Monthly Archives: August 2008

Refried bean and bell pepper tacos

Tacos are one of those go-to meals that I like to throw together when I don’t have a lot of time to cook. I love that they allow me to be creative, and basically decide what to put in them based on what I have in my fridge. Lately, we’ve had TONs of bell peppers. It’s that time of the year again, after all. Late summer = bell peppers and tomatoes. We’ve been getting them from our CSA, and I’ve been buying some extra ones from the farmer’s market, because they’re just so beautiful and cheap right now that I can’t resist. But when life gives you bell peppers, what do you make? A whole host of things, really. Roasted bell pepper salad, gazpacho, stuffed bell peppers, the ever so popular ratatouille….and tacos!

On this particular day, I decided to soak and cook some heirloom beans that I got from Phipps Farm Store earlier this summer. They’re called Spanish Tolosanas, and they’re lovely. The pattern on them, unfortunately, goes away by the time they’re soaked and cooked, but it’s replaced by a delicious smell and taste. They also cook down to a soft, refried texture very well, which is why I chose them for making tacos. If you don’t have time to cook your own dried beans, you can substitute a can of refried beans for this recipe.

Here are the ingredients for 4 tacos:

4 corn tortillas (I used the “Truly Handmade” ones from Trader Joe’s)
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 c. cooked beans (or 1 can refried beans)
1 hot pepper, chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
a few pinches of paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Coat a heavy-bottomed nonstick pan with cooking spray (I use TJ’s brand canola oil spray) and heat it to medium. Cook the onion for a few minutes and add the hot pepper. Let these cook together for about a minute, and add the bell peppers. After about 5-7 minutes, add the paprika, the salt/pepper and the diced tomatoes. Let the tomatoes warm up on the pan for about a minute before removing it from the heat (you don’t want to overcook the tomatoes). While all this is cooking, warm the beans in a different nonstick pan (or in the microwave if you prefer). Add salt, pepper, and paprika to the beans, if they need seasoning. Warm up the corn tortillas before assembling the tacos. After layering beans and bell peppers on your taco, top it with whatever other ingredients suit your fancy. For these, I used some shredded cheese, sour cream and guacamole, but you can also use fresh tomatoes, cilantro, salsa…etc. Here is a picture of the finished product for you. Enjoy!

Pesto Linguine with Green Beans

The end of summer is here, and for me this often means that I’m completely overloaded with basil from the garden and need to make pesto to freeze and/or eat right away. I wish that that were the case this summer, because I love having lots of pesto stored away all year round for those winter days when I really want a taste of summer, but basil costs $5.00 per sprig and is flown in from Chile. Unfortunately, my basil plant performance was substandard this year so I had to resort to buying basil to make my yearly stock of pesto. Better luck next year, I suppose!

The great thing about pesto is that it’s SUPER easy to make. On top of that it’s delicious, freezes really well, and you can do lots of other things with it besides putting it on pasta (like using it on a pizza instead of pizza sauce).

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make enough pesto to freeze some and eat some right away:
4 c. packed basil leaves
1 c. pine nuts
1 c. shredded parmesan
1/2 c. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
1 tsp salt

Wash and dry the basil leaves and throw them into your food processor (a blender would probably do the trick, although I’ve never tried). Add the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and salt. Turn on the food processor and slowly pour in the olive oil in a constant stream. Process until the pesto reaches the consistency you want. I like it pretty smooth, personally. You may have to scrape down the edges and process it again. You should get something looking like this:

If you’re going to freeze some, what I always do is put the pesto into an ice cube tray and set it in the freezer. Once it’s frozen, I take my pesto cubes out and transfer them to a freezer bag. Throughout the year, I’ll take out pesto cubes as I need them, put them in a small bowl in the refrigerator in the morning, and let them defrost until the evening. If I forget to defrost them, or don’t plan that far ahead, I’ll throw them in the microwave for 30 second increments. I prefer not to do this, though, because it melts the cheese before you can mix the pesto in with pasta and you end up with big globs of pesto rather than a nice even spread of it.

