Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Tuna Melts

Went grocery shopping this morning and got bread still warm from the oven... Rosemary Olive Oil.

Make up some simple tuna salad - tuna, mayo, mustard, minced onions, pickle relish, salt and pepper (no celery because I don't have any) and a bit of tart apple (why apple? see previous shortage).

How much of each you say... go by taste. Start with a little and add until it seems right.

Spread over the Rosemary bread, drape a slice of cheddar cheese over it and TOAST!

I recommend a dry white wine or a fruity red. Really - wine with Tuna salad elevates the whole endeavor. And it is Friday. So eat greek olives while you are preparing this and sipping wine. Or don't use apples and relish and put in olives instead. Hmmmmm.

Have a yummy weekend.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pumpkin and Soup

To those winter squash connoisseurs I Immediately concede "hard, orange-fleshed, winter squash" and let's be done with it.

So... last fall the Sweet and Spicy Butter Nut squash soup was a TRIUMPH... (defer, defend, abjure)

See the recipe below, try it, and then do what I did. Boot the cayenne in favor of double the smoked paprika. Boot cardamom and replace with cinnamon. Best of luck!

And as a plus... serve with cheese, shallot (onion) and bacon quesadillas... and dark beer... or fruity white wine, or apple cider...

Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

This is a very flexible soup. Have a bigger squash? Not enough stock, like things sweeter or spicer? Remember, you can adjust this to YOUR taste. This is a place to start.

P.S. Since this is all vegetables except for possibly chicken stock and milk, it is safe to taste at ANY time (as long as you blow on the spoon).

2 lbs squash
4 C stock (chicken or veggie)
3 tbs minced garlic
3 tbs fresh minced ginger
1/2 large onion chopped fine (or leeks sliced thin)
2 tsp salt (if using homemade stock - if going low-salt, just none, or only at the table)
1/8 t cayenne
1/4 t cardamom
1/2 t cinnamon
2 Tbs honey
2 C milk/plain soy milk/rice milk/more stock

Heat your soup pot with oil over med-high heat (about 3 – 4 min). Once hot, add the onions and a little salt. Adjust the heat and keep stirring until the onions begin to brown and get aromatic. Add the garlic and ginger, stir until fragrant. Add the rest of the dry spices. Stir well.

Add in squash, honey and half the stock. Stir until things are evenly distributed. TIME TO BLEND!

If you have a stick blender, break it out and get it going. Use the rest of the stock to get everything blended smooth. (Well, I like smooth, you can leave it chunky).

TASTE! Time to adjust the taste to your liking! (Salt, cayenne, and honey)

Or blend in batches in a regular blender.

When you serve – finish with a good stir of a milk (see above), a little more stock, and/or a drizzle of a good fruity oil.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicken Chili

Today was make the chili day. Chicken chili that is...

I know chili is a beef thing, a red meat thing, and I like so many have trouble when people just throw chicken in where red meat should be.

But white chili (no tomatoes), THAT is a another story. And so today, my own, very first, personal white, chicken chili.

So the bean are white, the spices and green and white... and hey.
Tomatillas for the acid tomatoes usually bring. All the chiles are green, the onions are white, and DON'T leave out the garlic.

Break out the corn bread!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clean Out the Fridge Day

The mistakes, the too much of a good thing, the last little bit of stuff in a jar... It is time for all of it to go.

There I have JUST enough room for the next round of silliness.

Hmmmmm.... The farmer's market is open.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How Can You Love Pork Chops if You've Never Tasted Them?

So... It was go to the aquarium day, and we are walking through Pike Place Market (It's just a place to buy fresh food, get over the FETISH now, Please?). The Fish Boyz are throwin' the same tired salmon for the next bus load of tourists, and my son is really over it. But in the next stall is a gorgeous butcher case. We and the butcher are walking around the cases talking about the meat. Stew the crazy shoulder cuts, what is - and what to do with veal? Chicken is already old news but always open to possibilty... but this is a "cornish game hen" and THAT is a quail.

For some reason the Pork Chops capture him.
"I love pork chops," enthuses my son.
"When did you have pork chops?" After the lamb disaster, I had hung back from pork chops.
"I don't remember. A long time ago."
This is actually a valid answer from my son. At 6, it is unclear what you haven't done, and what you don't remember. It gets harder when you think you should have done something, or are pretty sure you want to have done something. (YES, grammar people, at 6, this is a valid collection of tenses.)

So, tonight was the cooking-of-the-pork-chops. This was remarkable for 2 reasons. I, after several failures, actually cooked really good pork chops (see below if you are curious). And he ate half of his with plenty of starch and Orange & Purple salad (see also below). What made it interesting is he asked to have the other half for lunch.

I guess if your fancy takes you, you CAN love Pork Chops even if you have never tasted them. And thus the opposite holds water. If you decide to hate something, you just do, and there is nothing one can do about it sanely. (Thus, sometimes insanity and the ridiculous are effective... but never something reasonable.)

*My First Personal Best Pork Chops*
(Good only for meat eaters. If you don't eat meat... go back to the tomatoes, and wait until I get around to yogurt cheese. Though I am beginning to suspect Very Firm Tofu would react well to this treatment. )

1. Get your paws on GOOD pork chops. To do this find a butcher, or at the very least, get up the courage to ask your grocery store butcher. They are most likely DYING to answer you questions. They know a lot, and no one ever asks them ANYTHING. Make their day.
2. Marinate
3. Sear to produce flavor and texture. (This "sealing in the juices" thing is BUNK, but searing IS super tasty.)
4. Cook the middles covered and over LOW low heat.
5. Serve with something sweet and sour.

