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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Easiest Frittata

The oven is still broken. So I made a frittata out of a potato, an onion, rosemary, parsley, oregano, and four eggs. And lots of pepper.

I cooked the cubed potatoes separately in the microwave to soften them before browning them with the onions.

I usually use the broiler to brown the top, but with no oven, I had to flip the entire frittata to cook the other side. It worked, miraculously.

We ate it with some of Lawson's habanero-carrot salsa. He made a new batch this past week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Small Salads

When I first started making meals forty years ago, "salad" was something with lettuce, or possibly cabbage. And definitely dressing on top. (We'll leave aside Midwestern offerings with jello and/or marshmallows.)

I am grateful that Mediterranean, Mexican, and European influences have led me to the small salad: something ranging from pico de gallo to fresh relish to marinated vegetables, just a cup or two of something cool and interesting to make a contrast to the other dishes--cucumbers in yogurt; sliced tomatoes with fresh herbs; cherry tomatoes with black olives and some sliced onion.

Tonight's very pedestrian menu of salmon cakes, oven fries, and lima beans required such a salad. This one had Persian cucumbers, black olives, cherry tomatoes, a green onion, a little yellow bell pepper, a red jalapeno, and some wine vinegar and olive oil. And a little chopped fresh basil.

Still recovering from yesterday's bland lunch, I put wasabi paste in the tartar sauce. I liked it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Menu Lapse

I'm sorry to report that I made a bland and uninspired company lunch today.
We had:
Chicken Tettrazini
Carrot/Raisin/Pineapple Salad
Eggplant Salad (Grandma made this, and it saved the day, flavor-wise)
Apple Crisp and Ice Cream
Julia Child would have been appalled. She wrote so persuasively about striking just the perfect balance between menu elements, and I could have done much better.

Also, it's hard to gear up for company lunch. I somehow didn't get the menu planned in advance, so at 9:00 a.m. I was heading for the produce market, and guests were due at 11:30. I had roasted a chicken and made broth the day before, but that's all I had.

I'm trying to think back to better lunches I've made--and they're usually salads.

To redeem myself, I'm posting pictures of two good things I made this week: buffalo meatballs--just like regular Swedish meatballs, bound with bread crumbs and egg; and roasted peppers and a cucumber salad.

On Cooking As You Go

Ezra Klein, whom I adore for other reasons*, occasionally posts about cooking and food policy. And today he managed to get at something that's very hard to explain: how one cooks when one cooks often and without recipes. He describes very well the squishy, wide-open recipe templates that we hold in our minds and pantries.

* 1) lucid commentary on complex health care policy issues; 2) progressive politics; 3) hotness. Mom, you mentioned below that you've been reading about politics online lately...I can uncork a whole array of quality political sites should you so desire, beginning with Ezra Klein's blog.

So: Beans and Stuff, as Mr. Klein says. That's what I ended up with tonight, too. We had bread, and I wanted soup, and we had red peppers and collards, so I made a black bean soup with onions, carrots, garlic, red peppers, a few chiltepins, collards, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, bay leaves, and stock. We will eat it with buttered bread and fresh garden chiles.

Vegetable-Herb Soup

Especially with the oven broken, this October is definitely soup season.

I made sweet potato-peanut stew over couscous earlier in the week.

Another night, I stewed some chicken legs with New Mexican red chiles (soaked in water then pureed), tomatoes, beer, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg; we ate that with homemade flour tortillas.

And recently I made a simple vegetable soup from leeks, potatoes, carrots, garlic, white beans, and a small bit of bacon. Fresh rosemary and thyme and bay leaves made it smell big and herby. And because we had some leftover pesto, I put a small mound of that on the soup to stir in, pistou-style.

The soup was actually a little better the next day, minus the pesto.

I want my oven back. But for tonight we have seeded sourdough bread from Heather's Artisan Bakery, and I will make another soup to go with it. Something containing collard greens, I think.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sunny Side Up Salad

Attention: The best salad dressing is a sunny side up egg, sprinkled with white wine vinegar and salt and pepper, draped over a salad and then mixed up so the semi-cooked yolk emulsifies a little with the vinegar and forms an impromptu dressing. Best lunch ever.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shopping List

Before we get to my shopping list, I have to do the 12-step thing and declare my addiction: I am now a political internet Junkie with a capital J. I used to get my news from the local newspaper plus the Washington Post online, but now I am actually trolling the web to find out what the McCain campaign has to say about Sarah Palin's clothing budget. I swear I am going to give it up after November 4th. I truly hope this is reversible.

