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

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Book Review and More

I almost forgot! For the Entertaining section of this month's Abode I reviewed Paul Johnson's Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood. What a cool book that is.

Here's to more fish in the rest of 2008. Judging by our posts here over the last few weeks, even, we're off to a good start.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Power Outage Food

Our power was off all day Saturday. We never figured out why. The power company said the outage only affected 138 customers.

The fridge was full of newly bought fish and milk and delicate local green things, so we had to be extra careful not to open it. And we couldn't use any electricity, of course. So once we tired of fruit, I made beans vinaigrette: a can of black beans with olive oil, vinegar, lots of black pepper, and the first garden herbs of the year, some chives that poked up the week before. It was pretty good. I might make it again even with the power back on.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Roasted Kale

Holy cow, have you made roasted kale yet? I read about it almost a year ago but just now got around to making it. It's stunning. We ate it two nights in a row.

Basically you strip some kale leaves off the stalks, wash and dry them, toss them with olive oil, and roast them at 375 degrees for about 5 minutes per side. Err on the low side -- the leaves get overly brown very easily. A little chewiness is okay, as it will be mixed in with brownish crispy patches. And while the recipes I read said to toss the kale with salt, and I am a salt fanatic, I actually left it out altogether and liked it better. But try it both ways.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tofu with Peppers and Pecans

This is a tasty and proteiniferous (this might be a real word, or Dad might have made it up) tofu main dish.

Tofu with Peppers and Pecans

Prepare 1 tub firm tofu and set aside (cut into slices, drain, pat dry, brush lightly with oil, and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes per side.) Cut into strips or cubes.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vermouth or sherry
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice or rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sambal or some red pepper flakes
¾ cup vegetable broth

Mix above ingredients for seasoning sauce and set aside.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 red, green, or yellow bell peppers, cut in strips
4 green onions, cut in 1-inch diagonals
¾ cup pecan halves

Sauté peppers and green onions in oil for 2 minutes. Add pecans and sauté 2 minutes more. Add seasoning sauce and stir until boiling and thickened. Stir in tofu and heat. Serve with rice.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Indian Fish Curry with Tamarind and Cucumbers

I couldn't get a pretty picture of this dish, so here instead is a cucumber plant from Lawson's 2006 garden. No good pictures from 2007 -- it was a bad garden year for the ol' cucurbits.

This curry was a wonderful surprise. I'd bought a fresh coconut on sale at the grocery store the week before, and we needed to use it quickly. I'd also bought some flounder, plus the usual assortment of buy-first-figure-meals-out-later vegetables. So Lawson found this recipe for which we happened to have all the ingredients, plus a few more. It's from Jennifer Brennan's One Dish Meals of Asia, which is one of Lawson's cookbooks I've never really looked at.

It's easier than many other curries because you can use the food processor. And it's refreshing -- not so aggressively rich and creamy as a green curry made with coconut milk.

First, mix together and set aside:
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate or 2 tablespoons wet tamarind (the recipe says you can use 1 tablespoon molasses and 1/2 cup lemon juice if you have no tamarind)
- 1 1/2 cups hot water

Run through the food processor to make a paste:
- 1 onion
- 4 or fewer small fresh hot green chiles, seeds and ribs removed
- 1/2 cup fresh coconut, broken or cut into chunks, or 1/3 dried unsweetened shredded coconut moistened with some water
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- a 1" chunk of ginger

Heat in a wok or big saucepan over medium-high heat:
- 4 tablespoons peanut oil

When just smoking, add and fry until they pop open:
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

Add and cook:
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced

Then add the curry paste and a bay leaf. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Add and blend:
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of firm white fish, cut into 2" strips (the flounder broke down quite a bit, which was fine, but cod or something would stay together better)
- the tamarind water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1" chunks

Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until fish and cucumber are just cooked. Serve over rice.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pescado Borracho

I made this "drunken fish" dish with previously frozen orange roughy. I like the recipe as an alternative to the popular Veracruz style I often cook. This can be pretty fiery, so I don't make it with the most delicate or expensive fish.

Pescado Borracho

6 dried red chiles

Remove stems and seeds from chiles and soak in hot water to cover for one hour. Puree in blender until smooth, using some of the soaking liquid. (Or use ground red chile soaked in hot water to make a paste).

