Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another great Hawaii food experience - fruit and loco moco

Well, we're back from two weeks in Hawaii. The time when I always have fried rice on hand and a maitai in hand :)

I think I love all the fresh fruit the best. I learned the joys of champagne mangos this trip. Intensely floral and oh, so sweet. I'm still having a little trouble differentiating rainbow papayas from strawberry papayas. So I just ate them. Best app is just a mixed fruit bowl with Maui pineapple, nice ripe papaya, and of course the champagne mangos. I like to make sure they are all cut to about the same size.

And those apple bananas! Best to get a serving of the fruit salad and then slice a banana over it at the last minute.

Oh, and for fun, a bit of dark rum. Yum yum.

Back to the fried rice. I think I did an entry on loco moco a couple of years ago. If you've never heard of it, in its basic form it is a hamburger patty on white rice with a fried egg on top then covered with brown gravy. Of course I can't leave that combo alone.

First, I want fried rice instead of white. Small dice of carrots, some diced Portuguese sausage, a minced clove of garlic, some grated fresh ginger. Some diced Maui sweet onion and some finely sliced green onion. Start the sausage in a non-stick skillet and cook until it starts to brown. Add some oil to the pan and add the garlic and ginger. When it is nicely fragrant but the garlic hasn't started to brown, add in the carrots and sweet onion. Saute for about two minutes until the carrots start to soften. Put in a few cups of cold cooked rice. I like to use medium-grain rice, the chewy consistency works great in fried rice and adds another texture. Pour in a tablespoon or so of soy sauce, preferably Aloha brand. Cook and stir until you've broken up all of the rice into grains. Move the rice to the sides of the pan and pout two eggs beaten with soy sauce into the center of the pan. Stir it around as it cooks to make small soft curds. Yes, some of it will spread into the rice and that's no big deal. When the eggs are barely set stir everything together. Mix in the sliced green onion and taste for seasoning, adding plenty more soy sauce to your taste.

Next, instead of the burger patty, I like a thin patty of spicy breakfast sausage. So fry up a couple of those or some burgers. Or whatever breakfast meat you want, ham or bacon are also very very good.

The egg needs to be over easy, or sunny-side up if you like it that way. The egg yolk is an important part because it is the sauce. I like to break two eggs into a small nonstick pan that I've rubbed with butter. Add a sprinkle of salt and a small splash of water and cover the pan for four minutes, over medium or medium-low heat (depends on the stove). When you remove the lid the thin coating of whites of the eggs of the yolks will have cooked and the whites will be cooked. Put on top of the meat and season to your taste.

Now, where you go from here is up to you. The traditional sauce is brown gravy from a gravy mix. Sometimes I like that but usually for me the egg yolks are sauce enough. If you want gravy, make it while you are cooking the rice and meat (the microwave is a good tool for this). Then pouritovertheeggsontopofthemeatontopoftherice. (supercalifragilisticexpealidocious)

Yes, it is a little time-consuming to make, which is why I make up a large batch of fried rice at the beginning of our week stay and also cook up the meat and gravy (my husband likes the gravy more than I do). Then it is a matter of heating up the components and frying the eggs.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Learning to cook elk meat

I am a city girl, so don't encounter game meat a lot. But I have uncles and a sister who hunt and usually get "their elk" every year. Some of that meat finds its way into my mom's freezer, and mom gave me a package of frozen elk meat a while back. I finally got around to cooking it a couple of nights ago.

I've never done anything with elk other than grill steaks, and I thought they had given me steaks. But the 2-lb package contained several 3/4” slices of meat, and I wasn’t sure where on the animal they were from. It looked to me like round steak.

What was important to me was to do a good job, one that honored the hunted and the hunter. In thinking about how to prepare them, I first considered that I wanted to minimize gaminess. If you don’t eat game much, that characteristic can really get to you. So first I made a paste of orange zest, juniper berries, ground coriander, salt, and fresh rosemary and sage. Spread that over all of it and put it in the fridge to chill for two days.

Next I had to consider the cooking method. Elk is very lean. I considered what meats I already knew about that were like elk, and I realized that veal is similar in structure as it is very lean. As the meat was cut across some muscle groups there was silverskin running across the pieces. Silverskin is not like other connective tissue – you can cook it forever and it will still be a rubber band. So some cutting into smaller pieces was going to have to happen. Okay: like veal, not steaks or chops, smaller pieces. That meant the meat needed to be cooked with moisture to get tender. So braising was the appropriate method. I settled on something that turned out a lot like Swiss steak.

I wiped off most of the rub, trimmed the meat of silverskin and then dredged it in flour. I used a “jacquardizer” with 47 razor-sharp blades to run across both sides of the meat. This worked the flour into the meat a little more and provided more tenderizing. It is similar to using the edge of a saucer to pound floured round steak. Then I cut the ½” thick cutlets into 1” squares and tossed them in the flour left from the dredging. From here on it was a pretty classic braising job: brown all of the meat in a dutch oven (two batches) and remove from the pan. Put in one chopped onion and sweat that while scraping up all the brown fond from browning the meat. Add ½ cup of water to speed it up. Then add 1 clove of minced garlic and a can of diced tomatoes with juice. Put the meat back into the pan and bring it to a simmer. Put into a 350-degree oven for an hour, serve over egg noodles.

It was very good. The flavor of the marinade can through and the orange and juniper flavor with the tomatoes was a real treat. It really did look like swiss steak, really tender meat (“like buttah”) with a nice gravy of the tomato juice and meat juices thickened with the flour. Dave was very happy to take what little was leftover for lunch the next day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Making Fresh Ricotta

I've been wanting to make "real" fresh ricotta for a long time. Then, a few months ago, I was in one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I was talking to the sous chef, and he introduced me to a cheesemaker for one of the premier artisanal cheese makers around here. The cheesemaker told me I could come around any morning during a certain time frame and he would give me whey that normally goes down the drain. Whoopee! Many people make "ricotta" using whole milk, but that's not really right as ricotta means "re-cooked." This morning I picked up five gallons.

The whey is now on the stove with a small amount of cider vinegar added. When it comes to about 185 degrees, the curds will start to form and I will take it off the heat. After letting the curd develop for a little while I will ladle it into a china cap lined with a flour sack towel. It won't make as much as whole milk, but will be the real thing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A day for large pots

Today is a day for large pots. But, not surprisingly, in the garden. Six as of now.

I am canning Mediterranean vegetable soup and mustard greens with lima beans and homemade bacon. That means the biggest pot, the pressure canner. And two soup pots for reheating six+ quarts of the greens and four quarts of the soup. Really both are soups but for clarity I am distinguishing them. Right now there are three quarts and four pints of the greens and four pints of the soup in the pressure canner. Has to go for 90 minutes because the processing time for greens is 90 minutes. I have two quarts of soup still, not in jars. I am holding off freezing that because...

