March, 2006


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Celebrating the little things
Mar 30th, 2006

We've had two minor victories in the food vs. child battles at our house. Very minor. But still, worth mentioning. I wrote a week or so ago that I was going to try to introduce the notion of a sauce to Jay and Ian lest I lose what's left of my mind at the prospect of eating another plain chicken breast.

Well we still don't have sauce, but we have achieved (drum roll please...) marinade! I figured that since salt and sugar are two of their very favorite things, they might be down with the teriyaki concept. So I marinated some breast tenders in soy sauce, brown sugar, and canola oil and then threaded the chicken on skewers and grill/baked in a 500 oven. Chicken on a stick! Sort of teriyaki for beginners! They ate it! This event requires many, many exclamation points!!

And then earlier this week Jay was eating a well balanced dinner of mashed potatoes, black beans, and tortilla chips. All well separated on the dinner plate of course so as not to subject us all to the horror that is 'food-that-touches'. Aack! But then something strange happened - of his own accord Jay decided to try some black beans (gasp) on a tortilla chip. He looked at us in wonder, "that's delicious" he said, so proud at having invented such a wild food pairing. Then things got truly surreal and he decided to try some mashed potatoes on the chips with the beans - and then I had to tell him about a truly terrifying chapter in his father's culinary history: the potato burrito. The potato burrito involved mashed potatoes made from a box, tortillas, and Velveeta cheese. Let us speak of it no more.

So, one step forward one step back I guess. But still - marinade! and things eaten with other things! it's like there's a faint glimmer of something at the end of this tunnel. Not light necessarily, maybe just a very faint gloom, but I can sort of make it out.

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Remembrances of Cookies Past
Mar 29th, 2006

For a brief time after college graduation I worked as a waitress at a cafe called Caprice in the southern California town of Redlands. The owners of the cafe were Lebanese by way of France and the wife, Layla, cooked the most wonderful food - shish tawook, shawarma, vegetarian and lamb kibbeh, and dinner specials that were more classically French influenced. But Layla's true genius lay in her baking. She made a chocolate pecan pie that was to die for and her cookies were truly addictive. She baked two kinds of cookies, one filled with dates and the other with nuts, both delicately scented with orange flower and rose water. Layla called the date filled cookie a mamoul and the nut filled cookie a tamir. I'm not sure of the spelling for the last one as I haven't been able to find a reference to these online or in a cookbook. It seems that most people call both cookies mamoul, which basically means filled or stuffed cookie.

I think I ate one of these cookies every day I worked at Caprice. I wasn't knocked out by the first taste as they're pretty subtle, but something about that elusive orange flower fragrance kept teasing at me, demanding that I try another cookie. And another. "Put them in the microwave for about ten seconds before you eat them," Layla would always tell the customers who ordered them to-go. And that is the best way to do it, the date filling gets just a little warm and it seems to wake up the flavors.

I've been thinking about trying my hand at making mamouls for several years now. I've collected different recipes and I even wrote in this blog way back at the beginning about purchasing rose water in preparation for making these cookies some day. Well the some day ended up being today as my work was holding its annual Cookie Fest. Last year I brought Cardamom Cookies, and I wanted to bring another slightly offbeat or exotic cookie this year, mamouls being the obvious choice.

I ended up using a recipe from Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen: A Culinary Journey through Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan by Sonia Uvezian. If you're at all interested in the history or food of this region I highly recommend this book. It's a good read and the recipes are presented in a way that seems approachable yet authentic in spirit. That said, most mamoul recipes seem to call for semolina flour, or a blend of semolina and all purpose. This recipe just calls for regular ol' all purpose flour, so I wonder if the author has dumbed it down a little bit for a western audience, or maybe that's just the variation she prefers. Because there are plenty of variations, I've looked at ten or fifteen recipes and they're all different - some use yeast, some use sugar in the dough, some specify no sugar in the dough, some use molasses, some even use eggs. So who knows what is truly authentic.

Making the cookies is pretty straightforward, if messy, although I did have some trouble following her instructions for stuffing the cookie. She said to make a walnut sized ball of dough and poke a little hole it in with your index finger, then add a bit of filling and pinch the sides up around the dough to seal. I could never get the sides to fit back around the filling, so a little bit of date was alway peeking out the top. After looking through various online resources I think that either using a mamoul mold or flattening the dough out and then curling it into a ball around the filling would be the way to go. By the way check out the fabulous mamoul post over at Mahanandi for good pictures on how the cookies look if you use a mold (and know what you're doing).

Biting into one of the finished cookies was a truly Proustian moment. I was immediately back at the cafe sneaking just one more cookie before the dinner rush. One thing I know for sure, I may look at and try other recipes for the dough, but I don't think I need look any further for the date paste. This date paste is exquisite - and I don't even like dates! Butter and cinammon really bring out the richness in the fruit. The amounts called for do produce about two to three times the amount of filling necessary for the cookies, so I'm already dreaming up ways to use the leftovers. I'm thinking a cornmeal or semolina based cake with orange flower water split and filled with the date paste.....

