Friday, April 30, 2010


I had a rare Domestic Goddess day. I cleaned, I cooked, a wrangled a toddler, and I baked cookies. I elected lime cookies because they sounded somehow refreshing as well as fattening. Yum. The lime went with the curry dinner, too. Not that we ate them with the curry. I just pictured sopping up curry with a cookie. Hm.
I tried a trick that I have seen on the TV before. You take your glob of cookie dough, wrap it in wax paper, and grab a sheet pan. You position the pan and hold the paper in such a way that you slide the pan on the wax paper and into the dough such that cookie dough fills the wrap in a perfect tube. Well, this was Herculean. I think I didn't give myself enough wax paper. I was pressing so hard, trying to use my body, and envisioning all the ways it could go awry. To wit: cookies dough squirts out the sides and onto the floor; wax paper completely rips and I slam the sheet pan through the dough, making a complete mess of everything; and a few other scenarios that involved personal injury and broken kitchen items. None of that happened; I got a decent tube.
I had decided that the frosting was superfluous and far too decadent for a cookie with such a high butter:flour ratio. But the wee glutton inside shouted, Why wouldn't you make frosting? You deserve frosting. The world needs more frosting. I listened attentively and realized that, having already done so much, yes, I did deserve frosting. I called my husband and told him to bring home a lime for the frosting ... and a bottle of Lillet. Because I deserved that too.
This was my restaurant pour, i.e. 1 oz. of drink over lots of ice, with a twist! I like mine with a splash of soda. The orange twist, by the way, is a must.

Lime Cookies:
Cream together 12T unsalted butter (1.5 sticks), 1/4 cup each powdered sugar and granulated sugar. Mix in 2T lime juice and 2T zest (from two medium limes). Add 1.5 cups flour, a bit at a time, until blended. Make a tube of cookie dough in wax paper however you can: roll it out on a floured surface first, try the sheet pan trick, whatever. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, until sliceable. You can also freeze the dough for up to 3 months and slice at will. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350. Slice dough into 1/4" cookies and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges get golden. Frost when cool.
Icing: 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 3-5 T lime juice, zest of a lime - Mix.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let's Talk Curry

I was craving curry, so there you go. I usually buy the Thai Kitchen brand curry in a jar, but was taken aback when I couldn't find it at Uwajimaya. I dragged a teenager away from his stocking (and talking to a girl) and over to the aisle where I used to find the curry in question. Pointing accusingly at the new wall of prepared Thai Kitchen foods that a diner need only add water to, I shouted, What gives? He turned me around and pointed to the new stuff - in tins! Unfortunately, almost all of it has MSG. Now, I am aware of the fact that this stuff is like salt, and commonly added to all Asian cuisine. And, if I am to believe what I see on TV, a small percentage of the populace is actually affected by it, while a great big, fat, uninformed majority only thinks they are affected by it. I know I don't react to it, but still want to steer clear of anything that is a derivative of anything else and requires an acronym in order to speak of it. Sam sat patiently while I read umpteen labels before finding an MSG-free one. Good. I wonder if some other store will carry the brand I know and like. I can't see TK totally getting rid of it, right? Everyone I know who cooks Asian food has a jar of either the red or green curry in the fridge. Anyway, the new stuff worked out fine. But the tin v. glass meant that I needed to transfer the leftovers to a new container. I opted to freeze it, like I did my chipotle and tomato paste, in 1T measurements. Genius, I know. It was Josh's idea. He's an ideas-man, I tell you.
Speaking of jars. So I get a new one of fish sauce. Look at this darn top - how in the H am I supposed to open that? I have a vivid imagination and pictured all sorts of puncture wounds when I visualized how I might use a knife to make a hole. Josh (ideas-man) told me to use scissors. I have kitchen scissors, i.e., sharp ones, but they still made of mess of things. In fact, when I clipped the first little piece of plastic, it went flying ... right into my bowl of clean cabbage. What?! I dumped the whole thing out on the cutting board, looked at every piece of cabbage and never found it. Whatever. With all the Teflon already in our systems, what's a little plastic?

The Japanese potato: satoimo. (I think. I always want to call it a satsuma, but that's an orange.) It is the best in this curry. I was using sweet potato, which is also good and packed with vitamins, but this one tastes like it belongs. Cabbage also tastes like it belongs more than the spinach called for. But, really, it's all about making a recipe yours, isn't it? Now it's MINE. My intellectual property. Just kidding.

Fish Curry:
1 lb. sweet potato (or potato of your choice) cut in 1/2 in. dice
2- 14oz. cans coconut milk
2T Thai red curry paste
2 tsp. lime zest (from one lime)
2T each fish sauce and brown sugar
1 1/2lbs. firm fish, in 1-inch cubes (halibut, tilapia, or, hey shrimp is great too)
6 oz. green of choice (spinach, cabbage, etc.)
1c. each basil and mint, chiffonade
Prep: Steam the potato by bringing a couple of inches of water to boil in a large saucepan. Place potato pieces in a steamer basket, cover, and let cook for about 10 minutes, mixing to redistribute after 5 minutes. Spoon 1/4 cup off the top of the coco milks (the thick milk) and into a large saute pan with the curry paste. Over medium heat, cook, stirring, until the mixture is almost dry, 3-5 minutes. Then add the rest of the milk, lime zest, fish sauce and brown sugar. Mix and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Depending on what type of fish and greens you have, you can either add them together, or one a minute or two early, so that they steam together in the sauce and are done at the same time. (That means you have to know the cooking times. For shrimp, it's 3ish minutes, and the nappa cabbage is about 5 minutes.) Add the potato to heat through. Turn off heat and mix in herbs. Serve with rice and limes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quick Dinner

