Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Crock of Beans

It's been really hot in Chicago the past couple of days so I haven't felt like moving. I'm determined not to use my air conditioner for various reasons, so I've just been vegetating in front of the fan, watching TV and sporadically working on a sock (of which none of the yarn has to touch any part of my body).

But it's cooled off a little so I've been able to move without breaking a sweat. I've been mostly eating leftovers and popcorn, which I've recently re-discovered and takes very little effort for a big return, but I've finally run out of food.

That first little taste of what summer will be like has me determined to master the crock pot. I really like the idea of throwing everything in, plugging it in, turning it on and leaving it alone for a couple of hours.

Which is what I've done today. I've taken my newly-acquired formula for BBQ baked beans and thrown it together in the crock pot. I'm teaching a knitting class tonight, so by the time I get home they should be done. Tomorrow I'm going to play with some chicken thighs I got for .39 cents/lb. a couple of weeks ago at Treasure Island.

Monday, May 29, 2006

You Can Take the Girl out of Eastern Europe...

Happy Memorial Day.

Because our birthdays are exactly a week apart, Mary and I have made it a kind-of-sort-of tradition to go out to dinner together to celebrate both our birthdays at one time. Actually, last year was the first time we did it, but because of that it just seemed natural that we'd do something similar this year.

But where to go? What to eat? Last month when we were driving around Bucktown looking for Yamilett's moving sale, we were heading south down Milwaukee from Belmont when we saw a bunch of Polish shops and restaurants, and decided that might be fun. So after a little research, we decided to check out the dinner buffet at The Red Apple.

Since tomorrow's a work day for Mary, we decided to go on the early side so we agreed to meet at the restaurant at 4:00 so we could wander around a little, maybe browse a couple of the shops, and eat around 5:00. A lot of the shops were closed because of the holiday, but the markets were open. We found all kinds of interesting foods at the market,especially sausages and pickles and about 50 different kinds of mustards. I plan to go back soon for some serious shopping. We stopped to admire the knick-knacks, rosaries, and homages to the Pope in all the windows, then made our way back to the restaurant.

We may have been the only people there not speaking another language. I would imagine everybody else was speaking Polish, but wouldn't want to assume. At any rate, I took that to be a good sign.

The restaurant is relatively small, but the buffet was huge. There were several salad starters, about twenty different kinds of meats, blintzes, pierogis, potato and apple pancakes, and several desserts. The food? In a word: wonderful.

I took small amounts so I could sample as much of a variety as possible. Here's what I had:

Plate 1: a blintz with xx sugar and cinnamon, 1 meat periogi, 1 potato & vegetable pierogi, a stuffed cabbage roll, and a short rib.

The blintz was good, but a little different than the blintzes I grew up with. It was rolled more like a jelly roll than an eggroll, and the pancake was a little thicker and more spongy than I'm used to. But the cheese filling was good. And the unexpected side benefit of the cinnamon was that what was left on the plate ended up getting on the other dishes, and it complemented every one of them. While both pierogis were good, I Iiked the potato more than the meat one. The short rib was a little tough, but flavorful. And the cabbage roll? Just might have been the best thing there. It was the perfect blend of rice, beef, cabbage and tomato, and the spices brought it all together.

Plate 2: Pickled beets, Greek fish salad, ham salad, sauerkraut, polish sausage, meat ball in cream sauce.

Everything on this round totally rocked. The sweet beets packed a horseradish punch that kicked ass. The Greek fish salad, served cold, consisted of chopped stewed tomatoes, maybe some celery or bell peppers and some kind of whitefish and was delicious. The ham salad was julienned ham and peppers in a slight mayonnaise sauce--the peppers and mayonnaise were just there to punctuate the ham. The only negative thing I can say about the sauerkraut and polish sausage is I realized too late that I could have had some mustard with it. The sauerkraut was mild and it went great with the sausage. The meatball tasted exactly the way I thought it would, and the white sauce was perfectly seasoned.

Plate 3: This was the dessert plate. I'm not exactly sure what any of these were, but they were good. I had a pastry that was shaped like a small croissant (but it was definitely not a croissant) that had some kind of fruit preserve in it, but I couldn't tell whether it was apricot or apple. This was my least favorite, and I would definitely pass on it next time. There was another small square that seemed like a dry cheesecake, with a thin layer of chocolate on top. This was good, and not too rich. Next was some kind of fruit bar--I could definitely taste raisins, and maybe dates and/or prunes, in the filling. This was tasty. And last there were little squares of yellow cake with a light brown frosting. The cake tasted like sponge cake. The icing looked like it might be some kind of meringue, but it didn't have the right texture. It was fluffy and not too sweet.

But as good as the desserts were,
they weren't particularly great. Which is actually good news, because it means that next time I can give them a pass and try more of the other stuff. What I had today represents a scant quarter of what was on offer.

