May, 2006


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Tamarind Paste Has Been Located
May 31st, 2006

Tamarind paste is a hot ingredient in cookbooks these days, especially if you have a fondness for Asian or Indian inspired dishes. I've been wandering around Seattle in a daze of tamarind wantingness, knowing if I only had some my life would be complete. That's not to suggest that I actively went looking for it though, mostly I just hopefully perused the shelves in all my regular haunts, and then pouted and sighed disconsolately a lot. When that method proved ineffective, I broke down and went to Uwajimaya, the mecca for all things Asian ingredienty.

So, if you're looking for tamarind paste in Seattle, here's how to find it. Go to Uwajimaya, head down one of the middle aisles and find the Thai condiments and pastes section. Then get down on your knees and peer way back on the bottom shelf and there it will be. Or just wander around the store looking confused and loading your basket with exotic impulse buys, and then ask for help.

To celebrate I made a spicy chicken soup from James Peterson's Splendid Soups, an amazing cookbook (that I found at a thrift store for $3. Score!) I generally try to limit myself to one recipe per cookbook here on my blog, just so I don't feel like I'm giving away too many of the author's secrets, but I might have to break that rule with this book. There are just so many recipes! And they all look so good! And I love to cook soup! And use exclamation points!

Anyway, I may have gotten a little over-excited about the fun ingredients and tried to do a little too much while preparing this recipe. It has a sub recipe for Kecap Manis (pronounced ketchup), which is a soy sauce based sauce from Java apparently. You only use 2 tbsp of it in the soup itself, but it can be stored forever and a day in your fridge and used as a marinade. I recommend that if you want to go for it and use it in the soup (and if you can find some curry leaves and galangal - which by the way you can pick up at Uwajimaya while you're getting your tamarind paste) you make it the day before rather than at the same time as the soup. It's a bit much with the chopping and the prepping and the caramelizing of sugars. Thank goodness I had my mom helping out. You can just use regular soy sauce if you don't happen to live five minutes from an Asian food mecca.

The soup itself is tangy (from the tamarind paste!), spicy, and a bit sweet. I'm not quite sure what function the macadamia nuts serve though, as I thought they would be a thickener but mine never broke down enough for that. Maybe I didn't process them enough beforehand. The recipe doesn't call for it, but I did end up straining the broth before serving it, because I just didn't like the bits floating around. I also wimped out and used 2 jalapenos instead of 4, which was probably the right decision for our wimpy palates, but using 4 would definitely please those who love spice.

I'll post the kecap manis recipe tomorrow. For today, you get the soup.

Spicy Chicken Soup from Borneo
Soto Banjar

5 shallots, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1-2 Thai chilies or 2-4 jalapeno chilies, seeds removed
a 1/2-inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled
2 tbsp soy sauce or kecap manis (recipe coming)
12 macadamia nuts
7 cups chicken broth or water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/8- by 2-inch-long strips
a 6-inch length of lemongrass, thinly sliced
2 scallions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 tbsp tamarind paste combined with 6 tbsp boiling water, strained
a 1/4-inch slice of galangal (optional)

Prep like mad. Cooking time for this recipe is minimal, so you really want to make sure you have everything chopped and measured before you start. Then combine the shallots, garlic, spices, chilies, ginger, soy sauce, macadamia nuts, and 1/3 of the broth in a food processor. Process until you have a smooth paste.

Heat the vegetable oil over high heat in a heavy pan, add the chicken and stir for a minute. Add the spice paste and stir for a couple more minutes.

Add the rest of the broth or water, lemongrass, scallions, tamarind, and galangal and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. You may want to strain the broth through a fine mesh seive before serving. Serve hot.

-Splendid Soups, James Peterson
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Cooking for Mom and Dad
May 30th, 2006

My parents were in town for two nights for the Folklife Festival, which was nice for many reasons, a chance to do a little cooking being one of them. Another being that my dad was there to pick up the pieces when the contractor for our kitchen renovation project totally bagged out on the project just as we were nearing the oft-delayed starting date. The condition of my kitchen is fuel for another post, but I think for now the words tiny, dilapidated, and nearly non-functional should give you a sense of my feelings on the matter. So three cheers for Dad who swooped in to save the day, getting us started in another direction and offering all sorts of free skilled labor to enable us to get the kitchen we want on our pitiful budget. And three cheers for my mom as well who's giving up all that free labor around her own place!

Anyway, crappy kitchen or not, there was cooking to be done over the long holiday weekend. It's always a fun challenge coming up with interesting low-carb dinners when my parents visit. It's good to have a reason to stretch from time to time and to get out of the rut of routine. Probably the most successful dinner was Monday night's One Pan Chicken, Cabbage and Fennel with Parsley Butter, and big green salad with crunchy radishes, green apple, and Fontina cheese. The chicken is a Nigella Lawson recipe that I've made several times before, this time I just omitted the potatoes. I was going to make a whole roast chicken but there were no whole chickens at the grocery store. I thought a pork roast would be a good fallback, but there were none of those to be seen either. It was very weird, I would have thought I was missing a section of the store if I didn't know the layout like the back of my hand.

The standout was definitely the cabbage and fennel dish, a recipe I had marked long ago from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors, a cookbook with a few flaws but some standout recipes as well. This recipe calls for a Meyer lemon, which I didn't have, but I did have a nice small organic regular lemon which worked just fine. I also substituted a new spring onion for the recommended leek. The fennel and the cabbage emerge soft yet not mushy, and the butter helps meld all the tastes together. It was a delicious and simple dish that went very well with the tender roasted chicken.

