Thursday, September 27, 2007

Parmesan bowl

The other day there was a free sample issue of "Cuisine" magazine in the mailbox... The very last recipe in the magazine was this parmesan cheese salad basket. They likened it to soup in a bread bowl. Except this is salad in a cheese bowl.

To make it, put a skillet on medium heat and sprinkle shredded parmesan cheese into a circle with lacey edges. Let it cook until the shreds merge and sizzle a bit. Then take it off the heat and cool a few minutes. Carefully lift the cheese round from the pan with a spatula and your fingers, then drape it over the bottom of a glass. Let it cool, then flip onto a plate and fill with salad. Kind of fun, I thought.

I dream of bean cream

I just want to give a shout out to Soy Dream Mint Chocolate Chip. It's my new favorite non-dairy dessert. It's also a little pricey at almost $5 a pint. So if you ever want to get me something nice...

Soy Dream very closely replicates the taste and mouth feel of real ice cream (I occasionally sneak a spoonful of Joe's pistachio ice cream, so I haven't completely forgotten what bliss is supposed to taste like) Also, they really amp up the mintyness without drowning dessert in green food coloring. The chocolate chips are a little gritty, but I think that might be because Kroger doesn't sell Soy Dream fast enough to keep super fresh stock in the freezer cases. And, to excuse them further, I don't think chocolate chips ever stay creamy in frozen desserts.

There's 8 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving... enough to make it satisfying, but not enough to induce regret.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ravioli salad, but not quite

I know this is a rather handsome salad... but I have to confess I got it all wrong. I was craving a perfect replica of the salad Joe and I split our first evening in the Hood River Valley in Oregon. That salad had toasted tomato basil ravioli that were the perfect balance of crunch and give-- not so crunchy as to slow down devouring the salad. The ravioli I used were in the refrigerated pasta case... and they were on sale. I sprayed them with olive oil and broiled them in the toaster oven, flipping once, but a few seconds too late. Mine came out crunchy, but almost sharp on the edges...and after a while they became chewy. The "four-cheese" filling was not exciting at all.

The original salad was tossed in arugula... Kroger didn't sell it, so I bought spring mix, which sometimes has arugula in it. This one didn't. It was all bland greens with a few sprigs parsely and cilantro... not the spicey flavor I was hoping for.

My tomato was flavorless. My avocado smelled OK, but wasn't quite ripe. And the cheese in the Oregon salad was fresh mozzarella. I got confused and bought clearance goat cheese with basil and garlic... It was probably the tastiest thing in the whole salad, but I think I would've liked it better on pizza.

All in all, it was a pretty failure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mennonite pasta salad

I brought this salad, adapted from my Mennonite cookbook, to Katie and Mike's shower Sunday. Notice, there's no mayo :-)

Colorful Pasta Salad
7 oz. pasta, cooked (I used gemeli)
1 cup grilled chicken, cubed
1 cup shredded parmesan
1/4 cup olives, sliced
1/4 cup sliced onion
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 segment red bell pepper, sliced
1/4 cup basil leaves
2 roma tomatoes, diced

8 Tbs oil
6 Tbs vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. basil (I used fresh)
1 tsp oregano (also from the backyard)
salt and pepper

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Livingston's Deli

Melinda, Braiden and I tried out Livingston's Butcher Shop and Deli today. The hotdogs, as you can see, are ENORMOUS! Mine is covered in sauerkraut, NY style. The kraut was very tangy and went terrific with the crunchy homemade potato chips which retained much of their potato-y goodness.
Here's what the hotdog looked like on the inside. The baguette was a nice and needed touch to support the copious toppings. (3.50, plus 30 cents for kraut)
I don't even like potato chips, but since this is one of their specialty, I had to order some. (75 cents for a big basket)
Braiden was giving me the guilt trip stare for not sharing. But, alas, he doesn't have any teeth yet. :-)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Leftover makeover

The lettuce from the lettuce cups was already starting to go red on the edges... plus it wasn't a very cuppy head to begin with, so I decided to turn the ingredients from that dish into something I used to eat at least twice a week in Taipei.

