Wednesday, December 22, 2010

soft sugar cookies...

Two great cookie finds recently, this recipe for homemade Oreos, and a good recipe for sugar cookies. My 2-year-old is fascinated with cooking and asks for YouTube videos of cake decorating on my iPhone. She helped me make the dough for the sugar cookies (pressing mixer buttons, plunging her hands in the flour and trying to eat dough despite my warnings about raw eggs) and decorated them after we cut them out. At Target I found these cool jars of sprinkles shaped like cows, dolphins, hearts, stars, and dinosaurs. I intended to make some icing but ran out of time. Out of curiosity, I looked at the supposed "cream cheese" flavor of icing in Target, and the label mentioned that it "might contain dairy." Might? (This is to say nothing about the first two ingredients: high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil.) Gross. But the from-scratch cookies are delicious.

My favorite thing about the holidays so far is this three dollar advent calendar we got from IKEA, full of chocolate. Each morning Sofia asks if she can have her "date," which she then opens and eats immediately. And she'll never get ahead of herself-- she understands perfectly that taking a future chocolate away means one less chocolate she gets on the right day. One morning she sat in the living room and just looked at the advent calendar, waiting patiently for us to get up so we could show her which day it was. That took a lot of discipline.

Soft Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Sift dry ingredients. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Mix in flour mixture, scoop up in a ball and refrigerate for a few hours. Preheat oven and roll out dough on a well-floured board. Cut shapes. Sprinkle. Bake 6-10 minutes, depending on thickness. Thick cookies will be softer.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies

It's the end of the semester here, and today I did some cooking to celebrate. Made empanadas to take to a holiday party and these, ostensibly to take somewhere... but perhaps it would be better if I just keep these all at home. They may be the best brownies I've ever made. A student of mine recommended this recipe and said it was out of this world. Like many other awesome Ina Garten recipes, it definitely delivers. Individual chocolate chips hover inside and melt slightly during baking, and plentiful walnuts add a satisfying texture and crunch. Here's the slightly adjusted version, made to fit in an 8x8 pan.

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
1 12 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker's)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups sugar
slightly more than 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Melt butter, half the chocolate chips, and baking chocolate together over low heat. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, but not using a mixer, stir together eggs, coffee, vanilla and sugar until combined. Combine egg mixture with butter/chocolate mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350. In another bowl, sift most of the flour (save a few tablespoons), baking powder, and salt. Combine with chocolate mixture.

In another small bowl, mix the remaining flour with walnuts and chocolate chips. This keeps the nuts and chips from sinking to the bottom. Stir this into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into 8x8 pan that you've coated with butter and dusted with flour. Bake 50 minutes to an hour total. 20 minutes into it, bang the pan against the oven shelf to let out air bubbles. After 50 minutes, test to see if a toothpick comes out clean. When the toothpick is no longer wet but with moist crumbs, it's ready. Be careful not to overbake.

This supposedly tastes better the next day. I think it tastes pretty amazing right now.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

This is the first recipe in a long time that has just cried out to me to prepare it upon becoming aware of its existence. The NPR story made it sound tempting and delicious. A pumpkin, slow roasted for two hours and stuffed with a mixture of bread, gruyere, heavy cream, bacon and herbs. It's French, from cookbook author Dorie Greenspan. And you can improvise on this one-- the version below has a few minor adaptations, but she says it's also good stuffed cooked with rice, nuts, etc. I might try adding apples next time. Vegetarians could leave out the bacon.

I made it, with a few adaptations, and it was out-of-this-world. It's a great savory entree, perfect for this time of year when Florida is finally cooling off a little, and for everywhere else in the country. My daughter (2) wasn't crazy about it, but she filled up on the side salad: spring baby greens plus cheddar and apples and a mustard vinaigrette. A nice riesling would have been a good accompaniment. (Not for the baby).

Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
Makes 2 very generous servings

1 pumpkin, about 4 lbs
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
6 strips turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
Handful of chopped spinach
1 shallot, chopped
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
Dash nutmeg
A little more than 1/3 cup heavy cream, with a dash of salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350. Using a big knife, cut out the top of the pumpkin. Using your hands, pull out the seeds and the stringy parts. Salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin generously. Place pumpkin on a piece of parchment paper set on a baking sheet.

In a mixing bowl, mix bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, spinach, shallot and scallions. Season with thyme, pepper, a dash of nutmeg. Stuff into the pumpkin, pour heavy cream over top. Put the top on, and cook for 90 minutes. After ninety minutes, remove top and let the top of the stuffing brown for the last 30 minutes or so.

To serve, you could either slice the pumpkin pieces or scoop out pumpkin + stuffing. I did the latter method.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Restaurant-style Chicken with Broccoli

I found this great and inspiring website about putting good meals on the table while trying to balance work and family. The recipe for Restaurant-style Chinese Chicken & Broccoli is one I'll make again, probably doubling the sauce and not making the mistake of buying the package of chopped broccoli (yuck, those little pieces of broccoli disintegrate everywhere rather than providing sturdy little trees to dot your sauce). But oh, it is good. Definitely better than strip-mall Chinese.

