Pumpkin Scones with Walnuts and Coconut

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I can’t believe I’m about to put this in writing, but… I’ve never been much of a reader.  Sure, at a young age I enjoyed curling up with my mom, dad or siblings and listening to their animated voices read me children’s books.  Who doesn’t?  It’s rather ironic I suppose, graduating college with a degree in journalism, yet feeling a lack of love or, sometimes even… like, for reading.  For so many years I was assigned what authors or books to read – the forced selection didn’t sit well with me, nor did improve my nonexistent motivation to power through a book, cover to cover.  In stark contrast to my last post (see “I am Food”), the absence of this leisure activity in my life has given way to my identity as the black sheep of the family.  Everyone is a reader.  Everyone gets absorbed in a story with the flip of a page and can finish a new book in one day, or hours even.  A foreign feeling for me at this point in my life.  (How sad is that?)

I’m here to say I may be moving up in the literary world (and stepping out of that black sheep suit).  Though not the first time, I’ve sought reading inspiration from Powell’s – perhaps you’ve heard of Portland’s wondrous land of used books – selection of Gastronomic Literature.  I’m always surprised how many must-reads I’m able to retrieve from the rows, but lately the number of books I find myself stuffing between my arms and chin is alarming.  Taking up reading is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for me and my down time, but it proves to be a tempting and costly pastime – old news for the everyday (for every year of their life) reader, I would assume.

A few weeks ago, following an afternoon visit to Powell’s, I perused my stack of to-read books (yes, mostly food-themed) and dug in to book number one.  As my eyes met the words, and I lapped up every food description-produced crumb or flavor I could get, I let myself get completely lost in the story for what felt like the first time in a very long time.  -A nice escape from the monotonous and draining pace of everyday life, if I do say so myself – As I was lost in the pages of Jenna Weber’s White Jacket Required, something (and I can’t say what it was) brought me back to elementary school and the days of occasional read-ins.  What happened to hiding out in a corner with your favorite pillow, blanket, books and snacks, jammies on, and just reading?  Little consideration was needed before my mom and I agreed to put on the first Lawson Family Read-In, complete with invitation crafting and menu organization.

Sunday marked this joyous event.  A day full of books, blankets, coffee and tea, pumpkin scones, cheese fondue and chorizo chili, it was nothing short of successful.  There’s a good chance I’ll push to make this a recurring, multiple times a year kind of day.  You would too if you gave it a shot!  Given the feedback I received on my pumpkin scones with walnuts and coconut, I’d say breakfast stole the show!

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Pumpkin Scones with Walnuts and Coconut

Ingredients

2 ¾ C flour

1/3 C packed brown sugar

3-4 T milk

1 T baking powder

1 t salt

1 t cinnamon

¼ t ginger

½ t nutmeg

¼ t allspice

½ C butter

2 eggs

½ – ¾ C pure pumpkin

½ C chopped walnuts

½ C (heaping) shredded coconut

1 egg for egg wash

2 T Cinnamon sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and prepare baking pan with parchment paper (or other desired baking tool).

Whisk together sugar, flour, salt, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter until mixture is combined and crumbly.

Using a standing mixer or large bowl and electric hand mixer, combine the pumpkin and eggs until smooth.

Add the pumpkin and egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until moist and combined.  Fold in chopped walnuts and coconut.  If the mixture seems dry, gradually add milk to get a better consistency.

*Heads up: the added moisture makes for a sticky, sticky dough, so have the flour nearby for sprinkling.

Pat dough into a large circle, about ¼ of an inch thick.  Cut the dough into wedges with a knife.  (You should be able to get about 12)

Carefully transfer sticky scone wedges from rolling surface to prepared baking sheet. (I find that a pizza stone works great)

Beat remaining egg and combine with water for egg wash.  Brush onto each scone and top with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar before popping in the oven.

Bake 22-25 minutes, until scones achieve a perfectly golden-brown color and look slightly crisp around the edges. Best enjoyed warm.

So here’s to enjoying freshly-baked pumpkin scones on a crisp fall day with a good-read in-hand.  This is my public vow (or goal) to keep this newfound literary momentum moving.  Wish me luck!

