June, 2006


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Mushroom Zucchini Tapenade
Jun 29th, 2006

Mushrooms have been much on my brain lately. I love mushrooms, their meaty savory taste and their spongelike ability to soak up the flavors of any cooking medium, but I don't think I've cooked with them more than once or twice in the past few years. Jim really can't stand the texture, and after too many little bags of mushroomy goodness went slimey in my fridge, I just got out of the habit of buying them.

Recently some little button mushrooms have started appearing in my CSA produce delivery. I stashed them in the fridge and forgot about them and they would probably have completed their inevitable transformation into a brown bag of slime were it not for a serendipitous phone call from my friend Steph asking for ideas about what to do with her own glut of mushrooms. I immediately thought of a mushroom tapenade, something briny with olives, and mixed with plenty of olive oil which would hold the paste a while in the fridge. Steph liked the idea, and her resulting tapenade was pressed into service in some delicious sounding sandwiches (described here in the comments).

Then Elise at Simply Recipes posted a lovely picture and recipe for Mushroom Caviar, a kissing cousin of tapenade but made with white wine, butter, and garlic. Somehow those two ideas became one in my fevered brain, and (just in the nick of time) the mushrooms were rescued from their slimey demise and pressed into service in the form of this Mushroom Zucchini Tapenade (or Caviar). Frankly I don't know if this is best described as a tapenade, caviar, relish, dip, spread, or salad, but it's delicious both warm and cold, either treated like a dip and spooned up with toasted flatbread, or spread on a chicken breast as a relish, or tossed with pasta and sprikled with parmiggiano cheese. I've been eating it for lunch all week along with flatbread and red lentil dip.

At lunch today I looked down at my plate and considered the fact that not only had I made the bread, the lentil dip, and the mushroom tapenade, but the tapenade was made with homemade garlic sage oil, the garlic reserved from making said oil, and homemade grainy mustard from the great homemade gift-giving bonanza that was last Christmas. Sometimes this whole food blogging thing can feel a little out of control, but the side effects are definitely delicious.

*I just noticed that Nic at Baking Sheet has posted another take on Elise's mushroom caviar. Apparently I'm not the only one with mushrooms on my brain this week.

Mushroom Zucchini Tapenade

4 cups mushrooms, cut into very small dice
2 cups zuchinni, cut into very small dice
1/2 red onion, cut into very small dice (a large shallot would work nicely here too)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 - 4 cloves garlic, depending on your level of garlic love
sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup chopped black olives
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
2 tbsp mustard, grainy or Dijon type
splash of white wine

Chop and chop and chop until your vegetables are all prepared. I suppose this could be accomplished in a food processor, but I wouldn't know for sure, not owning one of those new-fangled devices.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pan and add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are tender. Make room in the middle of the pan, add a bit more butter and oil if you'd like, and add the zuchinni and olives. Stir those around until they're nicely oiled up, then start stirring everything around together. Cook until the zucchini are tender and then add a sprinkling of sea salt.

Mix in the capers, mustard, and a splash of white wine and cook for a few more minutes. Taste and add more mustard or salt as necessary. Serve warm or cold with toasted flat bread and a green salad, or toss with some penne pasta, red pepper flakes, and parmiggiano cheese.

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Cookbook Awards (Part II)
Jun 28th, 2006

The heat has broken for the time being and I've headed back into the kitchen. I've got a couple recipes I'm excited to share with you - a Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet and my take on mushroom tapenade - but first I need to finish up my Cookbook Awards. In Cookbook Awards Part I I covered the books I'd take with me to a desert island and which I deem most beautiful.

Moving on we've got:

Glad to Own but Barely Use:
This one is tough, because as I mentioned over half of my cookbooks have yet to be cooked from, so I could fill this category up to overflowing and beyond. How to choose, I guess I'll highlight a few that I've cooked from once and liked but for one reason or another have yet to make it back.

The Occidental Tourist: Asian inspired recipes from the chef at the Boston based restaurant Salamander. The recipes are chef-y in that they are usually a twist on a traditional recipe, but ingredient lists aren't too terribly long or intimidating. I made Yang Chow Fried Rice a year and a half ago and haven't cracked the book since. I think probably because the recipes are just a little too involved to qualify as weeknight cooking at my house (although others who don't arrive home with what seems like only minutes to get the kids fed, bathed, storied, and into bed may disagree) but for some reason I never think Asian when I have more time on the weekends. Time to fix that.

New World Kitchen: Latin American and Caribbean Cuisine: Substitute Latin American for Asian and what I said for The Occidental Tourist stands for this cookbook as well. I made Almojabanas, (Cheese Corn Rolls) which I messed up a bit but were still good, but I haven't made anything since.

Julia Child & Company: My final entry in this category is a little different than the other two. I'm glad to own this book because it's the only Julia Child cookbook I have, and as a former loyal reader of the Julie/Julia Project I have to own at least one. But when I was deep in the throes of a self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe out of each of my cookbooks (I only made it through eleven books before giving up and in that time my collection increased by at least eleven new books leaving me feeling completely defeated) I tackled Julia Child & Company - and could not find a single recipe that looked appealing enough to be worth the investment of time, energy, and butterfat. Some day I may take up that gauntlet once more, but even if I don't I'm still glad I own the book.

Best for a Specific Purpose:
I have a lot of single topic cookbooks (Garlic, Flavored Oils, Scones, Pizza, etc.) but I've yet to try most of them. Here are the ones I do use.

Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe: So who needs a 320 page book all about breakfast, healthy vegetarian breakfast at that? Me, that's who! Flipping through this book with its beautiful cover art inspires me to deviate from my repetitive breakfast routine (two slices of Ezekial raisin bread, toasted, with Adam's peanut butter - crunchy not creamy) or even better, to eat nothing brut breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I posted a good Pancake Mix recipe from this book a ways back.

Great Taste - Low Fat Chicken: Okay, so it's by Time Life Books, there are no editorial or customer reviews of it on Amazon, and who knows where I came by it, but when I know that I've got to cook chicken again for dinner and just can't face another round of any of my usual recipes, I know I can flip through this book and find a recipe that will taste good and be quick to prepare whith ingredients I have on hand. This Caribbean Chicken Salad is one example.

Baking By Flavor: Definitely the best dessert cookbook I've come across. I featured her Spiced & Glazed Chocolate Chip Cake here and talked a bit about what makes the book good which include precise, detailed directions and ideas about how to add layers of flavor to different dessert items.

Alright, I promised a few new categories of my own invention, and I'm still planning on including those, but probably not until next week. Tomorrow, back to the recipes! In the meantime I'd love to hear your selections for best cookbooks - don't be shy about using the comments, all the cool kids are doing it.

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Fruit Salad with Mint Sugar (with optional ninjas)
Jun 27th, 2006

If you're one of those people who runs the other way when the conversation turns to cute things kids say (and I don't blame you, believe me I was one of those people before I had kids myself) you might want to skip down to the bottom of this entry where I briefly talk about food. The two of you still here, please indulge me while I recount a conversation with my six year old that has absolutely nothing to do with food blogging but everything to do with making me laugh. We were talking about the violence levels of various video games and which ones he can and cannot play:

6 year old: So why is my ninja game violent?
Me: Ummm, because you run around killing other ninjas?
6: (After much reflection) No you don't really kill ninjas, they just turn into coins.
Me: ???
6: That's not killing people, that's just making change.

Maybe you had to be there, but that line just killed me. Anyway, I promise to complete my Cookbook Awards soon, but the sun has come to Seattle and I'm currently much too busy soaking up every last ray to sit down in front of my computer for any length of time. So for now I'll leave you with a lovely fruit salad idea, courtesy of The Gourmet Cookbook.

In a food processor process about 3 tbsp of sugar with 1/4 cup of packed mint leaves until you have a lightly green mint sugar. Set aside while you peel and cube or slice a half a honeydew melon, four peaches or nectarines, and a half pound of white grapes or pitted cherries. Toss the fruit with the mint sugar (I ended up only using half the sugar, but tastes may vary) and let sit for at least five minutes. Serve with a light dinner on a sunny summer evening.

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Cookbook Awards (Part I)
Jun 22nd, 2006

So hopefully you've had time to click over to the Cookbook Awards post on The Amateur Gourmet. Apparently, memes are so five minutes ago, so this is not a meme per se, just encouraged copycatting. Basically the idea is that I've taken a look through my cookbook collection, and will present to you the best in a few different categories. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, in order to do this I had to count up my cookbooks. Gulp. One hundred and twenty-five. Yeah, that's a lot, but even worse is the fact that out of that number there are 78 books that I've never cooked from. At all.

There are a couple reasons for this. The first is I've acquired a lot of these cookbooks within the last year, so I just haven't had time to try them all out. I pick up most of my books at thrift stores, so they don't cost a lot, but you never know what you're going to find so when I see things that look interesting I'm powerless to resist. It's not like they'll be there the next time I come back. The second reason so many of them remain untried, is that I have a similar compulsion about checking out cookbooks from the library. Currently I have five at home, and while that's a little high, it's not so unusual. And since I can't keep those books forever, I feel like reading through them and cooking at least one recipe from each should be my first priority. So my books keep piling up and never getting read.

However, I do have my favorites, so without further ado, on with the awards:

Best Desert Island Cookbooks (the all around category):

The Gourmet Cookbook: Okay, this is a sort of a weird choice, since as you can see I don't own it, although I have read through large portions of it. But I have to agree with The Amateur Gourmet on this one, it really has just about every recipe you'd ever want to make, and they're good recipes too. In fact the reason I don't own it is because it makes me sort of start to hyperventilate. It's too big and overwhelming to read for fun, and I start freaking out because even if I quit my job and started cooking all day every day I don't think I could cook my way through the thing. But if I was headed to that proverbial desert island stocked with ingredients, I'd definitely swing by a bookstore and pick this one up.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: Definitely a masterpiece in the field of vegetarian cookbookery, Deborah Madison's huge collection of tasty meat free recipes would round out the desert island collection nicely, assuming you had access to a farmer's market. I'm not a vegetarian but cook from this book quite a bit, and I've enjoyed each and every recipe.

How to Cook Everything: I turn to Mark Bittman's collection when I need to figure out the cooking times and temperatures for a roast, or the best proportions for a fruit crisp. He's less pedantic than the folks over at The Best Recipe, and I've found most of his methods work well for me. I like his The Best Recipes in the World cookbook too, but I haven't picked it up yet.

A New Way to Cook: Healthy, flavorful, not too labor intensive - Sally Schneider's approach really works for me, and she supplies so many recipes and ideas for improvisation that I could happily while away quite a bit of time on my desert island with this one.

The Healthy Hedonist: I had a hard time deciding in which category to place this book, especially since this is another one I don't own yet, but it's coming soon I promise! As soon as I find another can't live without book that will get me over the $25 free shipping limit at Amazon, this baby is coming home with me. This is probably my current favorite cookbook - the author really knows how to pack the flavor into her healthy recipes. And while it isn't as large or comprehensive as the other books I've nominated in this category, everything I've made from it has been divine. Albion Cooks is just as taken with it, and has featured several delicious recipes from the book on her site.

