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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spinach Frittata

Susan made this delicious spinach frittata for us for breakfast. She started it in a huge skillet and finished it in the oven. It was seasoned with tarragon, very unusual but just perfect. We got to take the last piece with us on the road for a mid-morning snack.

Camping at Edisto

Here is our campsite at Edisto Island, South Carolina, where Lawson grilled local shrimp and we walked on lovely trails. The first night we had pasta with sausage accompanied by Brussels sprouts with a mustard sauce.

Hurricane Food in Texas

We were, through our own carelessness, stuck in a Walmart parking lot in Livingston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike--for two long days. We were lucky to have propane, drinking water, and all the necessities in our camper; we only lacked gas to get out of there.

One of the things I made was skillet cornbread from a mix. I used a heat diffuser ("flame tamer") under the skillet and managed quite a nice crust without burning it. The mix cost 42 cents. With it we had fried ham, canned stewed tomatoes, some fresh fruit, and imported dark chocolate. It seemed incongruous to eat in such a civilized way under the circumstances.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Double-Decker Tuna Brie Melts

I used a few cans of solid white albacore to make a simple tuna salad: touch of mayo, tablespoon of minced fresh parsley, lemon juice, lots of black pepper. I put some of it in between whole wheat bread bread, which I then sauteed in a pan with a tiny bit of butter and olive oil.

Then I piled the rest of the tuna salad on top of the sandwiches, slapped some slices of cheap grocery store Brie on top, and broiled the sandwiches in the toaster oven.

We ate the sandwiches with carrot sticks, fresh mirasol chiles, and Yuengling. The meal reminded me of a childhood lunch fancied up and served for adult dinner.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fat, Cooking, Lamb, and the Big Why

There's nothing wrong with eating animal fat, says this Salon interview with Jennifer McLagan.

I totally called it. (Okay, it wasn't a revolutionary observation, but still.)

The best thing in the interview is this:
Cooking should be a skill everybody masters. I am not talking about professional cooking. Everyone should know how to make something to eat. We all have to eat, and cooking dinner should be a simple, everyday act. It should be valued, not seen as a chore or a competitive sport. It is a rich, sensual experience that we can all take part in and enjoy.
For me, that's what this site is about. It's about dinner, every night, night after night. It's about valuing food and thinking carefully about food with love and respect. Not obsession, not drama, not theatrics. We do those things, of course -- we get fancy, we show off. But we come back to cooking as a small daily attention.

There are cooking sites and shows and cookbooks out there with beautiful pictures and obsessive deconstruction of how to stuff a goose or make the perfect pancake. I read them. I like them.
But what we mostly do here is show each other what we made for dinner.

So in the spirit of the Salon interview, here's some kind of a lamb shank stew I made a few months ago and promptly forgot the ingredients of.

Full-fat yogurt with mint and cucumber...lamb shanks full of weird lamb fat and connective tissue that cook down to a silky rich stew...cinnamon, ginger, onions, eggplant, potatoes? That's about right. I love that huge sheep bone sticking out of the bowl.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Beach Camping Trip

Nothing derails this blog like its two authors meeting up in real life, huh? We had a great time camping, cooking, and drinking with you, Mom (and Dad).

Here's dinner from the second night of our family trip to Edisto Beach State Park: shrimp from Flowers Seafood, marinated in lime juice and assorted spices from your camper (cumin, chile powder, oregano, salt) and grilled over an expensive wood fire; green beans with tomatoes and cheese; and a quinoa pilaf that was surprisingly toasty and nutty for being made in a nonstick pan over a tiny burner. Excellent job with that, Mom.

The firewood was purchased from the Edisto Piggly Wiggly and cost $3.99 for a tiny bundle. It came with a sewn-on carrying handle.

100% oak AND hickory.

I still can't believe all four of us (plus Emily the dog) comfortably ate dinner in your trailer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Grilled Chicken Wings

In Chew On This! last week I said teriyaki wings were useless, that the only proper role of a chicken wing is as a vehicle for hot sauce. But I forgot about Lawson's chicken wings. So to make up for my overgeneralization, here the recipe.

Buy a few pounds of chicken wings. We usually get about 20 to share between the two of us if it's the main dish (which is a little too much) -- around 2 pounds, a mix of drumettes and wingy parts. Earth Fare has them on sale a lot, all trimmed and fresh and organic. The above are not trimmed and are from Piggly Wiggly, but they were okay, too.