More specifically - This recipe is for 2 pork chops. Double, triple and do appropriate fractions for more meat.

2 pork chops
Marinade: In a non-reactive bowl or zip top bag combine....
1 teaspoon sweet (not spicy or smoked) paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
4 cloves garlic smashed against a knife and peeled of skins
2 Tbs olive oil
About 1 Tbs soy sauce - for salt
and a few grinds or shakes of black pepper

Mix together, smear over the pork chops, and add -

Enough red wine (up to 1/2 cup) to get everything really wet - fruity if you've got it

Let this sit in the fridge at least an hour... but feel free to have it marinate up to 8 hours.

When it comes time to cook, heat a cast iron skillet or other heavy pan (and I mean HEAVY... is it hard to lift with 1 hand?) over medium high heat with a little oil. Sear each side 3-4 minutes - until it develops a little brown color.

Now turn the heat to LOW, low and Cover Tightly. Cook for another 6 minutes (3 minutes each side if you feel compelled to flip. But at low heat flipping is not essential. When cooked through, but still moist and tender, serve (can keep warm covered with foil, on a plate.)

Serve with Slaw. Slaw? What Slaw? Remember the Orange & Purple salad... here it is.

*Cabbage, Onion and Vegetable Bin Slaw*

This takes advantage of the fact that just about any hard vegetable grated is pretty edible. And any hard vegetable grated and slightly sauteed in somewhere between Very Edible and Down Right Delicious.

Ideal Recipe (This means Totally Adjustable to Current Realities) -

1 Food Processor with grater blade
1/2 head or approximate equiv. of a large cabbage grated, and set aside. (I had purple... thus the Purple)

Grated and mixed together:
1 small or 1/2 large red onion
1 apple quartered and cored - slightly tart and firm preferred, but what you have will do
About 1/2 to 1 cups worth of something crunchy from your vegetable bin (I had golden beets, thus the orange. But celery, carrots, fennel, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash ... whatever! will do).

Dressing: The real rule is TRUST YOUR TONGUE. But if you are saying, sure, but where do I start?

Try: red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp dijon mustard (& a squirt of honey out of a honey bear if it seems like a good idea.) Stir this together with a fork or whisk. Then stir and add some good olive oil (maybe a little sesame oil if you have it/ feel like it). Stir together. If it tastes good, but too strong, it is just right.

In a hot skillet (hopefully the one that you used for the pork chops?) that has a little oil in it...
briefly saute the grated onion apple and misc. hard vegetable.
Toss with the cabbage and dressing. Taste. Add a little salt and pepper, a little at a time, get it Just Right.

Eat the Pork Chops and Slaw together with some toast or left over Mac 'n Cheese or some other handy starch.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Lunch Box Dilemma

As I try to decide on the lunch box regimen for the 1st grade, I try to think back to my own lunches. My mom was not a big fan of the "school hot lunch." Standing where she stood, I see what she meant. But having been in my son's spot, I see the appeal. The answer - compromise... Thanks Mom.

So school lunch 1x a month (I remind myself, lots of kids eat this every day, and they are all there, back at school the next day. Just CHILL! On the other hand, this week's Time, "The Real Cost of Cheap Food" also speaks to me.)

But on other days.... I had sandwich and fruit/veg and drink (milk or real juice) and the occasional cookie. I concede I find this a good formula. However, I firmly believe that what we can make fresh(ish) as small producers will always be superior to mass produced incredibly shelf stable stuff that arrives in foil lined, heat sealed, plastic reinforced packaging. Though, some days, I just gotta say yes to the Dorito.

Anyway, tomorrow, day 1 has been slated as "splashy noodles" in the new thermos, with veg, pickled ginger and cookies on the side. + milk

Day 2 turkey sandwich and apple . + milk

Day 3 PB & J, apple +milk.

It is just lunch. No need to get hyper. Just keep it simple, tasty and fresh and everyone will be ok. I think sometimes we forget as a society that little-er kids crave the security of repetition. It is only us jaded grownups that beg for the constant change and something new. Even many adults are happy with the same thing. After all, "I'll have the usual" is something growups say.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Diet Ever

Why other peoples' diets invade my mind I DO NOT KNOW. However, if for some bizarre reason I decided I needed to become a diet "guru," this is all my diet would be:

Only eat it if you make it.

There would clearly need to be a few rules, since tossing a Stouffer's Family Size Mac 'n' Cheeze in the microwave counts as cooking to some.

So to start the diet, all the food you make needs to start from items that are only one ingredient themselves. So you can have a sandwich, but you would need to make the bread. (Flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a little honey?) See, bread has several parts, but I am willing to concede flour is 1 ingredient. Heck you could even have mustard and mayonnaise... you'd just have to make them.

Once you get a handle on things you could then eat things already prepared for you that you COULD make if you had the time or wanted to. Like frozen foods where you read the label and recognize every single thing as food. But not where the frozen food lists processed derivatives of food substances you have never heard of, or can't get your hands on as a home cook.

And that would be it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Farmer's Markets Make Everyone a Better Cook

Just like we are all more beautiful swimming in the waves at the beach, we are all better cooks at the farmers market. The air smells like food... REAL food. Food that has barely had time to realize it's not still planted, or whatever.

