Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eating Words with Horseradish

bobby flay. oy. i am SO not into bobby flay. anyone who would listen to me would hear how much i didn't appreciate or get into bobby flay. although, like howard stern, i respected him for his passion (in his way) to his craft -- the grill, in this instance -- he wasn't my kinda personality.

that is still true. i used to watch his show back in the day when he had this girl, jackie, with him and some celebrity guests at his outside grill and a group of friends or something at his inside dealeeo. jackie was this great tempering agent with him, i thought, simply because i was SOOOO not into him. maybe she was really good, but she's no longer his right hand chickadoo, so who knows? i liked her, though. however, there was that moment when, of course, he hung with martha stewart for an episode of her show and he was like a cat on a hot tin roof, just wanting to cook, cook, COOK, DAMMIT! while martha was about "talking" to her audience while bobby was bouncing off the ceiling. i think bobby probably downed about a quart of mezcale that night or should have, cuz he was BUGGIN'! as much as i couldn't stand him, i was lovin' how his vibe was POURING out of the TV, his fire and intense Brooklyn-ness that has always been a big draw for me (can anyone say "Leader of the Pack" Syndrome?) and, in that one moment, i was on the same page with him. needless to say, by the end of the segment, i was back to being "oy, bobby flay."

but he is a god of the grill.

tonight, i wanted something simple, easy, quick that would still be wonderful. i had taken the last two days off of work so that i could get my head together, chill out in my house and focus on getting our living space situated in a way that would bring us pleasure not grief. please don't ask if i actually accomplished it. i'm really good at living as if i'm moving in two months, even if i'm somewhere for 4 years. don't ask me why. i think i have "the geepsy in my soul" as sid caeser says in CHEAP DETECTIVE (oh, yeah, i'm a HUGE movie freak -- i can quote all of THE GODFATHER, many portions of THE BIG CHILL, huge chunks of THE BREAKFAST CLUB and massive quantities of IN HER SHOES... as well as DIVA and the list goes on and on and on...). anyway, when brandon walked home from school, he opened the door with a big smile knowing i was here (talk about feeling loved?) and holding a new cookbook from my cookbook of the month club, THE GOOD COOK (if you want to be a freakazoid collector of cookbooks like me that your children will one day look through and shake their head in wonder at "how did she get like this?" sorrow, then do it). i opened it up and it was BOBBY FLAY'S MESA GRILL COOKBOOK by, well, Bobby Flay with a little help from his friends, Stephanie Banyas and Sally Jackson. i figured "ah, HA! grill stuff couldn't possibly take me forever, although that flavor step thing with meat can be quite the time consuming deal", went to my locker times 10 sized freezer, pulled out some beef, defrosted it and went about finding something to make that wouldn't make me hate bobby flay more nor take 8 hours longer than i had. i found SPICE CRUSTED NEW YORK STRIP STEAKS WITH MESA GRILL STEAK SAUCE, the said steak sauce recipe to follow.


2 tbs ancho chile powder
1 tbs spanish paprika
1 tbs ground coriander
1 tbs dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp chile de arbol
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 (12 ounce) New York strip steaks
2 tbs canola oil
Mesa Grill Steak Sauce (recipe in book)

1. make the spice rub, combine the ancho powder, paprika, coriander, dry mustard, oregano, cumin, chile de arbol, 1 tbs salt and 1 tbs pepper in a small bowl.
2. preheat the grill to medium-high or preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. brush both sides of the steaks with the oil and season with salt and pepper. rub one side of each steak with about 2 tbs of the spice mixture.
3. grill the steaks, rub side down, until lightly charred and a crust has formed, 3 to 4 minutes. flip over the steaks and continue grilling for 5 to 6 minutes more for medium-rare; the steaks will be bright pink in the middle.
4. spoon some of the mesa grill stak sauce in the center of each of the 4 plates and top with the steaks.

here's what we did:

i used boneless short ribs i had in the freezer. i also substituted the canola oil with olive oil (i'm one lazy girl, sometimes. i did that because i was in the kitchen. the canola oil was in the garage. the olive oil was in the kitchen. so i used the olive oil). i made the sauce, i used the rub and i used my trusty, very well seasoned George Foreman grill.

and how'd it all work?

the Mesa Grill Steak Sauce is AWESOME. i'm not sharing it with you not because i'm being a hagatha and suddenly very protective, but because i'm exhausted. i shampooed the rugs, started cleaning out the garage, baked a loaf of bread, took the dog to the doggie daycare, blah, blah, blah and i'm tired. yep. so typing out a whole other recipe is SOOOO not what i want or can do right now.

buy the book.
i can NOT believe i'm saying this.
buy BOBBY FLAY'S book.
pardon me while i gag a bit.
there really are no simple recipes. a lot of layers of flavors going on and a serious look at what your pantry has to offer is in store with this. bobby flay trusts that you are as astute and amazing as he is, so his recipes reflect this.

yes, i just said bobby flay is amazing.

shut up.

L.A. Woman to the Bone

sunday night's dinner was a brandon recommended variation on one of the recipes we had already done -- the seafood pie. instead of multiple types of cheese, we used a light grating of leftover VERY good gruyere on the top and we added, per mr. brandon, curry. yes, that's right. curry powder was added to the seafood pie for sunday night -- i had promised nicholas i would make it again this past weekend. i do believe i have mentioned previously brandon's love of the indian spices without fully REALIZING how much he loves indian food. he adores it, worships it, loves when i add garam masala, cumin, turmeric, saffron, coriander, curry and coconut milk to ANYTHING i'm making. he adores naan -- we make it a lot -- and since he really loves lamb, he likes whatever i make from my indian cookbooks (madhur jaffrey RULES!). talk about a kid after my own heart. i also made bread. i have gotten into the habit of baking our own bread to cut down on expenses and because i have discovered i have a TON of unspent frustrations that i have to let loose somehow. needless to say, i haven't had a chance to really let those frustrations fly, because (how 90s of me?) i have a bread maker. yes, i do. i have a breadmaker FROM THE 90S, still. yep. everytime i have a garage sale, i THINK about putting it out and i actually DO put it out, but my intent is so strong for someone to PLEASE DON'T BUY IT, that they never do. so, i still have it. and, by whatever, i will use it (i've made 3 loaves of bread so far... and lots more to come as well as the regular way). sunday night was fairly uneventful, foodwise, because of our reworking of what is becoming an old favorite.

monday night was a WHOLE OTHER THANG, boys and girls. and it was an homage to my Los Angeles roots and a favor to my son, nicholas. i asked nicholas to pick me a cookbook that WAS NOT asian (brandon needs a break from that sometimes) and wasn't specifically pasta -- i'm CERTAIN i have told you that nicholas thinks pasta is the only food worth fighting for (did anyone besides my family and our friends call pasta macaroni when we were growing up in the 60s and 70s)? noodles, of any kind, make him weak at the knees. i often wish -- and did while i was partaking -- that he was with me on my last trip to japan when i indulged in a marvelous noodle house in the heart of tokyo and succumbed to the sublime wonder of cold handmade soba noodles accompanied by a delicate dipping sauce at the base of mount fuji after a day of climbing its snowy wonder. ah, man... he would have been in heaven.

nicholas came back with a favorite from my l.a. days, a cookbook put together by the owner/chef of a restaurant i frequented and miss and it brought a misty tear to my eye. the cookbook (whose title completely mesmerized nicholas for what you will see is the obvious reason) is ANGELI CAFFE PIZZA PASTA PANINI by Evan Kleinman. angeli is a restaurant on melrose avenue in Los Angeles (yes, THAT melrose avenue), close to one of my all time favorite places CHIANTI CUCINA (their prawns are to die for). angeli's suppli has often made me swoon (risotto balls deep fried with a small cube of fresh mozzarella inside -- yum), their panini are delightful and their margarita pizza is refreshing because of the freshness of the tomatoes and basil. angeli was once THE PLACE to go on melrose (even though, quite frankly, chianti cucina, and others could kick its culinary patootie, in my opinion) and i had often seen folks being treated as inessentials by the wait staff. whether they do that anymore or not, i couldn't tell you. but i never had a problem, always had great service and wonderful experiences. so i recommend it highly.

but, as i have done so often, i digress...

the recipe i chose, because of the food in my fridge and the time i had, was FARFALLE CON GAMBERI ALLA PRIMAVERA, which, translated, means a Farfalle pasta with Shrimp, Asparagus, Cream, Peas and Basil. true, i had to go and get some asparagus for it, but that was all i had to get and we'll discuss that in a moment. here are the ingredients:


4 tbs unsalted butter
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 bunch thin asparagus
2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1 pound fresh peas, shelled, or one 10-ounce package frozen baby peas
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only. half chopped, half kept whole
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound imported italian farfalle
small handful of grated italian parmesan cheese (optional) and more for the table

what to do:
1. melt the butter in a large skillet and saute the shrimp and garlic until the shrimp turn pink. add the asparagus and continue cooking for another minute or so. add the cream and bring to a gentle simmer. add the peas, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. simmer the sauce until the veggies are just tender and the cream is slightly thickened.
2. meanwhile, cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water until al dente.
3. quickly drain the pasta and place it in the pan with the sauce. add the handful of parmesan cheese, if desired. gently toss the pasta with the sauce over low heat until the pasta has absorbed a bit of sauce. place the pasta in a serving bowl. dust with grated parmesan cheese and serve.

