Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meatless Mondays...Meatless Everyday?

This is Bodhi doing what Bodhi does best...enjoying long naps in his cozy bed of hay. You should hear him sigh contentedly, and you should hear the way he saws logs--puts my husband's snoring to shame.

Bodhi lives at The Gentle Barn an animal rescue farm that takes in severely abused animals and rehabilitates them with medical care, massage, acupuncture, good eats and lots and lots of love.

Perhaps you've heard a little about the The Gentle Barn from Ellen DeGeneres, who recently auctioned off a hunk of Justin Beiber's hair as a fundraiser for the organization. The winner paid $40,000 for the...um...memorabilia (?) and all proceeds went to The Gentle Barn.

Founded in 1999, by Ellie Laks (now married to Jay Weiner), The Gentle Barn seeks not only to rescue animals, but also educate children, especially those at high risk. Each week, groups of troubled kids visit the barn to interact with the animals and learn a little about the sanctity of life, treating others with respect (humans, animals and themselves), and responsibility. On Sundays, The Gentle Barn is open to the public from noon to 4, and folks can brush, give belly rubs and feed the animals for a $5 per person donation. There's a snack bar, and picnic tables where you can bring a (vegetarian only out of respect for the animals) lunch.

When we went on a recent Sunday, the kids fed the horses carrots in the barn...

And went to the gated area to feed and love the chickens, turkeys, goats, lambs, pigs, emu, peacock and more...

And we didn't leave before they hugged two adorable baby cows....

Everyone was encouraged to hug a cow that day. In return, The Gentle Barn received a $1 donation for every cow hugger, and we each got a bracelet that said, I hugged a cow at The Gentle Barn.

Shortly after our visit, our daughter declared that she didn't want to eat animals any more, though she did admit that quitting the bacon and sausage was going to be hard. I always make an effort to buy meat that is raised as humanely as possible, but I support her in this journey and had an inkling that her tender heart would lead her in that direction sometime anyway. And since we try to go meat-free at least a few times a week, this will encourage us to do it more often, which is good for us, good for the planet...and good for Bodhi and his animal friends too.

Last night, I re-instituted our Meatless Mondays with an incredible roasted tomato soup, served with grilled cheese sandwiches. My mom had made the soup earlier in the week, and said it was the best tomato soup she had ever had. She's right. The smell of the roasting veggies was enough to make me swoon, but their deep and earthy flavor lended a satisfying heartiness to a totally vegan dish. I've added this soup to the short list of favorites. And it's great to make with "off season" tomatoes (even ones from the farmers' market aren't that great this time of year), because the long and slow roasting brings out their richness and makes them taste....well, taste more like tomatoes.

So did my newly minted vegetarian daughter love this soup as much as I did? Not so much. In fact, she didn't like it at all. Sigh. This is going to be a long journey and an exercise of patience on my part--but that's parenthood, right?

I hope you can visit the The Gentle Barn and see all their wonderful animals in person!

The Gentle Barn
15825 Sierra Highway
Santa Clarita, CA 91390

Or follow them on Twitter or Facebook!

Roasted Tomato Soup
Printable Recipe

By slow roasting the veggies, this soup has an incredible richness and depth of flavor. Though I chose to top it with a bit of shaved Parmesan cheese, this soup is otherwise completely vegan...and completely fabulous. Though sugar wasn't in the original recipe (adapted from here), I added a pinch because my tomatoes were a bit on the acidic side. It was enough to take the edge off. I also added additional salt, because I used low sodium vegetable stock.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Yield: serves 6


3 pounds of Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
1 medium onion, quartered
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons, chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 (6 ounce) can of tomato paste
6 cups of vegetable stock
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Basil leaves, thinly sliced (for garnish)
Shaved Parmesan (for garnish)


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Place tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and thyme on a sheet pan and toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Flip the tomatoes and peppers so they are skin side up and roast for 45-50 minutes until they are lightly charred and tender.

3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Scrape the veggies (and any juice) into the pot and stir to combine. Add the stock (I added 6 cups of water and 3 packets of veggie stock concentrate) and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Let the soup cool for at least 10 minutes. Blending hot soup is very dangerous, so do not skip this step. Transfer the soup in batches to blender (or use an immersion blender). The blender should only be about 1/3 full. Carefully vent the corner of the lid to allow steam to escape and pulse until the soup is blended thoroughly. Pour blended soup into a large bowl and continue blending the rest of the soup until it is all smooth.

