Tuesday, March 31, 2009

if a picture's worth 1000 words

what do you do when
you're a relatively new food
blogger and your 
camera stops working?

if you're me,
you panic.

you freak out that 
you only got one
picture of the shredded
cucumbers that were
going into the tzatziki
intended to top the 
shrimp souvlaki
you were cooking
before your screen turned
a grainy black.

you may even say something
ridiculous like,
what's the point of even
making the rest of the meal

you beg family and friends
to take pictures of the treats
you bring them and the meals
you make them, feeling sheepish
all the while.

and then, you share one
of the last pictures
that you took with the 
camera before it decided
to betray you.

these are mini spicy korean crabs.
in spite of the fact
that my family insists on
(at least i think they're joking)
that they're baby crabs and
that i'm heartless for enjoying them, 
i like to
believe that they are mini crabs.

they're teeny tiny 
and spicy and, now
that i've finally tried one,
i can add, 

i've been sizing them
up for years after first spotting them in
a large container - 
it looked
like there were 100s inside
and i'll admit it,
i was scared.

over the years,
i've checked them out
often wondering,
do you eat the whole thing?
is it just like a small soft shell
or would i actually have to
go in and pick out the meat?
but yet,
i never bought them.

then recently,
we went to a local market,
good nature, to pick up
daikon to pickle with carrots
(which was so good and i'm so
sad to not have a picture to share)
and i saw the crabs available,
by the pound.

this was my chance and i knew
it. after larry declined any interest
or involvement in the crab situation, 
i picked out four
for myself,
and then convinced him to buy extra spicy
parsnips, just so he could try something
new, too. 
once home, we sampled the parsnips
and then i opened the container of
crabs, peered in
and then gently, touched one.

the shell cracked.
and that's when i figured 
out that
1) these "miniature"
crustaceans never really matured and
2) they're sitting in a spicy marinade so
3) they're soft and
4) i should
eat the whole thing.

i was nervous.
i started with a leg.
then another.
then, finally, i ate the rest
as larry watched my face,
his caught somewhere between
disgust, amusement and

i fell in love.
just what i need,
a new food to dream
about and to crave
late at night.

i spread them out
over three days, talking
about them incessantly, asking
when we could go get more and 
when i was down to just two,
taking their picture 
next to a (meyer)
lemon for size comparison.

and now
that my camera has 
taken a self-imposed hiatus,
i'm glad that i did.
because, as with most
foods worth talking about,
there's no way
to really describe
without a visual.

*while the camera is getting fixed, i'm not going anywhere. i'm just relying heavily on said family and friends for photography help...which means that i really will only be able to blog about items that are made for or in front of people and not, for example, the banh mi i made tonight for dinner or the butternut squash ravioli with morels that i made last week. it's a bummer, but it should keep things interesting. stay tuned.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

i'll take any excuse

two wednesdays ago,
i fell victim to
a common problem
i like to call:
forgot to watch the weather
a sin amidst the global
warming crisis,
which demands - in addition
to caring more about our 
environment - constantly
staying closely acquainted
with the local meteorologist.

i was wearing a zip-up
hoodie, which the day
before would have been fine,
but that day, so warm that
even sitting inside was 
unbearable, made
me want to 
unzip and remove
the hot and oppressive
shirt (at work) and
spend the rest of the 
day in a tank top.

it was horrible. 
but as i drove home -
the offending straitjacket
thankfully strewn on the 
passenger seat beside me -
i thought,
spring is here.

but i was wrong.
as much as we want to 
fight it and get excited
when we wake up to birds
chirping, as they occasionally
have been, or see gorgeous
yellow daffodils in the store,
or slip on our 
faithful flip-flops,
we can't. 
because there are still days
like today, when it is cold,
raining and so foggy,
we can barely see the building
across the street.

and while i'm unbelievably
anxious to stop wearing my
coat, i'm thankful for one
thing that this prolonged
winter gives us: soup.

i love big pots of
anything that comes
together to be warm and
comforting and is even 
better when made a day
ahead - perfect in my book.

african peanut soup
is one of my favorites,
one of the few recipes that
i've repeated year after year,
shared container-fulls 
with my mom,
and frozen into perfect
one-person servings
for easy lunches.

