A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Two Holiday Breakfasts

All these holiday food posts are just now trickling in as I sort through photos and return to normal life. Here are two breakfasts I wish I could eat every week, but instead end up eating about once a year.

On Christmas we intended to have huevos rancheros, but we never got around to making salsa, so we had French toast instead. I used the rest of the Italian bread I'd made for Christmas Eve dinner with Lawson's family. The recipe was pretty standard -- just milk, eggs, vanilla, and a little sugar, sauteed in butter -- but since the bread was so substantial I was able to soak it for a while -- about half an hour to get it really full of flavor.

Unlike pancakes, which I like with yogurt, jam, peanut butter, and various combinations thereof, French toast requires syrup and butter. So maybe it's good I don't eat it too often.

We had huevos rancheros the day after Christmas. Lawson made the salsa, which was pretty impressive for containing winter grocery store tomatoes. I believe he used cherry tomatoes, black beans, lime juice, cilantro, a can of Herdez salsa verde, an an onion. The Anasazi beans cooked on low for almost two days in the crockpot, so they were outstanding. I fried the tortillas and the eggs in olive oil.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fancy Quesadillas

A few weeks ago I made quesadillas filled with some odds and ends we needed to use up -- cilantro, arugula, roasted pork, monterey jack cheese, queso anejo, and whole wheat tortillas -- and was pleased to find that they tasted wonderful, much more than the sum of their parts. Arugula and cilantro together produce a whole new flavor. Since then we have also made them with thinly sliced lean beef, marinated in lime juice, oregano, and garlic and then sauteed. I think the pork was better, though -- more subtle.

We eat them with this habanero-carrot sauce Lawson makes (yeah, I know, it looks like nacho cheese). The carrots allow the sauce to have big habanero flavor without being inedibly spicy. It's a Belizean recipe. I have been known to eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I made a fruitcake for Christmas this year. And I spent a lot of time trying to convince Lawson that it wasn't going to be gross. He was dubious...I guess he ate a lot of dry fruitcake packed with green candied cherries when he was a kid. I, on the other hand, ate a lot of tasty homemade and Collin Street fruitcake, so I have mostly good associations, its cultural status notwithstanding.

Making it was fun. I soaked tons of dried fruit in brandy, and made a delicious dark cake with the fruit, some nuts, and more brandy. I then wrapped it and put it away for a week to age. A few days before Christmas I tried a little, and it was tasty but a tad dry, so I soaked it with more brandy -- still less than the maximum amount the recipe allowed, mind you. But it got a little too boozy and fruity.

So I'm sad to report my fruitcake is a tiny bit gross. Maybe it needs to mellow more. It's a little too moist now, and it falls apart, and the booze isn't altogether pleasant. It tastes like fermented fruit in dough. So I guess I'll put it away again and try it next month.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Real Plum Pudding

I mean that it's made with real plums, not dried fruit and suet. This may be Swedish in origin, or my grandmother may have found the recipe on the back of a can of plums.

A child can make this dessert. In fact, I think you and Russell used to do it. As for the sauce, it's so easy it's magical. You can use rum or bourbon, but Grandma always uses Scotch because that's what she has in the house.

Give a serving of this to even the crabbiest, bah-humbuggy person, and he will begin to smile.

Real Plum Pudding

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sift first four ingredients together.

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 large can plums, drained, pitted, and diced
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Combine remaining ingredients and stir into dry mixture. Pour into greased casserole and bake at 325º for one hour or more, or until set in center. Serve with Rum Sauce.

My Grandmother's Rum Sauce*

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 egg, well beaten

Combine first four ingredients in sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

3 tablespoons rum, brandy, or bourbon

Remove from heat and stir in liquor. Serve warm.

*Actually I think my grandmother got this recipe from my typing teacher. She was a terrifying woman, and because of her I can still type 85 words per minute. I was astounded to learn that she was human and did normal things like cooking and eating.

What Happened to this Turkey?

It's easy to be daunted by a recipe that begins: "Disjoint a 12-pound turkey and brown the pieces in lard." All you need to disjoint a turkey is a big old sharp knife and maybe some poultry shears, but let's be honest--the process is gross no matter how you slice it.

I made the browning easier by doing it in a 450 degree oven, then poured on some water and finished poaching the turkey by covering it with foil and continuing to bake at 300 degrees for about 2 1/2 hours. It's aromatic and delicious.

It's cooling now. Next I'll take the meat off the bones, then make broth with the carcass. Tomorrow this deconstructed turkey will become Turkey Mole for Christmas dinner.

