Monday, May 31, 2010

Toddler Dinner Boot Camp

The goal: To have dinner with Sam, at the table. Since Josh gets home between 6:30 and 7pm, and Sam eats at 5:30pm, I will eat a coupe faim while Sam eats a "homemade" meal. The quotes are because sometimes it's a heated item as opposed to something created by my hands.
Day One: Pea-ricotta "pesto." Sam didn't put so much as one piece of pasta in his mouth. He just looked at it and pushed the bowl away. This happened on both Sunday and Monday evenings when I tried this meal. I continue to believe that we need a pig. The pig would be well-fed, eating all of Sam's rejects as well as his leftovers. And then we could make our own sausages, bacon, etc., and put it on the blog!
Day One Verdict: Failure.
Day Two: Falafel. What was I thinking? The photo of the meal could be both the before and after shot. At first, Sam took a big bite and said, "Mmmm." He chewed. I stayed myself, waiting for the bite to come tumbling out, but it didn't. He chewed as he examined his carrots. Chewed as he told me that we would "then [watch] Elmo," meaning after dinner. It was all I could do not to rush back into the kitchen, grab all of the falafel, and shove them onto his plate screaming, "There are lots more, son! Lots more! Eat! Eat!" I watched him chew thinking what a great story this was going to make! A miracle food: the falafel. And then! out came the tongue, pushing little shreds of falafel with it. He sat there with his falafel-covered tongue protruding as he exclaimed "Uh! Uh!" I wiped his tongue with my napkin as he told me that he "choked, choked!"
Day Two Verdict: Failure.
Day Three: I didn't manage to make anything, per se. I only heated up a breaded tilapia stick and a spinach cake. Both were rejected. The fish stick is usually devoured, while the spinach patty is a crap shoot. But to have both dismissed out of hand? Crazy. This kid is on a rejection roll. I then gave him a wee slice of the homemade whole wheat bread that I baked earlier in the day. He took one bite, then set it down and started sucking his arm. I tried a bowl of O's, and he ate with gusto. Oh, and we didn't have dinner at the table because Mommy was having a hard afternoon and knew that if he rejected his dinner and I was sitting across from him that I would either (a) break down crying, or (b) scream and break down crying. Since I already freaked out about him climbing on the couch with mud all over his pants, I decided that Sam had his freaky Mommy fill for the day.
Day Three Verdict: Failure.
Day Four: Macaroni and cheese. I know, this seems like a gimme. What kid doesn't like mac and cheese. I dress it up a little by using pureed cauliflower for the "milk" addition. I am, naturally, speaking of the packaged M&C variety. Not the neon orange one, but rather Annie's, which is organic, but still packaged. Well, bless my son because he doesn't like it anyway. I have three boxes left that I will give to Matthew W if he wants them.

I am tempted, however, to call this dinner a success because Sam decided on and then ate his own dinner. Yogurt and O's he said. So that's what he had while I ate my homemade wheat bread and triple cream cheese. He had two servings and we had a delightful conversation. It's a success of sorts. I'm just glad it wasn't plain O's. My mother tells the story of me eating nothing but Rice Krispies for three weeks - that's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The fact that Sam had yogurt is wonderful. And, you know, that's probably a better choice than the mac and cheese even though yogurt isn't really "dinner."
Day Four Verdict: Quasi-Failure.
Day Five: Zucchini patties. I got the recipe from Bon Appetit and thought I would make them for the adult dinner, but keep the toppings (creme fraiche and smoked sardines) off for Sam. He sat down with Josh and Auntie Mel and was actually, I thought, eating them. Nope, that was Josh and Auntie Mel making their own coupe faim from Sam's rejects. What he did eat was bread (my homemade whole wheat!) and peanut butter. That's okay.
Day Five Verdict: Quasi-Failure.
Day Six: Lumpia. I know, again? This time I got the recipe for the ones that Sam definitely likes. "Recipe" is generous, as the instructions are minimal. I have much more to say about the lumpia I made this time, but will save it for a separate post. So, this should have been another gimme because, as I have mentioned before, Sam loves lumpia when R makes them. We have had them a couple of times at gatherings and he goes wild gobbling them up. The verdict on these? Sam looked at the one I held out for him, repeated lumpia, then asked for yogurt with O's. The three adults ate lumpia with our stir fry. They were awesome!
Day Six Verdict: (Delicious)Failure.