I am Food

Are our life interests pre-determined or do we seek them out?  When I think about my strong passion for food, I feel like it was meant to be.  It’s just me.  Growing up in the household that I have, I’d be extremely surprised if I found myself gravitating towards any other hobby quite as strongly.  I have a long history of (home) cooks in the family, boxes and folders stuffed with faded, handwritten recipes to show for it.  I can’t get enough of it.

I’ve always held a curiosity for my ancestry and often find myself asking my mom or dad questions about relatives, sparked by miscellaneous thoughts. While I’m always looking to learn more about my international identity or how my family came to be, I find myself far more interested in hearing about family members I never had the chance to meet or even my interactions with them at a young age.  It should come as no surprise that a majority of stories that surface involve the kitchen, culinary favorites or disasters, or both.

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I suppose it all starts with my grandmothers.  My paternal grandma could always be found in the kitchen baking something, most notably the traditional Lawson family Christmas cookies.  She loved trying out new recipes, as well as cooking the comforting meals and treats she knew her family and friends loved the most.  Grandma Vivian’s recipes were passed around all over the place, until finally compiled into a spiral-bound, personalized cookbook for all to enjoy.  Viv’s Recipes features a number of classics and all-time favorites people remember her by, including Nancy Robinson Casserole -a must-share recipe- (in due time my friends), Canlis Salad and He-Man Chocolate Cookies.  Every time I’m cooking, baking or eating one of her recipes and realize the influence it’s had across so many generations, I desperately wish I was able to remember the time I spent with her, however brief it was.  Unfortunately she died when I was two-years-old and to this day, I think her recipes and my family’s stories serve as the strongest and most loving ties I have to her.  Do I plan to cook and bake all of her recipes we have?  I hope I can make it a mission one day.

Similarly, my maternal grandma died well before my time and it saddens me to think of everything I missed out on not knowing her.  My mom tells stories of growing up on a farm in rural Klamath Falls, Oregon.  Rustic home cooked meals complete with whole milk fresh from the cows, loaves of bread made from scratch and butter made directly from cream separated from the cow’s milk.  They always had some variety of produce on hand, whether it was a stock of canned green beans stored in the cupboard or fresh corn and berries picked straight from the garden in their backyard.  To top it off, home grown beef and chicken usually held a permanent position in the freezer.  You might say the Reppe clan was on to the organic cooking theme before it became a fad.

It goes without saying that my maternal grandmother and her culinary tendencies had a tremendous impact on my mom as she grew up.  I’m grateful for it each and every day, quite possibly more so as I grow older and realize how big of a role it’s played in shaping who I am.  I’ve grown up with a home cooked meal on the table every night, carefully thought out birthday cakes made from scratch every year and holiday or special occasion-driven menus transformed into delicious, memory-filled feasts to cherish forever. I have vivid memories of my dad baking his mom’s German Pancakes (an all-time favorite) for many breakfasts, meticulously following each step of the recipe so as to ensure they turned out just like grandma’s. Today it’s clear this special touch has rubbed off not only on me, but my siblings as well.  Whether it be cooking, baking, decorating or recipe hunting/testing, we all enjoy our time spent in the kitchen and sharing our concoctions with each other. In fact, the trend started early, as I’m told all four of us kids eagerly pulled up a chair next to mom to help her cook, overjoyed with any task she gave us.

[spoiler alert] …. Things could get cheesy.

I love the creativity involved with cooking and baking: an empty pan is like a blank canvas awaiting a masterpiece…or something like that.  I love looking at a pile of carefully sought out ingredients, only to realize that in just a short while their combination will produce an entirely new and unique product.  While I enjoy the freedom and peace involved with food, I find greater joy in the love it holds and all that it represents.

Baking a batch of your best chocolate chip cookie recipe for a friend, will always be a strong reminder of the love you have for them and the special part they play in your life.  Both my grandmothers’ and mother’s memorable kitchen ways and recipes are the strongest of loves that get passed down for years and years.  I like to think that my adorable two-and-a-half-year-old nephew, Jack, (did I mention he’s as cute as can be?) has caught the food bug – no … not a bad one – early as he now pulls a chair up to the counter in the kitchen to help cook, following in his daddy’s footsteps.

People often say food brings people together.  It does.  It also helps spread the love.

Well now that I’ve written a chapter, I think it best to wrap up.  So, in short: food is love. I am food.

