Corn Chowder

This morning I received an email from a reader who very politely let me know I had left out potatoes in my list of ingredients when I posted this corn chowder recipe over on PortlandPeeps. My bad! Her message made me realize my omission of soups here on DecisiveCook. Soup is one of my favorites on cold winter days. Soups are the smoothies of winter. So many healthy ingredients can be added to one dish. You may just be looking for some hearty soup recipes for this holiday season, so I’ll be posting a few of my favorites.


Corn Chowder
(recipe slightly modified from Cooking Light Magazine)

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Medium sweet onions, diced
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Teaspoon sweet paprika
4 Cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 pound small red potatoes
1 Celery rib, thinly sliced
1 Bay leaf
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Cups frozen corn kernels
5 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 Cup milk (or half and half if you want it richer)
1/4 Teaspoon dried thyme
A few dashes of cayenne pepper
Sour cream

1. In a large stockpot, combine the butter, olive oil, onions and garlic. Saute over medium heat until the onions are tender but not brown, about 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with the paprika, stir, and cook for a minute.

2. Add the vegetable broth, potatoes, celery, bay leaf, salt, sugar and pepper. Cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the corn and scallions and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Scoop out 2 cups of the chowder and set it aside. Puree the remainder (if you have an immersion blender, it comes in handy since you can puree directly in the pot of soup) and return it to the pot. Stir in the reserved chowder, milk, thyme and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot with a spoonful of sour cream on top.


Thankful for Pie

With great honor, I am the elected family pie baker. And with Thanksgiving just days away, I’m on the hunt for my 2014 creations. Pumpkin is off the list this year, due to the simple fact that the ‘pumpkin spice everything’ craze has left me cold and nauseous.

Following are a few favorites being considered to grace the Thanksgiving table this year (I need to choose two):

French Apple Tart…


Chocolate Pecan…


Mississippi Mud…




Chocolate Cream…


What’s your favorite pie?

Warm Kale Salad


Warm salad? Those two words do not commingle well, but let me just say… yum!

I don’t usually dream about food, but when I do, it’s healthy food. This must be a sub conscious way my body has of telling me, “Hey, excuse me, but you’re not fulfilling my needs.”

I had a birthday a few weeks ago, which involved spending three days as a tourist in my hometown. What to do when your birthday falls on a Monday? Celebrate all weekend, of course! We have so many culinary treats located here in Portland, the biggest challenge is deciding which ones to visit. The first prandial activity took place at RingSide Steakhouse: Tenderloin steak, onion rings, garlic mashed potatoes, and a gin martini up with two olives. Need I say more?

On the afternoon of Day 2, we stopped in at Hop and Vine for popcorn and a pint. Dinner consisted of a kale salad at The Old Gold. A slice of delicious chocolate cream pie ended this day’s culinary tour at Random Order.

Day 3 (Sunday), we had tickets to see the musical play, Dream Girls. Lucky for us, a small cafe upstairs at Portland Center Stage offers lunch. If you live in Portland, and haven’t seen Dream Girls, it’s definitely worth taking in before it ends on November 2. Portland Center Stage is a small venue, so you can get good deals on those last minute seats and still be assured of a clear view of the stage. We then gravitated toward Stella Taco on NE Alberta, to meet up with friends for some of the best street-style tacos I’ve ever had. After dinner, an impromptu stop at Tonalli’s Donuts & Cream for French Crullers wrapped up the weekend.

Now back to that dream…


Yes, I dreamed of a warm kale salad. The following recipe is the result of that dream:

Warm Kale Salad
(Serves 4-6)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 diced onion
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 sweet orange pepper, chopped
8 oz baby bella (portobello) mushrooms
5 cups kale (leaves only), chopped
6 slices cooked bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Boil eggs until hard boiled, 13-15 minutes. Chill. Cook bacon, chop into small pieces, and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add onions and peppers and cook until peppers are soft and onion is slightly transparent. Add the mushrooms and the other tablespoon of butter, and sauté until browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the kale, garlic and balsamic vinegar. Sauté until the kale is wilted and deep green. Remove from heat and toss in the bacon. Serve with chopped egg and grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Cold-pressed coffee

Have you ever wondered why the iced coffee you get in a pro shop tastes so good? I always thought iced coffee was just that… take some hot coffee and pour it over ice. How wrong I was! Now that I’ve made cold-pressed coffee a few times, I’m ready to share this super easy method with you. If you are caffeine dependent like me, and cannot, or should not, be out in public, let alone drive a car without it — even on days that are way too hot and humid for a steaming cup o’ joe — listen up.