So, Sam ate nothing I prepared for him this week. Wow. That has to be some kind of record. I think next week I will be even more daring and just serve him what Josh and I eat. Really, if he's not going to eat the things I make specially and separately and painstakingly for him, why bother? Seems like a no brainer! I won't bother!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Barbecuing in the Rain

Or should I say a thunderstorm ... because that's what it actually was. We don't get a ton of those in these parts, but, by gum, I decided to bust out the barbecue during one. The coals were just ready when it really started to pour. I was able to move my operation under cover and not burn the house down. Nice.

Why is barbecuing associated with men? It's funny, really. If I do the cooking, it also stands to reason that I do the 'cuing. Somehow, if we add a real fire, the outdoors, and, presumably, meat, we add men to the picture? Hm.

Not that men don't cook and barbecue, of course. My dad certainly does both.
This is what the sky looked like.
And this is what I made. Zucchini and red potatoes in a mustard-rosemary "sauce".
And pork tenderloin. It marinated for two days. This was a good thing.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1-2tsp. honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2T Sherry
8 garlic cloves, minced
4-8 green onions, sliced thin
2-4T sesame seeds, toasted

This is one of my dad's recipes. I think he made it up. I've used it several times and like it a lot. I'm thinking of tweaking the sugar:honey ratio. I usually use fewer green onions, too, since I don't much like them although I do enjoy the onion essence they lend to the marinade.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Go-to Dish

Everyone needs a go-to dish - one that's quick and easy; one that has ingredients usually found in the cupboard. I learned about this dish in Spain. My friend Ginger took me to a simple restaurant (that I would go back to again and again) and told me about their Cuban plate. It had rice, beans or ground beef, red sauce, a fried egg on top, and a plantain alongside. We had all those ingredients (minus the plantain, those were last week), plus some leftover fennel-olive stuff from the fish. A five-minute, nutritious meal was had. Yeah me.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Microgreens garden salad with toasted hazelnuts, beets, apples, and maytag bleu cheese.

My current read, although "study" might be more accurate, is "French Women Don't Get Fat," by Mireille Guiliano. Compelling title, no? It purports to offer the unique European formula to permanently shift your outlook and assumptions about lifestyle. That shift will lead you to equilibrium. The book is written for American readers, since the author is French but lives in NYC most of the year, and has experience with weight gain a la americaine. I am almost finished and so inspired. I ran out (read: clicked out on and bought her cookbook, too, assuming that it has all the recipes in the book, and there are many. I thought it was going to be a novel, and there certainly are stories of her life in there. But it's really more a lifestyle guide with pertinent recipes and anecdotes. I highly recommend it.
One lesson that I intellectually knew and understood but never truly put into practice, is about portion size. We have discussed how my family eats large portions and that my sister thinks we are uniquely endowed with the power to burn a multitude of calories and not get as fat as others we see eating similarly large portions. Maybe that's true, but what is definitely true is that we Americans eat way too much and it's way too big. In addition, what I have been slowly realizing, and what Guiliano also writes about, is this thing that the American food industrial complex is doing: ruining everything! So we eat more of things that are gross. Example #1: Chocolate can be something beautiful, sensual, luscious. How does a Snickers bar fit into that equation? It doesn't. The second example is embedded in the segue to the next lesson: pay more for quality (in smaller portions). After reading about Guiliano's charge that Americans, in the wake of the growing popularity of balsamic vinegar, found out how to wreck it, I checked the ingredients of my bottle. Who would ever think to check that? You should see only "wine vinegar" and probably "sulfites." Do you know what is in mine? Caramel color! It's made from corn and actually is on the no-no list is you are gluten-free. What the what?

Speaking of books and the French, I also bought "Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques." It is enormous, so my plan is to read a section every few nights and then add the wisdom therein to my Understanding and Practice. Even the introduction has good information. One tidbit that I will share with you here - because I was so shocked (Dad, you will need to be seated for this) - is that JP tells us, implores us to never (sic) use charcoal briquettes to barbecue. Never. He avers that the nice, smoky char on your chicken contains carcinogens and tar such that you might as well eat a pack of cigarettes. And guess who just bought two bags on sale at Costco. I will be making the switch to real chunk, because JP says so.
That takes us to my recent barbecue adventure. Let me just say here that I suck at fire management. I can certainly make one, yet once I dump the coals into the BBQ, I go from a bunch of red cherries to one eensy-weensy hot core that I try to squeeze everything around. Do I just need more, like way more, coals?