Portobello Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Sausage, Mascarpone and Blue Cheese

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I promise you I’m not just eating mushrooms, though would there be anything wrong with that? It seems that lately I’ve taken a strong liking towards stuffed mushroom caps, recent being the last couple of years or so. There are so many flavor combos to play with: pizza, taco, pine nuts and goat cheese? Come on! I know, so many options gets a bit overwhelming at times so, here, consider this recipe a good place to start!

Though I can’t tell you when it was, I remember sitting in my parents’ living room one day, enjoying an episode of “Everyday Italian” with my mom. From this episode we sought some inspiration to tweak Giada’s recipe ever so slightly and take a crack at cooking our own Portobello mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, mascarpone and blue cheese. For that let me say, thank you. Thank you Giada!

I think the real selling point of this dish is the filling. Forgive me, but sometimes I think I don’t even need the mushroom. Sausage, mascarpone and blue cheese in a wrap, on a pizza, salad or even sandwich? I think yes. The mixture is so rich, creamy and flavorful. Very reminiscent of an elevated alfredo sauce. I say elevated because if it came down to it, I’d much rather top a plate of fresh pasta with this filling than some bland, uninspiring alfredo sauce. Confession: I very rarely eat alfredo sauce unless it’s my mom’s recipe. No sauce holds a candle to May’s!

Ingredients

4 Portobello mushrooms

14 oz. ground sausage

1 container of mascarpone cheese (8 oz.)

1/3 C blue cheese

1 T fresh oregano

1 T fresh basil

½ t garlic powder

1 small tomato

Salt and pepper to taste

*Note I play around with my herbs every time I make this recipe. Thyme is a good substitute for oregano or basil.

After removing stems and wiping off with a damp paper towel, place bottom-down in a pan coated with heated olive oil. Grill the caps on medium heat until they start to shrivel, soften and emit moisture into the pan (5-7 minutes or so). Grill 3-5 minutes on the other side and turn the heat down low while the filling finishes cooking.

While the caps are grilling, sauté the sausage on medium heat in olive oil. Once the meat begins to brown, add garlic powder, oregano, basil and mascarpone. Mix well. Reduce heat to medium-low, the mascarpone will melt quickly. Add ¼ C of the blue cheese and finish off with salt and pepper.

Once the blue cheese starts to melt, fill mushroom caps with sausage mixture. Top with slice tomato and remaining blue cheese crumbles.

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Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This photo looks a lot like the first one, but how could I not? Look at that creamy sauce dressing the sausage under those savory blue cheese sprinkles and just try to tell me you don’t feel saliva pooling at the back of your tongue. After talking these up and sharing my steps with you, I suppose there’s nothing left to do but leave you to it! Good luck and enjoy! …. I know you will.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup & Broccoli with Browned Butter and Mizithra

I’ve never been much of a soup at any time of the year eater.  I could never wrap my head around sitting down with a steaming bowl of soup on a hot, sunny day.  It should be reserved for cold and rainy days.  Then again, maybe growing up in the Portland area has something to do with this.  Oddly enough, I surprised myself with sudden soup recipe cravings as summer came to a close.

The weather here lately has been showing signs unfamiliar for the month of October.  Recent gloomy, damp and chilly mornings remind me of November.  Bring on the soup season!  I welcome the days where I hunker down in front of the tv or with a good book (right now I’m reading EatLiveRun blogger, Jenna Weber’s White Jacket Required – more on this gem later, but let’s just say it hits close to home) put on a pair of sweatpants and sit with a big bowl of soup in my hands.  Let me tell you my friends, those days are here and on days like these, I find myself rifling through the pantry, reaching all the way to the back to see what variety of soups I can uncover.

Lately, I’m amazed at the nutritional information I discover.  It’s either undesirable amounts of sodium, fat, carbohydrates/sugar, or maybe even a combination of the three.  I suppose there are worse things to eat, but right now I’d rather make my own soups.  I don’t always make the healthiest of dishes (in every way possible) but I like to have control of the selection and quantity of ingredients I use….even if it means I can’t blame someone else for an indulgence here and there.

Allow me to introduce you to Hungarian Mushroom Soup.  I have to pay tribute to my sister Andi here for bringing this dish into my life.  A true favorite of mine, I think there’s something special and well-balanced about the flavors that just pleases the taste buds.  A love, or at least a taste, for mushrooms is a must.