I decided to just start going through couple cookbooks, making things for Sam. I chose a bean spread, thinking that he has liked beans in the past, and I can spread it on a roll to hide it. Well, he found the spread with his nose, then his fingers, and tossed the roll into the air. I tried to talk him into it - How many words does he understand? Does he understand that this is a convincing voice? Blah blah Sam blah blah try blah blah beans blah blah bread, then he gets the objectionable thing re-offered. I'm sure he figures things out. Incidentally, the rolls I picked up at Trader Joe's molded in two days. Two! I wanted more bread, so I picked up a horrible baguette from Pike Place Market. Oh! It looked good, but was like cotton - all airy and like a Safeway baguette. You offend me!

I was prepared to use the spread for the grown-up dinner, if things didn't work out with Sam. I made bruschetta and a salad-like thing, dressed with balsamic vinegar and e.v. olive oil. Delicious. You may recall that I made an hors d'oeuvre like this, but with arugula. I did have arugula for this meal, but it rotted quickly too. Can't wait until I have my own in the garden. That is, if the raccoon doesn't eat it! Yeah! Raccoon! I scared it off the roof by hurling rocks at it. I'm sure I'll see him again. He better not eat my strawerries ... or the neighbor's raspberries, which Sam plans on eating this summer.
I made the easiset soup ever as a complement to the bruschetta: meatball. I recently got a few cookbooks from Amazon, one of them is Lydia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. I just love her show on PBS, especially when she has her mother on. Everyone deserves a cute, Italian grandmother figure. So, perusing her book for an easy soup, voila: meatballs in broth! Of course, any serious cook would have made her own broth. And I am serious, but I was seriously short on time and patience, so I made the meatballs and set them in canned broth. It was delicious!

I halved Lydia's meatball recipe, which actually called for 1&1/3 cup pork and 2/3 lb. veal, and used only pork when I did. I thought about getting good veal from WF, but decided that it wasn't worth the extra trip, since this was supposed to be easy fast dinner. Also, I decided not to saute them, opting for poaching in the interest of added calories. Also, the recipe calls for orange rind, but I didn't have any. I wonder what they would be like with the citrus ... I'll have to make it again. With homemade broth, too.

So, I'm writing out the recipes below, but I was reading another blog the other day, and the author brought up the possible ethical - at least, and legal, at most - violation that ostensibly occurs when one posts a recipe that "belongs" to someone else. That brings up the issue, for me, of How does a recipe belong to anyone? As in, Did you completely and totally make it up? I thought of Caesar dressing as an example. It appears in a million cookbooks and magazines, but no one gives the origanl Cesar credit, saying that the recipe you now see is "adapted". That, in itself, is another issue. To whit: someone commented that it grates on them when a person claims that they adapted the recipe, but really only made a couple of substitutions, or something seemingly negligent. Is anything "negligent" in cooking? If I adapt by substituting thyme for rosemary, that changes the flavors, right? Does that count? Certainly adaptation in biology leads to nothing more and nothing less than survival of the species. In my comment on said blog, I mentioned Napster, positing that perhaps all of us bloggers are a very disperse Napster to the cookbook and magazine insdustries. One day, we shall all be tried en masse. I look forward to taking it to the Supreme Court so I can meet, and by vigorously questioned by, Justice Sotomayor.
White Bean Spread with Bruschetta and "Salad"
Spread: Whir together 1- 15oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed; 1/4 tsp. minced rosemary; 1 garlic clove; 2 T each olive oil and water; 1 T lemon juice; salt and pepper, to taste. Salad: mix 3 oz. arugula and 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced, with 1 T each balsamic vinegar and e.v. olive oil. Bruschetta: slice your bread of choice, and toast under the broiled for a couple minutes on each side. While hot, take a clove of garlic, peeled, and rub it on the toasts. This melts the garlic onto the hot bread. You might need a couple cloves, depending on their size. Then, brush a light coat of olive oil on top of that. You now have all the parts - put them together!

Pork Meatballs (this is half of Lydia's recipe; makes about 25 small meatballs)
Mix together 1 lb. ground pork, 1T golden raisins (soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes, then chopped), 1T toasted pine nuts (chopped), 1 egg (lightly beaten), 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1 tsp orange zest. Make small, 2 tsp., meatballs, rolling them in your hands. Drop them into salted boiling water - they will sink, then rise. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove. You must discard this water. Then, make your own broth, or used canned chicken broth for the soup part. Oh, if you want to saute the meatballs, Lydia suggests you dredge them in flour, then add them to a pan that has a generous coat of oil on the bottom. Turn them to brown on all sides and cook through.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Best Ever

It was not my intention to create personal bests, but I did. One was from a recipe, so I can hardly take credit. But the other, the other was from my mind and the simple and omnipresent need to use up leftovers.
Pasta salad. I didn't put this in the title because I didn't want to put people off. You say "pasta salad" and what comes to mind? A cucumber, a tomato, some black olives and a bottle of vinaigrette poured over soggy pasta. This is not that pasta salad. I already had a pasta salad recipe that I, and others, like, so I wasn't really looking, but I wanted to use up my sun-dried tomatoes and stumbled upon a way to do that. (I really want to create a complete index of all recipes and everything they use. There are so many times when I am searching for a way to finish off a couple tablespoons of this or that and just need some guidance.)

