Saturday, May 31, 2008

Home Fries with Canadian Bacon

and Fava Beans with Caramelized Onions, all topped with a runny egg.



















The original plan was fried rice with favas and Canadian bacon. But I didn't have enough leftover rice, so I poked around to see what I could do.

I had half a bag of home fries in the freezer, the kind with bits of bell pepper and onion. I also had caramelized onions and a roasted jalapeño leftover from a chicken dinner the night before. (If you live in San Diego county, I highly recommend a trip to Compadre Grilled Chicken just off the 78 on Nordahl.)

While following the package directions for the taters, I chopped up some Canadian bacon, and crisped it separately. I also sautéed some fava beans that I had shelled the night before, and mixed in caramelized onions. When the potatoes were almost done, I mixed in the bacon. All topped off with an egg, scrambled for Hubby and Youngest, and of course runny for me. I love it when I can whip up something on the spur of the moment and have it turn out delicious.

Side note on the favas - while preparing the ice bath for the boiling beans, I dropped an ice cube. Little Dog darted in, grabbed the prize, and retreated.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Way Too Easy Curry

Given the luck I had with my last curry made with Trader Joe's red curry sauce, I thought I'd give their Thai Yellow a try.

I chopped up some chicken, zucchini, yellow squash, and "Mexican gray squash", which looked like a calabacita to me. I browned the chicken over relatively high heat, removed it from the skillet, then sautéed the veggies over medium heat. Dumped the chicken back in the pan:
















Added the sauce, stirred, and brought to a simmer:
















And served over rice:
















I thought it was very good, hubby said "delicious", and youngest said "I can't try it, I have a Tic Tac in my mouth". Majority rules.

By the way, has anyone had problems with Blogger rotating your pictures? It took me forever to get that last one horizontal, even though that's how I took it in the first place. I ended up having to rotate it, save it, rotate it back, save it, then upload. Oh, Blogger, thou dost confuseth me.

And, as a bonus photography question (which I could probably just Google, but, whatever), how do I get front focus instead of back focus on angled closeups?

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Three Ladies Rice

We buy rice once every 8 months or so, in 50# bags. Our preferred "everyday" rice is Three Ladies brand, imported by Vinh Sanh Trading Corporation.




















The last time we bought rice, it was $20. This time? $38.

Want eggs? $3 a dozen, unless you're lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe's (at least the one near me, they sell local eggs for $1.49).

Flour? Same thing. Bread? That too. Milk? I wish I was lactose-intolerant.

Gasoline? $4.11 $4.15 is the cheapest I can find right now.

What can we do?

  • Buy local. Supporting your local farmer helps him keep his prices lower. Plus you usually get organic veggies and humanely-raised animals from small farms.
  • Combine driving trips. Need to pick up milk, your daughter from her job, and a prescription from the pharmacy? Do them all at once.
  • Recycle. Duh. And not just in your blue bins. Some states give you a cash refund for glass, plastic and aluminum. Even if they don't, why make stuff from scratch that's already mostly-made? (This only counts for recycleables, not cake mix or mac'n'cheese. Please, make that from scratch.)
  • Plan your meals for the week, or at least for a few days at a time. Buy only what you need. Americans throw away 10% of what they buy at grocery stores. If you can't plan your meals? Get a dog. He'll eat what you don't.
  • Have unwanted books? Donate them to a library or sell them to a local used book store. It'll save people from buying new books, and save the fuel costs associated in shipping them.
  • Get rid of cable TV. WTF, you say? Our TV died 2 months ago. I haven't replaced it, and haven't missed it. I read the news online. Instead of wasting time sitting mindlessly watching The Next Top Whatever, I'm doing more constructive things (reading, sewing, gardening). And I'm saving $40 a month by not paying for cable. Although I'm going to run in to a problem when football season starts...
  • And lastly, in the words of Michael Pollan, which I'm sure you've all read before: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This has been your Public Service Announcement for the day.

We now return you to your regular programming.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Garden Update

Here are some pictures of my tiny garden:















Back row: yellow pear tomato, early girl tomato, anonymous tomato, snap pea
Middle row: 5 jalapeno peppers (Little Dog dug one up)
Front row: 6 serrano peppers

Early girl tomato is living up to her name, with no less than 6 beautiful green orbs. The other 2 are slow learners.




















