April, 2006


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Apr 27th, 2006

When we made the Jerk Pork the other day, we marinaded and grilled some chicken to eat later. So last night I chopped up the cold grilled chicken and created a quick salad with red cabbage, red bell pepper, the chicken, and leftover mango avocado salsa. I poured a little citrus dressing over it for flavor, which brought to mind an old favorite recipe of mine that I've never posted here. It's from a cookbook called The Best 125 Meatless Main Dishes, which I've had since right out of college (increasingly long ago sadly). This corn and avocado salad is a great easy summer salad, and the recipe from which I first learned to make a good citrus dressing. You can tell I've made it often as the book opens automatically to this stained and wrinkled page. The cookbook is vegetarian obviously, but I think the salad makes a great side for barbecued meat (shhh.... don't tell the authors).

On another totally non-related note, I did not sleep well last night and I'm feeling a bit zombified. I'm looking forward to zoning out to a podcast on my way home and then NOT cooking. Ahhhh, as much as I love to cook, some days nothing beats relaxing with a glass of wine and letting somebody else figure out the whole sustenance issue. Cooking be damned!

Corn and Avocado Salad with Olives and Fresh Basil

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, whatever
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp salt

3 cups corn kernels, frozen or cut corn off 4 - 6 cobs
2 medium firmly ripe avocados
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 4 1/4 can chopped black olives, drained
1/3 cup red onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, minced

Make the dressing - it improves if allowed to sit for a day or two ahead of time.

Defrost the corn if frozen or briefly blanch if fresh (steam for 2-3 minutes then rinse with cool water).

Peel and chop the avocados and mix with the lemon juice. Combine the salad ingredients in a big bowl, adding the avocado last so as not to mush it up. Add the dressing and gently stir it all together.

Goes well as a side to grilled chicken, or as recommended by the authors, cornbread and lemonade or beer.

-The Best 125 Meatless Main Dishes, Mindy Toomay & Susann Geiskopf-Hadler
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Summer in April
Apr 26th, 2006

Shauna over at Dietgirl had a brilliant bit yesterday about how the same temperatures would have people in Scotland walking around in shorts, while Australians were reaching for the fleecy sweaters. It's all in the expectations I guess. Here in Seattle if the thermometer looks like it's going to break 70 in April, even barely, it's officially time for pretending it's summer. So yesterday evening we did our part by firing up the grill for the first time, even though the evenings cool off really quickly and we had to eat inside. Doesn't matter, we charred meat! The barbecue season has begun!

A few days ago I caught Jim looking through one of my recent cookbook purchases, the very pretty Spices of Life: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health, by Nina Simonds. It's a good book and worthy of its own post, but for now I'll just tell you that I offered to cook whatever dish he picked out. He liked the look of the Jerked Pork with Pineapple Salsa, so when we decided to grill we decided to give it a try.

Since our celebration of faux-summer was fairly spur of the moment, I didn't have the time to really marinade the pork, but the jerk seasoning paste was spicy and aromatic enough that it was good even with a brief marinade time. I do plan on trying it again though for the longer time that the author recommends. The pineapple salsa wasn't going to happen as I didn't have any pineapple on hand, but I did have a mango that was stubbornly refusing to get ripe. So I served the pork with corn on the cob and a mango avocado salsa. The salsa consisted of one fairly crunchy mango finely diced, some finely chopped red onion, cilantro, half an avocado, 1 smallish tomato, and a mixture of lime juice, orange juice, cumin, and sea salt. The soft avocado and tomato nicely balanced the crunchy mango, and the dressy was nicely salty-tangy-sweet.

This is a very easy marinade that works well on pork and chicken and is definitely worth working into your summer grilling repertoire.

Grilled Jerk Pork Chops

4 thick pork chops or center-cut cutlets

Jerk Spice Rub
1 small red hot pepper (or more to taste - Scotch bonnet peppers are traditional), seeds removed
3 tbsp minced scallions, white part only
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled
1 tbsp fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

To make the spice rub add all ingredients to a food processor, blender, or mini-chopper and run until a thick paste forms.

Coat the pork with the spice rub, cover and let stand at room temperature for one and a half hours, or put in the refrigerator overnight.

Brush your grill rack with oil and grill the pork for about seven minutes on each side, turning often. Let rest for a few minutes after coming off the grill. Serve with mango or pineapple salsa.

-adapted from Spices of Life, Nina Simonds
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Five Spice Tilapia with Patty Pan Squash & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Apr 25th, 2006

I cooked tilapia for the first time last night. I've been meaning to give it a try for ages now but somehow have never gotten around to it. Well, truthfully it's no mystery why it took so long, I'm still in the stage where I have to talk myself into cooking fish. I'm working on it.

