SalmonCakes
 
 Salmon Cakes - april 26, 2011

I've been struggling with pan frying cakes and patties of all varieties for a long time now.  They never turn out right - sometimes they stick, sometimes they fall apart, sometimes they burn to a crisp. But tonight I asked my husband for advice, knowing that he has a tendency to remember everything he reads (but nothing I say) and that he read Russ Parson's How to Read a French Fry a thousand years ago when it first came out.  Parson's book is all about kitchen science, and  I seem to remember it deals with sticky patties.

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SpicyAsianSlaw
 
Spicy Asian Slaw - february 26, 2011

In the past couple of weeks we have eaten at least five cabbages. Winter, or spring in some places, is cabbage season. They are beautiful in the garden, gathering dew with dusty hues of plum, pale and bright green. And they are great in salads of all sorts, stir fried and steamed. But sometimes I'm just not sure what to do with them all.

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HowToCutAnOnion

Quick Eggplant Chicken Curry and How to Cut an Onion - august 19, 2010

We came home late from school, again today. I started Sesame Street at 5:00, hoping to have dinner on the table by 6:00 and finished by 6:15, which seems easy enough, since the kids either gobble it down or don't eat at all. Today's scheduled recipe was eggplant curry, using leftover chicken from tuesday's paella. But, I hadn't salted the eggplant beforehand, and now twenty minutes of letting salty eggplant sit and drain into the sink seems like an awful waste of time.

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SpicyShrimp

Spicy Shrimp, Cilantro Rice and Zucchini - july 18, 2010

My daughter has a dirty mouth. Today at preschool she said "poopoo head". She ran around and around the table. She hid under the table. She ignored her teacher. She was so naughty that the story she wrote was confiscated, and when she and a co-conspirator told a teacher they didn't care about their bad behavior, they lost their show-and-tell privileges.

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MietteCake

Birthday Crab Rolls - july 2, 2010

My daughter turned five years old yesterday, and what a celebration it was. She had presents from her Grandparents in the morning , singing and candle blowing with a fake cake at school in the afternoon, then dinner with real cake and more presents in the evening. Tomorrow she has another birthday bash (to which we seem to have invited over seventy guests) and still more presents arriving in the mail from her other Grandmother.

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TortillaSoup

Tortilla Soup for 24 - june 2, 2010

Deborah Madison's tortilla soup recipe is a longtime favorite of mine. We meet up, the soup and I, from time to time, like childhood friends and reminisce about the old days. Back before my husband, way before the kids.  Long ago when tortilla soup's cookbook cover was new and shiny and its pages white and pristine. 

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FavaBeanTagine 

Fava Bean Tagine - may 18, 2010

I love the way that rolls off my tongue - fava bean tagine. I bet if I made it into a little song and dance, while I served dinner, my daughter would repeat it all day long - just to annoy me. But would she eat it? Well, yes, under duress. I spoon fed her all the fava beans (which she enjoys raw, but not cooked) and sweet potatoes, in exchange for a bowl of super sugar clifford crisps, or some other fake-healthy organic sugar cereal. The chicken and cous-cous she ate on her own. My son refused the vegetables outright, but that is nothing unusual.

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OysterSauce  I am not one to normally use pre-made sauces and ingredients.  I'll admit they taste good. I know they are handy and could save my sanity. But for some ridiculous reason, I just can't do it.  So I hesitated a bit at Nigel Slater's oyster sauce creation. If this weren't a recipe from my current favorite diarist and king of vegetables, I would have glossed it over and gone on.   

But Nigel Slater is just so fantastic.  I really can't rave enough about him - his writing is beautiful, his garden is magnificent and he takes the time to cook wonderful food every day. Plus most of what he cooks is quick and easy, and, as far as I can tell, he doesn't have a personal assistant or live in maid, he is just a regular guy.  Who lives in a spotless house full of stylish crockery. With no kids. And no responsibilities other than shopping, cooking, eating and writing.

So, I take my cues from him.  He is a big deal in Britain, having just won Food Personality of the Year at the BBC's Food and Farming Awards (but I'm not sure exactly what that means, since his name is in small type at the end of the list).  He has written a weekly column for the Observer since 1993,  published two memoirs and eleven cookbooks and although he seems to invite us into his life in his writing, apparently refuses to discuss details of it with the media. Check his article and resulting discussion in Wikipedia if you're interested in getting gossipy on that. 

I am really excited for the second half of his huge and wonderful tome Tender to be published, sometime in 2010. But back to the matter at hand - what is in oyster sauce, anyway?  From the Kikkoman website:

Water, Brown Sugar, Salt, Oyster Juice Concentrate [Oyster (Molluscan Shellfish), Water, Salt],     Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Caramel     Color, Fermented Wheat Protein, Vinegar, Xanthan Gum.

