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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chicken Kapama

I forgot to take a picture of my chicken dish. Fortunately we have lots of beautiful barrel cacti in bloom right now to enhance my post.

This recipe is adapted from The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman, reviewed here. The sauce is so dark and delicious, and it's a very convenient dish to cook ahead for company.

Chicken Kapama

Olive oil
1 cut-up chicken, or 8 boneless/skinless thighs
1 thinly sliced onion

Brown the chicken thoroughly on both sides. Remove chicken and brown the onion for one minute.

1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb. canned or fresh tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup strong coffee (remember to save some from breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
2 inches of cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Watercress or fresh basil for garnish

Mix the sauce ingredients with the onion and bring to a boil. Return chicken to pan. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking for 30 to 45 more minutes, until sauce is thickened and chicken is very tender. Garnish with watercress or basil.

I like to serve this with a bulgur and walnut pilaf.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dry Rub and Barbecue Sauce

My previous post was about ribs--I was too lazy to include the sauce recipe then, so here it is.

These are both adapted from the 1997 revision of Joy of Cooking (I use this book so much--I loved the early version I received as a wedding present in 1969, but this is the one I refer to now).

Southern Dry Rub for Barbecue

1/4 cup toasted and ground cumin seeds, or cumin powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup chile powder (substitute part paprika if you're a weenie, or some cayenne if not)
1 teaspoon mace
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper

Mix thoroughly. Rub into ribs or chicken and refrigerate up to 24 hours before grilling.

Barbecue Sauce (to serve on the side)

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup or less brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
Up to 4 tablespoons chile powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or some fresh grated
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon slices, or a small lime cut in half

Simmer together for 5 minutes. You can also cook this in the microwave, but be careful. Remove citrus slices before serving.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Grandma and Mary Ellen and I went to a flute and piano recital on Sunday afternoon, and Dad cooked ribs.

I coated them with Joy of Cooking's Southern Dry Rub the day before--oh yeah, there were four big skinless chicken thighs in there, too--and he cooked them indirectly over charcoal for 2 1/2 hours. He removed the chicken after an hour or so.

Altogether, with everyone contributing, we had the meat with barbecue sauce, Grandma's potato salad, green bean and tomato salad, watermelon, and coffee ice cream with blackberries. That was a very nice Sunday supper.
Tonight we're having a reprise with reheated ribs, freshly baked cornbread, and pea salad.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fancy Spam Sandwich for Obama

The Republican attempt to smear Barack Obama as an effete, arugula-eating liberal is totally not working on me. Every time some McCain surrogate trots out this meme, my brain drifts away, Homer Simpson-like, to actual arugula. Mmmm...arugula. (Besides which, is it not obvious that Obama was joking? Poking fun at himself for being citified?)

I think this is why I've been buying a lot of arugula lately and putting it in everything. It's subconscious. Maybe the Republicans are actually in the pocket of the K Street arugula lobby.

Anyway, here is a sandwich I ate last week. At the time, I just wanted to try some Spam. I half-jokingly bought Lawson a Spam Single last year, and it's been sitting in the pantry, and I thought it would make a tasty, humorous lunch.

But today I realized it was a nice tribute to the candidate. And since this is convention week, here you are, Mr. Senator.
  1. Obama, like me, grew up in Hawai'i, where Spam is the unofficial state food. I sauteed the slice of Spam in a little olive oil until it was a nice golden color on both sides.
  2. If the notoriously healthy Obama were to actually eat a Spam sandwich, it would be on whole wheat bread with fresh garden tomatoes. Plus, it's August. Garden tomatoes are in season.
  3. Butter, rather than guns, was applied to the toast.
  4. On top of the butter was a layer of mustard, because mustard goes well with things like baloney, hot dogs, and Spam. Sorry, I got nothing.
  5. Arugula goes surprisingly well with mustard and Spam. And its weakness as a political tag gives me hope that Karl Rove is way, way off his game.

The sandwich was delicious. Delicious like respect for the Constitutional separation of powers, decision-making based on careful consideration of facts and consequences, and the end of torture as an instrument of empire. Mmm!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scallops and Pasta

Here's an easy way to fix scallops, especially little Bay scallops.

Toast some pine nuts, chop 1/4 cup fresh basil, and set those aside. Start the water boiling and cook the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Saute 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 green bell pepper, and 3 chopped cloves of garlic. When they are starting to get tender, add 3/4 pound of Bay scallops and continue to cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup vermouth, 1 tablespoon strong smelly fish sauce, and the juice of 1 lemon and boil hard for a minute or less until the scallops are cooked. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the pasta topped with the scallop mixture, garnished with the basil and pine nuts.


