Sunday, June 26, 2011

Soba noodle salad with ginger and mizuna

Greetings from the Bluebonnet sickbed. Not exactly a primo summer vacation destination. However, to make up for the lack of surf and tropical drinks, we have plenty of iced water and Nyquil. After battling this wicked stubborn cold for weeks, here I sit, unable to launch into summer vacation festivities with the kids. Total and absolute bummer.

Guest chef Will took pity on me and whipped up a fresh, cool, gingery dish that soothes my sinuses. This soba dish incorporates those dark green leafy vegetables (mizuna, in this case) that's supposed to be an amazing source of vitamins, folate, carotenoids, and other goodies that keep us healthy. I'm in dire need of healthy these days. I think I'm personally responsible for deforesting half of the continental USA with my kleenex usage. By the way, if you don't have any mizuna, you can substitute watercress.

Soba noodle salad with ginger and mizuna

1 large bunch mizuna, washed, stemmed, and chopped
1 large carrot or 2 small carrots, sliced diagonally into thin slices
1/2 hothouse cucumber, cored and sliced into matchsticks
6 ounces dried soba noodles
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and diced fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Cook soba noodles per directions in boiling water. Drain and rinse with cool water until they are no longer hot.

In a large bowl, combine mizuna, carrot slices, soba noodles, and cucumber.

In a small bowl, whisk together ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar,
and sugar. Pour over salad and toss. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tacos de calabacitas

After yesterday's haywire contortions, it's nice to return to something simpler, earthier. This recipe takes the best of your summer garden, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, and transforms them into fresh, rich, delectable vegetarian tacos. They're simple enough for an everyday dinner and special enough for company. This one is headed straight for our summer menu rotation.

Tacos de calabacitas
Adapted from a recipe by Julian Medina, chef and owner of Tolache in Manhattan, and printed in the June 21, 2010 issue of The New York Times
Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 cup diced yellow summer squash
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup corn kernels, preferably fresh (we used frozen)
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup diced tomato or quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
dash cumin
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
8 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add squash, zucchini, corn kernels and jalapeno. Sauté until squash and zucchini are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, cumin, and salt to taste.

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring once or twice, until squash, zucchini and tomatoes release their juices and begin to blend, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, and adjust salt as needed. Sprinkle with cheese, cover, and cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Preheat a griddle or large heavy skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, warm the tortillas on the griddle, about one minute a side. Place the warmed tortillas on a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Arrange two warm tortillas on each of four plates. Place equal portions of filling in the center of each tortilla. Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro, and serve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adventures in ice cream making

Note to self: do not make frozen custard before morning coffee.

Addendum to note: do not attempt to make a very persnickety food for the very first time ever before morning coffee. Ever.

It started with the very best of intentions. (Doesn't it always?) I had some rhubarb pulp left and a handful of strawberries and a new ice cream maker just begging for some play. And Mark Bittman made custard-based ice cream sound so very straightforward. What could go wrong?

If my life were a movie, this is the scene where you'd hear ominous music begin to play in the background. Like when the nubile blonde says to her friends, "I'll catch up with you guys later" in an 80s horror flick. You know it's a very bad idea.

Maybe it wouldn't have gone so wrong if I hadn't taken that extra step of trying to combine roles? Culinary goddess, thrifty domestic manager, and doting parent. You see...the frozen custard called for six egg yolks, and I didn't want to waste six perfectly good egg whites. Especially free-range egg whites approved by Whole Foods (that assuager of vague well-heeled carnivorous guilt). Oh, and I have this very finicky child who rejects most breakfast foods and eats only egg whites, no yolks. (Do you see where this is headed?)

So I decide that the very best usage of our resources is to make frozen custard before breakfast. On a school day.

