Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend Treats

We stopped by Dahlia Bakery on our way back from the Sculpture Park. Actually, I stopped because I really wanted to go on the way, but we wanted to make sure we got lots of good time at the park, and we ended up meeting a photographer and Sam might be in the New York Times because he is so very cute ... anyway, we went to the bakery on the way back. This was my first time and the place is eensy-weensy - you definitely cannot swing a cat in there. Since I write Yelp! reviews I am almost always in that critical frame of mind from the second I walk in to, well, anywhere. Some people would say that's a bad thing, or perhaps find it tiring if I am openly in critique mode. I generally keep things to myself until I sit down to Yelp!. I bring this up because, from the moment I walked into DB, my critique motor was firing on all cylinders: (1) So small that the two hefty people waiting for their orders were taking up, no joke, half the space, such that I couldn't get a look at all the pretty items on display. I hate getting to the counter when I haven't seen everything - how can I order when I'm not fully informed? (2) The gal asked if I wanted our order on a plate. A plate? Where am I going to go with it? Out onto the street? Now, in fairness, there are a couple of tables outside, but it was freezing out and, hello! March in Seattle? 50 degrees is considered really warm. (3) Everything is really expensive. I get it. They do because they can, but do they have to? And then, since I didn't have enough cash for the enormous bill for three whole items, I used my credit card and saw a tip line in the printout. For what? For gingerly placing my eclair in the box? No. When did this tipping thing get so completely out of hand? Josh insisted that the line is valid because they make coffee drinks and this takes skill, thus, tip line. Fine.

So I'm kind of grumbling as I climb back into the car. But I'm also very excited about these items. There is quite a bit of hype about DB, and I'm always into checking out those sorts of establishments. Mostly because I hope I can excoriate them.
Holy moly! So, I love eclairs. Who doesn't, you ask? No, no. I mean love with a deep appreciation and understanding of what The Eclair is supposed to be. And let me tell you: this was The Best Eclair Ever. I don't say these things lightly. I know what I am putting out there into the world. You could see the flecks of vanilla in the cream center! The ganache was so perfect in the texture and flavor. Have you ever thought of texture with your eclair top? I hadn't really, but this eclair makes you realize that it matters, people. It matters. And don't even get me started on the crunch and lift in that pate a choux.

Double holy moly! I also love all desserts and pastries with pear. And, excuse my superlatives, this is the pear pastry that I will measure all pear pastries by until I die. The pastry, the pear, the pastry cream. I mean. I mean .... Perhaps you are thinking what I did about that caramel sauce, as in, What gives? Superfluous. Oh, no, friends. It elevates. Elevates. It becomes transcendent and sublime.
Sam even got something: a fig bar. Move over Sir Newton, there's a new fig sheriff in town. Yeah, that's a lot of f-f-f-fig. It was great. It was also $2! May I please draw your attention to the prettiest egg wash on the planet. The egg wash that all egg washes aspire to be. I am no stranger to egg washes, but I haphazardly slap mine on whatever I'm baking and think, Eh, who cares? Now I know why I should care. Elevate.

In the end, Dahlia Bakery got five stars from me. All my grumbling faded in a fog of perfect pastry.

Meals of Folly, or, It's All in the Sauce, Dummy

I believe this was the best browning job I have thus far done on short ribs. I used my nose to tell me when to turn them! Skills! I've been thinking, with every short rib meal I make, that they are one of the best cuts of beef. I might just like them better than steak. There. I said it. Although, the dishes one makes with this cut are rather like chocolate mousse in that you start eating thinking that it's the best thing on earth and that your serving is way too small and that there better be more because you are going to plow through this plate like no one's business. And then you hit your halfway mark and you think, "Huh, maybe it was the right serving size after all." Finally, you are a mere four bites from Clean Plate Club membership, now realizing "Lord have mercy! I am so full and should have stopped several bites ago." This is my experience with short ribs (and chocolate desserts), anyway.
So, what gives with the title? Where is the folly in this dish? Well, Dear Reader, we all know that you roast these bad boys for a couple hours in a nice sauce. Of course. We all know that it's all in the sauce - and this sauce is a good one, albeit unique: onion, celery, beef broth, vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, and ketchup. The line item actually says "ketchup or chili sauce." Please note, it does not say "hot" chili sauce. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this one.

So I don't have very much ketchup. In fact, I have 1/3 cup ketchup and I need 1 cup. I start squirting Sriracha hot chili sauce into my measuring cup thinking Maybe I should limit this to 1/4 cup and make up the difference with tomato sauce. Hmmm. But I do not stay my hand, nooooo, I continue to merrily squirt until the 3/4 cup mark. Hmmmmm. Folly.

