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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Men and Soup

I enjoyed your Butternut Squash Soup post. Dad is always encouraging me to make soup for dinner--an excellent idea, so why do I resist? Well, here's why: I made this absolutely terrific soup this evening, and he was looking around for the rest of the meal.

I admit that this is Wednesday evening, and I usually do my marketing on Thursday morning, therefore the the cupboard was a little bare. I can recommend this version of butternut squash soup, though, even if I'm embarrassed to reveal that I got the recipe from AARP magazine (and modified it).

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash

Cut the squash in quarters, scrape out the seeds, and roast at 425 degrees for 1 hour. Turn over after 30 minutes.
1 tablespoon butter
1 chopped onion
2 strips bacon, chopped

Melt butter in soup kettle and add onion and bacon. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender.

Cooked squash, scraped from skin
4 cups chicken broth

Add squash and broth to pot and cook about 30 minutes. Then add:

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Puree soup in blender. Serve topped with:

Chopped toasted pecans

Monday, October 29, 2007

Shrimp and Grits Away from Home

We went to the beach with some friends this weekend, and there we improvised a meal of shrimp and grits. The meal was also supposed to contain roasted eggplant, which I burned, and a salad, for which our friend couldn't find the lettuce he'd brought home from the grocery store. So it was just the shrimp and grits. I am not normally a cream sauce fan, but people were interested in that, so we made the dish above. I toasted the shrimp shells in a dry pan, then simmered them with white wine and strained the shells out. I made a roux, sauteed shallots in it, and then added the stock and some cream. We cooked the shrimp in a separate skillet and added them at the end, along with diced raw red and yellow bell peppers, green onions, and parsley. We served them over some very seriously coarse red and yellow grits.

I loved the bowls at that beach house.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Healthy Blueberry Muffins

Brittany asked me for some healthy baking recipes. I thought I had lost track of this one, but fortunately Mom still had her copy of Simply Colorado from 1989, the source of this delicious muffin recipe. They have the added advantage of using frozen blueberries so you can make them year-round.

Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (raw)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine above ingredients and set aside. Mix:

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 beaten egg

Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry mixture and mix just until blended. Fold in:

1 cup frozen blueberries

Spoon into 12 paper-lined muffin cups. Sprinkle over all:

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pot Roast with Beer and Onions over Noodles

This is pretty close to Julia Child's beer and onion pot roast recipe from Volume 1 of Mastering. I browned a big piece of lean, tough beef -- bottom round, I think -- in some oil. I then sauteed some carrots and several onions. Then I dumped it all into the crockpot with herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns). I made a small, light brown roux in the leftover drippings and added that to the crockpot. I deglazed the pan with a few bottles of Stella Artois (it's an annoying hipster pot roast, you see). Seven hours later, it was tasty. It was also extremely difficult to eat, what with noodles slithering back into the somewhat thin broth. If I'd had time, I would have reduced the broth for several more hours on the stove.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


As far as I can tell, the only essential ingredient in the wonderful Mexican stew posole (also spelled pozole) is hominy. After that it varies wildly. It is so flexible, nutritious, comforting, and delicious. It's also a great food for entertaining because you can make up a whole tray of pretty garnishes for guests to add according to their tastes. Some typical garnishes are crumbled Mexican or grated Monterey Jack cheese; sliced radishes or green onions; cilantro; pickled jalapeno slices; olives; lime slices; and cubes of avocado.

Pictured above are some freshly roasted Anaheim chiles. Dad peeled them.

Here is a traditional pork version of posole, as well as a vegetarian one.

Pork Posole

Olive oil
1 or 2 pounds boneless pork, cubed
2 onions, sliced
4 or more cloves of garlic

Heat the oil in a large pan and brown first the pork, then the onions and garlic. (Most Mexican recipes do not brown the pork--it is just boiled. But I prefer the added flavor that comes from browning. You can skip it if you want.) Cover the meat with water and simmer, covered, until very tender. I often do this step in the crockpot.

1 large can tomatoes, or 1 pound fresh tomatillos
2 large cans hominy, yellow or white, drained
1-2 teaspoons oregano
Fresh or canned green chiles to taste

Last night I used 8 large, fresh Anaheims, and it was pretty spicy.

Simmer everything together for about an hour. Serve in bowls with optional garnishes.

