Time to confess: I’ve worked in a professional kitchen.
Granted it was a mere five weeks, but it felt like a perpetuity.
I was eighteen, a first year student at college. Given that my brother and sister were also in college, and that my family is not landed gentry, I was on scholarship and, hence, granted work-study as part of my financial aid package. My duty? Report to the cafeteria, post-haste.
It sounded like a reasonable gig. I loved to cook, and was used to helping in the kitchen at home. So with a smile and a hairnet, I set to mopping floors, serving lasagna, and stocking and cleaning the salad bar like nobody’s business. I found the institutional smell of the place—an unforgettable combination of industrial cleaner, fetid cooking oil, and warmed-over food—revolting, but I made myself buck up and get the job done. I was a good worker; or so I thought.
Frances had a different opinion. Frances was my manager, and it didn’t take long for me to learn that the college cafeteria was a minor fiefdom under her exclusive rule. M’lady didn’t have much use for any of her workers, and I was no exception.
Frances could have been anywhere from fifty to eighty. She was thin and petite, with a long neck, rounded shoulders, and a pronounced stoop. She had a penchant for unflattering polyester blouses with bows at the neck, accompanied by matching suits that emphasized a surprisingly large rear end. She had a pained, sardonic countenance, deeply sunken cheeks, and a puff of frizzy, drab hair bifurcated by one of a collection of brightly colored plastic headbands. All of this gave her an air of ridiculous tragedy, belying the tyrant truth.
As we chopped, sliced, served, and cleaned, before, during and after each meal service, Frances roamed the kitchen, gripping her ubiquitous cup of black coffee (I never saw her eat), sneaking up on her workers with the silent assistance of thick-soled orthopedic shoes.
“Hell are you doin’?!” was her preferred greeting for one and all. Almost as frequent were “hey lazybones,” “you’d better start respecting this,” and the ever-cheering “are you this pitiful at everything?” It was as bad as you can imagine. Possibly worse
I now understand, after reading books such as Kitchen Confidential , Heat, and Roasting in Hell's Kitchen, that terror and intimidation are de rigeur in professional kitchens. But I was neither ready, nor willing, for such abuse. Beginning college and moving 3000+ miles from home were upsetting enough. So with the blessings of my parents, I gave Frances due notice and subsequently found both solace, and good pay, in babysitting.
Ironically, leaving the professional kitchen led to more time in home kitchens, namely the kitchens where I babysat. It didn’t take more than a hesitant request to one set of parents. After a short time, my babysitting families were delighted to let me use their kitchens, especially if it included making dinner or treats for their wee ones. I can still remember the first batch of cookies I made there—plain old oatmeal. It had been almost three months since I’d cooked or baked anything more than instant cream of wheat in my dorm room, and more than a month since I’d escaped Frances’s regime. The rising scent of brown sugar and butter was like a warming embrace.
My five weeks in the cafeteria had trained me in one area: I always scrubbed the kitchen to a sparkle when I was finished. Looking back, I’m sure doing so facilitated my continued babysitting employment and use of the kitchens. Perhaps Frances, and my brief spell as a kitchen professional, deserve greater reference and gratitude after all.
Stuffed Red Peppers with Lebanese Spices & Yogurt
Ground beef was one of the first foods I used as a blank tableau for playing with flavors, even back in college. Adding it to stuffed peppers is always a winner. I like to change the tastes of my stuffeed peppers according to my whims, so this time, it is my basic quick recipe with the additions of a trio of Lebanese spices: cumin, allspice and cinnamon. In place of cheese, a dollop of plain yogurt offers a bright and tangy counterpoint to the spicy filling. It made for a great Sunday night dinner tonight!
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup uncooked quick-cooking barley (I use Quaker or Mother’s brands)
2 large red bell peppers
1/2 pound extra lean ground beef
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, minced, divided use
1/2 cup purchased marinara sauce (any variety)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring beef broth and barley to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
While barley cooks, cut each bell pepper in half lengthwise, and discard seeds and membranes. Arrange bell pepper halves in a 9-inch pie plate. Cover with heavy-duty plastic wrap. Microwave 5 minutes (on HIGH), or until crisp-tender; drain.
Cook beef, mushrooms, and garlic in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add barley, half of the green onions, marinara sauce, cumin, salt, allspice, cinnamon and black pepper; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Divide beef mixture evenly among pepper halves. Bake 10 minutes. Serve each with a dollop of yogurt on top, remaining green onions and orange zest. Makes 2 servings (serving size: 2 stuffed pepper halves)
Camilla’s Notes: (1) This recipe is easily doubled or tripled; (2) I am including both halves as one serving, but honestly, one half is usually enough for dinner, especially if you have a salad on the side (save the second half for lunch); (3) Look for quick-cooking barley where rice is sold in the supermarket. The Quaker and Mother’s brands (the latter is a division of the former, so they are exactly the same) come in round containers, similar to oatmeal.
Nutrition per Serving (2 stuffed pepper halves):
Calories 410; Fat 13.6g (sat 5.4g, mono 6.4g, poly 1.4g); Protein 34g; Cholesterol 74mg; Carbohydrate 51.7g; Sodium 655mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.” -- Oscar Wilde
Tired of eating the same old chopped romaine with a squirt of low-calorie ranch? Then don't. It’s time to re-think side-salads as dinner stars, not sad associates.
This post was inspired by Robin, who recently requested ideas for making side salads that inspire great eating, not sleeping. I am happy to oblige, because I love a good side salad. I owe it all to my mother, who made all varieties of accompanying salads for most every meal of my youth, for reasons of good taste and nutrition, sure, but also to stretch her budget.
I have one more reason for adding plenty of side salads to my regular menus: they make the rest of the meal a no-brainer. With an interesting and flavorful side salad, the main part of the meal can be basic. Simple chicken breasts, broiled fish, grilled tofu, or pan-fried pork chops; all are instantly elevated with the accompaniment of a fresh, intriguing salad that melds various flavors and textures.
The key is to forget specific recipes, and instead think of building blocks to make a variety of salads, anytime, in minutes: think leafy greens, beans and legumes, grains, pastas and noodles, shredded or chopped vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, and flavorful extras that add a lot of punch in small amounts, such as fresh herbs, strong cheeses, and toasted nuts. Be bold. Combine a few things that you like, but may never have teamed together, and go easy on the dressing (a little goes a long way). And for heaven sakes, don't forget the salt and freshly cracked pepper, essential elements for escaping the side salad blahs.
To get started, I’ve made a list of these side salad nuts-and-bolts, followed by some suggested combinations--please post other ideas, I know more exist! I’m going to hold off on dressings for now. The focus here is quick and easy, so use your tried & true favorites, or explore some of the new light bottled vinaigrettes on the market (Need a suggestion? I can’t get enough of the Newman’s Own Lighten Up Vinaigrettes; they add so much flavor with so little effort. I swear I don’t work for them, I just like their products and charitable cause).
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR DELICIOUS SIDE SALADS
Lettuce (butter, red leaf, green leaf, romaine)
Tatsoi (Japanese green, similar to spinach)
Mesclun (mixed baby lettuces) mix
Bulgur (cracked wheat)
Rice (brown is delicious in salads!)
Farro, Kamut or Spelt (harder to find, but worth mail-ordering)
Quick-cooking barley (love it! Quaker makes it)
Hominy (corn; buy it canned. Trust me it is right there with all the other canned corn. Cheap and delicious, so good in salads! Tastes like fresh corn tortillas)
Couscous (regular or whole wheat)
Whole grain pastas (any shape or variety)
Buckwheat soba noodles
Beans & Legumes:
White beans (cannelini, great northern, etc.)
Butter beans (yum! they are so creamy)
Chick peas (garbanzos)
Black eyed peas (I could—and sometimes do—eat these plain. Buy them frozen or canned)
Edamame (buy shelled, frozen)
Fresh vegetables (whole, thinly slice, julienne, shred):
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Peas (frozen or fresh; just thaw, don’t cook, if using frozen)
Sugar snap peas
Red or sweet onion
Red, green, yellow or orange bell peppers
Broccoli (I can’t stand it raw, but really like it blanched for 1 minute, then refreshed under cold water)
Cauliflower (same process as with broccoli above)
Some of my favorite salad fruits (delicious with greens, or make a salad or slaw of fruit with fresh herbs)
Oranges (peeled and sliced, or segmented with knife; or heck, use canned mandarin oranges, they’re good!)
