June 09, 2010


I dont really even know what to say about hungarian mushroom soup. I dont have any good stories about it. Its simple and quite lovely, but i dont see it served at restaurants too often. I dont even remember where or when i first tried it. There is a restaurant here in portland that has made a name on it, but i was less than impressed, and on the whole, have nothing nice at all to say about the place, so i'll move on. I guess one thing i should note is that by no means do i claim to be an expert on this dish. I dont know how it's traditionally made, or for that matter, how popular it even is in hungary. I did do an internet search, admittedly a rather brief one, to see if i could find some interesting history of the soup, some obviously authentic recipe, some piece of information worth sharing, but nothing really stood out. I plan to research this more in depth, as i myself am now curious how the soup may differ were it actually served to me in hungary, but for now i will settle with not knowing. If you are privy to this knowledge, please do share. For the moment i will entertain the mystery, and just tell you how i do it.

hungarian mushroom soup


garlic, minced
yellow onion, diced
lots of mushrooms, sliced (white, crimini or a mix)
stock (i use veggie, you could use chicken if you like)
sour cream
salt, pepper, dill, hungarian paprika

Saute garlic and onion in butter. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften. Add more butter or some olive oil if the mushrooms seem too dry. Remove from the heat and add a healthy portion of paprika. You are going to want to put more than may be your natural instinct. At least a tbls, maybe more. Return pot to the heat for a few seconds and add stock. Add pepper and dill, and bring to a boil. Salt and lower to a simmer. Remove a little broth and whisk it in a cup with a spoonful or two of flour until smooth. Add to the soup. You may adjust the amount of flour depending on how thick you want your soup; i tend to keep mine relatively brothy. Whisk in half a cup or more of sour cream. (For a slightly richer soup, you may also add some heavy whipping cream). Adjust spices to taste. Simmer until desired thickness. Top with another dollop of sour cream and a fresh sprinkling of dill. Enjoy with a few slices of hearty, crusty bread.

April 13, 2010

bbq salmon 'n slaw

I dont know if i can think of anyone who doesnt enjoy bbq. And while some people will eat anything that comes off a grill slathered in sauce, others develop a loyalty to their sauce of choice, declaring "I only eat Big Daddy's", or something to that effect. In fact, my mom recently visited, and at the suggestion of going out for bbq, she informed me that she usually doesn't eat it out, as she is so particular about her sauce. Rather than risk not wanting to eat her ribs because of an undesirable dressing, she prefers to enjoy them at home, where there are no surprises. I've been in portland long enough to know the restaurants that will not disappoint, but in general, i tend to lean with the sauce-wary, and not just with bbq. If i am out at a restaurant of questionable quality, which fortunately is not a regular occurrence, i will often order any accompanying sandwich condiments "on the side".

As for store bought brands, I have found some bbq sauces that are definitely good, but i am never so overwhelmed that i feel compelled to rush back to the store to buy it again. That, and the fact that i dont eat bbq all that often, have led me to the obvious conclusion that i should make my own bbq sauce any time i have that finger-lickin' urge. My recipe is a somewhat fluid one, meaning that it never is the exact same twice, but always pretty similar. Sometimes it may vary based on a new idea that comes my way, or sometimes because of an ingredient i happen to have, or not have, lying around.

As we all know, pork and chicken are high on the list of bbq-able items, but it just so happens that salmon is a fantastic option as well. This may be especially true for those mostly-vegetarian bbq lovers, the ones who eat sea creatures, but not land ones. I say this without judgement, as i myself was one of these "pescatarians" as they say, though for some reason i have always resisted employing such finicky labels when describing my eating habits. Having gotten that out of the way, i dont think too many people would argue that bbq is no stranger to coleslaw, and in this recipe, they are intimately acquainted. Enjoy.

bbq salmon 'n slaw sandwich

bbq sauce (see below)

green and/or purple cabbage
grated carrot (optional)
dijon mustard
rice vinegar
black sesame seeds
salt and pepper
green onion (thinly sliced)

kaiser roll
queso fresco (optional)

Finely shred the cabbage. In a bowl whisk the vinegar with a small dollop of mayo and a little mustard. Toss dressing with the cabbage (and carrots if using) until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and stir in sesame seeds and green onion. Refrigerate until needed, stirring periodically to keep evenly marinated. Generously coat salmon fillet with BBQ sauce and bake or grill until just done. Discard skin and put salmon into a small saucepan. Stir in enough extra BBQ sauce to make it just a little messy to eat. Heat until warmed through. Fill roll with salmon and top with a big spoonful of slaw. Garnish with some cheese crumbles if you desire.

