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

Monday, January 29, 2007


These are paperwhites that I forced from bulbs Nancy gave us for Christmas.
I made a Persian kuku today. It’s like a frittata or omelette, except that it’s baked and surprisingly light and fluffy.

The version I made, from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden, is the traditional dish served on Iranian New Year’s Day. It had shredded spinach, green onions, two handfuls of fresh herbs (I used dill, parsley, and cilantro), and a few walnuts and raisins, all lightly mixed with six eggs and baked for 45 minutes. I will definitely be making this again, especially for a picnic or cold lunch.

We had the kuku for dinner tonight along with baba ganoush, Ak-Mak, olives, feta chunks, Greek yogurt, and cherry tomatoes—a light Sunday night supper.

I have a recipe for cauliflower kuku that I’m planning to try next.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lighter Fare

We had a nice, reasonable dinner last night instead of stuffing ourselves. I made fresh albacore in an Italian red wine sauce, whole wheat ciabatta with sage and cheese, and Dad’s beautiful collards.

I used a Greek recipe for the greens which involved sautéeing garlic in olive oil; adding the greens and a half cup of Kalamata olives and simmering until tender; and dressing them before serving with the juice of half a lemon. I ended up cooking them about 45 minutes—they were tender sooner, but I was aiming for that wonderful sweetness that long cooking brings to collards.

For dessert we had a little bowl of fresh blackberries and a piece of dark chocolate.

Of course, this “simple” dinner required that someone lovingly plant the collards and cover them every night to keep them from freezing, and to pick and wash them; someone going to the market for fresh fish and berries; and someone being there to tend the bread intermittently throughout the afternoon. It’s great entertainment, though.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Zucchini Gratin

Neither Lawson nor I was very hungry tonight, but I bought some nice zucchini, so I went digging through my recipe file* to find the old recipe you gave me for Zucchini Cheese Casserole. It's a recipe from your low-fat cooking era, and thus contains fat-free cottage cheese and egg whites, but that was easily modified. I changed the name to make it sound fancier. It's just zucchini, a few different cheeses, eggs, green chiles, and some dill seed and black pepper.

The Le Creuset dish you gave me makes a perfect gratin -- good browned, crusty cheese all around the edges -- so the answer to your question from three weeks ago is yes, you should buy their gratin dish to replace your old copper one when it finally goes.

* My recipe file is cumbersome, but I am emotionally attached to it and have no intention yet of switching to something more useful. It's a legal-sized folder, so it won't fit on any bookshelves, and it's packed full of hand-scribbled recipes, notecards and postcards with recipes from you and Grandma, printouts of old emails you sent me in undergrad, magazine clippings, and random notes. Some of the recipes are written on the backs of old flyers from shows my first band played. One page contains your old recipe for sesame broccoli with a note in my handwriting saying "Don't buy cooking wine EVER."

Edited 05/20/07 to add: Here's an actual recipe to go with this post.

I Love My New Toys

I finally turned my back on decades of Cuisinart food processing and asked for a KitchenAid for my birthday this year. Ain’t it handsome? My main problem with the Cuisinart was that the bowl wasn’t as durable as the early models, and after a couple years of use the switch/latch assembly would degrade, and finally get to the point where I had to hold down the lid with one hand and operate the buttons with the other. This KitchenAid bowl is thick and heavy, and the switch is simpler. It also has a mini-bowl that stores inside, for small jobs. I usually do those small jobs with a knife, but this is cute. I used the big bowl to make chorizo this week and it mixed powerfully and evenly, without my having to stop and scrape the sides. I’m delighted with it.

I also received four cookbooks for Christmas and my birthday this year. They are all spread out on the countertop along with my shopping-and-menu notebook, and every meal I cook I’m becoming more intimate with them. This has been a wonderful couple of weeks to experiment with new recipes, partly because of the cool weather, but also because of the lull between the holidays and the piano teaching season (spring competitions, festivals, etc.)

