August, 2006

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Shrimp with Vinegar Cream
Aug 24th, 2006



One of the interesting things about keeping this blog is that it allows me to step back a bit and notice how my kids' eating habits change over time. I know that someday my tall bird-boned Jay will turn into a ravenous teenager devouring everything in sight. But this is the boy who has been known to return halves of cookies because he was full, who actually will eat only as much icecream as he has room for rather than as much as he can possibly pile into a bowl (believe me he did not inherit this behavior from me) so there will be many small steps on the road to full-fledged teenaged food disposal status. He's starting to take those steps though, and I've got to tell you it's really messing with my routines to actually have to cook him dinner!

Now that sounds silly, after all I cook dinner almost every day and part of the aim of this blog is to document the struggle to find food my kids will eat. But keep in mind that up to now, neither of them have been particularly interested in dinner. Ian eats a lot, but he consumes most of his calories early in the day and is generally not all that into eating by the time dinner rolls around. A few bites of chicken or pork and maybe some rice or noodles and he's moved on to begging for dessert. And Jay has always been the nibbly sort - a bite of this and a bite of that and he's finished, so a plain chicken breast and some reheated noodles would usually suffice for the boys leaving me time to cook something more interesting for the adults. But now that Jay is cleaning his plate at dinner and trying new things and sometimes even asking for seconds I can't fob him off with cheese and crackers or leftovers any more. However his tastes certainly are not diverse yet, so I'm still limited in what I can serve him. This past week for dinner we've had roast chicken with roasted potatoes and broccoli, homemade mac-n-cheese with peas and a separate more adventurous casserole for Jim and me, and pork chops with corn on the cob and green beans. (Oh, and a trip to Burgermaster for cheeseburgers - shhhhh don't tell anyone but I don't cook every single night.) Jay ate every bite he was given, including vegetables, but if you've read this blog for any amount of time you know this isn't how I like to cook. A meat and a starch and a vegetable - aargh! I'm going to have to work on finding a balance between cooking things I'm pretty sure Jay will like and keeping enough variety and spice to keep me from going insane.

Anway, all this leadup was really just to say that Jay is gone for a few days - camping with his grandparents - and I'm free to try some more adventurous dishes. I've got a pile of cookbooks that I've read recently and need to review, so yesterday I grabbed the top one off the pile and took it with me to work. At lunchtime I decided on a recipe and picked up the ingredients at the grocery store - gourmet vinegar, shrimp, shallots, and tarragon - it was fabulous. The recipe came from the great Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher by John Ash which I will review here shortly. Ash's recipes tend to be based on a adaptable technique and this Shrimp with Vinegar Cream is no exception. The vinegar can be flavored with any kind of fruit - he suggests pear, apple, or plum - I found a champagne strawberry vinegar. The fresh herbs that flavor the vinegar cream are left up to the cook to determine what would go best with the vinegar in use. I chose tarragon as in my experience it partners well with cream and strawberries. And the cream sauce is not limited to topping shrimp. Ash suggests spooning it over anything quickly sauteed, like chicken, medallions of pork, or vegetables.

I chose not to include the optional fresh fruit in my vinegar cream and instead added fresh strawberries to my arugula and tomato side salad, dressing it with some of the strawberry vinegar. And rotini noodles (made with a whole wheat blend) served the two-fold function of sopping up the extra cream sauce and giving Ian something to eat for dinner. I loved the sauce, the cream and butter balance the tang of the vinegar perfectly and the tarragon adds just the right note of interest and freshness. Since I only cooked enough shrimp for two I've got plenty of leftover cream sauce and intend to try it out tomorrow over some quickly sauted medallions of pork.

One additional note, Ash does recommend brining the shrimp beforehand. I skipped this step thinking I did not have enough time, but now looking back over his notes the brine can be on for as little as five minutes so next time I'll definitely add this back in. He recommends either soaking peeled or unpeeled shrimp for five minutes to an hour in a liquid brine made of 1/3 cup kosher or sea salt and 1/3 cup brown sugar to one quart of water or using the dry method and coating shrimp with the salt and letting them sit for up to ten minutes. Rinse well with either brining method and your shrimp will be more juicy and firm without tasting salty.


Shrimp with Vinegar Cream
serves 4

1 pound large (16-20 size) shrimp
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots or green onion (green and white parts)
1/2 cup fragrant fruit vinegar, such as pear, apple, or plum [I used champagne strawberry vinegar]
2 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
1/4 cup diced fresh fruit, such as pears, or whatever the vinegar is flavored with (optional)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh herbs [I used tarragon]
Salt and freshly ground pepper


Prepare the shrimp (peel, devein, and brine if desired). Coarsely chop and reserve the shells.

Heat 2 tbsp of the butter and 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a good saute pan over medium-high heat and add the shallots and shrimp shells. Cook for a few minutes until lightly colored and then add the vinegar and chicken stock. Raise the heat to high and cook until the liquid reduces and thickens a bit (approx 4 or 5 minutes). Then pour the liquid through a fine-meshed seive into a bowl, pressing down on the solids left in the seive to squeeze out all the yummy goodness.