It's a good dish. And it's good spicy. And my way was really spicy.
Folly Part II: Chicken Stew, by Dave Lieberman.

I have already bagged on Simply Ming, now I will have my verbal way with Dave L, that simp, that sorry excuse for a celebrity chef, that, that....

Again, I knew this sauce was going to suck. I knew that you just can't keep carrots boiling away for that long and actually expect them to be good enough to eat in the end product. The only liquid called for is water. I put in a little chicken broth - this would be the only place where I trusted my instincts. But the wreckage continued: onions became unrecognizable, carrots deteriorated, potatoes fell apart, the liquid was flavorless, the green beans were over-cooked. Well, that last part was my fault because I forgot to set the timer. The whole experience was awful. I thought, when I read the recipe, it sounded flavorless. I thought, as I put the ingredients in the pot, it sounded flavorless. I was so prescient and I did nothing to stop it! Nothing!

I think this is why I wasn't upset. Normally, Josh would have returned from putting Sam to bed to see me in a ball on the kitchen floor, cursing, raging, pondering the point of it all if I just can't get dinner right. But I knew what right was. I just didn't make it happen. I was calm and collected when I suggested we order pizza.
But Josh wanted to salvage it. He busted out the food processor and a sieve and made a really ugly, really plain, soup. I plan to add bacon and caramelized onion ... and Sriracha.

The moral of the story is: Trust your instincts, humble home chefs. You know what you're doing. Don't let the voice of self-doubt (and loathing?) creep in there and mess with your dinner!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spaghetti and Clam Sauce

I realized that this was my first time working with live clams! Not that I am new to clam sauce, no, it's just that I always used the canned variety. Nor was I shopping for a "new" recipe, per se, I already have two that are quite good and quite different. But this one appeared in my life when the time was right.

My first clam sauce recipe is my mother's recipe. She's classic Americana - meatloaf, pot roast - I don't know that clam sauce is Americana, per se, but her recipe involves a stick of butter, canned clams, and a dusting of "parmesan." The parm in quotes is definitely Americana because, in my childhood home, this always meant the big green jar of shakeable cheese product that was not refrigerated. Hmmm. I have "updated" Mom's recipe with real Parmesan, but the rest stays as it is because it's delicious and I certainly have nothing against canned clams. The second recipe is from Jacques Pepin and is really a spring vegetable and clam sauce, therefore distinct and only to be used at the beginning of spring with those veggies that he calls for. This third recipe is fun and delicious, and has no butter at all *gasp*, so it also has a place in my book.

Uwajimaya was able to somewhat redeem itself with this bunch of bivalves. You may recall that Asian Papa and his fishmonger cohorts were in the doghouse after selling me 2 busted oysters out of a mere 12. Lame. Well, one was busted and one was AWOL. But this time EVERY SINGLE CLAM opened. These Manila clams are gorgeous; there was just a little slime to scrub off, but no barnacles or anything crazy like on oysters. And no beards like on mussels. And no sand in my sauce! Perhaps I am a clam-cooking savant.

One of these days I am going to make Clams Casino. I have always wanted to. As well as Oysters Rockefeller. Since we are on the topic of bivalves, I have come to terms with the fact that I do not like mussels. I know! I have ordered them often enough, prepared them myself ... what gives? I don't like the flavor and you can't argue with my taste buds; they are very insistent. Well, a qualifier, I can eat about two mussels before my tongue screams foul. If it's a really good sauce like the now-defunct Mandalay restaurant's, then I can share a bowl. Those were the best mussels ever, and you can't turn down the best of anything ever, can you? Nope. But you can't truly love something when you place all these qualifiers on it, now can you? Oysters, however, need no qualifiers - I can eat those all day! We'll see if U can truly redeem itself when I go back for some of those and say, "I need to look at them because last time ...." I should get a couple extra thrown in, free of charge, don't you think?

Serves 4
3lbs. clams
1/2 cup e.v. olive oil
8 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup parsley (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Parmesan for grating
1 lb. spaghetti

Cook spaghetti to your liking. Heat evoo in a large skillet (that has a lid), over medium heat. Add the garlic slices and saute until just golden brown. Add the clams and parsley and stir. Pour in wine and let simmer for two minutes. Pour in lemon juice and put on the lid, cooking the clams until they open, about 6 minutes. Serve over spaghetti with as much grated Parmesan as you like. Nice with garlic bread and a salad. Oh yeah, if any clams don't open, throw them out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ode to a Toddler Plate