Most of those look like food to me, except for a few of the latter. I would like to look them up in Marion Nestle's What to Eat, but I cannot find my copy.  It has magically disappeared from my bedside stack. So in my search of the web I have discovered the USDA's EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States.  But sadly, its quite cryptic and not very helpful.  I've also found a site called Nutrition Data, which identifies "modified starch" as a gelling agent or thickener, "xantham gum" as one or all of the following: Bodying Agent, Bulking Agent, Emulsifier, Foaming Agent, Gelling Agent, Stabilizer, Suspending Agent, Thickener, Whipping Agent, and does not list "fermented wheat protein". Its not so helpful either. I guess I'm really wondering: what is xantham, and where does it come from?  Where do they get the food starch and how is it modified?  Why is the wheat protein fermented and not just left as regular wheat?  This site just makes me think about whether a whipping agent is something I want kept in my pantry.

Oh well.  Xantham gum aside, I enjoyed my dinner tonight.  Nigel Slater's pork free version would have been better, but now that my daughter has ceased eating all protein sources beyond peanut butter and yogurt, I'm offering up as many as I can find. Both kids ate their rice, a single 2"x1" piece of pork, and drank their milk.

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Pork and Greens with Oyster Sauce and Ginger (adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries):

2 cups rice (cook it in the steamer, or however you like to)

1/2 bunch coriander (aka cilantro), chopped

2 stalks of spring garlic or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 

a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons canola oil

1 bag or bunch stir-fry greens, rinsed and large stems removed

4 Tablespoons oyster sauce

2 boneless pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces

Mr. Slater actually calls this Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and ginger, but then goes on to say that you can make it with just about any broccoli or spring green, which I think means young green.  So in my case, a bag of stir-fry mix from our produce box works perfectly.  Along with some pork, to buff up the greens that my kids won't eat.  I serve it with steamed rice, leaving out the cilantro for the kids but adding it for grown-ups.

Roughly chop the cilantro and fold it into the rice, which should be kept warm while you cook the rest. Warm the oil in a wok over high heat (or large pan over medium heat if you don't have a wok) .  Add the garlic and ginger, stir it for about thirty seconds, then toss in the pork and stir them around for five minutes or so. Then add the oyster sauce and stir it in.  Next,  add the greens and 1/4 cup of water.  Stir it all around, then put the lid on halfway for a few minutes, until the greens are as tender as you'd like them to be.  Serve the pork and greens over the rice.

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AsparagusAndSnappeas  I have to say that the Easter Bunny has a tough job - hauling all that candy around, hiding all those eggs, I'm shocked he hasn't run out of creativity and taken the holiday off yet.  But I see that Paas has taken some sort of road out because this year there were only five colors in our box.  Pink, orange, yellow, blue, green. No purple.  No turquoise, or whatever that other one usually is.  But lots of Cars stickers - and three plastic egg wraps.  I guess that is supposed to take the place of the two missing colors.

Its a good thing our bunny took the high road in terms of candy this year, and shopped at Miette, the best candy store in the country.  Walking into the Hayes Valley Miette is like going back it time, to some magical candy store I never had as a child. I love it.  

The candy store I do remember from my childhood was up at the corner of my block and the cross street that would take us to school.  It was called Prospectors because it was on Prospect street.  They stocked ice cream bars and Bottle Caps, Twinkies and Snoballs and those weird snacks with Andy Capp on the bag that only highschoolers ate.  But the best treat of all - Wacky Packs.  And how wonderful if you spent 20¢ and ended up with one of the rare ones - like Hipton Tea Bags or Kook Aid.   I always seemed to have multiple copies of Chock Full o Nuts and Bolts or one of the cigarette spoofs, which my mother would confiscate.

Anyway, all this bunny prep necessitated an easy dinner - and it was.  The kids wouldn't eat the salad, but the pitas and chicken disappeared, which is good enough for me.

Grilled Chicken Pita Salad (adapted from Sunset Magazine April 2010):

2 chicken breasts

1 bunch asparagus

handful of snap peas (if you have them in your garden)

lettuce for four (one big head or a similar sized bag of mesclun)

2-4 pitas, sliced into 8 wedges each

3 Tablespoons olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper

Cook the chicken breasts on the grill.  Because grills are so different, its hard to estimate when yours will be done.  To test for doneness, cut into the thickest part of the breast.  If it is opaque and releases only clear juices, it is done.  If you don't feel like grilling, use a grill pan on the stove or just pan fry them in a bit of olive oil over medium heat.

Wash and dry the salad.  Bring a pot of water big enough for the asparagus to fit in to boil.  Wash and trim the ends of the asparagus, wash the snap peas, pull off any leafy bits you don't want to eat.  When the water is boiling, drop the asparagus and snap peas in for a minute, then drain them into a colander in the sink.  Brush the sliced pitas with olive oil, sprinkle salt on top and toast them, either in a toaster oven or regular oven, set to 450˚ or so.  Keep a close eye on them so that they don't burn. When the chicken is done, slice it.

