I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Salmon, Bok Choy and Udon, oh my!

This post is inspired by Wood, who sent up a flag for recipes to get her through the week. This is our absolute favorite fast, healthy meal, bar none. We ate this almost once/week when I was pregnant and trying to get salmon and greens as often as possible (when what I really wanted was pizza and mac'n'cheese). This method for cooking salmon, straight out of Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, will wow your benefactees, the texture is unbelievable.

MZ loves everything in this dish now, she plays with the udon noodles and will eat the bok choy if it's cut small. And Wood, you should easily be able to find the ingredients in your 'hood...

2 salmon fillets
Teriyaki sauce from a bottle or homemade
2 garlic cloves
6 fresh shiitaki mushrooms (if you're feeling fancy)
4-6 heads of baby bok choy, depending on size
2 individual serving packages of udon noodles, without the broth base

Teriyaki sauce:
1 T sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T mirin
2 T sake
1 garlic clove, pressed
1" piece of ginger, peeled and grated

Preheat oven to 325. Combine teriyaki ingredients, or pour sauce in a shallow baking dish. Add fish, turn to coat, leaving skin side up.

While fish is marinating, slice mushrooms thinly, if using, then cut bok choy on the diagonal into thin slices and rinse in a colander -- allow some water to remain on the leaves. Put a medium pot of water on to boil. Pour a glass of wine, if you haven't done so. A fruity sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer or dry riesling would be perfect.

Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat. Pat the fish dry and lay in the pan, cooking for two minutes on each side. While fish is cooking, transfer teriyaki sauce to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, cook for at least 3 minutes to reduce and to make sure it's cooked. Wipe baking dish with a paper towel and place fish back in, and place in oven. Set timer for 5 minutes.

When water comes to a boil, add the noodles. Stir to break up a bit, and cook as directed.

Heat a wok or flat nonstick pan on high heat (if you have expensive nonstick pans, ditch them for some restaurant supply pans and enjoy high heat -- they're practically disposable). Add some canola oil, and the garlic. When it turns golden in color, add the mushrooms. Stir occasionally until they soften (a minute or two), then add the bok choy. Stir often, but not continuously, for a few minutes until done to your liking -- keeping in mind that baby bok choy goes from crisp to mush very rapidly.

When the noodles are done, drain in colander used for bok choy. Plate to two rimmed soup/pasta bowls, reserving some for the baby. Add the bok choy mixture, then lay the fish on top, again reserving some for the baby. Add the teriyaki sauce to the water remaining in the bok choy pan, and spoon over all.

Cut the baby's food up, refill the wine, and sit down to eat together. The best.

Riff references: Bistro Cooking, Japanese Family-style Recipes

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Random finds that MZ will eat

I made all MZ's food when we were first feeding her solids, and she liked everything. We even got to the point where she would eat whatever we were eating, simply ground up in a portable food mill.

But now that MZ's a self-feeder, it's become a challenge to get food in her. Her try-anything attitude seemed to have shut down, she gave up most meat and cheese, and now I find I feed her a lot more prepared food than I ever intended. It's hard not to try anything when left to her own devices she'd go through the day on nothing but grapes, peas and blueberries. I read labels more than I used to, and I'm stunned by the amount of sodium and sugar in prepared foods, even those designed for kids. Why does yo-baby have added sugar? Why is there so much sodium in Annie's Mac'n'Cheese? Don't even get me started on the horror that is Lunchables... and most of these don't have any real flavor.

But I've found a few items that I feel pretty good about, and that make life a lot easier:
-Hodo Soy tofu omelette and tofu jerky, found at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market
-Tofu Pups, the lowest sodium of the tofu dogs, available at grocery stores that carry soy products, including Whole Foods
-Trader Joe's spinach nuggets, located in the refrigerator case near the cheese
-Trader Joe's baked tofu -- the Thai flavor has the least sodium
-Trader Joe's organic hummus
-Just Tomatoes freeze-dried fruits
-Annie's whole wheat cheddar bunnies
-Earth's Best fortified Crunchin' Crackers
-Sukhi's spiced naan (heated in a dry nonstick pan, this makes great cheese toast)
-East & West Foods spinach bolani and lentil curry, available at the Alemany Farmers' Market

Unfortunately, many of these are impossible to find outside the immediate Bay Area. What works for your kid?

Just for the halibut

Groan, that's the worst line ever. But Alaskan halibut's in season and our CSA box started this month, so we're in heaven at Casa Robmaliam.