Vegetarian Posole with Roasted Vegetables

3 to 6 dried red chiles (or 1/4 cup or more pure chile powder)
2 cloves garlic

Soak chiles in 1 quart hot water for ½ hour, then drain, reserving soaking water. Puree chiles with garlic and ½ cup of the reserved water.

1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil

Saute onion in oil until very golden. Add chile puree and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

1 or 2 large cans hominy, drained
Vegetable broth (you can make this more or less soupy to taste)
1 can tomatoes
2 teaspoons oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Add these ingredients to puree and simmer about ½ hour.

1 large onion
1 green pepper
2 large carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil

Meanwhile, chop these vegetables, toss with olive oil, and roast at 450 degrees until charred and tasty, about ½ hour. Add them to the posole and simmer until everything is cooked and flavorful. Serve in bowls with optional garnishes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pizza and Wine

Maybe I shouldn't be lifting the curtain on the glamour implied by close-up food photos against a lovely tile table, but here is a recent dinner we ate.

I have no idea what we were watching on TV. I do not know who that man is.

I make pizza often. When I make a batch of dough, I usually separate it into four pieces, each of which goes into an oiled 1-quart freezer bag. I freeze all the dough unless I'm going to cook it the very next day; freezing improves the flavor and texture so much that even a few days in the freezer is well worth it.

Making pizza dough the same day as I want to eat it is never worth it. New dough just doesn't taste good or behave properly.

If I take the dough out of the freezer in the morning before work, it's perfectly thawed on the counter by dinnertime. And at that point the dough is so soft and stretchy that I just gently remove it from the bag with oiled hands and pull it into shape.

Peter Reinhardt's recipe for New York style crust is about my favorite; this is it, except with the options removed:

5 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil
Almost 2 cups water

Mix, knead, and let rise for an hour or two, then divide into four balls and handle as above. Try never to roll out or punch down the dough -- let it rest if it ever gets tough. Bake at highest temperature possible on hottest surface possible. This makes four 10" pizzas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chicken Cacciatore

I've followed many recipes for Chicken Cacciatore in my life, and finally last night I broke out and made a version I suspect is the way real people in Italy might do it.

We returned from a six-day trip with a three-hour time difference in the middle of the afternoon--which left us very vague as to when dinner ought to happen. There was a fortuitous conjunction of things in the refrigerator, so I began.

I heated about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep skillet and added these ingredients as they browned, keeping the temperature quite high. It was really like wok cooking.

1 sliced onion
4 cloves garlic
3 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, halved
1/4 pound white mushrooms
A few leftover cherry tomatoes
1 sprig rosemary
6 sage leaves

After thorough browning, I put in 1 cup red wine which had been sitting on the counter for a day or two and boiled away the alcohol. Then I added 1/2 cup chicken broth, maybe more; 2 tablespoons tomato paste; and 1/2 cup Kalamata olives.

I covered this and simmered it for 45 minutes, then lifted the lid and boiled away some of the liquid to thicken the sauce. I served it with whole wheat noodles.

Dad made fun of my dessert, but I found it amusing. Cantaloupe, dates, and chocolate-peanut butter kisses.

Cape Cod Eating

I wish I had a picture of the counter at Chatham Fish & Lobster, with its bins of gleamingly fresh fish and shellfish--haddock, scrod, swordfish, sole, cod, tuna, salmon, bluefish! We bought and cooked scrod and haddock. Here are some of the other things we ate on the Cape and in Boston:
  • Lobster-filled Ravioli in White Wine Sauce
  • Crab Crepes
  • Cioppino
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Butternut Squash and Sage-filled Ravioli topped with Duck (!)
  • Shrimp Scampi
  • Swordfish
  • Kale, Sausage, and Lentil Soup made by Andy, absolutely delicious, to accompany the football game
Okay, I didn't order all these things myself, but I did taste them all. The most wonderful thing I had was a Fried Scallop Roll at Sir Cricket's, which perhaps you'll remember is the best fried clam joint in Orleans, near Gramp's nursing home. The scallops were large but not huge, and "fried" in this case involved only the barest whisper of coating. Of course they were served on that ridiculous soft white roll--that's a New England kink I don't quite get yet, but I'm working on it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Salsa and Quesadillas

The other night we made two salsas and ate them with quesadillas and salad.

On days I have a big, meat-containing lunch, I often want a very minimal dinner like this. The quesadillas were simple -- cheddar, jack, and a tiny bit of queso anejo inside, sauteed in a pan with a touch of olive oil. Queso anejo is wonderful -- have you tried it? It's the feta of Mexico, all salty and chewy and weird.

