Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nestle USA Recall of Refrigerated Raw Cookie Dough Products

You have probably already heard about Nestle USA's voluntary recall of their refrigerated cookie dough products, due to the possibility of E-coli 0157:H7 contamination.

If you haven't, tear yourself away from the Michael Jackson Farah Fawcett Ed McMahon Gale Storm Billy Mays death ride and take a look at something that actually affects you.

The recall was announced last Friday, June 19th, due to a CDC investigation into the E-Coli outbreak that might have been related to consumption of raw cookie dough. As of now, the cause of the outbreak has not actually been determined. Nestle USA initiated the recall voluntarily, as a precautionary measure. It may turn out not to have been the cause, but in the meantime will have cost Nestle millions of dollars. I wonder how they will try to recoup those losses?

This is just the latest of a series of E-coli and salmonella outbreaks involving pistachios, peanut butter, chicken pot pies, peppers, tomatoes (not actually a cause, but were recalled as suspect, costing the tomato industry hundreds of millions of dollars), beef (millions of dollars), and spinach. If you don't know what I'm talking about, a simple Google search will tell you more than you need to know.

As a matter of fact, it was only while doing some online searching that I just discovered another beef recall in May of this year, and another one this month, that was expanded yesterday.

And now I must stop searching, because I am starting to scare myself. I would be even more scared if I bought my meat at the grocery store. But here's an interesting item on the beef recall, posted on Obama Foodarama, which is a pretty cool site I just found.

Most of these outbreaks were caused by products that were contaminated in a plant where they were being processed to be sold in a pre-packaged format. So, in addition to all of those pesky transfats, HFCS, and who knows what other chemical additives you find in processed foods, you are also putting yourself more at risk for contamination the more you use processed and convenience foods .

So what's the lesson to be learned here? If you didn't say "There's something fundamentally, seriously wrong with our food production and distribution systems," then go to the back of the class.

Any time I think I might be overly paranoid by so assiduously avoiding processed, pre-packaged, factory farmed "foods," I just wait for the next recall notification.

For what, exactly, are you waiting?

(6/30/09, 11:15 AM) Update: It looks like they did find the E-Coli 0157 in the cookie dough, according to this Washington Post article.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chickpea Tabbouleh Salad

Summer seems to have arrived with its usual vengeance and I am always on the lookout for easy recipes that require as little cooking as possible and can be eaten cold, or at room temp. I am also always looking for ways to use those ingredients that I buy for a specific recipe and for which I have no other use.

Bulgur is one of those ingredients. I buy it to make Imjadara, and then the cracked wheat sits in a jar on my pantry shelf until enough time has passed for me to make it again. I would look at it every now and then, and think about figuring out something else to make with it, but my old friends rice, pasta, couscous and polenta were always there as well, and I knew what to do with them.

I know, I know, there's always tabbouleh. And I do love tabbouleh. But I have always associated that so strongly with middle eastern food that I have never thought to make it unless I was also making hummus or baba ganouj. (Note to self: both hummus and baba ganouj are good summer no-cook dishes, if you cook the eggplant in the microwave.)

But I had some blanched asparagus and wilted dandelion greens in the refrigerator and they were getting a little long in the tooth. I had defrosted some pork chops and was in need of a side dish. I wanted to use the greens and the asparagus together and neither of them needed to be cooked. I wandered over to the pantry shelf and looked at the rice and grains.

When my eyes fell once again on the bulgur, I almost kept on going. I don't know what made me start thinking about tabbouleh, and how maybe I could kinda sorta use the same technique and ingredients, but add the asparagus and greens? I had lemon and parsley on hand, and that's really all you need for tabbouleh.

So I pulled out the Tabbouleh recipe I had taken from the package of the Ziyad brand bulgur I buy, and used it as my frame of reference. The main thing I like about this recipe is that you don't cook the bulgur. You just mix it with all of the ingredients and it absorbs the liquids and gets soft enough to eat. The grains are more sturdy this way - they hold their shape and texture and don't get as soggy as they do when you cook them.

I only had a little bit of parsley and I wasn't sure if it would be enough, but it was. It takes a surprisingly small amount of parsley to provide that fresh-herbed kick to the salad. I also only had about three-fourths of a lemon, but that was enough acid to brighten up the salad. And the asparagus and dandelion greens complemented each other perfectly, each contributing their own subtle bitterness that was highlighted by the pungent parsley, lemon and bulgur salad.