here's what we did:
rich. this was rich and i knew it. we had already been using shrimp and some other stuff for other things and, quite frankly, couldn't do it. just couldn't keep up this rich "laissez faire" thing which, if we lived in france, would be no problem. i am not, by any means, as concerned with all of that, because the way we eat is lots of little bites of marvelous without kicking our butts with transfats in large doses, as possible. one glass of wine a night, dining throughout the day, making sure we sit, chat and enjoy our meal. very important. no, i have not always done that. i have had my share of eat on the run. oh, yeah. i'm a single mom, remember. i am no one's saint. TRUST ME. however, i do believe in true dining. i believe in appreciating meals in a sensuous, all encompassing way from earliest childhood. and, lately, we have indulged that as much as possible. my sons like it TONS. i adore them, even if i suck at showing it sometimes, and it's not the QUANTITY of the food that reinforces that for them, it's the QUALITY of it. when they walk in the door and see that i've made a couple of homemade loaves of bread to put in the freezer for when we need them, they smile at me, knowing it's for them, us, our family, that i make it. i'm glad to be able to do it. you have NO FREAKIN' IDEA how happy i am that i'm able to help us, show them, give them such love in such an essential way.

whoa, did i wax quixotic or what? ANYwho, we changed it up a bit -- yes, i used shrimp -- about 8 oz. the rest was cod. and more cod. i cut the cream down by half and used lowfat chicken broth for the rest -- 1 cup cream, 1 cup chix broth (with some pasta water for good measure -- because it's true, using pasta water really helps your sauce adhere to the pasta, as well as not RINSING your pasta. that smattering of starch is like a magnet). i also ended up using 2 tbs unsalted butter and 2 tbs (probably less, though) olive oil. i also used this high protein, low fat spaghetti instead of farfalle, added several leaves of spinach and created something, i hoped, would still delight my sons. oh, i also didn't use ANY PARMESAN. shocking, i know, since i am a HUGE believer in it, but we needed to chill. the sauce was thinner, but still lovely, it tasted great and it adhered to the pasta wonderfully.

but would the boys like it?

they both had two bowls. full of veggies, lower in fat, no cheese, and loaded with fish. they BOTH ATE TWO BOWLS. not huge bowls. i mean, both nicholas and brandon had SERIOUS workouts that day -- nicholas in a two hour football session and brandon on the treadmill my friend lisa, who is wonderful, let me drag to my house at no extra charge. if you hadn't noticed, i truly appreciate my friends. they are marvelous people and i have not one bad thing to say about any of them. however, (back to the two bowls thing) i wanted to make sure both boys were sated, not full. very importante.

anywho, they freaked out for it. really loved it. and now for my asparagus primer:

asparagus has tough stalks. it's just how it is. i am a great lover of asparagus. asparagus isn't cheap, no matter where you live (unless it's the asparagus capital of the world, i guess) and, because of that, you want to make your asparagus experience as wonderful as possible (also, it makes your pee smell like total yikes). peel those stalks. i will repeat this again. PEEL THE STALKS OF YOUR ASPARAGUS. take the time to do that. i know, how irritatingly cordon bleu of me, but it's true. peel them and if you've never liked asparagus before or had success with it, you will see how this will change your life. just take a good carrot/potato peeler and gently peel asparagus until you get the tough green outer skin off and reveal the tender, light green inner stalk. trust me on this. really. it's a total pain in the ass. oh, man. but, believe me, it changes the dish completely and enhances it. and if food isn't the essence of sensual artistic expression, then i have found the wrong area for indulgence.

maybe i should do drugs...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Onions are a Girl's Best Friend

sometimes, we get jazzed by something we saw on television or experienced somewhere and try to emulate it. in this instance for tonight, we were fired up by both. i got onion soup gratinee in a bread bowl at panera one afternoon and shared bites with my sons. they adored it and asked when we could get it again. we also got really fired up about it when we were watching a TYLER'S ULTIMATE show on onion soup during a rainy afternoon and we all watched this as if it was the greatest film ever made, except we were salivating. i have my share of cookbooks that have wonderful soups in them. tonight, we did something very warming and homey. FRENCH ONION SOUP from THE DAILY SOUP COOKBOOK by Leslie Kaul, Bob Spiegel, Carla Ruben and Peter Siegel with Robin Vitetta-Miller. The Daily Soup is a restaurant, or was (i haven't checked lately) and there's a definite Soup Nazi vibe to the cookbook -- which i mean in a good way. this restaurant takes their soups seriously and so do i. i LOVE soup. another hand me down trait from my dad. and i like to go through the trouble to make them. not everybody does and i respect that. but if you do, here's one of the classics for you. it's a goody.

1 tbs peanut oil
1 tbs unsalted butter
3 lrg spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 lrg red onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 tbs sugar
2 tsps dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 tsps kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 cup tawny port
8 cups basic veggie stock (recipe in book)
1 (3-inch) piece parmesan cheese rind
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1 sourdough baguette, cut crosswise, into 1-inch rounds and lightly toasted
2 cups grated gruyere cheese

what to do:
1. preheat the oven to 400ºF.
2. combine the oil. butter, onions and sugar in a large roasting pan. place in the oven and roast for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until the onions are tender and golden brown.
3. transfer the onions to a large stockpot over medium heat.
4. add the thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and stir to coat the onions.
5. add the port and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
6. add the stock and parmesan rind and bring the mixture to a boil.
7. reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 30 minutes.
8. stir in the grated parmesan, balsamic vinegar and garlic.
9. preheat the broiler.
10. remove the bay leaves and ladle the soup into bowls.
11. top each bowl with a sourdough round.
12. top with the grated gruyere cheese and place under thebroiler. broil until the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 3 minutes.

there's a variation suggestion i will mention at the end.

here's what we did:
instead of vegetable stock we used beef broth. it added a fullness of flavor and weightyness for such a cold evening. we scooped out three sourdough rounds and used them as bowls, which added to the whole experience for the kids for sure and was very yum. roasting the onions brought up their sweetness which gets a boost from the sugar. a note about sugar and cooking: we always use superfine sugar, or caster sugar, to the "in the know." it bakes up well, cooks up well and since we began using it about 6 years ago, i haven't used anything else. we also used french bread rounds instead of sourdough, because, well, just because. i dunno. just an impulse buy. it happens. and it worked out well.

it seems awfully "highbrow", perhaps, to have two sons who swoon over french onion soup. but, really, they just love the bread, the cheese and the flavors underneath. it's a little like a grilled cheese soup sandwich. they don't even notice the onions of it all, although they like the idea of the onions and that they're eating them.

as we were eating, nicholas turned to me and said, "ya know what would be good in this? chicken. could we do this with chicken sometime?"

i gazed at him in awe and told him, "what's so funny, sweetheart, is that's a suggestion in the recipe."

here's the variation The Daily Soup had on the page:
substitute blonde chicken stock (for which they have a recipe) for the veggie stock. poach 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in gently simmering water for 10 minutes. drain and, when cool enough to handle, cut into 2-inch cubes. add to the soup at step 6 and proceed as directed.

my son, the instinctual chef.
of course we'll do chicken next time.
who am i to deny such wonderful culinary insight?

My Sons Are Amazing...

this recipe made me sit up and say "whoa." not many do. no matter how many things i pick and how amazingly faboo they are, rarely do i swoon and say "whoa."

this is one of those.

while i, personally, adored it, it's because my sons FELL APART over it. really.

look or read, as it were:

friday, i got paid and went shopping for food. that first week of my once-a-month paycheck is like winning the lottery. every subsequent week is utilitarian, trust me. so, i picked up a large flank steak, thinking i had some sort of cookbook that would let me make something terrifkick with it, and brought it home. what i found, in another cookbook i use as much as Fannie Farmer called THE COMPLETE MEAT COOKBOOK by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly, was Matambre or Rolled Flank Steak. i really adore this book. it is falling apart and full of oily, stained page from overuse. the little asides are well worth every bit of money you spend on this book, the recipes are WELL WORTH everything. when i got pregnant with my first son, i embraced meat once more (i was almost pure vegetarian before i got pregnant the first time) and if i'm gonna eat meat, it's gonna be well prepared and awesome. cuz, to be frank, eating meat is still not my favorite thing to do.

okay, so, i looked through the book and found Matambre. and i'll tell you how it all worked out in a minute.


flavor step: note: in this cookboook, there are these GREAT flavor steps, which explains how to season your meat to the best flavor possible. told you i love this book.
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsps salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 1-1/2 to 2 pound flank steak (the largest you can find)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

matambre stufing
1/3 lb prosciutto, dry coppa, or cooked country ham, thinly sliced
lrg leaves from a bunch of spinach, stems removed, well washed
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup shopped fresh parsley
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tbs minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly minced parmesan
2 tbs olive oil

1 additional tbs olive oil (if roasting)

1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs2 tbs olive oil
1 cup fresh or canned fire-roasted red bell peppers or pimentos
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

what to do:
1. butterfly the flank steak (it horizontally leaving the meat attached at one end). open it out, cut side up. season the cut side lightly with salt and pepper.
2. to make the stuffing: lay the slices of ham or smoked meat over the cut side of the steak. lay the spinach leaves over teh slices. in a bowl, combine the basil, parsley, bread crumbs, garlic, cheese and olive oil. spread over the leaves and roll the steak up tightly like a jelly roll. tie the roll in several places and brush the outside all over the marinade.
3. to roast in the oven (which we did -- there are also directions for grilling, but you'll need to buy the book to get those. preheat the oven to 350ºF. heat the 1 tbs olive oil in large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. sear beef roll on ALL SIDES (yes. do it. really.) 6 to 8 minutes total. if the pan is ovenproof -- you'll know this if the handle is metal not plastic. if the handle is plastic, then find another roasting pan in which to put your seared beef -- place it into the oven. roast fro 20-30 minutes, check the internal temp. remove the meat when it reaches 120º to 130ºF. cover loosely with foil, let the matambre rest for 10 to 20 minutes. serve with the sauce.
4. make the sauce:
in a food processor, process the almonds to a thick paste. add the bread crumbs, olive oil, roasted peppers, and optional red pepper flakes and process until smooth. taste for salt and pepper.

what we did:

everything was pretty much the same, except we used whole wheat bread crumbs and we used a 2-1/2 pound flank steak. we monitored the time REALLY carefully, because, as i said, my oven is wack. we ended up roasting this, so we seared it in a pan and put it in the oven.

the report card? this rocked the house. the boys couldn't get enough and nicholas ate it before the game that solidified them as the 6th grade 2nd place team for their division. they won 44 to 14. i think the flank steak roll did it, don't you? :o)

elegance is often fun, really. i've been cooking a long ass time and the most elegant are often the most servicable and full of flavor, if you follow your passion.

i followed my passion and my amazing sons came along for the ride.

that was well worth it all.

