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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lime Cordial and Lime-oncello

Those tiny yellow limes you grew are so intense, Mom -- they're wonderful, but more acidic than regular limes. Today I used some of them in booze-related experiments.

First I zested 14 of them and started a batch of limoncello using limes instead of lemons.

I read a few recipes and enjoyed this overly detailed recipe the most. I more or less followed it but didn't filter the vodka -- it seems silly to filter something that's distilled. We had a bunch of Skyy vodka and since we don't drink vodka very often this seemed like a good use for it -- no grain alcohol in my version.

Two hours in, the vodka is already starting to yellow (it's in the jar on the right). After a few months it should be very pretty. Either that, or it'll look like urine. We'll see.

Lime Cordial
So then I had a bunch of dermis-free limes -- way too many for margaritas or mojitos. I thought about juicing them and freezing the juice, but again, they're so acidic, if they were to lose any delicate lime flavors through freezing they wouldn't be very useful -- all tartness, no flavor.

I poked around online for a while and decided to make lime cordial. Rose's Lime Juice is lime cordial, but Rose's seems pretty gross lately. Maybe it's the high fructose corn syrup. I made a gimlet with it over the summer and it wasn't very enjoyable.

Recipes for lime cordial online mostly contain lime juice, simple syrup, citric acid and tartaric acid. I have neither of the latter two ingredients. I decided the limes' acidity was intense enough to make up for the missing citric acid. For the tartaric acid I used cream of tartar. I'm no chemist, but cream of tartar retains the acidic flavor of tartaric acid, which I think is the goal of the acid, and is also a potassium salt...and I figured salt is a positive thing from a preservative standpoint.

I think I can taste the potassium from the cream of tartar a little. There's a slight bitter aftertaste similar to potassium chloride -- the taste of those "salt substitutes," or of Marmite, or of banana bread with too much baking powder. But Lawson says he can't taste it, so it's probably not a big deal.

After some adjustments, here roughly what I ended up with:

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 scant teaspoon cream of tartar

Boil the water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in lime juice and cream of tartar. Strain into bottles and refrigerate.

I'll make gimlets tonight. And I'll let you know how long the lime cordial keeps.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Goodies

I love to make food gifts for Christmas. This year I made marmalade, lemon curd, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and sour cream cupcakes with peppermint and cream cheese frosting. I might also make some coconut cupcakes.

If you find out late some day that you have to contribute something for your child's bake sale or your office party, this Microwave Fudge might save you. After ten years I still can't believe how easy and good it is.

Microwave Fudge
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter or margarine, cut in small pieces
1/4 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts

In a 2-quart glass container, combine sugar and cocoa. Stir in butter, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Cover with waxed paper and microwave on high for 2 minutes.

With wooden spoon, stir hot mixture until butter melts, then beat vigorously for one minute or until fudge loses some of its gloss. Stir in 1/2 cup of the nuts. Pour into greased 8 or 9-inch square pan and sprinkle with remaining nuts. Refrigerate one or two hours until firm.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chard Tart with Pine Nuts

I remember you making chard pie when I was younger, Mom, and I got to thinking about it this week when I bought some tender, lovely Swiss chard. I didn't want something too eggy -- not a full-on quiche, but rather a light, creamy pie with lots of chard.

I used this crust recipe, which has become my favorite for both savory and sweet uses. It's pretty rich, but if you're going to go to the bother of making crust, why mess around?

I used the food processor this time, and it worked fine. I rolled out the dough, pressed it into a tart ring, brushed it with plenty of egg white, and put it in the fridge to chill.

For the filling, I sauteed in olive oil:

1 very small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 big bunch Swiss chard (1 lb?), including stems, chopped

I let that cool slightly, then added it to a bowl in which I had beaten together:

3 whole eggs + the leftover white (the other leftover white was used to brush the dough)
3 oz cream cheese (I had no Parmesan, which is what I would have used; this gave it a nice mild smoothness.)
1/2 cup half and half, roughly
pinch of nutmeg
lots of black pepper

I poured the filling into the tart shell -- it was very wet, another reason to make a rich crust -- and sprinkled the top with a handful of pine nuts. I baked it for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

As with most egg dishes, it was much better once it had cooled to room temperature. It was mild and clean-tasting, and the pine nuts seemed impossibly sweet, almost candied, against the dark green chard flavor.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Salsa Rapida with Tamales

We went to the Tucson Tamale Festival today and bought two and a half dozen tamales from various booths, all family operations. The best part was the free samples.

The main varieties on offer were green corn (made with fresh corn) and traditional (made with masa, a dough with lime-treated ground corn). They were filled with beef, pork, chicken, or cheese. Sweet tamales were also available.

I always serve Salsa Rapida by Aida Gabilondo with tamales. I thought I had posted it before, but here it is in all its simplicity:

Salsa Rapida

1/2 cup pure red chile powder (no spices)
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon pressed garlic

Soak the chile powder in the boiling water until for about 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, rest for a few minutes, and serve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Successful Dessert Things from the Internet

I was flailing a little on Sunday morning before my piano recital--I have a reputation for serving an excellent dessert buffet after the music, and I had made only one measly (well, okay it serves at least twelve people and has a pound of butter in it) chocolate tart.

It's very dangerous to just grab recipes from the internet and make them for guests, but I did it anyway, and these two were quite wonderful. The pumpkin dessert thing is embarrassingly easy.

Nobody ate the coconut cupcakes that afternoon, but as leftovers--which I have spread around the neighborhood, referring to myself as the Calorie Fairy--they have been very popular.

Microwave Risotto

Yeah, I know, this isn't a picture of risotto--which isn't very photogenic--but rather a tableau of the way watermelon is eaten in Mexico, with a squeeze of lime and a dusting of chile powder.

I tried microwave risotto because I was casting around for a substantial side dish, and I had some arborio rice and some excellent homemade chicken broth on hand. I was also trying to finish my sweater and didn't want to stand over the stove and stir for a long time. I think this recipe originally came from a microwave cookbook by Barbara Kafka, but it's written out in my longhand from decades ago, so I can't be sure. It was delicious and the texture was just right.

Microwave Risotto

1/2 small onion, chopped fine
3 tablespoons butter

Microwave, uncovered, for 3 minutes.

1 cup arborio rice

Stir in rice and microwave 2 1/2 minutes.

1/4 cup vermouth
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
Medium pinch of saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add vermouth, broth, saffron, and salt. Stir, cover, and microwave for 10 minutes.

Remove cover, stir, and microwave 8 minutes longer.

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Stir in Parmesan and serve.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chile Verde

I guess this green chile was good, because after I ate a bowl of it last night I fell asleep on the floor next to the dog.

None of the recipes I looked at were quite the classic New Mexican green chile I was looking for, even from the usually reliable James Peyton. So here's what I did.

1 pound tomatillos
1 pound lean boneless pork, cut into 2" chunks
2 small or 1 big onion
2-5 cloves garlic
1 carrot
half a bell pepper...red here
roasted green chiles - about 8, or half a Food City bag
vermouth (or beer or white wine or something for deglazing)
water (or chicken or pork stock)
1 sprig fresh oregano

I simmered the tomatillos for about 10 minutes in a few inches of water, turning them over so they got soft all over. I whirred them in the food processor for a few seconds.

I browned the pork in a little olive oil and then removed it. Then I sauteed the onions, carrot, bell pepper and garlic, in that order. Deglazed the pan. Tossed everything but the cilantro together and let it simmer for about 3 hours until the fat had cooked out of the pork chunks. I put the cilantro in during the last 30 minutes.

The carrot and bell pepper were minimal, really just to round out the flavor a little -- it's mostly about the pork and the chile. And I expected it would need thyme or cumin or something, but it really didn't. Even with just water, not stock, it was super flavorful.

I just served this with tortillas, and it was plenty of food.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Misadventuring in New Mexico

Our trip to Hillsboro became an adventure. It rained hard after turning north from the Hatch cutoff, in fact so hard that we stopped at the first dip--and indeed, it was full of rushing water. We waited for 20 minutes, a couple of other vehicles came along, and it subsided enough that we crossed it although it had a strong current and was up to mid-tire. Two miles later we crossed a shallow running stream (over pavement) and then came up on a big new drainage coursing across the road. We decided to turn around and take the long way on the freeway, but on the way back a new wash had occurred, a big one, so we were trapped between two flash floods. We contemplated spending the night in our car--no problem, plenty of food and wine on board, and we were on fairly high ground. In a half hour the far stream had subsided and we drove on.

We got to Hillsboro at dusk and the town was so dead, we thought the power was out. Not so--the town of 200 people or so was just quiet, asleep. We had reserved a room at the single motel, but there was nobody there. Dad checked his notes from making the reservation, and Room 7 was mentioned. The door was unlocked, so we made ourselves at home. The owner came over later in the evening to give us a key. We took a walk around town in the lessening rain, and then ate our cold supper of smoked salmon, Jarlsberg, crackers, fruit, and chocolate, with champagne--we were prepared, as usual. The room was clean and comfortable.

The next morning the town's single restaurant was open for breakfast and we found two stools at the old-fashioned counter. We waited an hour for breakfast because apparently the whole town was there, but it was worth the wait: I had a bowl of homemade pinto beans topped with a fried egg, melted cheese, and Hatch green chile. This absolutely replaces the loco moco in my book.

On the way we had lunch in Deming, New Mexico, which has a terrible freeway presence and we usually avoid. But we found a nice little shady downtown area with several restaurants, including Campo's. I had the best chiles rellenos of my life. They were advertised on the menu as "lightly crisped." I can't decide if they were lightly floured and deep-fried, or lightly battered and sauteed--anyway, it was mostly chile stuffed with cheese, and on top of that, a homemade tomatillo sauce. Wow. The place was busy, mostly because of a large family having a First Communion lunch with a little girl in a white lace dress.

After that lunch we visited the local winery, Luna Rossa, which had lovely vines hanging with grapes, and the wine was pretty good. We bought a couple of bottles. We'll share them when you visit us.

Monday, September 7, 2009


We went out for Italian pizza lunches at the two best places near here with Mary Ellen, and had a variety of 12-inch pizzas ranging from Margherita to prosciutto with arugula. Quite a worthwhile project, although fattening. I don't always succeed in getting my photos in order here, but a prosciutto, arugula, and truffle oil pizza is pictured.

And here's the cobbler recipe from your childhood.

Fruit Cobbler

Place in a baking dish or 10-inch pyrex pie plate:

4 to 6 cups prepared fruit (berries, or cut-up peaches, or a mixture)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour

Make biscuit topping:
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Mix with fork.

1/3 cup milk or water
1/6 (2 and 2/3 tablespoons) cup oil

Mix liquids and stir into flour mixture, stirring only until lightly blended. Drop by teaspoon blobs onto fruit. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Serve warm, maybe with ice cream.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Succotash Salad

It's so hot here we finally got Emily a summer haircut. She loves it.
And because of the heat we've been eating lots of salads. Last night I tried this salad recipe based on one by Bobby Flay. It was a big success with ribs.

Succotash Salad

2 cups cooked lima beans
2 cups fresh corn, cooked and cut from cob
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine vegetables in a bowl. Mix olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings to make a dressing; toss with vegetables. Serve cold.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grouper Sandwich

Clockwise from upper left: tomatoes from Jason and Laura's garden, homemade tartar sauce (mayonnaise, lime juice, pickle relish, and New Mexican chile powder), a tempura-fried slab of perfect grouper, and a toasted whole wheat bun.

My iPhone is good at just about everything except taking decent food photos.

There's finally a place in town to get decent fish: The Old Timey Meat Market on Rosewood gets fresh fish in every Thursday. So I bought this gloriously fresh one-pound chunk of grouper, and Lawson mixed up some tempura batter and fried it so we could have fish sandwiches.

He became enamored of fried fish on our Alaska trip, where he ordered halibut and chips at least three different times.

As a first-time home experiment, this was pretty successful. He surveyed a bunch of different tempura batter recipes. He combined the common elements, which were wheat flour and water and egg. And then he cut the fish in half and fried it in a bit of peanut oil. It was not the least bit greasy.

Patty wanted some.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pois Chiches

I'm sharing this recipe partly because I'm in love with the French name for chickpeas--pois chiche--and partly because it's so easy and a nice change. I use canned garbanzos often because they're versatile and nutritious. Think of this as French bean salad. It's from Mereille Johnston's Cuisine of the Sun.

Pois Chiches Marines

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 slivered onion
2 teaspoons thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 can chickpeas, drained

Saute the onions, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice and simmer 5 minutes. Then add the chickpeas, bring to a boil, and simmer 5 more minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bittman Slaw

I don't know why I get so annoyed with Mark Bittman's writing style, but I do, so in an attempt at being a nicer person I'm directing you to his article in the NY Times about 101 Simple Salads.

This is #20, with the substitution of carrots for radishes. I love Chinese cabbage but I forget that it exists until I go the the 17th Street Market where the Asian vegetables are so beautiful. This was refreshing and unusual.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cooking Frenzy

I got fired up today and made granola, blueberry jam, and an Italian supper of salmon, fettucine with peas and saffron, and yellow peppers with mint.

I think this is happening because I'm happy to be home after being away for four of the last six weeks; and also because I've started a regimen of piano practice for a September program, and I love to alternate practice with cooking, just like I did when you were a baby.

The granola was a Joy of Cooking recipe with no sugar or salt, just toasted oatmeal with nuts and dried fruits. I'm looking forward to it for breakfast tomorrow with yogurt.

Blueberries are one dollar a pint now. We've stuffed in all the fresh ones we can eat, so I made a small batch of microwave jam.

In this hot summer weather I turn to Mediterranean recipes. My current favorites are Viana La Place's Verdura and Mireille Johnstons's Cuisine of the Sun.

The pasta was real Italian fettucine, so good after the whole wheat and rice pastas I've been trying to use. Saffron, peas, and green onions were delicious together, garnished with fresh basil. This was also a Viana La Place recipe.

Here is La Place's yellow pepper recipe. I couldn't handle her advice to garnish the peppers with raw garlic, so I added the garlic to the skillet for a few minutes at the end of the cooking time.

Fried Yellow Peppers with Mint
2 fat yellow or orange bell peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Trim the peppers and sliver them lengthwise. Heat the olive oil until very hot and add the peppers, stirring until they have brown spots. Reduce heat, add salt, and cook covered until they are tender. A minute or so before they are done, stir in the garlic.

Off heat, add the vinegar, check seasoning, and stir in the mint. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Picado de Repollo

I made this Cabbage Relish from my favorite Gabilondo Mexican Family Cooking to accompany a lunch burrito, and also because I had a half cabbage languishing in my vegetable bin. It is the perfect foil for Mexican food, and is supposed to ripen and keep well in the refrigerator--but I think we'll eat it all before that happens.

Picado de Repollo
1/2 cabbage
2 fresh jalapenos
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper

Grate the cabbage, jalapenos, and garlic in food processor. Toss with the remaining ingredients.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Pizza Method

Here's how I do pizza: I start the dough in the bread machine about two hours before serving time (this was 2/3 whole wheat and 1/3 third unbleached flour) and let it rise until puffy.

I preheat the oven and the pizza stone at 450 degrees for a long time, at least 20 minutes before baking; roll out the dough into a rough circle and then fit it to my perforated pizza pan. I don't let it rise again at this point, although I know some people do.

I brush the dough with olive oil, and then put a layer of shredded cheese, then various toppings--this had fresh tomatoes and herbs chopped together with garlic, and then anchovies, olives, and jalapenos.

I bake the pizza in the pan set on top of the hot stone for 8 minutes, then slide it off onto the bare st0ne to finish for about 8 more minutes. I find this method eliminates any disastrous transfer from a peel to oven, especially if the dough is sticky.

Kidney Bean and Celery Salad

This is an absurdly refreshing dish for summer--no cooking, and it uses ingredients I usually have around the house. It's from an old Sunset Mexican cookbook and I don't believe for one minute in its authenticity.

I have kept coming back to it over the years, though. It's not overly sweet like other bean salads.

Kidney Bean and Celery Salad

1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 green onions, sliced, or ¼ cup finely chopped red or yellow onion
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons pickle relish or chopped sweet pickles
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Mix and chill.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Zucchini Soup

It's great to be back in my own kitchen again. Last night, after a swim at Mary Ellen's, we all had a dinner of cold zucchini soup and homemade bread; followed by a second course of grilled Copper River red salmon, grilled eggplant from the garden, and French potato salad. I call it French to distinguish it from the mayonnaise version.

For the potato salad, I used red potatoes and after boiling them in their skins until barely tender I cut them into chunks and tossed them with this dressing: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, a pressed clove of garlic, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. I also added a sliced green onion and some fresh tarragon.

Here is the soup recipe:

Curried Zucchini Soup

2 tablespoons butter
2 large zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Melt butter and add zucchini and onion. Cover and cook 10 minutes; do not brown.

2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt (maybe a little less)

Add curry powder and salt and cook another 2 minutes.

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half (or evaporated milk)

Place vegetables in blender, add broth and cream, and process until creamy. Chill. Garnish with chives or parsley.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Bourbon Blossom

I forgot to mention in the last post that we invented a new drink for Father's Day, which we named the Bourbon Blossom.

2 ounces bourbon
1 tablespoon Triple Sec
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Lots of ice
Orange slice for garnish

Shake the bourbon, Triple Sec, and lemon juice with ice. Serve in a glass over ice, garnished with an orange slice.

Seafood Orgy

Moderation was abandoned. Although I think it's a good idea not to overconsume certain resources, we ate seafood every night on Cape Cod: halibut, scrod, scallops, lobster, haddock!

For Father's Day we had halibut, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and a Razzleberry Pie. Of course, you bought the pie from Marion's Pie Shop, so you know all about it. What a great Father's Day present.

Beet Pickled Eggs

I had only eaten one pickled egg before this. It was between undergrad and grad school, when my friend John was hanging out with some guys who met every week at a local bar to watch pro wrestling on the big screen. I went with them once, and one guy had pickled some eggs. He pulled a big warm jar out of a paper bag. I ate an egg. It was strange.

Now it's...what, 9 years later? A few months ago I saw a picture of a beet pickled egg, all purple and Easter-y and lovely, and I decided I would make a batch.

I poked through various recipes, thought about my own pickling past, and came up with this.

The Eggs

First, I hard-boiled a dozen eggs.

My eggs never seem to get that ugly blue discoloration between yolk and white. They used to when I was younger. I buy brown free-range eggs -- I suppose that could be a factor -- but it's more likely my standard method that makes the difference.

I put cold eggs in a pot of room temperature water and brought it to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. As soon as it boiled, I put the lid on and took the pot off the burner. I let it sit for about 8 minutes -- no longer -- and then took the eggs out and ran cold water over them and put them in a dry cool bowl immediatley into the fridge.

This method always seems to make perfect eggs.

I peeled them about 20 minutes later, as soon as they were cool.

The Pickling Mixture

I mixed the following ingredients and let them sit in a pan on the stove until the eggs were peeled:
  • One small beet, roasted and peeled and sliced, left over from the previous night's dinner
  • Two cups water
  • Two cups vinegar
  • One tablespoon sugar
  • Two tablespoons salt
  • Half teaspoon dry mustard
  • Bay leaves
  • One teaspoon brown mustard seed
  • Several allspice berries
  • One teaspoon dill seed
  • Half teaspoon celery seed
  • One teaspoon black pepper
I used a big glass jar with a hinged locking lid -- I love those. I put the eggs in it and brought the mixture to a boil on the stove, then poured it immediately over the eggs.

I got the jar cooled down as quickly as possible and put it in the fridge.

After three days, I ate an egg.

I loved it. Sweet and sour and pickly and mild -- really delicious.

I had to coax Lawson into trying one. After trying it, he said "I think that's something I'd have to be in the mood for."

Nobody else who's visited has wanted to try one, either. Pickled eggs are something they sell in rural convenience stores around here, all weird and yellow and bobbing around in massive jars next to the crock pot of boiled peanuts.

So I've been happily eating a pickled egg every few days. They're almost gone.

Look, a perfect dinner: vichyssoise, Heather's seeded sourdough, salad with Parmesan, and a few pickled things.

Monday, June 15, 2009


We had some people over to swim yesterday. We ate:

Ribs smoked by Lawson
Hummus made by Lawson, with whole wheat pita bread
Carrot salad, your recipe
Spiced spinach-zucchini empanadas

For the empanada dough I used your recipe (you inspired me quite a bit this weekend, I see). Here is how I made the filling. It was inspired by Mexican and New Mexican dishes I've had but didn't follow any recipe.

Spinach-Zucchini Empanada Filling
This wasn't quite enough for all the empanadas (I made them smaller than your recipe calls for -- there were 10 in all). For the other three I had some longaniza in the freezer that I hadn't put in casings, so I used that. Those three are like British pasties, except Central American. Very good.

Here's the filling.

Saute in order:

one small onion, diced
one zucchini, diced
one teaspoon garlic, minced
a bag of spinach, torn up

Add and simmer:
small handful currants
1/8 cup walnuts or pecans
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt to taste
a bunch of black pepper

Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and add:

several handfuls grated Parmesan
1-2 eggs

I filled the empanadas and baked them as instructed in your dough recipe. I served them with Herdez salsa verde.

It was a lot of food, but the watermelon and carrots offset the heavy ribs and empanadas well, so nobody felt too stuffed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More about Road Food

We care a lot about food, in case you hadn't noticed--I guess we bought a camper so we could drag our kitchen around. I hate eating junk. Now we are on this freeway/motel trip from Tucson to Cape Cod, and here is how we survive. We eat out only once a day, usually dinner, and avoid chain restaurants, looking for anything local or ethnic or fresh--not always possible, but it's fun to look.

We take a small ice chest and a plastic box of food and utensils, and a paper bag with fruit. This five-day trip the cooler contained Jarlsberg cheese, English Coastal Cheddar, a package of fancy Italian cold cuts, mustard, a couple of kinds of hummus, small cans of tomato juice, baby carrots from the garden, grapes, cherries. The box contains a small cutting board, a roll of paper towels, a tablecloth, a knife, a corkscrew, silverware, a box of RyKrisp, a loaf of whole wheat sliced bread, a tin of herring fillets with black pepper. The produce bag holds two avocados, a small bunch of bananas, apples, peaches, plums, etc. which we eat as they ripen. All this costs less than a few fast food lunches! And we only spent an hour apiece assembling the ingredients--Dad at Trader Joe's, me at Sprouts.

We eat breakfast in our motel room and have a picnic lunch wherever it happens. We've been lucky with dinners on this trip and even though we've driven 500 or 600 miles per day, ended up with New Mexican food the first night, then barbecue, last night sushi, and tonight a sort of hometown Pennsylvania seafood/Italian thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Getting Lucky in Kansas

We arrived at our motel in Ottawa, Kansas after 7:00 last night, in a downpour. We have driven 1200 miles in two days, on track to get from Tucson to Cape Cod in five days.

There were "restaurants" all around us: Applebee's, Wendy's, McDonald's! We really wanted barbecue, so we looked in the Yellow Pages and there was indeed a barbecue joint--and they delivered! I ordered a rib plate and a chicken plate with spicy sauce, and twenty minutes later it arrived. $7.85 per plate. A miracle.

We had been lugging around a bottle of champagne, waiting for something worth celebrating--and this was definitely it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sweet Corn Quesadillas

I knew gardenlessness would be hard, but I didn't know it would be this hard.

Lawson decided to skip the garden this year. We've had terrible pest problems these last few years -- stinkbugs and their cousins the leaf-footed bugs, primarily, plus some bacterial leafspot. And rats, always rats. Then last year we had mole problems AND nematodes. So Lawson decided to just let the land rest for a year.

So now it's June and I absolutely ache for a yellow garden squash. It's killing me. No new herbs -- just the year-round ones like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. No chiles.

The grocery stores have lots of raspberries and blueberries and strawberries, so I've been buying them to make me feel like it's summer. But the vegetables in the store look the same as ever...with one exception. SWEET CORN.

I never cared much about corn when I was younger. Didn't like corn on the cob. Thought it tasted weird. But, as with so many things that changed when I moved to the South, the sweet corn here really is amazing, and I've been converted. I still can't eat multiple ears in one sitting like Lawson can, but I do love it.

So now we're coming to the point of this whole post: that blurry cell phone picture up there conceals the fact that those quesadillas are the best quesadillas ever made. I saved a cooked ear of sweet corn from dinner the night before, cut the kernels off, and made sweet corn quesadillas.

Each quesadilla contained:
  • Medium cheddar
  • Half an ear's worth of sweet corn
  • A handful of chopped cilantro
  • Whole wheat tortillas
All these ingredients were essential. And I don't think just any old corn would work: it had to be fresh sweet corn.

I sauteed the quesadillas in a big pan in some olive oil and served them with plain old Herdez green salsa.

We just couldn't handle having no garden anymore, so over the weekend Lawson bought some basil and chile plants and a cherry tomato which he will plant in containers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lemon-Basil Daiquiris

Our beach trip a few weeks ago was somewhat marred by cold weather, but was otherwise beautiful. You can see in this picture I am holding a daiquiri in my long pants and wool jacket.

Sharon had heard about this drink somewhere, so she and Annie set about trying to re-create it. Here is the recipe for a blenderful, as perfected over several days.
  • 4 ounces light rum
  • 1.5 ounces lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup or more sugar
  • 4 basil leaves
  • ice to fill
It sounds almost too minimalistic. It is very light and crisp, like a mojito. But all the ingredients come through just right, assertive but not too strong.

They experimented with using lemonade, lemon zest, and freshly squeezed lemon juice, but in the end settled on high quality bottled lemon juice. I would probably juice a lemon just because that's what we usually have around.

I think you should make one with your homegrown Meyer lemons and garden basil, Mom.

Kitchen Art

Can you guess what this photo is?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grandma's Birthday

In a final flurry of entertaining, we had Grandma's birthday party today. First Ron and I played a recital of a Mozart duet sonata, the Chopin two-piano rondo Opus 73, and a jazzy Gershwin arrangement. With champagne.

For lunch I made salad plates consisting of a layer of lettuce on which I placed a mounds of curried chicken salad*, curried lentil salad, grapes, and glazed pecans. I made a batch of blueberry muffins to serve with the salad.

For dessert I made a French chocloate tart.

*I read in a catering book years ago how to prepare chickens in bulk for various dishes. You put whole chickens in a roasting pan with an inch of water, then tent them loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and 45 minutes. This keeps them moist but has a lot more flavor than poaching. I used two chickens and then made broth with the carcasses in the crockpot. Last night we had some of the chicken broth in Red Chile Sauce, which I served over thick Sonoran masa cakes.

South American Food

Sam and Grace came over for dinner on Friday. We sat outside for the cocktail hour, with wine, fresh veggies from the garden, and Swiss chard empanadas which I baked outside.

For the main course we had Argentinian chicken, a quinoa pilaf, and zucchini cooked with corn. And Easy Almond Tart for dessert. I make this tart so often--it's not enormous like my other tart recipes, and so easy, and everyone loves it. I am reporting here that Sam ate two pieces.

May Breakfast

Berries have been wonderful this year. We had these yogurt bowls for breakfast last week. There's a layer of bananas underneath.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Foods from Elsewhere

I hope I never lose my curiousity about what people eat in other parts of the world. Tonight I tried the most unlikely-sounding combination from the Claudia Roden book: meatballs, spinach, and garbanzos (our variation included buffalo meatballs and swiss chard), browned and simmered together for half an hour, with fried garlic and coriander added at the end. It tasted wonderful.

With it I served a salad of grated carrots from the garden, and a plate of sliced tomatoes with olives, feta, green onions, and basil. Here is the salad recipe.

Indian Carrot Salad

2 cups grated carrots
1/4 teaspoon salt

Toss carrots with salt.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

Heat oil in a small skillet, toss in mustard seeds, and remove from heat as soon as seeds begin to pop. Pour over carrots.

