Thursday, March 31, 2011

Golden Gown

Eat your heart out, Project Runway:

Not food related, but it does look good enough to eat.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tossed Greens Salad with Fried Egg

Sometimes, it's the simple things that make life most enjoyable. Sometimes, all I want for dinner is a simple tossed salad. Red leaf lettuce, arugula, frisee, radish, tomato (up there at the back, you can just barely see one peeking out), sunflower seeds and dried cranberries tossed in a home-made mustard and apple cider vinegar vinaigrette is a little piece of heaven.

Throw a lightly-fried egg on top and that little piece of heaven got much, much bigger. Crack the yolk and let it mix with the greens and the vinaigrette and you just might have reached nirvana.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Whole Wheat Pasta

Here's the good news: white whole wheat flour makes great pasta. I used my usual half-pound recipe, but I started with less flour. I put a cup of flour in the food processor, two eggs, and a generous pinch of salt and let it rip for a few seconds until it clumped together into a ball. I scraped the too-wet dough onto a well-floured counter and kneaded it, adding more flour until it reached the right consistency - tacky, but not sticky. I let the dough rest for half an hour and then rolled it out. I was afraid it would not roll out well, but it was as easy to roll out as the all-purpose flour dough.

The roasted red peppers in wine sauce was decent, but nothing about which to write. When I come up with a better sauce, I will tell you about it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Healthy School Lunches Are Possible

In case there was any doubt, it is possible to prepare healthy, fresh meals and stay within the pitiful budgets with which they are allocated, at least here in Chicago.

This story in yesterday's Tribune highlights the work of Paul Boundas at Holy Trinity. Check it out if you want a little bit of feel good.

Photo from the Holy Trinity Website.

Hat tip - Eater National

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Afghan Lamb with Spinach

There's green and it's lamb, and that's about as Irish as it's going to get. This is a bit of a stretch, I fully admit it. When I started thinking about St. Patrick's Day, and what I could make, I was not particularly inspired to find anything Irish to make. It's not because I don't appreciate Irish cuisine. It's because we had a St. Patrick's Day potluck at work and for various reasons I ended up making my Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup, and I've already written about that and I forgot to make the soda bread I had planned to make for this post. Maybe if I set a reminder now I will remember to do that next year, heh heh.

But I did make this lamb dish the week before last and it was truly delicious. The spices are fragrant, but not at all overpowering. They lend a rich warmth to the lamb that is both flavorful and satisfying. The yogurt adds a tangy creaminess that holds up to the spices better than sour cream would. And the wilted spinach provided a velvet dimension to the warm spicy flavor. In a word: YUM.

I originally found this recipe posted to the newsgroup, which is now pretty much defunct. As a rule, the recipes posted to this site are unattributed. This is where the GIYF (Google Is Your Friend) rule applies. I googled the recipe and discovered that it came from a cookbook published back in 2000, when Afghanistan was just another exotic Middle Eastern Country and there was no stigma attached to eating their food.

I had originally bought the lamb to make Lamb and Cabbage Stew with Fresh Shell Beans, but I had also bought lamb chops and the butcher mis-labeled the packages so I defrosted the chops instead of the stew meat, so I had Lamb Chops with Cabbage and Shell Beans, and it was disappointing enough that I didn't even want to think about the stew meat, so it sat in the freezer for a few months until I knew I had to do something with it, but didn't want to make Irish Stew. So I went searching through my untried recipe database and saw this and knew the time was right.

There were two Afghan restaurants in my neighborhood before 9/11. Unfortunately, they both disappeared not long after that sad day. I miss them, but now that I have dipped my wooden spoon into the pot, I plan to explore this cuisine more. It is more subtle than its Arab counterparts, with a warmth that spreads slowly from the center, rather than exploding on the tongue. It's quite lovely, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Home Cookin Chapter: Untried Recipes

4 to 6 servings

2-1/2 lb lamb stew meat
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 pound onions, diced large
4 tsp chopped garlic
tsp turmeric
tsp nutmeg
tsp ground cardamom
tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
tsp cinnamon
1 24.5-oz can tomatoes, drain & chop
1 cup rich brown veal stock or 1 cup rich beef stock
1/3 lb fresh spinach, wash & drain
1/2 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, roasted at 350 F for about 3 minutes

Sear lamb in the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven. Add the onions; saute them for 2 minutes; then add the garlic and sauté it for 1 minute. Put in the turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, crushed red pepper and cinnamon and sauté the mixture for 1 to 2 minutes more, being careful not to burn the onions or garlic. Add the tomatoes and veal stock and stir.