Restaurant-style Chinese Chicken, Broccoli and Cashews

Chicken breasts (1-2 lbs)
1 onion, chopped
garlic cloves
2 Tblsp. rice wine vinegar
2 Tblsp. hoisin sauce
1/4 cup water
1 small 10 ounce package broccoli florets, steamed
1/2 cup cashews, roughly chopped

Cut chicken breasts into small pieces and saute in neutral cooking oil. When almost done, add chopped onion and cook until soft. Add about 1/2 to 1 tsp. cornstarch, stir. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds. Add vinegar, turn up heat, add hoisin sauce and water. When finished, toss with broccoli florets and cashews. Serve with rice.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Citrus Tilapia

This is a good marinade for tilapia that appeared in this past month's Cooking Light. I was afraid it would be sweet, but somehow once it's roasted, it isn't.

4 6 ounce tilapia filets
1/2 cup orange juice (about one orange)
3 Tblsp lime juice
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1 Tblsp olive oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 tsp. paprika.

Combine all marinade ingredients up to garlic cloves. Place fish in shallow roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Poour marinade over fish. Let rest no longer than 15 minutes (or you'll have ceviche).

Preheat boriler. Sprinkle fish with paprika, broil 15 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Drizzle sauce over fish. Makes four servings.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Madeleines, a rough draft

There's a cafe in Fes, where our Moroccan half of the family lives, called La Villa. It's a state-of-the-art, trendy place in the Ville Nouvelle or new city, with wireless Internet, tile and mirrors everywhere, and air conditioning. It was there that I first had truly amazing madeleines. Morocco has a long tradition of great pastry making, some of which they inherited from the French, but I noticed that people referred to almost anything that was muffin shaped and cakelike as madeleines. But when I finally tried the real thing last summer in La Villa, I understood what made Proust so nostalgic. There are a few different varieties of madeleines, but the ones I'm talking about have the consistency of cornbread, the taste of the crust of a good lemon poundcake, and get their leavening from eggs alone. They are often described as cookies but to me are some intermediate form between cookies and cake. I recently decided to learn how to make them - and though the results haven't yet been beautiful, the taste is out of this world. With the help of Julia Child, I found the ideal recipe - now if I could just get my pan seasoned enough that they would take the scallop shape they are supposed to assume after baking, all would be perfect.

I first consulted two of my favorite food blogs, where one posted an attempt at madeleines that didn't turn out so well, while the other had a recipe that was claimed to be out-of-this-world. Bypassing the first, I attempted the second, which had 4 eggs in it and came out extremely eggy and gross. I decided then to look for a Julia Child recipe and discovered the perfect one. I had ordered a madeleine pan from since I couldn't find one locally, so perhaps the new metal pan just needs to be seasoned to keep them from sticking. Julia's solution is a butter-flour mixture to grease them with, which I tried, but to no avail. They still came out intact, but just not with that beautiful, golden-brown scalloped surface. Nevertheless, the pan and the recipe are great investments, since I will certainly be making them again.

Madeleines (from Julia Child)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. sugar
1 c. flour + 1 T for preparing pans
1 1/4 stick butter (5 ounces)
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon, or slightly less (they were a little lemony- I will probably do less than this next time)
1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and let it simmer until it starts to turn caramel colored. Then reserve 1 1/2 Tblsp of this butter in a separate bowl, mixing with 1 Tblsp flour to grease the pan with. Set aside. Place the rest of the melted butter in a glass dish over a bowl of ice water to cool off, stirring from time to time so it doesn't congeal.

Beat the eggs lightly, then divide in half (should be about 1/4 cup each). Set aside 1/4 cup, put the other 1/4 cup in an electric mixer with sugar and flour. Blend until mixture is sandy. When butter is cool, mix with remaining eggs and add to flour mixture, along with lemon, zest, and vanilla. My batter was slightly looser than cookie dough, not as smooth as a cake.

Grease madeleine pans, place about a tablespoon of the mixture in each form, and bake for 13-15 minutes. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vegetable Lo Mein with Spinach and Other Neighbors (Edamame)

This is a good summer recipe, light but filling, something that could satisfy one's cravings for Asian food without having to resort to a strip mall Chinese restaurant and an overly greasy, deep fried General Tsao's chicken. My daughter loves soybeans, or edamame, which she pronounces as "other neighbors." (She also calls tofu "toe food"). I buy frozen bags of organic soybeans, cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes, and salt them lightly, and as anyone who's eaten at a Japanese restaurant in the last ten years would know, they make a great appetizer. But I assume they also are great food for a toddler because they're green and filled with protein. Nonetheless, they are the star of this dish, which is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, and can be varied infinitely - I'd just keep the sauce proportions in check.