There was a noodle/won ton shop on the corner of the alley across from our alley. I used to swing by and wave to the cook who was always in the window facing the alley... I'd order the fat rice noodles with meat sauce and a side of boiled leafy vegetables. My favorite was the boiled romaine. Yeah, Chinese cook lettcue like any other vegetable.

To make this dish, I used the dipping sauce and the meat from the lettuce cups and stir fried it with a glob of oyster sauce and some sake and some sesame oil. I also added some onion and mushroom. I boiled fat rice stick noodles... then oiled them lightly. I also boiled the lettuce briefly and stuck that on the side. Then I stired it all together. mmm. not quite like I remembered, but then again, I was using ground turkey rather than fatty pork.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

African finger foods

African Finger foods
In Tanzania, corn dough balls make for sticky hands, full tummies

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 1:56 PM CDT

Taste bud travels | By Emily Parrino

Emily Chappelear had never eaten African food before moving to Tanzania at age 20. She’d never bargained for meats and vegetables at an open-air market. And as a missionary student accustomed to eating dormitory food, Emily had never learned to cook.

“We ate spaghetti noodles with butter and salt the first week,” she told me recently as she moved through her kitchen, alternately flipping fat chapatis in a skillet and chopping vegetables for a traditional East African stew.

Emily and her husband, Ryan, moved to Hopkinsville in July, bringing with them Africa For Jesus, a non-profit organization they founded 5 years ago before that first trip to Tanzania.

The Chappelears were kind enough to treat us to a home cooked meal, and my husband, Joe, and I were eager to try a new ethnic cuisine.

On the menu for the evening: Ugali, a dense porridge ball made from finely ground corn, used for scooping up a curried stew of carrots, beef, tomato, peppers and onions. A warm salad of shredded cabbage, green peppers, carrot and spices rounded off the meal along with chapati, pan-fried flatbread rounds, used as additional scoopers.

Emily learned to cook the Tanzanian meal by scrutinizing her house-helper, Monika, in the kitchen. It wasn’t easy, because Monika, and Tanzanians in general, didn’t use recipes.

Another thing typically absent from the African table is forks and spoons. Africans eat with their fingertips. Traditionally, all eat from the same serving dishes — plucking off a small piece of ugali and rolling it into a ball, then making a divot in the center to scoop up mouthfuls of runnier dishes.

Digging in might seem unsanitary or uncultured to the Western opinion, but in Africa there’s an art to eating.

“They’re really tidy,” Emily explained, flicking drops of stew onto her plate.

My fingernails were already full of ugali, and stew was making its way up my husband’s wrists. Our host said we were doing OK for our first hand-held meal.

“They laughed at us because at first we had stew dripping down to our elbows,” she said.

Despite the mess factor, scooping up food with food has its advantages. There’s nothing metallic standing between the savory flavors and the tongue.

The starchy ugali sits like a rock. By the time our dinner party was winding down, there was still a sizeable mass left untouched. The dish is filling by design, the Chappelears explain.

“After walking for miles and miles each day, you begin to crave the feeling of ugali in your stomach — the feeling of fullness,” Emily said.

Though the corn mush was once a staple for the Chappelear family, they only eat African food every couple of months now.

“We eat it sparingly, since we have to import it from Africa ourselves,” Emily said.

The Chappelears’ twin 4-year-olds, Esther and Phillip, are always excited when they can eat a meal of African finger foods. Their mom pre-rolled a dozen marble-sized ugali balls for them to dip.

But when ugali isn’t available, the Chappelear kids improvise.

“Because of learning to dip ugali, Esther likes to do that with all of her American food,” Emily said. “She’ll just dip whatever she’s eating into her drink.”

Frittata first attempt

I've been busy with non-cooking tasks... so a quick meal was in order. Since I bought my cast iron skillet, I've been wanting to make a frittata, which begins on the range, and finishes in the oven.