Cover the dish and bake at 350 F for about 1 hour, until the meat is tender and begins to break up. Remove the dish from the oven and add the spinach, stirring until the spinach is wilted and blended in. Allow the stew to cool slightly.

Add the yogurt, lemon peel and salt to taste. Sprinkle with roasted pine nuts.

Serve over rice pilaf.

from Afghan Food & Cookery, by Helen Saberi (Hippocrene Books, 2000)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Yogurt-Apple-Raisin Sauce

Cauliflower has been beautiful lately, so I have been bringing it home with me. It has not always been a favorite of mine. There is something about the texture that reminds me of my old nemeses shoe-leather pork chops, my mother's salmon croquettes, and white turkey and chicken meat. I chew and I chew but they just will not disappear, leaving me with infinitesimally small particles that no amount of milk or water will wash away.

But I like the flavor, something that it took a while for me to discover because I couldn't get past the texture. Over the years I have tried different methods to fix the texture problem, with varied success. The most successful technique, I have found (which is the case with almost all vegetables, by the way), is to roast them. Roasting must break down the cell walls in such a way that the moisture can then penetrate them. No science here and I don't know that I am right, this is just the best way I can come up with to describe my experience.

My early roasting methods were to cut the cauliflower into florets and mix them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then put them on a baking sheet and roast them at 350 deg. F. for 20 or 30 minutes, until they were soft, but not too soft. Whatever makes them seem dry to me also makes them just kind of deflate when they cook too much, so even if they flavor intensifies with longer roasting, that texture issue comes up again for me. As usual, your mileage may vary.

I have been watching Aarti Party on Food Network TV. Aarti Sequeira was the Season 6 winner of The Next Food Network Star, and specializes in Indian-themed dishes. The twist is that, in addition to Indian cuisine, she also takes American dishes and adds an Indian twist to them. She is chatty and informative, although she is in danger of getting a little too cute - she seems to be developing what I call "The Rachel Ray effect," where the traits that make a female cooking show host so human and accessible get codified and exaggerated to the level of sheer annoyance, and I can no longer watch them. I hope she can get that under control because so far I really like her recipes and her methods and I am actually learning things from watching her show.

On a recent show, she seasoned her roasted cauliflower with a host of Indian spices. It looked so delicious, and seemed like such a "duh - why didn't I think of that?" moment that I had to go out and get a cauliflower right away.

When I made the dish, I didn't use her recipe. I just winged it from what I remembered from the show. Having just now looked at her recipe, I see that I used more spices than she did. Given that some of the reviews mentioned that the spices weren't all that detectable, I suspect mine came out with more flavor.

The yogurt-apple-raisin sauce was an accident. I had the yogurt, but I did not have any citrus in the house. I was going to use the mango chutney I used for the Indian Lamb Chops with Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes, but there was a suspicious looking foam on top when I opened it, so I made a mental note to use it more often and had to throw it away. Then I remembered the unsweetened applesauce for my granola that is always around and thought it might add a nice flavor to the yogurt. It did, but I thought it needed just a little sweet so I added some raisins and a bare teaspoon of brown sugar, thinking it was close to jaggery, an unrefined cane sugar used in Indian cuisine. The good news was that it tasted really good on its own so I figured even if it didn't work with the cauliflower it would be quite tasty as a late-night snack.

To my surprise, and no small relief, it actually worked with the cauliflower. I don't know that I would do it again, and now have a lime in the refrigerator so I can try it with the lime-zested yogurt, but I am quite pleased that I was able to think on my feet, as it were, and come up with a flavor profile that complemented the cauliflower. To me, that is what cooking is all about - finding ways to use what you have to come up with something new, rather than being bound to recipes and stuck if you don't have everything on hand. Would it have been better with the lime or the mango chutney? Possibly. But this worked and I learned something from the process.