No peppers yet, but plenty of flowers.




















And I think my pea plant is dying. But I got to eat 2 pods right off the vine, so I'm happy.
















And remember my potato experiment? Here's part 2:















Does anyone know when you harvest a potato?

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Grilled Jalapeño Bratwurst

I was at Major Market in Escondido on Saturday to pick up a baguette. Of course, I can't just pick up a baguette.

While passing the wine aisles, then the cheese case, I saw a demo stand, where they were offering samples of their jalapeño bratwurst. The gentleman manning the station called me over to try a sample, freshly sliced off the tabletop grill, speared by a mustard-dipped pretzel. Mmm...sausage. It's made in-house, with pieces of jalapeño, bell pepper, onion, and tomato. I think the main protein was chicken, but I could be mistaken. Yup, I was mistaken, it's pork. Duh. Normally I shun sausages that try to mess with the pristine holiness of the pig, but I capitulated and bought a few links.

I decided to grill them up for our Memorial Day barbecue. The butcher gave me detailed instructions: microwave(!) one brat for one minute or two for two minutes, but don't nuke more than 2 at a time. Then finish on the grill until crispy & browned. I took his advice, and, oh am I glad I did. These were pretty close to the best darned sausages I've ever had. Hubby was prepared to hate them - I could tell by the look on his face and by the fact that he was perusing the fridge to see what else was available.

I grilled the sausages, and served them with mustard, red onion, caramelized yellow onion, and Nathan's pickles as condiments, on toasted buns. Hubby's first impression: "Oh my God, are you f-ing kidding me? These are the best bratwurst I've ever had." I agree.















And the fiddleheads I posted about earlier? I boiled them in salted water until they were slightly squishy, about 5 minutes, then sautéed them in olive oil and garlic. Delicious! Hubby asked if I could make them more often. Umm...they're only in season for about 6 minutes, and a small package at Trader Joe's cost me $5. So, no, not so often.















Rounding out the table was the remains of Chicken Old Ladies on a Bus, removed from their marmalade-y sauce and grilled until nicely caramelized and heated through, basted with more Stubbs hot BBQ sauce. Tasty, better than the first night, but definitely overshadowed by the bratwurst. All but one piece (wing) is back in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.

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Chicken Old Ladies on a Bus

The next cookbook on my shelf is Atlanta Cooknotes, 80th Anniversary Edition, published in 1982 by The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. Here's another one that I have no idea how I got it or why.

Reading through the recipes, I realized two things about Atlanta in 1982: 1) the residents really liked cream cheese, and 2) artichokes only came frozen or canned.

On to a sample of potential recipes:

  • Deviled Ham Log (with cream cheese, of course)
  • Garlic Salad - Place salt in salad bowl. Thoroughly mash garlic into salt. Add oil and vinegar. Cream cheese (Roquefort) into above mixture until smooth. It should look like a paste. Add lettuce (iceberg) and toss.
  • Cornish Hens in Orange Sauce - I actually wanted to make this one, because I have 2 hens in my freezer, but the recipe called for 1 teaspoon of MSG.
  • Lettuce Bread - umm...this sounds interesting and scary...everyone knows you can put vegetables in bread (mmm...zucchini), and cooked lettuce can be good (grilled romaine, escarole soup)...but...wait, I know! If anyone is courageous enough to make this, and taste it, I'll give them $5. Seriously. Email me if you want to accept the challenge.
What I finally settled on was Chicken Old Ladies on a Bus, whose recipe apparently came from an overheard conversation between, you guessed it, two old ladies on a bus.






















Combine equal parts orange marmalade and hot barbecue sauce, a little Worcestershire sauce (always called "W sauce" when I was growing up), and lemon juice. Place chicken in a baking dish skin-side up, sprinkle with s&p, pour the sauce over the chicken, at bake for 1 hour, basting occasionally. Increase the heat and bake 15 minutes more.