After you fill up one ice cube tray, you should have a nice-sized portion left over for tonight’s dinner. Since I had some green beans from our CSA, I decided to cook them up and toss them in with the pesto and linguine. The result was definitely tasty, and little lighter than it would have been with just pasta and pesto thrown in together. Other things you could toss in with your pasta include halved cherry tomatoes, lightly wilted spinach leaves (or arugula), or roasted bell peppers. And there you have another tasty summer dish!

Summer salsa with heirloom tomatoes and black beans

I’ve been reflecting on my past several posts recently, and I decided something. I need to incorporate some simpler recipes in fraises et tartines. I want this blog to be accessible to everyone without forcing my readers to be quite so “do it all yourself” as I am. This is just part of who I am. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of creating everything my family and I need totally from scratch. One of my favorite books when I was young was My Side of the Mountain, a story of a boy who runs away from home and lives off the land in the Appalachians. You can probably guess that I also really enjoyed Little House on the Prairie. I can still remember when my class made butter, as an adjunct project to that book. It opened up a new world for me (“You can make your own butter!? That’s awesome!!). I wondered what other common grocery store staples I could make from scratch. Anyway, I digress…I just wanted to describe where I’m coming from while still recognizing that not everyone is like this. Many people just want to make a simple, tasty and healthy dinner for themselves or their family in as short a time as possible. That’s why shows like “Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals” are so popular. Many people don’t even want to do this, but force themselves to cook at home for health or financial reasons. So all this to say that I plan on including recipes of all ranges.

Now about this salsa. I recently started making salsa when friends come over because it’s super easy, quick, and a real crowd pleaser. The great thing about salsa is that you can adapt the recipe according to your taste and what you have at home. Here is what I used to turn my salsa
from this:to this: Well almost…the beans aren’t pictured in the first one, but you get the idea!

Here is the complete list of ingredients:
1 heirloom tomato
1/2 large bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/2 c. black beans
1-3 hot peppers (the number of peppers you use depends on the hotness of the pepper you have, and your taste…if you have a habanero pepper you probably only want to use 1/2 of it, for example)
1 clove garlic
juice from 1 lime
salt to taste

Chop the tomato, bell pepper, onion, hot pepper and garlic into small chunks. Combine all of these ingredients except for the hot pepper in a bowl and stir in the black beans. Add the lime juice and salt. Then add small amounts of hot pepper at a time. Taste after each addition until you get your desired level of spice. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips and enjoy!

Oh, and by the way…this is also a local and seasonal recipe! All of the fresh ingredients (except maybe the lime) came from our farmer’s market, and the black beans came from Phipps Farm Store.

Macaron Files- Part I

If happiness were a cookie, it would be called “macaron.” At least that’s the case for me. I discovered these delightful cookies in Paris when I was about 13 years old. My mom and I were with a good Parisian friend of mine and we were out and about, enjoying the city. It was mid-afternoon and I think she sensed that we were fading and needed a little pick me up. We were near the Opéra, so she suggested that we go get macarons from Ladurée. My friend immediately perked up, and I followed suit, assuming that we were in for a treat. Indeed we were in for a treat! We each chose a different flavor of macarons (that day it was chocolate, coffee and pistachio, I believe), and slowly savored each bite.