Vegetable Lo Mein with Spinach and Edamame

5-6 baby bella mushrooms, chopped (can use any kind here)
3 cups chopped spinach
14 ounces spaghetti noodles
4 Tblsp. soy sauce
1 Tblsp dark sesame oil
2 Tblsp canola oil
1 Tblsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup carrots, julienned (could also use a pepper here instead)
a few green onion stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, cooked
3 Tblsp hoisin sauce

Cook spaghetti until done. When done, drain and mix with 1 Tblsp soy sauce and sesame oil, tossing to coat. Then, in a wok or large skillet, heat canola oil. Saute ginger 5 seconds, add mushrooms, carrots, onions, and garlic, and stir-fry 3-5 minutes. Stir in spinach and edamame, fry another 30 seconds. Mix in noodles, 3 sauce, 3 Tblsp hoisin sauce, until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dinner Rolls, perfect every time

These dinner rolls, loosely adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe, turn out rewardingly well every time I make them. Sure, you could go to Publix and pick up some of their delicious, in-house bakery-made French sourdough dinner rolls, but you could make these yourself, and they would be even better, fresh out of your own oven with a smear of butter and some honey. If you make them a little bigger than normal, they'd be great as hamburger rolls. This adaptation continues my love affair with whole wheat pastry flour, which really is amazing, since it can be used in almost all baking situations without weighing down your cookies/cakes/bread/etc, and yet it's healthy for you.


3 1/2 cups flour - combination of whole wheat pastry flour and white flour, in any proportions you like
1 Tblsp salt
1 Tblsp sugar
1 package instant yeast (about 2 tsp.)
3 Tblsp. cold butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

Put flour, salt, sugar, and yeast into food processor, pulse a few seconds. Add cold butter and egg, process 10 seconds. Keep machine running and pour the milk in. Run the machine for 30 seconds, or until dough starts to spin around in ball form. If it's too loose, add more flour, if too dry, a tablespoon or two more of milk. It should be a slightly sticky, easy-to-handle ball. Knead it for a minute. Place it in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let rise for 1.5 hours.

Take the dough out, deflate and reshape into a ball, let rest in bowl for another 15 minutes. Roll out until it's 1/2 inch thick, then cut out big circles with the top of a glass or a round cookie cutter. Place on baking tray. Preheat oven to 375. Brush tops of rolls with egg beaten with a small amount of milk, bake 20 minutes, or until rolls are golden brown.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

This is a cake based on a Nigella Lawson recipe. It's made the rounds on the Internet. People talk about how ugly, yet delicious, it is. Most recently, I saw a variation of it on this site, and decided I had to make it myself. But I wanted to make the original version first, and I also didn't want to do the 101 Cookbook recipe, which involves spelt flour. I've already upset various family members with obsessive recent forays into vegan baking, experimentations with quinoa, marginally tasty black bean brownies, etc. It was important to prove to said family members that I was still willing to do the full-on, non-healthful, 2-sticks-of-butter version and see if it was really "all that" before trying to lighten it up. So I did. Nigella's original version can be found in a lot of places on the web, like here. And it was pretty good, but it lacks salt, and it NEEDS salt. I shared the cake with friends and family and then made it again, this time subbing other stuff in. White, whole wheat pastry flour. Smart balance in place of half the butter. Salt. It is still excellent, and in its second incarnation tasted better to me than the original. Other tasters who tried both agreed. The cake doesn't really need icing or a smear of cream cheese or any of the random recommendations I've seen on the web. Some claim it tastes better the next day, but it is just as nice once it cools. What's key, I think, is using very good chocolate. I used Ghiradelli's bittersweet baking chocolate. It will definitely be a recipe I'll make again.

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson, marginally healthier with less butter and more whole grains)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup other shortening (I used Organic Smart Balance)
1 2/3 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar**
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup white whole wheat pastry flour (it's important to buy PASTRY flour, otherwise simple whole wheat flour will be too heavy)
1/3 cup regular white flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tblsp. boiling water

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9x5 bread loaf pan with shortening, then line with parchment paper - this keeps the cake from sticking. Grease parchment paper as well.

Cream butter and sugar together in mixer. Add eggs and vanilla. When blended, stir in melted chocolate. Mix dry ingredients, separately, and add 1/3 of the flour mixture to batter, alternating with 1/3 of the boiling water, then stir in the remaining flour and water in thirds. Pour batter into loaf pan.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, turn heat down to 325, then bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely. If top appears cracked and not runny, it's done - a tester inserted inside will come out doughy, so that's not a good test. Once cool, turn onto a baking dish. Serve. Enjoy.

