Archive for January, 2009

Open Sesame

January 28, 2009


A few months back, I had stayed with a friend, let’s call her the OH, the Oatmeal Hater.  True to her name, she abhors one of my favorite breakfast foods.  So it was surprising to have her serve it up one morning.  The difference was a) a dry, not mushy oatmeal; and b) sesame salt.  I had never thought to combine the two, but I didn’t need much coaxing, I love both.  Much like the streusel topping on a crumb cake, the sesame salt adds  concentrated layer of flavor to its blander counterpart.  Having a batch of sesame salt also come in handy for Korean cooking like in the Dok Suni cookbook.

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Sesame Salt

-heat 1/2 cup sesame seeds over medium until golden brown

-take off heat, let cool for 5 minutes

-crush in a mortar and pestle

-add 1T coarse sea salt, combine well

Oldies but Goodies

January 27, 2009


After almost two weeks, I still had some leftover ingredients from the Intermezzo salad.  Cabbage and onions, newer kidney beans and garbanzo beans, and some random cherry tomatoes and adobo sauce were among the items that I wanted to give new life.  I was curious to try something new and exciting, but to make the most of what I had, I decided to go with some oldies but goodies – vegetarian chili and el salvadoran slaw.

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Vegetarian chili is a no-brainer to me, but there are certain things that I like to have – three kinds of beans, carrots, celery, and chipotle.  The rich smokiness of the chipotle adds to the vegetal-y beans, without requiring extra spices or meat.  It made for a giant pot which I mostly froze to warm me up over the winter for chili over rice, chili omelets, etc.  Totally easy.

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I’ve made El Salvadoran slaw many times in my lifetime, and it’s still never quite as addictive as at the papusa stand.  Part of the reason is that the raw garlic in my homemade version is too strong.  To mellow the garlic, I used a Cook’s Illustrated trick of blanching the garlic.  Totally worked.


As productive as I felt spending my Saturday afternoon making food for my week(s), I was met with the daunting clean up.  Total bummer.

Vegetarian Chili

-chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 2 stalks celery

-heat 2T oil over medium, add onions, carrots, and celery, cook until soft, about 5 minutes

-add 4 minced garlic cloves, stir to coat

-add 1 – 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, 1 – 15 oz. can each garbanzo, kidney, and black beans, and 2T adobo sauce (or 1 minced chipotle pepper), bring to boil

-simmer for 30-45 minutes until melded


El Salvadoran Salw

-shred 1/2 head cabbage

-blanch 4 cloves of garlic in boiling water for 30 seconds, mince, mix with 1/3 cup ice water

-combine garlic in water with 3/4 cup white vinegar, 6T vegetable oil, 1 1/2T chili powder, and 1/2t salt

-toss dressing with cabbage

Are Cookbook Stands Necessary

January 22, 2009


I’m such a sucker.  For $4, I picked up this cookbook stand on sale at Anthropologie.  Super cute and cheap, I caved into my impulses without thinking and without trying it out.  It’s total crap.  The pitch of the stand doesn’t allow for the cookbook to lean back for easy reading, only to awkwardly hold it open at an inconvenient angle.  It’s dysfunctional with large and small books alike.  Magazines are hopeless.  At least it’s pleasing to the eye and reminds me to do something that comes all too natural to me – EAT.  It’s useless.

Bacon Peanut Brittle

January 21, 2009


If it hasn’t been apparent, I like to make my favorite restaurant food at home if I can.  Not that I don’t like to go out, but sometimes it’s a pain, like going to Momofuku.  Or it inspires my imagination, like the Bacon Peanut Brittle at The Redhead.  Sure, I could buy their jar of brittle for $7, but being the self-appointed Sunday Night Appetizer Tsar, I wanted to make them, an easy segue from the sugared bacon nuts from last week.

Unlike real peanut brittle and pig candy – its equivalent in pork – which are stuck together in a candy mortar, this brittle is more like spiced nuts or cracker jacks.  Loose, a little sticky, with nuggets of sweet and salty bacon, I pored over my leftover sample.  In an act of total improvisation, and a hint at the ingredients from Esquire, I made a successful run.  

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Bacon Peanut Brittle

-mince 4 slices of bacon

-heat bacon in pan over medium until crisp, about 5 minutes

-remove bacon with slotted spoon, drain off bacon drippings

-in the same pan heat 1/4 cup maple syrup over medium, add bacon, stir to coat

-add 1/4t thyme and a pinch of cayenne, stir to coat

-add 2 cups of roasted peanuts, heat until syrup cooks down to barely cover peanuts, about 5 minutes

-spread out on wax paper, let cool

Serve It Forth

January 16, 2009


If I could back in time, I would live like MFK Fisher.  Or, better yet, in my time machine, visit each of the gastronomic ages that she charmingly writes about in “Serve It Forth”, her first book from 1937.  The pleasures of eating, from grand Roman feasts to the evolution of the modern brasserie, are interwoven with her own personal history and experiences.  Hoping to embrace her spirit, I try out her “secret eating” – tangerines on the radiator.  A tangerine is peeled and its segments are left to dry out on the radiator.  The skin of the segments dry out to create a crisp, delicate shell.  The fruit stays juicy and splooshes with every bite.  I love it, the next best thing to the time machine.

