Sunday, April 27, 2008

Peanut Sauce

This is one of those sauces that is a cinch to put together and only takes a few minutes on the stove. I have loved it ever since I dipped my first skewer of Chicken Satay into a bowlful at one of the first Thai restaurants I ever frequented in Austin back in the early eighties. The restaurant was called Satay, and it's still there.

All I knew about Thailand at the time was from The King and I, and that wasn't much. I didn't even know that it was a Thai restaurant. As far as I remember, I just assumed it was Chinese and I was a little puzzled that I didn't recognize more of the dishes. But I do remember that it was mighty tasty, especially that peanut sauce that started off the meal.

But the chicken on the skewer part of the appetizer really didn't do much for me. So much as I loved the sauce, it kind of stayed at the back of my mind and since there weren't that many Thai restaurants in Austin, I rarely had the opportunity to even think about it, let alone order it.

Chicago has a large Thai population (but not the largest as I previously thought - that's L.A.) and a lot of Thai restaurants. You can't throw a bottle of Sriracha without hitting one. So after I moved here I ate a lot of Thai food - it's cheap, fast, and holds up to delivery well. And I rediscovered peanut sauce. So I began looking for recipes.

And found quite a few. But I didn't have any thoughts about how to serve it since I didn't really want Chicken Satay and spring rolls were way too ambitious for me. So again, it just stayed at the back of my mind, until I would run across another recipe and think about it for a minute or two, and then it would go right back behind all the other recipes I wanted to try.

So I don't know exactly what made me finally decide to whip up a batch. Maybe it's the fish sauce I bought at the Asian market down the street (that has since closed, alas). Maybe it's the whole wheat linguini I bought on impulse.

Whatever the reason, I am glad I did. This stuff is really, really good. And really, really easy. I found a lot of recipes with many variations, so you can pretty much wing it, as far as I can tell. I've made it a couple of times now and it's been thick and delicious every time. It is delicious with pasta as a side dish, and if you add grilled chicken it becomes a hearty main dish (almost like Chicken Satay, but when it's not on skewers I like it much better, for some reason).
Home Cookin Chapter: Sauces
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (to taste)
1 clove crushed garlic

Place ingredients in small saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, until it thickens.

Serve over whole wheat pasta.

Servings: 4

very loosely adapted from several recipes found online

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Corn Griddle Cakes

I have been playing with pancakes lately. I finally found a good recipe for buttermilk pancakes, and I am happy with them, but I just can't seem to leave anything well enough alone in the kitchen. If something is good, there's always something out there that can make it better, that's my philosophy. And as I've been leafing through cookbooks and cooking magazines, I have been tearing out or earmarking variations on pancakes. Not a few of them have involved corn in some form or another.

My refrigerator is not the biggest refrigerator in the world. There are many times that my eyes are bigger than its shelves. If I get too ambitious on the weekend with what I am going to cook for the coming week, the shelves fill up pretty quickly. Taking anything out becomes a game of musical chairs - something else goes in that takes up the space left behind, and there is no more room for what I had taken out originally. I know this problem is not unique to me and my small fridge. It's just one of those situations where you always end up having too much to fit, no matter how big it is.

Which happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I did not have enough room for all of the containers of food I had put together. Most of them were coordinated and went with other containers for a full meal - protein in one, vegetable in another, carbs in the third, so I couldn't really do anything about those. But there was one container that stood out from the rest like a red watering can in the middle of a blueberry patch.

Ever since I used it in a recipe for my friend Susie's Make-Ahead Oriental Salad (which is totally delicious and super easy and which I will share with you some day), I have loved white shoepeg corn. It is small and crunchy-crisp and sweet. But alas, it seems to be one of those things that is common in the south, but not so well-known up here. For a while I could get it in cans from the jolly green guy, but I must have been the only one buying it because it eventually disappeared, although a visit to their website shows that it is still available. I was disappointed because yellow corn just does not do this salad justice, and I have come to prefer it over yellow corn for everything else as well. And then I discovered that there was a house brand of white corn in the freezer section at my Jewel. Which is doubly good because I have also discovered over the years that frozen corn is much better than canned, so it stood to reason that frozen white corn would be better than canned.