Your four chambers make me feel
Infinitely safe and calm and appeal
To the OCD within that does remark,
"Ne'er shall your food embark
To touch, to mix, to intermingle."
The effect of this makes me tingle
Because I like my food
Divided, conquered, and subdued.
Each course in its own spot -
Here the peas, there the fish, and here the tater tot.
I cannot fathom the plate or bowl -
As if the identity of each food you stole
And combined to render them much more
Than the parts - But what are they for
If not to enjoy in their own singular expression?
All this mixing fills me with a deep depression
For I love the carrot, the peas, the fish stick - all!
Yet if they touch on my plate I'll simply fall
Out of my chair and onto the floor in a snit.
This will provoke in my mother quite a fit
Because about her food she has some sensitivity.
I hate to provoke apoplexy with my proclivity.
So I beg you: around meal time have some sense,
And keep all my courses in their respective compartments.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Tater Tots

My mother has been begging me to have Sam try tater tots (and hot dogs) for ... hmmm ... ever since he started eating solids at five months. The kid just does not like potatoes in any form, but potato tots are totally different! Although, I can see how anti-potato feelings could be rooted in texture. But I finally relent when I am in Whole Foods - that's right! getting my caraway seeds! You remember! - and get the organic, no preservatives (or only ones I can pronounce) tater tots.

I heat them in the toaster oven until GBD (golden-brown and delicious), and serve, cut in half, alongside his salmon patty. Maybe it was chicken nuggets - that would have been much more apropos. He takes one bite, chews once, and spits the thing out in disgust, quickly grabbing his protein to get the taste out of his mouth. Yeah. Sorry, Nana, no tots. But I leave one on his plate, just in case. What do I do with the others, you ask? I devour them, that's what! Of course, Sam goes and eats the one I left on his plate, right? AFTER I ate the others - with ketchup. So I think, He does like them. I am a sorry old hag for eating my son's tater tots. The next night I prepare more for him to make up for my trespasses. This time, he not only spits out the first and second bites, but he also tries to get them all off of his plate because they are so very offensive to his palate that he doesn't even want them in his presence. Ug.

Now, when you prepare meals for a toddler - and stop me if you've heard this before - you have to be prepared, emotionally and ecumenically, to either eat or throw out that which is summarily rejected. I find that the more time and effort I pour into Sam's meals, the more I am connected to this piece of art on a funny little plate that has pictures in its four wee chambers separated so that the food never mingles. And if it is rejected - Lo! Beware! I believe I already told you about the macaroni and cheese that I made from scratch and had to throw out because it sucked and I couldn't pass it off on Sam. As I scraped it into the trash, I cried. Really. But there are those singular times when you "make" something, like breaded tilapia and tater tots, and you almost will your child not to eat it. Oh, don't look at me like that! You know, you're sitting there at 5:30, you're starving and you just can't bring yourself to cut up some carrots and celery (because those are the only acceptable snacks for adults when the hour is past 3pm). You're looking at this toddler eating a a glacial pace and you're taking in the sight and smell of the GBD tater tot and the crunchy edge of the fish stick. You think, Hm. He had a big lunch, he probably isn't that hungry. If the poor kid pauses for too long, you are too happy to wipe his hands and send him to play before bath time while you greedily snarf the remaining food because you can't let it go to waste, can you?

Yeah. Motherhood.

I am going nowhere near hot dogs any time soon.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pot Roast

I realized that this was the first time I cooked a whole hunk of beef in a roast. I have done stews with "stew meat," i.e. cubed beef, but not a 4lb. chuck roast. A first! Where does one get such a large chunk of beast, you ask? Well, from a grass-fed cow, grown right here in WA State. Perhaps you recall that 1/4-steer I purchased back in late summer. I finally broke into the big guns. I have used quite a few 1.5lb. hamburger tubes, and a few steaks, but not these guys.
It simmered for three hours in wine, chicken broth, tomato sauce and herbs - no aromatics! It was quite good, simply shredding as I sliced it. I served it with roasted root vegetables and soda bread. The sauce paired so well with the caraway in the bread, mellowing it somehow. Delicious. My only complaint was that I salted it too heavily. I have seen Bobby Flay salt big chunks like this generously, declaring that such a large piece needs lots more seasoning than you would think. Well, I put on more than I would ever think of ... too much.
Speaking of grass-fed beef ... Josh and I have begun to tackle the garden. The last garden I planted was in raised beds that were already present. Josh and I just removed weeds, mixed in compost, and planted food. Simple. The rest of the land was planted with beautiful flowers and grasses and shrubs, all courtesy of the owners of 121. And maintained by their gardeners, since we were merely renting. But now! It's all ours. And what a mess it is. So, thinking of grass made me think of the weeds that I have been working to pull. They are so very good at what they do, aren't they? I am trying to convince Josh that (a) we seem to have so many more weeds than anyone else that our yard must be the very Origin of Weed; and (b) we should remove the top 5 inches of soil, just to be safe, because they are IN THERE. You pull them, and a few days later you see new ones come up.