Ruby red grapefruits (love them!)
Apples of every variety
Pears of every variety
Add some punch:
Fresh herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro, basil)
Sprinkle of toasted nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, you name it; I like to use roasted and lightly salted nuts when I can, saving me the toasting step)
Sprinkle of toasted seeds (sesame, poppy, pepitas, cumin, fennel, anise)
Crumbled cooked bacon
Roasted red bell peppers
Chopped olives (preferably ones with a briny punch, as opposed to ripe olives)
Crumble of strong flavor cheeses (a little goes a long way): blue, feta, goat, Manchego, etc.
Dried fruits (of every variety)
Some of Camilla’s Combos:
(1) Spinach, mango, cilantro, avocado (vinaigrette with a touch of curry added or Newman’s’ Light Lime Dressing)
(2) Arugula, dried dates, goat cheese (balsamic vinaigrette)—believe me, it’s a heavenly combination.
(3) Mesclun, oranges or grapefruit, bit of fresh mint, thawed frozen edamame (homemade honey-lemon vinaigrette)
(4) Chickpeas, roasted red bell peppers, flat leaf parsley, diced cucumber (red wine vinaigrette, bit of cumin and/or smoked paprika added)
(5) Drained and rinsed black eye peas, diced red and green bell pepper, frozen corn, chopped scallions (slightly sweet vinaigrette with some hot sauce added)
(6) Cooked and cooled farro, spelt, barley or bulgur, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped fennel, feta, cucumber, dried or fresh dill (red wine vinaigrette).
(7) Cooked and cooled rice (preferably brown, but any variety), drained and rinsed black beans, cilantro, chunky salsa, cumin
VEGETABLES & FRUIT
(8) Mix of broccoli and cauliflower florets (blanched and cooled), crumbled bacon, parmesan cheese, (Caesar or red wine vinaigrette)
(9) Fresh waldorf (Diced Asian pears or apples, sliced celery, dried cherries, toasted walnuts or pecans, shredded basil, homemade orange vinaigrette)
(10) Radishes (trimmed and sliced), carrot (cut into thin julienne or shredded), Italian (flatleaf) parsley, raisins, bit of chopped mint, poppyseeds, goat cheese (homemade orange vinaigrette) (SEE PHOTO)
(11) Whole grain pasta (any shaped) cooked and rinsed in cold water to cool, asparagus, green beans or sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch pieces (add to pasta cooking water for last minutes of cooking), fresh chopped herbs, diced red yellow or orange peppers
(12) Buckwheat soba noodles (or whole wheat fettuccine or spaghetti) cooked and rinsed under cold water, snow peas (added to pasta cooking water final minute of cooking), thinly sliced red bell pepper, toasted sesame seeds (light sesame dressing—e.g., Newman’s Own brand)
(13) Whole wheat couscous (prepared with broth and curry powder), fresh diced peaches or mangoes, chopped mint, chopped cilantro, chopped cashews (homemade or purchased lime vinaigrette, e.g., Newman’ Own)
Here are some additional ideas from past posts:
Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese, Pears and Candied Balsamic Pecans
Moroccan Carrot Salad with Honey, Lemon & Fresh Herbs
English Pea Salad with Goat Cheese, Citrus & Mint
It’s been a wild and wacky day, so my original posting plans were obliterated by a slew of tiny errands and must-dos. In particular, I spent too much time teaching myself some advanced pilates tricks with the latex band (to share with my class). Think Elmer Fudd meets Cirque de Soleil.
But in between the teaching, grading, recipe testing, and a trip to the park with the Nickster, I was scheming about dinner. Once I settled on an easy option, I decided it was post-worthy (I’ll let you be he final judges; feel free to hit the gong). Moreover, my pledge for a month of dinner posts is almost up, so I need to hop to it and squeeze in a few final offerings.
On tonight’s menu? An easy dish prepared from the pantry (and the basil plant in the backyard—yes, it’s warm enough for basil here in Texas): whole grain fettuccine with sundried tomato pesto and olives. It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
I haven’t always been a fan of whole grain pasta. My first encounter was memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Chewy, grainy, and reminiscent of wet cardboard, it had all the comfort of a soggy sweater on a chilly day.
But that was a decade ago. The manufacturers must have heard the complaints, because they have been toiling away to remedy all of the past problems. Gone is the gumminess and graininess. Rather, this new generation of whole grain pastas have a far finer texture along with a nutty, wholesome flavor that adds, rather than detracts, from my favorite sauces.
And it’s hard to argue with the added nutrition: whole grain pasta has 25% more protein, three times the fiber, and fewer calories than white pasta. And according to nutritionists such as Ellie Krieger (of Food Network fame), whole grain pasta will keep you feeling fuller longer than regular pasta.
I have a few tips to make the conversion even easier to swallow:
Ø Begin by substituting one-quarter of whole-grain pasta mixed in with regular pasta. Work your way up to a higher percentage each time you serve pasta. Soon you will be accustomed to the new look, feel and taste.
Ø Look for products that are high in fiber. Some brands boast as much as three times more fiber than their regular-pasta counterparts.
Ø Look for fresh, refrigerated whole-grain pasta, too. Its texture tends to be softer than dried pasta. Follow the package directions carefully to avoid over- or under-cooking.
Ø If your regular supermarket doesn’t carry whole-grain pasta, bug your grocery manager to order it. Be sweet, but assertive.
Ø Use assertively flavored sauces when first converting to whole-grain pasta.
Whole Grain Fettucine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Olives
8 ounces whole grain fettuccine or linguine (Barilla is my favorite)
3/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves, drained
3/4 cup packed basil leaves, divided use
2 tablespoons walnuts
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra shavings for garnish)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
Cook pasta according to the package directions in a large pot of boiling salted water. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid, then drain in colander. Return pasta to pan.
While pasta cooks, place tomatoes, 1/4 cup of the basil, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add the reserved 1 cup cooking liquid and process until blended. Add to pasta along with olives. Roughly chop remaining 1/2 cup basil and add to pasta. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese shavings, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of pasta):Calories 301; Fat 9.9g (sat 3.3g, mono 3.9g, poly 1.6g); Protein 12.3g; Cholesterol 52mg; Carbohydrate 42g; Sodium 570mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
In review, it was more accurately a ham, jellybean, cheesecake, chocolate, and bacon-wrapped green beans hangover. Rising at 5:30 to teach was a minor agony, but I felt worlds better post-workout (although I felt decidedly salty/pickled—was I perspiring brine?).
Perhaps I’m giving my Easter day a negative spin; I don’t mean to. It was beautiful here in Texas, bright, sunny and cool, and the azaleas (we’re known for them round these parts; oh heavens, I almost felt a “y’all” coming on) are in full bloom.
Church was good (Easter hymns are some of my favorite) but I grumbled at Kevin on the way, petulant from failing to iron my clothes the night before and, consequently, not having time to eat breakfast nor properly smear on some makeup. But once settled into the pew, I was cheered, a state elevated further post-service watching Nick hunt for eggs. We later ate with gusto with some good friends (enter ham and jellybeans) and by 8 o’clock I would have called it a day—if I hadn’t procrastinated on some other work in the queue. I didn't hit the pillow until about 9:45.
But today is a new day, and I thought I was in good shape for it following the morning exercise, but I’ve been happily sluggish, even through my afternoon pilates class (I hope they didn’t notice; I tried to disguise it as best I could). I apologize for this post having an equally lethargic tone. It’s just one of those days. To perk things up, I’ll share a new first from my class today: as I rolled back on my mat, aiming to elicit a sense of focus and calm, a handful of Cheerios tumbled out of my pocket (or cleavage; I can’t be certain of which). Here’s to motherhood for keeping me humble.