Savoy Cabbage and Fennel with Parsley-Lemon Butter

˝ small Savoy or other green cabbage
1 large fennel bulb, quartered
1 large leek, white part only
4 tbsp unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon
3 tbsp chervil or parsley leaves

Cut the cabbage, fennel, and leek into very thin slices and wash. Don’t dry.

Melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a large, wide skillet. Add the vegetables and sprinkle with ˝ tsp salt. Cover the pan and cook gently for 10 minutes. Check after 5 minutes and make sure there’s a little moisture so that the vegetables steam and don’t brown. Meanwhile, simmer the lemon juice in a small skillet until only 1 tbsp remains. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter.

Finely chop the lemon zest with the chervil. Stir half into the butter and add the other half into the vegetables. Toss well with the herb butter, taste for salt, and season with pepper.

-Deborah Madison, Local Flavors
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Brunch for Dinner
May 24th, 2006

Molly at Orangette posted a piece recently debating the merits of brunch. Jim is definitely pro-brunch, he says he'd be happy to drift from brunch to brunch all day as long as there was some magic involved that let you eat eggs and bacon and drink mimosas for hours without getting full or sick. I tend to side with Molly on this one. I have to eat within an hour of getting up or I get cranky and tired, so then brunch is really just an early lunch where I feel like I'm eating too much food. But brunch foods for dinner, that's something both Jim and I can get behind.

Last night we had Zucchini and Cheddar Fritattas, adorable little egg dishes cooked in a muffin pan, along with some purchased Potato Dill bread and roasted cauliflower. Asparagus would have been more in keeping with the brunch theme but we ate ours up the night before. The recipe comes from The Family Kitchen by Debra Ponzek, a book I really like for its invocation of the kitchen as the center of the house, with kids and parents getting involved and having fun preparing meals together, whether a steamy pot of soup on a cold winter day or grilled corn and teriyaki salmon outside in the middle of summer. These fritattas are the first thing I've actually cooked out of the book, and they turned out really well.

The little muffin shaped fritattas are super cute and have an intense savory taste. It's hard to pick out the individual flavors of the zuchinni, shallots, cheese, and thyme, they blend so well together. The shallots predominate though, which is all to the good in my opinion. My only criticism would be that I thought they were a touch too salty, so in the recipe that follows I took the amount of salt called for down to half a teaspoon from the original three quarters. You could certainly adapt this recipe to suit your tastes; other combinations suggested by the author include Gruyere, spinach, and ham. The fritattas are also just the right size to perch on top of an English muffin or square of toast along with a nice slice of ham. Hollondaise sauce seems a little too rich to go with these savory bites, but maybe a light yogurt, lemon, and thyme combination would work. But as is, the fritattas are fabulous and easy to whip up for a midweek dinnertime brunch.

Individual Zucchini and Cheddar Frittatas
makes 12 frittatas

oil spray
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 medium zuccini or 2 small ones, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
2 shallots, diced
1/2 tsp salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper
7 large eggs
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 375°F and spray a 12 muffin pan with cooking spray.

Shred the zucchini and chop the shallots. Saute them in 2 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat until wilted, about 4 minutes. Drain off any liquid and season with 1/4 tsp of salt and pepper to taste. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly among the muffin tins.

Grate the cheese. Beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the cheese, half-and-half, and thyme. Add the remaining salt and a few grinds of pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the muffin tins.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until just set. Run a table knife around the edges of the tins to loosen the fritattas and serve.

-adapted from The Family Kitchen, Debra Ponzek
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a few things that dwell in my cupboards
May 23rd, 2006

I'm exhausted just looking at yesterday's entry - that thing's a novel! I guess that happens when you simply must tell everyone about your weekend, cooking tendencies as dictated by weather, convoluted thoughts on cooking for your children, feelings about the promotional copy of Cook's Country, and reviews of a breaded pork chop recipe all in one post. So today I'm going to keep it simple and pimp a few of my favorite pantry items.

Agave Nectar: When I saw this next to the honey at my local grocery store I thought it was probably a long-time healthfood store staple that had escaped to the general market, but when I looked it up I was surprised to find that it's only recently become available. This sweetener is made from agave extract, comes in a handy little squirt bottle, and has a fairly low glycemic index. Madhava Honey sells a light and an amber grade. I got the light kind and it's pretty much a straight forward sweet taste with the consistency of a nice thin honey. I'm interested in trying the amber variety which is supposed to have a stronger agave taste. Other than just the thrill of trying new things, the reason I was attracted to it is that it doesn't give you a big sugar rush. I don't have diabetes or any real problems with blood sugar, but sugary treats inevitable make me want to consume more sugary treats, or salty snacks, or a hamburger, or pretty much anything that isn't nailed down. The agave nectar doesn't give me that problem at all. I haven't tried baking with it yet, but it seems like it could be an easy replacement for honey although it should be substituted at 75% (3/4 cup agave for 1 cup other sweetener). For now I'm very happy drizzling it on top of plain yogurt and fruit, or on top of pancakes in the morning.

Bob's Red Mill 10-Grain Pancake & Waffle Mix: Speaking of pancakes, we've been going through this pancake mix like crazy recently. I like to make pancakes from scratch, but it's hard to do so on weekday mornings. I kept promising to make up some pancake mix from one of my favorite recipes, Jim kept threatening to go buy some Bisquick, and crisis loomed. But Bob's Red Mill saved the day with a whole grain mix that we all like. The pancakes are light and fluffy and don't have that heavy taste that whole wheat products can sometimes have. The Bob's line seems to be sweeping the nation, so chances are you can find this in a grocery near you.

