Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moving again?

Maybe, maybe not.

Trying out WordPress instead of Blogger.

Definitely like the Blogger interface better.

But WordPress is already formatted for mobile devices, which is way cool. If you ever need to grab a quick recipe in the kitchen when you have all four burners going and smoke's coming out of the oven, it's nice to have the pages load super-quick on your phone rather than dragging the laptop into the kitchen.

Anyone have any pros / cons about either format?

Check out this page on your cell phone. What do you think? Worth changing?

This to me seems more like a summer salad, except that oranges are best in the winter months. Summer, winter, whatever ... it's a good change of pace for this time of the year.

Orange + Fennel + Watercress Salad mit Citrus Vinaigrette


2 large oranges
3 Tbs fresh orange juice (will get at least that much when you segment the oranges)
1 fennel bulb (maybe 12-14 ounces)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 + 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2-3 cups watercress (about two bunches)
salt and pepper to taste

Segment the oranges. (Easy to follow video here from FineCooking.)

Squeeze the rest of the juice from the membranes into a measuring cup. You'll use 1-2 Tbs in the vinaigrette, so drink the rest to help fight the common cold.

Trim the fennel of stems and fronds, then slice the white bulb into thin slices. (You can save some of the fronds for garnish when you're done if you want.)

Mix the orange slices and fennel in a bowl. Then combine the olive oil, orange juice, and salt and pepper into a vinaigrette, and pour about a quarter of it over the oranges and fennel. Stir gently to coat.

De-stem, wash and dry the watercress, and add it to your serving bowl. Layer the orange and fennel mixture over the watercress, and lightly drizzle with about another quarter of the vinaigrette. Serve with the rest of the vinaigrette on the side.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas songs that aren't on a Christmas album

Here Come the Geese, Barenaked Ladies Snacktime!
25th December Everything But The Girl Amplified Heart
A Long December, Counting Crows Across A Wire: Live In New York (Disc 2)
Flowers In December, Mazzy Star Among My Swan
Winter, Tori Amos Little Earthquakes
Christmas Morning Lyle Lovett The Road To Ensenada
Christmas in Washington Steve Earle El Corazon
River, Joni Mitchell Blue
Air Of December Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars
Winter Lady Leonard Cohen
Winter In the Hamptons Josh Rouse Nashville
Winter White A Fine Frenzy
Christmas in Paradise Mary Gauthier Filth & Fire

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Coffee Cache Fruity Gobbler

My favorite T-day leftover sammich. Perfect for watching Rivalry Weekend college football games.

Adapted from Kerlin's Coffee Cache's lunch menu, circa 1997.

Cream cheese
Cranberry chutney
Sunflower seeds
Left-over turkey, roughly chopped
Greens of any sort
Optional: a wee bit of stuffing

Safe travels and happy holidays.

PS. Since lots of folks are already putting up their holiday lights, here's a reminder how to really do your lights.

Goethe's final words: "More light." Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home- Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Poll + Cranberry Chutney

What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving at your home?

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I love Thanksgiving for one primary reason: cranberry jelly. Cranberry chutney, actually.

I can't even remember if we even had cranberry jelly on the table when I was growing up. I think maybe if someone remembered to get it, we might have had a can of the stuff on the table, with those distinctive ripples from the can revealing that it wasn't homemade, as if anyone could have entertained that thought.

And if we had it on the table, I'd eat it as an afterthought, maybe spreading a thin schmear over a particularly dried-out piece of breast meat to give it some life. So, no, I wasn't a fan of it, and it doesn't have any Jungian deep-seated emotional resonance with me.

But cranberry chutney was one of the first recipes I ever tried, holiday or not, where the results so greatly exceeded the expectations. Here it was, something I wasn't crazy about in the first place, and something incredibly simple, and somehow the tiniest bit of this and that transformed it into something I didn't see coming.

Fruit and sugar ... that makes jelly, yeah? Then add some onion. What? A vegetable in jelly? And then a pinch of cayenne ... whoa, did not see that coming.

On top of all of that, it was also trés simple and bombproof, impossible to mess up.

Cranberry chutney may have been the gateway drug that led to finally getting a decent set of pots and knives.

And even though I was probably 35 years old the first time I ever made it, now I can't imagine Thanksgiving without it. And I dare you not to like it, no matter how much you either loved or hated the canned jiggly stuff.

The Indians and English use them much, boyling
them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat,
and it is a delicate sauce.

—John Josselyn, while visiting New England 1663

Cranberry Chutney

12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons red onion,
finely chopped
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted

In a heavy saucepan, combine the cranberries, onion, sugar, ginger, spices and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until cranberries begin to pop—about 5–6 minutes.
Remove from heat and cool. Stir in pecans. Chutney is best if made two days ahead. Refrigerate.

Up next: the world's greatest Thanksgiving left-over sammich, the Fruity Gobbler.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Fall Salad

Oops! Forgot this one on this list.

Pomaceous Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, with Maple Dressing

Maple Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup pure maple syrup
3 Tbs Champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar works fine)
2 tsp sugar, or 1.5 tsp of agave nectar
½ cup olive or vegetable oil

8-10 cups mixed baby greens
2 Honeycrisp apples, cut into matchstick-size strips
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Dressing: Whisk mayonnaise, maple syrup, vinegar, and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in oil until mixture thickens slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.)