Oh, and just because he's so cute. Here's Ian going incognito next to the cookies.

Stuffed Cookies (Ma mul)
Makes about 36

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp orange flower water
1 tbsp rose water
1 - 5 tbsp milk (as needed)
powdered sugar

Date Filling
3/4 pound pitted soft dates, chopped
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange flower water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

First make the filling by cooking the dates, butter, and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until a paste forms then add the orange flower water and cinnamon. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl stir together the flour and sugar and then add the butter and use your hands to rub it all together. Add the orange flower and rose waters and enough milk to make a soft dough. Don't be scared to add more milk, my dough was crumbly until I got up to 5 tbsp even though the original recipe suggests you'll need only 1 tbsp.

To make the cookies, take walnut-sized balls of dough and flatten them out into a small round. Put a dab of filling in the middle (I used a 1/2 teaspoon as a scoop) and then fold the edges up into a ball. Flatten the cookies a bit between your hands and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press the tines of a fork over the top of each cookie to help the powdered sugar stay on later.

Cook for about 20 minutes until pale gold on the bottom. Don't let the cookies brown. Remove cookies to a cooling rack. After they cool down, dust the cookies with powdered sugar using a sieve. Don't be shy with the powdered sugar as the cookies are not super sweet.

-adapted from Recipes & Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen
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Old School Dinner
Mar 28th, 2006

Dinner last night was of the old school vegetarian variety, that school of cooking popular in the late '70s and early '80s that is epitomized, at least in my mind, by The Moosewood Cookbook. Dishes were hearty and featured a lot of beans, mushrooms, brown rice, green bell peppers, cheese, avocado, yogurt, and soy sauce.

The inclusion of soy sauce in things such as Mexican-inspired bean dishes always baffled me, but makes more sense now given Western exposure to the concept of umami, or the fifth taste. Soy sauce is high in umami and can be especially helpful in rounding out the flavors in a vegetarian dish and providing a full mouthfeel that might be missing if you're used to eating dishes with meat, which also contains umami though not as much.

So as this dish was a tribute to the days of Moosewood and Laurel's Kitchen, I threw some soy sauce in the beans for old-times sake. The recipe itself was inspired by the sweet potatoes slumbering peacefully away in my fridge and a Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burrito recipe that I made several times a couple years back. There are a couple versions around on the web, this one is actually a Moosewood recipe, although from a later book, Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites. This recipe for Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos is the one I've actually made before, and does include soy sauce! (And mustard!?)

I decided to remove the tortillas from the equation and try to work more veggies into the dish. I have so many vegetables stuffed into my fridge that I had to cancel my box delivery for this week. So the dinner mission for the week: use up the veggies we have before buying new ones. I have trouble with that - I tend to find recipes that look good and want to go buy the ingredients necessary rather than planning our meals around what we already have. But not this week, I'm being good, good, good!

Along with the sweet potato, this casserole gave me the opportunity to use some of the queso fresco I bought this weekend on my not-so-exotic-anymore ingredients binge. Queso fresco is sort of weird to cook with in that it doesn't melt, it just gets a bit toasty on the edges like a Smore-bound marshmallow. I added some cheddar to the mix just to get a little melty cheese action. Queso cotija might work well here too, it's an aged cheese somewhat akin to Parmesan, and it's really good on beans.

Anyway, I'll have to wrap up this link-fest and actually give you the recipe. I tried to list this in regular recipe form with amounts of ingredients and such, but really it's more of a throw in what you've got recipe, so if anyone were to try it out, please don't pull out the measuring cups and spoons. It's just dinner.

Sweet Potato & Kidney Bean Casserole

1 - 2 sweet potatoes
1 tsp of each: cumin, coriander, garam masala
juice of one lime, divided
1 cup chopped sweet bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or combination)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic
1 - 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained
crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese plus small amount grated cheddar
1 avocado
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup cilantro, divided
1/4 cup commercial tomato salsa (or more chopped tomato & garlic)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (the short way not the long way). Cook until soft, drain, then mash in the pan with the cumin, coriander, garam masala, 1/2 of the lime juice, and salt to taste. Spray a Pyrex pie pan or small casserole pan with oil and spread the mashed sweet potatoes in the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 375. Saute the bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and onion until soft. Add the tomatoes and kidney beans and cook for another few minutes, adding salt or soy sauce if you'd like. Layer the pepper and beans mixture on top of the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and put in the oven.

While the casserole is baking, lightly mash the avocado with the green onion, cilantro, remainder of the lime juice, and salsa or fresh tomatoes. I like this chunky rather than as a smooth puree.

When the casserole is heated through, the cheddar cheese has melted, and the queso fresco has done its non-melty thing, add the avocado salsa to the top and serve with warm corn tortillas on the side.

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Smoothies are good for you, right?
Mar 27th, 2006

Just a quick update to say that yesterday's Guava Gelato has been turned into today's Guava Berry Coconut Smoothie. (Shhhh.... if you call it a smoothie you can eat it for breakfast!)