Pasta Salad:
Sauce: 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil, chopped and drained), 1 T capers (chopped and drained), 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 garlic clove (minced), 4-6 T e.v. olive oil. Whir everything together in a food processor. Use 4 T evoo to start and check the consistency to see if you want more.
Salad: 1 lb. fusilli pasta, 12 oz. cherry/grape tomatoes, 8 oz. fresh mozzarella (ovoline), 1 cup fresh basil, 1 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives (optional), 4-5 pepperoncini, 1-2 roasted red peppers. Cook the pasta within one minute of al dente in order to ensure that it won't get soggy. Let it cool for a couple of minutes after draining, and then throw it in with the dressing. Slice the tomatoes in half. Cut the mozz into bite-sized pieces. Chiffonade the basil and grate the Parm. Now, the rest of the ingredients are optional. I didn't have olives, so I threw in one jarred red pepper for the oiliness. I simply like pepperoncini, so I threw in a few of those, sliced, as well. Do what you like. Parsley might be nice.
Then, quite by accident, I created the best veggie burger. Earlier in the week I made fried rice and split peas that were both rejected. The rice was a surprise because it tasted good and Sam eats the fried rice I buy at Uwaj. The split peas, well, I foresaw rejection, but I thought I would give it shot. I ran into them in the back of the pantry and thought Hey I should use these. I recalled that the last burgers I made used lentils and bulgar and thought that my rejects were similar enough to work. So I dumped: (1.5 cups when dried) split peas cooked in chicken broth; 2 cups fried rice, complete with 1T soy sauce, some minced veggies, and a scrambled egg; 1/2 cup toasted cashews; 1/2 cup packed each cilantro and basil. I then took them for a spin in the processor, gradually pouring in canola oil until it held together. A few minutes on each side in a pan, and bam! best veggie burger ever.

Of course, if the parts were rejected, the whole - which was much more than the sum of said parts - would also be dismissed, right? Oh, I hoped, but was prepared to eat the burger if Sam didn't like it. He popped one of the pieces in his mouth and bit down. His jaw sort of froze as he winced and began ejecting the offensive material. He even used his fingers to wipe his tongue and flick tidbits off of his bib and jeans. Oh well. I can have them for lunch.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gut Bomb #2

Dare I say it? All lamb ragus taste pretty much the same. *Wince* Turn from blow. That is, as long as there is tomato in it. You may recall the not-so-good ragu I made last month. That ragu did not taste the same as the others I have made because it tasted more like garbage. After that, I declared and averred that lamb shanks require tomato to cut the lambyness. There is a reason not everyone likes the taste of baby sheep, and tries to hide it under mint jelly. That gaminess ... which I would love to compare with the taste of actual game, but I haven't had any. I can only assume that lamb shank, with its thick, dank sort of flavor, is what deer would smack of. So, lamb, except for the tender bits like chops, need flavor enhancement and, at that, serious acid help. Serious Acid Help - take that as your band name, someone.

So, this is not the best lamb ragu I have made. I think the best is the one I made over a year ago to go along with the homemade potato gnocchi. I made it while my parents were visiting. But it was with lamb stew meat, now that I think of it. No matter. I'll get some photos out and the recipe at some point. You should know that making your own gnocchi is surprisingly easy and quick! I swear. Maybe you already know that.

Just as I said the season for English short ribs is over, so is that for lamb shanks. Of course, we shall partake of some racks and chops on the BBQ during the summer. Of course.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Culinary Good Deed

Well, Happy Earth Day. I celebrated today ... I didn't celebrate. But I did a culinary good deed. Haven't heard if these before? That's because I just made them up. Feel free to adopt the practice. Spread culinary knowledge wherever you roam.

Details? Happy to oblige.
I was at Safeway because Sam was screaming "grapes" all morning and I just wanted him to stop. I thought about going to Whole Foods so that I could also get some caffeine, aka, the elixir of life, or my best friend, but I hate WF and I didn't want to see how much organic grapes cost. I know. I need to buy everything organic. I know. But I went to Safeway anyway because I also wanted oil-cured olives and I didn't want to pay $20 for a jar, which is what I was certain to pay at WF. So, I'm at Safeway, which didn't even have said olives, by the way. I got them there before, too, what in tarnation is the big idea? Okay. They had one eensy jar for $8.39! of kalamatas and I wanted mixed. Curses. AND, Thursday must be Safeway's senior discount day because the place was packed with blue hairs. Lord! The aisles were clogged with people moving quite slowly, which normally I don't mind, but we were getting close to nap time and I just needed to get the darn grapes for a snack; also, I wasted a lot of time reading 28 jars of olives to see if they were oil-cured. The fun thing about going on days like this (U's Senior Discount Day is Tuesday) is that I get involved in lots of conversations ... because I'm so young and pretty with such supple skin. Ha! Because I have a toddler. This old guy clogged up the works in the exit lane because he needed to talk some nonsense to Sam, who is a good sport and seems to really value the older set. So I'm at the grapes alongside an elderly woman. We're both squeezing the red grapes to see which package to get. I was finding a lot of mushy grapes in sticky bags, so I move over to green.