I'm going to interrupt myself here by saying that deconstructing a chicken is a little nerve-wracking. You see, I had thawed a whole chicken before realizing that the recipe wanted parts. It took me 20 minutes and a lot of flying chicken goo to get my requisite pieces.

I was expecting completely overbaked chicken, given 60 minutes at 350 and 15 more minutes at 400 for 2 pounds of chicken pieces. But it turned out moist, even the breast! If I were to make this again, I'd definitely use less marmalade, because the resulting sticky cloying sweetness was slightly unpleasant. However, I used Stubb's hot barbecue sauce, so that made it tasty.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fiddleheads!

I exclaimed out loud when I saw these at Trader Joe's.















I've only read about fiddlehead ferns, never thought I'd ever see them in SoCal. But there they were, all green and curly, and I had to pick them up, regardless of the fact that they cost $5 and came from Canada. (Nothing against Canadians, it's just that these had to travel so far to get here!)

Now, what to do with them? I think I'll boil for a bit, then sauté in olive oil and garlic.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Roasted Cauliflower

I love roasted cauliflower. My family thought they hated it, until they tried it. Now they love it too.

This time I used a green cauliflower, possibly romanesco - it was vaguely fractal, but not as strikingly so as some I've seen.

















Roasted Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower
olive oil
minced garlic
grated parmesan
chopped parsley
salt & pepper

Cut cauliflower into florets. Cut bigger florets into halves, thirds or even quarters. You want all of your pieces to be about the same size.

Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. At this point the parts in contact with the pan should be lightly browned. Turn the florets over, and roast for another 10 minutes or so.

Mix in the minced garlic, return the dish to the oven, and turn the heat off. Let sit for about 5 minutes in the oven to soften the garlic's bite. Remove, add chopped parsley and grated parmesan, and mix. Serve.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spinach and Rice Soup

The next cookbook in line on my shelf is More Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I don't know why it was so difficult to choose a dish to cook from this book. Ms. Hazan is, after all, one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine.

So I narrowed it down to the following:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Frittata con le Patatine Fritte (Open-Faced Omelet with Pan-Fried Potatoes)
Carciofini Gratinati (Gratin of Artichokes)
Crocchette di Patate all Romagnola (Potato and Ham Fritters)
Spinaci e Riso in Brodo (Spinach and Rice Soup)

The ingredients for all of the above were readily available, so that wasn't a factor. I've already made a frittata, so I nixed that one. We just recently had steamed artichokes for dinner, so the gratin was out. I'm not sure I trust the freshness of my eggs, so no carbonara this time. And my last attempt at anything fritter-like was a disaster. So I went with the soup. Can't screw that up, right?

You start by sautéing spinach with a pinch of salt, and just the water left on the leaves from washing, until barely wilted. Drain, reserving the liquid, pressing as much of it out of the spinach as possible. Then you sauté some chopped onion in butter, add the spinach and raise the heat, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in broth and the reserved spinach liquid, and bring to a boil. Add arborio rice, cover and simmer vigorously until the rice is al dente. Adjust salt and pepper, and serve with parmesan.

Verdict? Meh. I wasn't expecting anything earth-shattering. It's just spinach and rice soup, after all. The arborio gave a subtle velvety-ness to the broth, but I wish I had chopped the spinach instead of leaving it whole - it's rather difficult to get one cooked spinach leaf on a spoon without getting a big massive clump.

So, not a disaster, but nothing to get all excited about either. Therefore, this book gets a 2nd chance, and can stay on the shelf until the next cycle through.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cooking & Reading

I have this theory that people read the way they cook.

I love to do both, every day. Some of what I cook is great. There are also disasters. Sometimes it's just mindless filler, and other times it's complicated and arduous, and leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. All of those sentences could also describe the various books on my shelves and websites that I frequent.

Hubby cooks only occasionally, and reads a book only occasionally. When he cooks, it's momentous, like his chicken enchiladas, or Southern barbecue for 30 guests. And when he reads, it's likewise momentous, e.g. One Hundred Years of Solitude, or The Master and Margarita.

I know a guy who calls himself "Mr. Barbecue", and reads nothing but Popular Mechanics.

A lady I work with cooks American (pork chops, burgers, the occasional foray into stuffed bell peppers), and reads American (Clancy, Ludlum, Grisham).