Here's a loose recipe:
Saute 2 cloves chopped garlic, 3 Tbs onion, 1/4 cup red bell pepper, 3/4 cup frozen spinach, and 1/2 cup cauliflower florets in some vegetable oil until tender.
Beat 6 eggs with some pepper and garlic salt, then pour over the veggies in the skillet. Prod at it a bit to let the runny parts run under the cooked parts. When it starts to look somewhat set, shake some parmesan on top, then transfer to a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or so. (Until knife comes out clean.) Slice and eat... with ketchup if you're like me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lettuce cups

Once again, I'm playing with a Martin Yan recipe. In his cookbook, he implies that he made up the recipe... which he could have, but I've liked "rainbow chicken in lettuce cups" since college. The white tablecloth Chinese restaurant in Cleveland is called Li Wah, and I first ordered this dish back in 1996.
I like the way 'lettuce cups' sounds, but Joe thought they should be called lettuce wraps. Then I suggested portable salad. Joe said lettuce burger. I said lettuce po' boy. But I should have said lettuce sloppy joes because this is the messiest meal ever. Anyway, it was worth it.
Chicken Lettuce Cups
1 lb ground chicken or turkey (mixed in:)
3 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp chinese rice wine
3 tsp soy sauce
1/3 cup diced mushrooms
Meanwhile, in a stir-fry pan:
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tsp minced ginger
Then add meat mixture and cook til crumbly. Next add:
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
1 chopped red bell pepper
Cook til tender, then add:
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Halve a head of lettuce and gently pull apart lettuce "cups" Scoop meat mixture into each leaf, then top with this:
1/4 cup hoisin
2 tsp water
1 1/2 tsp garlic chili sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Pumpkin sticky rolls

I always get the crazy craving to start some complicated baking project just before bedtime. This is last night's project.

Pumpkin Sticky Rolls (adapted from a recipe in East West Cooking: Innovative Mennonite Cooking from around the Globe)
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 packets yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
more vegetable oil

Pecan topping:
1/4 cup oil
1 Tbs water
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Warm milk and oil, then add pumpkin, sugar, and salt. Beat in eggs and yeast, then the flour and mix well. Cover and set in a warm place until dough doubles.

Tur out dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth. Then roll out into a large rectangle. Brush with vegetable, then spread brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll the whole thing up like a jelly roll.

In a 9 x 13 metal baking pan (not a 10 x 10 square like I used) pour the oil, water, sugar and pecans mixture and spread evenly.

Slice rolls, then place them on top of the pecan mixture. Let them rise again as you preheat the oven... or longer if you're not impatient. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Immediately invert onto a serving dish so the pecans are a topping, not a bottoming (and so the sugar doesn't cement itself to the bottom of your pan).

Serve warm.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chinese chicken curry

I'm back at the Martin Yan Quick & Easy... this time I adapted his recipe for "Chicken and Potato Yellow Curry." I usually find the curry at restaurants have a whole lot more sauce than morsels to swim in the sauce. I guess rice is supposed to sop all that up, but usually I end up adding some frozen veggies to my leftovers before reheating them. Another predicament with ordering curry at a restaurant is that they usually offer only one or two ingredients in each variation of curry.

In my adaptation, I added a quarter of a fresh pineapple and two carrots. The pineapple just seemed fun, and the carrots were to give it a little color beyond yellow.

Here's the recipe:
3 yukon gold potatoes (1 1/4 lbs)
2 carrots
3/4 cup pineapple chunks
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (I skimmed some of the fat off)
3 Tbs curry powder
1/3 cup water
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs fish sauce
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water

Cut potatoes into eighths, cut carrots into 2 inch pieces, then boil both for 15 minutes.

Pour half the coconut milk into a suacepan on medium, stir in curry and bring to slow boil. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's no longer pink in the center, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar, fish sauce, potatoes and carrots. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes. Then add chopped cilantro, cornstarch solution and cook another minute to thicken. Take off heat and stir in pineapple. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with more cilantro.