Me: Hm. They are all a little soft, aren't they?
Lady: And dusty.
Me: That is actually the protective coating on the grapes. All grapes are dusty. It keeps them fresh longer, so you should wash them only right before you want to eat them.
Lady: (interested and definitely thankful voice) Oh, really.

At this point I paused, steadying myself for the "thanks" that was sure to follow, readying my countenance for a magnanimous and gracious smile, as in It's nothing, really, I spread culinary knowledge everywhere. But I was not thanked, and Sam was calling me, so I grabbed my green grapes and headed out satisfied with my good deed for the day.

My Mission: To fight food misconceptions wherever they may be! Join me!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gut Bomb #1

You can't just start your week with English short ribs and think that you are going to follow it the next night with lamb. What a gut bomb. I should have stopped with one. Those things are so fatty. This recipe was only okay - nothing to write home about, so I won't bother typing it up here. I think we are well past short rib season anyway. I'm feeling kind of sorry that I bought the lamb already. And don't even get me started on the rabbit in my freezer. What? Yeah, rabbit. You'll see.

So I changed my weekly menu. Speaking of which, fellow blogger, No Love Sincerer, reminded me to blog about my weekly menu. Funny that whenever I tell people about this, they ask if they can get a copy with the shopping list. If I had a secretary, no problem. I believe this planning practice speaks to (a) my love of menus and creating them, (b) my Type A personality, and (c) a hand-me-down practice from my father, who did the same thing. I also got my love of grocery stores from him - traveling up and down every aisle, taking my time. So, I have a white board in my kitchen. I sit down on Friday night and go through ... what? Friday night. So what? I have a child! Anyway, I sit down on Friday night and put together my menu for the next week. I usually look through my cupboards to see what I need to use, or perhaps take inspiration from a magazine or a blog. I write everything out on my list, then on the white board. The board has a Sam corner, too.

To complete my shopping list, however, I must hit at least two, sometimes three, stores to get what I need. Uwajimaya is one; Trader Joe's is usually two. Then I sometimes have to round it out at Safeway or Whole Foods. I go to Costco every couple of weeks and buy frozen meat or fruit when it's in season and cheap. I've gotten really good pineapples there, believe it or not. And melons.
My goal is to not go to the store at all this summer. I figure, we have herbs and a bunch of protein in the freezer. I assume that the lettuce will grow like gangbusters, and we can continue to plant as we harvest. I can fill out menus with farmers markets. Yeah, I think I can do it. Garden + farmers markets (+emptying cupboards) = going with flow cooking for the summer. We'll see. I should relax and try to make it through spring first.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who doesn't love a little herb in the afternoon?

My friend Anita says she reads my blog when I have an interesting title. Perhaps this one has lured her in. Anita? Are you there?
So the garden. Josh went crazy and planted a bunch of lettuce and various other seeds in February! because we had a really warm stint.

Josh: This global warming is great! It just extended the growing season! I'm planting salad greens right now!
Me: We might be in for a cold snap. Maybe you should wait.
Josh: Wait? Cold snap? Do you know how many tons of coal the US and China are burning every day?
Me: Whatever you want, Dear.
Enter cold snap, stage right.
Me: I think the radishes are experiencing suspended animation. Are the leaves supposed to be amber?
Josh: (in know-it-all voice) Yes, I looked it up.
Me: You know-it-all.

I may have made that whole conversation up, but the basic facts are solid.
I can't seem to make this garden my own. Perhaps my subconscious is emanating wariness because of what happened to my last garden. You may recall that, while we were living at 121, I took weeks to plan and execute quite a garden - three raised beds - complete with flowers for attracting the right kinds of bugs and hummingbirds. Yeah, my friends, a Garden. And then the homeowners announced that they would sell the house. This was the end of April, i.e., after all the planting had been done. Bastards.

What am I afraid of here, in our very own house? Dunno. That's the beauty of the subconscious, I suppose. Our next door neighbor told us that we were building the raised bed on the easement. Perhaps my subconscious is a gun-toting member of the Minnesota militia who thinks The Man is going to come and dig up all my carrots. Hm.

Whatever the reason, I just need to get out there. We have a lot of old seeds that I should just scatter and see if they will grow. That way I can start fresh next year. This year, I can just take the philosophy that I will reap whatever feels like sprouting, no big deal. Yeah, right. I am not so good with No Big Deal. I like to create Big Deals, in fact. It's my thing.