I’m not getting back on schedule with recipe testing until tomorrow, so I opted to make an easy soup with some leftover ham (Kate, my hostess, sent me home with a heaping plateful) and ingredients I already had in the pantry and freezer. I got it simmering on the stove, then went back to baby-play amongst the azaleas.
I followed the recipe for Lentil, Kale and Sausage Soup on Epicurious but made the following changes:
*used 3 cups low sodium beef broth (instead of 1 and 1/2 chicken broth, 1 and 1/2 water)
* used 4 cloves of garlic instead of 2 (I like my garlic; if it’s good enough to keep Dracula at bay, it’s good enough for me)
*used a large onion, and chopped instead of sliced
*used half of a 16-ounce bag chopped spinach in place of the kale (i just added it in while still frozen)
*used one cup diced leftover ham in place of the sausage
* used red lentil (that's what I had on hand)
* added 2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence along with the onion
Easter is almost here, which means my mind is on Becky’s Easter Asparagus.
Becky is my brother’s godmother, and my parents are godparents to Becky’s son Matthew. Further, Becky divorced and remarried my godfather (who had also divorced). I guess that makes Becky my step-godmother? Once removed? It's tricky. Oh, those crazy Episcopalians.
Anyway, Becky is a dear family friend (our families spent a lot of time camping together; there’s something about living in tents and being grungy that brings you closer), and every year she hosts a post-church, potluck Easter lunch at her beautiful, brown-shingled house nestled in the Berkeley hills.
I haven’t been to Becky’s party for many years (my parents still go, though), but I have fond memories of those Easters past. In true bay area fashion, most every one felt more like Christmas, blanketed with fog and chilly with damp and dew. Yet everyone at Becky’s gathered outside, huddled in groups of three or more for heat as much as for conversation. Except me. I was inside, eating Becky’s asparagus.
Every year, Becky made a simple, but simply perfect, sesame-soy asparagus. It had the perfect balance of flavors—salty, umami, sour, just a hint of sweet, and a final complement of toasted sesame seeds. Of course, I did not think about any of these factors at the time. I only knew that I loved it, and because I only had the good fortune to get it once a year, I was going to make certain I got my due share.
I’ve found and tried several similar recipes over the years, but writing this post reminds me that I need to email Becky and ask for her exact recipe. I’ve come up with my own version, a blend of several recipes, which tastes close to what I remember; I try to make it most every Easter, too. But tomorrow we are heading to a friend’s house for dinner, where my primary contribution will be a cheesecake (the lemon curd marbled cheesecake from Gourmet –it is my favorite cheesecake of all time), so I made the asparagus last night. Kevin likes it, too, but he was happy to let me hoard most of it. Happy Easter!
Becky’s Easter Asparagus (Sesame Soy Aasparagus)
It's really important to blot the asparagus dry after cooking; extra water will dilute the dressing and make the asparagus taste water-logged.
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons Asian (toasted/dark) sesame oil
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Cook asparagus in a steamer (or a large skillet of boiling water) until just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Pat dry with paper towels. Arrange inside a baking dish . Mix sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in small bowl. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon dressing over asparagus and use hands to toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Sprinkle with sesame seeds just before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/6 of the asparagus):Calories 79; Fat 1.8g (poly 0.8g, mono 0.0g, sat 0.7g); Protein 3.2g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 7.4g; Sodium 130.8mg
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Hello, all. Two orders of business this evening; it won’t take long.
First, a head’s up for this Sunday: C is for cookie, a cookie showdown, my friends. Witness me and seven others duke it out with rolling pins, sticks of butter, and bars of chocolate. I’ll be making both my Exotic Spice Cookies (photo below) and Oaxaca Fudge Bars with Cashew Topping (before hopes rise and dreams blossom, I can tell you that neither is low fat). Tune in to watch me cover myself with flour.
Fingers crossed that they use our most flattering angles; much of the filming day is a blur, but I have vague memories of multiple cameras filming straight up my nose (they get very, very close). I can’t tell you the results—you’ll just have to watch! The show premieres Easter Sunday at 8 p.m. central, 9 p.m. eastern & pacific on the Food Network. Here’s the link:
Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Cookies!
Second on the agenda is dinner, which brings me, with great pleasure, to my grape and chicken salad, a meal that garners four out of five stars in my busy modern mother handbook. It requires few ingredients, all of which are easily found at the average grocery store, but the flavors work in delicious harmony.
If you’re questioning the combination of grapes and feta cheese, I understand. But have faith. I was inspired by Cat Cora, the fantastic Iron Chef on Food Network, who showcases the Greek foods and flavors of her heritage in brilliant and unexpected ways. For example, the pairing of Greek feta cheese and fruits (such as Watermelon and peaches) in appetizers and salads. The salty, briny taste of the feta with the tart-sweet tang of fruit is a refreshing and satisfying surprise, a reminder that a recipe doesn’t have to be convoluted to be delicious and innovative.
I’ve made this combination once before; today I found it an ideal restorative after a day comprising the teaching of multiple exercise classes, the baking of several batches of Easter cookies, the grading of (some less than dazzling) exams, and the (overdue) scrubbing of the kitchen floor. It tastes equally delicious if you have done nothing more physically taxing than reading back issues of the New Yorker all day (I’m not naming names, but did I mention that a certain husband has the day off? No complaints, he deserves it). Plus, like other composed salads, it’s pretty on a plate. It’s true that you can’t eat style. I don’t care. At the end of a busy day, especially in spring (it’s finally here!), I love a beautiful dinner; it always tastes that much better.
1 and 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (typically one package of three breasts), trimmed
3 teaspoons dried oregano, divided use
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
4 packed cups pre-washed baby (or regular) arugula, shredded or roughly torn
1/4 pound green seedless grapes, halved
1/4 pound red seedless grapes, halved
4 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
Hot cooked whole wheat or regular couscous
Place chicken on a dinner plate. Combine 2 teaspoons oregano and 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl. Brush mixture over both sides of chicken, seasoning both sides with salt and freshly cracked pepper, too. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes (if time permits—you can prepare the other elements of the dish while the chicken sits).
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and cook for 2 minutes each side or until browned. Transfer to a cookie sheet and roast for 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked through. Cover with foil and set aside for 10 minutes to rest. Thinly slice.
Meanwhile, place vinegar, honey, remaining teaspoon oregano, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a jar with a screw-top lid. Cover and shake vigorously, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Place arugula, grapes and chicken in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and toss gently to combine. For each serving spoon hot couscous onto one side of dinner plate and salad on the other (overlapping some of the couscous); crumble feta over salad. Makes 4 servings.
You reach into the oven for that sheet of cookies or bubbling baked pasta, accidentally touch the side of the pan and, in reaction, knock your hand, fingers, arm against the hot rack or broiler element? This form of searing is one of my cooking specialties (along with my knack for burning oven mitts and mats); I performed this little trick no less than three times last night, then once again this morning when pulling a slice of soda bread from the toaster oven.
In light of my blunders (this is but one of the many encountered at Chez Saulsbury on a daily basis), I offer a few of my preferred euphemistic expletives—they are far more fun, and infinitely more satisfying and civilized than the real thing.
And unless you operate with the perfection of Martha Stewart (and I suspect she would enjoy them, too—or, at least, her staff), I consider them essential for the home cook’s (especially this home cook’s) pantry of prose. Enjoy, and please post other favorites!
A Quick Guide to Camilla’s Kitchen Curses
Jiminy Crickets! (this was the favorite of my first boyfriend’s mother)
Essential, multi-purpose adjective:
Cockamamy (as in “this cockammamy toaster oven!!!")
A few (mildly) more innocent curses:
The above are ideal for the disappearance of essential cookware at the exact time of need (as in “By Jove, where is that garlic press!!!” and “By tarnation, where did you hide the 8-inch square baking pan, [*fill in name of significant other and/or roommate here*]!!!”
And finally, a few words of cheer for when the cake rises, the Jell-o sets, and the pasta is a perfect al dente:
Tally-ho! (one of my grandfather’s favorites)
Toodle pip! (how can anyone resist toodle pip?!)