Pork Filling for Tamales

I've used this filling for the last two years for holiday tamales. It's an amalgamation of various tomatillo salsa recipes and some pork recipes from Aida Gabilondo and James Peyton. It's very satisfying. It would work anywhere, really -- enchiladas, quesadillas, grilled sandwiches...on a spoon straight out of the bowl...

I suppose one could make a small batch, but I think it's hardly worth it.

First, you need a big chunk of pork. I used a 3.5-pound bone-in rib-end loin roast. Brown it all over, then cover it with water and poach it in a Dutch oven until the meat is soft and shreddable. Add a few cloves of garlic and a few bay leaves to the water. I wouldn't use boneless pork -- without bones, the meat would end up too watery and bland.

Anyway, cool the pork, debone it, and shred the meat.

Chop a small onion finely and saute it over medium-low heat just until translucent. Mix with the pork.

Cover 1 pound of tomatillos with water in a small pot and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer tomatillos to food processor with tongs and process very briefly. Add to pork mixture. If you can't find tomatillos or are in a hurry, you could use Herdez salsa verde, but fresh tomatillos are so pretty.
Add and mix thoroughly:

- 3/4 cup or more roasted green chiles, diced. I used some from the garden that I roasted and froze a few months ago, but you could use 2 to 3 cans of whole green chiles and dice them yourself. (Pre-diced canned green chiles are icky, somehow -- I have to buy the whole ones and cut them up myself.)
- One small bunch of cilantro, chopped
- Salt to taste
- Fresh lime juice to taste

That's it! I made a big batch yesterday and will probably assemble the tamales tomorrow. More on that when the time comes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Raw Vegetables

Recently I bought a big chunk of tuna and grilled it. With it we had rice noodles with a sauce from Nina Simonds' Asian Noodles book. I added red pepper, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and julienned carrots to the noodles.

Here's the sauce, which she calls Chinese Peanut Dressing. Sure, it has Chinese ingredients, but it can be used in a lot of ways, Chinese and not -- basically anytime you need a peanut sauce that isn't coconut-milk-based.

Combine in a food processor:

- a chunk of peeled ginger, enough to yield a few tablespoons minced
- 2-5 cloves garlic (recipe calls for 8, and I love garlic, but even 6 was too much)
- 1 teaspoon hot chile sauce (like Sriracha) or more
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3.5 tablespoons sugar (less if you use scary sweetened hydrogenated peanut butter like Jif, but I know you would never do that)
- 3.5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or Chinese black vinegar (I've never used the latter)
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 5 tablespoons or more water or chicken broth

Friday, December 21, 2007

Food as Religion Again

Now I’m into the good part of Christmas: making food for gifts. Had I been a Wise Man, I would have brought the Christ Child lemon curd or homemade salsa. Tonight I’m making pear chutney, and I have my marmalade and lemon curd recipes at the ready.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s discussion—my recipe card file was getting really messy and I failed to find both my pear chutney and eggplant salad recipes on the first go. I sorted them, archived some of them (put in a more deeply buried file), and even threw some away. In doing so, I came across James Peyton’s recipe for green chile enchilada sauce. I had written it out for my card file for convenience, but I had forgotten to make those particular enchiladas for several months. Well! I had the same religious experience as last year about this time, involving love, longing, intense nostalgia, and activation of the saliva glands. We’re going to have them tomorrow. Silly, since we live in Arizona and can have enchiladas any day we want. Maybe this is how Norwegians feel about lutefisk, and is why some people are Lutherans. I really don't know.

Here is the eggplant salad recipe. It’s the one pictured on our masthead. Very flexible and wonderful.

Roasted Eggplant Relish

1 large eggplant (peeled if desired), or several small ones
Olive oil

Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes. Toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Place in colander to drain for 30 to 60 minutes. Rinse lightly, drain, pat dry. (I sometimes skip this step if I’m lazy).

Place the eggplant cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and the edges are touched with brown.

Now you can do anything with these tasty little morsels. You can eat them as is, like a pig, standing at the kitchen counter. You can put them in a pasta sauce. My favorite way is to make them into this relish that’s halfway between a salad and a condiment. You can make this very simple with just a little parsley and tomato, or you can make it rich and complex with olives and chiles.

Chopped tomatoes
Parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and/or other fresh chopped herbs
Minced red onion, or sliced green onions
Ripe or green olives if desired
Finely minced jalapeno, optional, or powdered cayenne or crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix gently. Serve at room temperature.

Christmas Food Traditions

This reprint of an older Slate article is right in one way: because there's no single Christmas meal tradition in this country, one never knows what to expect from someone else's Christmas dinner. But unlike the author of the article, I think it's wonderful. People save their old, old, traditional family recipes for the holidays, which keeps ethnic foods part of America but not part of mass culture. If not for Christmas, would I have grown up regularly eating Swedish and Norwegian food, except at the odd family reunion? And all my best friend's Hanukkah dinners I went to in high school -- where else in America do you get to eat food like that? I've never seen a restaurant with Manischewitz on the wine list. That kind of food stays around because of the winter holidays.

