Monday, December 08, 2014

Baking Class: Baked Fish

Once again the holidays are upon us and the year seems to have flown by faster than ever.  I read recently that time seems to pass more quickly as we get older due to the fact that we have simply experienced everything so many more times that each event tends to blend together with the preceding years' worth of events.  It is far easier to remember your first ten holidays than the 30- 40- 50-plus that accumulate over time.  There are some particularly memorable holidays that stand out for various reasons, but other than that I would be hard pressed to remember a holiday for a specific year.

An unpleasant side effect of how quickly time seems to pass these days is that I feel like I have less time to get everything done.  So I am always grateful to find a new way to cook that is fast and easy and gets dinner on the table in about half an hour.  And I am especially pleased to have found a way to cook fish so quickly and easily, as I am always trying to incorporate more of that into my diet and it was not around our kitchen much when I was young (other than that awful frozen block of haddock/halibut that my mother tried to pass off as dinner when we were kids.)

When I saw the halibut at the fish counter I was a bit trepidatious, as I am pretty sure that was one of the awful bland mushy frozen blocks of fish my mother used to cook, but it looked so fresh and so good that I decided it was worth the risk.  I brought it home, placed it on a foil-lined baking sheet, seasoned it, poured a little olive oil over it, added a couple of tablespoon's worth of za'atar, and baked it for about 15-20 minutes.

The result was spectacular.  It was cooked all the way through with a firm texture but still moist, and the za'atar added a marvelous burst of flavor.  And it was so quick to prepare and cook that I have since baked many pieces of fish this way.

The beauty of this "recipe" is that is extremely versatile.  You can use any firm fish and any combination of herbs or spices that you have handy or for which you are in the mood.  I have used fresh thyme, fresh dill, ginger and garlic, or a combination of dried herbs, all with great success.  It is virtually foolproof.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipe
Makes 3-4 servings
3/4 to 1 lb firm fish fillets (halibut, haddock, salmon, arctic char)
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp fresh or dried herbs, or a spice blend

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lay the fish skin side down on it. Season with the salt and pepper, then pour the oil over it so it spreads evenly across it. Sprinkle the herbs or spices over it.

Place it on a rack in the middle of the oven and bak for 15 to 20 minutes, until the flesh is just firm. Remove from the oven and let it rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, November 17, 2014

Baking Class: Rye Bread

Weekend breakfasts and brunches were of two kinds in our family when I was a child.  If it was just the family on a Sunday morning, my father would be up and in the kitchen at the crack of dawn, rattling pans and banging the cupboards in his best effort to get us kids up and out of bed.  By the time we  roused ourselves awake and out of bed and would wander into the kitchen the potatoes would be browning and the eggs would have just gone into the pan.  And when the bagels went into the toaster we knew it was almost time to eat.  If we were lucky, there would be lox to go along with the cream cheese.  For many years that was my favorite breakfast.

But brunch usually meant company and was a little closer to lunch time, so instead of (or in addition to) the lox and bagels Dad brought home from his regular run to the Three Brothers Bakery he would also bring kosher salami and a beautiful big loaf of Jewish rye.

As far as I was concerned, there was nothing that could beat a salami on rye sandwich with lots of ballpark mustard.  Oh sure, we had all kinds of brown and spicy mustards on the table as well, but there was something about the vinegary tang of good old regular mustard that perfectly complemented the sourness of the rye and the rich salami.  If there was rye bread and salami in the house, I was in heaven.

When we moved away from Houston and the Three Brothers Bakery, salami sandwiches never tasted the same to me.  Although there was a vibrant Jewish community in Dallas and there was a bagel place that made the best bagels I ever tasted, we couldn't find a nice loaf of Jewish rye to match what we were used to in Houston.

There is some question as to what distinguishes Jewish rye from other rye breads, so there is no definitive answer that I have been able to find.  Going by my own experience and the rye bread we ate when I was a child, the main differences seem to be that Jewish rye uses a lighter rye flour and contains caraway seeds.  But since these kinds of differences can be regional as well as ethnic, it might be more appropriate to call it Russian rye rather than Jewish rye, since that seems to be true of Russian ryes as well.  All I know is that as much as I enjoy all kinds of rye breads, it is this one that evokes all of my sense memories and provides the comfort of childhood memories.

I still enjoyed salami sandwiches, but they were no longer my absolute favorite.  So when I started to make bread, I began looking for rye bread recipes that might come close to that bread of my youth.  Most of my attempts were tasty, but neither the texture nor the taste was quite what my tastebuds were craving.