This is jerk chicken and it was pretty good. I have another jerk rub that I like more, so I won't bother with the recipe here for this one. It does have a habanero, also known as Scotch bonnet, in it! To my knowledge, this was my first dealings with the chile. I wore gloves so as not to get any juices on me. And I removed the ribs and seeds so as not to overdo it. For four chicken breasts, it was just enough heat for me.

Which reminds me. In Spanish, the "H" is silent. Always. And the "A" makes an "ahhhhhh" sound. Always. I recently heard a newscaster talking about Hugo Chavez and he sort of combined Spanish and English pronunciations of the first name, calling the Venezuelan president "Yugo," like the car. Funny.
That glop next to the charred poultry is plantains! Not my first taste of the pod, but definitely the first time I worked with them. I was supposed to get black ones, as the varying degrees of ripeness make a huge difference in texture and flavor, but they were only slightly black at the store. I stuck them in a paper sack with an apple to speed things along and it worked somewhat. Peeling those things is so weird - the peel sticks and is tough. The flesh itself it meaty and firm. The preparation has you boil chunks until tender, then mash them with coconut milk and butter and salt. It was pretty good, and fun to have something different as a starch. I would like to try this again with a different milk, maybe rice milk. I just don't like coconut milk. It tastes like I am eating suntan lotion.

There is so much going on in the food section of my brain right now. Notes to self:
1. Only chunk coals for the BBQ.
2. Smaller portions, always.
3. High quality ingredients that I must be emotionally prepared to pay more for. And, hey, note #2 helps with the pocketbook aspect, doesn't it?
4. Throw out my balsamic vinegar. Gross.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Nana and Papa missed

My parents were supposed to come for a visit this week. Dad, aka Papa, was slated to spend two days in town, while Mom, aka Nana, was going to stay longer to watch Sam, thus freeing me up for some serious house and garden work. Alas, the flights didn't work out, so they are still in SF, and Sam and I continue to battle things out on our own in Seattle. To add insult to injury, the Fates smote me with sour weather. Is it almost June or not? Curses. Being indoors with a mischievous (read: delightfully curious) toddler can drive even the most patient of nuns to drink. I've been having my own tipples this week.

Another crying shame about them not making it is the now complete waste of a fabulous menu. Highlights include artichokes with bagna cauda, barbecue pork, crab cakes, and a chickpea ragu with sausage. I hit my new Jacques Pepin cookbook hard while deciding on my dishes. JP is my father's culinary hero ... come to think of it, my mother would have been the one enjoying the dishes, since Dad would have already left. I know; you're thinking, Jen, you can still make all these fabulous things, take photos, and tell us all about them. And this is incentive to continue as planned, dear readers, it is.

And yet.

I have a toddler. These meals take time and require someone to watch the boy. I suppose Elmo has watched him occasionally ... but I don't wish to rely on E too often. Although Sam can count to 14, and I didn't teach him that. Thank you Sesame Street.