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Hungarian Mushroom Soup

2 T butter

1 medium-large onion

1 ½ – 2 lbs. mushrooms

1 t salt

2-3 t dried dill

1 T paprika (the recipe calls for Hungarian, but I’ve always used regular)

2 t lemon juice

3 T flour

2 C water

1 C milk at room temperature

pepper to taste

½ C sour cream

Melt the butter in a dutch oven, add chopped onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent.  Add sliced mushrooms, salt, dill and paprika.  Stir the ingredients, cover and let cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add lemon juice – I tend to add a little over 2 t, I think it accentuates the dill.

Gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly.  Cook and stir another 5 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add the water, cover and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in the milk and add the black paper to taste.  Whisk in sour cream, and heat very gently on low-medium heat.  By this point, you don’t want to boil or continue cooking at a high heat or the sour cream might curdle.

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Broccoli with browned butter and mizithra is so simple, with flavors like no other.  I absolutely love pastas with browned butter, but I mean, don’t we all?  When I cook broccoli, I tend to steam it and finish it off with salt and pepper, that’s it-savoring its natural flavor.  The other night I decided to jazz it up a bit, and used broccoli as a substitute for noodles – the frequent star of the dish.  Dare I say it tastes just as good with broccoli as it does with spaghetti? Okay, that might be a little far-fetched.

Broccoli with Browned Butter and Mizithra

2-3 heads broccoli

½ C butter

¼ C mizithra cheese

Place the stick of butter in a pan over medium heat.  After about 15 minutes (you’re looking for a dark, amber color), pour the browned butter over a sieve into a glass cup.  This will separate the liquid from any remaining (very salty) sediment.

Chop up and steam the broccoli.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour butter over broccoli and finish off with freshly grated mizithra cheese.

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Enjoy these dishes together or separately! Seriously, try them.

Chicken Pesto Sliders with Pesto Mayo

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Pesto reminds me of many things… my roommate from freshman year who quickly fell in love with the dining hall’s chicken pesto sandwich and made it her go-to meal (I must admit, it was pretty tasty), my mom’s homemade cooking with fresh herbs from the garden and more importantly, delicious recipes, like these Pesto Chicken Sliders ….to think I used to stick out my tongue and throw a fit when my mom decided to make pasta with pesto for dinner.  The stuff’s flat out delicious and you best believe I’m making up for all of the years I’ve been missing out on.

No matter how many times I eat these sliders, I always forget how tasty and addicting they can be.  Whenever I think there’s a chance I’m not craving a chicken pesto slider, I take a bite, lose that feeling and immediately dig in for another.  Summertime, wintertime, anytime.

Oh, and one more thing, they’re super simple to make.  Gather eight basic ingredients and you’re all set. That’s it!

Ingredients

2 lbs. ground chicken

1 T worcestershire sauce

1/3 C grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Tomatoes

Red onion

3-4 heaping spoonfuls of pesto (optional)

¼ C – ½ C mayonnaise

Directions

Combine the ground chicken, parmesan cheese, Worcestershire, pesto and salt and pepper in a bowl.  Make large meatball-sized rounds and flatten them into patties.   (2 pounds of ground chicken typically gives close to 20 patties.)

Grill patties until a crust forms and they’re golden brown in color – about 4-5 minutes on each side.

I realize a pile of meet isn't exactly the most appetizing image, but just look at that color.  You can almost smell the crispy, carmelized bits that cling to the patty edges and linger in the pan.

I realize a pile of meat isn’t exactly the most appetizing image, but just look at that color! You can almost smell the crispy, caramelized bits that cling to the edges of the patties and linger in the pan.  Ahhh!

*Note: the original recipe I modify this from doesn’t call for pesto in the patties, but I like the extra flavor.  In the past I’ve found that the pesto mayo just isn’t enough.

Oh right, I almost forgot, mix your remaining pesto with mayonnaise and voila: pesto mayo!  Pretty simple right?

I encourage you to play with toppings, but first may I highly recommend sliced tomatoes and red onion under a bed of fresh spinach leaves?  Yum!

I love to pair these patties with crusty and chewy on the outside, yet soft on the inside, pretzel rolls (which are fun to make from scratch, by the way). It’s just the perfect match! Actually, to be honest, I often eat the patty alone, sans bun!  C’est magnifique!