Coming from Eastern European peasant Jewish stock, there's something in my soul that sings at the sight of all that heavy, doughy, buttery, meaty fare. That being said, while there was certainly a lot of breaded, fried, and buttered food around, it didn't seem inordinately greasy, and it was possible to make slightly healthier choices. The only color that was not well represented was green. There were no green vegetables, and no salad greens. There was plenty of fresh fruit, though, and a lot of people were loading up their plates with grapefruit halves and watermelon and cantaloupe wedges.

I definitely plan to go back. And there are several friends I plan to drag with me.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It Can't Always Be Perfect

Sometimes there's something to be said for low tech. And I don't mean the photo, even though it is pretty bad. I tried to lighten it up but I wasn't very successful. Sometimes that happens, though.

What I'm talking about is the food itself. What you're looking at is felafal plate chez Dejamo. I don't know how much you can see from the photo, but those patties are awfully thin and very very dark on the outside. They never really set properly, and they are fine and crumbly.

Why, you might ask? I'll tell you. Because I decided to take advantage of my food processor. I loaded it up with chickpeas, parsley, spices, onions, water and lemon juice (I think that's everything), and let it go. But there was so much stuff in there (and I now understand the concept of batching) that I had to keep stopping, mixing it up, and letting it run some more. The end result was that I overprocessed it and ended up with more of a paste than a mash. So when I put the patties in the frying pan, they never really set and fine particles of chickpea batter kept frying off the patty and settling at the bottom of the pan like fine sediment.

And because there was so much going on I forgot to turn off the rice in time and it almost burned. Luckily, the slight crunchiness works with this dish.

I tried two different pans and two different oils. I was on the phone with Mary during the process so she pretty much heard the whole sorry operation as it unfolded. (I was on the phone with her because she found a problem with the incredible bauhaus sweater she's knitting and has to rip out an entire sleeve. Not a good night for either of us, I'm afraid.)

I was able to fry two batches before I gave up. I'm going to figure out a way to bake the rest of it. The good news is that it tastes good, if not a little different. A case where the sum is equal to the parts in a not so good way--I can't really taste the chickpea.

Next time, I'm just going to pull out my trusty old hand masher and make them the old-fashioned way.

Bob called to chat. He's making chicken and garlic for dinner. I'll have to ask him how that turned out . . .

Earlier today a friend asked me where I'm going with this blog. It was a timely question, because I've been thinking about that a lot myself, lately. I'll let you know when I come up with something.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

One Good Thing about Summer . . .

While I'm not a big fan of summer heat (it's one of the main reasons I left Texas, after all), there's one thing that makes it worthwhile to me: all those ripe tomatoes means I can finally make batches and batches of gazpacho

They're featuring summer over at The Wellfed Network. My gazpacho post (and the recipe) is up at Fitfare.

What are you waiting for? Go read it!

And thanks, Lynda, for finding this awesome recipe.

(Edited 8/21/08 to update links)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Radish and Celery Saute

I wasn't sure what to do with the radishes I bought at the Green Market. I don't particularly care for the radishes they have at the grocery store (I'm not sure what kind they are--I've just always called them salad radishes). They have an earthy bite to them that is somewhat distasteful to me. They're all right in salads, or as a garnish, but I've never really had the desire to do anything else with them.

So why did I buy the French Breakfast radishes? To tell the truth, I'm not too sure. I guess I get carried away around all that fresh produce and they looked really pretty. But the time finally came for me to make something out of them.

I thought again about Lynda's suggestion to saute them and that seemed like a good idea. I let the idea float around my brain during the day and came up with the idea of combining them with the celery that had been sitting in my crisper for a few days. It seemed to me that the two flavors would blend well together.

And they did. Both flavors are subtle, so neither one was overshadowed. I had about an eighth of an onion I needed to use as well, so I diced it and started off with that. In my efforts to continue a healthy diet, I decided to use olive oil instead of butter. While I'm sure it would have been fantastic with butter, it works just fine with the oil. This would also be really good with fresh basil instead of dried.

On the pop culture front, I finally saw Batman Begins the other night. Good stuff. Thank you Mr. Nolan for letting Gary Oldman play future Commissioner Gordon instead of that same tired old over-the-top psycho killer pimp he's been tossing off for the past couple of decades. And I could almost forget that Katie Holmes has lost her mind and is babbling incoherently in the desolate wilderness that is Tom Cruise. I thought Michael Caine did a good job as Alfred, and Liam Neeson gave a nice turn as well. And Cillian Murphy was originally creepy.

Oh, and Lynda . . . Christian Bale? I finally get it.

It's Mary's birthday today. Happy Birthday Mary!

Radish and Celery Saute

1 bunch radishes, with greens
3 ribs celery, sliced on the diagonal
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 small onion, diced
3 Tbsp. fresh basil, or 1 tsp. dried
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Trim the radishes, clean well, and slice on the diagonal. Trim the bottoms off the greens and rinse in bowl of cold water to let dirt settle. Take out of the water and dry, keeping greens separate from radishes.