God Save the Scone

remember how i said, in my opinion, there were three types of cookbooks? well, i was wrong about that as well as what i do believe. i forgot to mention the classics. those books that are tried, true and extraordinary simply because their name (and the legend that surrounds the quality of their recipes) sends "but of course!" sighs through anyone who hears their title. like Betty Crocker (as i mentioned, i have my mother's BETTY CROCKER cookbook from her 23rd birthday, 1958), L'Escofier (which is also a SERIOUS cookbook), THE SILVER SPOON (another serious cookbook that is also a classic), Larousse's French tomes (also serious cookbooks) and Fannie Farmer. I have each of these, in one form or another, and they have never let me down. i open them in silent wonder, caress them with respect and cook out of them, dropping sauce on their pages, oiling up the paper, marring it and seasoning it as you would pans. cook books are for cooking out of, not to sit on your shelf being gawked at and feared. and if you find a cookbook that is SOOOO intimidating, you can't even FATHOM cooking out of it, then put it aside, hold it at the top of your shelf and try something else until you can. really. that is the only reason people create cookbooks. for use. honest.

our recipe this day was out of Fannie Farmer. our Fannie Farmer cookbook is falling apart, held together by a rubberband, stained, overworked, immensely used and a good friend. very much like my mother's Betty Crocker cookbook. And many, MANY others. including Larousse. the recipe i made was CREAM SCONES and, yes, i made them for my buddies at work. very cool.

2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbs butter
2 eggs, well-beaten
1/2 cup cream

what to do:
1. preheat the oven to 425ºF. lightly butter a cookie sheet. mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. work in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. add the eggs and cream and stir until blended. turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about a minute. pat or roll the dough about 3/4-inch thick and cut into wedges. place on the cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.

here's what we did:
we kept the ingredients the same, but we added about 1/2 cup of dried currants. we like currants much more than raisins for ANYTHING, even oatmeal, because they have a more complex flavor, a slight tartness that takes them past raisins, in our opinion. my sons feel the same. they're not big raisin guys. we added them in the kneading and as far as the kneading, here's something to remember when it comes to biscuits, scones and pie crust -- the less you knead and mix in liquid, the flakier and more tender it will be. truly. remember, baking is chemistry -- a meshing of ingredients in the CORRECT ORDER AS MENTIONED IN THE RECIPE that makes it work. kneading creates gluton, which is great when you're talking about bread -- it binds, holds things together and gives it a different sort of crumb, as they call it -- because, if you remember, bread makes crumbs, so CRUMB means texture -- than would be good for tender baked goods. scones are NOT pastry. they are not sweet. they are merely sweeter than biscuits, but, basically, they are another form of biscuits. and when you think about it, biscuits that are flakey and light and fragile are the ones that melt in your mouth and make you feel yummy.

i'll give you a GREAT example of chemistry in baking. my first big baking job was a celebrity wedding cake and 150 THREE TIERED INDIVIDUAL WEDDING CAKES for their wedding. the celebrity? who give s a crap? but i ended up in IN STYLE magazine and in the first IN STYLE MAGAZINE WEDDINGS show on ABC that year. or at least the cake did. ANYway, the actual cake was fake except for the bottom tier they would be cutting. the individual wedding cakes had fondant on them, were adorned with lavendar royal icing flowers that had platinum dragees as their centers and then sprayed with a light spray of platinum edible food coloring spray. ostentatious? absolutely. but, the celeb and spouse wanted it. that's a WHOLE other story.

okay, it's about 3:00ayem the morning of the wedding, my catering partner and i, along with her mom, brother and someone else (i want to say my ex-husband, because it sounds right) are working away in the kitchen. i hear these words come out of my partner's mouth whose job it was to make the fondant: "oops." now, bill cosby does a whole thing about the power of the word "oops." it's powerful. definitely. i turned and saw that my partner had put glycerine in at the wrong time, so the fondant didn't hold. fondant is that pure white stuff that is perfectly smooth that you will see on specialty cakes and on petits fours. petits fours have poured fondant, but it's the same principle. this was lemon fondant, rolled and laid upon the cakes as a smooth surface upon which to place the flowers. she had put the ingredients together in the wrong order and the powdered sugar, a main ingredient of fondant, and the glycerine, another main ingredient (along with gelatin) were put in incorrectly. our fondant, which was the basis of our cakes and we had about 50 more to cover, needed it desperately and i went on a mission. i needed to find the glycerin or, at the least, fondant.

at 3-4 in the morning, bakeries have begun baking. so, i started calling bakeries i knew were heavy on cake making and were known for their decor. i lived in los angeles at the time, so the bakeries i called were sweet lady jane's, known for its cakes, ma maison sofitel, which is a french hotel and has a strong baking staff (fondant is a notorious french ingredient) and hansen's cakes, a classic and legendary l.a. cake place i've gone to since childhood (little aside: one of its locations is in what used to be my preschool). ma maison sofitel told me their master baker hadn't shown yet. sweet lady jane's said they don't really deal in homemade fondant, so didn't have the ingredients (they're famous for their three berry cake luxuriously covered in a whip cream frosting, upon which i will not comment) and i actually went to hansen's at 4:30 in the morning, knocked on their service door and spoke to their lead baker. all i needed was glycerin for the fondant. when i told him i was in need of glycerin for fondant i was making from scratch, he hesitated then laughed, hysterically. he called back to the kitchen staff in spanish, who also laughed uproariously, then turned to me and said the words that made me commit to making fondant from scratch for the rest of my life, "honey, NO one makes fondant from scratch anymore."

none of the bakeries were helpful, but i waited until my baking shop opened and i bought glycerin and, considering i was pressed for MAJOR time, some pre-made fondant. but i've never done it again. i always make it from scratch.

and that is proof to how baking goods, adornments and such need to be followed to the tee. these scones are terrific and lovingly simple. we make them often, as we do other fannie farmer recipes.

the reason they work so well for us is simple. like she says in LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, the reason is "love." we put a lot of love in our food.

no matter what, messy house, crazy life, love gets us through.

i can live with that.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Middle Eastern Freak

my kids and i like a lot of different foods from a lot of different countries. for me, i seek them out. for my kids, they have no idea, just that they like the food. greek food is big for us, indian food, asian (a si've said), italian and middle eastern. yum yum yum yummer. i have been known to build a whole meal around this turkish bread snack called lebneh which is a flat bread baked with ground lamb sprinkled on it as a seasoning. i like how middle eastern cooking is this amazing mesh of scents, flavors and experience. there's such a depth of history, a weight to it all -- so biblical in its essence (and i'm SOOOO NOT religious, believe me) that it seems to just jump off the page when i read about it. it's also the kind of food that is long simmering, slow roasted, infused with an extraordinary grandeur because of the simple steps it has inside to make the dining experience that much better. spiced olives, lovely relishes and flat breads all have the same priority and are treated with the same reverence as a main course. so, tonight, i made this one pot dish called WHEAT BERRIES WITH CHICKPEAS AND CHICKEN from FEAST OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Faye Levy.

2 tbs olive oil or veggie oil
2 lrg onions, coarsely chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1-1/2 to 2 pounds chicken thighs, with or without the skin
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups wheat berries, rinsed
1 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sorted and rinsed
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
7 to 8 cups water (more if necessary)
One 14-ounce can tomatoes, coarsely chopped

what to do:
1. heat oil in stew pan. add onions and saute over medium heat for 12 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. add paprika, cumin and turmeric and stir briefly over low heat. add chicken to onions, sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper, and turn it over to lightly coat it with spice on both sides.
2. add wheat berries, chickpeas, pepper flakes, and 7 to 8 cups water, or enough to generously cover ingredients. bring to a boil. cover and cook over very low heat for 45 to 60 minutes, or until chicken is tender. remove chicken. add tomatoes to casserole. cover pan and continue cooking, adding hot water 1/2 cup at a time, if necessary, for 30 to 60 minutes, or until wheat berries and chickpeas are tender. skim excess fat from sauce.
3. if casserole is too soupy, remove wheat berries and chickpeas with slotted spoon and boil sauce until it thickens. remove chicken from bones, cut it in strips, and return it to pan. taste and adjust seasoning. serve hot.

here's what we did:
our chicken was skinless and boneless and i used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. i also used only one onion, because my older son is not a fan of onions and it still gave the stew a great flavor. but otherwise we kept it pretty faithful and stewed away.

report card states, per my sons and some others, that this is yum. severely yum. it's hearty, warming and just wonderful. that evening, i took it to my book club with some warm pita wedges and it worked GREAT as a dip. a little chevre, creamy goat cheese, sprinkled on top.

this was a great meal. really great. it's getting cold and it was exactly what worked for an evening of chill. this is one of the many dishes we've been able to play with in our middle eastern cooking vibe. we've got our share of cookbooks from the region and our share of love for the food. we did pretty good with this or well or... hell, whatever.

we made a good meal. oh, and here's the cool thing of it all. brandon decided he wanted to make his own sauce to go on his portion and he cut about 1 tbs of white onion, about 1 tbs of sweet red pepper, about 4 leaves of basil, a dash or so of hot sauce, a 1 inch piece of peeled ginger. he mashed it in our mortar and pestle, really pressed it and i left for book club figuring he was going to use it. when i got back, he hadn't put it on his stew, feeling it wasn't going to be any good. i tasted it and it was AMAZING. just the right about of heat, just the right amount of sweet from the bell pepper and a great taste. he hadn't even tasted it. he took one taste and his eyes widened in delight. HE had done this. him alone just on passion and instinct. we agreed a little pinch of salt might be okay, so he did that and it was wonderful. i was so proud of him. both of my kids just go for it, paint with their cooking, so that their personalities shine through.