The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking by Susanna Hoffman
This book is fun to read because the pages are filled with sidebars and inset boxes about Greek history, customs, and ingredients. I wondered if the recipes would be secondary, but they are indeed delicious and well-written. Last night we had Chicken Kapama--chicken browned and braised in an intensely dark red sauce containing coffee, tomato, red wine, brandy, honey, and herbs—kind of like a Greek barbeque sauce. With it I served a bulgur and vegetable pilaf, and tzatziki (thick Greek yogurt, Persian cucumbers, lots of garlic chopped with salt, and fresh mint and dill). I put fava beans in the pilaf. Did you know that after you shell the fava beans, you then have to blanch them and remove a tough outer membrane from each bean?

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
I am most fascinated by the fish recipes in this book. By far the best fish I have made this month is her Pan-Cooked Fish with Preserved Lemon, Green Olives, and Capers. Many of the fish recipes are made in a single skillet. The salad and cold vegetable chapter is intriguing. I hope to try the lentil salad next, because we bought beautiful red lentils at the Caravan Market. I am thinking of starting a movement: Promoting World Peace through Eating the Foods of Other Cultures. This movement badly needs an acronym before it can catch on.

Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop
Sautéed Fennel with Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Garlic! What more can I say? Tonight I am making his grilled eggplant which is first marinated in garlic, oregano, and lemon. I have consulted this book for information every time I’ve cooked a vegetable lately. I am looking forward to Zucchini, Corn, and Red Pepper Sauté—cream and cilantro are added at the end, doesn’t that sound delicious?

La Cocina de la Frontera by James W. Peyton
To read this cookbook is to dwell in the world of sunshine and chiles. If I ever had to move to Siberia or Seattle, I would take this cookbook to bed with me every night. I love the simplicity of the recipes: green chile enchilada sauce made with just the addition of garlic, onion, and tomato, for instance; and the wonderful Border Town Margarita. Peyton offers both traditional and modern versions of many of his recipes, as well as information on how popular dishes vary from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas. At present I think this is the most satisfying Mexican cookbook I own. I think I told you that your copy came from the Panther Junction gift shop at Big Bend National Park. Everyone should head down there and pick one up. (Or order it on the Internet.)

If there’s anyone out there that would like to give me a job reviewing cookbooks, please call.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday Morning Marketing

It’s cold here today—what Katherine charitably calls “cooking weather.” Dad and I were inspired to visit two ethnic markets this morning and we’re thrilled with our purchases. We are really rich in food resources here.

At the Caravan Middle East Market, for $24, we bought:

a little jar of mastic (the pitch of pistachio trees, for Greek recipes)
yellow split peas
red lentils
frozen fava beans
canned fava beans “Palestinian style”
Medjool dates
little pears
Persian cucumbers
a bunch of fresh dill
bulk green olives with Tunisian seasonings
bay leaves
a dark chocolate Lindt candy bar named “Intense Pear”

Then we proceeded on to Food City, the Mexican grocery chain, and spent $22 on:

3 pounds freshly roasted green chiles
poblano chiles
jalapeno chiles
a pineapple
5 cans salsa
a wedge of cotija cheese, sold in bulk
a piece of Oaxaca cheese
Gala apples

It’s hard to decide what to cook first, but I would like to use the mastic, which is wonderfully aromatic. Watch this space for details as they develop.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Soft Foods

Lawson had some dental surgery this week, so for the last several days we've been eating soft foods. It's been a fun challenge. The problem with foods for sick people (milk toast, chicken noodle soup, etc.), as I see it, is that they are mostly low in fiber, and who wants to be both sick AND constipated?

So here's what we've been eating:

Sweet potato and red pepper soup: I found a recipe for this in that great soup book you gave both me and Grandma a few years ago, but the recipe was dumb -- throw everything in some vegetable stock and boil it for half an hour? So I roasted the sweet potatoes until they sweetened up properly; softened the onions, garlic, and pepper in oil; simmered the whole thing for a while with leftover duck stock; seasoned it; then pureed it. It was wonderful. I added some Texas Pete to my bowl.

Roasted beets:
my new obsession. If you roast them long enough, cut them into 1/2-inch pieces, and toss them with lemon, salt, and olive oil, they are soft and sweet and perfect.

