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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Basic Anasazi Beans

People I work with -- chiefly those who have gotten married within the last 10 years -- have fancy, lightweight silver-and-black crockpots, and they are nice. But I am attached to this one. I don't remember whether Lawson or I picked it up, but it came from the Goodwill. It weighs about 20 pounds.

I don't make too many things in the crockpot, but I find it essential for beans.

I have soaked a lot of beans. As a vegetarian I ate beans all the time, and I still make them regularly. Most recipes call for 12-24 hours of soaking, but I no longer think soaking is necessary. It doesn't reduce gassiness all that much (and besides, farts are funny). And it seems like flavor and nutrients are being soaked away and discarded. So I don't soak beans.

Mom, I think my recipe is mostly based on yours. And like you, I think Anasazi beans are the best of the red beans. I've only ever used Anasazi beans from Adobe Milling in Dove Creek, Colorado, near my old hometown of Durango. Unfortunately, I think they're are hard to find outside of the Four Corners states. Pinto beans are just fine, but they lack a certain sweetness.

These beans take about 20 hours. The night before you want to eat them, put the following in a crockpot:

- 1 16-oz package dry beans, rinsed
- water -- about half a crockpot full to start

Cook on low overnight. The next morning add:

- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, smushed and peeled
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano, or several stems fresh
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon plain chile powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

Add some water if you like -- I like fairly soupy beans. Cook on low until dinner.

It's hours until dinner, but the house already smells faintly of beans. We're going to eat them with chiles rellenos, fresh tomatoes, and tortillas.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Burger and Fries

We would love to have fresh fish three times a week, but the reality is that it's expensive and inconvenient to achieve that goal. So we sometimes fall back on frozen fish--some are better than others. I don't like frozen salmon very well, or cod, and frozen snapper is loathesome. But orange roughy, tuna (especially albacore), and halibut seem to freeze more successfully.

Last night with my thawed ahi steak I made some delicious tuna burgers. I found the recipe in American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes, edited by Molly O'Neill.

Tuna Burgers

1 pound raw tuna
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Chop the tuna finely with a chef's knife, or grind, but don't put in food processor. Mix above ingredients, form four patties.

Saute 3 or 4 minutes per side in:

Olive oil

I skipped the recommended teriyaki glaze and served it with the more ketchup-like Thai sweet chile sauce, roasted new potatoes, and Kale with Carmelized Onions and Balsamic Vinegar. It was a light and different dinner.

Jack Bishop's kale recipe specified blanching the chopped kale for 8 minutes before stirring it into the carmelized onions. I worried about all the vitamins going down the drain, but the kale was was tender and delicious.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


That’s semolina to you. Grandpa’s grain elevator in North Dakota in the 1940s through the 1960s dealt with “spring wheat” and “winter wheat,” along with rye, flax, oats, soybeans, and corn. Spring wheat was usually the hard durum variety which is especially prized for pasta.

The reason I’m bringing this up is: we had a nostalgic dish tonight that was one of the first things I learned to cook as a 20-year-old bride. I picked up a free recipe pamphlet from the North Dakota State Fair published by the Durum Council of America, and it has recipes I still use for macaroni and cheese, sausage and macaroni casserole, spaghetti with meatballs, and other hearty and unfashionable things. The pamphlet recipes are professionally written and edited. Although it’s from the sixties, there is no cream of mushroom soup in evidence, and in fact the only processed ingredients are canned tomatoes and mushrooms. Fat is everywhere, but the use of salt is reasonable. This has the bonus of being a one-pot meal that can be cooked on a camp stove.

Here’s the original recipe. Of course I now modify it to use less meat, light sour cream, no sugar, more spices, and so forth.

Mexican Macaroni Sausage Casserole (as opposed to my regular vegetarian one)

1 pound pork sausage
¾ cup diced onion
¾ cup chopped green pepper
1 large can (1 pound 13 ounces) tomatoes
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces elbow macaroni

In large skillet, brown sausage, onion, and green pepper. Drain off excess fat. Stir in tomatoes, sour cream, sugar, chili powder, and salt. Add macaroni. Cover skillet and simmer about 30 minutes, or until macaroni is tender.