Below is my loose recipe for bbq sauce. I put "optional" next to those ingredients which are most flexible, depending on what you have around, or your tastes. Some people like a really sweet sauce, some a smoky one, others one with a kick. I like a combination of all of these flavors. So get creative! Play around and add or subtract things each time until you find that perfect combination that keeps you coming back for more.

bbq sauce

tomato sauce
garlic (minced)
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
worcestershire sauce (soy sauce also works)
dijon mustard
honey, brown sugar or maple syrup
salt, pepper, chili powder or cayenne, cumin and paprika (smoked if you have it)
chipotle (optional)
tamarind (optional)
whiskey or porter (optional - if you plan to do this, you may need to add some tomato paste in order to keep it from getting too thin)

Lightly saute garlic in oil. Add tomato sauce, stir, and begin adding the rest of the ingredients, one at a time, little by little, tasting frequently and adjusting as suits you. Simmer on low until flavors meld, or until you just cant wait any longer.

the cherry bomb

Here is a little appetizer that is sure to grab the attention of everyone around. Not only because it is round, red and cute, or because it is oozing with creaminess, but because it also delivers a spicy kick that is hard to ignore. While you could really use any hot pepper you like, i prefer the cherry bomb, which only seems to be available in my local grocery during a relatively small window of the growing season. In fact, while writing this it has occurred to me that i should add this fiesty veggie to my what-to-plant-in-my-garden list. Apparently compared to lots of other chilis, the cherry bomb contains a relatively low amount of the heat causing chemical, capsaicin, but nonetheless, i have had some that deliver quite a bite. As with all chilis, the intensity of one to the next always varies, but consider yourself forewarned if you have a tongue that is sensitive to a little bit of heat. Besides the invigorating piquancy of the cherry bomb, i like to use it because its flavor also imparts a nice sweetness that i feel a jalapeno, for example, lacks. The flesh is also really thick, so it lends itself nicely to stuffing. And aesthetically, well, look at it - how could you not want to pop that little jewel into your mouth?

stuffed cherry peppers


Cherry peppers
Feta or chevre
Pine nuts
Fresh basil (dried also works)
Olive oil

Core and seed the peppers, taking care not to break the sides. Brush with olive oil and roast in the oven at about 400. Meanwhile, chiffon the basil, and mix it with the pine nuts into the feta. When the peppers are almost done roasting (you don’t want them too soft or they won’t contain the cheese well), remove from the oven, let cool slightly and stuff with the feta mixture. Return to oven and very briefly broil to slightly brown the top. These are fantastic served warm or cold.

March 23, 2010


A couple years ago when i was back in indiana for a visit, my grandma's polish caretaker offered me a snack. Hungry as usual, and eager to tap into my polish roots through some authentically prepared wonder, i delightfully accepted. Rather than whip up the best pierogis i'd ever had, she removed a jar from the refrigerator filled with some sort of chunky, red relish. This relish turned out to be ajvar, which is a pureed roasted eggplant and red pepper spread, slightly piquant, just a bit of tang - delicious! Maggie assured me this was a staple in her own, and most polish people's, refrigerators.