**yeah, I'd try for Muscavado sugar if I happened to be going to Whole Foods, but good old fake brown sugar like you buy in any regular grocery store is fine. Store bought brown sugar is usually refined white sugar with molasses added.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Flan, Barcelona

We recently returned from a couple weeks in Morocco, followed by a few days in Barcelona. I always get to eat amazing food with my husband's family in Morocco, and from time to time I've posted family recipes on here. But Barcelona was fairly new for me. I'd been there ten years ago but didn't do much touristy stuff then - literally the Picasso museum and a couple nightclubs. Now, with a two-year-old whom we dragged to Japan in December, I was apprehensive. Japan was amazing, but she never seemed to catch up with the jet lag, and it was too cold and crowded everywhere for her to walk much, so she mostly got shuttled around in her stroller. But she did great in Barcelona and was a good sport about everything. We did everything we wanted to do -- eating in the Plaza Real on a late night when we arrived (she loved paella with mussels and chicken), riding the double decker open-top tourist bus all day, getting out to see things like Gaudi's unfinished, trippy Sagrada Familia church, walking endlessly up and down the streets from La Rambla, the wide, tree-lined walking boulevard in the middle of the city, to Barceloneta by the beach. We took the cable cars (which S calls "tiny houses") up the mountain of Montjuic, from which you can see the entire, breathtaking city and port spread below. Our daughter's favorite thing was the array of people posed on La Rambla who pretend to be statues, some of which were amazingly creative. Like the metallic, tin-colored chimney sweep who seems to be reclining on a chair, yet there's no chair visible beneath him.

I was on a paella kick, and we stumbled upon a pretty good one our first night in La Plaça Reial (note: Catalan spelling, not Spanish), where the guys who gave us the keys to the apartment we'd rented (free sales pitch: had recommended we go. It was late, our flight from Morocco had arrived at 10, so we wandered around La Plaça Reial, which is down a street from the main drag, staring at the fifteen or so restaurants until we randomly picked one called Ambos Mundos. Of course there were a lot of tourists, but there were a lot of Spanish people, too, and I took this as a good sign. It was great fun to finally be off the plane, sitting outside in perfect weather, sipping sangria and eating patatas bravas (potato wedges with a spiced mayonnaise sauce). Paella had chicken & seafood and was very good, but it wasn't the place I'd planned to eat paella. That honor went to La Taverna Catalana, in an affluent neighborhood called Eixample, about a 45 minute walk from where we were staying. This neighborhood was built on a grid design in the 19th & 20th centuries and has some gorgeous modernista architecture and also seems designed for walking. (I'd read a book about Barcelona architecture ahead of time, by Robert Hughes, so I felt much more in-the-know about the buildings I was seeing than I normally do).

After a stop off at the department store El Corte Ingles, where of course I'd had to buy a 30 Euro paella pan to take home, we arrived at La Taverna Catalana at 7:30 and were told they didn't start dinner until 8:00, but they obliged us with cañas (little glasses of beer) and tapas (appetizers) while we waited. This place was not at all near hotels or anything touristy, and the few people dining that early were definitely locals. When it was time to order, we got another paella. This one was also really good, with grilled vegetables radiating out from a mountain of saffron-colored rice.

Non paella-related cuisine experiences included trying a fast food vegetarian restaurant called Maoz, which had incredible falafel with a million different colorful veggie toppings and sauces, and La Boqueria, this amazing central market that has been around for centuries and sells everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to cinnamon-sugar coated almonds, ham hocks, olives, baguettes, and cheeses. I was able to successfully eat my way through Barcelona, and found it surprisingly affordable.

So why is this post entitled "flan"? First of all, because although I've broken in the paella pan, I didn't make a paella I was ready to write about yet. Secondly, because flan is ubiquitous in Morocco, at restaurants and in homes, and it's pretty much everywhere in Spain, too, though I suspect in most of the places I have eaten it, that it's made from a mix. In Morocco you can buy Flan Ideal in every tiny drygoods shop-- instant flan mix, just add hot milk and refrigerate. (I even found these cool old commercialsfrom Moroccan t.v. for the flan mix.) Okay, so it's not terrible, but it's not great either. But I suspected I could do it better from scratch, and find a relatively simple recipe for it too so I could just whip it up anytime. After tinkering, I think I've found one. But with a caveat - due to the Florida humidity, although the caramel turned out perfectly the first time, the second time I made it, it turned into sugar. I redid it, only to have it crystallize again. I have made caramel before and never had this happened. I spent an hour and a half standing over the stupid stove, trying to get it right. I tried to be careful about not getting the sugar crystals back in the sauce to not contaminate it, but to no avail. With the help of Google, I learned a trick - a teaspoon of corn syrup will keep this nasty problem from ever happening again, so nothing now can stand between you and a show stopping yet simple flan...


Caramel sauce:

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. corn syrup


*1 14 ounce can evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla

4 large or 6 small ramekins

1) In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a simmer, stir to dissolve sugar, then turn heat down low and allow to simmer until it starts to turn golden. Watch carefully until it turns amber (takes at least 20 minutes, but you can ignore it for most of the time), then pour evenly among your ramekins. Now preheat your oven to 350.