Coffee Splash

I’ve been thinking about high-speed photography with foods and drinks for a while now. Last weekend, I finally set up a little outside space to shoot some messy liquid. I’m so in love with my new discovery of iced, cold-pressed coffee, that it became my first subject. Not what I had originally imagined my first subject to be. After all, it’s no easy feat keeping ice clean when brownish liquids are flying. I wanted to make the completed images look like I captured it on the first shot, before the coffee turned the ice into a muddy shade of brown. That’s where post-production work comes in. I set my camera up on a tripod, and took a shot with the glass in place and beautiful, clean ice around it before I went crazy flinging ice cubes to create the splashes you see. Then I went to work in Photoshop combining the muddied image with the clean ice image. The result was much more labor intensive than I had anticipated, but I learned a whole lot in the process.

Making cold-pressed coffee is far less complicated than the process involved in photographing it.

The first thing you need is a bit of time. Plan accordingly. You will need to make this 9-12 hours before you plan to drink it. You also need a French press. You can probably use a strainer or coffee filter, but a French press is really easy, and certain things in life need to be easy.

Cold-Pressed Iced Coffee
1 cup coarsely ground good coffee beans
2 cups cold water
In a French press, add coffee, water. Stir well.
Plunge part way to seal in the coffee. Refrigerate for 9-12 hours.
After the brewing is complete, plunge and pour the rich liquid goodness into a glass container that you can seal and drink from for a few days.
This will provide you with a concentrate. Fill a glass with ice and a few ounces of the coffee. Add milk or half and half… you can also enjoy it straight, maybe with a little sweetener… but it’s so smooth and acidic free, you won’t need any. Notice how all the bitterness of coffee is gone? Pure, smooth goodness!
Store remaining concentrate in a covered glass container in the fridge.

You’re welcome! I have to go clean the coffee splatters off my house now…


Salsa season is here!

My teen is bored, the dogs are hyper with anticipation of a fun activity, probably involving balls, frisbees or sticks. My husband is on a month long working trip. I’m trying to keep up with all things involved in being a business owner, mom, homeowner, activity director, pet owner, and daughter. Yay. It’s summer.

What are you doing to celebrate the season? If it involves food, salsa is a great way to enjoy some of the seasonal fresh veggies out there.  With sweet corn currently priced in my local stores at 5 for $1, and cilantro at 2 bunches for $1, my frugal self is delighted. My daughter told me she could live on this stuff.


Corn Salsa
4 ears of fresh, grilled sweet corn
1/2 red onion, diced small
2 avocados, diced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Lots of chopped cilantro
Grill corn with husks on for 10-15 minutes (see below). Cut corn off the cob, and combine with remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate before serving.

My favorite way to grill corn: Pull the husks back to the corn stalk, but don’t remove. Pull off the silks and discard. Return the husks back to their original position, and tie with string. To keep the husks from burning on the grill, soak the corn in cold water for about 10 minutes. When they’re sufficiently soaked, fire up the grill, and roast uncovered on medium high for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally.



Up next: tomato season. Tuck this one away, it’ll be here before you know it…

Garden Tomato Salsa
Start with 9-12 medium sized ripe tomatoes
Cut them in half and take out the seeds.
Chop them coarsely and throw them into a food processor
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup of cilantro
3/4 cup chopped sweet onion
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 spicy pepper (I used an ‘Italian Roaster’ because there were some ripe ones in my garden, but you could use jalapeño or serrano, if you want extra spice)
1 teaspoon coriander (you could also use cumin if you like the flavor… I don’t)
Blend until the salsa is a slightly coarse consistency. Not too chunky, not too pureed. Perfect for scooping up with a corn chip. Place in a sealed container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight so that the flavors have a chance to mingle.


