Category Archives: From the Kitchen

garbanzos and greens


These gray rainy days have me constantly craving all things spicy and/or brothy. A couple weeks ago I satisfied this by making a delicious Malaysian Curry Mee. Then when I was in LA last week, I had the best ramen of my life at Daikokuya. But after attending a workshop on goat butchery, I started thinking about birria. Yes, it was definitely time for a spicy Mexican soup.

There are a lot of good traditional Mexican soup recipes out there, but sometimes being a busy mom means taking shortcuts and working with what you have on hand. Right now I have a lot of chard growing in my garden so I knew I wanted to start with that. A little web research resulted in a very simple recipe for a Mexican-inspired Garbanzo and Greens Stew from Cooking Light (besides the health benefits I’ve found their recipes are always very well tested). This just meant picking up some chorizo from the store and everything else I had in the pantry.

The recipe only took about a half hour to make and then another half hour to cook. Very simple and very tasty and definitely helped fight off the winter blues. Oh, and instead of using queso fresco I substituted crumbled goat cheese as my little nod to the birria I had been dreaming about.

curry me(e) up!

Now that we are finally getting some consistently cold and rainy days here I've started craving big steaming bowls of soup, preferably spicy. About a month ago (when it was still unseasonably warm in northern California) the NY Times ran an article about Southeast Asian soups that caught my eye. Now that winter is actually upon us I am all geared up to start busting out some of these recipes. Today I made their version of Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee) which really hit the spot–hearty, silky (from the coconut milk), crunchy and spicy. Great taste. Great mouthfeel. Very warming and nourishing.

If you're looking for more recipes in this vein, Leemei Tan of mycookinghut.com also has an amazing Curry Mee (aka Curry Laksa) recipe on Rasa Malaysia–both great Southeast Asian food blogs.

Soups like these almost make dreary grey days enjoyable!

a day in the life of chard

And so the unsuspecting chard plant started the day, happily growing in the garden…

not knowing she was destined for my kitchen table to fulfill her destiny as dinner.


One of the (many) great things about growing your own food is that when you return home tired at the end of the day and have no idea what to cook for dinner, all your have to do is look out your window for inspiration. The chard was so exuberant today I couldn't resist.

After a quick trip to the yard, I rooted through the pantry and found some Israeli couscous, an onion and some sun-dried tomatoes. That plus some homemade chicken stock and I had dinner ready in about fifteen minutes. That's almost faster than a drive-thru. Gotta love that.

stealth cauliflower

My kids are pretty used to eating a wide variety of tastes and flavors but there are a few things, like cauliflower, that I have a hard time getting them to enjoy. Since we do our best to try and eat local produce as much as possible (and when we can’t, we stick with the seasonal vegetables that would be growing in our area at the time) that means that even here in sunny California there isn’t a lot of variety in winter. Potatoes, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts…you know…

So tonight I tried my hand with a new form of cauliflower subterfuge. I made a gratin with béchamel , served it over elbow macaroni and passed it off as Mac & Cheese. The kids gobbled it right up! I can understand why as I had two heaping portions myself.

Gratinéed
Cauliflower with Béchamel Sauce

(adapted from Marcella Hazan’s, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
)

for 6 servings:

1 medium head cauliflower, about 2 pounds
Salt
Béchamel Sauce (see below)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano‑reggiano cheese
Whole nutmeg
An oven‑to‑table baking dish
Butter
for smearing and dotting the baking dish

1. Boil and drain the cauliflower: Detach and discard most of
the leaves, except for the small, tender inner ones. Cut a deep cross into the root end. Bring 4 to 5 quarts of water to a rapid boil. The more water you use the sweeter the cauliflower will taste and the faster it will cook. Put in the cauliflower and when the water returns to a boil, adjust heat to cook at a moderate boil. Cook, uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain immediately when done. Separate the florets and cut them into bite‑size slices about ½ inch thick. Put them in a bowl and toss them with a little salt.

2. Preheat oven to 400′.

3. Make the béchamel sauce (see below). When it reaches a
medium density, remove it from heat and mix in all but 3 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan and a tiny grating of nutmeg‑‑about 1/8 teaspoon.

4. Add the béchamel to the bowl with the cauliflower and fold
it in gently, coating the florets well.

5. Smear the bottom of a baking dish with butter. Put in the
cauliflower and all the béchamel in the bowl. The dish should be able to contain the cauliflower pieces in a layer not more than 1 ½ inches deep.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and dot lightly with butter. Bake on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven until a light crust forms on top, about 15 to 20 minutes. After taking it out of the oven, let the cauliflower settle for a few minutes before serving.