If you want to try the yogurt sauce, simply add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce, a handful of raisins, and a teaspoon of brown sugar to a cup of plain yogurt and mix well. And if you don't like how it tastes with cauliflower or other vegetables, you can still enjoy it as a fruited yogurt. I was almost disappointed that it did work with the cauliflower; I had started to look forward to a nice bowl of fruity yogurt at the end of the day.

I just played it by ear with the amounts and kinds of spices I used. You should feel free to do the same.

1 head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch florets
1-2 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix to make sure all of the florets are well coated with the oil and spices. Spread out on a baking dish lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Bake in a 350 deg. F. oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the spices have darkened and the florets are soft.

adapted from a recipe by Aarti Sequeira's Food Network.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Sweet Potato Pone

Happy Fat Tuesday, y'all! In my quest to post for the upcoming holidays - St. Patrick's Day, Purim, Easter and Passover - Mardi Gras kind of slipped up on me and I didn't realize until last week that I hadn't come up with anything for that. But I got busy and found something a little unusual, at least to me, but definitely New Orleans.

I thought about making a King's cake, and I definitely will some day, but for this post I wanted to find something a little more unusual, something different from what I normally associate with New Orleans and Mardi Gras. No jambalaya-gumbo-ettouffee or red-beans-and rice for me.

But I was also a little pressed for time, so I did a quick internet search, determined to avoid the usual suspects. Which is how my eye was caught by sweet potato pone, something with which I was completely unfamiliar. I knew corn pone, but what was this sweet potato pone?

According to Judy Walker of the Times-Picayne, sweet potato pone is the same thing as pain patate, which street vendors used to sell in the early 1900s. Today it can be found at Jazz Fest. It has been described as a dense pudding and nothing like the quick breads that I am used to thinking of as pone. It is classified as both a side and a dessert, which intrigued my sweet tooth. And the spices used in it are similar to the spices I've been using lately, what with all of the ginger snaps and molasses cookies I have been making.

I decided that would be my Mardi Gras dish. I already had everything on hand except for the sweet potatoes, but a quick trip to the grocery store fixed that. It was a little bit of a challenge to grate the sweet potatoes, and I think the recipe I used had too little, but I don't know if it would have the same consistency if I used the food processor. Never having had it before, I also wasn't sure how it was supposed to turn out, so I have no idea of whether or not what I ended up with is how it is supposed to be.

But it was delicious. Sweet, yes, but the texture and the taste of the grated sweet potato helped counter the sweetness. I believe I mentioned that I think the recipe I used did not call for the right amount of potatoes. That is reinforced by the fact that I found the same recipe elsewhere online (attributed to the same source), that called for twice the amount, which matched the 2 extra-large potatoes it said should equal the amount. So I am going to reflect that amount in the recipe even though that's not what I made. As good as mine was, I think it would have been twice as good with twice the amount of sweet potatoes.

As with many recipes I find, especially online, this one needs a little tweaking. But it is worth it as a special treat for a special meal. It made the perfect side for braised pork chops and mustard greens. I used the juice from the orange I zested for the pone to braise the chops. They were delicious. No dessert necessary.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups peeled, grated sweet potatoes (two extra large)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup molasses
Zest of1/2 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cardomom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 (or more) tsp black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 deg. F.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs.

Add the sweet potatoes, milk and spices and mix well. Stir in the molasses and orange and lemon zests.

Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until browned and crisp on top.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, March 07, 2011

(Yet) Another Recall - Skippy's Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

This time it's Skippy Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter. Is there anyone who still believes that big food conglomerates have our best interests and safety at heart? Seriously?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Baking Class: Ginger Snaps

When I was very young, I only remember there being two kinds of cookies in the house, if you don't count graham crackers. I'm not sure where graham crackers fit into the spectrum of cracker/cookie/dessert. They were sweet, it's true, but they were always served to me in a bowl with milk, for breakfast. Your mileage may vary, of course.

So not counting graham crackers, the first cookie I remember eating was the ubiquitous vanilla wafer. I have a memory of sitting at the kitchen table with my great aunt Lil, a small pile of vanilla wafers in front of me.

"Hey," my aunt said, "Do you want half moon cookies?"

"What are those?" I asked.

"If you say you want them, then I'll show you," she said.

