Christmas Wishes


Tandoori-style Chicken

Chicken tandoori is always a favorite — the velvety texture of piquant and lemony chicken is hard to pass up.

But... in fact we have skipped ordering chicken tandoori the last few times we visited Indian restaurants — opting instead to explore new dishes. Always good to try new things, but this has left an itch that hasn’t been scratched in well over a year. Solution? Pull out the recipe file, fire up the oven!

The ingredients for this iconic South Asian dish are not as exotic as you might think — you probably have most of them in your pantry and fridge: lemon, ginger, cumin, coriander seed, turmeric and green chilies in a plain yogurt base. With the popularity of South Asian flavors these days, most people will also have garam masala on a pantry shelf as well. If not, you might find garam masala and the optional ingredient, chaat masala, available in bulk in your local natural foods or health food store — here in Maryland, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op, and on Oahu, Down To Earth, have bulk spices you can buy by the spoonful so you can try new spices without getting stuck with shelves full of ones you don’t use often or decide you don’t like.

Two keys to achieving the right balance of flavor and moist texture under the high heat which is the hallmark of tandoori cooking are skinless chicken and at least 24 hours in the yogurt marinade. The yogurt both tenderizes the meat and helps it retain moisture; while removing the skin allows the marinade to thoroughly work its magic. This recipe is an amalgam of different recipes we’ve made at home or school over the last 12 years and is still evolving...

Since we’re not fans of artificial food coloring and red dye contributes nothing to the flavor, we omit the red dye paste that is included in many recipes and let the food speak for itself. (“Eat me, eat me!”) Our research has turned up some natural coloring sources that have been used in tandoori pastes, including cayenne pepper, Kashimiri chilies, and annatto (aka achiote). We’ve tried both the cayenne and the Kashimiri chile, and would use Kashimiri chilies if they are available — it adds both heat and flavor as well as color — but it just isn’t something that is a pantry staple yet. We just learned about achiote as an alternative, so a further evolution of this recipe may include that, too — we’ll have to see how it affects the flavor.

Serves 4 persons

3 to 3 1/2 lbs. (1.3 - 1.5kg) chicken, whole legs
1 whole lemon, juiced and rind cut into 6 pieces
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1-1/2 cup (180g) plain yogurt (full fat is best, low fat is OK; can’t recommend non-fat)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 TBL)
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 - 4 serrano chilies, seeded and diced (we usually use 2)
(keep the seeds and up the heat factor exponentially if that floats your boat)
1/2 tsp sweet paprika (optional - more for color than flavor, not used here)
ghee or unsalted butter, melted (for basting)
1 lemon, quartered (for serving)
Chaat masala (optional, for serving)

Remove skin from chicken legs: With kitchen shears or sharp knife, score skin all the way around the tip of the drumstick, then pull skin from thigh over the tip of drumstick and off. Cut flesh on both sides in several places.

Sprinkle lemon juice, then salt over chicken and massage into meat.

Combine yogurt, lemon rinds, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, serrano chilies, and paprika, if using. Place in glass or other non-metallic container, or zippered plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, and completely cover with marinade. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours.

Preheat oven to 500F. Set oven rack to upper third of oven.

Melt ghee or butter in oven as it pre-heats, carefully remove ghee once warm through.

Remove chicken from marinade, and gently pat dry but do not rub off all the marinade.

Place smaller rack on a cookie sheet, and set chicken over rack. Baste with ghee, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over, baste again and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked through. If chicken starts to burn, cover affected area with a foil tent.

While hot, squeeze lemon juice over chicken and sprinkle with chaat masala if using. Chaat masala is a fine powdered mix of spices that adds an extra tang and punch to the finished dish — similar to sprinkling sumac on Persian and other Middle Eastern style grilled meats.

Serve with basmati rice and your favorite side dishes.

Vegetable side dishes you might like with this: Tarka Dal, Brussels Sprouts or Cabbage with Coconut, Chaat Potatoes, and Aloo Gobi.

Or if you have more time, this tasty pickle: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle

Another yogurt-based marinade: Persian-style Grilled Chicken

With Basmati Rice with Peas and Cucumber Yogurt Salad


Gift It: Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Who doesn’t love the combination of chocolate and tart cherries? (I do! I do!)

We’ve been looking for a no-butter recipe for biscotti for a while and finally found one that was too tempting to pass up. The addition of dried cherries is my own — the original recipe uses walnuts. The tang of tart cherries against the backdrop of dark chocolate brings to mind one of my favorite desserts — Black Forest Cake, the only thing missing is the whipped cream...mmmmm. These crisp, rich tasting cookies are equally heavenly with a cup of hot black coffee in the morning as with a post-prandial glass of tawny port, or even to polish off the last of your California merlot after a meal.

I prefer biscotti dry — that is, with no chocolate or other coating. But for gifts, the biscotti can receive some extra special treatment: a dip in bittersweet chocolate! For the first batch, I tried a ganache-type dip I usually use for the aniseed-almond biscotti I usually make for the holidays. The anise biscotti have both butter and whole eggs in their recipe and can stand up to the high fat content of the cream and butter in the ganache, but these meringue style cocoa biscotti came out chewy rather than crisp once they were coated in ganache.
Still wonderful— but I wanted the cookie to keep its distinctive crunch. Plain melted chocolate worked better at maintaining the crunch while still giving the cookies some zazz.

The original recipe for these biscotti (with walnuts instead of cherries, and with no chocolate dip) are said to average about 40 calories per cookie since they have neither butter nor egg yolks. I’m not a dietician, but I’m guessing that substituting high-sugar dried fruit for high-calorie nuts comes out about even. Although I subscribe to the theory that homemade cookies eaten in the month of December have no calories, I know that not everyone else believes this (I’m guessing they don’t believe in Santa either). At less than 50 calories per cookie (minus the chocolate dip) and with their incredible chocolate flavor, these cookies are a treat that the calorie-conscious on any gift list will especially appreciate!

These biscotti are going to join Gram’s Nut Horns and the still growing number of cookie recipes from around the globe at Susan’s "Eat Christmas Cookies" event at Food Blogga. Susan’s third annual cookie round-up has already produced some really novel cookies, including ones with saffron and tofu, with cranberry relish, with buttermilk, and even with maple bacon and chocolate chips (that last one we’re going to try this week). You can check them all out, then submit your own until December 20th.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

** On the U.S. Mainland, we find dried tart cherries at Trader Joe’s, which is also a great source for baking goods including all kinds of nuts, organic powdered sugar, cocoa powder, Belgian chocolate and non-aluminum baking powder.If tart dried cherries are hard to find, you could substitute sweet bing cherries but I’ve found that the flavor of sweet cherries tends to get lost when paired with dark chocolate.

(Adapted from “Italian Cocoa Biscotti” by Nick Maglieri in Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, et al. Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories per Generous Serving)
Makes about 50 cookies

1 3/4 cup (175g) flour
2/3 cup (65g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cup (240g) raw sugar
1 cup (150g) dried tart cherries, cut into small pieces
6 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour and cocoa. Stir in baking powder, salt, sugar, and dried cherries. Set aside.

Whisk together egg whites and vanilla to soft peak. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a large rubber spatula to combine — the dough will seem dry at the start but as the sugar comes in contact with the meringue, the dough will become wetter and eventually quite tacky.

Liberally cover work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out, and with floured hands press together into a solid mass.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Lightly coat cookie sheet with flour and gently roll each into a log that is as long as the pan you’re using. Logs may still show patches of white flour — that’s OK, it makes a nice contrast on the finished cookie. Arrange both logs on one pan.

Make certain the logs aren't too close to each other or to the sides of the pan. Slightly flatten each log with your fingertips.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until loaves are firm when pressed with a fingertip. Remove loaves, but leave oven on and place racks in the upper and lower thirds.

Cool loaves just enough so you can handle them, then using a sharp serrated knife cut into attractive straight or slightly diagonal slices about 1/2-inch thick. (I find it easier to slice the cookies while they are still warm as they harden and can crack once theyre completely cool.)

Place slices, cut side down, on the cookie sheets and return to oven for about 7 minutes. Remove pans and quickly turn each cookie over to toast other side and replace in oven for another 7 minutes. I usually try to remember to rotate the sheets so that the one that was on top for the first toast is now on the lower rack, but that’s not crucial. You might have to to this in 2 or more batches to toast all the cookies.

Cool completely on racks. Store in air-tight container until ready to serve or to dip in chocolate. Once dipped in chocolate, biscotti do not keep as well.


200g bittersweet or dark Belgian chocolate
4 dozen Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Place a wire rack over cookie sheet or wax paper to catch chocolate drips.

Melt chocolate over double-boiler or at low setting in microwave. Place chocolate in shallow bowl and allow to cool to room temperature (if chocolate is warm when cookies are dipped, they will become chewy).

Dip one flat side of each biscotto in chocolate, then place on rack to harden chocolate.

More holiday gift ideas: Sweet & Spicy Nuts, Green Tea Shortbread, Molasses Crinkles, Nut Horns


Potstickers Gone Wild: Venison-filled Dumplings

Got venison?

It’s hunting season in many parts of the U.S. now and if you’re lucky enough to have a freezer filling up with venison, you may be in search of something different to make with ground venison other than chili, burgers and spaghetti sauce. Earlier this year we put an Asian twist on some ground venison by making pan-fried dumplings similar to Japanese gyoza, Chinese potstickers or Korean mandoo! Whatever you choose to call them, these dumplings come together very quickly with purchased wrappers and can be enjoyed either pan-fried with a spicy pepper dipping sauce or boiled in a hearty wonton-style soup. When pan-fried, they can be enjoyed at room temperature and make an intriguing appetizer for a buffet table or potluck. And because they freeze well, they are perfect to make ahead and keep on hand for quick weekday meals or unexpected company. One pound of ground venison will make 4-5 dozen dumplings so this is also a great way to stretch a relatively small amount of meat to feed a crowd, or to round out 2-3 meals with rice and a bowl of miso soup or other light broth.

The heartier flavor of venison can stand up to stronger Asian flavors like ginger and Korean hot sauce called
kochujang. In this case we use the ginger in the filling and kochujang in the dipping sauce. The recipe below is basically the same as that for the Watercress Dumplings except that the greens are eliminated completely (gather ‘round, Carnivores!), and the seasonings were adjusted for the flavor of venison. Directions for Wrapping and Cooking the dumplings are going to be the same as for the watercress variety.

50+ dumplings, plus extra filling

1lb (455g) ground venison
½ medium onion, minced
4 slices (coin-size) of fresh ginger, minced (about 2 tsp.)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. mirin
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
generous seasoning with sea salt

Combine meat and all seasonings, and massage well to incorporate. Set aside in fridge for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours, to allow flavors to combine well.

To Finish:
1 package round gyoza wrappers, about 10 oz/ 280g (50-60 sheets)
small bowl of water

Directions for Wrapping and Cooking the dumplings are the same as for the watercress variety

Kochujang Dipping Sauce:
3 rounded TBL. kochujang, Korean red pepper sauce (about 60g/2 oz.)
2 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 TBL. rice wine or white wine vinegar

Combine kochujang and sugar, and stir well to dissolve sugar. Stir in sesame oil, then add vinegar. Taste and correct with sugar or vinegar. Sauce should be slightly sweet and tangy.

Serve with bowls of hot rice, kim chee and a nice light lager or dry hard cider to wash it all down.
Our every day quaffing beer is Yuengling Traditional Lager from Pennsylvania’s Yuengling Brewery, which bills itself as the oldest brewery in the U.S. — it’s a light-bodied brew that is an excellent palate-cleanser. We found Woodchuck’s Limited Release Fall Cider had too many overtones of clove and other fall spices to drink alone or even with most foods, but these spices actually worked well with the prominent venison flavor and the hot pepper sauce.
More with Venison:
Venison Bolognese, and coming soon Venison Roast with Prunes and Olives


Gram's Recipe Box: Nut Horns

Just in time for the holiday cookie season, we were given the gift of another recipe from T's grandmother's recipe box, this time for one of her personal favorites, Nut Horns.

I had never tried a nut horn before baking these last week, but during a recent visit with Gram while she is convalescing and undergoing rehabilitation she asked me to retrieve this recipe from her second recipe box at home and make them for her. Although I actually forgot to get the recipe cards on that trip, my MIL was kind enough to find the recipe (actually there were 2 versions in the files), scan the cards and email us photos of the cards, some of which are in Gram's handwriting and some of which are neatly typed. (Thanks, Mom!!)

For me, the best thing about having hard copies, or at least photos of hard copies, of personal recipes is seeing the notations, changes and adjustments that have been made and to see how a recipe might have evolved or grown over time. It is always more precious when it's in a loved one's own handwriting, too.

In this case, Gram's recipe was a little vague on the actual method of shaping and filling the dough and a brief web search for similar recipes was required to fill in the gaps for me. And since I had never tasted this cookie, I was unclear on what the final texture and taste should be. Here's what I've learned after this first attempt at a classic (which I'm happy to say met with Gram's approval)!

This recipe for nut horns yields a very tender, mildly sweet and nutty cookie that is very addictive with a cup of strong coffee! It starts with a yeast cream dough that does not have any sugar except for 1 tablespoon to feed the yeast and the powdered sugar for rolling the dough. The ground walnut meringue filling is just sweet enough to balance the dough, and the meringue rises and fills the cookie as it bakes so it is important to roll the dough loosely to allow the meringue room to expand.

Both Gram's recipe and most of the similar recipes I found on the web call for rolling out the dough on powdered sugar, which I found to be a very sticky proposition. Literally. This makes your dough very sticky and a bit difficult to work with. I tried one batch rolled out on plain flour, which was easier to work with but which changed both the sweetness of the dough (remember, it has very little sugar in it) and the appearance of the final cookie — those rolled in sugar had a pleasantly crackled appearance (see photo below), while those rolled in flour were smooth (see top photo). For the last 2 batches, though, I hit upon a system of putting first flour, then powdered sugar on the counter, then rolling the dough out — that makes the dough less sticky on your board or counter, while still giving it some of the traditional crackled surface once the cookie baked. But once powdered sugar is sprinkled over the baked cookie, only the most finicky connoisseur can really tell the difference in looks or taste. In fact, as she sampled the first cookie, Gram confided that she usually rolled out her cookies in flour because it went a lot faster that way.

After tasting the first batch of cookies as they came out of the oven, I admit that I tweaked the filling a little — you can't really taste the spices I've added to Gram's original recipe, but they just seem to round out the flavor of the walnuts. The new additions are marked (**) so you can try Gram's original or the tweaked version (or both). Gram only taste-tested her orginal version, so that's the one that actually has her "grin of approval".

Another point of difference I saw among nut horn recipes was whether you spread the filling over the entire rolled-out dough before cutting it into 8 pieces (Gram used this method); or cut the dough, then put filling just in the lower half or third of the dough before rolling it up. As mentioned earlier, the filling is actually a meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar) and is expected to rise quite dramatically as it bakes.

For the first 2 batches I followed Gram's instructions and rolled out the dough balls into a 9-inch circle, spread one-sixth of the flling over each circle, then cut 8 pie-shaped wedges, and loosely rolled up each wedge beginning at the wide part. Once I saw how much the filling expanded and cracked the dough in some places and spilled over in others, I switched to the other method for the last 4 batches and filled only the lower half or third of the wedge before rolling (that's what is recommended in the recipe below). In the photo above, the cookies in the foreground were filled only in the lower half and I think make for a neater presentation (especially for gift-giving). The ones in the background (slightly blurry) are filled from wedge to point. Surprisingly, the cookies have about the same amount of filling whichever method you use so the final taste is pretty equal no matter which rolling method you choose.

I'm not sure whether I'll have time to make another batch of nut horns this holiday season, because we have so many recipes bookmarked to try from past "Eat Christmas Cookies" events sponsored by Susan at Food Blogga. Last year we added Gram's Molasses Crinkles to Susan's Christmas cookie platter and this year we'll continue the tradition by sending along these delicate Nut Horns for this third annual international cookie fest! Check out the first 2 years of cookie fabulousness now at Food Blogga, or send along your own favorite treats. Susan will post periodic Round-ups of this year's cookies as they are submitted so check back for new cookie inspiration until the event closes on December 20th.

Makes 48 cookies

Note: Dough has to chill for at least 6 hours before finishing. If you have a marble work surface, it will help keep the dough cool as you roll and fill.

½ cup/ 120ml lukewarm water
1 2oz./56g cake yeast, or 1 packet (.25oz) active dry yeast
1 TBL raw sugar
½ lb/455g butter, cold
3 cups/445g unbleached plain flour
3 egg yolks from large eggs, beaten
(reserve 2 whites and keep refrigerated to make Filling)
8 TBL/8 oz/120ml heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar for rollling dough and to dust for garnish

Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water, and set aside until foaming.

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Combine egg yolks, cream and vanilla, and beat well. Add to flour and mix to combine.

Add yeast mixture and form into a ball for kneading — dough should not be sticky. Sprinkle with teaspoonful of flour until dough is not tacky. Knead until smooth. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours.

Prepare Filling no sooner than 1 hour before you are ready to roll out dough or it may become too stiff.

½ lb/ 225g walnuts, ground
1½ cup/285g raw sugar
2 egg whites from large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
** 1/2 tsp cinnamon
** 1/8 tsp or less fresh ground nutmeg
(Cinnamon and nutmeg are not in Gram's recipe — see notes above)

Make Filling: Beat egg whites to soft peak. Slowly add sugar, with the beaters on the whole time. Fold in vanilla and nuts. (Note: since I was using raw sugar, I could not hold a soft peak because raw sugar is so granular — but the fillling worked anyway.)

Pre-heat oven to 375/180C.

Sprinkle work surface with flour. Lightly flatten dough, divide into 6 parts and roll each into a ball. Keep remaining balls of dough covered and refrigerated as you work with the first one. (Note: I recommend using flour for the first roll since you need to refrigerate the remaining dough — if you use powdered sugar and then refrigerate, the remaining balls of dough are very sticky when they come out of the fridge... as I found out the hard way...)

To keep the final dough tender, use a light touch when rolling. Sprinkle work surface with flour, then cover generously with powdered sugar. (See notes above for flour vs. powdered sugar for rolling.) Roll first ball of dough to about a 9”/230mm circle.

Working quickly, cut into 8 wedges and fill each wedge with 1 heaping teaspoon of nut filling spread over widest half or third of the wedge. Roll dough starting at widest part and ending at the point. (Also see notes and photo above for alternative method for fillling cookies.) Bend corners of the cookie to the middle to achieve a nice crescent shape, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until light brown. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Each ball of dough will give you 8 cookies. Working with 2 cookie sheets, I put each batch of 8 cookies in the oven as soon as I was done so they didn't sit in the warm kitchen too long. Because of the high fat content from the butter and cream, the cookies would tend to soften and flatten if left in the warm environment. Also make sure your cookie sheet is completely cool before placing finished crescents on them — a quick way to cool a warm cookie sheet is to place it on a cool, wet kitchen towel for 1 minute or so. The wet towel pulls heat from the pan faster than air-cooling.

Cool cookies completely on rack. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

These seem best the first few days after baking, and then lose their tender quality with every passing day, although they were still wonderful the first 8 days after baking (they didn't last past that so I can't vouch for longer storage). If the cookies don't have sugar dusted on them yet, they can be re-warmed and re-sofened if wrapped loosely in foil and set in a pre-heated toaster oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.``

If the cookies have to travel, omit the powdered sugar when packing since sugar can make the cookies sticky by the time they reach their destination (as you probably guessed, these were destined for Gram's bedside). You might include a note suggesting a sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.

Happy Baking, Everyone!


Roasted Butternut Risotto with Pan-fried Cod & Salmon

Whether the weather outside is frightful or delightful, creamy risotto always fits the bill: either hunkering indoors while the weather gods dither or warming up after a day of cavorting in crisp fall air. Here, roasted butternut squash provides a rich and satisfying foundation for an unexpected foil — curry-dusted wild salmon and cod.

This unlikely fusion came about this way: we had only one cod and one salmon filet in the freezer, we had roasted butternut squash in the fridge, and I was craving risotto. Butternut squash risotto was a no-brainer, but I wanted fish, too. Well, butternut soups are often seasoned with curry powder, ostensibly the spices act as a foil to the rich squash; and we often pan-fry fish dusted with curry spices, so it seemed like there was potential there. But how to tie the seemingly disparate classics, Italian risotto and Indian spiced fish? Answer: Two spices that are found in neither classic recipe but which compliment both and literally marry them in perfect union.

The key turned out to be using chicken broth infused with fresh ginger and cinnamon, which lifted the flavor of the butternut brilliantly without taking over. Both are also used extensively in Indian cooking and so did not fight with the curry spices in the fish. T prefered the cod with the risotto, while I liked the richer flavor of wild salmon better with this combination.

Although this recipe developed as a way to use ingredients we already had on hand, this combination was a winner with us both and something we will plan for in future. Although this recipe may look daunting at first glance, it's really and truly quite do-able when you roast the squash ahead of time — throw it in when you have something else going in the oven anyway. We had roasted squash on hand for this recipe because we roasted it when we were baking Stuffed Tomatoes earlier in the week. And enriching a store-bought chicken broth with ginger and cinnamon is something that requires little attention from the cook as it simmers on a back burner. Go on, you can do this.