Most Beautiful:
I don't tend to go for the glossy coffee table books by prominent chefs, so this is a fairly slim category for me, but to me you can't have a most beautiful list without Donnna Hay.

New Food Fast is the book of hers I happen to own, but any of her books could appear on this list. I love the clean layout with lots of white space and tons of pictures.

The photographer and stylist behind the Donna Hay books, Petrina Tinslay, has done other books. But I associate her style with Donna Hay so much that when I came across Fresh by Michele Cranston, which is also styled by Tinslay, I freaked out and thought it was some sort of knockoff. Cranston's book Zest has an even prettier cover, but I don't own that one.

Simple to Spectacular is probably the prettiest and glossiest book I own. It's a collaboration between chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman, where they take a recipe concept and show four different versions of it, from the first very simple one, to the final which is very chef-y and elaborate but builds on the techniques explored in the preceeding treatments. This book could also fall into the Glad to Own but Barely Use category for me, as I've yet to cook out of it. But I do like to look at it.

Phew, my time is up and this is getting gargantuan, so I'll have to finish off the remaining categories tomorrow. Next up, Glad to Own but Barely Use, Best for a Specific Purpose, and an award or two of my own invention.

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Cookbook Awards Coming Soon
Jun 21st, 2006

Well it's late, and as yesterday's post proved, a tired brain and food blogging should never be combined. So tonight I'll leave you with this image of the bookshelf that houses my cookbook collection, although as you can see I've got a bit of an overflow problem at the moment and some books are trying to escape. Tomorrow I'm going to give you a tour of my shelves and hand out some cookbook awards, following in the footsteps of (read shamelessly copycatting) The Amateur Gourmet.

Breathlessly wondering which cookbook of mine I think it the cutest? the strangest? the most all around useful? Probably not, but I'm going to blog about it anyway.

Until tomorrow.

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Garlic Sage Oil (aka Incoherent Rambling)
Jun 20th, 2006

Well crappity, Ian came home from summer school yesterday with a cheery reminder from his teachers that their school is a nut free zone. I guess my lovingly prepared granola bars featuring crunchy granola with almonds won't be accompanying him to school any more. And I'm sure his teachers loved they other mainstay of his lunchbag, the peanut butter sandwich. Woops, glad we didn't send anyone into anaphylactic shock! Although frankly those with peanut allergies would be advised to keep a good ten foot distance from both of my kids, as I'm pretty sure you could scrape a measurable peanut butter sample off either of them at all times. Ian had a great time though, and was raring to go again this morning. Jay's last day of school is tomorrow, so our comfortable routine of the last ten months is coming to an end. We've cleverly arranged their summer activities to minimize the amount of time both boys will be at home together, bouncing off the walls and annoying each other. However that will mean lots of puzzled peering at the calendar, wondering who's got camp that week and where and when. Ah well, we'll muddle through.

I'm sure better writers than I, of which there are myriad on this here internet, could figure out some clever way to segue from updates on their kids summer plans to a discussion of garlic sage oil. But you're stuck with me, so... garlic sage oil! Somehow I forgot to make a substitution for the sage in our weekly CSA box last week, so we ended up with a nice little packet of organic sage in the fridge. Which would have been lovely if we didn't have a huge and prolific organic sage plant of our own gracing our back yard. Since I rarely have the burning desire to consume large quantities of sage all at once, I looked around for some way to preserve the herbs. After all I paid for the damn things, they must be consumed!

An infused oil seemed like a logical way to extend the shelf life of my poor unwanted sage. A search through my cookbook collection came up with a garlic sage oil in A New Way to Cook that looked worthwhile. Although now that I think about it I have a cookbook devoted solely to infused oils that I've never cooked out of and it didn't even occur to me to look there. Damn it all. In preparation for an upcoming post I did an inventory of my cookbooks last night and a frighteningly high percentage of them remain uncooked-from, and here I am letting a golden opportunity slip away.

I must pause here because this post seems to have slipped out of my control and is turning and slipping its way to total incoherence. I tend to not put in a lot of advance preparation on my posts here, I just open up a blank file and start typing and words come out. Not necessarily good words, or interesting words, or in this case coherent words, but words nonetheless. However after this post I may have to amend my technique. Good lord.

Now where was I? Ah hell, I give up. Garlic sage oil. Learn it, love it. I featured mine in an entire dinner based on the garlic sage oil theme - grilled swordfish basted with garlic sage oil with sage leaf garnish, white beans cooked with bacon, chicken stock, and garlic sage oil until creamy, and greens sauted in (what else) garlic sage oil, red pepper flakes, and some of the reserved sliced garlic. My debt has been paid to the great sage gods in the sky.

Garlic & Sage Oil
makes one cup of garlic and sage infused oil

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup lightly packed sage leaves
pinch of kosher salt

Put the garlic and the oil in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until the garlic is lightly golden, about five minutes. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the sage leaves and cook until the leaves turn slightly darker and aromatic. Cover the saucepan, take it off the heat and let it steep for a couple hours.

Strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer into a storage jar of some sort. The sage leaves can be drained on paper towels, sprinkled with the salt, and used as a garnish. The oil can be stored in the fridge for a couple months.

-A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider
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Soft and Chewy Granola Bars
Jun 19th, 2006

I've written here before about how it sometimes takes being exposed to a recipe more than once for me to get out the pots and pans and give it a whirl. This must work subliminally as well. As I was preparing to write this post I fired up my recipe database to add in the granola bar recipe I made this weekend, only to find that it was already in there. I'd pulled the recipe from Nava Atlas' blog a few months before I ended up making it from her cookbook.