it was lovely. really lovely.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Harajuku Girl in Training

i was born in the wrong country. i should have been born in japan. i could eat from bento boxes and sushi for the rest of my life and never feel like i was missing something. yum. tonight was kind of crazy, because nicholas had a football game ON A TUESDAY NIGHT AT 8 O'CLOCK P.M. yes, i could have said no, but did i? no. why? because i don't want my kid to think i'm a total jerk. and brandon had football practice that would make the overlap of times REALLY intense. so, i needed to make something yummy and fast. something we would be able take with us. i settled on something excellent and quick... ish... i was SO excited. although i had no idea how my kids would feel about it, but hoped they would like it. kinda had a feeling they would based upon what i know about them.

i have a book i look at, read from and sigh over all the time. it's a serious cookbook. let me explain. i believe there are three categories of cookbooks. you will notice i said "i believe." this is completely my own opinion and since this is my blog, that should be okay (uh, oh... i shoulded... HA!). they fall, in my opinion, into these: pretty and quick with entertainment more than substance; good, servicable and faboo in an accessible way: and seriously serious about culinary craft. l'escofier falls into that, this amazing cookbook put together by vincent price (THE vincent price of pit and pendulum fame) and his wife based upon their travels is like that (it's leather bound, folkses), THE SILVER SPOON (an italian tome of perfection my friend, caryl, got for me and i don't know whether giving her my first born child is enough of a thanks for that or not); and many more i have. this cookbook is all inclusive and completely about the country while dealing with the craft of culinary with a deft and, almost, romantic hand. it's lyrical, like the country from whence it came. one to which i've been able to travel a time or two in my day, almost moved to. it is called JAPANESE COOKING: A SIMPLE ART BY shizuo tsuji. i know i've told you about this thing i do when it comes to asian cooking, which is not to deviate from the recipe, because i respect it too much. here's the recipe i picked CHICKEN-'n-EGG ON RICE or OYAKO DONBURI, a classic, and just see what happens:

6-8 cups hot, cooked rice
4-5 eggs
1/4 pound chicken
2 long onions or 4 green onions

2 1/2 cups dashi or chix broth
6 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbs light soy sauce
3 tbs sugar

what to do:
Prep: (okay, i'm jazzed about this shit. the prep then the cook then SERVE segments. i like them telling me what to do to be ready to complete my dish and how to make it all fabulous for the eye, tastebud, and beyond. i'll explain why in a sec... really)
1. boil plain white rice (we'll get to that in a minute)
2. mix (do not beat) eggs in a bowl lightly with chopsticks or fork and set aside
3. cut boned chix (w/or w/out skin, whichever you like) into 1/4 inch pcs.
4. wash and clean onions. cut diagonally into 1-inch pcs.
1. put sauce ingredients into mid-sized pan, bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, add chix, simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. add onion, simmer 1 minute more and season as necessary.
2. pour the stirred eggs gently, in a stream aound the chix in the simmering sauce. let the egg spread and do not stir it. keep heat at medium high 'til the gg bubbls at edges. then, stir once and the eggs will ALMOST be set, but still a little runny. don't freak. the hot rice will finish the cooking.
to assemble:
1. put about 1-1/2 -2 cups of the hot rice in each bowl -- use deep soup bowls if you don't have an actual donburi bowl which, hello? EVERYbody has. yeah. sure. of course. with a large spoon, spoon the egg, chix and sauce mix over the rice. the sauce will seep down into the rice, but not make it soupy. serve immediately. or, as they say, "with hot green tea. goes well with a clear soup."

here's what we did:

all of it, from the cleaning, making and holding of the rice to the ladling of the dish onto the rice. i had an american diner moment when i decided i would add 1 POUND of chicken instead of the 1/4 pound and when i started chopping, i stopped and looked at what i was making. i LOVE donburi. i mean, adore it. there's a place in l.a. (well, many places) that serves it and it's so amazingly nummy. but i didn't add 1 pound. i added the 1/4 pound and some bean sprouts and this was incredible. i had to pack it up and take it with us to the football game, which was fine. truly good. enough for nicholas to get my promise he would be able to have it to take to lunch. that's a good sign.

here's the deal with all asian food: it is only labor intensive because of the prep work of chopping, marinating and on that goes on with asian food. me, i like that time to touch my food, chop and work with it in the way that will be best for the dish. but, yes, i won't lie. the chopping, especially for someone who only uses the kitchen knife for the most rudimentary purposes or not at all. but there is a seriousness to the knife skill and the whole preparation of the meal. they take their rice very seriously and i do as well. DO NOT use parboiled rice for this or anything, really. and ALWAYS WASH YOUR RICE BEFORE COOKING. let me say that again. ALWAYS WASH YOUR RICE BEFORE COOKING. it gets rid of the starchier elements of rice to make it a cleaner element in the food chain.

i hope you get a chance to see this cookbook and cook from it. lovely, beautiful, and something to which i attain, i encourage you grabbing it and going for it within. yes, really.

The Young Man, the sea and we

let me share a little of my fish history with you -- i grew up eating canned salmon croquettes, canned salmon and eggs, fried fish with tabasco and lemon juice (which, quite frankly, is yummy) and, when my mom was on weight watchers, turbot. oh, and salmon steaks and filet of sole... sometimes. but, for the most part, our fish was canned, fried or fried canned fish that was breaded. i also ate tuna salad sandwiches made with miracle whip and sweet pickle relish.

i don't eat that anymore.

i LOVE fish. i mean, i adore it. i remember the first time i had sushi and it changed my life. it was with my brother's then girlfriend, patty, for whom i will always have a soft spot for a MYRIAD of reasons, not the least of which is introducing me to sushi, and besides the spanish mackeral, which SO didn't work for me (too oily raw), and the California Roll (too much taking away from the crab -- i love crab, so, yeah), i was all about it. i had learned before then the way i liked my tuna sandwiches -- if american, then just a smattering of real mayo, some diced celery, salt, pepper and, sometimes, garlic powder; if greek or italian, some excellent tuna packed in good olive oil, tossed with lemon, fresh parsley, salt, fresh ground pepper and on a crusty roll or the end of a great loaf of italian bread (this i learned when i was 11, but that's SO another story) and the way i liked my fish in general -- i hated salmon for a REALLY long time because of the ick canned aspect, but now revere it and bow to it daily -- i like my fish grilled, broiled, steamed whatever as long as it's treated with love and affection so the flavor of the fish rings through, not the flavor of the shtuff that goes on it. i'm also a MAJOR seafood/shellfish afficianado -- give me some good mussels, an excellently fragrant white wine, cream and herb infusion in which to steam it and i'm WAY in heaven -- and, as a consequence, my older son has a deep love of seafood/shellfish (except for live lobster, cuz he's a little skeeved out by the MONSTERS, as he calls them) because he's a rich food lover, which seafood/shellfish is. my younger son is all about any fish that is grilled, steamed -- just fin fish, as it were. seafood, not so much. and yet, he created this AWESOME seafood stew that is unbelievable, as i mentioned before. we'll go there someday.

anway, fish. here's why i'm mentioning. our meal on monday night came from a cookbook that JUST came my way called THE YOUNG MAN & THE SEA by David Pasternack and Ed Levine. When i got it, i was so excited, because of, obviously, fish. i haven't had a chance to hang with it much, so i picked a recipe that would allow me to incorporate the crab i had leftover from my sunday night pie success -- major successs. i had to promise the chilly-bees they would get it again this weekend (my children... yes, i use bizarre words... what of it?) what i ended up with is NOWHERE NEAR what would have happened if i had bought the one ingredient in the recipe i chose i did not have, but i was pressed for time and what can i say? the recipe we picked was:

yes, sea urchins. just listen.

1 lb dried spaghetti or chitarri
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 oz sea urchins (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)
8 oz jumpo lump crabmeat
1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to finish
freshly ground pepper

what to do:
1. bring large pot of salted water to boil. cook pasta for 2 minutes LESS than package says. reserve 2 cups cooking water, and drain the pasta in a colander. Toss with 3 tbs of olive oil. set aside.
2. transfer pasta water to a large, straight-sided saute pan. add butter and bring o a boil over high flame. reduce the liquite by one quarter, about 3 minutes.
3. add the pasta and toss to coat. use wooden spoon to push the pasta to one side of the pan, add sea urchins to the other side. use the spoon to break up the flesh. add the crabmeat, the remaining tablespoon olive oil, the 1/2 tsp sea salt and several grindings of the pepper. gently toss to combine.
4. divide the pasta among four bowls and season each serving with the sea salt and fresh ground pepper. serve immediately.

here's what we did:
i did not have sea urchin. i didn't know where to get it and didn't have the time. i used our leftover tilapia, poached it in some white wine, a little water, basil leaves, parsley, sea salt and red pepper flakes. poached it for about 10 minutes, flaked it and set it aside. i then finished the rest of it off as the recipe says, but added the tilapia instead of the sea urchin and tossed it with some parmegiano reggiano.

our report card was success. both kids loved it, i served it with a light salad and all was well. i'd like to try it with the sea urchin and i'll tell you why -- i've never had sea urchin. oh, i've had raw jellyfish and some other BIZARRE stuff, but i never had sea urchin at sushi places or anywhere. the look completely makes me go "eeyoo", but i still want to try it, because i want to be open to any food adventure. i don't remember if patty ever ordered it that first sushi night, but my sister has on occasion -- i don't know if she still does -- and it's always made me go "hmm..." and also look at her with a kind of awe that little sister's owe big sisters, i think. my current sushi partner is my sister-in-law whenever i'm in l.a., who is the BEST sushi partner ever. really. but, then again, i adore her regardless, so there. lots of love in the air. ahhh...

okay, so here is how the young man & the sea describes sea urchin, in case you were creeped about trying it, too: "sea urchin... can be scary to the uninitiated. they have a lovely creamy flavor... the sea urcihns intensely flavorful, salty creaminess make it a perfect foil for pasta in this recipe..." so, i will try this again with the sea urchins. just gotta.