By the time I got the news that they definitely weren't coming, I already had all of my ingredients for Tuesday's dinner. So, onward.
Orecchiette (or, rather, the pasta I had on hand) with cauliflower and croutons. The recipe is from the May edition of Bon Appetit. The magazine focused on a few countries and created menus with expert, native input. The most attractive to me was the Italian (Puglian) menu, so I chose a couple dishes (originally, I thought I would make four or five, but realized that I was only cooking for four, so I should just settle down). I think this pasta is something that would be thrown together, perhaps at the end of the week, with leftover veggies and old bread. I have made a couple recipes like this with pasta and garlic croutons or breadcrumbs. So good. The "dressing" is olive oil and anchovy paste. Add some Pecorino and Parmesan and parsley - minding your P's - and you are good to go. I opted for the broccoflower, as you can see, instead of cauliflower because I wanted to and it was on sale.
Who can resist a whole fish? I don't know when certain fish are in season. And I don't know which fish are the best to get when they aren't local. These are bass, but they are from Taiwan. I paused before I got them, but went ahead noting that they were fresh, blah blah. I got them at Uwajimaya, of course, and I have decided that I will only shop there on Tuesday mornings and with Sam. I have mentioned before that Tuesday is their senior discount day and Sam is an elderly person magnet. He has had members of the older set speaking to him in several languages on any given Tuesday at U. This is in contrast to the parking booth guy who thinks that Sam is ill because he is so blond and pale. I tried to explain Scandinavian coloring to this Ethiopian man, but something was lost in translation. "He sick? He so white." Yeah. It's natural, really. Anyway, this particular Tuesday was the best ever! We walk in to our usual smiles and waves in the produce section and at the butcher counter. And then! Fish counter! Bam! Asian Grandpa is there again and comes out to poke Sam and get in his face. Thank goodness this makes Sam laugh and not scream because Asian Grandpa then gives Sam an enormous lump of crabmeat! This is from the $24/lb. case. I hold it in front of Sam, as my mouth waters. AG then gives Mommy some, too. Sam poo-poos his and Mommy scores two chunks of sweet sweet crab. But AG doesn't stop there: "Does he like shrimp?"

Is this the chasm in toddler eating culture? Compare what Japanese two-year-olds eat to American. Let's say American kids who have a parent that cooks. I have a feeling they are eating fish and pickled things and slurping noodles. And then there's Sam. I make Sam his own meal because, in my experience, he doesn't eat what I make for Josh and me. I want him to eat something other than Cheerios. But, what if it's just a war of attrition that I am refusing to fight? What I mean is that if I serve him normal homemade, wholesome, tasty food every night and allow him to turn his nose up, will he eventually give in and eat his artisanal pizza instead of chicken nuggets? When will he say yes to coq au vin? I keep thinking that the magical age is two because that's when I go back to work and will only have time for one dinner that he and I will eat together at the table. I'll be damned if I'm going to make two different meals, do all the cleanup, wrestle a toddler into the bath, and then grade papers. No way.
So, anyway, the trip to U was awesome and Asian Grandpa told us to call him that, and the guy with the cross-eye yelled that AG was going to scare Sam, and it was all fun and games. I was so glad that I ordered whole fish because the quiet one took a while to scale and gut, thus leaving more time for all of that other stuff.

I pan sauteed the bass (after a dusting with flour) to get a nice crust on the skin (yummy), then stuffed them with garlic and parsley and lay them on a bed of fennel, red onion, tomatoes and oil-cured olives (I found the last jar at QFC - bring back the oil-cured olives!). It was good but really needed lemon to complete it. Maybe I'll do it again when Nana and Papa finally make it up.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Microgreens and other garden wonders

Josh planted a round of veggies in February, when we had a warm spell. They have been growing very slowly since then. The slow growth and small pickings have made me realize a few things:
1. The supermarket has seriously distorted my (our? American?) view of normal size. When I let my radishes get to the size I think they should be, their insides are dust. It's odd. If you slice through the middle, it looks like a snowflake ... and kind of tastes like one too. I picked a bunch of small ones, partly to thin the row and partly to test, and guess what. They were great - piquant radish is one of the best flavors, isn't it? My father taught me to love radishes. The fun thing about picking them so small is that you can eat the greens and all.
2. Microgreens is a racket! Oh, I thought they were so cute and I dutifully paid $10/lb. when I wanted to make the exact salad I saw in Bon Appetit. But now that I have grown my own, I will no longer be duped. I wanted to show you a salad I made almost entirely of microgreens from my garden, but iPhoto, once again, is making my blogging life impossible. Picture, if you will, eensy-weensy beet greens, fennel, radishes, and kale, combined with almost normal size arugula. That was one awesome salad.
3. You must thin mercilessly. Sounds like advice given to a newly arrived wanna be movie star from Iowa. I have been worried that I will somehow choose the wrong sprout to represent its kind in the bed o' produce. This season I have changed my practice and go in, head down, pluck pluck plucking so that the ones left have enough room. That's the point, right? Right. Otherwise I sow nothing. Or only microgreens, I guess.
4. Fertilizer is your friend. Our stuff is growing seriously slow and small. I think I need to just fertilize. I was thinking that it's like giving your plants bovine growth hormone, which is wrong and gross. But maybe it's more like creatine powder, which does help you bulk faster, but is still okay for your body, soooooo.