Salad: Toss greens, apples, cherries, and 1/4 cup walnuts in large bowl to combine. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide salad equally among plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts and serve.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Two Trees

A couple of stories I've been meaning to write down.

The Avocado Tree

Major Phelps came in to work laughing, and said, well, I never thought I'd see the day ...

See, his quarters at Schofield Barracks were one street down from the Deputy Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. One street down, so their back yards shared a fence. He could look out the kitchen window of his 900 sf duplex and se the DCG's 3,000 sf fully staffed quarters. And while the DCG had staff for a lot of his personal errands, such as picking up his dry cleaning or driving him to work, like most leaders he didn't want to look like he really needed any help, that he was only accepting the help because it was more efficient to let his staff do it. So he did those certain jobs that he needed to do so that he wouldn't look like he felt he was different than the rest of the troops, jobs like changing the oil in his car and mowing his own yard. And it was while both men were mowing their yards that Major Phelps and the DCG became aquaintenances, the kind of aquaintenances who know a little something but nothing really significant about each other, like whether they mowed the lawn on Saturdays or Sundays, but not how many brothers the other one had or if he was on his first marriage.

One day Phelps and the DCG were both out back doing yard work, and Phelps was picking up something from the back corner, by the fence that separated their yards. The DCG could see Phelps bending over, picking up armfulls of something, and pitching them into a bag. From his manor, he could tell Phelps was not collecting but was hauling off, from the way he was roughing tossing the yard scraps into a plastic trash can. So he ran over there before he could haul off the first load.

You see, Phelps didn't care for avocados. Nor did anyone in his family. But that was an avocado tree in his back yard, and the tree was dropping its fruit, and one can't exactly just run over a few dozen green baseball-sized fruits with the push mower, so Phelps was bagging them up before he mowed. That's what the DCG saw, and without even having to do the math of $1.50 per avocado times a couple of dozen, he knew he couldn't let Phelps just throw them away. No, he ran over to their shared fence and offered to take care of Phelps' little problem.

But what neither of the men knew was that an avocado tree will produce several hundred if not a thousand avocados each season. So when the DCG offered to scoop up Phelps' avocados, he didn't realize what he was getting himself into.

And that's why Major Phelps was laughing. Because over the next couple of weekends, he would invite friends over to barbecue and to hang out in his backyard, and he would point and his back yard and say, "Life is good. How many people can say they have a two-star general as their personal landscaper?"

The Mango Tree
(You can probably guess where this one is going.)

There was a little five mile loop I used to run in Hawaii, a loop starting at the office and running out the front gate of Ft Shafter and into the local neighborhood, and the turn around point was this monstrous shade tree. Not particularly tall, but wide enough to cover three or four yards. And I didn't know what kind of tree it was until ...

Paul came into work one morning and placed a paper bag down by the coffee pot in the break room, the spot where folks would leave a box of doughnuts or coffee cake that was for the whole team to share. "Hey, everybody, I brought in a bag of mangoes. This tree in our front yard, turns out it's a mango tree, and it started dropping fruit, so it's my lucky day: free mangoes!"

There were ten or so mangoes in there, and a bunch of us helped ourselves to one.

Next day, same thing, only a slightly bigger bag. "This is too cool," Paul announced. "Going to be living off mangoes for a while. There were twice as many on the ground when I got home yesterday as there were the day before. So help yourself, everyone!"

Third day, Paul came in with another grocery sack in one arm, and a blender in another. "I don't think we can keep up with these mangoes, so I brought in the blender so we can make smoothies. It doesn't get any better than this, living in Hawaii, does it? These things are a buck each at the commissary, and we're getting them for free!"

That's about when I realized, the commissary always has mangoes for about $1.99 a pound, but every now and then there's this kid selling them on the side of the street, a quarter each or ten for a dollar. So there must be something about supple and demand going on there ...

Next day, Paul walks in and says, "Hey, can someone help me get some bags out of the car? I can't carry all of the mangoes myself. Everyone get a bag, and I guess take them home, cut them up, and freeze them." He was all matter of fact now, no longer excited about the prospect of the gift from the tree in his front yard.

Monday came, and no mangoes. "Hey Paul, is that tree out of mangoes?" someone yelled at him. "Oh no, the opposite ... I spent all of Saturday scooping them up from the yard, and then Sunday morning, you couldn't tell I had picked up a one. I didn't have time to spend all weekend out there, so I just let them lay there."

Tuesday, he came in looking a little pissed. "No mangoes, Paul?"
"You know what, I don't care if I never see another freaking mango as long as I live. You know what mangoes do? They fall from the tree. And the ones from the lower branches, they don't fall so far, and they're not quite as ripe, so you can pick them up. But later on, they're falling from higher up, and they're a little bit riper, so they fall and hit real hard and splat everywhere. Turns out, you know who likes mangoes? Birds. Birds like mangoes. And you know what birds do? They eat them up until their about to puke, and then when they're stuffed with mangoes, they see that there are still more down there, so they just keep stuffing their freaking little faces. And you know what happens when you weigh about three ounces and you eat a pound of mangoes? You poop it everywhere. And do you think a bird cares if my car's in the freaking driveway? Noooooo!"

One week. That's how long it took to go from "Ain't it great living in Hawaii" to "My gawd, who planted a freaking mango tree in their front yard?!?!"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robert Redford Cupcakes

Over at the Greasy Skillet, Muddy is embracing his inner Paul Giamatti, and thinking about the burden of glamor that the more photogenic Bradley Pitt must bear. I hear where he's coming from. I could watch a movie where Giamatti stands in line at the bank for two hours.

