'm completely happy living with more fragile fruit for the sake of better individual and environmental health.

What's your opinion about cooking with organic produce? Are you concerned about pesticides or do you feel that they aren't a problem?

Cooking in Snohomish resources

It's so fun to find other interesting food, cooking, and recipe blogs.

Here is my Cooking in Snohomish list of fun recipes for today:

Simply Recipes has a great selection of creative recipes, including wonderful photos. Today's recipe of the day is Marion Blackberry Shortcake (pictured above). There are plenty of wild blackberries growing in the Snohomish area (including our backyard), so I can't wait to try this recipe!


This blog doesn't focus on recipes, but it has a highly-rated Vegan Sugar Cookies recipe. The real beauty of this post lies in the gorgeous, step-by-step photos.


I've already mentioned Williams-Sonoma in general, but there are some recipes worth noting. The Plum Buckle I have not yet tried, but I intend to. I wish I'd found this recipe back when we had two plum trees in our yard!

And to avoid cooking only desserts, I should mention one of my absolute favorite recipes: Roast Chicken with Balsamic Vinegar and Sage (pictured below). I do make a few changes to the recipe. I sometimes add some other herbs (such as oregano or marjoram) for a different flavor. I also slice a fresh apple and place the pieces in the center of the chicken. Cooking the slices with the chicken imparts a lightly sweet flavor and helps keep the meat moist. The chicken comes out tender, juicy, and delicious. And the leftovers are great in salads, sandwiches, or wraps. My mom-in-law gave me a fantastic vertical chicken roaster that looks very much like this one. Cooking with this roaster is foolproof--the chicken is perfect every time!

Do you have a favorite cooking blog or website? How about any favorite Snohomish blogs or websites? Add a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Slow cooking


This Cooking in Snohomish blog is a chance to share different cooking styles and recipes. What kinds of foods do you like to try?

One of my favorite methods of cooking involves use of the slow cooker. Now, when I'm not gone the entire day, I tend to relegate my slow cooker to the back of the cabinet. But when I'm working full-time and going to school (for example), the slow cooker is a dream device.

Cooking with a slow cooker does require some experience. One thing I've found is that chicken cooks very quickly in a slow cooker. It falls apart completely if left cooking all day; thus, chicken recipes are best when the meat is supposed to be shredded (such as for BBQ chicken sandwiches or Mexican tacos).

Also, many slow cooker recipes out there rely too much on processed and canned ingredients. Many would have you cooking with salty, condensed soups and over-flavored seasoning packets every day. However, some recipes are absolutely delicious. Today, I made a French stew called "Beef Provencal" that came from a new cookbook. The cookbook is called, "The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World." I spotted it in a tiny bookshop when I was in Friday Harbor awhile ago. The owner (who seems to have personally read every book in his shop), raved about the book. He said he'd tried nearly every recipe and that they were all delicious. I was sold!

This is the first recipe I tried, and it really is marvelous. Have you tried slow cooking? Where are your best sources for recipes?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Stir fry, anyone?

So is anyone else out there a fan of stir fry? Having registered for (and received) a large electric wok for our wedding three years ago, I inititally jumped into stir frying with all enthusiasm and little skill. I was somewhat disappointed with my first efforts. The meat seemed too tough and the veggies were soggy. Also, the recipes I used didn't seem to have the flavor I was looking for.

Well, after storing that wok for years, I've finally given it another chance. Boy, am I glad I did! After experimenting with a few more recipes, I now feel I can create a fairly good stir fry dish with relative ease.

Here are a few tips I've learned:

  • All the books will tell you this, but it is key. You must have every single ingredient (even water and oil) pre-measured and ready right next to the wok. Things happen so quickly once you start the recipe that there is no time to assemble ingredients on the fly.
  • Slice each type of ingredient uniformly. I've found that beef comes out the most tender when I slice it into 3/8-inch strips. Chicken seems to be better when sliced in 3/8-inch strips.
  • Start with a good recipe and master it before experimenting.

Speaking of good recipes, here is my favorite one for stir fry. It is absolutely delicious! You make the sauce first and then make the stir fry itself. Both recipes are from RealSimple.com.

