Silky Pumpkin Panna Cotta (vegan pumpkin pie sans crust)

Pumpkin pie has really grown on me in the last few years-- well at least the pumpkin part. I have tried spicing up the crust to no avail (a gringer snap crust failed last year as it soaked up so much liquid it became a goo... and I even par-baked!).

So here it is, the best part of pumpkin pie! And vegan (for all you non-dairy-ers out there)! It is so simple because you use the Japanese "gelatin" called kanten, which will set at room temperature! I like to serve in individual ramekins with whipped cream and a cinnamon spiced caramel sauce.

Combine in saucepan, stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes:
  • 1 (15oz) can high quality pureed pumpkin (organic from trader joes, whole foods etc)
  • 3/4 C lite coconut milk
  • 1.5 TB agar-agar (or "kanten") flakes (or 3/5 tea agar powder)
  • 1/4 tea salt
  • 1/3 C packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tea ground cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon from Costco is really good in this)
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tea ground cloves
  • optional: allspice, 1 tea black strap molasses
Bring to a gentle simmer, and let simmer for a few minutes until incorporated. Take off heat, and pour into individual ramekins. Agar-agar will set at room temp, so you don't have to put it in the fridge to gel up.

Make caramel sauce with cream or water to thin out to drizzling consistency, adding cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.

Whip cream (or use vegan cream), and pipe unto chilled/set puddings.


Home-made Chicken Soup (from a rotisserie chicken)

After devouring a hot rotisserie chicken from Costco (yum!), I like to make chicken soup with the leftovers!

1) Pick off the useable meat from the bones and set aside.

2) Then make chicken stock out of your rotisserie chicken back/bones, see my previous post on making chicken broth.

3) While the chicken stock is cooking (20 minutes in a pressure cooker), cut up the veggies for the soup in thin slices (so they cook faster):
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
Optional: add other veggies that cook fast

Sometimes I add potato chunks to my soup, but only if I am starting the soup from broth that is already made up. Potatoes take a while to cook normally, so I usually cook them in the pressure cooker.

4) Once the broth/stock is finished (i.e. finished cooking and strained), add in the sliced veggies from above, and:
cooked chicken chunks
cracked/ground black pepper
salt to taste

5) cook the soup for 10 minutes, or until the noodles and veggies are cooked, and the chicken pieces are warmed.

6) Serve hot with bread and or sliced cheese.


Raspberry Vinegrette

Mix together in a jar:
1/3 - 1/2 C raspberries, softenend and mashed
1 TB red wine vinegar
2 TB olive oil
1 tea honey

Serve over watercress, greens, with apples and almonds.


Dhal Makhan (Creamy Dal Curry)

This is a different take on dal curry, inspired by this book. It is not at all spicy, and doesn't even use onions! I usually make a vegan recipe with dal, but this is fun to mix it up a bit.

Pressure cook on for 5 minutes, use "quick release" method to release pressure after 5 minutes:
1 cup chana dal* (you can use yellow split peas but they come out mushy)
4 cups water
1 TB oil**
1/4 tea fenugreek seeds

**WARNING: the oil is very important to keep the pressure cooker from foaming and making a huge mess on the stovetop.

Meanwhile, prepare:
  • ginger garlic paste - 2 parts garlic, 2 parts ginger, and 1 part serrano/jalapeno chiles, food processed (you will need 2 TB paste for this recipe, but you can make more for later use)
  • 13 oz pureed tomatoes (either use can or fresh)
When the split peas/dal are cooked, remove from heat, open and stir. Cover and set aside.

Heat a large pan over medium heat.

Add 2 TB ghee or oil, swirl around.

Add 2 TB garlic ginger paste, and cook for a couple minutes, careful not to burn the garlic/ginger.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes, stir and let simmer (uncovered) for about 10 minutes. You need to make sure the tomatoes are cooked enough (this will change the PH of fresh tomatoes so they don't react with the cream).

Add spices and stir for 2 minutes over medium heat:
2 tea corriander
1/4 tea nutmeg
1/2 tea salt
2 tea garam masala

Strain cooked dal in mesh strainer, reserve cooking liquid. Stir in the strained cooked dal to the tomato mixture, and pour in 1/2 C half & half (light cream) or 2 TB whipping cream. Add additional cooking liquid until you reach desired consistency.

Taste for seasonings, serve over basmati rice.


Brown-Bag Popcorn

Combine in a paper lunch bag, and fold down the opening (don't use anything metal):
1/4 C popcorn kernels
1 pat of butter, about 1 tea (you could also swap out and use olive oil instead)

Microwave for 2 minutes, or less if the popping sound stops.

Carefully open the bag, and add 1/4 tea salt, optional parmesan cheese.

  • Don't overcook. Of course it depends on the power of your microwave, but if you cook too long you will start the popcorn on fire (eww!).
  • Don't use too many kernels. If you do, you will end up overcooking and burning the popcorn. 1/4 C is quite a bit of popcorn and will fill up the bag.