I was proud of this pizza. Garden basil and garden tomatoes, pure and authentic, except for the cheese: that's queso fresco. It was convincingly mozzarella-like.

It's gluten-packed, though -- no spelt in sight.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spelt Stuff

I've had good results lately with substituting 3 parts spelt flour and 1 part gluten-free flour for the regular wheat flour in my baked goods. I made excellent chocolate chip cookies--I think the secret there is to use lots of chocolate chips and nuts. Yesterday I made some nice banana bread with a modified Joy of Cooking recipe:

Spelt Banana Bread

5 1/2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup sugar

Cream these together, then add:

1 cup spelt flour
1/3 cup gluten-free flour mix
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Mix until the mixture is grainy. Add:

2 eggs

Beat well. Add

2 mashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup nuts

Combine gently. Pour in greased 8"x4" loaf pan and bake 50 or 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing.

Since there's less gluten, this doesn't toughen with overmixing, so I mixed it in the food processor.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blueberry Buttermilk Whole Wheat Pancakes

I don't make pancakes very often, because come on -- who needs a massive dose of carbohydrates and nothing else first thing in the morning? (Well, Lawson the cereal eater apparently does, but that at least involves milk, too.) When I do have breakfast, it usually involves eggs. But I have a quart of buttermilk that I'm having a rough time finishing up, so I made these pancakes this weekend.

Following some ideas in the Joy of Cooking, I used a standard buttermilk pancake recipe, using whole wheat flour instead of white, and added blueberries and a whole tablespoonful of lemon zest.

Really, really good.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thai Pork and Tofu Stir Fry

My stir frying is getting better, bit by bit. Again I used the largest skillet we have instead of the wok because of our stupid smooth-topped stove. The skillet allows for much more surface contact with the stove. However, the skillet is well-seasoned, but not as perfectly as the wok, so unfortunately I think I use more oil with it than I would with a wok. The larger base makes for more oil, too. But it's still a better option for getting a hot, hot pan and maneuvering it on and off the heat.

This was not a super-official recipe, just a combination of a Mai Pham recipe and things from a few other Thai cookbooks.

I marinated some pork chunks in lime juice, fish sauce, and lime zest. I used rib meat but removed most of the fat.

I sliced the tofu, sprayed it with olive oil cooking spray, and baked the pieces at 400 for about 15 minutes, then sprinkled it with a little shoyu. I could have stir-fried it, too, but I wanted that toasty dryness it gets from being baked -- I thought that would soak up the stir-fry flavors better.

I heated peanut oil until it smoked and stir-fried the pork, then removed it.

I then stir-fried a Vidalia onion cut into rings, several Thai and one Japanese eggplant from the garden, assorted fresh red garden chiles of varying degrees of heat, one clove of garlic, and about 1/2 cup of Thai basil. (I prepped all this beforehand, of course.)

I added half a standard package of rice noodles, which had been soaking in hot water for half an hour before I drained them and gave them a minute or two to dry. Those noodles really, really wanted to stick to the skillet, but I added a little more oil and stirred well. Not letting up here was important: those noodles have to be chewy, chewy, chewy or there's no point in stir-frying rice noodles.

Toward the end I added the pork and tofu, poured in a sauce made of fish sauce, shoyu, and sugar, and tossed in another 1/2 cup of Thai basil. Because it wasn't picante enough, I added some dried red pepper flakes, too.

It was delicious, but it can be much better. I'll keep working.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Spinach Quesadillas

There is no easier, more comforting meal for me than a quesadilla.

Ever since I learned to make microwaved tortilla-and-cheeses as a kid (open-faced -- just grated cheddar on a white flour tortilla: I would nuke it until the oil separated from the cheese and I could pour and blot it off, then microwave it some more until the degreased cheese became hard and crunchy) this has been a standard meal.

Anyway, this dinner took 5 minutes to make.

The night before, I started a batch of beans in the crockpot, adding the seasonings the next morning before work. They were steamy and soft and delicious by dinnertime.

The quesadillas consisted of:
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • chopped fresh garden tomatoes, drained in colander
  • fresh spinach, lots of it, since it cooks down so much
  • slices of queso fresco. I don't grate the cheese, because I hate washing the cheese grater, so I just cut slices and they melt just fine.
  • a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. I love cotija, too, but when I don't have it, feta or Parmesan works well.
I usually just heat up a pan on medium, put the tiniest bit of olive oil or butter in the pan, and toast the quesadilla on both sides. I'll put a lid on during the early part to help the cheese melt, but too much of that will make the tortillas too soft.

We ate the quesadillas and the beans with some fresh chiltepin and ordono chiles from the garden. Salsas are nice, but they take time, and this was supposed to be a fast dinner.