Still, I love Swedish meatballs, but not enough to make them for the non-Scandinavian Lawson and nobody else (we usually spend Christmas Day alone together). And I'm not going to make lutefisk, even if I could even find a source in South Carolina. But one needs a dramatic central item for a meal as important as Christmas dinner. So I have thrown myself into what is sort of but not completely a family tradition: tamales. Because of all the time our family has spent living in the Southwest, they seem traditional, even though we're not Mexican or Central American. They're festive and warming and delicious; and they're pretty laborious, so I wouldn't want to make them just anytime. They remind me of home. And if I make a huge batch I can freeze them and we can have a few tamale meals later in the year.

I'll document the tamale-making on Sunday.

I'm writing about future food, not food already prepared, because I've been busy and a little stressed out and forgetting to take meal pictures. Last night we had Thai takeout. The night before that, quesadillas and roasted sweet potatoes. Before that Lawson made these awesome giant square rice noodles with stir-fried beef. So we're surviving just fine. And now that I've got some time off work, I can get back to writing here a lot more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pot Luck Vegetables

Eva, here are a couple of vegetable recipes that can be served at room temperature. I would be ecstatic to find dishes like these at a pot luck lunch. (Disclosure: this is Swiss chard in the picture, not spinach).

Carrots with Lemon Mustard Dressing

1 pound carrots, peeled and julienned

Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2 lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons coarse mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix lemon juice, sugar, and mustards; whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss with carrots.

Fancy Spinach and Artichokes

1 jar marinated artichoke hearts (drain and reserve liquid)
2 large bunches spinach, cleaned, lightly cooked, and well drained (or 2 packages frozen, ditto)

Spray a Pyrex pie plate or shallow casserole with cooking spray. Arrange artichoke hearts in bottom and spread spinach on top.

2 eggs
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces sour cream
Reserved artichoke liquid, or milk
1 teaspoon dill weed
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix egg, cream cheese, sour cream, milk, dill weed, salt, and pepper. Add a little milk if necessary to make mixture spreadable. Spread over spinach in casserole.

Parmesan cheese to cover

Top with Parmesan. Cover and bake at 350º for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quick and Easy Dinners, Part 817

Recently we had grilled hot dogs on whole wheat buns, salad, and champagne.

I was testing holiday punch recipes for the Free Times, looking for something not too sweet or gross but still kind of fun, so we had some cheap but dry sparkling wine around. Turns out it goes exceptionally well with beef hot dogs.

Hey, I think I will resolve in 2008 to drink champagne more often. It's no more expensive than wine or semi-decent beer if you choose carefully and don't have sky-high standards, which I certainly don't. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Cooking Process

I started out with the intention of making ratatouille tonight, because of having eggplant and other ingredients on hand, but after cookbook browsing and back-and-forth with Dad, I ended up with an Indian eggplant/potato/chickpea stew. I served it over brown rice, and it was quite okay, but the condiments were better: cilantro chutney, pear chutney, and a cherry tomato raita.
We used cherry tomatoes and cilantro freely from the garden, because it might freeze tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Turkey Chowder and Dilly Casserole Bread

I find I'm using this blog to record old family favorites more during the winter and holiday season. This soup is the first and best thing we make with leftover turkey and broth. Grandma discovered it and many other great things in Casserole Treasury by Lousene Rousseau Brunner. My copy is dated 1964. I saw one at an used book sale last month.

The bread is a sort of seventies recipe that's very satisfying. The batter bread format is so forgiving. I substitute freely and it's always good--not exactly European-style artisan bread, but it has its place.

Hearty Turkey Chowder

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon curry powder

Melt butter in large saucepan and sauté onion until transparent. Add curry powder and cook 2 minutes longer.

3 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 cup diced potatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery

Add broth, potatoes, carrots, and celery; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

1 cup diced cooked turkey
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk

Add turkey, oregano, and parsley. Continue to simmer about 10 minutes longer, or until vegetables are just tender.

Stir in evaporated milk and cook until heated through. Do not boil.

Dilly Casserole Bread

1 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter

Heat together until butter melts. Place in large mixing bowl.

1 cup flour (I use whole wheat, but any mixture of white or whole wheat is fine)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons dill seed
1 teaspoon dried dill weed, or 2 tablespoons fresh
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 egg

Add next 8 ingredients to mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. (I use a bread machine for all this. After the first rise I put the batter in a greased casserole.)