I blended about a cup of the gelato with coconut milk, frozen berries, and milk. I don't think the berry mix I had (blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries) was the ideal partner, but it was what I had on hand. I'd love to try frozen pineapple and mango chunks, or banana, or fresh mango and raspberries. Peaches might be good too... oh man I'm making myself hungry.

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Guava Gelato
Mar 26th, 2006

I've written here before about how lucky I am to live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. There are many benefits to that diversity, not the least of which being the range of ingredients available at our local market. The Red Apple stocks food from the Phillipines, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Mexico, and increasingly, Seattle organic-land. That last one is a sign of the changing makeup of the neighborhood as 30-somethings move in from other parts of the city to buy a starter house and have kids.

But what I've noticed over the past few years is these 'exotic' ingredients showing up in more and more groceries around town. Red lentils are one of my favorite ingredients, and now I can find them at the Safeway down on Rainier in their Middle East section. Pomegranate juice is available seemingly everywhere in Seattle, and pomegranate molasses is increasingly easy to find. I've got couscous from Israel and lentils from France in my cupboard, both plucked from the shelves of the Northgate QFC.

Cooking Light had an article in their most recent issue about the increasing availability of previously hard to find items. They highlight five ingredients that are now commonly available: queso fresco (Mexican soft cheese), guava paste, chipotle peppers in adobo, Asian noodles, and panko. I decided to see if I could purchase them all at my neighborhood grocery store, and yes they were all there. The only one that gave me any trouble was the panko and that's because it wasn't in the Asian specialty section but the general baking aisle - so I guess it has truly gone mainstream. For the picture below I threw in a few other ingredients that I use a lot that are increasingly common in stores in our area - frozed edamame, Sriracha, Tom Yom paste, and Sambal Oelek. I also picked up a plantain while out shopping and wanted to include it, but it just looked vaguely phallic and out of place in the picture. I'm not a camera wizard, but even I could tell that the pictures with the yellowish-grayish phallus lurking in the background were less appealing than those without. (Oh my god I can't even imagine the Google hits I'm going to get now.)

Guava paste was the only ingredient in this list that was new to me, and luckily Cooking Light included a fabulous sounding recipe for Guava Gelato with Candied Ginger. The instructions assumed that you had access to an ice-cream maker, which I don't, but I decided to try the low tech method. I've read several recipes where you just basically freeze the cream and take it out and stir it once an hour or so - you don't get quite the same creamy consistency, but it's close. I didn't really know what I was doing, but for some reason I was confident that it would work. And it did. Oh my gosh this is so good - creamy and tropical, with a hint of a bite from the chewy ginger morsels. I can imagine making this on a sunny day in August - scooping it into bowls in the backyard as the sun lingers in the sky past nine o'clock and the boys run shrieking through the sprinkler.

Guava & Candied-Ginger Gelato

1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated fat-free milk
7 ounces guava paste, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Cook the dry milk, evaporated milk, and guava paste over low heat with frequent whisking until the guava dissolves into the milk, somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Add the guava & milk mixture slowly to the egg yolks, whisking steadily. When the milk is completely incorporated, pour the contents of the bowl back into the pan. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or until a thermometer registers 160°. You'll need to whisk pretty furiously to avoid boiling, especially as the mixture heats up. Boiling is bad.

Pour the creamy guava into a freezer safe container and stir in the 2% milk. Cover and chill in the freezer for about three hours. After three hours take the bowl out of the freezer and stir - it should be completely cooled down and starting to freeze. Now is a good time to add the candied ginger pieces. Repeat the stirring process about once an hour until you've reached a frozen, creamy consistency. As the cream freezes and hardens you'll need to move from stirring with a whisk to stirring with a fork.

-adapted from Cooking Light, April 2006
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Review: The Soup Peddler's Slow & Difficult Soups
Mar 23rd, 2006

The Soup Peddler's Slow & Difficult Soups: Recipes And Reveries by David Ansel.

More food writing than cookbook, your level of enjoyment of the Soup Peddler's tales will probably hinge on your relationship with whimsy. You need to be able to look beyond the bits of stories that seem to be heading somewhere and then just don't in order to appreciate the sweetness and laid-back goofiness of this tale of a man who chucks a software development job in Austin, Texas to deliver homemade soup from a bicycle nicknamed Old Yellow. There are soup recipes sprinkled throughout, but they're not the book's hook. That would be the sense of place that comes through Ansell's quirky prose - an idiosyncratic, let your freak flag fly sort of place for sure.

As I've had some experience with these sorts of communities, it made me feel a bit nostalgic. Not for Bouldin Creek, the Austin neighborhood in which the book takes place and where I've never been, but for those places in my past where crazy, interesting, and slightly off people came together to create community. Too bad for us we didn't have our own Soup Peddler. We didn't know what we were missing.