Other things I have put in quesadillas:
  • scrambled eggs
  • leftover pork, chicken, or beef
  • chorizo
  • leftover grilled fish
  • sauteed shrimp
  • black or pinto beans from a can or homemade
  • any kine cheese
  • leftover cooked collard greens
  • arugula
  • mixed lettuces
  • avocado
  • roasted green chiles or red bell peppers
  • fresh chopped bell peppers
  • a chopped chipotle, preferably mixed with beans or something to distribute the heat
  • caramelized onions
  • chives
  • cilantro
  • watercress
  • lime zest
  • Herdez salsa verde
What have I missed? Anything else I should try?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Frustrating Marinated Eggplant

I'd like a better marinated eggplant recipe, please. This one called for minced garlic, fresh basil, salt, and wine vinegar layered with fried eggplant slices. I brushed eggplant chunks with olive oil and roasted them instead, but otherwise followed the recipe, and I wasn't thrilled. It should have improved over several days but was actually best on day 1. After that, the basil was ugly and brown and the garlic oddly sharp. Suggestions are welcome.

Monday, August 11, 2008


It's 100 degrees here at dinnertime, so my thoughts turned again to Middle Eastern food.

I accompanied Grandma to another cooking class by the Turkish women's group on Saturday. They made "Turkish cigarettes," which are filo-type pastries stuffed with cheese or potato fillings and rolled into thin cylinders and then deep fried, and usually served for breakfast. Very tasty. There was also a general potluck involved, ranging from banana bread to green chile burritos, but it was served at 3:00 p.m. and I couldn't get into a full meal thing at that time of day. It was a lovely cross-cultural event, though.

Tonight I made a Greek salad with garbanzo beans, corn bread, and Claudia Roden fish. I was getting the garbanzo beans out of the pantry and musing about how important it is to have a stockpile of ingredients.

Here is a picture of our pantry before remodeling a few years ago, and then after. It takes up the same space! I think my system of organization is brilliant: booze on top shelf; then cans; then jars and bottles; then boxes. In the three drawers below are: things in bags (nuts, prunes, elbow macaroni); pet food and dishes; paper goods such as napkins, and miscellany.

U Pick Pears

While out running errands I saw this sign in someone's front yard along a busy road. Beneath the sign was a plastic grocery bag full of other plastic grocery bags.

I picked four pears off the pear-loaded tree, though they are quite hard and probably not close to ripe yet. I just wanted to support the idea, you know?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lamb Meatballs and Red Quinoa

This was a reality-based menu: no ideal recipes, just making a meal of what was on hand.

I had a pound of frozen ground lamb, so that meant I should go in a Middle Eastern direction. Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food listed a recipe for lamb meatballs baked in tomato sauce, very interesting because the lamb was bound with ground onion rather than breadcrumbs. They were light and flavorful, baked rather than fried. The tomato sauce was mixed raw and poured over the meatballs and baked another half hour, so the preparation was wonderfully simple.

I roasted some vegetables, including a fennel bulb, and mixed in a lot of fresh herbs at the end.

The red quinoa was exciting. Russell served this to us, and it is so much more interesting than the pale tan variety I've seen up until now. It had a little more texture, too.

Grilled Lamb Meatballs

Last night we drank too much and experimented with ground lamb.

Lawson made some Middle Eastern meatballs out of ground lamb, onion, coriander and cumin seeds (toasted and ground), parsley, almonds, salt and pepper, and a touch of cinnamon. But we couldn't agree on whether he should use the food processor or not, so he tried both and we compared them.

Verdict: The food-processed meatballs were much gooier, much harder to thread onto skewers, but the flavor and texture were far superior to the coarser, hand-chopped balls.

The food processor gave us a much more authentically fine, blended texture. I finally understand why Claudia Roden's lamb and beef recipes call for further mincing or processing of already ground meat -- it's a whole different thing. Unlike burgers, where the whole point is the uniform pieces of fat that melt and tenderize, or meatloaf, where excess handling makes the meat tough, lamb meatballs and other spiced Middle Eastern meats really do need to be finely minced or processed.

How convenient: the superior method is way, way easier!

The processed balls are much lighter in color because the onion was processed and distributed throughout instead of in small minced pieces.

To go with the meatballs I made some excellent Jasmati rice; a raita of chopped mint, cilantro, salt, and yogurt; and roasted eggplant slices marinated in basil, garlic, and wine vinegar from the Viana La Place cookbook you sent me a while back. So nothing really matched in country of origin but it all went together perfectly.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bitter and Sweet, All Green

Sauteed red dandelion greens with just a few drops of red wine vinegar:

Unscripted zucchini soup made with garden zucchini, sweet onions, fresh thyme, a touch of rosemary, parsley, garlic, stock from a smoked chicken, buttermilk, and lots of black pepper:

Together they were magical. The dandelions were ultra-bitter, and the soup quite sweet. Very nice.