I've been looking for a healthyish granola bar recipe for a while, as I like to include a homemade treat in Jay's school lunch from time to time. This recipe is for granola bars that are soft and chewy, featuring a not-too-sweet batter studded with crunchy granola, raisins, and chocolate chips. The bars are moistened using applesauce and just a tablespoon of oil, and sweetened with a touch of natural granulated sugar, Turbinado sugar in my case. I did make a few minor modifications, mainly because I didn't have any whole-wheat pastry flour. Neither did my neighborhood grocery store, so I substituted 2/3 all-purpose unbleached white flour and 1/3 white whole-wheat flour (whole-wheat flour ground from white wheat instead of red). I'll definitely try using all whole-wheat when I can get my hands on some pastry flour. I mixed the raisins with some dried sour cherries, and only added half of what was called for as I was also using the optional chocolate chips. A scant half cup of chocolate chips was enough for my kids to ooh and ahh and exclaim "chocolate!" as they joyfully munched away.

As I mentioned, I intended these bars for school lunches, but one batch only makes eight bars and ours were all consumed before the day was over. So last night after the kids were in bed I made up a double batch and threw some in the freezer. The recipe comes together in a flash, made even easier by the fact that I didn't have to stop in the middle to make anyone a peanut butter sandwich or referee a raging dispute over whose markers were whose.

I was especially glad to have these bars made up, as today was Ian's first day of 'summer camp', a half day put on by a neighborhood preschool, and his first exposure to any kind of school or childcare. This morning was a flurry of activity getting both boys dressed, fed, and out the door, both with a little homemade treat tucked into the bottom of their lunchbags. Ian excitedly reported to summer camp, greeted his teacher, and wanted to know if it was lunchtime yet. He was soothed with promises of crafts and an upcoming snack, but knowing Ian, I imagine he's counting the minutes until he can open his lunch and head straight for the chocolate.

As the recipe was printed on the author's site, In a Vegetarian Kitchen, I'll direct you to it there rather than reproducing it here on my blog, but do check it out, it's easy, healthy, and delicious.

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Review: The Vegetarian Family Cookbook
Jun 15th, 2006

The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas is a really comforting, homey book. It's aimed at vegetarian parents who need to put healthy, quick meals on the table for possibly picky vegetarian kids. But I think it's also a great resource for non-vegetarian parents looking to introduce their kids to some new dishes, for anyone who likes to cook vegetarian meals from time to time, or for people who have vegetarian family members or friends and are unsure what to cook for them. Vegan cooks would find this book useful as well, as many items are vegan or have vegan options listed.

Along with the recipes, Atlas includes lists of suggestions - my favorites being the ideas for simple breakfast items, different kinds of sandwiches and wraps, and school lunches. She also makes suggestions on how to simplify a dish for picky eaters or top it off with a few extra ingredients for parents or older kids who might like more complex tastes.

The recipes are straightforward with typically short lists of ingredients, but very appealing. This isn't a glossy production with a lot of pictures, it evokes more of a Molly Katzen feel with little line drawings of vegetables adorning the pages. And it packs in a lot of recipes, covering breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and treats.

This is the kind of book that you leaf through and immediately resolve to eat better, not because the author makes you feel guilty, but because she makes healthy vegetarian food sound so gosh darn appealing.

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Marinated Asparagus & Hearts of Palm
Jun 14th, 2006

My mom served this salad during our Christmas visit last year. I had never eaten hearts of palm before and really liked them in the vinegary marinade. So I got the recipe from her and bought a can of hearts of palm and stuck it in my cupboard. And there it sat for many months, until poking around for something to serve with our turkey burgers last weekend, I came across the can and thought of this salad.

The salad calls for marinating the vegetables for 24 to 36 hours, and for best taste you should certainly to so. I cheated and mixed up a smaller batch of marinade, marinaded the vegetables for an hour or so, and then served the vegetables with torn up lettuce leaves and poured the marinade over top. There were lots of leftovers, so I stored it all away in the fridge, and by lunchtime the next day the asparagus and hearts of palm had achieved the tangy taste I remembered.

The asparagus stays crisp and bright green, and the hearts of palm are salty, somewhat like a marinated artichoke heart but with a nicer texture. This would be a good salad to make with the last of the fresh spring asparagus.

I don't know where my mom got the recipe, but I know she reads this site, so fess up mom. Where'd it come from?

Marinated Asparagus & Hearts of Palm Salad

1 pound trimmed asparagus
1 14 to 16 oz. can hearts of palm, drained and cut
into 3/4 to 1 inch rounds
cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon ground pepper
red leaf lettuce to line platter

The day before serving, cook the asparagus until just tender, and plunge in cold water. Place the asparagus, hearts of palm, and tomatoes in a large flat pan. Mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper and pour over the vegetables. Marinate in refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.

To serve, line a large platter with lettuce. Arrange drained vegetables on lettuce.

-author unknown
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Turkey Burgers
Jun 12th, 2006

Sunday dawned gray and overcast, but the clouds lifted before noon and we were treated to a sunny day with clear blue skies. We spent a few hours along the boardwalk at Alki Beach and made plans to grill some turkey burgers in the evening. The fickle Seattle weather turned on us however, and by 5:00 the wind had kicked up and ominously dark clouds were moving in. But by that time I had turkey burgers on the brain, so preparations were just moved inside and I plowed ahead.