5. Growing your own food is exciting. It has only been twice now that I have planted veggies and both times I thought, as I dropped seeds into the ground, No way is this going to grow. Who do I think I am? And then it totally grows so much that you have to thin! Seeds are so cool, man. Maybe I can plant one of my rock hard kiwis and grow my own tree. This isn't Mediterranean climate, like I think they are used to in New Zealand, but maybe I can get away with it. Hm.

I also need a fig tree.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I am livid.

One of the worst things on the planet - after poverty, hunger, war, etc. - is the fruit industry in this country. For years, I have been complaining that fruit doesn't taste like it's "supposed to." Finally, I hear many more people saying the same thing. Fruit is picked too early and blasted with ethylene (a natural chemical produced by apples and bananas) to "ripen" them, but they don't really ripen, do they? They look ripe, but rarely smell like the fruit they are, and taste like ... nothing. I haven't had a decent strawberry from the market in ages. And I never buy the fringe berries that we have here: blackberry, marionberry. They taste like dirty water. Those have to be picked in the woods.

Am I the only person who smells her fruit? People stare at me when I pick up a pineapple and hold it to my nose.

Surely, part of the beauty of this international market of foods is that you can get these wonderful things in northern latitudes: passionfruit, starfruit, dragonfruit, pineapple. But they just aren't right when they are here, are they? I remember eating a mango in Taiwan. Holy crap! Is that what they really taste like? I recall discovering that, yes, I do like pineapple ... in Hawaii. Before, I actually thought it was gross. Who doesn't like pineapple? But that stuff doesn't grow here. Is it great that we can enjoy them, even if they are not all they can be, or is it wrong? Perhaps we shouldn't ship those delicate things. Those tropical things. Those things that age on the table, but really should ripen on the vine. Maybe they will be better and even more special if you can only eat them where they are grown. Some fruits you will never eat. Some just once in your whole life.

Where is this coming from?

I bought a container of kiwi and a pineapple from Costco. The pineapple is fine - pretty sweet, but not Hawaii sweet. The kiwi are rock hard and not ripening, but rather shriveling, like an old woman's lips. The moisture is ... evaporating or something.

And I'm pissed. I keep cutting them open thinking that, yes, it gave to a little pressure, this one, this one is ripe. No. Inedible. It's been two weeks!

Have you ever had a peach from the American South? I mean, California grows some good fruit, but no way do the peaches even compare. No way.

So I am vexed by my fruit conundrum. Do I eschew all the sweet delights that cannot be grown close enough to home to allow them to be picked when ripe and not rocks? Buying organic helps a little, but not much, I've noticed. Buying at farmers markets definitely helps. But I'm not going to get my passionfruit fix at an Seattle market. I won't be shaking the hand of my local durian purveyor any time soon.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Friendship Bread

My neighbor came over with a Friendship Bread starter. I was ridiculously excited about it. She also brought over a sample of the baked version - so sweet and cinnamony. Yum.
Day 1: Do nothing. Days 2-5: Stir with a wooden spoon.

Day 6: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Stir.
Day 10: Add a bunch more stuff, take some out to pass on to three friends, then add more stuff to make two loaves.

There are a bunch of versions of this bread. I saved one of the three starters that I was supposed to pass on so that I can make more. I think I will try something with chocolate next time. I found a few websites that talk about the bread as "Amish." I don't know if it really is, and don't see why it would be. If anything, it should be Quaker, since they are the Society of Friends, and all. You can order a huge starter kit for over $100. But I'm sure you can just make your own starter, right?

I was quite worried that my loaves wouldn't turn out. I did a couple things wrong. First, I seemed to have quite a lot left over once I removed the three portions to pass on. The recipe says you'll have a little over a cup, and I clearly had more than "a little more." Next, I finally read the package of instant pudding that I was to add, and it was a little over 1 oz. shy of what I was supposed to have. Oops. And I forgot to get pecans at the store. I'm sure nuts are optional, as they always seem to be in baked goods, but I thought a few pecans sprinkled on would go so nicely. It did taste like a coffee cake.