Thousands of poets have sung the praises of the rose, but as far as I know, only Robert Louis Stevenson has eulogized the onion in verse. In “To a Gardener,” he writes:
First let the onion flourish there,
Rose among roots, the maiden fair
Wine-scented and poetic soul
Of the capacious salad bowl.
Moved by the same sentiments—and the 4 pound bag of marked-down Vidalia onions I threw into the shopping cart on Sunday—I decided to pay homage to onions today, sweet onions in particular.
Sweet onions are just that, in more ways than one. Their thin translucent wrappings shed to reveal fragrant, full-bodied flavor and sweetness for a few coins more than ordinary onions and their versatility extends far beyond humdrum hamburger garnish. Given the opportunity, they can star in everything from starters, to soups to salads, and, because their flavor is milder and sweeter than ordinary white and yellow onions, they perform beautifully in supporting roles for chutneys, fresh relishes, entrees and pickles, too.
Incorporating sweet onions into new and favorite recipes requires little imagination. Buy one, chop or slice it up and start sprinkling. Beyond salads, try adding a few chopped tablespoons to bolster purchased salsa, stir them into broth-based vegetable and chicken soups, or make a quick pasta of linguine, sweet onions sautéed in a bit of olive oil, shredded rotisserie chicken, and a sprinkle of herbs and Parmesan cheese.
My sweet onion soup with goat cheese croutons, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, represents the triumph of hope over experience. One afternoon, I began making an onion soup recipe to use up some of the bits and pieces I had in my pantry and refrigerator. I didn’t have the white wine called for in the recipe, so I substituted red wine. The onions looked lonely so I added some thyme. When I discovered mold on the Swiss cheese, I chucked it and used goat cheese instead (spread over large croutons made from the remains of a baguette—I always found the traditional broiled cheese topping hard to eat, anyway).
And on it went. Even though the finished product looked nothing like traditional French onion soup, my dining partners paid the ultimate compliment: they ate it all before I could save enough for the next day’s lunch.
The only time-consuming part of the dish is the caramelizing of the onions, which takes about 25-30 minutes. But so long as I keep the heat at medium (not too high), I find that one stir every 5 minutes or so is plenty. I made the soup early this afternoon and was able to cook the onions while I simultaneously played with Nick on the opposite side of the kitchen (I had to get up every few minutes or so, anyway, to wipe up the trails of milk between the baskets of blocks and toys). In short, no hovering above the stove needed.
Caramelized Onion Soup with Red Wine & Goat Cheese Croutons
Sweet onions are found adjacent to ordinary onions in the supermarket. Buy onions that feel hard, free of soft spots and with no trace of sprouting. Store them in a cool, dark and airy place. Once peeled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Sweet onions, like other onions, will keep for weeks without refrigeration, making them handy for added bursts of flavor to plenty of spur-of-the moment cooking.
This is the perfect thing for lunch, but a little bit light for me for dinner on a typical night (especially a post-exercise night like tonight); we had some rotisserie chicken and arugula on the side.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 and 1/2 pounds sweet onions (any variety—I prefer Vidalia), trimmed and very thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided use
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 and 1/2 cups red wine
1 4-ounce package soft mild goat cheese, room temperature (for easier spreading)
6 medium-size slices French bread, toasted
Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onions and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Add garlic, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the thyme and cook for 1 minute; add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and wine; cover and cook over low heat, for 25 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt & pepper.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Spread cheese onto bread, sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, and place on large baking sheet. Broil 1-2 minutes or until bubbling and golden. Ladle soup into deep bowls and top with a cheese crouton. Makes 6 servings
Nutrition per Serving (1 bowl and 1 crouton):
Calories 280; Fat 10.9g (sat 5.1g, mono 4.1g, poly 1.2g); Protein 13.4g; Cholesterol 19.4mg; Carbohydrate 26.6g; Sodium 599.7mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Nutrition Notes for Onions
Onions are loaded with nutrition. Specifically, they are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and folic acid, and a good source of calcium and iron. Well worth crying over!
Onions also contain quercetin, a flavonoid (a type of antioxidant; antioxidants are compounds that help delay or slow the oxidative damage to cells and tissue of the body). Studies indicate that quercetin helps to eliminate free radicals in the body, to inhibit low-density lipoprotein oxidation (an important reaction in the atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease), to protect and regenerate vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) and to inactivate the harmful effects of chelate metal ions. Other dietary sources of quercetin include tea and apples.
In addition to quercetin, onions contain the phytochemicals known as disulfides, trisulfides, cepaene, and vinyl dithiins. These compounds have a variety of health-functional properties, including anticancer and antimicrobial activities.
Well here I am, purposely disavowing my pledge of a month of dinner posts. But considering I had not planned to post today, I proclaim it justifiable. Treat it as a bonus, a Saint Patty’s Day bonus, no less.
We grilled steaks for dinner last night (one night of vegetarian entrees was enough for Kevin), and because they were Flintstones’-size, we have more than enough for tonight, too. A night of leftovers means I’ve been free to bake this afternoon, so despite the 80+ degrees outside, I gathered flour and baking soda and set to baking a batch of Irish soda bread.
Irish soda bread could, and perhaps should, be re-named; I suggest “I can’t believe I just made this incredibly delicious bread in 5 minutes.” A ridiculous mouthful, but it’s true. Soda bread has no yeast, no rising, no kneading, just a cursory stir, plunk and bake. It’s worth the minimal effort, even on a hot & humid Texas day.
James Beard, who I otherwise revere as one the greatest American cooks and food writers, ends his recipe for Irish soda bread with a warning that it “must never be cut into thick slices.” Phooey. Slice it thin, slice it thick, or haul off and take a bite out of the side if you feel so inclined. You can leave out the sugar and currants and add fresh or dried herbs, or leave out the adornments altogether. I prefer mine slightly sweet, particularly because I relish it as morning toast, smeared with ample amounts of marmalade.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my beautiful, elegant, and hilarious Scotch-Irish gran, Vivian Eleanor Percy. I miss you.
Camilla’s Irish Soda Bread with Currants
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
2/3 cup currants or raisins
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8-inch-diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. In a large bowl whisk the flours, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add the melted butter and buttermilk. Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients to blend. Mix in currants.
Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Using a sharp knife, slash a deep X (at least half inch deep) across the top of the ball. Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 slice): Calories 89; Fat 1.5g (sat .7g, mono 0.5g, poly 0.1g); Protein 1.9g; Cholesterol 3.7mg; Carbohydrate 17.6g; Sodium 138.6mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
10 P.M. UPDATE: YOU MUST WATCH!!!
Many blessings to my friend Katie, for sharing the following St. Patrick's day clip of Beaker, the Swedish Chef and Animal (all from the Muppet Show) singing Danny Boy. I nearly died. Kevin came to see what was wrong, he thought I was crying because I started laughing so hard. You must watch:
For my entire childhood, I had a week's notice of my dinner fare. Every Saturday morning, my mother plunked a pile of cookbooks and her overstuffed recipe box on the dining room table and mapped out a week of dinner menus before heading to the local co-op. It helped her manage her budget, shopping and sanity, but left her open to scrutiny.
"Welsh rabbit? What's that?" I quizzed her, when, at about age 6, the odd entree item was written on her menu and posted on the kitchen corkboard. Visions of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, braised or boiled, came to mind.
"Not Rabbit, rare-bit, and Welsh as in 'from Wales,' dear."
"Whales?" I squeaked. The bunnies turned to blubber and baleen.
"Wales, the country," she sighed, eyeing my blank expression and returning it with one of her exasperated "heavens, what are they not teaching you in school" looks.
"It's cheese, it's toast, you'll like it," she assured.
And I did. Thick slabs of sturdy bread, crisply toasted before being napped in a melted blanket of sharp Cheddar cheese. Welsh rarebit is the English pub equivalent of fondue and was my busy mother's fast food ally.