I didn't have any tomatoes or cucumbers on hand; I had just used them all up on my first batch of gazpacho. Ever the improviser, I simply added some of the gazpacho to my salad and I think it actually worked better that way - it imparted all of the flavor while leaving the asparagus to shine in the forefront while the greens smoothly enhanced the background.

It turned out so well that I realized I was onto something. The next time I went to the grocery store I made sure to get lemons, parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers, to get even more of a tabbouleh-style base for the dish, and in the weeks since that first experiment I have made many variations. They have all been successful.

The culminating point for me was when I was trying to figure out how to get some protein in there, so it could be a meal unto itself. I almost smacked myself on the head when I realized that chickpeas would be perfect. Combined with the bulgur, they make a complete protein and add a nutty taste and texture that blended so harmoniously with the rest of the ingredients. And they certainly matched the theme!

The true beauty of this salad is its versatility. Outside of the bulgur, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil, you can pretty much throw in anything that you have in your refrigerator. I had a green bell pepper and some radishes that were not on any other agenda when I made the salad in the photo up on top so I threw those in. There's no limit to where this can go.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Chickpea Tabbouleh Salad

1/2 cup medium bulgur wheat
2 tomatoes, chopped fine
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
14.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 green pepper, chopped fine (optional)
5-7 radishes, chopped fine (optional)
1 bunch parsley, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped fine (optional)
juice from 1-2 lemons (depending on size and amount of juice)
2 Tbsp olive oil (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse bulgur under cold water and drain. Place in a large mixing bowl with the vegetables.

Add lemon juice and oil and stir to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, until the bulgur has absorbed the liquid and is tender.

Bring to room temperature before serving.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Skirt Steak in Six Minutes (Dinner in under an Hour)

It turns out there was nothing wrong with my computer. It's a long story involving some tears and frustration that you don't really need to have inflicted upon you. Let's just say that sometimes, even if it does look like a duck and quack like a duck, it might actually only be a chicken. It took three wipes of my hard drive to figure that out. I must say, my computer is now running more smoothly even than when I first bought it, so there's that silver lining at least.

I didn't do much during the time I was trying to figure it out. Except for the whole wheat french bread, a little baking, and some lentil soup. More on those later.

It also got hot while I was preoccupied with my computer. We've climbed up close to (and even into) the 90s, which is way outside my comfort zone. I don't feel much like cooking when it gets that hot, and I certainly don't want to make anything that's going to involve a lot of time in a hot kitchen.

I've written about skirt steak before, but I thought this would be the perfect time to reintroduce the subject. It's an incredibly flavorful cut that cooks on the stovetop in just minutes. How many minutes depends on how well-done you like it, of course, but it only takes about six minutes if you like it medium rare, and maybe eight minutes if you like it a little more done.

And in one of life's little coincidences, Emeril Lagasse is grilling up some skirt steak on "The Essence of Emeril" as I am writing this post. But I think he's a little confused. He just said that flank steak, London Broil, and hangar steak were all the same. That's wrong. London Broil is a cooking method, not a cut, and hangar steak is not the same as flank steak.

But all of them are delicious, and relatively fast to cook. This method for skirt steak is by far the fastest.
Take the steak out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before you are going to cook it, and let it come to room temperature.

Open it up and inspect for any silver skin. Skirt steak usually comes well trimmed, but it never hurts to check. Remove any excess fat and any silver skin that might still be on the meat.

Season the steak with salt and pepper, and garlic powder, paprika, or any other herbs if desired. This time I just used salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Heat a large skillet (cast iron is preferable, but not required) over high heat. Add about a tablespoon of an oil with a high heat point (grapeseed, canola, peanut). When the the oil is rippling and looks like it might be separating, add the steaks to the pan carefully (laying them down away from you to avoid splatter burns), seasoned side down. They should start sizzling loudly as soon as you lay them down.

Once they are in the pan, season the top side with the salt, pepper, and other herbs or spices. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes for medium rare, or 4 to 6 minutes for medium well. You can cook it longer if you like it more done, but it will be tougher. Do not touch the steaks, or move them. You want to get that beautiful brown sear going.

Turn the steaks carefully, and cook for about the same amount of time as you cooked the first side. Again, do not move the meat around in the pan. You want that second side to get just as nice a sear as the first.