And I know a few people who consider pouring milk on cereal to be "cooking", who haven't picked up a book in 10 years.

So, after all that (if you're still here)....do you think there's a correlation between the way people cook and what they read?

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Tabouleh

I finally made tabouleh!
















I cooked up the bulgar before I had any idea what I wanted to do with it.

Ransacking the fridge, I found 1 tomato, 2 green onions, a cucumber, a little red onion, a serrano, and most of a bunch of parsley.

Sounds like tabouleh to me!

Tabouleh
bulgar (I used medium, or #2)
water or stock
parsley
tomato
cucumber
onion
hot chile, if you like
lemon juice
olive oil
salt & pepper

Use a 1.5:1 ratio of liquid to wheat. I used a cup of bulgar (which ended up being too much for the veggies I had) and 1.5 cups of water/stock. Dump the bulgar into a heat-safe bowl. Add a pinch of salt. Bring water/stock to a boil. Pour over bulgar, cover tightly, and let sit until the water is absorbed, 10-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Chop everything else up. I included some of the stems of the parsley because I like them. Mix up the veggies, and add bulgar until it looks right. Remember, this is a parsley salad, not a bulgar salad. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil, s&p. Add a little sumac powder if you're feeling dangerous.

To serve: I was too lazy to drive 1 mile to the grocery store, but not too lazy to attempt to make my own naan. Should've burned the fuel. I guess I knew better when I read the recipe, which said to let the dough rest until doubled in size, yet there was no yeast involved...

Anyhoo, leftover tabouleh will make a good salad for lunch at work tomorrow, especially after I add some Italian oil-packed tuna. Mmm...

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Puff Pastry is Not My Friend

Puff pastry from the freezer, asparagus, parmesan and Jarlsberg from the fridge. Sounds good, no?















1. Roll out the pastry to about 16x10". Mine was a little dried out at the folds, a little sticky in other places, and didn't want to roll out nicely. It also didn't want to unglue itself from the cutting board.

2. Place pastry on a baking tray. Score the edges so they'll puff up, and you'll end up with a baskety thing. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 400. I stopped at 10 minutes because it was getting too brown. And the scored edges = baskety thing? Maybe in some kitchens, but not mine.

3. Sprinkle the pastry with grated cheese, lay the asparagus on top, drizzle with olive oil, s&p. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I suggest covering your non-baskety thing edges with foil after about 10 minutes, otherwise they'll overbrown and get all burnt-tasting. I didn't realize this until about 18 minutes had passed.

4. Sprinkle with a little more parmesan. Cut into squares and eat. But if yours turned out like mine, cut off those dumb edges and toss 'em to the dogs.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

No Food, Just Pets & a Camera

I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't walked in on it.

I walk into my bedroom and see my 12-lb orange tabby, affectionately known as Bad Kitty...














...on the bed, with my 4-lb chihuahua...















...grooming her. Cat licking dog. In a nice, friendly way.

WTF?

And thanks to the government's "stimulus package", I finally have a camera! I splurged and bought a Canon XS100IS. See the picture of Bad Kitty? Taken with old camera. The picture of Chula? New camera. I like.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Awesome Product Alert - Nut Thins

I saw a display of Blue Diamond Nut Thins on my most recent shopping trip, on sale for $2 a box, and figured, why not? And it turns out that I'm glad I picked them up!

First taste is vaguely styrofoamy, which makes sense because they're basically a nut-flavored rice cracker. But immediately after that is a wonderful nuttiness. I want to put some goat cheese and a piece of apple on top.

I picked up the plain almond ones, but they also have the almond thins in Country Ranch, Cheddar Cheese and Smokehouse flavors, and there are hazelnut and pecan varieties too. I can't vouch for any of them other than the one I bought, but if the other flavors are as good as the almond, you'd be doing yourself a favor by picking these up.

(The above is completely unpaid, unsolicited and uncompensated.)

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Donate your Southern cookbooks...

I just read over at Shuna Fish Lydon's blog that the Southern Food and Beverage Museum is looking for donations of Southern cookbooks to replace everything that was lost (half of their collection) in Hurricane Katrina.