Last Friday evening, the weather was in fact quite dreary and wet most of the day. But with a warm and colorful bowl like this to cheer us indoors, we say, "Let it drizzle, let it drizzle, let it drizzle!"

Whenever I make risotto, I still hear Valentina Harris, author of "Risotto! Risotto!" in my head coaxing and wooing risottos to their creamy finish. Chef Harris was our guest risotto instructor at Leiths, and the method I follow is hers although this recipe is my own.
(For 4 persons)

Prepare the Squash:
2.5 lb or 1kg butternut squash, washed well
2 TBL olive oil

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds.

Oil baking pan, and place squash in pan with the cut side down. Place in cold oven and set temperature to 350F/180C. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the flesh is pierced easily with a knife.

Cool for at least 20 minutes (or completely if doing this step 1 or more days in advance). Scoop out flesh — it will be pretty smooth and creamy, but you can blend or puree it to ensure a uniform texture (I don't dot this) and set aside.

*Squash can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. Re-heat in microwave to heat through before continuing.

Prepare Broth for Risotto:
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 slim finger of ginger, well scrubbed and sliced lengthwise
1 stick of cinnamon

Bring all broth ingredients to a rapid boil in a 3 or 4 qt/L saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Ready to use, but for deeper flavor, allow broth to cool with ginger and cinnamon. Remove ginger slices and cinnamon, and return to full boil for 10 minutes before continuing with risotto.

Leave broth on low simmer while making risotto.

Prepare the Fish:
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
scant 1/4 tsp cayenne (red chili) powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garam masala
juice from half lemon, about 2 TBL
1 filet Alaskan cod, about 6 oz/ 170g
1 filet wild Alaskan salmon, about 6 oz/ 170g
2 TBL olive oil

Combine coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and garam masala.
Cut each filet into 1-inch pieces.
Toss fish with lemon juice, and coat with spice mixture. Set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes while you finish risotto.

For the Risotto:
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 TBL olive oil
2 TBL unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Carnaroli rice (if using arborio rice, you may need only 5 cups of broth)
1/4 cup brandy
2 cups/360g warm roasted butternut squash puree
6 cups Infused Chicken Broth, kept simmering and with a soup ladle nearby

As always with risotto, have all ingredients ready and within easy reach before starting.

In a 5-6 qt/L pan, cook onion with oil and butter over medium heat until onion is absolutely translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Increase heat to medium high.

Add rice, and stir well to coat with oils. Allow to cook for another 40 to 60 seconds, until the rice starts to squeak or squeal. Add brandy, and stir well. When all liquid has been absorbed, add one ladle of simmering broth, stir in and allow broth to be completely absorbed. Add second ladle of broth, stir until broth is absorbed. Add third ladle, stir, absorb.

Add butternut squash puree, and stir through with rice. Continue adding broth one full ladle at a time, stirring continously and allowing liquid to be absorbed each time before more is added. This will take another 10-12 minutes.

Cover and let rest while finishing fish.

Pan-fry Fish:
Pre-heat skillet over medium high heat.
Gently pat dry fish pieces, being careful not to rub off spices.
Add 3 TBL oil to skillet, and add fish, being careful not to crowd pan.
Brown fish on all sides. Remove to warm plate, and repeat with any remaining fish.

To serve, place one-fourth of risotto in warmed bowls, and top with fish and chive or scallion garnish. The richness of the risotto and spiciness of the fish promise that this dish can hold its own against a fruity red wine. Our go-to weekday wine is Trader Joe's Charles Shaw, and we called on a Merlot for this experimental meal, and it was fine. But now that we have reclassed this unlikely combo as worthy of a special occasion, next time we will look deeper in the cellar.


Creamy Cargamanto Beans in Yogurt

The cargamanto bean. If this is as new to you as it was to us last spring, then you are in for a treat. The grandmother of the more widely known cranberry bean and the Italian borlotti, the cargamanto has a thinner skin and is plumper when cooked than her descendants, so this creamy, buttery bean literally melts on the tongue. Remember the first time your fork broke the tender crumb of a lava chocolate cake — the delight of the molten chocolatey-ness oozing on your plate; it's like that, but from a bean! True, we are unashamedly bean-heads, so maybe I am waxing a bit poetic. Or maybe you need to try this bean.

The cargamanto hails from Colombia. It is the essential ingredient for Antioquenos Frijoles, the centerpiece of a traditional banquet-style platter known as Bandeja Paisa, which appears to resemble the feijoada of Brazil, or the rijstaffel of Dutch Indonesia in its generous abundance. As you can see, the red cargamanto is a gorgeous deep mahogany, mottled beige or pink near the "eye" of the bean. Unfortunately it loses this beautiful coloring once rehydrated and cooked so that it's hard to distinguish by eye from other cooked red beans except for its exceptional girth.

But back to the recipe at hand. For this we sought guidance from what might seem like an unexpected source for a South American bean — a South Asian chef. In my book, Indian cooks have the best recipes when it comes to seasoning beans, and in this case Shilpa at Aayi's Recipes came through for us again. I've adapted her recipe for spiced red kidney beans by substituting red cargamanto beans, and by cooking the beans a bit longer in the spices before adding the surprise ingredient, yogurt. We loved the tangy smoothness the yogurt adds. The first time we made this, we had the chickpea flour, or besan, that is called for in the original recipe; in later tries, we substituted fine cornmeal as a thickener with equal success.

Thanks again, Shilpa, for a wonderful recipe that really showcases the creaminess of the lovely cargamanto bean!

We've found Goya brand Red Cargamanto Beans at the Lotte Plaza chain of Korean markets, particularly the one in Aspen Hill, MD; and just today located the Goya White Cargamanto Beans at H-Mart in Wheaton.

Adapted from Shilpa's Rajma with Yogurt on Aayi's Recipes

16oz/455g dried cargamanto beans, red or white 1 large onion, diced
3 TBL olive oil
5 whole cloves
2 1″ cinnamon sticks
4 green cardamom pods, lightly chrushed
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper (cayenne) powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
sea salt, to taste
1 tsp garam masala
1-1/2 cup/360g drained, thickened yogurt
2 tsp besan (chickpea flour), or fine cornmeal
small sprig cilantro (garnish)

Pick over and rinse beans. Soak beans 8-12 hours in enough cold water to coer the beans by 2 inches.

Drain beans and rinse.

In large Dutch oven or stock pot, add beans and 4 qt/L cold water and increase to high heat, cover and bring to boil. Turn heat down to medium, and continue at simmer, skimming impurities as they rise to the surface. Simmer for 1-1/2 hour.

Meanwhile heat oil over medium high. Add diced onions and cook until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, red pepper powder, and turmeric, and stir to mix. Heat together for 1 minute.

Add salt and onion/spice mixture to beans. Continue cooking for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a test bean mashes easily with a fork. (If using a smaller bean, such as kidney or borlotti, adjust cooking time.)

Add garam masala, and stir through. Mix together yogurt and besan or cornmeal. Stir into beans, cover, and cook through for 10-15 minutes while table is set. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

A wonderful meal in itself when served with your favorite flat bread — we love this with warm corn tortillas.

Do you love beans, too? How about Cassoulet or Hawaiian-style Portuguese Bean Soup?


Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup (Ashitibichi)

Here's a soup that may not be for everyone. Ashitibichi (AHSH-teh-BEE-chee), or Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup, definitely warms the bones as the weather gets cooler. Having said that, I'm reminded that ashitibichi is also one of the most popular offerings at Honolulu's annual Okinawan Heritage Festival, and it's not exactly cool on Oahu, even in September when the Festival is usually held. I guess this is for the hard-core pork lovers! *Guilty!*

In ashitibichi, whole or sliced pig's feet, or trotters, are simmered with ginger to produce an incredibly savory and gelationous broth. Large cut vegetables are added to create a final dish that is more a stew than soup from a Western point of view. Either way, you will either love it or you won't even try it, depending on where you stand on the "odd meat-parts" divide of carnivorous dining. If you happen to fall on the other side of the divide, that's okay — more for the rest of us! *smile*

This is a dish that my mother did not make at home when we were growing up. I'm not sure why, because she enjoyed eating it whenever she came across it, I just don't remember seeing her make it. Ashitibichi is considerably more time-consuming to make than oden-style
Kombu, so that may be one reason. For this recipe I had to consult my trusty, well-worn copy of "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" produced by the Okinawan women's group of Hawaii called Hui O Laulima. (Here is another version prepared by Pomai at Tasty Island — he may not be Okinawan, but he's a fan, too!)

As with many Okinawan specialties, ashitibichi features kombu, or kelp, as well as pork. The type of kombu needed for this dish is the long dried strips which may be labelled "nishime kombu," "hayani kombu" or "ma kombu" — any one of these will work with this preparation. Preparing the kombu before it is added to the soup takes a bit of prep work and is not intuitive to anyone not accustomed to using kombu, so here's a quick guideline.


First, soak the dried kombu in cold water, using a container large enough that you don't have to bend the dried strips — bending the strips can cause them to snap and cut your kombu before you can knot it. Soak for 30-40 minutes, or until the strips become pliable. Don't soak too long (2 or more hours) or the kombu will start to become mushy and unworkable.

Reserve 2 cups of the soaking water. (You can use excess kombu water as the foundation for a vegetarian stock or to cook dried beans — the kombu water is said to make the beans easier to digest, I haven't tried this yet but will. I also water planted vegetables and shrubs with this mineral-rich water, if I don't have an immediate use for it in the kitchen.)

Knot each strip of kombu 4-5 times, depending on the length of the vegetable. If you leave about 5 inches, or one fist-length (see photo above), between the knots, you will leave just enough room to cut between them and leave an adequate "tail" on either side of the knot. The kombu will continue to expand as it cooks and if you cut too close to the knot, it will unravel as the vegetable cooks and become an unattractive blob of seaweed. Beware the Blob — leave a tail on both sides of the knot!

(Mrs. Yukihide Kohatsu's and Mrs. Fumiko Miyasato's recipes in "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" were the starting points for this version, although the method is my own. Photo here is from the 2007 Okinawan Heritage Festival in Kapiolani Park, Oahu)

Begin at least one day before you plan to serve, since broth is cooled overnight.

For the Broth
3.5-4 lbs/1.6-1.8kg pig's feet, whole or sliced lengthwise
2 large fingers of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (leave skin on)
Enough water to cover meat by 1-2 inches

Place meat and ginger in large (6 qt/L, or larger) crockpot. Set on HIGH setting for 2 hours. Skim top of broth to remove impurities as they rise to surface.

After 2 hours, set to LOW and allow to simmer for 5 hours for sliced feet, 6-7 hours for whole trotters. Meat should be tender and move around the joints easily.

Remove meat to separate container for cooling and storage. Discard ginger, and strain broth. Cool completely and store overnight separately from meat.

To Finish Soup:
2-3 strips of dried kombu strips, soaked and knotted (see Preparing Kombu, above)
2 cups reserved kombu soaking water above
2-3 TBL
awamori or sake
1 medium
daikon, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
8-10 dried
shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
1 packet
dashinomoto, dried powdered fish stock
1-2 TBL sea salt
2 TBL soy sauce

If desired, remove fat layer from broth. Place broth in large soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to hard boil over high heat. Add reserved kombu water and return to boil.

Add kombu knots, awamori or sake, and daikon, and bring to boil. Once broth is bubbling, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cooked meat, carrots, rehydrated shiitake, dashi packet, salt and soy sauce. Continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes.

Test kombu knots: if a pointed chopstick easily pierces the center of the knots, the soup is ready. If kombu is not ready, remove carrots and daikon if you don't want these vegetables to get too mushy, and continue simmering additional 20-30 minutes. Different brands and grades of kombu will cook slower or faster, so cooking times will vary, and are dictated on when the kombu reaches the desired consistency. Consistency of the cooked kombu is also a matter of personal preference — texture can range from slightly firm (
al dente) to meltingly tender. I prefer the latter, but that's just me.

Serve in individual bowls, with a separate bowl of rice, pickles, and a dipping dish of grated ginger or hot mustard. Maa-san!

Happy Birthday, Mom...

More Okinawan dishes on this site:
Kombu, Rafute, Abura Miso, Yakisoba, Okayu with Yomogi

More dishes with Kelp and other Sea Vegetables:
Kombu, Hijiki no Nimono, Namasu, Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo


In Maine: Coast and Nicatous

We’re back home now, and sifting through memories from the last 2 weeks in Maine...

From the Coast

Lobster boats in Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island. The point in the distance is picturesue Lands End.

View from Harpswell Island near sunset.

On the path to the Giant Steps on Bailey Island.

Periwinkles in their natural habitat (i.e., not our fridge!)...

Tall lupine flowers nestle a weathered sea dog in this display outside Big Al’s Odd Lots on Route One in Wiscasset.

The best of 3 lobster rolls — just a kiss of mayo and the lobster meat was sweet and tender— we had on this trip, from Estes Lobster House on South Harpswell.

Can’t pass up the chance to send a shout out to all the folks in Lisbon, ME as they kick-off the 26th Annual Moxie Festival this evening and running through Sunday, July 12th (wish we could have stayed for this)!! Moxie is a carbonated elixir resembling soda, but wa-a-ay better. If you’re a fan of Dr. Pepper or Campari, then you might also enjoy Moxie, which some people describe as having a medicinal flavor similar to Angostura bitters. I got hooked on Moxie when we lived in Boston, so we brought home a case! To sample Moxie for yourself, head on over to Lisbon this weekend for Moxie-flavored BBQ, ice cream and other goodies, or order a case of this unique beverage at Maine Goodies.

And a winner has been selected in the “Moose Watcher’s Handbook” giveaway at Maine Musing — congratulations, Lynne! Although I had no moose sightings on this trip, after we had moved on to Nicatous a young bull moose literally washed up in downtown Brunswick (where we had been staying while on the coast) in the middle of the Androscoggin River. As of this past Wednesday, the moose had found his way off the island and safely back to shore.

From Nicatous Lake region

This sign above the patio on T’s parents’ camp says everything...

View from the campsite.

Morning light over the quiet cove fronting the camp. My biggest take-aways from this trip are the sight and sounds of the many loon families and couples around the lake. Although I couldn’t capture them on “film,” this photo evokes for me the loons’ haunting calls sounding across the still lake especially at dawn and in the evenings.

Late summer sunset over the cove at camp.

View from the boat on a late day fishing trip...

Speaking of fishing... despite the many days of cloud and even rain, T could not get enough of fishing. Besides the boat, he also cast and caught from the dock with a rod and reel...

...and from a kayak with a fly rod. Did he have enough by the time we had to leave?! Never!! And BTW, I stand corrected: Nicatous has lots of pickerel, which are not synonymous with walleyes. T and his folks caught lots of pickerel, bass and sunfish in Nicatous (me, none), but all the trout in Middle Oxhead Pond eluded T’s flies. (You’ll get ‘em next time, Honey!)

Kio proved himself to be quite a good traveler, too. Despite some rather vocal protests at first, he soon settled in to a routine both in the kennel in the car and at each new destination he found himself in. At camp, he ran up the stairs every time someone used the hand pump in the kitchen, pausing half-way to peer around the corner to see what was making the strange noise.

T’s parents’ camp is so picturesque, even the outhouse has a great view at sunset — I tried to get a picture from the window in the outhouse looking out towards the lake, but my photos were a total blur, sorry. Although there isn’t running water or electricity at the site, there is a generator and batteries to keep a fridge cold, water heater hot, and lights in the main A-frame, outhouse, and shower room — hot showers after a day’s activities were a welcome end to each day...

Thanks, Mom & Dad, for hosting us for a whole week and sharing your wonderful slice of Heaven with us!


In Maine: Breathing Easy

A couple of days ago we crossed the border into Maine — yippee!! This photo is of a highway sign that captures pretty well, the whole premise of the easternmost of the U.S. States. By next week we’ll be at our final destination — Nicatous Lake in Downeast Maine. Once there, we’re planting ourselves for 8 days. The area around Nicatous is remote, with no electricity, running water or cell phone reception. What you will find there is a 40-mile long freshwater lake full of bass and wall-eye/pickerel, and surrounded with loons, osprey, coyote, deer, eagles, beaver, frogs and immense quiet. I can’t wait to get there...

But first, we’re hanging out in the more touristy coastal area where T grew up, visiting with family and letting T get back to his roots. Maine’s shores are unbelievably beautiful with thousands of miles of rocky coastline and clean sweet air. Little wonder it is invaded every summer with vacationers (like us) hungry to leave urbananity behind.

We’re also getting our fill of the incredible way Mainers have with seafood — creamy stews and chowders crowded with meat and still smelling of the sea, perfectly deep-fried popcorn-size Maine shrimp, clam strips, scallops and haddock with just a kiss of breading, and of course, steamy fresh-from-the-dock lobsters, mussels and clams.

Maine is renown for the incredibly sweet lobsters that abound in the cold waters of the Atlantic here, but what is less known is that Maine is home of the best fried seafood in the United States — Bar none. Truly, only in Italy and Greece have we had better fried seafood, but those were in a completely different style and variety of catch. And the best place to savor Maine’s deep-fried seafood done right is at the Sea Basket in Wiscasset (there’s a limerick in there somewhere, but I’m not that talented...). The way deep-fried is done at the Sea Basket, even the french fries aren’t greasy and taste of true potatoes. This is one place not to be missed if ever you’re between Boothbay and Bath, or on your way up to Acadia. It’s right on Route 1, just before you enter the town of Wiscasset if you’re coming from the south. We’ll be there one more time before we leave, because we didn’t have the oyster stew on this first visit.

And speaking of all things Maine, if you believe there are moose in this state, there’s still time to enter to win a copy of the “Moose Watcher’s Handbook” that GL is giving away on June 30th on her site, Maine Musing... check ‘em out!

Sunset from West Harpswell Island our first night back.


Chicken & Pot Pie Noodles

When I hear the term “pot pie” I first think of flaky pastry encasing a creamy filling of savory chicken and vegetables. But around here, so near to the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch country just to the north, if you ask for “chicken pot pie” you are more likely to be served a casserole type dish with large chunks of chicken and large flat toothsome noodles as in the photo above. One of our finds at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market in Burtonsville last week was dried pot pie noodles, so of course this meal had to follow...

This is my own take on the Dutch country style chicken pot pie — the broth is made with ginger, as well as the more usual onions, black peppercorns, and carrots (which are all removed when the broth is made) then finished simply with chervil and flour to thicken.

For 4 persons

For the Broth:
2 lbs/ 1kg chicken thighs
2 fingers of ginger, wahed well, and cut into thick slices
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and cut in quarters
2-3 medium carrots, washed and cut in half crosswise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
3 qt/L water

Combine all ingredients in large 6qt/L slow cooker set on HIGH. After 3 - 3 1/2 hours, remove chicken to clean bowl and separate meat from skin and bones, reserving meat. Line colander with clean cheesecloth, and strain broth, discarding all solids. Return broth and meat to slow cooker and set again on HIGH.

Finish “Pot Pie”:
2 cups/ 500ml boiling water
1 tsp. dried chervil
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
dried pot pie noodles
4 TBL. flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Add to slow cooker, cover and cook for 40 minutes — noodles should be softened but not falling apart. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the dissolved flour mixture, and stir well. Make a well in the center of the noodles, and pour flour mixture into well and stir through completely. Cook another 20-30 minutes, or until broth thickens.

This is comfort food at its best. With the whole wheat loaf and fresh churned butter (also from the Market), and an ice cold Yuengling lager (in keeping with the Penn country theme), cool summer al fresco meals don’t get better than this.


Steamed Periwinkles with Garlic Stems & White Wine

When we first saw these green garlic stems in the Korean groceries, my first thought was to pickle them but actually I’ve done everything BUT pickle them so far! Once the stems are trimmed and cut to the desired length, they are sauteed in olive oil creating both a fragrant oil and a pre-cooked aromatic that you can quickly add to anything for a flavor boost — eggs and cheese for a hearty morning scramble or omelet; and pasta sauces, stews and soups to replace or supplement other aromatics such as onions and garlic. Garlic stems have a milder but distinctly garlic flavor, and soften to a pleasant bite once cooked.

One end of the stems has a bud which will eventually “blossom” with miniature cloves that make an interesting garnish, and which will be delicious once pickled. (I *will* pickle these soon.)

In this quick recipe for steamed periwinkles in white wine sauce, we used the same broth we would use for steamed clams and simply replaced regular minced garlic cloves with a half bunch of chopped garlic stems The stems are milder than garlic cloves so the copious amount was necessary to bring out the same garlic pungency.

We first tried periwinkles last year, and the ones we got in Hawaii came from Canada. These were more local, but at H-Mart were labelled as “Bai Top Shells.” They require considerably more cleaning than the ones we got in Hawaii if you plan to use them in this dish where the shells are added directly to the cooking broth, and the broth is consumed as part of the meal. It seems from a scan of recipes for bai top on the web, that in Korean dishes, the meat is extracted from the shell and the shells are discarded so they are sold more naturel, as it were.

The one thing I can say about the periwinkles we got this time is that they were VERY fresh. So fresh that after scrubbing them and draining them, I put the shells in the fridge to keep cool while I prepped the broth, and when I went to take them out, I was greeted with this:

I thought to myself: I can freak out, or I can grab my camera... As you can see, I went for the photo-op. (This photo is going out to Rowena, who first mentioned the possibility of snails in the fridge on her blog last month!)