In a small jar, put two Tablespoons of the olive oil, all of the lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Put the lid on and shake it up. Put the salad greens in a large bowl, shake the dressing again and just before serving, pour it over the top.  Toss the salad, then divide it into bowls.  Also divide up the asparagus, peas, pitas and chicken into each bowl.  Serve right away and eat!

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ChickenTagine 

Mmmm...spicy peas. 

How exciting that the San Francisco Chronicle answered my quest for a homemade energy bar in their Sunday food section this weekend!  Thanks Mr. Hearst, I promise I'll stop threatening to cancel my subscription whenever your delivery boy throws the paper through our window.  I'll test the Cherry Chocolate Energy Bar recipe out later this week.

Yesterday we dined at my friend Laure's house.  She served a delicious salt cod dinner and we brought a pea and asparagus salad from a recipe in the latest Canal House Cooking. I'll have to make the salad again soon, it was really tasty.  

Tonight I made a tagine with chicken and sweet potatoes. My Moroccan friend Khadesia showed me how to cook this, so its really her recipe. She usually makes it with frozen peas, but today I picked my first harvest of snap peas from our garden, so I'm putting those in at the last minute instead.  The best part of this dinner are the sweet potatoes.  They cook on top of the chicken, so basically are steamed over spices.

Today was a great day in the garden.  First of all, we finished planting the strawberries.  Sixteen of them (a few are leftovers from last year) in a terraced rock garden that should get enough sun, if I can find an arborist to lop a couple branches off our ancient apple tree.  I'm determined to have great berries this year so that my kids can feed themselves (I'm also planting a dozen raspberries). I'm debating whether or not to mulch with black plastic, then coconut hulls or straw on top. I'd love to hear about your strawberries, if you have any.

As for the peas, they have been growing like crazy over the sides of our deck.  I have to reel in the vines that hang down over the railing to pick the peas, as though I'm bringing in lobster traps.  Unfortunately all our pea plants have powdery mildew right now, so I'm planning to pull them as soon as their current flowers have turned into peas and are ready to eat. The mildew seems to start at ground level and then travel outward, so the newest growth is fine, while the part in the pot look horrible.  From now on I'll be more careful to buy only mildew resistant seeds. 

Now, back to the tagine.  One of the spices I use is a bit of a mystery to me - it is on the far right of today's photo. My friend Laure brought it to me from Cambodia.  It is labeled Imit or maybe 1mit.  It calls itself Khmer Safran and has a picture of a rootish thing, that looks like what turmeric comes from, basically an orange piece of ginger.  Khadesia called it "colorant", which appears to be a typical ingredient in a moroccan tagine, but she said it is not the same as turmeric.  My friend Laure told me it was "safran" and left it at that. I think it smells similar to turmeric. Wikipedia tells me that turmeric has been called Indian saffron in the past and used as a replacement for saffron (the kind from a crocus), so maybe that is why what appears to be turmeric is labeled safran. Go figure.  I'll  list it on the ingredient list, but good luck finding it.  Your tagine will probably be fine without it.  

You will need, however, the proper cooking vessel - a tagine. My favorite is the Emile Henry version, in red. Its kind of pricey.  I served this with cous-cous, which I made really quickly in a regular old pot. Khadesia tells me that to make couscous you need a couscoussiere to cook it properly, and would probably be horrified to see my instructions below.

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Khadesia's Chicken Tagine:

1 chicken, cut into parts

4 medium sweet potatoes

1/2 cup peas (or snap peas)

2 slices preserved lemon

1/2 bunch cilantro

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 largish pinches saffron threads

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon colorant (safran)

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a tagine - be careful not to turn the heat up too high (I use a medium low setting) because you can crack the tagine .  The temperature is about right before you hear a lot of sizzling. Sprinkle a little salt on the chicken, then arrange it in a single layer in the tagine. Add the preserved lemon to the chicken - on top is fine. Sprinkle half the spices (1 pinch saffron, 1/2 t coriander, turmeric, paprika and colorant) on top of the chicken, salt and pepper it and add half the cilantro. Put the lid on the tagine and cook over  for about twenty minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, wash, peel and slice the sweet potatoes into long slices (I usually cut them in half, then half the halves longways).  Wash the peas.  When twenty minutes have passed, flip the chicken over, then sprinkle the remainder of the spices and cilantro on top. Lay the sweet potatoes on top of the chicken.  Cover and cook for another twenty to thirty minutes.  For the last few minutes, add the peas.

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cous-cous:

1 cup cous-cous

2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt

Bring the water to a boil in a teakettle or separate pot and keep it simmering.  Heat the oil in a large skillet (or low sided pot), then add the cous-cous and stir it around for a couple minutes until it browns just a little bit. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remove the skillet from heat.  Pour in the water, it will bubble up and make some noise.  Quickly stir it one time, then cover the skillet with a lid and let it sit for ten minutes. Fluff the cous-cous before serving.

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