I've got a copy of Paul Prudhomme's Fiery Foods That I Love that will be in the mail to them tomorrow. It's not much, but every bit counts. Plus, it gets one more book off the shelf, which will help maintain peace and harmony in my household.

Anyone else interested in donating? Send your un-needed Southern cookbooks to:

Southern Food & Beverage Museum
attn. Liz Williams
1 Poydras Street, #169
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Carne Asada is Not a Crime

Los Angeles wants to, in effect, force taco trucks out of business. A new ordinance (applicable to unincorporated LA, which is 65% of the county) requires that a taco truck be parked in the same place for no more than 1 hour, must move at least 1 mile away when it moves, and not return to it's original place for more than 3 hours. Price of violation? $1000 and possible jail time.

Most of the "complainants" aren't business owners or homeowners, but restaurants that are whiny about the "unfair" competition. Taco truck meals are cheaper, faster, and, a lot of the time, taste better. The people who own the trucks are trying to make an honest living selling (most of the time) good food. Many people (like my Hubby) have fond memories of their favorite taco truck from childhood. More importantly, many low-income families are able to treat their family to "dinner out" only because of these trucks.

Want to know more? See here and here.

Want to sign the petition to repeal the ordinance? Go here.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kick Butt Leftover Nachos

I had some chicken and some black bean sauce leftover from yesterday's dinner, and decided the best way to put them to use was to make nachos.

Like I've said earlier, I like fussy fiddly cooking, so just layering some chips in a tray and randomly scattering stuff over them just isn't happening in my kitchen.

I spread out a layer of chips, topped each one with a dab of bean sauce, a piece of diced leftover chicken, a piece of tomato, a couple green onion slices, and half a black olive slice. Shredded cheddar was then semi-randomly scattered on top (but ensuring complete coverage, of course). Then another layer of chips with their accompaniments, then another layer. The whole thing baked at 350 for about 10 minutes, enough to melt the cheese and heat everything up.

We ate right out of the dish, each of us picking up a chip in turn, patiently waiting for the Tapatio bottle to be passed. Straight out of the dish, no plates, but at least we had napkins and sat at the table. All of us were extremely happy with dinner. All four food groups, a little crunchy, a little squishy, a little salty.

Reaffirms my opinion that sometimes leftovers are better than a recipe.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Grilled Chicken, Black Bean Sauce, and Grilled Corn

I had some ears of corn that wanted grilling, so had to come up with something else to grill to go along with it - I can't justify $3 worth of charcoal for a few ears of corn! So I perused Food Blog Search, and quickly found Elise's recipe for Grilled Lime Chicken with Black Bean Sauce.

For the chicken, you marinate in lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, oregano and s&p. Then you bake it on a bed of red onions for 15-20 minutes, which really does wonders for keeping the chicken moist. After baking, grill until done. While the chicken (and corn) were grilling, I added a little olive oil to the onions in the dish, and baked a little longer to get them softer (and kill any par-cooked chicken juice).

The black bean sauce is simply canned beans, water, cilantro stems and oregano. Cook forever, then blenderize. Mine turned out a little soupy, but easily reduced on the stove until I got a good consistency. I added a little epazote while simmering, acquired from Penzeys on my trip to Chicago, and I like the herby-stinky-bitter undertones. Umm...that didn't sound appetizing. But believe me, epazote is a good addition, in moderation.

For the corn, I pulled back the husks, removed the silk, and put the husks back in place. Grilled until the kernels were nicely browned in spots, turning every couple minutes, probably 30 minutes total, maybe more. The husks char and get black & crispy (I love that smell). Served with butter mixed with chili powder and lime juice.

I've got plenty of bean sauce leftover, and I think it would do well as a dip with some green onion, tomatoes and cheddar cheese stirred in. Maybe some chorizo, if you're feeling meaty.

All in all, this was a very pleasant dinner. Thanks to Elise for the chicken and bean sauce recipes, and thanks to Ben for recommending epazote.

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Way Too Easy Chicken Curry

Cut boneless chicken into bite-sized pieces. Cook in a skillet until done. Add Trader Joe's Red Curry Sauce, and heat through. Serve over rice and garnish with spicy peanuts.