So, short and sweet today, I'm sure the novel length entries will resume tomorrow.

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Pork Chops and Peas
May 22nd, 2006

I don't think this blog would exist if I lived in California, as when the sun comes out I just do not want to cook. There's gardening to be done, or bike rides in the neighborhood, or a last run to the park before it starts to get chilly. And if none of those sound appealing there's always just sitting out back with a glass of wine laughing at the boys as they run naked through the sprinklers. Luckily for you though dear readers, I'm safely tucked away in Seattle where we have blog-friendly weather nine months out of the year. We have been experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures this spring however, and last weekend was forecast to be our final little patch of sun for at least a week. So no real cooking went on here Friday or Saturday, unless heating up some ramen counts as cooking. On Sunday it finally started to rain just as I was cleaning up from my weekend gardening efforts, and after letting Ian run around in it for a while (sans garments of course), I finally turned my thoughts to dinner.

I'm so conflicted about cooking for the kids right now. On one hand I feel like if I spend some time learning some more classic Americana type dishes I'll have more options when it comes to cooking dinners that residents of our house under the age of 33 might actually eat. (Quick digression - Ian (3) has decided that not only is he ten years old, but so am I, engendering many repetitions of the following conversation. Ian: How old are you mommy? Me: I'm ten, how old are you? Ian: I ten. Jay (from the other room and much aggreived): Mommy you are not ten! You're 33. Me: Thanks for reminding me honey.) Alright, back on topic - I could learn to cook food that the kids might eat. But then I'd have to eat it too, and well, that's the rub. Besides the fact that I'll gain ten pounds, isn't it better to continue to prepare fresh, healthy, seasonal food that I love and hope it will eventually rub off on them than to spend my time searching the internet for different ways to bread things? Should I bow to society's concept of what kids should like to eat (breaded meat products, mac 'n cheese, hamburgers, etc.) even though in my heart that's not what I want them to be eating? But on the other hand is it fair to serve them another plain chicken breast while we eat a Thai chicken curry, or plain pasta while we eat ours tossed with broccoli and lemon? Ugh, I'm not expressing this very well, but I suppose that reflects the murky mess of guilt, perfectionism, and food snobbery that lurks in the deeper recesses of my brain.

I flip wildly back and forth between searching for 'kid-friendly' meal ideas and just throwing up my hands and cooking whatever I want and hoping they'll eat some of it some day. On Sunday I was in one of my kid-friendly phases, brought on most likely by the promotional copy of Cook's Country magazine I received in the mail. I don't quite get this magazine - it's from the people who bring us Cook's Illustrated and think nothing of testing multitudes of recipes to determine the "best" pie crust, grilled salmon, or pot roast. They've grafted that test kitchen approach onto this Country magazine - which to them apparently means the kind of cooking on display at your local PTA potluck. It's a weird, unweildy combination, but I like the color scheme on the cover! And I actually found their tomato buying guide pretty informative. But in the end I just have no need for cupcake decorating contests, tips on how to raid the grocery salad bar to simplify your stir-fries, or how using Marshmallow Fluff will make the best homemade fudge. However I did put my food snobbery aside long enough to try their Quick and Crunchy Pork Chops (Shaking up Shake 'n Bake!). I would put this recipe squarely in the 'creative ways to use mayo' category, but what the hell, it didn't kill me. If you like crunchy breaded meats or have kids that do you might like this recipe. As three members of our family fall into one of those categories it was a hit at our house.

I don't think you really need a whole package of Melba toast for the breading, I ended up discarding maybe a third of it, but it's probably easier just to make the recipe as is and throw away the extra rather than trying to recalculate it. I used the sesame flavor of Melba toast which was tasty. My only complaint would be that cooking the chops on a rack above a baking sheet rather than directly on the sheet was supposed to prevent them from getting soggy, but mine were still a bit soggy on the bottom. Maybe flipping them once during the cooking time would help.

While I was making the chops I decided to give the boys some vegetables to snack on to get that part of dinner out of the way. I rediscovered a bag of the first shelling peas of the season stashed in the fridge and poured them in a bowl for Jay and Ian who were happily involved in multiple art projects. Shelling peas are great because snapping the pods open and digging out the sweet green peas gets the kids involved. Before I knew it I actually had to come out of the kitchen and break up the scuffle over who got more pea pods. That's right, I actually had to break up a fight between my kids over who got the last vegetable. I do believe it's getting a bit chilly down in hell right about now.

Quick and Crunchy Pork Chops
serves 4

1 (5-ounce) box Melba toast, broken into rough pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp sugar
4 - 6 tbsp mayonnaise
4 boneless pork chops, 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Smash the Melba toast into rough pieces inside its bag. Pour into a large freezer bag along with all the spices. Smash to bits with a rolling pin or mallet type thingy. The texture you create should be of a fine meal with some larger bits sprinkled about. Add 2 tbsp of the mayo and squish it around inside the bag.

Put the breading mixture on a large plate and squirt some more mayo into a little bowl. Set a rack over a baking sheet. One pork chop at a time, spread some mayo on the chop to coat, then roll in the breading and pat and press the breading to the chop to make it stick. Transfer the coated chops to the rack. Bake in the oven until an instant read thermometer reads 145° to 150°, between 16 to 22 minutes.

Remove and let rest for five minutes or so before serving.