Been making a lot of working class, unglamorous soups lately. Meals that seem intended to be sipped from the cup of a Thermos, sitting on the back of a pickup tailgate or even better, many stories up in the air on an I-beam during your 15 minute lunch break. No fine china or linen table clothes with these meals. Just a sip from the Thermos, and then wipe your mouth with the sleeve of your Carhart jacket.

Form vs function ... can't be all of one with none of the other, but there's no clear mathematical formula to determine how much of one, how little of the other you should have.

What's funny is, it's easy to dismiss things for being "pretty." Like maybe Bradley Pitt. But it's not his fault that ShowBizWeekly puts him on the cover every week, and what exactly do the bio-metrics of his facial features have to do with the construction work he's doing in the 9th Ward? Besides, pretending to not care about fashion and style is one of the lamest conceits out there. After all, Wrangler and Carhart and Cinch all put their logos on their clothes, and no-nonsense working types check each other out for the "right" kind of clothes, tools, pick-ups, you name it.

With that in mind, we present the Robert Redford cupcake. Named after Robert Redford because it might be all pretty on the outside*, like maybe Hubbell Gardiner, but there's still some Jeremiah Johnson in there, with it's whole wheat flour and hearty fruits and nuts.

* or would be, if someone with a steadier hand than mine did the icing.

Banana-Pecan Cupcakes, aka the Robert Redford Cupcake.
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, preferably King Arthur White Whole Wheat
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
6 bananas, very ripe and mashed
¾ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup unsalted butter at room temp
1 ½ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs (room temp)
1 cup pecans, toasted and coursely chopped

Heat the oven to 350º. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In one bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a second bowl, mix the bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla.

In a third bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on med-high until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until completely incorporated.

Turn down the mixer to low and add the flour mixture and banana mixture in alternating batches, about a cup of each at a time. Mix until just combined, then add the pecans and gently stir until uniformly distributed.

Fill the lined cups about three-quarters full and bake for about 20 minutes. You can test with a toothpick. Cook before removing from the pans.

Makes about a billion, or at least two dozen.

Icing: Standard vanilla buttercream from Mark Bittman's iPhone app.

4 Tbs butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 Tbs cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter, work in sugar, drip in the milk, keep beating, stir in the vanilla.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Salads

Basic apple / spinach

1 Honey-crisp apples, cored, cut into large dice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package (8 cups) baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

Toss apples with 1 Tbs of the lemon juice. Place spinach in a large bowl; remove long stems and bruised leaves. Whisk together remaining juice, olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and ground pepper to taste. Toss spinach with apples and dressing. . Top with cheese and walnuts.

Fennel and Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider or apple juice
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
1 large honey-crisp apple, cored, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
Optional: dried cranberries or cherries

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend; season dressing with salt and pepper. Combine apple, fennel and arugula in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mound salad on 4 plates; sprinkle with pecans.

On the right: Kitchen Sink Frittata

Potato Chowdah and Cheddar Biscuits

Falls here ... so you know what that means ...

Potato Chowder with lots of Root Veggies and (of course) Bacon
from Bon Appétit, Oct 2003

2 bacon slices, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
3 medium leeks, thinly sliced (white parts and up to about an inch past where it starts to turn green)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, ¼ inch dice
2-3 medium carrots, peeled, ¼ inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
1 ½ pounds potatoes, 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (some whole, some half-n-half, whatever you got)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus or minus enough to get the consistency you want

2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook bacon in large pot (or my personal fave, the Dutch oven) over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels. If you have a lot of burnt bits stuck to the pan, deglaze with a few Tbs of broth.

Add oil to drippings in same pot; warm up for a minute or so. Add leeks; sauté until tender but not brown, about 7 minutes. Add parsnips, carrots, garlic, and thyme; sauté 5 minutes. Again, deglaze if necessary with a few Tbs of broth.

Stir in potatoes, then flour; stir 1 minute to coat.

Gradually add milk and 3 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made a day ahead. Cover and chill bacon. Cool chowder slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing, thinning with more broth, if desired.)

Stir bacon into chowder. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with parsley; serve.

Cheddar Biscuits

Bowl #1:
2.5 cups flour (either all all-purpose, or a mix of white and whole wheat)
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed as small as possible
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

(Hint: freeze the butter while you're getting everything else ready. Cold, cold, cold butter cuts into the flour more easily.)

Whisk all of the dry together and cut in the butter with a fork, pastry blender, or food processor. Add the cheese.

Bowl #2
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Beat the egg, mix in the buttermilk.
(Optional, for extra-rich biscuits, add 1-2 Tbs of melted butter.)

Head the oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

Slowly stir the dry into the wet, just until incorporated. Scoop about ¼ cup balls of dough and space two inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the tops start to brown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chupacabra Soup

This isn't quite a non-recipe, in the sense that you can pretty much substitute anything you want in any quantity and it'll still turn out basically the same.

But it is a highly negotiable one, with a lot of options in the meat vs vegan, bean, and chile departments.

Chupacabra might be a bit hard to find in your local grocer's meat department, since one has never actually been caught, at least as far as the USDA and FDA know. But I think the combination of shredded chicken with two cups of Dynamite chile peppers tastes about the same.