Was it a surprise that this ended in tears? (Was it a surprise that in the next scene, the blonde is stumbling through a dark woods, screaming her nubile lungs out? It's really amazing how many horror movie suburbias have vast expanses of woods. Super convenient.) Anyway. Back to the custard slaughter...a pot of frothy, curdled custard-wannabe poured down the sink and many muffled curses at Mark Bittman for failing to note that custard must be cooked at a very low temperature. Very low. And that one must not beat the milk into the eggs too vigorously.

So. Take two.

It looks like liquid cat food for your senior kitties, right? Tuna custard for your toothless felines?

Our new $24 retired-model Cuisinart purchased at Costco did not make ice cream. It made...sludge. Product-of-blood-sweat-and-tears sludge. Plus strawberry rhubarb has an odd fleshy color that isn't super attractive, especially when it's not a nicely shaped mound of ice cream.

(It did taste good and was an excellent use of leftover rhubarb syrup pulp.) Oh well. Adventures in ice cream making, take two, is coming soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vanilla rhubarb soda or rhubarb bellini or...

I love this. It embodies the very best of what I love about cooking and food.

Simplicity. Taste. Versatility.

What am I talking about? Rhubarb syrup. You can't get any simpler than this. Best of all, you use every bit. After cooking down the rhubarb, use the syrup for making amazing vanilla rhubarb soda or bellinis. You can use the pulp as jam or ice cream topping. If you haven't already made something like this, you're going to swoon. Promise.

By the way, I have a shameful admission for a self-professed foodie. This is my first rhubarb encounter. Before it showed up in my CSA box, I don't think I'd recognize rhubarb if you'd bopped me on the head with it. Of course, I'd had it in pie, usually of the strawberry rhubarb variety. But by then, it had been cooked down into indistinguishable lumps. Did you know that rhubarb looks like beautifully rosy celery? Who knew?

Simple rhubarb syrup
Adapted from the kitchn and The New York Times

4 cups rhubarb, chopped crosswise into thin slices
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
approx. 1/4 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise

Combine rhubarb, sugar, water, and vanilla pod into saucepot. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down and the liquid has thickened.

Let cool. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth. Refrigerate pulp and syrup separately. Use within one week.

This turned out to be very sweet. Syrupy sweet, in fact. Next time, I might dial back the sugar just a bit. Then again, it was syrupy perfection.

The pulp wasn't very photogenic, but made an amazing topping for a buttered multigrain English muffin. An easy, delicious start to the day.

Add 1 part rhubarb syrup to 4 parts sparkling water for an all-natural, unusual, delicious soda. The girls both gave it two thumbs up. I don't remember how they pulled off this contortionist feat while guzzling the soda down as fast as possible.

And if you're feeling a bit more celebratory (or have a more adult audience), mix 1 part rhubarb syrup to 4 parts prosecco. One sip immediately flung me back to my college days, downing bellinis with friends at Birraporetti's. This rhubarb bellini is even better.

The possibilities for rhubarb syrup cocktails are endless. Next on my to-try list might be rhubarb whiskey sours. Or these rhubarb mojitos. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sweet birthday sprigs

I'd forgotten. I had a birthday a little while ago. I've gotten to that age where one year slides inconspicuously into the next, and I wouldn't want to count all the candles on my cake. Actually, no one should put that many candles on one single cake. Fire hazard.

My girls presented me with their gifts.

They wandered the yard, gathering flowers from every corner.

I love these sweet little arrangements so much more than the most elaborate and rare florist's display.

It's the little things. Really.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grilled soy-ginger salmon served with wilted bok choy and rice

Now that the outdoor pool that we belong to has opened, we swim most evenings. And as much as we love relaxing and splashing in the perfect cool water, pooltime pushes our dinner later. After all, school is still in session for us. So our evenings sometimes end in a flurry of delivery pizza or grilled hot dogs. Not exactly good for you stuff. This is a perfect meal for those hot summer evenings. Quick, easy, and healthy.

Grilled soy-ginger salmon
Adapted from

1.5 pound salmon fillets
1/3 cup brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, minced
1/3 cup orange juice

Mix lemon pepper, garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Rub salmon with this seasoning mixture.