Sprinkle wings with a few teaspoons of five-spice powder, if desired. Then marinate wings in a ziplock bag containing:

1 part soy sauce
2 parts water
several star anise pods

Prepare a wood and/or charcoal fire (here it's a mix of hickory and generic woodpile wood) and let it burn down to hot coals. Grill wings for 30-50 minutes, staring intently at them as they cook (at least that's what Lawson does), turning often enough that they don't burn but not so often that they stick to the grate. When they're done, the fat should be rendered out and the skin browned but not burned.

I think there's probably some other secret to Lawson's technique, but this is what I've observed. Jason, give it a try and see if it's right!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuna-Caper Pasta Sauce

From the department of Really Easy Late Night Dinners, here's some tuna-caper pasta sauce I made yesterday.

Lawson has a long tradition of kitchen-sink-style pasta dishes, usually containing tomatoes, canned tuna or clams, olives, parsley -- whatever's around. He hasn't made one in a while, though, and I wanted one, so I made my own version. It turned into a much more traditional Italian rendition than his usually are.

It's not a very tomato-ey sauce -- don't expect it to be red. The rich tuna flavor and the bright capers should be the dominant flavors. The garlic is more like a base.
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup vermouth
  • 2 cans tuna, with juice
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • regular (14.5 oz) can diced or stewed tomatoes, seasoned or plain
  • salt
  • pepper
  • small handful parsley, chopped
Saute the garlic very slowly over medium-low heat until light golden. Add the rest of the ingredients except the parsley and simmer slowly until flavors blend, 10-30 minutes. The sauce should be fairly wet; it very easily gets absorbed into the pasta.

If you like, you can roast a pan full of diced eggplant at 450 degrees while you're making the sauce, then toss the eggplant in with the pasta and sauce. In that case, make sure the sauce is really wet.

I used bowtie pasta and several garden eggplants. It was enough for two dinners and one leftover lunch -- perfect.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thai Beef Rolls with Sweet Chile Sauce

Lawson made these grilled, Thai basil-wrapped meatballs last week. The chile sauce was very sweet -- tasted just like the Maggi sweet chile sauce I love to put on burgers, except with a fresher lime flavor. And the meatballs were perfect. He used more mint than the recipe calls for, and added some Thai basil to the meat mixture. I highly recommend the recipe.

We tried using some lemongrass stalks as skewers for a few of the meatballs, but there was no discernible flavor difference.

I made jasmine rice, and I invented a simple new okra recipe to deal with some slightly tougher pods: sauteed cumin, garlic, and a dried red chile, followed by sliced okra and enough water to keep things from sticking -- around 1/8 cup. I covered the whole thing and cooked it for 15-20 minutes. Touch of salt. Delicious.

Monday, September 8, 2008

On Succotash and Microwaving Sweet Corn

So, as I mentioned in a comment below, we recently heard from Lawson's dad that microwaving fresh corn is way better than boiling it. I looked up several recipes, did some experiments, and found that he is absolutely correct. I'm a convert.

All the prep I did was to cut off the messy tip of the husks with scissors. I didn't pull the silk out -- I just cut off the whole silk-and-husk part that was hanging off the end. I pulled off a few banged-up outer leaves from some ears, but not all. Mostly this was so the corn would fit in our microwave.

Then I microwaved the corn for 4 to 5 minutes, rotating the ears once halfway through. If I put more than two or three ears in at a time, I would increase the cooking time by a few minutes.

Use gloves to rotate and remove the ears -- that corn gets hot, and little pockets of steam in the husks can burn the heck out of your hand.

Let the corn sit for 10-15 minutes so it can steam and cool off, then pull off the husks and silk. The best part: shucking cooked ears is way easier than shucking them raw. And the corn flavor is intense.

I didn't even put butter or salt on this corn, it was so good. It was from somewhere in the Upstate; Lawson's dad brought back 8 ears for us, and I've been wishing for more ever since.

Mostly we ate it plain, but one night I made succotash with all fresh ingredients. It was among the freshest, purest, most summery foods I've ever cooked.