I respect the weeds. They send their roots deep - some even have runners, so they go deep and far! We have one species that knows when it is being pulled, and it jettisons a billion seeds as you handle it. Brilliant and horrible all at one. Maybe we should slash and burn.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I decided to make Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. I did not attempt anything else, like corned beef, to go with it. We were going to have a simple beef stew, but ended up having a fish curry instead. We had bread for an appetizer. Sam loved it! I thought the caraway seed would be a turn off, but nope. That kid loves his carbs.

The dough was sticky and shaggy, as you can see, so I wasn't sure it would come out good. You don't have to knead until smooth because you aren't activating any yeast.

This recipe is supposedly authentic. I got it from Epicurious, which gave several variations and stated that this one was The One. I've been thinking about authenticity recently. I'm wondering if it's an American preoccupation. You see it all the time in write-ups of ethnic cuisine: the most authentic Thai; the best and most authentic dim sum, etc. I thought perhaps it's like being White, which is also in the forefront of my mind right now because I just completed our census documents. White, as an ethnic identity, doesn't exist outside of the US, really. It's unique to this place because we are an immigrant and plural society. So, authentic is kind of like that, isn't it? If we're not in the old country, the recipe isn't really Real ... but it can be Authentic. Or would it be the other way around?

Authentic means: having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence. Culinarily this speaks to method and ingredients, which can be replicated in many cases. Not all, surely. But we know those people, don't we? On the quest for the Authentic this and the Real that, decrying the pretenders. And then. There's that thing that I have heard said by gourmands, foreign gourmands, perhaps Jacques Pepin even said it; I'm pretty sure I heard Eric Ripert say it too. (If they ever read this blog I will beg their forgiveness if I attributed this to them erroneously... after I die of shock and joy.) That is, that Americans are so open to New and so unbound by dogma and tradition, that the utmost food experience is found simply in the flavor. Is this the way it's supposed to be done? Is it authentic? Who cares? is what Americans say. Is it good? Is it the best you have ever tasted? THAT alone is what matters here. Where does authentic fit into that?

I recall in Julia Child's biography she spoke of one of her partners in the creation of the tome that was her first cookbook. This partner would always complain of Juila's recipes as inauthentic - But that's not French! That's not how we do it! She was adamant and Julia was adamant that in her testing this and that way would work for and was accessible to American cooks, and that's what it was about, wasn't it? Realistic and available methodology and ingredients. Does that negate authenticity?

So, this bread recipe is good. Simple and good.

Recipe: 3.5 cups AP flour (you can use wheat, white, or a combination), 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 T caraway seeds (optional), 1 tsp. baking soda, 1.5 cups buttermilk. Mix all dry ingredients. Pour in just enough buttermilk for the dough to stir together into a shaggy, lumpy mass - this was just shy of the 1.5 cup mark for me. Turn it onto a floured surface and knead it until it comes together, 1-2 minutes. Shape it into a 6x2in. round and place on a floured baking sheet. Cut a 1-in. deep X in the top and bake at 425 for 30-35 minutes, until golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

Caraway was not easy to find. I had to go to the dreaded Whole Foods. God, I detest them. What is up with the attitude? I will except the butchers and the cheesemongers from my blanket statement that everyone who works at WF is a supercilious ass. I expect some friendly service with those astronomical prices, thanks.
This is not the Irish soda bread, obviously. I thought I would include a photo of the spiced banana loaf that I made with my black bananas. Sam likes it very much. Again, I thought the spice combo of allspice, nutmeg, and cloves would throw him off. Nope. He had an enormous slice and wanted more.
So delicious with afternoon tea.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Skillet Penne

Josh wanted to know what exactly makes this dish a "skillet" penne. It's a pretty cool dish, actually, because everything happens in one skillet, including the pasta. I didn't have much hope for this dish because it calls for sun-dried tomatoes in oil. I don't always like those, but I went for it anyway, thinking we could order pizza if it was awful. But it was so good that it elicited another "restaurant quality" from Josh. It also elicited the dreaded question "This is totally healthy, right?" This is where one can play with language: "Why, yes, our servings were indeed healthy." Notice I did not say "healthful" because that would have been a fib. But "healthy" can speak to serving size, can't it. I did confess, in the end, that it's not so healthful.