Béchamel Sauce

A smooth, luxuriantly creamy béchamel is one of the most
useful preparations in the repertory of an Italian cook and it is easy to master, if you heed three basic rules. First, never allow the flour to become colored when you cook it with the butter, or it will acquire a burnt, pasty taste. Second, add the milk to the flour and butter mixture gradually and off heat to keep lumps from forming. Third, never stop stirring until the sauce is formed.

About 1 2/3 cups medium‑thick béchamel

2 cups milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 tablespoons all‑purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Put the milk in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium low,
and bring the milk just to the verge of boiling, to the point when it begins to form a ring of small, pearly bubbles.

2. While heating the milk, put the butter in a heavy‑bottomed,
4‑ to 6‑cup saucepan, and turn on the heat to low. When the butter has melted completely, add all the flour, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Cook, while stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not allow the flour to become colored. Remove from heat.

3. Add the hot milk to the flour‑and‑butter mixture, no more than 2 tablespoons of it at a time. Stir steadily and thoroughly. As soon as the first 2 tablespoons of milk have been incorporated into the mixture, add 2 more, and continue to stir. Repeat this procedure until you have added 1/2 cup milk; you can now put in the rest of the milk 1/2 cup at a time, stirring steadfastly, until all the milk has been smoothly amalgamated with the flour and butter.

4. Place the pan over low heat, add the salt, and cook, stirring without interruption, until the sauce is as dense as thick cream. To make it even thicker, should a recipe require it, cook and stir a little longer. For a thinner sauce, cook it a little less. If you find any lumps forming, dissolve them by beating the sauce rapidly with a whisk.

egg mctasty

One of my really deep, dark, guilty pleasures is a secret love of Egg McMuffins. I know, I know! You don't have to say anything to me about the many evils of that transfat emporium. But come on, the egg, the cheese, the ham…We all have our vices–at least I don't eat beef!

Anyway, now that I've publicly shamed myself, I do have to note in my defense that it's very rare that I actually indulge in these cravings. It's usually only when I have a road trip or some other last minute foodless emergency as an excuse. (Am I backpedaling fast enough yet?)

Well take this morning for example. The urge struck, but luckily I had the provisions to make my own healthier (and much tastier) version at home–toasted Pugliese bread, sliced yogurt cheese, preservative-free Black Forest ham, and farm fresh organic eggs. The perfect combo of crunchy, chewy, gooey and salty. I'd much rather eat this than drive through the golden arches any day.

Now if only healthy food could be affordable and accessible for everyone. Which reminds me, have you all signed the petition for a sustainable USDA yet?

overnight waffles

So much for the pancake resolution. I kind of knew it wouldn't last given my being more of a savory breakfast person. That plus my tendency to get bored by habit and routine. Last night the kids were talking about waffles so I decided to start a batch of our family favorite–overnight waffles. I've experimented with LOTS of varieties of waffles (sweet potato, pecan, cornmeal, you name it) but these are really so unbelievably good once you eat them you won't want to eat any other kind ever again.

This recipe has been around for a long time but I had never tried it until last May when an old friend Viola (who I had recently reconnected with out of the blue on Facebook) posted a comment about it in her status update. (Inspiration comes in the strangest places sometimes). There are a lot of variations on the basic concept of the overnight (aka raised or yeasted) waffle, but it was Marion Cunningham who made them famous. Here's her recipe

I generally mix equal parts all-purpose and white whole wheat flour to make them slightly (ha!) healthier. But in any case, they are amazing (it's all about the butter!) I've made them tons of times but haven't written about them here before only because they never stick around long enough for me to photograph!

a chicken in every pot pie

It seemed like a lot of people were cooking some kind of Presidential-themed food yesterday in honor of the inauguration–pineapple-based dishes for Obama's Hawaiian background or Chicago style hot dogs or pizza etc. I can't claim to have had any such forethought or intention but when I was making these individual biscuit-topped chicken potpies I did think about Herbert Hoover's famous 1928 election promise: "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." Of course, shortly after he said that the country plunged into the Great Depression. So maybe this dinner was actually a send-off to the more recent Republican President whose record of failure rivals Hoover's. In any case, it was a tasty dinner to mark the start of better days ahead.

prosecco risotto

Last summer a friend of mine told me about a new recipe website a friend of his had started called cookstr.com.  It seemed like an interesting idea–content that comes entirely from cookbooks written by trusted chefs and cookbook authors. But between my enormous collection of printed cookbooks, all the magazines and food blogs I read and several robust recipe websites, I don't really have a shortage of ways to find good recipes.