Heat oil in skillet over med. high heat. Add onions and saute until they begin to caramelize. Add everything except the greens and saute until the celery just starts to lose it's color. Add the greens and cook for one more minute, just until the greens start to wilt.

Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Heddy's Black and Red Bean Soup

I found this recipe on when I was looking for different things to do with black beans. After making some slight adjustments, it came out really good. The kidney beans give an added dimension to the overall texture and the corn has a strong presence all its own. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of cumin and 2 tablespoons of chili powder, which was overpowering the first time I made it. Now I use a smaller amount of each spice and it's perfect. I also used frozen corn instead of the canned as called for in the original version.

This makes enough to freeze half for later use.

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Soups and Stews

Heddy's Black and Red Bean Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 c. vegetable broth, or 2 c. if using cooked beans with liquid
2 15-oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed, or 2 c. cooked with liquid
2 15.5-oz. cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed, or 2 cups cooked
1 16-oz. bag frozen corn
1 14.5-ounce. can diced tomatoes, with liquid

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrots and garlic; cook and stir until onions wilted. Season with cumin, chili powder, and black pepper. Pour in the vegetable broth, black beans, and 1 can (or 1 cup) of the red beans. Bring to a boil.

In the meantime, combine the remaining can of red beans with the crushed tomatoes in blender or food processor, or use a hand blender. Process until smooth. Pour into the soup pot and stir to blend. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for ten minutes. Add corn and simmer an additional five minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Servings: 4

adapted from a recipe posted by HEDDY66 at

Monday, May 22, 2006

Green Garlic and Asparagus with Pasta

My second Farmers' Market dish was a little disappointing. It tasted ok, but it didn't really highlight the green garlic or the purple asparagus the way I hoped it would. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I chose the wrong herb. I don't know what I was thinking because I was trying to keep it light and spring-ish. My first thought was tarragon. That would have been a good choice, but unfortunately I didn't stop there. For some reason I decided that was not the way to go and decided that thyme would be good. But not even five seconds after I added it to the pan I knew it was the wrong choice. So then I added the tarragon, thinking that might lighten it up a little. Better, but the thyme was still too much of a presence. So I added a little oregano, which oddly enough did help. Next time I will stick to my original idea and use tarragon. Or better yet, use fresh basil. I don't like dried, so I didn't even consider that.

I also used the wrong pasta. The thing about whole wheat pasta is that some shapes are thicker and chewier than others. Farfalle is dense and works better with something that has more sauce so it can soak it up. I should have used something lighter, like rotini or gemelli. You can see how thick and gooey the farfalle looks. Not my most visually appetizing dish, either.

That being said, I did enjoy it, and know what to do next time to make it work. It was especially good the next day at room temperature.

Here's a picture of the biggest of the purple asparagus. I put the fork there to give some idea of scale (that's a salad plate they're sitting on) but I don't know if that does it justice. Those suckers are humongous.

And very very tasty!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Birthday Treats

There were more birthday goodies waiting for me at the knit shop Friday morning. Jessica and Mary surprised me with this wonderful array of exotic foods. Clockwise from left: some dried guajillo chilies, sea salt, grapeseed oil, dried tamarind curry powder, a rich dark thai red curry paste, and a case of saffron powder.

My first thought when I saw the guajillo chilies was that I could use them to make some more mole. I might still do that, but they are also the chilies used in harissa, which intrigues me. I'm very excited to have the grapeseed oil. I've been wanting to try it for a while. Everyone sould have some sea salt on hand. And I'll have to stop by Onu, the Asian market that recently opened down the street, for some noodles and vegetables to go with the Thai curry. I've been reading about tamarind curries recently and wanting to try some, so that's just the wonderful kind of serendipity that happens in life when you least expect it. And the saffron . . . I'm starting to get some ideas for Barbara's next Spice is Right challenge.

What a tasty treasure trove. I'm one blessed foodie!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Crostini with Goat Cheese

I had a leisurely, lovely breakfast with the first of my Green Market finds from Wednesday. I brewed some Vienna Roast coffee, fired up the broiler, and toasted up some crostini while I heated up the goat cheese.

It was delicious. The cheese was soft and creamy with just the tiniest hint of sage to mingle with the subtle sharp tang of the cheese. There was just the right amount of garlic rubbed on the crostini--it was happy to linger in the background, coming forward every once in a while with a little bite just to remind you it was there.

I have been wanting to participate in the May eat local challenge, but for various reasons that has been difficult for me. Now that the farmers' markets are open, it should be easier for me to find local produce. The cheese came from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL, the first licensed farmstead cheese operation in Illinois. I don't remember where the bread came. I'll look for it next week and let you know. It's really good.

Crostini with Sage Goat Cheese

For the crostini: Slice any good-quality bread and cut into approximately 3-inch squares and place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and broil for around three minutes, until toasted. Remove from the oven. Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut edge over the tops of the bread.