It is, AT LAST, northwest tomato time (did 'ja blink? Mighta missed it.) Fortunately we also get Yakima tomato time which is twice as long. And for those of you with diligent souls, having your own back yard tomato time is lovely.

My favorite super-duper-fresh tomato recipes are all raw. If you need to cook a tomato, use an inferior one. (Or go nuts if you are luck enough to have a bumper crop). But in my little corner of the world, the local, ripe tomato is a rare gem. And unless I get it together and grow my own (not currently likely), I will continue to savor them as rare delicacies.

To enjoy the first fruits, just wait 'til your tomato is pleasantly warmed by the sun (on the vine, or -sigh- on my counter, and bite in. Maybe sprinkle on a little fine salt (this is an indulgence, remember). Enjoy the captured sunshine.

Never EVER refrigerate a tomato. It loses all of it's deliciousness. There is actually a chemical that sort-of "turns off" below 55˚F and all the tomato-ness is lost. Cooked tomatoes don't suffer this, but raw ones do.

A warning - whatever fabulous new combination I have recently uncovered is my new favorite... and then I move on.

So my new favorite raw tomato salad:

*Sliced Tomatoes with Herb Pesto*

To Find:
2-3 large ripe tomatoes (they smell like tomatoes, and they feel like you might squish them)
1/4 C balsamic vinegar

about 2/3 C loosely packed fresh basil leaves
about 1/3 C loosely packed other herbs (oregano, chives, parsley, a little mint - whatever you have)
1 large garlic clove
1/2 C toasted pine nuts
salt to taste
a good olive oil - just use the amount you need to get the right consistency (see below)

To Do:
Slice tomatoes about 1cm thick, or about as thick as your thumb. Lay them out in a large, non-metallic tray or dish or plate. Pour the vinegar over them, cover them and leave them overnight somewhere cool, where they won't get direct sunlight. (You don't have to leave them out overnight... but if you can, do.)

To make the pesto - break out the food processor or a mortar and pestle. Like the name says, we are making a paste. Put the nuts and garlic in the work bowl with the chopping blade, take it for a spin, just for about 5 seconds, until you have little pieces. Then throw in all the herbs, a splash of oil and let every thing spin until you have what starts to look like a paste. Stop and taste. Add a pinch of salt, spin and taste again until you have what tastes almost right.
Finally, press go, and add oil until it is just right (maybe another tablespoon or 2, it depends on SO MANY things).
When it is just right, spoon over the tomatoes and serve. Garnish with a few herb leaves if you are feeling artistic.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pretzels are Good for the Soul

So the last time I had my son's friends over to make pretzels one was floored by the procedure of getting oil all over his hands, and then, On Purpose, spreading it on the (glass) table top. Making such a slippery, sticky mess of oil and dough on purpose seemed completely out of bounds to him. He HAD A BALL! And he is over the moon to come do it again.

I love it when I can open doors like this.

Need to make pretzels? This is my favorite way:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Barely Food Related Detour

Why are so many Americans travelling abroad, "embarrassed to be American?" In all my travels, I freely confess to have gone through that phase too. And yet as I continue to take what amount to mini-trips abroad (to the Asian, South Asian (Indian) and Middle Eastern/North African markets) to get my freaky-freaky ingredients, I wonder at the wisdom of this approach.

By law, I, and the owner of a given store are most likely Equally American. When I go abroad why can't I be American too? Why can't MY version of "American" be proclaimed as loudly as the one, "I-am-embarrassed-about."

Why can't it be, "Why Yes, I am an American! I'm just embarrassed that the other version is too." After all we are admonished from grouping and prejudging members of other nations, religious groups, races, etc... why do we do this to ourselves?

And further... as embarrassing as some of the activities of other Americans are, doesn't the fact that they are known of and exist, Prove what an open society we have? Even the stuff we don't like about our country is out there for all to see. No society is ever neat and tidy, some are just presented that way. Anytime you look into the glory days of any past "perfection" anywhere or when, the white washed misery always seeps out. That, after all, is why these periods never last. And because it is often misery that forces change... that is why the transition is always so chaotic and painful.

So, next time I put my passport in my bag, no more of this trying to pass over that I am an American (Most non-Americans can tell anyway. To be honest, we DO have a way about us.) Be proud of what you are... including the seething mess left at home. It is our mess after all. And we have the power to change it. The Naive Hopefulness that marks us, has changed the world an awful lot.

We also have the power to enjoy Tamarind Lhassi with Cayenne and Caramelized Shallot Bengeit with a Jalapeno Remoulade. For I know of NO WHERE ELSE where we can crisscross cultures so thoroughly - or tastily.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My fridge - I despair... sorta.

I will never ever ever have one of those spare, deserted... and well... easy to find stuff in fridges. Too much
marmalade and "better than boullion" and left over cole slaw, salad dressing, olives, salsa (3 kinds I think), simple syrup, maple syrup, and 1/4 rack of ribs for BBQ quesadillas, the sauce of course, seaweed, 3 kinds of juice, thawing tortillas... Well, you can see for yourself!

And don't get me started on what a crazy cat circus my pantry is.
Let's just say it is not unusual to find 5 kinds of rice. I have a
really good reason for every single one. Really!

My husband proposed I stop experimenting on dinner (and them), but the thought of no BBQ quesadillas caused a direction change.