Homemade mushroom soup:
Sauteed cremini, dried shitake, stock, sherry, and fresh thyme, mostly. It was creamy without dairy. I was happy.

Puddings: puddings! If they are not already, I predict that puddings will be the next silly comfort food trend. My homemade butterscotch pudding was a bit too firm, but the flavor was excellent. I made rice pudding with cardamom, honey, and lemon zest -- excellent with a glass of tawny port, in case Dad's interested. But the most incredible discovery from this series of dental surgeries has been simple vanilla pudding. Here's the Joy of Cooking's recipe (mostly), which is perfect (and small -- enough for four tiny ramekins):

Mix in a heavy saucepan:

- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 T plus 1 1/2 t cornstarch
- 1/4 t salt

Thoroughly blend in 1/2 cup, then stir in the rest of:

- 2 cups milk or cream or some combination thereof

Stir slowly and constantly over medium heat until it begins to thicken (this is usually rather dramatic). Then stir fast. The pudding will start to simmer; hold it there for a minute, then take it off the heat and stir in:

- 2 t vanilla

Pour the pudding into bowls and put them in the fridge for as long as you can stand it. Once I unmolded the puddings from tiny ramekins onto tiny plates and scattered them with fresh raspberries. That was pretty special.

A Religious Experience Involving Chorizo

It may just have been indigestion, but in the early hours of this morning I believe I had a vision. The Supreme Being informed me that it wasn’t “Let there be light” at all, that had been a misunderstanding. It’s “Let there be chiles.” So now I’m a prophet; my holy book is James Peyton’s La Cocina de la Frontera; and by way of religious observance I am to eat lots of Mexican food.*

Dad got me a copy of the Peyton book for my birthday, and it’s great the second time around. Last night I made his homemade chorizo recipe, which was so good it brought tears to my eyes. I was swooning so hard I forgot to take a picture. With it we had along green chile enchiladas filled with goat cheese, Steaming Soupy Beans, and carrots.

Maybe not everyone has had a chance to eat beans this way, from Mexican Family Cooking by Aída Gabilondo:

Cook a pot of Anasazi or pinto beans with plenty of water. Add salt halfway through cooking time.

To serve, place a portion of beans in a soup bowl. Top with a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of vinegar, ¼ teaspoon of crumbled oregano, and chopped green onions.

*This is a great religion, really. Anyone can join. The other two rules are to be nice to people, and—She specifically mentioned this—don’t start wars.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Return to Sanity

Well, that’s the goal, anyway. We’re not even very busy, but my plan to eat vegetable-rich, vibrant, balanced meals has often given way to overly rich, hastily-executed ones instead.

On Monday, our newly widowed neighbor heard water running, went outside to investigate, and went flying down her ice-covered brick steps. The pipe carrying water to her swamp cooler on the roof had frozen and burst. Dad went up the roof to diagnose the problem, we turned off the water supply, she called her plumber who came within a couple of hours, and for just over $100 she got a new pipe and bonus resolution of a clogged bathtub drain. But this definitely required a comforting meal of homemade pizza with ham, green peppers, and olives. Dad contributed a salad of baby spinach, arugula, and mesclun.

I made Rocco DiSpirito’s Cauliflower Soup with Basil Syrup and Pine Nuts for the first course, but decided it wasn’t really worth the trouble. Fun to do, not all that exciting to eat. I have read in the Washington Post and other places recently that cauliflower is now fashionable. Imagine that. How did your roasted cauliflower turn out?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Return to Hot Chicken

Tonight we are having, for the third time this weekend, barbecued chicken.

On Friday our friends Ken and Melanie had us over for dinner. They made risotto and steamed vegetables, and they grilled some chicken legs and wings over hardwood charcoal. The chicken was covered in a perfectly balanced classic barbecue sauce made in large batches by Melanie's mother.