Garlicky Hoisin Sauce
Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons minced scallion (white parts only)

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

3/4 cup hoisin sauce (available in the Asian-food aisle of most supermarkets)

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Instructions:

Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the scallions, garlic, and pepper flakes, if using, and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour into a bowl. Yield: Makes 4 servings

NUTRITION PER SERVINGCALORIES 180.38(33% from fat); FAT 6.73g (sat 0.96g); PROTEIN 2.65mg; CHOLESTEROL 1.44mg; CALCIUM 27.88mg; SODIUM 1153.88mg; FIBER 1.61g; CARBOHYDRATE 27.97g; IRON 0.82mg

Nina Simond, Real Simple, OCTOBER 2005

*********************************************

Garlicky Hoisin Beef
Ingredients:
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound flank or boneless sirloin steak, thinly sliced

1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 medium sweet potato peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/3 cup water

1/3 pound (1 1/2 cups) snow or sugar snap peas

3 scallions (green parts only), cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

1 recipe Garlicky Hoisin Sauce

Cooked rice

Instructions:

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the steak and stir-fry until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high, add the remaining oil, and heat for 30 seconds. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Add the sweet potato and water. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Add the peas and scallions and cook for 1 minute. Add the Garlicky Hoisin Sauce and increase heat to high. When it starts to bubble, add the steak. Stir-fry until warmed through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately over the rice. Yield: Makes 4 servings

NUTRITION PER SERVINGCALORIES 463.88(42% from fat); FAT 22.13g (sat 4.94g); PROTEIN 27.25mg; CHOLESTEROL 46mg; CALCIUM 76.25mg; SODIUM 1213.56mg; FIBER 4.34g; CARBOHYDRATE 39.15g; IRON 3.59mg

Nina Simond, Real Simple, OCTOBER 2005

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Recipe Organizers

So how do you keep track of your recipes? If you're like me, you have miscellaneous clippings, printed emails, and those kitchen appliance manufacturer recipe booklets stuffed in various places. You also have some traditional cookbooks, with some extra recipes tucked in the pages. You have a stack of magazines that you keep just because there are some good recipes "somewhere in there." You remember a few interesting recipes you made with cookbooks checked out from the library, but you don't remember which books. You have at least one account on an online recipe-sharing website that you frequent when you need something new to try.

And when you want to plan a meal, you have no way to view all your favorite recipes in one place. Your world is a hopeless jumble of various recipes stored in electronic and hard-copy formats.

Well, I had this dilemma for years until I finally decided to get some recipe organization software. What a great idea! All the recipes I ever use, located in an easily-searchable database that holds photos, notes, and ratings. I can tag recipes by key word and even add recipes to a meal-planning calendar and shopping list.

I researched the major recipe organizers out there and settled on the software from BigOven. I'm really pleased with it so far. I have experienced a few minor bugs while working with it, but they seem to come out with a new version often. I haven't found any problems yet with the latest version. BigOven lets you try the software free for 30 days, which gives you time to get used to the program and assess whether it will really be useful for you. The company seems to be attempting to emulate AllRecipes.com's success with the user-posted recipes. There are many, many recipes in the online BigOven database; however, most of them don't (yet) have ratings or reviews. I don't know about you, but I am very hesitant about trying an online recipe without reading a few reviews.




















Anyway, if BigOven's software really takes off, then their online recipe database will certainly become more usable. In any case, the software is quite a reasonable deal for around $30. The "Screen Import" button makes it fairly easy to copy online recipes to your personal database. Typing in hard-copy recipes obviously takes longer, but can be done one-at-a-time while watching TV. My favorite feature is the keyword tags. I created a few custom tags, including one called "Favorites." That way, I know I have a roster of trusted, delicious recipes at the click of a button. All in all, very nice!

How do you keep your recipes organized? Post a comment and let me know.

Summer's bounty



I've really enjoyed exploring the fresh produce from our local farms. A few days ago, my husband and I visited the stand of Stocker Farms, which isn't far from our home. We found a wonderful selection of fruits and vegetables, including cherries, green beans, tomatoes, and even jalapeno peppers. Also available were different kinds of salad dressings, local honey, and some fun, old-fashioned types of candy.