and very familiar,
onion and red pepper
provide the base for 
this tomato soup.
it is fortified with
a large handful
of brown rice,
which adds some
needed heft.

and just when you
start to think,
this is thinner
than i would prefer,
you stir in 
the secret weapon,
chunky peanut butter.

the peanut butter
helps thicken
the soup.
but it also
gives the tomatoes 
an underlying
that while may
sound odd,
is entirely welcome.

i'm sure
you could use smooth peanut 
to just as good
but i like the crunch
and texture that the
bits of nuts 
add to the mixture.

together the tomatoes and 
peanut butter
fuse into an unexpectedly
successful meal - 
a real meal, not just
an appetizer or first
course - that i often
taste and day-dream
about in the days before
simmering up a new batch.  
and that, i believe is the hallmark
of a good recipe, and why i return
to this faithful standby
time and time again.

sure, you can hold onto
the recipe until
next year.
wait until it is truly
not spring hiding
behind the cold.
but i really believe
that a few spoonfuls of this
will make you feel
better about the 
fact that, in this house 
at least, we're all 
still wearing
heavy socks.
winter coats.
on top of our
zipped-up hoodies.
african peanut soup
over the years, i've tinkered with this recipe, originally found here. that's the great thing about soups, you can easily adapt them to whatever you have in your kitchen or to better suit your tastes. i've made batches without the red peppers, added sweet potatoes and once, pureed the whole thing before adding the rice and peanut butter. also like most soups, the flavor thrives when prepared a day or two ahead of when you plan to enjoy it.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes, with liquid
8 cups chicken stock
15 grinds fresh black pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup brown rice
2/3 cup crunchy peanut butter

in large saucepot over medium heat, warm olive oil. add onion and red pepper and cook 15 minutes, or until slightly caramelized, stirring often. add garlic and cook 2 minutes. season with kosher salt. add tomato paste; increase heat to high. cook 1 minute, or until tomato paste has deepened to rust color, the vegetables are coated and you can smell the paste. add crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, pepper, chili powder and cayenne pepper. over high heat, bring mixture to a boil. reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered 30 minutes.  

stir in brown rice; cover and simmer 30-45 minutes, or until rice is tender. whisk in peanut butter until completely blended (it may take some vigorous whisking). season with salt and pepper. when ready to serve, divide soup among bowls and top with dry roasted peanuts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

snapshot: avocado and sweet potato brown rice bowl

heavily based on this recipe,
rice bowls have become one of 
my favorite feel-good dinners.
hearty, but not fatty or overly
filling, they're just as comforting on
a cold night as 
a warm spring evening.
and while, yes, i think it's
daring to give another tofu
recipe so soon, i think you can handle
it - or swap it out for chicken, beef or shrimp.

to make: 
fill bowls with freshly cooked and hot
brown rice that 
has been tossed with 
shredded toasted nori.

top with one large sweet potato,
diced, sprinkled with
lime juice, cayenne and kosher salt,
and roasted,
one large caramelized sweet onion,
a cubed ripe avocado
and sliced firm tofu that has been dried
well and browned in a saute pan.

my favorite part: sprinkle with
shredded toasted nori, sesame seeds
and this stuff, which i am absolutely
addicted to.
serve with wedges of lime.*

*none of this is actually shown in the photos, which is a shame, and a long story. but trust me and use them - they bring the whole thing together.

Monday, March 23, 2009

i get a little obsessed

several weeks ago,
i had a moment.
i had just
written about preserving
and a sandwich that
used the fragrant fruit,
when i came across
a one-year-old article from 
the los angeles times:

i froze.
maybe i had been too
sure, the preserved
wedges were good
and i was glad
to have them, but shouldn't
i have
candied them?
marinated them with olives?
saved the juice for lemonade
for later this year when it's
unbearably hot?
put them into the cavity of
a duck?
made spa water with them?

i was losing my mind.
i don't even like duck.
i don't live in a spa.
i've never made a pitcher of lemonade.
but it was all that i could think about.

and then, the best thing - or worst,
depending on how you look at it -
just when i thought the
season had passed,
i fell into a large bundle
of meyer lemons.
it started all over, not
wanting to waste a drop
of juice or a sliver
of zest. not remembering
that next year, meyer
lemons will
grow again.