...the cast iron Dutch oven is in the oven cooking roux for gumbo. Since I tend to make too much of anything of the nature of a soup or stew, I am sure there will be plenty of leftovers. So we'll dig out some more jars and probably have one more canner load of soup and gumbo. That one will go faster because I will do them all in pints. Dave loves having those to take to work for lunch -- and I will admit it is cool to give Campbell's a run for their money! Of course it is more expensive to make, but my canned soups and stews leave commercial in the dust when it comes to flavor and quality.

Another pot has the shellfish stock I am making for the gumbo, and the last isn't really a big pot but a sauté pan in which I dry-fried the okra.

Right now I have to go and dice all the vegetables for the gumbo. Tempis fugit!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall arrives, so do comfort foods

This evening I’ve been making two comfort foods for future meals. We’ve gotten a couple of bunches of mustard greens in our CSA basket and also got some bunches of tatsoi, an Asian cabbage that looks quite a bit like a bald African violet. I pulled out a couple of the last chunks of my home-cured pork belly and made a stock with it, just a quick 30 minute visit with some water. Half of the pork belly I sliced down and put aside to brown on Saturday, it is beautiful and will make a great entrée. The rest I cut into lardons (1/4x1/4x1”) and put back in the pot with onion, garlic, a couple of dried red chiles, and all of the greens. Cooked it the old-fashioned way, for a couple of hours. Have adjusted the seasoning and that “pot likker” is really good. I’m thinking to have that with some cornbread later this week.

The other item is a Mediterranean roasted veg soup. This is part of all the eggplant, squash, onions, and tomatoes I diced and roasted a while back. Six cups of that were in the freezer so I put it in a pan with a quart of concentrated chicken broth, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, and salt. It has simmered for a couple of hours also, letting the vegetables add flavor to the broth and vice-versa. That will get put into freezer containers for Dave’s lunches. Sometimes I don’t even label those; we use a specific 2-cup container for those so sometimes he just gets to grab a container and be surprised, always pleasantly.

It continues to feel like fall here. It came so suddenly three days ago - 78 degrees one day, 60 the next. I have a lot of friends on Facebook who are complaining about it, but I don’t really mind. You see, it really doesn’t rain all that much in Seattle (more in Boston and Chicago, in fact) but we have many more cloudy days.

I have included a photo of our dinner from Monday. Those potatoes were twice-fried so they puffed up quite nicely, I guess they are pommes souffle, kind of neat. The Spanish “tortilla” of course is known as a frittata in Italy. Filled with homemade sausage, onions, and jack cheese. Those orange heirloom tomatoes are just so full of flavor and were a perfect accompaniment, just enough acid to balance out the fat of the sausage.

Back to package up my kitchen results.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another year, another birthday dinner

Tomorrow is Dave’s birthday. He’s not much on presents, but we do try to eat well on his birthday. This year he has opted for eating in instead of out. So I worked with him to develop a menu that includes many, not nearly all, of his favorite things. You know, some years it is duck, others lamb. This year it turns out is a pretty traditional steakhouse dinner, and I am pretty much making everything from scratch that can be, including the bread, the salad dressing, and the ice cream:

Mussels and clams steamed in white wine with baguette for dipping

Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing and tomato concasse

Chateaubriand for two with green peppercorn-cognac sauce

Steamed haricot verte (skinny green beans)

Individual purple potato casseroles

Rich chocolate cakes with chocolate velvet ice cream

I have been doing shopping for the past two days and lots of the prep work today:

- Tomato concasse are little tiny cubes of tomato flesh, no skin, no pulp, no seeds. You fillet the tomato much as you skin a fish fillet, taking pieces of the tomato and running a knife between the skin and the flesh with your knife parallel to the board.

- The blue cheese dressing is a recreation of one Dave loves at one of our local restaurants, mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, grated garlic, minced parsley, minced chives, and lots of chunky blue cheese.

- Tonight I will “butcher” the meat. I bought a whole tenderloin as the price has dropped to $8/lb, and there is so little waste. For $50 I will get at least ten portions of meat for us, including trimming I can grind up for luxe hamburgers. We were watching an old rerun of “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” and they were doing beef dishes. Jacques took the “head” of the tenderloin, wrapped a towel around it, and beat it with a pan to make the thickness even. Dave wants us to do that.

- I also still need to make the cooked part of the ice cream base tonight that blends semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa, and milk; tomorrow I will beat eggs and sugar with cream and blend both parts together. Have to do that in the morning. The ice cream will take about an hour in the machine then it needs six hours in the freezer to firm up.

- The cake is one that I’ve been making for years, it uses a dark chocolate mix but you don’t fix it according to the package. You add sour cream, oil, chocolate chips, and walnuts to it. It is usually baked in a Bundt pan but I am going to cook it in 8–oz Pyrex dishes. Only after making it for a dozen years or so did I see the recipe printed somewhere else, it was called (no kidding) Chocolate “Better than Sex” cake.

- I’ve picked out a Champagne to go with the first course and a Chateneauf-du-Pape we brought back from France for the main course.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Been busy canning

If you are wondering where I have been for the past couple of weeks, it's where I usually am: the kitchen. The current big project is fermenting cucumbers for kosher-style dills. It seems to be going fine, though a little slower than I would like. It is also a little labor intensive. I have to open up the 5.5 gal pail every day and skim off the scum that comes from the fermenting. Because of that, and the fact that it is a very heavy pail, it is living on the kitchen counter beside the sink. After almost three weeks it is getting a little old. But still kind of magic. A few hollow cukes but apparently to be expected. A little garlicy, a bit of chile burn. Probably need another week. I decided this year that fermenting pickles in the house might smell better than curing pork and beef in the wine cooler. That was one stinky project.

Other “fruits” of my labor:

- Honeydew syrup (left from candying honeydew melon. It really does taste like honey!

- Blueberry pie filling, dark cherry pie filling, and cherryberry pie filling. Was a bear to find ClearJel, and had to buy it in a 25-lb bag! ClearJel is a modified cormstarch that holds its jell even at pressure canning temps.

- Stone fruit compote. Just too much stone fruit in our Tiny’s CSA basket, hated to have it go to waste.

- Blueberry butter. Spiced like apple butter, you use the liquid component to make and can blueberry syrup. About a dozen of each.

- Jalapeno-mint jelly. It is made for pouring over cream cheese! Have done that for two parties and everyone sucked it up like kids at a party when they know the punch is spiked.