Oh, and here’s a fun web page:


The Shrimp of Tarts

I have a few short articles this week in Abode, the special monthly home section of the Free Times. One piece is about shrimp and grits and was based in part on an interview with Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills. Another is about tarts, for which we have many recipes here at Cooking Habit. There is a third piece, but it is not about food.

Abode isn't online, unfortunately, but if you're in Columbia, make sure you pick up a Free Times this week. Mom, I'll send you one...and hey, welcome back from your trip!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Butternut Squash Soup

We bought some winter squash at that Hendersonville farm stand last week: one butternut, one buttercup, and several entertainingly lumpy gourds. Last night I made soup with the butternut squash.

The problem with winter squash soup recipes is that they require peeling the squash, which is a giant waste of time, and can actually be dangerous if you lack sharp knives and/or knife skills. I think that, like sweet potatoes, winter squash is best when roasted -- it seems to concentrate the flavor and intensify the sweetness. So instead of peeling and boiling, I started my butternut squash soup by roasting the squash at 400 degrees for about an hour. I cut it into 4 pieces first and sprayed it with a little olive oil.

The skin slides right off of roasted squash. Problem solved.

I sauteed a sweet onion and a tiny clove of garlic in 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Then I added a chopped Yukon Gold potato, the scooped-out squash innards, a cup of white wine (begging the pardon of Julia Child once again: it was a Chardonnay that I saved for cooking because it tasted like soda pop), and several cups of chicken broth.

I seasoned it with:

- a few fresh sage leaves, chiffonaded
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- a few thyme leaves
- salt

I simmered it until the potatoes softened, about 35 minutes, then pureed it with a little water so it didn't become gluey. I reheated it, stirred in a few tablespoons of chopped chives, and topped the bowls with:

- sour cream
- fresh black pepper
- sage leaves fried in butter and drained on paper towels
- whole fresh chives

(Fried sage leaves are amazing. Lawson makes tomato sauce with cannellini beans and fried sage leaves...simply the best pasta I've ever eaten.)

In the picture you also see a popover, and some mixed lettuce tossed with rice vinegar.

The soup was even better the next day. And now it truly feels like autumn, even if it is 90 degrees in Columbia today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

North by North Africa by West Africa

I bought some Canadian haddock and made your North African Fish Fillets for dinner. I served them with couscous and steamed okra. It was great -- one of those dishes I can't quite imagine the taste of from reading the recipe but that makes perfect sense once it's prepared. The haddock was quite good, and good wild fish is always cause for celebration in Columbia.

For the sauce I used a bunch of garden tomatoes that desperately had to be cooked today -- homegrown tomatoes don't last long off the vine before before breaking out all over with mold or spontaneously liquefying. One minute the tomato is fine; the next it has split down one side and urinated on the counter. I cleaned the heck out of the kitchen today and scrubbed at more stains from little yellow puddles of tomato goo than I care to recount.

I also used some garden chiles instead of a jalapeno: one cowhorn and one dedo de mo├ža. So here's a picture of tomatoes, chiles, and day lilies.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Because I was a vegetarian for so many years, chili is to me a bean-based dish, with meat only an incidental ingredient. I know this is blasphemy to those amateur chefs who enter chili cookoffs and seem to slice onions even more ineptly than I, if 8,671 Food Network chili cookoff specials are any evidence.

Chili should be a big, serious meal suitable for powering a person through a day of telemark skiing or ice climbing (or, in today's case, college football-watching). And for that it requires beans.

The glorious thing about chili is that just about any of the ingredients are optional or substitutable. It also requires only one pot, a big Dutch oven, though I often use a big skillet to brown meat and onions before dumping them into the Dutch oven.

Here is my infinitely variable recipe, based on your old vegetarian chili recipe:

Roast at 400 degrees any or all of the following:
- 2-3 carrots, sliced
- 1-2 bell peppers
- 1-9 fresh chiles of any sort -- today I am using a few green Anaheims (Big Jim), a few red Anaheims (cowhorn), and some poblanos (ancho mulato).

(Actually, I guess I roast the carrots first, then turn on the broiler to char the chiles.)

Peel and chop the roasted peppers and chiles.

