Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Mmm, Mommy!" - Umami

I got a great tip from my friend Heidi a couple of weeks ago that has become indespensible in my kitchen - Anchovy Paste.

It was spaghetti night at her place.  As she was doing the final taste test of the sauce, she reached into her fridge and gave a good squirt of the gray paste, "for a bit of Umami."  I thought to myself, "No shit!"

Let me tell ya, I tasted the sauce before and after the anchovies (really a combination of anchovies, olive oil, salt, vinaigre and spices) and it really made a difference.  The acidity of the tomato was rounded out nicely, the salty peak was smooth and rich; fantastic!

After a quick search on the web to see how else I could use this magic ingredient, I found mostly sauces and dressings, from Ceasar salad, to spaghetti sauce, and even Black Olive Oil, a North African rub for Lamb. 

What is Umami?  Here's what says:

"Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don't recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious."

It's considered the 5th taste: Savory, Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Umami

Other, more common, ingredients that add that 5th element?

- Ripened cheeses like Parmesan

- Mushrooms like Shiitake and Enokitake
Ok, Ok, these are Cremini mushrooms, but good pic, huh? ;-)
Here's a list of other items with the goodness on

If you have an aversion to anchovies or their pasty derivative,  you can also get Umami paste.  Not nearly as inexpensive and anchovies, but if you gotta have it, you can get it.

Thanks for the tip Heidi! 


I boiled the Chicken - Making Strides In the Kitchen

When my daughter was born my dad came up from California to stay with us for a few weeks.  I had had a C-section so I was on bed rest and major drugs for the majority of his stay, but that didn't stop me from wanting to cook.  At one point I really wanted to make some chicken tacos, but in my Vicodin haze all I really did was put two chicken breasts in boiling water, slap 'em on a plate and serve them up as dinner.

They were not good.

I later found out that my dad called my step-mom up and told her, "She boiled the chicken."  He missed his wife... and her cooking.

Since then I've learned a bit more about cooking chicken for tacos.  One of these ways I talked about in Leftovers - Roasted Chicken, Mexican Style where you do actually boil the chicken, but there's more to the cooking liquid than boiling water.

I think of my dad every time I lower chicken into boiling water and smile, wondering what he would say to my step-mom if he were to call her after this meal.  Hopefully, he would say that I had made some progress in the kitchen, but I'd be ok just hearing him say, "Yum!"


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies - and a major Kitchen Foible

I've had this magazine cutout on my fridge for a decade that is a cartoon diagram of tips on how to be happy.  One of the tips that I'm trying to pay attention to these days is "Do What You're Good At".  I've always loved to cook and bake, but only recently realized that I'm pretty good at it.  I love to cook for friends and groups and I especially love to share what I do.

That being said, here is my Chocolate Chip Recipe.  It's the classic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie with some simple but delicious changes.  How are my cookies different?  I add twice the vanilla, a little more salt and use better chocolate (sorry Toll House).  In addition to the ingredients that are a little different than the classic, I'll share some tips that I have found make these cookies gooey and cakey and really freaking good. 

Chocolate Chop Cookies

  • 2 sticks (1 lb) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
  • Large eggs at room temp*
  • 3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Granulates Sugar
  • 2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 bag (11.5 oz) Chocolate Chips, I prefer Ghiradelli 60% Cocoa Bittersweet Chocolate
Cooking Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375º

2. In a large bowl, stir together the butter, eggs *(if the eggs are cold they will cool the butter making it harder to cream all of the ingredients), sugars and vanilla until smooth.  For this you can use a stand mixer, electric beaters, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease which is my preferred method. (More elbow grease = more love)

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Then add it to the wet ingredients in three batches, stirring each time just until the flour is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and stir until well distributed.

4. Place the cookie dough in the fridge to firm up bit (about 10 minutes, or up to a couple of days).

5. One of the tricks I have is to use a 1 oz. ice cream scoop.  This will guarantee that the cookies will cook uniformly.   On a cookie sheet, scoop out four rows of three scoops making sure that the dough is well spaced, as the cookies will spread while baking.

6. Place the sheet in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes.  At 10 minutes, take a peek and see if the edges of the cookies are turning golden brown (just in case your oven is hotter than mine). If they haven't yet, wait 1-2 more minutes.   If the cookies are golden to the top like in the second picture below, take 'em out!

These are almost there, but need to brown up.  2 more minutes.
These are just done!  Pull 'em now now now!!

7. Here's the real trick: After you take the cookies out of the oven, wait a minute then place them on a piece of parchment paper on your counter. The cool counter will bring the temperature down, stop the cooking process, and assure that they will be gooey on the inside.