(Truth in lending here: I have no idea what a Dynamite chile pepper is. That's all they had left at this little mom and pop farmer's market I just found. Looks like an Anaheim, but I'm assuming from the name it's a wee bit hotter. Yeah, I know ... I was born at night, but not last night ... didn't just fall off the tuna truck, ya know.)

The basic recipe goes like this: shredded chicken plus beans plus a veggie combo of onions and chiles with or without tomatoes plus broth equals soup.

  • Rotisserie chicken works great here, assuming you can't round up a chupacabra.
  • Made the last batch with half boiled chicken, half ground Jennie-O turkey. Mixing in a little ground meat was something I tried when I was short on pork loin and I wanted to make a double batch of green chile stew, and I think it adds a little depth to the dish. Same idea works here.
  • If you boil the chicken, then you'll already have a pot of brothy-water to make the chicken broth later. I've been hooked on Better Than Bouillon chicken base lately, for it's convenience, price, and most importantly taste. Bon Appetit loved it, and it's ridiculously cheap at the base commissary — about nine quarts of chicken broth for around three bucks, with no cans or cartons taking up space.
  • If you're going to add ground turkey or chicken, then brown the meat first and then cook the veggies in the same pot, so that the meat juices work into the onions and peppers.
  • Chiles: all I can say is, play around with them. It's always easier to start mild and work your way up. Kinda like unringing a bell, if you over-do the peppers, there's only so much diluting you can do later. This last batch, I used about two cups of Dynamites. I loved it, but it was too hot for M., and she had to cut the soup with sour cream. (Which is so odd, because she nearly always out-hots me under the table.)
Chupacabra Soup

Chicken: One rotisserie chicken, or a smallish over-roasted bird, or a pound or so of grilled chicken (shredded), or a pound or so of boiled chicken (again, then shredded) with maybe a pound of ground turkey, browned.
Olive oil as needed
Two small-to-medium onions, yellow or sweet (I like sweet mixed with chiles, but that's just me), medium to fine dice
3-4 garlic cloves, finely diced or minced
½ to 2 cups chile peppers (depending on your own personal taste and constitution), roasted, peeled, and diced (or, about 14-15 ounces of canned Hatch chiles)
2 cans black beans or 1 can black, 1 can pinto, rinsed
1 Tbs quality chile powder (Savory Spices is a great place to start, or grind your own.)
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp to 1 Tbs Mexican oregano
3 cups chicken broth plus more water if needed

1-2 cups of diced tomatoes or 14-28 ounces of canned tomatoes
1 cup corn

Green onions
Strips of fresh tortillas

First, get your meat ready, either from a rotisserie chicken or by grilling or boiling chicken breasts. If you boil the chicken, then save the water for your chicken broth.

If you're using ground turkey or chicken, brown it in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. If you want, spice the meat with a little chile powder and cumin. Remove and set aside, then sauté the onions in the same pot, using the remaining fat from the meat plus as much olive oil as you need to keep the onions for sticking. Go with about medium heat for 6-7 minutes, and then add the garlic and chiles. Stir gently but frequently. If you have burnt bits on the bottom of your pot, lightly deglaze with a few Tbs of chicken broth (or a splash of wine or beer, if you happen to have some open).

Add the beans and gently stir. Add the spices and gently stir. Add the tomatoes and corn and gently stir (optional items). Then add your broth, and gently stir again before bringing the pot to a boil. Immediately turn it back down to a simmer, giving it 15-20 minutes. Then add your chicken (or chupacabra, if you found one) back to the pot.

Update: I love this technique of thickening the soup with a corn starch slurry at Edible Mosaic.

The key to this soup is managing your chiles. Too many of a too hot variety and you have jet fuel. Too few of a too mild, and you have nursing home cafeteria soup.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food Trucks

Used to call the AAFES vendor the Roach Coach. Sold nothing but reheated burgers and cold coffee.

Times have changed.

Food Trucks Taking Sidewalks By Storm, from NPR.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bookmarking a few for later

Gotta save these before I forget them:

World's Greatest Mac-n-Cheese, from Denver's Rackhouse Pub
I need some green in my mac and cheese, so I added some roasted broccoli and chile peppers, the broccoli from the grocery store and the peppers from M's mom's CSA.

Tips on how to spice seeds and nuts, from Sur la Table

Candied Walnuts, from One Perfect Bite

Bourbon Pumpkin Pie, from Gourmet

Curried Chicken Salad with Garam Masala Biscuits, from Food and Wine

Butternut Squash Cake with Walnut Icing, from the Gastronomer's Guide

Roasted Apple and Squash Soup, from Chef Louise

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mango Chutney

We have this combo that never fails to come out perfect. I'm thinking they all originally came from the Colorado Collage cookbook, from the Denver Junior League, or maybe just two out of the three did. But they work together both on the plate and during preparation.

(Left: mango chutney chicken with rice pilaf and grilled eggplant)

The combo is a mango chutney chicken, with a rice pilaf and oven-roasted tomatoes on the side. You prep the chicken, bake it for a while, cover it with chutney and finish baking it. While it's baking the first time, you prep the rice and tomatoes. You put the rice on the stove and the tomatoes in the oven during the chicken intermission. And there's no hands-on for the last ten minutes or so, so you can get everything cleaned up. Henry Ford would be proud of the assembly line efficiency.