creamy saltiness? i dunno.
it's calling my name :o)
amazing to have this love of fish and seafood considering my humble beginnings.
there is hope for all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Best Birthday

i had a birthday today. or have. whatever. i'm 45. middle-aged. HA! what is that? i mean, i don't feel it at all, so i guess that means i'm not. i'm never ashamed of my age, because it's a natural progression of life, ya know? and, trust me, i'm not trying to be cool, centered and focused. believe me. it's just how it is. i'm getting older. everyone does and so it is. my sons, gotta love 'em, decided they would bake me a cake. i was going out to lunch with my friends melissa and katherine, whom i adore -- a little aside, i've made some amazing friends here in kansas. they are exceptional. and, ya know, the older you get the more likely you are NOT to add to your friend base as eagerly as you did at 25 or something. don't ask me why. i'm not a psychologist or sociologist, although i wanted to be way back when. but i've made some cool friends here, and i went out to lunch with katherine and melissa and while i was out, my sons baked me a cake. i was expecting magnificence, because they are SO into cooking and baking. what i got was a ton of love, cute smiles and large hockey pucks. i had to laugh. it was beautiful, because they are. so, we didn't eat that, but it was a valiant effort. but for dinner, i wanted to make something really beautiful, because they are and i got total permission to do so from my sons. i made SEAFOOD TORTA from THE GREAT FISH & SEAFOOD COOKBOOK by Judith Ferguson. this cookbook is SO dated, it looks it. and not in that "classic" way. you know the difference. an ageless thing looks genuinely classic and timeless in its amazing beauty. the binding on a book that time will forever love -- l'escofier's cookbook or some others i have -- is filled with memory and has a look to it that is simply without era. others that are so much a product of their time look like it. you know, the type is of that era, the way the thing is laid out is of that era. you know what i mean. THE GREAT FISH & SEAFOOD COOKBOOK is one of those "of the era" types of things. it was published in 1992, so it's older than my kids. how i got it, i have no idea, since i wasn't that deep into cooking back then. but i have it and this is the first time i have ever cooked out of it. seriously. so let's see how it holds up.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted flour
pinch salt
4 tbs cold milk

4 oz whitefish (plaice, sole or cod)
8 oz. cooked shrimp
4 oz flaked crab meat
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
Lrg pinch hot pepper flakes
salt & pepper
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
chopped fresh parsley

what to do:
1. the pastry: sift the flour into a bowl or onto a work surface. cut the butter into small pieces and begin mixing them into the flour. mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (food processor is another option). make a well in the flour, pur in the milk and add the pinch of salt. mix with a fork, incorporating the butter and flour mixture from the sides until everything mixed.
2. form dough into a ball, knead for 1 minute and chill for 1 hour.
3. filling: cook whitefish filets in the water, wne, red pepper flakes for about 10 minutes or until just firm to the touch. once cooked, remove the fish from the cooking liquid, flake and add to a bowl with the shrimp and crab. reserve the cooking liquid.
4. melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and gradually add the strained cooking liquid, stirring constantly until smooth. add garlic, place over high heat and bring to a boil. lower the heat and cook for 1 minute. add to the fish in the bowl and set aside to cool.
5. on well-floured surface, roll out the pastry and transfer it with the rolling pin to to a tart pan with a removable bottom. press the dough into the pan and cut off any excess. prick the base lightly with a fork and place a sheet of wax paper inside. fill it with rice, dried beans or baking beans and chill for 30 minutes. then bake for 15 minutes in a 375ºF oven.
6.combine egg yolks, cream and parsley then stir into the fish filling. adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. when pastry is ready, remove the paper and beans and pour in the filling.
7. return the tart to the oven and bake for 25 more minutes. allow to cool slightly and remove the pan. transfer to serving dish and slice before serving.

here's what we did:

i'm going to admit something. i used refrigerated dough. yep. i did. and i am SO not a refrigerated dough girl. i love making my own pie crust and get really into the nuances accompanying it. don't knead TOO long or it gets tough. use as little liquid as possible to keep it flaky, and use the approriate fat to flour ratio. there's something so precise and tactile about it, i love it. tonight, however, i wanted to just get on with it. i knew if i did all the steps, we wouldn't eat until about 8:30 which was not an option. not only that, i wanted something as low maintenance as possible tonight and this was one way to get us there. i used two pet ritz pie crusts, which i love above all else, although they're a little too sweet for some things. i let them sit out for 20 minutes, pulled them out of their pie tins, combined them then rolled them out gently. VERY gently on a lightly floured surface. i say VERY gently, because if you work dough too much, it gets tough and gooey. nasty, to be frank. you know those pies you've bitten into and the crust is YIKES! yeah, don't touch this too much. anyway, i did that and laid it into my removable bottom cake pan, not tart pan. i also cooked my shrimp in the same poaching liquid as my fish -- which was tilapia -- and i added, yep, about 1/2 cup shredded parmesan -- parmegiano-reggiano, you know how i am by now -- and some of that mexican cheddar mix, about 1/2 cup as well. i shredded about 1/4 cup of parmegiano into the seafood mix then topped the whole thing off with another 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan and 1/2 cup of the cheddar mix. i also added about 1 cup of fresh broccoli florets that were also chopped, not blanched or anything, just added raw. very yummy. or at least i hoped. um, let's see... and that was it.

report card: major yum. from me, from the boys, from us all. even brandon, who eschews shrimp as a general rule, at it all up and had a second piece. nicholas had two pieces. it was a success and we'll do it again. nummy.

fun little aside, my birthday treat update: my sons were bound and determined to make me something for dessert and give me something special. what loves. so they baked up these pre-measured balls of cookie dough we had bought for brandon's football team fundraiser -- i think i mentioned them before. then, to my surprise, both boys came to me with two different "drinks" which were part white wine (the sauvignon blanc for the fish), part red (a cabernet i had in my wine rack) and a squeeze of lemon juice. quite hearty, to say the least.

but forget all that. the cookbook held up with yummy food and full of love. so much love.

and, as you know, that's what food is all about.

Weddings Are We

we went to a wedding last night. nicholas' big brother's wedding. no, i don't have an older kid. nicholas is involved with Big Brothers of America. it's excellent. he and brandon both have big brothers through them. and it has enhanced and changed their lives. i'm blown away by that, because it seems so afterschool special, doesn't it? but it's not. it's really not.

so i didn't cook. oh, i was gonna. we were going to be home by about 6:30 and i was going to make the tilapia then. however, i had a tire shredding incident on the way home from the wedding. at night. on a barren highway. AAA is also a god to me. knights in shining armor, man. totally. so by the time i got home, not only was cooking not an option, but i was wasted and out of it. i think my sons will forgive me. i hope you will, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


on friday i didn't know exactly what i had planned for our dinner. very fly by the seat of my pants in my mind all day. it was a crazy day at work, crazy with brandon -- oy -- and then i looked at my e-mail, personal e-mail (yes, i know -- during work. shoot me) and saw this subject line in an e-mail from my ex-husband -- UNFORTUNATE NEWS. since i've already received some sizable unfortunate news from him and since we don't correspond unless it has to do with nicholas and brandon, i couldn't even fathom what this could be about. i mean, we don't "touch base" or have any contact regarding our lives on any level besides the basic for the kids, so i wasn't prepared for getting news that my former father-in-law had passed away that morning. he, as my brother said when i told him, was "one of the good ones." bill smith. jesus, it's hard to write without smiling... and crying. billy wayne smith. that's his actual birth name. amazing, huh? tall, strong, lovely man. such a lovely man. and my heart just broke. bill smith was one of the warmest, most delightful and genuine human beings i have ever known. and he didn't let the fact that i was no longer married to his son stop us from having a relationship. he e-mailed me and signed them "dad," which, considering the fact that i had lost my dad long ago and bill didn't have to be that for me beyond what our hearts told us, warmed me beyond reason. and just hearing his voice on holidays brightened them, especially in a new place with no family besides us. it warmed them and made them worthwhile. and he was gone. and i had to tell my sons.

brandon was at a football game with friends and nicholas was with me for the night. i realized i could play this two different ways. i could be straight with him, treat him like the young man he is and let him know his grandfather had died and be there for him. or i could talk around it, treat him like a baby and be all about "nicholas, sometimes in life..." philosophical sweetening the pot stuff. i chose to be straight with him. because nicholas deserves that. so, i told him his grandfather had passed away, i told him how (which, considering how health conscious we are being and involved in the depth of that, was quite excellent to underscore that) and i held him as he cried. as we both cried. and so, instead of flying by the seat of my pants and knowing nicholas was going to be the child with me for the night, i knew i was going to make him something that was his favorite. i would make a chinese meal fit to beat the band. or close.

food is something, isn't it? when you love cooking, love putting your heart into it to create a feeling, an emotion that encompasses you and assuage whatever or enhance, it changes everything. it isn't just about sustenance. it's about communication, connection. love. and, so, i made the following from two different cookbooks. yep, double whammy, folks. feel pretty good about that.

first cookbook SEDUCTIONS OF RICE by Jeffrey alford & Naomi Duguid recipe EGG FRIED RICE and, finally, THE THOUSAND RECIPE CHINESE COOKBOOK by Gloria Bley Miller recipe BASIC BRAISED SHRIMP BALLS. i'm sure you've noticed the shrimp factor in our meals. nicholas LOVES shrimp. i'm a fan as well, but nicholas worships the ground they crawl on. and so we go:

2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp soy salt
2 tbs peanut oil or veggie oil
1/4 cup finely chopped ham or lean bacon (if vegetarian, then use half cup finely chopped fried tofu squares and increase salt to 1 tsp or marinate the tofu for a few minutes in some soy sauce)
2 large scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots (optional)
3 1/2 cups cooked long- or medium-grain rice, cold or at room temp
Cucumber slices for garnish (optional)

what to do:
1. whisk the eggs in a small bowl with salt and soy sauce.
2. Heat a wok over high heat. when hot, add the oil and bacon or salty meat if using (you can use any cured, salty meat that's leftover if you want). Then add the scallions and optional carrots and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the egg mixture and cook for another 30 secs, using your spatula to break up the eggs so they cook evenly. Add the ham, if using, and the rice, and use the spatula aggressively to break up the rice into the eggs. With the back of the spatula, press the rice against the surface of the wok, making sure that all the rice actually comes into contact with the wok, to sear it. Stir fry aggressively for 3 minutes. Turn the rice out onto two individual plates and serve, garnished with teh cucumber, if you choose.

here's what we did:
instead of bacon or ham, which i did not have, i used bulk sausage, which i did. i also added a handful of broccoli florets, handful of bean sprouts, handful of sugar snap peas (would prefer snow peas, but my market didn't have them), and 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced, and a 1 inch piece of ginger, finely diced. i stir fried the garlic and ginger with the scallions and then added the veggies and did the rest of what it says. okay, so that's what we did with that, now on to the shrimp balls -- shut up, all you immature guy friends of mine (and you know who i'm talking to). i know what you're thinking, so knock it off. the report card comes at the end of both. hang with me.