Ingredients: 8oz. penne pasta (2.5 cups), 1/2 cup cream, 2.5 cups chicken broth, 1 lb. sausage (I like Italian chicken sausage), 6 oz. spinach (you can wilt fresh in the pan or use frozen added at the end), 1 minced med. onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (oil pressed out and chopped), 1/2 cup grated Parmesan.

Procedure: Saute the onion until translucent, then add garlic and stir in for 30 seconds. Add the sausage and brown. Scatter the tomatoes, penne, and stir. Pour in the liquids and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to med-low and cover until the pasta is done. The instructions said 10 minutes, but pasta cooked in this manner seems to take longer than the package instructions say. I think mine took 15 minutes to reach al dente. If you are using fresh spinach, throw it in when the pasta has a couple more minutes. If using frozen, thaw and squeeze excess water out, then scatter over in the last minute of cooking, just to heat through. Remove from heat and sprinkle Parmesan all over.

We drank a Malbec with ours - nice.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lamb Ragu II

My love for lamb is conditional. Lamb chops and racks of lamb can do no wrong. I like them bloody rare and with a little herb enhancement. Mint jelly? Heck no. An insult to lamb enthusiasts.

And then came the shanks.
What is it about the shanks? They look unassuming enough; they brown up nicely. But do they ever not smell putrid? I mean, they were malodorous here on the wrapper, they were malodorous after being browned, and the final product was also malodorous. I don't think I like the flavor very much either. It's gamey; it's lamby; it's not very good unless properly adulterated.

Josh and I decided that a sauce for shanks really needs acidity. The first ragu I made had tomatoes, and this one doesn't. I mean, this second ragu wasn't horrible. It was good; it wasn't great. And I guess I expect greatness from lamb, for some reason. Perhaps because they die so young.

This particular recipe calls for four lamb shanks. I mentioned in my oysters entry that I got the shanks at Uwajimaya. I had to return for them because the butcher only had three. After my oyster purchase, I sauntered back and a different butcher looked up from his cutting and said, "Lamb shanks?" I guess I look like a lamb-eater. Better than an onion-eater, I suppose.

The recipe says that it is lamb with "roasted tomatoes and toasted orzo." I opted for neither, although, as mentioned above, I should have probably gone for the tomatoes. I made rice, which went well. I thought about the tomatoes, but they are not in season. You simply must eat tomatoes in season, preferably from a garden you know intimately. They tend to suck otherwise.
I think I need a bigger pot. I was afraid it was going to overflow.

You brown the meat and then the aromatics, then throw in the liquids and roast for two hours. Browning takes a while, makes a mess, and can set off the smoke detecors. I was doing all this while Sam was napping, and although I have set off the detectors and their loud screeching before and Sam didn't wake up (!), I didn't want to risk that. So, on that freezing (literally) day, I had the sliding glass door and a window open, and the fan going. Knowing the fans in this house, the thing probably vents into the crawl space. I bet I have the best smelling insulation ever. So, kudos to me, no smoke alarms this time.

I didn't set the house on fire, but I did manage to splash port all over my white cords! How? I was wearing an apron! I guess I was too enthusiastic as I grabbed the measuing cup.
I made the ragu on Thursday, but went out with my Culture Club (no affiliation with Boy George), so had to postpone the actual eating until Friday. This was good because the sauce gelled and I was able to remove this substantial fat layer. It looks like white and milk chocolate mousse, I think. There is a heck of a lot of connective tissue in those shanks, thus lots o' fat and the sauce underneath is like jello.
I was thinking of making lamb shoulder for Easter, but maybe I should go with pork. Everyone loves pork. Pork just screams "Christianity" anyway, so it's appropriate for Easter. Hm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oysters on a Tuesday Night

Well, why not?

Sam and I did our weekly Uwajimaya grocery run. The first thing we noticed was that we were the only Caucasians in the joint. Hm. The second thing was that we were the youngest by a good 30 years. I came to find out that Tuesday morning is Senior Discount at U. Mysteries solved. I elbowed my way through the gray-hairs and up to the meat counter to get my lamb shanks. Well, I needed four and they only had three, so could I come back in five minutes? Sure. Hm. Where to entertain Sam for five minutes ... ten to be safe? Ahhhhh, the fish counter.