Thrilled with this simple, yet novel concoction, i set about wanting to make it myself, as surely a homemade version would be even better than the store bought one i had previously indulged in. I googled "ajvar" and learned that not only is this condiment popular in poland, but all of eastern europe, particularly the balkans. Traditionally it is made by households everywhere, after each annual pepper harvest. Often it is jarred and given as gifts, as well as kept in the pantry for year-round enjoyment, long after the cold winters have frozen over the paprika plants. The main ingredients are eggplant and red peppers (both roasted), garlic, spicy pepper, olive oil, and vinegar or lemon juice. Slight variations exist depending where you look, but the main difference i have come across is whether to use lemon or vinegar. Ajvar is often served as an accompaniment to grilled meats or eaten simply with bread, but you can also spread it on a sandwich, add it to a cheese plate or mezze platter, or anything else that pleases you.

The standard seems to be a higher pepper to eggplant ratio, but whenever i make it, it seems to be more of an equal balance between the two, which is causing no complaints here. This may be a good time for a brief explanation of my method of cooking and recipe sharing. While i regularly reference and peruse recipes, I rarely follow them to the letter, except for in baking, and therefore rarely measure anything. I enjoy thinking about how the components of a recipe exist on there own and then how they combine into a perfect medley in the end. Like some sort of detective, I pick apart the flavors when i eat something, so that i can try to put them back together in my own kitchen, like a little puzzle. So when relaying a recipe, generally i will list the ingredients i use, sometimes give a rough estimate for amounts, and let you take it from there. I give instructions, but not always full blown details every step of the way. At the risk of sounding silly, i think of recipes as sort of a travel book, giving you ideas of where your taste buds can go, even giving tips to get there, but ultimately leaving it up to you to determine the exact route and the final destination. Not only does this allow for more creativity and involvement with your meal, but also, it allows for more expression of your individual taste preferences. While i enjoy the adventure, i recognize some people prefer a more specific guide, they dont revel in the trial and error like me, so please feel free to give me your input on this as my recipes unfold.


red bell pepper
garlic, minced
red pepper flakes or minced chili pepper
olive oil
good dash of vinegar (white or red wine) or lemon juice
salt and pepper
pinch of oregano or fresh parsley (optional)

Roast the eggplant in the oven or on a grill until very soft. Do the same with the bell peppers, until skin is charred. I usually use one eggplant and 1-2 peppers, but tradition may dictate more peppers. After cooled, remove pepper skins and scoop out eggplant flesh. You can puree everything together in a food processor, but i like to just chop the eggplant and pepper, put it in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix it all up with a fork. You could also just smash everything in a giant mortar and pestle if you have one. You want a decent pour of olive oil, but not so much that it totally separates out from the mix. It is the intention of this dish to be a bit spicy and rather garlicky, and apparently it is often even garnished with a fresh sprinkling of garlic at the end. Taste and adjust to your liking!

March 09, 2010

hello and welcome

After much procrastinating and some trepidation, i have decided to enter the world of blogging. It seems I could use another outlet to wax poetic about my kitchen fantasies, palette pleasures and culinary explorations. I intend for this site to be mostly comprised of my own cooking experiences, though at times i may digress with stories of tasty adventures that come my way in the world at large. That being said, I will kick this off with one of these digressions, with a mention of the most delicious thing i have had the pleasure of eating outside my home as of late. That item is a marzipan stuffed fig dipped in dark chocolate.

It is just in this past year that I experienced a fig epiphany. I believe i have tasted them in the past, but for some unfortunate reason, I had, until this point, failed to recognize the delight they bestow. Since this rewarding discovery, I have eagerly indulged in every fig item that has come my way: fig port ice cream, Spanish fig bread, fig jam, fig vinagrette, plain ol' fresh figs and dried figs, and alas, the marzipan stuffed chocolate dipped fig. This treat was courtesy of a fantastic little patisserie here called Pix. Mainly they do French style pastries and chocolates, and they do them well. They also offer tasty savories and a lovely selection of beverages of all sorts. The happiest ending to this story of "girl meets fig", is that while i have every intention of planting my very own fig tree in my new giant yard, my wonderful new neighbors already have one that hangs over the fence. And while i wait for mine to mature and grow its own figgy gems, they have generously invited me to help myself to their plentiful supply when the season comes-yippee!!