When it's done, turn off the heat and remove the steaks to a plate so they can rest for about fifteen minutes. This would be a good time to work on or finish up any side dishes you are making to accompany the steak. When you are ready to serve, be sure to slice the meat against the grain, so the pieces will be more tender.

This steak was cooked for about two and a half minutes per side. The more I work with meat, the more rare I am starting to like it. If this is too rare for you, just cook it for another couple of minutes on each side.

Mashed turnips and potatoes and braised dandelion greens rounded out this dish. Taking into account the twenty minutes it took to cook the potatoes and turnips, it took just under an hour to make this meal.
Skirt steak is versatile. You can serve it hot right out of the skillet, or you can use it in a cool summer salad. However you want to serve it, it's a go-to dish for those days when you're too hot or too tired to put on the dog but still want a satisfying, delicious lunch or dinner.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No Post Today

Tehnical difficulties.

Please stand by while I figure out what the f*ck is wrong with my computer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Baking Class: Pistachio Shortbread

For someone who has not historically done much baking, I have accumulated quite a few baking cookbooks over the years. This is a good thing now that I have dedicated myself to the more precise side of the kitchen arts. Some would say finicky; you can't play fast and loose with flour, oil and baking powder the way you can with onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

In general, I would place myself squarely within the parameters of the cook, as opposed to the baker. I'm much more comfortable throwing in a splash of this or a dash of that, without having to worry that my stovetop will explode. I was never good at chemistry, and that is mostly what baking is. If you get the wrong ratio of liquid to dry to leavening, your oven very well *may* explode. So there is a lot of measuring, and weighing of ingredients, and adding them in a specific order, and cooking for an exact amount of time. In other words, a lot of room for error.

But I have been learning, and improving. As with any other skill, the best way to learn it is to do it, and to keep doing it until it becomes familiar. Each recipe teaches me something new, and it is something that I can then apply to the next recipe. I am becoming a more accomplished baker, although I think I will always lean more toward cooking than baking.

So I am happy that I have accumulated some baking books along the way. Two that stand out are Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited, from where I got the recipe for these delicious Sesame Seed Wafers, and The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle. They are quite similar, even down to how they are arranged, and have a lot of the same recipes. So I thought it would be a good idea to test recipes from both books to see how they compare.

I still have a good amount of pistachios in the pantry, and have been looking for ways to use them. So my eye was caught by a recipe in The Good Cookie for pistachio shortbread cookies. I had all of the ingredients in the pantry.

I haven't made roll cookies in a long time, so I was a little nervous about tackling them. But the recipe was clear and everything went smoothly. It's funny that I've made pistachio meal twice in the same year. It worked well both times, but this is much sweeter.

These cookies are delicious. The pistachio flavor comes through, and adds a textural component that makes the cookie melt-in-your-mouth tender. They are absolutely addictive.

So far, I have made one cookie from each cookie cookbook, and both turned out well. I will have to test more recipes from each before I can determine which one I think is better.

I rolled out half of the cookie dough and cooked it right away. I froze the rest and rolled that dough out on another day. The second batch was just as flaky, tender, and tasty as the first.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

Makes about 46 cookies

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios*
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 deg. F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Place the pistachios and 1/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the flour, cornstarch, and salt and pulse until blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar at medium-high speed until l ight, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yold and mix at low speed until
blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined.

Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead it a few times, until smooth. Divide it in half and shape each half into a disk.

Place one of the disks on a large piece of waxed paper, place another piece of waxed paper over it, and, using a rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Carefullh peel off the top piece of waxed paper, then replace it loosely and flip over the dough. Peel off the second piece of waxed paper. Using a 2-inch fluted or scalloped round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible from the dough. Arrange the cookies 1/2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather up the scraps and reroll them between sheets of waxed paper.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 13 to 16 minutes, until just lightly colored around the edges. Watch the cookies carefully, as their color will change very quickly. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

*According to the recipe, if you can only find salted nuts, place them in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Dry them thoroughly with paper towels. I just used the salted ones without rinsing them and they came out fine.

The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Scary Bananas

At first glance, these bananas look just like any other bananas, right? Almost perfectly ripe - still firm with just a tinge of green on the peel, but a few sugar spots developing as well. You would think they had been sitting around for a day or two, and have five days or so to go before they turn brown and mushy.