I always take Grandma shopping on Thursday morning. We go to the supermarket--Fry's, which is a Kroger store--and then Sprouts, a store which is like a Wild Oats for poor people. It has great produce.

Dad does most of the other marketing, going to Trader Joe's for wine, cheese, and certain things that are best at Trader Joe's, like peanut butter and wine vinegar; Food City for Mexican groceries and produce; and occasionally 17th Street Market. Together we occasionally go to the Middle Eastern Caravan store, for dates and olives and so forth.

I never have made good shopping lists. We try to jot down things we have actually run out of, but are very poor at menu planning. So here is tomorrow's list as of 9:00 p.m., even though we are having guests on Sunday:

baking potatoes
olive oil
club soda
Evan Williams bourbon
rice vinegar
parmesan cheese

Despite, or because of, the economic troubles, there are two new wine-and -liquor supermarkets opening near us this week. They sound very tacky (one is named Bevmo) but we will take a look.

Summertime Noodle Bowls

I think Lawson has made versions of this dish for you and Dad a few times. We made it a few weeks ago; now, looking back, I realize it was the last meal of summer. We had a cold snap...temperatures have dropped into the 30s at night...and while it's clear and beautiful here, it's definitely no longer the season for grilled shrimp and cooling rice noodles and bowls full of fresh herbs.

There are a few consistent ingredients in this dish; the rest depends on what you have around:
  • rice vermicelli, soaked and then briefly boiled and rinsed
  • leafy things: a mixture of fresh herbs and lettuces, especially Thai basil, mint, and cilantro
  • crunchy things: bean sprouts, red peppers, sweet onions, and/or cucumbers, attractively cut
  • meat and/or tofu, cooked some delicious way
  • raw peanuts, chopped
  • a sauce made of equal parts lime juice and fish sauce to pour liberally over everything
We just prepare everything and layer it in bowls. Lawson makes a big batch of the sauce in an old vinegar bottle and puts it on the table.

This particular time I bought some local shrimp and Lawson marinated them briefly in lime juice, lemongrass, and some other stuff. We grilled them with the shells on -- something I LOVE but which is not worth it unless the shrimp are really fresh and pretty. Lawson removes the slightly charred shells but I eat the whole shrimp, shell and all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pork Tenderloin with Sage and Mustard

I heard Michael Pollan on NPR today talking about his open letter to the next president. He eloquently summarized his ideas, notably that the unhealthiest foods (hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup) are the cheapest because they are subsidized by the government, and that we should be subsidizing broccoli instead! So we are going to have broccoli and tofu tonight.

Last night, however, we had a teeny pork tenderloin pan-fried with garlic, sage, and rosemary, and finished with a sauce of pan juices, Dijon mustard, and vermouth. With it we had baked butternut squash and Jack Bishop green beans, a preparation I can't seem to get enough of.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"There's a Hole in My Pizza, Dear Eva, Dear Eva. . ."

There's a hole in my pizza because it has a spelt crust, and when I jerked it off the pan onto the pizza stone, it didn't hang together. I want to say that it was incoherent, but that's not quite the right word, either.

It was delicious, and I'm looking forward to a leftover piece for lunch. First there's a layer of pesto; then various cheeses left in the cheese drawer (mostly fresh Parmesan, but also a little goat cheese); thinly sliced onions; diced tomatoes; anchovies; fresh jalapenos; and Kalamata olives. Yum.
If this pizza had been more perfect, I would have named it the "Colin Powell Endorsement Memorial Pizza" to show my enthusiasm.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crispy Collards

This was a serendipitous cooking goof: I microwaved some leftover collard greens because I wanted them to get a little more tender. I am here to tell you that three minutes (I thought I had it set on low power, but our display has gone blank, and we just guess) is way too long. They turned into little fluffy, crispy flakes, kind of like seaweed. They still had excellent collard flavor, somewhat concentrated, and were fun to eat. They would make a great finger food or condiment. I cannot see the packaged-food industry getting this right, though. I don't expect to receive a little packet of collard crisps in my next box lunch.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pizza Again, with Chiles

I made a few pizzas the other night. Same crust recipe as I've been using for the last two years, though I got away from it for a while -- I kept making my pizza doughs as wet as my bread doughs, and they just weren't holding together. I also had some not-so-delicious over-risings and one or two mediocre batches with spelt flour. So I'm pleased to report that my pizza-fu is back.