5. Pour soup back into the large stockpot, and taste for seasoning. Add a pinch of sugar (if using), salt and pepper to taste. Heat the soup to warm through, ladle into bowl and top with basil and Parmesan cheese if desired.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Risotto Cakes with Crispy Cheese Curls

I promised you a recipe for leftover risotto. And I thought I'd drop by and share it with you before I trot off and enjoy my 36th birthday. I don't have much planned...just a quiet day with my loves. I was greeted in bed with some homemade cards (aren't those the best?) and some hot coffee too. And now I'm enjoying the peace of the morning, sitting at my sunny kitchen table and listening to my favorite Pandora station. Life is good.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and wish you a very happy FRIDAY.

Risotto Cakes Topped with Crispy Cheese Curls
Printable Recipe

These are perfect for lunch, as an appetizer or for a light dinner. It works well with any kind of leftover risotto, cold is best so they hold together better. I used this recipe. I served these crisp cakes on a bed of arugula that I tossed with some olive oil and orange muscat vinegar. It was a simple and satisfying meal...and one that I could eat a lot more often.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: serves 2 as a main portion, 4 as an appetizer


2 cups of cooked, leftover risotto
1/4 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan cheese


1. Using damp hands, shape the risotto into 8 small patties. Place the breadcrumbs on a plate, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge each patty through the crumbs, coating both sides. Set the coated patties on a plate.

2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drop in cheese by the tablespoonful and cook until golden brown and melted, about 1-2 minutes. Then flip and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes more. While cheese is still hot, shape around a chopstick into a spiral shape, if desired. They will crisp up like crackers as they cool. Set aside.

3. Heat olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add risotto cakes and cook for 3-4 minutes, carefully flipping when they are golden brown. Cook for 3-4 minutes more on the second side.

4. Serve over a bed of arugula, tossed with olive oil and vinegar, if desired. Top with cheese curls.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Car Bomb Cupcake

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! If you've been around this blog for any amount of time, then you know that we love to celebrate just about anything. Saint Patrick's Day is no exception--after all, who couldn't use a little luck of the Irish every now and again? And there is a wee bit of Irish blood in running through our veins too...just enough to make it official. (And I've heard somewhere that my ginger-hued hair makes me related to the Leprechauns.)

And like those crafty little Leprechauns, I've been making a little mischief myself--in the kitchen. The plan is to have corned beef and cabbage for dinner, as always, but this year I've thrown in a side of colcannon made with both kale and cabbage, and for dessert...Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes.

Have you ever had an Irish Car Bomb? I really have no idea where they originated, but they are probably a riff on the popular Sake Bomb. Basically you fill a pint glass 3/4 full with Guinness then sink a shot glass that's half Irish Whiskey and half Bailey's into the beer. Then the lucky imbiber must guzzle the entire thing, before the Bailey's curdles (which doesn't take any time at all). I've tried this once in my life--and once may be enough. The flavor is really surprisingly good, but drinking such a heavy beer so quickly is quite...the challenge.

An Irish Car Bomb tastes like dessert...almost like a Mudslide. It's thick and creamy and its flavors lend very, very well to these cupcakes. The cake batter is made with chocolate and Guinness, then after they are baked they're filled with some ganache spiked with whiskey. Finally they are topped with a butter cream frosting made with Bailey's. The resulting (adult-only) cupcake borders on being obscenely rich, but it is unbelievably delicious too. One of these Irish Car Bombs is most certainly not enough. Well, on second thought, if I want to fit into my jeans, one is most definitely enough.

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes
Printable Recipe
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Oh my goodness. This cupcake is really the best cupcake I've ever made...and I've made a lot of cupcakes. It's so moist, in part due to the injection of whiskey-spiked ganache, and the Bailey's butter cream frosting is simply out of this world. Make these for Saint Patrick's Day--or for your birthday. Or both! The Guinness in the batter will bake off, but the alcohol is very much present in the other parts of the cupcake. If you are serving these to children you may want to omit the whiskey in the ganache and substitute regular cream for the Irish cream in the frosting. Or not.

Prep time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: 2 dozen


1 cup butter
1 cup Guinness beer
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 extra large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your muffin tins with paper liners. You will need 20-24.

2. Make the cupcakes. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When butter is just melted, remove from heat and stir in the beer and cocoa powder. Cool to room temperature. Whisk in the sour cream and eggs until smooth.

3. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the chocolate/beer mixture until smooth, taking care not to over-beat the batter.

4. Fill paper muffin cups 3/4 of the way full with batter. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

5. Meanwhile make the ganache. Heat the cream to almost simmering a small pot. Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and pour the hot cream over them. Whisk until chips have melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the butter and whiskey. The ganache should be smooth and glossy. Carefully transfer the mixture to a piping bag, fitted with the long, narrow attachment.

6. Insert the piping tip into the center of each cupcake and fill slowly with ganache until you see the top of the cupcake begin to swell a bit.

7. Make the frosting. Beat the butter until smooth. Sift in 3 cups of the powdered sugar and add the Bailey's. Beat until frosting is smooth and a spreadable consistency. If necessary, add up to 1 cup more of powdered sugar.

8. Frost each cupcake sparingly, using a piping bag (or otherwise just small plops of frosting will do). These cupcakes are best eaten the same day...but will last up to one day more. Store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yes, Peas!

A season of change is upon us. My rose bushes are in full bud, the peas are ready to harvest, and the days are longer and warmer and sunnier. I love this time of year--the time when I can open the windows and let in the breeze which smells of jasmine, cut grass and citrus blossoms. The birds feel it too and are a mass of righteous chirping in the trees (and pooping on my window box).

Spring is nature's way of extending her hand, offering up the promise of much bounty in the months ahead.

There's the promise of cooking and eating outdoors...of late bedtimes, and fireflies, and sandy toes. The promise of family time and leisure after so much hard work. And the promise of renewal and restoration after loss, heartache and tragedy.

The clustercuss of events in Japan has captivated my attention these past few days, as I'm sure it has yours. It is unfathomable that life and livelihood can be lost in an instant. And it has been an poignant reminder that life is all too short and all too fragile.

If you haven't already, please make a contribution to help the survivors of this horrific triple-punch of quake, tsunami, and nuclear catastrophe. And then, after you've made that donation, you must make this risotto which is for me, the paramount comfort dish.

This risotto is so rich and creamy, and each tender bite is chock full of the springtime tastes of wild arugula, leeks and home-grown peas. And it's topped with crispy bacon...need I say more? The recipe makes a lot (we are big fans of leftovers for lunch), and I will post a recipe tomorrow showing you how to make this leftover risotto, or any leftover risotto, into something really, really special.

Spring Pea, Leek and Arugula Risotto

Printable Recipe

Freshly picked peas, leeks and wild arugula are the stars in this creamy spring risotto. Risotto is very simple to make, though it does require one to stir the pot. I highly recommend that you turn on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the process--pour, stir and simmer (and sip). Repeat.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: serves 4 with leftovers


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup minced shallot
2 leeks, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock, simmering (I heat mine in a pyrex pitcher in the microwave)
1 cup freshly shelled English peas
3 large handfuls of arugula, wild or otherwise.
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)


1. Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add rice and stir until grains are coated with the oil and butter. Add the wine and simmer until it is almost completely absorbed.

3. Add one cup of warmed stock to the rice. Simmer gently, and stir occasionally, until broth is almost absorbed. Continue in this way, adding broth in one cup increments until all the broth has been used, and rice is tender and creamy. It should take around 20 minutes.

4. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in the peas. The heat from the rice should cook them sufficiently. When the rice is done, stir in the arugula, one handful at a time, until it is wilted. Stir in the cheese and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary.

5. Serve the risotto immediately in wide bowls, topped with additional Parmesan cheese and crispy bacon if using.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For the Love of Citrus...and Wine

Last week I had the opportunity to take a carload of 13 year old boys to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Not only did we see a fantastic exhibit all about tracing one's family history, but we also had a brilliant "only in LA" moment as we were walking to a nearby park to eat our picnic lunches. Two men who lived in a small house that was nestled between giant apartment buildings, had moved their futon to the front yard so they could sunbathe. Greased and bronzed from head to tow, these swimsuit clad beauties (only one in a Speedo) were lounging at lunchtime, sipping what appeared to be sangria from rather large wine glasses.

Of course the boys snickered at the sight...we don't get much of that in suburbia...but what interested me most was their beverage--such a perfect refreshment on a hot day (it was 86 degrees and much too warm to be wearing a sweater, I might add). I was so parched that I almost skipped across the street to join them, but alas, I had a greater responsibility that day as an official adult chaperone.