If we count my subconscious as one obstacle, than numbers two and three are the weeds and the vines, in that order. I think that all the weeds in Seattle come from our yard. It's that bad. And the grass. Oh, the grass - it's everywhere. I may have said this already, but I think we need to slash and burn. Really. Not kidding. That would also take care of the ridiculous vines that our neighbor said "the old man" liked, for some reason. That old man was the previous owner who is about 3 years older than our next door neighbor. I love the fact that we have a crotchety neighbor who came out to meet us so that he could relate (1) he hates the vines and the old man used to keep them away from the fence, nudge nudge; and (2) we were building the raised bed on the easement.
So, I do this thing where I fixate on an order and want to do it that way or no way. So my order is:
1. Weed the whole property.
2. Get rid of all the nasty vines and plants I hate.
3. Plant garden of edibles.

Yeah, not going to happen. Or, it will happen, but over the course of several years.
Somehow I managed to compromise this order, which I etched in stone, and plant the herbs. I planted a few from seeds and a few from starts. The oregano, tarragon, and chives in the foreground came back from last summer! Wow. I'm going to need more tarragon, though, as it has become my summer crush. You'll see ....

Monday, April 19, 2010

"How you will get fat" and other pearls of wisdom

I think this is how it usually goes, right? It's winter and you eat things that fatten you up a bit. You want to sleep more, too. This is biological. This is the way it's supposed to be!

Then spring hits. You start thinking about bathing suits and tank tops. You start pinching that fat layer that, hey, you kind of liked mid-January, and you think What have I done?
If you have a child, there is an extra twist. I have said it at least twice before: When you make your toddler a meal, you must be psychologically prepared to either toss or eat it if and when it is rejected. Unfortunately, my wee gourmand often rejects carbs.

Now, I am not of the ilk who thinks that all carbs are bad. I certainly do not ascribe to the Atkins philosophy, eschewing fruit and so on. I believe Atkins once said something like "Why would anyone ever eat a banana?" The insidiousness in finishing a muffin here and waffles with peanut butter there is that all these little servings count. But we don't count them, per se. Just like we don't count the glass of wine or the handful of jelly beans. At least, I don't count them.
Enter the words of my mother. She has said this more than once - before I had and definitely after I had a baby. These little pearls stick in my brain somewhere and reappear to make perfect sense later on. Yes, you will certainly gain a bit more than you would have otherwise if you go around cleaning everyone's plate. She also said something about learning to eat really fast when you have kids. I think I do that too.
It doesn't help that this time last year I was quite fit because I was in the middle of my P90X challenge. I measured and weighed everything I ate. I felt good too. There is something satisfying in that dominion over your caloric intake and in all the things you eschew. At least I felt a sort of power ... I think this is part of the psychological profile of eating disorders, actually. Anyway, I certainly don't want to measure everything forever. And no one can live solely on chicken breasts, salad, and protein shakes. And I really love food, a variety of food, interesting food ... dessert food.
And I believe in "cheat days." My brother is a trainer and he has a cheat day. I read an interview with a professional wrestler in Muscle and Fitness Magazine and, when talking about his cheat day, he said he goes so overboard that he doesn't want that food again for months. So, he chooses pizza for his day, eats four of them, pushing his stomach to the edge, and is so revolted by pizza that he doesn't want it for months. Perfect.
So I need to change my current philosophy and practice, which can be summed up in the words of my father: "Well, there are only 14 tater tots left, might as well kill them."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me! (and Rick Schroeder and Thomas Jefferson)

I attempted to post this on my birthday, the 13th, but was foiled first by iPhoto, then by our internet connection, finally by travel plans. So, without further ado, it's Jen's birthday menu: pizza, artichokes with bagna cauda, and ice cream.
I started with the ice cream a of couple days before My Big Day because, of course, you have to chill the mixture overnight, then again after you make the ice cream because it's like soft serve out of the ice cream maker and I just like it a little harder.

I chose "burnt cream" ice cream, and had to make a caramel for that. I knew that once it started to caramelize, I wasn't supposed to touch it. I'm not sure what happens if you do touch it, but I wasn't planning on finding out. The instructions say to go ahead and stir it until it melts. I figured out, after I had stirred it several times, that that is not such a good idea. The whole thing clumped and then I had to let it get far too brown in order to get all the sugar to melt.

AND, the whole process of melting probably took 30 or 40 minutes. Too long. Step two took even longer. You are supposed to add warm milk to the caramel while stirring. The instructions give a couple scenarios resulting from this mixing: foaming, bubbling, hissing, clumping. Mine did all of the above. The clumping was the worst part because I had a solid block of caramel on the bottom of the pan that took an hour to "melt" into the milk. In the end, it's a good ice cream with a very creamy texture. In the future, however, I will simply buy Ben and Jerry's Creme Brulee when I have the hankering. How do they do those chunks? I suppose I could pour caramel onto a silpat, let it harden, then break it up. Yes, that's the ticket. It was nice to have homemade dessert on my birthday, though. I was going to pair the ice cream with chocolate souffles, but couldn't for lack of time. Ice cream was certainly enough.
I thought I was going to be much more melancholy about the fact that I was making dinner and cleaning and packing on my birthday. I was kind of freaking out on the 12th. I didn't really make a big deal out of 30 - and I recall Josh being surprised by this - but 35 carries more psychological weight, for whatever reason. I found myself thinking down a path that was very Western, goal-oriented, and linear. I guess those adjectives are all pejorative because, really, if the follow-up to that is "and it made me feel bad," then, well, I need to find another way of looking at things.

