Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comfort food

This is the food I grew up with, and when I go home, some variation on this is usually served. It's perfect for a cold snowy weekend. You cook it on Saturday, warming up the house and giving it a nice aroma, and then serve it on Sunday. Since I took Friday off, I cooked on Friday and served on Saturday accompanied by some roasted vegetables. And, as a first course, Curried Sweet Potato and Apricot soup, as blogged by Bittman (not part of the comfort food concept, but I'd been wanting to play with it....and it's definitely worth doing again).

Bronx Braised Beef Brisket

3-5 lb. Flat beef brisket.
Garlic powder
1 Big onion
1/3-1/2 cup tomato sauce, basic canned kind

  • Lightly brown the onion in olive oil
  • Coat the brisket with salt, garlic powder and paprika
  • Put meat and onions in a roasting pot
  • Add water to about ½ inch
  • Cook in 375-400 degree oven, uncovered for 1 ½ - 2 hours, until done. Meat should be brown
  • Take meat out of the pot, and let cool down separately.
  • Strain pot drippings, and mush the onions through the strainer
  • Add tomato sauce to drippings.
  • Add boullion or other flavoring to taste (optional...I've never had to do this)
  • Put drippings sauce in refrigerator. After it has cooled, skim fat off.
  • Put meat in refrigerator. After it is cool (next day) cut across the grain into slices about 1/8 inch.
  • When ready to serve put sliced meat and sauce into a saucepan, and simmer on top of the stove for a little while, depending on how tender the meat is. If tough, about ½-hour or more. If tender, less is OK.

I don't eat a whole lot of meat anymore, so I don't make this very often. Two-three times per year, at most. And I pretty much make it exactly like this each time, but I've been pondering some modifications, such as:

  • A handful of wild mushrooms, like Chanterelles, or something earthy
  • Pimenton instead of plain paprika
  • A Lebanese spice blend: cinnamon, allspice, ginger, fenugreek
Some day, perhaps!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What more can I say?

Roasted root vegetables. And a chicken leg. I'd been conspiring to make this for a few days. It had been intended for Sunday, but I was too tired to cook, so it became tonight's meal. I love roasted root veggies in the winter. The way the oven heats up the kitchen. And the scent infuses the house. Perfect.

The only problem is that it takes time. And on a weeknight, I just want to get food on the table fast. That's why I do so much stir fry. Fast. But I had a plan...get the veggies cut, oiled, and seasoned and into the oven. Bite size pieces of:

sweet potato
an interesting large white and green turnip they had on display at Whole Foods
red onion
Seasoning: coarse salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence

And once they were in the oven at 350, it put in the empty cast iron skillet, seasoned the two chicken legs with Emeril's Bayou Blast (just some salt, onion, garlic, paprika, cayenne., and got those going too.

With those in the oven, and needing little attention, I could pour myself a glass of red wine, put some Trader Joes caponata in a bowl, scoop up with some corn chips, and satisfy the raging hunger till dinner was ready.

About in the oven....I upped the temperature for the second half to 400. Dinner was everything I had hoped it would be. The roasted veggies can really be a meal on their own, but the chicken side dish was perfect, as would many other sides. And there's enough left for at least another meal. I'll definitely being doing this again, even on a weeknight. Just like a stirfry, just a little more relaxed, complete with time to sit around and do nothing (or catch up on other blogs)....

While dinner was cooking, I was catching up on the blogs, and found this surprise at Tea and Food. The roasted veggies, pretty much as I'd done, and the drumstick to boot.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Live at the Improv

I started this blog mainly because I was having so much fun exploring the food adventures of other bloggers, getting inspired by their experiments, or just searching the blogs, chowhound, epicurious, or whatever for something to do with an interesting new ingredient. But much of the time, it's just looking in the fridge, thinking about what's in the pantry, and creating something tasty. Most of the time it works well, occasionally I wonder what I was thinking. This time it worked well, and the need to improvise had become extreme.

I had almost reached the point of "read my lips, no new food". The fridge had aging veggies. The freezer was overflowing. It was time to purge. So...

Red cabbage (1/4 head)
Yellow onion
Small red potatoes, 3
Habanero pepper, half, seeded, minced
1 carrot, sliced thin with mandoline
Kielbasa, half, cut into bite sized pieces
Pea tendrils, handful
cilantro, 4 or 5 sprigs
1 cube frozen roasted tomato sauce, made in early fall.
salt, pepper

I pulled out the trusty wok that I've had for going on 30 years. I'd been avoiding the wok for awhile in favor of the cast iron skillet because I'd been polluted by an article I read in Cook's Illustrated where they compared the heat-inducing behavior of home woks (as opposed to restaurant woks) versus flat bottom skillets and concluded that the flat bottom skillets were far more effective at transmitting heat, and getting to hot hot wok searing stir fry temperatures.

But I'd been thinking that I really like the way you can toss stuff around in the wok with wild abandon. With the skillet, the food pops out easily and messes up the stove. And what I really wanted to try was sauteing food in the wok, rather than blasting it with high heat.

