Jan 30, 2009

friday photo

well. here we are. it is a new year. it is the year of the ox. we have a new leader. it is a fresh clean slate for everyone. (plus it is friday, woo hoo for friday) 

this friday's picture is an adorable truck i found parked behind my hotel in tokyo. it is a garbage collection truck. it is really cute. it is immaculately clean. it has that way cool broom on board. everything is so tidy in japan. it makes me wonder why our garbage collection trucks here in america, that great land of opportunity, look, well, considerably worse. shame on you filthy american garbage trucks. clean up your act. positive change can happen. right here. 

happy weekend.

Jan 29, 2009

snowed in with snuffles (guatemalan chicken soup)

what to do when your children have colds and the world turns into 8 inches of slushy snow and the schools are closed? make guatemalan chicken stew. a cure-all for even the most stubborn snuffle.

food is powerful medicine. guatemalan chicken stew has nearly every vegetable in the world in there (ok, not really, but when you are chopping, it seems like it). it also has lemon, tomato and cilantro and chile heat if you choose.

guatemalan chicken stew

1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, cubed
2 potatoes, peeled, chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded, membrane removed, chopped
2 zucchini, sliced and quartered
green beans, sliced into 1 inch lengths
3 ears of corn, cut into 4 slices each (or if it is winter, 1 bag frozen sweet corn)
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup of long grain brown rice
chiles (optional and to taste)
6 cups chicken stock
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 large bunch cilantro, stems minced and leaves reserved
2 lemons, juiced

okay. it is a lot of chopping. you may use every cutting board in your house. but so worth it. i made this yesterday and am feeling better already. this makes lots of stew, plenty to last 3 days.

saute onion celery and garlic for 4 minutes in about a tablespoon of olive oil. add the 1/2 cup of long grain brown rice. stir around until rice is coated for a minute or two. add chicken stock and crushed tomatoes. turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. once boilage is achieved, add potatoes and butternut squash, minced cilantro stems and whole chicken breasts. let cook for 25 minutes at a nice simmer. keep covered so the rice doesn't eat up all the liquid and chicken poaches thoroughly. when potatoes and squash are tender and rice and chicken are cooked, add pepper, zucchini, fresh tomatoes, chiles (if using) and corn on the cob (if using frozen corn, do not add yet). simmer another 10 minutes until fresh veg are tender. remove chicken breasts from the stew, shred chicken meat into bite sized pieces, return meat to stew. (if using frozen corn, add it now) add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper if you like, juice from two lemons or limes. serve in bowls. garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and lemon or lime wedges. heal thyself.

Jan 23, 2009

pie day

the first installment of my new friday photo feature.  one more photo from tokyo: plastic pies in a restaurant window in omotesando. (i heard through twitter) today is national pie day in the u.s. (according to the national pie council). in any case, happy pie day. and mostly happy weekend.

Jan 22, 2009

lentil soup

why do i love lentil soup so much? (and i do). it has a ton of iron and protein in it. it has onion, celery, carrot, potato, and leek as well as lentils. it is delicious and doesn't require bean/legume soaking of any kind. better than split pea and no soaking! comes together in 30 minutes. hearty peasant fare. it really helps to have really great quality lentils lying around your pantry, which i have recently found grown in the usa from a stylish lentil company in montana. they sell a few different varieties. the ones in the soup above are the larger green lentils, next i am going to try the smaller, darker european style ones.

lentil soup

1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 carrots, small dice
1.5 cups diced potatoes
1 large leek, sliced
1 cup lentils
2 quarts natural chicken stock (i use health valley from whole foods)

sautee onion and celery for 3 minutes or so on medium/medium high heat in a bit of olive oil (i use organic extra virgin olive oil because we eat so much of it, i use it for just about everything, no more butter for me except in baked goods). next add lentils and chicken stock. stir. add carrots and potatoes. bring to boil, then cook for 20 minutes at a nice strong simmer. add sliced leeks. cook another 10 minutes. adjust seasonings. add salt or pepper if needed. 