Lawson makes a carrot-habanero salsa from Belize that blows my mind and lasts all year in the fridge. The carrots keep it from being unbearably hot, but it's still quite tasty. It is neon orange. He made the first batch of the year the other night.

I made a classic tomatillo salsa: boiled tomatillos, chopped fresh green chiles, lime, salt, garlic, onion, and cilantro. It tasted fresh and well balanced but ultimately not enough better than a can of Herdez salsa verde for me to make it again.

Kris is out of town, by the way, for those of you who are wondering. She and my Dad are visiting family in Massachusetts and will no doubt return with tales of scrod and kelp.

Tomato Paste Ranting

Tomato paste: you can open those little cans, use two tablespoons, and then store them in the refrigerator or the freezer. Then two weeks later, when the next recipe calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste, you can get out the can and find it to be a) moldy, or b) really frozen.

Oh, I've tried those toothpaste-style tubes of tomato paste. I once bought one at a snooty Italian market that was two years past its expiration date, a fact I only noticed much later (note--I really love that British term "expiry" instead of "expiration"). But I find I can't really get along without tomato paste when I'm making Italian things.

I am pretty fanatical about not wasting food. It isn't about money now that I'm middle-class and have enough to buy whatever food I want. It's that someone grew those tomatoes, and other someones then slaved at the tomato-packing plant, and real people trucked the cans to the grocery store. Maybe it's because we're gardeners, and that I come from a wheat-farming background. Being wasteful with food feels so much worse to me than other sins.*

What we really need is freeze-dried tablets of tomato paste, each equaling a tablespoon. Or bubbles of tomato paste in a strip of soluble gel pacs. Surely our society is up to this challenge? Any other ideas?

*This writerly excess made me Google sins, and I find that my Lutheran upbringing didn't really qualify me to rant about cardinal sins as opposed to the more mundane vices. I had it all confused with the Ten Commandments. I can clearly see that some sins are more attractive than others, but I can also see that the finer distinctions are best left to the experts.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kale, Mushrooms, and Bacon over Polenta Taragna

Last night I made this, which is easily one of the best things I've eaten this year -- much more than the sum of its parts. The lemon zest pulls the dish together in surprising ways.

Some minor modifications: I used much less thyme, because our thyme plant is dry and stunted. I used two cloves of garlic, not one. I poured off all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease before adding the olive oil. And I used polenta taragna, which is a combination of ground buckwheat and corn, instead of regular polenta. I finished the polenta with a small bit of half and half -- cheese seemed too rich.

Best of all, this dinner helped me get over the disaster earlier this week in which I roasted some buttercup squash and made a beautiful soup, only to find that it tasted like feet. It was irremediable. The squash had some sort of moldy rot, invisible to the eye, that had completely saturated the soup with strong funk. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.

Kale has redeemed me. I love greens with all my heart.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

3.5-Grain Bread

Lawson gets really depressed by whole wheat bread.

He likes the various crusty white European loaves I make, and he likes all those storebought multigrain and honey wheat breads, which are pretty slim on actual whole wheat. True, some whole wheat can be cardboardy. But even the freshest, most wonderfully brown homemade whole wheat makes him kind of sad. Whole wheat tortillas, too. And whole wheat biscuits. So I don't make all-whole-wheat bread very often.

Because I don't want to either eat white bread or make Lawson sad all the time, over the past year I've been making bread out of varying combinations of good white flour and various other grains and seeds. The doughs are still built over several days, like good artisanal bread, with very little yeast or sugar and lots of liquid. But I add various things in hopes of upping their fiber and vitamin content. Wheat berries are fun -- I soak them separately and add them to the dough near the end of the kneading. 1/2 cup of coarse cornmeal or grits gives makes for the perfect amount of extra chewiness -- I use a little in most breads now. A little bit of oatmeal is good. And I play around with flax seeds, poppy seeds, and sunflower seeds. So far I haven't tried amaranth or barley or any of the myriad other grains out there, but I intend to.

Here's a typical recipe:

Mix 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, and 1 cup water in medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in fridge for 1 day.

Add 1 1/2 cups bread flour and 1 cup water. Mix and return to fridge for a day.

Bring to room temperature. Add the following, mix, and knead thoroughly:

- 1/2 cup coarse cornmeal or grits
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 teaspoon yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Water. Start with 3/4 cup and add more. I like very wet doughs.