If you don't have fresh chiles, put canned or frozen green chiles in the chili. You can also make a dried red chile-based chili -- soak and then puree dried red Anaheims. A person could even use red chili powder and some bell peppers.

Procure 1-2 pounds meat. Cheap beef stew meat of some sort is good -- just cube it. Ground beef is fine. Leftover shredded chicken is good. This is definitely the way to use up scary things you find in the freezer (squirrels?) If the meat is raw, begin by browning it, then removing it from the pot or pan.

- 1-3 onions, diced

Put everything in the Dutch oven if it's not already there. Add any or all of the following:

- Beans. I usually use 2 cans each of black beans and pinto beans. Sometimes I soak dried beans for a day and use those. I think red kidney beans in chili are too big and sweet, but I know lots of people like them.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 large cans of tomatoes
- beer or red wine, cheap or fancy. (Note to readers: I happen to know that Kris, who is on vacation and thus can't protest, uses Old Milwaukee.)
- leftover coffee
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, or a small handful fresh, or whatever
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and possibly ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon or more chile powder, the fresher and purer the better
- cider vinegar or lime juice if necessary to correct acidity
- sugar if necessary

Simmer very gently for 2-5 hours. I serve it with homemade cornbread (cornmeal only, no flour, and no sweetener, made in a cast-iron skillet).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Before moving to South Carolina I'd never had a fresh fig. And even then it took me a while to work up to eating one. They're soft, much softer than any other fruit, almost unappetizingly so. And they don't keep, so you can't pick one and think about it for a day or two while it sits on your counter. You have to eat the fig right away...either that, or make fig preserves.

I finally ate a fig, and then a few more, and three years ago I bought Lawson a fig tree which is just this year beginning to produce figs in earnest (not in jest). The birds eat slightly over half the figs -- there are deep beak holes and bird poop -- but that leaves us about one a day. They are huge Mission-style figs. I cut them in half, and we each get plenty.
Lawson's parents have a tree that bears the smaller, more traditional greenish-brown figs. Earlier this year we picked many pounds' worth and made fig preserves. They're okay. I'm not convinced figs have the right flavor for preserves: raw, they're delicately perfumey, but boiled they're mostly just sweet. I'll try again, though. Lawson thinks maybe my version had too much lemon, and he may be right.

For the first time ever I've been seeing fresh figs in the supermarket this year. I haven't tried them...have you (Mom) or you (readers)? (There's some proof that English could use a second-person singular-plural distinction.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Early Fall Green Beans

We bought some green beans at a farm stand near Hendersonville, North Carolina, this weekend, and because it's September, they were not exactly young and delicate. So I cobbled together this recipe out of several things: my standard lemon-zest-and-olive oil recipe, Viana La Place's butter-and-basil recipe, and the wonderful wrinkled look of Chinese stir-fried green beans. It was great. Here is what to do with tough older green beans:

De-stem (or top and tail if they are yucky) one pound of green beans, and break them into 2" pieces.

Boil for 5-8 minutes or until al dente. Drain.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons butter in a big skillet. Toss beans in. Saute over medium low heat -- really, just let them sit quietly, barely cooking, absorbing the butter -- for about 20 minutes. It's sort of like a lidless braise. Add salt to taste. When beans are tender, add 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon small or chiffonaded basil leaves. Toss again, turn off heat, and let sit at room temperature until serving.

Please note the highly literal photo, which contains green beans and autumnal gourds. (It also contains fried eggplant and a caprese salad.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cookbook Writers

I cooked several delicious things over the last week from that Jack Bishop Vegetables Every Day that you gave me (pictured here is his Zucchini, Corn, Red Pepper Saute—with cream and cilantro!), so I am going to look for other books by him. And I also noticed that one of my very favorite Italian cookbooks, an out-of-print edition of Cucina Fresca, is by the same Viana La Place that wrote your latest new one, My Italian Garden. She has a long catalog that I want to explore.

All of which prompted me to list some more of my favorite cookbook writers, and I hope you’ll add yours.

--Lou Seibert Pappas (She wrote the fabulous old International Fish Cookery, now out of print, which taught me to cook fish). She has written dozens of cookbooks ranging from creme brulee to crockpot recipes.