For 4-5 persons

2 lbs. periwinkles (aka bai top)
2 TBL olive oil
Half bunch of garlic stems, washed, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
4 TBL unsalted butter
1/2 tsp sea salt (not necessary if using regular butter)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 bottle dry white wine (we used a Vinho Verde)
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Make a saline soaking liquid by mixing 1/4 cup sea salt with 2 quarts/liters cold water, and stir to dissolve salt. Clean the shells by first soaking in this saline solution for 30 minutes to loosen dirt on the shells. Using a hard bristled brush, such as a nail brush or firm toothbrush, scrub shells free of dirt and place in colander. Rinse all shells under running water. Keep in fridge until needed. (Note: If you don’t plan to cook the shells the same day you buy them, don’t clean them until just before you plan to cook.)

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and garlic stems over medium high heat until garlic aroma fills the kitchen. Add butter, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes if using, and heat until butter is melted through and bubbling. Add white wine, and bring to boil. Add periwinkles, stir through, and add enough water so that broth comes 3/4 of the way around shells, and cover. Return to boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for 10 minutes.

Serve with a toothpick to extract meat from shell, and lots of fresh bread to sop up the buttery, garlicky broth!

Like periwinkles? Also try Portuguese-style Pork, Clams & Periwinkles. And for another take on periwinkles — adding chorizo and mussels instead, visit Meagan Down Under on her site, Megalomaniac.


Market Finds

If you’ve visited this site before (first, thanks for coming back), you may know that we LOVE farmers’ markets, orchards, produce stands, dairies, and even all kinds of groceries and markets. Now that local farmers’ markets are back in full swing, we’ve had fun checking out different ones all over the area. Many we can reach by Metrorail or bus. And while we always love fresh produce, it has been especially fun exploring local dairy, including these lovely farm fresh eggs from Maryland producer, Evensong Farms, and available at the Silver Spring Saturday market. The different colored eggs are from different breeds, and the yolks ranged in color from deep orange to deep yellow, depending on what the free ranging chickens were eating.

Another Maryland producer we found at the Saturday Takoma Park farmers’ market was Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Co. that makes this striking goat milk chevre with a layer of vegetable ash. The cheese has a mild barnyard essence which was pleasant, but not very ripe. We would like to try this again and try to ripen it ourselves to give it more character. (My question is, where are the sheep’s milk cheese producers?)

From slightly farther afield was Pennsylvania’s Keswick Creamery (TP Saturday market) from whom we bought a thick and mild full-fat yogurt, sweet ricotta and aged cheddar.

A new salad green for us were these lamb’s quarters (top left), which went into both a salad and one of our all-time favorites, the Greek cornmeal and greens casserole called Plasto (bottom left). The rainbow chard joined in on the medley for the Plasto, but was also the star of a spicy pasta dish with currants (bottom middle). The last veg there are salad turnips, which are eaten whole and added incredible sweetness to a salad which included the turnip greens, lamb’s quarters, and mixed baby greens (bottom right).

Another new find for us are these green garlic stems which we’ve bought at both the TP farmer’s market and Korean Korner supermarket. The green stems can be pickled, but we’ve been cooking with them in everything from sauces, plasto, soups, and pasta. Most recently it replaced garlic when we cooked up a batch of local periwinkles (recipe soon).

Market goers in Northern Virginia and Baltimore may recognize the name, Reid’s Orchard, for their fresh produce and potted and snipped herbs in farmers’ markets in their area, but they may not know that this southern Pennsylvania producer has introduced its first vintage of some truly lovely wines. Sadly, these wines will not be available at the farmers’ markets due to byzantine and archaic interstate alcohol regulations. We stopped by the orchard when we visited Gettysburg — there is a tasting room about 15 miles in the rolling hills west of the national park at Gettysburg. Reid’s Orchards joins several other wineries in the neighborhood that also have tasting rooms, so you can make a nice afternoon of tastings after a morning exploring battlefield history. We’ve tried several Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia wines and have found many of them too sweet for our taste — these 2 blends from Reid were a welcome surprise for their dryness and round fruit. More about them soon.

Just today I discovered the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market in Burtonsville, MD, which is an indoor marketplace for individual producers, including a dairy, several bakeries, beef and pork butchers, poultry butcher, bulk foods and jams, prepared salad deli, hot cooked and BBQ meats, fresh candies, and a small cafe. As its name implies, the foods invoke the Pennsylvania Dutch Country ambience. Brought home unsalted churned butter, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and pot pie noodles. The crockpot is prepping the chicken and broth for our pot pie dinner tonight!

This last photo is just a strange thing we found at one of the Korean markets nearby — it’s a mega loofah bath sponge sold as a whole piece. For less than $2. I couldn’t resist this one because it was just like the ones my mom used to send me from her garden when I was in college — it’s fully dried, but still has some residual seeds in the interior. Mom’s never grew quite this large, though! This will be cut up into about 5 sponges so this should last about a year, though T. suggested keeping it whole and using the small end as handle so you can scrub your own back. When this vegetable is still young and edible (it may be called bottlegourd, luffa or upo), it makes a soul-satisfying soup squash.



We’re planning a 600-mile road trip next week. This doesn’t sound so special, but after living on an island for 3 years it’s pretty exciting for us! Our final destination will be T’s parents’ lakeside camp in Maine, but along the way there are visits with other family members and even a school reunion. The biggest challenge of the trip, of course, involves having an 11 lb. cat with us — this will be Kiowea’s first big road trip. He’s a seasoned flyer now — having come here from Hawaii — but he had “big sis” Haiku to mentor him through the ordeal and she did a great job. Now that Kio is solo, we’re hoping he will adapt quickly on his own. To help, we’ve started putting Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy drops in his drinking water, and his kennel is out in the living room so he becomes familiar with it again.

I’ve heard rumors that there are moose in the area where we’re headed. I say “rumors” because for all the times I’ve visited the state, I’ve only seen statues of moose other people claim to have seen... This is now a running joke between my MIL and FIL and me — they say the moose leave when I get there. Ha ha. My mother-in-law swears that there really are moose in Maine and right now she is boosting her claim by giving away on her blog a beautiful full-color book all about these lumbering but majestic creatures. You can enter to win the book, “The Moose Watcher’s Handbook,” simply by leaving a comment if you follow this link to her site, Maine Musing, or clicking on the photo of the book (at right).. The giveaway closes on June 30, 2009 so there’s still plenty of time to enter!

But back to the road trip... I don’t know why being locked in a car for long periods of time has always signalled that it’s OK to eat junk food, but let’s go with that! I’ve already started collecting some of our favorite munchies — plenty of salty crunchy things and some sweets thrown in for good measure. But it’s been a long time since we’ve done a long trip so we’re a little out of practice, and I feel like we’re probably missing out on some good stuff. We would love suggestions for snack and junk foods — what are your must-haves when you’re hauling yourself around on the road or long train trip???

If anyone has any recommendations for good eats along U.S. I-95 between DC and Boston, we would welcome those, too — truck stops, cafes, restos, we love them all!! We’re familiar with the drive between Boston and our destination and are already planning to stop at Dysart’s near Bangor, ME either going to or coming from the camp. But we don’t really know the corridor between Boston and DC so would love to hear from more seasoned travellers. Thank you!

Maybe Kiowea will see a real moose on this trip...


Eat Your (Sea) Veggies!

In honor of World Oceans Day today, I’d like to focus on some culinary wonders from our oceans that are greatly under-appreciated outside of Asia and a few ocean communities elsewhere. The unfortunate moniker “Seaweed” probably has a lot to do with it — after all, who wants to eat “weeds”? I’ve used the term “sea grass” in other posts, but perhaps “sea vegetable” would be even better…

At any rate, we’re talking about the kelp and other ocean algae and fauna that are known as Kombu, Nori, Wakame, Dulse, Hijiki and Ogo. There has been a lot of focus on choosing sustainable fish and seafoods for World Oceans Day, which is all good, but I also think that greater emphasis can be made of the nutritional and culinary value of sea vegetables.

For starters, sea vegetables are naturally low in calories, but pack a punch in their high mineral and fiber content. They are generally neutral in flavor, but loaded with Umami which enhances and takes on flavors from the medium in which they’re cooked. Most sea vegetables are sold completely dehydrated, which makes them extremely shelf stable and easy to keep on hand until you need them. This is a quick survey of some of the most common types of sea vegetables available, what they look like, how to prepare them for cooking, and some ideas for how to cook with them. For a more detailed survey of the science in sea vegetables, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization report on Sea Vegetables is a great primer.

KOMBU (Laminaria japonica): This website actually began (albeit as a private site) with a recipe for preparing Kombu in the Okinawan tradition. Kombu is actually a brown kelp, the giant form of sea algae that grow in massive forests from the ocean floor (see photo above from Monterey Bay). I’ve always wanted to scuba dive in one of these forests, although a close friend of mine who has done so says it’s one of the scariest dives she’s ever done because the kelp forests can be very disorienting (you can’t tell up from down sometimes). As a food, Kombu is reputed to have led to the discovery of umami, the elusive “Fifth Taste” that might be translated from Japanese as “deliciousness”. It is one of the main ingredients in the dashi broth that is essential to many Japanese foods. Kombu is available dried: in short strips for use in preparing homemade dashi; in long folded strips to be rehydrated (see photo above) and either knotted or used to wrap other vegetables or meats for use in simmered stews and soups; already knotted and ready to simmer; and (harder to find) in small shreds for simmered side dishes.

To use Kombu in Dashi, simply place a kombu square in a medium saucepan with 6-7 cups of water to make a vegetarian broth and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes(???). For the more traditional fish broth, add 2 cups (??) of dried bonito flakes after the water has come to a boil, then immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the kombu and strain out the fish flakes before using the light-colored liquid as a seasoning ingredient or base for soups and simmering sauces.

To use Kombu for knots or wraps: Place kombu in copious amount of cold water. Dried kombu strips can be very brittle, so be gentle when attempting to submerge the folded strips in water — if the dried kombu cracks, it is much more difficult to tie proper knots after it is re-hedrated. It will take 30-45 minutes to completely re-hydrate, but if left too long (more than 2 hours) the kombu can also over-soften and be difficult to work with. You might consider using the soaking water for your plants or compost if you’re not using it in a recipe — the high mineral content and iodine can help replenish overworked soils. Recipe: Okinawan-style Simmered Kombu (coming in future, Ashitibichi: Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup, in photo above).

WAKAME (Undaria pinnatifida): If you’re a fan of Japanese style miso soup, then you’re already well-acquainted with the dark green algae known as Wakame. Perhaps less familiar is wakame as a salad vegetable — it is especially popular when paired with cucumber as a side dish for any fish meal. To prepare wakame, simply soak in water for 30-40 minutes, then gently rinse and drain. Recipe: Namasu (Pickled Daikon, Carrot and Wakame) (photo above)

NORI (Porphyra umbilicalis): The dark purple laver that makes up the crisp dark sheets covering sushi rolls and musubi (pictured) is probably the most popular of the sea veg. It doesn’t require much preparation before use except maybe a re-crisping over direct heat if the Nori has lost its crispness. In addition to wrapping sushi and musubi, nori can be cut into slivers or crumbled and used to top salads and stir-fried noodles, or cut into squares as a topping for ramen noodles. A more unusual nori preparation is nori tsukudani, a thick paste of nori simmered with dashi and sake (sold in bottles in the chilled section) — most often used as a condiment to season plain rice or to fill musubi, but you might also try it on fish or chicken before baking or grilling, or added to a seafood dip for extra flavor and nutrition.

OGO (Gracilaria spp.): Sold fresh as limu or ogo in the Pacific, especially Hawaii, it is eaten as a vegetable either mixed with fresh fish or seafoods as in Poke (octopus-limu poke in photo above), or with other vegetables in a dressed salad. Simply rinse and blanch before using. Recipe idea: Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo.

I also came across a note that in the West Indies, ogo is called “sea moss” and is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties — it is used there to make a popular drink! But many people may not know that they have seen ogo in its powdered form without realizing it — powdered ogo is the base for Agar-Agar, a clear vegetarian substitute for gelatin.

DULSE (Palmaria palmata): I have to confess that we’ve never actually tried Dulse, although we have a package of it somewhere amongst the boxes we have still not unpacked since our move. Dulse is a red sea vegetable commercially produced in Maine(!) and Canada, and marketed in health food and other nutritional retail sources. It can be rehydrated and used as a vegetable, but is also being marketed as a dried snack food, too. (Where IS that package of dulse we have?…)

HIJIKI (Hizikia fusiforme): This black string-like vegetable is actually a brown seaweed similar to kelp, and rich in fiber and minerals, especially calcium, iron and magnesium. Once re-hydrated, hijiki is most often stir-fried then simmered with carrots and fried tofu to make a nutritious side dish, Hijiki no Nimono (recipe below) that would be part of a larger meal including rice, soup, fish or met, and other vegetable dishes. Of all the sea vegetables, hijiki is second only to kombu as my favorite.

But it comes with a warning — consume in modest quantities. Eating more than 4.7g of rehydrated hijiki in one day *might* result in the intake of an unhealthy level of inorganic arsenic, according to a published study in Canada. The Canadian government, as well as those of the U.K., Hong Kong, and New Zealand have issued advisories against consumption of hijiki for this reason (see reports by country). However, the results of this study are in dispute because other chemicals used in the study may have turned harmless organic arsenic into inorganic arsenic — in other words, inorganic arsenic would not be found in the actual vegetable. The Japanese government in particular disputes this study. The best summary of this whole controversy is available on the Eden Organic (brand) website.

When I first heard about these warnings, I was naturally concerned — I love hijiki! We don’t eat hijiki on a daily, or even monthly, basis but I still wondered if we could be eating too much when we did have it. So how much is 4.7g of hijiki?

My kitchen scale measures in 2g increments so when it was flashing between 4 and 6 grams, I took that to be about 5 grams. Measuring the dried hijiki, 5 grams is about what I normally cook at one time and this would be about 4-6 servings. Remember this is part of a mixture with carrots, tofu and/or edamame, and we rarely, if ever, eat hijiki as a main course, it is either a side dish or even a condiment (to top or mix in with rice). The 5g of dried hijiki came out to 58g after it was rehydrated. And 5g of rehydrated hijiki = one heaping Tablespoonful, which is about one serving size once added with all the other vegetables.

We’re not giving up hijiki — I do believe that hijiki is perfectly safe when eaten in sensible amounts. In fact, for World Oceans Day, we’re even going to resolve to include it and all the other edible sea vegetables in a larger percentage of our diet. So when you think of eating your veggies, don’t forget the ones that come from the Oceans!

Happy World Oceans Day, Everyone!

Serves 4-6 as a side dish (photo shows 6 side dish servings)
(See discussion above)

1 TBL extra light olive oil
2 TBL or 6 tsp. (5g) dried hijiki
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
3 pieces fried tofu pieces, abura age
(OR 6 oz./ 170g edamame, green soybeans, shelled)
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dashi powder + 1/2 cup water
OR 1/2 cup dashi broth
2 TBL. mirin
1-2 TBL. soy sauce
sea salt, if needed

Soak hijiki in enough cold water to cover by 1 inch and set aside for 30 minutes. Discard soaking water and rinse in colander. Allow to drain.

If using abura age, slice into thin slivers, as in photo. (Available in the chilled or frozen sections of your Korean or Japanese market.) Keep aside until needed.

Heat wok or small skillet ovr medium high heat. Add oil and drained hijiki, stirring to coat hijiki lightly with oil. If using powdered dashi concentrate, sprinkle over hijiki and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over hijiki, and stir fry another minute. Add carrots and abura age or edamame, and dashi broth or water, mirin and soy sauce, and stir to combine. Taste cooking broth and correct for seasoning — if more salt is needed, add sea salt instead of more soy sauce. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 3-4 minutes, or until most of sauce is evaporated and thickened.

Alternative preparation with edamame

Serve at room temperature as part of a multi-course meal including rice, miso or other soup, salads, vegetables, and fish or meat.
Possible accompaniments for your meal: Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions, Kochujang Chicken, Stuffed Shiitake Medaillons, Watercress Dumplings, Kabocha Salmon Patties, Lychee Sake Pork Stir-fry, Kasu-marinated Butterfish, Mahi-mahi Patties with Lemongrass & Lime Leaf, Pan-fried Opakapaka with Spiced Cabbage Salad, Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo, Miso Butterfish, Namasu (Pickled Daikon, Carrot and Wakame), Miso-glazed Chicken, Cod with Mango-Sake Sauce, Flash-cooked Watercress, Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce

More recipes using Sea Vegetables: Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo, Namasu, Ashitibichi, Kombu. Many more to follow...


Program Note: Live Webcast with Alton Brown for World Oceans Day

“Calling all Foodies!...”

This coming Friday, June 5th, Food Network superstar Alton Brown will be appearing via live webcast from the gorgeous Monterey Bay Aquarium in northern California. The live event is one of many celebrations taking place around the world for World Oceans Day, which is actually on June 8th. The webcast will air on Friday at 1200 (noon) PDT, which is 1900 (7pm) GMT/UTC.

Chef Brown is a staunch supporter of the MBA’s Seafood Watch Guides, which have been promoted several times on this site, and he’ll be discussing some of the recipes he prepares at home using the Guides. The Seafood Watch program provides regional guides to making sustainable and mercury-free choices of fish and seafood. The guides are available online, as hard copy, and for your mobile phone or iPod. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium partners with similar programs in other countries that provide guides for their citizens.

The broadcasters are soliciting questions now for Chef Brown to answer during the webcast, so if you have a question you’d like to see answered on the live webcast, you still have time to register and submit your question.

To watch the webcast, you have to register (just name and an email address) before noon Pacific Daylight Time with the Aquarium, and they will send you a link to the webcast so you can access it when it goes live. You can register here.

Chef Brown will be appearing with MBA founder Julie Packard so if you have questions about the Aquarium, Seafood Watch, or any of the Aquarium’s other programs, she is accepting questions as well.

This will be a nice kick-off to the weekend to get us in the mindset for World Oceans Day, and perhaps find some inspiration for menu ideas, too!


1,501 New Housemates: Chloë & Friends

After months of searching in vain for fresh calamansi in every grocery that has crossed our path (no, Dorothy, you’re not in Hawaii any more), we’ve finally found a reliable source for this unique and essential lime... a tree of our own! We named her Chloë. She’s already in flower and has a few fruit peeking out here and there so we should be ready for those calamansi margaritas again by summer.

Chloë was a real find because last fall when we first started looking for a tree, we didn’t see ANY citrus at the garden centers or nurseries at all. We learned there was a quarantine on all citrus coming out of Florida, which would be the natural source of citrus plants for the East Coast. Chloë is a California gal, so she’ll need a good bit of TLC after her long trip. She’ll stay outdoors while the weather is good — she needs lots of full sunlight to keep us in limes — but we’ll bring her in when it starts to get chilly again.

Chloë is our third calamansi tree. We also had potted calamansi both times we lived in Germany. We were surprised to find calamansi trees when we first moved there, but they were exported from Tuscany. Calamansi are more than ornamentals — their limes are a wonderful substitute for other citrus in marinades, beverages, and seasonings. Sadly, we had to re-home our trees each time we returned to the States, but we’re counting on Chloë being with us for a long while.

If you’re looking for calamansi trees at a nursery or garden center, or for limes at an ethnic market (unless it’s a Filipino grocery), you might have to ask for it by its more widely recognized name, Calamondin.

But Chloë wasn’t the only new resident to join our household from the garden center, we picked up 1500 (yes, that’s fifteen hundred!) pest control managers there, too. They’re already on the job and we hope that they’ll keep the aphids, mites, mealy bugs (and whatever else is eating our basil) out of the planters and tomato beds. And they’re cute, too, aren’t they? With this little army of ladybugs and a spray bottle of pepper soap (I still have to make some), we’re hoping to win the battle against the other bugs without any pesticides.

This is the first time we’ve tried “recruiting” friendly insects in our cause so this will be an interesting venture. The garden center sells bagged ladybugs — 1500 for less than $10.00 (the notes on the bag say that 1800 are actually bagged to account for some mortality in transit). The directions say to release most of the ladybugs at dusk, then to repeat the process with a second wave a week later. We were told to keep the second wave in the fridge and they will go dormant again until next week.

We just released the advance guard last night (that’s them in the top photos), so I’m curious to see how many survive the first night and how many actually stick around where they’re released.

And remember, not all ladybugs are “ladies.” Remember Francis in “
A Bug’s Life” by Pixar Studios?

The unbeatable flavor of the calamansi lime is essential to these recipes:
Calamansi Marigarita,
Tequila & Calamansi Marinated Flank Steak (aka Margarita Steak), and
"Rim of Fire" Paella
Also cruise on over and see what Marvin at
Burnt Lumpia is making with calamansi, including an infused vodka, and candied peels.


Okinawa Yakisoba

Who doesn’t like fried noodles, right?! We love them all: pancit, bami goreng, chow mein — you fry it, we’ll probably eat it. But this is my hands-down favorite — Yakisoba made with Okinawa soba noodles. You’re thinking, “Those don’t look like buckwheat noodles — soba noodles are made of buckwheat.” True, in most cases “soba” refers to noodles made with at least 30% buckwheat, but Okinawan noodle manufacturers received special dispensation from the Japan soba-growers’ association to continue to use the term “Okinawa soba” (although these noodles have 0% buckwheat) because the term was so closely tied to the island group’s history and culture.

