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

Monday, March 31, 2008


Tonight we had a frozen tuna steak cooked Provencale-style, with some brown rice penne. It was fine. The centerpiece of the meal, however, was beets that Dad grew in a pot over the winter: deeply and profoundly beet-colored, smooth in texture, and intensely flavorful.

Chicken and Lentils

I've been thinking more about my last post, which sounds like I've got it all figured out. I don't. Knowing how best to think and talk about food is really hard.

And compared to many people I know, maybe I am obsessed with food. Certainly I think about food much more. In fact, that's the real difference between someone who cooks most meals and someone who doesn't: not the time spent preparing food, but the time spent thinking about it. Sure, I often spend an hour or two making dinner, but just as often I spend only ten minutes actually working in the kitchen -- no more time than someone who heats up a few TV dinners. The difference is that earlier in the day I thought about what to make. I probably talked about it, too, or sent a few emails. I didn't have to make myself plan dinner -- it just happened.

For cooks, food takes up a certain amount of constant head space. I just try not to let it take over.

So yesterday afternoon I went to Jason and Laura's to drink and play with their Wii, and before I left I put the following items in the crockpot. By dinnertime four hours later, we had a delicious stew:

- two onions, sliced and sauteed
- somewhat less than a whole chicken, browned (I used 1/3 of it in the soup earlier this week)
- two carrots, chopped
- two cloves garlic, sliced
- a two-inch chunk of ginger, sliced
- two tablespoons pine nuts
- two small dried red chiles, deseeded
- two bay leaves (I promise I didn't mean to put two of everything in)
- one scant tablespoon garam masala
- some peppercorns
- one cup French lentils, rinsed
- water to almost cover
- salt

It was sort of like a tagine, but one made from Indian, Mediterranean, and French ingredients. So I served it with quinoa (South American) and chopped parsley. It was great. I've been making meat-free versions of similarly seasoned lentils lately, too.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Non-Obsession and A Chicken-Rice Stew

Lawson's been sick and not eating much, so I took the opportunity to think less about food this week. I was planning a week like this, anyway. I needed a ramping down. And this article and the ensuing discussion across online food communities helped remind me that, unlike a lot of other food bloggers and people who think about food a lot, I never say I'm obsessed with food. Nor do I want to be. I want to keep my relationship with food functional and balanced. Of course, that doesn't always make for good posting. Nor am I always successful.

All week we ate very little. One night we had just lentils. Another night, grits and Swiss chard. Another, pinto beans and salad. It never felt restricted -- just like I was taking a break from multi-dish meals and meat and food food food.

Two nights ago I made a very simple chicken and rice stew. I browned a chicken breast and thigh, browned onions and carrots, and cooked the whole thing in water with bay leaves, star anise, and an allspice berry. And salt. Toward the end I added potatoes and rice. When it was cooked I shredded the chicken and stirred in a handful of chopped parsley. I think it cured Lawson the rest of the way. But we're having lentils again tonight.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Last of the Easter Ham

Since we're not religious, we tend to celebrate holidays by feasting on traditional foods rather than by attending church. Grandma got a terrific ham this year--she un-traditionally didn't serve it until Tuesday when Greg and Katherine arrived for a visit. With it she served her best potato salad. Yum.

All of us got some ham sandwiches for lunch, and now the ham bone has ended up in a pot of large white lima beans. R.I.P.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Brussels Sprouts Braised in Butter

I've seen a lot of variations on this recipe; this version combines elements of all of them. I made it once before when I lived alone and had only a nonstick skillet. Turns out a non-nonstick pan changes everything -- the brussels sprouts become candylike and perfect. We have a giant Calphalon skillet that barely fit 1.5 pounds of brussels sprout halves, so buy conservatively.

Wash about a pound of brussels sprouts, remove any nasty leaves, and cut them in half lengthwise.

Heat one tablespoon each butter and olive oil in a big, non-nonstick (cast-iron or otherwise) skillet over medium heat.

Saute two thinly sliced cloves of garlic until barely golden, and remove.

Place the brussels sprouts in the pan cut side down. You can pack them in as long as every half has full pan contact.

Sprinkle with salt to taste and a few tablespoons nuts: walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts, or something else.

Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes, until sprouts are quite soft and nicely browned. Move the sprouts to the sides so the nuts can brown lightly (add a teaspoon butter or olive oil if needed). Toss the garlic back in, and add black pepper.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Something Is Terribly Wrong Here


Okay, it's great to make a vegetarian main course instead of ham for Easter dinner. But what went wrong here? I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of a bean dish that contains all three of these ingredients: truffle oil, Liquid Smoke, and a half a cup of honey!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Southwestern Brunch

I made this brunch for Eva and Lawson before they got on the plane to go home. The menu was poblano chiles stuffed with goat cheese; Anasazi beans; and fresh pineapple.

Pierce the chiles and put them under a preheated broiler, turning halfway through, until they are brown and blistered all over. It takes about 10 minutes in my oven. Put them in a plastic bag to cool, and in half an hour the skins will slip off easily. Lay the chiles in a baking dish. Make a stuffing by mixing half softened goat cheese and half grated Cheddar-and-jack cheese, adding 1/2 teaspoon oregano. Fill the chiles, then bake at about 375 degrees until the cheese is melted.
Serve in a pool of this sauce:

Tomato Sauce for Chiles

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pound canned tomatoes
1 canned or fresh jalapeno, seeded
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put these six ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a sauce pan and cook the puree in it for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Second Annual Tapas Night and Family Gathering

We gathered in Tucson again and spent one night drinking and making tapas (here are last year's posts on Tapas Night). This time Russell and Brittany were in on it, too. I'm still in Tucson on vacation...hence the lack of posts this past week.

Dad made margaritas. He squeezes tiny Mexican limes one by one, then mixes 4 parts good tequila, 1 part lime juice, and 1 part triple sec. They are like martinis, fierce and amazing and totally unlike your average sweet frozen margarita.

For the first course, Russell made a big batch of baba ghanoush. We ate it with Ak Mak crackers. Lawson sauteed fresh coconut with salt and fresh hot chile -- a Fijian dish he learned about from a friend who once lived and worked there.

For the second round of food, Grandma made whole wheat bread with sweet butter.Mom (you? I never know how to phrase these co-posts) made a green bean and tomato salad. And I made white lima beans with garlic and fresh rosemary. Here is my recipe:

Rinse 2 cups dried white beans -- cannellini, lima, or great Northern -- and put them in a crockpot. Cover by 2 inches of water -- no more. Cook on high for 2 to 4 hours, until the beans are beginning to soften, and add several tablespoons olive oil, 3 6-inch springs of fresh rosemary, and two big smashed garlic cloves. Add water at any point to keep things slightly moist. After a few more hours, add salt to taste. During the last hour or two, add more water here and there to make a white sauce for the beans. Add black pepper before serving.

The last main course was by my mom: avocados filled with crabmeat and avocado, dressed with lime juice and maybe some other secret things.

For dessert we had date bars and fresh fruit, I think. Here is Russell finishing off the grapes.

But around that time Russell also started making bourbon sours, so I don't completely remember. Coincidentally, my pictures became quite silly around that same time. Most are too silly to post.

Here is Russell's bourbon sour recipe as written that night.

All in all, it was a successful evening.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Herbs, Food, etc.

Here is Dad's herb garden at the beginning of our spring--rosemary, lemon grass, thyme, cilantro, parsley, and some assorted greens in the tubs.
Tonight we had ahi burgers, quinoa salad, and Dad-grown Swiss chard with cumin and tomatoes. Everything contained one or more fresh herbs--I'm grateful.

We are experimenting with a wheat-free diet for a while. It certainly encourages us to eat quinoa and other things instead of the bread we lazily eat at most meals. Mexican cuisine is perfect in that way, because corn and beans are the common starches--except for the North where flour tortillas are more popular.

I made your southern cornbread this week and it was great.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cafeteria Night

Mmmm: manicotti and slightly overdone broccoli. Lately I've had a compulsion to recreate classic cafeteria foods. I made spaghetti and meatballs a few weeks ago, and it tasted eerily like 4th grade lunch. We made green bean casserole for Lawson's mom. So far I have felt no urge to make that soggy pizza topped with ground beef, cheddar, and tomato paste, though.