My consolation? Having everything on hand for scratch baked ginger shortbread and green tea.

2 sticks (1 lb) butter - room temp... creamed together (in a mixer) with
3/4C powdered sugar
1 Tbs vanilla

Gently stir together -
2 C AP Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1.5 Tbs dried ginger (And 1/4 to 1/2 C finely chopped diced candied ginger -soft if you can find it, crystallized if you can't. Add this at the very end.)

Slowly pour the dry stuff (flour etc.) into the creamed butter and sugar. Then the chopped ginger goes in. Stop as soon as stirred in. Cover and chill 30 min.

Preheat oven to 35o˚F. Grease 2 cookie sheets, or line with silicone mats/parchment paper.

Divide dough in half. Form each into rectangles about 1/3" (1 cm) thick. Use a metal spatula to cut into long thin rectangles (dimensions are up to you). Spread them about 1 inch apart. Bake about 12 minutes. When they are light brown around the bottom edge pull them out and let them cool.

If you want cookies that are even more rectangular, re-chill another 30 min and put them straight into the hot oven out of the fridge. They will have less chance to spread.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Savory Zucchini Muffins?

This could be good, I thought.
And the idea IS good. It just needs some work.

The recipe is from _A-Z Muffins_ by Marie Simmons.

It is a fairly standard muffin recipe, but with very little sugar, zucchini, extra back pepper and Romano cheese.

And sadly it was BLAND. The cheese (I used parmesan instead, because I had some in the freezer, dying to be used up) and the pepper were there... but it wasn't enough. Needs something else... I figure next time, garlic + thyme, and a little crunchy salt on the top with the cheese would make all the difference in the world.


Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Bread! (At last)
(This is for 2 - 9x4 loaves, or LOTS of muffins)

Grease your pans, muffin tins or break out the cupcake papers.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F

3C grated zucchini that has had a trip through the salad spinner (especially if recovered from frozen.)
3.5 C all purpose flour
1/2C cocoa powder
1C granulated sugar
1/4C packed brown sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1/8 - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (up to you - HOW spicy do you want the bread?)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 C milk
1/4 C oil (nothing highly flavored)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs lightly beaten
(Optional: 1C semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1-2 disks Mexican Hot Chocolate chocolate hammered into little chunks)

In a large bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, both sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Stir gently to combine. Make sure there are no islands or lumps of any one thing.
In a smaller bowl, stir together milk, oil, vanilla, and eggs. Add zucchini and gently stir in.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and use a spoon to fold the dry ingredients over and around the wet. Stir until just combined. Lastly, quickly fold in the optional chocolate pieces.
Pour or spoon into desired baking vessel (pan, muffin tin)

Place your bread on the center rack of the oven. Done means muffins spring back at a light finger poke. For bread, check the center with a toothpick. It should come out clean or a little crumby. Not Gooey. If you hit a chocolate chip, try another spot.
For tiny muffins, this means about 12 min
For regular sized muffins, about 22 min
For giant muffins, try 35 - 45 min
For the larger loaf pans, check at an hour, though 1 hour + 10 - 15 min is normal.

Let cool at least 5 min before taking out of the pan/tins. Then let cool the rest of the way on a rack.

If this weren't good enough on it's own, feel free to make a quick topping of softened cream cheese or mild goat cheese, orange zest, ginger and honey (maybe a little salt... depending). Use your own taste buds to find the most delicious combination.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How NOT to cook Zucchini

So, since I was doing so well in the Zucchini arena - thought I'd try an internet recipe. It was a 1 step dredge and pan fry.
Just shake the zucchini slices in flour and spices and sort-of saute.


It brought out all the Badness in Zucchini.
(quote from a tester after 1 bite, "I just don't feel like anymore zucchini mom.")

I lost that round.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good to be Spoiled by Summer

A quick side note - one reason living in Seattle IS SO AWESOME is that Summer is a Food Bonanza. The farmers market within walking distance of my house (Lake Forest Park Farmer's Market) is now capable of providing a ridiculous, amazing, totally American, totally local, scrumptiously awesome summer feast.

And thus we had picked this morning yellow & white corn, swiss chard, smashed potatoes (some heirloom variety!) and grass-fed beef from Covington, WA.
I had butter, shallots, onions, salt, pepper, oil & vinegar at home along with my ever-growing herb supply (literally these days). But I could have gotten butter, shallots, herbs and even vinegar from the local folks!
I'm glad all these people are doing well at the farmer's market... because I DO LOVE this Fresh Food.

One for the road...
Tarragon-Chive Butter to go with your Steak:

Soften 4 Tbs unsalted butter.
Chop up too much tarragon and chives.
Add this, with some salt to your taste.

Use the left over herbs in your pan sauce and sprinkle willy-nilly over vegetables and potatoes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I have Zucchini in the freezer... Now What?!

Ever had Huevos Rancheros? Know how the gummy tortilla always kills the love?
For this - and for so many other reasons, it is time to embark on the Zucchini-Potato Pancake.

Much like the traditional potato pancake it has the crispy edges, the soft inside, but the zucchini works it's magic and makes it something entirely new. Suddenly zucchini under everything is a great, GREAT idea. And the subtle sweetness of the zucchini means you can monkey with the spices and make it sweet or savory. Breakfast through Dinner! (I concede... dessert might be pushing it. Wait for the Mexican Chocolate Zucchini bread.)

In fact this is the Very First original zucchini recipe that made my husband dive in head first.