Would you believe that neither of my children have ever eaten a burger? Well, actually that might be a lie, I think Ian ate one once at my parents house, but it was long ago and never repeated. This is certainly not due to any healthy eating edicts on our part, I've just never been able to get them to try one. But now that Jay is trying new things, I figured it might be time to introduce them to one of my favorite picnic treats, the turkey burger.

I subscribe to both Eating Well and Cooking Light magazines, and both featured good-looking turkey burger recipes in their most recent issues. I chose to first try the recipe from Cooking Light, which incorporates orange juice, ginger, and garlic and comes with its own 'special sauce'. It looked like it would make a moist and savory burger. I must admit however, that I chose to play it safe with the boys' burgers, and prepared those with only ground turkey, salt, and pepper. This was made easier by the fact that the recipe calls for a pound of ground turkey, and grocery store packages (around here anyway) include a pound and a quarter. So it was easy to form that extra quarter pound into plain burgers for the boys - if I weren't doing that though I would have just thrown in the whole package, I frankly don't think it would make much of a difference.

The move to cooking these on the stove was probably a good one. Although the recipe calls for grilling the burgers, they were a little sloppy and I'm not sure how well they would have held together on the grill. Those with superior burger grilling skills however should definitely give that option a try.

The burgers were delicious, and while Ian was cranky and not into eating his dinner, Jay slopped ketchup on his bun and proceeded to chow down, all the while making fairly disgusting grunts of enjoyment, which, while not shining examples of mealtime etiquette, were music to my ears.

Turkey Burgers with Special Sauce
makes four hefty sized burgers

1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground turkey breast

Special Sauce
3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped green onions
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

Combine first 6 ingreidents in a large bowl. Divide turkey mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 3/4-inch-thick patty. Combine all the special sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cook the burgers either on a grill or a nonstick skillet sprayed with a little cooking spray over medium heat, approximately 5 minutes on each side.

Serve with whole wheat buns, a tablespoon or two of sauce, some lettuce, and slices of onion, pickles, and/or cheese as desired.

-Cooking Light, June 2006
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Sum Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
Jun 9th, 2006

Back in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Thailand. I lived with a host family in a city in the northern part of the country called Chiang Mai, and spent a month on my own doing an independent study in Bangkok. I was in Thailand for about four months, which works out to approximately 120 days, so I'm guessing I ate som tam at least 120 times while I was there. Oh how I loved the stuff. Som tam (or som tum) is a green papaya salad that is sold by street vendors all over Thailand (or at least in Chiang Mai and Bangkok). The vendor will take your order, which usually involves specifying how many chilies you want and whether you want the vegetarian or regular version, then he will shred the green papaya, mash the ingredients together in a big mortar and pestle, and deliver it to you in a plastic bag with some cabbage leaves and a warm ball of sticky rice. Besides the green papaya, the other ingredients tossed into the mortar are fresh lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, chilies, uncooked green beans, a few chopped tomatoes, and some crushed peanuts. Meat eaters usually get some dried shrimp or some tiny little crabs mixed in. Or both. I would always order it vegetarian, because I was one, but also because I had no desire at all to deal with the dried shrimp or crabs. There are definite advantages to travelling abroad as a vegetarian - strange eating adventures usually involve some kind of meat. And as far as I could tell, Thai vegetarians consumed vast quantities of fish sauce with no compunction, so I followed suit.

Sometimes the salad and the rice were packed separately, but if not the top layer of rice would be a bit wet and crumbly from the salad piled on top. I would pinch off a walnut sized ball of rice with my fingers and then use the rice to scoop up some tangy, salty, addictive salad and go to town. I managed to put on ten pounds during those four months during which I was running every morning and eating a vegetarian diet heavy on fruit and vegetables. I have a feeling it may have had something to do with my out of control consumption of sticky rice.

When I got home from Thailand I mourned the loss of my daily sum tam habit. Bear in mind that this was in the early '90s and Thai restaurants were just beginning their march to ubiquity. If you can believe it, when I got to Thailand in the summer of '91 I had never tasted even a bite of Thai food. So while there were Thai restaurants around when I got back, I had to seek them out, and I could only find one that served green papaya salad. Green papayas aren't an easy thing to track down, but they've got 'em at Uwajimaya and I picked one up recently during my 'trip that spawned a thousand blog entries'. You can substitute shredded cucumber or carrot for the papaya, which are both tasty in their own right, although really not at all the same. A green papaya is just an unripe papaya, although I believe the variety of papaya used in Thailand is different than the Mexican papayas we get here in the States. But if you find a very green one at your grocery store, give it a shot. If the papaya is truly unripe, the seeds inside will be white and papery instead of black and smooth as they are when ripe. In fact I found them fairly creepy looking, like an unsettling cross between rice krispies and spider eggs.

There are a zillion recipes for sum tam on the web. I followed this one, although I added a bit more lime juice and fish sauce and omitted the dried shrimp. And I'm not sure I'd start out with the eight chilies mentioned - you might want to work up to that. I remember being so proud that in the time I was in Thailand I worked my way up from an obvious newbie one-chile order, to a hey I speak the language a little bit and I got to school here so don't treat me like a farang four chile level.

In a nod to my waistline, and because I forgot to pick some up, I have chosen to eat my sum tam without sticky rice this week. I made some Thai jasmine rice instead, and I've found that if I cook it with a bit less water than usual, It has a stickier drier consistency that holds up to the salad well. I doubt the jasmine rice is much better for me, but I don't inhale it at quite the volume levels I do with sticky rice. And while I don't think I got the exact right balance of spicy, salty, and sweet this time, the first taste immediately put me back in Thailand, ordering my som tam, fidgeting in line until it was ready, and then running home as fast as I could to scarf it all down.

