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!