I was looking through Cooking Light while making my grocery list, and a recipe for Five Spice Tilapia with a Citrus Ponzu Sauce caught my eye. So I grabbed two fillets at the store (so cheap!) and cooked them up for dinner with pattypan squash and roasted potatoes. The ponzu sauce did nothing for the fish, you couldn't even taste it over the spice rub, but the fish itself was quite nice and so simple to cook. Put together a spice rub (in this case Chinese Five Spice, Chipotle Chili Powder, and sea salt but I think I'll experiment more next time), rub it on both sides of the fish, and cook in a bit of oil over medium-high heat for about two to three minutes a side. I served the fish on a bed of arugula because all food in our house will be served with arugula until I use up my precious supply. Which I did. But I'll be getting more on Thursday (insert evil laugh).

I sliced the squash very thinly and sauteed them with some garlic, red onion, and a spice mixture made up of chipotle chili powder, oregano, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. After the squash was done I put them in a bowl and added some thinly sliced tomato to the still hot pan. The tomato and some cilantro went on top of the squash.

The fingerling potatoes were just halved, tossed with olive oil, salt, paprika, and garlic powder, and roasted in a 450F oven. Since I had enough potatoes to require two pans, I made one batch with just salt for the kids which they actually both enjoyed.

I don't think of fish as being a great leftover candidate, but I ate the squash and leftover fillet for lunch today and it tasted even better. It tasted a bit spicier after the chili powder had some time to soak in, so I think next time I need to be less timid with the chili. I shall spice my food with abandon!

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Beacon Hill in Seattle Weekly
Apr 25th, 2006

After being in business for only a month or so, El Quetzal made it into Seattle Weekly's dining guide to ethnic food in Seattle. They're in the North American section (it's arranged alphabetically so scroll down).

Kusina Filipina has been around quite a bit longer, and they are featured in the Asian section.

I'm a little surprised there was no mention of Baja Bistro, but overall I think our tiny little business district did very well for itself. Beacon Hill represent!

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Corn Fritters with Pepper Jack and Arugula
Apr 24th, 2006

I love to go through cookbooks, magazines, and food blogs and mark recipes that I'd like to try later. Due to the fact that I really don't spend my entire life cooking, I end up making only a tiny fraction of these recipes, and sometimes it takes bumping into a recipe more than once to actually get me in the kitchen. This week my CSA delivery included a nice big bag of baby arugula, the first of the season. Arugula doesn't last too long in the fridge, and I really wanted to use it all up before it went bad, so I checked the recipe suggestions included in the box to see if they had a dish that featured arugula. There was a recipe for corn fritters with arugula adapted from Deborah Madison's book about cooking from the farmer's market, Local Flavors. This jogged a memory in my brain as I've read this cookbook a couple times, and when I searched my list of recipes to try I found the original.

The fritters are meant to be made when sweet corn is in season, but I wanted to make them now, so I found some good frozen organic corn kernels and forged ahead. I've blogged corn pankakes here once before, but they were really pancakes studded with corn. These fritters feature the corn and herbs and contain only a very little flour. The original Deborah Madison recipe called for aged cheddar and basil or dill. I decided I wanted to top these with black beans and salsa, so instead went for pepper jack, cilantro, and a pinch of chipotle chili powder. This recipe divides easily into two batches if you want to try two different groups of seasonings. I made one batch plain (no herbs or spices except salt and all cheddar for the cheese) to see if I could get my kids to eat them. No go on that one, although Jay did think they looked good and took one bite, but it did let me see how two different batches behaved in the frying pan. The batch with all the herbs in it didn't stick together nearly as well as the batch with just egg and cheese. I added more flour to it, but after looking at both batches, I think it's the ratio of cheese to other ingredients that really makes the difference. So if you're having trouble keeping your fritters together, try adding a bit more cheddar, that seems more binding than the pepper jack. Patting the ingredients together with a spatula while in the hot oil helps too. And frankly I didn't really care that a few of the first fritters I cooked were in two or three pieces, they tasted great anyway.

When I was searching the web for the original recipe, I came across this review. The author loved the fritters as much as I did, but declared the arugula unnecessary. I respectfully disagree! The peppery greens really bring out the sweetness of the corn and add a freshness and crunch to each bite. I think without them, the fritters would quickly grow overwhelming. The black beans and salsa really round things out and make this a light meal rather than an appetizer, but they truly are optional. I would definitely serve these with some type of spring green however, either all arugula or a mix of fresh greens if that's what you can get your hands on. And by the way if you do make this recipe, a slice of toasted sprouted wheat bread topped with mayo, leftover pepper jack, arugula, and tomato is a fine thing to have for lunch the next day. Especially when you've just spent four hours digging in your sadly neglected garden in the first of the real Seattle sunshine. Arugula and sunshine! It doesn't get much better than that around here.

Corn Fritters with Pepper Jack and Arugula

3 cups corn kernels (scraped from 6 corn cobs if in season)
2 eggs, beaten
4 scallions, including an inch of the greens, finely sliced
cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp shredded cilantro
1 cup grated cheese (Pepper Jack with a little sharp cheddar)
pinch of chipotle chili powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
unsalted butter or oil for frying
3 handfuls arugula, stems trimmed
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
salsa (I used chipotle corn salsa)

If using corn on the cob, slice the tops of the kernels off the corn, then reverse your knife and press out the milk. Mix the kernels and scrapings with the eggs, scallions, herbs, cheese, chili, and as much flour as can easily be absorbed. Season with tsp salt and some pepper.