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The dangers of cute vegan girls
Jun 7th, 2006

Looking at my eating habits these days you wouldn't necessarily guess that I was once a vegetarian. Yet vestiges of those five years remain, one being my fondness for tofu. I very much dislike tofu when it's being used to imitate things it's not, but when it's allowed to be itself tofu really shines. I haven't eaten much of the stuff lately, probably because a few years back I got concerned at the amount of soy in my diet and decided to cut back. Seriously, if you eat processed foods, soy is in everything!

I was randomly searching around to make sure I wasn't totally making that up and stumbled across this interesting quote from John Robbins' site foodrevolution.org:

We are eating soy products today at levels never before seen in history. Advances in food technology have made it possible to isolate soy proteins, isoflavones, and other substances found in the bean, and add them to all kinds of foods where they've never been before. The number of processed and manufactured foods that contain soy ingredients today is astounding. It can be hard to find foods that don't contain soy flour, soy oil, lecithin (extracted from soy oil and used as an emulsifier in high-fat products), soy protein isolates and concentrates, textured vegetable protein (TVP), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (usually made from soy) or unidentified vegetable oils. Most of what is labeled "vegetable oil" in the U.S. is actually soy oil, as are most margarines. Soy oil is the most widely used oil in the U.S., accounting for more than 75 percent of our total vegetable fats and oils intake. And most of our soy products are now genetically engineered. (source)
So I decided to cut down, but in retrospect I think I cut out the wrong things. I'd much rather satisfy my tofu cravings and reduce instead the processed foods that hide soy deep in their ingredient lists. Frankly I don't eat many processed foods these days, so I think I'm okay frying up some delicious tofu cutlets or preparing miso soup now and again. Plus I've been reading Nava Atlas' The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and her tofu recipes were making me really hungry. (Full book review coming soon). So last night I made up some wraps stuffed with tofu, rice, and a red cabbage slaw with a soy tahini dressing. They were delicious and really took me back to those veggie days of my youth.

I had prepared a batch of the Tangy Tahini Dressing earlier in the week. I have to be honest and say that I'm not wild about this dressing on a green salad, but I really liked it on the cabbage. To make the cabbage slaw I just finely chopped about a quarter of a head of red cabbage, added some shredded carrot, salted cashew pieces, and chopped scallion, and tossed it all with a few tablespoons of the tahini dressing. Since I had them out for the tofu marinade I sprinkled on a little dark sesame oil and soy sauce and that really complemented the flavors of the tofu.

Last week I purchased some whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe's (the house brand). These are the first whole wheat tortillas I've found that don't have hydrogenated oils in them and actually taste good. So I felt quite virtuous wrapping up my browned tofu triangles with the cabbage slaw and some leftover rice. (My rice was white jasmine, but brown rice would have increased my feelings of virtuousness to stratospheric levels, and probably tasted good too.) After finishing my wrap at dinner last night I promptly wanted another, but I saved the leftovers for lunch today. That didn't really help though as I have now finished my lunch and still want more. I definitely see more of these wraps in our future. Oh, and in case you're wondering how the whole tofu thing went over with the kids? Yeah, not so well. That's alright, I'll wear 'em down eventually. Actually, writing that just now I realized that the following scenario is much more likely than me convincing the boys to enjoy tofu. After years of rejecting my occasional healthy and delicious vegetarian entrees, one of the boys will meet some tofu-loving girl with bright blue eyes and a cute smile, and said boy will immediately march home and announce he has become a vegan.

Teriyaki Tofu Triangles

One 16-ounce tub extra-firm tofu
1 or 2 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish

2 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp light olive oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup (or 3/4 tbsp agave nectar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp hoisin sauce, optional

Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices and blot well with paper towels. My tofu was pretty wet so I laid all the slices between two layers of dish towels and put a plate on top to press out the excess water while I prepared the marinade.

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

Cut each slice of tofu into two squares (mine were more like rectangles) and then in half again to form triangles. Lay the slices in one layer in a shallow pan and drizzle with the marinade. Turn the pieces over so they're coated on both sides and let sit for ten minutes.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot pour the tofu and marinade into the skillet. Let brown on the first side and then turn each piece over to brown the other side. Stir the pieces around a bit, scatter the scallions over the top and serve.

-The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, Nava Atlas
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I do occasionally feed my children
Jun 6th, 2006

It's been a while since I've posted a kid's recipe around here, so I thought I'd write up these simple turkey meatballs that are our newest addition to the small (but growing) list of foods my boys will eat. I got this recipe from my friend Larisa several years ago when we were first learning how to feed toddlers. These were great because the little kids could use their hands and didn't have to suffer the frustration of maneuvering a fork or spoon. The meatballs fell out of our dinner rotation as Jay grew older and pickier, but he's more open these days and once again adores them.

The original recipe is much stained and has a note from Larisa that indicates we must have tied one on the night before - not that it took much in those days. After having been pregnant for nine months and breastfeeding for another good chunk of time, more than one glass of wine and we were happy campers.

I haven't changed the recipe as much as played around with it some, figuring out how to get the little buggers cooked all the way through but not burned or oily. The key seems to be keeping the heat fairly low and the oil minimal. My large skillet heats up pretty quickly, so I only turn my burner up to medium, and a quick spray of oil is enough to cook a batch. For meatloafs and burgers I like the ground turkey that has a bit more fat in it, but the leanest (I believe it's 99% lean vs. 93% but I could totally be making those numbers up) seems to work best for these meatballs, making them hang together better. I have kept the spices pretty basic so as not to scare off my fledgling eaters, but feel free to substitute something a bit more fun if you want. I've tried them with Za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix, and I bet a bit of Garam Masala would be good as well. You can serve them with spaghetti sauce and melted cheese or mixed into a pot of kidney beans. Or you could serve them as Larisa and I did, no forks, no sauce, just some green beans on the side and lots of napkins for the crumbly bits.