1 pound red snapper, cut in serving pieces
Flour, salt, and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Dust fish with flour, salt, and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet and brown fish lightly on both sides. Place fish in an ovenproof casserole and set aside.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley sprigs, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Add olive oil to same skillet and sauté onion and garlic. Add chile puree, parsley, tomatoes, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, for five minutes.

1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 cup red wine

Add olives, capers, and wine and mix well. Pour over fish in casserole. Cover and bake at 400º for 20 minutes, or until fish is done.

I modified this recipe from The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asparagus Salad Pasta

Not pasta salad -- salad pasta. Pasta with salad in it. I like noodles a lot, but I like them better cut with greenery and fiber. I love Thai and Vietnamese noodle dishes with lettuce in them, and I wondered if I could make a good Americanized noodle with green leaves. So I made this, which was really, really good.

Beat one egg in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Then beat in a bunch of olive oil. Really -- up to 1/3 cup.

Cut one bunch asparagus into 3" lengths (2 to 3 pieces per stalk), toss or spray with olive oil, and roast at 500 degrees for 6 to 10 minutes, until sizzling, cooked through, and just beginning to color. Toss in with the egg and oil.

Make a small amount of pasta -- maybe 1/3 of a standard box. I used linguine snapped in half. Drain and immediately toss with the asparagus, egg, and oil. The pasta should be hot enough to cook the egg.

Add salt to taste, a bunch of pepper, and about 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg -- just the tiniest bit.

Add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and a few shreds of zest.

Toss in a few ounces of grated Parmesan and/or Asiago cheese.

Mix in several large handfuls of mixed small greens or red romaine torn into small pieces. It should wilt slightly.

Serves 2 as a small main dish.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Leftovers for Lunch

I love cold leftovers. So for lunch I ate cold collard greens and a sandwich made of a homemade wheat roll, cold flank steak, Dijon mustard, horseradish, lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, and black pepper.

It's been a good week for food but a bad one for photos. I'll post soon about last night's amazing green fish curry with cucumbers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

French Chili

This was reminiscent of the old chili my mother made with a pound of hamburger, a can of red kidney beans, and a can of tomato soup.

I browned some of the wonderful little French Bistro sausages you sent for Christmas, along with some onions and garlic. Then I added a can of cannelini beans, half a can of tomatoes, and a little water. I seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley and thyme and simmered for a half hour. It was a perfect casual winter supper. I served it with a green bean and tomato salad and garlic bread.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Carne Asada

I loved steak as a kid. Pink, pink steak cut into tiny cubes. And chocolate mousse for dessert. No restaurant meal since has made such an impression on me.

Then I spent 13 years as a vegetarian.

When I first started eating meat again about four years ago, I tried all different kinds of beef, from grilled filet mignon to prime rib to pot roast, but it wasn't until I bought a flank steak and grilled it that I tasted anything like the steak of my childhood. I find that I prefer flank steak and top round London broil to the more tender, fancy cuts. And homemade carne asada may now be my favorite beef dish ever.

James Peyton's recipe is a little too complicated, but the idea is right. You marinate one to two pounds of flank steak in the fridge for 48 hours, then pat it dry and grill it over really high heat. The usual rules apply: tent it with foil for 10 minutes or so after it comes off the grill; slice it thinly across the grain; serve it with Mexican food the first night; eat it cold on sandwiches or plain with your hands for the next several days.

Here's a much simpler version of Peyton's marinade (and better -- his is complicated in weird ways, like using both red and white wine AND both red and white wine vinegar). Use a food processor.

6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup onion
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
5 fresh sage leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup red wine
3 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup tomato juice (or some other unseasoned canned tomato product. Well, not tomato paste, but something.)
1/3 cup olive oil


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Baked Cod with Saffron, Tomatoes, and Fennel

Over the weekend I relearned an important lesson about cooking, especially for people like you and me who use so many cookbooks: never, ever let what a cookbook says override your own judgment.

I remember you telling me about a family friend back in Hawaii who was perplexed that a recipe she'd made wasn't very good. The dish was something like tuna-and-lima bean casserole, but worse. And of course it wasn't good -- it didn't sound good. One has to learn to judge which dishes might be novel but good and which will be bad. There's a line between trying new things and trying everything.

