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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hangover Breakfast

The day after Lawson and I threw a party at which we drank a lot of beer, we ate this restorative breakfast.

The omelet contained cheese and chives. And bacon is sometimes extremely necessary.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Curiously Satisfying

Here's one of my favorite starchy side dishes--although with some cheese it will do for a vegetarian main dish. I can't remember where I got the recipe, but I do remember the writer commenting that Italians loved bouillon cubes as a seasoning. I find the 12 cloves of garlic very bracing and restorative.

Penne with Garlic and Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
12 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 16-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
1/2 bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste

In large skillet, saute garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until pale gold. Add remaining ingredients and simmer together for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook enough penne for two. Drain, toss with sauce, and top with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Zucchini Gratin II: An Actual Recipe

My camera's broken, which is just as well, because I just went digging through our archives for a zucchini recipe for tonight's dinner and found what has to be my most obnoxious post. There's no actual recipe there, just some blabber and a pretty picture. So for tonight's post I re-reconstructed the zucchini gratin recipe. Here it is:

-2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, and lightly steamed if tough
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 small can green chiles, diced
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 2 cups cheese. Use any combination of shredded or diced mozzarella, jack, or cheddar; cottage cheese; Parmesan; whatever.
- salt and pepper to taste

If you used drier cheeses, you might also want to add up to 1/4 cup of milk or cream.
Put everything in a buttered casserole dish. Mix together and sprinkle on top:
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs or 2 slices bread, diced
- 1 or 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
- Parmesan, if you have any

Bake uncovered at 375 for about 20 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

I served it with garden spinach drizzled with a warm caramelized onion and tarragon dressing, an ad hoc and surprisingly good side dish. For dessert we had banana bread.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Classic Sauces in the Blender

These recipes were included in the little cook-booklet that came with my first Waring blender back in the 70’s and are still viable. I used the same technique to make that fancy Aioli for our tapas meal.


1 egg
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup salad oil (I use canola, usually)

Put everything in the blender and start. After about 5 seconds remove feeder cap and add in a steady stream:

¾ cup salad oil

By the time all the oil is added, the mayonnaise will be thick. Scrape down and process a few more seconds if necessary.

Blender Hollandise Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch cayenne
Dash salt

Put above ingredients in blender container and blend briefly.

1 stick butter

Heat butter until very hot but not brown. Turn on blender and add butter in a heavy stream, about 15 seconds total.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Essential Kitchen Implements

My friend Kerry pointed out this story about the bare minimum equipment needed for a kitchen. You would think a list of basic kitchen items would be uncontentious, but no: I disagree with at least a third of these suggestions. He has things on that list that Lawson and I, with our merged and overflowing kitchen, don't have. Tell me how a salad spinner is essential. And a mandoline? Minimalist? My knife skills suck, too, but come on.

An instant-read thermometer would have been nice when I was learning to cook, but I didn't have one until last year, and we only use it for barbecue (and, lately, for measuring the temperature of the compost heap).

The more I think about it, every cook's minimal list would likely be quite different -- not just a sharp knife and a saucepan, as you might expect. Cookbooks with lists of "essential" equipment always contain some truly puzzling items, right? My theory: unless you grow up insanely privileged, you probably first cook on your own under somewhat financially distressed conditions, and what you do and don't have during that time shapes what you consider essential. I cannot imagine dealing with the plastic cutting board recommended in the article, but I could happily do without a food processor, a skimmer, or a slotted spoon. Oddly, I have never owned a slotted spoon. But I've always owned a big heavy chunk of wood on which to chop.

I guess I should balance that rant out with a picture and a recipe. Here are chard stems:

And here is my favorite way to cook chard:

Saute in 2 tablespoons olive oil:

- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- one small dried red chile (de arbol, Thai, whatever), deseeded

Turn heat to medium high and add:

-1 big bunch chard, washed, stems separated and cut into 1/2" pieces

(Add the stems first, then the leaves a few minutes later. Chard stems are soooo tasty and should not be thrown away unless they are horrendously tough.)

Saute for a few minutes until stems are soft and leaves are wilty. Remove from heat and sprinkle with:

- 2 or so ounces feta (think of it as seasoning, not topping -- this is in lieu of salt)

I like it best after about fifteen minutes, just above room temperature.

I leave for the beach tomorrow. I will cook some good food there and post about it.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Closely Read Asparagus Bearnaise

You know the Deconstructed Menu Item conceit? I guess it's a few years old now. This is where a pretentious gourmet chef will serve, say, a Deconstructed Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, which will be candied grapes, roasted sugarcane rolled in chopped peanuts, and sauteed wheatberry triangles, or something.

The idea is consistent comedy gold. I like to present Lawson with dishes like Deconstructed Spaghetti alla Carbonara (a box of uncooked spaghetti, a package of bacon, an unbroken egg) and Deconstructed Cat Vinaigrette (a bottle of vinegar, a bottle of olive oil, and the cat). The joke never, ever gets old.

All this is by way of introducing my dinner last night.

Lawson has been working absurd hours -- the contract he works under is up for rebid -- so he hasn't been around for dinner much lately. I believe that dinners cooked and eaten alone should be a little weird. (I think this comes from you, because we would always eat lighter, stranger dinners when Dad was out of town. Also, you once told me that when you were first married you just ate tortillas and cheese when he was gone.) Sometimes weird means mildly embarrassing comfort food, like pieces of cheddar cheese topped with powdered cumin. Sometimes weird means mismatched dishes: on Thursday I ate a spinach omelette accompanied by sauteed Swiss chard, because spinach and Swiss chard are two of my favorite things and I wanted them both. Generally I wouldn't serve two dark green leafy things at the same time, right? But mostly weird just means unbalanced, like one elaborately sauced vegetable and nothing else.

Anyway, yesterday I wasn't very hungry, but I wanted to eat the asparagus from the fridge. And I'd never made hollandaise or bearnaise sauce. I'm not sure I've even had them as an adult. You must have made hollandaise a few times when I was young, and that's the only time I've ever had it. So I wanted to try it, not least because of its reputation for difficulty.

But I was out of lemons. No citrus, period. So instead I invented this, which contains all the components of asparagus bearnaise but is infinitely more refined and witty. The recipe is doubled here, but you should halve it for solitary authenticity.

Steam until tender and arrange on two plates:
-One bunch asparagus

Top each plate with:
-One egg, fried, over medium
-Olive oil drippings from pan
-Chopped fresh tarragon

-Lemon wedges

It was tasty.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


These are Lawson's cucumber plants from last year. So far this year they're only eight inches high.

Yesterday I made some fattoush for the going-away party of one of my friends at work. This is adapted from a Claudia Roden recipe:

Salt and drain in a colander over the sink for half an hour or so:
- 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped (I like 3/4" cubes)

Combine in a large bowl:
- whole wheat pita bread (or whatever other flatbread is around), very well toasted and snapped into roughly 1" shards.
- juice of 1 or 2 lemons
- 1/8 cup olive oil, or much more

- a few cups of fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 red onion or mild onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- handful fresh mint, chopped
- handful parsley, chopped

Mix in cucumbers. Add salt to taste. Someone should probably experiment with letting the flavors blend for several hours and then adding some separately dressed bread...as it is, there's a tension between wanting the bread to be fresh and wanting the whole thing to sit and mellow for a while, especially because of the onion.

I also sent this to a stranger today as part of a recipe exchange. Since it was already typed up, I figured I should put it up here. Oh, I love summer food.