For the cheese: Put a little bit of olive oil in a baking pan and spread it around into a circle. Place the goat cheese on the oiled part of the pan and put it in the oven while the crostini is broiling. Keep it in the oven until the cheese is well heated but not melting (between three to five minutes). Check it often. When it's ready, take it out and transfer it to a plate. Pour about a teaspoon of olive oil on top of the cheese, then add some freshly ground pepper, if desired.

Spread cheese on crostini. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On a Sugar Rush

Wednesday was my birthday, and quite a lovely day it was. The City of Chicago celebrated my birthday by launching the Greens Market, so I got up early and met some friends at Lincoln Park so we could check it out. The growing season's early yet here so there wasn't a whole lot of produce, but I still managed to find some things.
Clockwise from the top left: some beautiful hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn from Michigan (a birthday present from Larry), some beautiful green garlic I can't wait to try, purple asparagus (I'm thinking of using some of that and the green garlic with pasta), a beautiful loaf of whole-grain artisanal bread (a gift from Bob), some local chevre with sage that was just screaming "take me home and put me on some of that bread!", and some radishes. I'm still trying to decide what to do with the radishes. Lynda suggested sauteing them with butter, which sounds delicious, but I also stumbled across a recipe for stir-fried chicken and radishes that looks pretty intriguing as well. So many possibilities!

I went home to store my goodies, then went back out to meet up with Lynda and Larry, and another good friend for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Chez Joel on Taylor Street. This unprepossessing French restaurant serves impeccable food at reasonable prices. The service is always prompt and excellent. We had a lovely time. and then I went home and took a much deserved nap. It's hard work being the birthday girl.

Then I went to teach my knitting class. Mary called me on the way to wish me a happy birthday. Her birthday is next week, so we usually get together in between our birthdays to celebrate. We're going to brunch on Sunday morning for our joint celebration.

Then I got to the knitting shop, where more surprises awaited me.
One of my students brought me some scrumptious cupcakes from Sweet Mandy Bs. That's 1 chocolate, 1 lemon, and 1 vanilla. Guess in which order I ate them (and yes, I did already eat them. You can hear the buzz from where you are, I bet).

And behind the cupcakes you see the gorgeous yarn Melinda and Louann gave me. It's a beautiful, soft alpaca just loaded with possibilities. They also gave me a gift certificate to Crate and Barrel. Now I have to try to stay sane while I figure out what I want to get.

All in all, a lovely day. Thanks to everyone for making it so.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Green Beans Almondine

It must be a good year for green beans. They've been abundant and cheap around here for the past couple of months, so I've been buying quite a bit of them.

I've never been able to cook them quite right in the past. They would either be too raw or too mushy. Actually, I had that problem with a lot of vegetables. And then I discovered the miracle of blanching. I found a method that works perfectly every time, at least for broccoli and green beans. You fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil, then add a tablespoon of salt. Once the water is boiling, dump the vegetables into the pot, cover it, turn off the heat, and let it sit for four minutes. Dump into chilled water to shock. Perfect. Every. Time. After that, you can use whatever treatment you want with them. Add them to your pasta sauce just before plating. Throw the broccoli into a pasta salad. Or make green beans almondine.

I had sliced almonds left over from the almond lamb loaves I made on Easter Sunday, so I decided to give it a try. To keep it healther I used olive oil instead of butter. I have no idea what all goes into green beans almondine but figured it shouldn't be too hard to come up with something decent.

This was so good I almost ate it all in one sitting. I know it would probably be better with haricots verts, but this is what I had on hand and I was quite pleased with the result.
Green Beans Almondine

2 Tbsp. oil
1/4 c. sliced almonds
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 lb. green beans, ends trimmed, bite-size pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lemon

Bring pot of water to boil. Add 1 Tbsp. salt, then place beans in pot. Turn off heat and let sit for 4 minutes. Turn into bowl of cold water. Drain when cold.

Heat oil in skillet. Add almonds and cook until they just start to brown. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Add beans, salt and pepper and cook until just warmed through. Turn off heat and squeeze lemon juice over the beans, stirring to deglaze pan. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I'm Sure I Won't Be High on the Priority List

I was going to write about the incredible pasta dish I made last night, but there's an issue brewing over internet use that the media seems to be keeping quiet about. (I wonder why.)

Congress is pushing a law that would allow companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to offer premium broadband access to companies who are willing to pay for it (or, more aptly, to companies who can afford it). Which basically means that those companies will have a huge impact on determining which sites you can visit, either by slowing access to smaller/competing sites or by blocking those sites altogether.

You can get more information at There's a petition you can sign, too. My Directo Democracy also has some good information on the issue.

Thanks to Barbara Fisher at Tigers & Strawberries for posting about this.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ginger Carrot Soup

Several years ago I had dinner with a co-worker at the Middle Eastern restaurant down the street from where we worked. The only food I had previously eaten there were the felafal sandwiches I ordered for pickup and ate in the break room. They were good, but nothing special. The most significant thing about them was that they piled the felafal, cucumbers, tomatoes, and tahini sauce on top of the pita instead of stuffing it inside.