You shouldn't have to knead all that much -- plenty of gluten should have developed over the first several days in the fridge.

Work in 1/4 cup flax seeds at end of kneading.

Refrigerate for one more day. Bring to room temperature again, gently shape into loaf, let rise, score, sprinkle with kosher salt, and bake at 450-500 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Baking stones are good. Baking in a preheated cast iron Dutch oven a
la Jeffrey Steingarten's explanation of Mark Bittman's explanation of Jim Lahey's technique is good. The important thing is to bake it as long as you can stand without burning it. It'll come out of the oven rock hard but will soften as it cools.

I have procured some white whole wheat flour; I'll report on my experiments and their reception.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tomatoes and A Cold Dinner

A moment of silence, please, for the last garden tomatoes of the year.

They were so good that we just ate them plain, with salt, accompanied only by bread, butter, cheese, and grapes. Sometimes that's all the dinner I need.

The cheeses weren't overwhelmingly fancy, but they were better than what I usually eat and went well together. We had a Maytag blue, a gouda, and a cheddar. I've read that good cheese shouldn't be eaten cold, and I found that leaving the cheeses out of the fridge for an hour before dinner really did make them taste better.

Monday, October 15, 2007

October Recital Food

I usually have my first piano party of the year in October before Halloween. This year we had music ranging from Haydn to Muczynski, and food from pumpkin candies to Raspberry Tart II.

I found a fabulous pumpkin cake recipe in the October 2007 Bon Appetit. It has raisins, coconut, and lots of grated orange peel for flavor. The recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, but the cake is great on its own. I'll be keeping this one.

Pictured above is another raspberry tart. As you know, a 12-inch tart is the very easiest way to serve dessert to a large group--this one yields twelve to sixteen servings. Have we recorded this recipe for posterity yet?

Fruit Tart

1 cup butter, softened
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Combine ingredients (I use the food processor) and press into a 9x13-inch baking pan or 12-inch tart pan. Chill for 30 minutes. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Cool.

Cream Cheese Layer
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla; fold in whipped cream. Spread over cooled tart crust.

Fruit Topping

The original recipe calls for a can of blueberry pie filling! I use a layer of jam topped with plain fruit, or a layer of sugared fruit. For instance, I might stir some strawberry jam until it's spreadable and apply a thin layer, then arrange whole strawberries on top. In this case, I used some raspberry fruit spread topped with plain fresh raspberries.

I got this recipe from Barbara in Hawaii--do you remember her? She was (and is, though I haven't seen her for 20 years) really something: a wonderful soprano; an avid sports fan--she knew everything about football and sumo wrestling--never play Trivial Pursuit with her; a cat lover; and a librarian.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Spinach Rice Thing

Our subject tonight is in the back of this picture, behind the beets and the chicken.

It's hard for me to name this dish because I can't decide whether the rice or the spinach is the base ingredient. It's originally from Mireille Johnston's Cuisine of the Sun, with some modifications...she calls it Fada Riquet. But around here, Spinach Rice Thing it is.

Fill a large saucepan or small Dutch oven 1/2 full with water and bring to a boil.

Add 1/2 cup dry rice and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Add 1/2 pound of fresh spinach -- or 1 large (9 oz) bag -- and boil for 10 more minutes. Drain everything thoroughly.

Return to pan and heat over medium-low until hot (pretty much just to make the eggs safe):

-2 eggs
-1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or more if, unlike me, you did not somehow acquire a container of nuclear nutmeg. The stuff is intense.)
-4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
-1 tablespoon olive oil (stir in at end)

This is so warm and comforting and awesome. And it's great left over.

I contributed a large batch to a recent potluck at work. For a crowd, I quadrupled the recipe, but for spinach I used 1 big bag of fresh spinach and 3 10-oz packages of frozen spinach. I only used 6 eggs. It was tasty.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bread Wrestling

I really wrestled with this loaf of multi-grain bread--much messier than mud wrestling! I used 1 cup of mixed coarse corn meal, rolled oats, and whole rye flour; 2 cups of whole wheat flour; and 1 or 2 tablespoons gluten flour. The dough was so flabby after the first rise that I had to work in 1/2 cup white flour, and then knead twice more just to get it to stand up enough to form a sticky loaf.

On the positive side, it had excellent oven spring and good flavor, although it hadn't really cooled enough by dinner time. I'm curious to see whether it will have good texture tomorrow. Hey, life is full of drama!