This one had hot Italian sausage, red bell peppers, and onions, all pre-sauteed; plain tomato sauce from a jar; mozzarella; and parmesan. You can see the little shaved thin pieces of parmesan in the picture.

I also made a delicious pie with homemade pesto and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, but it didn't photograph so well.

I know I post pictures of garden chiles all the time, but they're so pretty that I can't help it. And they are the perfect pizza accompaniment. Here we have ordoños (the purple and small yellow), chiltepins (the tiny green and orange balls), a Thai chile (the wrinkly tall red one), dedo di moças (the big glossy orange and green ones), and tabascos (the bigger yellow and the red at the bottom right. Whew.

This is how you eat fresh chiles, in case you are wondering how I consume all these fiery peppers without doing myself physical harm.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Green Curry with Flounder

Surprisingly, this was a last-minute collaboration on a night when I didn't think we were going to end up cooking anything.

I softened carrots, a few cloves of garlic, and red bell peppers in peanut oil, then added chopped lemongrass, keffir lime leaves, galangal, and Thai basil, all of which Lawson minced finely. Then I added a tablespoon of premade green curry paste and a can of coconut milk and half a can of water.

I simmered that for about 20 minutes.

Then I briefly boiled some rice noodles I'd been soaking. I seasoned the curry with fish sauce. I added 3/4 pound of flounder to the curry and cooked it for about 5 minutes. At the end I stirred in chopped cilantro and topped it with more Thai basil.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

French Omelet Brunch

For the last few years I've been using Julia Child's technique for French omelets, but only a few weeks ago did I discover that someone has uploaded this video excerpt from her show demonstrating how to do it.

This omelet contained Brie and fresh basil. I ate it with big funky local muscadine grapes, some buttered toast, and a few dedo di moça chiles from the garden. These chiles are quite mild and bell-pepper-like; they go with everything.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nibbling while Rome Burns

As the stock market melted down further today, Grandma and I did our usual weekly shopping--same time, same day of the week--and the stores had only half the usual shoppers. Did they decide to stay at home and not buy food? Was it a citizen protest?

Ironically, lobster tails (Australian) and asparagus were on sale. I made this dish of roasted garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, and lobster with pasta:

1 head of garlic, trimmed and wrapped in foil
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and tossed with olive oil
1 pound asparagus, all tough stalks discarded, and cut in 2-inch lengths
Shrimp or lobster

Pasta for two, cooked and drained
Lemon juice
Fresh oregano and thyme
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put in foil-wrapped garlic.

Ten minutes later, place tomatoes on baking sheet and add to oven. Roast 20 minutes without turning, until slightly black and shriveled.

Add asparagus to pan and roast for a further 10 minutes.

Add shrimp or lobster and roast for a few minutes until done.

Squeeze out garlic into a serving bowl. Mash with lemon juice, herbs, salt, and pepper. Mix in cooked pasta and roasted vegetables and shellfish. Season to taste.


We had this with fresh strawberries and dark chocolate. And martinis and sauvignon blanc. I can't shake a kind of doomsday feeling--like we should have had beans just in case.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Homemade Pasta with Pesto and Green Beans

The pesto Lawson made over the weekend was so fresh and good and perfumey that I decided it deserved some homemade pasta. The combination of pesto, homemade pasta, and green beans is not untraditional (though I skipped the potatoes).

The pasta recipe (from both Marcella Hazan and Jack Bishop) was simple: 1 cup of flour and two eggs, mixed in a food processor and then kneaded by hand. I ended up adding a good bit more flour during the kneading and rolling, but stiff pasta dough is not a bad thing.

After reading Ms. Hazan's rant in More Classic Italian Cooking about how pasta machines are evil, I nonetheless pulled out Lawson's lovely old hand-cranked Atlas pasta machine and proceeded to make some fettucine. Here it is waiting to be cooked. The local eggs I used had vibrant, almost orange yolks, which made the raw pasta a lovely yellow.

We had it with the barest salad: red romaine, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, and pepper.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Asadero Cheese

I bought some Mexican asadero cheese a few days ago, and it's surprisingly like Velveeta, or Kraft Singles. It's advertised as a "melting" cheese, as in nachos. It's white, melty, and salty. I prefer the crumbly cotija. I used the asadero in quesdaillas for breakfast this morning, and included it in tonight's Mexican macaroni.

With the Mexican macaroni we had green beans and a salad of avocado, tomatoes, fresh jalapenos, and green onion.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Golden Bag

No cooking in this post -- nothing especially amazing in the Chinese takeout department, either -- but I was in love with this greasy bag our complimentary eggroll came in.