Which is what I did with the above. The trick to this kind of cooking is to cook the tougher things first, adding items as they became more tender. The onions typically go first, because they need some time to soften and develop a sweet flavor. This time, since I was sauteing, and I didn't want to over do it, I didn't wait very long before I added the cabbage and the kielbasa, and then the carrots. I didn't want to overcook the cabbage, and I was hoping to get some carmelization on the kielbasa. The habanero got tossed in at the same time, and I beeped the potatoes in the microwave till they were barely cooked....quartered them and tossed them in.

When things were pretty much where I wanted them, I tossed in the defrosted cube of tomato sauce, the pea tendrils and the cilantro, just warming them up a bit. Stir around a bit, add some salt (not much....the kielbasa is salty) and pepper. The kielbasa also carried along some garlic, so there wasn't the need for any more flavoring.

Served with some bulghur done in the rice cooker, and I had a meal. Several actually. I think I got a second dinner and a lunch out of this.

Will I ever make this again? No. Will I make something else, someday, with interesting things that I have in the house? Of course....many times!

Welcome back into the fold, wok. Sauteing works very well!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oatmeal Latkes

I don't throw away food easily. Usually, that's a virtue, sometimes it just gets in the way, and the refrigerator gets a little tough to navigate. The other morning I made some steel cut oatmeal, and had some leftover, so I dutifully put it in a plastic container for another day, with no idea of what I would do with it...perhaps figuring I'd just beep it some morning.

Well, tonight's dinner was to be a hodgepodge of leftovers, and I was pushing the oatmeal aside to get to other things in the fridge when the idea of shaping them into patties and pan frying them started to form. It just continues on the idea of savory oatmeal. I've done this with leftover mashed potatoes before, so why not oatmeal?

I heated up the cast iron skillet, put in a few tablespoons of canola oil, plopped the stiffened oatmeal mass onto the cutting board, and found I didn't have to form them, I just had to cut them into pancake shaped disks. Fry on medium-high (turned down to medium after a bit) and flip when then start to brown.

They were good. Not great, but good. Some salt and pepper helped. What would have really helped would be some minced onion. So next time, I'll try to have the presence of mind to add some minced onion before I put the mess into the fridge. Or...maybe just sprinkle in some onion powder -- that'll just give it a little more interest. Or, just fry them up with some onions in the skillet. I ate them by themselves, as an appetizer, but they could easily be a side dish.

It could also be served like potato latkes, with some apple sauce, or something else on the sweet side, even some maple syrup, brown sugar or cinnamon. But I think I'll stick with the savory them for awhile.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Breakfast Redefined

Thank you food blogging community.

The thing I love most about this blogging adventure is that it's not just about the experimentation, the writing and the photography, but about the collaboration and sharing that is happening, spreading culinary ideas around the globe as fast as people can blog and comment.

Case in point. Steel cut oats with egg. Consider this journey.

It's getting cold, and I've been eating oatmeal more frequently in the mornings, and had worked off last winter's supply. Shopping list in hand, at Trader Joes, I headed over to the oatmeal, and instead of buying the usual rolled oats, I bought the steel cut oats -- which I'd never made before (or even eaten).

Next morning, excited by my new acquisition, I was all set to put in a large bowl, add some water and salt, stick in the microwave for 2.5 minutes, and add some agave nectar and dried fruit -- just like I usually do with my oatmeal. Until I read the directions. Thirty minutes on the stove top. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally. I was NOT going to do that on a weekday morning, so I abandoned my plan, and had a bowl of cold cereal (I was even out of granola, which I often have with milk warmed in the microwave, when I'm not in the mood for oatmeal). I figured the steel cut oats experiment would have to wait until the weekend.

Then I saw this Tea and Food post about savory oatmeal. Encouraging readers (not for the first time) to skip the sweet and revel in the savory at breakfast. Hmmmm. I thought I'd give that a try. As soon as I bought some more of my old standby rolled oats.

In the comments to the original post, though, Karen B mentioned making steel cut oats in a rice cooker. !. I could do that, even on a weekday. Roll out of bed, put oats and water in rice cooker, hit the button, then proceed with other morning activities. A half hour later, my oats would be ready. And indeed they were. For my first foray into steel cut oats, and I decided to take the traditional path. Agave nectar and a banana. Wonderful. Great texture. Great taste. A keeper. The oats did foam a lot, overflowing the top, making a bit of a mess, but not really so bad that I wouldn't do it again.

I mentioned this all to Susan, who said: "Cheesy Grits"! She'd been doing this for years. Grits, cheese, salt and pepper. Perhaps an egg on top. So we proceeded to have that yesterday morning, with that sage cheddar that she hordes whenever she finds it. Delicious. She's always trying to get me to have grits, which I now realize after many grit adventures with Susan is way more tasty than the sorry looking puddle of white tasteless stuff served with eggs and bacon in the South Carolina hotel I stayed at 25 years ago and prejudiced me against grits for a long long time. (We didn't have grits growing up in New York). Someday I'll fill you in on Shrimp and Grits.....but not today.

Today was the day to try the savory steel cut oatmeal, done in the rice cooker. Easy as can be. 1/3 cup of grits. 4/3 cup of water (that's four-thirds). A half hour, and presto. When it's all done, fry up a sunny side up egg, add salt and lots of black pepper, and that's a tasty hearty breakfast. Which I will do again and again. I may even try cooking the egg on top of the oatmeal itself, as Tea and Food's Aaron suggests.