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Add lemon juice and toss. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Oh by the way, I bought a small electric skillet for cooking outside and have made several things out there next to the toaster oven, saving the house from cooking heat. It works pretty well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pappadums in the Microwave

This was fun. I had fried Indian papad disks (made with garbanzo flour) in oil before, but it was messy and caloric. Somewhere I read that they could be microwaved, so I searched the web and found many forms of advice. Here's one: http://www.geocities.com/rananegro/papad.html

I made a few at 23 seconds per side, and Dad cooked the rest. They were a delicious and exotic alternative bread with our meal of Shanghai tofu salad and snow peas stir-fried with mushrooms.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vegetarian Southern Food Again

Mark returned for a short visit, this time with his awesome new wife, and I made a vegetarian Southern meal the last night they were here. It was semi-successful.

The grits were fine, nothing fancy -- you can see them soaking on the right side of the picture. Just soaked, simmered for a few hours, and finished with half and half.

I made black eyed peas -- I browned onions and garlic and flour carefully but quite a bit, then added some sherry and a lot of vegetable stock and some fresh thyme and cooked it all down for an hour and a half. It was a nutty brown, very rich and good.

I quickly sauteed garden collards with some red pepper flakes, finishing them with vinegar.

Florida okra and tomatoes have started appearing in stores, so I made stewed tomatoes and okra. Very simple: just sweated half a Vidalia onion in some butter, then added the okra (stems cut off) and a few chopped tomatoes (seeds and some skin removed) and cooked it all down for 15 minutes, covered.

And I made strawberry rhubarb cobbler.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Restaurant Review: One and Three-quarters Thumbs Down

We ate last night at Sur Real, an upscale Latin-themed restaurant on Skyline Drive near La Costalotta. Reviews have been good, and the promise of Cuban flavors excited us. I knew we'd made a mistake when I couldn't hear the hostess welcoming us because of the loud "Latin jazz" band that overwhelmed the room. The band did sound vaguely Latin, although the only tune I really recognized besides The Girl from Ipanema was The Days of Wine and Roses with the rhythm distorted.

The partial thumb up is because it was South of the Border wine night, and all the South American and Spanish wines were $5 a glass. I had a Spanish garnacha and an Argentinian white I can't remember the name of, and Dad also fared well. They were all delicious.

Because of the band and the cheap wine, the bar was filled with younger people, and they were having a good time. It was definitely a mismatch for us--all the old people like ourselves in the place (Tucson is full of them, they're everywhere) had strained expressions on their faces, and were frowning and cupping their ears when the waiter spoke to them.

But, the food: We had acceptable empanadas for an appetizer, filled with chicken and sweet potato. I ordered paella and should have been alerted by the mention of arborio rice. Indeed, it wasn't a pilaf at all, but a leaden risotto dotted with little shrimp, cubes of chicken breast, and some salami-like sausage chunks which I swear were flavored with Liquid Smoke. Small clams sat on top. The thing weighed a good five pounds--its remains sit in the refrigerator as I write, like a doorstop. Dad's a good sport and will eat it for the next several lunches. Pray for him.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cinco de Mayo

We gave a nod to Cinco de Mayo yesterday. I made spinach enchiladas, beans, and salad. Of course I cook Mexican food two or three times a week, so the coincidence was not that startling.

I have eaten spinach enchiladas at a couple of restaurants, but never made them at home. Dad picked the rest of the spinach crop for this spring, so the time seemed right. The recipes I found on the web just didn't seem very authentic--in fact, I was suckered in to using nutmeg in my filling, and I should know better! Anyway, I made a filling of browned onions, spinach, and crumbled cotija cheese.

I tried a new method of preparing corn tortillas for enchiladas: brushing them with olive oil and microwaving them--okay, but traditional pan-frying feels more satisfying. Then I made a light cream sauce with a chicken broth base and some chopped canned jalapenos added. I rolled up the enchiladas with the spinach filling, poured the cream sauce over, and topped with some grated mixed cheese. I baked them in the outside oven for 10 or 15 minutes.

Salad consisted of fresh garden greens with lots of avocado slices.