The So-So Guest

January 15, 2009

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I try to be a good guest.  When invited to a friend’s house for dinner, I like to bring something and if I have the time, make something.  But am I being a good guest if what I’m giving is only okay?

Spiced Nuts with Sugared Bacon from the NY Times seemed like a great gift/contribution for a porcine enthusiast such as my friend, whom I had once given the Bacon of the Month Club as a present.  The recipe seemed easy enough – roast nuts with spices, roast bacon with brown sugar, combine, can’t go wrong.  Unless the EZ Bake oven burns the bacon.  There were some recoverable bits that were less than charcoal, but it lost impact having proportionately less bacon.  It may not have been the gift that I had originally imagined,  but it was still well-received and better than giving nothing at all.


Intermezzo Salad

January 14, 2009


My work sorority has begun a lunch potluck in an effort to save money and eat healthy.  My contribution was salad, so I went back to the primogenitor of great salads, my first great salad – The Veggie Delight at Cafe Intermezzo in Berkeley.  In days of yore, I was able to get this giant salad with honey wheat bread for less than $6, a combination that took at least two days to eat, as long as the dressing was on the side.  That dressing.  Sweet, tangy, with a kick of onion, it was ambrosia on my earthy salad, it made the salad.  In figuring out how to make the dressing, I realized that it is a typical poppy seed dressing, but it had become mythic in my mind.

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My sentimentalism took a lot of time as the salad had a ton of ingredients – romaine lettuce, red cabbage, grated carrots, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, cucumber, avocado, hard boiled egg, alfalfa sprouts, croutons, sunflower seeds, and the poppy seed dressing.  I made the croutons and dressing from scratch.  The salad cost about $16 to make, feeding six girls and counting…

Poppy seed dressing

-combine in a blender, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1T grated onion, 1t salt, 1t dry mustard, puree

-add 1T poppy seeds

Bitter Cucumbers

January 13, 2009


When I had composed the Tuna and White Bean Salad again, I noticed a bitter taste to it.  A flashback of soapy feta crossed my mind, but this time I noticed that it was only the cucumbers that were bitter.  Crikey, bitter cucumbers?  Unknowingly, this is what probably ruined a batch of tzatziki that I made a few weeks ago.  Not the same cucumber, but an off taste; I had written it off as improperly rinsed container which would have been unusual for me.  How do I weed out the bad cukes?

Apparently what causes bitterness in cucumbers is a shock to the system due to high temperatures, low moisture, low fertility, or foliage disease.  A little too much information, I want to know how not to pick that loser.  When I shop for cucumbers, I look for a cucumber that is heavy for its weight, succulent not shriveled, with good color.  Aside from that, there’s not much else to be told, except to not buy out of season, which would be now.  And, trying the cukes before throwing it into a dish.

Skinny Piccata

January 12, 2009

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Working from Donna Hay’s The Instant Cook again, I tried the Lemon Parsley Chicken since I had all the ingredients on hand.  In accordance to my new salad resolve, the chicken is meant to be served over pepper-y arugula.  Almost like a stripped down, unsauced chicken piccata, it has the barest of ingredients and the simplest of techniques.  To enhance the spiciness of the arugula, the chicken uses a generous sprinkling of black pepper in the searing of the chicken, and crushed red pepper in the finishing glaze.  A nice change from plain grilled chicken on greens, it has all of the flavor of the richer piccata, and none of the fat.

Julie and Julia

January 9, 2009


After having read Julia Child’s “My Life in France”, I had to read Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” as a sort of spin-off/sequel.  I love the idea of the Julie/Julia project, Powell’s commitment to cooking ALL the recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year.  I didn’t get to follow the blog while it was going on, seeing that I was late in the game.  The book is more or less an abridged version, complete with character buildup and story arc.  It’s almost like being there.

At first, I was put off by the casualness of her writing, the flippancy being more appropriate for day to day entries than a 300 page book, but I grew to appreciate her moxie.  The anachronistic insertions of faux-Julia Child tableaux were awkward, and probably unnecessary.  Overall, I liked the vividness of her life, or more so, how her life became vivid through cooking.  The scenes seem to change in my mind from the black and white secretarial day job hours to full Technicolor in her kitchen while she cooks.  With every project comes new intrigue met with triumph or catastrophe, and I rooted for her at every turn.  The loveliest parts of the book show the camaraderie and support of her family, friends and “bleaders”.  Much like Julia Child’s “My Life in France”, Julie finds herself and a passion in her unsatisfying life.