1 pound shrimp
1/4 pound pork
1 tbs sherry
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1tbs cornstarch
2 tbs water
3 tbs oil
3 tbs water

what to do:
1. shell and devein shrimp; mince or grind with pork, then blend with sherry, soy sauce, sugar and salt.
2. blend cornstarch and cold water to aste. add to shrimp mixutre, mixing well. form into walnut-size balls, then flatten each slightly.
3. heat oil. brown shrimp balls lightly on all sides.
4. add remaining water and cook, covered, over medium heat, turning several time, until done (6-8minutes).

here's what we did:
instead of pork, which we didn't have thawed and trying to go lighter on, we used chicken thighs. i measured everything that needed to be measured on my funky little scale thing that cost me nothing, no joke. i'm not one of those people who says "great deal at $250" for something that could easily cost "$9.95" and still work, brilliantly. so, really, this thing cost me probably four bucks. i used mirin wine instead of sherry because, once again, i didn't have it on hand and the rest, as they say, is history. oh, and i didn't flatten the little guys, but they braised BEAUTIFULLY.

okay, now report card and thoughts. nicholas was in heaven. simple and total heaven. this was some seriously yum stuff and he adored it. i pulled out the chopsticks, he sat and relaxed and ate. and we loved bill quietly and wonderfully. SEDUCTIONS IN RICE is an exceptional book, or at least it is in my opinion. i'm a major rice lover. big time. and this book is a terrific addition to my library. THE THOUSAND RECIPE COOKBOOK is terrific as well. and i don't mean that as an afterthought. i mean it is awesome. one of the most wonderful things about it is the way it shows you options for pretty much every recipe in the book. it's terrific and i make my egg rolls out of it as well as dumplings. something about shrimp -- don't forget to devein. DO NOT FORGET. they taste muddy and ick if you don't and if you ask any fish market, even the seafood/fish section at your local grocer, to do it, they should without any issue. it can be a real pain in the ass to do yourself, so ask for help. really. make your cooking experience easy. don't mess with what you don't want to mess with. ask for help from butchers, fish mongers, bakers, etc. that's what they're there for and they will do it. without stress. if they give you issue, then they're not for real, no matter what big of a write up they received somewhere. they look good if your finished dish looks good, so ask for assistance. they love it when you use them for their expertise. it makes them feel special. trust me.

and so, how did this make nicholas feel? he felt good. loved and special, which he most definitely is. i also bought tilapia filets that night because brandon adores tilapia and i'm making them tonight for din. because his heart was broken over bill as well and he needed to know, beyond words, that he is revered. and he is.

i miss bill smith. i haven't seen him in person in over 8 years, but i miss the hell out of him. because he's gone, ya know? and we were going to invite him and his wife, ellen, to thanksgiving and christmas. a formal, mailed invite. i was buying it on friday. i think i'll set a place for him anyway. he was one of the good ones.

he really, truly was.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Workplace Romance

i love the people with whom i work. honest. they made my moving here from los angeles two+ years ago ("here" being kansas -- that's right, i said kansas. what of it?) a much easier transition than it could have been by being just excellent humans. they make me laugh, they laugh with me (and at me, thank goodness, because i definitely need to be brought down to earth now and then) and they give good gab. (how alliterate am i? hell-oh-oh?) this may be shocking for some people considering the fact that most people hate their jobs, have at least ONE person in their department who makes them CRAZY and well, you know the drill. while i like my job and that's DEFINITELY cool, it's these folkses that make it freakin' awesome to show up every day. every. single. one of them.

what, you are saying, does that have to do with tonight's recipe? patience, young paduan learner.

nicholas had a band concert tonight, first of the school year and i was running late getting home from work. seems to be a theme here lately... hmm... brandon was supposed to have football practice, but because of the rain last night, it was cancelled. i wanted to make something yummy, but i knew there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY i was going to be able to finesse some faboo meal in pretty much 15 minutes. i also hadn't done the research on our food possibilities last night, which i've kind of started doing in the midst of this, so i was totally flying by the seat of my pants when i got home. i knew i had some fully functional (and decidedly meaty) Hebrew National Knockwurst in the fridge as well as some fresh italian sausages from Whole Foods in the freezer, the leftover potatoes baked with parmagiano and some good salad stuff, but i wanted to make sure i kept to my goal of cooking out of a cookbook each night. and, yes, i know the night nicholas made us dinner and i made the lemon cake don't really count cuz nicholas created the recipe and the lemon cake is from the internet, but let's not get into that. i grabbed a book and looked through and found the perfect thing... or so i hoped. The book is HOW TO BAKE by Nick Malgieri, who is also the guru of my chocolate world (which you'll discover soon enough) and the recipe i settled on based upon what i had on hand, people, is CHEDDAR SHORTBREADS. i figured this would be a nice little nosh to have after dinner, wished i had some pals here who are over the age of 21 to enjoy a crisp chardonnay or pinot gris (i don't think giving my two sons glasses of wine at their age -- at least here in the You Ess of Ay -- is really so smart, at least not on a school night) then went for it.

here's the deal:
8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup coarsely gratted)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

(you'll also need two two jelly-roll pans or cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper

what to do:
1. Cut the butter into 10-12 pieces and place in food processor. coarsely grate the cheese and add to the processor. pulse until well-mixd, but be careful not to overmix and soften the butter too much. add the salt, mustard and paprika, pulsing to mix them in.
2. add the flour to the processor and pulse until the butter and cheese have absorbed all the flour. remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and press together.
3. roll into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
4. preheat the oven to 350ºF about 20 minutes before baking.
5. cut the cylinders of dough into 1/4-inch slices and arrange them about 1 inch apart on the pans.
6. bake for about 15 minutes, or until pale golden brown. remove and cool on a rack.

makes about 36 cookies

here's what we did:
first of all, if it tells you to use parchment paper on your cookie sheet for cookies, do it. i know when you're baking and making a cake or something that needs parchment paper, you can usually get away with wax paper in its place. recipes even offer it as a choice. not cookie baking. trust me on this -- and i know this, i always know this, but i had no parchment paper tonight, so i used wax paper and as the cookies baked, all i could think was "ya now, those are gonna be tough to get off cuz of the melty wax factor." which, they kind of were, but none of them broke and all's well.

anywho, we used a mixture of sharp cheddar, monterey jack and queso cheeses -- you know, that mexican cheese mix you get at the grocery store. told you i was grabbing whatever i had on hand. as i've mentioned, when it comes to baking, i tend not to fly too wild or stray too far from a recipe. this was no exception except for one thing: i topped the cookies with shredded cheese after 5 minutes of baking in my evil oven and then baked them for another 2 minutes so they got even cheesier and melty good. when i told my sons what kinds of cookies i was making, brandon dreaded them, because i have another cheese cookie recipe he's tasted before and he didn't really like it. "not cheesey enough, mom," was his comment and i wanted to slug him, but i didn't. because i'm a good mom and i would also get in trouble, because he's a tattletale. this time, however, both nicholas and brandon munched one then asked for another then requested them for their lunchbox tomorrow then asked for more tonight -- even though i had "pre-measured, bought to achieve my football team fundraising goal, didn't make myself and fine by me cuz it's one less thing to worry about although my monolithic sons (nicholas is 5'7" and brandon is 5'6" at ages 12 and 11, respectively) keep eating the raw and frozen' cookie dough in the oven baking for them. it made me seriously smile and feel good about finding another recipe for the same thing that we liked better.

that's the fun thing about recipes to me. cookbooks in general, actually. no two recipes for the same dish are going to be alike and it's fun to have a battle of the kitchen with them. this one triumphed over the other, but i have gotten rave reviews for the other one also, so who knows? and Nick Malgieri's books are elegant in theme without being fussy in execution or presentation. i always feel like such a food network chef when i cook from them because of it. and i mean that in a good way.

to be perfectly honest, the real reason i chose tonight's recipe is so i could make something to bring to work tomorrow for my friends. i've already put a few in brandon and nicholas' lunchboxes, so they're covered. but this is a little salty something for my partners in workplace romance.

and THAT'S what it has to do with tonight's recipe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tyler Florence is a god

it's raining tonight. it's been raining all day. hard. brandon's been out of sorts since last night -- some deep seeded woe needed to come out -- and nicholas' football game from saturday that was rescheduled for tonight was cancelled. i'm a little stressed these days and was feeling a bit put off about what to cook. i try to keep my pantry well-prepped, as well as my freezer, fridge and dry goods area, but these days, well... i'm kind of exhausted and trying to hold out until payday. i'm low on WAY too many things, although in the world of dried spices, that's not so bad. at least they won't lose their potency. as a quick aside, keeping spices for more than a couple-ish months isn't the greatest thing in the world, so if you can stop holding onto them for years, it'll make a difference in your cooking life. they're not really supposed to be passed down from one generation to another like a great cast iron skillet or your grandmother's wedding ring. that cinnamon you've had for the last 15 years doesn't taste like cinnamon anymore, trust me. neither does that nutmeg, paprika or italian seasoning. and the tumeric you keep moving from house to house? yeah, that's pretty much the same as yellow chalk right about now.

but i totally digress. we grabbed TYLER'S ULTIMATE cookbook by the ever brilliant, very fun Tyler Florence. i also have his TASTE THIS BOOK, which is FAB-U-LOSITY times ten. oh, yeah. and, well, he's really cute. but... okay, anyway--

tonight we went for LEMON CURRY CHICKEN, because, as i have mentioned, i have TONS (okay, not literally, but you know what i mean) of chicken in my deep freeze and it would take no time to defrost and cook up. this tangy indian scented dish looked like it would be a breeze, so it was the choice after a long, wet day.