- Sweet-and-sour pickles. More vinegar in the syrup than for plain sweets, these are processed like you are candying fruit or making sweet gherkins. Avowed sweet-pickle haters are fans.

- I got a big pressure canner this year and so am canning my stocks, including lobster, shellfish, chicken, and beef as well as the "juice" for Italian beef sandwiches. I think I am also going to preserve my veal demi in half-pint jars.

- Tomato sauce. Just from one box of Romas but may pick up some more at Cash&Carry and do some more.

- Green chile salsa. Charred the chiles myself, mix of poblano and Anaheim. Muy delicioso!

I'll say it again: Preserving is just kind of magic. Despite the fact that I have picked all of the hottest days of the year to run my canners!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Something different

This week I did something I've only ever done once before: enter a cooking contest. This time, the "Build a Better Burger" competition, in the alternative burger category. A wonderful creation of pork and seasonings. Guess I'll find out in three weeks or so -- not that I expect any good news, there are tens of thousands of recipes sent in. But it was interesting testing and reformulating the recipe. I think it was in about 2000 that I entered the PBS "Master Chef" regional competition. My recipes, this time for a three course meal, got me selected as a regional semi-finalist. So I had to go to the cooking school at a nearby community college and cook the dinner, main course and dessert only, for a panel of judges. I didn't win, but I sure had a great time. What i remember most was singing nearly the entire time I was cooking. Anyway, I just threw my hat in a ring again. I just got the cookbook that has all of the Pillsbury Bake-Off winning recipes; I shall study it and maybe I will enter that someday, too. Oh, and yesterday I canned 11 half-pints of mixed stone fruits in light syrup. Today I took delivery of 40 pounds of pickling cukes. Guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A canning blizzard?

So far today I have skinned and boned out two dozen chicken thighs. I even got picky and removed the blood vessels because I think they are unattractive in the cooked chicken. All of those thighs (almost a gallon in volume) are in a nice brine now, waiting for the canning storm. All of the trimmings are in the stockpot with the quart of broth I made two days ago. I plan to use this broth in the canning process. A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns to perk up the flavor a bit. I'm planning to can these in pints, better portions for two people or two lunches for DH. I will use the raw pack method as described in the USDA Guide. What I have will probably make 10-12 pints. While the chicken is brining and the broth is brothing, I am making blueberry ice cream. Or more like blueberry yogurt ice cream. Some thick yogurt, some heavy cream. The mix tastes quite good. Back to the kitchen...

A flurry of canning

'Tis the season, I guess. Blueberries go on sale and I buy nine pounds. For what? Dunno. Cherries are 97 cents a pound, so I buy five pounds. What for? I dunno.

But what I did know was that all this fruit had to be processed PDQ. Look through canning and preserving cookbooks for ideas. Cherry chutney? Maybe. Blueberry bonanza, where you get two products from 12 cups of blueberries? Absolutely. Oh, and there are recipes for blueberry pie filling and cherry pie filling. I think we have our winners, folks!

Both pie filling recipes call for a thickener called ClearJel. Both books I'm looking at (USDA Guide to Canning, Ball's Complete Guide to Home Preserving) say that it isn't widely available. So why are you including a dozen recipes that require it? Turns out that ClearJel is a modified cornstarch that can take high heat and not thin out, like most thickeners will. Only good choice for preserving pie fillings. I send DH out to find it, not at any of the local grocery stores. Then he is a "Cash & Carry," store mostly used by people who run bars and restaurants for all things in bulk and many frozen foods and very large primal and sub-primal cuts of meat in vacuum bags. Well, C&C has it. In 25-lb bags for $40. Well, it's a cornstarch so it won't spoil...I do need several cups for the pie fillings...DH has a work associate whose mother does a lot of canning, maybe she'll welcome some...so just buy it. Worry about storage in our little condo later.

The magic ingredient acquired, on to the pie filling. You make a batch of this stuff by mixing with sugar, then with water and bringing it to a boil. What you aren't told is that this stuff turns into something thicker and denser than library paste. Stirring it gets to be an adventure in arm strength. DH is stirring one pot, over the induction burner, for the cherries and I am wrestling with the larger batch for the blueberries. Finally it is ready for fruit to be folded in and go into quart jars. A couple quarts of each with two pints of cherry-blueberry mixed to use all of the filling mix.

And, the "Blueberry Bonanza." End products are blueberry syrup and blueberry butter. No, not dairy butter, but something more like apple butter in seasonings and consistency. Put berries and water into blender, turn into puree. Pour puree into fine chinoise, collect juice for syrup. Puree gets blended again to smooth, cooked with sugar and seasonings. Canned in 4-oz jelly jars. Those jars are so cute! Syrup gets cooked with sugar, lemon juice. Oops, I read recipe wrong and think I am cooking this to sheet stage. Only to "thickened" stage. Oh, well, my syrup will probably be blueberry jelly, and there's nothing wrong with that. You want syrup? Warm it up before you pour it on your waffle. No harm, no foul.

Today I plan to put the new pressure cooker through its paces doing raw-pack canning of chicken thighs. Dave will like that for chicken salad. I will like it for throwing into a sauce for instant dinner. Also like it because I got them for 99 cents/lb and they aren't southern-grown.

So off to bone out thighs and put on a pan for stock, which I will then use in the cans of chicken. During breaks I shall sit down and do a little crochet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pineapple "Dump" cobbler, orange sherbert

Several months ago one of my relatives sent along a recipe for a pineapple cobbler. I'd nver heard of a pineapple cobbler, much less one made like this: Put a stick of butter in a 9x12 pan and put it in the oven until it is melted. (No temp given, I used 350). Then pour in a batter of flout, sugar, baking powder, and salt mixed with enough milk to make a batter the consistency of pancake batter. Pour a can of pineapple (I used tidbits) and juice over the top and bake until golden. It works. And it is good. I also made pineapple sherbet to go with it, and since we were down at Mom's I left all the leftovers with them. So when we got home after dinner I made a batch of orange sherbet, recipe from Good Eats. It is very good, and easy enough to make every day. Guess I should tell you the rest of what I made for Sunday dinner down there. I brined two sides of sockeye salmon in a soy-apple juice mixture then grilled them with some hickory chips. Also put some halved and salted zucchini on the grill. Made a potato-cucumber salad with sour cream-dill dressing. It all turned out very well.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oxtail tamales with red chile sauce, lavender rose gelato

Oxtail was on sale the other day and I picked up about 2.5 pounds of really meaty pieces. I roasted them and a couple of carrots for an hour at 400 degrees, then put them into a pot and covered them with water. They simmered overnight and most of the rest day, because I was busy. Saved the broth and picked all of the meat, got about four cups as well as three quarts of broth. Put all away for tamale day.