But here's the one thing I don't like about the ensemble: the mango chutney. Now, I love mango chutney, or just about any type, for that matter. But come on, five or six bucks for the tiniest jar. And those jars. They typically have a tiny mouth that keeps you from sticking a spoon in there, but also a curve in the bottle that keeps a knife from getting the last ounce out of the jar. If I'm going to pay five bucks for a jar of something, I'm going to get every drop onto my plate.

I just assumed chutney was some terribly difficult thing to concoct. It's sort of like jelly, so there had to be boiling of jars and canning and vacuum seals, right? If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have realized that it's more like cranberry dressing, and our cranberry chutney takes all of about five minutes to whip up.

So I took the time to actually read the instructions for a mango chutney that's in The Dutch Oven Cookbook, by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne. Super simple, it turns out ... but ... for whatever reason, this recipe, like nearly every other one out there, calls for a metric ton of mangoes and a few dozen onions, and makes enough to feed the Royal British Air Force. Not sure what the thought process is there ... maybe because it freezes well, so you can jar 9/10ths of it and pull it out as you need it.

Next time I may try the Dutch oven version that makes six cups, but there wasn't room in the freezer thanks to chili and stew, so we whittled it down to about six servings.

Mango Chutney

2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 mangoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes
(or 2 cups frozen mango)
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup dried currants or golden raisins
1 Tbs ginger, finely chopped
dash red pepper flakes
dash ground turmeric or curry powder (or, both)
dash cinnamon
1 Tbs lime juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar

Like all good non-recipes, the details aren't important and nearly all of the ingredients are negotiable. Heck, leave out the mangoes, for crying outside, and make it with apples or whatever. Go heavy on the red chili flakes, or leave 'em out. Add nuts, like pecans or macadamias. Add cardamom to the curry powder, or try it with green or red curry pastes. Lots of ways to play around with this one.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the onion, garlic, mango, red pepper, currants, and ginger. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, then add everything else. Continue to sauté on medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring frequently. Then lower the heat and simmer on low for about an hour. Cool and serve. Will store for about a week in the fridge or longer in the freezer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More on Chiles

While you're making Pork and Green Chile Stew, listen to the folks from Spilled Milk tell you everything you always wanted to know about chiles but were afraid to ask.

Episode 22: Chiles

Friday, September 24, 2010

Non-Recipe of the Day: Pork and Green Chile Stew

Pete's Kitchen was the first place I ever had really good green chile stew. Their breakfast burrito is a rolled up tortilla stuffed with eggs, sausage, potatoes, and cheese, as big as your head, smothered in a spicy green chile sauce. The flavors were so well developed, I assumed it was one of those recipes where everything has to simmer for five or six days, leaping from a stock pot to a Dutch oven to a pressure cooker and back, constantly stirred, with a precise mixture of half a dozen different chiles.

Maybe green chile stew in its purest form has a non-negotiable recipe, but the best I can tell, you can screw this up a handful of ways and you'll still do fine. You can leave out half the ingredients, double up the rest, miss-measure (mismeasure?) everything, and forget to time anything, but it's going to turn out okay, as long as you pay attention to one very important step: quality chiles.

Even using standard grocery store canned chiles isn't a deal breaker. There are some recipes that are just plain bomb-proof. Pour cereal into bowl, add milk, for instance. Do you need to measure the cereal, and does it matter whether it's whole or 2%? Well, along those lines, you got your browned pork, then sautéed onions in a bit of the pork fat, followed by chicken stock and chiles. Like I said, bomb-proof.

I'm no expert, but I have to think that the version at the Santa Fe School of Cooking has to be a consensus fave. But if you use The Google to search the InterTubes, you'll find that there are zillions of recipes 90% similar except that they switch around one of the steps. Some brown the pork in oil, some don't. Some add flour to the pork, some add it to the onions, some leave it out. Some season the pork first with cumin or chili powder, some wait until you add the chicken stock, and some use the green chiles as the only spice . Potatoes are optional, as are tomatoes. Green chile quantities vary from half a cup to five pounds. Chicken stock varies from one cup to six. And some simmer for 15 minutes while others take four hours in the crock pot.

My personal recommendations:
  • If you want to fire and forget, the crock pot works like a charm, but then you need a second pan to brown the pork and maybe the onions. But the beauty of the Dutch oven is that you can do it all in one contraption. Browns the pork, sautés the onions, and because it retains heat so well it does the same job as a slow cooker.
  • Most purists will say this can only be made with Hatch chiles, but life's too short to limit yourself to just one kind of anything. Find peppers that you like and mix 'em up. M's mom sent us a gallon of assorted peppers from her CSA, Ricky and Lucy's Country Greenhouse, just outside Sidney, NE. Mostly mild and medium, but all delicious, and the blend of flavors made for a remarkable stew.

If you want to experiment, check out the Santa Fe School of Cooking's version, Denver Green Chile's version here, and Gourmet's New Mexico version here.

Pork and Green Chile Stew

1-2 Tbs vegetable oil (optional)
1-2 pounds pork butt, country style ribs, or other boneless pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-4 garlic gloves, minced (about a tablespoon)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup diced potatoes
1-2 cups diced green chiles (roasted, peeled, and chopped)
cilantro for serving

Optional items:
— 1-2 Tbs chili powder (Ancho or New Mexico) + salt and pepper to season the pork before browning
— 1 cup diced tomatoes

Brown the pork in batches in a Dutch oven or non-stick pan. Set aside.