i squeezed them into
dressings, squirted wedges
over fish and froze some
juice for later in the year
(you never know - it could 
get really hot). i made
a meyer lemon chutney with shallots
and figs that was only ok
and enjoyed an absolutely
lovely side dish of
yukon gold potatoes
that i roasted alongside
very thinly sliced
meyer lemons until they
were golden brown.
i felt less...rushed.

but i could not let go 
of the lingering voice in
the back of my head,
insisting on curd.
i really wanted to make
a batch, but every time
i did, i just saw the amount
of butter required staring out at me,
as if i had a magnifying glass
placed squarely over those words.

still, i was tempted, but
and then, when searching
for a way to use the nopales,
i turned right to the page in
sally schneider's 
james beard award cookbook,
for a no-butter lemon curd,
with a meyer variation.
in order to successfully 
eliminate the butter, schneider 
adds a touch of unflavored gelatin,
which ensures body and stability.
it is so little, that you don't taste
it or know that it is in there
until it has been chilled.

once cold, it does firm up
considerably and change in
color from a milky pale yellow
to a bright and solid one. 
stirring with a spoon, 
softens it again, making it
easy to spread,
as we did on irish soda bread.
but if you plan to pour
the mixture into a tart shell,
i recommend it as soon as the
finished curd reaches room 

i could not figure out how to take a picture of the double boiler set up while also whisking constantly. the pictures kept looking like i was on a roller coaster - until i was lucky enough to have larry step in and whisk so that i could snap a few shots.

tart and smooth,
the meyer lemons add
a floral sweetness that 
makes you want to dip
your spoon in the bowl
just one more
time, or scour your cabinets
for another item
that would benefit from
the spread.

you could also fold
whipped cream, sour cream
or creme fraiche into the
curd to lighten it up
before frosting a cupcake,
filling a torte
or dolloping over
angel food cake
and serving with sliced
strawberries like we did.

with the exception of 
having lemons 
at the ready, 
i was not prepared
to make anything that day. but,
this recipe is so fast and easy,
the curd was in a bowl, cooling,
less than 20 minutes after i
had flipped to page 532.

making the lemony confection
was the
perfect end to the 
meyer lemon windfall:
sweet, creamy, special,
and just satisfying enough,
that finally, i think,
i've gotten it out of my system.
i no longer regret 
(or resent) preserving
the first batch.
thank goodness -
i've still got a long
way to go with those.
meyer lemon curd
from a new way to cook
the only real trick i see with this recipe, is that you really want to have everything ready before you start - there's nothing like fumbling around for a strainer with your right hand, while holding a hot pot in your left hand. oh, and if you're making the curd with regular lemons, simply increase the sugar to 7 tablespoons to help counter their natural tartness. 

1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup fresh meyer lemon juice (for me, this was 5 lemons)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 3"x1" strip lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler

in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice; place near the stove.

place strainer over bowl.

in a small saucepot, bring 1" water to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. in stainless steel bowl that will sit on the saucepot without touching the water, combine the remaining lemon juice, sugar, egg, egg white and zest. set the bowl over the saucepot. whisk mixture 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon. stir in the gelatin mixture and cook 1 minute longer, stirring. strain the mixure into bowl; allow mixure to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. transfer the curd to a jar or bowl; cover against the surface and chill. the mixture should keep for about 1 week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

sweet, spicy, crunchy and creamy

the other night,
i made a really,
dinner -
hot and tender
brown rice,
chickpea chili
in a roasted
sweet potato
and a crunchy,
sweet and spicy

it was a meal that
i thought would be
a throwaway -
one to satisfy the
ever pressing need
to put dinner on the table.
and truth be told,
i cooked up the pot
of brown rice in
case everything else was inedible.
but the garnet yams
that we roasted and
split open were unbelievably
and the jalapeno-spiked,
tomato simmered
chickpeas were quite luscious,
especially when topped
with a dollop of
yogurt, a squeeze of lime
and chopped scallions.
i was thankful that
the dinner
was successful,
especially because the entire
plate was crafted
around one ingredient.
i couldn't help it.
as i picked up the
nopales cactus paddles
in the store,
i knew that on some
level, i would regret the

not because they're
a lot of work
to prepare,
or because i didn't know
what to expect
from their flavor or texture,
but because i was
committing to something
on a day
that i am not always willing
to commit.