This is the big benefit of being empty-nesters: We can selfishly cook and eat whatever we want. Nobody is waiting at the table requiring thousands of calories and carbohydrates; there are no vegetable-haters; no vegetarians (I love my vegetarian friends, and I enjoyed your vegetarian phases, but I also like flexibility); and if I decide to skip making a meal, Dad will do something about it.

Increasingly we like spicy, sort of ethnic food, with lots of fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. We like anchovies, capers, jalapenos, fresh ginger. We eat less meat each year. Lately we can't live without Medjool dates once a day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Baseball and Cold Supper

Last weekend we went to Grandma's to watch the final first-round playoff game between the Diamondbacks and the Cubs (we won). We collaborated on a perfect, mostly cold, supper for the occasion: Buttermilk Chicken; Italian scalloped potatoes with tomatoes and onions; homemade whole wheat bread; cold asparagus with curry mayonnaise; and chocolate cake.

I made the chocolate cake from a Gourmet recipe I found on the internet. I was specifically looking for a small, cocoa-based recipe because that's what I had on hand. It was pretty good fresh that night, but the next day I found it to be dry and tasting of baking powder.

Everything else was good, though. Here's the chicken recipe, which I used to make when you were living at home. It's from a heart-healthy cookbook, so the chicken is skinned.

Buttermilk Chicken

2 cups buttermilk
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon pepper
salt, optional
6 half chicken breasts or thighs, skinned

Combine buttermilk, garlic, herbs, and pepper. Marinate chicken in buttermilk mixture about 8 hours. Drain and discard marinade.

1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Combine bread crumbs and Parmesan. Dredge chicken in crumbs. Bake on baking sheet covered with foil for about 45 minutes at 350°. (Thighs make take a little longer than breasts.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

French Lentil Soup

I usually buy the cheap, grayish-green lentils from the grocery store, but last week I went to the bulk section at Earth Fare and picked up some other kinds: red lentils, which actually look coral to me, and French lentils, which are a wonderful dark green.

I baked some crusty bread last night and decided French peasant bread deserved French lentils, which deserved a French soup, so I made this, which is part Julia Child and part me. It's got very simple, big lentil flavor. The French lentils cooked up so glossy and round and wonderful -- they're really something.

Cut two strips of bacon into small pieces; heat in pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Saute 1 chopped onion and 2 chopped carrots in the oil. Add 2 cups dry lentils and saute for a few more minutes.

Add and bring to a simmer:
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 twigs fresh thyme
- 3 sprigs fresh oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup white wine
- water

Add a cubed potato after half an hour and cook for half an hour more or until potato is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread and butter and a small salad.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Tortilla Española

Or frittata. Or omelet. Or kuku. It's pretty much the same thing around here: the best way to use up random vegetables and have a light dinner. I make Spanish omelets pretty regularly, often when we are recovering from something meat-laden the night before.

Most vegetables work well. Here are some of my favorite combinations:

- Swiss chard (leaves and stems) and potatoes
- young eggplant and basil
- spinach and assorted fresh herbs
- rosemary, garlic, potatoes, and onions

Really, though, anything goes. Zucchini is great. Asparagus is great. I almost always use an onion. I would probably stay away from the winter squashes and the lighter lettuces, but heck, I could be persuaded.

I use a nonstick 12" skillet for this, because it sticks horribly to non-nonstick cookware, especially if it contains potatoes. The skillet needs to have an oven-safe handle, because it spends a minute or two under the broiler.

First, cut up the vegetables. I cut onions into rings here because it looks pretty and adds texture. Most other big vegetables I cut into roughly 1" cubes. Asparagus is in 2" lengths. Leafy things are chopped. Garlic is minced.

Saute the vegetables in olive oil in the proper order and at the proper temperatures. I'm sorry I can't be more help than that, but it's going to matter whether you use potatoes (cook them first using medium-high heat so they form a skin, then remove from the pan and cook the onions) or garlic (add it last so it doesn't burn) or zucchini (saute for just a minute or two, and don't crowd the pan or it'll get watery).

Preheat the broiler.

Now, here's the key, I'm convinced: salt the vegetables to taste before you add the eggs.