My search finally led me to a recipe in Please to the Table:  The Russian Cookbook, a comprehensive collection of the cuisines of all of the countries that were a part of the previous Soviet Union that I had purchased used at the Printer's Row Bookfair a few years ago. The recipe yields the light chewy taste and texture that I remember from those childhood salami and rye sandwiches. It also toasts beautifully for breakfast.  It is easy and does not take too long to make.  Now if only I could find some decent kosher salami (RIP Best's) I would have it made.

The original recipe calls for two small loaves.  For that, just divide the dough in half and shape two loaves for the final proofing.

RIGA RYE BREAD (Rizhsky Khleb)
Makes 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf

2 packages (12.75g/4.5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 tsp (4g) sugar
1-3/4 cups lukewarm water (105 to 115 deg. F)
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tbsp oil, plus additional to coat during rise
2 tsp (8g) salt
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
2 cups (240g) rye flour
1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour, with 1/4 cup reserved
1 cup (120g) whole wheat flour

Combine the rye, all-purpose and whole wheat flours in a medium bowl, reserving 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour. Whisk together and set aside.

Place 1/4 cup of the water, the yeast and the sugar in a large bowl and stir until the yeast dissolves. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly. Add all but 1/4 cup of the remaining water, the molasses, oil, salt and caraway seeds to the yeast mixture and stir well.

Add the flour mixture, a cup at a time, stirring well after each addition, preferably with a wooden spoon. Add water in small increments if it looks dry. When all of the flour (except for the reserved 1/4 cup all-purpose flour) has been added, cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let stand for 5 minute.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the all-purpose flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Pour about a tablespoon of oil into the large bowl and spread it around the bottom. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, turning it in the oil so it is completely covered with the oil. Place the kitchen towel over the bowl and set it to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Punch the dough down and knead it briefly. Shape into an oval and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes. Bake the bread for about 45 minutes, until the crust is dark brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with a knuckle. Cool on a rack.

adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman (Workman Publishing, 1990)

Exported from Home Cookin 8.54 (

Monday, November 03, 2014

Caramelized Carrots with Cumin, Nigella and Chilies

I ran across this recipe when I was looking for ideas for a cumin/caraway/nigella seed potluck dinner I was attending last month.  I made rye bread with the caraway seeds, but I never feel like bread is enough to bring, at least in terms of challenging myself, so I wanted to find a nice vegetable side dish that would let me utilize the cumin and/or nigella seeds, which I have on hand but do not have many recipes that call for it.  I usually use it with cumin seeds in Indian-style dishes, so it seemed like a natural progression to add it here.

The nigella seeds and ground cumin that I added to the recipe made for a more complex range of flavors, and the pepper provided a spicy boost. This is a deceptively simple dish that is full of flavor and would beautifully complement a hearty autumn stew or roast.
Home Cookin 8.5 Chapter: My Recipes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
kosher salt to taste
1 jalapeno, serrano or other hot chili, minced
2-1/2 to 3 lbs carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1/3-inch thick slices
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp high quality extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley, for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet (or 2 small baking sheets) with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Combine the cumin and nigella seeds with the ground cumin and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the carrots and the chilies in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the spices over the carrots and then add the olive oil. Mix everything together, making sure that the carrots are well coated with the oil and spice mixture.

Spread the carrots into a single layer on the baking sheet(s). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the carrots are cooked to the desired consistency.

Remove from the oven and mixin the additional olive oil and parsley if using. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

adapted from the Caramelized Cumin Roasted Carrots recipe in Bon Appetit, September 1998

Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, October 27, 2014

Slow Cooker Honey Orange Chicken Drumsticks

I was recently offered the opportunity by Hamilton Beach to review their Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker.  Every few years or so I get the urge to use one, so I thought "why not?"  I responded to the offer and within two days I was looking at a brand new slow cooker.

Full disclosure:  I have not had much success with slow cookers in the past, other than keeping Chili con Queso warm and dippable at parties.  They are also good for cooking dried beans and making stock, but I have not been a big fan of any other dishes I have tried to make in them.