The list of ingredients, including cheese and butter, might make pious nutritionists recoil. But take another look at the measurements -- small. Room can be made in a balanced diet for an occasional smattering of such richness. And balance, as the great American food writer MFK Fisher wrote more than a half century ago, need not be a requirement for each meal. Such a strategy inevitably leads to dinner dissatisfaction, if not outright despair. A "balanced" diet can also be achieved by aiming for week-long balance.
If you view vegetables as punishment (stripped, steamed, blanched --bleah) when partnered with austere entrees, try them alongside Welsh rarebit. The contrast is enlivening. Such was the case when Welsh rarebit appeared on my mother's menu. My siblings and I were bamboozled into eating everything from brussels sprouts to beets if melted cheese took center stage.
Like all elementary dishes, the level of Welsh rarebit's deliciousness varies directly with the quality of ingredients. It is still excellent on the cheap, but steer clear of wimpy white bread -- it is too feeble to sustain the weight of the cheese. Any thick, crusty bread, or the remnants of a baguette, will work. Sharp cheddar cheese, enriched with beer, mustard, and an egg yolk, is melted into a robust sauce, spooned atop the toasted bread, then broiled until browned and bubbly, making it worthy of fork and knife.
Yesterday I discovered that Welsh rarebit is an ideal meal at the end of a journey home. When making our return trek, Kevin and I tend to dispatch meals as quickly as possible, and to distract ourselves from the actual business of eating. It makes for efficiency, but also disgruntlement. By the time we arrived, we made a grumpy lot.
But unpacking our amorphous bundles of luggage, and chasing Nick about the yard for several hours, renewed our spirits, and our appetites. By 6:30 we were both famished, but too exhausted for anything elaborate. Welsh rarebit sprang to memory. And because we had eaten more meat in four days then we typically eat in two weeks, I didn't even need to convince Kevin of the virtues of a vegetarian entree.
For a twist, I took the cherry tomatoes Kevin picked up at the store and roasted them instead of plunking them, raw, into the spinach salad. This transformed their rock-hard exteriors into melt-in-your mouth morsels. I kept them attached to their stems, and balanced them atop the bubbling slices. With salad and a pour of chilled wine, it was the home cooking we had both been craving.
Welsh Rarebit with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Leaving the cherry tomatoes on the vines makes a pretty presentation, and also makes it simple to transport them from roasting pan to toasted bread. Just snip the vines so you have six tomatoes per vine. I’ve been able to find cherry tomatoes on the vine in most every supermarket, typically sold in red net bags (as opposed to cherry tomatoes in baskets). The quick roast caramelizes the natural sugars, making off-season tomatoes every bit as delectable as their summertime siblings.
Make a fresh spinach salad to accompany the rarebit; that's all you need for dinner.
24 cherry or grape tomatoes
nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup beer
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
8 ounces strong cheddar cheese, grated
1 large egg yolk
4 large, thick slices sturdy bread, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Place tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet; lightly mist with cooking spray and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 15 minutes until they just begin to burst their skins. Loosely cover with foil to keep warm.
Switch oven to broiler setting. Combine the canola oil and the butter in a saucepan, then add flour and cook over low heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Add beer, mustard and cheese, and stir until creamy (do not boil). Remove from heat, add egg yolk and stir until blended. Evenly spread the toasted bread with cheese mixture, and place under the broiler until hot and bubbling (about 30-60 seconds). Top with the broiled tomatoes and garnish with some chives. Makes 4 main-dish servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 piece Welsh rarebit with tomatoes):
Calories 339; Fat 19.2g (sat 8.0g, mono 7.8g, poly 2.2g); Protein 18.3g; Cholesterol 85.9mg; Carbohydrate 22.6g; Sodium 598.5mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
History Notes for Welsh Rarebit
Welsh rabbit, Welsh rarebit (nn.)
"Welsh rabbit and Welsh rarebit are both Standard English names for a dish of melted cheese and beer served on toast or crackers, presumably so-called as an insult to the impoverished or uncivilized Welsh, who were said to eat it instead of the rabbit meat they lacked; hence Welsh rabbit is almost certainly an ethnic slur. Welsh rarebit is a folk etymology apparently either contrived to avoid offending the Welsh or caused by a misunderstanding of the intended noun, since perhaps some couldn’t see a connection between cheese and rabbits." --The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Copyright © 1993 Columbia University Press
Take my friend, Katy, for example. Katy is a baking marvel. She is the Muhammad Ali of the convection oven, pitying the fool who dares rival her in the éclair, financier, and cream puff arena. But she is no stew-maker. She follows recipes the way literalists follow the letter of the law, and measures herbs and spices with the exactitude of a Swiss watchmaker. Such methodology renders perfect pastry, but as Katy is the first to laughingly admit, yields sterile stews.
The “kitchen as clinic” approach will not do for stew. Stew is at heart a flexible dish, willing to bend and bow to whimsy as much as tradition; and to achieve greatness, it requires liberal zeal, regardless of political leanings.
To begin, locate a stew recipe that appeals, then use it as a point of orientation, a stovetop roadmap for proportion, flavor, technique, and timing. From there, have fun, exerting free will and jocularity. You want more garlic? Add more garlic. You want wine instead of water? Do it. The text calls for onions, but you favor shallots? Make the change. Imbibe the cooking liquid from time to time. And poke your nose in the pot, too; breathe the heady aroma of your creation and smirk at your skill.
And in case you’re thinking a stew requires all day preparation, think again. Check out my smoked paprika chickpea and sausage stew, a 15-minute wonder. I developed it a few years back for a contest calling for quick & easy dinner ideas. It didn’t win, place or show, but I kept making it, primarily because it’s fantastic fast food—definitely a case of the sum being greater than the parts. (I made it over and over again for quick lunches when I was pregnant and craving spicy food.)
It’s an especially nice option when you’re away from your own kitchen, as it requires no special equipment (you don’t even need a sharp knife). Now please excuse me while I go heat up a bowl of the leftovers (and finish those Cheez Nips from Tuesday; I think Kevin hid the box).
Smoked Paprika Chickpea & Sausage Stew
I’m so excited that McCormick brand spices started carrying smoked paprika in their gourmet line of spices. Up until now I’ve had to mail order it or carry it back from trips to California. Holy cow, they even had it at the Wal-Mart here in Arkansas.
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of a 16-ounce package reduced fat smoked sausage, halved lengthwise, then cut into thin slices (e.g., Hillshire Farms)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (if you can find the fire-roasted kind--e.g. Muir Glen--use them!)
1 and 3/4 cups low sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 and 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (or use 1 teaspoon regular paprika plus 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
4 ounces thinly sliced kale, chard, spinach, or other greens (about 2 packed cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook and stir until nicely browned. Remove to paper towel to drain.
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat the tomatoes, broth, cumin and paprika. Bring to a boil, then add the greens. Stir well, cover and reduce heat to low; simmer about 6 minutes until the greens are just tender (this will only take a minute or so if using spinach). Stir in the sausage and heat 1 minute longer. Ladle into bowls and eat with crusty bread (or, if you are Cheez Nips crazy, some Cheez Nips). Makes 4 servings.
(I’ll post the nutrition once I’m back to my own computer; it has the software for the nutrition analysis)
Native Californians have their share of regional expressions, but in terms of interest, variety, and color, we can’t begin to compete with Southerners.
Sadly, years of graduate school have expunged most of the phrases from my husband’s vernacular, but they always return, at least in small measure, when we spend time with my in-laws. I have a few favorites.
Topping my list is “bless your heart.” My husband's grandmothers and aunties use this one, often. According to my anecdotal evidence, this idiom is exclusive to Southern women. Used in response to information of all kinds, “bless your heart” can express deepest sympathy or concern, but Yankees beware: it has additional meanings including, but not limited to, “how appalling,” “how very pitiful,” and “darlin’, you’re crazy.”
Next up is one of my mother-law’s favored turns-of-phrase, “fixin’ to.” If you’re fixin’ to do something, you’re getting ready to, planning to, and/or intending to do something. The potential ambiguity of this phrase is very appealing. For example, I can say I’m “fixin’ to re-organize my filing cabinet,” but this could mean I’d like to do it, but I’ll actually get around to it in 10 minutes, two weeks, or never.