So get out the salad spinner, the food processor and a cast iron skillet (or other heavy bottomed 8" - 12" pan that is NOT non-stick. Browning is IMPORTANT here).

Ingredients: (for the very BASIC version)
1C Grated Zucchini (thawed and spun/drained if coming from the freezer)
1 C Grated Potato (Waxy or Medium... NOT FLOURY. This means little yellow or red Thin Skinned potatoes. Russets will make something different) Drain this by giving it a spin too.
1/2 Grated Yellow Onion - you guessed it... spin it too!
about 1/4 cup flour or other granulated starch (potato flour, arrowroot starch etc. for my NO GLUTEN friends)
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg beaten
1 Tbs oil for your skillet
***See bottom of Post for variations***

How To:
Get everything grated and spun. Mix together all the vegetable matter. Mix together the flour (or other starch) and the salt. Sprinkle on the veg. mixture. Toss it around gently with your hands, making sure the flour(etc.) gets everywhere.
Heat up the skillet - about 3 min - over med-high heat. Then add the oil and heat 1 more min - until oil gets hot enough to sizzle a shred of something.
While the pan is heating, break the egg in a small bowl, lightly beat it - just to get it all stirred up - pour over the zucchini & etc. Stir in gently, but quickly with a fork or your hands.
As soon as the pan is ready, make pancakes the size you want - from silver-dollar-sized to the whole pan. Just make sure they are no more than 1/4" thick.
Keep an eye on it (you can even peek underneath). When the bottom begins to get golden brown - FLIP! When they are golden brown in crispy on the bottom too... they are done!

Eat some as soon as they are cool with black pepper.
Eat the rest however you want. I would suggest with Garlic & Mint Yogurt Cheese, or Basil Vinaigrette, or w/ Green Tomatillo Salsa, or under Huevos Rancheros, or as a side to Fajitas....
OK, stopping now.

This recipe can be doubled, tripled and so on... just so long as you do the flour and egg adding in batches. Also, when you run low on oil, add some more to the pan so you keep getting that nice browning. Then when you have made as many as you can stand...
These can be cooled and frozen, stored in a nice airtight container, then toasted in your toaster. You look like a genius.

Next Time... time out for Yogurt Cheese (AT LAST!)

Add sweet onion instead of yellow onion, nutmeg and cardamom (about 1/4 tsp each) for a breakfast version.

Grate some jalapeno in with the onion, and top with lime juice for pairing with Mexican dishes.

Grate in some cornichons - or even good ol' dill pickles and top with tuna salad.

Sprinkle some smoked paprika, cumin and tumeric into the flour mixture and serve w/ Spanish or North African dishes.

And on & on & on!

Zucchini Therapy

Or... learning to love the zucchini. Even the monster ones.

Yes, this year, in the face of Rising Zucchini Tide '09, if I was going to claim to be a cookbook writer I HAD to come up with some, "I never knew Zucchini could be so Good!" recipes.

How to go about this?
Work with what is good about zucchini: a) there is always a lot of it. b) it has a starchy (but not gluey - like potatoes), mildly sweet flesh. c) once it is cut or grated or cooked it freezes well.
And leave behind what is not good about zucchini: a) if not dealt with correctly big ones can be woody. b) zucchini in it's natural state has too much liquid to be truly tasty c)there is SO MUCH of it.
So... don't leave them sitting around to long. The BIG Zucchini are intimidating, sitting there, staring at you. Process them. And thanks to freezers - freedom from the big green monster on your counter is near.

Option A) Grate & Freeze. Haul out the food processor and go for it. Have a (or some) big bowl(s) ready. Chop into feed-tube size pieces - SCOOP OUT THE SEEDS (this is where much of the bitterness lies), and start grating. When you are all done, take the shreds for a spin (in batches) in the salad spinner. Measure out into a freezer container in your choice (I like bags). I find 1 and 3 cup measurements are the most useful. If you freeze it all in one big lump... it is just as intimidating as the monster veg. in the first place! When you thaw it for cooking later, it'll need another turn in the salad spinner.

"What to do with all this Frozen Zucchini"
in the Next Installment.

P.S. I know technically it IS a fruit... seeds inside and all that. But we use it as a veg.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cumber and Summer Squash Salad

I had this BRILLIANT idea to make lamb sausage wontons. I started with Lamb Sausage from my butcher (Double D Meats, 5602 232nd St SW # 104, Mountlake Terrace, WA (425) 778-7363) that already had garlic and mint. Not to be out done I added mint & yogurt cheese (will discuss soon - a treasure at our disposal). I folded about a teaspoon into a wonton skin and froze on the spot.
I only had ONE package of wontons. Apparently you need about 4 (or 5!) packages to use the whole 2 pounds. Now that I had used slightly less than 1/2 of the mixture, for some reason I felt adding par-cooked potatoes (cubed) and browned onions would be a good idea. I know not why, for it brought the volume of stuff back almost the the original amount. Maybe the lamby & starchy & with the spicy, minty, sweet & oniony are just So I made Lamb Sausage Rolls (in frozen puff pastry). I made pastry dough and created empanadas... and in desperation, little mini burgers. There's no doubt it's all tasty (I checked by cooking a teaspoon in a fry pan), but so much lamb burger STUFF!
OK so now... lamb something from the freezer for the next 6 weeks!

But what to eat with that?

Summer squash and Cucumbers... thats what!