But beyond all this, when I had first read about the rice cooker steel cut oatmeal, I decided to do a little browsing to see if others were on board with this technique, and indeed they were. And some have been using a slow cooker, started the night before, and ready by the time you wake up. That'll be the next experiment. Stay tuned.

So...thanks to Aaron, Karen B. and the forgotten web site that suggested the slow cooker. Breakfast just got a lot more interesting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weeknight cuisine in a flash - Part 2 - Warm Slaw

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Once I got that red cabbage going last night, I was in the mood for more. I had seen a bunch of recipes using red cabbage in a slaw, with all sorts of interesting dressings, some Asian inspired. Sounded good -- I was set. But when I got home, it was COLD...and I wasn't going to munch on cold cabbage. So I thought, why not warm it up a bit. Just a light saute, heat it through, done.

So I took that pile of ingredients you see up there: red cabbage on a rough chop, cilantro, ginger, carrot, little bit of jalapeno, and dumped it all in at once to a heated skillet with a little olive oil, and sauteed just for a couple of minutes, till the veggies brightened and were warm...barely starting to wilt. A pinch of salt, some sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, and I had a tasty side dish to go with the leftover steak and couscous.

Weeknight cuisine in a flash - Part 1

Anatomy of a weeknight meal. Two steaks picked up at McKinnon's over the weekend, needing to be eaten or frozen. Checking the blogs and assorted online food resources at lunchtime at work for Steak au Poivre....representing one of the best meals I ever had when in Paris. Susan coming after some drinks with a friend. Getting the basic gist of it. Not hard, and I didn't expect it to be. But I did pick up a good hint about how to crack those peppercorns....back end of a cast iron skillet. And some thoughts about the sauce. Unbeknownst to me, the sauce is usually made with Cognac...which I just happened to have picked up a bottle of the other day....but the directions said that it would probably flame up, and I wasn't in the mood for dealing with that (I hadn't ever done flaming food). Other sites suggested red wine as a good substitute, which was great, because I had an open bottle under vacuum seal waiting to be used.

Susan and I were both starving, so we munched down some caponata from Trader Joes with a few crackers....instant satisfaction, and gave me a little time to play. Get some TJ's Israeli couscous mix in the rice cooker (cool stuff...10 minutes, and it's got nice colorful addins). Chopped some onions and red cabbage for a simple saute, and got to cracking those peppercorns...which took a little longer than I thought it would, but was effective. Salt and press the peppercorns into the meat (rump steaks), and I'm ready to hit the heat. Cast iron skillet...a little cooking spray, make it hot, and 3 minutes per side. Wave kitchen towels under the smoke detectors (the fan over my stove vents into the kitchen....not helpful). When cooked, remove to a plate, and add some wine and butter to the skillet and reduce to a sauce. (I was supposed to use shallots, but I didn't have any). Serve. Done.

Next time I'll cook the steaks a tad longer...but the flavor was great. The shallots will make a nice addition, but really, the were very tasty....with one leftover for the next day.

With the kitchen smoky and us starving, I didn't stop to take a picture. Sorry!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pumpkins and cranberries

Susan introduced me to pumpkins. Of course I'd always eaten the seasonal pumpkin pie at the right time of year, but I never took pumpkins seriously. Nor squash for that matter, but pumpkins...certainly not. I've since learned that they can be made to taste great, and their great for you. And you can get pumpkin right out of a can, to use anytime you feel like it. Susan has a whole recipe book of pumpkin. It's orange.

So the other morning, I saw the cranberries that had been in the freezer since last year this time. And I had several cans of pumpkin that I picked up at whole foods for 99 cents a can, and I thought that these two November-like ingredients should go together. I can't say that I'd ever seen them together in one dish. Sure...cranberry sauce for dinner and pumpkin pie for dessert, but never all in one. So I riffed on my standard pancake recipe, added half a can of pumpkin, some chopped cranberries, and we had pumpkin cranberry pancakes. They were tasty, but something was wrong. The pancakes never quite set right. They were still mushy the texture of pumpkin meat. Maybe I used too much pumpkin...I'm not sure, because Susan and I successfully did pumpkin pancakes at her place one day.

But that left a half can of pumpkin in the fridge waiting to be eaten, and inventing pumpkin-cranberry bread seemed like just the thing. Except that a quick web browse found LOTS of such recipes, so I guess I wasn't the first to think of this (so why hadn't I seen it before?)

Choosing a recipe from among the many options is a fascinating process. I wanted something with whole wheat, and most of the recipes used white flour. I'm not quite confident enough to transpose white flour to whole wheat yet. Some just didn't appeal. But one was perfect. It used the orange juice I bought the other day just in anticipation of this project. And the buttermilk I had leftover from some other project. And just cinnamon, so I could show off that Vietnamese cinnamon I bought the other day. And only a cup of pumpkin, which I figured was pretty much what was left in the can. Sold. The original recipe was at this site devoted to spas. It goes to show, you don't ever know. But it was a good start. Here's what I ended up doing, based on the fact that I had orange juice, not concentrate, and lemon zest, not orange zest, and frozen cranberries, not dried.