1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces

2 cups plain yogurt
2 tbs curry powder
grated zest of 1 lemon and its juice
1 tbs toasted sesame oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

what to do:
1. preheat the oven to 400ºF. rinse the chix and pat dry with paper towels -- although, as you know, one of my other recipes said "DON'T WASH THAT CHIX", but you do what you need to do to make yourself feel safe. definitely.
2. stir the yogurt, curry powder, lemon zest and juice, sesame oil, and salt and pepper in a big bowl. add the chix and toss gently to coat with the yogurt marinade. put the chix on a baking sheet and roast, basting with the remaining marinade twice as it cooks, until the chix is tender and cooked through, about 45 minutes.

here's what we did:
i was in a hurry, i was tired, i didn't want to think about doing anything. so, i didn't. i didn't even cut a whole chicken up. i just took five thighs and five legs and used them. i had everything else and even though his recipe calls for making a yummy Mango-Basmati Rice Salad to go with this, i heated up some leftover french fries from saturday night, cut up a couple of oranges to go with this and served. this chix was tangy delicious, light tasting and just right for a cool night.

report card:
brandon and nicholas ate 4 pieces and asked for more. i think we did pretty okay. they are now munching away on some rice cakes with peanut butter as their dessert, done with homework, letting our dog, sunflower, lick their fingers -- whatever -- and just chillin'. it's one of those nights for just laying low. i'm down with that for sure.

check out tyler florence every chance you get. his shows are good, his cookbooks full of delicioso yummers and his whole vibe when you watch him just great. jamie oliver, whom i miss terribly, is another one i really adore with that same accessible, on your side, having a total blast cooking kind of thing going. you may not like tyler when you see him, but i definitely do. not just because he's incredibly fun to look at -- although, yes, he is -- but because the man knows how to cook and make it look fun.

i know that's why i do it.
check you tomorrow.

Parmagiano Reggiano Love

last night, we made a simple steak -- grilled on my george foreman grill (which sits on top of my countertop and is used FREQUENTLY -- who knew?), marinated in just a bit of olive oil, season salt, chopped garlic, thyme and fresh ground pepper. i put together a light salad of wild greens and champagne dressing to which i added the Potatoes Baked with Parmigiano (Patate al Forno col Parmagiano).

as i said yesterday, this is a recipe i took from Biba Caggiano's cookbook BIBA'S TASTE OF ITALY and here's how the recipe went:

6 large boiling potatoes (5-5 1/2 pounds)
small pinch of freshly ground nutmet
3/4 cup milk
salt to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2-5 tbs unsalted butter

what to do:

1. place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat until they're tender, but still firm when pierced with a thin knife. , about 30-35 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.
2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Butter a large baking dish.
3. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them, let cool to room temp then cut them into 1/4-inch rounds.
4. Layer potato slices in the baking dish, slightly overlapping them. (potatoes can be prepped to this point and refrigerated.) mix the nutmeg with the milk and pour over potatoes. season lightly with salt. sprinkle generously with the parmigiano and dot with the butter.
5. put baking dish on middle rack of oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are light golden on top, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve warm or at room temp.

here's what we did:
we used russets instead of boiling potatoes, but these worked well. nicholas grated about 1 cup of parmagiano-reggiano and i did a mix of low-fat milk and cream for the milk. 1/2 cup low-fat milk and 1/4 cup cream. everything else remained pretty much the same and while we seasoned and sprinkled the 1/2 cup of cheese like the recipe said, once it came out of the oven, i sprinkled on more cheese for serving.

report card:
this is a VERY simple potato dish, kind of like a galette, and was just delicious. it had the great flavor of the potato, the flavor of the parmagiano-reggiano and was just clean and fresh and warming. nicholas and brandon devoured it with delight, it tasted great with the steak and salad, the champagne dressing a wonderful compliment to it all. i recommend this highly for any meal. it would work great in leftovers with some turkey or sausage, prosciutto and ricotta for a gratin or something. we're going to do something tomorrow night with it to see what we can turn this into from the one recipe.

i remember when i was a kid and my mom would make potatoes au gratin with huge chunks of leftover baked ham, sliced onions and cheese with a cream sauce. it was one of my favorite dishes. she made a KILLER ham -- secret fam recipe, so you'll just have to imagine it -- and putting the leftovers into the casserole gave it a great smokey, hearty flavor. these days we tend to go lighter, but i'd like to see if i can give my kids the same feeling my mom gave me whenever she made this, which was just a feeling of love and such caring. that's what made my mom's cooking so good. it was her spirit. she has a great spirit, although she doesn't cook anymore. she's more a diner these days. a very good diner :o)

so far, so good and still very fun. let's see what else we can come up with.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stop 6 -- The Chinese Express with a Twist

my older son, nicholas, and i could live in a chinese restaurant and never get bored. truly. it's actually kind of a morris family trait, my family, and something nicholas inherited -- brandon, not so much. he's more of a pizza and whatever he contributes to kind of guy. when my family travelled through thailand and nigeria when i was a kid, one of the restaurants that saved us on occasion was something called cafe de chine... in both countries. no shit. there were two cafe de chine's and they happened to be in the same spots we stayed in. both were exceptional, both made us want to eat there every night, which we sort of did, and both made me forever and always a staunch chinese food advocate. so, for dinner on monday night, my goal was to make us a great stirfry and homemade egg rolls to really sink our teeth into. i was going to make a chicken and shrimp stir fry with some of the bok choy i still had left over and some bean sprouts, some other stuff, then some egg rolls from my well-worn, much beloved cookbook, THE THOUSAND RECIPE CHINESE COOKBOOK by Gloria Bley Miller. this is one of those marriage gifts that i always thank my ex-husband for. oh, man. so that was the plan, until i get a call at about 4:30 from nicholas as i'm finishing up work, rushing to leave so i can get home in time to get them both to football practice that he "made you dinner, mom, so you don't have to." nicholas is 12 and he had stir fried the chicken and shrimp in his own way, tossed them with some leftover noodles and had this feast for me when i got home. i heard that and just about cried, it was so sweet and when i did see what he had done, i was blown away.

both my sons love to cook, a lot. it's fun for them, they learn new things and they love that we're SERIOUS about it. the following recipe is the closest estimation i can make of what my amazing kid did for me and while, yes, i love him and, yes, i would appreciate anything he does for me, it did taste GREAT. so here it is:

nicholas smith's stir fried chicken and shrimp with noodles
1-1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp chinese 5 spice powder
1 lb spaghetti noodles
3 boiled eggs
olive oil

what he did:
nicholas is a lover of all things pasta and olive oil, so not understanding the asian vs. italian vibe, he stir fried the chicken and shrimp in a hot skillet with olive oil and the soy sauce until it was cooked through and he made sure it was cooked through. he then added the cooked noodles -- which were multi-grain, high protein noodles -- and tossed it. when we reheated it, i sprinkled on a bit of the chinese 5 spice powder and added some bok choy i had stir fried with the olive oil to keep it uniform with taste and boiled 3 eggs to add to our bowls. it's an old habit with spaghetti for me, something i learned when i was a little girl, and i love it. the addition of the olive oil gave a delightful fruitiness to the dish that went well with the soy sauce. i could swear nicholas did more than just season everything with soy sauce, but he swears he didn't and i realized it was the olive oil that had changed the structure of what could have been this one note thing to something new and exciting. it really was incredibly yum and he cooked the chicken and shrimp perfectly. unbelievable. it was great.

a little note: when i was little, my father worked on a television show and every once-in-awhile he would come home with these amazing italian dishes one of the crew members' mom would make for us. he would bring home authentic lasagna, chicken cacciatore, veal parmesan, chicken parmesan and spaghetti sauce with sausages and boiled eggs. he told me that the boiled eggs were sicilian meatballs -- mrs. minagucci (and i pray i'm remembering her name and spelling it correctly, because she was incredible) was sicilian. he said that when times were lean, they used the boiled eggs instead of meat and that was what they called them. it changed me forever with spaghetti and as i perfected my own sauce, i have never made it without boiled eggs. i make my own meatballs now and my own sauce, but i always, always have my spaghetti with boiled eggs, even when i was single and i was just doing a quickly spaghetti with olive oil. i recommend it highly and will keep the memories of how much this meant to me and what my father and i shared because of it always.

tonight, we're doing just a basic steak kind of deal -- a little garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme then grilled -- but our side dish will be POTATOES BAKED WITH PARMIGIANO (Patate al Forno col Parmigiano) from BIBA'S TASTE OF ITALY by Biba Caggiano. Nicholas is grating the parmigiano reggiano right now -- i always keep that, fresh mozzarella, ginger root, garlic bulbs and a really good olive oil around my house, splurging on that and a few other things for my kitchen without fail -- so i'll let you know how that goes.

cheers and bon appetit, everybody!

