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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

We had a wonderful turkey this year, a free-range bird from Sprouts weighing just under 19 pounds. I soaked it in a light brine overnight, stuffed it traditionally with bread stuffing, and rubbed it all over with my usual paste of salt, paprika, and olive oil. I roasted it at 325 degrees for five hours. It was really dark brown and much more done than usual--falling apart, actually, so it didn't carve too neatly, but it had so much flavor. Yum.

Another highlight of the meal was the trio of pies Kathy brought: pecan, pumpkin, and apple crumb.

Looking back, we had a completely conventional menu. I did my sweet potato chunks with butter and maple syrup. I mixed my advance gravy with the turkey pan juices and a little more flour and water and the final product was great. We had eleven people but I seem to have cooked enough for twenty-two. Look at my refrigerator:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Here is my big Free Times story on Anson Mills and grits.

Fun fact about the dead tree edition of the story (which I will send you next week, Mom): those grains on the cover aren't actually grits. Looks to me like some kind of wheat berry or other grain. Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills showed us a bunch of different grains, but I don't have notes on which grain that was, nor do I know how it got on the cover.

There's also an incorrect caption. But small embarrassments aside, the article is up and I'm happy.

Here is a dish I made last week: yellow grits topped with a very simple sauce made from pancetta, canned tomatoes, garlic, and lots of parsley and salt and pepper.

I cooked the grits in the crockpot for a day and a half with just water and salt. They were amazing.

A Breakfast Quandary

For the next several months I'm on an assignment in a different building than usual,and they're having a holiday breakfast next week. I'm the last person to sign up. Here are the other items on the list:
  • Egg casserole
  • Egg casserole (yes, TWO egg casseroles. I look forward to finding out what egg casserole is.)
  • Waffle batter and waffle maker
  • Fruit and whipped cream for waffles
  • Grits
  • Scones and biscotti
  • Surprise
I feel like bacon and cantaloupe would round out that menu best, but it's not melon season, and bacon doesn't travel well. Ideas?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tostadas, Etc.

Susan turned me on to these--she said they were much better than laboriously baking or frying tortillas at home for tostadas--and she's right. They are uniformly crisp and just strong enough to support lots of toppings.

This casual tostada meal had beans, shredded pork, cheese, and the various toppings pictured here.

And these are tangerines from our tree. We got about three dozen this year. They are seedy and hard to peel, but very sweet and flavorful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Impromptu Sonoran Enchiladas

There was a bit of leftover tamale sauce in the fridge, a mediocre, tomato-enhanced batch I made a few weeks ago to go over the last of the 2007 Christmas tamales from the freezer. I used the rest of it to make some Sonoran enchiladas. I added some of Lawson's carrot-habanero salsa (the orange stuff) for heat and brighter flavor.

Sonoran enchiladas are a good thing to know how to make: instead of making a whole bunch of corn tortillas, or dealing with the flabby bland excuses for corn tortillas available in Columbia grocery stores, you just make a few Sonoran corn cakes and you can have homemade enchiladas.

My recipe varies. Sometimes I make them partially out of grits, which I soak first to soften; sometimes they're all cornmeal or masa harina. Here's the basic recipe, adapted from James Peyton:

1 1/2 cups masa harina or cornmeal
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 egg
up to 1 cup water

I don't measure very carefully. These can get too wet easily, so be careful with the water.

Form into 4 cakes. Pan fry over medium-high heat until browned. Set on paper towels. Assemble enchiladas.

This particular batch was part northern New Mexico, part southern Arizona, and part Central America: I topped the Sonoran cakes with chopped white onion, leftover Anasazi beans, a fried egg (all Four Corners/New Mexico traditions) and some white cheddar. Equal parts gringo-style red chile/tomato sauce and Belizean carrot-habanero sauce made this quite the ethnic blend. It was also a pretty good finger in the eye of the idea that there's some monolithic thing called Mexican Food.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Advance Gravy

I read a brilliant idea this week in the New York Times. The writer suggested roasting some cheap turkey parts and making a batch of stock and gravy a few days before Thanksgiving--the point is to take the pressure off when the turkey comes out of the oven and you have a houseful of people. That way if the pan drippings are not suitable, or you just can't handle it along with everything else, there will still be gravy. And even if you manage to achieve perfect on-the-spot pan gravy, you will have extra to go with the leftovers.

I was fascinated by the Louisiana woman quoted: she cooks her roux for an hour! In another article, lost to me now, a woman confessed that she measured her roux-stirring time in glasses of wine (one hour = three glasses of wine at 20 minutes each).

Well, I went this idea one better and made roasted turkey dog food. I roasted two drumsticks and two thighs (cost--about $3) until they were a medium brown. I deglazed the pan (Emily was unaware of this step), then simmered everything with water until I had a rich stock. I picked the rather used-up turkey off the bones for dog food and saved the very lovely broth to make gravy tomorrow.

Emily's dog food for the week consisted of turkey, rice from a take-out Indian meal, and one Mexican grey squash. She seems to like it a lot.

And, yesterday we ate some of Dad's fresh lima beans. Neither of us had eaten fresh ones before, and they are worth all that trouble.

Pot Roast

I made pot roast in the crockpot again. It took maybe ten minutes of prep work. I browned a small chunk of beef, then put it in the crockpot with chopped carrots, onions, and mushrooms. I added salt, a bay leaf, and cheap wine and turned it on low for 20 hours. I served it with egg noodles.

Pot roast feels like wartime food, food for a recession, food for hard times. It also feels like food for winter; it's going to be 20 degrees here overnight. I did not move to the South for this.

I just finished a few big projects I had going, so I should be cooking and posting more. I'll have Thanksgiving plans up soon; we're going to try to shop for ingredients early this year instead of Wednesday evening.

We're going out for fancy Thai food tonight.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Outrageous Desserts

Nobody says "outrageous" any more. Very dated. I may have gone overboard with my dessert buffet at yesterday's recital. After all, the eight students played for only about 35 minutes (everyone's grateful for a short program, no matter how much they think their kid is a genius). Then there's a flurry of dessert-eating mixed with mutual congratulations and feelings of relief and pride. About 25 people attended, crowding into the room like that famous etching of a Schubertiad.

I make important desserts because I want a feeling of celebration. We had two 16-inch tarts--French Chocolate Cream and a Fruit Tart. I also made a bundt cake based on a mix (sorry) with the addition of dried cranberries, grated orange rind, and slivered almonds. And Cashew Cookies with Browned Butter Icing, and a bowl of grapes. Most things got devoured, along with some coffee and punch.

I delivered some desserts to Grandma this morning. I announced myself as the Calorie Fairy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Spicy Indian Kohlrabi

I bought some kohlrabi recently for the first time. I wrote to ask you about it because I remembered you and Dad used to grow it in Alaska. And while I want to try it the simple way you told me about -- boiled, with butter, salt, and pepper -- we were in the mood for something spicy. Also, it's easier to approach a new vegetable when garlic and chiles are involved.

So I was pleased to find that kohlrabi is used in Indian cooking a lot. This is a combination of several recipes I found.

  • 3 kohlrabi (kohlrabis? sputniks?) with greens
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 small hot chiles, fresh or dried -- I used a fresh immature tabasco and a few chiltepins
  • 2 t ground coriander
  • 1 t cracked black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-2 T fresh lemon juice
Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into fat matchsticks, about 3/4" per side. Roughly chop the greens.

Heat the oil and saute the bay leaves, garlic, turmeric, chiles, and coriander, being careful not to burn them. Add the greens and saute for a few minutes. Then add the chopped kohlrabi and salt and pepper. Saute a few minutes more.

Add water, cover, and simmer until tender. Some recipes called for as many as 40 minutes, but I think we had some very young kohlrabi, and it was extremely tender in about 15 minutes.

Let the water cook away and add the lemon juice. Serve.


Lawson was quite charmed, and I think he is going to grow some kohlrabi now.

In the back there is a half-invented chicken-rice dish. Lawson said it was like an Indian chicken bog. It was okay, but not perfectly balanced. It contained onions, garlic, cardamom, saffron, a cinnamon stick, ginger, almonds, yogurt, jasmine rice, chicken thighs, and some other stuff I can't recall. Nice idea, one I'll try again, but with some modifications.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Accidental Gourds and Other Garden Happenings

I apologize for the hiatus. I got busy at work. Our fridge was broken, too -- technically it still is, though it'll stay cold for a few more days until the defroster (which is burned out) ices over again and seizes everything up. The part is on order.

But Lawson fixed the oven, so things are looking up.

While Lawson and I have been working too much and eating takeout food, his small fall garden has been taking off, what with heavy rains and benign neglect. The cabbages and collards should be ready for eating soon.

And look: we think this is a gourd.

It's definitely a cucurbit of some sort. When it first came up we thought it was a rogue late-season cucumber, because of the leaves and the vine growth pattern. Then it flowered, and the flowers looked exactly like zucchini blossoms, all trumpety and orange.

But then we started looking more closely at the vegetables below the flowers, and they have this beautiful duotone thing going. A weird squash hybrid? But Lawson remembered that I bought some ornamental gourds last year from a roadside stand in North Carolina, and that when fall was over I composted them. I spread some of that compost around this year's fall garden...and hey presto, a gourd plant. I hope it lasts through the upcoming freeze.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Simple Anchovy Pasta

Speaking of anchovies, as you were a couple of posts ago, I made an anchovy pasta from Kathleen Sloan's Rustic Italian Cooking yesterday.

Cook pasta for two. Meanwhile (such a loaded word in a recipe--"meanwhile", kill and dress a chicken and harvest and grind some wheat), heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and saute 3 cloves sliced garlic for 2 minutes. Stir in 6 canned anchovy fillets or rolls, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook a couple of minutes more. Mash with spoon. Add to drained pasta, toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. I topped it with Parmesan cheese.