And I didn't wait until it cooled completely to slice it. Come on...really now. That would've been tomorrow morning.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

1-1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz/235 g ) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 oz/155 g) whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) butternut squash or pumpkin puree
1/2 cups (3 1/2 oz/105 g) packed light brown sugar (I used Turbinado Raw Sugar)
1/2 cup (4 oz/125 g ) plain nonfat yogurt or buttermilk (buttermilk for me)
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (Just OJ, not concentrate)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (lemon's what I had around)
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup (3 oz/90 g) dried cranberries (frozen...and probably a full cup...I just wanted to use them up).

Lightly coat an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2 (21.5-by-10-cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a blender or food processor, combine the squash or pumpkin puree, brown sugar, yogurt or buttermilk, orange juice concentrate, egg, orange zest, and canola oil and process until smooth. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the squash or pumpkin mixture. Stir just until blended; do not overmix. Stir in the cranberries and scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes; turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
(I didn't have a food processor, and didn't feel like getting the blender messy...using a whisk worked just fine)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Freeze it in

I grew up with the phrase "freeze it in". These three words represented a simple philosophy of shopping, cooking and kitchen management, that meant....cook way more than you need when you can get something, and put the extra in meal-size packages in the freezer for another day. Growing up, the goods that were frozen were typically a variant on pot roast -- either brisket, or veal breast. Now, in my own kitchen, it can mean anything. The bean/squash mole from the other day? Now frozen in, to be extracted when I'm in the mood.

At the end of this summer, Susan and I found ourselves with a bumper crop of basil, meaning it was time for pesto making. There are many ways to make pesto, pick your favorite, but we had way more than we could use in a few days, so we froze it in. In ice cube trays, with one cube about enough for a dinner. (Do not mix Parmesan cheese in with the pesto can add that when you serve). Pictured up there, next to that frozen, cooked shrimp (Trader Joes takes the frozen in thing to the next level).

The problem with the freezer is remembering whats in there, but when you do, you're in for some fun surprises. So, I had two remembrances of late summer in the last few days when I extracted the pesto. The first was a little unusual, but surprisingly good. The second, a bit more traditional.

Potatoes, Kale, Chicken - and Pesto

In the spirit of "what I have lying around", this was a solution to using up the Kale that had been leftover after a few other meals. The red potatoes had been patiently waiting in the cupboard for an appropriate opportunity, the frozen chicken pieces had been in the freezer for months, needing to be used up...and the big bag of pesto cubes was begging for a chance at something besides pasta.

This was a straightforward preparation, sauteed onions, thinly sliced potatoes over medium high heat. I had hoped that the potatoes would cook quickly when cut so thin, but the took their time, so I turned the heat to low, covered the cast iron skillet, and let them steam a bit in the moisture from the cooking vegetables. About 10 minutes later, I was able to add the cubed chicken meat, then the kale, cooking until the kale shrunk a bit. When the chicken was cooked through and the potatoes tender, I removed it all from heat and added the defrosted pesto. With some shredded Parmesan on top, it had a savory, flavor and succulent texture that was a pleasant surprise.

Pesto, Pasta, Shrimp
The next dish was more straightforward. Whole wheat pasta served with defrosted pesto and defrosted cooked shrimp from Trader Joes. And some shredded Parmesan with a dose of freshly ground black pepper completed the preparation. Hard to beat for a quick meal, but all made possible from the little bit of effort at the end of the summer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Derivative works

At least half the fun about blogging about my food adventures is sharing in the adventures of others. We're all out there cooking...scouring our recipe books, or our fridges and pantries...looking for inspiration. We're also looking at each others posts. Since we're all doing this in real time, we're all cooking with seasonal produce, food that's appropriate to the season. So there are times you see what other bloggers have posted, and you think...I HAVE to make that.

Such was the cast a couple of weeks ago, and the reason I have that luscious looking butternut squash up top. Squash was one of those things I just stayed away from....too much work. I was always afraid I'd slice my hand off cutting them open and peeling them. And those seeds were such a pain to remove. But then I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks called Borlotti Bean Mole with Roast Winter Squash. Squash, beans, kale. I had to make it. And risk severing my hand. (They do have peeled and cubed squash available from the grocery, but Whole Foods had butternuts on sale...)

Fortunately, Susan's sister was in town, and she doesn't eat meat, so I had the perfect excuse to make my version of this. Truth be told, I followed the recipe pretty much verbatim, but I substituted in Anasazi beans (which I could find in the local health food market) for the borlottis (which I'd never seen, much less heard of). I won't repeat the recipe, because it's done in nice detail in the original.

I will give some warning though...make sure you're willing to spend the afternoon. When I fell in love with this recipe, I hadn't quite figured out how much time it would take. But, after you've soaked and cooked the beans, which you can do ahead of time, it was about 3 1/2 hours, start to finish. Which was no problem at all, because I had plenty to do at home, and the house smelled great. But this was one time where I had to sit down with the instructions and lay out a time line so that I could figure out how far in advance I had to start.

It was all worth it. I'd never made a mole before, and it was fun chopping up the chocolate, dumping it in the pot, and watching it slowly disappear, coating everything with chocolate and infusing it with a rich, slightly sweet, but not too much, flavor. And a little heat from some long red peppers I had lying around made it perfect.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


To me, beets had always been those pickled red disks in salad bars. Or, the base of the borscht that my Dad used to pour out of a bottle, topped with a dollop of sour cream. The borscht thing never appealed to me. And the pickled beets were OK, but I wouldn't go through a lot of effort to create them. And they always just seemed like too much work....especially peeling them when they were hot. But then beets were on one of those lists about the things that you should be eating. And I found out you can eat the skins. And the greens. So....I started exploring with beets.