The Easy Part: Slice a medium sized cucumber in half and then into very thin slices.
then a small yellow or green summer squash (zucchini count) also in thin slices. Thinly slice in a mixture of herbs (any and all you have on hand... chives, basil, oregano, cilantro, mint (only a little), sage (also only a little)... etc.

The Hard Part (well the slightly harder part): Dressing. Vigorously stir together 2 Tbs Apple cider vineger 1 Tbs white wine vinegar (champagne, rice... whatever you have). 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard, a good squeeze of honey, 1 large garlic clove crushed and salt to taste. A few (well, many) dashes of Green Tabasco sauce gives it that something... extra.

Then, stirring hard with a fork or whisk... time to gently pour in some sort of olive oil. Keep stirring and make an emulsion. When you have enough dressing to generously to cover the cukes, squash & herbs, taste JUST TO MAKE SURE IT is tasty... but a little too strong. (or dump everything into a tightly lidded container and shake-a shake-a)

Pour over your pile of thinly sliced herbs, cucumbers and raw squash. Stir REALLY well. Hear your son say it is better than plain, raw cucumbers (high praise in my world).

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Taxi Driver's Views on Chicken

On my way to the airport in San Diego, I started to talk to my Taxi Driver (from near Nairobi, Kenya) about food.
"What," I asked, "is your favorite food?"
"Not this," he said, pointing at a soft drink cup from KFC (until recently known as Kentucky Fried Chicken). "I like fresh food, that sort of thing. What do you do to your chickens here?"
"The chickens, they are injected, they are flabby, they have no taste."
me..."well, just like many Americans who don't get any exercise, we don't let our chickens exercise either."
me..."we keep them in little boxes and houses."
"So you make your animals lazy and fat. I guess that is what make Americans fat. I ate tasty, but scrawny chickens as a boy. Look at me. Not fat."
me..."Nope. I think you have a point. Our cows don't get any exercise either."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How to make your Mom Happy... and clean out the Fridge.

Whenever I go visit my mom and vice-mom, I head straight for the fridge. They buy all sorts of GREAT groceries, but only use about half of each item. I combine the orphans. They always invite me back.

The inventions from the start of this trip:
Tapas Salads - I served these on tiny plates with sesame crisps. I also pulled out a dry white wine.

*Asian Cukes*
2 mini cucumbers cut on the bias - about 1/4 in. thick

2:2 soy sauce and balsamic vinegar
1:1 sesame oil and chili oil
sesame seeds
crushed red pepper

Mix together, let sit in the fridge for a few hours - or eat right NOW
(the proportions are approx. - adjust to taste. I've given ratios, so if your amount is Tbs, then this means 2 Tbs soy, 1Tbs oil and so on.)

*Simplest Pea Salad*

Any amount or mixture of peas you eat with the pod (snow, sugar etc.)
Cut them on the diagonal about the width of your thumb.

Dressing Per large handful of peas:
1 garlic clove chopped fine and smashed with
1/4 - 1/2 tsp coarse salt (kosher, sea, whatever)
1+ tsp olive oil (really tasty)

Shake these together with the peas until mixed really well.

Grind on pepper until it has a sneaky little kick.

Add anything red from your vegetable drawer that needs to get used
(suggestions - tomatoes, red peppers, red onions, radishes, raddichio)

Also let sit or Eat Right NOW!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everybody gets a Gold Star today

After more poking, reading, listening and, yes, thinking... it has dawned on me: Our food guidelines are not written to make it easier to decided what to eat, but rather to make sure all the lobbyists continue to give money. Also, they are geared to a culture that doesn't cook with passion.
And by passion I don't mean something sexy, but with conviction and opinions, things we are willing to yell in public about, in front of strangers and bare acquaintances.
Since, (not as individuals, but...) as a society, we don't have strong (unified) opinions about food we are easily led willy-nilly in search of the ANSWER.

Sadly (sorta), since when it comes to food there is no 1 answer, there are almost as many wrong answers as right... and much of food regulation is about cutting off the things that are DANGEROUSLY not food. However that has left plenty of room for things that are only OBNOXIOUSLY not food.

If we have no strongly held positions on what food is, then what it isn't is always up for negotiation. And thus things exist like the concepts of Food Grade Plaster and Food Grade Wood Pulp. One resides in Twinkies and the other in Cheap Ice Cream. Guess which is where.

But that just gets me back to my increasing need to create food, and enjoy and recognize what goes into my food.
And it REALLY reminds me that I used to not much. So I can sympathize with people who don't care... but I also want to reach out to them and awaken their taste buds... they are great tool in the creation of "caring about what you eat."

And yet our government in regulating food is NOT interested in GOOD food, just what will not make you (immediately) sick... that is not poison you. If it will only make you sick in the long run, it is still considered "safe."

In the interest of fairness, language that qualifies one variety of food as better than another IS NOT ALLOWED. Tastiness is NEVER ALLOWED to be a consideration. Strangely, in determining what is and isn't food, scientifically determinable nutritional content is also NOT ALLOWED in the language of food recommendation.

Only a culture where most people don't cook with passion could there be a lobby of, "Frozen Battered Potato Products." (really... look it up. One wonders, do potatoes need batter - and for lots of products?)

Can we get back in to touch with our food? OH Yes!!! This is my favorite part about cooking. You ALWAYS have a chance to redeem yourself the next day.