Yakiniku (Japanese pan fried beef)

This is super simple and very delicious. You can cook enough for 2 people in under 5 minutes. This is another classic adapted from Hiroko Shimbo. It is great with a little rice, and steamed broccoli, or daikon salad. I topped the rice here with a vegetable furikake.

Buy or have your butcher prepare:
0.5 pound sukiyaki or yakiniku beef (beef cuck-eye, sliced paper thin, but not necessarily as thin as the shabu-shabu beef)

Combine and set aside:
1/4 C sake
1/4 C soy sauce
3 TB sugar

Heat a flat skillet (larger the better) to medium high heat. Cook the beef in batches:

1. lay beef in hot pan, let cook 1 minute

2. drizzle sauce mixture and let it bubble up around the beef, turn beef over to other side, let cook additional 30 seconds or until done.

3. dish out beef and cover until you are done with all the batches


Okonomiyaki is literally "as you like it", a popular dish from Japan. The best way to describe it is like a cross between an omlette and pancake.

It has a batter (the same kind used in Tako-yaki I think), and then they add cabbage and your choice of add ins- my favorites are cheese, mochi and asparagus! Then it is cooked in a round flat shape on a griddle (much like a pancake) and served with BBQ-type sauce, mayonaise, aonori (blue seaweed) and katsuobushi flakes.
These pictures are from our dinner at Chibo restaurant in Ebisu Garden Place in Japan.

Daikon Salad

Two different versions- you can change up the ingredients!
We fell in love with the daikon salad at Chibo Okonomiyaki restaurant in Ebisu, Japan (from Ebisu station, follow signs to Ebisu Garden place, then go to 38th floor of the large bulding where all the restaurants are). Daikon is a very mild Japanese radish, it is more like jicama than radish. We ordered this before our okonomiyaki meal.

Here is my stab at recreating it:

Slice 1 daikon into very small matchsticks, then soak in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again.

Toss daikon in salad bowl with:
couple sprigs mizuna, chopped into 2 inch lengths (or substitute spinach, cut into strips)
optional: 5 small cherry tomato halves
optional: shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
optional: daikon sprouts
optional: abura-age tofu, rinsed and cut into strips

Mix dressing and pour over salad:
2 TB to 1/4 C mayonnaise
2 tea soy sauce
1/4 tea mustard powder
1/4 tea ginger powder
1 TB mirin or water
1- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar (komezu or su)
optional: 1/4 tea lemon zest

Top with:
aonori (powdered nori) or sliced nori
thick strips of katsuobushi (fish flakes)

Chili (with beef and beans)

After eating the chili at Deschutes Brewery, I was hooked! This chili is pretty similar- thick rich flavored chili with some beans and nice chunks of tender steak. I adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

It takes a few HOURS to make, but worth it-- make a huge batch and then freeze a couple dinners for later! Basically, you will need 1.5 hrs to prep (including cutting up the meat), then it will cook for about 3 hours more.

This is great served over brown rice, with sour cream, acovado, lime, and cheese fixins' on top.

Soak 4 large ancho chilies in hot water (or use 2 ancho chilis for less spicy version) . They need to soak for 20-30 minutes so get this started early!

Meanwhile, cut up 3.5 to 4 lbs well marbled beef (brisket or chuck type cuts) into bite size chunks. I like to get free-range, antibiotic free meat from the market for this (cost about $17 from Whole Foods, but worth it!).

Mince, then toss with cut up beef in a bowl:
1 clove garlic
1.5 tea salt
1.5 tea cumin
1.5 tea chili powder
(or substitute paprika for less spicy chili)

Chop in a food processor, then scoop into a bowl and reserve:
1.5 white onions (about 1.5 lbs)
2-3 cloves garlic

Puree in food processor for later:
soaked ancho chilies (remove the tops and seeds from inside)
28- 32 oz canned tomatoes in juice (you could use same quantity fresh tomatoes)
1 can (7 oz) chipotles in adobo sauce (or use half can, 3.5 oz for less spicy)
2 cloves garlic
1.5 tea salt

In a hot pan with a little olive oil, brown meat in batches, then scoop onto a plate and reserve.

In the same pan with beef bits (fond), add 2 TB more olive oil then saute the chopped onion and garlic mixture for about 8 minutes over medium heat, scraping up beef bits and stirring.

Add to onion mixture and stir:
1 TB cumin
1 TB chili powder (or use paprika for less spicy version)
optional: 1 TB oregano

chopped serrano pepper
tomato mixture from food processor

Now stir in:
beef and juices
2 C water
12 oz beer

Simmer the entire thing for about 2 hours over low heat.

Taste, and add additional serranos if it isn't hot enough. Simmer another hour. Thin with water if necessary.

Shred some of the beef in the pan with two forks, as desired.