We also had Brussels sprouts with mustard cream, and a tomato salad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

South American Dinner

Maybe the Republicans are right, and the country will lapse into moral decline now the Democrats are in power. Starting with us--this was the second morning in a week that we woke up to unwashed dishes and the multi-bottle litter of entertaining.

I served a South American dinner for six. The menu:

Sweet potato chips (purchased)
Basque sheep cheese
Shrimp Cebiche
Vegetable Cebiche (hearts of palm, broccoli, mushrooms)
Homemade Bread
Chicken in a Red Chile Sauce with Peas and Olives
Quinoa Pilaf
Pickled Onions
Fruit Tart

The loaf of bread pictured above contained 1 cup unbleached flour, 1/2 cup spelt flour, 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, and 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal. I used molasses for the sweetener.

The tart was pretty with mixed berries, all on sale this week!

Remember we wondered how to make pickled onions like Santos? I found the method in The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac.

Peel a medium red onion, cut in half, and slice into paper-thin half moons. Cover with hot water and soak 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add the juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the onions, mix well, cover, and let stand at room temperature for three hours or until they turn pink. Best served the same day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crockpot with a View

I have used Peruano beans a few times lately. They are a lovely pale yellow-green, shaped like Great Northerns but they cook slightly faster and are less gassy. I can buy them in bulk for a dollar a pound.

Tonight I cooked them with ham hocks, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay leaf, and a sprig of fresh thyme. (I covered them with water by one inch this morning and boiled them for 10 minutes, then turned them off and went for a walk. Then I put them in the crockpot. Most of the year I use the crockpot outside so the house doesn't heat up. Soon it will be winter and I'll plug it in inside.)

We had them with cornbread and a salad of tomato, avocado, and olives.


I love them. I didn't mean to buy rolled ones, since they're for cooking and will just end up melting away anyway, but I thought these were beautiful. I put some in a pasta dish the other night, but I've been eating the rest on crackers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Okra and Greek-Style Cod

Can you believe that we're now harvesting okra? This is our second batch. I steamed them following your method and they are wonderful.

I also cooked Greek-style cod last night. Of course you can use any flaky white fish in this recipe (I don't think firm types like tuna and swordfish would be quite right).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I got a pretty kitchen scale for my birthday.

I have of course read a lot about spaghetti alla carbonara, but I'd never tried it. Never knew quite what to think. But Emile was selling pancetta at the farmers market the other week, so we bought some and made spaghetti with pancetta and eggs and cheese.

I have to say, it wasn't my thing. Even with tons of parsley, which Lawson said correctly was key to the dish, it lacked any redeeming green-ness. It was too intense. Lawson, who has made it many times before, didn't like the pancetta as much as the plain old bacon he's used before.

I have used the pancetta since in other ways, and it's glorious. I cooked it with some collards last week. But maybe not so much with the eggs and parmesan and pasta.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post Election and Post Meat

Reality set in this morning. Obama won, I'm ecstatic, but there's so much work to do! Likewise, at our house, we partied last night but there was a big mess in the kitchen and throughout the house.

Also, we happened to eat meat ("flesh" is a way better term, kind of Biblical and guilt-inducing) for the past several days, which makes us wish for fish and veggies. We had a wonderful pot of Chile Verde containing both beef and pork on election eve, can't complain about that.

Tonight I made a tofu and vegetable curry accompanied by tomato and cilantro chutney and garnished with peanuts and Thai basil, followed by fresh pineapple.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Some Maintenance

Please bear with some site tweaks this evening.

Update: Let us know if you have any problems or particular redesign-related dislikes: email us at cookinghabit at gmail dot com.

Election Night Eating

Patty ate one of the cat's toys, a tiny white mouse on wheels.

The cat hasn't been eating her canned food lately, so Patty ate that, too.

Lawson and I are going to eat takeout from Bangkok Restaurant, the little hole-in-the-wall Thai place by our house. It's not the greatest ever, but the semi-Americanized staples are good: pad thai, masaman curry, pad see ew. Maybe tonight I'll branch out to a red curry.

We were in the mountains this weekend. Sunday night we saw Billy Bragg in Asheville; before the show we ate at a mixed noodle joint that was pretty okay. My spicy wonton noodle soup had wonderful soft homemade wontons full of ginger and pork and sesame oil, but the broth was kind of bland.

Otherwise, we ate sandwiches and cheese and fresh North Carolin apples and things like that. And because we spent two days sawing and hauling trees and branches and cutting a new trail, we ate big breakfasts of fried eggs, bacon, and toast. Many, many calories were consumed and burned. It was fun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall Dinner

I've been either a lazy blogger or unimaginative cook this week. But tonight we're having a very suitably autumnal dinner at Grandma's. She is making a pork roast and applesauce, and I'm bringing roasted vegetables and a pear tart.

I used Anne Postic's recipe from the Free Times for the tart. My dough didn't hang together because I only had whole wheat flour, so I pressed it into a tart pan instead of making a free-form shape. It smells wonderful.