The mu shu pork was pretty decent: classic brown sauce, tender pork, finely shredded cabbage. The pancakes were kind of gross and prepackaged, but whatever. It was quite late on a Sunday night, and we were excessively pleased to find somewhere open.

The kung pao chicken? Fine. A little bland. No pronounced dried red chile flavor. Cashews contributed no flavor. Better with some fresh garden chiles.

I think we got five meals out of this two-dish order: dinner for two, lunch for two, and a snack for one. Quite a deal. But probably the last time I eat Chinese takeout for another few years.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Various Things to Eat

Here's a nice garbanzo bean salad. It contains a cucumber from Dad's garden, some basil, orange bell pepper, lime juice, and olive oil.

Also pictured are limes from our tree--chicas, or little ones, they are called in the Mexican grocery store. I have always wanted some of these Mexican blue glasses for margaritas, and today we found them in a store that was going out of business.

And . . . check out our basil crop. I made pesto today.

Caribbean Curry Goat

I'd never made Caribbean food before. But we picked up some local goat last week at the All-Local Farmers Market and I decided to make curry goat. I made some Jamaican-style cabbage to go with it.

It's a profound thing to produce certain flavors in your kitchen for the first time. I've eaten delicious Caribbean food at restaurants, but it was quite another thing to find out about the building blocks of that food, to put together a recipe that tasted Caribbean but also like something I'd made. And the house smelled good and strange for days.

Caribbean curry powder is somewhat different than Madras curry or the various generic things sold as curry powder. I used some plain curry powder but added habanero, chile powder, and star anise to produce the right flavor.

So here's the recipe I put together after some research and daydreaming. I will make it again. The goat was mild and tender but dark the way duck is dark, with that faint iron tang.

Curry Goat
  • goat -- in this case 1 shank and about 1/2 pound of stew meat. Something with a bone and connective tissue is a good idea.
  • 1-2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon plain chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Rub spices all over the goat and set aside.
  • olive oil or butter for sauteeing
  • 2 medium onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
Brown the meat, being careful not to burn the spices. Remove, and saute the onion, then the garlic.
  • several splashes vermouth, white wine, or beer
  • one star anise pod
  • water to cover
Deglaze the pan with the booze. Add meat and all other ingredients and simmer 1 hour. Remove the star anise if the stew is tasting too anise-y. Add:
  • salt to taste
  • one small fresh habanero, minced
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Simmer until shank is tender and falling apart, 1-2 more hours. Correct flavor with lime juice if necessary. Serve over rice.

What will I do when habanero season is over?

Reading cabbage recipes was interesting. I would never have guessed that fresh thyme is such a common ingredient in Caribbean cooking. But it was exactly right. Adapting various recipes, I cut some wedges of fresh green cabbage (maybe 1/3 of a large head), sauteed a clove of garlic in butter, then added fresh thyme, several pinches of salt, the cabbage wedges, and 1/4 cup of water. I covered it and cooked it on low for an hour or so, sort of steaming the cabbage as the water simmered. It was like Southern greens in a way, very soft, but exactly like the delicious cabbage I had as a side dish at a Caribbean place in Charlotte a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Carnitas for the Dog

I cleaned out the freezer a few days ago, and in it I found a pork tenderloin. Thinking it was the pork tenderloin I'd placed in there about six months ago, I moved it to the fridge and commenced thinking about recipes.

The next morning I check the defrosting tenderloin and noticed the label:

"Use before February 8, 2002," it said.

Eeeeeew. I placed the loin immediately in the trash can.

But then Lawson reminded me that the dog can eat all manner of sketchy things with delight. So I pulled it out again and set about cooking the dog some 6.5-year-old pork.

I opened the package and drained the meat and cut away the only nasty-looking freeze-damaged area I could see. I decided roasting the pork would be good: get some hot air circulating around it to pull away any funky freezer odors. And I decided some fat and salt would help matters enormously. So I rubbed the tenderloin in a good amount of bacon grease and roasted it in a 450-degree oven for about half an hour.

The final product was super-tender and moist and smelled good. I'm guessing the long freezing damaged the meat fibers, making them break down and tenderize. Lawson tasted the pork and thought it was delicious.

I cut it into chunks. It looks exactly like carnitas. I have been feeding it to Patty over several days, mixed at various times with canned dog food, plain yogurt, or chicken broth.