I didn't like any of the recipes I read, many of which called for bacon, which I thought would be wrong here. Fresh lima beans or butter beans might have been good, but I liked the sweetness of the dish without them. So here's my recipe:


1-2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups fresh tender okra, sliced crosswise into 1" pieces
2 or more cups fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
2 ears fresh sweet corn, microwaved and set aside to cool

Saute the onion in butter over medium until soft, not brown. Saute okra lightly. Add tomatoes and let cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened slightly -- you want to keep the tomatoes tasting fresh, not sauce-like. At the last moment, shuck the cooked corn, cut the kernels off, and stir them in. Add salt to taste.

No herbs, no pepper, no nothing -- this is all about the light, sweet flavors of the garden vegetables. It blew me away.

We ate it with buttermilk biscuits (made with Adluh self-rising flour and local buttermilk) and barbecued chicken (marinated in soy sauce with star anise and five-spice powder, then lovingly grilled over a hickory fire by Lawson.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eggplant, Marital Accord, and the Microwave

Wow--that's a lot of topic to cover in one post.

When I cook eggplant I love to leave the skin on because it's a beautiful color and provides texture. Dad finds it indigestible, so I peel off half or more, and proceed with my dish.

And then--I prep the eggplant for this dish in the microwave. I learned this from reading a Barbara Kafka microwave cookbook at least twenty years ago. I rarely do anything with the microwave except thawing and reheating, but this step really keeps the eggplant from soaking up a ton of oil.

Szechuan Eggplant

1 large eggplant
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel eggplant and cut in 1/2" x 3" strips. Toss with oil. Microwave, covered, for about 8-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Heat oil in a skillet and stir-fry garlic and ginger for a couple of minutes.

1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon hot bean sauce
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

Mix and add to skillet. Bring to boil and stir until thickened. Add eggplant and cook 2 minutes.

Green onion slices
Sesame oil

Garnish with green onion or cilantro. Sprinkle with a little sesame oil.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fish Curry and Accompaniments

This was a typical Saturday night dinner for two: a green curry of fish (frozen albacore); a cucumber and tomato salad with basil, green onion, lime juice, and Kalamata olives from the Middle Eastern market; brown rice; and pear chutney from the freezer, which I made last Christmas season.

I was very impressed with the olives. I had gotten in the habit of buying pitted Kalamatas for convenience, but these were whole and unviolated, and they were so flavorful and firm.

Garden Watermelon

Hey, Lawson grew a watermelon.

Friday, September 5, 2008


We made some Indian food while Mark was here, including a batch of naan. Very easy, with full flavor even though it only took a few hours. The yogurt gave it a nice complexity.

I used my KitchenAid dough hook for this one. The dough is easy to work with, probably because of the fat in the yogurt and the oil.

Adapted from Joy and a few Indian recipes, naturally:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup yogurt (A variety with some fat in it would be best. We are addicted to Seven Stars plain yogurt around here.)
  • 1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to as hot as it will go (550 in my case).

Mix, knead for 10 minutes, and let rise 1.5 hours, or more if refrigerated.

Separate into four pieces, roll into balls, and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a thick pan if you don't have tiles or a baking stone already in the oven.

Roll out dough into strips or ovals about 10" long, 1/4" thick.

Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.

Slide into oven. I used a floured pizza peel.

Bake 6 to 7 minutes, until golden.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vegetarian Southern Food

Our pal Mark was in the US last week, and because he is currently not eating meat (long story), I got to cook some vegetarian food. It was fun. I think it's been about five years since I gave up my 12-year vegetarian spell.

Because Mark lives in Kyoto but is from around here, I wanted to make him some Southern food. These are lima beans, cooked very simply overnight in a crockpot, with olive oil and salt added in the last several hours. I experimented with the mustard greens, sauteeing a few chunks of red miso paste in some olive oil to see if I could get a meaty, salty fullness for a base the same way I would from a ham hock or some bacon. It was delicious and did have a full taste and a brownish pot liquor, but I don't know that it was that brilliant.

The grits were fermented. I interviewed Glenn from Anson Mills several months ago, and he told me that during the summer one can pre-soak grits at room temperature and get what he called "pinpoint ferment," which completely changes their taste and texture. I could never find any other information on the phenomenon, but when I soaked some grits Glenn had ground coarsely from John Haulk corn, they did indeed ferment rather quickly. It was a sweet, mild ferment, never sour, and after I let them do that overnight I rinsed them thoroughly and cooked them like normal: 1.5 or so hours on the stove, gently, with salt and butter and a little cream at the end. The fermented flavor was strong, but sweet and corny and smooth. Very strange. Lawson and Mark loved it, too, although they'd never heard of it, either.