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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

More Whining About the Sad State of Food in America

I went to a conference of piano teachers over the last three days. We opened with a three-hour meeting of the board, with a break for "dinner" (menu: sub sandwiches, an assortment of chips, soda pop.) I wasn't too worried because there was to be a reception for the guest artists and presenters after the meeting. Oops--menu: doughnuts, brownies, soda pop.

A friend and I went out for food supplements afterwards--beer and salad.

Fortunately, I am very paranoid about getting caught with nothing healthy to eat, so I had brought with me yogurt, raspberries and other fruit, Wasa, Jarlsberg cheese, and two bottles of wine. I resorted to these many times over the three days, and gladdened the heart of several fellow attendees with a glass of wine.

I ate dinner once at the hotel restaurant, which had a reasonably priced Chipotle Chicken plate. It had a large serving of fresh vegetables and a side of roasted red potatoes, the chicken was a bland breast fillet with a little sauce but it was cooked well--i.e., not dried out. That was the purchased meal highlight of the trip. Hooray to them for the fresh veggies!

I visited two chain restaurants because I didn't wish to be a problem to my companions. The first was Rock Bottom, a brew pub. I can't complain because I ordered a small Caesar salad and a pale ale, and both were pretty much as advertised (they didn't brag). We ate outside, always a plus in the southwest. The second was My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, where I ordered a Greek salad. Raymond had a pomegranate mojito. The place was generic in every way including the food, except for the very loud music--the same at all their locations, I understand. I wouldn't go again, although I didn't suffer any actual digestive or hearing damage.

How did I get to be such a snob? I promise to be more positive.

At home tonight I made pork chops, brown rice, and zucchini, followed by fresh pineapple. This is a quick and easy recipe:

Pork Chops with Green Chile Sauce

4 pork chops
Flour, salt, pepper
Olive oil

Dredge the pork chops in flour, salt, and pepper. Brown thoroughly on both sides. Add to the skillet:

3 or 4 chopped tomatoes (I used partly tomatillos)
1/2 sliced onion
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 to 4 chopped green chiles
1 teaspoon oregano
More salt and pepper to taste

Stir and cook until things begin to wilt, then cover the pan and simmer until pork is tender, 30 minutes or more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Crab Salad

This salad may never happen again, because it required hyper-fresh crab meat and just the perfect ingredients. But it came together nicely -- the crab was so sweet and delicate. And it was the perfect accompaniment to chicken wings.

I dressed some crab with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then I tossed it with arugula and topped it with crumbled goat cheese and pieces of rice crackers. Wonderful texture -- crispy and soft and cool.

Turns out Anne Postic wrote about crab salad in today's Free Times. What are the odds? Her recipe sounds wonderful.

Monday, May 26, 2008

(Con)Fusion Cuisine

I failed to come up with a unified menu last night. Various things in the refrigerator cried out to be used NOW. I ended up with Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and Iowa foods: Teriyaki Salmon; pasta with pesto; a pico de gallo with garden cherry tomatoes, olives, jalapeno, cilantro, yellow bell pepper and possibly something else; and corn on the cob.

Teriyaki marinade transforms the most mundane farmed salmon, and it's so easy!

Teriyaki Salmon
Salmon fillets
Soy sauce
White vermouth
Chopped ginger
Brown sugar or honey

Mix ingredients and marinate salmon for about a half hour. Drain and reserve marinade. Boil it or nuke the liquid for a couple of minutes to make it safe from the raw fish, strain, and serve as a sauce.
Broil, grill, or roast the salmon until just cooked through. Serve with teriyaki sauce and rice.

Crab Cakes

Every year at the beach Lawson makes crab cakes. But this year we brought the crabs back home to pick, and I made the crab cakes.

I used a simple combination of several recipes. This was roughly it:

1 lb crab meat
1 cup crushed crackers (These were thin rice-and-wheat cocktail crackers. Saltines would work, or bread crumbs.)
2 or more T mayonnaise
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
1 egg
1/2 onion, diced and sauteed
3 T parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Mix; form into 4 to 6 cakes; roll in salted cornmeal; chill for an hour or two; pan fry.

I also made a salad that we ate over two days -- one of my usual bean, herb, and citrus summer salads. It contained garbanzo beans, mint, cilantro, roasted red peppers, carrots, pumpkin seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. On the second day I added some spinach.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grandma's Birthday Party

We had a birthday party for Grandma yesterday. First we had a recital of two-piano music by Donizetti, J. C. Bach, Schumann, and Mozart. Then I served a lunch of gazpacho and blueberry muffins, followed by a roast beef and blue cheese salad. The piece de resistance was this chocolate and raspberry mousse cake brought by GJ from Le Delice French bakery. It was the best purchased dessert I've ever had. And we had champagne.