Well, you would be wrong. As near as I can reconstruct, I bought these bananas ten days ago at the latest, and it could possibly have been even earlier. They were quite green at the time, so I knew I would have to wait a few days before they were consumable. But ten days? They stayed green forever. By the fourth or fifth day I thought maybe they actually were a new breed that didn't turn yellow when ripe so I tried to peel one. I could not get the peel off and the banana was hard and dry.

They finally looked like they were starting to turn yellow over the weekend, but they still felt hard inside. Yesterday morning they looked ripe, as you can see above, but they still felt hard.

And, they had been sitting in the fruit bowl for an unbelievably long time. Even if they weren't hard, there's no way I was going to eat one.

I did decide to peel one in the interests of science, however. It was really hard to break the top part off, and the tip of the banana turned to mush as a result. The rest of the banana looked ok, as you can see, but it was still hard and dry and had no detectable odor.

I've never seen a banana that did not go from hard and green to brown and mushy within a week. Have you?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Spicy Indian Channa Dal Curry

A few weeks ago I met some friends at Tiffen down on Devon Avenue for their lunch buffet. (I was going to post a link but they have loud annoying music on their site so I won't.) I had heard both good and not-so-good things about it on Yelp, but the positive reviews seemed to reflect my tastes and the criteria by which I judge a restaurant, so I was looking forward to trying it out.

I intentionally left a little early, hoping I would have the chance to duck into one of the Indian grocery stores on Devon to grab some red lentils and yellow split peas. I made it with plenty of time to spare so I wandered down the street and popped into the first grocer's I found. I spent a little time in there because they had about fifty different kinds of lentils and beans, and I wanted to make sure I had seen all of the varieties available. I had no trouble picking out some red lentils (masoor dal) since they are basically all the same, but I had read that some yellow split peas were coated with wax to make them look more presentable, and I wanted to see if I could find any that were not coated. While I was looking for the yellow split peas I saw a bag of split desi chickpeas (channa dal), and decided to grab those instead.

The desi chickpea is related to the chickpeas we commonly use here, but it is smaller and has a sweeter, nutty taste. I have never seen them in the grocery stores in my neighborhood, so I was excited to find them on Devon Avenue. I was curious to see how they differed from the chickpeas with which I was more familiar. After I had cooked the chickpeas, I tasted one. It is indeed sweet and nutty, and not nearly as mealy as the European variety with which I am more familiar. These would be delicious all by themselves.

I really liked the Spicy Indian Yellow Lentil Curry recipe I used for the yellow split peas I had bought before, so I decided to use it for the channa dal. I didn't have any tamarind paste, though, and I didn't think about that in time to remember to pick some up when I was on Devon Street. I did still have amchur in my spice cabinet, though, so I used about a tablespoon of that and added the same amount of brown sugar, hoping it would give a similar effect. I'm happy to say that it did.

I had some fresh dill on hand, so I decided to make dill rice to go with the curry. They complemented each other perfectly.

And how was Tiffen? Those reviewers who question the authenticity of the cuisine might be correct, but I am no expert. The food was good, the atmosphere was pleasant, there was nice variety of dishes, the tandoori chicken was especially tasty, and the service was pleasant. It was a little more expensive than some of the other restaurants in the neighborhood, but at $10.99 I thought it was well worth the price. I would definitely go again.

And speaking of price, here is the breakdown for the Spicy Indian Channa Dal Curry`(the rice is included in the cost):

Total Cost: $10.70
Cost per Serving: $1.78

Also well worth the price.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables


"This is Gayatri Venkatesh's recipe from the Thursday magazine. Its really tasty. You can tone down the spiciness by reducing the number of green chillies if you please. Enjoy!"

1 cup
channa dal, washed thoroughly, drained and refreshed with clean water to soak
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pinch turmeric powder
1-1/2 Tbsp tamarind pulp
3-6 serrano peppers, depending on how spicy you want it
6 shallots, sliced in rings

For seasoning:
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 pinch asafetida powder
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Put the lentils, tomatoes and 4 cups of water with a pinch of turmeric powder in a pot and cook until the lentils are tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pot. Add mustard and cumin seeds. Cook until seeds begin to pop. Once they stop spluttering, add coriander seeds, asafoetida powder, bay leaves and green chillies. Stir-fry for 5 minutes.

Add shallots and stir-fry till they become golden brown in color. Remove from heat and add to the lentils. Stir well. Add tamarind pulp and salt to taste. Mix well and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot over rice along with some plain yogurt on the side or with dosas and chutney.

adapted from recipe #105728, posted by Charishma Ramchandani at Recipezaar
Exported from Home Cookin 5.4 (www.mountain-software.com)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Insatiable, by Gael Greene

I have had a copy of Insatiable lying around since it came out a few years ago. I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read. How did I find it?

Disappointing. Greene is awfully impressed with her own bad self and reveals all kinds of distasteful tidbits about her ethics as a journalist and restaurant reviewer. She confesses each peccadillo as if, by confessing alone, she is exonerated and can now travel through the rest of her life with a clear conscience and without consequence.

She had a lot of sex with a lot of men (
many of them famous - starting with Elvis!), and ate a lot of really really good expensive food in New York, Paris, and the rest of the world. Each chapter may as well be titled "What I Ate" or "Who I F*cked" and reads like a laundry list of decadent foods and sexy famous men. There is no real description of any of the restaurants or the food; it's a recording of who was hot at which spot. There is some self-deprecation peppered throughout the book with the intention, I'm sure, of making Ms. Greene more accessible to us lesser beings, but none of it rings true.

There are recipes spread throughout the book, but there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to where they are placed, or why. They actually represent the book perfectly - there was no order there either. Some chapters end with a recipe but there is no context within the chapter to explain the presence of the recipe. The recipes all look ok, but without any context, I think even the most intuitive reader would be hard-pressed to make a credible connection between the two.

Ultimately, where the book fails the most for me is that it lacks focus and direction. Ms. Greene has lived a fascinating life, but I did not get the sense that she had learned anything from it. Not that I was expecting any big major life-changing insight at the end, but I was hoping for at least some kind of punch line. Without one, it's just one of those long involved wandering stories your mother's eccentric friend Frieda launches into after a glass or two of wine after dinner that lasts so long that by the time she gets to the end even she has forgotten why she started telling it and everyone else has fallen asleep.

I have never read any of Ms. Greene's restaurant reviews. From what I gleaned from her memoirs, the only reason I would ever want to is to find out where to go if I want to be ignored while I ogle the A-List celebs who waltz past me on their way to the star tables.

There may be some folks who are insatiable for this kind of experience; I am not one of them.

Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess, by Gael Greene (Grand Central Publishing, April 2006)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Salmon Croquettes

I believe I may have mentioned that my mother was not the most enthusiastic cook in the world. She just wasn't interested enough in most foods to spend more than the minimal effort to create meals. Don't get me wrong - she wasn't a bad cook, and I actually liked the majority of dishes she put before us (although I had little against which to compare them). But there were a few that stand out in my memory as being particularly unpleasant.

My most unpleasant culinary memories revolve around my mother's salmon croquettes. They always looked good and smelled better. They even tasted ok. But they were dry. Drier than the shoe-leather pork chops and Spanish Rice that plagued my childhood. (And that wasn't entirely her fault. Everybody knew you had to cook pork to within an inch of its life to avoid the dreaded trichonosis.)

They were so dry that it took me several minutes to work my way through one small mouthful. The dried flakes stuck to every part of my mouth - tongue, cheeks, upper and lower palate, even between my lips and my gums. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little here but that is definitely how it felt.

And the ketchup she served with them only made it worse. Instead of adding moisture, it only seemed to separate and highlight exactly how dry each and every morsel was that was lodged in every part of my mouth. I would swallow and swallow and swallow, and try to wash it down with milk (which was rationed so I had to be careful not to use too much per mouthful), but nothing worked.

Am I making this sound like torture? Then I've done my job. Salmon croquettes were the bane of my existence, and I dreaded the nights I would come to the dinner table, only to find my nemesis sitting on the plate waiting for me.

The irony is that I now love salmon, and I eat it often. Broiled salmon with lemon, garlic and dill is delicious, and canned salmon has become a staple for me, either with dill rice and peas or couscous and green beans, or in some other grain and vegetable combination.