I'd already made red chile sauce, recipe from Rick Bayless. No tomatoes, just dried red chiles, onion, and garlic with chicken broth. I needed almost two cups for this meal. Perfect, that's what was in the jar. (I think I'm going to make a really big batch of that and can it.)

Put the broth on to reduce by about a third with about 2 T salt, three sprigs thyme, and 2 t cumin. The meat goes into a heavy skillet with some heated olive oil. Fried the meat until it was starting to get crispy. Added about a half-cup of minced onion, 2 t of Goya adobo seasoning., 2 t cumin, 1 t ground guajillo chile, and about 6 T of the red chile sauce. Stirred and cooked that until it was fragrant, then adjusted seasoning. Ladled in about a cup of the broth, 1 T roasted peeled and minced jalapeno and 1/4 C roasted peeled minced poblano chile. Cooked until dry, set aside.

I buy paper "husks" made especially for wrapping tamales, and put 30 of them into hot water to soak for about ten minutes while making the masa.

For the masa, beat 2/3C lard in a stand mixer until fluffy. While it beats combine 2 C maseca for tamales, 1 t baking powder, 1/2 t salt, and 2 C of the broth, which by now had reduced and cooled to lukewarm. Put this mixture in with the lard and beat it on medium speed until it is light. It should be about the consistency of cake frosting.

Prepare a steamer with about an inch of water in the bottom. A pasta pentola works well as long as the inner basket does not sit on the bottom of the pot. Bring the water to a simmer but don't put the basket in until you have filled it with tamales.


The husk is roughly triangle shaped. Put it on the counter in front of you with the point at the top. Using a teaspoon, put about 1/4 cup of the masa in the lower left corner of the husk, spreading it into a rectagle that runs about halfway up the left side of the husk and about halfway across the bottom. Spread it with the back of the teaspoon; if you start trying to spread it with your fingers you will not have much success. Spread lightly, getting a 1/8-1/4" layer. Don't worry if it isn't perfectly even or smooth -- it will swell during cooking and hide many "imperfections." Use about 1-1/2 T of the meat and arrange it in an even stripe top to bottom, with the right side at about the midpoint of the masa. It can go all the way to the top and bottom of the rectangle. Carefullylift the left side of the husk and fold it over to meet the other edge of the masa. Continue to roll the husk to the right, then lift the roll up gently and fold the "point" down against the loose end. Place the tamale in the steamer basket with the fold down. Yes, you leave the top open. This recipe makes 24-30 tamales. Once they are all standing in the basket, put the basket in the pot and cover it gently with a cloth. Cover the pan and bring the water up to a simmer. Steam the tamales for one hour, checking occasionally to see that the water level is okay and adding boiling water if needed.

The tamales are done when they pull away cleanly from the husk. These tamales are pretty delicate; they can in fact be kind of a lacy covering over the meat rather than a "masa bomb." If you want a sturdier tamale, you can make the masa layer thicker.

While the tamales cook, reheat your sauce. Serve the tamales over and under the warm sauce. This recipe makes a pretty mild tamale, as I like to be able to taste all of the components rather than battling heat. You can add more hot red or green chile to the meat filling, to the sauce, or even hot chile or chile sauce into the masa mixture.

Oh yes, the dessert. I got fresh lavender in the CSA basket this week (yea the farm season has started!) and a friend made the brilliant suggestion that I make ice cream. I still have lavender honey and Moroccan roses I got when we were in Nice and decided all of those things belonged together. I put 3-1/2 C whole milk, 1/4 C heavy cream, a pinch of salt, a 1/4 C each lavender honey and light corn syrup into a saucepan and brought it just to a simmer. Took it off of the heat and added 2 T fresh lavender flowers and three roses (crumbled). Use less of the lavender if you have dried, of course. Put a lid on the pot and set it aside for 30 minutes, then strained it into a container and chilled it for eight hours. Freeze according to your machine instructions. I was surprised how much I could taste the lavender honey, and pleased that the flavors were not overwhelming.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

NY strip "roast"

When I was at the store the other day I watched the butcher set out some massive NY strip loin steaks. They were about 2-1/2” thick. When I went closer to see if they were as good as they looked from a distance, I saw that not only did they look very good, they were on sale for $10.99/lb. Now that is a good price, especially for a well-marbled and trimmed NY. Even though that wasn’t in my meal plans for this week I picked one up – I never let a meal plan keep me from buying great ingredients :-) Since this piece of meat looked like a small roast, I decided to treat it that way. I’ve told you before how I like to brine chicken and pork before I cook it. Brining isn’t appropriate for beef – I can’t exactly tell you why, I really do need to go read up on that, but my instincts tell me that. And I trust my instincts when it comes to matters of culinary import. However, there is another way to seal in flavor with beef and that is by koshering it. All that really entails is coating it with kosher salt and letting it sit in a way that allows any juices that come out drain away. You end up with a nicely seasoned piece of meat. I don’t do it for religious reasons, but removing any blood from a cut of meat is good for flavor, too. I “drifted” some salt over the meat and set it on a rack in a quarter-sheet pan, then covered it loosely with plastic wrap. That went into the fridge for a few hours until I was ready to bring it to room temp before roasting. With a small piece of meat, you really need to have a hot oven so that there is an opportunity to get some browning before the meat is cooked. That meant 450 degrees, and I let it heat for another 15 minutes after it beeped ready. I rubbed the meat with a little olive oil and sprinkled it with ground green peppercorn. It went back on the rack/pan on its “side” so that it was taller than wide. The meat roasted for about 25 minutes, until the internal temp was about 122. Then I tented it with foil to let it rest and the internal temperature even out though the meat. I cut it in thin slices crosswise, so the pieces were about 2x2. Nicely medium-rare. We had a salad with a balsamic-Gorgonzola vinaigrette I whisked up, used a little Dijon mustard in it. Some aromatic popcorn rice and the rest of the whole braised mushrooms I talked about the other day. The juices were great drizzled over the meat. Tonight we are having pulled pork and salted cabbage. Sort of a Hawai’ian kalua pork and cabbage meal. I cooked the pork shoulder yesterday in a covered pot in the oven at 250 degrees for about six hours. Dave was kind enough to pick out all the fat and shred it for me. Of course, that was for him, too!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grinding tenderloin burgers, yesterday's jerk pork sausage balls

When I broke down the whole tenderloin last weekend, I saved the “good” fat and all the random meat trimmings and froze them together in a one pound package. I am thawing that today with the intention of grinding it together with thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic for burgers.

The plan is to make very thin patties and sandwich some crumbled gorgonzola between two patties. With tomato and some baby romaine on whole wheat buns, I am looking forward to a very good dinner.