Intrigued, I said ok. After which she promptly grabbed all of my cookies and took a bite out of each one, leaving a pile of "half moon" uneaten halves for me to consume. Ewwwww, gross. And she wouldn't let me get more. And since I didn't want to eat her sloppy seconds, she ate them.

I'm sure that was supposed to be some kind of lesson for me, but all I learned was never say yes to anything offered to me by my aunt (this was not the only "lesson" she taught me).

The next cookie I remember tasting was a ginger snap. They were one of the few cookies my mother liked, so they were often in the house. It was bigger and looked much more interesting than the vanilla wafers, and it had a sharp sweet smell, so I was intrigued enough to take a bite.

And it was good, but it also had a sharp hot afterbite, for which I did not care at all. It was actually even more disappointing than being cheated out of my vanilla wafers, because they actually tasted good before that hot spicy kickback.

Fast forward to the year before last, when I made graham crackers. They were so successful and so good (you really should give them a try - they are SO much better than store bought, and much healthier too) that I started to wonder what other childhood delights I could try to make from scratch. I don't know why ginger snaps was the first thing that came to mind, but there you have it.

And in the intervening years between now and that first ginger snap I tasted, I have come to enjoy ginger in all of its forms, including that sharp hot after-kick that I now love. But the last time I had the store-bought version, it tasted off to me. Almost all ready-made products taste off to me now. It's like all I can taste are the things that are added to make them shelf stable. So I decided that I would tackle ginger snaps at some point.

This past Christmas I was at my brother's house and the subject came up. I don't know exactly how or why, but I mentioned that I planned to make ginger snaps in the near future. And then, when my brother and I went out to visit my other brother and his family, we came home to a lovely spicy aroma, and darned if my sister-in-law hadn't gone online, found a recipe, and made them herself!

She actually found two recipes, one that called for shortening (which we are all trying to avoid), and the other calling for oil. The first recipe she used was the one with the shortening, and I have to say that they were quite delicious. They had that same sweet spicy taste that ended with the gingery bite at the end. But they have shortening in them, and she wanted to try the recipe that calls for oil to see if the cookies would be as good as the first batch.

And everyone agreed that they had the better texture, but they did not taste as gingery. For a good reason - they had less ginger and more other spices in them so the flavor was diluted. But they were all good, and disappeared quite quickly with five-plus people around to help.

When I got home, I decided to do my own experiment. I knew I did not want to use shortening, so I decided to do a test between the oil version and substituting butter for shortening in that version. In both versions, however, I decided to stick to the version that used more ginger.

For the first version, I used butter. I wasn't sure whether or not it would work, because butter makes the cookie spread out more, and it makes it crispier. Ginger snaps have a slightly chewy texture that I didn't want to lose. And I had read in several places that you should not use butter with ginger snaps, for the reason listed above, but I am determined not to use shortening.

I took the cookies to work with me and they disappeared quickly. Everyone liked them - a lot. But I was still interested to see the difference between the butter version and the oil version.

This is the oil version. (The butter version is pictured up at the top.) To me, they look more the way ginger snaps should look. The sugar stands out more because I used the sugar with which I had coated the Glazed Lemon Poppyseed Hearts so it was already a little clumped together, but what I really liked was the way the tops had cracked, which is what makes a ginger snap a ginger snap, in my opinion. I also liked the taste and the texture of these a little more - they were a little more chewy and less crisp than the butter version, which more closely resembled what I think of when I think of ginger snaps.

But when I took these to work, while everyone said they were good, the overwhelming response was that the butter version was hands down the better cookie - light, thin, and crispy, as well as full of ginger flavor.

In all honesty, I think both versions work, and are quite tasty and full of that wonderful gingery goodness. But if you're not sure which one you would like, make both give and them to your friends for a taste test. It's a win-win no matter which one they like better.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies


For crispy, thin snaps: 3/4 cup butter, softened
For thicker, chewier snaps: 3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar, plus 1/2 cup separate for decoration
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 35 deg. F. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the molasses.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Add it to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and stir until everything is well combined.

Roll the dough into one-inch balls. Dip the tops into the remaining half-cup of sugar and then place on the baking sheet 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, turning the pans around halfway through baking. Place the cookies on a wire rack and let them cool completely.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

adapted from several recipes found online

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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