Okinawa soba is slightly yellow in color and flattened in the middle, betraying its ancestry from the Chinese egg noodle. It is also thicker and has a chewy bite that distinguishes it from the more common ramen noodles which are used to make yakisoba in other parts of Japan. Until we lived in Hawaii, I used to make yakisoba using Chinese egg noodles, ramen noodles, or even leftover spaghetti noodles. But having had access to locally made Okinawa-style soba for 3 years on Oahu I knew it was going to be painful to be without it and have to make do with other noodles again. Happily, I don’t have to yet.

In our 9 months here, we’ve found 2 Japanese grocers in the area and they both carry the same Okinawan soba made by Sun Noodles in Honolulu that we used to buy on Oahu! *and the crowd shouts with joy!* Of course, here the noodles are in the frozen section of the market instead of the chilled section as they were in Hawaii — but c’mon they got here and that’s the important thing. A slight drop in quality is expected, as the freezing and thawing leave the noodles a bit softer after cooking so they don’t have quite the chewiness of the fresh — but again I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. You can find Sun Noodles brand Okinawa Soba, as well as many other Japanese fresh, frozen and dry goods at: Maruichi, Second Floor, Talbott Center, 1049 Rockville Pike (near the point where Rt. 355 merges with Veirs Mill Road), Rockville, MD; and Daruma, 6931-E Arlington Rd., Bethesda, MD. These are both small retailers specializing in Japanese products that the larger pan-Asian markets in the area don’t usually carry. Now if I can only convince one of them to carry Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage, too, we’ll be REALLY happy.

Of course, you could also prepare Okinawa soba as a soup, the package includes a dehydrated soup base. In truth, we make the hot noodle soup more often than the yakisoba. But sometimes you just have to get that fried noodle fix, and this is how we do it...

Serves 2 as an entree, more if part of a multi-course meal
(If you can’t find Okinawa soba, the best substitute are Chinese egg noodles which are much easier to find fresh or chilled around the country)

1 TBL oil
4 oz/ 113g pork shoulder or thinly sliced pork belly (latter available at Korean grocers)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium cabbage, cut into 2” square pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced or julienned
* (optional) 1 piece of flat kamaboko, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 tsp sea salt
3-4 TBL yakisoba sauce or tonkatsu sauce (or in a pinch, Worcestershire sauce)
* (optional) 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated and sliced thinly
(or Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1 TBL oil
14-16oz/ 400-450g Okinawa soba noodles (the Sun Noodles package is 14.7oz.), thawed if frozen
1/4 cup/ 60ml water
beni-shoga (red pickled ginger), for garnish
ao nori (powdered seaweed) or fumi furikake (combination of ao nori and sesame seeds), for garnish

Slice pork shoulder or belly into small strips.

Heat wok over high heat and add oil, onions and pork. Stir fry together until onions just start to become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and salt (and kamaboko, if using). Stir to combine and drizzle with 1 TBL. yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and mix well. Add mushrooms, if using, and fry together for 3 minutes.

Move all contents of wok up the sides of the wok, leaving a large space in the center. Add oil and soba noodles directly to center of wok, and stir to coat noodles with oil. Push vegetables and meats over the top of noodles, pour water over all, and cover wok for 2-3 minutes or until it stops steaming.

Add 2 TBL yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and using 2 wooden spoons or large chopsticks, combine noodles and vegetable mixture so that everything is evenly distributed and sauce has a chance to cook through. Taste and add salt or last TBL. of sauce as needed.

Garnish with pickled ginger and nori, as desired.

Pomai at Tasty Island has a completely different way to make Yakisoba with these same noodles — he uses the soup base that come in the package to season the fried noodles, check out his step by step pictorial on his site.

Want more tastes from Okinawa? Try
Rafute (Long-cooked Seasoned Pork Belly)
Abura Miso (Sake-Seasoned Miso Paste with Rafute)
Kombu (Kelp & Pork Soup/Stew)


Streusel Rhubarb Cake

Before 1997, if you asked me what rhubarb tasted like I would have said it was sour but tasted faintly like strawberry because I had only ever tried rhubarb in combination with strawberries. I had heard rumors of strawberry-less rhubarb recipes, but had never tried one.

In Germany, we were fortunate to sample many, many rhubarb cakes (Rhabarberkuchen), most of them at the Kuchentheken, or Counters-with-Yummy-Cakes (my own translation), at Volksmarches we attended around the country. (Volksmarches are organized walks through woods, fields and towns in 5K, 10K and 20K loops for walkers, and 42K loops for bikers and marathoners. But I digress… ) At the Kuchentheken, you can get a generous slice of cake and strong cup of coffee for about 2 Euros — an incredible deal, and a welcome one after a long walk. At this time of year, when rhubarb is in high season, you can find at the Kuchentheken (and in the bakeries in town, to a lesser degree) an astounding varieties of homemade cakes, tortes and pies (but all called Kuchen) starring rhubarb. Of course, I tried any new variation we came across — there are rhubarb cakes with meringue toppings and ones with glazes, cakes with streusel and ones coated with nuts, cakes with custard filling and ones filled with sponge cake. German cakes, like many Japanese cakes, would be considered under-sweetened by American standards, but T and I prefer less-sweet sweets so these were perfect. Most of the rhubarb cake variations had no fruit other than rhubarb.

I learned to love the distinct flavor of naked rhubarb. I experimented with recipes for stews and even a savory bread pudding with rhubarb, but making a cake was never a priority because there were so many to try from all these accomplished home bakers during the season! But it’s been 4 years since we moved from Germany, and now that we’re again seeing lots of beautiful fresh rhubarb in the markets (something we didn’t see as much on Oahu), it’s reminded me that I can’t just look up the nearest Volksmarch to get my fix of homemade rhubarb cake/pie. I’ll finally have to make one myself.

Searching through dozens of recipes on German websites, I’ve narrowed it down to 4 recipes with different styles of “rhubarb cake” to try. This is the first because it was always my favorite — it has a yeasted “batter,” streusel topping, and naked fruit. In truth, it’s more bread than cake, but with a very airy and moist crumb reminiscent of Panettone, the Italian fruited bread-cake. Had a piece (okay, I had 2) after dinner last night, and there’s a slice with my name on it for my morning coffee today... mmmmmm....

Adapted from
For 6-8 servings

For the Dough:
4½ tsp. active dry yeast (or 35g fresh yeast)
(about 2 packets of dry yeast)
⅔ cup/ 160 ml lukewarm milk
5 cups/ 500g unbleached flour (used unbleached white whole wheat from King Arthur, which is why the bread is so dark)
6½ TBL/ 60g butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup/80g raw sugar (or cup regular sugar)
⅓ cup/ 80ml milk
Grated peel from ½ lemon
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten together
1 tsp. sea salt

Dissolve yeast in warm milk with 1 TBL. of flour taken from the measured flour, and mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes to activate yeast.

Meanwhile, combine remaining flour, butter, sugar, milk, grated lemon peel, eggs, and salt. Once yeast is bubbling, add to dry ingredients with remaining milk and knead together to make a smooth dough. Cover and let rise until doubled — it took about an hour in my cool but humid kitchen. Meanwhile, prep the fruit and streusel.

For the Filling:
1lb./ 450g rhubarb
2 TBL. raw sugar
1 TBL. butter, cut into small dice

Wash, dry, and cut the rhubarb into 1” pieces. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle sugar over. Let rest until needed..

Preheat oven to 350F/ 180C.

Butter an 8” springform pan. Punch down the risen dough, and lay it out in the pan to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. (Confession: I could not locate my springform pan (although I know I’ve seen it since we moved in), so I used 2 non-traditional ceramic pans, one rectangular and one round. With exceedingly generous amounts of butter to coat the pans, the cake lifted out beautifully after cooling.)

For the Streusel:
½ cup/ 60g raw sugar (or cup regular sugar)
¾ cup/ 75g unbleached flour
½ cup/ 40g old-fashioned oatmeal (this is my own addition, to add some crunch; the original recipe uses another ¼ cup flour instead)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 TBL/ 60g butter, melted

Combine all ingredients for Streusel, and mix well until large crumbs form.

Dot cake dough with diced butter, then put rhubarb and any accumulated juices in the bowl over the dough. Top with streusel and let rest for 10 minutes. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 35 minutes. If streusel starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil.

Remove from oven and let cool. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. A nice dollop of sweetened creme fraiche or drained yogurt would compliment this nicely.

And now for your musical entertainment while you enjoy your rhubarb delicacy...
(Nope, this isn’t John Cleese. You can find that song here.)


Fig-Stuffed Roast Lamb with Mushroom & Port Gravy

Serendipity is when you have a dozen dried figs that have been soaking for 2 weeks in brandy and looking for a worthy cause, and then you find a lamb shoulder already butterflied and ready for stuffing on sale at the butcher counter!

Makes about 4 cups stuffing

12 dried figs, soaked overnight (or 2 weeks) in 2 cups brandy
4 slices stale whole wheat bread, torn into 6-8 pieces each
2 TBL olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp rosemary leaves
1 tsp oregano
sea salt and ground black pepper
3 TBL minced fresh parsley
additional brandy or water as needed

Rough chop the dried figs and return to the soaking liquid, along with the torn bread.

Heat small pan over medium high heat. When heated through, add oil and onions, and reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary and oregano, and stir through to combine. Cook together 2-3 minutes, or until you can smell the garlic and herbs.

Remove from heat and add to the figs and bread. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper, and add parsley. With your hands or a wooden spoon, combine the ingredients thoroughly. If mixture is a little dry, drizzle brandy or water over until it just holds together. Set aside until needed.

Serves 4 persons

2.5 lb/ 1kg lamb shoulder, butterflied
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cups Fig Stuffing (above)
kitchen twine or metal roasting skewers

Lay butterflied lamb roast on work surface. Season well and fill center with about 2 cups stuffing. Bring ends of lamb to center and secure with kitchen twine or metal skewers. Season outside of roast. Place remaining stuffing in an oiled baking dish, drizzle with about 2 TBL of water or broth, and cover with foil (I also place a piece of wax paper or parchment between food and foil).

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Heat large skillet over high heat. Add olive oil, and lay roast in pan with open side of roast down. Brown well — the meat will release from the pan when sufficiently browned, about 2 full minutes. Brown all sides well.

Place browned roast in an oiled oven-proof pan, and into pre-heated oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 325F/162C for remainder of cooking time — it took about 40 minutes more for this 2.5lb roast to reach medium doneness (160F/70C on an instant-read thermometer) at the center. See the American Lamb Council’s time and temperature recommendations for roasting lamb.

(Start gravy by browning mushrooms while the roast is in the oven)

Place leftover dressing in oven for the last 30 minutes of roasting time. Remove lamb to serving platter and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, finish the gravy from the pan drippings.

1 lb. cremini (aka baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 TBL olive oil
1 TBL/ 15g unsalted butter, in small dice
1/2 cup/ 120ml water
1/2 cup/ 120ml red wine
1/2 cup/ 120 ml port wine
1 TBL soy sauce
4 TBL/ 60g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp oregano
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 TBL. flour mixed with 1 TBL. olive oil

Heat wok or large skillet over high heat. Add oil and sliced mushrooms, and spread in pan so they don’t crowd. Gently press mushrooms against pan to brown one side. Turn mushrooms to brown other side. Remove from heat and add butter pieces. Swirl to melt butter. Remove to gravy boat and set aside.

After removing roast from pan, add water, wine and port to pan and gently scrape up all the browned bits (except rosemary leaves, remove any stray leaves — they can be very bitter). If your roasting pan is stainless steel or other stove-top safe material, it helps to gently heat the pan on the stove to get every delicious browned bit.

Remove all the contents of the roasting pan to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Season well, and add soy sauce and oregano. Reduce heat and add flour-oil mixture, stirring well to incorporate the flour. Simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, then add browned mushrooms and any accumulated liquid in bowl. Cook another 2 minutes to heat mushrooms through, then remove to gravy boat and serve with roast.

Roast lamb with gravy pictured here with steamed fingerling potatoes and Roasted Belgian Endive.


Roasted Belgian Endive

Roasted Belgian endive is one of those dishes that is infinitely more nuanced and addictive than its name first implies. Both sweet and savory, and meltingly tender, this works equally well as a vegetarian entree served on top of mashed potatoes, or as a side dish with roast chicken. We used to live in a place where this vegetable was grown so it was abundant and cheap, and graced our dinner table a couple of times a month, at least. Now it is more of a treat, both in price and in availability — when he sees it on the table, T usually exclaims, “Roasted endives — is it my birthday?!”

If you know Belgian endive as a raw vegetable, you know it has a bitter edge. Some people seek out that edgy bite, many others shy away from it. But once baked this way, Belgian endive mellows, allowing the underlying sweetness of the raw vegetable to come through. It is assembled from a few common pantry staples, so when you spot this delectable vegetable in your market, you know you can put this together without searching out a lot of other ingredients. To make this dish, look for large spears that are creamy white, tinged with pale yellow at the tips.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 slice of whole wheat bread
2 TBL fresh grated parmesan
1kg/2.2 Belgian endive
sea salt (optional)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) very dry white wine or water
2 TBL. + olive oil

Tear bread slice into smaller pieces and place in the small bowl of a food processor with the parmesan. Process briefly to make coarse bread crumbs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Cut endive lengthwise in half, and lay with the cut side up in a baking dish that will hold all the tightly -packed cut vegetable halves. The endive will shrink as it bakes, so it’s okay to squeeze them in together even if they look uncomfortably tight in the dish, just keep the flat side facing up. Season with a few grinds of fresh pepper and salt (we usually omit the salt — the saltiness of the parmesan is enough for us). Pour broth and wine over and around endive. Scatter bread crumb mixture to cover the vegetable, then drizzle with olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs (you may need more than 2 TBL.)

Cover with a sheet of wax or parchment paper, then aluminum foil. Bake in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, then remove foil and parchment, and continue roasting until vegetable becomes translucent and softens, and crust is golden brown, about another 10-15 minutes.


Memorial Day 2009

Today is a day the U.S. sets aside to remember and honor the men and women who have died in defense of our young country throughout her history. Later today President Obama will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Cemetery at Arlington. But 145 years ago President Lincoln was present at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — the site of one of the bloodiest battles of our civil war. His brief remarks on that day still resonate and best capture the feeling of this day.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal’

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow, this ground -- The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

(Transcript of the Hay Draft of the Gettysburg Address, from the exhibit at the Library of Congress)


Portrait of a Cat as a Young (and Old) Feline

Haiku is a cat’s cat... a feline who did things on her own terms, in her own good time. But when she turned her attention to something, she did it with great gusto and clamored to be the center of attention.

Haiku was already an adult cat about 4 years old when she and Laika came to live with us from the Tierheim Kaiserslautern in 1997. They were littermates but never did get along — they simply tolerated each other and vied constantly for primary attention from their human housemates. When 2-year-old Kiowea joined the househould in 2007, shortly after Laika died, he tried for months to befriend his 14-year-old housemate. Kio soon learned to just give Haiku her space. Or else.

Haiku was clearly the Alpha Cat, getting first pick of prime viewing spots wherever she found herself, whether it was a new home, a vacation rental or hotel; helping herself to treats and her feline mates’ water and food; even hogging catnip toys to use as a pillow in the sun.

She had the soul of an adventurer and the cunning of the most accomplished secret agent — on the rare days this indoor cat was allowed outdoors, she would innocently sniff around the areas she knew she was allowed to go, nibbling on grass as she went. But as soon as she sensed the human eye was distracted, she made a bee-line for the hole in the fence or the open gate. If she got away, she wandered around until she got tired or bored then sat in one place, confident that someone was looking for her, until she was found.

Here she is “high” on fresh snipped oregano (which she liked as much as catnip) that she stole from my herb basket. She also loved the smell of new leather, freshly washed hair, and (true to her contrariness) smelly feet!

But through it all, she was fiercely protective of everyone and everything in “her domain” — until recenty, she made nightly rounds of house, checking each window and going in and out of each room with a sleeping occupant. One night during the period when my mother was recovering from brain surgery and undergoing chemo and radiation therapy while staying with us in Hawaii, I was awakened by Haiku’s loud and insistent mewling by our bedside. It was a sound we had not heard her make before. Once she saw we were awake, she strode into my mother’s room, still mewling. I ran to get her so she wouldn’t wake my mother, but instead found my mom awake and trying to reach the small rubber duck she used to call for assistance. Her voice was weakened by the surgery and treatments, and was only a whisper — so she would squeeze the duck to let us know when she needed something. That night the duck had fallen to the floor and she couldn’t reach it nor could she raise herself from the bed alone to waken anyone. As I helped her out of bed, I realized Haiku was already gone, presumably to finish the rest of her nightly rounds after accomplishing her mission...

This past Friday evening, this fiercely independent spirit again did things just her way. After a long leisurely day of napping, she woke to request (loudly! of course) her evening dinner and polished it off with relish, then went to check out her two favorite lookout spots at the front and back windows. Apparently satisfied, she then snuck into our bedroom closet — a place she knew she was not supposed to be — and took her final journey in peace and quiet.

There is a cold place at the foot of my bed now, and a sense of disbelief that a small 7lb. creature could leave such a big hole in a home and a heart. But we let her go knowing that she lived a full life in her 16-17 years — she traveled from her home in Germany to vacations in France, and to new homes in Boston and Oahu and now D.C.; she harassed, cajoled, bossed around and charmed her housemates, visiting family & friends, veterinarians, and caregivers throughout her reign; and she was always loved.

Haiku in her favorite sunspot on Oahu


Korean-style Fried Sweet Potato Noodles

This unique noodle dish is usually an instant favorite with anyone who tries it for the first time. The slightly sweet sesame flavor is familiar enough to encourage new tasters to keep eating, despite the unusual texture of the sweet potato noodles. The noodles, called Harusame in Japanese, look like the more ubiquitous bean thread noodles, but are much thicker and retain a chewy mouthfeel even when fully cooked. When combined with slivers of tender beef, shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms, spinach or other greens (we’ve used watercress and bok choy as well), carrots, and garlic, and fried in dark toasted sesame oil, chap chae makes a wonderful and absolutely luscious dish that is equally good at room temperature as it is warm. It is perfect picnic food (maybe for next year’s Hanami?) and a welcome and “exotic” addition to any buffet.

I don’t claim this is an authentic Korean recipe. It is adapted from a recipe by Chef Ken Hom which we originally tried 11 years ago.

One caveat: If harusame noodles are refrigerated after cooking, the noodles harden and become unpalatable — but they are easily restored if you sprinkle them with water and re-heat thoroughly in microwave, preferably on 75% power for about 1 minute. You may want to stir the noodles halfway through the re-heating time and return to microwave. You can also re-fry or steam the chap chae to return the noodles to their soft and chewy goodness.

Evolved from a recipe by Ken Hom
Serves 4-6 persons when served alone.

Beef Marinade:
2 TBL. sesame oil
pinch of sea salt
½ tsp. raw sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
4-6 oz. beef sirloin, thinly sliced into thin strips
(Look in Japanese, Korean or other Asian markets for meats already sliced for sukiyaki or shabu shabu)

Combine beef, with marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate at least 45 minutes, and up to 2 hours.

Cooking Sauce:
3 TBL. soy sauce
½ cup toasted sesame oil
3 tsp. raw sugar
sea salt

Combine all ingredients for Cooking Sauce, stirring to dissolve most of the sugar. Set aside.

2 TBL. oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch long julienne
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 40 minutes
2 whole pieces black fungus (aka wood ear or mok yee), soaked in water 1 hour
1 pound baby spinach, watercress, or trimmed baby bok choy (photos show bok choy)
3 TBL. sesame oil
1 tsp. raw sugar
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds

1 lb. dried sweet potato starch noodles, harusame

Place the dried noodles in a large bowl or non-aluminum pot with water to cover. Allow them to rehydrate for about 1 hour. Do not drain until just before cooking.

Remove shiitake from soaking water, squeeze dry and remove stem. Cut caps into thin strips — you may want to cut individual slices in half lengthwise, depending on how thick the caps are and your personal preference. (Note: If you already have Seasoned Braised Shiitake Caps, you can use them here for an especially flavorful addition to this entree)

Remove black fungus from its soaking liquid (It will have quadrupled in size!). Cut out hard center point. Julienne.

Over medium high heat, heat 2 TBL. oil in a wok or large skillet. Add garlic, sea salt to taste, and marinated beef, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add carrots and two fungi along with Cooking Sauce, increase heat to high and stir together for another 2 minutes. Add spinach or other greens and continue stir-frying until greens just wilt, about 1 minute more. Transfer to serving plate, keeping any juices or liquid that may be in skillet.

In the same wok or skillet, without cleaning, add last 3 TBL sesame oil and 1 tsp raw sugar, and turn heat down to medium high. Add soaked and drained harusame (some water clinging to the noodles is okay, it will help the noodles cook), and stir well to coat with oil. Continue stirring and frying until the noodles start to become translucent and to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Return stir-fried vegetables and meat to the skillet, along with all accumulated liquid in plate. Stir all ingredients through, and cook until noodles soften completely, about 4-5 minutes more. If noodles look dry, drizzle sesame oil around edges of wok and stir through. Continue stir-frying until noodles are cooked evenly through. Test for noodle doneness: texture becomes chewy and color changes from opaque to slightly transparent.