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Grumpy Lentil Soup
Mar 22nd, 2006

In looking back over the past week or so of dinner recipes, it's pretty clear that I haven't been cooking things my kids will eat. They've been having a lot of cheese and cracker dinners, and you know, I could feel bad about it. But I don't. You know why? Remember when I was musing about how it was so great that they were going to bed earlier and I could deal with the resulting earlier mornings because the boys didn't bug me too much? Remember that? I do.

Hah! Every day since I wrote that entry Ian has gotten up ten to fifteen minutes earlier than the day before. As of this morning what was once a perfectly reasonable 8AM start to the day has slip-slided its way back to the perfectly evil 6:30AM. 6:30 AM!! I am not a morning person. My whole routine is based around this - I don't even start work until 10:00 (a sane and civilized hour of the day). And unfortunately the only person I know who is less of a morning person is my husband, the one snoring away on the pillow beside me. In fact he is so evil if awoken before 8:00 that it's much easier for me just to get up and let him sleep than it would be to deal with him for the rest of the day if he were the one up at the crack of dawn.

So yesterday Ian decided that he was tired (hey, can't imagine why) and a four hour nap in the afternoon sounded like a fabulous plan. You can imagine how easy it was to get him to bed last night. Jim was feeling under the weather so guess who got to wrangle the two year old until 11 PM last night? Ugghh I hate nap days, Ian was lucky I didn't put him on the porch this morning.

So, spicy lentil soup it is! That'll teach the little buggers.

Alright, I don't actually pick what I'm going to cook based on how charitably I'm feeling towards the kids. I've just been trying to use up some things in my fridge. Beet greens were the ingredient on hand recently, and like the Potato Curry with Spinach from last week, this soup is a fabulous place to stash some nutritious greens with picky palates being none the wiser. Since the soup is blended, the only clue to its real contents lies in its (admittedly not lovely) sludgy green color. The ingredients are a bit of a mix of Indian and Thai, and the result tastes like a creamy dahl with the lime juice and Tom Yum paste providing a lovely tang. Do try it, even if you're not mad at your kids!

Spicy Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk
Serves 2 with a bit left over for lunch

1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp Tom Yum paste
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 can coconut milk (approx 7 ounces)
1 bunch beet greens (or chard or spinach), chopped
the juice of half a lime
few drops of chile oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt to taste

Over medium-high heat, dry toast the lentils, curry powder, and Tom Yum paste briefly in the bottom of your soup pot. When the curry is aromatic, add the broth, coconut milk, and greens and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the lentils are soft, probably 20 to 30 minutes.

Blend the soup until smooth and then put it back in the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cook until the soup is warm and all tastes are balanced.

If you don't have any Tom Yum paste try adding something a bit spicy - more chile oil, chile sauce, chopped hot peppers, or another type of Thai chile paste. You want to achieve that level of spice that just pleasantly warms the back of your throat but doesn't bring tears to the eyes.

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Indistinguishable from authentic retaurant style noodles
Mar 21st, 2006

A phone call. The players: myself (K) and my husband (J).

K: So I have to write up last night's dinner. Any comments?
J: What was dinner again?
K: Soba noodles. With peanut sauce.
J: Hmmm... how about "Indistinguishable from authentic restaurant style noodles."
K: If by authentic you mean Magic Dragon at the mall.
J: Well yeah, but really I don't have any exposure to those kinds of noodles anywhere else. You go to the food court and you order noodles and you say 'Yumm, noodles.' These tasted like that.
K: I'm so blogging this.

The peanut sauce was left over from a Cooking Light recipe I tried for Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce. The satay recipe didn't really seem to go with the peanut sauce. The chicken tasted really good in a roll with cilantro and carrots and cucumber like a Vietnamese sandwich, but not so good with the sauce. But since I had the sauce around and some soba noodles, they made a great quick dinner. You could use any vegetables you want, but I do think the little carrot matchsticks are awfully good, and the asparagus and beet greens added a nice fresh taste to the salty, slickery peanut sauce.

Soba Noodles with Veggies & Peanut Sauce

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup water
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp hot chile sauce

1 bundle soba noodles

1 cup carrots cut in matchsticks
1 cup asparagus cut in matchsticks
1 bunch greens (spinach, beet greens, chard, etc.)
1 clove garlic, minced
cilantro, chopped

To make the peanut sauce:
Combine all ingredients and stir until creamy.

Cook the soba noodles as directed.

Meanwhile, saute garlic in a tablespoon or two of oil. Add vegetables and cook over medium-high heat in a large pan until tender. If you use spinach you should add that later than the other vegetables, but sturdier greens need the extra time. When the noodles are done, drain (reserve a little of the cooking water) and add to the pan with the vegetables. Add a bit of the pasta cooking water and about half of the peanut sauce to the pan off heat. Stir to combine and add more sauce if desired.

Top with cilantro and serve.