And it is, but not quite as good as white shoepeg corn. I will have to seek it out - I am sure there is somewhere in this city that carries it. Oh goody! A new mission for this lovely spring weather we are finally enjoying!

Where was I? Oh yes, too much food in my refrigerator and white corn. The one orphan container left in the refrigerator was some corn I had seasoned with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and cilantro. And while it was delicious, I didn't really have anything to build around it for a meal and I had only meal components in the other containers. So I started to think about what I could do with it.

And fritters came to mind. I have always loved the idea of corn fritters, but every time I look at the recipe I decide it is too much work, what with separating the eggs and beating up the whites, and too much frying. While I am an adventurous cook and love to try and master all kinds of techniques, the deep fryer is not something that interests me. If I want deep-fried foods I will go out and order them from someone who has mastered the art and doesn't mind dealing with all the clean-up issues. I suppose I could play around with creating something that doesn't have to be fried, but I'm not that intrigued.

I wanted some kind of pancake/fritter recipe, so I went to and entered the words "corn" and "cakes" and found several options. The one that fit the ingredients I had on hand was a recipe for Corn Griddle Cakes, which might be from the Two Fat Ladies ("fat" and "ladies" were both in the key words, although the recipe was not attributed to them). There was neither beating of egg whites nor deep frying, so it was right up my alley.

And I made a batch. But I wasn't really hungry, so other than a nibble broken off to see how they tasted, I decided to just put them away and have them for breakfast the next day. So I waited for them to cool off, put them in a storage container and went to bed.

And that was the end of them. I wasn't really thinking about the fact that they had corn in them and they weren't just regular old pancakes. They had turned a dark gray in the center, which concerned me enough that I had to throw them away. I was disappointed, because the little nibble I had taken the night before was very promising, let me tell you.

So last weekend I decided to try again. I did not recreate the oil-lime-cilantro-garlic corn that I had used before; instead I just let a package of frozen white corn defrost and used it plain. I am still playing with King Arthur white whole wheat flour, so I used half of that and half regular all-purpose flour. Even the white whole wheat flour is too heavy to use by itself, I am sad to report.

I wasn't sure how they would cook up, because the batter was a little on the thick side. But I am happy to say that they were light and fluffy. I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to ladle out the batter, which made each cake about six inces wide (I cannot be sure, though, as I did not use a wooden ruler to measure them). The corn kernels provided bursts of flavor interspersed throughout each bite. It was really good with the maple syrup. I don't eat pancakes often, so I do indulge in 100% pure maple syrup. That imitation maple just does not do it for me. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you haven't used 100% US Grade A Dark Amber, give it a try. Most likely you will never go back to that fake stuff again.
Home Cookin Chapter: Breads and Muffins

Servings: 4

1 cup plain flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
6 ounces fresh sweet corn kernels, cut from the cob
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp melted butter

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Combine the corn, egg and milk, add to the Flour mixture and mix well. Then add the butter. Spoon onto a hot griddle, using 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture for each cake. Cook until bubbles show on the surface, then turn the cakes over and cook the other sides until golden brown.

Serve with crisp rashers of bacon and maple syrup.

Recipe 35233 of 281476 from (key words: fat ladies)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Turkey Meatballs with Tomato Bread Soup and Polenta

Last year at knitting class, my student brought me a turkey meatball she had made from a Martha Stewart recipe. I knew it would be good because, much as I don't care for Martha Stewart, I have to admit the woman has some good recipes. And it was good. Tender, juicy, and full of flavor. So I asked for the recipe and my student brought me a copy she downloaded from Martha's website.

I finally got around to making it earlier this winter. I defrosted a pound of ground turkey I had bought a month or so earlier, chopped up all of the ingredients and mixed them all together. I rolled out the meatballs, cooked them in the skillet, and dropped them in some sauce. The original recipe calls for them to be served over spaghetti squash, but I just wasn't in a spaghetti squash kind of mood. If you must know the truth, I have never been in a spaghetti squash kind of mood, and I suspect I never will be. At least not to be used instead of spaghetti. I would be curious to try it to see what it is like, but I have no desire to serve it with turkey meatballs in tomato sauce. I thought they might be rather nice with polenta.