This may not seem so obvious to you, Dear Reader, but that's because you haven't seen U's fish counter, which is also replete with fish tanks. So we looked at the fish, the crabs, the lobsters, and the oysters. Hm. The oysters. And I'm thinking, Gee, I love oysters so much, why don't I just get some. Apparently the seniors who shop on Tuesday really like their fish because there were extra staff at the fish counter. I waited my turn and was helped by a gentleman with "Asian grandpa" written on his apron. He playfully poked Sam (this was neither the first nor the last poke from an elder at U this Tuesday), who duly shrunk back in the basket and looked askance at this person being a little too familiar. I explained that he was Asian "Papa," to which Sam responded, "Papa?" And all was right. In the 19-month-old's brain, the man had been vetted by association with the world of grandfathers. Asian Papa picked out my dozen oysters, poked and joked with Sam some more, and we left to retrieve our lamb from the meat counter.
I was ticked because two out of 12, or 16%, of the oysters were no good: one was cracked and one was empty! Now, Asian Papa probably didn't know about the empty one (how was it still tightly closed when there was nothing in it?), but the cracked one should have been obvious. Maybe Sam's cuteness distracted him. Seriously, though, should I be closely watching every move my fishmonger makes in the tank? Do I offer to pick out my own oysters?

Josh shucked eight of the 10 remaining while I put Sam to bed. No, that's right, Sam did not get to try one. I shucked the other two, for my own personal edification. It was fun! I didn't take any action shots, I realize. Next time I'll have Josh shoot video. There will be a next time, because how awesome is it to eat oysters in your own kitchen? We ate the first two unadulterated and the last few with lemon and a drop of Cholula. I plan to make more of a production next time: mignonette and champagne!

Monday, March 8, 2010


I went to my Jacques Pepin cookbook for winter salad inspiration. He recommended Romaine, which I love, combined with radicchio, which I am growing to love. I have a soft spot for bitter produce. It's as if I admire them for daring to be bitter in a vegetal world filled with earthy and even sweet produce. Bitter. Hm.
Of course, any self-respecting cook should always make her own salad dressing. To dress this salad, JP asks his adherents to use salsa! What? It's JP, so I'll do what he says. He does say that you can use your favorite store-bought, but, again, any self-respecting cook will bust out the food processor and make her own. Gladly. While her son is watching Sesame Street.
It's not a hot salsa at all. When I make it again, I will use a hotter chile.

Salsa: 2cups diced tomatoes (with seeds and skin - about two large tomatoes), 1/4 cup mined jalapeno pepper (or serrano, or whichever you like best), 1/3 cup coarsely chopped red onion (rinsed under cold water to take the bite away), 1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, 1T finely minced garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2T fresh lime juice, 3T ketchup (!), 2T water (I will omit this next time because tomatoes provide enough liquid).

Mix either using the chopping instructions above, or by throwing the ingredients in big chunks into the food processor and pulsing a few times.

For use as salad dressing: mix 1/4 cup salsa with 2T e.v. olive oil, 1.5 tsp. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 cup cilantro.
The salsa was so tasty I used it to top my eggs the next day, and the day after and after. I added some Cholula hot sauce to kick it up a notch.

I served the salad with a Mexican lasagna. Josh said that this dish "messed with [his] head." Meaning, as you bite into it and your brain says "lasagna," your taste buds scream "chili." There is cumin, chili powder and Mexican oregano, plus a little hot sauce. I made it with beef and mixed "Mexican" cheese. And you gotta love those no-boil lasagna noodles. Fabulous!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Success and Failure

I went crazy this week and tried two new things with Sam. First, pizza. I made neither the dough nor the spread this time, so I wasn't feeling so emotionally invested. I have shed more than one tear on more than one occasion when something I slaved over was roundly rejected. Anyway, I had a feeling that it would be successful because we had tried this very pizza at Trader Joe's and Sam liked it. I actually was glared at while going back for a second "sample." I guess TJs is very unlike Costco in that they frown upon people trying to make meals out of samples. I felt compelled to explain myself: "You see, I ate the first bite and merely gave my son here - see, isn't he cute? - a tiny bite. So this sample is for him. And now watch me lean over and grab a jar of the spread to show you just how interested and moved I am by your pizza making."

Sometimes I really am that 12-year-old who cares way too much what I think other people are thinking about me. I remember ... in the wise words of my mother: "Why do you think they are looking at you? No one is looking at you!"
So this is a plain dough with artichoke heart spread and a little mozzarella. Sam liked it quite a bit unless the piece was especially goopy with the artichoke heart spread. Then he would drop the piece, stare at the goop on his finger, and say, "Sticky."

Since the vogue seems to be to prepare kids as early as possible for college, I went ahead and let Sam eat his slice in front of the TV. I held - and drank - the beer; Sam just learned how to say "beer."