-Peanut sauce adapted from Cooking Light, March '06
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Hello there
Mar 21st, 2006

A big welcome to those following the link on Accidental Hedonist, and a huge thanks to Kate for my first link from another blog. Come on in, take a look around the place, and say hello if you'd like. I'm still getting used to this blogging in public thing so any feedback is appreciated.

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Dinner with the folks
Mar 20th, 2006

Visual presentation has never been my strongest suit when it comes to food. There are food bloggers out there with gorgeous dinnerware and a good sense of color who produce lovely photos of their dishes. These are the cooks who don't serve food, they plate it. They might even own little squeeze bottles to pipe the sauces just so on the plate. Now I'm not mocking these cooks, in fact part of me aspires to be one of them someday, it's just that I really can't compete with my cracked ten-year old Pfaltzgraf and fabulous collection of plastic Ikea cups. So visual flair isn't something I usually bother too much about.

But I've got to say that the dinner I served on Saturday night was as lovely as it was tasty. There's a set of recipes in The Healthy Hedonist for two different sauces, one yellow, one green, both made with coconut milk. As an aside the author suggests serving both of them with grilled salmon for an especially pretty look. And then I was reading fellow Seattle area blogger Molly at Orangette and she had posted a recipe for a perfect for spring Asparagus Flan. Once I saw that I knew it was just the thing to go with the salmon and sauces. Not only would there be a profusion of colors: salmon pink, pale green, and creamy yellow, but it was all low-carb! Perfect as I was cooking dinner for my parents who are living la vida lo-carb these days.

The flan came out just as promised, silky and savory. The only thing I did differently from the original recipe was to blend the asparagus and then run it through a food mill rather than using the food processor/sieve combo. But it's basically the same idea, although I ended up not really having any stringy bits to throw away, so I think the food mill might give you a higher yield of asparagus puree.

Although it was lovely in Seattle this weekend, I wasn't ready to pull out the barbecue, so I roasted the salmon on a grill pan at high heat on the bottom rung of my oven after rubbing it with a chile pepper spice rub. Both the sauces from The Healthy Hedonist came out great, although the green sauce was definitely the winner. Featuring spinach, basil, and cumin along with the coconut milk it is almost disgustingly healthy and tasty. You could pour it on so many things, and we proved that at dinner Saturday night. The green sauce went on the salmon, it went on the flan, it went on the salad. I half expected someone to pour some on the cat and see how that tasted.

You could probably up the heat level in these sauces quite a bit, as I was adding the chipotle powder to the salmon I kind of wussed out on the sauces themselves. And in fact, in the interests of full disclosure, I forgot to add the chiles to the yellow sauce at all. I found them sitting there on the counter while we were clearing up, living proof that a hot pepper tolerance painstakingly built up by four months in Thailand will not survive twelve years in Seattle.

Roast Salmon with Two Sauces
Serves 4

nice big salmon fillet with skin on
1/4 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
olive oil

Sauce #1 (Spinach Coconut Milk Sauce)
1/2 lb spinach
3/4 tbsp each whole cumin & coriander seeds
3/4 cup basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/8 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 of a serrano chile, seeded (or to taste)
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger
1/2 tbsp lemongrass

Sauce #2 (Yellow Pepper Coconut Milk Sauce)
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 1/2 yellow bell pepper
half can of coconut milk (approx 7 ounces)
1 tbsp lime juice
1/4 serrano chile, seeded and minced

Make both sauces before cooking the salmon.

Sauce #1: Wash and dry spinach. Cook until wilted over medium heat and then remove to a strainer and/or squeeze out the excess water. Dry-toast the cumin and coriander and then grind in a spice grinder/mortar & pestle/blender/whatever. Throw all ingredients into the blender and blend until you have a smooth sauce. To further smoothify the sauce send it through a food mill or seive (lined with cheesecloth if necessary). Store until just before serving.

Sauce #2: Saute shallots in tablespoon or so of canola oil until translucent. Add the yellow peppers and saute until soft, about ten minutes or so. Using your (hastily cleaned) blender, blend the shallots and peppers with the coconut milk and lime juice. Send the resulting sauce through the food mill or seive to make it silky. Reserve the sauce and chiles separately until just before serving.

Salmon: Preheat the oven to 500F or get your grill going. Rub the olive oil over the surface of the fish. Mix the spices together and rub all over the (non-skin side) fish. Cook on an oiled pan on the lowest rung of your oven until the salmon is just opaque. Or grill it, you're on your own there.

While the salmon is cooking heat each sauce just until warm and stir the chiles into Sauce #2 (the Yellow Pepper one).

Serve the salmon with both beautiful green and yellow sauces.

-adapted from The Healthy Hedonist, Myra Kornfeld
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Chipotle Chile Powder
Mar 16th, 2006

I'm loving the chipotle chile powder I bought in the Mexican food aisle of the Red Apple last month. It came in a little plastic bag, cost a few bucks, and is so smoky and spicy and hot!