The thing about beets is that you've got several meals there, with the greens and the bulbs. I understand that the greens are pretty much the same thing as swiss chard, but grown for the bulb instead of the leaves, but that you can eat the leaves too. I started out simply. On the first day, I make something -- a stir fry usually -- out of the greens. And while I'm doing that, I boil the bulbs -- let them cool, stick them in the fridge, and have them the next day. They don't need anything else, they're so sweet. No salt, no vinegar, no nothing. Just slice 'em up and eat 'em. Just like that.

The other day I was in whole foods and they had some huge beet bulbs attached to some very nice greens (see the picture above), so in the cart they went. First I gave the bulbs a nice scrub with that new vegetable scrubber -- aren't they pretty like that? The greens got fried up with some onions, garlic, ginger, parsnips (cut thin....I'll need to post about parsnips one of these days), a small crown of broccoli I had lying around, and some tempeh that I'd been dying to try. Simple stir fry, but very tasty.

While that was going on, I graduated from boiled beets to roasted. As I've said before, roasted veggies rock. The thing about beets though, is it's difficult to know how long to cook them. I've learned to take them out before they seem to be soft, because they continue to cook in their own heat even after you remove them. A little olive oil (not even any salt), and roasting for about 1.5 hours and I had some very tasty beet quarters.

I popped a few in my mouth right after my stirfry, and kept the rest in the fridge for later. To eat cold, or hot, or even cut up into another stirfry a couple of days later. This time with cabbage, carrots, onions and kielbasa. And I just popped the last two in my mouth today, a week after.

Moral of the story...don't be afraid of beets!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Veggies and some meat

Josh and Ruth came for dinner on Saturday night, which was an opportunity to try the something old, something new idea. Josh is a big meat eater, and loves steak, so I got some flanksteak. He also loves tomatoes, but tomato season is just about done. I did, however, have that box of tomatoes I wrote about the other day, so there was some tomato roasting in the plan. Bittman had written about a faster no knead bread, which was worth a try. And I wanted to get a veggie main dish in there.

First, the bread. I have to say, it was a disappointment. Not that it was BAD, mind you, but just boring and not WOW, the way the original no-knead bread is. The idea is you slop it together, let it rise about four hours, pull it out, turn it over a couple of times, let it rest about 15 minutes, and then plop it into the preheated vessel (I like a ceramic casserole dish that gives a nice round shape). The idea is to try to do in four hours what we were doing in 12-18 hours before. No. Not gonna work. The result was a tight crumb, and a flavor that wasn't very interesting. It was OK the next day as toast, but I really don't think I'm going to try this again. I will say this though. Bittman's recipe uses white flour, and I like whole wheat. My versions of the original no-knead are typically half white/half whole-wheat, and it comes out great. I did the same thing here, and was not happy; perhaps all-white will be better? I may try someday.

The tomatoes were good as the first time, which predates this blog. The recipe was taken from Orangette's blog, and definitely needed a reprise performance while tomatoes were still around. It was as wonderful as the first time....tomatoes, garlic, parsley, olive oil. Hard to beat. And they keep for days in the fridge. They're best eaten at room temperature, but what I discovered this time was that you can pop them in the microwave and warm them up a bit beyond room temperature -- somewhere between tepid and hot, and they are marvelous -- even without goat cheese. Just spooned onto some toasted hearty bread, with lots of the flavor infused olive oil. Ah...the memories!

The main course was the veggies. I had a nice bunch of Kale that Ruth was kind enough to chop for me. And a quarter head of cabbage which I chopped. Some onions. Carrot, julienned. Garlic. That's about it. The onions and garlic browned up nicely in the cast iron skillet, after which I put in the huge pile of leaves which cooked down pretty quickly to a manageable size. I think I added some pimenton. It was a nice sweet dish. The cabbage and the kale had two shades of green, and a sweet flavor.

And then there was the flank steak. Nothing too elaborate there. Josh took charge of seasoning, which was Penzey's Turkish Seasoning -- salt, garlic cumin, Telicherry black pepper, Turkish oregeno, paprika, sumac, cayenne, cilantro. On the grill, cooked perhaps a minute or two too long to medium, not medium rate and sliced on the bias. All served over brown rice.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Harvest Bounty

It was "market day", so I'm here at home with counters full and refrigerators full of produce and other goodies. I may have gone overboard...but I don't think so. It's hard to contain yourself at Wilson Farm. I didn't have much on my list, but was on the lookout. Right at the entry they entice you with nice displays of fresh produce. Sometimes you bite, and sometimes you don't. But if you don't, they have another display of the exact same stuff they hit you up twice. In any case, they had these little cases of tomatoes for 5.99. Must be 20 or more tomatoes in there. All for $5.99. Hmm. I could get a handful of heirlooms for that price, or a whole box of pretty good looking tomatoes. I bet they would work well roasted -- part of the plan for this coming weekend.

The blame. These were just sitting there. What could I do?
Much more to come with these....stay tuned.

But to test the tomatoes, I thought I'd make a little tomato salad:
tomatoes, roughly chopped
flat leaf Italian parsley
olive oil, splash
balsamic vinegar, splash
fleur de sel
ground black pepper

and then I remembered about feta cheese!