We'd had these manicotti noodles in the pantry for too long, so I made some ricotta-parsley filling and doctored up some jarred pasta sauce, and here we are. It was pretty tasty in a generic sort of way. The broccoli was this recipe, but slightly overboiled for proper effect (okay, it was actually totally accidental, but it worked out).

So far, though, none of my almost-accidental cafeteria nostalgia has yet approached the glories of the Mid-Century Supper Club.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Grilled Salmon with Winter Tomato Relish

I'm calling this "winter tomato relish" because it contains only fresh things which you can reliably find at most grocery stores in early March and that don't taste insipid and awful: cherry tomatoes, red onions, garlic, parsley, and fresh lime juice, plus salt and pepper and olive oil. I can think of a whole lot of fresh herbs I'd like to put in there, but I didn't have any, because it's early March.

As fresh dinners go, this was really easy. An hour before dinner I made the relish and started the grits. If you keep the heat quite low, after the first five minutes you only have to stir slow-cooking grits every 10 or 15 minutes to incorporate the skin that forms on the top. An hour was just long enough for the relish flavors to blend well (at room temperature, of course). I finished the grits up with a little parmesan cheese and half-and-half. Then I grilled the salmon, sliced up an avocado, and assembled the plates.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tricolor Frittata

You know, I've made a lot of decent food in the last week, and I have some pretty pictures and longer posts knocking around, but our frittata dinner tonight was so simple and right that I'm having a hard time thinking about other food.

Sometimes frittata is perfect. It's substantial without being heavy or bulky; it's vegetable- and protein-laden; it's room temperature and creamy and mild and great with wine. And it's therapeutic, like a relief from major meals.

I used almost all the vegetables we had left, and tomorrow I will go to the farmers market and grocery store. So it worked out on that count, too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rock Fish Veracruz

On my first attempt I thought I was taking a photo of this dish, but it turned out to be a little movie because I had set the camera dial to the wrong place. Since I kept moving the camera, it looked like the fish was dancing. Unfortunately I can't figure out how to embed my little movie in the blog. I'm sure it would become a hit on YouTube.

This is a fish Veracruz recipe I've used for years, compiled from Sunset magazine and other sources. This time I replaced most of the tomatoes with fresh tomatillos, and it was spectacular. Dad bought the fresh rockfish at the 17th Street Market and fresh roasted green chiles at Food City.

Fish Veracruz

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Heat oil in large skillet and sauté onion and garlic until tender.

1 can diced tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes or tomatillos)
4 green chiles, chopped
10 stuffed green olives
1 tablespoon capers
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon salt

Add the next 10 ingredients and simmer for 5 or 10 minutes. Keep warm while preparing fish.

1 pound fish fillets (snapper, rockfish, grouper)
Flour, salt, pepper, olive oil

Cut fish in serving pieces. Dredge lightly in seasoned flour. Sauté in hot olive oil 3-4 minutes per side, or until just cooked through. Serve topped with sauce.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shrimp Purloo

There are about 14 ways to spell the name of this dish, one of which is "pilau"...but pilau means something quite different in Hawaiian than in South Carolinian. So I giggle every time I see it applied to rice. Shrimp pilau would not be a good thing.

Anyway, purloo, perlow, pilau, whatever. It's good and basic and has deep, deep roots in this region -- all the way back to European contact. I bought some local shrimp at the farmer's market last weekend and decided to make some purloo to use it properly.

I used Louis Osteen's recipe almost to the letter, which is something I almost never do because his recipes are usually far too rich. This one was reasonable.

It started with a stock made from the shells of a pound of shrimp. Shrimp shell stock takes all of 20 easy minutes and has the muskiest, saltiest, most profound odor and flavor...so it's always fun. This recipe used 4 cups of chicken stock plus the shells, some fresh thyme, and two bay leaves.

Then I rendered some bacon in my enameled cast iron Dutch oven, set the bacon aside, and sauteed an onion and a red bell pepper in the fat. I stirred in a cup of rice and sauteed that for a few minutes. Then came a little white wine, and the stock (2 and a half cups, reduced from 4 during the stockmaking), and the bacon. I put it in the oven for 20 minutes with the lid on for the rice to absorb the stock.

At the end I sauteed the shrimp over medium high heat for just a minute before adding them to the purloo. I added some chopped parsley, too. It was basic and good.