Return the sauce to the pan and add the cream. Reduce some more until you have the consistency of a light sauce. Pull the pan off the heat and add the optional fruit, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Add a few more drops of vinegar if you need to balance the sauce.

Pour the sauce into a small pan and keep warm over low heat. Wipe out your pan, add the remaining butter and olive oil, and cook the shrimp until pink. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and serve, ideally with pasta, bread, or rice to soak up the yummy sauce.

-Cooking One on One by John Ash
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Review - Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day
Aug 17th, 2006



Jim: So what's for dinner?
Me: Well, I don't really feel like cooking tonight. But there's leftover soup in the fridge.
Jim: The good soup? With the cheese?

So here is the recipe for the good soup with the cheese. As well as being good and cheesy, it's also (at least in part) the answer to the question of what to do when summer squash are taking over your fridge. And a perfect excuse to review the cookbook from whence it came - Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day, by Roy Finamore. Now is that a multi-purpose zucchini soup recipe or what?

This book reminded me a bit of another I recently reviewed, Recipes: a collection for the modern cook by Susan Spungen. Both books are based on a New American style of cooking that incorporates techniques from Italy and France, both present a straightforward collection of dishes that are suitable for everyday meal preparation and casual get togethers with friends, and both have a connection to Martha Stewart (Spungen worked on both magazine and book projects with Stewart and Finamore edited her cookbooks). I enjoyed both books, but in the end added neither to my collection - they just don't quite fit with my style. That said, the personality projected through the pages of Tasty is quite appealing to me. Finamore comes off as your favorite gay uncle - his food is casual, welcoming, and ever so slightly more fabulous than yours (disclaimer: I have no special knowledge of nor interest in Mr. Finamore's actual sexual tendencies). He wants you to get into the kitchen and cook, and he wants you to enjoy yourself - and to not be afraid of slinging around a bit of butter and cream while you're at it. It's a fun book to read through even if, like me, your tastes run a bit more to vegetable-based dishes than flank steak and rustic fruit tarts.

Now, on to the actual recipe - a zucchini and cheddar soup very reminiscent of the more common broccoli and cheddar. I made the simple recipe even simpler by omitting the cheddar croutons - basically due to laziness on my part, but I'm sure they're quite tasty. And I couldn't bring myself to add the entire 3/4 of a pound of cheddar called for in the recipe - I just kept adding until it tasted right to me, which was probably at about a half a pound. As is probably obvious to most of you, when a recipe is this simple and based on so few ingredients the quality of your ingredients is paramount, so do invest in a good cheddar even if it hurts to watch the entire block of cheese disappear into the soup pot, and taste each zucchini before adding it to the saute pan. I neglected to do this and one of my squashes was bitter - it didn't bother my husband, but I could detect it in the finished soup and it disappointed me. So taste your squash raw - if it's bitter when raw it's going to be bitter when cooked!


Zucchini Cheddar Soup

4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
3 1/2 lbs mixed summer squashes, sliced
Coarse salt
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound best cheddar, shredded

For the cheese croutons
2 large slices hearty bread (like farm bread)
1/4 pound best cheddar, shredded


For the soup
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When it stops sizzling, add the onions, squash, and a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring once in a while, until the vegetables have collapsed and released their juices, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the white wine and bring to a boil. Then pour in the stock and add the basil and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup back to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. The squash should be very tender, almost falling apart. Let the soup cool for a while, so it doesn't erupt when you puree it.

For the cheese croutons
Heat the broiler while the soup simmers. Toast the bread in a toaster and place on a baking sheet. Cover with the shredded cheddar and slip under the broiler. Watch carefully, and leave it in just long enough for the cheese to melt and start to brown. Let the toasts cool, then cut into squares - how big is up to you.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Wipe out the saucepan and return the soup to it.

Bring the soup back to a simmer. Stir in the cheddar by handfuls, letting each batch melt before adding the next. Check for salt and pepper.

Serve in deep bowls with the croutons.

-Roy Finamore, Tasty
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I'm back!
Aug 17th, 2006

Sorry to disappear on you with no warning. All is well, we have just been out of town at a family reunion and celebrating our tenth (!!) wedding anniversary. Thanks to my small but loyal cadre of readers who kept checking the site while I was gone. More recipes and cute child anecdotes coming soon.

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Paper Chef 20
Aug 7th, 2006



Paper Chef #20 is here, and the ingredient list this time is peaches, cherries, a new-to-you herb (fresh or dried), and something hot (as in spicy). If you're unfamiliar with Paper Chef, it's based on the television show Iron Chef, and challenges bloggers to come up with a new dish given a randomly selected list of four ingredients.

For the herb I used lavender, in the form of Lavender Salt. I adore my sprawling lavender plant out back, but have never used the herb in cooking. I was looking for culinary lavender or lavender sugar, but came up empty, so settled for a Lavender Salt blend from the girl & the fig.

And for the spicy hot ingredient I settled on ginger - not as blistering as the hot peppers that immediately sprang to mind, but definitely sinus-clearing when eaten in sufficient quantity.