Since Chilean seabass entered the
off limits list, wild Pacific salmon and halibut have become our favorite fish. When they're in season, we try to enjoy them as much as possible. And sauteed greens -- our favorite vegetable by far -- makes a lovely bed for grilled halibut. How wonderful then to have Lacinato kale (also called cavalo nero or dino kale) in our box this week! Rancho Gordo beans would have been ideal to go with, but the meal occured to me too late so we made do with a can of cannelinis. The following will easily feed two adults and a toddler, with leftover greens:

For the halibut:
2 6-oz. halibut fillets
Penzey's Greek seasoning, or salt, lemon pepper, and crumbled dried Mediterranean oregano
lemon EVOO

For the greens:
2 T EVOO, plus more to finish
1 bunch kale, preferrablo cavalo nero/Lacinato/dino kale
2 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
1/2 t chile flakes
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

Put a medium pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, liberally sprinkle the fish with the seasoning and rub with the lemon olive oil. Set aside.

Prepare the kale by slicing the leaves off the side of the stem (easiest if you hold the kale by the end of the stem and slice down over a colander), then slice crosswise into thin strips. Rinse thoroughly. When the water is boiling, add 1 T salt and the kale. Cook for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan on medium high heat. Chop the garlic. Heat a saute pan on medium heat. Add the olive oil and when it heats up, add the garlic and chile flakes. Saute slowly till the garlic softens, don't allow it to burn. Put the fish on the grill pan and set a timer for four minutes. Drain the kale and add it to the garlic, stir and when everything is heated up, add the beans and chicken broth* and stir. Allow to simmer while you turn the fish over and cook for another 4 minutes.

Plate the sauteed beans and greens in rimmed soup plates/pasta bowls. Lay the fish over the top.

Enjoy with something cold, white, dry but fruity, like a Spanish Albariño.

Riff references: The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook

*This is where if you had those good Rancho Gordo beans, already cooked and ready to go, you'd add a cup of the cooking liquid, which would be thick and flavorful with a sauteed onion or some crushed garlic cloves and a bay leaf.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cheatin' Chilaquiles

The value of this recipe is convenience. There are excellent chilaquiles-from-scratch recipes out there, and then there's this one. But it is good and comforting and incredibly easy, and a great use for leftover cooked chicken.

The way I make chicken stock, I always have lots of cooked chicken meat left over, and I make this or an amazingly good chicken-butternut squash-chanterelle pot pie that I haven't had time to make in a while. I am optimistic that someday even MZ will eat this, it has all the right flavors but is still a bit too casserole-y for self-feeding.

This is not a spicy dish, to our tastes. I much prefer to add the picante at the table, either in the form of Valentina, or Marie Sharpe's if you're a real chile head. This dish will easily feed 6 adults, and makes great leftovers.

20 corn tortillas
1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
2 T canola oil
1 28-oz. can Las Palmas green chile sauce
1 7-oz. can Herdez salsa verde
1/4 c. water or chicken broth
1 Bay leaf
1.5 cups cooked shredded chicken
1/2 cup crema or sour cream
3 T chopped cilantro
1/2 cup grated Jack or other good melting cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush dry tortillas on one side with canola oil, stacking them oiled-to-non-oiled sides. Divide into stacks of 5 and cut into 6 wedges. Spread on a foil-lined jellyroll pan and bake, stirring occasionally, till crisp and browned, about 15-20 minutes. Increase heat to 400 degrees and set chips aside.

Meanwhile, saute onion in oil in a small Dutch oven. Don't skimp too much on the oil, because you want to fry the sauce when it's added. When the onion has softened, increase heat to high and add the bay leaf, sauce, salsa and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the chicken, stir and cook to heat through, then add the crema and cilantro. Remove sauce from heat.

Scatter chips in a lasagne pan, pour sauce over and stir slightly to work the sauce into and under the chips. Top with grated cheese, bake for 15-20 minutes till heated through, then place the pan under the broiler until the cheese browns a bit. Serve with hot salsa on the side.

Enjoy with beer. My favorite for this and most Mexican food is Negra Modelo.

Riff references: Rick Bayless

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Banana Pudding without the wafers

The internet is an amazing thing for lots of reasons, but especially for cooking. I have a fairly large collection of cookbooks, I used to read and reference them all the time. But these days I rarely have time, so it's nice to know that I can plug x ingredient and the word recipe into Google and come out with some ideas. Not tested, mind you, not proven, but at least a starting point for a technique or a flavor combination.

One of my favorite resources is the
Chowhound Home Cooking Message Board. It's populated, seemingly 24/7, by a selection of good cooks who almost always have the answer to your questions. Slow cooker recipes? Check. How to keep galangal and lemongrass? Check. How to make banana pudding without the wafers? Check!

I'm not a big dessert maker. Savories are my bag, and I'm frankly a little afraid of dessert chemistry. So I was happy to have a place to turn for pudding advice after my
chocolate pudding came out one-dimensionally sweet, without the full mouthfeel of the real thing. And after I discovered that apparently what most of the country means by banana pudding is packaged vanilla pudding with banana slices, layered with Nilla wafers. I can see the attraction if you grew up with that as comfort food, but I didn't, so I don't even want to know.