Cover a large plate with the arugula leaves. Heat the beans until just warm but not mushy.

Melt enough butter or heat enough oil to cover a wide skillet generously. Divide the batter roughly into ten pieces and drop into the skillet. Fry over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown the second side.

Place the fritters on the bed of arugula, their warmth will wilt the top layer just a bit. When served, each diner can top their arugula and corn fritter with black beans and salsa.

-adapted from Deborah Madison, Local Flavors
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Review: The Best Thing I Ever Tasted
Apr 20th, 2006

The Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food
Sally Tisdale

I actually finished reading this book a month or two ago, but it's a hard one for me to review, I think because she doesn't have an obvious overarching point or message to her book that is easy to summarize in a couple of sentences. Loosely it's a modern food history structured around the author's own family and food experiences. She has some excellent chapters, especially those on the '50s housewife and the natural food movement of the '70s. But the book is more like several essays linked together, and as such I'm not sure it comes together as a coherent narrative. In the end, Tisdale comes off as very conflicted - she dislikes the packaged, processed, manufactured nature of the food we eat today, but she also is wary of the fanaticism of the seasonal/organic/heirloom-vegetable worshipping foodie.

I think this is an interesting stance to take. Yes McDonald's and the Big Gulp are bad for us as individuals and a society, but we all still crave comfort food from time to time, and spending hours in your kitchen with pricey ingredients to achieve Slow Food is something that is just not an option for most people. But Tisdale doesn't leave herself enough room to really explore that theme fully and so the book left me not totally satisfied.

On the other hand, The Best Thing I Ever Tasted is well written, engaging, and bound to provoke some personal memories and musings on the role food plays in all of our lives. For the better and the worse.

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Pretend Soup
Apr 19th, 2006

I mentioned that I served ham (well a picnic shoulder, so a small fatty ham) for Easter. That meant that after all the salty meat was scarfed up I was left with a ham bone. I've never had a ham bone before! I could make soup!

I have never gotten over the wonder of throwing some meaty bones into a pot of water and watching them transform into something edible. While I was puttering around the kitchen last night I was struck with a memory from my childhood. Judging from where we were living I must have been fairly young, probably around eight years old. My brother and I had a play oven that my Dad had built - it was basically a yellow plywood box and it lived outside. We usually used it to bake worms. But I have a vivid memory of a summer day when we attempted to make soup. We had peas and carrots that we chopped up and added to some water. With some salt and pepper. That was our soup and I remember being so frustrated that I couldn't figure out what the magic, mysterious ingredient was that we were missing that would make it taste like soup.

Well, if I had been able to put my eight year old hands on a ham bone, my problems would have been solved. Because basically last night I took that water soup with peas and carrots and added a ham bone. (Okay and a lot of other vegetables but go with me here.) The addition of the ham bone took a few ingredients from a little girl's pretend soup, to an actual dish. I was right, there is a magic ingredient!

To make grownup pretend soup, simmer a ham bone in enough water to cover for about an hour. Then add (peeled and diced where appropriate) leeks, lima beans, parsnips, potato, and carrots. Cook for another 30 minutes or so then remove the bone. Add zucchini, savoy cabbage (and any other quick cooking vegetable you want), and some chopped up left over ham. When the ham bone cools you can pull the meat off that and add it to the pot as well. When everything is tender, add frozen peas, chopped basil, several squeezes of lemon, and lots of freshly ground pepper. And raise a glass to your eight year old self. Cooking really is magic!

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Easter Eggs
Apr 18th, 2006

Easter dinner was a no frills affair this year. I'm gradually coming to realize that part of being a good cook is knowing when to extend myself and when to allow simplicity to carry the day. My parents were visiting and took the kids out for the afternoon and I decided to use my free hours to actually spend time with my husband rather than putter around in the kitchen. (Okay so it wasn't romantic or anything, I took him clothes shopping, but dang that boy needed some new clothes.) Since we were all runing in different directions for the afternoon, dinner needed to be something that could be put on the table with minimal fuss. I cooked a smoked pork picnic shoulder with green beans and a salad. Good traditional Easter fare, but not terribly blog worthy.

So here's a dish from last Easter that I never got around to blogging. These eggs are from the San Juan Classics II Cookbook by Dawn Ashbach and Janice Veal. I wasn't expecting much when I picked this cookbook up from the local library, but it's an interesting compilation of recipes from local restaurants and bed & breakfasts in the San Juan Islands. Unfortunately I didn't write down the original source of this particular recipe, but I'll make a note to look it up.

This is a quick and easy brunch recipe. The result is sort of a cross between a fritatta and a crustless quiche - tangy and salty from the smoked salmon and capers, it really benefits from the aromatic fresh dill. Be sure to serve it with lots of good buttered toast and jam or fresh fruit.