Macarons are different from your typical cookie. They’re almost treated like culinary art in France. You can choose from so many different flavors, from your simple “vanilla” to the much more complex, “passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry” flavor. This last one was a featured flavor at Pierre Hermé last summer. (Pierre Hermé is considered one of the leading pastry chefs in France, and is particularly famous for his macarons…they’re amazing). Seeing as all of the best pastry chefs in France seem to be obsessed with creating the next amazing flavor of macarons, I naturally wanted to be part of the fun. While I don’t expect to become a world-renowned macaron pastry chef, I thought it would be fun to at least learn how to make them for personal enjoyment (and hopefully that of my friends and family too).
My first attempt turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I decided to make lemon-flavored macarons, with a homemade lemon curd sandwiched between the two cookies. They’re not nearly as pretty as the ones pictured above, but I thought they were a decent first try!
Here is the recipe I used for macarons cookies:
110 g egg whites
125 g ground almonds
225 g confectioners sugar
30 g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
After you measure out the egg whites, set them out in a bowl (uncovered) at room temperature over night. I was a bit skeptical about this myself, but when I read up on it I learned that egg whites have natural antibacterial properties. I guess this is what makes it okay to do this, although I’m no expert in egg chemistry. If you’re unsure about doing this, I also read that you can just microwave the egg whites for 10 seconds to simulate the aging process.
Combine the ground almonds and confectioners sugar and sift them together in a large bowl making sure there are no lumps. Next add the pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat them at medium speed until they start to form peaks. At this point, slowly add the caster sugar to the egg whites to make a stiff meringue. Add the egg white mixture to the almond mixture and gently fold the egg whites in. If you are going to add food coloring, do so after the first few folds.
Next, layer two cookie sheets with either a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper (don’t use wax paper). Using a round pastry tip, fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe the macaron batter onto the cookie sheets. They should be about 1-inch wide and 1-inch apart. When you’re done piping the batter, set the cookie sheets aside while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The cookies need to sit, undisturbed for at least 15 minutes before baking them. Once 15 minutes have gone by and the oven is preheated, slide the cookie sheets into the oven. Instead of closing the oven all the way, place the handle of a spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly ajar. After 5 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets and let them bake for another 5-7 minutes. Once they’re ready, take them out of the oven and let them cool. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them continue to cool. To finish the macaron process, simply spoon a little bit of your filling onto one cookie, spread it around, and top it with a second cookie. You can store these in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days. I found that they’re best when you bring them back to room temperature before eating them.
For the lemon curd, I used Alton Brown’s recipe from the Food Network. After the curd was done, I added about 2 tsp of corn starch and brought the curd back to a boil just to thicken it up (the first couple of macarons I put together with the original curd were a runny mess, so I had to adapt it).
If you want more information on making macarons, the websites I used can be found here, here, and here. I’ll report on my second attempt at making macarons soon!

Homemade Yogurt

Recently I had a request to write a post about how to make homemade yogurt. I’ve been experimenting with yogurt-making for about 6 months now. So while I’m no expert, I’ve tweeked my recipe and process significantly from my initial yogurt failures.

It’s really not too difficult, actually. You just need to find a way to keep the milk/culture mixture at a constant temperature for an extended period of time. There are various ways of doing this, and you need to figure out which will work best for you. I’ll talk more about these later.

First things first. Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 quart very fresh milk (try to use milk that’s just been opened)
  • 1 packet starter culture OR 4 Tbsp. plain yogurt with live active cultures (I like to use a small container of 1% clover organic yogurt with live cultures)
  • 1/4 c. dried milk (optional)
  • 1 sheet gelatin (optional)

The key to successful yogurt-making (in addition to maintaining a constant temperature) is to use very clean tools. Since yogurt is made by propagating good bacteria, you need to make sure there are no bad bacteria around (that’s the scientific term…really). I generally wash all of the materials I’m using in warm soapy water, and then rinse them with very hot water. Once all it nice and clean, pour the quart of milk into a heavy bottomed pot. If you’re going to use the dried milk and/or gelatin, add these now. These are meant to thicken the yogurt. So if you like thick yogurt, give them a try. Otherwise, you can leave them out. If you want to experiment and see what you like, I would try adding just the dried milk first. Then if it’s not thick enough for you, try using both on your next go.

If you added the dried milk and/or gelatin, let the milk sit for about 5 minutes. Now warm the milk up on medium heat. You’ll need a cooking thermometer for this, because the milk needs to reach 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). While the milk is heating up, fill your sink with about 1 inch of cold water, and add several cups of ice cubes. Once the milk reaches 180 degrees F, place the pot of milk into the icy sink. This will help cool the milk down rapidly.