Remove any excess pork drippings, saving enough to sauté the onions. Sauté the onions until golden, then add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

If anything has stuck to the pan, deglaze with a quarter cup of the chicken stock, scraping up the bits. If you're using a Dutch oven, add the pork back to onions. If you're using a non-stick pan, then switch everything over to a large stock pot.

Add the chicken stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the chiles (and optional tomatoes) and simmer for 15 more minutes.

Depending on how much pork you use, how big your onion was, and how much chile you use, you might need to add more chicken broth to this the stew; conversely, maybe add a few Tbs of flour to thicken it.

Stir in some cilantro and serve by itself in a bowl, over rice, or in and on a breakfast burrito.

Freezes great.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's Move Challenge: Recipes for Healthy Kids

I'll write more about this later ... but wanted to through out one question first.

Let's Move Challenge: Recipes for Healthy Kids

Let's Move!, in association with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is challenging school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, parents and interested community members to create tasty, healthy, exciting new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country.
Participants will form teams, develop, document, and prepare at least one healthy recipe in one of three categories (Whole Grains, Dark Green and Orange vegetables, or Dry Beans and Peas). Their creations will be served in the school's cafeteria, and rated by students. Fifteen semi-finalist teams will have their recipe evaluated by our judging panel during events held at their school, and the top three teams will compete in a national cook-off to determine the grand prize winner! Semi-finalists' recipes will also be posted for online voting by the public to determine a Popular Choice Winner. Winning teams will be invited to prepare their nutrition-packed meals alongside White House chefs.

Here's my thought: I've always been amazed that kids will eat the worst hamburgers or pizza, frozen and microwaved garbage with no flavor but a familiar look to it, but won't try tasty dishes that look different. While I fully support the First Lady's initiative here, I wonder if we're missing a crucial element: preparation and presentation, not just ingredients and recipes. I wonder if we don't need to also address the food preparation equipment in your typical public school cafeteria.

Check out your school's cafeteria. What do you see? A couple of deep fryers, a large griddle or fry top surface of some sort, and a huge oven. So your menu options are limited to those things that can be mass produced on or in this equipment.

Maybe we need to invent some new large volume cooking equipment?

How do they currently cook veggies? Typically, they're frozen, then boiled to death in a 10-20 gallon pot. We all know that microwaving veggies preserves the vitamins more efficiently, but a commercial microwave won't get the job done. So how about a large volume design that would let the cooks whip up fifty servings at a time? Or maybe a high speed convection-hybrid TurboChefs like Starbucks is using for their sandwiches?

I think there's also potential for a variation of sous vide style cooking in our schools. Prepared meals, vacuum sealed, then reheated quickly as the kids go through the line.

Last thought: I have noticed that kids are more receptive to meals when they either participate or see the preparation. When the cooks do their work in the back, then walk out with a tray of who knows what, the kids are unreceptive. Granted, letting them roll up their sleeves every day might be too much of a stretch, but think about a P.F. Chang's style kitchen, right behind the counter, no walls, where the kids can see exactly what's going on, see the flames and smoke and cool stuff that will get their interest.

I haven't put too much thought into this ... just heard the discussion on Science Friday, and the first thing that jumped into my head was, modern cafeterias look exactly like they did when I was in school some forty years ago. And with all of our technological advances, surely there are some kitchen equipment redesigns that could help get the kids away from burgers and chicken nuggets.

More to follow ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Zucchini Cornbread

My mom would make cake-like cornbread back in the day. For the life of me I can't remember with what main dish she would serve it. We were Euro-mutts of a definite haole/gringo variety, so it definitely wasn't anything southwestern, as any spice hotter than grocery store brand pre-ground black pepper would make my Celtic druid hide burst into flames. And we didn't do a lot of traditional southern cooking, despite growing up mostly south of the Mason-Dixon line. I didn't have a standard against which to judge it, but I thought my mom's cornbread was the best in the world. It didn't have the heavy creaminess from a gallon of sour cream, or the authenticity of freshly roasted corn. But it was perfectly uniform like a slice of pound cake, didn't have that unripe-banana mouth-feel that some cornbreads have, and was oh-so-sweet. I'd have two or three slices with dinner, then sneak a square out of the room folded up in a napkin to enjoy in my room or on the porch.

Found out later, all she did was take a basic Betty Crocker recipe and up the sugar and add some vanilla extract.

Been on a bit of a summer squash kick lately, and nine times out of ten, when I get into a rut, it's because I just can't think of anything else to do, out of a lack of inspiration. But this time, it's simply because the Mexican greys and gourmet globes and all of the rest have been so dang good all summer long.

The shredded or chopped zucchini gives the bread some moistness without adding sour cream or extra butter, and seems to be a natural fit for either straight-up corn or corn and jalapeño bread.

And like all good non-recipes, you can play with a couple of the numbers. You can go with as little as half a cup or as much as two cups of zucchini, which can be either shredded or finely chopped. Add an ear's worth of freshly roasted corn, a half cup of frozen, or none of the above. Cut the sweeteners in half or double them. And go a little crazy with the chiles.

Goes great with yesterday's Hot and Spicy Buffalo Chili.

High Plains Zucchini Cornbread, adapted from The Baking Sheet.