But my fears were unfounded. I know, shocker. I am quite the baker. Can I think of anything I have ruined? Oh, wait, yes I can. So we will chock this delicious bread up to sheer luck. Josh took one loaf to work and it was gone within an hour. Verdict: Delicious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day

I know. A little late, but I had to get all the photos uploaded, blah blah.

I got to do a little bit of everything on M Day. Josh said I got to decide what the day was about, and that he would execute to the best of his ability. Of utmost importance to me was that I did not want to set foot in the kitchen to clean or cook. At all. This might be surprising, since I obviously like to cook, and fancy that I don't do a terrible job at it. But when you are a homemaker, you spend hours in the kitchen, almost constantly with a rag in your hand wiping up, wiping up, wiping up. And we have so little counter space that I feel the need to completely clean up before I begin cooking ... you get the picture. I wanted one day of freedom. And this I was granted.
The day started with some lovely treats. Josh and I first ate a "French" sandwich and half a bagel with lox at the park with Sam running amuck. We came back, put Sam down for a nap, and enjoyed some pastries and conversation. The pink glaze was a little off-putting - it looks too much like a donut - but it was quite tasty, with thick pastry cream inside. In the background is a pithivier, I think they are called. An Italian slipper? Dunno. There is pear and pastry cream inside and it's my favorite.
For lunch, well, I made lunch. But I still ate it with my hubby, calmly and over conversation. Really I just prepared lunch from leftovers, so I did not over-exert myself. Quinoa with vegetables alongside the best veggie burger, and a herb creme fraiche.
Dinner was quite an affair. Josh decided to barbecue, and he headed to the store for foodstuffs. We had lovely grilled asparagus, which J skewered in order to avoid losing them all in the coal pit.
He also grilled bok choy, Anaheim chiles, and fennel, chopped them all up and added a soy-sugar-something dressing. Lovely.
The piece de resistance was a spicy rub grilled salmon. This is Copper River, wild, king, superduper salmon, and J cooked it perfectly. Yum.
There was even dessert: angel food cake with macerated strawberries.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chipotle Pork with Beet and Cabbage Salads

My sister gave me a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine for xmas. I have decided that I am going to do as many recipes as possible (and desireable) from the magazine in the month I receive it. This is revolutionary because my old tack was to read the thing, then rip the recipes I liked out and put them in a folder. This folder grew and grew to such proportions that I became overwhelmed and finally threw the whole thing out when we moved because we were already moving quite a bit of crap and 17 years' worth of ripped out recipes? No. So, for the upcoming week, I looked to BA and my old Cooking Light mags. They inspire me for spring. Which is a month old, I realize, but we stay pretty cool and gray in these parts for well into it. As I previously mentioned, I am done with the heavy meat cuts, like short ribs and lamb shanks. I feel ready and able to move into more fish and, hey, pork tenderloin!

Pork tenderloin is a delight to cook, isn't it? Easy and pretty quick, too. Lean, as far as meats go, to boot. And the perfect foil for so many flavors. It just gives and gives, that swine.

This is a recipe I make a bit, from one of those accumulation magazines, like The Best Winter Recipes from Sunset, or something like that. I could get up and look, but I don't feel like it. I like to have something light beside this recipe, due to the spice. I spotted the cabbage and beet salads in BA and went for it.

Speaking of which, we have some beets planted now, and I have plans to plant more in the fall so that we have them for winter. What I really want is to grow all my own root vegetables and cabbage and hard squash and then have a root veg "cellar" of sorts. I have had a design in my mind's eye that would use a wood frame and fill it with sand. I would keep it somewhere in our clogged workroom (the final frontier of move-in mayhem; yes, that was nearly a year ago!). I have lots of goals like this for my home garden. I tend to soar in imagination, making lists, drawing up plans ... then I get overwhelmed and deflated by all I haven't done. Arg. I need to think step-by-step and not go haywire when I can't reach the moon on the first jump. From my 35th birthday to Mother's Day, I've been really good at beating myself up and measuring myself against all the things I haven't done. No root cellar? Fail. No chicken coop? Fail. And where, oh where, are the espaliered pears and apples? Fail.