All told, it was a very nice dish. Tangy, sweet, salty, sour....all in one.

Sitting in the fridge was last night's cole slaw. There was some canned Italian Tuna in olive oil in the cupboard....that seemed like a nice addition. And some Dulse (wild Atlantic sea vegetable).

Grapes. These were pretty easy dessert.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Theme and variations

Sometimes, it's just a matter of what you have lying around. And how much energy you have. I had little energy for real cooking tonight, but didn't have a whole lot the would have made an acceptable instant dinner. I'd had a big lunch, and didn't want much anyway. But a peanut butter sandwich wasn't going to cut it.

There was this head of green cabbage sitting in the fridge, patiently awaiting the call from the bullpen. And a new utility player I'd just acquired, waiting in the dugout for an opportunity to be tried out. I'd been playing around with the idea of cabbage and tempeh stir fry, but I really didn't want to "cook". But chopping up some cabbage into a cole slaw....I could handle that.

It's just been this summer that I realized that I could play around with cole slaw. I'd been making it the way that Bertel taught me: cabbage and carrots, grated very fine; olive oil and white vinegar; dill -- fresh if you have it; salt and pepper; scallions (but I'd been leaving those out for years due to family preferences); and the secret ingredient -- sugar...just a little. Over the years, Eleanor had been put in charge of getting the proportions for the cole slaw just right.

But lately, I've been doing some experimentation. Parsley instead of dill. Some creamy dressings from the bottles in the fridge instead of the vinaigrette. Some of these variations work with roughly chopped cabbage rather than the finely grated cabbage -- finely grated is critical for the vinaigrette version...somehow it just doesn't taste or feel right unless the cabbage is fine.

So, for tonight, a combination of things I might not have thought about putting together before:

Cabbage, roughly chopped
Carrot, grated
Green zebra tomatoes, chopped
Jalapeno peppers, a few, chopped
Olive Oil
Thai fish sauce.

I'd bought the fish sauce a few weeks ago, but hadn't ever used it. It was a bit salty, but overall, the taste was nice. Together with the last leftover chicken leg from the freezer and a warmed up Lamajeun from Eastern Lamajeun Bakery in Belmont, it was a meal.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Salmon and Spinach in Coconut Milk

The name of this dish does not do it justice. First, some background, then the details.

In West Seattle, on Alki Beach, amidst fish and chips and nondescript pubs, exists the best restaurant in the world -- Phoenicia. Kim and I just wandered in here one day in search of food, and have been back at least four more times since. The proprietor, and chef, is Hussein, who I have nicknamed the Interpreter of Food desires. The first time we were there, we couldn't decide what we wanted, but as as we were studying the menu, a platter of seafood in a fragrant liquid walked by, we looked at each other and said...."we'll have that please". The next time, we again couldn't decide. His daughter, the waitress, said, "wait....I'll have him come out". And out comes Hussein, talks to us for 10 minutes, and then says..."here's what I'm going to make for you" and proceeds to wow us again. Neither of these items were on the menu. If you don't believe me, read the gushing over it on Yelp.

Both dishes were variations on what he calls Jewels of the Ocean, which is seafood in a fragrant coconut milk. I've asked him what's in it, and he's told me, but I'm pretty sure he hasn't told me everything. I know that he uses tamarind and pomegranate a lot. Garlic. Onions. From there, I don't know.

Last time I was in Seattle, Eleanor came along, and I took her on a pilgrimige, and he did not disappoint. She ordered salmon, her favorite food, after some prodding from me that I was pretty sure we could trust that he wouldn't ruin it by drying it out. He did not disappoint.

Well....Eleanor is home from college this weekend, so I thought some salmon would be nice. And I'd started this blog, so I was into some experiementation, and so far, all I've written about has been recipes that I found online. So, the time was right to take my chances on replicating Jewels of the Ocean in my own humble way. I did a little poking around on the web for fish dishes with coconut milk with a lebanese slant, and got a few ideas. Here's what I did to cook for the two of us, with some leftovers for tomorrow.

1 TBS ginger, minced
1 TBS garlic, minced
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1 smallish onion, halved, then sliced
1 tsp lemongrass slices
a few flakes of red pepper flakes
a few threads of saffron
a few drops pomegranate molasses
1 tsp tamarind water
5 basil leaves, chopped
a few pinches of salt.

Put all of the above in a pot, and simmer until the onions are soft. Then, add

3/4 lb salmon, cut into chunks
a few handfuls of fresh spinach

Cook until the salmon is tender and the spinach is reduced.

Serve with rice (I used a brown rice mixture) and some nice bread to sop up the remaining sauce. Add a few scant shakes of Japanese shredded salmon and cod roe, for a little additional umami taste. (One of the recipes I looked at called for dried shrimp paste, which I couldn't find, so this seemed like a good idea..and I was right).

This is definitely different from Hussein's master work. I'm pretty sure he doesn't use lemongrass. Virtually certain he doesn't use shredded salmon and cod roe. I wanted to use some tumeric for some color, but somehow, I didn't have any. I was successful at not being too heavy handed with the pomegranate....just a few drops. And not too much on the tamarind....just enough for the sour taste notes. The result was a very flavorful dish, with the mystery of not quite knowing what tasted so good. It may not have been as good as Hussein's but it was plenty good. I know it was good (great) because I didn't want the taste to leave my mouth, and put off a chocolate ice cream dessert for an hour later.