Did someone say something about pizza earlier? I think I remember that.
I made the dough and proceeded to top it with pesto, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and spicy sausage ... oh, and cheese, naturally. I highly recommend this combination.

I hand stretch my dough (as opposed to using a rolling pin) and don't make it enough to be good at it. It's never quite round, I always need to patch a couple of holes, and I usually have one really thick end, or arc, since it's a circle. I used my pizza stone for this, thinking that that is best, as opposed to the sheet pan I have been using, but I definitely don't do this often enough either. What I need to have the knack for in order to properly utilize the stone is transporting my packed pie from the cutting board to the oven on a peel. I just don't have the wrist flick and bravado to pull it off quite yet. So I build the pizza as fast as I can directly on the stone, pulling it out of the oven to do so. I can then use the peel to transport the cooked pie to the cutting board to slice. Kind of clunky, but it works.
Finally, the artichokes. So, I'm from California and we Californians love our artichokes. I always liked them, but they fell out of favor with my palate about mid-1998. I guess what I didn't like were my dipping options: garlic butter or mayonnaise. And I certainly was not going to eat them straight up.

Enter the bagna cauda.

A specialty of Piedmont, Italy, it means "hot bath." And what a tasty bath your vegetables will get with this sauce. Quite easy and quite delicious. It makes the artichoke experience nearly sublime. But it's not for the feint of heart.

Bagna Cauda:
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated and UNpeeled
3T butter
one 2oz. tin anchovies, drained and chopped
1/2 cup e.v. olive oil

Put the cloves in a medium saucepan and cover with water by one inch. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cloves are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves out and mash to a smooth paste. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Add the chopped anchovies and cook, while mashing into the butter, for one minute. Add the garlic and the oil, stir to sort of combine (it won't emulsify) and let simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve with artichokes or other veggies. Or, hey, use it as a pizza sauce!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Woe is me

This will be my last "woe is me" entry regarding Easter. Did I even tell you what the menu was going to be? So remiss with my readers. Forgive me.

My guests were charged with bringing beverages and hors d'oeuvres. I was then going to make pork tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce, roasted broccoli and fennel, Swiss chard cakes, mushroom cakes, and pea panzanella. For dessert, a lemon tart. My good friend EB agreed to have Sam and me, plus their good friends, the Wienses, over at her house instead... so I didn't spend Easter crying. EB came over after church to get the pork, and Sam and I went over to their house after his nap. I did end up making the mushroom cakes and two sauces, although they didn't end up as good as they did the first time, I don't think.

Sam and I were greeted at the Walkers with a cocktail and a lovely meat and cheese platter. Then the Wienses showed up with lumpia, which I really need to get a recipe for because Sam loves it. Crazy. A solid mass of meat he likes? Don't question it, just make it, I know.

But I told you that I would show you what I did with all my ingredients instead of making a feast, and I don't intend to disappoint. EB sent me home with leftover pork, so here we shall continue. You already saw that I made the chard/kale cakes and the tart. Next.

I used the leftover pork (and rice) to make fried rice. I have tried to make fried rice before, and it's been okay ... but this was the best one yet. It's the egg that's so tricky. Also, the sauce. I never know what to add. Sherry? Broth? Soy sauce? Some combo? I added just soy sauce, to dispense with the mystery. With the egg, I kept the wok over high heat, made a space in the center of my rice mixture, poured the egg into added peanut oil, and kept the egg moving with chopsticks. I need some long wooden ones, though. I kept looking at the end of my plastic ones expecting to see warped and melted tips. Best homemade fried rice ever. Nice.
I mentioned that I made the mushroom cakes and sauces, but I had leftovers because I was going to make a double batch for my feast. Since we would only be five adults at EB's, I decided not to bother with so many. That meant leftover everything for those. I sauteed mushrooms and put them over my eggs with some roasted red pepper sauce. Delicious! That roasted sauce is awesome, by the way. You should make it.
Oh, I also made the roasted broccoli to have with plain leftover pork and peppercorn sauce.
But the panzanella was going to be the show-stopper. This is, as my compatriot Lisa put it, a recipe within a recipe. Those are a turnoff, for sure, but this is just so good. It's a Michael Chiarello recipe that I got off after I saw him make it on TV. It's pretty quick too. The parts are: the bread cubes, the pea puree, the salad. It's long, so I won't write it out here, but if you really want it, just let me know. For my readers, I will type.

So that's the menu. We are out of leftovers. I poured the leftover chunky whipping cream down the drain the other day. I finished all the salad greens for lunch today. I substituted shallot for onion in something I made yesterday, so I only have one of those left. Josh and I managed to eat avocado (for the mushrooms sauce) on everything this week. Oh, and I just used the bottle of New Zealand white I bought for a sauce. I think that means I put everything I bought for the dinner party to use. Goody gumdrops.

I turn 35 tomorrow, Tuesday. I'm feeling a bit blue, for some reason. But I've made ice cream.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Bother?