Add cooked black beans (either rinsed and drained from a can or beans you have pre-cooked), stir and heat through another 20 minutes or so.

Serve over brown rice, with condiments like:
sour cream
avocado slices
chopped tomatoes
cilantro sprig
grated cheddar cheese
lime wedges

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

I know it's not truly "authentic" but we love butter chicken anyway- creamy buttery spicy sauce with delicate pieces of chicken- very good on indian breads like nan and pooris.

After scouring the web and a couple tests in the kitchen, this is it!

Prepare ahead by food processing equal parts garlic and ginger until minced or like a paste. Reserve and use as directed below.

Cut 500 grams raw chicken (preferably chicken breast) into thin slices, mix with:
1 tea ginger garlic paste
1 tsp Red chilli powder
1/2 tea coriander powder
pinch salt

In hot pan, shallow fry chicken in 2 TB olive oil until half-cooked and set aside chicken.

In oiled pan with chicken fond (from above), add & cook covered for a bit, pulling up the chicken fond:
2 TB oil 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 1 onion 1 tea garlic ginger paste 4 piece cashew nuts ¼ tea fenugreek seeds little bit of water

Then add:
2 green chilies (Serrano) 2 tea coriander powder 1 tea cumin powder 200 grams tomatoes, chopped (2-3 tomatoes) optional 1/2 tsp Crushed fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)

Cook it slowly, so the tomatoes are fully mashed. If you don’t cook the tomatoes enough, they will have too much acid- which causes texture problems when you add the cream later. Pour into a blender and whirl until smooth.

In empty pan, melt 100 grams (about ½ C) butter. Be careful not to burn the butter, so do this over low heat.

Add and stir over medium heat:
any water that oozed out of the chicken
whirled tomato-onion mixture
optional: water if needed for consistency

Add ½ C (or 100 grams) cream, stir. DO NOT substitute half & half, it doesn’t have enough fat and will separate when you add it to the sauce.

Add & mix:
¼ tea salt 1/2 tea sugar 1 tea ketchup optional red food coloring
Add half-cooked chicken, cook over medium heat until chicken is fully cooked and sauce is warm. Add sprinkle garam masala at the end.


Caramel Sauce

I tried a few recipes before settling on this to make a small amount (1/2 C) of caramel, just enough to dip apples in or drizzle over ice cream or dessert. The first recipe I tried didn't require a candy thermometer, so I didn't get the right flavor or consistency (I ended up with sweetened condensed milk). I think the important points to a caramel recipe are to use at least some butter (for flavor) and to carefully measure the temperature.

The basic idea is to make sticky caramel and then add cream at the end to make the finished caramel the right consistency.

Melt a little less than 1 TB butter in a small heavy duty saucepan.

Once melted add:
3/4 C brown sugar
3 TB water

Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves, this should just take a couple minutes. After this point, DO NOT STIR as you may re-introduce sugar crystals which will ruin the silky caramel texture. If you do inadvertently do this, you can re-heat the mixture back to the soft-ball stage.

Then cover the pot and let it bubble over medium-low heat for 2 minutes (this is meant to wash any still-crystallized sugar down the sides of the pot).

Now lift the lid, and attach candy thermometer to the pot. Without stirring, continue to cook over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 234 F (soft-ball stage).

Promptly take the pan off heat and let cool for a couple moments. Then add 1/8 tea salt and optional vanilla extract or beans.

Slowly drizzle 1/4 -1/2 C warm cream (you can warm it in the microwave) into the hot caramel, stirring lightly (but don't scrape the edges of the pot). Add as much cream as you need to reach desired consistency.

If you later want a thinner sauce, you can just warm up some cream and slowly mix it into the caramel. Don't try re-heating the whole thing on the stove or you risk ruining the smooth sugar texture.

Thanksgiving 2009

I finally have clearance to do Thanksgiving this year!! Here is my tentative menu so far (trying to keep it "traditional" this year):

apple/cheese appetizer plate: granny smith, fuji apples, with blue cheese, extra sharp white cheddar, gorgonzola/brie, "fromage fort" cheese spread. Willamete Valley Cheese Company's "perrydale" cheese

Side Dishes
mushroom risotto with wild rice and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese: use rehydrated shiiatkes, cut up some cremini mushrooms, use white wine (sauvingon blanc) and broth for liquid, wild/brown rice mixture and pressure cook

spinach, goat cheese crumbles, sliced organic gala apples and maple/cinnamon dressing
greens (mizuna, watercress, mesculun), almonds, raspberry vinaigrette

roasted butternut squash slices with goat cheese/herb dressing

Brined, rubbed, roasted turkey from Diestel Farms. According to this site, you need about 1.5 lbs of raw turkey (with the bone) per person.

Silky pumpkin & coconut milk panna cotta

Champagne/sparkling wine: WinCo sells "Ballatore gran spumante" for $5 or less a bottle