Periodically check the temperature of the milk until it reaches about 116 degrees (no higher than 120, no lower than 110). At this point, remove the milk from the sink, and add the starter culture or yogurt with live cultures, whichever you’ve chosen to use. Mix it well with a whisk to remove any clumps.

Now here’s where you have a choice. At this point, you need to let the milk inoculate at a constant temperature for 6-8 hours. There are several ways of doing this:

  1. If you have a well insulated oven, you can heat it up to about 150 degrees (if it goes that low) and then turn it off. Pour the milk into a heat proof bowl and set it in the oven for 6-8 hours. This is the method I’d always heard about, but when I tried it, I ended up with what I started with- milk. I’m not sure if I started the oven too high and killed the live cultures, or if the temperature dropped too low and didn’t allow the cultures to propagate. Either way, it didn’t work.
  2. If you live in a really really warm place, you could just put the bowl of milk on the counter, covered with plastic wrap, and let it inoculate there. My friend from India told me that this is how they made yogurt at home. Somehow though, I don’t think it’s warm enough here. Plus, if you do live in an area where the temperature can reach between 110 and 120 degrees inside your house, you probably have a/c and it’s probably on. So scratch that idea.
  3. You can put your milk mixture into mason jars, and put them in a cooler with warm water in it. This works well and is what I did for the first several months of my yogurt-making endeavors. I actually used Nalgene bottles instead of mason jars, because I didn’t have big enough mason jars. But with all the talk about the possibly-cancer-causing-chemicals-that-maybe leeching-from-the-Nalgene-plastic, I decided I didn’t want to risk it. So…that brings me to my current method of yogurt inoculation…
  4. Yogotherm! I know this sounds like some sort of yogurt super hero, and while it may be my super hero, it’s really just a big thermos for yogurt. The set up includes a plastic bucket with a lid that fits into a styrofoam bucket with a lid. Genius! All you have to do is pour the milk mixture into the plastic bucket, place the plastic bucket into the styrofoam one, and set it aside. I love it because it really simplifies clean-up and takes all the guess-work out of the temperature maintenance.

Once your yogurt is ready, put it in the fridge to cool down before eating it. Once it’s cool, set aside 4 Tbsp. of yogurt in a clean jar for the next batch. Then serve up a bowl of your freshly made yogurt and add your favorite topping. Enjoy!

Below is a picture of my breakfast from this morning- a Strawberry Peach Yogurt Smoothie.
I used 1 peach, 1 c. fresh strawberries and 1 c. yogurt.

Oh, and if you’re interested in purchasing a yogotherm, a cheese thermometer, yogurt starter cultures, and a whole host of other cheese-making supplies, check out Ricki’s New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

Edit: Here is one more picture of the final product! I got a set of replacement jars from a fancy electric yogurt maker and use them to mix up flavored yogurts for the hubs and I to bring to work/school. Here we have plum, blueberry and marmalade yogurt, respectively. I just mix in some homemade jam with the yogurt to get our customized flavors.

Grilled California Avocado BLT Burger

For today’s post, I’m giving a shout out to Trevor’s latest cooking venture. Normally, I’m the one in the house who does all the cooking. This is mostly because (a) I enjoy cooking and (b) I’m pretty good at it. But while it makes sense that I would be the primary chef of the family, I’m always grateful when Trevor decides to try his hand at making dinner for us. He’s really improved over the last few years too! I remember, early in our marriage, showing Trevor how to prepare green beans, or how to chop an onion. Now, just 3 years later, he completed an entire meal from start to finish without any instruction from me. I’m impressed!

The inspiration for his latest food creation came from a trip to William Sonoma where he spotted his ideal cookbook: “Build a Better Burger,” published after the “Sutter Home Search for America’s Best Burgers.” He promised that, with this cookbook, he would whip up some fabulous burgers.

So we bought the cookbook, and Trevor chose to make the Grilled California Avocado BLT Burger with Carmelized Chipotle Onions. Now that’s a title. The burgers turned out pretty good. I think the only thing everyone agreed we’d change is the amount of spice. There was a bit too much kick for us…but on the bright side, we had clear sinuses.