And they were, overall, but there are a few things I have learned from this experience. I will share those things with you in case you should decide to try your hand at making these delicious little things, so you will not make the same mistakes I made, and which I hope I will never make again.
1. Make you sure you mix everything together well. I didn't realize until it was too late, but I did not get all of the ingredients incoroporated properly into the meat. It was partly because I didn't want to overwork the meat, but it was mostly because of:

2. Be sure you defrost your meat long enough before you are going to make the meatballs that it isn't hand-numbingly cold when you are trying to mix everything together, so you can mix it thoroughly without feeling like your hands are going to fall off.

3. Make the sauce that comes with the recipe, or some other tomato-based sauce that you like. Do not use the leftover Tomato Bread Soup you made too much of a couple of days before. It is too thick and bready to make a decent sauce and it will conflict with the pasta or polenta that you serve with it.

Other than that, enjoy! These little meatballs are bursting with juice and flavor.

You can find the recipe here. Other than using a completely different sauce and omitting the spaghetti squash completely, I followed it as written.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Salade Nicoisette

Back in January I wrote about this Tuna and Green Beans with Blood Orange Vinaigrette dish I created, and with which I was so happy. Well, I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few months, and green beans were on sale at the Apple Market last week and I snapped them up without really thinking about what I wanted to do with them. So I did what I always do, and blanched them so they would be ready for whatever I did decide to do with them.

And then I remembered the tuna and green beans. And the blood orange vinaigrette. And the fact that I had three blood oranges in my refrigerator that had already been there too long (and might, in fact, already be past their usefulness). So I thought I would recreate that earlier dish, having been so pleased with it.

But not being one to be able to leave things alone, I felt the need to improvise. During my regular shopping trip the next day I noticed that they had the most beautiful almost baby-sized zucchini on sale. And bunches of radishes that were big and red and gorgeous (it may not have been feeling like it around here, but spring is on the way!). So I snapped them up, along with a pint of grape tomatoes, and went on my merry way.

I had some Romaine lettuce left over from the Oven-Gold Boar's Head turkey I bought for sandwiches, and some eggs leftover from a batch I hard boiled for tuna salad the week before, and some asparagus that I had also bought at the Red Apple.

So, nothing could be simpler. First, I made the vinaigrette (recipe in the link above) so the flavors would have some time to blend. Than I sliced the zucchini and radishes and blanched them while I steamed the asparagus. I drained the tuna and sliced the egg.

I took four leaves of Romaine and put them on the plate facing out, with the bottom toward the center. I put a salad's worth of the vegetables in a bowl and dressed them with some of the vinaigrette and then served them over the lettuce leaves. Then I arranged some of the the tuna in a row over one side, and the sliced egg in a row on the other side, and sprinkled toasted sliced almonds over the whole thing.

And as good as the tuna and green beans was, this was So.Much.Better. In fact, it was awesome. The only thing that would have made it better (and it did, the next day after I stopped at the store on my way home) were some sliced kalamata olives. And when the egg and tuna were gone but I still had the lettuce, vegetables, black olives, and vinaigrette left, it was fabulous with feta cheese for protein.

I am calling this Salade Nicoisette, because it has its origins in Salade Nicoise, but isn't. This is one of those versatile recipes that isn't really a recipe at all. You can use whatever you have on hand and make it as big or as small as you want - side dish or main attraction.

I blanched the radishes with the zucchini, and I was afraid I wasn't giving the radishes enough time. As it turns out, they cooked faster than the zucchini and were less crisp than I would have liked. I wanted to take the edge off of them, not neutralize them altogether. Next time I will either leave them raw, or maybe saute them for just a minute or two. And I used the fancy presentation for the photo. After the first night I just shredded the lettuce and mixed everything together and threw it on the plate.

I don't eat tuna all that often, and when I thought about why, I realized it's because I don't really care for how much the quality of canned tuna has deteriorated over the years, and how watery it stays when I get it packed in spring water. I recently switched to something called Tonno Genova, a Yellowfin tuna that is packed in olive oil, and I like it much better. Although I just discovered that it's distributed by Chicken of the Sea, which automatically makes me somewhat wary of its claims. Oh well, I don't eat it that often.
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