Thursday, February 26, 2015

Argentina! with Chimichurri Sauce and Potato Salad

Chimichurri. Chimichurri, chimichurri...I just like to say that word. Okay, so I took a little trip down to Latin America recently. I wanted to make a batch of chimichurri sauce, which I learned is as common as ketchup in Argentina. I also know when I posted a blog entry about chimichurri in the past, my Argentinean friend Marie liked it! It was nice to know someone had heard of it before, that it was a thing, because I was really just trying to figure out a way to use up extra cilantro and parsley. In my quick research, I learned a bit about the cuisine and culture of Argentina as I surfed through the food blogs. While browsing for chimichurri recipes, I found an Argentinean potato salad, and many versions of a skirt steak or flat iron steak doused in chimichurri.

Chimichurri is made up of cilantro and parsley, with a bite of garlic, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Argentineans use it on steak, and practically everything else, I guess. I wanted to use it as a sauce for fish, but according to one food blogger, fish is not a common dish in Argentina. The people are mostly farmers and therefore live off the land, not the sea. Who knew? Of course, that makes their fisheries plentiful and enticing to foreign fisherman, who are now taking advantage of the abundant fish.

Our local fish this week was Bank Rockfish, and as I reviewed the recipes on the SLO Fresh Catch blog, I didn't see any recipes that immediately sparked my attention. I didn't feel like having a gremolata, or a lemon fish, or a salsa-topped fish. One thing I did note: fish is best with the simplest preparation: fried, poached or baked. I think I will just use a bit of breading and fry it in a pan, then top it with the rich, green chimichurri sauce. That should be a nice break from the usual tartar sauce, even though my husband makes a great one. It's kind of his thing, so I always try to let him do the tartar honors.

Then, I had these potatoes that I had prepped the other day for making French fries, but then I didn't have enough canola oil to fry them, so they were chilling in a bowl of water in the frig. Why not make a potato salad instead? Even though the potatoes are already cut into a fry shape, I think they will work; I just chopped them into shorter pieces. Argentine Potato Salad with little pimento stuffed green olives, no less! It has green olives, dill, and green peas, so it coordinates with the green chimichurri sauce.

Then, because I needed another vegetable, I decided to bake a head of cauliflower with the spicy yogurt sauce that I found on Pinterest. Its such a dramatic-looking way to fix and serve cauliflower, perfect for impressing dinner guests. I had a beautiful head of cauliflower from our SLO Veg box this week just waiting to be presented in this way. 

I know this dinner is going to be very WHITE in color...white fish, white potatoes, white cauliflower. That's a little weird, but hopefully it will still look appetizing. The green notes will brighten it up, I think.

Chimichurri Sauce


  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
  • 1 cup cilantro, trimmed of thick stems
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves (can sub 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes


1 Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.
2 Blend in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Can keep for a day or two.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Creamy Chinese Celery Soup

So you know we get this box of fresh, locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables delivered right to our doorstep every other week by a service called SLO Veg. We have been getting the bulk of our produce from them for the past two years now, and I swear its the best thing we have ever done for our diets.

While my daughters think its too much trouble to wash and prepare all that produce with their busy schedules, I find it therapeutic. My girls like fresh veggies from Trader Joe’s that are washed and cut and ready to eat (they're young!), whereas I like the process of chopping and sautéing and putting together a recipe from scratch. It gets me out of a food rut. I do like to pre-prep whenever I can, so on my days off I might chop some veggies or marinate some meat so that I can put a dinner together quickly the next work day. Vegetables are usually pretty quick to prepare, though, so as long as I have a plan, life is good. 

One thing I really like about the SLO Veg service is the way they tell you a few days in advance what to expect in your next delivery, then they offer a bunch of recipe ideas using the items that will be in the box. Genius, right? What a great marketing angle. I am sure Rachael was behind that idea; probably Dan is more of the brawn in this operation, but I could be wrong. Whoever thought that one up, well, that's irrelevant...I am just so glad they did. Saves me so much time! Otherwise I try to save recipes I come across on Pinterest because I have read the blog about "This Weeks Harvest Box" and know what I am going to need to cook.