In one of my conversations with my sister, she mentioned that she will almost always choose the salmon loaf when she and my brother-in-law eat at Luby's, a San Antonio-based chain of cafeterias, mostly in Texas, that has been around forever and is known for good food at reasonable prices. I must confess, although I have not been there for at least 15 years, that I always enjoyed the food there. Nothing outstandingly spectular, but well-prepared comfort food on which you could always rely.

I hadn't thought about my mother's salmon croquettes until my sister mentioned the salmon loaf at Luby's, but they popped immediately into my mind. After listening to her description of how moist and flavorful Luby's salmon cakes were, I decided it might be possible to play with the original recipe and see if I could make it moist and delicious.

Here's the original recipe, as written by my mother:
1# can boned salmon
1 egg
dried onions
paprika, about 1-1/2 tsp
bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
dried parsley, optional

Mash salmon with liquid, beat in egg with fork. Add paprika and a generous sprinkling of onion flakes. Add crumbs to proper consistency to form patties. Fry in butter, first dropping patties in more bread crumb, if desired. Good leftover in sandwiches, with ketchup.
I have no idea from where this recipe came, but just looking at it I could see why it was so dry. It's also obvious that this recipe is from a long time ago, given the use of dried onions and parsley. When I was a child, the only parsley we knew was the curly type that dutifully appeared on every restaurant entree as a garnish, and never to be eaten except once a year from the Passover Seder plate (see maror and chazeret).

Also of interest is the lack of specific amounts and directions. Not that long ago, it could be assumed that anyone would be familiar enough with cooking that they would know how much to use, and what to do with it. Lynda and I talked about this over the weekend. Up until recently, recipes were more or less lists of ingredients; it was assumed everyone knew what to do with them. This has made it challenging to try to recreate dishes from the past, as Lynda pointed out. When writing a method for a successful stew, for example, a medieval cook would most likely assume that anyone with a lick of sense would add salt and pepper, or other basic seasonings, so it would not be included in the recipe. As recently as the 19th century, many recipes were composed of just a simple list of ingredients, sometimes with amounts and sometimes not.

Looking at my mother's recipe, I was confident that I could make it moist with very little trouble. Instead of dried onions and parsley, I used fresh onion and fresh flat parsley. In addition, I put in a bare 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. I figured I couldn't go wrong using the same method used for crab cake: use just enough to bind the mixture so you can form the patties.

The result from my first attempt surpassed my wildest expectations. These patties were super moist and loaded with flavor. I whipped up a quick tartar sauce to go with them, and it was pure heaven. I think I had the heat just a touch higher than it needed to be, though. The patties were a little crispy on the outside, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of them. Next time I will cook them lower and slower.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Note: To keep the salmon mixture from sticking to your fingers, dip your hands into a bowl of cold water before shaping each patty.

2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 16-oz. can Fancy Sockeye Red or Pink salmon
1/4 medium onion, finely grated
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

If desired, remove bones from the salmon and place in a large bowl. Add the onion, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well with a fork. Add the breadcrumbs and stir just enough to mix them in.

Heat a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat. Add enough oil to generously coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, carefully shape the salmon mixture into patties and carefully place in the skillet, leaving plenty of room to turn them.

Cook for about 4 minutes on one side, until golden brown. Carefully turn them over and cook for another 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Serve with tartar sauce or ketchup.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday Morning Blah

No post today. I spent the weekend helping out my friend Lynda at the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter booth at Printers Row and it pretty much wore me out.

Even though it was cold and rainy most of the time, the event was a success and it was actually kind of fun.

The star of the show was this dog that poked its head out Saturday afternoon and looked longingly out at the scene below. He never barked or made a sound, but it was obvious that he wanted to come down and join the fun. He would have been most welcome.

I think it was the singer crooning mostly French songs across the way that drew him out. I was going to write a scathing complaint about him, singing pretty much the same rotation of songs over the two-day period at an annoyingly loud volume, but after we asked him to tone it down Sunday morning it was actually quite pleasant, and every once in a while he would throw something new into the mix. But if I hear "La Vie en Rose" one more time for at least the next five years I am not responsible for the consequences. Not his fault - the music wasn't meant for those of us who were stuck there the whole time, but we suffered nonetheless.

His name is Michelet Innocent and he had a beautiful voice.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Baking Class: Sesame Seed Wafers

I had a plethora of sesame seeds in the freezer, having bought a 16-oz. bag of Ziyad Brand, mainly so I could throw a teaspoon or so on top of my bread when I make it. So when I was looking for a new cookie recipe, Sesame Seed Wafers from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited seemed like a good idea.