-Jeremy Sauer, Cooks Country promotional issue
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Pretty in Pink
May 19th, 2006

Here's how to get the Mother's Day present you want (or any present for that matter) in my household:

1. Send email to husband a few days before Mother's Day with a link to your desired gift online.
2. Make sure to ask him if he got the email when you get home from work. Point out the fabulous price.
3. When told that there isn't time to order anything online in time for the holiday, remind him of the existence of actual brick and mortar stores here in Seattle.
4. When your husband declares that you are not his mother and therefore he shouldn't have to buy you a present, remind him that the 6 year old and the 3 year old do not in fact have their own credit cards (yet) or method of transportation and that maybe, just maybe, their father might be a good choice to take them by the hand and lead them to a local pavilion of commerce where 'they' can buy a present for their beloved mother.
5. On Mother's Day morning gratefully and joyfully receive vase of flowers from 6 year old who made them at school out of a mason jar, tissue paper, starch, and pipe cleaners. Be honestly touched at how excited he is to give them to you.
6. Go out to the mall that afternoon and buy your own damn present.

And that's how I came to be the proud new owner of an icecream maker. And really, I don't care that I had to go buy it myself, truthfully the homemade gift from Jay and the big proud smile on his face are much more precious. But I am very excited about my new icecream maker. I love icecream and all of its brethren - frozen yogurt, ices, granitas, sorbets, and slushies. Jim and the boys just want chocolate icecream with as many bits of things as possible swirled in, but I'm excited about exploring the world of frozen fruit - berry sorbet, peach frozen yogurt, frozen mango lassies. I can't wait.

So to christen my new appliance I made what I'm calling a Watermelon Rose Granita. I'm not sure I quite have all the kinks worked out of the process yet, and I had to finish the process in tupperware in the freezer, but the result is awfully pretty and pink don't you think? I saw a recipe for a Rose Ice in a low-carb cookbook at my parents' house last weekend and made a mental note in my head to try something like it someday. The recipe included coconut cream, sweetened condensed milk, and pink food coloring, but we had a half of a giant watermelon hogging up valuable fridge space and I decided to make a watermelon ice with rose water instead. That way we'd have the pretty pink color without the dye.

This granita would make an excellent palate refresher for a Middle Eastern themed meal or a cool way to finish up a meal of barbecued chicken. You could definitely make it without an icecream maker as the finished texture even with the machine is icy rather than creamy. If you don't like rose water, you could make it with just the watermelon, or add a few tablespoons of your favorite berry liqueur. Personally I'm wondering what the addition of some freshly squeezed pink grapefruit would do for the watermelon, and as more of the behemoth melon still lurks in the fridge, I just may get a chance to find out.

Watermelon Rose Granita
makes one quart

1 quart peeled and chopped seedless watermelon
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp rose water
2 egg whites (optional)
rose petals for decoration (also optional)

Cook the sugar and lime juice over low heat in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved, stirring often. Put the cubes of watermelon in a blender or food processor and blend to a puree (I love that part!). Add the sugar lime syrup and the rose water and blend again. Pour the puree into an icecream maker and process until thick, about twenty minutes. If you are using the egg whites, make sure they are from a trusted egg purveyor, beat them lightly and add them to the icecream maker after about 15 minutes. This is supposed to make the texture more like a sherbet.

My granita was thick but still not frozen after twenty minutes. I kept the motor running but actually things got worse as it went on as the chilled container began to defrost. So if you want a thicker consistency after the twenty minutes are up, put the granita in a freezer safe container and chuck it in the freezer for a couple of hours.

To make without an icecream maker:
I would leave out the egg whites. Instead of adding the puree to an icecream maker, pour it into a freezer safe container with a lid. Put it in the freezer. Remove every twenty minutes and scrape with a fork to break up the ice crystals. Continue until the granita is completely frozen and fluffy.

Decorating with rose petals is completely optional but awfully pretty.

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May 17th, 2006

For years my dad ate the same thing for breakfast, a huge bowl of granola topped with plain yogurt, frozen orange juice concentrate, and berries. The berries were always some combination of blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, fresh in summer, frozen in winter. A few years ago he took it into his head to lose a few pounds, actually read the calorie contents on a package of granola, and upended the ratio turning his breakfast into a big bowl of yogurt and berries with a sprinkling of granola on top. The tradition continues, just in a slightly altered form.

So I imagine my love of granola is at least in part inherited. I do have slightly different tastes than my dad though. While he tends to gravitate toward the types of cereal often found in health food stores that seem to consist mostly of rolled oats with very little crunch or sweetness, I prefer a lot of crunch and chewy dried fruit. To me there are few things more indulgent than a big bowl of crunchy nuts, fruit, and clusters of sweet toasted oats topped with milk and sliced banana.

Now Jay is developing his own love of granola. He's six so naturally to him the sweeter the better, and he prefers the kind that comes in a big box from the grocery store. But even if he doesn't love the results as much, he does like to help me make granola from scratch. Last month we spent one afternoon of a cold and stormy weekend toasting oats and nuts, stirring in honey and vanilla, and impatiently smelling the warm sweet aromas coming from the oven. We used a recipe from Mollie Katzen's Salad People, a cookbook for parents and kids who want to cook together. You can find my review of the cookbook and the granola recipe in the kids section, but I forgot to mention it here until today when I stumbled across a cluster of recent food blogger granola experiments. Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini posted a recipe for Macadamia Maple Granola and comments on that post led me to Maple Granola at Eat and Crunchy Coconut Macadamia Granola with Honey at Creampuffs in Venice.

This Mollie Katzen recipe is really a blueprint that encourages experimentation. Jay and I made a tropical fruit granola with hazelnuts and cashews that satisfied all my urges for crunchy and chewy and made enough to store some in the freezer for later. Unfortunately Jim is also a granola hound and depleted my secret stash in a matter of days. So it must be time to break out the rolled oats again and make a new batch, perhaps this time a special food bloggers edition featuring Macadamia nuts, maple syrup, and coconut. Maybe I'll even save some for my dad.