Then turn the stove heat down to medium low and add:

- 6 to 8 eggs, beaten with 1 teaspoon salt
- any herbs you may be using

Stir to distribute the eggs and arrange the vegetables evenly. Top with:

- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, if you like, or some other cheese (Swiss? As with the vegetables, anything goes.)
- grated black pepper

Cook for 3 to 6 minutes on the stove, until the middle is mostly set when you jiggle the pan. Then put it under the broiler for a minute or two until slightly brown.

I prefer my tortilla española at room temperature.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Crab Cakes and Miscellany

I was so excited to get Molly O'Neill's American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classis Recipes from the library, and I did use one good recipe from it, but overall it was so disappointing. Where did she find 500+ pages of such boring writing about food? I am especially bummed out because I was thinking of sending it to you for your birthday, but it was a dud.

Once we were with Uncle George buying fried clams or something similar and I asked whether he wanted to get cocktail sauce. "Oh no!" He was firm. "That has to be homemade." Well, homemade cocktail sauce to George was ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. And very good it is, too. Last night I made some to go with our Crab Cakes.

Sections of King crab were on sale at our favorite store. The 4-inch lengths were so easy to deal with. A few minutes with kitchen shears and I had a big pile of crab meat (it cost about $7.50). I used the Joy of Cooking recipe which adds just a few seasonings, a little mayonnaise and bread crumbs; then you coat each cake in bread crumbs and chill. Fry about 4 minutes per side.

I served sweet potato fries (baked, really) and asparagus. We felt lucky.

Well, maybe Dad didn't feel all that lucky. I made a really big pile of dirty dishes in the process of making this meal!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chiles Rellenos

I want to document this, because I don't know that I'll be spending another evening fidgeting with our tiny garden chiles in quite this way, wonderful as they were. I love chiles rellenos -- love them. Lawson grew some beautiful poblanos and Anaheims this year, and for the first time they were big and thick enough to stuff. But they weren't big enough to work with comfortably.

First I roasted, peeled, and deseeded them. I remember when Russell and I had to help you peel and deseed a giant batch of roasted green chiles every fall, Mom. Nothing sticks to the hands like chile seeds.

Then I stuffed each with little twigs of Monterey Jack cheese and prettied them up a bit.

The batter was just eggs, with the whites and yolks beaten separately and folded together, and salt. Following James Peyton's suggestion, I sauteed them in a little olive oil, then baked them for just a few minutes to finish them off.

They were phenomenal. I made tortillas, too, and a big pot of Anasazi beans, and Lawson cut up some fresh tomatoes. Oh, man. But it was a lot of work.

My new favorite drink helped me through: bourbon, soda, and a mint sprig. It's the good parts of a mint julep without the oppressive sweetness of a sugar syrup.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Spice Pastes and Gravy Enhancers

Is this cheating? We had a lovely tofu curry last night (red curry paste, coconut milk, onions, carrots, cashews, and baked tofu squares.) I use Thai curry paste, both red and green, for some curries, although I have also made many curries from scratch.

The same goes for Mexican mole dishes. I have laboriously made the traditional chocolate-and chile sauce for turkey Mole Poblano, and I have also used the spice paste pictured here.

In a slightly different category, my extended family frequently uses chicken bouillon granules to beef up (ha!) a soup or sauce. Grammy used something called Gravy Master, and I know we used to have some dark, evil bottle of Kitchen Bouquet at one time. Many people can't cook without a bottle of Maggi seasoning around.

Do you have a dirty secret--Tomato soup? Worcestershire Sauce?

Monday, October 1, 2007


I made buckwheat pancakes on Sunday morning. Lawson and I so seldom eat breakfast together (we both rush to get to work on time, I don't often get hungry before lunchtime, and he has a cereal habit) that it all seemed particularly special. The preparation was nothing fancy: I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for basic pancakes, but substituted toasted soba flour for half of the all-purpose flour. Because soba flour doesn't contain gluten, the pancakes were super tender. The nutty, weird buckwheat flavor went really well with the sourness and sweetness of yogurt and preserved figs. Lawson ate his with butter and syrup and seemed equally happy, so whatever.

I'll certainly make buckwheat pancakes again -- homemade soba noodles were fun, but perfecting them would be hilariously complicated, and I have to use up this soba flour somehow. But my favorite, favorite pancakes are sourdough. I'll have to get to work on a sourdough post. Cooking Habit doesn't really lend itself to long academic treatments of the sort I feel bread and yeast deserve, which is why I seldom post about bread here. But autumn means I can pull my starter from the fridge without the jar exploding within 30 hot, humid minutes, so I'll get to testing and writing.