Northwest Eggs

5 eggs
1 cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
4 ounces cream cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
tsp dill weed
2 tsp capers
8 ounces smoked salmon, crumbled
Sour cream, garnish
Capers, garnish
Dill weed, garnish

Preheat oven to 375. In a blender, combine first 7 ingredients (eggs through dill weed) and blend. With a spoon, stir in capers and salmon.

Pour mixture into a buttered 10-inch pie dish. Bake for 40 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes.

Cut into eight slices and transfer to heated individual serving plates. Garnish each slice with a dollop of sour cream, a few capers and a sprig of fresh dill.

-San Juan Classics II, Dawn Ashbach, Janice Veal
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Birthday cake
Apr 17th, 2006

Today is Ian's birthday. Three years ago today I woke up early in the morning convinced the baby was on its way RIGHT NOW. We woke up our groggy then three year old and dropped him off at his visiting grandma's condo, only to arrive at the hospital to find that everything suddenly ground to a halt. Of course. We were told to go walking and I remember wandering around Capitol Hill on a chilly morning and running into some friends we hadn't seen in a while. It was sort of surreal when they asked what our plans were that day to tell them that we were pretty sure we were going to have a baby. Eventually we gave up and went home for a nap. We made it back to the hospital later that afternoon - I think the hospital staff were a little freaked out that we had just disappeared. But hey we were seasoned second time parents, we knew a good nap wasn't something to pass up! Jay came and visited us at the hospital in the early evening and we played kickball in the hall with a giant blue birthing ball. Then around 8:00 that night, without much fuss, Ian Andrew made his way into the world. His head was almost completely round like Charlie Brown. We fell in love with him immediately.

These days Ian is a laughing, talking, stomping, big-brother terrorizing charmer. We had a small birthday celebration for him last night as his grandparents were in town. Unfortunately he was too tired to really enjoy himself, having run and jumped and played until he was just about to fall down. But he wasn't too tired to enjoy his cake, neither was his big brother who put away two pieces in record time.

This recipe comes from the excellent book Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson. It has been very well reviewed in the blogging world, I think I first came across it here. Yockelson divides her book by flavors and delves into what ingredients will complement and punch up each particular flavor. We were all getting a bit tired of our usual chocolate birthday cakes, so Jim suggested a spice cake. It's a well established credo at our house that a little chocolate will make almost everything better, so I couldn't pass up this recipe that adds mini chocolate chips and a chocolate glaze to a vanilla infused spice batter.

I would characterize Yockelson's recipes as very detailed - not fussy necessarily, but she has obviously given a lot of thought to each step of the process and wants to get across that the little details along the way can add up to make an extraordinary end product. I don't usually sift my flour, but have to admit there was quite a big difference between the flour and spice mixture before and after it went through my pseudo-sifter (a fine mesh sieve). And the cake truly was delicious, spicy and sweet and dense. However, I normally measure my flour using the scoop-and-sweep method, and I wonder if I shouldn't have spooned the flour into the cup instead. I have a feeling the cake would have been a bit moister if I had. I also had a bit of trouble with the glaze. The recipe calls for bringing the glaze ingredients to a low boil and holding them there for a minute or two - but the minute my mixture came to a boil it separated. I was able to whisk the glaze back together, but it never was quite as shiny after that. I belive it harmed the texture. I wonder if I shouldn't have used 2% milk (I forgot to pick up whole milk at the store) or maybe I just screwed up the heating and stirring process somehow. If there are any experienced bakers out there I'd love to hear your thoughts.

So happy birthday my little three year old monkey. Today your daddy is probably taking you to get fast food and play all day in the park, your very favorite things. Tonight we'll open a few more presents and polish off a bit more cake. It's nothing fancy, but I'm hoping you enjoy your day. These three years have gone by so fast, I can hardly believe you're not my cuddly little baby anymore. Soon you'll be headed off to preschool. I get a little teary when I think about that and want to freeze time, but I also can't wait to see what's next. You change and grow almost before my eyes and I know it will be just a blink of an eye before I'm posting another birthday cake recipe. I love you more than a silly blog entry can express. Happy birthday Ian.


Spiced and Glazed Chocolate Chip Cake

2 1/2 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1/2 cup unsifted bleached cake flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups vanilla-scented granulated sugar (store the pod from a scraped vanilla bean in your sugar jar)
4 large eggs
2 3/4 tsp intensified vanilla extract (store half a scraped vanilla bean pod in your vanilla bottle, fold it over if necessary)
1 cup milk

Chocolate Glaze
3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted
1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp light corn syrup

Spray a 10" Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sift the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices onto a sheet of waxed paper. Put the chocolate chips in a bowl and toss with 1 tbsp of the flour & spice mixture.

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter for 3 minutes with an electric mixer or beaters. Add the sugar in three additions, beating for 30 seconds or so between additions. Then beat for another minute before beating in the eggs separately, again beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.

Add the sifted flour and spice mixture in three additions alternating with the milk. Then stir in the chocolate chips. Put the batter in the Bundt pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for about 55 minutes to an hour or until a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about ten minutes and then invert onto another rack and cool completely. Glaze the cake when it's completely cool (put some waxed paper under the rack to catch the drips).