After all the salsa ingredients have gotten to know each other, call a few good friends, blend up some margaritas, grab a bag of corn chips… and all the good things summer has to offer!

Simple salad sauce


Who else is loving the abundance of fresh local veggies right now? My garden is overflowing with spinach, lettuces, peas, squash, raspberries and several herbs. Due to the wet, warm, humid weather we are experiencing here in Portland, my hair is constantly curly, and many varieties of weeds are thriving in our yard. But lets ignore those things for now, okay?

I’m grilling, sautéing, roasting… or simply tossing raw veggies into bowls and devouring them in the form of salads every day. When it comes to a dressing for my colorful creations, however, the store bought options are usually … ho hum. The bottled salad dressings are often laden with trans fats, sugar, salt, preservatives and artificial flavors. They can quickly turn fresh, crisp, organic goodness into something unthinkably unhealthy. No thank you!

Fortunately, by blending a few basic ingredients,  you can quickly and easily create healthier, delicious salad dressings, and feel much better about what you’re ingesting. This honey mustard dressing is my current favorite. It’s slightly tangy, sweet, creamy. It’s also great on grilled, sautéed, or roasted veggies, or drizzled over chicken.

Honey-Mustard Salad Dressing

2 Tablespoons pure honey
2 Tablespoons yellow or brown prepared mustard (I used yellow for the sake of a prettier color, but spicy brown is good too)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup Greek non-fat, plain yogurt
Whisk these ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Store in an airtight container for up to a week or so. Recipe makes one cup.

Yay, another use for my Weck jars! I can’t seem to get enough of these.


Sweet Hood Strawberries

Hood Strawberries

We have the best strawberries here in Oregon! Pretty sure we can attribute this to the climate… lots of rain, cool nights and warm sunny days. These are perfect conditions for growing the sweetest strawberries (the weeds in my yard seem to thrive in them as well). The berries stay on the vine and ripen slowly, allowing the sugars to surge before harvest. But these lovelies don’t last long after they’re harvested, which means you won’t see them in stores across the country. They’re very difficult to ship. I guess you’ll just have to visit Oregon to try them!

The window for Oregon strawberries (especially my favorite variety… Hoods), is so short. Sometimes I blink, and miss their quick visit. On a sunny afternoon last week, I coerced my teen into taking a drive out to a local farm with me. She had just finished high school exams for the year. I thought it might be a good way to bring her stress down a notch. An hour in the sun, talking and laughing, and before we knew it, our thoughts were lighter, and our buckets were full of these sweet red gems.

Then there was this pie…



This recipe is scribbled in a very overcrowded notebook with my other 15K or so favorites. It feels right to finally archive it here.

Strawberry Pie (recipe from my pie-baking Mother)

1 9-inch pre-baked pie crust (see detailed instructions below)
4 cups of fresh, sweet strawberries, hulled and washed immediately before use

Add about 3 cups of whole strawberries, (or however many will fit) in one layer on the bottom of the pre-baked pie crust.

In a small saucepan, bring to boil:
1 cup of crushed strawberries
3/4-1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

1. Boil the above ingredients for 2 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Add 1 Tablespoon butter. Mix and let cool.

2. Pour the glaze over the whole berries in the pie crust. Refrigerate for about 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Pie Crust (makes 1 9-inch crust)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8-1/4 cup ice cold water

1. Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and blend for a few seconds. Add unsalted butter pieces and pulse 4 times. Add shortening and pulse 4 more times. The mixture will look like coarse cornmeal and the butter and shortening bits no larger than peas. Add cold water and blend just until dough begins to stick together. Do not over blend.

2. Remove the dough and place it in a mound on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into a 4-inch disk, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling out.