Crunchy Fruity Granola

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups combined seeds and chopped nuts (I used almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup assorted dried fruit (I used raisins and a packaged tropical mix of mango, papaya, and pineapple bits)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Spray two rimmed cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl mix together the oats, seeds, nuts, salt, and brown sugar. I left the salt out because my cashews were salted, otherwise I would have included it.

Combine the oil, honey, and vanilla extract and pour over the nuts and seeds mixture. Mix thoroughly - kids can use their nice and clean hands.

Bake for about half an hour, stirring several times to ensure even toasting, and if you can't fit both trays on one rack, switching the tray position half way through. Leave the granola to cool on the tray as this is when it gets crunchy.

When the granola is cool and sticky/crunchy, put it in a bowl and add in the fruit. Can be stored in a canister on the counter with the extra in a ziplock bag or jar in the freezer.

-Mollie Katzen, Salad People
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A Day Without Food Blogs
May 16th, 2006

I apologize for the disruption to my normal posting schedule. We hit the road and spent the Mother's Day weekend with my family. A great time was had by all but we didn't make it back until Monday evening, so no posts for you! And no food post again today either, as I must pause and direct your attention to the Day Without Food Blogs effort.

Participating food bloggers are deviating from their normal subjects today to publicize the threat to Net Neutrality posed by current lobbying efforts of the major telecommunications companies who are trying to convince Congress that they should be allowed to create a two-tiered internet. In effect the system they are proposing would allow companies with a lot of money and/or connections to provide a high-speed path to their site, while those without the special deals would be limited to a slower connection for their users or find their site blocked by certain carriers altogether.

See Accidental Hedonist or Chez Pim for more details, and please consider signing the petition to preserve net neutrality at Save The Internet.

Regular food blogging will resume tomorrow.

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Blink of an Eye
May 12th, 2006

In my ideal world my kids would eat perfectly healthy, balanced meals with only the occasional home cooked sugary treat. They would snack on fresh fruit, home made crackers, plain yogurt and raid the fridge for crispy vegetable sticks. (This is when my mom revs up her commenting machine to remind me that this is pretty much exactly how I was raised and that I certainly didn't think all that highly of it at the time. Hi mom!). But two, okay maybe three things keep intruding on my little fantasy. Problem one: my kids. They don't want to raid the fridge for crispy vegetable snacks. Problem two: my husband. He's not wild about the crisy veggie snacks either. Oh, I almost forgot Problem 3: reality.

Don't get me wrong, my kids actually eat pretty well, probably better than I've led you to believe. They live on whole wheat bread and natural peanut butter, love fruit and nuts, and Jay at least thinks carrot sticks are a perfectly worthwhile snack. But they're also tiny little sugar hounds who start asking about dessert as soon as dinner is served (Jay) or first thing upon descending the stairs in the morning (Ian). And Jim's got a pretty wicked sweet tooth himself and does things like bring home PACKS OF SOUR GUMMY WORMS WHICH HE KNOWS I WILL END UP SNEAKING OUT OF THE CUPBOARD AND EATING BECAUSE I CAN'T RESIST THEIR CHEWY ARTIFICALLY SWEETENED GOODNESS. Oops. Looks like my caps lock got stuck there somehow, don't know how that happened.

So my most recent half-baked plan to control what gets brought into our house is to limit desserts to dark chocolate, ice cream, and home-baked treats. Other items would have to be purchased and consumed off the premises somewhere. I even hinted (okay so I emailed an Amazon link) to Jim that perhaps the kids could buy me an icecream maker for Mother's Day, then even our ice cream could be homemade (and therefore virtuous don't you know).

Unfortunately there's a flaw in my plan. It turns out I can't stop myself from consuming homemade treats any more than I can the evil sour gummy worms. You see I can totally ignore almost any purchased dessert that makes it into our house, unless it happens to be a member of the gummy family. Chocolate bars, cookies, candies, whatever - I won't touch it. But when I've made it myself, or better yet made it with Jay, my able baking assistant, apparently all bets are off. For evidence I give you the Blink Of An Eye Rhubarb Cobbler, or rather I would if there were any left. I just checked with Jim on the phone to see if perhaps he ate some after I went to bed last night, but unfortunately no, it seems that apart from the serving that Jay ate after dinner, I consumed the whole thing myself. In my defense the cobbler is only about a half inch thick and contains no butter or oil, it's sort of like a big chewy fruit cookie, but still, cobbler, pie, fruit cookie or whatever it's called, it probably shouldn't be eaten at three consecutive meals. So I might have to go back to the drawing board on this one.

But if you're made from stronger stuff than I am, you should head over to Baking Sheet and check out the Rhubarb Cobbler. It's easy to make, Jay and I whipped it up while preparing dinner last night, and delicious topped with plain yogurt and fresh strawberries. In fact you could probably throw in a second fruit along with the rhubarb - you know I've got more rhubarb in the fridge and some wild blueberries in the freezer.... maybe I should give the plan one last chance. For the kids.

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Emergency Bunny
May 10th, 2006

Yesterday Jay and Ian ate new things. That's right, previously unknown food items were served and consumed in our household. Let a hallelujah ring out across the rooftops. Before I became a parent I don't think I would have believed that convincing my kids to eat blueberry pancakes and turkey meatballs could put such a bounce in my step. It would be fabulous if I could say that some new approach I tried worked or that the recipes came from a new cookbook I could share with you, but the real reason behind this slight thaw in the picky wars is, I suspect, that Jay is growing up.