1-1/2 cups flour

Beat in remaining flour. Cover bowl and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Stir down. Place dough in greased 2-quart casserole and let rise again, covered, for about 30 minutes. Bake at 350º for 30 to 40 minutes.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Double Beets

Here's another light meal for this season when I seem to spend a lot of time recovering from eating or drinking too much.

- Beets, roasted and tossed with olive oil, salt, and the juice of one tangerine
- Large green beans, steamed and tossed with olive oil, salt, and tarragon (as suggested by Jack Bishop)
- A tortilla española containing onions, potatoes, the beet stems and tops, and Parmesan cheese, served at room temperature. I was worried the stems would dye the potatoes and eggs a nasty pink, but it wasn't too bad. Maybe the potatoes were a little rosy.

I make this kind of meal a lot, but this time around it was well seasoned and came together especially well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

I haven't formed a complete opinion about pork tenderloin. I like the lean, boneless idea of it, and whenever I find some on sale that isn't pre-marinated in some horrifying blend of corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavorings, and food coloring, I buy it. And it's often pretty good. But it's not amazing. I eat it cold on sandwiches, but Lawson seldom comes back for more. It's just a little too bland, even with a flavorful marinade and sauce.

I thought this batch was pretty good. I marinated it in fresh orange juice, oregano, salt, and garlic, then drained it and rubbed it with chile powder, and then roasted it at 450 for about 30 minutes. It was barely pink in the middle.

Here it is a few days later on homemade sandwich bread with horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, and a ton of lettuce.

Swordfish Provencal

We had a nicely balanced meal last night of baked swordfish with a tomato and herb sauce, acorn squash, and roasted cauliflower, with fresh blackberries and cream for dessert.

Here is the recipe loosely based on Julia Child's tuna recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Also included is a typical picture of the kitchen in mid-preparation.

Swordfish Provencal

1 pound piece of swordfish (I cut mine in half horizontally because I don't like to cook a thick hunk for a long time)
Lemon juice
Olive oil
White vermouth
Garlic, salt, pepper

Marinate the fish in a little lemon, oil, vermouth, and crushed garlic to freshen, about a half hour. Discard marinade.

Film a skillet with olive oil and sear the swordfish for about 2 minutes per side. Remove fish to a baking dish.

Olive oil
1 sliced onion
2 cloves garlic
2 or 3 fresh chopped tomatoes or canned equivalent
1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and thyme
Salt and pepper
Dry white wine or vermouth

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except wine and cook and stir for 5 more minutes.

Pour the sauce over the fish. Pour about 1/2 cup of the wine around the fish, cover (or tent loosely with foil) and bake at 400 degrees until fish is cooked through. This can be only about 10 minutes for thin pieces, 20 minutes or more for a thick steak.

Remove fish to a serving platter, or drain sauce off to a skillet, and boil to reduce sauce to a pleasing consistency. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Pour sauce over fish and garnish with parsley if you like.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dark Chocolate & Orange Cake

This cake is among the most fun foods I've ever made. It ranks with the peanut butter/raisin/powdered milk logs I made all by myself at age 10. It is that fun.

Lawson's cousin was up from Florida for Thanksgiving and gave us a bunch of wonderful citrus, all of which are threatening to rot at once because, try as we might, we have been unable to eat 40 tangerines in two weeks. So I have been looking for good ways to use them, especially the many, many oranges.

I started thinking about oranges and chocolate and how I like the flavors together and would like to make a cake consisting of the two. Not a single one of my cookbooks had a recipe. But when I looked online I found hordes...and they were all British. Apparently Jaffa cakes, which I had heard of, are chocolate-and-orange flavored, so the taste combination is well established over there. And every British cook from Claudia Roden to Nigella Lawson has a recipe for a chocolate orange cake. I read many recipes, a task made difficult by all the volume and weight and temperature conversions, and eventually narrowed down what I was looking for.

I mostly used this one, with narrative encouragement provided here and further ganache research in the Joy of Cooking. My converted and revised version is posted below so you can avoid all the math yourself.

Here's why the recipe is so fun: you boil WHOLE ORANGES until they are soft, then chuck the entire orange in the food processor. The boiling tones down the bitterness of the pith, just like when you make marmalade. And, in fact, Nigella Lawson's recipe calls for a high quality marmalade instead of an orange. But that would be both expensive and no fun at all.

The ganache is also fun, because it's so easy and looks so fancy.

Dark Chocolate & Orange Cake

- 1 large or two small oranges
Pierce and cook in a covered pan with a few inches of boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove to a food processor and pick out the seeds before processing the whole thing until broken down but still coarse.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch round cake tin or springform pan.