3. Sprinkle a little flour on a flat, clean work surface and on top of the disk of dough you intend to roll out. (My favorite rolling surface is a pastry cloth, but I also have a Silpat that works pretty well too). Using a rolling pin, apply light pressure while rolling outwards from the center of the dough. You have a big enough piece of dough when you place the pie dish over the dough and the dough extends by at least 2 inches all the way around.

4. When the dough has reached the right size, gently roll it onto the rolling pin. Place it into a pie plate, and simply unroll. Do not stretch the dough. Finish the edges by pressing against the edges with your finger tips or a fork.

To pre-bake the dough:

Once your crust is in the pie dish, freeze it for at least a half hour, until well chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. line the chilled pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights – dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool completely before filling.


Hello there, friends! I didn’t mean to be gone so long. I know you understand how life gets really busy, and it’s hard to find time to do all the things we want to do amongst all the things we have to do. Our kitchen remodeling is complete with the exceptions of adding a backsplash, sewing bench cushions and finding the right rug. Beyond cooking/baking, I’m taking a short break from projects in there momentarily. I’m sure by fall I’ll feel the need to finish up these loose ends though.

Then there’s this project:


While Craig’s List shopping for a small freezer, I found this darling table (that I forgot to take a picture of before I began refinishing). Even though it was covered in white latex paint, for $35 it was too good to pass up. I’d heard about Annie Sloan chalk paint from a friend, and I’ve been wanting to try it. It’s true you can paint right over almost anything with this paint, but this thickly covered table needed to have more definition of edges and curves than I would get by painting over its old layers. So I purchased a heat gun (also through Craig’s List), and began the long, arduous process. What I discovered under that first layer was not pleasant… purple and green very sticky, glue-like gunk that didn’t bubble and peel off, but melted and coated the wood when heated. Hours of sanding later, I had a pretty good surface. I covered the top in Old White with a bit of Louis Blue around the edges, the legs in Louis Blue, added some flour sack stripes to the top, and two coats of clear wax. More hours were spent that I care to admit, but I’m pretty happy with it. I’m thinking it will be my photo table. The sides pull out, which is nice for holding props during shoots.

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4


These stripes were really fun to do! I was tempted to freehand a stripe in the preexisting groove, but I’m so glad I took the extra steps to make it look pro.

My favorite St Patrick’s Day dinner


In Ireland, corned beef and cabbage is about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs. It turns out this peasant corned beef and cabbage meal is just an American way to celebrate Irish heritage. So, if you’re planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional non-Irish dinner Monday, I have a few recipes you should try. For those of you who have been following me forever, (thank you!) this will be a familiar post. Every year, I alter my recipe just a little, and it just gets better, so I wanted to share the latest with you.


First, you need to buy the best piece of corned beef you can find. This is of utmost importance to the entire meal, so splurge on a roast that’s the real thing. We’re fortunate to have several stores nearby that sell local beef. Beef from cattle raised without growth hormones or antibiotics on farms where they graze on natural native grasslands, pastures and forests. My favorite local store is New Seasons Market, and this is where I buy corned beef. Their corned beef is a beef brisket that is not overly salted or seasoned.

I’ve often wondered why some meats sold as corned beef are red and others gray, so I emailed the friendly people at New Seasons to find out. Within 24-hours, I received a message back from Daniel Menashe, a customer advocate at the market, who took me to beef school.

According to Daniel, “Red corned beef is a more modern invention. It’s the result of adding potassium nitrate or sodium nitrite to the meat in order to preserve the red color. It may look prettier, but some folks take issue with the safety of these compounds, and most chefs and gourmands feel that they can rob the subtlety from a cured meat.” “Our corned beef is classic gray and proud of it.”


At New Seasons they use beef brisket because it’s the most tender and well-marbled.

He also explained where the term corn comes in. “The corn in ‘corned beef,’ doesn’t refer to the New World grain, but rather an Old English term for salt — a corn of salt used to mean the same thing as a grain of salt.”

To sum it up — “Brisket is best. Go for the gray. It has nothing to do with corn.”

Now that you know everything you need to know about corned beef, pick up a 3 lb. piece of gray beef, perfectly cured with herbs and spices at your favorite local store. The best way to cook it, in my opinion, is slowly in a Dutch oven.