lemon juice or sour cream can finish this off nicely. but i rarely use them and tuck right in as is, au naturale. love it. r and the kids often request the addition of a bit of ham, i rarely listen, but it is delicious when you do add a bit of ham, if you are in the mood for that sort of thing. but me, i rarely want ham in the way while enjoying some delicious vegetables, but this is family cooking isn't it? occasionally i give in, but truthfully, i sometimes say with a sly smile, "that would be lovely, go ahead and put some in, next time you make the lentil soup." yes, it must be awful, having to eat the food my preferred way most of the time. in my view, it is for their own good (nutritionally speaking) and i always invite them to cook anything they want anytime. of course, i'll help them along, chopping, setting the table, even clean up. everyone needs motivation, a reason to cook. my greatest motivation as a cook is the eating. i love to eat healthy, delicious, wonderful food and i will work hard to make it, as long as i get to eat it.

Jan 20, 2009

still winter

it is definitely still winter around here. the snow keeps falling. the mercury keeps dropping. winter. snow on top of snow on top of ice on top of snow.

a simple breakfast was called for today. plain yogurt, toasted oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, apricot king dried apricots. apricot king is the best. i order his apricots and have them shipped all the way from northern california. "home grown in the flavor zone" is his slogan. really good though despite the slogan. tart. moist. chewey. not too sweet. (minimum of sulfer dioxide...i've tried them without the preservative and they are just. awful)  anyway these apricots taste so incredible, so delicious, it seems perfectly believable that we will be feasting on juicy fresh local apricots just 5 months from now. you are on your way out, old man winter. 

Jan 18, 2009

birthday dinner

my daughter shares a birthday with martin luther king, jr on january 15 every year. it is a wonderful time after the holidays but near a three-day weekend and helps bridge the gap to valentine's day. it is always nice to have something to celebrate, especially in the dead of winter. (we woke up to more snow today, another 3 inches to add to the snowstorm from last week which seems to have permanently adhered to the ground due to the frigid arctic blast of cold that froze our well-insulated pipes and made the hydro air furnace seize up and stop working.) (really cold!) but it's all okay. all part of gaman. a japanese word which i understand means "enduring hardship, or perservering through difficulty." gaman is a source of pride, as you show a strength and fortitude that is admirable. anyway. it is beautiful and white outside and has been for a long time. we are fortunate to live in a snowy wood with field stone walls separating the stands of trees. we have beauty and gaman.

all the better to have a warming and delicious, life-affirming celebratory meal. her ideal menu rarely wavers: chinese chicken salad with lots of fluffy fried bean thread noodles and devils food cake with ganache glaze. we all look forward to it. both are sort of arduous to prepare, simple really, but lots of steps. it is always worth the effort. and i kind of enjoy the whole process. taking such care and working over several hours carefully and methodically, focusing in a zen like state to get it just right. searching out the best ingredients, preferring one chocolate over another for the ganache. this year it was so cold that room temperature was a little too cold to make the butter and chocolate behave quite right. it worked fine, just a little different, a denser cake and a thicker glaze. we are not going for perfection here. we like homemade, natural looking food. made it even more life affirming and delicious that it is so cold outside. gaman tastes especially good.

for the cake i use joy of cooking's "devil's food cake cockaigne" and "ganache glaze" recipes. i add an extra egg to the cake to fluff it up a bit and use a little less sugar. recipe copyrights are pretty strictly enforced, and bloggers cannot legally reprint recipes unless they have the express written consent of the publisher, so i cannot print these recipes here. but they use buttermilk to make the crumb more delicate. and it's the best recipe we've found. (by the way cockaigne means mythical land of peace and joy or luxury and ease or something like that, key word here is mythical) and it was the name of the country home of the editor's of joy. and they added it to the name of any recipe that was their favorite. anyway. i like it for reference type recipes, any recipe you can think up, they probably have a version of it, and a pretty good one. i like the edition before the last one that is a little more gourmet and healthful so they removed all the recipes with canned cream soup in them. less recipes containing canned cream soup. hooray. anyway, they got a lot of flack apparently, and put them back in the next edition. when it seems they are going to have to take them all out again. things are just going in the direction of more nutritious, less manufactured, organic, locally produced (within reason) foods. you can't go against this tide. the industrial manufacturing food complex influence on our diet is waning. it just is, that is all. like winter, it is going away. even if at this moment it seems to have a strong foothold. 

