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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Food for Travelers

I always make soup or stew for company arriving by airplane, because terrible things can happen to the timing of dinner. If possible, I leave it in the crockpot while we drive to the airport.

I love Laurie Colwin's essay "Jet Lag and How to Feed It" from More Home Cooking. She recommends lentil soup, which is perfect for jet lag. She is a wonderful food writer.

Eva arrived early and without trauma at the airport yesterday from South Carolina, but I was still happy to have dinner simmering. We had posole, tortilla crisps, a big salad from the garden with blue cheese dressing, and lemon bars.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mahi Mahi Redux

"Redux" is in honor of John Updike. I have to read something of his again. Reading the Rabbit novels twenty years ago, I thought they were so mundane--I have to give them another look.

I bought some gleamingly fresh mahimahi today, and prepared it according to a recipe I found on the internet--I'm always wary, but allrecipes.com has been a good source for me. I baked an acorn squash and boiled two ears of corn, and served the fish on a bed of arugula.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The $3 Bill Project: Eating Cheap

In today's Free Times I have a story on Eve Ross and Justin Shearer, who are eating for $3 a day through January and possibly through February and half of March as well -- depends on whether the groundhog sees his shadow.

Their goal is to examine their own food spending habits, and to donate the saved money to a local food bank. And they were kind enough to actually make dinner within their budget for me and Graeme, the photographer. Yes. It was awesome.

I loved everything they made us, but especially the soup. Here's Eve's recipe for a similar version made with squash.

Inspiring all around, and good company.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chicken and Pastry

Here's a new one from the Southern food files: chicken and dumplings, aka chicken and pastry.

Southern dumplings are completely different from what we think of as dumplings, Mom -- these are more like big noodles, like those big 3" square Thai rice noodles except made out of soft wheat flour.

Most people here call the dish chicken and dumplings, but Lawson's dad's family calls it chicken and pastry, which I think is more descriptive. For me, the word "dumpling," what with that "plump" assonance and my own childhood memories, just describes balls of dough better than flaps of dough. So pastry it is.

There's another key way in which Southern chicken and dumplings is different from what we make elsewhere, and this difference took me longer to understand. It's not a soup, although it's made with a bunch of broth. It's got no vegetables, and it's not heavily seasoned. It's more like chicken and noodles in gravy. The dumplings thicken the stock as they cook, and you serve the chicken and dumplings on a plate or flat bowl with just some of the liquid, which clings to everything like a sauce. Vegetables go on the side.

Here is Lawson's grandma's recipe for chicken and pastry, as written down by his...maybe great aunt?:
Make a hole in the center of a pan full of self-rising flour. Get a cup full of hot chicken broth and pour it into the hole. Take a fork and stir it around and work in enough flour to make a firm ball. On a floured surface, roll it out thin. Leave it for a couple of hours to "die." (I don't know if you would have to "let it die" if you used all-purpose flour, we never had any of that kind at our house.) Then cut into thin strips and drop into the boiling pot of broth and chicken. Cook until tender, (not long).
Lawson remembers watching his grandma make chicken and pastry when he was a kid, so he was able to fill in some of the holes in that recipe for me. I also looked at Jean Anderson's instructions in the cookbook you gave me, Mom, and a few other places. And here's what I did:

Chicken and Pastry

Roast a chicken. Eat half of the meat at one meal. Pick the other half of the meat off and save for chicken and pastry.

Make stock with the carcass, skin, pan drippings, an onion, and a carrot.

(Most traditional recipes call for starting with a whole chicken and boiling it. But most traditional recipes are for tough old hens that have stopped laying, not grocery store roasters. Roasting the chicken first gives a bland bird more flavor. And since we can get several two-person meals out of one chicken, there's no use just boiling the whole thing.)

When the broth is finished, make the pastry dough:
  • 2 cups white all-purpose flour -- I used White Lily.
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • warm broth, not yet skimmed -- I used a bit less than a cup, but this will vary.
Mix together with a fork just until doughlike. Do not knead. Form into ball and set aside.

Skim the fat off the broth and heat the broth in a clean pan. Add salt, pepper, a fresh sage leaf, and a sprig of thyme and simmer for 10-15 minutes, long enough to get the flavors smoothed out.

Roll out the pastry on a floured counter. At first I rolled it to about 3/8", but Lawson said it should be still thinner, almost translucent, so I did that. Later we decided the thicker pieces were a bit better -- they had some chewy substantialness that was lacking from the thin ones.

Cut the pastry with a knife into rectangles about 2" x 3".

Add the chicken meat to the broth and bring to a boil. It should be a big rolling boil. I didn't like it and tried to convince Lawson to turn it down, though he swore he remembered a ferocious boil -- I thought it would make the broth taste scorchy and flat. But I understood after we put the pastry in that the broth has to be moving and hopping furiously to keep the pastry from sticking to other pieces. So do that.

Drop the pastry pieces one at a time into the pot. Once all the pastry was in, it probably took about 15 minutes for everything to cook through and the broth to thicken slightly.

We ate it with green beans boiled and then tossed with lemon zest and a touch of butter. Very simple, and perfect on a cold wet January night in South Carolina.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cod Cakes

Alaskan cod is one of the most reliably fresh and available fishes I can buy in Tucson. I often make it baked Greek-style or with capers, lemon, and parsley. Tonight, however, I simmered it and made it into old-fashioned New England cod cakes.

I flaked the cooked, cooled cod (about 1 pound) and mixed it with 2 medium boiled smashed potatoes, 1/4 cup evaporated milk, an egg, a chopped green onion, a teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper. I formed the mixture into fat patties, dredged them in flour, and sauteed them for five minutes per side in a little olive oil. (I consulted Mark Bittman's Fish for this recipe.)

Serve with oven fries, tartar sauce, and ketchup. Oh--and don't forget to garnish with arugula.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not Yet Assembled Breakfast Burritos

I've been having intense cravings for breakfast burritos all week. I don't know why. On Monday they were quite strong, so I made some tortillas, but like all my tortillas they were too small for a big serious burrito and too thick to wrap happily around a bunch of filling.

This was my compromise: a plate of burrito fillings served with a basket of small tortillas.

The beans are just canned beans cooked down with a little olive oil, some chopped cilantro, a smashed garlic clove -- I cooked them until they were less wet. The potatoes were cubed, microwaved for about 5 minutes, and then sauteed in olive oil and salted. The eggs were soft-scrambled. The avocado and lime were sliced. And I served some habanero-carrot salsa on the side.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Italian Sausage

For Christmas a few years ago, Lawson gave me a grinder attachment for my KitchenAid. This year, he gave me the sausage horn attachment, a hank of hog casings, and a book on sausage-making. So I was finally all set to make sausage.

The grinder is funny: I tried it for cranberry-orange relish last year, but it was no good -- it made the relish too wet and gooey, and I ended up using my hand cranked old metal grinder from the flea market instead. But for meat, the grinder was perfect. I used the coarser grind plate, and everything went quickly and smoothly.

Italian sausage recipes are surprisingly simple and similar to each other. This was roughly what I used:

3.5 pounds of pork butt, cut off the bone
1 pound of fatback
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon pepper
kosher salt
1 tablespoon red chile powder
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup vermouth

I used too much salt at first and had to go buy another pound of lean pork to grind in. I used the amount of salt called for in the main recipe I was following, 4 teaspoons, but it turned out the fatback was salted, and it threw everything off.

I fried up several little samples of the sausage throughout the process to make sure everything was tasting right.

So I ground everything together and put it back in the fridge. I would have liked to have stuffed it that day but had to wait another day, and the meat got kind of stiff and hard to stuff.

I rinsed out four casings by putting them over the faucet and running water through them.

To stuff a sausage, I had to thread an entire casing, all three or four feet of it, onto the sausage horn, which was attached to the grinder with its plate and knife removed. I then started piling meat into the hopper and pushing it down with a little wooden stomper. Once the initial air was pushed out and there was an inch of meat in the casing, I tied the end of the sausage and started stuffing.

It took a long time, and quite a bit of skill and feel. My sausages were passable, but they weren't all that pretty. I would stuff each casing full, then section it off and twirl the sausages to seal them into links. I set them in the fridge overnight to cure, then packed them in freezer bags.

They taste a little salty still, and a little lean -- that extra pound of meat I had to add upset the balance a bit. They could have used more fennel, too. But they are delicious. We grilled a few the first night. I froze the rest. We took some to the mountains this weekend and made pasta with tomatoes, red pepper, onions, and sausage.
All very good.

Next time I'll try something I can smoke, like andouille. And I want to perfect the Italian sausage recipe.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lamb Stew and Bread

Coming soon: thorough documentation of my first home sausage-making experiment.

For now, though, there's just this lamb stew (two lamb shanks, onions, carrots, potatoes, parsley, etc.) and homemade multi-grain bread (white flour, wheat flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, wheat gluten, honey, yogurt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc.)

I'll be back late Monday with sausage tales.

Monday, January 12, 2009


We had stuffed poblano chiles again tonight. I love them because they're not battered or fried--more like a stuffed bell pepper. I served them with soupy beans and a Dad salad. Life is good.

Do you realize that we have 22 posts with the label "beans"? That's a good thing. I made a traditional bean and vegetable soup last week (with the addition of some boiled ham) for Grandma, and for Mary Ellen, who had a cold. They both seem better now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Curry Chicken

What do you do with leftover hoppin' john from New Year's Day? You re-purpose it as Caribbean peas and rice.

And what do you do with the unexpected midwinter gift of a few fresh homegrown chiles? You make Caribbean curry chicken.

On New Year's Eve, my friend Ken showed me and Lawson his nifty greenhouse and gave us a few fatalii peppers he'd grown in it. I'd never had them before. They were like small yellow habaneros, so I thought I would use them in a scotch bonnet-worthy recipe.

I used almost exactly the same recipe as I did for the goat, with two substitutions: 2 nice organic chicken leg quarters instead of lamb, and 2 regular white potatoes instead of sweet potatoes. All else was the same: rub the spices into the meat and let it sit for a while, then brown everything and make a curry.

The taste was warm and wonderful, quite similar to the curry chicken I've had at good Jamaican places. And it tasted nothing like the goat did, despite having the same spice blend. I served it with beet greens and leftover hoppin' john peas-and-rice.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Homemade Tabasco Sauce

Lawson grew a tabasco chile plant this year. It was beautiful: all graceful sweepy branches and upright chiles ranging from a pale green to bright bricky red.

So I read up on tabasco sauce, which involves fermenting crushed-up tabasco chiles and then mixing the strained goo with vinegar.

When ripe, tabascos are soft and juicy, not firm like most other chiles. I used the food processor to briefly mash them up. They formed a wet red paste full of seeds.

I added a bit of salt (sorry, forgot how much) and put them in a jar for two months with the lid slightly vented. The top of the goo got a little moldy after a month, but it was a mild mold that didn't spread, and after I spooned that part out, it didn't come back. Heck, aged beef gets moldy, and people just hack the moldy part off and eat the rest.

The goo was really intense at first, but the smell began to mellow after a few weeks. It took on a peppery, fruity, more complex odor.

So after a few months I mixed the whole gooey mess with a bunch of white vinegar and let it sit for another week or two. This was not a required step; I just couldn't find good jars for bottling it. Eventually I just strained it into the jars you see here.

It's good. It's not great. I'll try it again next year with a longer fermentation. It was excellent on hoppin' john on New Year's Day, though.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Russell's Lamb Curry

Russell made a lamb curry for us from the 660 Curries book you gave him for Christmas. It was labor-intensive but wonderful. Some of the labor was due to making batches of ginger and garlic pastes which can used in the future--so I benefited, since they're in my freezer!

We had the curry with saffron rice; an Indian peas-with-mushrooms side which I invented; yogurt and tomato raita; and pear chutney.

Russell was going to write this post himself before he left, but maybe he'll add something in the comments section.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mushroom-Swiss Tart

This was very good as impromptu dinners go. On Friday I really, really felt like cooking, but we had a strange assortment of things in the fridge -- no meat, lots of mushrooms -- and I was sick of frittatas and pasta dishes. Enter the mushroom tart.

The filling consisted of:
  • an onion and a container of mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil and simmered with a little sherry
  • three eggs
  • parsley
  • Amish Swiss cheese, cubed
  • salt and pepper
For the crust, I used the recipe mentioned in this post. Here it is with my slight changes:

Super-Serious Crust
  • 7 T unsalted butter, cold
  • a pinch of salt, or more, depending on whether the recipe is savory or sweet
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used White Lily. This is a very good use for Southern flours.)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3-4 tbs cold water
Mix the flour and salt. Cut in the butter quickly with a fork and/or fingers. Add yolks and water and mix briefly to form a dough. Roll into a ball and chill for at least 1/2 hour. Roll out quickly on a floured board with a floured rolling pin. Fold into quarters to lift into tart pan, then unfold and shape as desired.

In this case there was a lot of dough, so I folded it way over to make a messy top crust for the tart.


One of the reasons the crust was so good was that I used butter from Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, SC. I've always wanted to buy their butter, but it comes in huge 2-pounds blocks with no measurement markings on the wrapper. Since Annie Postic told me I could freeze it, and since I got a kitchen scale for my birthday, I can now weigh the butter to measure it and keep it in the freezer so it won't go bad.

And such butter it is. It's got so much flavor -- on bread you need only the thinnest smear. I love it.

We had thin slices of the tart with a salad topped with a sort of diced red pepper vinaigrette/relish.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Really Big Crab Legs

Russell and Britt shipped us 10 pounds of King crab from Alaska for Christmas--the best and largest we've ever had. The yield from the big legs and claws was so much more, proportionally: we prepared about 6 pounds for 5 people on Christmas Day, and we had about a pound of lump meat left for crab cakes the next day! I used your recipe for the crab cakes.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Eating in the New Year

This whole January 1st meal was a New Year's resolution: pasta e fagioli (I used black-eyed peas for good luck); low-gluten bread; and a very fresh green salad.

Recently I've been making a very satisfactory bread of 1/3 unbleached wheat flour, 1/3 whole spelt flour, and 1/3 gluten-free baking mix and cornmeal. This recipe wouldn't work for anyone actually allergic to wheat, but it's a very digestible compromise for us.

And aren't Dad's winter salad greens gorgeous?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I don't think I've ever made tortilla soup. I looked at some recipes but didn't end up using any except to learn how to handle the tortillas.

The biggest surprise for me was that the tortillas end up being an integral part of the flavor and consistency of the soup. After they've sat in there for a few minutes, they thicken the soup slightly and pull all the flavors together.

Next time I roast a chicken again I will make this with the leftovers again.

Here's how I made it.
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • green chiles. I used one can whole, diced up, but fresh would be better
  • chicken broth -- I used half homemade and half high-quality carton stock
  • hot sauce or other heat adjuster -- I happened to use homemade Tabasco sauce
  • fresh lime juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • a few cups cooked chicken, shredded
Cut corn tortillas into strips and pan-fry them until golden/brown in a little peanut oil. Drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Saute onion lightly in olive oil. Add carrots, then garlic, and saute just until you can smell the garlic. Add sherry and cook it off, then broth and green chiles.

Simmer 15 minutes or so, until flavors blend.

Add salt, pepper, lime juice, and hot sauce to taste.

Add chicken and bring back to a simmer.

Put a handful of fried tortilla strips in each bowl and ladle the soup on top. Let sit for a few minutes. Serve with avocado slices and lime wedges.