Before you know it you’ll be on your way to pesto paradise!  Enjoy!

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza

I bravely attempted a new culinary endeavor in the kitchen Friday night.  To encourage my progress on the low-carb front (see previous post) I made a cauliflower crust to make up for pizza’s lacking presence in my life these days.  Okay, yes, I realize it’s far from groundbreaking as far as new recipes go, but it’s new for me! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical throughout the entire cooking process, convinced I would be disappointed at first bite.  I’m here to report I was pleasantly surprised and am already brainstorming other toppings that would pair nicely.

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After browsing a handful of recipes online, I found myself pulling different ingredients from each and building my own.  Let me tell you, it’s darn simple:

Ingredients:

½ head of cauliflower

1 egg

¼ C plain greek yogurt

Herbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400.

Lightly chop the cauliflower before placing in a food processor.  Pulse until the cauliflower looks like grains of rice.  Empty it out onto a towel (preferably cloth, paper towel has a tendency to stick or rip) and press to get as much moisture out as possible.

In a separate bowl, beat egg and whisk together with yogurt.  Add the cauliflower once it’s been pressed.  Mix together.

Press the wet mixture onto your baking surface – I used a pizza stone lined with parchment paper – into as big of a circle as you can get with about ¼” thickness.

Sprinkle the raw “dough” … er, mixture, with an herb blend of your choice.  (I used garlic powder, basil, oregano and thyme.)  Pop it in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  It will come out slightly golden around the edges and looking like flatbread.  Add your toppings and finish it off in the oven for 5-10 minutes.  I added marinara, chedder and mozzarella cheese, olives, pepperoni, mushrooms and tomatoes.  Margherita or garlic cream sauce next time anyone?  Yum!

A Pinch of Cravings with a Big Slice of Restraint

It seems I’m always drifting towards this page around this time of year.  I can’t explain it, but maybe I have an internal back-to-school time bell that rings from within.  I guess that’s what 13 years of the same routine will do to you.

Here’s a short list of items seeming to occupy most of my time these days, though I suspect any interested readers are already in the know:

1. Working part-time as an account coordinator at Blu Print PR.  I have been blessed to get to know the people I have and I love what I do.

2. Watching a set of recently turned one-year-old twins and their five-year-old sister…well, I prefer part-time nanny.  This family has welcomed me into their home like no other and I thoroughly love every minute I get to spend with each and every one of them.  I couldn’t be happier when I say I’ve found lifelong friends.

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Image3. Using drinks, meals, concerts, drinks or meals as excuses to get together and catch up with friends.

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4. More food.

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Summer’s practically come and gone – though this absurd Pacific Northwest September “heat wave” may suggest otherwise – and it’s taking many of the things I grow so accustomed to in June, July and August along with it.  I’m preparing myself to bid farewell to brightly-lit summer evenings and outside gatherings, but most notably unlimited access to May’s (mom’s nickname) garden: fresh tomatoes, basil, cilantro, green beens, peas, edamame, chard, lettuce, cucumbers and much to my chagrin, zucchini …. Just to name a few.

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Back to number four, I’ve been looking at food in a new light as of lately.  Rather than diet, I’ll use the choice words, “eating health.” I know this sounds cliché, but I’m watching my carbs.  Unfortunately I haven’t indulged in rustic baguettes, potatoes, pasta, ice cream, baked goods… you get the idea.  It’s tough to fight the temptation, but I know I’m better off in the end and I’m seeing results that I would like to continue seeing.  I welcome that pinch of cravings, so long as I have a big slice of restraint to go along with it. On a happier note, I’ve still been in the kitchen, baking sweet treats for others to enjoy for me.

As for that successful crop of zucchini that popped out of my mom’s garden, I’ve finally found a way to enjoy it! While it may not be the healthiest in every way possible, it fits into the realm of my low-carb regimen.  To combat my pasta cravings, I substitute it with slivered zucchini and sauté it in some olive oil.  I find it pairs best with my mom’s fettuccini al pesto sauce!

Mom’s Fettuccini al Pesto  

-       1 package cream cheese

-       ½ C butter

-       ¾ C parmesan

-       ½ C half n’ half

-       a few large scoops of pesto  (up to your choosing) – homemade is best, of course

Autumn’s on its way so it time to get creative! Pumpkin anyone? Let’s get the culinary juices flowin’!