Add half the scallions and stir through. Remove from heat, sprinkle with 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds and mix through. Return to serving plate, garnish with more sesame seeds and remaining scallions.

You can enjoy these noodles on their own or make it part of a multi-course meal. When we have this for dinner, I like to have a bowl of plain white rice and a side of kimchi, while T skips the rice completely (but never the kimchi).


Chopped Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes & Sheep's Milk Feta

This has become our salad of choice lately — a simple chopped salad enhanced with tangy sheep’s milk feta and olives. If you’re BBQ-ing this weekend, this is your salad — it goes equally well with grilled or roasted meats as it does with pastas. And it can also turn pasta shapes (farfalle, rotini, even tortellini) into a cool and summery pasta salad that is perfect for picnicking and dining al fresco. You can also put this on top of baby greens for a combo salad — no extra dressing necessary. We recommend having a nice crusty bread handy, too, as the dressing that pools at the bottom of your bowl is a peppery amalgam of tomato juices, feta, peperoncini, olive oil and vinegar that just begs to be sopped up!

With tiny bite-size tomatoes from Trader Joe’s and that lovely Greek sheep’s milk feta from Costco, this comes together in a snap. The olives we use for this salad will vary depending on what is open in the pantry — there are kalamatas in this photo, but tonight’s version has tiny green olives called Perdignon (Goya brand, but bottled in Spain). Go with the flow — this is one of those recipes that is accepting of whatever goodies your pantry has in store. This is usually what goes in ours...

Serves 4-6 persons

1 large Japanese/English cucumber, about 1 lb/455g
1lb/455g grape, pear, cherry or other bite-size tomatoes
3.5 oz/100g sheep’s milk feta
10-20 kalamata or other olives
3-5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems
5-8 mild peperoncini (pickled peppers)
3-5 grinds of the peppermill
1-2 jiggers of red wine vinegar
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Wash and pare cucumber. Cut lengthwise into quarters and remove seedy core. Dice into 1/2” cubes. Add to salad bowl.

Wash and dry tomatoes. Halve any tomatoes that are larger than a mouthful. Add to salad bowl.

Crumble feta into salad bowl, add olives and fresh oregano leaves. With kitchen shears, snip peperoncini directly into salad, allowing liquid in the center of the peppers to drizzle over salad.

Grind pepper over salad, then drizzle vinegar and oil over all. Mix well, and let sit at room temperature while you finish preparing dinner.

(Salt is usually not necessary because the feta, peperoncini and olives provide quite a bit of saltiness. But if you’re using different ingredients, you may want to taste for salt, too)

This is ready to serve immediately but I like the leftovers even better, so this is a great do-ahead salad to bring to a potluck or include in a buffet.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, Everyone!


Celebrate World Oceans Day! (Win a Wavemaker Wristband)

Although I grew up on a tropical island surrounded by the ocean, I thought of the ocean more as a place to have barbeques NEXT TO, rather than a source for actual recreation. Sad, I know, but I guess we take for granted what is closest to us. As an adult I finally discovered the ocean and learned to appreciate it for its own sake, thanks to the miracle of SCUBA.

Now I am an avid supporter of the oceans, and am particularly happy to share with everyone the glad news that after 15 years as an unofficial global celebration, World Oceans Day received official recognition in 2009! June 8th has been designated World Oceans Day, and this year’s theme is “One Ocean, One Climate, One Future.”

Even if we don’t live near the ocean, it affects our lives every day. More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean, which functions to provide most of the oxygen in our air, and to regulate our weather and climate. More important, the ocean has long held a strong pull on the human imagination — feeding our curiosity, our need for adventure, our collective soul.

A majority of our fellow inhabitants on the planet live in the ocean, and whether we think of them as furry mascots, feared predators, or simply food, they need our help in keeping their homes, nurseries and and feeding grounds safe.

If we are lucky enough to live near the shore, there is no better source of recreation than the oceans, whether by swimming, fishing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, boating or just relaxing on the beach.

To promote the first official celebration of World Oceans Day, the Ocean Project has initiated the “Wear Blue and Tell Two” campaign, encouraging people worldwide to wear blue on June 8th, and to learn and share 2 facts about the ocean with others in your circle.

To learn some new facts about the worlds’ oceans to pass along, you might want to visit one of these websites that focus on news, education, and conservation of the oceans:

* NOAA Ocean Services: the key U.S. federal website for all things that affect the ocean and navigable waters. There is an entire division with educational resources for teachers and parents, including lesson plans and games. Also check out the two audio podcasts updated bi-weekly: Making Waves features the topical news stories affecting the oceans and ocean research; and Diving Deeper features in-depth interviews with scientists and researchers whose work touches on the oceans.

* The Monterey Bay Aquarium: features not only information about this gorgeous aquarium in California, but also the ever popular Seafood Watch guides that provide up-to-date listings of safe (from mercury) and sustainable fish and seafood choices. the Seafood Watch guides are available for each region in the U.S.: West Coast, Hawaii, Central, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Southwest. For a list of seafood guides for other countries, check out this post from last summer.

* The Ocean Project: advocates for ocean conservation and public education, including the “Wear Blue” campaign.

* Oceana: a global advocacy and environmental non-profit. You can also visit one of Oceana’s international sites in Europe and South America (in Spanish) to learn how you can support legislation in your country to protect the world’s oceans or just how to get the word out about World Oceans Day.

And speaking of getting the word out... To raise awareness of this first official World Oceans Day, the famous marine-themed fashion brand, Nautica(tm), has designed a special woven-rope Wavemaker wristband for the event. Similar to the plastic bands that support cancer, AIDS, and other important causes, this stylish rope band will immediately identify you as a supporter of the oceans.

I’ve just ordered a bunch of these bands, and am waiting for them to arrive. In the meantime, I’m offering to send one these attractive wristbands to the first 12 bloggers who help to spread the word about World Oceans Day!

To qualify for a wristband, please follow these instructions:

1) Between today, May 21st, and Friday, May 29th, post a blog about World Oceans Day (WOD 2009)and link to the Ocean Project announcement here. Mention the theme is “One Ocean, One Climate, One Future.”

1a) **Optional** Include the banner above or download one from the Ocean Project site here.

2) Mention 2 facts about the ocean.

3) Link back to this post.

4) After your post is “live,” leave a comment below with a link to your post about WOD 2009. Please include your email address on the form (it will not be public) so I can contact you if you qualify. I will visit your site as soon as possible and contact you soon after to let you know if you’re one of the first 12 to post correctly.

The wristbands are due to arrive here in 2 weeks, and I will mail them out to the winners as soon as they arrive. If you are a winner, the wristband may not reach you in time for World Oceans Day this year, but you’ll be a trendsetter this summer and ahead of the game for next year! ; )

Thanks for your interest in the oceans, and for helping to spread the word about World Oceans Day!

Remember to Wear Blue and Tell Two!


Abura Miso: Miso Paste with Seasoned Pork

This is a long-overdue post for a recipe request I received by email in December. (Sorry it took so long, Barb!)

And what is this strange-looking paste that someone would actually request a recipe for it? It’s an Okinawan specialty known as Abura miso (AH-boo-rah, which means “fatty”). Why “fatty” — because, Silly Rabbit, it has pork belly. Or to be more precise, it has Rafute, which is the lovely and decadent seasoned pork belly which was featured here last summer (photo below).

So if you can possibly spare a couple of slices of rafute, you can preserve it in miso and create a wonderful condiment in doing so. Miso paste is cooked long and slow over gentle heat with generous doses of sake, grated ginger and ginger juice, and just a touch of sugar. The goal is to concentrate the sake and have it absorbed into the miso paste. In the last 20 minutes, the prepared rafute is added with yet more sake, and cooked together until the sake is again absorbed into the paste. Properly stored, abura miso has kept in our fridge for months (but it usually is eaten lo-o-ong before then).

For grating the ginger for this dish, I recommend using a Japanese ceramic grater, Oroshi, like the one in the photo. Yes, it IS a single-use gadget, but this is one of those tools that just does the job better than anything else and so I do find room for it in the kitchen. In this case, it pulverizes the ginger so it naturally forms a wet paste rather than shreds, which can be unpleasant if left in this condiment. For making ginger juice, too, this oroshi can’t be beat — you can see in the photo that the liquid pools in the “moat” around the teeth of the grater, and that there are marked grooves in the teeth to carry the juice to the “moat” and a spout on one end to pour off the juice.

Whether eaten alone with hot rice, or mixed with a raw egg over REALLY hot rice (the egg will soft-set from the heat of the rice), used to fill savory pancakes, or made into musubi (rice balls), Abura Miso is a genuine Okinawan treat.

For Barb M. in San Antonio, TX.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups (360g) awase miso (blended light and medium misos)
1 and1/2 cups (355ml) sake, plus optional 1/4 cup
2 TBL. aji-mirin (seasoned cooking sake)
1-2 tsp raw sugar (if using granulated white sugar, use less)
2-3 tsp grated ginger and all accumulated juices
2 slices prepared rafute

Combine miso paste, sake, mirin, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan, and place over medium high heat. Mixture will be very loose, and will drop very easily from a spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble, about 6-8 minutes, then immediately turn heat down to low.

Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture starts to darken in color, and to thicken, about 40-50 minutes depending on how wide the saucepan is. The goal is to concentrate the sake flavor and incorporate it into the miso paste. The longer the process takes, the more intense the sake flavor will be without burning the miso. This process will feel familiar to anyone who has made a brown roux for gumbo or etouffe — stir, stir, watch carefully, stir, fiddle with the heat to get it just right, stir again.

Meanwhile, prepare the rafute.

Remove the rafute from wherever you hid it to hide it from greedy family members, and dice it into 1/4-inch cubes (this is easier to do if the rafute is cold). Bring to room temperature by heating in microwave for 20 seconds at highest temperature. Don’t microwave too long or the skin of the rafute will pop and resemble fried pork rinds — you will lose the silken texture that is so important to abura miso.

When the miso has thickened to the point where it now drops rather reluctantly from a spoon, add the diced rafute, and optional additional 1/4 cup sake, stir well to incorporate new ingredients. Continue the stirring vigil for another 20-30 minutes to heat rafute thoroughly and to remove the raw taste of newly added sake.

Taste. It should have a prominent sake flavor, mellowed by cooking and ginger, and very lightly sweetened. I usually don’t add any salt because the miso paste contains a lot of salt, but depending on the brand and type of miso used, you may wish to add salt too. It will look very similar to canned pumpkin in color. But compared to the plain miso, you will notice the abura miso has a sheen — some might even say, a glow.

We most often use abura miso to season musubi, seen here (it’s hidden in the center, trust me).


A Taste of Persia: Lamb Khoresh with Eggplant

I’ve had a love affair with eggplant, or aubergines, for as long as I can remember. And when I think of eggplant I’m thinking first of the slender, long Japanese eggplant like the ones in this photo, since those are what I grew up with. In Hawaii, we found locally grown eggplant all year round — what a blessing that was!

In her book, A Taste of Persia, Najmieh K. Batmanglij, shares her love for eggplant tied to a memory of frying them with her mother to make a luscious aromatic stew, called Khoresh in Farsi. This slim volume introduces the reader to the most popular dishes of the rich Persian repetoire, including 13 recipes for various khoreshes. I can’t recommend it highly enough, although it can be challenging to find some of the more unusual ingredients called for in the recipes. But well worth the hunt.

This particular khoresh recipe drew me in because it utilizes eggplants that are fried whole, then added to the stew with the stem end intact. It makes for quite a dramatic presentation on your plate. After frying, he eggplant may be peeled or left unpeeled, depending on the diameter of the vegetable. The eggplant used in these photos were nearly pencil-thin and about 10” long — it is a variety I’ve most often seen used to make the Philippine vegetable stew known as Pinakbet. Since the eggplant were so small, the skin softens and becomes meltingly tender, even when fried, so the eggplant were left unpeeled.

Eggplant and lamb have a natural affinity for each other, and although Ms. Batmanglij allows that other meats may be substituted for lamb in her khoresh recipes I hope you try this one with lamb. You will love it!

From A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij
Serves 4 persons

5 TBL unsalted butter or ghee
3 small onions, thinly sliced (used 1 large)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 lb/455g fairly lean lamb, beef or boneless, skinless chicken, cut into thin strips
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 4 TBL hot water
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
3 cups/483g fresh or canned pureed tomatoes
1 cup unripe grapes or 4 TBL fresh lime juice (used lime juice)
2lbs/900g long Japanese eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4” strips
(I used ultra-thin baby eggplants)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 TBL oil
1 small tomato

Heat 3 TBL of butter or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and stir-fry 5-8 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and meat, and fry for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Add salt, pepper, saffron water, and turmeric. Add tomato puree and unripe grapes or lime juice, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes while you prepare eggplant and pre-heat the oven.

Peel eggplant and slice them lengthwise into quarters if they are large. Brush each side with egg whites to reduce oil needed for frying.

Heat remaining 2 TBL of butter or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Fry eggplant until golden brown on each side, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

In the same skillet you fried the eggplant, heat 1 TBL of oil over medium heat and saute the tomato whole.

Transfer meat to oven-proof casserole, and arrange eggplant and tomato on top. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes longer.

Taste and adjust seasoning for balance of salt and sourness (add lime juice).

Serve with saffron steamed or plain basmati rice. We also added a yogurt salad.

Visit Ms. Batmanglij’s site for a preview of and more recipes from this book.


Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage

Three simple ingredients take an average Sunday roast chicken to new and exotic heights: sage, preserved lemon, and garlic. Taking flavor cues from the classic Italian sage chicken, this roast is infused with an intensely flavored paste of preserved lemon rind and garlic, as well as fresh sage leaves placed in strategic locations under the skin. What could be simpler?

The preserved lemon lends a deep citrus flavor even after long cooking and marries beautifully with the fresh sage. There’s a reason this combination of lemon, garlic and sage has remained a stand-by in so many kitchens!

Make the paste: In the small bowl of a food processor or blender, mince together 3-6 cloves of garlic with 4-6 preserved lemon rinds (to equal one lemon; roughly chop the rinds), several grinds of fresh black pepper, about 2 TBL. olive oil, and 2-3 tsp. of liquid from the jar of preserved lemons (which contains a lot of salt already). Taste paste and correct seasoning. You should have almost 1 cup of paste, enough for a 5-6lb. bird.

Rinse and pat dry the whole chicken, and carefully lift skin to separate it from meat without tearing. Put 1 TBL of paste inside chicken cavity, and spread around interior wall of the bird. Take 1 TBL. of paste at a time and place under skin around joints between leg and thigh, under thighs, and between leg and breast. As an optional step, you can take a small paring knife and make small slits, especially in and around he thick breast meat and fill the slits with lemon-garlic paste. When paste if used up, place 6-10 cleaned fresh sage leaves under skin over the thigh and breast sections.

Lightly oil chicken skin and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Then bake in pre-heated oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh and not touching bone registers 180F/83C. When cooked, the chicken skin becomes almost translucent and the pattern of he sage leaves beneath can be seen. The Thanksgiving turkey never had it so good!

Serve with your favorite potato mash or pasta, or as we did with a couscous pilaf with dried fruit, minced veggies and pine nuts.

More Recipes with Preserved Lemons:
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Figs
Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (dessert)


New in the Pantry: Pumpkin Noodles

When I have time, I really enjoy combing the aisles of grocery marts for new ingredients, and there has been quite a treasure trove of things to discover around our new home. Case in point, these dumpling-type noodles made with pumpkin that we found in a freezer at the Korean Korner in Wheaton, MD. The package pictured here comes complete with noodles, powdered soup base, dehydrated vegetables, and pepper garnish, and the soup will serve 2 people if supplemented with additional veggies in the soup, or as pictured below, with a small side dish like gyoza.

The first time we tried this, I made the soup as directed on the package. The soup broth was not so memorable, but we loved the noodles — chewy, dense and very satisfying like the dumplings in a “Chicken and Dumplings” dish we tried while on the road in Pennsylvania last November.

The noodles don’t actually taste like pumpkin or kabocha. But even without the promised flavor, the texture won us over and we now use it in place of dumpling type noodles for gravy-laden dishes. For less than $2 a package, it’s a great short-cut to toothsome dumplings, pictured here with pounded chicken breasts in a Pennsylvania Red Wine and Port Sauce.


Amerika no Yomogi (American Yomogi)

Last spring I was shooting envy spears at everyone harvesting wild greens and herbs all over the planet. This year I get to join in the hunt since we’ve already identified 2 wild things growing right in our neighborhood. One is something I grew up with and knew well; the other I was introduced to last year while reading about everyone else’s fun in the wilds. First up is a familiar and long-missed favorite: Mugwort. Another time we’ll look at: Spruce Tips.

What we’re still hunting: Wild leeks, aka Ramps, aka Bärlauch. Does anyone have any leads on where we might find some???... Anyone??...

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, right side of above illustration) grows to be a tall shrub, and is a member of the chrysanthemum family. You get a hint of that relation from a close look at its leaves, which do look like the edible chrysanthemum leaves known as shingiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium). The mugwort featured in this article is common in Europe and North America, and is closely related to 2 varieties that enjoy much more fame and notoriety — the Japanese mugwort (Artemisia princeps), also known as Yomogi (click for photo); and Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium, left side of above illustration).

Yomogi is widely used in Japan and other Asian countries as an herb to flavor rice cakes, porridges, cookies, and as a vegetable in soups and stir-fries. And in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fuzz on the underside of the leaves is collected and used in heat treatments along acupuncture points, a process called moxibustion. Wormwood, as hinted in its Latin name, is the key ingredient in the infamous liqueur known as Absinthe. More on these at another time.

The common mugwort is not what the Japanese would recognize as Yomogi — its Japanese cousin has smaller leaves, more lobe-shaped than pointed. But for the purposes of this article I will use the Japanese name because that is what I know it as, and I will use it in the same ways its Asian cousin is used in Japan, namely as an herb for flavoring.

At this time of year, yomogi is quite prolific here, as it is in Europe. In both continents it is most often viewed as a weed — even a noxious weed since it is quite invasive once established. But yomogi also enjoys a long history of medicinal (both to ease digestive ailments and to purge parasites) and ritual (to keep evil spirits away) use. In Germany (where it is known as Beifuss), we found it most often in wooded areas and near river banks; and here (eastern U.S.) the wooded park near our home is nearly overrun by patches of it along most of the footpaths and open fields. While still young, the strong bitter flavor that is most prized in yomogi has not fully developed, and the flavor is still very fresh, and almost minty tasting, with only a hint of the bitterness that will develop with sun and time.

Yomogi and its cousins are immediately recognizable by the silvery, slightly fuzzy undersides of their leaves, and their distinctive aroma when the leaves are bruised. Even when I’m not “harvesting” yomogi per se, I will snap a few stems if I pass a shrub, keeping them in my pocket and gently crushing the leaves for a whiff when I’m starting to feel tired or when I’m on public transit.

Last weekend I took a basket to harvest a small batch of American yomogi from the park. Of course, when harvesting near a footpath or well-travelled path, go as far from the path as you can! Getting away from the path may keep you away from areas visited by pooches making their rounds, but there are other wild animals that don’t necessarily follow the path so you still want to wash your harvest well. I normally wash store-bought produce in a vinegar wash and 2-3 rinses, but for these I did 2 vinegar rinses and 2 fresh water rinses. (BTW, rinses after the vinegar wash are recycled to water the outdoor plants or to flush toilets — conservation tips I learned from living through the California drought in the 1980s.)

Once the yomogi was washed and dried, I made something I’ve been craving a very long time: Okayu. Okayu is simply a rice porridge, but my mother always made it with yomogi, so in my mind okayu must be scented with fresh yomogi leaves. Okayu was something my mom made for us when we weren’t feeling well, or when our stomachs were out of sorts, such as arriving home after a long plane ride (10 hours from the West Coast to Guam via Japan or Hawaii, for instance).

Strangely, we never did find fresh yomogi, either in markets or as a potted herb, while we were in Hawaii. With the large Japanese, Korean and Chinese populations (all which use yomogi in some way), I thought it would be easy to find in the Islands. Nope. So this was the first real okayu I’ve had since we lived in Germany. It was so-o-o good. Especially after being sick for most of March and April (and just getting another diagnosis of yet another infection this week).

Now that I have a ready supply of yomogi, I know there will be a lot of okayu in the near future. But I’m also going to try for the first time to make my own Kusamochi since fresh Japanese pastries are no longer a retail option, and yomogi pasta for the summer. I hope you will join me for those adventures, too!

Serves 4 persons (or 2 greedy people)

3/4 cup medium grain rice
1/4 cup short-grain glutinous rice
7 cups of water (or half broth, half water)
1 slice fresh ginger
3 handfuls cleaned and dried yomogi leaves

Wash rices separately by gently rubbing grains in water until milky, then draining. Rinse repeatedly until water runs clear. Set aside.

Bring water and ginger to boil over high heat in a large 3 qt/L saucepan. Stir in washed rices and bring back to a boil. When boiling, turn heat down to medium high and cook with cover slightly ajar over pot to allow some steam to escape, but keep the mixture at a slow boil. Cook for about 40-45 minutes or until mixture has thickened but is still soupy, stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking.