Foodie Blogroll

You might have noticed that I added some things to the right rail of my blog... One is a little scrolling menu that links to hundreds of other food blogs. I've had some fun perusing other food-lovers' blogs there. On a recent venture into the blogroll I found:
1) the cute food revolution over at
2) pumpkin bread pudding and chocolate crepes at
3) a very large collection of turkish recipes at
Check it out down there :-)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bree on bread in two ways

Tonight I visited with Kai, who showed me how to bake bree between two sides of french bread... the cheese melts into the bread. A cholesterol-raiser that's well worth it. :-)
The whole reason I had the bree was because Joe and I went with Ryan, Emily and Jeff to an outdoor 'jazz' concert. Ryan and I both brought bree... the exact same brand even. So my bree was untouched at the end of the night.
Kai has studied abroad in France-- so I knew she'd know what to do with an extra wheel of soft cheese.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Em can cook part 2

Let me just say that Martin Yan's idea of "Quick & Easy" is a little different than the average Emily's idea of it. This recipe for Savory Jade Chicken was fairly quick... but easy crept out of the kitchen with its tail between its legs when the hot oil began exploding out of my skillet as I tried to make the "fried mint leaf garnish." Easy also decided to steer clear of the kitchen entirely when it was time to clean up. I had to wipe down every surface within a 3 foot radius of my skillet because it was all coated in minty oil. Fortunately, Joe was late enough coming home from work that I had time to make Jade Chicken, a stir fry of snap peas, onions and garlic, and my version of Yan's Simple Steamed Tofu (which was even simpler because I skipped the steaming step.) And start cleaning the kitchen.
Despite our divergent definitions of easy, I'm really enjoying my Martin Yan Quick & Easy cookbook. The book has a lot of recipes that remind me of Taiwan or Chinatown in Chicago or the downstairs kitchen at Dennis and Vicki Poland's house. I recommend it to anyone who likes Asian food but abhors the ubiquitous sludgy brown sauce slathered over whatever finds its way into the chaffing dishes at Chinese buffets in Kentucky. Seriously. Does anyone really like brown sauce?
Cold tofu with sauce and crunchy stuff is the kind of dish you wouldn't find in a Chinese buffet in the states. But it's served as a refreshing side in Taiwanese homes and some restaurants. I also recall eating it for breakfast at the airport hotel buffet in Japan. Here's the recipes:

Savory Jade Chicken with Mint Garnish
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch

1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup vegetable oil (yeah, you know where that's going!)
3/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves(I used half mint, half basil from the garden)
1 red jalapeno chili, sliced (We have some kind of chili from the garden, so I used one chili and 1/3 of a red bell pepper for extra color)
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine
1 Tbs chili garlic sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

Combine soy and starch in a bowl and mix well, then add the chicken and coat evening. Let it marinade for 10 minutes (or however long it takes you to do this next step.)

Place a stir fry pan over high heat and add oil. Heat until almost smoking, then add 1/2 cup leaves and cook for 30 seconds or til leaves are crisp (or until the mini volcano has stopped erupting) Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside for garnish.

Remove all but 1 Tbs of oil from the pan (again, this shouldn't been difficult as most of the oil is already outside the pan anyway) Turn on the head (to medium, I guess?) and cook chicken until it is no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine and chili sauce and cook 30 seconds. Add sesame oil and remaining mint, then remove from heat. Toss to coat, then transfer to serving dish and garnish with fried mint. Despite the trouble the garnish caused, I love the lingering toasted mint smell that has filled my apartment.

Simple Steamed (or not) Tofu
Sauce (yes. It's brown. But it's not brown sauce)
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp sugar

1 16-ounce package soft tofu (I confess I used firm because Kroger had a 'manager's special' on it for a $1.10-- which would still be highway robbery in Taipei)
1 green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 tsp mixture of toasted nori strips and sesame seeds

Cut tofu block into slabs or cubes. Yan says to place the tofu into a heatproof bowl, then to place the bowl in a stir fry pan, cover an steam for 3 minutes. I say it tastes good cold, so skip that step. Pour sauce over the top, then add onions, sesame seeds and seaweed shreds.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Thai omelet

This dish was adapted from a recipe in a small vegetarian cookbook I bought in Bangkok. It was quick to make and really tasty... unusually tasty. Put me in a very nice state of mind.