Turkey Meatballs

1 package (about 1.25 lb) leanest ground turkey
1 egg, lightly beaten
scant 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp brown sugar

Add all the seasonings to the flour and mix. Add turkey, egg, and seasoned flour to a big bowl and squoosh it around with your hands until well mixed.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray.

Roll about half of the turkey mixture into small balls, I'd say small walnut sized, and add to the hot pan. Roll the other half of the turkey into balls while the first batch cooks. After the first side has browned, turn the meatballs over to brown another side, I like to use long pinchy tongs for this. You'll probably want to turn them one more time to get them good and browned, then you can just stir them around the pan a bit for the final cooking time. My meatballs take about ten minutes total to cook, but pans and meatball size may cause the time to vary. Cut one in half to check that they are cooked all the way through.

Remove the meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels. Spray the pan again with cooking spray and repeat with the last batch of meatballs.

I serve these plain for the kids, but they're also good in spaghetti sauce or mixed with black beans, salsa, melted cheese, and a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

-Kymm, adapted from a friend
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Sticky Japanese Eggplant
Jun 5th, 2006

A lot of cooks develop a repertoire of recipes that they feel comfortable with. They've prepared the dishes many times and know they'll turn out well and can be depended on when cooking for a specific occasion. The collection presented in Recipes: a collection for the modern cook is the repertoire of the author, Susan Spungen, who worked with Martha Stewart for years on magazines and cookbook and presumably feels that these dishes will resonate with a lot of home cooks as well. As something of a cookbook collector (that's my husband laughing hysterically right now, but really it's not an addiction, I can stop anytime) I'm certainly not the type to just buy one or two cookbooks and call it good. Does anyone do that these days? If so, I admire their iron will and self-restraint. But if you were so inclined, I think you could just cook solely out of this cookbook and be considered a good well-rounded cook, although you'd be on your own with breakfast which isn't really mentioned apart from a few brunch dishes.

Spungen covers all the basics, dishes for weeknight dinners, casual entertaining, summer barbecues, etc., but with a modern twist. I would call her recipes fashionable without being super trendy, mostly French and Italian inspired with a garnish or two from Asia and traditional American cuisine. The book is divided into sections based on technique: Prepare (pantry staples and basics), Chop, Saute, Grill, Roast, Bake, Simmer & Braise, and Indulge (desserts). Recipes are fairly streamlined and straightforward, and techniques are explained so you could probably cook out of this book without much prior experience. The most complicated dish in the book is a Provencal Layered Omelet, which consists of three flat omelets with different fillings layered on top of eachother, and which I will most definitely try soon. The book is very attractively laid out, with a picture accompanying just about every recipe.

Other recipes that caught my eye include: Thai Cole Slaw, Potato Tostones, Grill-Roasted Lemongrass Chicken, Rigatoni with Squash & Caramelized Onions, an Italian Shepherd's Pie, and the following Sticky Japanese Eggplant. I purchased some Japanese eggplant, yellow miso, and instant dashi (soup base) during my recent expedition to Uwajimaya, and was having a bit of a trip to Japan in my kitchen on Saturday. The eggplant dish was great with jasmine rice, roast chicken and a cup of miso as a starter, but was even better the next day for lunch stir-fried with some firm tofu and served over brown rice. You'll definitely want rice or something else bland to serve with the eggplant as it has a very intense salty and savory taste. I loved it, but without the bland rice or tofu, it verged on too much. The rice rounded out the edges and completed the taste. Also, the soy sauce I had on hand was not the reduced sodium kind that she calls for in the recipe and next time I think it would be worth going out and getting some, as the salt content with regular soy seemed a bit high. So think about picking some up when you're grabbing a bottle of sake for the glaze. I'll definitely be adding this dish to my repertoire, it's easy, tasty, and works great with a meal featuring meat or fish or with tofu if you're cooking for vegetarians.

Sticky Japanese Eggplant

1/2 cup sake or dry white wine
2 tbsp white or yellow miso
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
3 medium to large Japanese eggplant (about 1 pound)
2 tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Handful of Thai basil, basil, or mint leaves, torn if large

Make the glaze: Bring the sake to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the miso and whisk until it is dissolved. Add the sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn off the heat and set aside.

Cut the eggplant into 1/2- to 3/4-inch disks. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Add 1/2 tbsp of oil and about half the eggplant in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Press down gently with a wide spatula and swirl the pan frequently to encourage even browning. Once well browned, 3 to 5 minutes, turn over each piece. Drizzle in another 1/2 tbsp of oil, sprinkle with salt, and repeat procedure. The eggplant should be well browned on both sides and soft and creamy on the inside. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant.

When all the eggplant has been browned, return all of it to the pan. Add the glaze and toss well to combine. Bring to a boil and toss until the eggplant is well coated with the glaze. Add the herbs and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

-Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook, Susan Spungen
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Spring in a Box
Jun 4th, 2006

My CSA box delivery has been chock full of spring goodness lately: asparagus, spring onions, snap peas, fresh spinach, and lettuces. There are times during the year when I look at the list of what is to be delivered that week and wonder how exactly I'm supposed to whip such a diverse group of items into a week's worth of healthy meals for my family. Other times, usually when the season is in full swing, meals just jump off the page. It's really not hard to figure out what to do with asparagus and snap peas in June, corn and tomatoes in August, or winter squash and pears in December. It's those transitional times that can be tough.