Yesterday the ground pork mixed with a jerk seasoning paste made good sausage balls. Why were they not meatballs, you ask. I beat this mixture in the mixer until the myelin threads developed to bind the mixture together without any “fillers” like breadcrumbs and “binders” like egg. We roasted the sausage balls in the oven. I made a spicy mango-coconut sauce with fresh mango, unsweetened grated coconut, jalapeno, onion, fish sauce, soy sauce, habanero sauce, salt and long pepper. Simmered the sauce for a while then added the meatballs and let that simmer together while the party we took them to got started. I paired the spicy sausage and sauce with a “malted milk punch” that included dark rum. The pairing was received very well. In addition we brought along some malted milk balls and it was funny to watch everyone munch those right down. And the sausage balls? Not a single one was left. I love it when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More adventures in sous vide

Sous vide -- cooking under vacuum at a controlled temperature -- is fun to experiment with. If you've ready any of my earlier posts about this technique, you already know that an induction burner is your best friend when you are trying to do this and can't (or won't) spend way too much money on all the fancy gear.

For this try I used two six-ounce beef filet steaks, freshly cut from a whole tenderloin. Into the bag with the steaks I put in a bit of fresh rosemary and thyme, and a 1-oz cube of frozen veal demi-glace. It is so much easier to vacuum process the bag when you don't have any liquids in it, so the frozen demi was wonderful to use. I set the control to keep the water temp at 125 degrees and let time and temp do their work. About 40 minutes later, after we had our side dishes done we pulled out the steaks. They were soft and supple, with a faint hint of rosemary in the sauce. And they tasted great, soft and silky on the tongue with flavor that was delicate yet robust. I think the strength in the flavor came from some mushroom caps we sauteed in butter and finished with a bit of oxtail stock. We allowed the stock to reduce and caramelize, and so got Maillard reaction taste with the beef without browning it. Yum.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Milk punch?

Or milk with punch? I blended milk, sugar, malted milk powder, crushed ice, and Meyer's rum. Wow, a frothy fun drink for a warm sunny day. Think I'll have another...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's for dinner: Roasted halibut with mango salsa

I love it when halibut is in season. It is robust enough to take to many cooking methods but is delicate enough in flavor to work in so many different dishes. Today I am rubbing it with olive oil, salt, and white pepper and roasting it at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes, then serving it with a mango salsa I made. The salsa includes mangoes, tomato, sweet onion, jalapeno, and some cider vinegar. I shall add some cilantro just before serving.

With the fish I am making a simple fried rice, with scallions and carrots. Already have cold cooked medium-grain rice on hand. Add a salad with a vinaigrette that has a drop of sesame oil in it, and we have a nice pan-Asian themed meal.

Dessert will be brie with pears and a bit of port.

The weather is supposed to be wonderful this weekend, with temps in the mid-70's, so I suspect we will be grilling beef all weekend. We got a whole beef tenderloin for $7.19/lb, an amazing price. I will break it down into a roast, steaks, and some kebab cubes and go from there wherever inspiration takes me.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Cooking projects stacking up - lobster, beef

Many cooking projects still in progress around here. The nine pounds of lobster (only 2 lobsters!) yielded enough meat for several meals, and I made some very nice stock, about three quarts, for lobster bisque. We already had sliced tail meat gently poached in clarified butter with some great bread. I have pasta sheets prepared and will make lobster ravioli with fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, and chives) and serve them with the bisque. I’ll make some extra and freeze them for a quick deluxe dinner. Before I make the bisque I will remove a cup or so of the stock and freeze it so that I can make a sauce for the extra ravioli.

Then there is the oxtail. They made a nice broth, and Dave was kind enough to pick all of the meat. I plan to make an oxtail hash with red potatoes and sweet onions, and serve it with a gravy made of some of the oxtail broth. I will then use the leftovers of that, hash and gravy, and add the rest of the broth to make oxtail soup and freeze that in containers for Dave’s lunches. You might have guessed by now that I like to start with a protein and create a series of meals out of it.

Finally, there is the Chicago Italian beef sandwich project. This one has only one outcome, the sandwiches. I went to Chicago a couple of years ago and fell in love with the Italian beef sandwiches. Dave grew up on them so has a very clear taste memory. I am using a recipe that sounds like it could deliver that taste. Yesterday I rubbed two bottom round roasts (about 5# total) with a mix of dried oregano and basil, onion and garlic powders, and crushed hot peppers. Then they got roasted over a pan of beef broth (in this case, commercial with a little of the oxtail broth added). They roasted to rare, and I shall slice them and reheat the meat in hot broth to put on sturdy rolls that can take an extra bath in the broth. The plan here is to run both roasts through my slicer, and package beef and broth for 2 sandwiches in a package to freeze.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cooking flurry and multi-grain epiphany

It is a gloriously beautiful afternoon up here in the Great Northwest. A little bit cool but bright and sunny. My tulips are blooming up a storm – when you pack them close together in a pot they make a dense flash of color.

With mom in the hospital I haven’t been doing as much cooking as usual, at least until this afternoon. I was finally able to take my painkillers after spending time at the hospital and at physical therapy, so felt like I could tackle a couple of things. (I suppose I also felt more like cooking since mom is doing better.)

Last night I took my bread starter out of the fridge so it was ready to be used this afternoon. I mixed up the sponge for some multi-grain bread, and that is where I had my epiphany. I reasoned that since the sponge sits and rests and allows the white flour to absorb plenty of moisture, and I always hydrate my cut or rolled oats before adding them to the mix, that perhaps I would get an even better result if I put all the coarser grain ingredients into the sponge instead of later in the mixing stage and allow them to get a better chance at full hydration. So that is what I have done – added the whole wheat component (instead of the white flour component) as well as the flax and dark rye. And I put in some of the molasses so that the grain can absorb a little of that, too. The rolled oats I hydrated separately and then added them to the sponge. We shall see how that all turns out.

(And a side note: when I fed the starter and set it aside to grow a bit, I must have been too generous. It popped the top and overflowed onto the counter. The starter that ate Seattle!)

I’m definitely on a molasses kick right now. I had pulled down the bottle the other day to add some to my morning oatmeal and noticed a gingerbread cookie recipe on the back. I love soft and chewy molasses cookies and this looks like it might have that potential. I shall start with their recipe (done, and in the fridge to firm up before cutting) and see how I need to tweak it to get what I want. I plan to top the cookies with some coarse raw sugar. They will be a nice snack for watching baseball tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Midnight Canner


And I’ve got one more case of Masons

So I’m not gonna let that spoil, you know

Not gonna let that spoil, the Midnight Canner

Okay, you either get that, or you don’t. You have to grok the Allman Brothers Band.