Spelt Pizza

This was tasty. I made pizza my old regular way, which I had been craving since Dad gave up wheat. I used whole spelt flour, yeast, a little olive oil, salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar. At the last minute I decided to use 2/3 cup "gluten-free flour"--next time I'll use all spelt, because the dough wasn't quite elastic enough.
This pizza had fresh tomato, basil, chicken chorizo, olives, canned jalapeno slices, yellow bell peppers, and mixed Italian grated cheese.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Red Chile Plate II

Here's my own attempt at recreating Santos' red chile beef plate. Like you, I boiled the beef first, then cut it up and browned it -- so strange, but it works! I made the sauce from soaking whole dried red chiles, though. I brought them to a simmer, then soaked them for about two hours until they were nice and bright red, then blended them up with the strained broth from boiling the beef. Same seasonings as you, pretty much, though I added a bay leaf, a touch of red wine vinegar, and one small minced garlic clove.

It was tasty! We ate it with corn tortillas and a salad. Homemade tortillas would have been much better, and since the beef was so much work, it would have been worth it to take that extra step.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some Food from the Beach

I mysteriously forgot to use my camera much last week, but I still got a few meal shots. Usually the annual beach trip is a social thing -- we share a house with several friends -- but this year nobody could come, so Lawson and I had a whole house to ourselves. So we didn't do our usual elaborate 11 PM dinners. Here are a few things we ate.

Barbecue with butter beans, sweet potatoes, slaw, and a tiny bit of rice and hash. We always stop at D&H Barbecue in Manning, South Carolina, on the way to the beach.
Slow, simple breakfast of strawberries, eggs, and toast
Indian fish curry but without coconut, since the one we bought was rancid
An impromptu pasta with scallops, tomatoes, basil, and cream over some of the tastiest dried fettuccine I've ever had. Wish I could remember the brand.
As usual, I failed to take a picture of a single blue crab, although we caught about fifty of them and brought home a bunch to pick. We put crab in the fish curry. And Sunday when we got home I made a semi-successful crab quiche (too much tarragon, crust too thick).

We also ate at Louis' twice, where some things were fabulous (the salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, and pecans; the scallops), some things were poor (the grouper), and some were educational (the nairagi toro, which our server portrayed as some magical new lifeform but which turned out, when we looked it up later, to be marlin belly. It was like blander, more delicate tuna).

And we ate at Landolfi's, a perfect little Italian bakery plunked down in the middle of Pawley's Island, South Carolina. As usual, we ate some wood-fired pizza and then took home eclairs, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and the most amazing little raspberry-almond tart covered in pine nuts. Lawson hates the tarts -- he says they taste "like an adult's idea of dessert -- like fruitcake, like medicine" but I adore them.

It was a good trip, but I'm happy to be back home.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Red Chile Plate

I did try to replicate Santos' Red Chile Plate this week. I used the Gabilondo recipe, modified of course, and it was delicious. Santos' version was a much brighter, lighter red--perhaps they didn't brown the meat after boiling it, and I don't think they made a brown roux for the chile sauce. Anyway, we loved it. I used a piece of top round and the dish was not at all fatty.

We ate it with spelt tortillas, which are quite acceptable. I made spelt bread yesterday, too, and it was like real bread! instead of the cake-like gluten-free bread we've tried.

Red Chile with Beef

3/4 pound top round steak
1/2 cup red chile powder
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Boil the beef in water to cover (seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few cloves of garlic) for about an hour or until tender. Drain and reserve the broth. Cut the meat into small cubes.

Mix the red chile powder with about 1/2 cup hot water and set aside.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet and brown the beef cubes. Remove the meat to a plate.

Add the flour to the fat in the pan and stir until the roux is golden brown. Add the chile paste and continue to cook, then add about 1 cup or more of the reserved broth. Add salt and oregano and simmer about 10 minutes. Add the meat to the sauce, heat, and serve.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Decline of America as a Superpower

It’s all because of this recipe, which was gushed about in the food section of yesterday’s Arizona Daily Star. It’s the family favorite, brought to every get-together, of the interviewee’s family (whom I never want to meet).

It’s plain to see where the country's epidemic of obesity and diabetes has come from: recipes like this. It has every preservative and additive available and is loaded with sugar. Plus, it’s just plain nauseating.