I think one of the reasons I was not a big fan of them for much else is because they tend to cook everything to the same consistency, and vegetables always came out overcooked with an odd taste that seemed to come from a lack of oxygen caused by the seal created by the process.  I am sure that is not the case, but psychologically that is the best way that I can explain how it tastes to me - as if the vegetables suffocated for lack of oxygen.  And because I did not like the way vegetables came out, I wasn't going to risk more expensive items like meat, especially if it was going to have that weird aftertaste.  So I would use it for a few reliable dishes every now and then, try a vegetable dish, get put off by that weird aftertaste, and put it back into storage for another few years.

I was somewhat hesitant to take advantage of this offer for that reason, but then I decided maybe it would be good for me to try it.  I know the technology has changed quite a bit since the last time I bought a slow cooker, so I decided to request a review model.

This is not new to the slow cooker world, but I have not had an oval model before and I liked that right away.  It seemed to suggest meat, being shaped more like a roaster, so I decided to make my test recipe a meat-based dish, both to give it a fair shake and to meet the "fall cooking and bringing families back to the dinner table theme."  I was also curious to try the probe, which allows you to program the cooker to switch to the warm setting once the dish reaches the desired temperature. 

To give it a fair shake, I tried a few recipes to put it through its paces.  I used the manual setting, the programmed setting, and the probe.  I cooked a pork shoulder, chicken, and vegetables.  The eggplant and peppers came out with that weird aftertaste I get with all vegetable dishes.  I used the programmable setting for the pork shoulder and that came out just fine.

But what makes the Set & Forget worthwhile to me is the Probe setting.  I used it for making the Honey Orange Chicken Drumsticks pictured above, and it was delicious.  The chicken was cooked through but not overdone as my chicken so often is, since I did not have to worry about undercooking it.

I found the recipe in the May/June issue of Eating Well magazine.  There were actually a few slow cooker recipes in that issue that looked appealing.  It was easy to make and delicious.  I served it over cilantro rice (which is my dill rice with lime and cilantro in place of the lemon and dill) with my Napa Cabbage Salad with Snow Peas and Toasted Almonds on the side.  It was a big hit and the leftovers travelled well for workday lunches the next day.

The bottom line?  While I wouldn't say that it is a necessary appliance and you should run out and get one right away, I am glad that I have it and will continue to use it, especially for braised meats.  If you are a heavy slow cooker user and are looking for a new one, this would be a good choice.

I did not make any changes to the original recipe so that I could be more objective in my review of the slow cooker, so I will just point you in its direction.  You can find it here. (My photo will definitely suffer in comparison to the original, but I can assure you that it had no impact whatsoever on the way it tasted.

Monday, October 13, 2014

DIY Condiments: Candied Ginger

The second spice-related potluck that I attended for the Spiced-Up Meetup group that I recently joined featured ginger.  As with any theme-related activities in which I participate, I like to look for dishes that stretch my culinary skills and challenge my creativity.  Often, that means I look for savory uses for those ingredients most closely-associated with sweet, and vice versa.

Ginger is one of those spices that straddles both sides of the sweet/savory spectrum quite evenly, so I was having a hard time choosing between sweet or savory.  I finally decided to focus more on stretching my skills than on challenging my creativity and concentrated on finding something with which I had little experienced.  I remembered that I had seen Nigella Lawson pull out some ginger marmalade for a dish she was preparing on her show and I was immediately intrigued by that, and just as immediately forgot about it.  But now that I was racking my brain trying to think of something new to try with ginger, it popped back into my memory and I decided to take a stab at ginger marmalade.

When I started looking up recipes, though, I realized that I am not ready to tackle actual marmalade yet.  I do see jams and jellies in my future, but I am just not there yet so I decided to make a quick ginger jam.  There weren't a lot of recipes out there, but the one I found at looked viable.  So I bought about a pound of ginger and got to work.

I peeled and chopped the ginger.  I chopped it as finely as I could, but was not sure how fine it should be, as the recipe was not specific about that.  I put it into a saucepan with the lemon and sugar and turned on the heat.

And it became almost immediately apparent to me that it was not going to turn into jam.  Unlike fruit, ginger does not break down as it cooks.  I realized then how much I rely on the breakdown of the fruit to determine the consistency of the few freezer jams I had made so far.  So I cooked it, and I cooked it, and I cooked it some more.  Because the ginger held its shape, I couldn't really get a sense of how thick the liquid was getting.  By the time I realized that it was never going to come together in the way that I had been expecting it to, the liquid had cooked almost completely down and I was not sure what would remain.  And there was a LOT of it.  I had no choice but to put it all into a bowl and pop it into the refrigerator.