Into a small saucepan set over medium heat, pour soy sauce and olive oil. Stir in ginger and remaining brown sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in orange juice.

Place fish and marinade into a resealable plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 3 hours.

Preheat grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn burners down to medium-low. Place salmon on grill, skin side down. Close grill top and cook for for about 10 minutes until the fish is opaque throughout.

Wilted bok choy with soy sauce and cashews
Adapted from The Food Network

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
1 bunch bok choy, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 and 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cashews

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bok choy and sauté 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and red pepper flakes and cook 2 more minutes, until bok choy stalks are tender-crisp and leaves are wilted. Season, to taste, with black pepper. Arrange bok choy on plates and top with cashews just before serving.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Congratulations go to the winner of my second anniversary giveaway:

Comment #12: laxsupermom

Enjoy your new cookbook, a hardcover copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe (by Joanne Chang). It will be shipped to you shortly, and I hope you make many delicious treats from it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Scrambled eggs with chive flowers

This week's CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box had another generous bundle of flowering chives. Finally! A chance to taste them.

I sautéed them in a little salted butter and sprinkled them on scrambled eggs. They were absolutely delicious, tasting delicately of chives. I'd steeled myself for bitterness, but to my surprise, they were not bitter. Unfortunately, the sautéing process softened the blossoms and rendered them not-so-photogenic. Next time I think I'll try the flowers raw or maybe sauté them very lightly. That would make a much prettier presentation.

So be brave and try your chive flowers! In the immortal words of Willy Wonka, "Everything inside is eatable. I mean edible. I mean you can eat everything!" (By the way, these were just regular old chives and not Chinese or garlic chives which have white flowers.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beef picadillo enchiladas with ancho-chipotle gravy

A traditional food in many Latin American cuisines, picadillo is a wonderful comfort food. Its name derives from the Spanish picar which means "to mince" or "to chop." As suggested by its name, the main ingredient in picadillo is chopped meat, usually beef. Other spices and ingredients can vary from tomatoes and onions to olives or raisins or even honey.

For a recent dinner party, we spooned picadillo onto corn tortillas as enchilada filling. Combined with this slightly spicy gravy, it was absolutely delicious, intriguing without being too outré for a palate unused to Mexican food. The picadillo was also fabulous paired with rice and black beans. The mixture of sauced ground beef and starch reminded me of a Mexican shepherd's pie. Good, honest, happy food. (As you can see below, the dinner party was happily buzzing along. The enchiladas were well on their way to being demolished before I remembered to take a photo.)

Beef picadillo enchiladas with ancho-chipotle gravy
Gravy adapted from the Homesick Texan

2 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup beef broth

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and make sure it is well broken up. Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and cook until the onion becomes soft and somewhat translucent.

Add carrot, potatoes, tomatoes, oregano, chili powder, and beef broth to the skillet.

Stir well, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the potato and carrot pieces are very tender, stirring occasionally. If the picadillo has too much liquid in
it, simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced.

For the gravy:
1 dried chipotle chile, seeds and stems removed
2 dried pasilla chiles, seeds and stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
3 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover chiles. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil. Turn off the heat, cover the skillet, and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chiles. Place in a blender.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat and sauté onions for a few minutes until they become tender. Add garlic and sauté for another minute until the onion becomes translucent. Remove onions and garlic from pan and add to blender. Add cumin, oregano, and the broth. Blend until smooth.

Keep saucepan on medium heat. Whisk flour into the oil remaining in the saucepan until well incorporated. Gradually whisk in the blended mixture and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and black pepper to taste and adjust other seasonings as needed. 

For enchiladas:
a dozen corn tortillas
shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack or blended Mexican cheese)

To make the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350ºF and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Wrap tortillas in a damp towel and microwave for about 60 seconds on high. Lay each tortilla on a plate and add about 2 tablespoons of picadillo. Roll the tortilla and place in baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour sauce over enchiladas and top with grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbling.