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

Friday, March 30, 2007

Penne with Chile-Rubbed Chicken

Here’s a favorite of mine which I cut from some newspaper years ago. I made it last night and served it with a side of cauliflower.

Cooked penne pasta for two or three servings
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons red chile powder
2 tablespoons olive oil

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and rub with the chile powder. Heat olive oil and sear and chicken for 3 minutes per side. Set aside to rest.

½ red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
½ teaspoon chile paste (I use sambal)
½ cup chopped cilantro
Shredded parmesan, optional

In the same pan, saute the onion for 2 minutes, then add the garlic for 30 seconds, then the tomato. Season well and continue to cook until the tomato is soft. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Thinly slice the reserved chicken and add to pan, stirring until chicken finishes cooking, just a minute or two. Add reserved penne and heat. Stir in cilantro, top with cheese, and serve.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Low-Key Food

Tonight we had garbanzo beans with mint and feta. We had Piedmont peppers -- I didn't have any tomatoes, so I put some spinach in there, which wasn't as pretty but tasted pretty good. And I made focaccia with whole wheat flour and "tarragna," which is a blend of buckwheat and grits intended for polenta and milled by my friend Ken.

Expect more meals like this for a little while. I'm not feeling much like eating meat lately, and the warm weather makes me want lighter meals.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Golden Beets

Golden beets! Aren't they beautiful? I got them at the natural foods store. The raw, unpeeled roots are orange and tan and quite pretty, too. I roasted these and tossed them with rice vinegar, olive oil, and salt.

My excuse for not posting lately is that we had a houseguest, though since we mostly ate good food and drank and were not very ambitious, it's a poor excuse.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Trailer Food

Our six-day trip to the Salton Sea and the KOFA wilderness was excellent—more camping and less driving than usual (non-family members can laugh: this means we only drove 1500 miles and camped in only three different places). We hiked in a little canyon in KOFA—named for the King of Arizona mine—where native palms grew, and also visited an old mine and where Dad looked for quartz and other specimens while Emily and I took a nice walk up a wash. We looked at birds at the Salton Sea, drove around Joshua Tree National Park, and revisited the mud volcanoes. I read an old book by Gale Sheehy about Hillary Clinton.

We cooked every meal in the trailer. For dinners we had:
--pork tenderloin with a pan sauce, boiled new potatoes, and Dad’s spinach from home
--hot Italian chicken sausage in tomato sauce with whole wheat spaghetti, and asparagus
--salmon patties, fried potatoes, fresh green beans
--chile con carne with ground beef, tomatillos, and fresh jalapenos, tortillas, and chayote (we stopped at a Mexican market that day)
--clam sauce and spaghetti, inappropriately accompanied by Trader Joe’s Indian vegetables

For breakfast and lunch we usually ate what was left over, although we had provisioned with yogurt, cottage cheese, sliced ham and cheese, olives, nuts, hummus, dates, and lots of fruit. And a partial case of wine and a bottle of tequila.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My House Smells Bad

I tried a Cook’s Illustrated method for roasted chicken breasts tonight. It involved loosening the skin and massaging herb-and-garlic butter into the flesh underneath, then brushing the skin with oil, and roasting on a rack at 450 degrees for half an hour. Two thoughts: the house stinks to high heaven from the dripping chicken fat at high temperature; and for chrissake!!--the only reason to eat chicken breasts in the first place is because they’re LOW in FAT. The flesh was succulent, I’ll admit, but for a protein fix I’d rather eat a handful of almonds, or my favorite bowlful of canned tuna/cottage cheese/curry powder/green onions.

With the chicken I served vegetable lo mein starring Dad’s snow peas, pak choy, and green onions. That was lovely.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Project Spice Purge

Last weekend I decided it was time to do something about this:

When I moved in several years ago, Lawson and I combined our rather large and old spice collections without any weeding whatsoever, and it's gotten pretty ugly. So I took everything out of the racks and cabinets and hauled it out on the back porch. There I arranged everything on the railings, with each type of spice arranged along the x axis and duplicates on the y. We had about 14 horizontal feet of spices, with the highest redundant tower at about 16 inches. Alphabetical arrangement wouldn't have worked at this point, so I used a rough taxonomy: seeds/pods, leaves, blends, things we have a kajillion of, bad ideas, unidentifiable, etc.

Here's part of the kajillion sector:

That's four containers of baking powder (not an herb or spice, but whatever), four containers of paprika, two of nutmeg, three of cream of tartar, and three of ground ginger.

And here is the grossest thing I found:

After I had it all arranged, I began sniffing, tasting, and throwing things away. In most cases I tried to get us down to one of each thing, unless that thing was garlic powder or lemon pepper, in which case we needed to get down to none, and not just because the ones we had were nine years old and rancid (and contributed by me, I'm sorry to say). For some items, like dried basil, everything we had smelled and tasted like dusty dirt, so I kept a list of what we needed to restock from the bulk herbs at the health food store.

The price of the average herb has increased tenfold since Lawson purchased this dill seed:

It took a few hours, but I managed to get it all cleaned out. Unfortunately, it doesn't look a whole lot better in the cabinet than it did before.

When I was done, I made lentils with garlic, mustard seed, and cilantro; and a vegetable curry with sweet potatoes, corn, and okra:

Charmoula and Fennel

My food pictures haven't worked out very well lately: some mediocre meals are very photogenic, while sublime-tasting creations look unappetizing on the computer screen. Hence the loaf pictured above, while I'm really writing about fennel.

Last night for dinner I served fresh rockfish (red snapper) with charmoula, baked sweet potatoes, and fennel with raisins and pine nuts.

The charmoula sauce, sometimes spelled chermoula, seems to be ubiquitous in Middle Eastern countries. I spread some on the fish fillets, then pan-fried them in olive oil until just cooked through. Dad has also used this on a large piece of grouper and then baked it.


1/2 cup cilantro leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground chile pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil

Blend or process until well chopped. Use as a sauce or marinade.

Fennel with Raisins and Pine Nuts
(based on recipe by Jack Bishop)

1 or 2 fennel bulbs
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons raisins
Salt and pepper

Mince and reserve a tablespoon of fennel fronds, if attached.
Slice fennel bulb into 1/2-inch strips. Saute in the oil for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic, pine nuts, and raisins and saute 2 more minutes. Season to taste, garnish with minced fronds, and serve hot.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Coq Au Crappy Vin(o)

It wasn't a resolution, exactly, but several months ago I decided I would a) drink more wine and less beer (beer makes me stay up too late), and b) pay no more than $7 a bottle for wine, and preferably much less. It's been entertaining -- I am not too picky and have found some decent $5 wines. Anyway, last weekend I bought two $4 wines that were on sale at the liquor store. One was fine; it was a California Merlot. The other, a Sangiovese, was extremely unpleasant. It put to rest any worries I had about having no wine standards. It was foul.

I decided to use the foul wine for cooking. This violates Julia Child's fundamental rule that one should never cook with wine one wouldn't drink, but I'm too cheap to pour wine down the drain unless it actually makes me gag. This was merely Really Bad.

I thought I'd make Coq au Vin, but I wasn't in the mood for subtle French flavors, so I decided to invent a version with red chiles. This is the second time I've made chicken stewed in red chile sauce, but the wine changes everything. It was really good.

I floured chicken breasts and thighs and browned them in olive oil in a dutch oven, then took them out again and sauteed some onions. I pureed 4 soaked red chiles with some roasted red peppers -- I don't think the peppers would always be necessary, but my latest ristra is HOT, so I have to use the chiles sparingly. With less picante chiles I'd use maybe 7-10. Then I put the puree and the chicken in the dutch oven along with the whole bottle of crappy wine, and I let it all simmer for an hour or so. I think I added a little oregano and cumin, but maybe not -- it was many days ago.

The crappy wine magically turned tasty, and the whole dish came out purple and spicy and wonderful. I served it with beets (roasted, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juice of one tangerine -- so good), homemade whole wheat tortillas, and papaya.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Grandma's Meatloaf (aka James Beard's Country Pate)

Here is Grandma's recipe for her delicious meatloaf, which she adapted from a James Beard recipe. She served this to us while Russell was home. The menu also included potatoes scalloped with tomatoes, onions, and garlic; cucumber and radish salad with a vinegary dressing; homemade bread; and lemon pudding. It was wonderful.


1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork or bulk pork sausage
1 egg
1 slice bread
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, thyme, basil, and sage (use less of these seasonings if you use sausage that is already seasoned)
Bacon (optional)

Grind the onion and bread together in food processor until very fine. Mix all ingredients together and work thoroughly with hands so that the resulting loaf will be compact and easy to slice.

Form into an oval loaf. If meat is lean, and if you have bacon, lay strips of bacon on top and secure with toothpicks. Place on a rack in a shallow baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes or more. I like this best when it is just barely warm; then it's also easier to slice.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Pizza Crust

It has been a lame, uninspired week of cooking around here, but I am tired of the yogurt picture, so I'm posting a picture of some pretty pizza crust I made last week.