This was easy to make, and worthy of future experimentation. Lessons is not necessary to make everything POW. This was a very subtle dish, with subtle flavors, that worked very well. I would use any kind of firm fleshed seafood, and shrimp would have made a nice addition. Chicken would be good as well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cauliflower, anchovies and raisins?

Cauliflower? Cauliflower? I've never been a big fan of Cauliflower. White; boring; not much taste. When I ate it as a kid, I would eat it raw, just like all my other vegetables, with a little mayonnaise to increase the interest level. (I ate all my veggies this way, even raw spinach). In adulthood, I perhaps tried steaming it a few times, but that's pretty boring. And I never tried much else.

Then, over at cousin Beverly's for one of her family soirees, and there, in the center of the table, is a cauliflower salad with a mustardy kind of sauce. It was an eye opening experience. I know I had seconds, and probably thirds. I'm pretty sure I asked for the recipe, but don't know where I put it. In any opened up the possibilities for cauliflower, and's only been three or four years since I had that.
But then I read one of those lists about things I should be eating, and this thing called "cruciferous" vegetables keeps popping up, and you can get kinda tired of eating broccoli. Though I do have a newfound appreciation for the magic of cabbage, but more on that another time, since I have a head of it in my fridge, just waiting for some inspiration. And somehow cauliflower came up in discussion with Susan, and she found a recipe that used Cauliflower and garam masala. Which will have to wait for another day.

On my weekend walk to Whole Foods (which I discovered is less than a 15 minute walk away, hurray), they had big heads of cauliflower sitting out front on special for $2.00 a head, and into the basket it went, awaiting appropriate inspiration. Which again, came from some web browsing, and this time, from Bittman.

Bittman is always a good place to start, and I had never tried searching his blog for recipes....I've always just kinda taken them as they come across the threshold, since they're so seasonal anyway. But there was Cauliflower, Raisins and Anchovy Vinaigrette. I have to say, this did not immediately appeal to me. The raisins threw me off...I'm wary of savory recipes with fruit in them, but am coming around to them. It was the anchovies though, that were the attraction, because I had a little jar of them sitting in my cupboard...probably for a year or two, because I had seen ANOTHER Bittman blog post which used anchovies in a simple pasta sauce. Obviously, I haven't made that that the jar is open, I need to do something with the rest of those anchovies. And the roasting. I was pretty sure that if I were going to like cauliflower, that it would be roasted. Roasted veggies rock!

So...seeing as how I had everything I needed, I went and made this. As you can see from the picture, it was a nice big plate of cauliflower, tinted a nice brown by the roasting and the anchovies. Since it was a weeknight, and I came home from work hungry, I polished off the rest of the white bean hummus that Trader Joes puts out....which is a great thing to have in the fridge, because you could always just live on that for a day or two with some crackers or toast. And I got to use up the rest of the cucumber that was threatening to become a messy shadow of its former self if I didn't pay attention to it.

The recipe says it was for 8. I assume that was as a side dish. As a main dish, for myself, I ate about 1/3 of it, maybe a bit less. And supplemented with a leftover chicken leg from the weekend....but that's about it.

The taste was a nice gentle and umami-ish. Not too fact I needed to add a bit of salt. And not overwhelmingly anchovy...just about right. I skimped a bit on the parsley, because my new kitchen parsley plant is still not that big....I wouldn't have minded a little more. I could have easily done without the raisins, but they were a nice visual note, and the little bit of sweetness was a nice complement. I could see sprinkling some walnuts over this for some crunch. Maybe I'll try that with the next leftover batch.

An interesting "note to self". You only add a few tablespoons of the anchovy dressing during the roasting. The rest is added at the end, just before serving. I tasted the cauliflower before adding the major dressing -- bland and boring. Which goes to show that if I try new things with cauliflower, I need to do some bold flavors. I could see doing a lemon-tahini thing. Next time....I hear cauliflower's good for you. And for $2.00 a head feeding me for three meals, that's a pretty economical bunch of meals!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Eating Week Begins on Sunday

If you cook well on Sunday, you can eat well for much of the week. Sunday has a lot of things going for it. It's a day off, for one. There's time to shop. To peruse recipes. Plot. Make a plan.

Sometimes I get ideas during the week, reading food blogs. In particular, Bittman and Orangette. In this case, Orangette made a compelling case for stuffed tomatoes. A very compelling case. And seeing how tomoto season was running out, and I wouldn't get too many chances, this was clearly the mission for Sunday. I had the recipe printed out and ready to go. And the day was to be chilly, meaning that having the oven on for an hour and half in the late afternoon would be welcome.

Grilling season is over. Oven season is in. Bread baking commenced a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't in the mood for bread baking. But I digress.

This was the second roasted tomato recipe I lifted from Orangette. The first was absolutely spectacular. Who knew such flavor could come from tomatoes? These were plum tomatoes, roasted for 2+ hours, with olive oil and oregano, and a touch of sugar. Yum.

Yesterday's adventure was with large tomatoes, scooped out, sauteed with a little olive oil and onion, some arborio rice (just 1/3 cup), and then stuffed back in and covered with bread crumbs.