Mom's Tip
This is one of those recipes that I wasn't sure of I should let Lorelei help or not for a few reasons.
- The recipe is so ingrained in my head that I usually can bang it out in less that 10 minutes (meaning prep time) and having a 2.5 year-old help would lengthen the process by three fold.
- I was concerned about the raw eggs and having her get her mitts into it.
- Standing up at the stove/hot oven is still sticky because she's a willful child and I fear that she will get burned.

And then I remembered helping my mom and Grandma Jo cook when I was a kid and really loving those memories.  I remembered what a treat it was to get that spoonful of cookie dough and sneaking more (and more), and I remember my Grandma really impressing on me kitchen safety, and I thought that this was my time with my baby girl.

So, she stood up at the counter, stirred the dough, taste-tested, and loved the yummy (raw egg filled) cookie dough, and has lived to tell the tale.

Post script:

Here's the thing... this was a HUGE kitchen foible.  I threw all of these cookies out.  Why?  Truth be told, three glasses of wine and a toddler's assistance threw me off of my game.  The recipe didn't come to me correctly, as I usually do it by memory.  I had the oven at 350º, and did the baking soda at half of what I usually call for.  They tasted OK, but there was NO WAY I would ever serve them to anyone.  There you have it.  Full disclosure, damn it. ;-) 

Have fun!!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Recovered Vegetarianism

For many years I have jokingly said that I am a 'Recovered Vegetarian'.  It's true.  I was a hard core veggie for six years; no animal stock in soups, no rennet in my cheese, no fish, you get the picture.  I became a vegetarian not for reasons of religion or political statement, but because I didn't know where my food came from, and the fact that eating another animal's flesh grossed me out.

Over the past fifteen years I have come out of my meat-free diet for the most part, having eaten the entire Warner Bros. cast; Porky, Daffy, Bugs, Foghorn Leghorn-au-Vin.  I'm a true fan of Steak Frites, Duck Confit is one of my favorites, and I've butchered a whole pig with my own two hands to help make bacon and sausages. 

When it comes to cooking meat in my home, though, I still have issues.  I never really learned how to cook it, I'm not a fan of eating meat off of the bone, I, unlike most, do not like the smell of cooking bacon in my house, and more often than not the portions are too big for my little family of two.  Now that Lorelei's getting bigger (and I'm getting bored of fish and chicken) I feel the need to figure out meat cookery.  I don't intend to go full tilt and start confiting ducks or making racks of lamb (at least in the beginning), but I do want to learn how to make a good steak, braise some pork, and maybe make some lamb chops.

One of the biggest hurdles I can foresee is planning ahead for leftovers and properly storing that which is to be eaten later in the week.  To date, I've been fairly good at using what I've got in the fridge with regards to leftovers, but it's always been half a bird, or a sausage link or two.  Now, I'm expecting to be faced with half of a roast or most of a pork tenderlion and I pray that I won't waste it.

As for feeding Lorelei meat, I have never kept it from her.  When she began to eat solids I fed her paté, bratwurst, meatloaf, chicken, fish, you name it.  I decided to let her decide what she likes and give her whatever I was eating.  (I talk about this in 'Let Them Decide - Ideas About What To Feed Your Kid')  The one thing I do keep from her, however, is fast food meat.  We don't do McD's, BK's, Taco Bells, or Boxes of the Jack variety.  I reluctantly gave her an In N Out burger when we were in California visiting Grandpa and Grannie, but that company's standards of quality are extremely high, so I felt ok about it.

So, here's to cooking meat!  May there be a short learning curve and friends who will help me eat it what I make.  If you have suggestions as to where I should begin, please leave a comment.  It would be much appreciated.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

And Sometimes You Screw Up - "Faux-Caccia"

We had friends over for spaghetti dinner the other night.  I had a little extra time before they got here so I thought I would make some faux-caccia, pizza crust baked with olive oil and salt and serves as focaccia.

It's a simple recipe (on the back of Fleischmann's packets):

To Make it faux-caccia:
- Sprinkle salt and olive oil over the top of the dough just before baking. 

Here's the foible
My buddy Rhone wanted to help make the bread.  In my haste to find something for him to do (everything was already done) I told him he could prick the dough with the fork.  Why I had him do this I have no idea because my bread came out like crackers.  Not what I was hoping for at all, but my guests liked it, so I guess that's what matters.

Mom's Tip

First - DON'T PRICK THE BREAD and it will rise beautifully.