St Paddy’s Day dinner

3 lbs corned beef
24 oz Guinness (or other stout beer)
2 leeks, sliced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 green cabbage, sliced into 8 wedges
12 small red potatoes
Bunch of carrots, with tops snapped off
Bunch of asparagus, washed and snapped
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 Tablespoon dried basil
Sea salt
Horseradish for serving or creamy horseradish sauce (see recipe below)

Place beef, sliced leeks and garlic into a large (7 quart) oven-proof dish and add enough beer to cover the meat. You may need to add some water to fully cover the meat. Place a lid over the dish and place into a 325°F oven for about 3 hours. Add cabbage wedges and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cabbage is soft.

Place the potatoes, carrots and asparagus into a large baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on some sea salt and the parsley and basil. Roast in a 325°F oven for at least an hour, or until veggies are tender. You can also throw these items in with the meat and cabbage for an hour or so if you wish. My husband has a thing about carrots cooked with meat, so I roast them separately to accommodate him. I actually prefer this method now.

Lay out the vegetables onto a serving platter. Slice the corned beef, against the grain into thin slices and top with some of that delicious cooking liquid. Serve warm.

Oh, and this soda bread is an absolute must served alongside…

The following recipe is the original Irish soda bread from Grand Central Baking Company, a fabulous local bakery here in Portland.

Grand Central’s Irish Soda Bread
Makes 8 pieces, or two large rounds

4 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 Tablespoons orange zest
2-1/4 teaspoons caraway seeds
3/4 cup currants
14 Tablespoons (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons buttermilk, divided
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water and a pinch of salt)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a high-sided mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in orange zest, caraway seeds and currants.

Dice butter in 1/2-inch cubes. Use your hands or the paddle attachment to mix butter into dry ingredients until the texture becomes mealy. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill overnight, or proceed with the recipe.

Add 3/4 cup buttermilk all at once, mixing just until the dough comes together, 30-35 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients and add remaining buttermilk.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 chunks. Gently shape the pieces into dome-like disks and score each one into quarters.

Place disks on the baking sheet and brush liberally with egg wash. Put the baking sheet in the center of the preheated oven and bake 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until disks are shiny and golden brown.

Creamy horseradish sauce
Makes 1 cup

1/3 cup cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 T. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. In another medium size bowl, combine the mayonnaise, horseradish, and mustard. Fold in whipped cream, and sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Stir well.

Voila! Just add good friends. And Guinness!

And just in case you’re wondering…
Paddy is derived from the Irish, Pádraig: the source of those mysterious, emerald double-Ds.
Patty is the diminutive of Patricia, or a burger, and just not something you call a fella.
There isn’t a sinner in Ireland that would refer to a Patrick as “Patty”. It’s as simple as that.

Lá Shona Fhéile Pádraig! Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Pancake Day

In honor of National Pancake Day, we had pancakes for dinner last night, just so I could share this fabulous pancake recipe with you today. Well, that and the fact that I’m running out of ideas for meals made in a skillet, in our dining room. So these fluffy little stacked cakes happened…


Today is Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday. This day was created as a religious-based tradition. It was a good way to use up peoples’ supplies of butter, eggs, and milk, which were all forbidden foods during the season of Lent. But that’s tomorrow… Bon Appétit!

This recipe is a new tradition in my house for a few reasons. The ingredients are ones I usually have around, they are light and fluffy, and incredibly easy to make. I like to crisp the edges ever so slightly in a hot skillet, stack ‘em high, and pour on the pure maple syrup.


Delicious Fluffy Pancakes

3/4 Cup milk
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 Cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 Teaspoon baking powder                                                                                                              1/2 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking spray

Combine the milk and vinegar in a bowl and let sit for 5 minutes to sour the milk.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk the egg and butter into the soured milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, and blend with a whisk until all the lumps are gone.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with a little cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cups full of batter into the heated skillet and cook until little bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook on the other side until browned.

Next week I should be cooking in our new kitchen. The counters and sink are scheduled to be installed tomorrow!