2) In a mixer (or with a whisk), blend milk with sugar, egg yolks and vanilla until bubbly. Pour among the ramekins and set them in a baking dish with high sides (I was able to use 4 big ramekins and a square, 8x8 baking dish). This is your water bath. Fill the baking dish with water up to the level of the milk mixture. Place baking dish/ramekins in oven, bake 40-45 minutes until golden brown and set. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack, then transfer to a refrigerator.

3) To serve, slide a knife around the flan and invert onto a plate.

*Lest anyone be suspicious or snobby concerning evaporated milk - it is basically milk from which 60% of the water has been removed, after which it is sterilized at 245 degrees farenheit, resulting in a slightly carmelized flavor which is nothing short of AWESOME. It is the secret ingredient in the best waffles I have ever had.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baked Pinto Beans, Enchilada Style

More recipe experimentation has been going on, though I've been caught up both with the end-of-the-school year and unwise decision on my part to teach a May term to make some extra cash. Somehow even a class that I've taught many times before becomes like slogging through molasses when it meets every day for almost three hours, just after the regular semester is over and everyone is already tired, students and professors alike. It's also cutting in to my summer research/writing time, which I value dearly, though I thought I'd have more energy to do both. Oh well - it will be over soon enough. Meanwhile, I continue to puzzle over the quest to get a square meal on the table every night for my family, which most nights I manage to do, though I find myself getting in mental ruts where, when I try to come up with a dinner, I find myself stuck on certain themes and forgetting things I've made from the past that would be perfectly acceptable and delicious. Which is why I have this blog to remind me.

Experiments included a couple Indian dishes from the Madhur Jaffrey World Vegetarian book, which I remember as being good but when I tried to look up what I made just now, my mind drew a complete blank as I stared in the index at the hundreds of Indian recipes. Lentils? Potatoes? Spinach? I dunno. (See, I told you I'm tired).

I also tried a Mark Bittman recipe this week for Baked Pinto Beans, Enchilada Style, that blew me away. Though he describes it as "couldn't be easier," it actually was pretty time consuming, because to make the recipe truly amazing, you have to prepare a tomato sauce in a particular way. Basically the dish itself is just pinto beans (2 cans, drained) layered atop the tomato sauce, dotted with 1" cubes of cheese (1 cup), 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, a cup of crumbled tortilla chips, baked 20-30 minutes. This part, it's true, was pretty easy, but the added step of the sauce making caused it to take considerably longer.

For the sauce, "Salsa Roja," I went to my local Mexican grocery store and bought a little bag of dried guajillo chile peppers. Poured boiling water over two of the peppers, soaked them, removed seeds and stems, minced. In a skillet, I sauteed them along with 2 onions, finely chopped, 4 minced cloves of garlic, then after those softened, 2 lbs. tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped, 1 T sugar, salt & pepper. I used fresh tomatoes so those also took awhile to core and peel, though he says canned ones are fine. You cook this for about 20 minutes, then stir in 1/4 cup minced cilantro and 3 T lime juice. I pureed it slightly with a hand blender then used it as the bottom layer for the aforementioned baked pinto beans. Oh, and I microwaved a sweet potato, chunked it up, and tossed it in as well - a variation he recommends - and this added considerably to the salty-sweet-crunchy-chewy-savory Tex Mex deliciousness of this dish. But if I do it again (and I plan to), I'm going to make the sauce ahead & freeze it. Soooo good. The guajillo chiles are essential - they make it really unique and smoky.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pad Thai

In my favorite food column, Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist," posted every Wednesday in the New York Times, there was a recipe recently for Pad Thai. This is one I've tried numerous recipes for. The premade, boxed Thai dinners with sauce are boring. Other recipes tasted inauthentic. But this one, finally, approximates what it's like to eat pad thai at a Thai restaurant. I altered it to be heavier on the noodles and lighter on the cabbage. I could not find bean sprouts at Whole Foods or Publix, so I skipped those - didn't feel like driving downtown to the Asian market. Could do this with or without shrimp - I used a mix of both shrimp and tofu.

Pad Thai

7 ounces rice stick fettucine-width noodles (can find in Asian section of most supermarkets)

2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (this stuff keeps forever, buy it cheap at Asian markets)
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla-- also keeps forever & available at Asian markets)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
1 cup bean sprouts (I skipped these
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered.

In a small saucepan, mix tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Heat on low until it simmers, turn off.

Put noodles in a big bowl and cover with boiling water. Check every five minutes, stirring occasionally, testing after 10 minutes to see if they are soft. Keep checking every five minutes until ready. When done, drain & drizzle with a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil.

While noodles are soaking, in a wok or big saute pan on medium heat, add a generous slug of neutral oil - canola or peanut oil, if you have it. Add scallions and garlic, saute one minute. Add eggs, scrambling, when they begin to set, add shredded cabbage. Stir and fry several minutes until cabbage begins to wilt. Add shrimp and tofu. When shrimp turns pink and tofu begins to brown, add noodles to wok along with the sauce. Top with peanuts & cilantro, squeeze lime over all.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Veggie burgers...