But you can bet that when I returned home, I made a beeline for my produce drawer, still full of citrus from the farmers' market. Ten minutes later, I had a large pitcher of sangria chilling in the fridge. Fruity and tart, thirst quenching and light, it was the perfect way to end a very long day...and a very long week.


This beverage is fruity and tart, with a punch of citrus brightening every sip. It tastes best when it has a chance to chill for at least two hours, so plan accordingly. Bring it on a picnic or serve it at your next barbecue. Blood oranges are a seasonal treat (winter in SoCal), but regular navel oranges are a fine substitute.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: serves 6


1 blood orange, cut into wheels
1 lime, cut into wheels
1 lemon, cut into wheels
6 ounces simple syrup
4 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
1 bottle of dry, red table wine
6 ounces brandy


1. Place the orange, lime and lemon slices in a large pitcher, along with the simple syrup. Muddle (smash) them with a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon to release their juices.

2. Add the orange juice, lime juice, wine and brandy and stir well.

3. Place pitcher in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 36 hours.

4. Placed ice cubes in 6 glasses, fill with sangria and garnish with the fruit slices.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Salted Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies. Yes.

I like my sweets with a touch of salt, and apparently I'm not alone. Salted desserts can now be found just about everywhere, and for good reason--salt rounds out the sweetness of baked goods and other treats. Chocolate dipped pretzels, salted caramel ice cream, and bacon topped cupcakes abound, each a study in contrasting flavors.

I've made salted desserts before. One of my favorites is the Butterscotch Budino that's served at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. In today's recipe, I take a standard oatmeal cookie, load it with butterscotch chips, and then instead of adding salt to the batter, I sprinkle the top with a few flakes of Maldon salt.

Maldon salt is a pure sea salt from England that has large, delicate flakes. I typically use it to finish dishes (it tastes wonderful sprinkled on veggies or in salads) but it works well atop baked goods because it doesn't melt into the batter as it bakes, like other salts can do. You can find it at Whole Foods or other specialty grocers, or online. A little goes a long way and a box will last you quite awhile.

This recipe only makes two dozen cookies....you may want to double it in case your family loves them as much as mine did!

Salted Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies
Printable Recipe

These cookies are thick, chewy and topped with a sprinkle of flaky Maldon sea salt. Make sure you have a glass of milk at the ready.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 22 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen


1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
2/3 cup of light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
Maldon salt for sprinkling (or other coarse, flaky sea salt)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Beat butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until smooth.

3. In another smaller bowl, whisk flour and baking soda to combine. Add to butter mixture and beat until smooth. Beat in oats and butterscotch chips until evenly combined.

4. Measure out rounded tablespoonfuls of dough and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of salt.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookie is lightly golden brown. Remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Basic Chicken Stock: A Must-Have Skill!

Everyone should know how to make chicken stock! Do you? It's the simplest thing, really, and the perfect way to use every last scrap of chicken from the one you roasted the other night. You do know how to roast a chicken, don't you? Good, I thought so.

Homemade chicken stock is so very much better than the stuff you can get in a carton or can. So! Much! Better! It actually tastes like chicken (not salt and metal). The best thing is, you just can clean out your veggie drawers when you make it, as wilty celery and parsley and past-their-prime carrots can still make a wonderful and rich stock. And though it must simmer for hours in the pot, you are free to do whatever it is that your day requires--like laundry, laundry and laundry if you have 3 filthy kids (like I do). Your house will fill with the most homey aroma and you will feel so thrifty, smart and wonderfully domestic--especially if you squeeze in a few loads of laundry in the meantime.

Basic Chicken Stock

Printable Recipe

Use this flavorful stock to make soup or risotto, or to simmer your favorite grain. I like to store mine in zip top bags flat in the freezer so it takes up less space. Let it cool in the fridge and skim off the solidified layer of fat if you desire a nearly fat-free, but still flavorful stock.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 3 hours
Yield: 1 quart


1 chicken carcass
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, quartered
5 sprigs of parsley
2 stocks of celery (with leaves is preferred)
10 peppercorns
large pinch of salt


1. Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with filtered water.

2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 hours or until the liquid has reduced by almost half.

3. Strain out the solids and discard. Refrigerate stock in a large pitcher or bowl until the fat solidifies. Scrape off the fat, and use as desired, or freeze.