This did not start well. First of all...the selection of tomatoes at Wilson Farm was getting pretty meager. But they had their standard large "our own" tomatoes, that looked a few days from being ripe, but what the hey. (Moving to Medford has moved me many miles from Verril Farm, who has the BEST TOMATOES IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD), but it was hard to justify the drive.....I should have justified it. When looking for the link to put here, I see that they're asking people to support them after their devastating fire by buying food from their temporary farm stand.....I could have helped them!)

In any case, cutting the tops off the tomatoes revealed that these were indeed poor substitutes for in-season, Verril Farm, heirloom tomatoes. But, I bought four of the suckers, so I was committed. But I gotta tell you....even mediocre tomatoes in the oven for over an hour, with a little basil and some olive oil can taste pretty terrific.

The huge-o tomotoes with the sliced Yukon Gold potatoes off the the side would have been plenty enough, without any meat. But I thought I'd add a little meat side dish.....chicken legs baked in the same oven, with some Penzy's Northwoods Seasoning (basically, salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary, garlic and chipotle in a little convenient bottle), plus some pimenton. Bittman blogged about pimenton about a week ago, and I just had to do some cooking with it. (Susan made his pimenton soaked swordfish, which was spectacular!)

I have to say....I haven't done much yet with the idea of meat as side dish. But this was a perfect way to do it. The tomato and rice was filling enough, especially with those potatoes. The little chicken leg on its own was perfect...though it could have used more pimenton. But the idea that I would have a meal with just one little chicken leg would have struck me as absurd just a few months ago.

Since I made four huge tomatoes, but there were only two of us, and I made ten chicken legs, and there were only two of us....I had enough for today's dinner, and then enough to stash some chicken legs in the fridge, and maybe even a few in the freezer. I'd never tried that before...cooked chicken in the freezer, but I don't see why that wouldn't work.

Well...maybe this won't feed me for the week, but if I do have some leftover grain in the fridge, and some cabbage....I can probably make something of that when the inspiration strikes.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Beginning of an Adventure

Eating abounds with choices. Eat healthy. Eat smart. Eat for fun. Be frugal. Splurge.

My life is in transition. Just divorced. Kids off to college. House sold. Living alone for the first time -- ever. Thinking about what to eat shouldn't be a strain, but it is fun.

I've always been a healthy eater. And loved cooking. Mostly chow, not cuisine, but I take pleasure in finding interesting and tasty things to do with the food I have lying around, and sharing that with others. And then I read Pollan's books -- The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food. Which got me thinking about the whole idea of eating a lot more. Not obsessively, mind you, but it just got me thinking.

I'd been through periods where I at mostly vegetables, and little meat. Back in the day. In college and soon after. The days of the Cambridge Food Coop. Tofu. Brown Rice. Whole Grains. Just because it seemed to be the right thing to do.

Over the years, married with a family, I fell back into the meat, vegetable, starch way of organizing a plate. With meat at the center, or at least a big piece.

Now that I'm on my own, I have a few different challenges. One -- it's just me. And Susan, when we share meals. But....when I go shopping, it's just for me. Whatever I want. The choices are entirely mine. Mine mine mine. The shocking thing is how little I need to buy. And if I'm smart, how long the food can last.

Eat food, mostly vegetables, not too much. Pollen's credo resonated. I had the choice I could make for myself. Going into the farm stand, or the farmers market...seeing what's there, and then deciding what to make of it. That was the food life for me.

So the adventure has begun. Coming up with things to eat that do not involve meat at the center. Vegetables at the center. With meat as a condiment, or a side dish. But where would I find guidance on how to do this? There are plenty of vegetarian cookbooks. There are plenty of cookbooks period. But I thought it would be fun to chronicle my adventures of eating in this way.

I get my food inspirations from a variety of places, but increasingly, it's coming from the Internet. There are so many places to find recipes, other bloggers' adventures, newspaper articles. But as I take these guideposts and turn them into my own, perhaps it will be illuminating for someone else on the same journey. At the very least, it will chronicle my own adventures.

My aim is to:

  • Seek out and find fresh, flavorful, and healthy foods to eat
  • Use local products to the maximum extent possible
  • Find food grown and raised using sustainable methods
  • Experiment
  • Not spend fortunes on food
  • Not cook every day, but use the fridge, freezer, microwave and wok to leverage full scale cooking into several days worth of meals.
There's probably more, and I'll fill this in as I go.

A word on inspirations

I'd say Michael Pollan's work pushed me over the edge into the is adventure. I suspect there's a whole community of Pollanites out there discussing this, so I'll try to find out where they are over time. For now, though, I've been on my own. The Internet offers some pathways, though.

When I'm searching for things to cook, I tend to enjoy reading Mark Bittman's blog, because it always seems seasonal, easy to cook, and usually full of things I want to eat. His column, The Minimalist is great too, as is his book, How to Cook Everything -- which is conveniently on Susan's bookshelf when I'm there.

And Orangette is always inspiring. I may have cooked more things out of Molly' blog than anywhere else lately, and if I had the time, I could spend time searching her links to other inspirations. And perhaps I will.

The Chowhound community is always good for asking questions, and for seeing the questions that others have asked already.

And then, you never will know what will come out of a simple google search for an ingredient.

Well....this is as good a start as any. We'll see where this adventure takes me.