Once it had cooled and I could taste it and analyze it, I realized that what I had made was more candied ginger than ginger jam.  Super sweet and biting hot, it was one of those times where it was a happy event, however, and I realized that I could still use it with my intended dish, just not exactly as I had intended it.

I had planned to make ginger scones and top them with a dollop of creme fraiche and the ginger jam.  I couldn't really use the ginger as a jam, but I realized I could combine it with another fruit, so I threw together a batch of strawberry jam to which I added about a tablespoon of the ginger.  It was quite tasty, and a big hit at the potluck.  It was such a big hit, in fact, that it disappeared before I could put one together for a picture.

I did have scones left over, as I had made a double batch), so I was able to enjoy the scones with creme fraiche and some of the candied ginger by itself, which was delicious as well.  I was able to manage to snap a photo of that, as you can see.

I am so happy that I have discovered how easy it is to make candied ginger.  I had a lot of it, but there is so much sugar in it that it stores well and I can dole it out in small amounts whenever I want to indulge in a little sweet treat.  I also was able to gift a few fellow bakers with some and still have enough to last me a while.  It's a huge payback for such a small effort.


1 lb ginger root, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and cook until the liquid has basically boiled down and just covers the ginger. Let cool.

10/27/14 based on recipe found at

Monday, October 06, 2014

Flageolet Beans with Lamb

And just like that, summer is over and fall is on the way.  Even though the weather will continue to periodically climb up into the seventies, the sun is already visibly lower in the sky and the winds have changed and the leaves are starting to fall.

And apples are back at the Green Market which makes me oh so very happy!

This Flageolet Beans with Lamb is a riff on the White Beans with Lamb (Etli Kuru Fasulye) that I made the winter before last.  I had the lamb chop in the freezer and some flageolet beans (which are quickly becoming one of my favorites), and I was in the mood for a some good hearty beans for lunch.  This method of adding meat to beans is a great one, because I already had the beans cooking on the stove before I decided to add the lamb.  It added no time to the overall dish to sear and braise the chop while the beans were still cooking and then add them all together at the end.

The method I used to cook the beans is one that I adapted from the oven-baked no soak method I wrote about here.  I quickly realized that the method should work just as well on the stove top, and it seems much faster and easier to do it this way.  I will usually just cook up a batch of some kind of beans a few days before I need to think about what to make for work lunches, and then I will come up with the idea for how I want to use them by the time that I need them.  And if I do not need them, they freeze well so I will have them on hand and available if I want them and don't have time to cook them.

It's about as close to having canned beans on hand as you can get without actually buying canned beans.  I highly recommend it.  Dried beans are so much cheaper than canned, and you know from whence the ingredients came.

As with most bean dishes, this travels extremely well for work lunches.  In fact, it actually works well for school lunches as well.  I have taken to not putting my lunches in the refrigerator when I get to work, and by lunch time they are warm enough to eat without re-heating.  I am sure some of you will gag at the thought, but I have found that most dishes are just as tasty this way and I don't have to worry about microwaving in plastic (which I avoid) or getting an extra dish dirty when I transfer the contents to a glass bowl so I can microwave it.  Obviously this does not work for everything, but I am re-heating less and less of my lunches at work.  YMMV.
Home Cookin 8.59 Chapter: My Recipes
Makes 6-8 servings

1 cup (about 1/2 lb) dried flageolet or other white beans, or 3 cups cooked
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil oil
1 6-oz lamb blade chop
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Sort through the beans then rinse them well and drain them.  Place them into a 3-quart saucepan and add half a tablespoon of salt.  Cover with cold water up to two inches over the top of the beans.  Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for a good minute or so before lowering the heat to a simmer and covering the pot.  Cook the beans over the low heat until they have all settled down to the bottom of the pan and are tender, anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half (start testing after half an hour).  If you are using canned beans, you can skip this step (obviously).

While the beans are cooking, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 10-inch skillet. Add the lamb chop and brown it, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.

Adding more oil if necessary and lowering the heat to medium, add the fennel seeds to the skillet and cook until they are sizzling and have released their aroma. Be careful not to let them burn. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and season with the salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes, still stirring occasionally.