I think it is OK to say some food is better than others. This is a question of a government honestly rating different methods of providing food. If they want to give a gold start to all comers, as long as they don't kill you within the next week, what is the point of a rating system.

I give up. I'm trusting my tongue.

My tongue tells me local organic milk is better than big business conventional (non-organic) milk.

My tongue also tells me local, but large conglomerate farmer owned conventional milk is AS GOOD AS big business organic milk (gasp... I know!).

My tongue (and tummy) tells me small, locally owned "conventional" milk is BETTER than big business organic milk (WHAT!!!!). Taste it. Less travel, more grass.

And local, organic milk is something special. Here in the greater GREATER Seattle area, I vote for Fresh Breeze Dairy. My digestion works better. My son drinks more, and the half & half and cream cooks like nothing I have ever found elsewhere.

So - Yay for the government role in food safety. I continue to question their role in determining food quality. Every version of food is NOT equal. Some are better than others. But it is up to us to determine the gold stars.

And since who gets the Gold Star can change over time... in the long run, I think it is good it is up to us as the consumer. BUT we must be educated, and we MUST speak up.

FDA Guidelines - or - Why we don't know what to eat.

Who at the FDA thinks making food guidelines MORE complicated is going to help people eat better?

They are updated every 5 years. They come with a multi-page press release. There are 41 key guidelines – only 23 of which most people have to worry about. But if you fall into a “special population” there are 18 more to wade through.

41! Forty-One!? Most people (including me) cannot easily name 41 of anything in a single category.

And the dietary guidelines are notably difficult to find. As I am browsing the website that is purportedly where one goes to learn about the US Government’s nutrition guidelines, I keep clicking on links that say 2005 Nutrition Guidelines. They only get me to pages that tell me things about the 2005 Nutrition Guidelines, but do not provide me access. If I were looking this up out of general curiosity, instead of to prove a point. I would give up by now.

Why am I digging for food guidelines? I think they are needlessly complicated – and I want to see them for sure. And yes they ARE.

The first set of guideline reads:

Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods an beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol.

Meet recommended intakes within energy needs by adopting a balanced eating pattern, such as the USDA food guide or the DASH Eating Plan.

Which leaves the average reader wondering things like: What is a “nutrient-dense” food? What do they mean by “within and among the basic food groups?” What are the basic food groups? Are there advanced ones?

Ahhh! What are saturated fats? Where are trans fats – why are they so bad? What’s the difference between added sugars and regular ones? Are other sugars OK? Are people adding alcohol to my food?

Recommended intakes? Who’s recommending? Intake? Like eating? An eating pattern? Can I just have lunch? Wait, the Eating Plan… what about an eating pattern? Which one is better?

These guidelines leave one with research to do, but not a clue about what to do at the next meal!

I need a snack to clear my head. I'm not sure if it will be good for me, but at this point, I don't care.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Can too much knowledge about food be a bad thing? Or too much of the wrong knowledge.
After doing the rounds of food today with my son, and answering such questions as, "why does the inside of the ice cream freezer fog up after you close the door?" or "why do you only put one kind of food in each bag?" or "why can't the crabs crawl out of the tank into the other tank?" I wonder...

But I think these are pretty good questions to ask at a grocery store. They deal with things you can see. Right now there is so much talk about food that has to do with concepts and ideas about food (Is it organic? Is it organic enough? Just what is a trans-fat? And why do they put it into italics? Is that because it is SO evil? How do I tell a carb from a sugar? Do bad carbs come with frowny faces?) And so on. Instead...

How about questions we can actually answer in the grocery store?

Are these new crop or last years onions? Turns out we are into New Crop onions (I learned about "New Crop" while interested in rice - it means harvested THIS CURRENT SEASON, instead of being in storage for awhile. I LOVE that we have developed sophisticated cold storage... but still, fresh is fresh, and summer is known for that.) New crop (why can't they just say Fresh? I guess that is a word that has been bleached of meaning, like "home made") onions are heftier, weightier in the hand. Not to be snobby - but wow, it was cool I could tell! Potatoes are starting to come in too. Their flesh is hard, like little rocks, and the cuts they almost all get while being dug up are still unscarred.

Are the strawberries local? Most stores tell you with big signs (and the price) but the nose will tell you as well. And do they look like they will bruise if you look at them too long? Then they are the delicious, squashy, no white-inside, good for only a day, don't let them sit out, terrible at traveling, local strawberries. (I used to eat them while sitting in the field - making a little-girl-piggy of myself while my mom picked in earnest)

Why should I buy kale? Turns out you can make Crispy kale with a little oil and salt and a 425˚F oven.

What is the point of buying all these ingredients? Wait... not sure if you can actually answer that one at the grocery store. Or can you? If you walk in the aisle and look at the things where all the ingredients are included - you start to run across things that are not even trying to pretend to be food any more: Blue, children's cereal themed, sugary goop in the yogurt section - Prepackaged Lunch substitutes either marketed to kids, parents of kids, or adults. (It is worth comparing the different marketing strategies for Lunchables vs. Kid Cuisine) - Strange substances distantly related to food in the freezer case. Chips with guacamole already in them? What is the POINT I ask you!

The trans-fat mystery is nowhere near an answer (I suspect the italics emerge from an archaic convention of chemical nomenclature... but that would be a VERY odd thing to cling to in a world where they don't include decimal amounts of things on food labels.)