It's difficult to know where to start with Mark Bittman's cookbooks. Mainly because they're so enormous - How To Cook Everything Vegetarian clocks in at almost 1000 pages. I use his How To Cook Everything as a consummate cooking reference - anytime I want to make something I look it up there first, and his recipes almost never disappoint. But the challenge of a vegetarian meal is how to get your head out of thinking that meat has to be the center of it. So what should that center be, or is it more about several peripherals that come together to form one holistic dish?

I decided there were a couple strategies here: 1) buy an ingredient and look up his suggestions for how to prepare it 2) open a page at random, or 3) search for things I know I like already, like gratins, or pasta dishes, or things involving beans.

Strategy #1 I did with tofu. I used half a block of extra firm tofu to make pad thai, then had some extra left over. He suggests simply roasting it for an hour at 350. He offers a few ideas for things to brush the tofu with. I cut it up into cubes, brushed it with a mix of miso paste and mirin wine (left over from the Japanese food kick prior to our trip to Japan in December), and roasted. This was really nice. When it was hot and fresh out of the oven, it tasted almost like cheese with a slightly chewy yet crisp exterior. It was good.

Strategy #2 I haven't really tried yet. But here are a few that come up when I open pages at random: pearl couscous gratin with pesto and goat cheese (how could this not be good?), parsnips and wheat berry pie with phyllo crust (ummm, not sure).

Strategy #3 has resulted in several dishes so far. Creamy baked noodles with eggplant and cheese. Good, but not amazing or worth the effort it took to prepare bechamel, eggplant sauce, layer it all, bake it, etc. Today I made his Espresso black bean chili and actually used dried beans, something I don't normally do but would like to do more often. They take forever to cook, even with his recommended pre-soaking (boil 2 minutes, let sit 2 hours), but this was an excellent chili, dark & smoky without being heavy. The chili also had a cup of espresso in it, which you wouldn't be able to identify if you didn't know. I took it to a potluck supper with cornbread and it was yummm... couldn't stop eating my own potluck contribution.

But the one I've made a couple times so far has been his recipe for The Simplest Bean Burgers. Really easy, and infinitely variable, and here's another thing that's great about his cookbooks - he always gives lots of suggestions for how to adapt dishes with what you have on hand. The template is:

2 cups well-cooked beans, can be white, black, red beans, chickpeas or lentils, or 1 drained 14 ounce can
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 Tblsp. chili powder or other spice mix
salt & pepper
1 egg
Bean cooking liquid, stock, etc. if necessary.

(My additions: several crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, grated cheddar.
I've done this with chickpeas and black beans. Both have great flavor, chickpeas held together better.)

Throw all of the above into a food processor, pulse but keep it chunky. Add liquid if necessary, burgers should not be wet or pureed. With wet hands, form into patties, let stand or refrigerate if you have time. To cook, saute 5 minutes per side or broil 5 minutes per side.

These are super easy and taste much better than the pre-made patties. Could grill them but they might fall apart too easily.His infinite variations include suggestions like adding fresh herbs, sauces, cooked veggies, nuts, spinach, you name it. I don't think you could go wrong unless you lose the consistency necessary to keep them holding together.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tortilla pizza with refried beans and sweet potato

Since watching Food, INC several weeks ago, I've changed the way I eat. It's a great documentary, a disturbing look at how farming has become thoroughly corporatized. There were a number of things that disturbed me, such as how the push to make a profit has led to chickens whose growth process is sped up before their skeletal development can catch up, and cows eating corn (not a natural part of their diet) and having more E. coli infections as a result. There was also the very sad story of a mother whose toddler died eating a hamburger, and who has argued for higher inspection standards since ground beef can come from multiple plants with only the smallest sample tested for E. Coli.

So, this was all bothersome enough that I decided to switch to a more vegetarian diet. I don't think I'm ready to completely give up meat or poultry, but I do only want to buy beef or chicken from places that can guarantee a more humane, less corporate existence. I'm inspired by my favorite NY Times columnist & cookbook author Mark Bittman, who himself switched to a 70% plant-based diet recently. I guess you could call this being flexitarian. But I'm also conscious of what I'm feeding to my now 22-month old daughter, and if that part of Food, Inc that focused on the mother who lost her child was intended as a scare tactic, it worked with me. Sofia doesn't like meat much anyway (too hard to chew), loves seafood, and will eat chicken if it's interesting (say, a drumstick rather than a bland breast that's been dressed up).

If I can get my act together to post here more often, I'm going to start writing about my recent efforts to cook from three of the vegetarian cookbooks I own: Bittman's "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian," Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian," and Nava Atlas' "Family Vegetarian. I've been trying out a lot of recipes lately. Not all of them are a success. In fact, in order to promote family harmony, I think I am going to have to frequently fry up a piece of chicken or a steak on the side. It's also challenging to rethink my own expectations for a meal at which some form of meat is the center, with vegetables a sort of dutiful supporting act. I may flake out. But I'm going to try.