Add the wine, thyme, smoked paprika and the water. Place the lamb chop back in the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover, lower the heat, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lamb is fork tender. Take the lamb chop out of the skillet, remove the meat from the bone and cut it into bite-sized pieces, then return it back to the pan. Add the beans and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.

adapted from Stewed White Beans recipe from Saveur Magazine Number 120

Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 29, 2014

Baking Class: Homemade Vanilla Wafers

I haven't been baking much lately, but the weather is cooling and I've been feeling the urge.  We had our first company lunch after a summer hiatus this week and I decided to make dessert.

I had been looking at a recipe for homemade vanilla wafers for quite a while and this seemed the perfect time to try it.  The last time I decided to buy Vanilla Wafers at the store I took one look at the ingredients and put the box right back on the shelf.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with this humble little cookie.  When I was a child, it was pretty much the only sweet thing we had in the house on a regular basis that I liked.  Note that I did not love them.  But if I wanted something sweet, it was vanilla wafers or nothing.  So I ate them.

And I think I've written before about the time I was eating them for an afternoon snack and my great-aunt was sitting at the table with me and asked me if I wouldn't rather have moon cookies.  I asked what they were and she said she would only tell me what they were if I said yes.  So I said yes. And she immediately the cookies up from plate and took a half bite out of each and every one of them and laid them back down on my plate and smiled smugly at me.

And as usual, I knew there was some lesson I was supposed to be learning from that, but the only one I learned was to never trust my great-aunt again.  (Further incidents only served to cement this lesson, I am sorry to say.)

Having had so much success with my homemade graham crackers, I wondered if the difference between homemade and store-bought vanilla wafers would be just as striking.

And it was.  These are warm gems of vanilla sweetness with none of the chemical aftertaste I have always noticed in the store bought variety.  And they are easy to throw together.  I actually made the dough the night before I baked them, so it was a total of about half an hour each night, and they could be kept in the refrigerator for a few days before baking if necessary.

I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour here.  I have always thought of vanilla wafers as one of the healthier options in the cookie world.  Whole wheat pastry flour makes it even more healthy without compromising the flavor, in my humble opinion.  If you try it I'm sure you will agree.
Home Cooking 8.59 Chapter: Baked Goods (Sweet/Savory)
Makes 4 dozen cookies

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder

Combine the butter, sugar, egg, milk and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl and use a hand mixer on medium high to cream the ingredients together. Add the flour and mix well. The result will be somewhat wet and sticky. Chill for at least half an hour or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 400° and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roughly form the dough into small round balls about an inch in diameter and place them on the parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.

from Penzeys Holiday 2013 catalog
exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chickpea and Greens Curry Soup

My years-long streak of bad luck with Vegetarian Times recipes seems to have finally broken.  I had some chickpeas in the freezer and was looking for something to do with them when I ran across this reader recipe I had torn out of the magazine back in 2011.  I had everything on hand except for the greens so I grabbed some Swiss Chard at the store and was ready to go.

This cooks up pretty quickly and makes a satisfying lunch or dinner.  And you can add it to your repertoire of workday lunches, as it also travels well.

As usual, if you do not have the spices required, you can easily substitute with an equal amount of curry powder (which is what the original recipes calls for, so you won't even be cheating).
Home Cookin Version 8.59 Chapter: Soups and Stews
6-8 Servings

1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp paprika
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed and chopped; leaves roughly chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp cup chopped fresh dill (optional)
Yogurt for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds, until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes, then add the jalapeno and chard stems and continue cook, stirring, until the onions have started to brown.

Add the spices and cook for 1 minute to release the spices, then add the tomato and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften.

Add the chickpeas, coconut milk, and broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chard leaves and coconut milk and cook until the chard leaves have wilted, 5 to 10 more minutes. Add the cilantro and dill if using and serve garnished with the yogurt and more cilantro and dill, if desired.

adapted from Vegetarian Times, March 2011

Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 15, 2014

Yellow Beans with Tomato and Garlic

It's been an odd growing season around here this summer (if you can even call it summer), what with all the cool weather and rain, so everything was late and most of the things I regularly buy were neither plentiful nor so good this time around.  However, there is always that one fruit or vegetable that seems to thrive on the peculiarities and this year was no exception.  The beans seemed to rise to the challenge, and every time I went to the market they looked so bright and fresh and tasty that I ended up buying them every time.  Everything else ranged from "oh my, the poor dears," to "well I guess these look ok," but the beans just shone.  That is the one thing that I can hold onto from this season - the beans were plentiful and delicious.