So to be honest, I wasn't really all that excited by this venture. There is something to be said for having one spot where you can simultaneously find recipes from the likes of Mark Bittman, Alice Waters, and Marcella Hazan (to name only a few.) But, (at least so far) a lot of these chefs only have a sampling of recipes on the site (the minimum required is 20 per chef). This results in Cookstr being more of a promotional site for marketing cookbooks (which is fine, the publishing industry needs all the help it can get right now!) than a really robust database of recipes.

I tend to plan my meals either based on one random ingredient that I happen to have in surplus (from my garden or the market), or some passing mood that comes from the weather or season, or just because of what happens to be in my fridge at the moment. So when I'm searching for a recipe what I really want is a wide search with lots of volume of results. Part of the process I like is sorting through and separating the bad recipes from the good ones. 

A few days ago, I was trying to think of some new things to do with sweet potatoes and I thought (despite my reservations) I'd give Cookstr a try. I entered "sweet potato" as my search term and got 40 results. That was already a bit disheartening since the same search on Epicurious, for example, results in 356 results. I pressed on. None of the results on Cookstr.com really sounded that exciting but I did find one recipe for a Cheesy Sweet and White Potato Soup that I could make without a trip out to the store. I should have been wary about any recipe that pairs cheddar cheese and sweet potato (I'm sorry, but I mean really, what the hell?) but I made it anyway. What a mistake.

I was tempted to photograph it for the blog because it did look really pretty—the orange creamsicle color with the contrasting green peas sprinkled on top. But I just did not want to eat this soup. Minus one for Cookstr, but I figured at least part of the blame was mine for choosing a recipe that sounded so off in the first place. So today I decided to give the site another try.

After all my prosecco drinking over the holidays I still had one half-finished bottle in the fridge that I knew I would use for cooking. So back to Cookstr to enter "prosecco." Six results. (To be fair, Epicurious only had seven results.) I was happy to see one of the recipes was for Champagne Risotto which I could make with the ingredients I had on hand. Of course, this is a really simple dish that requires a recipe about as much as oatmeal or scrambled eggs does. But still, it might not have come to mind for me to make without the inspiration from Cookstr.

Unless you use bad ingredients It's pretty hard to go wrong with this dish. Since I had homemade chicken stock and imported parmigiano-reggiano, it was pretty tasty. The real question is whether Cookstr.com will become part of my recipe search destinations or not. I think I'll give it a few more tests over the next few months and see how it fairs.

blueberry buttermilk pancakes

After last week's idea of making a different pancake every Saturday, I had the initial temptation to start trying wildly innovative recipes. But since experimentation is more the rule than the exception around here, I decided to break from normal and do something conventional. What could be more classic than Blueberry Buttermilk pancakes? I didn't even try to mix-it up by adding whole wheat flour or cornmeal or anything unusual. I just followed a very standard recipe. The results were exactly as they should have been–fluffy, fruity, tasty. But as I've said before, I just don't get that worked up about pancakes no matter how good they are (I'm more of a savory breakfast person). But one of my sons exclaimed, "These are the best pancakes I've eaten in my whole life!" We'll see what he has to say next week.

pancake resolution

This morning my kids and I came up with a New Year's resolution to try making a new and different kind of pancake every Saturday morning. I'm not sure how long we'll actually be able to keep it up (especially because my breakfast tastes lean more toward the savory) but it should be fun project for awhile.

Kicking things off today we made Cinnamon Oatmeal pancakes from a recipe I found on epicurious.com served with a pomegranate maple syrup. The pancake recipe as written seemed more like a cookie dough than a pancake batter. In order to improve it I reduced the amount of brown sugar (by about half) and also added some milk to get the right consistency. I also happened to have some overripe bananas I needed to use, so I mashed those in as well.

For the syrup I was inspired by the leftover pomegranate juice from my New Year's Eve Pomegranate Cosmos (delicious BTW). I mixed equal parts of the juice and maple syrup, brought to a boil and then added a bit of cornstarch to thicken. A pretty color and a little healthier than straight syrup.

I'm not someone who can really rave about a pancake (unless it's more of a savory fritter) but the kids loved them. I'm more interested in thinking about what the next variation will be.