Summer might be nearing on the calendar, but it's high spring here in Seattle. Grass and trees are florescent green and growing almost visibly. One minute the skies are gray and pouring down rain, the next it's seventy degrees and sunny, and on the weekends what seems like the entire population of the city descends upon the local nurseries to lug home pots of flowers and mulch. So these days when I've tucked in the last daylily into my flower bed and wiped the mulch off the knees of my jeans, I go in and cook something green and fresh. When our box arrived this week we ate a pasta primavera brimming with vegetables and fresh herbs, the noodles slicked with butter, cream, and parmesan. (Lot's of butter, shhhhh....)

Last week we made pizzas, four individual pies to decorate as desired. I topped mine with blanched asparagus spears, thinly sliced zucchini, and rounds of spring onion with a sprinkling of thyme over thin slices of Canadian bacon and melted mozzarella cheese. It was delicious, but in the interest of full disclosure I must say that the uncooked pizza pictured above never quite made it out of the oven in an edible state. My pizza may have been a bit heavy on the toppings and suffered a small pizza stone related accident. So if you're using a pizza peel and stone combination, make sure you've heavily floured or cornmealed your peel and your toppings are secure before attempting the transfer from peel to stone. Otherwise you might find yourself scraping asparagus and cheese off the bottom of your oven. Theoretically of course.

But if you click the picture above you'll see that a smaller, more modestly topped pie did make it out of the oven safely, and the salvagable remains of the first glorious experiment were delicious, if perhaps not entirely photogenic. Our CSA program incorporates organic produce from the warm and dry eastern part of the state as well as the cool and misty west, so summer is already creeping into our weekly deliveries in the form of the first tiny peaches and tender zucchini, but for a few more weeks at least we will celebrate spring.

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Kecap Manis
Jun 1st, 2006

We've got a few more exotic ingredients to deal with today. This Indonesian seasoned soy sauce calls for salam leaves, which are apparently extremely hard to find but can be replaced by curry leaves, which are slightly less hard to find. You'll also need to rustle up some galangal and some star anise. Oh, and some palm sugar, although you can use white granulated sugar in a pinch or the internet would like to offer maple syrup mixed with dark brown sugar as a possible substitute. I ended up using the curry leaf substitution and just regular white sugar, although I'm sure I could have found palm sugar, it just didn't make it onto my list.

So, in order

Salam leaves: Indonesian Bay leaves. Curry leaves or bay leaves are offered as substitutes, although there seems to be some controversy among various web sites I checked. Some say just curry leaves are acceptable, others say if you don't have them just leave them out as there are no acceptable substitutions.

Curry Leaves: These have nothing to do with curry powder, they're the leaves of the curry leaf tree/plant and are used in cooking but do not have a curry flavor. I bit into one and it tasted kind of tart, almost medicinal. You can find them at Indian and Asian groceries, and the remainder can be frozen (still on the stem) for later use.

Galangal: Very similar to ginger, there are several different varieties of galangal and it goes by several names. It's a big tuber and can be found in the produce section of Asian grocery stores. Ginger can be substituted.

Star Anise: This is probably the most familiar to American cooks, as it can be found in the spice sections of mainstream grocery stores. It's a woody, 8-pointed star shape with a strong sweet licorice taste and smell. If you've tasted or smelled Chinese 5 spice powder, you've encountered star anise as it is the overwhelming spice in that mixture in my opinion. There is no substitute that I know of, but you should be able to find it.

Palm Sugar: The concentrated sap of certain palm trees, it comes in a range of colors and shapes. I've seen it in brown cylinders, apparently it also comes in jars. It's also known as jaggery and used in Indian cooking. So I imagine you can find it in either Asian (it's a common Thai ingredient) or Indian stores.

James Peterson claims that he has never come across Kecap Manis (also called Sambal Kecap Manis, I believe Sambal means sauce) in stores in the US, but my version of Splendid Soups is ten+ years old at this point, so that may not be the case. This site gives another recipe for the sauce and claims the commercial version should be easy to find in Asian food stores in the US, under the following brand names: Kecap Cap Bango or Kecap Manis ABC.

So maybe I could have just gone and grabbed a bottle of the stuff, but I had fun learning about new ingredients and a little about Indonesian cuisine. Hmmm... what exotic ingredients should I try to track down next? I'm open to suggestions.

Anyway, my only notes on the recipe would be to not get scared about melting the sugar. If you keep stirring the sugar will eventually melt without burning. But be prepared, because when you pour in the cold ingredients the sugar makes a lot of scary hissing noises and then seizes up into an interesting crystalline structure. Just keep cooking and stirring and it will melt again. But it practically gave my mom a heart attack. So be warned.

The sauce keeps indefinitely in the fridge. I plan on using it for a grilling marinade this summer - I think it would go very well with chicken on the barbecue.

Kecap Manis

1 22-ounce bottle light Chinese soy sauce
4 salam leaves or 8 curry leaves (salam leaves are hard to find, Peterson says they're a kind of tropical bay leaf)
a 1/4-inch slice of galangal, chopped
4 star anise, crushed
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 cups granulated or palm sugar

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the sugar. Cook the sugar over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan. Stir constantly until the sugar has completely melted and turns to a light caramel. Add the ingredients in the mixing bowl to the sugar, which will most likely seize up at this point, fear not it will melt again. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain. Store in a bottle in the refrigerator for at least a year.

-Splendid Soups, James Peterson
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