Yes, we were canning at midnight earlier this week. It started simply enough with a defrosted bag of homemade Italian sausage. I needed to do something with it, so I put it in a soup pot with a can of San Marzano tomatoes and some chicken broth, thinking that I’d add some peppers and onions from the freezer and cook it down for Dave’s lunches. But from there it became a “stone soup” project and took on the look and feel of minestrone. Some garbanzos, some green beans I’d blanched and frozen, assorted other vegetables, leftover onion soup. Then some farfalle. By this time I had over a gallon of something that tasted really good, no place in the fridge or freezer to keep it, and a ball game to go to. Dave and I agreed to keep it simmering on the stove and just pressure can it when we got home. And that is what we did.

That is how after midnight I was monitoring the pressure on a pot of five quarts of minestrone soup. And started channeling the Allman Brothers Band.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Adventures in canning, part n+1

Today I am pressure canning Chili Colorado. An outcome from buying two chuck roasts on sale. Well-cooked but still firm pinto beans, red chile puree from dried chiles that came from New Mexico, 1” chunks of very tender stewed beef chuck. And some “warm” spices like cumin, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cayenne. The chili is very spicy but not spicy hot. We have hot sauces (a couple of dozen) to add that to the diner’s preference. The canning part is a little messy but when you’re only canning one batch (up to seven quarts, in my case) it’s not really an overwhelming project. I made the chili yesterday and let it cook slowly overnight so canning is the only task today. I’m learning to make those accommodations; some lessons are more painful than others.

I will be happy to have some “jars of red” on the closet shelf to go with the chili verde. Green chili, red chili, green salsa, red salsa. I guess if I ever get to New Mexico for an “eating” trip I will have to answer the “red or green” question with “Christmas”.

Monday, April 06, 2009

More than just cooking around here

Woo-hoo! I finished crocheting a baby blanket a few minutes ago. Yes, I know I'm supposed to talk about food but I just taught myself to crochet a couple of months ago, and I am very proud of it. I put a nice lace edging on it.
In addition to the crocheting the kitchen has been busy. Yesterday I made oatmeal-whole wheat bread. I used steel-cut oats that I soaked in hot water to soften them up, and a combination of graham wheat and AP flours. I added some wheat gluten for texture and it turned out soft and fluffy even with all the whole grain stuff. I turned the dough into sandwich buns – more on that in a minute.
Yesterday’s dinner was paella with halibut cheeks, shrimp, and clams, with some asparagus left over from Saturday’s steak and salad dinner. The steak was a flatiron steak, which comes from the chuck and is really marbled even though it’s just a “choice” cut. I sear it and put it into the oven until it’s medium-rare, then slice it down on the plates. Salad was baby shrimp and blue cheese with mixed greens and herbs, and steamed asparagus with sauce Maltaise (a hollandaise made with orange juice and zest instead of lemon). The sauce was good with the steak, too.

Tonight’s dinner will be grilled lamburgers (really 2/3 lamb, 1/3 beef). We are grinding the meat ourselves, so I have cut it all into small pieces and seasoned with cumin, oregano, garlic, and salt. The beef is chuck roast, it was on sale 2 for 1 so we picked up a couple. That’s what the sandwich buns are for. While four days ago it snowed, today it is supposed to get up to 70! That means we will probably take all the dishes and a tablecloth upstairs and eat up on the terrace. Dave wants sweet potato chips so I will have to get busy on those shortly.

I also have a pot of beef stock cooking. When we went to Cash & Carry (the restaurant supply store) we picked up some sliced Swiss cheese and a bag of onions. Dave asked for French onion soup, so of course that is on the menu for this week and I need a good beef base for it. I will add some of the veal demiglace that is now in the freezer to up the richness component.

And finally, I have cubed beef in a seasoning rub for chili. That’s where the rest of the chuck roast went. I’ll make that up tomorrow, probably, and we will can it with the pressure canner. Then we’ll have quarts of my chili on the shelf, and that tickles me no end.

I’m sitting here at the computer with the closet door open, and I can see all the canning jars – pickles, pickled carrots, pickled asparagus, jalapeno mint jelly, apple butter, honeydew syrup, applesauce, pork chile verde, cherry-plum sauce, tomato puree, green salsa, red salsa – and I feel pretty good about myself. I may not be “bringing home the bacon” but I can make it and preserve it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Losing a good friend

Last weekend I went to a wake of sorts, to celebrate the passing of a friend. Does it matter that the friend was a cooking school? Nope. Culinary Communion was a place where I discovered and embraced my inner food geek. I learned to be a fearless home chef. While I don’t need CC for that anymore, I might not have ever gotten to where I am now without it. The founders created something that did truly develop into a community bound by love for cooking and cooking for love.

A high-school friend wrote in my annual “A friend is someone who knows you and still likes you.” That is the way I feel about Culinary Communion. I knew them, they knew me. Though there were days when I would see things that made me chuckle and shake my head, I always went back. And there was always someone there to welcome me and make me feel welcome - even as they occasionally chuckled and shook their heads over me.

The people I met, the meals we shared, and the learning along the way will never leave me. So RIP, Culinary Communion. Your spirit, and your recipes, will live on.

Pressure canning boo-boo

No, I didn't blow it up. Though I did allow it to do damage to me. I dropped the pressure regulator on my toes. Broke one...ack! Oh well. It could have been worse, it wasn't my big toe. The things I do for my art...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Taking a pass at passata

Passa-what? As I have learned in the past two days, passata is tomato puree. At least that’s the basic idea. Two things got me to this point: first, my darling husband got us a long-term loan of a pressure canner. Second, yesterday he was standing staring longingly at cases of roma tomatoes at the local restaurant food-supply store asking, “Have you ever made tomato puree, or sauce or something?” Well, not really because I don’t count being labor at a tomato-canning session against my will. Hey, are there that many 15-year-olds who are happy about being drafted into a marathon of tomato juice and steam? But I was game and told him that since we have the pressure canner we can, indeed, make something from those tomatoes.

Yesterday he washed and halved 22 pounds of tomatoes while I did a literature search in my cookbook library. Ah, tomato passata. And in a recipe for pressure canning novices! Put all the tomatoes in my biggest Calphalon pot and cook overnight. Today after cooling I ran them through the food mill attachment on my KitchenAid mixer. Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? I never would have agreed to do this if I didn’t already know that I have a mechanized food mill – none of that turn, turn, turn business for me.

The milling exercise only tood about an hour, if you don’t count setup and cleanup. And cleanup was a doozy, because there was tomato everywhere. Sort of like that butter-making incident I had a while back.