To prepare the glaze:
Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often.

Sift the sugar, cornstarch, and salt into a bowl. Add the milk and blend well. Stir the milk mixture into the pan with the chocolate and butter and bring to a boil, stirring but not whisking the whole time. I had trouble here as the glaze separated as soon as it hit a boil. I did use 2% milk, maybe that was the problem. Anyway you're supposed to let it bubble for a minute or two while stirring and then remove from the heat. I just removed it from the heat immediately and whisked it until the glaze came back together. It wasn't as shiny as it had been though.

Rub the glaze through a seive and stir in the vanilla and corn syrup. Stir the glaze for two minutes and then spoon it over the cooled cake.

-adapted from Baking by Flavor, Lisa Yockelson
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New Cooking for Kids Section
Apr 13th, 2006

As the hits from forlorn parents of picky children keep coming, I've added a Cooking for Kids link to the blog. There's a discussion forum, links to cookbooks and online articles I have found helpful, and a handy compendium of kid friendly recipes that have appeared here on the blog. I'll be adding to the resource links and recipes, but it's up to you all to make the discussion work. If you come to this blog with a picky child related question, take a minute to post it and see if someone has any answers for you.

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Spiderman goes to El Quetzal
Apr 12th, 2006

I get very excited when a new restaurant opens up in Beacon Hill, as there are so few. The gentrification of the area continues apace, and the trendy restaurants are creaping ever closer (the opening of MioPosto down the hill in Mt. Baker being the most recent example), but the North Beacon Hill area remains home to only a few, invariable family-owned restaurants.

So when we drove by and saw that a new Mexican restaurant had moved in to the space formerly housing a Pho and noodle shop, we had to circle back and grab a menu. The menu, while small, looked promising. Far from the traditional burritos and chimichangas, El Quetzal serves tortas, huaraches, and the little tacos that come with a small corn tortilla wrapped around your choice of highly seasoned meat. We found ourselves at loose ends the next afternoon, and decided to put on our shoes and go try the place out. Ian was wearing a dashing outfit comprised of a full body Spiderman costume, a red plastic mask, and bright red Spiderman gloves that engulfed his entire arms. We decided to just throw a sweatshirt on him and go, and we made quite a site promenading through the neighborhood with Ian shooting invisible webs at passing cars and loudly proclaiming 'I Spiderman!'. At one point he attracted a train of curious little girls who I believe were pretending to be spies. May I be the latest in a long line of parents to declare that children are completely, certifiably, insane.

We made it to the restaurant without further incident and were greeted by the incredibly warm and friendly owners and their four year old boy who was initially frightened of our masked superhero but had firmly inserted himself in the middle of the boyhood insanity by the end of the outing. The warm chips we were given to munch on were served with a cactus salsa, the Nopal sauce referred to on the business card above. I opted to continue the cactus theme and ordered a giant huarache topped with refried beans, cactus, crema, and white cheese. A huarache is a masa cake fried in the shape of a sandal, thus the name. Different toppings are available, all the others meat based. It was really good, although I don't think I'll order the cactus version again - it was interesting, but next time I'll go with the meat.

Jim got a few little pork tacos and some rice and beans on the side. Don't be afraid to ask for items that might not appear on the menu - rice and beans were easily added to our order, along with two kid plates of tiny quesadillas, again made with masa and a lovely melting white cheese. These came with rice and beans as well. None of these were on the menu. The chef also offers posole and menudo on the weekends, although the last of the posole was just being happily consumed when we got there this time, so I didn't get to try it.

The restaurant is very small and informal. The owner was quite happy to sit down with us and chat, and his little boy ran back and forth between his sleeping sister in the kitchen and our little hooligans in the dining area. Luckily we were the only ones there as they were about ready to close. They've been open since March and are planning on adding new dishes to the menu soon, including a chicken quesadilla made with a masa tortilla and chipotle sauce. If you like authentic Mexican food and are in the area, stop by and check out El Quetzal. They close at 4:00 on Sundays but are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday.

El Quetzal
3209 Beacon Ave S.
Seattle WA 98144
Tel: 206-329-2970
Mon - Sat: 8am to 9pm
Sun: 8am to 4 pm

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Seattle Foodbloggers
Apr 12th, 2006

I got to meet a few of the multi-talented Seattle area foodbloggers last night over some indifferent happy hour appetizers at Typhoon. Molly of Orangette, Meg of I Heart Bacon, and B of Culinary Fool were kind enough to include me in their informal monthly get together. It was fun to put faces to blogs and of course they are all as fabulous and interesting in person as they are on their blogs. Good times.

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Scallops & Beets
Apr 11th, 2006

Okay, I'm ready to talk scallops. First of all, I must admit that up to this point scallops have not played a large part in my life. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've eaten the mighty scallop, and I've never attempted to cook one at home. In fact I've not been very adventurous with seafood in general. Clams, mussels, oysters, crabs, lobsters, squid, and scallops (at least until last week) - these are all things I like but am scared to prepare myself. And none of them are high on the kids' list of 'things we really hope mommy makes for dinner.'