So here's one that has entered the regular rotation on the dinner table. Sofia loves it. It's adapted from a Dr. Sears baby newsletter from several months ago. Basically it's a tortilla topped with a number of good savory & sweet things and then baked, but it's infinitely variable.

Tortilla Pizza - serves 2-3 people

Package of small corn or flour tortillas
1 large sweet potato
1 can refried beans
frozen corn, defrosted
grated cheese (1-2 cups cheddar, jalapeno monterey jack, etc)
Generous handful of spinach, chopped up small
Salsa, chopped tomatoes, chopped avocado, green onions - basically any extra garnish.

Preheat oven to 400. Cook sweet potato in microwave. Take skin off, mash with butter, milk, and salt to taste.

On tortillas, spread a layer of refried beans, followed by a layer of sweet potato, spinach, grated cheese and corn. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Salt to taste, serve with salsa, toppings & Tabasco sauce.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

food updates

It seems every time I think about doing an update I get stymied by an inability to find my camera to photograph the food prior to consumption, or I write an update in my head and then never transfer it to the screen. I have been cooking up a storm and have some great new cookbooks, and gone on various food obsessions over the past few months, but here are some highlights.

1) Grits. I grew up with grits, which, for non-Southerners, are basically like polenta. In the South they tend to be eaten with cheese. While visiting my parents in SC, at a restaurant I had the most incredible grits ever. I began a quest to figure out why they were so incredible, so toothsome and savory and complex, when most of the grits I've ever had have been basically a gelatinous patty on a plate next to some eggs and bacon. I decided that their deliciousness was due to the fact that they might have come from a place like Anson Mills, which went out of their way to find obscure, antebellum varieties of corn grown by bootleggers, and then grew the stuff organically, then stone-grinding them to perfection. I ordered a whole mess o'grits and experimented with them for a few weeks. Followed the directions on their website for cooking coarsely-ground grits in a slow cooker, which came out weird. Talked to my friend George, owner of Egg, a restaurant in Brooklyn famous for its Southern fare. He recommended cooking separately and then mixing coarse ground and quick grits from Anson Mills (quick=30 minutes), which seemed to do the trick. Voila, the dreamy grits from the restaurant. I ordered a second (pricey) batch from Anson Mills and am now enjoying the best grits ever, though I mostly am just making the quick cooking variety.

I think one reason these Anson Mills grits are so awesome has to do with the generic, genetically modified Frankencorn that apparently now constitutes 90% of our corn supply (and food supply, since the grocery stores are full of packaged products made out of said corn, everything from diapers to Coke to chips).

2) Vegetarian Cooking. Relates to post #1 and the notes about Frankencorn. I just saw Food, Inc, and it freaked me out. I was already not buying hamburgers anymore due to the E. Coli risk after reading this scary article in the NY Times. We only eat beef once a week or so anyway. I would love to have more vegetarian days but not all members of the household would like this. Fish is good, but how do you know whether your fish is OK or not? If it's farmed, it's probably eating corn too. If it's wild, it might be full of PCB and all other sorts of cancer and infertility-inducing endocrine disrupters. But if you're happily moving to a vegetarian diet, you're in trouble with E. Coli there, too - recall the issues of the past few years with Spinach. But this is a disturbing movie. Can't get the images of all those chickens out of my head.

Prior to all this, I already had a decent little library of vegetarian cookbooks. I really like Nava Atlas' "The Vegetarian Family Cookbook." Almost every recipe in there has been good, and I've tried 15-20 of them. A new addition is Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. I had found one of her recipes online for Turkish red lentil soup, and it was pretty good. The cookbook came this week and last night I made Spanish swiss chard and potato soup and French Provencale chickpea pizza. Baby Sofia (now 21 months old), who will still eat pretty much anything, ate the soup and was then sick all night. I don't know whether this is due to the soup or a virus, but probably because of the negative associations and four hours of sleep upon which I'm writing this, I won't be making it again.

I think I did a little vegetarian-vegan overkill because I also made Nava Atlas' blueberry muffins, sans eggs, and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (also without eggs) from the white, whole wheat organic pastry flour I had just bought. The blueberry muffins were just OK (I like her zucchini muffins MUCH better) and the choco chip cookies kind of pathetic. I had made all of these within a 24 hour time span. Bombarding my family all at once with these multiple experiments was a mistake. Chickpea pizza, however, was yum. Baked in a cast-iron skillet after "setting" on the stove, topped with diced tomatoes, onions, and parmesan cheese. Chickpea flour is an exciting new development in my life. It was like a protein-filled flatbread.

3) Favorite food blog: Smitten Kitchen. I've now made multiple recipes from this site. They are always amazing. Her recipe for chewy granola bars is nothing short of incredible.