Right now I am cooking the puree down some more, I’d like it a little thicker. It will simmer very slowly overnight, then tomorrow I shall make my first foray into pressure canning. It’s not a worrisome thing; I use a pressure cooker all of the time. But still when you’re preserving food, you do have to be cautious in order to produce a safe and quality product and so I shall follow instructions carefully.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From carnitas to posole

Very often one or two great ingredients can drive my cooking for several days. This week, beautiful avocados and poblano chiles are taking that role. Ive always loved Mexican border food, and when I discovered Santa Fe or New Mexico-style cooking I was over the moon. Mind you, Ive never been to New Mexico to eat. But I will be, for sure. My discovery came back in about early 1986 when I forgot to return a book club shipment notification and received, unwanted, The Taste of Santa Fe by Buckley Dent. There were no photographs, but boy, could I see what he loved to eat. From that I taught myself how to make flour and corn tortillas, tamales, and carnitas. With great carnitas and the broth from cooking the pork it was a short step to a great bowl of posole. You can use canned products for nearly all of the making of posole, in fact many cooks do, but of course when you can use some key fresh ingredients the brothy stew of meat, hominy, and chiles in a cumin and garlic-scented bath goes over the top. And you can use chicken thighs instead of pork if the mood strikes you.

Yesterday I made chicken carnitas. Today we have posole. How did I get there? Yesterday I threw half a dozen frozen whole chicken thighs into water to cover, added about a tablespoon of whole cumin, a couple of dried red chiles, and a few whole garlic cloves. Then I pulled three cups of rich chicken stock from the freezer and added that. All that cooked for about three hours then I strained the stock and picked and shredded the chicken. Stock, about five cups, went to the fridge. The chicken went for a quick sauté to get crispy edges, then rolled up in flour tortillas that I had trimmed to 10x6 from giant locally-made tortillas. (I go for authentic but I am also pragmatic; these days I cant stand in the kitchen all day without a lot of pain so I don’t always make my own tortillas these days.) I brushed the flautas with oil and convection roasted them for about 20 minutes until they were GDB. Served them with some guac (my nod to St. Patricks Day) and green salsa mixed with sour cream.

Today I am making a quick posole. Posole means the stew but also the hominy that goes into it. I am using canned today, a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Frankly, I forgot to put the dried hominy on to soak yesterday. Six more chicken thighs into water with garlic, red chile, cumin and a cup of yesterdays broth. That cooks for an hour or two then the same routine as yesterday: strain and shred. While it cooks I roast and peel two big fresh poblanos and dice them. Then chicken, poblanos, hominy and onion go back into the pot with todays broth and the rest of the stock from yesterday. If it doesnt look like there is enough green chile in it, I add a can of chopped green chile as well. Simmer for an hour or so and serve with diced avocado, jack cheese, chopped onion and flour tortilla crackers. For the crackers, brush pieces of tortilla with oil, sprinkle with salt, and convection bake at 425 for couple of minutes until just golden at the edges and crisp.

Tomorrow? Leftovers. Oh, darn.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I love split pea soup

I really do. It’s the ultimate stone soup.  Throw in a handful of split peas for just pennies, three times as much water (by volume), a little salt and you have a fine soup.  Add some thyme, some pepper, maybe a little hot sauce.  Or use chicken broth instead of water. Even better, use a rich homemade chicken stock. And we haven’t even started talking about adding pork, usually pork with plenty of fat. Fry up some bacon, crumble it, and set it aside.  Sauté some chopped carrots, onions, and celery (mirepoix) in the bacon fat, then add your stock/water, the split peas, and your seasonings.  Be a little more careful about the salt because the bacon fat will add some.  Cook the soup for about an hour then sprinkle the bacon bits over the top when you serve it. Of course there is the traditional ham hock, in which case you should sauté the mirepoix and then add the ham hock and plenty of water to cover. Do this first thing in the morning, and when you get home from work throw in a couple of handfuls of split peas.  By the time you’ve changed into something comfy and unwound with a glass of viognier (about an hour), your soup will be ready for you. I don’t even bother picking the meat off of the ham hock until after having the “first day” soup.  When you put it away for leftovers, that’s when you pick off all of the meat so you have a very different soup the second time around.

Today I got a little fancy with the vegetables and cut carrots and celery into brunoise, a very fine dice that is pretty in the soup and gives some texture contrast. I used some rich chicken stock I made from roasted chicken bones. It’s filling up the house with a nice comforting aroma, and I know Dave will smile when he walks in the door.  He says he doesn’t really like split pea soup, but I know he’ll like mine.

Your investment accounts might look a little poor these days, but you can still eat rich on a budget.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Swimming in chickens, and chickens swimming

The grocery store had roasting chickens for 79 cents per pound this week.  I can’t resist a sale like that, and neither can Dave.  I sent him off to the store and he brought back three five-pound birds.  We are planning to roast all of them in our rotisserie oven (yes, it is from Ron Popiel and we like it just fine).  They are so big that I will have to roast them one at a time.  But before roasting the chickens have to go swimming.  In brine, of course.  The usual base recipe is ¼ cup each salt and sugar to a quart of water.  I wanted more flavor in the brine so I took about a gallon of water and simmered it for 30 minutes with 2T dried rosemary, 2T dried thyme, 1T coriander seed, 2T mixed peppercorns, and two bay leaves.  I also added in the salt and sugar for that gallon of water. 

Now all the chickens are about to complete their little bath; they get a full 24 hours. They have been in a 20-gal capacity plastic tub with a lid, the same one that I use for making corned beef and pastrami.  The tub is out of the deck with a lot of ice in it to keep the temperature under 40 degrees.  That isn’t hard with all the salt in the water, and the outside temp is only 45 (it was near freezing overnight). I take an hourly temperature with my laser gun – with that “toy” I can absolutely say that I have an “arsenal of cooking tools.”.

I’ll get a picture of one of our roasted chickens later – for now I just have to figure out where I am going to put all the cooked chicken!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Never turn your back...

…when you are making butter in a high-speed mixer. The whipped cream changes to butter in just a couple of seconds, not enough time to sprint across the kitchen and get the mixer turned off before something like this happens. I, too, was covered in buttermilk and butter bits. You can bet that during the second batch I never moved away from the mixer!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

There's a first time for everything: making veal stock

We were walking through Uwajimaya the other day and Dave noticed some packages of veal bones in the freezer case. At first I was not swayed. Then I turned around and, Dave swears with a twinkle in my eye, I loaded five pounds into the cart. Why not? It's not hard to make good stock, just time-consuming. And time, I got.