Lawson became immediately obsessed and spent the next day reading about barbecue sauces and adding hardwood charcoal and chicken parts to my grocery list. His sauce that night wasn't great -- it mostly tasted like the hoisin sauce he added -- but the chicken was nicely grilled, with crispy skin. We had it with good creamy grits and sauteed spinach. I forgot to take a picture before we ate, but here is what my plate looked like after:

Well, today Lawson announced that he is going to try again. He returned from the store with still more chicken parts and charcoal, plus an enormous bottle of Hunt's ketchup (bleccch! Hunt's tastes like tomato paste.) This time we will eat chicken with sourdough bread and roasted beets, I think. Here is the bread still in the oven:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas and Almonds

I’m not sure about tagines. I tried a lamb one from my Paula Wolfert cookbook a few months ago, and it was grey. The problem with traditional Moroccan tagine recipes I have read is that (a) they don’t have any garlic in them! and (b) the meat isn’t browned first. I have a hard time getting past those two prejudices, but as I write I am simmering a chicken/almond/chickpea tagine from my new Roden cookbook and it smells wonderful.


I had to blanch the almonds for the tagine. I had a general idea about boiling water, etc., but I couldn’t find the information in my cookbooks. So I looked it up on the Internet and indeed, I had to pour boiling water over them, wait one minute, drain and rinse in cold water, and then rub the skins off. Ha! About one third of them succumbed the first time around. The remaining ones needed the microwave treatment before giving up their skins. The tagine recipe indicated that they would get quite soft in and hour and a half of stewing, but it didn’t really happen. The chicken was tender, though, and the sauce “unctuous” as promised. Because of the rich blandness of the tagine I accompanied it with yogurt-cucumber-garlic sauce and homemade pear chutney. I served it with couscous and a favorite zucchini dish.

Favorite Zucchini Dish

Slice two smallish zucchini lengthwise into thin slabs. Lay in a baking dish and turn to coat with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Top with the following mixture:
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
Juice of ½ lemon

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes, or until tender and browned on top.

Of course things take longer to get done just right when you’re in a hurry, have you noticed that?

Interesting Cookbook Note: I looked in the new white 1997 Joy of Cooking for how to blanch almonds—no joy. Later I found the information in the old blue 1964 one.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cooking Miscellany

I made preserved lemons earlier this week—the quick kind, which involved quartering five lemons, tossing them with ½ cup kosher salt, putting them in a quart jar, and adding ½ cup lemon juice. The jar sits at room temperature for three days, then is refrigerated for two days, and they’re ready.

I used some of the preserved lemons in a fish recipe from the Roden Middle Eastern foods book, and I had never guessed how they would taste—more like a green olive, sour and salty, and unlike anything else. A wonderful discovery.

The Roden book has so many fish recipes! I plan to try every one.

We had Dad’s bok choy with it.

I’ve felt guilty about our food waste since our compost pile is out of commission at present, so I have tried keeping a stock pot going. That’s not an option here in the summer, but it’s quite pleasant to have it adding to the warmth of the house in the winter. My stock tends to be rather dark and murky because of using it as a compost substitute, but it has enriched a few soups and sauces.

Monday, January 8, 2007


For years I've been complaining about the poor pizza available in this town, mumbling especially about the lack of decent crust, and making my own pizza, which is never as perfect as I want but gets better all the time. Lawson liked my pizza but has also always defended the cracker crust (absurdly thin and flavorless) and piled-on toppings of places like Pizza Man on Rosewood Drive.

Then, a few months ago we visited a New York/college-town-style pizza place in Athens, GA after a show. It was two in the morning and the place was packed. We leaned against the counter and watched the dough guy shape pizza after pizza, easily but with great concentration. It was pretty sensual, actually, and I learned more about handling dough in that 15 minutes than from any single book I've read...it was very much like watching a musician much more talented than you. And since then Lawson has been excited about pizza. He bought me this Peter Reinhardt book for Christmas, tromped around town looking for unglazed tiles for the oven, and is learning to toss dough, New York-style.

I'm excited that he's excited, but I also feel a little protective of the dough-and-baking arena. Lawson excels at everything culinary -- stir-frying, seasoning, saucemaking, chopping -- but isn't very interested in baking, which is my favorite thing to do in the kitchen. I kind of feel like it's my territory, so it's hard to share pizza-making duties. But I imagine the shared work will make our pizzas much, much better. And so far, I'm still making the doughs.