Then there’s “putting up,” meaning to put something away; in the case of food, it can also refer to preserving or storing (e.g., jarring, canning, and preserving fruits and vegetables in cans and mason jars). My husband continues to use this one. It caused particular confusion the first time we camped together when, upon preparing to leave, he asked me to help him “put up the tent.”
And finally, one of my father-in-law’s multi-purpose expressions (really a single word): “deal.” He uses this pronoun for everything from weddings to rain gutters to dentures. Considering he relies on “deal” so frequently, you’d think communication would be problematic. But if I pay attention to the context and inflection, the meaning is almost always illuminated.
For example, when he asked me yesterday if I might “make that spicy deal with spaghetti” I’d made the last time they visited us in Texas, I knew exactly what he wanted, and I was happy to oblige.
Even if you like your noodles soft, it’s important to cook the pasta just to the point of al dente. Why? Because the pasta will cook again for another minute or two in the sauce, absorbing all of the wonderful flavors (and if you want your noodles really soft, just continue simmering in the sauce, adding an an extra tablespoon of water, until they have the consistency you like). This simple step can elevate all of your pasta dishes from good to great.
The anchovies are really important for the overall flavor of the dish, adding depth that you don’t associate with fish. I separate leftover anchovies into snack-size-baggies(2 or 3 per bag) and freeze for future use, so one can is plenty for multiple recipes.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 canned anchovies, rinsed, minced
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes, undrained
1 1-pound box whole grain spaghetti
8 ounce washed kale, spinach, chard or other greens, chopped
1 6-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella, ripped into pieces
Heat the oilve oil in a large, deep skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, anchovies, basil, oregano and chili flakes, stirring until garlic is golden (be careful, this goes quickly—don’t walk away). Pour in the tomatoes, breaking up slightly with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes until the sauce is thick.
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. In the last 3 minutes of cooking, add the greens (only about 1 minute if using spinach). Drain the pasta, then add to the skillet with the sauce; cook and stir 1-2 minutes longer to blend the flavors. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and toss in the mozzarella, Season with salt & pepper to taste. Makes 6 main-dish servings.
(I don't have access to my nutritional anlsysis program right now; I'll post the nutrition info when I do)
This morning Kevin loaded suitcases, snacks, Nick, a scatterbrained wife, and two large travel mugs of coffee into the car. We were off on a whirlwind visit to my inlaws in Arkansas.
It took 6 hours of Barney and Sesame Street to get here, but we survived, and baby is now blissfully asleep. My husband was born and raised here. I have particular affection for the town because it is where I discovered that Piggly Wiggly is a real grocery store (I thought it was a made up name when I saw Fried Green Tomatoes back in college).
No cooking to report today, but it was a ridiculous eating day, so I thought I'd offer up the absurdity of my ways for a few laughs. For those of you interested in such things, this was inspired by the blog option on the food and drink forum egullet, where people chronicle every morsel of food and drink that passes their palates for at least a week or two at a time. I won't make you suffer through a fortnight of my food ways, just one day of my unenlightened conduct.
The day started off well. I had a bowl of plain yogurt with some dried blueberries stirred in and lemon honey on top (I made an extra batch, without rosemary, after making the fish on Sunday). Oh, virtuous me! That was at 5:20. I suppose I should add that I taught a 6 am spinning class before we left. What was I thinking? Anyway, all good intentions went out the window afterwards.
(we hit the road at 9:04)
9:05 jumbo cup of coffee
9:10 5 animal crackers
9:15 5 more animal crackers
9:30 2 bites of chocolate brownie energy bar (a brand I like, but yuck; 2 bites was too much)
9:35 final slurps of jumbo cup of coffee
9:40: 3 piece Orbit mint chewing gum
10:03 2 more animal crackers (honestly, more like 12)
Intermission: fall asleep for 15 minutes; awake to Nick screaming "EAT!"
10:20 Let the reduced fat Cheez Nips eating begin (3 handfuls? four? I lost track).
11:45 Soggy arugula salad (I couldn't bear to throw the last of the arugula away, I love it that much. Or, I did, before the soggy salad)
12:00 Heaven help me, more Cheez Nips
12:30 4 pickle slices from Kevin's sandwich
1:00 Mini can of spicy V-8 (a very bad move)
1:10 3 more pieces Orbit mint gum (accompanied by annoying remarks from husband about my hogging all of the gum)
1:30 1/2 of a smushed banana (the part that Nick would not eat)
2:00 Pit stop. I eat the 2 animal crackers I find I've been sitting on.
2:15 16 ounce Diet coke
(Meanwhile, Kevin had drunk and eaten nothing more than his coffee, a simple sandwich, some water and a single piece of gum. Curses!)
4:15 Latte at the local coffeehouse (yes, they have coffeehouses in small towns in Arkansas these days; this one is very good) and 2 bites of Kevin's brownie.
6:10 Oh good grief, more Cheez Nips (small handful) and 10 or 11 stale dark chocolate Hershey's kisses.
6:20 Arkansas Dinner: 2 bites boiled green beans, 3 bites ham, 1/4 of a baked potato, 1/2 of a small sweet potato, 1 glass unsweetened iced tea.
8:40 half a piece of apple pie.
9:00 Pledge to start anew tomorrow.
Bon nuit, and may tomorrow bring enlightenment, at least on the food front.
In case you didn’t read my post on Friday, it snowed here in Texas. But by Sunday, a mere two days later, it was a glorious spring day.
Church let out early—I’m not sure if our rector planned on such a short sermon, but I suspect the time change and pretty day may have helped hurry it along.
Once home, Nick downed some milk, then collapsed for a nap. Suddenly free, I changed into a pair of shorts and retrieved the flip-flops pitched to the back of the closet Friday morning. Instead of bothering with lunch, I grabbed my book, wandered outside to the backyard table, sat on a chair, and held my face up to the exceptional sun. I felt entirely alone, but considering that I had had a particularly grumpy baby on my hands all morning, it was a very pleasant feeling. It seemed as good a place to read as any, but the sun dazzled and bemused me; I found myself reading the same page twice and eventually put the book away and dozed.
I jerked back awake ten minutes later to feel Kitty, our adopted Siamese cat (yes, such a bold name choice for a cat), brushing against my leg. As I watched her lick her paws, I felt in sudden need of food, so I rose and turned my steps to the house: time for a snack and consideration of dinner.
I scrambled an egg and ate it carelessly, wandering around the kitchen absently waving my fork. What to make for dinner? I opened the deep freezer and leaned in, trying to get my thoughts in order. Ground beef—hamburgers? Kefta kebabs? No and no. Chicken breasts—a pasta? Panini? Too much fuss. I pawed through the remaining possibilities and settled on salmon.
I’m sure those of you living minutes from the shore are groaning. Well groan away; we, the landlocked, do what we can. I’ve been buying a new brand of frozen wild salmon, keeping several packages in the freezer for easy meals. The first time I prepared it, Kevin and I instantly and unanimously agreed it was quite good: firm, flavorful, and not a trace of fishiness (otherwise, I would have given it an instant heave-ho). Keeping frozen fish on hand helps cure my infrequent but inevitable dinner crankies: the “I know I’m a recipe developer, but can’t we have peanut butter sandwiches and call it a day?” moments. With some salmon in the freezer, I can pull something together in about the same time.
Grilling seemed a good option (partly because I knew Kevin would do it); March has become our preferred grilling month because of the general warmth but lack of humidity and mosquitoes. I’ve been a one-hit wonder in the grilled salmon category, relying on one favorite recipe from a 1996 issue of Bon Appetit (Glazed Grilled Salmon). There’s nothing wrong with that, except I’ve made it several times when I really wanted something else. It was time to break free and experiment.
I like sweet with my salmon, so I concocted a 1-minute lemon juice and honey glaze with some rosemary. So easy, so good--I think I'm going to make some more and drizzle it over yogurt for breakfast. The salmon struck all the right notes for a bright, easy Sunday supper, and lowered the cranky dial from high to medium-low. Kitty got a few bites, too; I'll consider her purring tacit agreement.