Ah yes... the "No trans-fats *per serving*" label.
Now there is a bait and switch worth the name. The insidious thing about trans-fats is they are devilishly shelf stable (hard to digest, and thus part of the whole problem). And you need so very little to make the things around them more shelf stable as well. So with this "Per Serving" dodge, a product can include a LITTLE trans-fat, but as long as it comes to less than 0.5g per serving, because of the magic of rounding rules, they are allowed to say 0g per serving. (Remember 0-4 are rounded to 0, and 5-9 are rounded up to the next value... stop reading if it gives you elementary school math flashbacks). And since we have been deemed too simple to deal with decimals in our calorie counts... the trans are still with us. We are no wiser, we just think we are - with a zero on a label to lull us into contentment.

Irony time - if the food doesn't come with a label rigorously telling us lots of facts that are essentially meaningless to us, it doesn't have trans-fat. The trans- is a result of fat being removed from it's host (soybean, corn, pig, nut, seed, other 'vegetable') and then chemically and thermically poked and prodded until it becomes something other than it was - all bent and twisted and largely unrecognizable to the digestive workings all things that want to get to food before we do (bacteria, molds, fungi, other microscopic critters) and thus renders it shelf stable - it is not going ANYWHERE for the foreseeable future (best by date on package). The down side is the trans- fat is hardly recognizable by us. And when it gets into our digestive workings... it gums up the works.

And if I spend all my time worrying about trans-fat or the organic-ness of my organic food choices, I forget to think about the food on the level I actually interact with it.

Shallots to go with the bock choy - what do I have that is sour to balace that? Red peppers and a sesame vinaigrette with lime juice. Sweet and spicy for the meat to go with the noodles. Do I have Hoisin sauce at home for the flank steak? (That may count as unanswerable at the grocery store.)

Ack - the kale has a lady bug in it. I guess it's organic enough.

If we are actually cooking our food, and thinking, really thinking about how it tastes, then the questions we ask are going to be answerable, and the answers useful.

Coming up next... a slog through the government dietary guidelines. And a ponder into why making food guidelines MORE complex will somehow make us healthier.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Beginning - of this blog

I have a purpose.

I believe (and I KNOW this means I am suspect) it began with the contrast of "Tater-Tot Casserole" which I think was a mixture of tater tots, browned ground beef, frozen peas and cream of mushroom soup - and maybe cheese?, and Port Salut Cheese, crisp tart apples (granny smith? it was the late 70's - did they exist yet?) and whole wheat crackers. Both were dinner on different nights. One seemed like food to me, and one seemed like... ummmm, salty.

My mother, though she had a natural leaning toward the crackers, apples and cheese, felt that the "Tater-Tot Casserole" was the better dinner by some scale I did not yet recognize (I was under 10 at the time).

In my life I have had this weird struggle (I mean weird in the sense that it was not difficult, just odd and hard to pin down) between the concept of "food" and "meal." Many things that come with commercially available "meals" don't strike me as food. Sure they are fuel, they won't kill me - not even sorta speedily - but they are VERY far removed from what I think of as "food."

I think of "food" (I use quotes to notate a definition, *NOT* emphasis) as something made of parts I can identify. A salad is food, a Twinkie is not. A backyard barbecue burger made by friends is food, one from a Large Commercial Fast Food Concern is a "product," not food.

But things get fuzzy - I eat ketchup on both burgers. And pickles and mustard. Maybe even cheese. So why is one burger "food" and the other a "product?" For me it has always come down to the could-I-make-it factor. I can make a burger out of beef and spices (maybe even an egg?) but it is not consistent over tens-of-thousands of burgers, and not one that is SUPER DUPER freezer stable, with seaweed additives and the "grill seasoning."
And more to the point, is what I am eating... even if manufactured, is it MADE of food?

For the most part, I give over the making of ketchup, mustard, cheese, *most* pickles, bread *most of the time,* to the experts. But all of these things are made of... food. Flour, yeast, seeds, vinegar, vegetables, milk, water, salt... I'll even concede the generic "spices." These are all things I could get my hands on.

I COULD make them... I could also make duck confit with lavender gelee' and huckleberry gastric.... but I don't (choose to) have the time. But I could... if I wanted too.

And so, back to my purpose.
I want to teach people to:
a) eat meals made out of FOOD, even if they don't look like the 1950's version of a MEAL. I'll go for the 1750's version (OK, the "moderately-well-off" version. Starch, Veggies, Protein, and a little fat)
b) learn how to cook by taste and not recipes (all the time).
I KNOW this is not a skill most of us (Modern 21st Century Happy to have Running-Hot-Water People) have... so to ease people into it.
c) learn the essential basics.
Cook Greens! (leaves, green beans, asparagus and other green stuff).
Whole Starch. (grains, potatoes, plantains... and I'm a sucker for masa... OK any starch where you are able to figure out which plant is MAINLY responsible).
Tasty Protein... anyones' version.
And Fat With A Purpose - in association with it's original source (Olive, Cow, Pig [mmmmmmbacon] whatever, but no mystery, conglomerated non-saturated multi-source fat.)

And to that end...

The Fresh Start

Learn to cook Food.


For you and your kid(s)

For something new.

I think about food all the time. I try to talk about it less. But if you choose to read this, you will hear about it.

Exercise WILL come up. Since (Thank... choose your Force-of-Choice...) we don't all do manual labor for a living, we must choose some and do some to stay healthy and shiny and fit.

But this is mainly about eating and being happy.