Again, I wish to talk about cooking for toddlers. Sheesh, this kid is killing me. I made him corn muffins (from a mix), and he liked them very much. The "but" comes in because I have to freeze half the batch so as not to let them mold on the counter. Well, His Royal Highness only likes fresh muffins, not reheated ones. How does he know they are reheated, should be your question. I figure he is a culinary savant and recognizes the previously-frozen texture. He asks for a muffin; he gets his muffin; he rejects his muffin. Then I get irritated. He usually licks it, then days, "Down down down." From the table, that is. Yes, he is that offended.

I thought he might like polenta. In addition, he is acquiring spoon skills, so the texture would have been perfect. He thought it odd or offensive somehow, though, so I turned the leftovers into a patty and melted cheese on top. It was quite good... and His Worship would have none of it. That's the patty in the center. The sinkhole in its center is where Sam probed it. The remaining items on the plate are store-bought and only sometimes accepted. It's kind of like a hunting cheetah, cooking for a toddler is, in that I succeed with my dinners about 20% of the time, which I think is about how often a large cat also succeeds with his dinners.

He didn't even like this homemade bread! Who doesn't like homemade bread? (The butter was my addition after he turned it down.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chocolate Lemon Tart

My sister: Oh, you should check out my sister's blog. It's all about food.
Lady sitting alone in the restaurant (out for Mommy Time) who struck up a conversation about the menu: Is she fat?

Not yet. I love baking and dessert ... yes, yes, and morning pastries, too. My sister is convinced that we are gifted, we Sorensons, with the ability to put away more than your average calories without gaining (too much) weight. We shall see.

For Easter, I would have added chocolate curls to the top of this tart. But since Josh and I will be the only ones eating it, why bother? For extra chocolate, yeah, I know.

I couldn't really get a good shot of the tart. Perhaps that's because I was so excited to eat it, that I didn't want to wait for good photography.
Lemon Tart with Chocolate Crust:
For Crust:
1 & 1/4 cup flour
1 stick (8T) unsalted butter
1 T water
4 T powdered sugar
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder

For Filling:
6 eggs
1 & 1/4 c. sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup heavy cream
grated rind from 2 lemons

For filling, melt butter and water together and pour over sifted dry ingredients. Press into a buttered tart pan, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (I like to finish it in the freezer for 20 minutes, although this adds to baking time.) Preheat oven to 375. For the filling, beat eggs and sugar until sugar dissolves. Stir in remaining three ingredients. Pour into prepared shell and bake for 20-25 minutes until custard is set. (This may take 35-40 minutes if the shell is well frozen.)

As I mentioned, you can make chocolate curls for the top. Or even melt some dark chocolate and splatter it around for an artsy effect.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chard Cakes

This is a Lydia Bastianich recipe. I borrowed a cookbook from the library (Lydia's Italy) and took only two recipes from it. I adore her show because she shows footage from various regions in Italy, and the stories behind the food she cooks - travel plus food? What beats that?

But, true to Lydia, these are not lo-cal cakes. I suppose they are good for you because you can't adulterate greens so much that you start to cancel out the health benefits in them, right? Please say, Right.

They are a pain to make because they don't hold together at all, in my experience, but you can make it work. Also a pain because there are so many steps. But quite delicious. I used kale in the ones above because that is what was cost-effective. I was going to make these for our Easter feast. I doubled the recipe so Josh and I had these two nights in a row.

Chard Cakes:
4T olive oil
2lb. chard (or kale)
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 T butter, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup shredded Montasio or Pecorino cheese

Clean chard and wilt in boiling water for two minutes until cooked, but still green. Drain thoroughly, and chop into shreds. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan and add the onion, cooking until browning, about 5 minutes. Add the chard, salt, and the butter. Stir until the mixture is dry but not browned. Lay it out on a sheet pan to cool a bit before handling. Transfer to a bowl, add pepper, and stir in the egg. Form into small patties, sticking cheese to the outside. Heat a nonstick skillet and lay the patties in, cooking until GBD, 1-2 minutes per side over medium heat.

Alternately, if you are like me and can't really get the patties to stick together in the first place, I heat the pan and have my cheese and chard mixture in separate bowls next to my stove. When the pan is ready (dry, no need for lubricant, as long as it's nonstick), I sprinkle cheese in the pan, then lay a glob of chard over and flatten with a spatula. Then I sprinkle cheese on the exposed side, flipping when ready. This seems to work pretty well for me.

You get about 6 patties, depending on how large you make them, of course.

These are surprisingly rich ... because of the butter, I suppose. I was thinking that I might try to cut the oil and butter in half next time to lighten it a bit. They would still be covered with a salty cheese, so I don't think the recipe would suffer much.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Josh Ruins Easter

I tried to throw Josh a surprise birthday party last year, mere weeks before we moved. I had clandestinely prepared a few things on Friday, and hid them in the back of the fridge. Saturday, the day of the party, I told him I wanted to get a jump on dinner because I didn't want to eat really late, so I prepared a couple other things before we went to a baby birthday party in the early afternoon. Everything was fine, then about two hours before people were going to show up, Josh says he feels ill. Like he is going to barf, ill. Are you sure? I ask him over and over, for 30 minutes. So I tell him about the party - is he still sure? Yes. So we called it off.