I mostly made my Slow-Braised Green Beans, which were a hit pretty much everywhere I took them.  But this week I was gifted with the most beautiful yellow beans from my friend's garden and they were so firm and fresh that I wanted to try to retain as much of that fresh crispness as I could.  So I decided to try a different technique.  I wanted to cook them quickly but I did not want them to be too crisp, and as anyone who has cooked beans knows, the line between perfectly cooked and a bowl of mush is very fine, indeed.  That is why I was so happy to find the slow-braised method; it is the only time where the beans can cook for a long time without ending up a pile of mush.

But I wanted something faster than the slow-braising method, and I didn't feel like pulling out the wok for a stir-fry, which is another method of cooking the beans without overcooking them that I will sometimes use.  Besides, I wanted to try a different method to see if I have learned anything new in the past few years.  So I decided to just saute them in a skillet and hope for the best.

I was quite happy with the results.  When the beans were cooked I removed them from the skillet so I could thicken the braising liquid.  I ended up with perfectly cooked beans covered in a thick, rich sauce.
Home Cookin 8.59: My Recipes
4 servings

1 lb yellow beans, trimmed and broken in half
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh dill (or 1/2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup tomato puree

Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat in medium sized skillet. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly, being careful not to let it burn. Add the beans and cook for about 5 minutes, until they just start to get tender. Add the wine, tomato puree, thyme and dill. Season with the salt and pepper.

As soon as the liquid begins to boil take the heat down to low, cover the skillet, and let the beans cook for ten minutes (or less if you like them more crisp).

Remove the beans from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set them aside in your serving plate or bowl.  Cook down the tomato and wine liquid over high heat until it thickens, about 7 minutes. Serve the beans with the thickened sauce poured over them.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sopes with Baked Beans with Poblano Peppers and Tomatillo Salsa

A couple of weeks ago one of my favorite stands at the Green Market had beautiful tomatillos and Treasure Island had some gorgeous poblano peppers.

So I made a batch of tomatillo salsa.  I modeled it after the tomatillo pesto I posted about here, but I didn't look up the recipe and forgot the toasted walnuts and lime juice but it was just fine, and tasted great.  I thought it would go well with the Baked Beans with Poblano Peppers I posted about here, and to complete the dish I decided to make Oven Baked Sopes on which to serve them.

I felt like a genius for coming up with this winning meal and ate like royalty.  You can eat like royalty, too.  Just follow the links!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

I wanted to roast some cauliflower and was thinking about what spices I wanted to use.  I love it roasted with za'atar but had just made za'atr bread for a potluck dinner and had used it all for that.  I also like it roasted with cumin and coriander so I decided to go in that direction.  So I decided to go with a more Indian-spiced theme, but I wanted more than the cumin, coriander and turmeric combination I usually use with roasted vegetables so I basically pulled out the entire army of basic Indian spices.

The result was spectacular.  The spices blended together perfectly and provided a fresh, vibrant flavor to the cauliflower.  This is a dish that is sure to wow even the most jaded palate.
 Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

4 servings

1 large head cauliflower
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp amchur (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425°F. and line a large baking dish with parchment paper.

Cut cauliflower into large florets and place into a large bowl. Add the salt and rest of the spices. Add the olive oil and mix well.

Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet on a middle rack in the oven and bake until the cauliflower is just soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.58 (

Monday, August 25, 2014

Poached Fish with Tomato and Saffron

A few weeks ago I was talking with the fish guy at Whole Foods, as has become my habit.  I don't know all that much about cooking fish and have been reluctant to tackle it at home.  In the past, when I ate out more often, I would make a point of ordering fish whenever possible partly to avoid having to prepare it at home but still be able to enjoy it on a somewhat regular basis.

It is no surprise that I have so little experience with fish.  The only fish we had at home when I was growing up was canned salmon, canned tuna, and some solid frozen block of tasteless mush that seemed common in the '70s - halibut or haddock or something like that.  The canned tuna went into a pretty decent salad but the salmon went into an especially dreadful dinnertime nemesis of mine:  the dreaded salmon croquette.  And the block of fish ice went into the oven as is and then was splashed with lemon juice (bottled) just before serving.  It was pretty disgusting.  Like most children in America, the only fish I truly liked was fish sticks, and that was mainly as a vehicle for tartar sauce.  As an adult, that morphed into a love for breaded fried fish and that was pretty much it for me.

These days I eat all kinds of fish - fried, grilled, broiled, poached; even raw.  It took some getting used to, but I love sushi and tuna tartare.  Basically, if someone else is preparing it for me, I love all fish.