But I tend to experiment on myself a bit when I'm home alone with the kids. I can make them a quesadilla or some noodles and have time to mess around with things that no-one else wants to eat. So when I saw a prominent display of dry sea scallops at the market last week when Jim was out of town I decided to go for it.

Now here is where I admit to feeling quite stupid. Turns out scallops may be among the easiest things to cook, ever. Put scallop in hot pan, turn over. Finish with a pan sauce if you're feeling crazy. I have no idea why I had made it out to be such a big bad thing in my head, but I had. Whatever. I consulted my Mark Bittman book and cooked the scallops in minced garlic and ginger, removed them from the heat after about 5 minutes, and added soy, wine, and water to the pan to make a sauce. The scallops were returned to the pan to warm back up and soak up a bit of the sauce and that was that. They came out tender and silky, just barely cooked through.

So since I can't make a big production out of how to cook a scallop, I'll give you the recipe for the beets I served as a side. I decided to add the capers after reading Clotilde's post on Beet Soup with Walnut Anchovy Paste. I thought the aged cheese and briny capers might give a similar kick to the sweet, earthy beets as provided by the walnut anchovy paste, without having to deal with two scary seafood items in one night. And indeed, they proved to be an excellent foil to the smooth beets and crunchy peppers. I wish I'd had my camera, as this was a lovely meal, but alas Jim had spirited the digital off to Tucson with him. You'll just have to imagine the pearlescent scallops nestled against the shockingly purple and yellow salad. Probably best anyway, as given my camera skills anything I showed you would just be a color study in beige. Perhaps some things are better left to the imagination, or those who can take a good picture. I'll give you a thousand words instead.

Roasted Beet & Yellow Pepper Salad with Capers

3 beets
1 yellow pepper
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

walnut oil
grainy mustard
lemon juice
white wine vinegar (or your favorite vinegar)
salt and pepper

Roast the beets: chop off the greens about an inch above the top of the beet. Prepare two layers of tin foil to create a packet around the beets. Place the beets inside with a generous sprinkling of olive oil. Seal and roast in a hot oven (400 or so) for about an hour. I generally do this as I'm cooking dinner the day before I plan to use the beets, then I just chuck 'em in the fridge still in the foil packet and skin them the next day. Anyway, when the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins and tops.

Chop the beets and yellow pepper into 1 inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the chopped scallions, basil, and capers.

Mix the dressing ingredients, adjusting quantities to taste, pour over the salad. Stir to combine and sprinkle the cheese on top.

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Spicy Celeriac
Apr 10th, 2006

I really like the idea of celeriac, but I've never enjoyed eating it in large quantities - a little bit goes a long way. So I set out to find a preparation method that I liked, and that was low carb so I could share it with my mom, who cares about such things. I was going to mash the celeriac and spike it with red curry paste and coconut milk, but along the way I ended up with a glaze recipe that I like quite a bit.

The celeriac are boiled until just tender and then cooked with the curry paste and other flavorings until glazed and just falling apart. I did use a little bit of brown sugar
to balance the flavors, but if you're watching carbs you can just leave it out. The result is quite spicy and full flavored, so I opted to put together a fresh lemony stirfry to serve on top. I used zucchini, mushroom, pork, turkey, lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and lemon juice. This went really well with the spicy celeriac, which took the place of rice.

Jim's not a big fan of celeriac, and he really praised this dish. You could certainly make this with potatoes if you'd like and you don't care about the carb content. And I imagine that the celeriac would make a good side dish for a roast - either turkey, beef, or pork.

Coconut Milk Glazed Celeriac with Red Curry Paste

3 medium celeriac (celery root), peeled
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp red curry paste
2 slices fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp coconut cream (or 1/4 cup coconut milk)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
squeeze of lemon or lime juice
sprinkle of brown sugar (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Slice the celeriac lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices, then cut in half again lengthwise to make fairly wide stick shapes. Boil the celeriac for about ten minutes or until soft when poked with the tip of a table knife, but not falling apart.
Reserve about a cup of the cooking water.

In a large nonstick skillet heat the oil and curry paste over medium-high heat. Add the drained celeriac, ginger, and a bit of the cooking water. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add reserved water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out. Add remaining ingredients, reserving some of the cilantro for the finished dish, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook until celeriac are nice and glazed and tender and the flavors are blended. Sprinkle remaining cilantro on top.

Serve as a side dish to a pork roast or mound a lightly spiced stirfry on top.

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Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
Apr 7th, 2006

Okay, I'm back and it looks like I promised whole wheat pizza crust and scallops. Hmmm... that might make for an odd combination. I guess I'll save the scallops for another post as I most assuredly did not eat them together. But I bet someone somewhere could come up with a scallop pizza on whole wheat crust and make it tasty. Nothing that out-there was going on at my house though, after all I was cooking just for me and the kids. Hah, on second thought it might almost be worth it - I can just imagine their faces if I served them scallop pizza. You never know what I might do if they start depriving me of my sleep again.