Wasn't I talking about pork? Right.
Chipotle Pork:
1-1.5lb. pork tenderloin (or, really, however big you want) - Trim off all the gross silverskin and fat. Heat a pan over med-high, add some canola oil, and sear the pork on all sides, about 2 minutes per. Then toss into a baking dish or onto a sheet pan and roast at 425 for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the loin and how cooked you like yours. I like mine rare; the one pictured is medium.
Sauce: 2/3 cup maple syrup; 4 T chipotle chiles and sauce; 2 T dijon mustard. Whisk or blend together and serve on the side.
Options: I am thinking of a couple things I want to try with this. (1) Barbequing the tenderloin and basting on the sauce near the end. (2) Heating the sauce in a small saucepan and adding a cornstarch slurry to thicken.

Salads: These go quite well with the spiciness of the pork.
Beets: 2T Sherry vinegar, 2 tsp. dijon mustard, 5 T safflower or canola oil - Whisk together and pour over 3 large red beets, grated. OR, what I did was buy pre-roasted beets from Trader Joe's and slice them.
Cabbage Salad: 1/4 white vinegar, 1 T soy sauce, 1 T sugar, 5 T safflower/canola oil - whisk and pour over 6 cups shredded cabbage and 2 T chopped mint.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Italian(ish) fare

I have been trying to get a post out for a week now. I think that toddler who lives here and demands my constant attention was more demanding than usual this week. Plus, I just couldn't sit down for the time necessary. Do you have days like that? You just can't get into a sit groove. Anyway.
I must confess my love for Mario Batali. I used to watch his show religiously - Monday at 11am on the Food Network. He wove in personal stories as well as historical and sociological information from the various regions in Italy. I appreciated that. I have made a few of his meals, and one has become a favorite in our house: fritelle sarde, or sardine fritters. A couple things, right off the bat: (1) I often use trout instead of sardines because I am (was) afraid of sardines due to a bad experience. ... Oh, okay, I'll tell you. I tried one straight out of the tin! I tried to backpedal and forget the experience by trying one again and working really hard to tell my taste buds to just give it another shot. I had #2 with mustard and on bread, but there was no going back. (2) I don't make them "fritters" in the sense that I don't deep fry them. Mario had a whole jug of olive oil for frying and I just can't bring myself to use that much oil, so I pan fry and simply flip.

I've been using canned trout (the recipe is for canned fish), but Josh recently read that sardines are good for us - all of us, that is. They have more omega-3's than salmon; their place on the food chain means they aren't full of toxins, unlike other canned fish I could mention. So I decided to give sardines a try and made the fritters for lunch. Well, I'll be horn-swaggled, they were great. Lovely with a little pa amb tomaquet, or tomato bread, which was standard fare in my adopted city of yore, Barcelona. Notice that I threw on some capers because I saw a fellow blogger with a similar Maltese bread dish that uses the little briny fruit, and I though, Why not? Indeed! A delight!
Speaking of tomatoes in Spain. I recall marveling at the distinction between salad and bread tomatoes. I lived with an older woman and a Dutchman who both bought greenish, rock-hard tomatoes for use in salads, while saving the red ones for bread. Not only did they save these, but they let them further ripen on the counter, getting to the point where the skin started to wrinkle. Yuck, I thought! I came around pretty quick - never to the hard salad tomatoes, but definitely to the bread tomatoes. If you've never had it, it's quite lovely. You take a red, red tomato, slice it in half horizontally, then squeeze the guts out onto a nice baguette (toasting is optional). I think it's nice to let it sit for a bit to soak in. Then, you drizzle e.v. olive oil over that, and sprinkle salt generously. Simple and so nice. Slap some jamon on there, perhaps a fritelle, or a tortilla (omelet, to my Western friends who will think I am talking about a Mexican corn or flour tortilla). When I have really good garden tomatoes, then I put the whole slice on the bread instead of just the guts. Enough salt is the key to really unlocking the flavors.

I also made this beauty. I already told you that I got a new cookbook, by Lydia Bastianich, right? It's on my cookbook list. I made the meatballs in broth from it. I was looking to do something with greens that didn't involve simply sauteing them, not that this isn't a fabulous way to do greens. I mean, no fuss means you get unadulterated greens flavor, not to mention fewer calories and a way easier preparation. But I was looking to fuss, I suppose, when I happened upon erbazzone with chard filling. Yes, please. I created shortcuts by using store-bought pie crust instead of making my own dough. But I definitely am going to make some dough out of this book because many of the recipes use olive oil as the fat. What?! Italians are so crazy. Don't even get me started on Berlusconi, am I right?