So, I'm reviewing a cookbook/reference about sustainable seafood for Abode. It's called Fish Forever, by Paul Johnson, and is so far quite wonderful. And I got so excited about the recipe for Orange-Scented Olive Tapenade. The recipe was intended for albacore, but the book said a milder fish like flounder or halibut would work well, too, and I had some turbot, so I used that. And it wasn't right at all. The fish was delicate and mild and not good at all with that big serious topping. And I should have known that.

The tapenade was good left over on bread. But here's a more successful recipe from the book. He calls it Mediterranean Baked Cod, but that's not a very descriptive name, so I'm calling it Baked Cod with Saffron, Tomatoes, and Fennel and including a few important modifications. It is simple and wonderful.

Preheat oven to 400, and with it a casserole or Dutch oven, lid and all.

Pour in:

- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 to 4 saffron threads (really! that few! I promise)
- 1 or 2 leeks, or one very sweet onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced or chopped

Toss, cover, and return to oven for 10 minutes or until sizzling and beginning to brown.

Remove casserole and add:

- 3/4 cup dry white wine (or, most successfully, champagne. SO GOOD.)
- juice of 1/2 lemon

Let cool for a minute. Place on top:

- 12 to 20 ounces of cod fillets

Toss in a bowl, then dump over top of fish:

- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, or 1.5 containers cherry or grape tomatoes, some halved
- 2 more tablespoons olive oil
- salt
- pepper

Cover, return to oven, and bake about 10 mor eminutes, until fish is cooked through. Serve over couscous or something else that can soak up a bunch of saffrony tomato broth.

I can't wait to make this with fresh garden tomatoes.

More on the book later this month in Abode.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


I made our favorite brownies this week. I also had a gall bladder attack, but perhaps it's a stretch to link them.

This recipe is so useful because it uses plain old Hershey's cocoa, in fact it came from the back of a cocoa tin. The brownies are rich and, if you don't overbake them, gooey.

Fudge Brownies

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix eggs, sugar, and melted butter in food processor. Add flour, cocoa, and salt. Process lightly until mixed. Add vanilla and nuts, and process a few seconds.

Scrape into an old Marie Callendar's pie tin, greased (or and 8x8 baking pan) and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

My favorite ways to serve these are with coffee ice cream, or with fresh raspberries and raspberry sorbet.

South American Cooking

I got this cookbook for Christmas from Nancy. First I read through it on a trip to the South Texas Coast, then I put it aside for a while. This weekend I got serious and made two wonderful dinners from it.

The first was Catalan fish. I used frozen albacore, a staple from Trader Joe's around here.

Season 1 pound mild fish fillets with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Saute in 2 tablespoons olive oil:

1 medium onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced

Stir about five minutes, then add 1 cup white wine and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the fish, cover, and simmer 8 minutes or until just done.

Remove fish and set aside. Cool the sauce for a few minutes, then puree in blender until smooth. Return to pan and bring to simmer, then add 1 tablespoon capers and 12 Spanish olives. Put fish back in sauce and reheat gently.

The recipe calls for cornmeal dumplings, but I made cornbread instead.

Then tonight I made a chicken stew served with a quinoa pilaf. The stew had chiles, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and bell peppers, and parsley. The sauce was enriched at the end with frozen peas and bread crumbs! I also made a cilantro condiment similar to chimichurri sauce, and very much the same as we get at Indian restaurants.

What I liked so much about these meals was the relative absence of the ubiquitous dairy products, wheat, and citrus. It felt like pre-Mexican cooking, very separate from the European tradition.

We had an inexpensive wine from Chile with the chicken tonight.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Kale, Potato, and White Bean Soup II: An Actual Recipe

I've made this soup several times since I first posted about it, so I thought I'd post the recipe. It's easy, quick for a hearty soup, and healthy (especially if, like me, you think a little bit of pork fat will probably be found someday to have secret health benefits).

Today a friend brought me three bunches of collards from her father's winter garden. The first bunch I cooked quite plainly in olive oil and seasoned with salt, dried red pepper, and vinegar, but perhaps another bunch will make its way into this soup.

In a Dutch oven, cook 4 strips of meaty bacon cut into smaller squares with scissors. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute 1 or 2 chopped onions until translucent.

Add 1/2 cup white wine or 1/4 cup vermouth, scraping up any browned onion and bacon bits.