I think I've officially given up on making my own curry sauces. Hubby won't touch them, but he had 2nds of the out-of-the-bottle Trader Joe's sauce. I don't whether to be happy or sad...

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Cinnamon Bread

Rarely do I make something the day I find the recipe, but in the case of Kevin's Cinnamon Bread, I felt I had no choice. Doesn't it look delicious?

Actually having all the ingredients was a factor, too. Yeah, I know, everyone has butter, sugar, flour, etc. But I always seem to have about a 1/4 cup too little flour, one too few eggs. This time I was in business.

The house smelled wonderful while it was baking. It was hard to wait. I take that back, it wasn't hard to wait, because I don't like the taste of half-baked bread. Let's just say, waiting sucked.

But holy crap was it worth it. The cinnamon and brown sugar melted into ooey gooey goodness, and the layer on top was satisfyingly crunchy. I will definitely make this again.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Awesome Product Alert - Danish Blue Cheese

I picked up a chunk of Castello Blue Cheese from Trader Joe's today. It's made by Arla Foods, northern Europe's largest dairy product producer.

Here's a picture, which isn't what mine looked like (the chunk I got was just wrapped in plastic).















If you find this, buy it. It's triple cream, which means it's really bad for you, and tastes really good. Little bit of cheese on a Ritz cracker or a piece of baguette, and you'll be in heaven.

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Simple Spiced Nuts

Hubby was feeling snacky, and was perusing the pantry for something yummy. He pulled out the jar of peanuts, and asked "Why would you buy unsalted peanuts?" For my favorite granola bars. By the way, these work great with all sorts of nuts, fruits and seeds. The last batch I made had pecans, peanuts, dried figs, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. The original recipe from the Kitchen Sink works well with any combination, as long as you keep the dry and wet ratio the same (I lean towards the max of peanut butter and honey to ensure a chewier bar).

Anyhow, looking at the jar of unsalted peanuts, I decided to make spiced nuts. All the recipes I found included lots of butter and sugar and baking. I didn't want sweet. I didn't want to turn on the oven. So I pulled out a skillet, peanut oil, paprika and salt.

Simple Spiced Peanuts

peanuts
peanut oil
paprika
salt

Heat a very small amount of peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Dump in a single layer of unsalted peanuts. Shake paprika over the nuts. I started with sweet, then decided to add some hot, because I like hot. Sprinkle over some salt. Toss occasionally, until well-coated and hot. Let cool. Munch.

If you want to make sweet-spicy nuts, you could replace the tiny bit of peanut oil with a tiny bit of butter, and add a little brown sugar, corn syrup, or whatever. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, then continue with peanuts and seasoning.

These may not be as tasty as other spiced nuts I've made (I remember a delicious batch that involved beating egg whites to semi-stiff peaks), but they're quite good for lazy cravings.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Fig Invasion

My fig trees are acting up again. By acting up, I mean they're on their way to producing more fruit than I can possibly use.

So if anybody in the San Diego area (I'm in North County) wants to pick up some free figs (mostly big green ones, a few small dark purple ones) in the next couple months, drop me a comment or a direct email, and we can set up a fig transfer.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dolce di Polenta

My next challenge dish, dolce di polenta, or cornmeal cake, comes from The Fine Art of Italian Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli.

Also in the list of contenders from this book were Uova alla Fiorentina (Eggs Florentine), Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter-Style Chicken), and Peposo (Peppery Beef Stew). No real reason, but the cake won.

I've made cornmeal cakes before, but this one was different, as it included saffron and white wine, and melted butter instead of the olive oil I'm used to.

The instructions said to bake it at 375 for 1 hour and 20 minutes. That seemed like a lot of baking. So I didn't set a timer or look at the clock. I have no idea how long I baked it. I pulled it out when top was lightly browned, and the edges were darkly browned. After removing it from the baking pan, I discovered that I overbaked - there were little blackened areas on the bottom of the cake.

I deviated from the recipe (which I didn't want to do for any of my challenge dishes, but, whatever), by omitting the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar dusted over the top of the cake. I didn't want to taste pure sugar, I wanted to taste the cake.