The second dish was an utter failure. I learned this recipe while participating in the National Outdoor Leadership School. This is fantastic backpacking food. Of course, we didn't take shrimp in our backpacks. When you prepare it outdoors, dried veggies and peanut butter that doesn't have to be refrigerated are employed. This is the backpacking version of the Indonesian dish Gado Gado. While in the great outdoors you have it over pasta, so that's what I did for Sam. I made some penne and put a tiny bit of the peanut butter sauce on it - no go. He did that thing where he takes the offensive material out of his mouth and interrogates it with his eyes: What ARE you? Why have you been served to ME?

When you have a child and you experiment with his meals, you have to be emotionally prepared to eat or toss your creation if it is rejected. Usually I am okay eating it; sometimes I am not and so I become irate (and sad) when I have to toss it. Think of the starving Armenians! This time, I had an exit strategy. See above photo.

Backpacking Gado Gado: 3T each of peanut butter, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar; 3/4 cup water. Throw it all in a small saucepan and whisk over medium heat to combine.

Obviously this is the most basic recipe that you can work with to your liking. Your questions would be What kind of oil? What kind of vinegar? etc. Use what you want. Since it's Asian, I use peanut oil, rice wine vinegar, and I add sriracha chili sauce. You can saute some aromatics with your stir fry that would also add to the flavor, like green onions, ginger, and garlic. You can also play with the amounts; I like a bit more peanut butter and a little less water. This last time I experimented with adding 1 tsp. cornstarch (after I pulled it out of the fridge the day after I made the sauce for Sam), then poured the sauce over the cooked veggies in the saute pan to thicken. Basic stir fry saucing method. It worked swimmingly.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I may have spoken to you about broccoli before. I can't recall. I detest broccoli. A sure-fire way to torture my taste buds would be to serve me a plate of steamed broccoli. Yuck. Growing up, I learned to eat it with mayonnaise as the only palatable way to make it go down.

But it's so good for you. You should eat broccoli every week, at least once. That's how good it is for you.

And it's Josh's favorite vegetable.

I have found a way to love broccoli, thanks to the Best Recipes series! Yeah. My marriage is saved.

This week, I roasted broccoli two ways. The dishes were so good, I actually wanted more when I finished my serving. But there was no more. And I was sorry for it.

Roasted Broccoli: Preheat oven to 500! AND put a sheet pan in there on the bottom rack to heat up. Meanwhile cut up your lb. of broccoli into florets, preferably cut in halves themselves so that you have a flat side for each piece of broccoli. Sounds weird, but trust me, you want it that way. If you are using the stalk, peel it so that you are left with the soft(er) core, minus the bitter and tough skin. Toss your florets with 3T extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 tsp. each of salt and sugar. (Optional: also toss in 1T minced garlic for garlicky roasted broccoli at this point.) When the oven is ready, pull out the sheet pan and, working quickly, lay out all broccoli in one layer, with the flat sides of the florets facing down. Roast for 9-12 minutes. Serve with lemon. Really, serve with lemon; it's good.

Roasted broccoli with shallots and fennel seed: Do all of the above (no garlic). While the broccoli is roasting, slice two shallots. Pan saute them in 1T e.v. olive oil until browning, then add 1tsp. fennel seed, slightly crushed or chopped and stir for two more minutes or until the seeds are fragrant and the shallots are caramelized to your liking. Toss this with the final roasted broccoli, and grate some Parmesan over. Serve with lemon. Really.

The second recipe is one of the best veggie dishes I have ever had. Dare I say Restaurant Quality III?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Restaurant Quality II

Well, the recipe is from a restaurant, so I guess that makes sense. I will still pat myself on the back for proper execution. Thank you.

What makes these mushrooms patties restaurant quality is all the prep and the two different sauces. But the steps really didn't take that long, and you can overlap a couple to save time. I was still able to make a main course protein and a grain.
First, I made the red pepper sauce. I needed to blacken the peppers over a gas flame or under the broiler. I chose the burner open flame because I love charring peppers, and something about an open flame increases that affection. You would think, what with my aversion to peeling garlic because of the sticky skin et. al., that I would also find charring, peeling and seeding peppers to be wretched. I don't know what it is ... charring peppers is just cool. And don't be tempted to rinse them under water to get all the blackened skin off. I once watched Bobby Flay peeling his roasted peppers and he said that you wash away the good char flavor with the water, and why would anyone want to do that? A few pieces of carbonized skin won't kill you.

Then, while the peppers were sitting in a bowl with plastic over them to steep off the skins, I rinsed and chopped my mushrooms. You better believe I bought pre-sliced button mushrooms because I could! And oh, ugh, the shiitakes I got (Oh! Shiitake!) were so tiny that I was washing and pulling out stems forever. Also, I was convinced that removing portobello gills was unnecessary, but I wanted restaurant quality, so I did what the directions directed. After the mushrooms cook, it's really just throwing all the patty parts into the food processor for processing.