I picked up a copy of James McNair's Pizza at a thrift store last week (for a dollar!) and decided that the kids and I would try out one of his dough recipes. Our house recipe for pizza dough is usually this one by Good Food's Evan Kleiman. I highly recommend it as it's tasty, easy, and makes enough that you could freeze half of the dough for another night. (Not that we ever have of course, we just eat it all and then feel ashamed.) But I've been wanting to try a whole wheat crust and McNair had a whole wheat variation listed so that's the one I made. We didn't do anything fancy with the toppings though - Canadian bacon for the boys; yellow pepper rings, basil, and a dusting of Parmigianno cheese for me.

The verdict on this one was mixed. The kids didn't like the whole wheat crust, they still much prefer the Evan Kleiman version. However, I made one pizza for them and one for me and kind of goofed on their pie. I was baking on a pizza stone and the book said to preheat the stone in the oven for an hour. So I dutifully turned on the oven while the dough was rising, but forgot that I had taken the stone out. Doh! So when I got ready to bake the pizzas, the oven was nice and hot, and the pizza stone was cool, serene, and far from the oven. It was too late to wait another hour, so I just popped it in there and hoped for the best. The kids' pizza went first and it ended up with a less than crispy crust. My pizza was baked later on a presumably warmer stone and I liked the crust on my pie quite a bit. I used whole wheat flour milled from white wheat rather than red, and it's a bit milder than your traditional whole wheat taste, quite nice. So I'm happy with the recipe as-is but I'll try again to create a kid-friendly whole wheat crust. Next time I'll increase the ratio of all purpose flour and actually preheat the danged pizza stone.

It's worth taking a peek at James McNair's book, it has a lot of interesting pizza recipes, and he goes into quite a lot of detail about the whole pizza dough and baking process. I think both home-baked pizza afficionados and neophytes could get something from the book. I found it very helpful, even if I did screw it up!

Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
Makes two 12" pizzas

1 tbsp sugar or honey
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour (I used King Arthur's White Whole Wheat)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Proof the yeast with the sugar or honey and warm water. Stir to dissolve the yeast and then let it sit for about five minutes. It should develop a lovely brownish scum on the top of the water.

Combine the flours and salt in a big mixing bowl and reserve 1/4 cup of the flour mixture. Make a well in the middle and add the oil. Stir the oil and flour together until you have a nice soft dough.

Use the 1/4 cup remaining flour to flour your kneading surface as you knead the dough for about five minutes, gradually incorporating all of the flour. Once the extra flour is incorporated you should be able to knead for another ten minutes or so with no flour coating. Quit when the dough is satiny and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to rise.

After an hour or so the dough should have doubled. Punch it down, divide in half, and roll or stretch each half into a pizza shape. Top with your favorite toppings, and ideally bake on a pizza stone that's been preheating in a 500 oven for an hour.

-adapted from James McNair
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Mea culpa
Apr 6th, 2006

Sorry for the sporadic posting over the last few days. Jim was out of town for three days, so I got to stay home and be mom full time. It was fun, exhausting, and didn't leave much time for blogging. But Jim has wended his weary way home through delayed planes and dead batteries, and tomorrow I'll dust off the old blogging skills and regale you all with tales of whole wheat pizza crust and my first ever brush with cooking scallops.

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Apr 5th, 2006

I'm getting a lot of hits from people looking for solutions to the fact that their kids won't eat, or for recipes that picky kids might enjoy. I feel bad, because while I feel their pain, I don't have any answers. My kids won't eat either! And it's probably pretty obvious to those who read this blog that in many ways I've given up. I've resigned myself to cooking food that they won't eat and either providing something plain as well that they will eat, or letting it be a cheese and crackers night for them.

But maybe there are good solutions out there. Even broadening their repertoire by one relatively healthy dish is a victory. So I'm thinking about adding some kind of forum or tips and tricks area on this site for parents of picky eaters. I'm not quite sure how that will take shape though, so if anyone has any suggestions I'm all ears. The blog itself will stay the same - I don't want to turn things into all kids all the time.

While I am talking about the kids though I should share another child/food related victory. Going out to eat with small children can be, well, less than fun. And just as Jay got old enough to behave himself relatively well in a public place we went ahead and had another one. So maybe you'll understand my excitement when I tell you that we all went out to brunch twice in the last two weeks. And no-one had to yell or get sent to the car. So, first in an ongoing (please Lord let it be ongoing) series - here are two good places to go to brunch in Seattle if you've got little ones. Quickly, our criteria would be that there is a counter that we can sit at without waiting around for a booth, and that they've got good traditional breakfast food that doesn't leave you groaning. Oh, and they must have bacon. Ian loves his bacon.