The moment of tasting arrived - Hubby said "Decent. It reminds me of...........I don't know what it reminds me of." But he ate the whole piece he cut. "Not bad at all. I like it." And went back for a 2nd piece.

And you know what? He's right. I can't expand on his comments. It reminds me of something. It's not bad.

And it is better the 2nd day.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Crunchy Fava Bean Cakes

I picked up a bunch of beautiful fresh fava beans the other day (I love spring!), and decided to make Melonfish's Crunchy Fava Bean Cakes. So today I acquired the necessary corn and cornflour (Bob's Red Mill) and was ready to go. Unfortunately, my ear of corn looked rather sad once unhusked. The kernels weren't very puffy, they looked more like miniature albino raisins. But I tasted a couple, and they seemed ok, so on I went.

Some people complain about the labor involved in shelling fava beans, but I find it relaxing. Time-consuming, but relaxing. And fun - it's amusing to see a bean shoot across the kitchen when you're trying to peel it.

Beans and corn sautéed, half pureed, mixed with flours, eggs, feta, basil and milk, then formed into patties and fried. I followed the recipe exactly, except for the puree part. I have a problem pureeing things. I blame my blender. So I minced and mashed until I got something that kind of looked like wet green sand.

Hubby was fully prepared to hate these. He saw the batter on the counter and started looking for something else to eat. I convinced him to take a bite. He did so, reluctantly, eyeing the cake suspiciously. But then his eyes lit up. "These are delicious."

We ended up eating them on baguette with a little prosciutto (and hot sauce, of course). Hubby couldn't stop raving. "Don't lose this recipe. These are great. I guess I do like fava beans."

Thanks, Melonfish!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chicken & Rice

For dinner last night, I made Chicken Legs in Achiote Sauce (Ben's recipe), accompanied by Green Rice, from Trini Gourmet.

The marinade for the chicken reminded me of the cochinita pibil I make (recipe courtesy of Roberto Rodriquez, director of Once Upon a Time in Mexico). The main difference is lots of ancho powder in the chicken, compared to habañero in the puerco.

My kitchen smelled amazing while this was cooking! The chicken was tender, flavorful...everything chicken wants to be but so rarely is.

The rice...was ok. I undersalted (a problem of mine, although easily fixed), and I think my long grain rice is old, because the center of the grains stayed hard for way too long, and by the time they were soft, the rice was breaking apart. The flavor, however, was very good. Cilantro, parsley, jalapeño, onion, garlic...of course the flavor's good!

Family dug on the chicken, the rice not so much. However, all three of them could live on plain white rice with soy sauce, with a pork chop thrown in once a month. So their opinion on "different" rice dishes doesn't really count in my eyes.

Will I make this again? The chicken, yes. The rice, I'll probably search for another recipe, or tweak this one til it's memorable.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Cheese and Onion Bread

I bookmarked this recipe for Cheese and Onion Bread from Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe a while back, and finally made it today. The recipe is credited to The Complete Book of Bread and Bread Machines.

It turned out pretty good - it wasn't salty enough, but that's because there is no quantity indicated in the recipe, and I have a hard time figuring out salt quantities when baking. I used about 1/2 teaspoon, it probably needs a full teaspoon. I think the next time I make this, I'll double the quantity of onions, and mix half in with the dough, instead of sprinkling all of them on top. And Johanna's right, the bread really needs to cool down for you to get the full cheesy flavor.

I made mine in the flower shape, one dough-ball in the middle, surrounded by 7 more of the same size. Definitely impressive, since it spreads out to about 14" round, and needs a very large plate to serve!

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Shrimp and Scallops in Aromatic Broth

My next challenge cookbook is The Chez Francois Cookbook by Jacque E. Haeringer. I have no idea where I got this or why.

There were many tasty-looking recipes, some not-so-tasty (Calves Brains with Black Butter, anyone?). All of the vegetable dishes looked like they were supposed to be garnishes for the main protein. Didn't want to do one of those. And I'm not about to tackle a French dessert.