One of the things that enticed me to try these was that the book said they are reminiscent of sesame candy. I first had sesame candy when I was in junior high school when I was at a dance convention in San Antonio. One of our chaperones handed them out to us before a performance, to give us a boost. It didn't look like any candy I had ever seen before, but it was absolutely delicious. And I have always loved halvah, ever since my Dad brought home a few tubs of it for which he had traded some artificial trees. (Don't laugh, he once brought home an assortment of 24-pack cases of (granted, off-brand) candy, and our first color television was the result of a similar trade at the end of a furniture show.)

There were three fried-chicken style buckets, full of what looked like room temperature, solid ice cream. That's the best way I can describe it. One was plain, another had chocolate marbling throughout, and the third had bright green pistachios in it. Not being familiar with halvah, my siblings and I were reluctant to try it. But my dad brought them to the table one night after dinner and started carving out pieces and handing them around. I took a little nibble from the plain one and was hooked. Soft, crumbly and chewy all at the same time. Sweet, but not too sweet, with a slightly bitter accent that brings it all together. The chocolate marbled was interesting and the pistachio was the most intriguing (it was my first taste of those, as well, and in the day when most pistachios were dyed red so I didn't even recognize them as pistachios). But the plain was, and remains to this day, my favorite. I don't have it very often, mostly because I don't think to go looking for it at the store.

Since I had so many sesame seeds on hand, it seemed like a no-brainer to try out the recipe.

The first instruction in the recipe was to toast the sesame seeds. It's amazing how 1-1/4 cups can completely fill a cookie sheet. I was a little nervous that I would spill them, but I was careful and everything went smoothly, except for the few seeds that spilled into the oven. I had a little trouble chasing them, but I wanted to make sure I got them out because I didn't want to smell burning sesame the next time I baked something.

You can see how many seeds there are once the batter is mixed up. The batter is light and fluffy, and was not at all hard to make. I was eager to see how well they would perform in the oven.

It was quite easy to get the cookies onto the baking sheet. I used two regular spoons - one to scoop up the batter and the other to push it off the first spoon. They weren't terribly sticky, so it was also easy to flatten the tops of the cookies, as directed by the recipe.

I wasn't sure how they would bake, but they flattened out quite nicely into lovely rounded wafers. It was hard to wait for them to cool off enough to taste. When I did taste them, hoo boy were they delicious! Soft, chewy, and chock full of sweet sesame flavor.

I gave some to Bob and he also loved them. He thought they would make excellent ice cream sandwiches, and I think he is on to something. I will have to experiment with that next time I make them.

These were definitely good enough to make again. They're easy to make, they don't take long, and they are delicious. They were as good the last day (I think they lasted three? four? days) as they were the day I baked them.

These are the first cookies I have made from this book. I noticed that there are almost as many negative as positive reviews on Amazon. I marked several more to try, so I will see how it goes. I did not run into any problems with this recipe.

Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies

1-1/4 cups sesame seeds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg

2 or 3 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or buttered foil

Set the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Place the sesame seeds on a jelly roll or roasting pan and toast them, stirring occasionally, until they are golden, about 10 minutes. Pour the seeds onto a cold pan to cool.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir well to mix. Stir in the cooled sesame seeds.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with both sugars on medium speed until well mixed, about 30 seconds. Beat in the vanilla, add the egg, and continue beating until smooth again.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the flour and sesame seed mixture with a large rubber spatula.

Drop teaspoonfuls of the dough 2 or 3 inches apart on the prepared pans. Before baking the cookies, flatten them slightly with the back of a fork or a small spatula.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they spread, become firm, and are lightly colored. Slide the papers off the pans onto racks.

After the cookies have cooled, detach them from the paper and store them between sheetes of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

from Cookies Unlimited, by Nick Malgieri (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ad of the Week: Wendy's

Ok kids, this one is short and sweet.

Says the commercial: "It's waaaay better than fast food."