--Julia Child, of course, although I read her methods more than I use her recipes now. I learned so much from her.

--The Rombauer/Becker duo and the Joy of Cooking

--Paula Wolfert—I have her Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco. Your mouth just waters reading her!

--I like Madhur Jaffrey.

I find Marcella Hazan to be quite uppity about the superiority of everything Italian, not to mention long-winded in her recipes, so she’s not on my list.

I love Laurie Colwin’s essays about home cooking. I think I’ll go back and read them again.

North African Fish Fillets

This is a wonderfully simple and flavorful way to cook fish from Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern cookbook. I have used it with other fillets, but last night I used cod.

Fish in North African Sauce

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno or red chile, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

Saute the garlic and chile until they begin to soften. Then add:

1 pound diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/4 inches ginger root, grated

Cook the sauce at a simmer for about 10 minutes.

1 pound fish fillets (roughy, cod, etc.)

Add the fish to the sauce and cook, covered, until just done, turning once. It only takes five minutes or so. This is best served on couscous, I think.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Mark arrived for a visit last night, and I made gumbo. Seriously, a food that contains sausage, shellfish, and okra -- could there be anything holier? The recipe was a hybrid of several Prudhomme recipes -- spice mixture from one, okra instructions from another, andouille amounts from a third. I made the stock from several batches of shrimp shells saved up in the freezer and toasted in a dry hot pan before being simmered for about an hour. I added garden tomatoes as well. And we happened to have some leftover smoked chicken, which rounded everything out.

It was the kind of chopping- and stirring-intensive meal perfect for three people standing around in the kitchen drinking too much. We moved from gin and tonics to Yuengling to pinot noir to scotch, and this morning we all feel it more than a little. Fortunately there is gumbo for breakfast.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Red Chile Sauce

Living way out here in South Carolina, I have profound and regular cravings for New Mexican enchiladas.

I don't think I've ever posted the family red chile sauce recipe here. If you believe James Peyton, this is pretty close to the standard New Mexican recipe. My version is slightly modified from the version you wrote down for me years ago, Mom. A tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg seem to warm up the sauce without overpowering the main flavors...but I picked that idea up from a Guatemalan guy who ran a Veracruzana restaurant, so who knows what's really authentic.

Place in saucepan and cover with water:

- 12-18 dried red New Mexican chiles, destemmed and deseeded

Bring to simmer, cover, turn off heat, and let sit 30 minutes or until chiles are soft and pliable. Put chiles and 1 cup of soaking liquid in blender, and process until very smooth.

Make a roux by combining over medium-high heat:

- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons flour

Stir until light brown and nutty. Turn down heat and add the chile puree all at once; stir very quickly to incorporate without spattering or lumps. Then add:

- Several cups chicken or vegetable stock
- More soaking liquid if it needs more heat -- depends on the chiles
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Simmer for at least 15 minutes.

Easy New Mexican enchiladas consist of red chile sauce, cheese, chopped green or white onions, corn tortillas, and sometimes sour cream. I like them stacked, not rolled, and topped with fried eggs. I miss the Southwest.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chiles as a Condiment

I never really understood how to eat fresh chiles until recently. I used to see them served with meals in Mexico and the Southwest, especially breakfasts -- just a small bowl of jalapenos or serranos, usually. And I love chiles. Also I have this macho compulsion not usually found in women where I have to lift heavy things, spit cherry pits, and eat extremely spicy foods to show off. But eating a plain, really hot chile does not facilitate the tasting of other parts of a meal, so I never really knew what to do.

Lawson taught me that you have to eat them literally with other food -- bite of sandwich, bite of chile, chew. Eaten this way, they actually enhance the main flavors of the meal and are seldom too hot. (Well, maybe not those habaneros in the foreground up there -- I wouldn't eat one of those with my tomato-egg sandwich.)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Food Day

Today was food-filled. I took Grandma shopping to our local Sprouts market, which was packed with beautiful, inexpensive produce as usual: strawberries, 4 quarts for $5; leeks, 99 cents a pound; peaches, 69 cents, Bartlett pears, 59 cents. Wild, fresh Alaska salmon has been plentiful this summer, and once was even as low as $6 a pound. I also hit the supermarket to complete my list (I got reduced-price farmed salmon for Emily--after all she is a dog).