I'm using Jacque Pepin's "Complete Techniques" as my guide. Might as well learn from the best, right? Actually, I don't consider this learning as much as experience. I've made a lot of stock, a lot of good stock. Chicken, duck, beef -- but never veal.

Tonight is the prep, roasting and starting the boil. I'll get to the first major skimming tonight before bed, and let it percolate the rest of the night.

My plan is to reduce it at least to a demi-glace.

Funny interlude here, Dave comes home, smelling nice roasty meat smells and thinking there is something good for him to eat tonight. Ah, too bad, it's only bones...

More sous vide: dijon-maple pork chops

I am playing with sous vide again. Started with thick pork loin chops that I rubbed with salt and let sit overnight. Gave them a rinse and put into a vacuum bag with a paste of a teaspoon of dijon mustard and two teaspoons of maple syrup. (Yes I know maple syrup has carbohydrates, but using a small amount of a strong flavor is absolutely the right thing to do.)

I pulled out the induction burner and put the bag in a pot of water and set the control to keep the water at 140 degrees. A while back I tested each of the settings so that I know how hot each keeps water (114, 140, 172, and 203 for the first four settings, in case you are curious).

What I really like about sous vide is that if you can hold food at a known temperature you can avoid overcooking it -- for a very very long time. This make it useful when you are not sure when your partner will get home from work, and may need to grab dinner in a hurry.

To finish the dish I shredded green cabbage very fine and salted it lightly and let it sit for about an hour. Gave it a little rinse and drain then turned into a saute pan with some very hot bacon drippings, a bit if dry mustard and a bit of ground ginger. I don't know quite why I chose those two seasonings except to say that it felt right. A few turns with the tongs and then I piled the cabbage into the center or pasta bowls. Sliced down the pork chops and fanned them on top of the cabbage and ladled the meat juices (with all that nice maple and dijon flavor) around the cabbage. Because the cabbage was shredded so finely it soaked up the juices, a nice benefit since we did not get to have any bread or noodles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Putting together a recipe: injera

Injera is an Ethiopian flatbread that is used both as a plate and a spoon for their rich “wat” or stews. We are having a berbere-seasoned beef, butternut squash, and cashew stew tonight so I thought I would look into making a little injera. Normally I would not have bread, as it’s very high on the glycemic index, making it unsuitable for our diet. However, injera calls for two parts whole grain flour and one part white flour. So a little bit of it to soak up the juices from the stew will be okay. It is also somewhat acidic, which lowers the glycemic index even more as it changes the way that the body metabolizes the carbohydrates. In traditional Ethiopian cuisine, a layer of injera is laid down on a platter or right on the table, and the stew is spooned over it. More injera is served on the side, and each person uses the bread to pick up bites of the stew in a communal meal.

As I usually do when making something new, I did a literature search. To my dismay, none of my baking books mention injera and I don’t have any books on African cooking. I will have to rectify that; I checked on “The Good Cook” online (the Book of the Month Club for cooks) and they didn’t have any. I’ll work on that task later. An online search turned up a half-dozen recipes and so I got the concepts: a pretty sour batter, with a mixture of whole grain like wheat and buckwheat or teff with some white flour, that uses yeast and baking powder/baking soda. Some of the recipes call for letting the batter sit and ferment for up to three days. That signals to me that using my starter, which is nice and sour, would be an okay place to start. The batter is cooked like a crepe, and is supposed to be thicker than a crepe but thinner than a pancake, cooked only on one side and not browned. It is supposed to have lots of small bubbles that break on the surface, resulting in a sponge-like look and texture. Sort of like cooking a crumpet, if you know what crumpets look like.

The research leads me to the recipe I’ve come up with. A cup of starter, awakened with a cup of very warm water. A teaspoon of sugar, a half-teaspoon of yeast. One half cup each of rye, whole wheat, and AP flours. Whisk together. Add ¼ t of baking powder. Add enough more warm water to form a thick batter. Cover and let stand for an hour or so. Then when I am ready to cook, whisk in ½ t baking soda and ½ t salt. Cook in a 10” non-stick skillet (I am using my omelet pan). Heat over medium heat until a water droplet skitters across the surface. Pour in 1/3 cup of batter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Look for bubbles to appear on the surface and then break. Remove when the bread is firm, before the bottom starts to brown. Of course you can use a different size pan, just modify the amount of batter you put in. Someday I may try to make a dinner-plate sized bread, like I got in a restaurant. As you can see from the photos it got the open bubbles just like it is supposed to.

One thing that fascinated me as I cooked the injera were the chemical reactions I knew were happening: I put the baking soda in right before cooking, so it was still reacting with the acidity of the batter and making bubbles, and more bubbles were created as the baking powder reacted to the heat of the pan. This was in addition to the bubbles from the yeast.

I am not claiming that this is authentic, as I am not Ethiopian nor did I learn it at my momma’s knee. But it does work, and it is like what I have been served in an Ethiopian restaurant. It made a great base for the stew.

A note on my recipe search: when I am looking for ethnic recipes, I start with www.recipesource.com. It used to be called S.O.A.R., the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes, and was hosted at Cal Berkeley. It started as an online database project. Anyone can submit recipes, and I have found that a lot of college students from outside the US who are hungry for “home cooking” post the recipes their mom gives them. It is one of many resources I use for recipe development.

What's for dinner: Thai seafood curry

This was dinner last night. We were near Uwajimaya, an Asian store that has great seafood. So of course I had to have some. W picked up a pound of rockfish (snapper) filets, half a pound of medium shrimp, and half a pound of beautiful bay scallops. I made the base by frying a tablespoon each of red and yellow Thai curry paste in the cream off a can of coconut milk, mashing the paste until it was smooth. Then added about 1.5 cups of chicken stock and 1.5 cups of coconut milk, one onion julienned, four pieces of dried galangal root, a couple of tablespoons of minced cilantro stems, one green onion sliced thin, a can of straw mushrooms and a large can of sliced bamboo shoots (both drained). I seasoned it with a packet of splenda, about 2 T of fish sauce, and about 2 T of lemon juice. I also steeped some dried lemongrass in boiling water and added that water, about a half cup, to the pot. That simmered for about 45 minutes while we cut the fish into 3” pieces and shelled the shrimp. (Then I took out half of the contents of the pot, about three cups, and set it aside to use in another meal, probably with chicken and zucchini.) The fish and shrimp went in for about six minutes, then I added the scallops and simmered another two minutes. When I tasted it I added a little salt and a T of lime juice. Then garnished with some chopped cilantro and green onion.

Unfortunately our diet doesn’t allow us to have the jasmine rice that would be perfect with this, but oh well. It was really good, the seafood was perfectly done, and the scallops were very tender and sweet.