Dude, you ARE fast food.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Picnic at Rogers Park: Citrus Marinated Olives

The Tuesday between our birthdays, Bob and I got together for another picnic, our first of the season. Instead of wandering around our more familiar haunts in Lincoln Park, I went out to his neighborhood in Rogers Park. We walked through a string of small parks along the lake, finally settling on a more secluded little beach not too far from Evanston. It's really beautiful around there, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Ok, I thought it was a little hot in the sun, but Bob just laughed at me. It was pretty fantastic.

I gave quite a bit of thought about what to prepare for our picnic. Seeing that it was a birthday picnic, I did want to make it a little special, even on my more limited means. The only thing I was certain of was that I had been wanting to make some whole wheat french bread for a while. That seemed like a good vehicle for something picnic-y so I pulled out the ingredients the day before and made a couple of loaves.

But what to put in them? I was thinking some kind of pressed sandwich. I had a recipe for citrus-marinated olives that I had been wanting to try. I figured that would make a good base for the sandwiches. I added chunks of tuna canned with olive oil to round it out. I made the sandwiches in the morning, wrapped them tightly, and let them sit under my cast-iron skillet for an hour or so before leaving the house.

I hadn't made French bread in a while, and I had only made it once before, so the loaves were less than perfect. The taste was ok, but the bread was a little thicker and more chewy than I had anticipated. But I will keep working on it until I get exactly the taste for which I am looking.

The marinated olives and tuna were a complete success. The zest from the orange and lemon brightened the salt of the olives, and the red chili flakes gave it a lovely boost. The olives complemented the tuna perfectly. I'm thinking next time I mix a little of the citrus marinade with the tuna the night before I make the sandwiches, to boost the flavor even more.

A chilled soup seemed like it would be a good accompaniment to the spicy sandwiches. There was a recipe for Farmers' Market Chilled Salsa Soup I had pulled from Vegetarian Times a while ago that I decided to try. I followed the instructions and blended up the soup, then froze some of it into ice cube trays to help keep it cool until we were ready to eat it. Unfortunately, I also put it into thermoses, so not only did the ice cubes not melt, they helped to freeze the rest of the soup so we had to wait for it to melt before we could eat it, and it never really melted enough. There was so much olive oil in it that it had coagulated, leaving a most unpleasant texture.

Once it had thawed enough for us to try it, we were both a little disappointed. The flavor was ok, mainly cucumber and green pepper. The salsa I brought to garnish the soup was a canned soupy salsa, so while it did contribute to the flavor, it did nothing for the texture. Bob said he thought it might be better if there were actual chunks of cucumber and green pepper in it. What you see in the picture on the left is from my experimenting with leftovers the next day. I added chopped cucumber, bell pepper, and tomato.

It was an improvement, but not enough of of one to make me inclined to make it again. I had leftover cucumbers and bell peppers and some tomatoes on hand, so when this soup was gone I whipped up a batch of gazpacho. The gazpacho won hands down, so whenever I feel the need to puree me some vegetables I'll take that option, thank you very much.

I'm afraid I am going to have to give up on this magazine. They have quite a few recipes that have looked good over the years, but more times than not I have been disappointed with the outcome.

For dessert, I brought half a loaf of zucchini bread I had made that weekend. My sister and I had been talking about it and zucchini was on sale at Treasure Island, so it seemed like the natural choice.

I got this recipe years ago, just out of high school, from my friend Sharon. I don't know where she got it. It used to seem like a lot of work to make, but now I'm not sure why. There is a lot of zucchini grating required, but that takes just a little bit of work and even less time. It never seems like it's going to amount to much, but it's moist, rich, and delicious. Like gingerbread, it gets more moist over time, and the spices deepen and intensify the flavor. I will definitely make this more often, especially when zucchini are in season.

All in all, it was a delightful meal, perfect for a picnic. As you can see, Bob seemed to enjoy it. We hung around the park for a little while longer before heading across the street back to the city and the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

You can find the recipe for the soup (if you want it) by clicking on the link up by the photo. I will follow up on the zucchini bread in another post.

If you want to try the citrus marinated olives, I highly recommend it. The recipe calls for whole olives, but I chopped them so they would make a better condiment for the sandwiches.
Home Cookin Chapter: Appetizers, Spreads and Dips


Makes about 3 cups

1-1/2 cups Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives
1-1/2 cups cracked brine-cured green olives
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper

Combine all ingredients in large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Shake bag to blend ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning bag occasionally. Transfer olives and some marinade to bowl. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2001 (Clarkson and Potter, 2001)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)

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