Your processor gets a serious workout with these guys, by the way. I used the small bowl for the pepper "coulis," which may be an abuse of the term. I used the big bowl for the mushroom patty ingredients. I then reused the freshly rinsed small bowl for the avocado "pesto."

Then, of course you have to shape the patties and brown them. Oh, and you must save making the pesto for shortly before serving because brown, mushy, oxidized avocado is gross.

Josh asked why this should be considered a pesto and not a guacamole. I realized that it's both because they are one in the same. That is, "pesto" means "pounded," and pestos are traditionally prepared with a mortar and pestle. "Mole" is from Nahautl and means "concoction," but "moler" is Spanish and means "to grind." Moles can also be made with mortar and pestle. I'm going to go ahead and believe that it all works out, etymologically, and definitely culinarily so that what is a pesto in Italy may just be a mole in Mexico.

The instructions even tell you how to plate. To wit: spread an even layer of pesto on the plate, top with two mushroom cakes, and top that with pepper coulis. The combination of all three elements was awesome. Was more than the sum of its parts. Was restaurant quality.
The aforementioned main dish was halibut with raisins and almonds. The fish was dredged in corn flour and baked just that like. The sauce was made in a skillet with butter, wine, lemon juice, raisins, with the parsley and almonds added at the end. Simple and quite good.
Lest I get too big for my britches, I should mention the wild grain rice. I have always been afraid of making rice in a pot - it never goes well for me ... like bechamel. But I tried. And failed. This looks cooked and normal, but there is a puddle at the bottom. The rice had a gross, undercooked, chewy layer, and a gross, overcooked, soggy layer. I tried to get Sam to eat it. No dice. He also refrained from trying the mushroom cakes. "Refrained" being a euphemism for "spitting them out and making yelping, pained sounds while sticking his tongue out."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Waffles, etc.

When we returned, there were several items on my to-make list. First, I made waffles ... for Sam. He likes to eat them for breakfast, sometimes with peanut butter. I make a batch of four, full-sized Belgian waffles and freeze them for use throughout the week. I do, of course, have some pre-made waffles on hand just in case I don't get to the waffle iron during the week.

Speaking of waffle irons, do not get a Villaware. It was reviewed in the Test Kitchen as the best waffle iron! Bosh! 1) The crevices are classic Belgian size, but I like mine smaller. 2) This is the real sin: the writing on the iron all rubbed off. So, where you should see the darkness dial, 1-7, and the "ready" under the green light, gone! I was using a paper towel to wipe off excess nonstick spray, and bam! no more darkness dial numbers. Lame.
I may have introduced Sam to syrup this go 'round. He was most pleased.

I discovered the best waffle recipe in my Bittman cookbook. I like it because it uses normal milk, not buttermilk. I always have milk, whereas buttermilk is a special item that must be added to the list.

Waffles: 4T butter (1/2 stick), 2c. flour, 3tsp. baking powder, 1/2tsp. salt, 1.5 c. milk (whole), 2 eggs, 2T sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla (optional).
1. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder in a large bowl. I like to sift the ingredients together in order to avoid lumps when the wet ingredients are added.
3. Mix eggs, sugar, and milk together in a medium bowl. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. Add the vanilla, if using.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. I like to use a whisk because it quickly incorporates the ingredients without over beating. This works best if you sifted the dry ingredients. You only need to whisk a few times to get everything mixed.
5. Make your waffles! I find that letting the waffle batter sit while the iron heats up is just perfect for the baking soda to start its magic. Your batter should look a little puffier than it did right after you mixed everything.
I've had these enormous bags of oatmeal and raisins for months. I got them at Costco thinking that they go well together, and everyone should eat oatmeal because it's good for the cholesterol. Here's the thing: I hate oatmeal. I mean I really can't stand the flavor. So I find myself adding all this junk to it: raisins, sugar, cinnamon, pumpkin butter, heavy cream ... anything to mask the flavor. And it still doesn't completely work. So I have given up for the time being, and made cookies instead! These are oatmeal-raisin-chocolate chip. Does the oatmeal cancel out the two sticks of butter in the cholesterol equation?
Speaking of fat, I also made mousse. Actually, this is a pretty healthy mousse because it is made from tofu. Tofu mousse: 10oz. silken tofu, 16oz. (or to taste) melted chocolate chips - whir in the blender. I have made it many times before and this one was rather thick. I think my tofu might have only been 8oz. To cut the thickness in both consistency and flavor, I added some ice cream! Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream. A fabulous addition that, I am sure, negated any health benefits from the tofu.

This was my week of zero-sum baking.