but don't get me started. in any case, the chinese chicken salad is my own concoction inspired by the many delicious versions of it i tasted during the two years we lived in west Los Angeles. so here you go:

chinese chicken salad

step 1. marinate
1.3 lb organic boneless chicken breast, cut into large strips
marinate for 2 hours in
1/3 c soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar
2 TBSP sherry
1 TBSP honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP cilantro stems, minced

step 2. prepare veg
wash and dry all your veg. 
we use:
2 heads of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/3 head red cabbage, sliced very finely and chopped
1/4 head savoy or napa cabbage, sliced thinly and chopped
2 large carrots, grated
4 scallions, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled if you like, and sliced into half moon shapes
1 leek, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed

step 3. make dressing
2 TBSP soy sauce
juice of 1 orange, freshly squeezed
3 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
3 TBSP olive oil
mix ingredients thoroughly

step 4. 
bean thread noodles, 3 oz package.
these are fun. first smash the package with your fist to break up the noodles before you open it. get about 3 inches of rice bran or other high heat frying oil going in your wok. rice bran is a wonderful oil available in japanese and asian supermarkets. it has all sorts of healthy fats, works for frying at high heat, as in tempura, and has a long shelf life. it is wonderful and not expensive. so much better tasting than say canola oil or even peanut oil. i hope someday it will be widely available. until then, i will go to the asian markets. anyway get the oil nice and hot but of course a good bit shy of smoking. throw in a tester noodle, it should sizzle and puff up rather dramatically. then the oil is good to go. have a plate or bowl lined with paper towels ready to go as well as a slotted spoon or strainer to pull out the noodles. fry up in batches. you will need to poke at the noodles as they are frying (happens in 15 seconds the puffing up) and possible turn them in mass to make sure you have fried all portions of the noodles. otherwise they remain hard to the tooth. too crunchy to eat.  so remove them quickly, it takes about 5 batches per package of bean thread noodles. set aside.

step 5. assemble 
lettuces, cabbages, cukes, carrots, scallions, leek in giant bowl. reserve bean thread noodles. make dressing.

step 6. broil
set broiler to high and when heated it is time to broil your chicken strips. this takes about 8 minutes, 4 minutes per side. sometimes less, sometimes more. it's nice if they are starting to brown nicely on the edges. flip them once to get them browned on both sides. pull from the oven and let them sit for 3 minutes or so. then slice up into bite sized pieces. added yumminess, sprinkle 1 TBSP of toasted sesame seeds on chicken pieces when you remove from the oven.

step 7. toss
toss the salad with the dressing. add in the fried bean threads. toss again lightly. assemble the chicken on top of the salad. bring to the table. enjoy right away. don't forget to save room for cake.

Jan 15, 2009

roasted potatoes any day of the week

never got around to showing you how our christmas dinner evolved. it turned out to be one of our best ever. even though we had some last minute menu changes to deal with. mache salad with roasted beet, blood orange, leeks, pommegranate seeds, mixed roasted potatoes tossed with olive oil lemon and parsley, sauteed brussels sprouts, roast racks of organic lamb with self same olive oil lemon and parsley sauce. it was a hit. chocolate pot de creme for dessert. a really great williams selyem 2006 pinot noir to go with. wonderful all the way around. sorry i cannot show you the pot de creme, it disappeared before i had a chance to photograph it. next time. we'll be making it again soon. 

anyway, what's nice about this menu is that it is festive, sophisticated, yet it doesn't scream "christmas meal" and you could really eat it any week for sunday night dinner. or even a celebratory tuesday. so today is martin luther king day and my daughters birthday and we are having a beautiful gentle snowstorm. kids still have school but it is extra beautiful with about 4 inches on the ground and still coming down. so it seems really festive everywhere. have a joyous mid january, and a happy february as well. 