Just before adding to porridge, roughly chop yomogi leaves and immediately add them to the pot. (Don’t cut leaves too early or the volatile oils and their glorious aroma will be lost by the time the leaves are added to the porridge.) Stir leaves through, cover and cook another 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes.

Serve in deep soup bowl, with side of Umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum.


Cod with Mango-Sake Sauce

We’re still catching up with recipes and photos from Hawaiii, so here is one for the current mango season there. This recipe for a mango and sake sauce for fish was created after we were visited by an enterprising tween-ager last spring who was selling ice-cold peeled, ripe pirie mangoes door-to-door for $4.00 per bag!! We bought 2 — I wanted to buy his whole stash but that seemed too greedy. Each bag weighed in at almost 2 lbs. each of pure mango! It’s hard to imagine such decadence now when the closest thing we can find to the silken mango-iness of tree-ripe piries are the champagne mangoes from Mexico at $1.99 per mango! *sob*

The mango was cooked down into a puree with just a touch of water (no sugar) to keep the fruit from sticking to the pan, then they were ready for use in baking and cooking. Sure, there was a mango bread or two, but I wanted to use them in a savory dish too. A jigger or two (probably two) of sake, a knob of butter, a pinch of sea salt and white pepper were added to some of the puree to create this sauce. The cod itself was seasoned with sea salt and a fish curry powder from Singapore, but any curry powder (Jamaican, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, South Asian) with a bit of turmeric to lend a touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the mangoes will work.

The fish was then pan-fried and plated, and the mango-sake sauce napped before serving (in truth, this was too generously napped — probably half this amount would make a better presentation but it was very good! ). This was made with Alaskan cod but any flaky white fish would do — halibut, haddock, even tilapia.

Those are not black sesame seeds, but onion seeds, or kalonji, over the mango sauce. Kalonji are a staple of Middle Eastern and South Asian/Indian baking and cooking, and add a nice bit of tang as well as color. On Oahu you will find kalonji at India Market on S. Beretania near UH, and maybe in the bulk spice drawers at Down-to-Earth (??); here in the D.C. area we often see aisles of Indian spices and dry goods in the larger Korean supermarkets, such as H-Mart, but there’s also a market in Hyattsville called Patel Bros. that has quite an extensive assortment of South Asian fresh, dry and frozen goods.

I meant to do this recipe again during the second wave of mango season on Oahu last year so I could measure out the ingredients, but we were caught up in the re-location frenzy at the time. I hope the photo is enough to get you started playing with your ingredients at home.

The fish is plated with watercress mashed potatoes (Flash-cooked Watercress + Mashed Potatoes) and a homemade shiso-flavored rakkyo (pickled scallions).

If you’re somewhere in the world where it’s mango season now, please have one for me!!

More fun with mangoes.....
Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread
Double Mango Yeast Bread
Mango-stuffed French Toast


Carapulcra: Spicy Peruvian Stew with Freeze-dried Potatoes

Since we landed here in north metro D.C., we’ve been awed by the availability of dry and frozen goods from Latin America. It almost makes up for the dearth of the Japanese goods that we got so used to having around in Hawaii. Almost.

Anyway, as the pantry shelves have filled with wonderful herbs and spices, beans, and drinkables from south of our borders, I’ve been combing the library and Web for the best ways to use them. I’ve had one cookbook on my shelf for almost 10 years called “Bistro Latino” that has gotten little use, but that is already changing. There is a recipe there for
Carapulcra, a spicy Peruvian stew made with pork, chicken and dried potatoes in a chipotle-peanut sauce. I’m not a huge fan of cooking with peanuts, so this recipe never really caught my imagination until I repeatedly found dried potatoes on grocery shelves everywhere around here.

In Peruvian cooking, Chuño are “potatoes naturally freeze-dried by the extremely cold, dry air of the Andean highlands.” (BL, p.10 ) I love potatoes so the idea of shelf-stable potatoes was particularly appealing. (That disaster-preparedness streak still runs deep, even decades after leaving earthquake-typhoon-power-outage-for-months-prone Guam!)

At the time I made this dish last December, we had dried **diced yellow potatoes (papa seca amarilla)** on hand, and that’s what I used in the carapulcra recipe. Since then, I’ve also seen whole dried yellow and purple potatoes, and I think I will try those in this dish next time.

Despite my doubts about peanuts, I did like this dish, especially the combination of savory nuts and spicy chipotle.

** The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled the Goya brand of these potatoes (which is what we used) in February of this year. The recall was for undeclared preservatives -- i.e., sulfites -- that can cause a severe allergic reaction in asthmatics and others with sulfite allergies. Neither of us is allergic, so thankfully we were not affected but please be aware of this issue if you have a sulfite allergy.

(adapted from
Bistro Latino by Rafael Palomino)
For 4 persons

2 TBL olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 lb/455g pork shoulder, cut into 1” dice
1 lb/455g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” dice
2L chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 cup/225ml water
small bunch of cilantro stems (leaves picked and reserved), minced
8 oz. dried diced yellow potatoes (or whole dried potatoes), rinsed well
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
6 TBL peanut butter (we used smooth only because we don’t keep chunky peanut butter around)
reserved cilantro leaves, divided for cooking and garnish

Heat 2 TBL oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat, and cook half of garlic until it is fragrant. Add pork and brown well, about 6 minutes Remove to small dish to hold, and return pot to stove. Heat remaining 2 TBL oil and garlic, and brown chicken, about 4 minutes. Remove to dish with pork, and return pot to stove again.

Increase heat to high, and add small amount of broth to pot, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add full amount of broth, then water, cilantro pieces and dried potatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until potatoes begin to re-hydrate — for the small diced potatoes, this took about 20 minutes, but for the whole potatoes it must take at least twice that amount of time (40 minutes).

Meanwhile, mix together minced chipotle and peanut butter.

Add browned meats and any accumulated juices in dish to pot, along with chile and peanut butter paste. Taste and season with sea salt and ground black pepper as needed. Cover and simmer another 40 minutes, or until stew starts to thicken. Stir in 3/4 of cilantro leaves in the last 10 minutes, and cover again to finish. Garnish serving bowls with more cilantro.

Chef Palomino did not make any serving suggestions, so we had these with thick corn tortillas called arepas (purchased). And although it is not traditional — and perhaps Verboten in Peru — we indulged in a practice we learned in an Oaxacan (Mexican) restaurant of adding fresh ingredients to stews. In this case we topped our bowls with radishes, green onion and avocado cubes — the juicy freshness of veggies is a great contrast to the deep layered flavors of this, and most, long-simmered dishes.


Doing Double-Duty

I remember many years ago when I was still in college, garlic presses were all the rage. I was flying home from California and asked my dad on the phone if he wanted me to bring him one since I didn’t think he could easily find a garlic press on Guam. He surprised me — “I have a garlic press,” he said. Impressed, I said my good-byes and prepared for my trip. Once back on Guam, I was making dinner one night and rifled through the kitchen drawers looking for that garlic press. Nada.

“Hey, Dad, where’s your garlic press?”
“What? What are you looking for?”
“The garlic press — you said you have one.”
“Yeah, I have a garlic press,” he said, and without a further word he reached for his 8” chef’s knife, placed the flat side of the knife over the garlic cloves on the cutting board, and gave the knife a whack with his palm. The garlic cleanly slipped away from their papery skins, slightly bruised and fragrant. “There!” Dad said. “The Philippine garlic press.”

Ask anyone who’s known me for more than a month of Sundays, and they’ll tell you: I do like kitchen gadgets. I have more than my share of the odd, the old, and the trendy. But deep in my heart I’m still my father’s daughter and I have a hard time throwing away gadgets, and feel guilty about having things like that garlic press that have only one purpose, taking up valuable drawer and cupboard space. With this inherited neurosis, I’m always delighted to find new uses for things that are sitting around my kitchen.

One item that often does double duty around here is the large coffee filter cone I tote around with me when I travel. This hard plastic filter holder has been with me since those storied college days, and now when we’re home it’s often used to drain plain yogurt to make thickened yogurt to use in raitas, salads, shrikand, or to substitute for sour cream and even whipped cream.

Chinese soup spoons make wonderful scoops to measure out dry ingredients, such as flour, sugar, rice, etc. Especially when baking and when converting recipes between U.S. and metric systems, it is important to scoop dry ingredients — especially flour — into your measuring cup rather than to dip your measuring cup into the flour and treat it as a scoop. The latter method will often pack the flour and give you more flour than you realize.

And these flat-botomed spoons have the added benefit of eliminating the need for a knife to level off your measurements. Just pour to fill the measuring cup until slightly mounded, then level off with the bottom of the spoon.

This last trick always gets a breathy “Cool!” rating from people with whom I share this tip. In fact, I use the pastry cutter more often for this task than for its intended purpose of cutting in butter with flour.

Meet the ultimate hard-boiled egg chopper! It slices, it dices, it makes perfect chopped eggs for your egg salad sandwiches, potato-egg salads, or anything that requires a fine chop. And it does it in literally 20 seconds. Chop the egg in the same bowl you will make the salad, and you won’t have to wash up a cutting board too. But do wash the cutter as soon as you’re done with the chopping and it will clean up very quickly and easily. If you wait until your sandwich is done, you’ll have a bit of a challenge.

Of course, even after all this time, the “Philipping garlic press” is still the only one I have.

Please help me overcome my neurosis about single-purpose gadgets — Do you have a clever use for your kitchen gadgets to share? Laurie at
Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska taught me to use a meat pounder to bruise often woody ginger — a great tip I use when making Ginger Tea or using large pieces to make soups or broths. I’d really love to hear what unusual uses you have for your stuff, too!

Spring at Brookside

It’s sunny and warm today...YAY!! The last time it was this nice, I found myself at the Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, and came across this goose by the side of the brook that runs along the east side of the Gardens.

It may not have been a golden egg she was guarding, but I’m sure it was precious to her!


Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scalllions

My father will be visiting again for one month, so I thought I’d better brush up on the guidelines for cooking for gout-sufferers. His doctor in Hawaii recommended fish over any land-based protein, and fresh ginger is one of the moderately alkaline foods that is supportive of his condition so this is one recipe I’ve earmarked to make for him during his stay. Probably more than once. We’ll include this in the Gout Diet Challenge (GDC) round-up.

This is another testament to the wisdom “Simple is best” — Ginger Scallion Fish. It was a standard order at our favorite neighborhood restaurant in Ewa Beach, and it was only when it started to dawn on me that we would be leaving the island that an urgency rose to deconstruct the recipe. I believe flounder was the fish used at the restaurant, but at home we like it best with tilapia. Both fish are considered Good choices under the Seafood Watch guides, though you do need to look for country of origin and make sure the tilapia is from a safe source, too. This is tilapia sold flash frozen from Taiwan.

This is my own method that duplicates the flavor of our restaurant favorite — it provides the flavor of the key seasonings in layers and just heats the soy sauce enough to bring out its flavor without “cooking” it, which would change the final flavor.

I know it seems out of character for me to specify “no substitutes” for more than one ingredient in a recipe since this site is predicated on the belief that cooking should be fun and dictated in part by what you have available. But please try this recipe as is before playing with the ingredients because with this dish, the end result really is more than the sum of its parts.

For 2 persons as part of a multi-course meal

1 knob or finger of ginger
4-5 stalks of scallions
12-14 oz. (340-400g) flat fish filets, such as tilapia, flounder, or sole
finely ground white pepper (do not substitute black pepper)
sea salt
2 TBL. peanut oil (no substitutes)
2 tsp. soy sauce, preferably soy sauce labelled specifically for seafood (Chinese sources)

Peel ginger and halve. Julienne half of the knob into fine slivers, and set aside. With the other half, slice in larger pieces (these are for steaming)

Wash and trim scallions. Cut each stalk into 2-inch pieces, then thinly slice lengthwise into fine slivers. Slice remaining stalks into 2-inch pieces, then halve again once lengthwise(these are for steaming).

Prepare a large pot or wok for steaming, adding about 1-1/2 inches of water, and placing a metal rack or bamboo steamer above the water line. Bring water to a boil over high heat while you prepare fish.

Rinse fish filet and pat dry. Lay filet on a non-metallic plate or a piece of waxed paper on the steamer. Sprinkle with sea salt, then scatter larger pieces of ginger and scallion over filet. Carefully place in steamer, and cover, turning heat down to medium high. Steam undisturbed for at least 7 minutes, then check fish for doneness — it should flake at the thickest part. If not done, add some hot water to the pot, and steam for another 2-3 minutes and check again.

Meanwhile heat a small skillet over medium high heat. Add peanut oil, and heat until just beginning to smoke.

Remove ginger and scallion pieces, and place fish on a serving plate. Sprinkle with finely ground white pepper, and fresh julienned ginger and scallions.

Drizzle soy sauce over fish, then immediately top with sizzling peanut oil.

Serve as part of a multi-course meal with rice. Suggestions for accompanying dishes: Stuffed Shiitake Medaillons, Watercress Dumplings, Flash-cooked Watercress or Mustard Cabbage.


Corkscrews with Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!


I know this might seem a little heavy for a spring meal, but we’ve had over a week of cloudy damp weather and somehow a homemade Mac n’ Cheese just hit the spot last week. With colorful corkscrew pasta we found at our local co-op and a good hunk of extra sharp Vermont cheddar, the humble nursery dish takes an elegant turn (pun intended).

Although this recipe includes Tabasco, it isn’t spicy at all so don’t let the hot sauce scare you away if you’re not a fan of spicy foods. The Tabasco just balances the heavy creaminess of all the dairy — you don’t actually taste it in the finished dish. Without it, you’ll think to yourself, “this is kinda flat,” and you’ll want something to round out the flavor.

The slight bitterness and acidity of flash-cooked rapini with garlic was a perfect counterpoint to the rich cheesiness of this entree.

Serves 4-5 persons

6 TBL butter
6 TBL flour
3 1/2 cups low-fat milk
3/4 cup half-n-half
* 2 TBL heavy cream
(optional: If you’re using whole milk, you don’t need the extra cream — I added it to keep my sauce from splitting since we use low-fat milk at home)
1 lb. extra sharp Vermont cheddar, grated
2 tsp. Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce
sea salt and finely ground white pepper
1 lb. corkscrew pasta, cooked just past al dente (softer than normal) and drained well

Preheat oven (we used our over-size toaster oven) to 350F.

Butter generously a 3 qt/L casserole (Auflauform).

Make a roux: Melt butter over medium low heat in a stainless steel pan that is large enough to hold all the pasta too. Add flour and stir to incorporate flour. When mixture starts to foam, add 1/2 cup milk and stir well until flour mixture absorbs liquid.

Increase heat to medium, and add another 1/2 cup milk, and stir until combined again. Continue adding milk in 1/2 cups, stirring well after each addition — don’t be tempted to add the milk all at once or you will be chasing after lumps!

When all milk has been added, add half-n-half and heavy cream (if using). Allow to cook until sauce begins to thicken, about 5-8 minutes depending on your stove and saucepan. Keep aside 1 cup of grated cheese, and add the rest to the sauce by handfuls, stirring well to melt cheese between each addition. Add Tabasco and sea salt and ground white pepper. Taste, and correct seasoning.

When all cheese has melted, add cooked corkscrews, and stir to coat pasta. Immediately tip half into prepared baking dish, scatter 1/2 cup reserved grated cheddar over, and fill with remaining pasta. Gently push pasta so most are below the sauce. Scatter last 1/2 cup of cheese over top, and put in pre-heated oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is just browned (our smaller oven got to the topping before I could cover it with foil and it is a little too brown).

Serve with your favorite salad with a nice acidic dressing — or as shown here with a vegetable with a bitter edge such as rapini, arugula, escarole or watercress.
Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck, now Three-Plus Chuck) compliments this well — and your heart will thank you, too.


Mis-en-place: Prepping Bulk Produce

Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, PROVIDED you actually use all the stuff you buy before it takes a turn. With stable items that are frozen, canned or otherwise shelf-stable, this isn’t generally a problem. But what about fresh produce?

Two of our favorite items from the warehouse store, Costco, are the fresh bagged spinach and the sweet peppers. Thing is, both come in 4 lb.quantities which is a lot for one household to use quickly unless you’re expecting a crowd. The photos above show the full quantities of each item after their vinegar washes.

For the spinach, the biggest problem is simply space. That volume of spinach just won’t fit in the fridge in our kitchen. We don’t eat a lot of raw spinach, though T. will occasionally make a spinach salad. The rest will be flash-cooked so it’s ready to use in a variety of dishes: omelets, dressed in sesame or garlic dressing as a side dish, added to pan-fried noodle dishes, topping for ramen or soba, filling for a pie or lasagne. One of the most time-consuming chores when using fresh greens of any kind is washing it, so by doing the whole quantity at once you’ve saved yourself valuable prep time for the rest of the week. My 16” wok will fit one colander-ful of cleaned spinach so it takes 3 turns on the wok to cook all the spinach, but with only 5 minutes cooking for each panful. Drain the cooked spinach, pressing lightly to remove as much water as possible, cool, and store.

Most importantly, valuable fridge real estate is preserved when those 3 colanders of fresh spinach now fit in 2 flat quart-size containers that stack neatly. Cooked spinach will also keep a bit longer than fresh, but I would still use it up in 4-5 days. After 2 days, I make it a point to re-heat the spinach thoroughly either in whatever it is cooked with or to the point of steaming in the microwave if used as a side dish or topping for noodle soups.

The sweet peppers we love for their wonderful sweetness, and they’re great for snacking on just by themselves. But with their rich colors, they’re also a welcome addition to stir-fries, stews, fajitas, omelets, and just about anything that would benefit from their color and sweetness. We probably use about half the peppers fresh, then I clean and trim the remaining peppers, vacuum seal them and freeze until needed. Most are cut into strips, but I like to leave a small quantity in halves so I have the option to do other things with them — cut into chunks for stews, or leave in halves and stuff for baking. When we have a filling leftover from making potstickers, gyoza, or even last year’s fried olive delights (remember those?.... so good...), pepper halves make perfect vessels for baking off the leftovers and treating yourself to a nice light lunch or an appetizer.

So whether you’re shopping at a warehouse store, or your local grocery is having a too-good-to-resist sale on your favorite produce, or your CSA box comes with loads of veggies you don’t plan to use right away, set aside an hour or two to prep them the more delicate, perishable ones right away, even if you’re not certain what you will do them later. Knowing you have them on hand and ready-to-use, will make it more likely that you will find creative ways to add them into your week-day meal planning or last-minute brain-storming.

Happy Cooking, Everyone! And remember, “Cook food, but serve Love.”


Muffuletta Olive Salad

If you’ve visited this site before, you may have noticed I have a fondness for briny or pickled things. So one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans was less about Mardi Gras and more about the New Orleans famed Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery. (I don’t want to know what this says about my psyche...)

Muffuletta is basically a type of sub or hero sandwich made with Italian deli meats, a particular type of bread, and provolone and mozzarella cheeses — but the thing that is said to set the Muffuletta apart from mere mortal sandwiches is the olive salad which is part filling, part condiment. The salad is a conglomeration of olives, pepperoncini, pickled onions, capers, veggies and assorted seasonings. Once assembled, the sandwich is wrapped and allowed to rest so the salad has a chance to permeate the bread and meats with its oily goodness and create a delicious mess. My kind of sandwich!

Anyway, earlier this year while searching the Web for something entirely different, I repeatedly came across references to Muffulettas — maybe a dozen times in one search session. As I understood it, this was a sign from the universe that I could no longer wait to visit New Orleans to sample a Muffuletta, I’d just have to make one here.

First I read a couple of dozen recipes for that key ingredient, the olive salad, and used as a starting point the one that had the highest ratings or most positive comments from others who have actually had a Muffuletta from Central Grocery. After gathering everything in the rather lengthy and pricey list of ingredients (except the bread — I did not find the right bread, and used a ciabatta instead), I realized it might be more cost effective to buy a ticket to New Orleans instead! Just kidding. Sort of.

So once the salad was made and allowed to sit overnight, I couldn’t wait to assemble the actual sandwich. Some writers were very particular about the actual order of layering the meats and cheese, something I respect because I know that can affect the final flavor. I followed this order: bread, mozzarella, provolone, ham, mortadella, genoa salami, olive salad; then dutifully wrapped my sandwich in plastic and let it sit for a couple of hours.

All in all, it was a delicious creation. And, as promised, a very messy sandwich. Was it as good as I had built it up in my mind? After 20 years of imagining and lusting after this sandwich, there’s really no way it could be. But it was worth trying, and if I do find myself in New Orleans in the future, I will still find my way to Central Grocery for the Real Thing. Despite the Bad News (see below).

The olive salad, though, is useful in many other things and I will definitely make it again. It would make a great pizza topping all by itself, and is an instant gourmet flavor boost to any tuna or chicken salad with mayo for sandwiches and wraps, or mix with macaroni or tortellini for a picnic pasta salad. Whether you decide to go for the Muffuletta or not, this olive salad is a handy fridge staple to have on hand especially with the summer picnic season just ahead.

Update: Learn more about the
Sicilian heritage of the Muffuletta sandwich and how to make the traditional bread for the real thing at Rubber Slippers in Intaly.