- 3 eggs
- 1 and 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup good canola oil (recipe calls for sunflower, which isn't common or cheap here)
- 4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces and melted

Lightly beat the eggs, sugar, and oil. Gradually beat in the pureed orange and melted chocolate.

- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 250g/9oz plain flour
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift in the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Mix and pour into the buttered pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack.

For the ganache:

- 8 oz good bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
- 3 fl oz or 1/3 cup cream...or half and half, which is what I had around, which worked beautifully.

Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a pan, pour over the chocolate, and stir until melted, then whisk until glossy and totally smooth. Let cool to about 90 degrees F and pour over the cooled cake (which I inverted because it was a bit cracked and domed on the top).

Green Chile and Potato Soup

We went out for lunch with friends today to a fish taco joint in South Tucson. There are many taco stands with specialties in that part of town--menudo stands, birria places (that's shredded vinegary beef, wonderful stuff), ranging from hot-dog-cart style to sit-down eating. In between is the trailer with an awning alongside for shaded dining. Our place had tacos and burros, and large styrofoam cups of mixed fresh fruit sprinkled with chile pepper and lime (mango, watermelon, pineapple, jicama, and raw strips of coconut).

So when dinnertime came around, soup was enough for us. Here is a very easy and satisfying soup that you and Russell will remember from your childhood. This tasted especially interesting tonight because I used turkey broth from our Portuguese Thanksgiving turkey, and it had definite overtones of vinegar and sausage. Not a bad thing. We had an unorthodox side dish of golden squash with chives, limes, and cayenne.

Green Chile and Potato Soup

1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.

4 roasted and peeled green chiles, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, cubed

Add chiles and tomato and simmer a few minutes.

2 or 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth or bouillon
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Add remaining ingredients and cook until potatoes are very tender.

Grated jack cheese

Top each serving with grated cheese.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Local Pizza

I am overjoyed to have a local pizza joint, the kind where we walk in and the waitress waves cheerfully and then ambles over to our table with a pitcher of the correct beer. Any deviation from our routine is cause for comment: once I placed a to-go order, and when Lawson went to pick it up she said "You're early, and your pizza's too small." (Usually we arrive late enough that we are the last people there and the waitress starts mopping with Pine-Sol as we are finishing our pitcher.)

About a year ago we decided to try every pizza in town. We've had some accomplices in the quest, most notably Ken and Melanie, but we haven't been very methodical and still have a long way to go. And much of the time when we want to go out for pizza, we go to our local place. It's less than two miles away and has excellent ambience: plastic checkered tablecloths, comfortable booths, wrestling on the TV, friendly pregnant teenagers, and assorted townie customers in camouflage hats and TapouT T-shirts.

It does not have the world's greatest pizza. We can make much fancier and more delicious pizzas at home. It's not New York-style or Sicilian or anything identifiably regional...it might be slightly Greek, but not intensely so. It's not super-thin cracker-style Southern crust. It's not soft bland pizza chain crust. But it has a few things going for it:
  • It is HOT. It comes to the table steaming and crispy and perfect, with no delay between oven and us.
  • The crust is crisp and airy such that its flavor doesn't much matter. The flavor is above average but not impressive in any way. But the texture is just right. It's also retrievable, in that a few minutes in the toaster oven the next day will return the crust to almost its original state.
  • The sauce is subtle and balanced and not applied too heavily.
  • The ingredients are applied with the proper hand. If we order four toppings, slightly less of each topping is used than if we order three toppings. There is never a glut of Genoa salami or mushrooms or cheese or anything else -- they are applied thoughtfully.

I wish we had more perfect local markets and eateries.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

With Anchovies

This was a good spontaneous pizza: whole wheat crust; pesto from the freezer; a mix of jack and parmesan cheeses; then anchovies, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers from a jar, and fresh jalapenos from the garden.

To cook pizza, I preheat a pizza stone in the oven for about half and hour at 450 degrees. Then I build the pizza on a perforated pan sprayed with olive oil. I put the pan on the stone to bake for 8 minutes or until it firms up, then I slide it off onto the stone to finish baking for about 8 more minutes. This seems a lot less risky than using a peel to slide the raw pizza into the oven. The crust still rest directly on the stone for the last half of the baking time, so it gets nice and brown and thoroughly cooked.

We have had a cherry tomato orgy lately. We use them on pizza, in soup, and eat them for breakfast and lunch. It's only a miniature version of your tomato crop in the summer, but what a pleasant phenomenon in November and December.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Portuguese Turkey

I have been promising to post this. Eva, I don't think this would do well for goose, because goose is already fatty; this suits the blander character of turkey. Don't you think "Purity" is an odd brand name for sausage?