roasted mixed potatoes
yukon gold, red, purple smallish potatoess cut in half
preheat oven to 400 degrees F
boil for 4 minutes in salted water. drain. allow to sit and collect starch for 5 minutes. drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt. roast for 35 minutes or so. my oven has a setting called "convection roast" which roasts them a bit faster in 25 or 30 minutes. you may need to turn them or shake them around a bit during cooking.

sauteed brussels sprouts
1 1lb smallish brussel sprouts, ends trimmed, outer leaves removed, cut in half.
boil for 2 minutes in salted water. drain. reserve until 10 minutes before serving time. heat large skillet. add 1 to 2 TBSP olive oil. saute on high heat until nicely browned, toss and shake in pan to promote even browning.

mache salad
8 oz mache lettuce leaves, washed and dried
2 roasted beets, thinly sliced and cut in half (half moon)
1/2 pomegranate, seed and place jewel like seeds into small dish, reserve
2 blood oranges, cut off ends and peel following curve of fruit. slice into membrane to remove sections of fruit, (discard core, and membranes, but maybe first squeeze a bit of the juice into a glass, a tonic for the chef)
1 leek, thinly sliced
assemble. add dressing slowly, toss lightly. serve.

pomegranate dressing
2 TBSP pomegranate juice
4 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
whisk or mix ingredients together. mix dressing again thoroughly just before serving. pour small amounts slowly onto salad and toss until lightly coated, you will have some left over for next time, and try not to over do it like we often do. then you will have your salad swimming in the dressing, (not so good as soup).

roast rack of lamb serves 4 to 5
preheat oven to 500 degrees F
so easy. much easier than a silly old goose.
2 racks of lamb, french cut, nicely trimmed
lightly salt the meat

place in roasting rack, fat side down. roast at 500 for 10 minutes. switch heat setting down to 400. roast another 20 minutes. perfectly done everytime to medium/medium rare in my oven. yours may be different. 

self-same parsley lemon sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 large or 2 small lemmons
1/4 cup chopped parsley
heat olive oil in pan over medium high heat, when just warmed through add lemon, swirl around,  throw in parsley. remove from heat, pour over potatoes and racks of lamb. festive extra.

Jan 14, 2009

fish tacos

another of my tricks to pretend that new england winter is not even happening.  i serve summery foods. foods that taste really bright and fresh. one of these is fish tacos. we fell in love with the fish tacos we had at tropical taco in hanalei on the beautiful north shore, island of kauai a few years ago. so simple. so wonderful. so memorable. 

we make them a little different, being as we are not in hawaii. but it is really simple, grilled or broiled fish (instead of fried like at tropical taco), something like halibut or chilean sea bass works great, some super finely shredded cabbage dressed with a fresh squeeze of orange or tangerine juice, avocado slices and fresh tomatoes with a sprinkling of sea salt, cilantro and a touch of lime or maybe minced or dried chile. i think it is best to use soft corn tortillas and heat them up by frying them very briefly in a tiny amount of olive oil in teflon skillet, but the great part is that heated flour wrappers work great and even crisp shaped corn taco shells work in a pinch. the key is serving with beans and rice. we use long grain brown rice steamed in chicken stock and black beans cooked twice, once to soften and bring to edibility and then once with onions, garlic and salt. saute the onions and garlic for about 3 minutes, add precooked beans, simmer for another 30 minutes. really creamy and yummy. good on just about everything i think. this is so simple it is almost not a recipe at all. more a divine assemblage. so warm and inviting i dont even remember that it is going down to zero tonite. if you ever do get to tropical taco in hanalei, dont forget to try the taro, it is awesome.

fish tacos
4 servings

1lb white fish like halibut or chilean sea bass filets or your favorite
salt lightly, cut into strips and broil or grill with a bit of olive oil for 3 to 10 minutes depending on how thick a cut you use.

finely shred 1 small green cabbage, regular or savoy both work well
dress with 1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange or tangerine juice

slice and seed 1 and a half cups of tomatoes (cherry tomatoes still taste great in winter)
salt and add juice of 1/2 lime and chopped cilantro leaves add minced halapeno or chile sauce/powder to taste, hot paprika works too.