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup corn meal (white or yellow)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
(or one cup whole milk, one Tbs lemon juice or cider vinegar, left to stand for 10 minutes)
2 eggs *
2 Tbs molasses
3 Tbs melted butter
Shredded zucchini: 1-2 large or 2-4 small.** (If all you have are mediums, you're on your own!)
Optional: ¼ cup each of corn and/or diced chili peppers

* The Baking Sheet called one egg + one egg white, but I hate discarding half an egg. If anyone tries it with the one egg white, let me know what you think.
** Several recipes called for squeezing out the water from the zucchini. I skipped that part and thought it was fine, and not sure what squeezing out the water would get me.

Heat your oven to 400º and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.

In the good old large bowl, whisk your flours and cornmeal, then baking powder and baking, then salt and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk your buttermilk, eggs, molasses and butter until smooth and uniform.

Slowly pour the wet into the dry, and stir gently until just combined. Then add the zucchini (and corn and/or chiles, if you're so inclined) and just barely stir again until it looks all even. Pour the batter into your pan, spreading if needed to even everything out.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until it looks like it's just about to brown on top. Cool for a few minutes before slicing.

Freezes quite nicely if you wrap it tightly in a zip-lock or plastic wrap. Wrap in foil and warm in a 200º oven before serving.

Serve on the side of a big bowl of chili.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beans and Rice

The packages were mailed with impeccable timing so as to arrive the day before the holiday, birthday, or special event, or, in the case of a weekend shindig, on the Friday before. The boxes were cut down and refolded so as to require minimal packing materials, to scalpel away every unnecessary ounce — no sense paying Uncle Sugar and the US Postal folks a penny more than he needed to.

Inside the box were presents for the grandkids, something special for each one, but it also unfailingly included something practical. Maybe a few pounds of pecans from the nearby orchards, or something that my mom had mentioned, off-handedly, something she needed to get from the store.

And there was always an envelope. A blank envelope, no writing or return address or "To:" on the front or back. Unsealed, with the flap tucked in, so the card wouldn't fall out but so the envelope could be used again. Inside the envelope was a card, also blank, with a handwritten note on a separate piece of paper. A blank card and a blank envelope, so I could reuse it, maybe give it to my mom or dad on their birthday, saving me a trip to the store and a dollar-fifty.

The note always started with a reference to whatever we had spoken about last: "Thank you for the baseball pictures" or "It's so good to hear how you're doing in school." Then it congratulated us on our birthday, wished us a happy Thanksgiving, or explained how proud he was of whatever it was we did most recently.

And he signed off the same way every time: "Beans and rice." From my earliest years, I knew what it meant, shorthand for those things that will get you through the hard times. My grandparents had lived through the depression, had seen tough times, not tough as in your stock portfolio took a hit over the last quarter or the Apple Store was out of the 3G iPad, but real tough, missing meals tough, darning socks tough, and waking up seeing your breath it's so cold inside tough.

We weren't much of a bean family, but we had our share of rice. Whatever it was Mom was cooking, rice would make it go further. Add a cup of cooked rice to the meatloaf to make it look like two pounds of ground beef, that kind of thing. Wasn't hardly anything you couldn't add rice to. I half expected to see the grains floating in my Kool-ade.

I still have a lot of my grandfather in me. When I travel and want to send home little gifts, I'm a lot more likely to send them a pound of coffee from wherever I am, than an ornamental plate or spoon or a T-shirt — something practical and consumable that won't sit on a shelf taking up space forever. And I have trouble looking at any recipe without wondering how you could double the servings by adding some rice or potatoes or stuffing it into a tortilla. Mu shu pork burrito? Why not?

Chili always looks naked to me when it's not served over rice. Even Cincinnati-style chili can go a little further if you put a scoop of rice in the bottom of the bowl, then add the spaghetti, then the chili.

Okay, maybe that's getting carried away ... rice and spaghetti sounds like you're just asking Primo to call you a criminal and refuse to serve you. But it's still in the back of my mind nearly every time I step into the kitchen.

Not sure what Papa Joe would think about this chili. The man knew his produce and his steaks, but our family wasn't much for spices that made you sweat. But I do know that after tasting it, he would say that we should double the beans and serve it over a huge bowl of rice. Just because, you never know ... and you should never forget the tough times.

Our go to chili recipe: Hot and Spicy Buffalo Chili (The starting point)

1 pound ground bison
1 pound hot and spicy Italian sausage (casings removed)
1 large red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 4-ounce can fire-roasted diced green chiles
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 15-ounce can pinto beans
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Shredded Mexican cheese, sour cream, and chopped cilantro for serving

In a large skillet, cook bison and sausage over medium heat until
browned. Drain.

Mix meat and remaining ingredients in 6-quart crock pot. Cover and
cook on low heat setting 6–8 hours (or high heat setting 3–4 hours) or until
onion is tender.

Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream.


  • There are lots of chili powders to try, and we'll occasionally go up to 4 Tbs if they're not super hot. Savory Spices has a huge selection if your grocery store can't help you out. Mexican oregano is a nice addition, maybe a Tbs sprinkled in with the chili powder.

  • Experiment with cinnamon, cloves, all-spice, and even chocolate.