Add and bring to simmer:
-2 potatoes, cubed
-1 large can cannellini beans, with goo
-a few big sprigs fresh thyme
-2 bay leaves
-chicken stock to cover (stock from a smoked turkey is also perfect)
-salt and pepper

When soup is simmering, add bit by bit, stirring as it cooks down:
-1 medium bunch kale, collards, or other greens, sliced

Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until soup is thick and whitened. Stir in 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add bacon back in and serve.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mahi Mahi

We don't get really fresh mahi mahi very often--we live in the desert, after all--but this was good. This recipe is for halibut but works equally well for mahi. I remove the skin first.

Halibut Fillets With Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

2 halibut fillets
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
Butter and olive oil

Season halibut with salt and pepper and dredge both sides in bread crumbs. Heat a small amount of butter and olive oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet until very hot. Place fillets in skillet rounded-side down and sauté until golden, three or four minutes. Turn fillets over and place skillet in a 400-degree oven to finish cooking, just 5 to 10 minutes. Serve in a pool of Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette or other sauce.

Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

3 ripe plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half and place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until blistered and even a little blackened. Let cool slightly.

Pureé tomatoes with garlic, mustard, and vinegars in food processor. Slowly add olive oil in a steady stream to make a thick dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

White Bean, Sausage, and Vegetable Soup

I celebrated the impending expiration of my Cooks Illustrated subscription by actually preparing something from the magazine. Usually I just skim the articles, think "Hmm, if I ever want to make classic American lasagna, I guess I'll read this more carefully," and add the issue to the stack on the back of the toilet. Like any magazine, the first few issues were exciting, after which they quickly got old, because as it turns out I don't really cook things like mashed potatoes and yellow cake.

This recipe was part of an extended discourse on cooking the perfect white beans. I tried their method, which involved soaking the beans in salted water, but detected no difference from my usual bean soaking (or, often, not-soaking) methods. And, needless to say, I changed the soup recipe a bit. You could make a perfectly wonderful version without reading the article, simply by compiling the following into a soup using normal methods of soup compilation: a pound of soaked white beans; a pound of sausage; onions, carrots, turnips, and celery; water; a pound of diced tomatoes; fresh sage, fresh rosemary, bay leaves, and lots of black pepper.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Vietnamese Meatball Soup

This was the easiest soup. I love Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, which I bought for Lawson a few years ago. Traditionally Lawson cooks the Asian foods around here and I handle the other continents, but lately I've been moving in on Asia as well (though my wok skills have a long, long way to go).

The book is fun because the recipes are so simple. And this recipe is fun because it's so dorky -- rather than the beautiful thinly sliced rare beef you expect from Vietnamese soup, it contains big dumb American-looking meatballs. Pham says it's like a Chinese version of pho, popular in Saigon's Chinatown. I just loved it. Here is my slight variation.

The meatballs:
- 1 pound or less ground beef, fairly lean
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallot or onion
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- And the recipe doesn't call for it, but next time I will add a very small amount of grated ginger, lime zest, and/or chopped cilantro. I thought the meatballs needed a little more seasoning on their own.

Mix, form meatballs, and set aside.

Noodle prep:
Prepare 8 to 12 oz rice noodles (soaking, boiling, both, whatever the package says) and set aside.

The broth:
- 1 quart beef broth. The recipe specifies storebought. I like those Pacific-brand cartons, and they always seem to be on sale at the natural foods store.
- 4 cups water
- 1.5 teaspoons five-spice powder
- a 2" chunk of ginger, peeled
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- fish sauce to taste

Combine and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and simmer about 10 minutes, until cooked through. Remove meatballs.

Final prep:
Place noodles in bowls along with:
- bean sprouts
- carrots, julienned
- romaine lettuce leaves
- chopped cilantro
- chopped green onions

Cover with broth and add meatballs. Serve with lime wedges, fish sauce, and sambal.

If it's not the dead of winter or you live in a magic greenhouse, also serve with Asian basil and chopped fresh Thai chiles.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Here's a meal I served Katherine after we picked her up at the airport last night: chicken in red wine sauce, bruschetta, and asparagus, with blueberries and ice cream for dessert.

The ice cream was low fat latte flavor by Starbucks--I love coffee ice cream, and Starbuck's is consistently excellent.

My latest cookbook is Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style by Viana La Place. In it I was thrilled to find a whole chapter on bruschetta toppings. The one pictured above had artichokes, capers, and olives.