Marinate a 12-to-14- pound turkey for 1 to 3 days in a mixture of:

2 cups vinegar
2 cups water
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon pepper
2 dried red peppers, crushed

To cook turkey, stuff and roast at 325 degrees for 3 to 4 hours. Baste as desired with a mixture of melted butter and white vermouth.

Portuguese Stuffing

1/2 pound Portuguese sausage, diced
4 slices bacon
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 carrot, grated
1/4 cup chopped parsley
8 to 12 cups coarse bread crumbs

Fry sausage and bacon in large skillet. Add onions, celery, parsley, and carrot and cook until tender. Add bread crumbs and fry until lightly browned. Remove from heat and season with:

2 teaspoons dried sage
Poultry seasoning or a mixture of marjoram, thyme, rosemary (total 1 to 2 teaspoons dried, more if fresh)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Mix thoroughly, then moisten as desired with turkey broth. Use less broth if you are going to put the stuffing inside the turkey, more if you are going to bake it in a casserole.

I Promise I Will Shut Up About Collards After This

I wrote the Entertaining page again this month for Abode, the special home section that appears in this week's Free Times. Once again, it's not online, but if you're in Columbia, South Carolina, you should pick one up.

The main article is about collard greens. The auxiliary articles are about 1960s desserts and decompressing from holiday entertaining.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slow Collards

It occurs to me that you might not yet have cooked collards the really long, slow, traditional way, Mom. The collards Dad has started growing are so tender, and our family isn't much for cooking vegetables for half a day. And besides, I didn't want to scare you the first few times I made collard greens for you, because Southern food was so foreign to us. But I think you should try it. I took a bunch of pictures on Sunday, so here's a pictorial guide.

I weighed the bunch of collards I bought before I left the store: 3.5 pounds. It was a large, compact bunch, and probably yielded 8 side-dish-sized servings.

I have made greens that were really tasty but totally ruined by gritty dirt. So you have to do exactly what all the recipes say: fill a sink or a giant bowl (or a cooler, as I discovered at Thanksgiving) with water, swish the greens around, and let them sit there for 10 or more minutes until the dirt has fallen to the bottom. Change the water once or twice. Collards seem less dirty in general than turnip and mustard greens, which you should wash even more thoroughly.

Don't dry the collards at all -- you're just going to add more water. Take several leaves at a time, roll or bunch them up a bit, and cut crosswise, across the stem. I don't discard much of the stalk -- only the thickest bit at the base. It all gets very tender and tasty, so why waste it?

You will need some kind of cured pork product. I probably wouldn't have chosen the chemical wonderland pictured here, but Lawson was good enough to do our Thanksgiving shopping and decided we needed 10 pounds of artificially flavored pork neckbones, so I will not complain. Ham hocks work well, too. Probably roasted pork bones of any sort would also be okay.

A closeup, perhaps?

I don't know what that is, either. I poked it, and it was flexible.

Next, get a big pot. The bigger it is, the less time you have to spend waiting for the collards to cook down so you can stuff more in the pot. You will probably still have to spend a while doing so...maybe 15 extremely unstrenuous minutes.

Turn the heat on to medium-high and put the pork in the pot. Begin adding collards.

This is still just the one bunch I started with. It took about 10 minutes to get it all in. I used this strangely shaped wooden spoon thing that Lawson picked up at a yard sale to stir and prod.

Once all the collards are in, add water to bring the level up to 4 or 5 inches. Some recipes call for more...according to a family cookbook, Lawson's aunt covered hers entirely with water which she then discarded (sacrilege!) but this is a good start. You may need to add more later. Slow collards should end up with plenty of what is usually called potlikker, a greenish vitaminy broth that is, for me, almost the entire point of slow collards.

Then simmer the whole thing, lid slightly vented, for 3 to 6 hours, stirring maybe every 30 minutes. The pork should cook down and the greens become first darker green then less green. Add more water if needed.

Here are the collards after about two hours. They've reduced but are still darker green and not yet completely tender. These took another hour and a half.

When they're finished cooking, salt the collards to taste -- you shouldn't need much if the pork was cured. Then add a few teaspoons or more of hot pepper vinegar. Ideally you have a jar of pickled chiles of some sort and can just use some of the juice. If not, maybe cider vinegar and Texas Pete?

And here they are, all finished and delicious, with plenty of potlikker and a little of the meat that fell off the neckbone. Do not be dubious, even if you prefer vegetables that aren't overcooked...these are a special case. Lawson eats them cold out of the refrigerator for dessert -- they're that good.

Southern Italy and the Southern US

On Sunday I made:
  • Tuscan Baked Cannellini Beans with Rosemary and Garlic. The recipe came from the Jack Bishop Italian Vegetarian book you gave me for my birthday. It was awesome, although next time I will probably use the crockpot instead of the prescribed Dutch-oven-in-the-oven, because I would like my beans a little bit moister.