Ingredient list selected I knew I was headed in the dessert direction, and ended up baking some peaches with a sprinkling of lavender salt and sugar and serving them with a dried cherry and ginger biscotti. I've never made biscotti before so I used a recipe for a Spiced Biscotti from The Best Recipe as my guide, adapting it to incorporate macerated dried cherries and crystallized ginger.

The peaches should really be served with some ice cream, and my plan was to make some, either vanilla or ginger, but I ended up getting the wrong thing at the store and couldn't bring myself to go back for the fifth time that day. But even without ice cream, the peaches are incredibly sweet and a bit spicy from the ginger and lavender, and the biscotti are delicious - and I'm not normally a fan of the crunchy cookies.

So I consider this Paper Chef a success as I got to cook with lavender for the first time and discovered a new love for biscotti. Here's an arty (read out of focus) shot of the finished product.



Baked Peaches with Lavendar & Dried Cherry Ginger Biscotti

Peaches
One peach for each person
Unsalted butter
Lavender Salt
Sugar
Ground ginger (optional)

Biscotti
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup Amaretto or Kirsch
1/8 - 1/4 cup crystallized ginger
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Biscotti:
Soak the cherries in the liqueur for about an hour. Drain, and reserve the soaking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and set aside. Cream the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the vanilla, ginger, cherries, and about a teaspoon of their soaking liquid. Fold in the dry ingredients and combine just until the dough comes together.

Cover an oiled baking sheet with baker's parchment. With floured hands form the dough into two logs on the baking sheet, each about 13" by 2". Bake on the middle rack for about 35 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through cooking, until the logs are golden and just beginning to crack.

Remove from the oven and let sit for about ten minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 325F. On a cutting board cut the logs into thin diagonal slices (about 3/8") using a serrated knife. Return the biscotti to the parchment lined baking sheet and lay them flat. Cook for an additional 15 minutes or so, flipping the biscotti over halfway through cooking. The biscotti should be dry and crunchy.

Peaches:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Halve the peaches and remove the pits. Place a slim pat of butter in the well of each peach and sprinkle with lavendar salt, sugar, and optional ginger. Bake until the peaches are soft and caramelized on top - about half an hour.

-biscotti recipe adapted from The Best Recipe
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Taboulleh Old Country Style
Aug 2nd, 2006



There are some ethnic recipes that have spread beyond their culture of origin to be appropriated by the world at large - burritos and hummus spring to mind. Often the dish is altered slightly in translation, and it is the world-beat version that is then reprinted in umpteen food magazines, newspaper food sections, and cookbooks. So sometimes it's fun to go back to the source material and see what little details have been altered or left out.

I've been reading several Lebanese cookbooks lately, trying to determine which one shall come and live with me in my home, so when my latest veggie delivery offered up a plenitude of fresh parsley my thoughts immediately turned to taboulleh. Would taboulleh made from a Lebanese cookbook be any different than one made from say, Cooking Light?

First off my prediction that the Lebanese version would include more olive oil was proved correct. Three quarters of a cup! Now you're talking! Another element I don't recall seeing before, although I have not conducted a thorough investigation of taboulleh recipes, was steeping the chopped onion in allspice and salt for 20 minutes or so while the bulgur soaked. And the inclusion of soaked red lentils was definitely a new one for me. According to the author of Lebanese Mountain Cookery, soaked red lentils are used in place of chopped tomatoes when tomatoes are out of season, but can also be incorporated within the tomato version just for fun and extra crunch. I soaked my lentils overnight in the fridge, then drained them and promptly shoved them back in the fridge for another day or two while I hunted the greater Seattle area for bulgur. By the time I had procured the bulgur (PCC to the rescue) my lentils were trying to decide whether or not to become sprouts, but were still pleasantly nutty and crunchy when tossed in the salad. I don't know if they would be to everyone's taste however, so I consider them completely optional to the following recipe.

I did increase the amount of bulgur from the 1/2 cup of the original recipe to a full cup. I wanted more of a chewey, grainy salad, but if you like yours heavy on the veggies by all means go with the half cup. The resulting salad was addictively tangy and fresh-tasting, even after a few days in the fridge, and the perfect thing to pull out on a hot summer evening when the thought of turning on the stove makes you want to cry.


Tabbouleh Old Country Style
serves 6 - 8

1 cup medium or fine bulgur wheat
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp group allspice
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 - 2 tsp salt
3 cups finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
1 - 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fresh spearmint leaves, chopped fine
1 cup red lentils, soaked overnight (optional)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil


Soak bulgur for 20 minutes in enough water to rise about 1/2 inch above the level of the grain. Drain and set aside.

While bulgur is soaking, combine the chopped onion with the allspice, pepper, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. I would start with 1 tsp salt here and add more later if necessary.

In a large bowl combine parsley, scallions, tomatoes, mint, red lentils (if using), and the drained bulgur. Stir in seasoned onion and dress with lemon and oil.

-adapted from Lebanese Mountain Cookery by Mary Laird Hamady
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