So I wasn't really sure what to expect when we went inside and sat down at one of the tables in the small dining room. When I opened the menu, there was lots more than felafal, hummus, and tabbouleh on the menu. I ordered lamb chops served over couscous with apricots and pistachios. It came garnished with pomegranate seeds, and was one of the more memorable meals I've eaten in Chicago.

But what I really remembered was the carrot soup I had for my appetizer. It was rich and creamy and had an amazing blend of spices that all served to enhance the velvety carrot taste and texture without overtaking it. I tried many versions of carrot soup since, trying to recapture that amazing dish, but none even came close.

So I decided to try to make my own. I found a recipe on a newsgroup online that looked promising. It called for carrots, ginger, cardamom, cumin, and coriander, all of which seemed to be heading in the right direction. I got the ingredients and got down to business.

My first attempt was not very successful. The recipe called for two tablespoons of chopped ginger, one tablespoon of cumin, and one tablespoon of either coriander or cardamom. It seemed like a lot of spice in proportion to the 4 cups of carrots and broth, but my usual method when trying something new is to follow the recipe as written so I have a baseline for comparison, then make adjustments from there. It was too much spice and too much heat from the ginger. The only recognizable aspect of the carrot was the color of the soup.

But I persevered over the years, going lighter and lighter on the spices each time. I finally found a version that bore enough of a resemblance to the original version to satisfy me, and I've been making it that way for the past few years.

I had some carrots on hand so I decided to make carrot soup for dinner tonight. The weather has been unseasonably cold this week and a nice hot soup seemed like just the thing. So I par-boiled the carrots to prep them, ran some errands, and came back to make the soup.

Perhaps it's because I've been playing with some new spices lately, but I thought I'd try a different blend of spices this time. I had bought some fennel seeds for the Chicken Chennai, and I started to wonder what ground fennel would do to my soup. And instead of cardamom, I added coriander this time. When I tasted it toward the end, it seemed a little sour (not usually one of my favorate tastes), but I couldn't decide what it needed. I was tempted to add sugar, but it didn't seem like that would be the right balance for what the soup needed.

I sliced up an orange and tested a little orange juice in it--it seemed like that might be a good combination. It wasn't. I was right in my original thought that sugar wasn't the right thing to add. It didn't need sweet, but it definitely needed something. So I cut up a lime and tested that.

Bingo. It took the slightly sour backtaste and brought it right out to the fore. And while I'm not usually a big fan of sour, it was just what this dish needed. I'm very pleased with it, and think I've found my final verson.

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Soups and Stews

Ginger Carrot Soup

4 c. cooked sliced carrots or 1 lb. bag miniature carrots
1 Tbsp. ginger, chopped
1/2 med. onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground fennel
1 tsp. coriander
4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg

Saute ginger and onion in oil over medium heat until translucent. Add
fennel and coriander and fry for 1 minute. Add carrots and stir until
coated with spice. Add stock, cover and simmer until tender, app. 20

Puree soup, either with hand blender in pot or in batches in blender or food
processor. Return to heat and bring back to a simmer.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and lime juice. Just before serving, add
freshly grated nutmeg.

Servings: 4

Thursday, May 11, 2006

TSIR2: Recipes and Leftovers

There was a lot of sauce left over from the Chicken Chennai I made for TSIR2. I was going to freeze it so I would have some on hand next time I needed a quick dinner. But my freezer is full right now and I'm trying to take things out of it, not put things in.

I had already taken a batch of chickpeas out and hadn't yet decided what to do with them. I also had some green beans in the fridge that I had blanched, but for which I didn't have any specific plan.

Can you see where this is going? Chickpeas. Green Beans. Curry sauce. A match made in heaven, no? So that's what I did. I reheated the curry, threw in the chickpeas (with all their yummy sauce, which thickened it and made it different from the chicken so I didn't feel like I was eating the same thing) and green beans, and heated it through. End result?
I forgot to mention the spinach I try to always have on hand. It went well with the chickpeas and green beans. This came out how I expected it to, with a satisfying flavor. It's substantial, but not too heavy. I will definitely make it again.

Hare are the recipes for the Poppyseed Spirals and the Chicken Chennai. There aren't any notes; I pretty much followed the recipes as written.

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Cookies

Poppy Seed Spirals

1 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2-2/3 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. poppy seed
1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

Divide dough in half. Stir poppy seed and lemon peel into one dough half until combined; leave remaining half plain. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a 9x6-inch rectangle. Carefully roll poppy seed rectangle around rolling pin; unroll on top of plain rectangle. Make sure edges are aligned; press down gently with rolling pin to seal. Tightly roll up, jelly- roll style, starting from a long side. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 4 to 24 hours or until very firm.

Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Jenn B in SEMO via

And here's the recipe for the Chicken Chennai:

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Poultry

Chicken Chennai

2 lbs. chicken
1 lb. onions
1-1/2" slice ginger
5-6 cloves garlic
2 green chilies
1/2 c. cilantro
2 tsp. poppy seeds
2 large tomatoes
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 sticks cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. fennel
1 Tbsp. pepper
2 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
5 Tbsp. oil

Clean and joint the chicken. Remove the skin. Slice onions.

Grind 1/2 the onions with all the ingredients from ginger to poppy seeds to a smooth paste. Chop tomatoes.

Heat oil in a kadai on medium flame. Add all the ingredients from cloves to fennel. Fry for 1 minute. Add onion slices and fry till brown.

Add the ground paste and fry well. Add all the powders, fry for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, fry till oil separates at the sides of the kadai. Add chicken pieces and salt. Add 2 cups of water. Cover and lower the flame. Simmer till chicken is cooked. Serve hot with steamed rice.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TSIR2: The Poppy Is Also a Seed

When I was a little girl in Houston, my mother's closest friend had her mother living with their family. That was a little exotic to me because my grandmother lived in her own apartment across town. But Grandma Specter (that's what everybody called her) had her own room with her own rocking chair and it was always a little special to be allowed to go into her room for a visit. My main memories of her are in the kitchen, which is where she spent most of her time. She did a lot of cooking for the family. And one of the things she made fairly often were poppy seed cookies. They were soft and flaky, with that slight musty crunch .

One time my sister asked her for the recipe. What she ended up with was "three handsful of flour, two of sugar, a spoon of this, a pinch of that . . ." My sister's one attempt to follow those instructions was such a disaster that she never tried again. But this wasn't why I chose poppyseeds for Barbara's TSIR challenge over at Tigers & Strawberries. I only had this memory after I had decided to use poppy seeds.

One of the things I'm loving the most about Barbara's challenge is how it causes these long-buried memories to rise up through the accumulated layers of day to day routines and rituals and brings them front and center. I never really thought about the fact that Grandma Specter, an Eastern European Jew, brought those recipes with her when she came to America, or that poppy seeds were a part of the tradition she brought with her.

Poppy seeds have both a sweet and a savory tradition in Jewish cooking. There are the cookies and the ultimate use of poppy seeds--hamentashen--but there are also poppy seed bagels, and challah is usually topped with poppy seeds. But I consider those more of a garnish, so I chose to consider my cultural reference to poppy seeds as a sweet one.

I thought of trying regular poppy seed cookies, but I wanted to do something a little different. Before I could really do any research, though, a recipe popped right in front of me. (No more poppy puns, I promise.) I regularly read through the recipes on the usenet group. Imagine my surprise when I saw that someone had submitted a recipe for Poppy Seed Spirals. It looked like something I could do.

I am not an intuitive baker. I can read most recipes, and measure, and follow instructions, but I'm never sure how things are going to turn out. I don't bake often enough to be confident of my abilities with a rolling pin. But this seemed relatively easy, while being enough of a challenge to test my abilities.

Mixing the dough was easy. Rolling each half out evenly was a bit more of a challenge, and it was a lot thicker at one end than the other. But it was a cylinder, and it was rolled, so I put it in the fridge to set for a couple of hours.

The logs sliced up easily. And it was really cool to see the poppy seed spiral emerge. All in all, I was pleased with how it was shaping up so far.

They took a little longer to bake than the recipe suggested, but I had trouble keeping my oven at the right temperature. While I love my gas burners, I think electric ovens are easier to regulate than their gas counterparts. But the cookies came out nicely, all the same.
If I make them again I will add more lemon. It's a little too subtle for me. I don't think it should overpower, but it needs just a touch more presence.

Now for the savory. I had no idea what, if anything, I could do with poppy seeds in a savory dish that didn't involve just sprinkling them on top of something else. But while searching for information on poppy seeds I came across a website dedicated to them. Big surprise, huh? On that site I saw a recipe for Chicken Chennai.

I don't know why so many of the recipes that are inspiring me these days are Indian. Maybe it's because as I've been researching healthy foods and cuisines, Indian spices and ingredients keep popping up. (Oops--that one was unintentional.) I do know that, as with everything else, the more practice, the better I get at it.

After a little research, I still don't know that much about Chicken Chennai. I saw some references that said Chicken Madras should be renamed Chicken Chennai in honor of the recent change of the city's name, so maybe it's a version of Chicken Madras. Not all of the recipes that I saw had poppy seeds in them, but this one did and that was good enough for me. Since I found it on three different sites verbatim, without attributions, I'm not sure to whom credit should go. The first place I found it was so I guess they should get the credit.
A little mise en place. Chicken, tomatoes, cilantro-garlic-onion-poppy seed paste, and turmeric and chili powder.
After frying spices for one minute, onions are added and cooked until browned.
Add cilantro-onion-garlic-poppy seed paste and fry well.
Add tomatoes and cook until oil separates (still haven't figured that one out). Add chicken, lower heat, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked.
Chicken is cooked. And plated:
I added more sauce after I took the picture. It made a ton and was mighty fine. I don't know if this is an authentic Indian recipe or not, but I really enjoyed making it and eating it. It had heat and spice and tons of flavor. I will definitely be making it again. And I am emboldened to delve more deeply into the world of Indian spices and cooking.