I made some so-called neo-Neapolitan dough from the Reinhardt book; this is supposed to be the best kind for tossing. I prefer wetter doughs; my standard pizza dough recipe contains no oil -- I've had better luck that way. The neo-Neapolitan dough had lots of oil and honey and was very springy. I smoothed and pulled out the dough, and Lawson practiced tossing it, and it turned out to be the best pizza I've ever made at home.

Today I also pulled my old sourdough starter out of the fridge. You gave it to me years ago; I think you got it from Jack Kearns. When I moved out here to South Carolina, I drove the whole way with it on the seat next to me in an ice bucket I stole from a motel and filled with ice each morning. It's survived on years of neglect: about once a year I pull it out and spend a few days feeding it and baking a few loaves, then return it to the fridge to ignore for another year. As a result it is absurdly acidic and has a slight cheesy/fruity edge that goes away after a few feedings.

I've read that making it less wet will make it less acidic, as will feeding it water instead of milk. So I'll try that.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Greek Madness

Grandma gave me a Greek cookbook for Christmas and tonight was our second or third all-Greek meal. I have used a quart of olive oil this week.

The menu:

--Pork Stew with Olives, Anchovies, Cilantro, and Red Wine
--Gigantes (Large White Beans--I used large dried limas)
--Salad of Collard Greens (cooked and cooled) dressed with Lemon Juice and topped with Fried Garlic and Chopped Hard-Boiled Egg

Everything was so flavorful, but the collards were something special.

I have made only one New Year's resolution: to eat more vegetables. I want to explore all the ones I haven't tried, and eat more of my favorites, and maybe eat a little less meat and starch in the process.

Above is a picture of Dad's arugula and collard crop.

Roman Food

Last night I made:

- pork chops marinated in rosemary, vermouth, and vinegar and then grilled
- roasted beets with lemon juice and olive oil
- piadina stuffed with sauteed beet greens and garlic
- lemon pudding souffle

Piadina is a Roman flatbread made with a small bit of lard and cooked in a dry pan, like a flour tortilla. You can cook it flat and plain, or make crimped half moons around a bit of sauteed greens and cook it that way, empanada style. This is a Marcella Hazan recipe that I make regularly. I like that there's no cheese or sauce and it still tastes full and rich.

This was the first time I'd ever made beets. I didn't use a recipe other than reading about how to roast them. Lawson was dubious -- he hadn't had beets in years, and wasn't very excited, and I didn't know what to expect either, but they were wonderful. He had several servings, and we both peed pink all night.

Did you know that beets and chard are the same species? Beta vulgaris. It's just that chard is bred for better and more leaves, and beets are bred for tastier and bigger roots.

The lemon pudding souffle is actually called Lemon Pudding Cake in the 2000 Joy of Cooking. It's very odd and light and fluffy -- very delicious. Try it next time you need something new to do with all your lemons.

My giant months-long project at work got cancelled, so I have been enjoying a brief vacation. Tonight we're having hamburgers, because I recorded all day and am starved.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Pala Fruit Market

On our way from San Diego to the Anza-Borrego Desert we stopped at a roadside fruit stand in the tiny Pala Indian reservation. For $3.10 I bought:

a small red onion
1 honeydew melon
3 large Big Jim Chiles
2 Haas avocados
2 kiwis
1 pound tomatillos
3 Gala apples
1 green bell pepper

Driving through the Imperial Valley I was excited to see so many crops. Is everyone thrilled to see an acre of Swiss chard? We saw vast fields of chard, artichokes (by far the most beautiful!), lettuce, spinach, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangelos, and acres and acres of dates. We visited the Oasis Date Farm and sampled black, Noor, Deglet, and Medjool dates.

I always read with great interest the park regulations wherever we visit. The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is the first I have seen where nudity is specifically prohibited. Parks in other states generally concern themselves with fishing regulations, hours of quiet, trash disposal, and fussing about alcohol consumption.