Honey-Lemon Lacquered Salmon
1/4 cup honey
1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Four 7-ounce salmon fillets
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
In a small saucepan, combine the honey with the lemon juice, rosemary and lemon zest. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.
Brush the salmon fillets with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Grill the fish over a medium-high fire, turning once, until lightly charred and just pink in the center, about 5 minutes per side (10 minutes total). Brush the honey- lemon glaze all over the fillets and grill until lightly lacquered, turning and brushing both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer the grilled, glazed salmon to plates; drizzle with remaining glaze, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Notes:The following article didn’t inspire my recipe, but it did catch my eye this past Friday. Yet another reason to try my recipe, yes?
Typical North American Diet Is Deficient In Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the root canal wasn’t bad at all; drilling is still no fun, but it was sweet relief to be free of the throbbing.
But the drilling and scraping required an ample dose of Novocain, leaving me with the sensation of a silicone loaf pan in place of cheek, lips and tongue. So I arrived home in the early evening with my frozen face, and wondered what to do next. Kevin and Nick were outside playing, the morning snow having given way to a beautifully sunny afternoon. I stayed inside, dreamily fatigued, ready for the day to come to a close. How many hours until this stuff wears off? Waiting can be such a consuming affair. I knew I should have figured out what to make for dinner earlier; I 'd lost confidence in any of my ideas. I had not given the problem of a numb face, and its effect on my mood, due consideration; it annoyed me to have to give it consideration at all.
I made a cup of mint tea, which I sipped and dribbled while half-heartedly flipping through a few cooking magazines, followed by the opening and closing of the refrigerator door several times over. I poked my cheek; nothing. By 6:30 I was bored with waiting for my face and dinner. I pulled out the box of polenta I had pondered in the morning and set to work.
By 6:45 I had halved a package of mushrooms (neglected from an earlier shopping trip; another day or two and they were destined for the dustbin) and begun sautéing them in olive oil; a few splashes of balsamic vinegar and thyme were added to the mix. The kitchen began to smell pleasantly of food (I’m glad there’s no call for administering Novocain up the nose). The pan was removed from the heat, covered to keep warm, and replaced with a pot of broth and milk. It only took a few minutes to bring it to a boil and whisk in the polenta. The meal suddenly seemed endowed with success.
Nick was beginning to clamor for his bath (Kevin fed him dinner while I whisked), so I hopped to it and got the polenta in the bowls, followed by the mushrooms, and topped it all off with a few blue cheese crumbles (from a morsel of forgotten, but still acceptable, gorgonzola at the rear of the cheese drawer) and a handful of arugula leaves (leftover from Thursday's bbq tofu sandwiches). It was good. Really good. Even Nicky ate several spoonfuls, including a balsamic mushroom and a piece of arugula (although he promptly spit the latter right back out). Then I chomped my tongue, and felt it (just a little bit). Hurrah!
Creamy Polenta with Balsamic Glazed Mushrooms, Blue Cheese and Arugula
This is an approximation of what I did last night; there was no precise measuring as I went along, except for the proportions of liquid to dry polenta. The leftovers were delicious rewarmed for lunch today--even pretty enough to be photographed.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound button mushrooms, trimmed and halved
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
2 cups low sodium, fat free chicken broth (or vegetable broth, to make it vegetarian)
1 cup dry quick-cooking polenta (or yellow cornmeal)
3/4 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
About 2 packed cups pre-cleaned baby arugula leaves
In a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and tender, about 6 minutes. Season with the thyme and salt and freshly ground pepper, then add the vinegar. Cook about 1 minute to glaze the mushrooms then remove from heat. Keep the mushrooms warm while preparing the polenta.
Combine the milk and broth in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and gradually add the polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 2 minutes. Add the salt; cover and let stand 5 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Top the polenta with the mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles and arugula. Makes 4 main-dish servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of the dish):
Calories 412; Fat 10.1g (sat 3.1g, mono 3.3g, poly 2.6g); Protein 17.7g; Cholesterol 9mg; Carbohydrate 69.8g; Sodium 267mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
I am submitting this in the Tried, True and Tested Roundup! Here is the link to the great site!
Like the weather, I’m in flux: I’ve changed my mind about posting, at least for this morning, abandoning thoughts of dinner in favor of baking. I figure such a move is tolerable considering the weather, and what awaits this afternoon: my first root canal. I’ve kept it from all of you these past few days; how does one slip shooting pain and groggy drugged-ness into the conversation? Perhaps three days of tofu explains it all.
Experiencing a toothache, noting its accompanying crankiness, slows the food blogger down, makes her pay attention to her work until, finally, she lands on a subject that will both satisfy readers and render a product that is easily chewed on one side of the mouth. So as we all head into the weekend (especially one where an hour’s sleep will be lost), I propose a quick baking cure and scones for all.
I like eating scones for weekend breakfasts; I don’t like making scones on weekend mornings. I prefer putzing and paper-reading. So I’m making the scones now to re-heat tomorrow, and eating one or two today for a dose of pre-root canal comfort (Am I on to something here? Pre-dental-work food?)
I found my extra-large, three-dollar metal mixing bowl, the finest and best bowl I ever bought, considering the price, in the pantry. Nick likes to bang on it as much as I like to mix in it, so its location changes frequently. I like that bowl. It’s the kind of thing you can rough-handle and nothing happens to it. It’s also the best bowl for mixing scones.
I didn’t intend for these to be whole wheat scones; I merely forgot that most of the all-purpose flour went into the ciabatta last Sunday, and I failed to buy more. So whole wheat flour entered the mix. I whisked, stirred and shaped, then slipped the triangles into the oven to bake, all with one lingering question: can a handicapped mouth chew a whole wheat scone?
I had my answer in twenty minutes: Yes (so long as I limited my chewing to the right, posterior quadrant of my mouth). Moreover, the nuttiness of the whole wheat flour, in combination with the floral pears and spices, is a winner. Now, that is choice toothache eating.
I’m still figuring out what to do about dinner. I’m thinking mush is the right direction. Perhaps polenta? I’ll post the results. Wish me luck!
Whole Wheat Pear Scones with Sweet Spices
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1.2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small bits
1 cup shredded peeled pear
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk, divided use
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl whish the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, soda and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or you fingers until mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs. Add the pear, 1/2 cup milk, and vanilla, stirring just until moist (dough will be sticky).
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Divide dough in half; gently knead and pat each portion into a 6-inch circle. Place each circle on prepared sheet. Cut each circle into 5 wedges, cutting into but not through, dough. Brush tops of wedges with remaining 2 tablespoons milk, and sprinkle evenly with the sugar.
Bake 14-17 minutes or until golden. Serve warm. Makes 10 scones.
Nutrition per Serving (1 scone):
Calories 172; Fat 5.2g (sat 3.1g, mono 1.3g, poly 0,4g); Protein 3.7g; Cholesterol 13.1mg; Carbohydrate 28.1g; Sodium 319mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Even the most avid cook occasionally balks at the prospect of preparing dinner. When this happens to me, I respond by firing up the stovetop for one of my reliable, stress-free standbys, such as my barbecue tofu sandwich with arugula and roasted peppers.
Before I get to the sandwich recipe, it’s worth addressing the “why bother with tofu?” question. My answer to that is more questions: Do you like to cook and eat delicious food? Do you need quick meal ideas? Does the healthfulness of the food you eat matter? Whether you answered “yes” to one or all of the above, then it’s high time to slough any tofu prejudice and/or indifference once and for all.
Tofu is easy on the home cook, because it requires little hassle or hustle to assemble and season. It can be incredibly delicious because it takes on the identity of whatever you cook with it: from chilies to chocolate, bbq sauce to pesto, it complies with my every will and whim. The preparation options are equally versatile: I can grill it with barbeque sauce, roast it along with vegetables, simmer it with aromatic curry, or pan-fry it to a perfect crisp.