Cranberry Whipped Cream Salad

Layer in a glass bowl:

2 packages crushed graham crackers
2 cans jellied cranberry sauce, thinly sliced
1 tub Cool Whip

A civilization that can eat crap like this is doomed.

(Photo by Charles Armstrong, University of Maine)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day Celebration

We had an exceptional Mothers Day today. First we drove with Grandma to Saguaro National Park. The cacti were all in bloom to celebrate. Some of the arms of the saguaro had a burst of blossoms at the end, and looked as if they were holding out a bouquet.

After our drive we returned home to champagne and a deli feast for lunch. I don't buy prepared foods very often, but there is a gourmet grocery store near us with a stellar deli counter, and I was busy all day yesterday adjudicating at a piano festival.

Our menu: pickled herring in sour cream; black peppercorn pate; cold teriyaki salmon; broccoli salad; rice and artichoke salad; thinly sliced baguette and Ry Krisp. This was followed by homemade Baked Alaska. We all had a nap after.

Happy Mothers Day to all.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Recently I made pho. It was quite tasty, though far from perfect, and I had to serve it with cilantro and mint instead of Thai basil, as it's too early in the season for garden basil.

I really liked slicing the beef so thin and sparely, though. I loved its texture, barely cooked and so tender. What other dishes call for thinly sliced beef like that?

We're off to the beach tomorrow morning for a week. Packing up the kitchen supplies has, as usual, been the hardest part of getting ready. The house we stay in is well stocked with equipment, but who knows what kind of spices we're going to need? Lawson always brings star anise, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, and cardamom pods, but I just realized today that those are all large-ish things rather than powders or tiny seeds, so maybe he just picked them for portability. They're all hard to find at beach grocery stores, but so is, you know, turmeric. We bring dried chiles and fresh herbs, too, and fish sauce and shoyu and cornstarch. But sometimes we forget them, which is why our cupboard contains four boxes of cornstarch brought home from past beach trips.

More on pho in next Wednesday's Free Times.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gluten-Free Adventures

Here's a picture of Mock Rye Bread--actually I did put a little rye flour in there--it was flavorful but more like cake than bread. Fine for toast, bad for a sandwich. I found that my Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger had a whole chapter on gluten-free breads.

Tonight I made Quinoa Tabulli, quite a success. Dad provided parsley and green onions from the garden.

Monday, May 5, 2008

On Clams

Clams are so fun to cook with. This wasn't the most successful dish I've ever invented, but I love the magic of clams: you add to your sauce a bunch of rocklike chunks sealed up tight and cold, turn the heat up, cover the pan and hold down the lid, and a few minutes later you open it to find gaping, iridescent shells full of moist clam meat completely filling the pan. It has all the drama of a souffle.

I thought this would be like a Portuguese version of linguini with clam sauce. And it might have worked had the chard been milder, but it was really strong locally grown chard. The bacon was local, too -- from Caw Caw Creek, wonderfully brick red when cooked even though it looked fatty when raw. The clams were delicious, nothing at all like the chewy bits in a can of clams, but were somewhat overpowered by the chard. I used garlic, too, and dried red chile and salt and black pepper and vermouth, and it was completely edible but not amazing.

Next time I find fresh clams I will try a more classic recipe.

On a related note, it will be interesting to see how cooking and eating change now that I'll be working from home more of the time. On the one hand, I won't be compelled to eat just because it's lunchtime, and I won't be eating sandwichy things from delis. And we don't really buy prepared food for home; except for cheese and fruit, just about everything here requires some cooking or preparation.

On the other hand, when I was writing about bacon just a moment ago, I realized that I definitely wanted bacon for breakfast/lunch (usually one and the same for me), and here I am at home with a stove and a fridge full of bacon, and so very soon I will be sitting down to a lunch of bacon, toast, and yogurt with strawberries.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fire Pit Chicken Wings

I don't know why it seems so much hipper to cook over the big copper fire pit than on a grill, but it does. Lawson built a fire, and when it had burned down to coals he cooked wings. We ate them with spoon bread and a salad of lettuce and avocado.

You can see our ugly makeshift tables in this photo -- our outdoor table shattered during a windstorm and we haven't replaced it yet.

I'd never tasted spoon bread before. I like it. I used the 2000 Joy of Cooking recipe for Custard Topped Spoon Bread, with my usual substitutions of yogurt for buttermilk. It was delicious.

I've been busy: I took over Chew On This!, the Free Times food news column, for one thing. And in two weeks I'm off to the beach. But I can get back to updating more regularly now that I have quit my corporate job. Plus, it's getting to be garden vegetable season, so there'll be plenty to write about.