Practically since birth Jay has slept with his raggedy stuffed bunny, Bunny Bunny. We don't remember where Bunny Bunny came from, but she was ours before Jay was born and he chose to adopt her. Since he was old enough to be scared of the dark Jay slept with the light on in the hall and his door open a crack, and from the first days of nursing on through bottles and sippy cups, he has never gone to bed without milk. Until now. In the last two months all of this has changed. First he started getting up and shutting his door after we'd finished stories and tucked him in (maybe he was tired of listening to What Not to Wear.) Then he informed us that he would be sleeping with the door shut from here on out, and shut it has been with nary a nightmare or monster under the bed. A few weeks later Bunny Bunny was put in a box next to the bunk bed and declared his 'Emergency Bunny'. And last week the milk routine was put to rest. Only the last one was parent initiated, since as far as I was concerned he could have slept with Bunny Bunny until college.

So he's growing up, and as much as it brings a little tear to my eye, it also means he's ready to try new things. And one of those new things appears to be food. Over the past month or so he has tried grilled cheese sandwiches (first at his grandparents and now with great gusto at home), fried rice, pasta with tomato sauce, chicken taquitos, homemade granola, scrambled eggs with ham, and yesterday's pancakes and meatballs. He hasn't loved them all, but he has at least tolerated almost all of them, and man you should have seen him going to town on those meatballs. The best part of all this is that it's having a bit of a trickle down effect on Ian, probably because if Jay is being more open I have more energy and confidence to get Ian to at least try a bite of this and a piece of that. And frankly Ian loves food way more than Jay ever has, so I've got a bit more ammunition there.

Now if we could just get Ian to keep his pants on at the table and stop throwing peas, dinner time might actually be something to look forward to at our house. As always, baby steps.

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The Whole Loaf
May 9th, 2006

So I suppose I should discuss what caused Jim and me to eat an entire loaf of bread for lunch. I've had this Deborah Madison recipe tagged forever - it's a tomato sandwich where you take a round loaf of bread, slice it in two horizontally, pull out the insides, layer it with sliced tomatoes and an herb salad, and then put the cap back on and cut it into wedges. Then on Friday I was listening to the Splendid Table Podcast on the way home and Lynne Rossetto Kasper was talking to a student who called in looking for some cheap, transportable lunch ideas. She suggested doing something similar with a loaf of bread using mashed chickpeas and basically building a salad on top.

I haven't made the Deborah Madison sandwich yet because I'm waiting for tomato season, but listening to Lynne made me realize I could give it a try using different filling ingredients (duh). So I picked up a round multi-grain loaf (Mille Gran from Essential Baking for you Seattle folks) and some oil-cured olives at the grocery store, and Saturday at lunchtime I set to work constructing my sandwich. Now I've described exactly what I put in mine in the recipe below, but the sandwich I came up with was determined mainly by what I had on hand, particularly the Tomato Confit I posted about last week. If anyone else decides to take a crack at this sandwich idea I'd suggest you let yourself be inspired by what's in your fridge, or what sounds good at the store that day.

I ended up making two different tapenade-like spreads - a rustic chickpea and tomato confit paste and a more classic roasted red pepper, olive, and basil tapenade. These ingredients could easily have been merged into one big spread, all the flavors go together, but it was more fun for me (if totally non-essential) to create two layers of flavor. I also added some paper thin slices of Granny Smith apple and red radish, which I completely forgot about until now and left out of the recipe. They added some crunch but were (obviously) fairly forgettable.

I think the fact that Jim and I consumed the entire sandwich for lunch should tell you that we liked the outcome. If you are serving normal people however, you should be able to slice this into six wedges. The whole sandwich wrapped snugly in plastic wrap would be ideal for a picnic, and the wedges travel well in a brown bag lunch. As an added bonus, the recipe created tapenade leftovers and for lunch this week I've been having delicious sandwiches of toasted sprouted wheat bread spread with tapenade, a thick slice of cheddar, spring salad greens, and a pickle. Since I don't normally eat sandwiches for lunch, this feels like a nice treat.

Double Tapenade Sandwich

1 loaf good multi-grain bread, round or thumb shaped
1/2 can chickpeas
1/4 cup tomato confit or sundried tomatoes in olive oil
1 roasted red bell pepper
3 cloves roasted garlic or 1 clove reg garlic
small handful of oil cured olives
small handful of basil leaves
mixed spring salad greens
4 slices of ripe tomato
squeeze of lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
thin slices of a sharp tangy cheese like fontina, feta, or parmesan

Slice the top off the bread horizontally, about a third of the way down so you have a bottom piece and a little cap-like top. Pull the inside out of both pieces of bread - you can whir these in a food processor to make bread crumbs and freeze them for later use. Brush the interiors of the bread with olive oil.

In a blender or food processor, work the chickpeas with the tomato confit and enough water to make a thick lumpy paste. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Spread this on the bottom piece of bread, but don't clean out the blender. Now process the roasted bell pepper, garlic, olives, and basil again adding a bit of olive oil and/or water if necessary to form a tapenade like paste. Spread a layer of this on top of the chickpea paste.

Toss the salad greens with the olive oil and lemon, add some salt and pepper and add to the sandwich. Salt and pepper the tomato slices as well and layer them on. Add the cheese to taste and put the top on the sandwich. Press down to compress all the layers together and wrap the sandwich in plastic wrap. Let sit for twenty minutes or so to let the flavors soak into the bread then cut into wedges and serve.