slice 1 avocado

12 tortillas (soft corn are best, white flour or crisp corn will work also)
head according to package directions or in a teflon skillet, flip each until warm (takes 30 seconds or so per side)

serve with long grain brown rice (1 cup rice to 3 cups chicken stock for me, check package directions) and twice cooked beans. canned beans, or beans that you soak and then rinse and boil until tender work well here. i have a hard time finding fresh dried beans (beans that will soften someday if you soak/boil them long enough) so i sometimes use whole foods organic canned black beans. 

assemble plate by plate. add a drizzle of crema on top of your taco (a sort of runny mexican sour cream, i thin some nice organic sour cream with a bit of buttermilk to approximate it).
now, enjoy like you are sitting in the sand, watching the surf in the warm hawaiian sun.

Jan 9, 2009

salt of the sea

salt. i do not have a sweet tooth, but i do have a salt tooth. i just love the taste of salt. most flavors are improved by it, and my favorite cuisines (vietnamese, japanese, french, italian are all about the balance of the salt and the sweet and the sour and sometimes the spice). years ago a very good friend of mine in california made me aware of the benefits of sea salt. she and her sister are excellent cooks and had discovered the wonders of sea salt and how much better it tasted. at first, i was not so sure, the little girl with the umbrella had been supplying my salt needs, and my mother's salt needs, all our lives. 

being me, i approached the concept slowly and deliberately with a bit of experimentation. it was a better texture, especially on meat, namely beef and pork. and my, yes, the lemon roast chicken also benefitted. but then the vegetables. now i cook many vegetables. vegetables like green beans and cranberry beans and lima beans and cauliflower and broccoli and artichokes and asparagus. most of the time i blanch all of these until tender in salty water. i do not drown them in the water, the water fills about two inches of the pan, and so they steam a little too. and the salt is generous, but not too generous. i find about 2 to 2.5 teaspoons does the trick. the vegetables taste lively, fresh, and it enhances all their natural characteristics. this is a chef trick by the way. to boil (or blanch as they call it) vegetables in salt water to "brighten" their flavors like magic. they are right. a famous french chef once said the water should be as salty as the ocean to cook vegetables perfectly. i find the atlantic and pacific oceans quite salty (i have yet to taste the others) and so use a bit less. but i firmly believe in the spirit of his instruction. be generous with the salt in the water and believe me, you will be eating a lot more vegetables in no time at all.  and sea salt has a more balanced mineral content (magnesium, calcium, iron, varying on the brand and harvest location). in julia childs THE WAY TO COOK she makes a note about steamed vegetables tasting awful and says you shouldn't let nervous nutritionistas ruin your cooking. i agree. however, corn on the cob and sugar snap peas are the only veg i have found that need no salt during cooking, and are in fact better without.

i use the baleine whale salt for multi purpose use, pasta water, veg water, baking, etc. it has the most uniform and predictable granulation texture. 
i love the himalania pink salt, it has a wonderful sandy texture and lots of minerals, but is frankly a bit too, well......salty for every day use.

the fleur de sel from the island of re is my very favorite salt of all. i use it on roasting vegetables and on meat, where the crustiness it creates is really wonderful, as though it is sealing the meat. i also use it in salads. none of these salts leave the slightly industrial metallic taste i have noticed sometimes with more highly processed salt, the iodine perhaps?

salt of the earth is a wonderful expression, usually meaning a person of interesting or exceptional character. if you salt the earth you ruin it for planting crops. now if you spill salt, a highly valuable commodity in the old days, you are inviting the devil to your door.  and so, as everyone knows, you are to throw some over your left shoulder, whereby you will then be throwing salt in the devil's face. which will keep him at bay. i like that. salt warding off evil, just one of its many magical properties.