Since I was going out to an evening meeting, I decided on a cold supper. I poached the salmon and chilled it, and boiled Yukon Gold potatoes to slice and serve cold. With both I served this sauce:

Mustard-Dill Sauce

2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh snipped dill
This time I used fresh tarragon, fresh parsley, and dried dill, and I added chopped cucumbers.

We also had Katherine's Caprese Salad with Corn, and fresh strawberries. And homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Caprese Salad with Corn

Small fresh mozzarella balls
Cherry tomatoes
Basil leaves
Corn kernels scraped from an ear of roasted corn

Dress with a little olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.

While fiddling with dinner, I baked cookies; cooked a batch of barley in the crockpot outside (to use in dog food); and started the dough for a loaf of slow bread.

Today is a much lazier food day. We're eating out for lunch, watching a baseball game, and possibly eating some pasta for supper if we can find room.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Easy Almond Tart

Here's our breakfast fruit from this morning: kiwi, white peach, navel orange. I love this time of year when we're overwhelmed with fruit choices.

Here also is a tart recipe to contribute to your ongoing research. It is rather sweet, but I usually serve just a small sliver with some fresh fruit on the side.

Easy Almond Tart

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

With processor running, add vanilla and water and mix until dough just comes together. Press into 9” tart pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove and reduce oven to 350 degrees.


¾ cup sugar
¾ cup whipping cream
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur
½ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sliced almonds

Whisk together sugar, cream, salt, liqueur, and almond extract until slightly thickened.

Stir in almonds and mix thoroughly. Pour into prepared crust. Bake until top forms a crust similar to pecan pie, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Variations: I love to make an Almond Joy variation on this, stirring in shredded coconut and chocolate chips along with the almonds (a total of one cup).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Zucchini Risotto

My first recipe from My Italian Garden was a success. The book is beautiful to leaf through and be inspired by, but that's seldom an indication of whether the recipes are any good. This was -- for something with as difficult a reputation as a risotto, it was simple, fresh, and delicious. I even ran out of medium-grain rice and had to use 1/4 basmati, and the recipe still worked beautifully. The zucchini almost melted into the risotto, but its flavor filled out the whole dish without overpowering the intense rice flavor. It took time, but with a glass of wine and a book there was no reason for me NOT to stand by the stove for a while, right?

We ate it with fresh tomatoes and cold smoked chicken; Lawson was making ribs on Sunday, so we put a chicken in the smoker for the last few hours, thereby ensuring the next day's dinner, several days of good sandwiches, and a carcass to make stock out of later in the week. I need more hours in the day.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Apple Tart

This weekend I experimented with tarts for a piece I am writing for the Free Times Entertaining section. It's more complicated than what I want to put in the article, but I muddled my way into a really good bourbon-apple tart with vanilla pastry cream.

I wanted to make an apple tart. I didn't want to use cinnamon, because I wanted to get away from the classic apple pie flavor. And when I asked Lawson whether he wanted apple tart with or without a bottom layer of pastry cream, his response was emphatic: more, yes, all of it, please.

I used the simplest tart crust recipe -- the one you posted under Blueberry Tart, actually -- and let it cool. I filled it a vanilla pastry cream using whole milk and 4 egg yolks, though honestly I think a simple cornstarch-based vanilla pudding would have been even better. I chilled that while I sliced up three Golden Delicious apples, two of them peeled, and sauteed them in 3 tablespoons of butter and half a cup of sugar until they were gooey and translucent. I arranged the slices on top of the pudding, then added some bourbon to the pan and reduced all that a little bit before glazing the tart with it. It was so good. I only wish there were someone besides the two of us to eat it.

In other food news, last week I was treated to a fried bologna sandwich from the local Exxon station, unlikely source of pork-based home-cooked local country foods. It tasted, surprisingly, like a good grilled hot dog.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Egg in a Frame

Proof that you can make anything look pretentious by serving it with arugula:

I know I keep making posts about lunches, especially ones that require very little cooking, which is not exactly the point here. I guess I'm enjoying the scale of the meal -- small plates, short prep time, lighter ingredients. Lunch is a summer meal.