Then - This Faux-caccia can be doctored up in many ways.  Toss on some herbs like fresh basil leaves or oregano, add some anchovies, or sliced tomatoes.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Veggies In Their Lunch Box

Like every parent, I want my kid to have a well balanced diet.  Packing my kid's lunch seems to pose more challenges than the other meals of the day, but I've found a few good stand-by's that are well received.  (I know they are 'cause I often taste test them at the breakfast table)

- Leftovers are often the best.  You name it; broccoli (with a sprinkling of Parmesan & olive oil), yams, sauteed zucchini.

- Then there are the frozen options, which are super easy.  Just bring a cup of salted water to boil, toss in 1/4 cup of peas, or carrots, or veggie medley, drain and pack up.

- Raw options - carrot or celery sticks.  Ants on a log anyone?

- The one fresh option I go to the most is broccoli.  Just as with the frozen options, boil some salted water, chop the broccoli into little-finger sized pieces, boil just until tender (usually the time it takes to make a PB&J) and drain. 

There is a chance that your kiddo won't eat what you've sent, or trade it for something you would never serve them, but at least they will have the option.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Antipasti & T-Ball

The sun is coming out in Seattle.  Our evenings are growing longer, the air is warming making it much more amenable to eat our dinner al fresco.  When we pulled into the driveway last night we could hear 'the game' at The Boys & Girls club at the end of our street. (I say 'the game' because it could be baseball, kickball, basketball, any sport that is happening on that field, Lorelei wants to see it.)

Anyhoo, my girl child insisted that we hustle our butts back out the door ASAP to 'GO SEE GAME!!'  So, it was antipasti night.

I couldn't find a platter to take to a ball field, so I used a Tupperware container lid as our plate.  I assembled some of our staples it east-to-eat pieces, sliced up a pear and grabbed some crackers.  Voilà!  Dinner

Mom's Tip
I keep a lot of things on hand that can be easily assembled for a snicky snack kind of meal.

- Dried Salami is one of them.  It's full of flavor, keeps for a good long time, and is easy to slice and go.

- Fresh Mozzerella.  Always yummy and kid friendly.  It's small, kid-sized bites that can be dressed with olive oil and salt, or, of course, basil and tomatoes... when they're in season.

- Jambon (French, white ham).  I prefer jambon to many other hams.  It's sweet, not as salty, and not smoked (a quality that I'm not a fan of in other hams).  Pinch the slices into small pieces and little fingers like it, wither like this or even in their lunch.

- Roasted red peppers in the jar.  I love these peppers.  They are a little acidic from the vinaigre in the canning juice, and they add just the right amount of moisture to salads or, you guessed it, antipasti plates.



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Store-Bought Roasted Chicken - My Go To Protein

About store-bought roasted chicken*

I learned to love buying roasted chickens when I lived in Paris for a semester.  I had a very tight budget and shared the dormitory kitchen, which wasn't always available to cook in.  One day, while talking to the neighborhood butcher and his wife about my situation, the butcher almost forced one of his fresh birds on me.  I wasn't too keen on the idea of taking a whole bird.  Being a recovered vegetarian and really weirded out about eating meat off of the bone, I just didn't think that it was a good choice for me.

This sweet older couple had their birds spinning in a glass-encased oven-on-wheels on the sidewalk.   The aroma that filled the street when the chickens were done was so wonderful that I ultimately couldn't resist.  These poulets rôtis became a staple of my French life and remain so to this day.

Where to buy your bird?  I buy mine at Ballard Market one of the Seattle-based Town and Country grocery stores.  Their birds are free range, grain fed, and $7.99 for a whole bird.  As for your other, bigger stores, talk to the deli counter to see where they get their chickens... if you care.

Mom's Tip
I highly recommend pulling the meat off of the bird while it is still warm.  It makes for a very easy job and you can easily get it ready for use another day.

As for making stock from the bones, as soon as you're done pulling the meat, plop what's left of the bird into a stock pot (bones, skin, and tidbits of meat), cover it with water and let it simmer away for a couple of hours.  When it's done, or you're done waiting, drain out and discard the bones then set the liquid into the fridge to cool.  Of course the longer you let it simmer the more flavorful your stock will be.  When it's completely chilled, there will be a layer of solidified fat on top.  This is called Schmaltz.  Skim it off and save it for cooking fat (the new 'in fat' by the way) or toss it.

With a little bit of time and a modicum amount of effort, you'll have home made chicken stock and will have saved money (at least $3.00 for a container of stock these days?)