(based on jenn’s Real N'awlins Muffuletta)

1/2 cup pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pickled cauliflower florets and carrots (giardiniera)
2 TBL capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini (pickled peppers)
2 TBL chopped marinated cocktail onions
1/2 tsp raw sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive container, and allow to marinate at least overnight.

The Bad News: This recipe came from which has the added feature of providing nutritional information for the recipes on the site, which is a very Good thing. The bad news about the Muffuletta, though, is that one serving size (which is 1/8 of jenn’s full recipe) has a whopping 973 calories, 556 of which are from fat. But that isn’t even the worst of it — are you sitting down? — it also has 3,242mg of sodium in one serving. The sandwich in the photo above is probably just shy of 2 servings...

Another handy pickle to have in the fridge: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle


Animal Gourmets

It’s tempting as Homo sapiens to think that we are special in all the universe. In many ways we are, of course, but it seems every day we learn things about our fellow inhabitants on planet Earth that remind us that intelligence, learning and emotions are not unique to our species: parrots can do arithmetic, mountain gorillas can communicate with humans using sign language, elephants grieve for lost tribe members even years after they died.

Research has also shown that both monkeys and dogs have an innate sense of “fairness” — both species stop co-operating with their human counterparts when they see that they are not being rewarded for performing a task but another “colleague” consistently receives a reward for performing the same task. (Listen to the full NPR story about how the monkeys could distinguish levels of fairness and how the dogs “tested” the researchers!)

And while we don’t have any empirical evidence to document this, we can attest that cats also have any innate sense of fairness! When Haiku gets soft canned food (she’s old now and has a hard time chewing) and he only gets dry catfood for sensitive tummies (which he has), Kiowea will glower at Haiku, then throw us humans a look that could kill (“J’accuse!!”) before stalking off under the dining table where no one can pet him and becoming “deaf.” Good thing is, cats don’t seem to hold a grudge.

On a completely different level, there is also evidence of animal “gourmet” behavior. Two examples are particularly striking. The first involves a tribe of macaques (monkey-like primates) isolated in far northern Japan on the island of Koshima who have learned to season their food. Over the course of several years in the 1950s, researchers studying the tribe were tracking how behavior is learned and passed through generations. They marveled at how quickly the entire tribe learned from one ingenious female, nicknamed Imo (which means “sweet potato”), to wash sweet potatoes in a stream rather than trying to brush off the dirt with their hands. Within a few yearss, all but the most stubborn older members had copied Imo’s behavior and were washing their potatoes in fresh water before eating. But what took the researchers by surprise was that some individuals decided they liked the sweet potatoes even better when they were “salted” — the macaques would eat by the shore and repeatedly dip the potatoes in seawater before each bite (see photo)! This behavior, too, was quickly picked up by the rest of the tribe.

My mother used to give our German Shepherd, Max, the largest beef bone she could find for his “birthday” every year. First, though, she would briefly roast it and season it lightly with salt. I chided her once for doing this, “He’s a dog, Mom. You don’t have to season his food!” “But he likes it that way,” she said. Now I wonder, “maybe she was right...”

Below is an excerpt from a program featuring the famed naturalist David Attenborough visiting with the Koshima macaque tribe and offering them sweet potatoes.

The second example is the commune of organic mushroom farmers known as leaf-cutter ants. That’s right: They’re organic farmers who cultivate mushrooms to feed to their colony! The ants don’t eat the leaves they harvest and bring back to their colony, instead workers chew the leaves to fertilize a mushroom farm, and the ants eat the mushrooms. Not only that, they’ve been organic farmers for millions of years.

The following story includes footage of the leaf harvesters, the mushroom farm, and new findings about how these clever farmers control mold with antibiotics!


JD's Zucchini Saute

Once upon a time there were two best friends — mechanical engineers by training and trade, and they were both named John Joseph. These best buddies loved to make people laugh, to dance, to take things apart and, most importantly for our purposes, to eat.

One John Joseph actually went by the Italian version of this name, Giovanni Giuseppe, as he was born in that faraway land and had come to the U.S. as a young boy; we met Gio last year in Remembrances of Caponatas Past. The other John Joseph was of Irish descent and here we’ll call him JD. Both men enjoyed being in the kitchen, but were very different kinds of cooks. Gio picked up a pot of his mama’s homemade ragu every week to use for his bachelor meals, most of which featured this ragu. (Hey, with homemade ragu, how can you go wrong?!) JD was more of an experimental cook, who thrived on innovation in the kitchen as well as the workshop. One of his signature original (he swears) dishes was a quick saute of zucchini that requires only the most basic pantry staples, yet produces an addictively tasty and easy vegetable side dish. I’ve been making JD’s saute for over 20 years now and everyone who tries it, wants the recipe and is amazed how simple it is to prepare. This is perfect both for quick weekday meals and for serving in your best dishes to guests.

Thanks, JD...

For 2 persons
Plan on 1 medium-sized zucchini per person, and this recipe easily doubles and triples

2 medium zucchini, about 1 lb/455g
1 TBL olive oil
1 medium to large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp *dried basil
1/2 tsp *dried oregano
1/8 tsp *dried thyme
(* Someone once asked me why I don’t use fresh herbs for this, and the simple answer is that JD used dried herbs, and out of habit I do too with this particular recipe even when we have a garden full of basil, oregano and thyme...)
1-2 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 drops soy sauce, about 1/4 tsp (See Hint for controlling soy sauce drops below)
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Wash zucchini well, trim ends and slice to about 1/4” thickness.

In wok, or large skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat until garlic is fragrant. Add sliced zucchini, and saute until zucchini just begin to become translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add dried herbs and butter, and stir to melt butter and distribute herbs. Continue cooking until zucchini almost reach desired doneness — we prefer them to be slightly translucent but not completely limp, about 5 minutes for 2 zucchini (longer cooking if making larger quantities). Sprinkle soy sauce over, and stir well, cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from heat and correct seasoning. The soy sauce has to “cook” a little to achieve the right flavor but you don’t want it to scorch.

Serve with your favorite pasta or roast chicken.

If you have any leftovers, add with leftover spaghetti or diced potatoes, and eggs to make a great frittata for lunch the next day!

Hint for controlling shoyu when pouring or dribbling: If you have one of these soy sauce servers (at most Asian markets, they are less than $2 filled, then you re-fill them when empty), it’s easy to control the amount of soy sauce you add when pouring or drizzling drops of soy sauce as you cook. Simply place your finger over one opening as you tilt the bottle to pour. By quickly lifting your finger from the opening, you allow either a stream of liquid or just a few drops through, depending on how long your finger is off the opening. By also keeping the angle of the bottle tilt shallow, you can literally control the liquid drop by drop!


Fun with Game: Venison Bolognese (with a Punch)

Venison? I know what you’re thinking: “But game is something you eat in Autumn, during hunting season!” Yes, this is true, if you’re a hunter. I am not. Neither is T. Lucky for us, both T’s parents hunt during all the different seasons in their area, and we count ourselves darn lucky they wanted to share some of their bounty with us!

In March, we had a very short visit from T’s parents, aka The Snowbirds, who were on their way down from Maine to Florida for boating, seashell collecting and other sun-filled activities that did not involve SNOW. They gifted us with venison tenderloin, roast, ground meat, and seasoned ground sausage. Mom Snowbird suggested we try the sausage meat in a spaghetti sauce, which we did. The first time I simply browned the sausage and added a commercial bottled sauce, but the seasonings in the sausage were still too mild for my taste — and the game flavor really dominated the sauce. It was good, but I wanted the game to blend in with the sauce, not sit on top of it. So the second time, I monkeyed around with the sausage and sauce — as I am wont to do — adding fresh garlic, red wine, and some decidedly non-traditional ingredients. Then it simmered for at least an hour. The deep rich flavors of the game paired perfectly with the earthy flavors of whole wheat pasta — this a combination that we will use again.

When they’re not sun-seeking in Florida or hunting in the Fall, the Snowbirds really enjoy the “Good Life in Maine”: boating, swimming, fishing, riding his and hers ATV’s (All-Terrain Vehicles), and generally just hanging out around gorgeous Lake Nicatous where they have a summer cabin. For a peek at what the “Good Life” really is, visit Mom’s website at Maine Musings.

Thanks, Mom & Dad, for choosing to stay with us despite the sparse accommodations. And thanks for bringing me such fun “toys” to play with, too! Next year, we hope you come when it’s warmer here — maybe for the Cherry Blossom Festival!

Serves 4 persons

2TBL + 3TBL olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb/ 455g fresh cremini mushrooms, aka baby bellas, sliced
1 lb/ 1/2kg ground venison
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt to taste
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano (or 1 TBL minced fresh)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh)
1 TBL soy sauce
(*optional: The Punch) 1 TBL kochu jang (Korean red pepper paste)
(in truth, the only reason I put this in was because I was taking a photo of it for Kochujang Chicken post and didn’t want to look for a container to put it away!! If you’d like to add some Punch or Pfiff to your sauce without kochu jang, substitute a scant TBL of crushed red pepper, or a dose of your favorite hot sauce)
1 bottle of your favorite commercial bottled sauce ( about 24-26 oz/ 680-730 ml)
1/2 - 1 cup dry red wine (used Barefoot Zinfandel)
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated for serving

Heat 2 TBL olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and gently press mushrooms against pan to sear them, then stir-fry mushrooms over high heat until browned and dry. (Note: If heat in pan is not high enough, mushrooms will start to lose water and become mushy — they will not brown.) Remove mushrooms to clean bowl and season with sea salt.

Return pan to medium high heat and add remaining 3 TBL olive oil, and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. (I found the extra oil was necessary because venison is naturally very lean and tends to stick to the pan.) Add ground venison, and brown well, seasoning generously with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Once meat is thoroughly browned, sprinkle with sugar, oregano, thyme, and soy sauce. Cook together about 3-4 minutes, until the aroma of the herbs and spices fill the kitchen. Add kochu jang, if using, and bottled or homemade sauce, and stir well to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add red wine, stir well, and reduce heat to medium low or low (just simmering) and cover again. Allow to simmer for 40 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, and grate fresh parmesan generously over the top. Finish off the Zinfandel.
Suggested vegetable pairing: JD’s Zucchini Saute (next recipe), mirrors some of the herb notes in this sauce, but adds a buttery counterpoint.


Kochujang Chicken

We haven’t acquired a new grill since we re-located to D.C., but with warmer weather on the way, I have noticed T. hanging out by the grill displays when we’re supposed to be picking up potting soil and plants...

As I look over grill recipes, the ones that keep rising to the top are our favorite flavors from Hawaii that we now miss so much. This one for Kochujang Chicken is actually the last one we made before we gave up our gas grill on Oahu. Literally. We made this chicken as part of the lunch for the moving crew who were packing up all our household goods and furniture. After they were done, we offered to let them take anything that we didn’t plan to take with us, including the grill. One of the crew took us up on it and the grill found a good home!

Kochu Jang (also spelled Gochujang) is a wonderful Korean condiment that has found many uses in our home. It’s a thick paste made with medium hot peppers, garlic and other spices and glutinous rice powder. It’s a great shortcut to adding layers of flavor to soups, marinades, and sauces. This sweet-spicy marinade will give you a juicy, flavorful chicken with familiar yet exotic notes.

The Korean red pepper used in Kochu Jang, and also found dried as a flakes, is a mild to medium heat pepper with a sweetness to them. They are more similar to Aleppo pepper than to what is called “crushed red pepper” or to cayenne pepper powder in the U.S. Substitute 3/4 amount of Aleppo pepper for Korean red pepper powder called for in the recipe below. If neither is available, omit the dried peppers — the marinade will still be spicy from the Kochu Jang.

This recipe is my own. Most recipes call for the chicken to be cooked in a sauce, but I wanted something that was marinated and cooked dry, either on a grill or oven. Kochujang Chicken was also part of the Korean-theme meal we shared with friends in January when we also had Bulgogi Letttuce Wraps and Watercress Dumplings. For that meal, the chicken was simply baked instead of grilled.

For 4-6 persons
This recipe easily doubles and triples for large BBQs. Allow to marinate overnight for best flavor.

2 lbs./1kg chicken thighs, with or without bones

2 TBL kochu jang
1-2 tsp Korean red pepper flakes
2 TBL soy sauce
2 TBL raw sugar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame oil
2 TBL sake or mirin

Combine marinade and stir well to dissolve sugar. Place chicken in non-metal bowl or plastic zippered bag, pour marinade over chicken, and massage marinade into meat. Place in refrigerator at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight, and up to 2 days.

One hour before grilling (or baking), remove from fridge. Prepare grill or pre-heat oven to 350F (180C).

Remove chicken from marinade and lightly pat dry. Oil grill or baking pan. Grill/Bake until juices near bone run clear, about 40 minutes.

Serve with rice, kimchee and/or other pickles, and vegetables such as Choi Sum, Watercress or Mustard Greens.

T. with his beloved grill on Oahu for the last time...


Stuffed Shiitake Medaillons

This quick starter was devised as a way to finish the extra filling we had after making Watercress Dumplings. It is inspired by one of my favorite dim sum entrees, stuffed shiitake mushrooms. In this case, I re-hydrated dried shiitake mushrooms, and filled them with the meat filling we already had, surrounded them with broth and sake, and baked them for 25 minutes. Before serving, they were glazed with a spicy hoisin mixture and sprinkled with green onions. Voila! An easy first course or appetizer, or even a light lunch or dinner when paired with rice and a light soup such as miso soup.

Serves 4 persons as a first course, 2 as a main course

10 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated (For directions, see
Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1/4 Quantity of
Watercress-Pork Filling for Dumplings
2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup sake
2 stalks scallions, washed and trimmed and sliced
3 TBL hoisin sauce
1-2 tsp sriracha (Thai hot red pepper sauce, preferably the Huy Foo Foods brand from Rosemead, CA — look for the rooster)
1 tsp mirin (seasoned sake)
1/2 tsp raw sugar

Combine hoisin, sriracha, mirin and sugar. Set aside.

Pre-heat oven or toaster oven to 350F.

Gently squeeze shiitake dry and trim stems. Fill mushroom caps with 1-2 tsp of Dumpling Filling, depending on size of cap. Place caps in 2 qt/L baking dish, or other oven-proof dish that will snugly hold all the caps in a single layer. Brush filling with sesame oil. Pour broth and sake around caps, if needed add water or other liquid so that it comes half way up the caps. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until filling is cooked through.

Brush or spoon hoisin mixture over filling, and return to oven for 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with green onions before serving.


Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables in Egg “Custard” Sauce

Once farmers’ markets re-open and spring vegetables appear, they seem such a luxury after months of root vegetables, squashes and winter greens! This is a simple and unusual preparation that seems more decadent and rich than it really is. I learned the method from a housemate in London who was also a student at Leith’s and hailed from Bari, Italy (near the “heel” of the Italian peninsula). It is a sensuous decadent pasta coated with melting slices of zucchini dressed in a "custard" of barely cooked eggs. Prepared correctly, this sauce will remind you of the best carbonara — a flavor-packed, unctous sauce clinging to every strand of pasta. And like carbonara, the ingredients are few, so quality is important.

Costi prepared his mother's recipe for this sauce with only 5 ingredients: zucchini, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and fresh eggs. I’ve made this dish regularly since I learned it from him, but I also include a touch of garlic as a personal preference (but Costi would not approve). In this instance, I’ve also added asparagus because it was also seasonal and its flavors would marry well with the other ingredients.

The method is simple: thinly sliced zucchini are gently sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil until translucent, then the hot cooked pasta is heated through with the vegetable. Off the flame, beaten eggs are added and gently stirred through to combine. And when I say "copious amounts of olive oil," I mean enough to make most people faint at the thought of it — when I helped Costi make this dish for a dinner party thrown by our host family in London, he used almost a liter of oil for an 8-person serving! The hostess almost had a heart attack watching him devastate a prized bottle of olive oil she had brought back with her from their family’s last trip to Italy.

I cut back a bit on the amount of olive oil here, but this is about as far down as you can take it and still retain the creaminess of the original. I rationalize the amount of oil in this dish by thinking that 1) olive oil is at least a monounsaturated oil, approved by the American Heart Association for reducing bad cholesterol, and 2) we have this only once a year.

The freshness of the eggs is especially important in this dish, because the eggs are just barely cooked so they retain their creamy texture and do not “set” or scramble. I actually prepared this last spring when we were still on Oahu and zucchini, asparagus, and eggs were all local and fresh. When buying “farm fresh” eggs at the farm or market, let the proprietor know that you plan to use the eggs in a semi-cooked state and ask for the freshest they have on hand. Until I can find all these again in our new local area, I’ll wait and continue to dream of our next taste…

Serves 4 persons
This dish contains semi-cooked eggs and, even when using the freshest eggs possible, should not be consumed by pregnant women, young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised or weakened immune system (including those who are taking or have recently taken a course of antibiotics) without first consulting your physician.

1 lb. fresh or dried fettuccine, or other flat pasta

½ lb. zucchini
1 lb. asparagus spears
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cup olive oil (not a typo)
sea salt to taste
fresh grated Parmesan, about ½ cup, plus extra for the table
4 large very fresh eggs, preferably organic and without antibiotics

Bring water to boil for pasta. Warm pasta bowls/plates. (See hints for warming plates below.)

Wash and dry the zucchini and asparagus well, preferably in a vinegar wash. (See original Gai Choy post about cleaning vegetables to remove pesticides, wax and dirt and a link to an NPR story about cleaning vegetables.)

Slice the zucchini cross-wise on the diagonal. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the asparagus lengthwise into thin strips or ribbons.

Wash eggs well, and dry. Beat eggs together with ¼ cup oil. Set aside.

In a skillet or wok large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta, heat ½ cup olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic becomes fragrant. Add another ½ cup oil and zucchini, and stir gently to coat vegetable with oil. As zucchini absorbs oil, add another ¼ cup and allow vegetable to absorb new amount. Continue cooking until zucchini just starts to become translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta (remember to salt the water just before adding your pasta).

Add asparagus ribbons, salt to taste (but remember that the Parmesan will add saltiness too), and combine to coat asparagus with oil. Continue to cook until asparagus just becomes bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Add Parmesan and stir.

Drain pasta, but do not rinse, and add hot pasta directly to skillet with the vegetables, and stir through to combine. Immediately pour beaten eggs over everything, and stir well but gently. Cover for 5 minutes.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls, garnished with extra Parmesan if desired. (If you don’t always warm your pasta bowl or plate — *guilty!* — this is one dish where you really want to take that extra step.)

With a garlicky bruschetta and glasses of Pinot Grigio or Soave, you’re set for a spring fling al fresco! Happy Spring!

Hints for Warming Bowls/Plates:
* If you’re making garlic bread, put your plates in the oven as it’s pre-heating. Remove them from the oven to put in the garlic bread, and keep covered with a clean towel. Or if you’re like us and use a toaster oven for this task, put the stacked plates on top of the toaster oven while making your garlic bread — if you have 4 or more plates, you may have to rotate the plates around to get them all warm.
* Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and pour ½ cup into each bowl just before serving. Set aside for 1 minute, pour off water and dry.
* Find your warming tray and put it to use! We have one that uses 2 votive candles to keep serving dishes warm at the table, but it can pull double duty here by warming your pasta bowls while you are preparing the meal.
* In the microwave, place a 1/4 cup or so of water in each bowl, stack them and place in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your oven. Remove water and dry.


Happy May Day

Happy May Day! My spring sabbatical is officially over with a welcome to the warm weather ahead. YAY!!!

The weather here in metro D.C. has been quite chaotic lately — swinging between the mid 40s and high 80s. Lots of rain, too. I understand now where the expression, “April showers bring May flowers” comes from! And although today is the first day of May, it is the second of 4 days of promised rain. So to remind myself that rain is a good thing, and that the gardens and blooms are happy to see the showers, even if I’m not, here is my tribute to all things in bloom and coming alive everywhere.

This post is dedicated to my SIL, Tra, who is just home after a too-long stay in the hospital. Tra reminds me of these cherry blossoms — she looks delicate and fragile, but she returns after every bitter winter as resilient, beautiful and signalling hope to everyone who sees her. Stay well, Tra!

In April, the sakura, or cherry blossoms, around the Tidal Basin were every bit as stunning as I had always dreamed they were...

This year we took off in the early morning with only spam musubi and oatmeal cookies on hand, but next year I’d like to follow fellow blogger Biggie’s lead and prepare a proper Hanami, or blossom-viewing picnic. Check out the grill and other goodies her guests enjoyed under the cherry trees in San Francisco!


Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Figs

Hello... Feels like I went into hibernation after Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) when Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog saw his shadow, predicting 6 more weeks of winter! (And how did this little guy get so clairvoyant anyway?)

Anyhoo, as an island girl at heart, even though we’ve lived in places with snow-on-the-ground winters before (Boston, Germany), I was not happy with the groundhog’s prediction. Yes, even more reason to miss the balmy 77F weather of Ewa Beach, Oahu in February... Of course, we really can’t complain since my in-laws in Maine were buried in a Nor’easter (snow storm) last week — and that is not a figure of speech, they were literally BURIED, as you can see on my MIL’s site,
Maine Musing. Glad it wasn’t me shovelling out the second floor balcony!

This morning, though, I spotted a pair of robins — a rather frisky couple chasing each other around the front lawn. This can only mean the cherry blossoms near the Tidal Basin can’t be far behind, even though the temperature here is back into the low 40s after hitting a balmy 58F yesterday.