Flash forward almost one year to Easter 2010. There are to be eight adults and two kids for Easter dinner. I have been running errands and prepping and cleaning. All week. It's Saturday afternoon and Josh is trying to put up some pictures because we still have nothing on our walls. Suddenly, he's in the bathroom. For a long time. Because. He. Feels. Ill. Like going to barf, ill. What? I waited 20 minutes to confirm, then called off dinner.

Josh: Even though this is no one's fault, I still feel bad.
Me: No one's fault? Hm. Interesting.

I'm kidding! Of course I didn't blame the poor guy for getting sick. Even though he more than insinuated that I tried to poison him. I felt bad for him. And yet. Despite myself, I felt a bit miffed. I mean, I was working all week. I love preparing menus and then executing. Afterwards, I go over my menu, the timeline, and the dishes to see what went well and what I need to work on. It's a whole physical and psychological preparation, execution, and evaluation. I believe I can feel sympathy and ever-so-slight irritation (that I aim at the universe, not my husband) simultaneously.

Oh yeah, I also thought a lot about Jesus. Because it was Easter.
So this week I will be showing you dishes that were supposed to, in one form or another, grace our Easter table.

Today, unfortunately, I cannot show you anything other than something quite old because my stupid iPhoto cannot seem to upload anything new and I would love to waterboard it. So this old dish was the soup that we salvaged from the disgusting stew - remember the Dave Lieberman one where the potatoes, green beans, et. al., fell apart and tasted like refuse? Yeah, that one. This soup did not taste like garbage, though, because we added a bunch of pepper, caramelized onions, and bacon! Saved!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stuffed Squid

I have been meaning to make stuffed squid for a while now. I first had them at Monsoon, I think. That's a hyped restaurant in Capitol Hill, reportedly on a precipitous slide into the abyss of mediocrity. The squid was excellent, however, when I had it umpteen years ago. I recently had the dish again when Josh and I joined the Walkers on a double date night at Tamarind Tree. The TT is also a much-hyped restaurant, but it's in the International District (ID) and doesn't seem to be sliding anywhere except perhaps to the top of the It List. We had a great night overall, as the company, food, and drink were sublime. I spent a little too much time investigating the sublimity of the latter, if you get my drift. The babysitter called to see where we were! Oops.
So I was in Uwajimaya, saw a tray of the wee cephalopods and went for it. I have seen squid cleaned before - once by a fishmonger and once by Mario Batali. It looked simple. The instructions say "Peel the outer skin off the body. It comes off easily if you hold the two flaps. Put the two body parts in the saucepan ...." Those are the only words about cleaning these things? Oh, so it really must be simple. I'm sure you see where I am going with this. There I am holding the flaps (is it me, or does my left hand look like a talon?) and peeling the skin down the body. Once you start the skin at the tip of the body it actually is rather simple. I remembered that Mario just pulled the head off and then removed the weird plastic-like thing that must serve as some sort of pseudo-bone structure. So, I remove the head - pop - and pull out the plastic (no photos!). I wondered how the body could simply be empty, so I looked. Yeah, not empty. So I scoop out a bunch of slimy goop while pondering how I might alter my technique so I don't have to do that again. This was the difficult part. You have to pop the head off just so, while holding the body just so, so that all the goopy insides come out intact. Then you go after the pseudo-vertabrae. Finally, I cut the tentacles away from the "face," but wondered whether I was supposed to do that. I mean, I have never seen eyes in my calamari, but it seemed like I shouldn't have to cut anything away. Cutting off half a face is odd.

I, well, Josh, stuffed them with ground pork cooked in mirin, soy sauce, ginger, and I think that was it. The meat sort of boils in the liquids and so absorbs those flavors. The squid - you just boil them for two minutes until opaque and then stuff. I believe the squid dishes I had in restaurants were such that the squid, once stuffed, was seared on a griddle, or perhaps broiled, and sauce was poured over? Dunno. Mine were quite good, even if they were different.
The final plate included fiddlehead ferns, sauteed lotus root, and kakiage. The latter was store-bought. We love it with a little tempura dipping sauce. Mmmm. The lotus root is quite good in just a little soy sauce and rice vinegar for a few minutes. Lotus is creamy and subtle. The fiddleheads - you want to know - what? why? how? So those are wee baby ferns. Native peoples in this region have known about them forever. Apparently, one of the many Asian cultures that shops at U also has known about them because they came all neatly wrapped in plastic and on special! They were an impulse buy. I blanched them for 2 minutes, then sauteed in garlic and ginger. They were not good. Well, Josh ate his, but I found them inedibly bitter. I had enough on my plate that I didn't feel the need to doctor them to make them edible. They probably could have used rice vinegar ... and bacon. I was thinking that they could be treated like collards probably successfully. They are far more bitter, though, perhaps like dandelion greens are.
The next day, for lunch, we revisited the lotus, and put the leftover pork stuffing in inari! Lovely! The tempura was store-bought - not that I haven't made my own, thank you very much. A little udon and pickled ginger to top it off. Delicious. This was the lunch that Josh insists gave him food poisoning. This is impossible because we ate the same thing. Unless he rubbed his hands all over garbage cans first, then he was not poisoned by me. Nope. Not this time, anyway. Now, if we were to talk about the Green Goddess Incident, that's a whole different story, and it was a long time ago.