To make 2 omelets:

2 Tbs dried coconut
2 tsp brown sugar
canola oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup soy milk (or coconut milk)
1 1/2 cups shredded romaine leaves
4 Tbs chopped roasted peanuts
cayenne pepper
garlic salt

Brown coconut and sugar in a little oil, then set aside. Clean out the frying pan and then heat a tsp of oil. Next beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup soy milk (or coconut milk). Pour eggs into pan and swirl. Cook for a minute, then top with half of coconut, peanuts, salt and cayenne and greens. Cook until you can loosen the edges, then fold over and cook another minute. Repeat with the remaining eggs and filling.

Tomato terror

I think this has something to do with my tomatoes rotting before they ripen :-(

This guy reminds me of the hooka-smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.

And with all those "eyes" it reminds me of the top leaf tea commercial.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pears puttin' me in a funk

Relish magazine (the monthly tab insert in the New Era) had a recipe for "Pearfection upside-down cake" that promised to be the most moist, pear-y, caramelized-delicious-upside-down cake ever... The pecans and the layered pear slices are what sold me. I was hoping for something that was a cross between a pecan sticky bun and a pear crumble.

Boy, was I in for a rude end to my labors. While I had fun arranging the ingredients in my new cast iron skillet, I was so disappointed with the results that I decided not to blog the results.

The cherries overpowered with suffocating sourness. The sugar and maple glaze never crisped, but rather bonded with some rogue batter to form a loose network of soggy lumps. The cake base was neither moist nor flavorful... I couldn't taste the pears and my pecans seemed to be a little stale tasting, which I suppose is the fault of Kroger and not the recipe. I contemplated throwing the whole thing away.
Fortunately for my husband and his unprejudiced taste buds, I didn't throw it away. And when I noticed Friday that the thing was half-gone, I decided to set it up for a little portrait. But I'm not going to unleash the recipe.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Em can cook...

Do you remember the good ole days when the only cooking shows were on PBS? Frugal Gourmet? Yan Can Cook? I recently bought Martin Yan's Quick and Easy cookbook... sort of a pan-Asian tome with lovely photos and a lot of Cantonese classics as well as jazzier Thai and Vietnamese inspired fare.

I've been salivating over the thing for at least a month now, but I finally made one of the recipes tonight... Catfish with Black Bean Sauce on a bed of bok choy. Maybe it's not very pretty, but since I rarely make Chinese food, I have to document my accomplishment.

lemon cubes

Lemon cubes are what you get when you use a lemon bar recipe meant for a 9 X 12 in an 8 X 8 pan.

2 sticks butter (it was difficult for me to do)
2 cups flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar

Press it into the pan and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest from one lemon
4 Tbs lemon juice
4 Tbs flour

Pour over crust and bake 20-25 minutes (mine took 40 before the center stopped being giggly.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool before cutting into bars.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tanzanian dinner

Time spent with our friends Ryan and Emily Chappalear is an adventure. The two founded a mission (African For Jesus) to train native missionaries in Africa to reach the unreached villages in Tanzania and beyond.

Emily slaved over a hot stove Saturday to make us an authentic meal of ugali, chapati, stew and salad (you have to say 'stew' and 'salad' with a Tanzanian accent). We ate with our fingers... and I got plenty of ugali stuck in my nails and plenty more into my tummy. Though I had never tried African food before, I must say it has quickly jumped high on my list of comfort foods.

Emily said that when you've been walking miles every day in Africa, you crave the feeling of a stomach full of ugali-- a finer textured version of grits, with less moisture. The corn-based staple is used to scoop up savory stews and reminded me of cream of wheat.

More about this to come after I write this month's food column.