Earlier this week I made a casserole with sauteed pattypan squash, sweet bell peppers, and red onion topped with black beans and a bit of cheese. I added some of the chipotle chile powder to the sauteed vegetables and its smokiness made them taste like they just came off the grill. Not a bad effect on a cold, rainy Seattle evening!

So next time you're in a grocery store that has a decent ethnic foods section, take a look and see if you can find some. I think come March most of us could use a little spice to perk us up.

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Review: The Urban Picnic
Mar 15th, 2006

The Urban Picnic by John Burns & Elisabeth Caton is a fun book. The subtitle, Being an Idiosyncratic and Lyrically Recollected Account of Menus, Trivia, and Admonitions on the Subject of Alfresco Dining in Cities Both Large and Small, should clue you in to the tone of the book. The authors do indeed produce the aforementioned trivia in a section on the history of the picnic. Then they offer twenty or so different menu, music, and wine suggestions for different types of picnics with a veggie and meat-eaters menu offered for each. The recipes follow and make up the bulk of the book.

I really enjoyed reading through the descriptions of different types of urban picnics you could take (Beach, Winter, Hotel Room, etc.) and the music you might pack for each adventure (Queen's four-cd Platinum collection, Johnny Cash, and Laura Nyro's Live Sessions respectively). The recipes range from extremely simple to complex, but they all look tasty. Given the Slow Food manifesto reproduced towards the front of the book, don't expect to find any 'Fun with American cheese-food product!' type recipes here, just tasty picnic-appropriate food with some really killer sounding desserts.

Some recipes I marked to try included an Apple Cake with Ginger and Cardamom, Potted Shrimp Infused with Savory Herbs and Garlic, and Sun-blushed Tomato Feta Scones with Black Olives.

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Potato Curry with Spinach
Mar 14th, 2006

I'm having trouble using the spinach that I've been getting in my vegetable box. I've been pulling slimy green bundles out of the back of my fridge for the past month or two. So when I did my menu planning this weekend, I went looking for something tasty that would use up a large bunch of spinach.

I had picked up a vegetarian Indian cookbook at Goodwill earlier in the day and so I thought of an Indian curry. None of the recipes in that cookbook were exactly right, so I turned to my copy of Crossroads Cooking by Elisabeth Rozin, a book I really enjoyed reading but haven't cooked from since I bought my own copy.

This is an interesting book that slips a little food history in with the recipes. Rozin defines crossroads cooking as recipes and techniques from one area that were altered due to the movement of peoples around the globe. For example, the cuisine of Israel is influenced by the cuisines of Alsace, Poland, Morocco, and Italy - all places Jews settled during the Diaspora. The author differentiates this evolution from fusion cuisine, which is the self-concious melding of ingredients to create something new. Crossroads cuisine is more the story of home cooking adapting to new ingredients, like African slaves in the American South.

The book has 3 or 4 chapters a piece on each of the following areas: Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Europe, and The Americas. The author is a cookbook writer, not just a food historian, so the recipes are simple to follow and intriguing. Although I've talked most about the history text, recipes make up the bulk of the book.

I ended up finding just what I wanted - not from India though but from Burma. This curry recipe is very much like an Indian curry, but with the addition of a bit of fish sauce and sesame oil. You can definitely see the crossroads influence in this dish. It tastes just fabulous, and the leftovers tasted even better with some chickpeas stirred in for lunch today. This is definitely a book worth checking out.

Potato Curry with Spinach

2 tbsp peanut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely minced gingerroot
1/2 tsp crushed dried hot pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 medium potatoes, cut into small cubes
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 lb fresh spinach, trimmed, washed, and coarsely chopped or 1 box (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach
1 tsp Asian sesame oil

Heat the peanut oil in a skillet or heavy pot and saute the onion, garlic, gingerroot, and hot pepper over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion wilts and the mixture becomes aromatic.

Add the cumin, coriander, and turmeric and stir for a minute or two.

Add the potatoes, tomatoes, fish sauce, and spinach. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring from time to time, for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the mixture is thick.

Stir in the sesame oil. Taste for salt. Serve hot, with rice.

-Elisabeth Rozin, Crossroads Cooking
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Simple Pasta with Broccoli
Mar 13th, 2006

So from quick weeknight dinners we're moving on to... quick weekend dinners! I think I'm establishing a bit of a pattern here. Usually I end up cooking at least one more complex and/or interesting meal on the weekend, but this week it just wasn't in the cards. On Saturday I chose to do some yoga instead, and Sunday I was just plain tired. By the way, an hour of power yoga followed by a glass of wine on a pretty-close-to-empty stomach makes you feel all sorts of warm and tingly. I highly recommend it. However, it doesn't really make you want to run into the kitchen and get to chopping. Unless that kitchen somehow involves an outdoor cafe someplace sunny with a muted tango wafting over the breeze and another glass of wine....

My kitchen is somehow unequipped with those items, so dinner preparation was a quick affair. Pasta mixed with broccoli, lemon, and garlic is certainly not a new or innovative dish, but it's warm and comforting yet light at the same time. This time I added some feta, which certainly negates the 'light' part calorie-wise, but is awfully tasty.