  • Fennel and Orange Salad with Mint and Olives, also from the Bishop book. The taste was phenomenal, but I didn't like the size and shape of the orange and fennel pieces as dictated by the recipe -- the oranges were in big rounds, beautiful but hard to handle, and the fennel was in weird chunks.

  • Piadina, a Roman flatbread I have probably mentioned before.

  • Collards cooked for five hours with some smoked pork neckbones.
I liked the way the collards fit right in with the three Italian dishes. A very balanced meal, all in all.

More on collards very soon...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Supper for Friends

I made a nice cozy supper for three last night:

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Pan-Seared Tuna with Herbs
Salad of Baby Greens with Feta Cheese
Little Bowls of Fresh Raspberries

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 cups diced potatoes
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup sliced green beans
2 cups shredded cabbage

Heat olive oil in large soup kettle over medium-high heat. Sauté onion for three to five minutes, or until slightly browned. Add carrots and brown in the same way, then celery, potatoes, zucchini, green beans, and cabbage, browning and stirring each time a vegetable is added.

6 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
1 one-pound can cut tomatoes
1- 1/2 cups white beans, cooked or canned

Add broth, tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about three hours or until thick (or simmer in crock-pot all day on high).

Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon Parmesan Cheese.

Pan-Seared Tuna with Herbs

1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oil and gently brown the garlic and red onion. Turn the heat to medium-high and add

12 ounces albacore, red tuna, or swordfish, cut in 1/2-inch by 2-inch slices
(this is one recipe where frozen fish works pretty well. Thaw just before cooking and pat dry with paper towels if necessary)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, oregano, etc.-- a mixture is best)
Salt and pepper

Sear the fish quickly on both sides, sprinkling with herbs, salt, and pepper. Remove the fish to a plate and keep warm. Add to the empty pan:

1 or 2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1/2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

Boil up to deglaze pan. After a couple of minutes, add the fish back in and stir for a minute or two. Don't overcook. Stir in more fresh herbs and serve at once. This is also good cold the next day for lunch. I speak from experience.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Green and Red Tomato Pizza

This was a Viana La Place idea: make a pizza with all the tomatoes you have to pick the day before the first frost, both red and green. In our case, they were green, yellow, and red. She suggested leaving the cheese off, but I added some fresh mozzarella and herbs, and it was delicious. The green tomatoes were tart and very good.

I have a number of longer posts planned for the next few days; I just wanted to get this up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pie for Breakfast

I never have room for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving day; fortunately it makes an excellent breakfast the next morning. Here is the menu from yesterday's meal for six:

Tapenade* with Crackers
Cherry Tomatoes, Green Onions, and Radishes from Dad's Garden
Black olives from Raymond's tree which he cured himself!


Portuguese-Style Turkey with Linguisa Stuffing and Pan Gravy
Mashed Potatoes with Garlic
Sweet Potatoes from your recipe--very popular yesterday
Chunky Applesauce
Port Wine Cranberry Sauce
Scalloped Corn


Pumpkin Pie
Mince Pie

*This is James McNair's recipe. It was a perfect appetizer because it was sharply flavorful rather than rich and bland. Easy to make ahead, too.

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup basil leaves
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Chop first 5 ingredients in food processor, then add olive oil and lemon juice to make a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Ho

I just wanted to post this reminder to myself and everyone else that we won't be eating gravy and butter-based dishes forever. Someday, maybe around the middle of next week, we will again eat lightly sauteed greens and pork-free beans and shiny golden beets and things like salads and whole wheat tortillas. Onward to the future.

I'll be out of town for a few days but will return with many stories of the way other people eat. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pies and Pielets

Monday I made pie dough (after hollering about James McNair's cookbook in an earlier post I used his butter crust recipe); Tuesday I made a pumpkin pie; and today I made a mince pie using a meatless Joy of Cooking recipe. I used great restraint and didn't eat all of the mincemeat filling with a spoon; it is a wonderland of apples, raisins, lemon rind, spices, and brandy.

I love pie filling, but often leave the crust because it's too rich. I am going to work on pielets*: little individual ramekins of filling with elegant precooked pastry cutouts floated on top. I do like a bite or two of pastry if it's flaky and wonderful. Probably I could bake up the filling until it was bubbly, then put on the pre-browned pastry cookie, and heat everything together for five minutes. This is such a great idea that I'll probably become famous for it. I'll be asked to autograph pielets.

*Linguistic notes: Pie-ette is a better name, but hyphens are a pain, and it sounds like a brand name. Pielette is a problem homophone--I immediately got tangled up with pielettes and boats of pastry. Pielet is closer to piglet, so it works for me.

Planned Side Dishes

It's important to plan over a healthy breakfast.

Lawson and I are assigned the side dishes for his big family Thanksgiving again. We are going to be much less ambitious than in years past, so I am feeling pretty good about it all. Here's what we're making:

- Collards, traditional Southern style. This involves a ham hock and several hours of simmering with plenty of water.

- Green beans, traditional Southern style. This involves a smoked turkey neck and several hours of simmering with plenty of water. Are you getting all this?

- Spinach-rice. Because the turkey is smoked, it isn't stuffed, and every year Lawson pores over stuffing recipes and spends hours making it and nobody eats very much. His stuffing is good, but I don't think it's a stuffing-eating family. So we're going with rice and spinach this year.

- Macaroni and cheese, which I have noted in the past is the weirdest of the traditional Southern Thanksgiving foods. We will be using the absurd Macaroni and Cheese Supreme recipe of the illustrious David Wade, TV chef and object of my scholarly and acquisitional interest. I can't wait. The recipe includes 2 cups of sour cream. It will clog arteries from 8 yards away.

- Cranberry sauce. I adore the extremely tart raw cranberry-orange relish we make every year with the hand-cranked meat grinder, but I'm going to try plain cooked cranberry sauce this year to see how it goes over.

- I may make some gingerbread.

So, all in all, it should be pretty low key. The only bad part is that we have to procure all our groceries tonight, along with the rest of the city.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Flu Shot Soup

Lawson got a flu shot Friday, which always makes him feel crummy and sleepy and flulike a day or two afterward. That's not supposed to happen, according to what I've read, since the virus in the vaccine is dead, but he says it always does, so whatever.

Anyway, yesterday he felt bad and I invented this soup. It's somewhere in between chicken-noodle soup and Nina Simonds' cinnamon beef noodles. And it's so much healthier and more satisfying than regular chicken-noodle soup.

We had a carcass left over from last week, when I roasted a whole chicken. I made a stock using the carcass, an onion, a few carrots, and a number of turnip stalks. I threw in a few bay leaves but otherwise kept it pretty unseasoned because I didn't know at that point what I was going to make.

After the stock had simmered for hours and was good and rich and drained and cooling off in the refrigerator, I sauteed a chopped onion, a big clove of garlic, a few chopped carrots, and a potato. I added a little sherry, then some chopped turnip greens (maybe half of a medium bunch -- not so much that the soup was overwhelmed). I then seasoned the soup with salt, star anise, cinnamon, and coriander and simmered everything for about 35 minutes, until the potato was soft. I took out the star anise and added some shredded chicken left over from the roasting -- about one breast and one leg's worth -- and a cup of pasta stars, and let it simmer for 10 minutes more. All it needed then was black pepper.

Stock is just not very pretty.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Coucous and Friends

Couscous: "The Quickest Cooking Starch" or "Carbohydrate in Five Minutes." I used to feel guilty about couscous but now it's available in a whole wheat version (I'm probably not the only one who thought couscous was a whole separate grain. Actually it's little teeny balls of pasta). My Aunt Betty and Uncle Mario lived in Morocco for years, and we visited them there, and of course couscous in Rabat was not the modern five-minute kind. It was steamed in the top of the couscouserie while the stew cooked below.

But times have changed, and now we can buy instant whole wheat couscous, quick and nutritious. Here's an infinitely flexible recipe. Last night I needed something green, so I substituted frozen peas for the chickpeas, and it was just fine. This can round out any meal. It's from a faded newspaper clipping, so I can't give credit where it is due.

Couscous with Chickpeas and Carrots

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 can chickpeas, drained

Saute garlic in olive oil in a saucepan for about 2 minutes. Add carrot and chickpeas and cook 2 or 3 minutes.

1 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water

Add broth and bring to a boil. The stir in:

1 cup instant couscous

Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir and fluff with fork. Garnish with:

Chopped parsley or cilantro

Birthday Dinner Party

We had some friends over Thursday for a pretty simple meal: grilled salmon, ginger-scallion noodles, and steamed sesame broccolini. And because it was a birthday dinner, and the birthday boy (what's the adult equivalent of that term? Birthdayed one? Birthdayee?) can't eat dairy, for dessert we had a dairy-free chocolate mousse cake with lemon sorbet and raspberries.

I made the cake the night before, and everything else was pretty easy to fix after work, so it was a good stress-free night. I wish the food had been a little more interesting, but we had fun. It went well with beer and Jameson.

Every time I take a picture of food, Lawson tries to stick his finger in the frame. So I'll give him this one. Let's hope it doesn't encourage him to greater heights of interference.

And as promised, Mom, here is the beautiful platter you and Dad gave me piled high with noodles. I love it.