Enjoy and Santé

* The first section of this post is from an earlier post Chicken Soup and Bathtime.  The Mom's Tip is a new bit to help you make the most of your chicken.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Yamming It Up - Yams & Wild Rice with Chicken

Money is tight at our house so I need to find tasty inexpensive food that will go over with the kiddo.  I hit gold, well orange really, last night with some baked yams.  I got the idea in my head about yams the other day while I was blithely following the ephemera on Twitter.  I saw that one of the chefs I follow said that baking, sautéing, or steaming yams preserved their nutrients better than boiling them.  So I baked some!

These were two rather small yams that I pricked with a knife and threw in a 450º oven for 45 minutes.  No salt, no oil on the skin, not even a pan to roast them on.  I just threw them on the rack and went on my way.

When they came out of the oven I let them cool down a bit while I was finishing my wild rice dish (below).  When I sliced them open they didn't look like much, but when I scooped out the tender, sweet smelling flesh, it glowed with vibrant color.

My wild rice dish was super easy to make and was ready in the time that the yams were in and out of the oven.  I sauteed some shallots in olive oil, then toasted 3/4 cups wild rice over medium heat.  After a couple of minutes, I added 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 3/4 cup water, brought it to a boil, added a good pinch of salt and a few leaves of fresh oregano from my garden, lowered the heat to medium low, and covered it up. 

I set the timer for 15 minutes and added some chopped leftover chicken breast while the rice was still boiling away.  Covered it back up and let it cook for 5 more minutes.  Easy, quick, Yum!!

The kiddo loved the yams and devoured the rice.  I love that.

Mom's Tip
This is a great dinner to make a little more than what you will eat in one night.  Add some olive oil and a dash of vinaigre to the rice and you have a great salad.  Do nothing to the yams... they're still amazing!!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Heads up! Table 4 blew their nose in the linen napkin!!" - Table Manners

Lord help me my child will never be THAT person who does disgusting things like this, nor should yours be!!

Table manners are something that, as I have witnessed in my many years of waiting tales and generally working with the public whilst they eat their food, have gone to the wayside.  Have the collective "We" really forgotten (or Heaven forbid never been taught) how to use a fork and knife properly, or how to sit at a table, or to not use our napkin as a snot rag? 

I am here to ask that we, as people of culture, take the time to teach our kids (and our adult friends who haven't been taught any better) proper table manners.  Now, I'm not asking that we need to carry cheater cards with Emily Post's signature To Do's printed in illegibly small type, but I am asking that we place our napkins on our laps, USE them on our hands when soiled so as to not dirty our glasses when we drink from them, chew then speak, say our pleases and thank yous, and push the chair in when we leave the table.  These are not unattainable goals for the general public.  I know this because my 2.5 year old knows all of the above and will put to shame (sadly) many of the people I am obliged to serve from day to day.

I started teaching Lorelei the do's and don'ts of table manners as soon as she was sitting up in her high chair.  I thought I was doing a good job of it until one day, just a couple of months after she had started daycare at 18-months old, she took her napkin and placed it in her lap before she started her meal.  I wish I could take credit for this brilliant behavior, but it was the co-director of the daycare, Miss Pat, who insists that the "young ladies and gentlemen in her school will behave as such."

When she said this to me I could have kissed her. 

Since witnessing the revelation that a 1.5-year old can properly place her napkin in her lap, I have drastically ramped up the 'rules of the table' and have seen so much amazing improvement on Lorelei's part. 

What is striking to me is that these are complex rules, i.e. napkin on the lap, don't bang your silverware, saying please and thank you when you ask for/get something, even saying Grace or 'Cheers' with your juice glass.  If a little kid of Lorelei's age (now 2.5) can get this, how on earth is it so hard for grown-ups? 

Anyhoo... that's my rant for the night.  Please don't be that guy/gal in the restaurant, and please oh please don't set your kid(s) up to be either.

Mom's Tip
You will get way better service in a restaurant when your kids are with you if they prove within the first minute that they will be well behaved and somewhat pleasant. 


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Devoured by the Hand That Shot It

This young, spring salad lived a very short, but well documented life.

Thursday was Cinco de Mayo.  As I mentioned in my Flan post we had some OK take out and some really good flan (if I may say so myself).  I also made a salad that I used to eat all the time when I lived in California (at El Torito restaurant in Valco Mall).  I had forgotten about it until this week when needed to come up with something green for a crowd of May 5th revelers (Ok, a couple of friends and or kids).

If you thought the flan was easy, get this recipe...