Since I couldn't resist the jalapenos and tomatoes, I decided to make fresh salsa for the first time. I used Emeril Lagasse's Pico de Gallo recipe from the Food Network website. I didn't want to dice all the ingredients by hand, so I used my Cuisinart SmartStick chopper. Using a food processor for any chunky sauce is a bit risky, but it seemed to turn out okay. The pieces of tomato were smaller than I would like, but I think I might make a smaller batch next time, which would require less processing. In any case, the salsa was delicious enough that my hubby and I consumed the entire half-batch in one sitting! It was a bit spicy for me, however... next time, I think I'll reduce the jalapeno slightly.

By the way, I wouldn't normally mention a product by name, but I am so impressed with the SmartStick that I just have to talk about it. It's easy to use, fairly easy to clean, and works like a dream. The blender part works supremely well in hot liquids like soups, which often need pureeing to make smooth. (Pouring boiling soup into a traditional blender jar is not a safe, fun, or efficient process.) I found my SmartStick at Macys for about $50. Definitely worth the money, in my opinion.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fresh Produce

I love the varieties of produce that are available this time of year. For the best selection (including organic options), it is helpful to head to a local farm or farmers' market. King County maintains a great website that allows detailed searches by type of produce and venue. You can download the entire guide in a PDF format, too. There is also a helpful chart showing what's fresh now.

Because of the concerns about pesticides, I am interested in consuming more organic produce. Today, I'm trying a home-delivery service called The Organic Produce Shoppe. They deliver a varied menu of fresh, organic produce every week to most residents in Snohomish County. The prices seem quite reasonable for the items you get, so I'm excited to see how the quality and convenience compare. I like that the owners buy as much produce as possible from local farmers.

I'm curious where others do their grocery shopping. Do you visit specialty stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, or do you tend to frequent whichever store is closest to home?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Homemade Ravioli

Well, I experimented with something new this weekend... homemade ravioli. They were sort of "cheater" ravioli, because I used gyoza wrappers instead of making fresh dough (which I still want to do someday). But they came out marvelously well! I didn't measure anything as I made it, so all the ingredients below are approximate. Basically, you can just add what tastes good to you and then enjoy a unique culinary creation!

Here's what I came up with:

Ingredients
1/3 pound mild Italian sausage
1/4 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 package Frozen spinach
1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Mozzarella, shredded
1 teaspoon Basil, dried
1 Egg
Salt & pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 package Gyoza wrappers

Instructions
Heat skillet over medium heat. Add italian sausage, sprinkle with the garlic powder and red pepper flakes, and cook until done, breaking up the sausage as it cooks.

Meanwhile, thaw spinach in microwave until warm. Drain spinach thoroughly by wringing in an old (clean) kitchen towel until very dry (this is a Rachael Ray trick).

In a medium-size bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, mozzarella, dried basil, spinach, and egg. Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the cheeses and the meat are already quite salty).

Drain the italian sausage and place it in the bowl of a food processor along with the fresh parsley. Pulse several times to chop the parsley and the meat. Mixture should be finely chopped but not pureed.

Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Add the meat mixture to the cheese mixture and mix thoroughly. Lay out half of the gyoza wrappers and place a rounded teaspoonful of filling on each one. Moisten the inside of each remaining wrapper with water and press it onto a filled wrapper, sealing the edges to make a fully-enclosed pouch. Use a scallop-eded biscuit cutter to trim the edges nicely. Add the ravioli to the pot of boiling water, along with a splash of olive or vegetable oil to keep the ravioli from sticking together. Cook until centers are translucent and edges are at the desired level of tenderness, about three to six minutes. Carefully drain the ravioli.

Serve with a basic marinara or pesto sauce to bring out the flavor of the ravioli. [I made a simple sauce by using Kroger (QFC) brand of garlic/herb Spaghetti Sauce (comes in a tall can). I used about half the can and heated the sauce gently, adding a few tablespoons of half-and-half to jazz it up. It was delicious and tasted very gourmet. It complemented the ravioli quite nicely.]

Arrange the ravioli on the plates, pour the sauce on top, and sprinkle with additional mozzarella and some grated parmesan as desired. Note: could be made meatless by substituting additional grated cheese for the italian sausage (maybe try some different kinds, like smoked Gouda). Enjoy!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Welcome to my blog!

Hello everyone,
Well, if you couldn't tell from the blog name, I really like to cook. I don't always have time to experiment with complicated recipes, but I like to find healthy and fun recipes to make for two (me and hubby) or for a crowd.

Some of my favorite cooking sites are:
www.allrecipes.com
www.williamssonoma.com