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Lebanese Omelet
May 8th, 2006

Happy Monday everyone. This weekend just seemed to fly by and yet looking back we didn't really do anything. I guess wrangling two kids will do that to you. Dinners over the weekend were light as I kept finding ways to consume huge amounts of food in the middle of the day. Friday night's dinner was a salad with paper thin slices of apple and shards of fontina cheese - which sounds downright abstemious unless you know that I went out for lunch earlier with a friend and managed to scarf down a huge crabcake sandwich and a slice of Marionberry pie with icecream. Here's a helpful tip - going out to lunch with male friends who routinely spend their weekend backpacking and kayaking obscenely long distances and never would gain an ounce anyway can be hazardous to your waistline. No need to thank me for that valuable information, I'm just here to help.

The theme of gluttonous lunches and light dinners continued on Saturday as between the two of us Jim and I managed to eat an entire round loaf of bread for lunch. Granted, I pulled the innards of the loaf out and stuffed it with goodies, but still, an entire loaf of bread! (Carb counters shudder with horror). So obviously dinner needed to be light as there was no kayaking or backpacking in our plans for the weekend. An omelet sounded like a good choice, and I took the opportunity to try out a recipe from a cookbook I've been enjoying lately, Lebanese Cuisine: More than 200 Simple, Delicious, Authentic Recipes by Madelain Farah.

This omelet is prepared differently from your classic French omelette. The author has you oil a square pan and heat it in the oven while you prepare the eggs, then the egg mixture is added to the hot pan and baked in the oven. Adding the egg to the hot oil makes the bottom and sides set immediately and there's no danger of the omelet sticking to the pan. The recipe called for four tablespoons of oil, but I just could not bring myself to use that much. I compromised on two and honestly I think you could use less. The resulting omelet is thin and tender and tastes strongly of shallot and herbs. The small amount of cinnamon adds an exotic note without seeming overpowering or out of place, and the mint is transformed by the cooking process, adding a complexity to the dish without tasting at all minty. This omelet makes a great quick dinner with a glass of wine and a green salad, and since it only includes 4 eggs it's a good candidate for those days when a little something is all you need. I even had a little room left afterwords for a scoop of blackberry sorbet with banana sliced over the top, and all was right with the world.

Lebanese Egg Omelet

4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion or 2 med shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped green mint
2 tbsp oil (or less)

Add the oil to a 7- or 8-inch square pan and put it in a 400°F oven. Preheat both the oiled pan and the oven.

Beat the eggs and the milk. Using your fingers, mix the cinnamon, salt, and pepper with the onions and add to the egg and milk mixture. Add the onions or shallots, parsley, scallions, and mint. Stir well and then pour into the hot pan and cook in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve.

-adapted from Lebanese Cuisine, Madelain Farah
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May 4th, 2006

When we had the coals going on Monday we fired up pretty much everything in the kitchen that seemed at all a likely grilling candidate. You might think I'm exaggerating but off our little Weber bucket grill rolled a whole fish, skewers of shrimp, chicken, zucchini, and mushrooms, 5 roasted bell peppers, several pork chops, and a chicken breast. It was fairly ridiculous, but it has definitely made lunch and dinner preparation easy this week.

Last night we needed to use up the chicken and Jim came up with the idea of making taquitos. I don't usually like to fry things, so we've never attempted these before, but Jim watched a neighbor make some a couple months ago and was convinced he could replicate the technique. So he was in charge of the taquitos and I made some salsa. We were out of cilantro, and I just can't bring myself to make a salsa fresca without it, so I decided to do a smooth chipotle salsa instead. We still had some roasted garlic from this weekend and most of the roasted bell peppers, so the salsa came together quickly with the addition of some canned chipotle in adobo sauce and squeezes of fresh lime and orange.

Softening the corn tortillas in the microwave really helps to avoid tearing the tortillas while rolling them around the filling. And its amazing how good just a simple filling of refried beans (canned I admit, though you could certainly make your own) and seasoned chicken can taste once the whole thing is fried in a bit of oil! Jim was surprised how little oil he needed really, as the taquitos at the end of the batch fried just as well in the film of oil left as the first ones did in their more substantial oil bath.

If we'd had some crema (Mexican sour cream) and cotija cheese around the house we would definitely have thrown those on and I've listed those as optional ingredients. But in the end our tummies were thankful for the slightly lighter dish. These were really good and easy, Jay even ate a few bites and pronounced them delicious. If you don't go crazy with the oil while frying and leave off the cream and cheese toppings, I think they're a good weeknight dinner option.

Chicken Taquitos with Roasted Pepper & Chipotle Salsa
Makes 8 taquitos

8 corn tortillas
1/2 cup refried beans
1 chicken breast, grilled or poached and shredded
salt, cumin, chili powder
canola oil for frying

1 large roasted bell pepper
1 tomato (reserve half for topping)
1 - 2 tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo (to taste)
4 cloves roasted garlic
lime juice from 1/4 of a large lime
orange juice from 1/4 of a medium orange
salt to taste

Optional Toppings
Cotija cheese
Chopped fresh tomato
Chopped fresh cilantro and/or mint

Make the salsa first, as the taquitos don't take long to cook and you'll need to be messing with them at the stove.

For the salsa:
Coarsely chop the roasted bell pepper and half the tomato. Add to a blender or food processor along with the chipotle, roasted garlic, lime juice, and orange juice. Blend until smooth. Adjust seasonings and add salt to taste.