1. Open a bag of your favorite salad greens.  Put in a big bowl.

2. Add some Pepitas (toasted, salted pumpkin seeds.)

3. Add some crumbled Cotija cheese (Mexican cows' milk cheese.  Available at most grocery stores)

4. Add some sliced, roasted red bell pepper (I got it in the jar for sake of time, but roasting them is just as easy and often more economical.*)

5. Serve!!

I like this salad with no dressing because the peppers are so moist and the Pepitas and cheese add so much salt, texture and flavor that it's not necessary.  My guests Lluvia and Rhone preferred it with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of salt.

*  In some ways I prefer using the jarred peppers because of the moisture they provide to the salad.  Fresh-roasted peppers are great, but you may want to add a drizzle of olive oil to moisten the salad a bit.

Mom's Tip

Lorelei wasn't initially keen on the look of the peppers.  I knew that it would be something that she would like, being sweet and vegital (my kid loves veggies), so I slipped one in her mouth and enthusiastically said, "Num! Num! Huh?!"  The chewed slowly and ultimately agreed that they were indeed 'Num'. 

Sometimes you just gotta be tricky to get your kiddo to try something that they're not sure of.  The important thing is to show them what it is after they have tasted it so that they can later identify it as something that they like and will be more open to it another time. 

Be well.  Happy Spring.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flan, Yummy Flan!!

Cinco de Mayo = friends and good Mexican food.  Lorelei and I had a bunch of friends over and some (decent) take out Mexican food.  I must say though, at least for me, the highlight of the evening was the desert.  Flan.

I have dreamed about this flan for years and have never made it myself.  The recipe is that of my ex-fiance's mom.  I have always remembered it as being silken, not overly sweet, delicate, and a dish to be contended with.  I have never, not once, found another flan that has measured up to this recipe and tonight I proved my memory to serve me well.

The ingredients? Technically, 3.  With water, vanilla extract, and a almond extract, 6.

That's it.  No kidding.

I thought it was too simple and tried to make it 'the way I thought it should be'... colossal failure. Do it this way and you won't fail.

Flan à la Milano

Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 24 hours
Yield: 8-12 servings
  • 3 Eggs, well beaten
  • 1 ea. 14oz. can Eagle brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 ea. 14oz. can Water
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. Almond Extract
  • 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
Cooking Directions
Out of the oven it doesn't look like much, but let it set up, you'll get your prize!

If only I had a big enough flat plate.. but it still looks good, huh?
  1.  Preheat oven to 350º
  2. Set out a large 2" deep roasting pan and fill with 1.5" (or so, err on the side of less) of water*.

  3. Over medium heat, melt the sugar until it's a golden, molten caramel, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute the heat. ( Note - pastry chefs don't stir the sugar, they swirl the pan. I've done it both ways, they both work )

  4. When the sugar is melted poor it into the bottom of a glass pie dish (or into 8 ea. 4 oz ramekins)

  5. Set aside to cool completely (1 hour or more)

  6. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs well (about a minute)

  7. Add the Condensed Milk

  8. Use the Condensed Milk can to measure your water and add that to the bowl

  9. Add your vanilla and almond extracts and give the whole thing a good whisk to combine the ingredients.

  10. Through a fine sieve, pour the mixture into the pie dish/ramekins then place the roasting pan into the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. ** Check it after 20 minutes. My ex's mom's recipe called for the baking time to be 20 minutes, but my oven I'm pretty sure is callebrated differently. The flan will be ready to take out of the oven when there is a good wiggle, not a wave when you give it a shake.

  11. When you remove it from the oven, take it out of the bain marie and place it on a hot pad/cooling rack to to cool for at least 30 minutes. Then, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in your fridge for at least 24 hours.

  12. When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the edge and place an inverted plate on the pie dish. Quickly, but gently, flip the flan onto your place. CAUTION, the sugar is liquid and can pour out so hold the plate firmly to the pie dish so you don't lose any of that goodness.

  13. Slice and serve my friends. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.


    *This is called a bain Marie - a cooking method by which the dessert/dish that is being baked is done so in a "bath" of water so as to keep it moist and event distribute the heat of the oven

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Keep On Truckin' - Kids and Street Food, a Good Combo

Lorelei and I had our first food truck experience last night.  We stopped at El Camión, the food truck on 15th Ave. West, just after the Ballard Bridge for our Monday night taco fix.  What a fun experience it was.  We were three (Grandma was with us) of many people who had stopped for dinner on their way home.  Mariachi music umpa'd from beneath the well-kept, very clean truck, the covered seating area had a Foosball table, which Lorelei and Grandma loved, and the food (once we got it) was worth the wait.

 Dinner was so good that I'm more excited for my Conco de Mayo dinner on Thursday.  Ideas are buzzing in my cabeza.  On the menu already:

- Tacos
- Flan
- Horchata
- and some drink that ends in -rita