So, thoughts are turning toward spring, but warm and warming meals are still the order of the day for a little while longer. I had a hankering for the bright flavor of those
preserved lemons we made last November, but wanted something a little different too. I played around with flavors and put together a twist on our favorite Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, adding a touch of sweetness with honey and dried figs. The result was a salty-sweet (think: Silver Palate’s “Chicken Marbella), lemony soul-warming casserole.

When brainstorming this dish, I was tempted to include cinnamon but instead put it in the side dish — adding cinnamon to the boiling water before the couscous grains are rehydrated. The combination of lemon and cinnamon is classic, but I really wanted the clean intense flavor of preserved lemons to shine here. The added warmth of cinnamon in the couscous livens every mouthful.

Preserved lemons are welcome in our house all year, but their sunny citrus flavor with its promise of warmer weather ahead are the perfect antidote when rumbling grey winter skies numb your outlook as well as your bones. Keep warm, Everyone!

Serves 4

4-6 dried whole figs
2 TBL honey, preferably a non-flowery variety
(I used
NZ manuka honey, but any with a minerally (thyme), citrusy or earthy (chestnut) flavor will work)
1 cup boiling water

Rinse figs under warm water, and cut each dried fig in half. Dissolve honey in hot water, and add dried fig halves. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
3 TBL olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly mashed

Cook onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until onions are translucent and sweet, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is fragrant. Put onion mixture into bottom of oven-proof casserole that will fit all the chicken in a single layer.

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.

1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces, or 4 whole legs
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt

Combine cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Rub spice mixture into chicken pieces, especially under the skin. Place chicken in a single layer on top of onions in casserole.

4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, to equal 1 lemon
1 cup (160-200g) small-medium green olives with pits
2 tsp. raw/turbinado sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
2 TBL olive oil

Separate lemon pulp from rind. (Pulp is usually discarded, which you can do, but I like to include it in the braising liquid) Cut each rind into 3-4 thin strips, and tuck 3/4 of the lemon strips under skin and between joints of the chicken. Sprinkle sugar.

Remove fig halves from soaking liquid (do not squeeze), reserving any liquid. Add water to soaking liquid to bring it to 1/4 cup. Scatter olives, figs, remaining 1/4 lemon rinds, and optional lemon pulp between chicken pieces. Pour broth, reserved fig-soaking liquid, and wine over everything, then drizzle on olive oil.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then turn temperature down to 350F/180C, and continue baking for another 35-45 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through (whole leg joints will move easily and juices run clear).

Serve with cinnamon-scented couscous or long-grain rice, and think of spring...

Cinnamon Couscous
Prepare couscous according to package directions, but add pieces from 1/2 cinnamon stick to the water when you put it on to boil. When the water reaches a full boil, add a pinch of salt and the couscous, cover tightly and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and fluff couscous grains with a fork.

More Recipes with Preserved Lemons:
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage
Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata
Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (dessert)


Lunar New Year 2009 in Washington D.C.

It was a balmy, clear day — perfect for being out and about for a parade. We came to see the 4-story tall string of firecrackers that was going to close the Lunar New Year festivities in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown last Sunday...

It promised to be quite a sight, not to mention lots of noise — noise that is supposed to drive away Bad Spirits and Bad Luck.

But first there was that parade...

With dragons...

And dancing lions...

And special performances for local and visiting dignitaries...

Then the crowd turned from the stage back toward the tower of firecrackers and waited for the auspicious hour of 3:45pm for the lighting of the firecrackers...

And waited. And waited. Until the inauspicious hour of 4:20pm when the dignitaries suddenly turned to leave. No firecrackers, no announcement.

A passing police officer said that the fire department would not allow the lighting ceremony because there was a smell of natural gas in the vicinity and they didn’t want to risk the public’s safety.

Their caution is understandable. Wise, even. But now what are we supposed to do with all those Bad Spirits and Bad Luck??

Table-top Cooking: Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps

There’s something about having a grill at the table that makes any meal an occasion. Add friends on a cold winter evening and it becomes a down-right event! A couple of weeks ago we brought our grill and butane stove to our friends’ home for a feast of our favorite flavors from Korea — bulgogi lettuce wraps, kochujang chicken,
watercress dumplings, and lots of laughs. Everything but the bulgogi meat was cooked before it was brought to the table, so only the bulgogi needed attention during dinner.

The bulgogi lettuce wraps were quickly renamed “lettuce burritos” by the junior diners at the table since the rolls required as-you-eat assembly (think: fajitas). Thin slices of garlicky sesame flavored beef are quickly cooked, then are wrapped in a lettuce leaf already layered with rice, pickled vegetables and kimchee. The contrast between hot and spicy meat, neutral rice, cool lettuce, and piquant veggie pickles is quite addictive. Each diner makes her own wrap and can play with proportion and flavors to suit their own taste.

We’ve seen the butane stove and canisters at most of the Korean chain stores here in metro DC, including
H Mart and Lotte, as well as Korean Korner in Wheaton. For setting up the stove and grill, and sources for stoves on Oahu or West Coast, see our original post.

We first tried bulgogi lettuce wraps several years ago at another friend’s home, where we sat down to this lovely feast after a lesson in making homemade napa kimchee! Our hostess, June, cooked the bulgogi meat at the stove so we “students” could focus on the assembly of the rolls and oohing and ahhing over our homemade kimchee. Even without a tabletop grill, assembling bulgogi lettuce wraps at the table can add a nice spark to your next weekend family meal or dinner party!

Inspired by June L-S
For 4-6 adults, a part of a multi-course meal

For the Beef Marinade:
1 lb (450g) thinly sliced rib-eye, flank or skirt steak
1/2 Nashi pear, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt
3 TBL toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. raw sugar
1 finger of ginger, peeled and sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. light soy sauce

Combine meat with all seasonings for marinade in non-metal bowl or zipper plastic bag, and marinate at least 8 hours or overnight. The pear is added less for flavor than as a natural meat tenderizer. If nashi pear is not available, you can use 1 kiwi or a slice of papaya to accomplish the same thing, but June warns not too marinate more than 3-4 hours if you use these fruits because they are much more potent tenderizers than the pear, and will turn the meat to mush! (Sounds like a great science experiment, doesn’t it?)

Have ready at the table:
Small container of oil for grill
Washed and dried green and/or red lettuce leaves, torn into 4” pieces
Pickled radish and/or cucumbers (recipe below)
Bowls of cooked medium grain rice, 1 for each diner

Remove meat from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Drain marinade and discard. Gently pat meat dry.
If using butane stove and grill at table, pre-heat grill over medium-high, and add about 1 TBL oil to grill plate. Carefully add slices of meat using tongs or long chopsticks to keep yourself away from hot oil. Oil may sputter, so take care — we seated the children present at the heads of the table so they were farthest away from the grill and stove.

Turn heat down to medium-low, and turn meat over once to brown both sides. Diners can help themselves directly from the grill as the meat cooks. Using clean tongs or chopsticks, remove meat to serving plate if it cooks faster than people are eating.

Let each person assemble their own wraps:
* Lay a piece of lettuce on your plate
* Add a mouthful of rice, about 1 TBL or so, on top of the lettuce
* Add a couple of slices of pickled cucumber, radish and kimchee
* Top with one slice of bulgogi
* Wrap lettuce around fillings
* Munch, swallow, repeat!

Possible accompaniments: miso soup,
watercress or spinach with sesame dressing, or dumplings.

Use this basic method and dressing for either daikon or cucumber
If you want both pickles, repeat recipe for each vegetable

1/2 small daikon radish OR
1 English of other long cucumber
2-3 TBL sugar

Peel daikon and cut lengthwise, then thinly slice into half-moons or thin strips.

If using cucumber, peel leaving thin stripes of green peel for contrast, then cut in half cross-wise on the diagonal, then lengthwise. Thinly slice cucumber on the diagonal.

Place vegetable in colander set over a bowl or plate. Sprinkle sugar evenly over and through vegetable. Set aside for 30-45 minutes to just wilt veggies (cucumber will take longer than daikon). Meanwhile make dressing.

3 TBL rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. raw sugar
1/2 -3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2-1 tsp Korean red pepper flakes (can substitute Aleppo pepper)

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Taste for tartness — salt will mellow the sharpness of vinegar, but it should still be tart. Add pepper flakes and mix through.

Do not rinse vegetable! Add lightly sweetened, wilted vegetable to dressing and set aside for about 1 hour for flavors to infuse. Divide pickles into 2-3 small serving bowls and place bowls around the table to allow each diner to easily reach the pickles as they assemble their bulgogi rolls.

More Table-top cooking:
Vietnamese style BBQ Pork


Kio's First Snow Day...

After a full day of steady but light snow — most of which he watched from his perch by the large front window — yesterday Kiowea got his first taste of snow!

Born in Hawaii and spirited away to this strange and chilly place by his human pets, this island cat seemed none too pleased with his first encounter with cold, wet snow...

After being unceremoniously plopped into the snow by one of his humans, Kio’s tail tells the tale of this island cat’s opinion of the surprising white stuff...


“Will somebody let me back inside already!??”

Haiku gladly traded places with her younger housemate — it’s been 4 years since she’s had a chance to sniff out snow!

“Snow is much better from this side of the glass!....”


For the Lunar New Year: Watercress Dumplings

Happy New Year, again!

Yesterday was the first day of weeks-long celebrations of the beginning of the Year of the Ox. It’s snowing today and tomorrow, so we hope for better weather by Sunday when D.C.’s Chinatown will host a parade, lion dance and other festivities.

To start the celebrations of Lunar New Year 4707, we opted for a cozy dinner at home with spicy garlic eggplant, dry-fried Sichuan-style long beans, hot & sour soup, and watercress dumplings.

I use the term “dumpling” deliberately because these little packets of happiness can’t really be classified as Japanese gyoza, nor as Chinese wontons, Korean mandoo, Polish pierogi, Italian ravioli, or any other filled “pasta pocket.” But they are “ono,” nonetheless. When I learned this recipe from my mom, we used to make them with spinach, but watercress is definitely better. The slight bitter undertones of the vegetable counters the fattiness of the meat and balances the dumpling. Earlier this month we made these dumplings with pork instead of turkey for a dinner party, and the contrast between the savory veg and fatty meat was even more appreciated.

The watercress we’ve found since we moved away from the Islands are quite a bit smaller than what we were used to finding on Oahu. The stems and leaves are smaller, and are sold in smaller bunches than their Hawaiian cousins. We need 2-3 bunches of these smaller cress to equal the amounts we are accustomed to for our soups or flash-cooked greens. But for this recipe, one bunch is just about right.

Dumplings are often thought of as appetizers, but we often make a dinner of them with just rice and miso soup. And this is a great project for the kids or a group of friends — the additional hands make quick work of filling and folding all the little pouches.

The cooking method described below combines the best of pan-frying and steaming: the dumpling is crispy on one side from initial pan-frying, and juicy and cooked through by steam. You will need a large flat bottomed skillet with a fitted lid for this. For a more calorie-conscious dish, you can line a steamer with lettuce leaves or wax paper and just steam them (about 5 minutes or until meat is cooked through), or you can add them to simmering broth to make a full-meal soup. Steamed or fried, alone or as part of a larger meal, these dumplings have tried and true appeal with children and adults alike.

50+ dumplings, plus extra filling

1 small bunch watercress, about 1/2 lb (225g)

Wash well and drain, but do not completely dry. Remove thickest stems. Pre-heat wok over medium-high heat. Add watercress with any water on leaves after washing to hot wok. Stir through until vegetable is just wilted and still bright green. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Finely mince leaves and remaining smaller stems, and set aside until needed. This can be done up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.

1lb (450g) ground turkey or pork
3-4 stems scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. sake or very dry white wine
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 slice (coin-size) of fresh ginger, minced (about 1/2 tsp)
1 large clove garlic, minced
generous seasoning with sea salt and ground black pepper

Combine meat and all seasonings, and massage well to incorporate. Set aside in fridge for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours, to allow flavors to marry. Add cooled cooked and minced watercress, and combine well.

To Finish:
1 package round gyoza wrappers, about 10 oz/ 280g (50-60 sheets)
small bowl of water

Place a scant teaspoonful of filling in the center of one wrapper. Dip your finger in water, and wet the edge of top half of wrapper. Bring bottom half of wrapper over the filling and press the center down to seal. Pleat the sides of the wrapper around the center, then press down to seal. Because the filling is rounded, the sides will naturally want to fold over each other. Set aside and continue until filling or wrappers run out.

To Pan-fry:
Have ready: a lid that fits snugly over the skillet you are using, a small container of oil for easy pouring, and a small cup of water.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 TBL. oil to pan, and swirl to coat entire bottom of pan. Place dumplings in pan, making sure they do not touch (or they will stick together), and gently press the filled center against the pan. Let fry about 30 seconds, then add about 2 TBL of water directly into the pan — trying not to pour water onto the dumplings themselves — and immediately cover with lid.
Turn heat down to medium, and let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until pan stops steaming. Do not remove cover while steaming!

Carefully remove lid and check whether filling is thoroughly cooked by gently pressing on the meat-filled center: it will feel firm when the meat is cooked through. Using spatula or small fish slice (UK), remove dumplings to serving plate and cover to keep warm.

Turn heat back up to medium-high, and add 1 TBL oil to pan, coating bottom evenly. Add more dumplings, and cook as you did the first batch. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.

Serve with rice, miso or other light soup, and Dipping Sauce (below) for a light meal. Or serve as an appetizer or part of a buffet.

In each dipping bowl, combine the following ingredients:
3 TBL rice vinegar
2 tsp soy
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
3-5 drops chili oil

We don’t often have wine, other than sake, with Asian meals. But we’ve been waiting for an excuse to try this French wine called “Wasabi White” from the amusing Now & Zen label (Alsace). We both love the wines of Alsace but were a little skeptical about the cutesy label. Wasabi White proved to be in keeping with our expectations of Alsatian wines as being food wines first and foremost. It was both dry yet with enough fruit to tame and round out the rich and spicy notes in our meal, especially the garlic eggplant. In keeping with the Asian theme, we used large teacups instead of wine glasses!

Like watercress as much as we do? More recipes with watercress:
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)
Portuguese Bean Soup
Flash-cooked Watercress


Vive le Cassoulet!

Cassoulet (CAH-soo-lay). One of the great winter comfort foods, and certainly not for the calorie-shy — beans long-simmered with pork fatback and rind, as well as sausages, and duck, goose or lamb. A true peasant dish in the best sense, taking the humblest of ingredients and raising them to glorious heights with care and slow cooking.

As with all the best foods, there are as many recipes for cassoulet as there are cooks. At the foundation are the three great traditions around the Provencal districts from which cassoulet is said to have sprung — traditions that dictate what combination of meats will flavor and provide the unctuous bath for the lowly bean. Debates rage and blood pressures rise about whether duck or goose confit is better, and whether the inclusion of lamb is merely tolerable or absolutely sacrilegious. To claim one’s cassoulet “Castlenaudry” or “Toulouse” one would probably seek out ingredients actually from those regions. But it seems to me more in keeping with the spirit of cassoulet to use ingredients closer to home, and to elevate the meal with great love and attention rather than with pricey ingredients.

This particular cassoulet, while scrumptious, was not my best example. For one, the beans were much too small to capture and hold all that lovely fatty broth. I don’t know what I was thinking using navy beans, but it was a serious
brain fart. I also did not make a duck confit, and instead just browned the duck legs and added them and their rendered fat into the beans. The most garlicky sausage I could find on short notice was a Louisiana-style andouille, which together with the pork belly were also browned and added to the cooking pot, with their rendered drippings of course. One pound of dry beans, 2 duck legs, 3 sausages, 2.5 lbs of pork, loads of garlic, thyme, parsley, tomatoes, water, seasoning and breadcrumbs — that’s it. Six hours and 2 days later, choruses of “Bon Appetit.”

But even the most ardent fan of cassoulet (have you met my husband?) will concede that this is a dish best savored in deep winter when the biting cold will lend some justification for the extra pounds that will definitely ensue. Why ensue? Because cassoulet is a dish that makes no apologies for the pork fat, duck or goose fat (ha, ha, guess what “confit” is!), and sausage drippings that conspire to create the oh-so rich broth in which the beans will bake and swim. This is something we make only once a year, though it’s been at least 4 years since we last had this at home. Tropical Hawaii was much too warm for such a rich and hefty dish — seriously, this is Portuguese bean soup on steroids.

“Cassoulet forever”

We missed the buzz about cassoulet that circulated around the U.S. in November, on Election Night. Evidently a mischievous French-speaking cameraman declared his love for his Maman’s cassoulet by holding high signs that said “cassoulet” or “cassoulet forever” behind American broadcasters reporting on Mr. Obama’s victory. The signs were clearly visible in many news broadcasts, prompting a flurry of internet searches in the U.S. for the term “cassoulet” (it was reported to be one of the top Google searches on Election Day.) Some people even wondered out loud — including a broadcaster on live TV, Who is Cassoulet?”
(ou RaHV?)

We happened to make a cassoulet this weekend at T’s request. This is one of his all-time favorite foods — he even likes the canned stuff one can find on any supermarket shelf in cassoulet’s mother country. It was a celebratory meal, too, as we opened a special wine to toast our incoming president and in between sips and mouthfuls rocked with Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, U2, MaryJ Blige, Stevie Wonder, and Garth Brooks (who knew he was a little bit rock ‘n’ roll?!), who were performing down the street at the concert at the Lincoln Memorial that was the kick-off for the inauguration of our 44th President.

So Mr. Obama, we saved you a plate. And our first toast was also for you:
“Vive le President! Long live the 44th President of these United States!”


5-A-Day: Kale Crisps

Kale Crisps. This is one of the best food ideas ever. And so easy! Since we were first introduced to the concept on recipezaar in early December, we’ve adapted it and made it five times.

It’s great on its own — as a snack food as addictive as potato chips/crisps (we dare you to eat just one...), but it also makes a nice crunchy side dish for a sandwich or a buffet, and even a garnish for soups.

And it’s good for you: Kale, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt — baked for 10 minutes in an oven.

Are you wrinkling your nose? Are you thinking, “I don’t like greens, this isn’t for me.” Would you believe me if I told you they actually taste like potato chips? They even smell like potato chips when they’re baking. I don’t know what alchemy or magic is going on here, but it’s true. These crisps come out of the oven light as air and seem to melt in your mouth after the first satisfying KAA-runch!

This dish is going out to Ramki at the imaginative
One Page Cookbooks who is sponsoring the “Recipes for the Rest of Us” Event — a blog event to encourage newbies to try their hand at cooking. He’s accepting entries until Jan 10th, so there’s still time to join the fun! Ramki’s site features literal one-page cookbooks (some have 1001 recipes on them!) that can be printed in their entirety on a single sheet of A-4 paper (European standard). If this recipe were in one of Ramki’s books it would be something like: Wash kale well, tear off leaves, dry leaves, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake.

Whether you already love greens of all kinds — as we do, or it’s part of your New Year’s resolution to learn to like greens, or you’re cooking for someone(s) who would wrinkle their nose at any thing leafy or green, one nibble is all it will take...

1 bunch of kale (about 1 lb/450g)
A drizzle of olive oil — no more than 1 TBL.
sea salt

The key here is to wash the kale, as with any green, well. We prefer the vinegar wash to remove as much pesticide/fertilizer residue and dirt as possible. Simply add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar to a non-metal container (glass or heavy plastic) with 2-3 quarts/liters of water. Have a second container of 2-3 quarts/liters clean cool water. Plunge the kale leaves in the vinegar solution, massaging the leafy parts gently. Remove, and rinse in the clean water, swishing gently. Now rinse a handful of leaves at a time in running water. Allow to drain.

Remove the leaves from the stems. You can cut them off, but I prefer to tear them. Hold a branch with the stem side up, and gently (always gently) tear away bite size pieces of leaves from the branch.

Spin or pat the leaves dry. Or air dry. Any method works, just as long as the leaves are completely dry before you continue.

**Preheat oven to 325 F/180C.
Place completely dry leaves on a large baking sheet (cookie sheet or jelly roll pan), and drizzle regular or light olive oil over the top. Massage — gently, of course — the oil through the pile of leaves, then spread out on the pan. (You may need 2 pans or to do this in 2 batches for 1 lb. of kale.)

Sprinkle with sea salt to taste (we use about a 1/4 teaspoon for each pan). Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the leaves turn from jade green to dark forest green, and take on a translucent look. You’ll notice the potato chip-like aroma emanating from your oven, too.

Allow to cool on pan, about 2 minutes... if you can resist them for that long!

Enjoy guilt-free munching all through the New Year!

We haven’t featured a recipe that I could serve to my father, who suffers from gout, in a long while. Since kale and sea salt are considered moderately alkaline (better for gout-sufferers), and olive oil is a neutral, I would feel comfortable offering this to him as an alternative snack to the peanuts he loves but which are highly acidic and therefore a no-no. This will be included in the
GDC Round-up.

Other recipes featuring cooking greens similar to kale:
Brussels Sprouts with Coconut
Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage (aka Gai Choi)
Tian of Potatoes and Mustard Greens
Flash-cooked Watercress
Greens and Cheese Pie
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Pasta with Sweet & Tangy Beetgreens