We also had steamed garden okra (note the purple pods in with the green this year) and homemade biscuits. No meat, no heavy protein anything -- just lots of green food.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Potato Salad, Family Recipe

Here is Grandma's potato salad recipe.

Midwestern Potato Salad

Cold boiled potatoes, cubed
Hard boiled eggs, chopped
Onions, chopped

Evaporated milk or cream
Mustard (dry)
Salt, pepper

"To taste" is her only directive. Thinning the dressing with cream or evaporated milk is what makes this version so lovely and creamy.

She also gave me a recipe for Turkish potato salad, because she had attended a demonstration by the Turkish women's group living at her apartment complex.

Turkish Potato Salad

Boiled potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
Green onions
Flatleaf parsley
Shredded carrots
Romaine lettuce, chopped

Dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.


Just a little note about how much we love the Mexican cheese cotija. It's kind of salty like Parmesan, but much fresher--crumbly and wonderful. A big wedge from the neighborhood Mexican grocery store costs $4.

This morning for breakfast we had quesadillas with fresh green chiles and cotija.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Idea of Good Evening

We're having a good evening here: the Diamondbacks are winning over the Pirates in the 8th; my students played brilliantly today, at least way more brilliantly than last week; I agreed to perform in a duet for the Ensemble demonstration a month hence, and am deeply into Saint-Saens Pas Redouble; it just rained 1 1/2 inches in a really great storm with lightning all around; and dinner was very tasty.

I used the fish rub from your last post, coriander and garam masala, on a lovely fat fillet of grouper Dad bought at the 17th Street Market. I rubbed on some olive oil first, then roasted it at 450 degrees. It took about 20 minutes. That rub imparts such a perfect flavor, and it seems to seal in the juiciness. We also had green beans with lemon and butter, and a potato salad from Bon Appetit--Yukon Gold potatoes, green chiles, green onions, roasted peppers, toasted cumin seeds, with a dressing of olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

We are all about potato salad now, and promise a post soon with Grandma's recipe and more.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Coriander-Encrusted Salmon

This recipe from the previously maligned Modern Indian Cooking was for salmon with a sort of cucumber salsa on the side. The salsa was okay -- cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and peppers tossed with lime juice, oil, salt, and a little honey. But the salmon preparation was so excellent and simple that I intend to ditch the salsa and try a variety of salmon accompaniments and versions in the future.

I used two 1/2-lb filets of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. The recipe is just:

Crush roughly in a mortar and pestle:

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala

Salt and pepper the fish and then coat it on one side with the coriander-garam masala mixture. Then spray the encrusted fish lightly with olive oil cooking spray on both sides. This last step wasn't in the original recipe, but I think it was essential. The recipe called for a pan-searing, but I cooked it on a hot grill and it worked great. The spray kept it from sticking to the grate.

On grill, cook coriander side down until the seeds are toasty and not yet burnt. Flip the fish and cook until done.

Anything with cilantro in it will work nicely with the coriander seeds.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tofu Salad

While laughing ice tea out my nostrils over your potato salad post, I had a flashback about a salad I used to make in Colorado twenty years ago. It was from a Sunset cookbook, and I couldn't find the recipe anywhere. Fortunately, Google to the rescue, and here it is: Shanghai Tofu and Peanut Salad.

I remember having my cousin Mary Ann and her husband Paul over for dinner and serving this. They were conservative eaters, but lovely and very funny people. He frowned when tofu was mentioned. He ate it, though, and smiled, and said, "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be."

This looks complicated, but really I just bake the tofu and marinate it during the day, and then add the rest of the ingredients at serving time. And don't get sidetracked by the limp parboiled bean sprouts--what a lousy idea--just use whatever crisp things you have around. I like snow peas, celery, water chestnuts, etc. Tonight's version had radishes, green onions, cucumbers, cilantro, and cashews instead of peanuts.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Roasted Vegetables with Rosemary

I roasted some vegetables last week to go with grilled pork chops, and they were very good. I tossed sweet onions, potatoes, and red and orange peppers with olive oil, salt, and rosemary, then roasted them at 425 degrees until they got nice and brown. Nothing fancy -- just right.

The Potato Salad That Launched a Thousand Angry Blog Posts

More hilarious lameness from Cooks Illustrated, whom we have complained about before. The Tigers and Strawberries post is a must-read.

I have never made potato salad -- never had much use for it -- but I think I will make some this weekend. Maybe I can make a version with bow tie pasta and little poop-shaped clumps of olive tapenade in honor of Christopher Kimball.