Sadly, however, these days the only way I'm likely to have fish is if I prepare it myself.  The first technique I learned was how to broil it; mostly salmon and the occasional tilapia.  To my mind, there is little finer in the world than a nice piece of salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and dill and broiled just to the barest hint of doneness.  Whenever I wanted fish I would hope that the salmon or tilapia looked good and if it didn't I would change my dinner plans.

I've been looking to expand my repertoire, both with techniques and with kinds of fish, and I found a recipe I had pulled out of Bon Appetit a while ago for poached cod with tomato and saffron.  I decided to try it on some cod I had finally mustered the courage to purchase, and was pleased with the results.  So pleased that I started looking for opportunities to purchase firm white-fleshed fish so I could practice some more, and fiddle with the recipe as is my wont, and poaching has become a staple in my repertoire.

There have been a few occasions when I was browsing the fish department when I ran across paiche .  I had never heard of it before, so I asked what it was.  Turns out it is a large white-fleshed fish native to the Amazon that has barely changed from the Miocene epoch thousands of years ago.  All I knew was that it looked good so I brought some home with me.  It made for a most flavorful dish.

This recipe is quick and easy, and only takes about half an hour from start to finish.  It is a perfect dinner for those nights when you want something special but don't have a lot of time or energy for anything complicated.
Home Cookin 8.58 Chapter: Meat Fish and Eggs
2 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced - OR - 1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced - OR - both
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper, or to taste (or red chili flakes)
1 to 2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
pinch of saffron threads
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 5-oz. skinless firm-fleshed fish fillets

Drop the saffron threads in 1/4 cup of warm water and let steep while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and/or onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is just translucent. Do not let it color.

Add the Aleppo pepper and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the saffron water, wine and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper,

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Season the fish and place it in the skillet. Cover the skillet and let the fish simmer until it is opaque and starting to flake, 10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the pieces.

Serve the fish in shallow bowls with the poaching liquid spponed over it.

Adapted from

exported from Home Cooking 8.58 (

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet and Sour Lentils

I can't believe how much time has passed since my last post.  I wish I could say it's because I've been whipping up a storm in the kitchen, but that is not the case.  I am cooking, just not a whole lot that's new.  For some reason I am not feeling too inspired.

Although part of the reason is that I have become thoroughly and totally obsessed with sourdough.  I hope to start sharing what I have discovered soon, but it has been six months and I feel like I've just barely broken the surface of what is possible, and have barely come up for air to work on other things.

But as always, there have been moments when I have felt the need to try something new.  And that is just what I did a few weeks ago.  I have been fascinated by a recipe for Sweet and Sour Lentils in one of my favorite cookbooks for years now.  I could not imagine a successful integration between the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant entree and the earthly legume.  I would pass over it as I thumbed through the book looking for ideas, but then invariably I would turn the page back, look over the recipe, and wonder how it would taste.

My curiosity finally got the better of me, and pineapples were on sale at the grocery store, so it seemed like a good time to give it a try.  But I also had a glut of apricots from the Green City Market that were in serious danger of going bad before I could use them so I thought why not use apricots instead of pineapple?  Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of pineapple and I figured apricots have a similar flavor profile of sweet and tart so I might as well go for it.

The result?  A surprisingly delicious blend of flavors that should not necessarily work together but do.  In addition to substituting apricots for the pineapple I did a little tweaking here and there and came up with something truly delicious.

I have always had trouble making lentils look good, so I don't know how appealing this looks but I can tell you, it is quite tasty and I will definitely be making it again.  It is perfect for a workday lunch.

Home Cooking Chapter: My Recipes
6 servings

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and soaked in water to cover for 1 to 2 hours
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 to 5 fresh apricots, diced
2 Tbsp garlic ginger paste (or 1 Tbsp each minced ginger and minced garlic)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sherry
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp warm water
1 tsp toasted sesame oil, or to taste

Drain the soaked lentils, then place them in water to cover and cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook for a few seconds, then add the apricots. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the lentils, vinegar, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, Tabasco sauce and ketchup and bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine the cornstarch and warm water in a small bowl, then whisk the mixture into the lentils. Lower the heat and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the mixture has thickened.