These days, it’s easy for me to get my hands on a wide variety of tofu styles—tofu that, until recently, was considered the stuff of hippies and health food extremists. Now it’s not unusual to see entire tofu sections in the produce section of the supermarket (even here in small-town Texas) stocked with soft, medium, firm, marinated, and smoked tofu.
It’s All About Style
The key to preparing and cooking tofu begins with selecting the right style. Just as chicken gizzards are no substitute for chicken breasts, soft tofu and firm tofu are not interchangeable. For example, soft tofu in a main dish calling for extra-firm will lead to a gooey mess, and extra-firm tofu in a soft tofu dessert will give new meaning to the phrase true grit.
The first major difference in tofu styles is vacuum-sealed (shelf-stable) and fresh. The former, also called Japanese style or kinugoshi, is sold in aseptic boxes and available in soft, firm, and extra firm textures, silken tofu is custard-like and ideal to puree for dressings, soups, desserts, and drinks. Even though kinugoshi is available in firm and extra-firm options, it’s still much too delicate to grill, sauté, or stir-fry.
Photo 1. This is vacuum-sealed silken tofu; notice it has a perfectly smooth surface.
Fresh tofu, also called regular Chinese-style or momen, is packed in water and requires refrigeration. The firm and extra-firm varieties of fresh tofu are what you want for grilling, sautéing, and stir-fries.
Here’s where things can get confusing: fresh tofu is available in soft and medium firmness, but sometimes these are also labeled as “silken” (like the vacuum pack tofu). Don’t worry; just like vacuum pack tofu, fresh soft or medium tofu is best suited for dressings, desserts and drinks (I prefer it to the vacuum-pack tofu). But unlike the vacuum-pack varieties, the medium, silken fresh tofu is also excellent for scrambling, (crumble, season and scramble like you would eggs), making spreads and thick dips, and standing in for all or some of the ricotta cheese in homemade lasagna and other baked pastas and casseroles.
Photo 2. This is fresh, extra-firm tofu. Unlike the silken tofu (above), this tofu has a distinctive texture.
Oh, the Goodies I Have in Store…
Once you’ve selected the tofu you need for your dish, you need to store it. The vacuum-sealed variety is easy: place on shelf in cupboard, close door until needed (or until it passes the expiration date).
Fresh tofu requires more TLC. First it must be kept in the refrigerator. Once opened, drain the liquid from the package and store in an air-tight container filled with fresh water (it’s a good idea to change the water daily). Before cooking, drain the tofu thoroughly, cut into desired shapes (e.g., cubes, slices) and then remove as much moisture as possible from the tofu by pressing it with paper towels before using (this allows it to better absorb flavors).
If you have no current plans to use the remainder of an open package of tofu, consider draining and freezing the tofu in an airtight container. The day you want to cook, simply defrost the tofu in the fridge overnight and blot well with paper towels. The texture will be meatier, but this is actually a favorable texture for use in stir-fries and grilling.
Come On, It Really Is That Good For You?
Yes, all the good news about tofu being a super food is true. Topping the list of benefits is protein. Tofu is a very good source of protein, specifically soy protein, which is one of the few plant-based complete proteins. Four ounces of tofu provides 9.2 grams of protein, (that’s 18.3% of the daily value for protein), and it comes virtually free of saturated fat (less than 1 gram), and at a cost of only 70-90 calories.
That same four ounces of tofu is also an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium (14.5 % of day’s value, copper, iron (34% of a day’s value), calcium (10% of a day’s value), and contains no cholesterol. And if all that isn’t enough, tofu, like salmon and other deep-water fish, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have a broad array of health benefits, from improving heart health to improving the ratio of good HDL to bad LDL cholesterol.
And Finally, a Great Recipe:
BBQ Tofu Sandwiches with Arugula, Roasted Peppers & Lemon-Horseradish Mayonnaise
These sandwiches are great in the company of sweet potato oven fries
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Juice and grated zest of 1 small lemon
1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & freshly cracked pepper
3 cups arugula leaves (or other greens or lettuce of choice)
1 7-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
Optional: 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
8 slices good-quality bread (e.g., ciabatta) or 4 good-quality buns, toasted
1/2 cup good-quality bottled bbq sauce, warmed 30 seconds in microwave
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice and lemon zest until blended; set aside.
Cut tofu block lengthways into 4 thick slices. Pat and press out as much moisture as possible between paper towels. Place tofu on a plate, brush with the olive oil, and generously season both sides with salt & pepper.
Preheat a nonstick grill pan, nonstick grill, or large nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. Cook tofu for 2 minutes each side, or until warmed through and slightly charred.
Spread the mayonnaise mixture on cut side of buns or bread. Top bottom slice with arugula, roasted peppers, onion and tofu. Drizzle with barbecue sauce. Cover with bread tops. Makes 4 big sandwiches.
Nutrition per Serving (1 sandwich):
Calories 342; Fat 14.5g (sat 2.4g, mono 5.2g, poly 6.1g); Protein 14.3g; Cholesterol 5.1mg; Carbohydrate 40.4g; Sodium 737mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Have a mouth as sharp as a dagger, but a heart as soft as tofu--Chinese Proverb.
I’m keeping my promise of posting today, despite the sun shining in earnest, luring me outside to frolic. The enticement led to a rough start writing; when I put Nick down for his morning nap and sat before my screen, I did little else, save for checking my email and polishing off a re-warmed cup of coffee. It’s not so much writer’s block as it is a worry about fulfilling Truman Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Please forgive me in advance if this reads as word-processing exercise #58.
But the phenomenon of food blogging is proving to be an answer in itself to such brain-freezes, since 50% of the equation is the food, which is why I abandoned computer for kitchen in search of tofu inspiration and a fresh pot of Darjeeling.
I had several hair-brained ideas for mashing up tofu cakes and tofu “meatballs”; suffice to say I realized the error of my ways before inflicting such spoils on others. Instead, I opted for a sure thing, a recipe based on my winning $100,000 Mahogany Chicken recipe from 2005.
In the weeks following my contest win, I made the recipe ad nauseam for friends, family and local TV stations, to the point where the faintest smell of winning chicken left me contemplating a long-term diet of saltines and alka-seltzer. But it was fun to get friends’ and acquaintances’ reactions, especially when they later made the recipe themselves and shared their tweaks and variations.
Some unforgettable feedback came from my friend Pei Wei, who was a regular participant in my exercise classes. She is a vegetarian, so she made the dish with tofu instead of chicken. She praised the dish in her near-perfect English, including a phrase worth memorializing: “Camilla, I have never had tofu with such an incredible odor.”
Thanks for the great idea, Pei Wei.
May its odor thrill you, too, fond readers.
Mahogany Glazed Tofu with Scallions & Rice
The following recipe has all of the fundamental components of the glaze in my chicken recipe—balsamic vinegar, lime juice, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, and mustard—but I’ve changed the proportions and preparation to better suit the tofu. I paired the chicken recipe with a smoky-lime sweet potato recipe and cilantro chimichurri, but I’ve kept this tofu version weeknight friendly with less elaborate accompaniments of brown (or white) rice and scallions.
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained (fresh tofu, not vacuum-packed)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 and 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
4 thinly sliced scallions
Hot cooked brown or white rice
Combine the vinegar, lime juice and brown sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 18-20 minutes until reduced by about half to a thin glaze. Whisk in the hoisin sauce and mustard. Cover and keep warm.
While glaze is simmering, cut the tofu into 24 large cubes and pat dry with a paper towel; sprinkle with salt. Place the cornstarch in a medium bowl; dredge tofu triangles in cornstarch to coat. Heat the canola oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the tofu to the skillet and stir-fry on both sides until golden brown.
Toss tofu in the saucepan with the glaze and serve immediately over rice, garnished with green onions. Makes 4 servings.
A Note from Camilla: I promised to cover some nutritional news about tofu in today’s post; it will instead arrive tomorrow (along with the nutritional information for the mahogany tofu). I’m ready to flop, and, honestly, I am addicted to Project Runway (my brain candy)—tonight is the finale!