Jan 7, 2009

winter fruits

january, and then february, (and yes usually even march), can be a bit dreary here in the northeast. new england is famous for its winters. yet i remain defiant. i try to enjoy winter outside by going to the beach for a walk (dressed very warmly) or a jog. and i head into new york city for lively museum visits and lunch at trendy restaurants or dinners with friends. and i try to keep the inside of my house in denial that winter is even happening outside. i have a variety of tricks for this. and no, none of them involve staying in bed reading and hiding under the covers eating chocolate until april. no, i keep a large quantity of tropical plus other fruits in the larder. yes there are still some good apples now and citrus is wonderful. loving the grapefruit we have been getting lately. and the organic blueberries from chile are AMAZING right now this week. but also some pomegranates and best of all, passion fruit. we are all crazy for passion fruit around here.

passion fruit are grown in either california or new zealand and are available off and on throughout the year. a passion fruit is not ripe until it is nice and wrinkly, and becoming a bit soft. slightly wrinkly and you may have a tart inedible fruit on your hands. once you have purchased your lovely passion fruit, you wait patiently for several days or more and let it get all uniformly wrinkly and then it is time to cut open. but if you just slice right through it, the juice runs all over the place. and it is so delicious i don't want to waste even one tiny drop (although it is impossible not to spill a little juice every single time). so, to remedy this wasteful situation, i cut the fruit almost all the way through, drop my knife, and seize the two halves (still joined) and right them. little bowls of passion fruit goo. insert spoon into said goo. congratulate yourself on a job well done. enjoy. gorgeous luscious fruits, beauty in the dead of winter.

Jan 5, 2009

souffle days

i moved to manhattan immediately upon graduating university. i had worked in a few restaurants and fancy catering outfits and learned a few things about food before i arrived, so i had some small knowledge. eating in new york city was an education in itself. the food was endlessly exciting and tantalizing. soon, i had a job with an expense account at work and lots and lots of luncheons to attend and put on. at home, i cooked what i saw in all the fabulous french, italian, chinese, swedish, polish, hungarian, russian, korean, greek and japanese restaurants. i held elaborate, but casual, dinner parties. i attended some classes at a cooking school on the upper east side to further my knowledge. i made a lot of souffles. no dish was too challenging, no menu too difficult to master. i was working hard at my new found passion, and loving it.

fast forward a few years. i meet a wonderful man at work. we move to california. we marry in napa. again, great food! california fresh food, the produce! we have a few children. we move around a bit more. the souffle days start to disappear in an endless string of pasta dinners. kid food. so here sits my beautiful copper bowl, purchased specifically for whipping egg whites by hand with a giant whisk for all manner of souffles: raspberry souffles, chocolate souffles, tangerine souffles, spinach souffles, cheese souffles. so light. so beautiful. anyway. now my souffle bowl sits, or rather rolls around a bit, on our kitchen table or counter. its current job is napkin holder, paper napkin holder (100% recycled unbleached paper napkins, but STILL) i never would have used paper napkins in the old days. only cloth. but children. well you know, their messes are just as big as their hearts (HUGE).

i have made exactly one souffle in the last fourteen years. but i know that i will cook souffles again someday. in the meantime, my souffle bowl is gaining character. this dear bowl has moved with me cross country no less than four times: east coast, west coast, east coast, west coast, east coast. i don't feel bad about all this. its been endlessly interesting, and souffles are wonderful. but so are simpler things. and now my children, who love good food, can cook a little bit. sometimes a middle schooler gets cooking homework: they have had to prepare crepes with chocolate sauce for french class and recently an entire meal of crispy roast duck with all the trimmings. life is never the same. but the kids are interested in souffles now, there are murmurings. maybe they will help whip the egg whites. r is always eager to help, for he loves souffles as much as i do, maybe more.

cup and table is two months old now and this little blog is going to be mostly about food. about food when you are really passionate about food and cooking, but maybe you are in a hurry or are tired or busy. too tired or busy or hurried to put as much thought, care, research, and skill into the meal as you would like. but you still want a good result. a result that will power you and any members of your little household through their hardworking days and inspire them and please and satisfy them. but there will also be painting in this blog, since that is what i do, and travel, because that is what i love and what inspires me most of all. i have big plans for 2009 and for this little blog. it should be a good year. thanks so much for stopping by.