i find it really easy on a
sunday to pick meals for
the week and to stick
to them,
but choosing a meal on
friday for sunday?
that's hard.
you may think that you'll
be in the mood for a
long slow-cook meal,
only to wake up and realize
the sun is shining and
the kitchen is the
last place you want to be.
or you can plan for stir fry
and suddenly find yourself
bored as can be at 3 in the
afternoon, wishing
for a project.

so when i picked up
the paddles, i was worried
that i was stepping into a
trap - a tex-mex trap.

lo and behold,
sunday came and i
just wasn't feeling
but, no turning back.
after complaining and
stalling by making cookies,
i decided they would
be best in alongside
a main meal,
cool and crunchy.

i knew i wanted
and oranges,
and jicama,
popped into my head, too.
and, i found a recipe
for a nopales, jicama and orange salad
in barbara pool fenzl's beautiful
it's like we shared a brain.

her salad was actually served
atop greens and used canned
cactus paddle,
and no avocado, red onions
or jalapeno were in sight,
but it was close enough
for inspiration.

fresh cactus paddles
need to be dethorned,
by using either a vegetable
peeler or sharp knife,
then sliced and double-
blanched to reduce
the somewhat slime-like
interior and tenderize
yum, right?

once you've done
this, their flavor is
similar to a
tart green bean.
but better.
i think this salad
is worth all its
ingredients, but i also
think it's fair to say
that if you can't
find nopales,
fresh or canned,
and don't want to
use blanched green
beans, the other
can stand on their own.

and if you've never tried
jicama, run to the store
for the brown bulb.
its very crisp, almost
like a savory apple.
in all of my time introducing
people to jicama, i've only met
one person who didn't like
the slices
(you know who you are).
they are a great foil
to the juicy sweet oranges
and creamy avocado -
all three of them
benefit from the cayenne
in the dressing.

fenzl says the mixture should
be made just before serving,
and i certainly strengthened
that suggestion by adding
quick-to-brown avocados,
but our next day leftovers
may have been even better.

in the end, i was glad
that i got up on my feet,
found the sweet potato
recipe to round out the meal
and got to work with the
vegetable peeler.
not so bad for a
very pretty sunday
jicama salad with cactus paddle, orange and avocado
adapted from barbara pool fenzl's seasonal southwest cooking
this crunchy mixture was great with the soft sweet potato and chickpeas, but i think it would also be welcome next to a steak, over greens with shrimp as a light main meal or alongside fish. you can change the proportions according to what you like best. also, maybe i'm a glutton for punishment, but i always like to taste my jalapeno before i add the tiny specks to a dish. the one i used here was potent, so i seeded it and only used half. if it had been less in-your-face, i would have used a whole one and maybe kept the seeds. and the original recipe called for 1/4 cup olive oil - i tend to feel that a lot of oil over mellows other flavors in dressing, so i only used one tablespoon. if you don't want it to be so bright, feel free to increase the oil.

2 tbs. fresh orange juice
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. honey
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
5 grinds fresh black pepper
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cactus paddles
2 medium oranges
1 medium jicama, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch sticks
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/2 - 1 whole jalapeno, finely chopped

in bowl, whisk together first six ingredients; slowly whisk in olive oil. set aside.

using vegetable peeler or sharp knife, carefully remove prickly parts from paddles. halve paddles; cut each piece into 2-inch long strips. cook paddles in saucepot of salted boiling water 2 minutes; drain and run under cold running water until cool. repeat boiling water and rinsing process one more time. set aside.

using sharp knife, cut ends from oranges. stand oranges flat on cutting board and using your knife, peel skin and white pith from oranges, following the curve of the fruit. using sharp knife, cut supremes by removing edible fruit in wedges and the leaving membrane behind. discard membrane.

in bowl, combine cactus paddle, oranges, jicama, avocado, red onion and jalapeno. drizzle with a small amount of dressing, toss to coat. add more dressing, if necessary. serve remaining dressing on the side or
save for another use.