I like to cook the broccoli in boiling salted water until it's bright green and really tender. Then I drain the pasta and add the broccoli and the pasta back to the still warm pot. A little bit of reserved pasta water and an ounce or so of crumbled feta stirred into the pot helps turn the noodles slippery, and then I throw in the lemon juice from half a lemon, a little lemon zest, and a minced clove of raw garlic. The heat from the pasta tempers the garlic and gets rid of the bite, but it's still stronger than if you had sauteed the garlic in oil, so you don't need a lot. I like to stir and stir and stir so that bits of the broccoli florets break off and adhere to the noodles along with the cheese. Normally I'd add some salt, but my feta was pretty salty so no need, just a chiffonade of basil over the top.

Grate some parmesan to pass at the table, queue up the tango selection on your Ipod (everyone's got one, no?), pour that second glass of wine, and dinner is served!

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One down five million to go
Mar 10th, 2006

Dinner was served last night in our house. Can I get a Hell Yeah! (Or you may choose to insert the oh-so-five-minutes-ago-exclamation-of-excitement of your choice).

I have one of Donna Hay's books out of the library right now, and they're great for simple dishes that still have complexity of taste. For dinner last night I chose this Creamy Chicken and Cauliflower Soup. Of course the boys wouldn't touch it so I served it with quesadillas and salad.

I really like the soup, but I'm meh about the chicken. It just doesn't fit in or add much to the soup - except protein I guess. I might try it again with a really good quality organic/free range/etc. chicken breast - I was using a bag of frozen fillets that just taste crappy. (Not gone off crappy, just low quality crappy). But I think I'm more interested in trying this again but substituting shrimp, or bacon/pancetta, or both! A little bacon never hurt anything, right?

The texture of the soup is very chowdery, and sauteing the onions beforehand gives it a depth of flavor that is very nice. Plus tarragon is such a sophisticated herb - it makes me happy. And I think it would go very well with shrimp.

Happy weekend all you invisible readers out there (waving to my mom who is actually reading and thus not invisible although I can't see her right now as she lives in another state).

Creamy Chicken & Cauliflower Soup
Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 chicken breast fillets, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb cauliflower, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
3 tsp chopped tarragon
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Place a saucepan over high heat. Add half the oil and the chicken and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes or until the chicken is well browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the remaining oil and the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until soft. Add the cauliflower, stock and milk, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

Place the mixture in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Return to the saucepan and add the tarragon, salt, pepper and cooked chicken and cook for 4 minutes or until heated through

-Donna Hay, The Instant Cook
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Mar 9th, 2006

Remember how I was saying yesterday that I make it home by 6:30 on a good night? Well yesterday did not turn out to be a good night. Seattle traffic is pretty bad anyway, but when you take out one of only two bridges running East/West across the lake, it snarls everything up. The 520 was out for 'emergency repairs', probably from the high winds we've been having. Anyway, my little North/South trek from Northgate to Beacon Hill, which takes 12 minutes in zero traffic (rare, but I have achieved it), took about an hour and a quarter.

So dinner last night consisted of a sandwich eaten over the kitchen sink, followed inexplicably by a quick game of Twister, and then we were into the bedtime routine. The fritatta I had planned will have to be fritattaed another day.

But tonight I've checked the traffic map and it looks good, so barring any unforseen events I should be able to achieve dinner once again. It seems like such a small victory really, but I'll take it.

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Another weeknight dinner
Mar 8th, 2006

Ian and Jay have shifted to an earlier bedtime these days; it's not unusual to have them both in bed with the lights out by 8:00 or 8:30. And since they seem to now be able to amuse themselves without killing each other for at least a short time in the morning (thus letting me sleep, ah glorious, glorious sleep), I don't mind so much that they're getting up earlier as a result. But... it does make it something of a sprint to the finish to get dinner on the table in time in the evenings. Considering I get home around 6:30 (on a good day) and Ian really needs to be upstairs having storytime by 8:00 or he becomes even more of a pink-cheeked demon monster than usual, you can see how it might be difficult to squeeze in dinner preparation, setting the table, looking through the many wonders of Jay's school backpack, separating the tired boys who are trying to kill eachother, getting ready for bed, etc. Oh, and actually eating said dinner. Not to mention saying hello to Jim, who usually hightails it to the least boy-populated area of the house when I get home lest he lose the last few bits of sanity he has left from being a stay at home dad.

Anyway, that was a long-winded (as usual) way of saying here's another quick weeknight dinner recipe. I'm lousy with 'em these days! Instant brown rice is a new thing to me - I wasn't even aware of its existence, and I'm frankly sort of shocked I actually bought it. But it claims to just be whole grain brown rice that has been partially precooked, so while the texture might be affected theoretically the nutritional content shouldn't be. Still not sure how I feel about that one to be honest. Anyway, the instantness of the rice is what makes this recipe so quick, so I suppose it served its function.

I served the creamy, comforting rice with baked chicken breasts, carrot sticks, and plain white rice for the boys. Good god I'm tired of baked chicken breasts. My next child palate-expanding mission may be to somehow trick or coerce the children into eating chicken cooked in some sort (any sort) of sauce. Wish me luck.

Minted Peas & Rice with Feta
Makes 4 Servings

1 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup instant brown rice
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (6 oz)
3/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup sliced fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add rice and bring to a simmer; cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in peas and return to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the peas are hot and the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallions, feta, mint and pepper. Cover and let stand until the liquid is absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes.

Can toss leftovers with cooked shrimp for lunch.

-Eating Well, Feb/March 2006
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Review: The Healthy Hedonist
Mar 7th, 2006

My posting record has been spotty over the past few months, holidays and trips combined with the doldrums of winter have left me feeling I don't have much to post about. But that isn't to say that I haven't been cooking, or eating, or reading! In fact my cookbook consumption has been at record high levels all year long - a red alert may need to be issued. So I thought I'd review a few of the more interesting books I've encountered along the way, starting with The Healthy Hedonist: More Than 200 Delectable Flexitarian Recipes for Relaxed Daily Feasts, by Myra Kornfeld.

Flexitarian, apparently voted the most useful word of 2003 by the American Dialect Society, means a person who eats a mostly vegetarian diet but does not entirely omit meat. Kornfeld defines it a bit more specifically as those that include a bit of fish and chicken in a diet high in whole foods: fresh vegetables, whole grains, eggs, fruit, etc. This describes my preferred method of eating pretty well, although I would add pork to my ideal flexitarian diet. I say ideal because the reality of cooking for Jim and the two boys means I end up cooking more meat based meals, but left to my own devices I tend much more towards veggies, legumes, and fish.

Kornfeld's recipes are immensely appealing and fairly straightforward - she includes many that are Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian, or Asian inspired - and healthy without adhering to any particular dietary doctrine (low-fat, low-carb, etc.). She also includes a yummy dessert section that thankfully is not so healthy.

Some recipes that caught my eye include: Onion-Rosemary Fig Jam, Cardamom and Coconut Basmati Rice, Indonesian Corn Chowder, and Halibut Burgers with Basil Mayonnaise.

This book definitely made my to-purchase list, and I would recommend checking it out if the flexitarian approach appeals to you.

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Mar 6th, 2006

Hi guys! Welcome to the new digs. I'm still tweaking things and adding functionality, but I think the site is stable enough now to show it off a bit. Various bits that don't go anywhere currently should miraculously start to work soon.

At some point other people we (gasp!) don't know might wander through this site - at least that's the plan. I've started importing your posts from the old site as comments. If you don't want any or all of them included just let me know and I'll take em down.

Since this is my brand-spankin' new site there should be at least a little new content, right? So here's a weeknight chicken recipe for you, as you can never have too many of those. (Unless you're vegetarian, or hate chicken, or have both arms in casts or are otherwise cooking impaired). My current kitchen goals are to add to my weeknight recipe repertoire and to actually include a vegetable that Jay will eat in each meal. (Ian currently won't eat any food classified as a vegetable, so the point for him is sort of moot.) To that end I broke down and wrote out a list of "Food Jay Will Eat" to help me in my menu planning. I believe the list totalled a whopping 20-some items. If I can locate it I'll post it here so you can feel my pain.

That being said, I've got to give Jay his props, he is actually trying new things. His lunch sandwich options have recently gone from one (peanut butter & honey) to three (we've added turkey and cheese and ham and cheese). That's a 300% increase! And yesterday we went to a deli and for the very first time in his six years on earth Jay ordered a sandwich and ate it. Turkey and cheese on whole wheat with nothing else on it - granted he only ate it to get at the chocolate chip cookie he really wanted - but still, actual food! That wasn't in nugget form! At an real dining establishment! Life is good.

Gosh, this was just going to be a quickie. I get to typing and sometimes I just don't want to shut up. Anyway, this Cashew Chicken is still nowhere near to being something either kid would eat. But it's tasty, healthy, and quick enough for a weeknight dinner. Add some rice, some carrot sticks and baked chicken breasts for the Picky Ones and you're set.

Cashew Chicken

1 tbsp roasted peanut oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lightly pounded and cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, very thinly sliced
1 medium sweet onion (such as Vidalia), thinly sliced
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp Vietnamese chili paste (or less)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
4 heads baby bok choy or head regular bok choy, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup raw unsalted cashews
cup loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro

Heat peanut oil in a large nonstick pan or wok over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken, bell peppers, onion, sugar, and chili paste and cook, stirring often, until onion and peppers are wilted and chicken is tender and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Whisk in fish sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice. Add onion-pepper mixture and bok choy. Cook, stirring often, until bok choy is just wilted, about 4 minutes. Add cashew and cilantro and cook for 1 minute more. Serve.

-Kathleen Daelemans, Getting Thin and Loving Food
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