  • I'm guessing you can get canned chili peppers just about anywhere these days. If you're lucky, you live in a place where folks roast Hatch chili peppers on the side of the road, so you can pick up a bag on your way home. In these parts, you can buy them frozen as well. Or, roast your own. The conventional wisdom is to roast them on a grill or in the oven, then place in a paper bag and let them steam. You can then peel off the skins and use immediately or slice and freeze. But I've never quite gotten the part about peeling off the skins. I just slice them up, roast them on the grill or oven, then store in zip lock bags in individual servings. Keep enough in the fridge for the rest of the week and freeze the rest.
  • Canned tomatoes work in pinch, but try roasting a pound or so, slicing them in half and oven-roasting them for 30-45 minutes. Then coarsely chop them before adding them to the mix.
  • When we've made the chili on the hot side, it always seems to mellow out the next day. So the first time, serve it plain or over white rice. The next day, make the rice with a little cumin, Mexican oregano, and lime juice, and it won't seem like leftovers at all.

Tomorrow: Zucchini Cornbread, if you really don't feel like rice in your chili

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake

Can't miss fall dessert.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet
chocolate chips
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
3/4 cup butter (melted)
6 eggs, slightly beaten

Molasses Glaze:
1/4 cup butter
1∕3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup or dark-color
corn syrup
2 tablespoons molasses

Heat oven to 350° F. With nonstick spray, generously coat a 10-inch Bundt pan and set aside.
Measure 1/2 cup of the flour into a small bowl, and add the chocolate chips. Toss to coat.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a medium bowl combine the pumpkin, melted butter, and eggs. Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until combined. Then add the chocolate / flour mixture and stir until combined. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan.
Bake for 60–70 minutes. It is ready when a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool for 30 minutes.
Prepare the molasses glaze by melting, in a small saucepan, the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and molasses. Bring to a simmer, then cook uncovered for three minutes or until slightly thickened. Cool for five minutes, then spoon over the cooled cake.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Improv Blueberry Bars

One of these days, I'll know what I'm doing. Talking in general terms there, but if you want one specific, you could start with understanding the chemistry of how simple house hold items, like flour and eggs and oils, respond to heat. I mean, I've only been applying heat to food and soon-to-be-food substances for half a century now ... you'd think I'd have paid attention maybe once or twice as to what exactly was going on inside that black box on the wall of the kitchen.

I always thought baking was all about following directions to the T. (Why the T? Why not the S?) But when you can't follow them exactly, because you need an ingredient substitution or don't have the right kind of pan, then you need to actually know what you're doing. Which I don't. I guess it's kinda like jazz. The secret to improvisation is a thorough understanding of the fundamentals. If you're going to cross the line, you have to know where the line is.

So we've been playing around with some desserts yesterday, with delicious albeit less than photographic results. Made a peach pie with Palisade peaches, following the basic peach pie recipe: standard pie shell plus a filling of peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, butter, and flour.

But these were Palisade peaches ... twice as juicy as your standard Georgia, South Carolina, or California peach. So the pie tasted great, but it a little sloppy. Could have used a little tapioca or maybe some more flour. Something to account for these specific peaches.

Same thing with a wonderful blueberry bar recipe I saw at One Ordinary Day. Check out her pix over at her site. Looks perfect as a dessert or snack. Looks like something that would disappear at a family gathering or that would keep in the freezer for quite some time. Whole wheat flour, fresh fruit ... just plain cool all the way around.

Gave the ingredients a quick scan ... yep, got 'em all. So started cranking out a batch without a worry in the world. And mixing the batter couldn't have been easier.

Last step: spread the batter into a 10.5"x 15" jelly roll pan ... oops! No such item in my kitchen. Not a big deal ... can just use a rimmed baking sheet, yeah? So I spread the batter onto a baking sheet ... a 12" x 17" baking sheet. Oops! Only around fifty square inches difference there. Not enough batter to make it to the edge. Dug around and found ... an enameled lasagna pan. That should work, yeah?

Well, it sort of did. But the lasagna pan takes a lot longer to heat up than a simple metal sheet, so while I got a nice crispy top layer, the bottom didn't firm up. Had to stick it back in for another 15 minutes at a lower temp to get the bottom fully cooked without burning the top. Ahhh, well, there you go ... if I had thought about the physics for two seconds, I would have seen that coming. But I still wouldn't have known the right time / temp combo to fix it without trial and error. Because I'm no Miles Davis.

In the pantheon of kitchen disasters, this little experiment doesn't even rate a footnote. My bars weren't as pretty as Michelle's, but they tasted great. And I'd like to experiment a little bit more, maybe make them even more shortbready. But it would be nice, one day, to have a full grasp of the fundamentals so I'd know what was going to happen when I changed Step X into Step Y.

OOD's Blueberry Cookie Bars

½ cup light oil

¼ cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

(I actually used 1 cup sugar + 2/3rds cup of agave nectar)

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract or one vanilla bean pod

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

¼ tsp baking soda

2-3 cups blueberries or mixed berries (fresh if you got 'em, frozen works just as well, but as always, use them frozen, not thawed.)

Heat your oven to 350º. Lightly grease a 10½"x 15" jelly roll pan.

Mix your flours and baking soda in a medium bowl. Then cream the oil, butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, and beat well.

Add the flour mix slowly, gently mixing as you do.

Spread ⅔ of your mixture into your pan and then add your berries.

Spoon the remaining batter on top of the berries — no mixing required, because the batter will spread out as it bakes.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden. Allow to cool in the pan, then slice and serve.