I browse recipes constantly. It was weird when my sister-in-law asked during our last visit, "So, what are you reading these days?" and all I could think of was cookbooks, books about nutrition, and recipe blogs. Sigh! Thank goodness for Pioneer Woman. At least on her site I can read "Confessions" or something about life on the ranch and so forth.

Today I am doing what I love best: watching cooking shows (Anne Burrell is on right now, making a fava bean soup and a Swiss chard crostini. *Note: save idea for later!), cooking some soup on the stove, taking pictures of what I am cooking, and blogging about it. Great day in my book! I already made some quick ramen soup with celery and carrots and cilantro to eat while I do all the above multi-tasking. This morning I have already sliced up some top sirloin marinating in orange juice that will become carne asada tacos tonight after my husband gets home. I have some leftover rice to serve with the tacos, and I might doctor up some canned pinto beans as well. But I am hankering for hearty vegetable-type soup, and soup I will make.

We got a big bunch of fresh green celery in Monday's box, so now, this week from SLO Veg, some delicious Creamy Chinese Celery soup! . My husband and son aren't real big on celery, so if I make it into a bunch of soup and freeze it, I can take it to work and have a nice hot, delicious homemade treat for myself without traumatizing them by actually forcing them to eat celery themselves. They can have canned tomato soup and be happy about it. (They would be!) The great part is that this recipe calls for a potato, of which I have two or three leftover from my box that was delivered two weeks ago.

My soup starts out with a whole bunch of chopped celery, a white onion, some sliced leeks and three really cute little white potatoes. I am making more that what the recipe from SLO Veg calls for, because I want to eat some and freeze some. I sliced the leeks first and got them soaking in a bowl of water, because leeks tend to collect a lot of sand inside the layers, so you want to soak them and let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bowl. Then you scoop the leeks out and proceed with the cooking.

I put all the veggies into a stock pot with a chunk of butter and began to sauté them. Oops! I forgot to peel the potatoes, so I quickly did that and gave them a chop and tossed them into the pot, too.  Now I've got it all in the pot and its set to simmer for an hour.
I had to open a really nice bottle of Pinot Blanc we recently got from a SLO area winery, Claiborne-Churchill. It was either that or run down to the market for a cheap bottle of white wine. I was a little stingy with the wine in the soup, because I want more for me to enjoy later when I eat my delicious bowl of soup. Wait, that was Chinese Celery Soup, right? I think it needs a splash of fish sauce, too, and some cilantro, maybe a dash of celery seed to bump up the flavor. I have some fish sauce in my pantry somewheres...

Okay, its been an hour or more. I can let the soup cool a bit before I attempt to puree it in the blender. Too bad I wore out my immersion blender, because that is perfect for blending soups. I guess I need a new one...hint hint! Anyway, the recipe says to puree the soup and then strain it. I skipped the straining step, because I need all the fiber I can get. I served it with some Chinese fried noodles instead of croutons, too. Dang I'm good. Keeping it real! (as PW would say!)

What is Rachel doing on her show? Its playing and I am not even paying attention, but it looks like she might be making some kind of soup, as well. I need to back it up and see what she is doing. (Salmon and dill chowder!) Then I need to search for Anne's crostini recipe. Ahhhh! Such a busy day at home.

Creamy Chinese Celery Soup (Celery/Shallots/Leeks) 

Servings: 6  Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Total Time: 1 1/2 Hrs

For soup 
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only),
1 medium russet (baking) potato 
1/2 cup chopped shallot 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 bunches Chinese celery (1 1/2 lb total),
 top leaves discarded and stalks cut into
 2-inch pieces 
1/2 cup dry white wine 
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken 
broth (32 fl oz) 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 

For croutons 
6 (1/4-inch-thick) diagonal baguette slices 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
Kosher salt to taste 

Garnish: fresh Chinese parsley leaves or 
flat-leaf parsley leaves 
Preparation: Make soup: Wash leek well in a bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well. Peel and chop potato. Cook shallot in butter and oil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add leek and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add celery and potato and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add wine and boil 1 minute. Add broth and simmer, covered, until celery is very tender, about 1 hour. Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), then pour through a large medium-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids. Transfer soup to cleaned saucepan, then stir in cream, salt, and pepper and heat over low heat until hot. Thin with water if desired. Make croutons while soup simmers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush baguette slices with oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Arrange in 1 layer on a baking sheet, then bake in middle of oven until golden brown and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve soup topped with croutons. Cooks' notes: • Soup can be made 1 day ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered.

*Note: I added about 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 1 tsp dried cilantro, and I sautéed the veggies in butter instead of olive oil. I didn't strain the soup prior to adding the cream, either. Just pureed it in the blender then added the cream. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Part One: Ukrainian-influenced salads and appetizers

SLO Veg came through with just the right ingredients for my Ukrainian salads.

"The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine" is a cookbook collection of Ukrainian recipes by Bohdan Zahny. The book was given to me by a cousin from Philadelphia who also likes to cook, after she attended a Ukrainian festival in Philly and spied it. She knew I would love it!

Our grandmother was a Ukrainian immigrant who came to Philadelphia on a ship to live with relatives. She married an older Ukrainian man and together they had 10 children, 8 of who survived. Neither one of them spoke and they relied on their children to translate whenever necessary. As you can imagine, it was hard to navigate through the system in the New Country and obtain services such as medical, financial, educational, employment, etc., so they stayed pretty close to their neighborhood, surrounded by other Ukrainians. My grandmother was deeply religious and raised her children in the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholic church. She kept up the customs she had grown up with in the Old Country, and recreated the traditional dishes for Christmas and Easter and other religious holidays throughout the year. My mother met my father, who was an officer in the Navy, stationed in Philadelphia, and she was 20 years old when they married and began their travels across the United States. By the time I was born, they had settled on the West Coast, far from any Ukrainian communities. When I was growing up, most kids had no idea what a "Ukrainian" even was! About all we siblings knew was that Mom had an intricate method for decorating Easter eggs, she made an Easter paska, or bread, and decorated it and had it blessed by our Catholic priest. She made cabbage rolls, called "Holopschi", for family dinners and church potlucks, making it her signature dish to bring to any event.

When my mother turned 85, we had a family dinner for her where we all tried to create Ukrainian dishes. It was a fun and creative way to learn something about our heritage and honor my mother, and I have tried to keep the annual family Ukrainian potluck going through the years. The standard has become holopschi made by my brother CC, borscht made by my sister Mac, and some new dish made by me. Last year I made perogies, or varenky as the Ukrainians call it. They are little dumplings filled with potatoes and cheese and any number of other things, depending on the season, I guess. They are filled and then boiled until the dough is cooked through, then finished with a quick saute in butter and onions. Most modern diets don't approve of butter-laden fried foods, so some of my female guests didn't even want to try this dish. The men seemed to love it, though. This year, with time constraints of my work scheduling, I need something less labor-intensive anyway, so I am making some salads and an appetizer. I already made the fish balls and put them into the freezer.

The night before the potluck, I will put together a cabbage-cucumber-apple-tomato salad with a sour cream-vinegar-sugar dressing. I don't recall my mother ever making this particular salad, but she loved to make a sweet and creamy dressing for coleslaw. She also used a lot of tomato wedges and cucumbers in her green salads, so I guess this would be right up her alley. I am also planning to make a carrot and apple salad, using the same dressing. Mom would have put raisins in it as well, so I will too.

Part Two: Cauliflower Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Apple

SLO Veg cauliflower and tomatoes combined with apples and cucumber for a new salad version
One would think it might be dangerous to experiment on a new salad with your family, but then, hey, they are family. So they will be guinea pigs...they can deal with it. Well, maybe I will do a test-drive...

We are having our annual family potluck featuring Ukrainian dishes in honor of our mother, who was an American-born Ukrainian. She was much displaced, moving around the country with my Naval officer father in the first third of their marriage, far and away from her family and the Ukrainian community in Philadelphia. They settled in a West Coast town and lived out their days in an area that was unfamiliar with Orthodox customs my mom revered. She did, however, try to recreate some of her ethnic traditions and teach her children about their significance as she remember them. Easter was a major holiday for the Ukrainian Catholics, and much preparation went into the food for the holiday feast.

While my brothers and sisters are making some dishes often made by mother when we were growing up, such as stuffed cabbage rolls, scalloped potatoes and ham, and borscht. I, however, am selecting some dishes from my new cookbook, "The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine", by Bohdan Zahny, to perhaps broaden our depth of food experience in the Ukrainian culture. For this potluck, I have made appetizers: Cod Fish Balls, Tuna dip with rye crackers, and Cauliflower Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Apple.
I wouldn't have thought to combine apples and tomatoes, but in this salad, it works

First, I chopped up two apples
Then I sliced cucumbers into quarter slices
The cookbook doesn't have any photos, and when the recipe says to finely chop the vegetables, I was not sure how fine of a chop it meant. So I just chose to slice and dice the apples into slivers, the cucumbers into quarter slices, and the tomatoes into a small dice. I put the apple slices into the mixing bowl first and squeeze a little lemon juice on it and let it sit while I chopped the cucumbers and tomatoes. Then the cooked cauliflower was broken up into small florets and added to the other vegetables. Next, I mixed up the sweetened sour cream and vinegar dressing. I used white vinegar, because that is what I would use in a coleslaw dressing. But again, I am not sure what specific type of vinegar is typically used in the Ukraine. The only seasoning is salt and pepper.

I didn't weigh the fruit: I just used one head of cauliflower, two medium sized apples, two medium sized tomatoes, and one English cucumber. I didn't peel the apple or cucumber.

The resulting salad was fresh and crunchy, and the dressing was really mild, giving it a clean and healthy feel. I think my daughters will like this salad. We will see what they think at potluck time!

Vegetables prior to adding the dressing
and after the dressing is added

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Big Fat Greek Scalloped Potato Gratin

I started with this recipe, but I didn't have any thyme, so I also omitted the nutmeg and seasoned it with salt, pepper, basil, oregano, mint and garlic. I was making a Greek meatloaf, so I kept the seasonings similar in the potato gratin as well. The one thing is, my scalloped potato dish take more like two hours to cook. I thought if I gave it 90 minutes I would be good, so I put the meat loaf into the oven next to it after the potatoes had cooked for 30 minutes. Then, an hour later, I am taking out the meatloaf, which was done, and tested the potatoes, which still needed more time. We will see if two hours of cooking time does the trick. I had this problem the last time I made scalloped potatoes, too. I think I should probably parboil the potatoes next time or slice them paper-thin. Sheesh!

Recipe from the SLO Veg website:

Scalloped Potato Gratin ( Russet Potatoes/Garlic/Thyme)) 

Servings: 4-6  Level: Easy

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and
  cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a saucepan, heat up the cream with a sprig of thyme, chopped garlic and nutmeg. While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish. Place a layer of potato in an overlapping pattern and season with salt and pepper. Remove cream from heat, then pour a little over the potatoes. Top with some grated Parmesan. Make 2 more layers. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.

My version:
Same recipe as above, only substitute the thyme and nutmeg for 1/2 tsp. each dried basil, oregano, and mint. It would probably have been even better with some feta cheese in there, but I used it all up in my Greek meat loaf.

Greek meat loaf with turkey

Greek seasoned meat loaf topped with barbecue sauce and sliced tomatoes
I decided to make a turkey meat loaf with a bit of a Greek twist: I flavored it with feta cheese and chopped spinach, and seasoned it with lemon juice, mint, oregano and basil, plus salt, pepper and garlic. I didn't measure anything, I just added about a teaspoon of each herb and about two teaspoons of a garlic-salt-pepper blend I have to three pounds of ground turkey. Then I added about a half cup of feta cheese and about one cup of chopped spinach. I had a recipe for turkey burgers that called for all of that, so I figured it would work in a meat loaf, too. I added 1/2 cup of bread crumbs and a raw egg to bind it together. I baked it at 350 degrees for one hour, then topped it with some bottled barbecue sauce and let it cook for another 10 minutes. In hind sight, I should have put some sliced tomatoes on top. Maybe I will after its cooked. Yeah, good idea.

Greek Turkey Meatloaf

3 lbs. ground turkey
2 tsp. garlic-salt-pepper blend
1 tsp. each basil, oregano, mint
1 tbls. lemon juice
1 egg
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
bottled barbecue sauce
sliced fresh tomatoes

Mix together the turkey with the seasonings, lemon juice, and egg. Stir in spinach, feta cheese and bread crumbs. Spoon into an 8x8 casserole dish and smooth out the top. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 1 hour. Top with barbecue sauce and bake for 10 more minutes. Top with fresh sliced tomatoes, cut into nine squares and serve.

Meatloaf mix all ready for the oven

Baked Cod Fish Balls

One pound of Black Cod
One of the things I really enjoy about our service from SLO Veg, where we get a tote box full of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables delivered to our door on a bi-weekly schedule, is the fish component. SLO Veg has partnered with SLO Fresh Catch to offer its customers fresh, locally caught ocean fish from the fisheries off Morro Bay.

Fish balls on a platter
Recipe from "The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine
This week's fish was Black Cod. We get a lot of cod fish: Black cod, Rock cod, Ling cod. Its a good white fish with thick fillets and we get one pound with our delivery. The problem is, there are still some pin bones in the fish that you have to watch out for when you eat it. I prefer the swordfish or tuna or Thresher shark steaks we get on occasion, because they don't have those small bones, and they are thick and dense and meaty, kind of like a beef steak.

But I keep trying the cod. Today I found a recipe in my Ukrainian Cuisine cookbook that solves the pin bone problem by grinding up the raw fish and making little fish balls out of it. I had just picked up a food processor and wanted to try it out, so this was perfect. The recipe is called, "Fish Balls from Cod and Farmer Cheese", and includes the title spelled out in Ukrainian, if you are adept at reading Ukrainian. I am not. I only know who to write "Xpuctoc Bockpec", which sounds like Khrystos Voskres, which translates in English to "Christ is Risen", because my mother would write that in colored icing on her Easter paska.

I am hosting a family potluck this coming weekend for my family where we all make some kind of Ukrainian dish in honor of my late mother, who was an American Ukrainian born to immigrant parents. She had a few recipes from the "Old Country", like stuffed cabbage rolls (called Holopschi), that she liked to recreate for our family. So my brother is making the holopschi, my sister is making borscht, and I am going to make a few side salads and appetizers from my cookbook. SLO Veg really came through this week for my salads with some cauliflower, tomatoes, radishes, carrots and green onion. I have two salad recipes that will utilized all of those vegetables (more on that later). One is a carrot salad with apples, and the other is a cauliflower salad with apples, tomatoes and cucumbers. Both call for a sour cream, vinegar and sugar dressing something like one would use on coleslaw. (There are no radishes in this photo...I need to fix that before I blog about the salads). But back to the fish balls.

I deviated from the recipe a bit. I soaked some wheat bread in milk (I don't
usually have any white bread around here, unless its sourdough), chopped up
Pureed fish and soaked bread
Cheddar Jack cheese gets mixed in with the fish
the fish in the food processor, then proceeded to chop just half an onion to go it it. The recipe called for soaking one-half pound of bread in water (I used 3 slices), and I had to look at the bread wrapper to see how much a whole loaf weighs:  1.2 lbs. It also called for farmer's cheese. I am not sure what kind of cheese that is. I had thought it was more like cottage or ricotta cheese, but the recipe said to grate it, so I used my cheddar-jack cheese blend. The only seasoning called for in the recipe was salt, but I added dried dill weed, salt and pepper, some lemon juice and some granulated garlic. Then I scooped out the mixture with my ball scoop and rolled them in a blend of flour and cornmeal, because I didn't want to just use flour.
I am a rebel.

Fish Balls

1 lb. cod filets
1/2 yellow onion
3 slices bread, soaked in 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 cup shredded cheddar-jack cheese
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal

Puree the fish in a food processor and put into a mixing bowl. Chop one-half a yellow onion in the food processor and mix in with the fish. Season the fish with salt, pepper, dill and lemon juice. Put the bread slices in a shallow dish and pour the milk over it, then break up the bread into small pieces. Stir into the fish mixture. Add the shredded cheese and mix well.

Scoop the fish into balls and roll in a mixture of flour and cornmeal. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve with cocktail sauce.

Cod fish balls baking in the oven. These are pretty big. I think I will try my smaller ball-maker next time I make these, which will be the next time we get cod in our tote.