Thanks, Barbara. Your wonderful challenge has once again inspired me to reach just beyond my grasp, with spectacular results.

This is long enought for one post. I'll post the recipes later.

UPDATE: You can find the recipes here.

How Do I Look?

Well, I finally took some time to figure out how to make some changes so I don't look quite so template-y. What do you think? I'm especially pleased with the font I found for my title. It's called "Gigi," which just happens to be one of my favorite books and movies. It juxtaposes a simple naivety with saucy sophistication, which I think describes me pret' near perfectly.

I have a couple of posts up over at Fitfare and Foodbound. One of my Foodbound posts is a review of Laurie Colwin's works. Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini also wrote about Laurie Colwin this week. What a happy coincidence. I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating. If you haven't read Laurie Colwin yet, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING. Go out right now and get Home Cooking. And get More Home Cooking while you're at it because you'll want to jump right into it. But don't take my word for it. Google her name and you'll find some 94,000 entries--all singing her praises.

That should keep you busy while I write up my TSIR 2 post.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Marinated Whole Wheat Pasta and Vegetable Salad

Every time winter finally passes and the weather starts to change, I get the urge to make this dish. I found the recipe years ago in a vegetarian cookbook and I was intrigued because it didn't have mayonnaise or cubed American cheese in it, two things that seem to be a staple of the kinds of pasta salads I grew up eating. If I remember correctly, the original recipe called for half a pound of regular rotini and half a pound of spinach rotini. I usually just used a pound of whatever rotini I had on hand.

It's the marinade that makes this salad. It's subtle, but substantial enough to hold up to the pasta and vegetables. I always use broccoli and some form of tomatoes, but I improvise everything else, depending on what I have on hand.

The first time I bought whole wheat pasta was back around 1980. I had already switched to whole wheat bread years before, and brown rice, and was always looking for ways to improve the quality of what I was eating, so I bought some bulk w/w spaghetti at the then only (and original) Whole Foods in Austin. I took it home, made my traditional meat sauce, cooked up the spaghetti, and wanted to throw the whole thing away. It was dense, chewy, gummy, and tasted awful. It was years before I would try it again.

When I started seriously avoiding processed foods and was looking for palatable ways to eat whole wheat exclusively, I thought it might be good to try whole wheat pasta again with this recipe. As it turns out, I was right. It was a rousing success. The pasta was nutty and chewy and worked well with the marinade and the vegetables. And since that first experiment, I've never looked back. I've been making it with whole wheat pasta for several years now.

And what I learned from this was to look for new ways to eat pasta. My old, traditional pasta recipes did not translate well to the whole wheat variety. Long simmering sauces and casseroles like lasagna do not lend themselves to whole wheat. Smaller pieces work better than spaghetti or linguini, or fetuccini. But a light sauce that has a lot of vegetables is actually better with whole wheat pasta, at least to my tastes now. And if I don't actually prefer whole wheat to regular pasta, at least I like them both the same.

And now I have to go bake my sweet spice thing for the second part of TSIR2.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Pasta and Grains


By now this is more of a template than a recipe for me. The version in the photo above has no mushrooms or peas, and I was out of red onion so I used a spice mixture with dried shallots for the marinade. I used one large tomato and a handful of smoked sun-dried. Instead of the peas, I added 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts. Yummy!

1 lb. rotini
3 c. sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp. butter
3 c. broccoli florets
1 c. fresh or frozen peas
15 cherry tomatoes
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. finely diced red onion


1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. oregano
14/ tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta, drain and rinse under cold water. Drain thoroughly, then put in large serving bowl. Saute mushrooms in butter until tender and brown; add to pasta and toss. Steam broccoli unti tender; immerse in cold water, drain. Pat dry and add to pasta. Defrost peas (or steam if fresh), pat dry and add to pasta. Add cherry tomatoes, parsley and onion and mix well.

Combine all ingredients for dressing into a jar withn a tight-fitting lid
and shake vigorously. Pour onto pasta and toss well. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving, bringing to room temperature.

Adapted from Vegeterian Pleasures, by Jeanne Lemlin (Knopf, 1986)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Holy Guacamole!

Avocados were on sale at the grocery store this week so I bought a couple. And Frontera chips were two for one so it just seemed like it was meant to be. The avocados were perfectly ripe today so I decided it was time to make me some guacamole.

I like to keep my guacamole simple, so the flavor of the avocado is the main thing you taste. A little lemon or lime juice, half a tomato, a little salt, garlic powder and pepper and you've got yourself a tasty treat. Doesn't it look good? And how do you like the bowl? I made it myself back when I was taking pottery classes.