Doubling up-- Stops 4 and 5 -- Soup and Dessert

i missed a couple of days, so i thought i'd double up. it rained like mad this past saturday and our two football games got cancelled, but that saturday night, since it was raining, we pulled out one of the soup books and tried something we'd never made before. whenever soup is on the menu, my sons kind of look at me in dazed amazement, not quite knowing whether they'll like it or not. brandon, my younger son, created this amazing seafood stew over the summer that i'm still dreaming of (he's 11 and i've got it written down, so i'll share this with you. it really is fabulous and i'm so proud), so i knew he would be up for it. if it isn't some kind of noodle soup, nicholas is always a little suspect... then tries it and usually goes for it. but that night, i still had the defrosted lamb and i definitely didn't want it to go to waste, so i wanted to find something that would use that and be quick, not an all day simmer sort of deal. it was kind of late in the day when i pulled the cookbook and i was blown away when i found this Lamb Mulligatawny Soup in this particular soup book, SOUP: A WAY OF LIFE by Barbara Kafka. every book i quote from, by the way, i recommend you try for yourself. even if one of the recipes WE try doesn't work out, i guarantee it's a blast to check them out for yourselves and see wassup, if you're into that sort of thing. this is a CRAZY great book, because i am deeply into soups. i have a couple of soup books, you will discover, and tons of soup recipes from other books. i get that love from my dad. it's definitely one of my favorite meals and things to eat.

we do a lot of Indian cooking, although my sons have no concept that we do. brandon is WAY into curry. he adores the taste and nicholas, my cook experimenter, likes to play with flavors. here's how the recipe goes:

5 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
4 tsps very finely chopped peeled ginger
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 tbs curry powder (preferrably East Indian)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/2 inch dice
6 cups Lamb Stock (you'll see)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium rib celery, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1-1/2 cups red lentils
1 tbs kosher salt
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

what to do:
1. puree the garlic, ginger and 1/4 cup water in a blender.
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the spices, cooking for about 1 minute to release the aromas. Stir in the lamb. Raise the heat and cook, stirring, until the lamb begins to brown, being careful not to burn the spices.
3. Stir in the stock, garlic/ginger mixture and the veggies. Bring to aboil then lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the lentils and simmer for 8 minutes or until the lentils and lamb are tender.
4. Season with salt, lemon juice and pepper.

here's what we did:
we pureed the garlic, ginger and water in our food processor, because our blender broke a couple of months ago and we haven't gotten a new one yet. another wish for christmas. we didn't have any carrots or celery -- and, i have to admit that while i am a lover of soup and love to make it from scratch, i despise cooked carrots and always have to convince myself to use them in my mire poix. yes, i know. if you are a serious french chef or a culinay student of any kind, you will be appalled at me, but i'm just sayin'. i did, however, have some yummy baby bok choy, so we chopped that up and since brandon was helping me, he decided he wanted to toss the lamb in some flour for thickening before we browned and upped the curry level a bit. told you he loves curry. we also had some left over brown rice from our garlic allioli chicken a couple of days ago and added that to the whole thing. i didn't have time to make the lamb stock, so i used beef consome i had in the cabinet and the rest, as they say, is history. we served this with some pita chips and a light salad and, yes, success. the boys devoured this, it was quick, easy, SO delicious and hearty. brandon was VERY proud of his tossing the lamb with the flour and how well it went, so he is a huge believer in his abilities. lovely :o)

next night, we made something that we had pulled off line from the Barefoot Contessa television show, Ina Garten, whose cookbook i do have and will show up here sooner or later, but it was a lazy sunday afternoon, we had brandon's game rescheduled that evening for 4:00 and none of us were too into doing too much. so, i hooked us up with some tadpoles (ya know, hot dogs baked in refrigerator croissant dough -- yeah, but it's total kid fare), frozen french fries (again, a total kid and guilty pleasure), a salad and made this unbelievably yummy lemon yogurt cake as a sweet treat for the boys after a long and rather intense weekend. it is AWESOME and here's the lowdown:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt -- we have this a lot in our house, because we make a lot of fresh naan, lots of greek food, indian food, turkish food -- hell, all around middle eastern food, cuz it's yum, people
1-1/3 cup sugar, divided (1 cup in one bowl and the 1/3 in another)
3 extra large eggs
2 tss grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup veggie oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
2 tbs fresh lemon juice

what to do:
preheat oven to 350º and grease an 18-1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2 in ch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper then grease and flour the whole thing.

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in one bowl. in another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, eggs, zest and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, fold in the veggie oil making sure it is completely incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepped pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a cake tester placed in the center of the cake comes out clean.
2. While that's baking, cook the 1/3 cup of lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup of sugar in a small pan just until the sugar dissoles and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
3. When the cake's done, take it out of the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. take it out of the pan and put it on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan. While the cake's still warm, pour the lemon-sugar syrup over the cake and let it soak in. Cool.
4. Once the cake is cooled, you can make the glaze. Mix the confectioner's sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth then pour it over the cake and serve.

here's what we did:
when it comes to baking, i don't mess around too much. this stuff is pure chemistry and i sucked in science, but i love to bake. so, sometimes, i will go out of the box a bit and in this case i did a mix of lime and lemon, heigtening the flavor -- my opinon, i know, but whatever -- and giving it more depth. i also always use superfine sugar for baking and make sure my ingredients are room temp. they blend better, so i've learned, been told and discovered. my oven is WACK! as in, it's set at 350º and bakes something that should bake for almost an hour in 35 minutes. so i have to watch this sucker like a hawk, but it came out great, beautiful and happy. this is a moist, yummy and lowfat kinda cake, cuz of the yogurt and lack of pretty much any sort of bad fat, and it's great with tea, milk, coffee and a bad ass glass of wine. my sons were happy, i was happy, and life was goodish for a tiring sunday night battling homework.

as a total aside, this would make a terrific gift cake, something you could bring into work or send to a friend. it holds up really well and does sort of brighten your day with the flavors and ease. okay, see ya later. on to the next.

Japan Returned -- Continue from Stop 3

sorry, got derailed although i kept up with the cooking. really.

okay, so the cabbage rolls. here's what happened with those:

the actual recipe goes something like this:

1 head green cabbage, outer layer of leaves discarded
5 green onions, including tender green tops, thinly sliced
2 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
1/4 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into small pieces
1/4 pound ground pork
1-1/2 tsps ginger juice -- you grate fresh ginger into a bowl and squeeze it, getting juice. pretty cool.
1/2 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 tbs sake
5 cups reduced-fat, low sodium canned chix broth
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
5 tbs mayo

what to do:
1. Put the cabbage into boiling water, submerging it and when it returns to a boil, take out the cabbage and place it into a colander to drain. Reserve 5 tbs of the boiling water for the sauce, although you might not use all of it.
2. When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, peel off 8 really nice leaves that have smaller spines without tearing them. put them on some paper towels to absorb any excess water -- cabbage LOVES to hold water, all leafy greens do. If you can get more than 8 leaves, that's great, just in case you have extra filling.
3. Combine the green onions, bread, shrimp, pork, ginger juice, 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper and sake in a bowl. Mix with your hands until evenly distributed.
4. Heat the chix broth in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. While it heats, stuff your cabbage rolls: lay the leaf so the stem is facing you. put 2-3 tbs of the filling in the middle of the leaf and fold the edge closest to you over the villing to cover it, fold in the sides then roll up the leaf. secure it with a toothpick GENTLY so you don't tear the leafe and place it to the side. repeat to make 7 more rolls.
5. your broth is probably on a slow boil by now. so carefully add the cabbage rolls to the pan, where they usually fit in one single layer. Cover the pan and cook until the cabbage leaves are very tender, NOT disintegrating -- about 30-35 minutes. you can pus them a bit with a fork or chopstick to test it and when the leaf is very easy to pierce, they are ready. taste the broth and season with salt to your liking, if needed.
6. stir the ketchup, 3 tbs of the reserved cabbage cooking liquid and the mayo together in a small bowl until well combined. if you've got extra rolls, then you'll probably want that extra 2 tbs of cabbage liquid to stir up more sauce.

SERVING: Place 2 rolls in a bow and ladle some broth over until it reaches halfway up the sides of the rolls and drizzle a little sauce on top of the rolls. this serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an appetizer. serve immediately.

we didn't have pork thawed, but lamb and we tried that . we also didn't have white bread, but wheat and did that. it was yummy. there was an earthier taste to it with the shift in those two ingredients and it played well with the cabbage and broth. even my sons who don't like cabbage loved it and i took the left over cabbage, shredded it, chopped up a honey crisp apple and tossed the whole thing with some salt (1/2 tsp), 1/4 cup rice vinegar, a tbs sugar (super fine) and 1/2 tsp soy sauce and the left over ketchup mayo. the mixture was a combination from another recipe in the book -- cucumber and shrimp vinegared salad (sunomono) with a new twist. it went really well with the broth and cabbage roll.

one of the deals with asian cooking is the chopping. i happen not to mind it, because i lose myself for awhile in the prep. however, it can be tedious for some. i think, though, that you'll find this dish really worth any trouble. it is nothing like the cabbage rolls i remember, that's for sure, and i could eat these all day.

pick up amy kaneko's book if you are at all interested in accessible japanese food. excellent stuff.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


'kay, first of all, the next book we picked out was one that is something we cook out of a ton. it's my absolute favorite food in the world and what blew me away about this book when i got it was how accessible it made something i revere to the point of NEVER deviating from the recipes to try my own thing unless i've cooked them time and time again. i worship this woman for doing this cookbook, truly, and if i ever meet her, i am totally picking her brain. here's the book:

LET'S COOK JAPANESE FOOD! Everyday Recipes for Home Cooking by Amy Kaneko

the dish: MAYUMI NO RORU CABEGI or Mayumi's Cabbage Rolls
cabbage rolls. in all of my life, this dish has always been one of my least favorites... and it's not the cabbage. i'm all about cabbage. it's the stuff that always goes inside, really heavy meat, rice, sauce, whatever -- i always lose the cabbage. so taking on the cabbage rolls for me -- and my sons, who don't really like cabbage -- and turning them into something we like or anyone could like was a challenge. so... let's see.

oops, gotta go take the boys to football. i'll be back and finish this up.