So I narrowed it down to Shrimp and Scallops in Aromatic Broth, or the Châteubriand. The beef dish looked really good, but I didn't feel like making all the garnishes - carottes et petis oignons glacés, haricots verts sautés, les champignons à blanc, pommes sautées Lyonnaise, tomates provençale, and Béarnaise sauce. So I went with the seafood.

You julienne celery, carrot and leek, shred onion, and simmer them all in water, wine, red wine vinegar, s&p, and a bouquet garni for 30 minutes. You drop in the shrimp and scallops, remove the pot from the heat as soon as it returns to a boil, and serve.

I had roasted some garlic and mixed it with butter, to slather on a fresh baguette. I figured you can't have broth without crusty bread to dip into it.

But that's assuming that the broth was good. It wasn't. This dish was so bad that I removed the shrimp and scallops, sink-pigged the nasty broth, and tried sautéeing the seafood quickly in my garlic butter and a dusting of paprika. Still sucked. Hubby said it tasted like dishwater. He was right.

So we had garlic bread for dinner. The dogs had shrimp and scallops.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Food & Wine, June 2008

Once again, here are the recipes from the latest Food & Wine that look tasty. And, just like last month, I probably won't make any of them. But it's fun to think about.

Oh, and a note to Food & Wine's web developers (like they're listening), your search capabilities suck. I searched for "sunflower seed dip", and came up with nothing, but searching for "sunflower seed" gave the above link. And your entire website is slower than molasses.

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Spiced Chili Potatoes

My next challenge dish comes from Everyday Asian by Patricia Yeo and Tom Steele. I had a really hard time figuring out what to make from this book, not because there was too much to choose from, but because there was too little. Since the book is called Everyday Asian, I was expecting Asian recipes. You would too, right?

Braised Lamb Shanks - it's got porcini mushrooms, carrot, celery, tomatoes, red wine, thyme and white beans. That doesn't seen "Asian" to me. Neither does the Poached Prawn and Tomato Confit Stack, with tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, shrimp and salsa verde. Umm...yeah...not Asian. And I can't even imagine how the Smoky Tomato Polenta snuck into this book.

Other recipes looked good, but I have yet been able to procure fermented black beans or kecap manis, and Hubby won't eat anything that's come into contact with garam masala.

I finally settled on Spiced Chili Potatoes, thick-sliced Yukon and russet, dumped on top of popped mustard seeds, caramelized onions, chilis, and a little curry powder, then baked until tender.

And you know what? They were good! Hubby ate most of them, and was unable to stop complimenting my genius (I tried to explain that it was a recipe from a cookbook, but I'm not sure it registered in his brain). I had no idea that mustard seeds got soft when you cooked them. But after toasting for 3 minutes, sautéeing with the onions for 10-15 minutes, and baking for 20 minutes...well...you'd be soft too.

And so, I encourage you to make these:

1 Yukon gold potato, cut in 1/2" slices
1 russet potato, cut in 1/2" slices
1/2 onion, cut in 1/4" slices
1 t yellow mustard seeds
1 t brown mustard seeds
1/4 t curry powder
2 small dried chilies, like de arbol or Thai bird
2 T vegetable / canola oil
1/4 c water or broth
1 T butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375.

Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron, but mine is currently being treated for severe rusting) over high heat. Toast the mustard seeds, chilies and curry powder, stirring, about 2-3 minutes, until the mustard seeds start to pop.

Add the onion and oil, and cook, stirring, until the onions are dark brown. Salt and pepper the potato slices, and add them to the skillet along with the water/broth. Distribute the butter bits over the potatoes. Bake for 20-ish minutes (until tender), flipping half way through cooking.

Serve topped with yogurt and cilantro, if desired. (I didn't, but I'm sure it would be a welcome addition.)

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Garden Veggies!

I have peas! Well, 3 pods only, but they're peas!

I also have 3 marble-sized tomatoes on one plant, and flowers on the other 2.

The peppers haven't done anything reproductive yet, but they're growing like crazy. As soon as I get a jalapeño, I'm going to make a 3-pea and fried green tomato spicy salad.

Or not.

Patience. Gotta work on that.

Oh, and I planted one of the sprouts from my scary sprouting potatoes, and there's lots of leafy greenness growing up out of the pot...

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