There are two kinds of guacamole people--those who spice and those who don't. Personally, I don't like salsa or peppers in my guacamole. I like my salsa on the side, so sometimes I get the heat and sometimes I get the pure creamy avocado goodness. And I like my salsa fresh. Now that summer's in the air I'll have to make some. It would have been great tonight.

Many people stay away from avocados because they're high in fat. While that is true, there are far more reasons to eat avocados for your health than to stay away from them. They help lower LDL cholesterol, have tons of potassium, and help your body absorb carotenoids from vegetables. So eat away, I say!

My savory dish for Barbara's spice challenge is simmering on the stove. It sure smells good. It's the only thing that kept me from eating up all the guacamole and chips in one sitting. I'm going to make the sweet part on Tuesday, and then I'll write it up at the end of the week. The fifteenth seemed so far away and now it's almost here. Time flies when you have deadlines.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Double Feature

Guess whose post of Mother's Day cookbook recommendations was so good they just had to post it on two blogs?

If you guessed moi, (that's me moi not you moi), you guessed right. You can check it out here at Foodbound, or if you want, you can go to Wellfed. (The post is the same at either link.)

I promise not to forget all you little people . . .

Thursday, May 04, 2006

How I Know I'm Getting Old

Summer's here and someone's walking behind me with their flip-flops and I want to turn around and yell


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A New Take on an Old Favorite

I'm a little under the weather today. I'm sneezy and congested and miserable. But I managed to cook yesterday.

I got this recipe some twenty-odd years ago at a potluck party where I worked. I hadn't had anything like it before, so I begged for the recipe. It became a staple over the years. It was healthy for its time, too, with yogurt and corn and whatever other vegetables I felt like adding . . .

. . . which tipped a little too much over to the unhealthy side with a stick of butter and a bunch of cheese. As I've been trying to eat more healthily, I've given it up because of those ingredients, at least as an everyday kind of thing.

But as I've been playing around with eating more healthily, it's getting easier to look at a recipe and figure out what kinds of adjustments I might make to create a healthier version. I made a chicken and barley salad (don't ask--it wasn't even worth a picture) that had yogurt in it so I had some left over. I was looking for something that would complement the baked beans I made the day before. I thought of the yogurt, and the corn casserole, and realized that, without the butter and cheese, I had the makings of what could be a pretty tasty dish.

You can't see them, but there's a layer of carrots at the bottom of the skillet. I thought it would look really cool when I turned it out to have the carrots on top, but then I realized that it wasn't a pineapple upside down cake and it wasn't going to come out of the skillet upside down, and I was left with less than the desired result. Next time I'll just mix them in.

It was also a little dry, but I know how to correct that for next time. Instead of a stick of butter (1/2 cup) I used 1/4 cup of oil, which isn't the same equivalent. Next time I'll either use 1/2 cup of oil, or add some other form of liquid to bring the liquid up to 1/2 cup (hmmm . . . milk might work). I also used the whole package of frozen corn (about a cup more than the recipe calls for), which might have been a little too much--the more things you add, the drier it gets.

But I'm very pleased that I've figured out a way to make this more healthy. With the yogurt, the corn, and the cornmeal it already had the makings of something I could eat on a regular basis. With these other adjustments, that's what it's become.


[This took very few changes to make it healthier. I left the original ingredients in brackets in case you want to make it that way. I have to admit, it is really good with the cheese.]

Slice 2 carrots (or any vegetables you want) and saute for approximately 5-10 minutes, until partially cooked.

Puree in Blender:
1 c. corn kernels
1/4 c. oil [or 1 stick melted butter]
1/4 c. milk [omit if using butter]
2 eggs

Pour into bowl and add:

1 c. yogurt
1 4-oz. can chopped green chilis
1/2 c. corn meal
1 c. corn kernels
1-1/4 tsp. salt
[1 c. cubed cheese]
sauteed vegetables

Pour into greased casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Getting There

I hope you're not getting tired of bean pictures, but if I have to eat them, you have to see them! Today was attempt number three, and I'm definitely getting close to what I'm looking for.

I used pinto beans this time. They're an improvement over the navy beans for this dish. I thought I overcooked them in the pot but they came out a little tough here, maybe because I added salt before I put them into the oven.

I used roughly the same amounts of everything else as I did before, which was for about half the quantity of beans, so I put the cooking liquid in with the beans because I was afraid it wouldn't be wet enough. It was probably about twice as much as there should have been; it finally cooked down in the oven but I had to bake it for about two and a half hours, and the flavors are a little more subtle than I would have liked.

I added about a teaspoon of cumin this time. It was just right--it gave the beans a hint of smokiness. I'm tempted to keep adding more things to it, but I think I sholud stop here. Once I get the proportions right, I think I've got me a winner.

I'd still like to try pinks but I haven't had a chance to go looking for them yet.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...