Remove from the heat and add the sesame oil and give it one last stir. Serve over rice.

adapted from Jessica's Sweet and Sour Lentils recipe in Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from Around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima, 1994)

Exported from Home Cookin 8.58 (

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pasta alla Carbonara

One of the things I loved most about living in a large house with four other women was the different cooking backgrounds and skills each one of us brought to the table (pun intended).  This was years ago in Austin, and we did not have the ready access to information that we have today.  But we all worked at the Public Library, so we at least had access to a vast physical database of information.  The kitchen was large enough to house two refrigerators (and a washing machine!), so space was not an issue and our schedules were different enough that we were each able to do our thing mealwise without getting in anyone's way.

We mostly cooked and ate for ourselves during the week, but on weekends we would usually cook and eat together, along with any friends who happened to be around.  And there were always friends hanging around, as we had four acres of land, a covered basketball court, a swimming pool, and a trampoline available to us.  (Yes, that was one sweet deal.)

And one of the meals that a housemate cooked for us was Spaghetti alla Carbanara.  We all watched with horror as she dumped the cooked pasta into a bowl full of raw eggs, stirred it all together, and then expected us to actually eat it!  But once plated it did not look at all disgusting, and smelled really good, so we stuck our forks into it and gave it a taste.

And oh my gosh was it delicious!  Creamy and smoky and luscious.  I never forgot that dish, but I never made it myself.  Now that I have been making my own pasta I am constantly on the lookout for new and different things to do with it.  I didn't have much in the house in the way of vegetables (don't pretend that's never happened to you) and I needed a quick dinner.  I did have some bacon in the freezer and I always have Parmagiana Reggiano and eggs on hand, so I decided it was time I tried to recreate the dish I had enjoyed so many years ago.

And it was just as good as I remembered it.  Better, in fact, because the bacon was applewood smoked, the pasta was freshly made, the black pepper was freshly grated, and the cheese did not come out of a can.  In a word, perfection.

It might not look all that great in the picture.  I try to make my photos look pretty, but I can't always manage it.  And to be honest, it's not a high priority for me.  I know that we eat with our eyes, but I'm more interested in how my food tastes than how it looks.  If I had had parsley (or any fresh herbs for that matter), I would have garnished and it would have looked that much better.  And I guess it would have tasted better too, so if you plant to make this, especially for company, do be sure to get some while you are shopping for the rest of the ingredients.  But I can assure you I was not at all mourning its absence while I was eating it.

And I just noticed this - if you look closely at the photo you will see little bits of yellow in the mix.  I forgot that I had a little bit of yellow pepper that I diced and cooked up with the bacon.  It's not traditional, but it tasted good and kept me from having to throw away food.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
4 servings

4 oz bacon diced
12 oz fresh tagliatelle, linguini, or papardelle
2 eggs
2 Tbsp water
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, plus extra for garnish
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Combine the eggs and water in a small bowl and beat together with a fork, then set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium high heat in a skillet until crisp. Do not remove the bacon from the fat, but remove all but a tablespoon of the drippings.

When the water starts to boil add a generous amount salt and then the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Immediately add the bacon with its drippings and the egg to the pasta while it is still hot and toss well, until the pasta is completely covered with the egg and cheese.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with more cheese and the parsley.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Pasta with Asparagus and Zucchini

This is a lovely little dish I like to trot out when asparagus and zucchini are in season.  It is especially good with fresh pasta, although dried will do the job if that is all you have available.

This recipe falls under my ongoing attempts to practice the theory that "less is more."  When the ingredients are fresh, there's no need for excess herbage and seasoning.  All you really need to do is find a simple way to highlight the main ingredients.  This recipe does exactly that and is quick and easy.  You can have dinner on the table in about half an hour.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

4 servings

1 lb fresh long pasta
1 batch of asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup sauvignon blanc or other white wine
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Place a large pot of water on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, add salt and the asparagus and zucchini and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove them from the water and plunge them immediately into cold water.  Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute it for a few minutes, until translucent.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add the wine and let it cook down for a minute.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and let it cook for about 2 to 3 minutes if using fresh (about a minute less than the designated cooking time - if using dried pasta adjust cooking time accordingly).

Add the asparagus and zucchini to the onions and cook until heated through.  When the pasta is done, reserve about a cup of the pasta water and drain, then add the pasta to the asparagus and zucchini in the skillet.  Cook for 2 more minutes, mixing everything together and adding pasta water as necessary.

Remove from the heat.  Serve immediately garnished with  parsley and cheese.


Exported from Home Cookin 7.50 (
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...