Geraldine's Counter: Located in Columbia City this is an updated diner with really good food. I can particularly recommend the Avocado & Pepperjack Omelet. It's a fairly new restaurant so it can get pretty slammed but their service is really fast. We were there between 11:30 and 12:30 on a Saturday and they really moved people through. So maybe don't be daunted if there's a line, it seems to move quickly. The counter is nice and they give the kids little packs of crayons that they can keep.

Luna Park Cafe: Located basically under the West Seattle bridge, this is a quirky place with a vintage Batmobile that kids like to sit in. If you sit at the counter the kids can transition between the bat car and their stool without driving people nuts. I'd go for the straightforward menu items here - pancakes, eggs and bacon, etc. I got the spinach and feta egg/potato pile and it was way too feta-ey. But everyone else faired much better.

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Date Filling Two Ways
Apr 3rd, 2006

Oh my god people, my pictures are so bad! So so bad! I'm really quite embarrassed to include them, but how can I get better if I don't keep trying? My brother is quite an accomplished photographer, obviously it did not rub off on me. Maybe I'll ask him for some lessons next time I see him. He could offer a class for beginners - "How To Take Pictures of Food - or Why Does Every Dish I Photograph Look Beige?"

Anyway, the latest horrible picture featured above displays the results of this weekend's "use up the rest of the date filling" baking extravaganza. I had filling left over from the mamouls I made, and since the date paste was so amazingly good I didn't want it to go to waste.

What I really wanted to make was a tart with a layer of sticky dates and a layer of orange flower custard sitting on top of a buttery crust. But I decided not to make that as tart doughs are so fattening and then putting a custard on it just seemed like death to my waistline. And I don't have a tart pan. But more the former really. So then what do I do instead? I go and make individual date and cream custards and cupcakes that more than hold their own in terms of sheer butter content, thereby achieving pretty much the exact same thing calorie-wise as if I'd made the tart I wanted. (If I had a pan.) Not so clever that. And to top it all off I have now established definitively that I am the only one in my household who will eat a baked custard without whining about how I'm trying to poison them with the slimey baked eggs and how could this be fressert* and don't we have any coookiees, mooooommmmmmmmyyyy???

The cupcakes proved more popular, so that's the recipe I'll give you. Be warned, these are heavy little suckers, they're not tough or dense, they're just chock full of butter and they don't rise much. Jim said they were like a fig newton. I don't know what they taste like really, I'm too full of custard.

* dessert - Ian loves it but he can't say it

Orange Scented Cupcakes with Date Filling
makes 12 cupcakes

1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 - 1 cup date filling
juice of one orange
1 tsp orange flower water
sugar for sprinkling

Beat butter and sugar with a fork or electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and then stir in the orange extract and baking soda. Fold in half the flour, then half the buttermilk, then repeat.

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and put a scoop of batter in the bottom of each tin. Add a scoop of date filling to each and then cover with the rest of the batter.

Bake in a 375° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Mix the orange juice and orange flower water. (You might try reducing the mixture a bit on the stovetop to get more of a syrup). When the cupcakes are done cooking but still hot, spoon about a tablespoon full of the juice over the top of each, and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and place on a rack to cool.

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Plantain Chips with Garlic Sauce
Apr 2nd, 2006

I very rarely go out for lunch during the week. Most weekdays you can find me eating leftovers in front of my computer; I'd much rather work straight through and get home a little earlier. And I make some good leftovers! But on the rare occasion that I do get out of the office, Mojito Cafe is my favorite place to go. (I believe they've recently had a name change to La Casa del Mojito, probably to differentiate themselves from their newer location in Lower Queen Anne, also called Mojito Cafe.)

I always plan on ordering something new, but inevitably wind up getting the vegetarian Cuban sandwhich and a side of black beans. The sandwich is good, melted white cheese and thinly sliced vegetables in a crusty roll that's been pressed in a sandwich press. But what I really want is the side of plantain chips with garlic sauce that comes with the sandwich. The chips are crisy and salty on the outside, chewy and sweet on the inside, and the sauce is just the essence of garlic. You don't want to breath on anyone afterword, but man is it good.

So when I wandered home from the store with a plantain last week, I knew I wanted to try my hand at plantain chips. I cut the plantain into 1/2 inch thick rounds and fried them in a shallow layer of canola oil over medium heat, salting them when they came out of the oil. You can also fry them twice (smashing them in between), in which case they're called tostones, and I'll definitely try that next time. The garlic sauce is just olive oil and garlic. I added cilantro to mine but to be honest you really can't taste it over the raw garlic flavor. It does turn the sauce a nice green color though. To make the sauce put some olive oil in a blender or food processor and add enough cloves of peeled raw garlic to make a loose paste. I used probably 1/8 cup of oil and 4 or 5 cloves of garlic. You won't need a whole lot of the sauce, think of it as an aioli basically. Serve the chips hot with the sauce mounded on top or on the side for dipping. Be sure to have some hot sauce on the table for those who are so inclined.

To go with our chips I made a fresh mango, yellow pepper, avocado, black bean, and shrimp salad with a garlicky avocado dressing and a few drops of hot sauce on top. We were breathing fire at the end of that meal - but it was a truly good thing.

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