4) A most awesome cookbook recommendation - Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden. My friend Delia gave it to me a while back. I made one or two side dishes/desserts from it, then, as sometimes happens with cookbooks, I stopped. Dug it out recently and started making Moroccan recipes in earnest. Found that they really and truly live up to the food my Moroccan in-laws make - i.e. they're not some weird adaptation like Pork Loin with Moroccan Spices or couscous with mint, which most Moroccans would find anathema. (Mint is for tea. Period.) So far I've made Roast Cod with Potatoes and Tomatoes, Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives, and Lamb (I used beef) Tagine with Potatoes and Peas. Yum, yum, yum, best Moroccan cookbook I've found so far. Here's the chicken with preserved lemon and olives:

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives (Adapted from Claudia Roden)

3 Tblsp. olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped in food processor
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed saffron threads or saffron powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
6-8 pieces of chicken, mix of legs, breasts, whatever
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tblsp. chopped cilantro
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
peel of 1 large preserved lemon (can get these from a middle eastern grocery store, or make your own, just google it, but this dish would still be good without them)
16-20 kalamata olives

In a large casserole heat oil on low heat and add onions, stirring until they begin to soften, then add garlic, saffron, and ginger. Cook 1 min. Add chicken pieces, season with salt and pepper, and pour in 1.5 cups of water. Simmer, covered, turning from time to time and adding water if they become dry. Remove breasts after 15 minutes, reserve. Keep cooking remaining pieces until done, about 25 min. Return breasts to pan. Once chicken is done, add lemon juice, cilantro & parsley, lemon peel cut into strips, and olives. Simmer 5-10 minutes until sauce is quite thick. If chicken is falling off the bone, take it out and cook down until the sauce is thick.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

books about food and children

In the fall, I was briefly on a kick of reading books about children & cooking. In an earlier post, pre-baby, I talked about Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook, which involves making lots of purees and sneaking them into your children's food. I hoped I didn't have a child for whom I'd have to do this. And now that I actually have a 19-month old, that book seems incredibly fussy to me. Spend Sunday nights whipping up roasted butternut squash purees for the week, to be labeled and frozen in snack bags? I don't think so. I still make the effort to cook dinner most nights of the week, even if Sofia is clinging to my leg and demanding, "Up! Up!", which she does most of the time, particularly when she is hungry. But I'm not going to make special meals for her, unless I'm making something for us that is extremely spicy. However, I do recognize that childhood pickiness is a very real phenomenon, and I'm cringing as I wait for it to descend upon us. We may have seen signs of it in our winter trip to Japan. Sofia was extremely jet lagged for the first week, had a bad cold and then a stomach virus, and literally would not eat the entire time. I'm glad I brought a bag of O-shaped cereal with us for her to eat in our hotel room every morning, or otherwise she would have starved. We had tried making sushi, onigiri, teriyaki, you name it, prior to departing, which she seemed to enjoy, but faced with the actual food of Japan (and the fact she had her nights and days confused), she wasn't interested. Thankfully, now that we've returned, she's eating again.

During the fall I read two books that discuss children & food - one is Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, by Matthew Amster-Burton, the other Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 mom, 4 kids, and 102 recipes, by Emily Franklin. Hungry Monkey was by far my favorite of the two, though neither parent seemed to have much success in getting their children to eat adventurously. However, Burton writes humorously and self-deprecatingly of his own adventures as a food writer and some of the quirky foods his daughter likes, and some of his recipes are terrific. Particularly one for cowboy beans and enchiladas. Too Many Cooks just annoyed me. Not only do the kids and the dad in this book not seem to eat much of anything, but the author keeps reminding us how she cooked on a yacht and writes smugly of how well she manages her large and chaotic family while also stealing upstairs to write numerous (published) young adult novels. Struggling to raise one baby (and unable to imagine how you handle four), I had a hard time picturing this kind of life, and I'm amazed at people who can do it. But I still tried several of her recipes, because she did write very enticingly about them. I liked one recipe for chowder, zucchini muffins could have doubled as baseballs, and everything else was kind of lackluster. Here's her recipe for comfort food: hamburger, frozen peas, salt, and elbow macaroni. No spice, no creaminess, no cheesiness, just that. Hmm.

Here, however, is Burton's awesome recipe for cowboy beans. I highly recommend the book, though, both for entertainment value and recipes.

Cowboy Beans

4 slices bacon, diced (I used turkey bacon -would be even more delicious with the real stuff)
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 can diced tomatoes (he recommends Muir-Glen fire roasted)
2 15 ounce cans pinto beans, not drained
1 Tblsp. minced pickled jalapenos
2 Tblsp. finely chopped cilantro

Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium heat until crisp. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, cook and stir 4 minutes. Add beans, simmer over low heat 15 minutes. Add peppers (if using), then cilantro and salt to taste. Beans will be soupy. Great with his whole enchilada recipe, or as a side dish or accompaniment to other Tex-mex fare...