For the taquitos:
Heat about 1/4 cup of oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Wrap the stack of tortillas in a paper towel and microwave for about 15 seconds to soften (alternatively quickly fry each tortilla on both sides in the hot oil, but I prefer the microwave method, it's easier). Toss the shredded cooked chicken with some salt, cumin, and chili powder to taste. Spread a bit of refried beans down the middle of each tortilla and top with the chicken mixture.

Roll up the tortillas and place two or three in the hot pan seam side down. Don't crowd the pan. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes then flip over and cook the other side until golden. Repeat until you've cooked all the taquitos.

To serve:
Top each taquito with a generous portion of salsa and chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle with cilantro and/or mint. You can also sprinkle some crumbled cotija cheese over the taquitos and drizzle the whole thing with a bit of crema to really put it over the top.

-Kymm & Jim
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More fish!
May 2nd, 2006

Back in March my mom and I were having a discussion in the comments about how to cook a seven pound whole salmon. My mom's usual method is to stuff the fish with onion and lemon, smear all sides with mayonnaise, and cook it wrapped in foil. This makes the fish very moist, but she was looking for something new. I'm not sure what she ended up doing (how'd you cook it mom?), but along the way I suggested a Thai preparation subbing in curry paste for the mayonnaise.

So last night I had to run to the store to get some meat for Jim to grill. The Red Apple had some cute little whole rainbow trout and I grabbed one with a vague idea of wrapping it in foil and cooking it on the grill. I have been reading a Lebanese cookbook and I thought I remembered a whole fish preparation that I could adapt, but after looking it up realized that wouldn't work. So I decided to give the Thai idea a try.

Basically I rubbed the fish with a commercial green curry paste, stuffed it with lime and tangerine slices, and topped it with tomato. Simple. The foil wrapped packet cooked slowly on the grill, as our coals were sort of puny and the fish was off to the side. After about 40 minutes the fish was perfectly cooked to my taste, and had formed an intensely savory sauce inside the packet. I stuffed some parsley and mint in my fish as well, but they were fairly unappetizing after it all cooked, so in the final recipe I recommend adding the herbs fresh after the fish is done.

The fish turned out great and the preparation was super easy and flexible. I'm sure you could do something similar with any smallish whole fish, or a wide variety of meaty fillets. If you don't have a grill or don't feel like turning it on, just use the oven.

Green Curry Rainbow Trout

1 2-3 pound whole fish (such as Rainbow Trout)
1/2 lime
1/2 tangerine
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 ripe plum tomato
minced herbs for garnish (mint, cilantro, and/or parsley)

Start the grill or preheat the oven to 400F. Wash the fish inside and out. Mine had no head but it did have a tail, and I just left it as it was. Make two layers of foil big enough to wrap up your fish and spray with oil.

Place the fish on the foil and spread it inside and out with the green curry paste, focusing more on the inside. You could make 3 shallow cuts on the skin side of the fish if you'd like to get the spices to penetrate more, although I didn't do this so I can't say if it dries the fish out at all. I don't imagine it does. Cut the lime and tangerine into thinnish wedges and pack them inside the fish, squeezing out a bit of the juice as you do so. Slice the tomato into round slices and arrange along the top of the fish. Season to taste with a bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Fold the foil over the fish in a nice little parcel, making sure to crimp and seal the edges. I grilled mine over a fairly low fire - the fish was on the edge of the barbecue as other items came and went - and it took about 40 minutes. You could also put the foil package on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven - I would check it after 20 minutes as it would probably cook quite a bit faster.

To serve, remove the skin, bones, and tail and arrange the cooked fish on a platter. Top with the cooked tomatoes and pour the sauce from the foil package over all. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

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Tomato Confit
May 1st, 2006

Saturday was a cold and blustery day. Ian was off at his grandparents house for a few days, and the house was quiet and fairly serene (it's amazing how much less noise a 6 year old makes when you remove his little brother from the equation). So Jay and I went and saw a movie, and we puttered around in the kitchen. We made a couple of things out of Mollie Katzen's book Salad People, a cookbook designed for cooking with your kids, which was fun even if Jay wouldn't eat the finished product.

Due to recent CSA largesse, I found myself with about five heads of garlic and a bunch of ripe plum tomatoes. Jim was agitating for baked garlic, so I made some of that and decided to oven-roast the tomatoes. I've made and posted Sally Vargas' yummy oven-roasted tomato recipe, but I wanted to try something different. What would I find to post about here if I started repeating recipes just because I like them?

I've had my eye on an Alain Ducasse recipe for Confit Tomatoes in which the tomatoes get cooked at a very low temperature for a relatively short time (two and a half hours, I did say it was relative), so they never get to the leathery hard stage of sun-dried or regular oven-roasted tomatoes. Instead you end up with silky, savory tomatoes that are more the consistency of a roasted bell pepper once it has been stripped of its skin. Because a lot of the moisture is left in they are much more perishable than the drier kind, but I don't think I'll have any left at the end of the week anyway.

This recipe is kind of fiddly - remove the germ from the garlic cloves, individually drizzle each tomato piece with oil, etc. - but there's nothing difficult about it, and I found myself moving very slowly, happily getting into the persnickety details. My only notes would be that he says to blanch the tomatoes for 15 seconds, which worked great for my very ripe specimens, but not as well for those that were a little harder. They needed more like 30 seconds in order for the skins to peel off easily, so you might want to adjust the blanching time depending on the ripeness of your fruit.

For dinner we had little herb toasts brushed with olive oil and baked in the oven until crispy, topped with roasted garlic and these silky tomatoes scented with thyme. It was delicious, a summery antidote to the spring storm outside.

Confit Tomatoes (from The Washington Post)

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