It turns out this particular recipe can be found here on the Food Network’s website. So instead of retyping it all out, I’ll let you check the link. And for your viewing pleasure, here is a picture of Trevor attempting to take his first bite of his gigantic burger creation.

Trip to Seattle!

I haven’t posted anything new to fraises et tartines for over a week now and it’s not because I’ve lost my foodie steam. It’s because my husband and I were in Seattle! We decided to go to Seattle for vacation this summer because we have some good friends who recently moved there and we wanted to see their new digs. Plus, Trevor has always thought he wanted to move there (without ever having visited) because he loves rainy weather. Unfortunately for Trevor, fortunately for me and the rest of Seattle, the weather was beautiful. We had a great time with our friends and lived like Seattlites for a few days. We went hiking, running, walking, visited the farmer’s market, drank lots of coffee (at least I did), drank lots of local micro-brew beers (at least Trevor did), ate good seafood, and fully enjoyed ourselves.  

Here are some food and drink highlights from the trip: 
1. Small independent coffee shops– I had always heard that Seattle had good coffee, but this was definitely confirmed for me on our trip. Seattlites take their coffee very seriously. I think part of the reason Starbucks has done so well throughout the rest of the country is that people like to know what they’re getting before they get it. They have associated a specific taste to a tall low-fat no-whip mocha, and would prefer not to risk paying for a “sub par” mocha at an independent coffee shop. I have sometimes agreed with this myself. There are times when I’ve gone to an independent coffee shop and have been sorely disappointed with the quality of the coffee (a few exceptions in the vicinity of San Jose- Los Gatos Roasting Company, NETO in Mountain View, and the small turkish coffee place on University in Palo Alto). Well this was definitely not the case at the coffee shops in Seattle. Their coffee was exceptional. I might even venture to say better than Peet’s (I can’t believe I just said that out loud…sorry Alfred Peet!). Anyway, that definitely takes Seattle up several notches in my book. 
2. Ray’s Cafe– Situated right on the Puget Sound, in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, this was a great place to enjoy a nice dinner and was well worth the wait. We were seated on the deck, with an incredible view of the water, some islands, and the Olympic peninsula. All of us opted for seafood of some sort, and all were very pleased with our choices. As the evening went on and it got chilly outside, the waiters distributed blankets to the guests, which I thought was a charming solution to the consistently chilly weather. After dinner, we were too stuffed for dessert, even though were would have loved to try the Chocolate Chili Lime Souffle Cake or the Lime Creme Brulee (Notice a trend here?…We really like lime). Now we have a good excuse to go back next time we’re in Seattle. 
3. Chocolati– Oh my goodness the drinking chocolate here was amazing. It rivaled the Spicy Mayan Hot Chocolate from Chuao in San Diego (which is one of my favorite things ever). I got the Cayenne Hot Chocolate and it was a delicious combination of dark chocolate and spicy cayenne. I give it 4 stars. But beware, even in a small cup, this was very rich. I would have to be careful to limit myself if I lived near a Chocolati. 
4. Farmer’s Market– We went to a Sunday farmer’s market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. It was a lot like our markets here, only there were several stands selling grass-fed beef and pork. Looking at the prices, they were about the same as what we pay for grass-fed beef through our CSA, but with the added convenience of being able to get it at the farmer’s market. Cool! It was kind of nice walking through the market knowing that I could not buy anything. Normally I would have been tempted by the beautiful heirloom tomatoes, or the mounds of fresh berries (they have tons of them in Seattle). But this time, I only bought one small “souvenir.” A bag of culinary lavender that I plan to use in some future baking projects. I’ve had my heart set on trying to make macarons someday, and I’d like to flavor them with lavender. I’ll report back on that at some point. 
Well that’s it for our trip to Seattle (at least the food aspects). I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, but this will have to do for now. Overall it was a great trip and we’re looking forward to going back some day!