Trout/Sardine Fritters:
2 tins of trout or sardines (packed in water or oil, smoked or not, according to taste); 2 eggs, lightly beaten; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 cup parsley, minced; 1-2 T chopped pepperoncini; 1/2 cup bread crumbs; 1 T grated caciocavallo/Pecorino/Parmesan cheese.
Mix everything. Then make fritters any size you like, I guess. Mine are a couple inches in diameter. You can deep fry them as balls, or slightly flatten them and pan fry in as much or as little oil as you like. Serve simply with a salad and lemon wedges.

Erbazzone with Chard Filling:
1 lb. chard, cleaned, cut into thin slices, ribs cut out and tossed (or saved for stock); 2 T olive oil; 2 garlic cloves, sliced; 1/2-1tsp. salt; 2 eggs, lightly beaten; 1/2 grated Parmesan; 1/4 bread crumbs; 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced; 1 batch dough of choice.
Prep the chard by bringing a pot of water to a boil and mixing in the chard. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Drain chard really well, squeezing excess water out. Heat olive oil over medium heat, add garlic and saute lightly. Mix in chard and salt to taste, and saute until the chard is dry, but not browned, just a couple minutes. Put the chard mixture, and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and mix. Roll out your dough. Add the mixture to the dough and fold over the corners so it's like a picture frame. You can bake either on a stone or on a sheet pan, at 375. The time will depend on your dough. My pie crust took about 25 minutes.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Me: I think I need a fryer to make these look and taste right.
Josh: Well, you used wonton wrappers. Those aren't made from rice flour.
Me: Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense. Say, was that your smarty-pants, know-it-all voice? Are you being condescending?
Josh: I don't have a know-it-all, etc. voice.
Me: There! That's it!

I might have made most of that conversation up, but the facts are good: I used wheat flour wrappers. Although Uwaj claims to be a rather comprehensive Asian foodstuffs purveyor, I did not see "lumpia wrappers." And I didn't think to look for rice paper wrappers. Curses. That must have been the problem with Sam liking the lumpia. He knew what authentic was; my lumpia were not it.
My setup. Ready for stuffing.

Making dumplings is an art. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. The ones that Sam has had before, and liked, made by R, are always perfect little cigars. A couple of mine came out looking pretty good, but getting them "right" was taking way too long, so I started rolling them as a diamond instead of a square. It was easier, but not as pretty. A person learns many a thing while making dumplings of whatever sort. I learned that you really need to crumble the meat completely. The few large chunks seemed to bust through the wrappers every time, such that several needed to be double-wrapped. Since I still have half a pack of wrappers, I will continue to use my newfound dumpling knowledge for Good.
They came out okay. I got the recipe off the Food Network. The whole reason I dared to try lumpia is becuse Sam liked them so much, the several times he had them. R, a friend of a friend, is Filippina and has brought them to several dinner parties. Hers are little fried rods of meat in a perfectly crunchy shell. So good, you don't even need dipping sauce, although she always makes some that is quite tasty. I asked for the recipe, but never heard back, so I went searching on my own. Voila. The FN recipe includes a bunch of vegetables, while R's is solid meat. Of course, since I was making them for Sam, sneaking in veggies couldn't possibly be a bad thing. The stuffing, however, was largely flavorless. Again, not always a bad thing for a toddler, so I plowed ahead.
In the end, Sam liked the crunchy outer part, and did eat a bit of the stuffing of one. He must have thought that the lumpia was all crunch because he boldly grabbed a second and bit through about 1/3 of it with gusto. And ... then ... it ... came tumbling out of his mouth. Not by accident. If you have a toddler, you know that sometimes spitting accidents happen. This was definitely purposeful; I saw the tongue on the ejection follow-through.

Once again, I had a backup plan. Josh and I added lumpia to our dinner of fried rice. I was going to make a pasta salad. But the day was so gray, and the pasta salad equally gray (if you're thinking pouring-salad-dressing-over-noodles gray, you would have what I was intending). So the lumpia actually provided inspiration for a way out.
You won't find the recipe here, of course, because they weren't very good. My friend EB reportedly has R's recipe, so you will see another lumpia attempt. This I swear.