Thanks, theSauce, for your recipe for real homemade banana pudding. I made a change or two from the original, linked below, but overall this is theSauce's vision and technique. It was sweet for my taste, but R pronounced it perfect.

1.25 cups sugar
1/3 cup + 1 T cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 cups cold whole milk
2 egg yolks
2 T room temp unsalted butter
2 t vanilla
1 t Meyers dark rum
3 ripe but firm bananas, sliced

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in the milk until the mixture is completely smooth. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir until the mixture is warm.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl until blended. Stir a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks and stir (to prevent the egg yolks from curdling). Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking continuously, until the custard is quite thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, rum and bananas.

Pour the custard into a bowl or into individual ramekins. Pressing a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding will prevent a "skin" from forming. Place in the fridge to cool completely before serving, at least one hour for ramekins and a few hours for a full bowl.

Enjoy with a cold glass of milk.

Recipe riff: Recipe from theSauce

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jerusalem Artichoke & Green Garlic Soup

There's a lot to find annoying about San Francisco. It's expensive, it's cold almost all the time, and boy do we have a high opinion of ourselves. But you can't beat the produce. R. and I visit markets whenever we travel, and the variety and quality of produce here is truly incredible.

And lo, according to the farmers markets, Spring is springing! A bit early for reliably good strawberries, but
green garlic is here! And it's overlapping with lovely little Jerusalem artichokes.

I planned to roast the chokes, but then R. had to get his wisdom teeth pulled. And then I saw the green garlic. So, soup it was, with a little direction from the nice man at Knoll Farms.

We like our pureed soups with a little something to chew on, usually I add lentils or crumbled browned sausage, but I had some cremini mushrooms and thought the earthiness would work in this soup. I also used part stock/part water because I didn't want to overwhelm the vegetables with the flavor of chicken stock. If you're using canned broth, maybe go 100% broth.

The color might be off-putting for some, it's a dull pale green. But the flavors should help you get over that. If this soup didn't already have the cream and butter, I might spring for the pumpernickel croutons suggested in the Epicurious recipe below.

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
4-6 stems green garlic, thinly sliced, with green parts and white parts divided
4 spring onions or scallions, thinly sliced
1 lb. Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock + 1.5 cups water
3/4 cup cream
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, diced to ~1/4" pieces
1/4 t black pepper, finely ground

Melt half the butter and olive oil in a heavy pot on medium heat. Add the white parts of the green garlic, the scallions and the Jerusalem artichokes. Sprinkle with salt. Stir, cover and stew for ~10 minutes. Add the wine, increase heat to high and boil to reduce wine by half. Add the broth, simmer 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter and olive oil on medium-high heat in a nonstick pan. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Saute till the juices are released, allowing the mushrooms to brown slightly. Add the green garlic stems and saute ~1 minute longer. Turn off the heat.

When the the vegetables in the soup are quite soft, turn off the heat and puree using a hand blender. Turn heat to medium high and add the cream. Bring to a simmer and cook for approximately 3 minutes, until the cream is no longer raw-tasting. Add the mushroom mixture and black pepper, Stir, adjust salt, and serve.

Soup doesn't necessarily lend itself to wine, and artichokes will kill the flavor of most anyway, but these earthy flavors would work with a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir.

Riff references: RecipeSource, Riverford CSA, Epicurious

Friday, March 03, 2006

Duck and Mustard Green Soup

Every time I go to my OB/GYN's, I stop at Nijiya market for a snack. It's a spendy Japanese supermarket with a lot of organic/non-GMO soy products and noodles. I usually get a few items from the deli case for breakfast the next morning, if I get oyako donburi, R and I will eat the rice and chicken, while MZ eats the egg. I bought tamago over and over, thinking she'd love it, but after the third refusal I gave up. But this she likes. She also loves these little tofu nuggets with carrot and edamame in them. And on one occasion, she devoured seaweed salad.

They have "water duck" in the meat department, beautiful little neatly trimmed breasts. I bought them planning a more elaborate dinner, but then we all got a cold. Getting sick always makes me a little manic, and on the first day I made a huge pot of stock. First night we had matzo ball soup (made from a mix, we're sick after all, but with schmaltz, not vegetable oil), then tom kah gai. On the third night, the duck needed to be used. So I did some recipe surfing, and remembered I had some nice mustard greens from my weekend foray to the Alemany farmers market.

This is what I came up with, it was quick and we liked it so much I plan to make it again. I think it would also be good with sai fun (bean thread noodles):

Whisk together 3 T soy sauce, 2 T mirin, 1/2 t five spice and 1 clove garlic, minced. Marinate 2 duck breasts.

Meanwhile, heat 4 cups chicken stock with 1 T soy sauce, 4 coins of peeled ginger and 1 star anise. Place four dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water till softened. Chop the leaves from one bunch of mustard greens into thin strips. Cook one or two bundles of SE Asian rice noodles (the kind you'd use for pho) according to the package instructions (no, really, they're pictographs, you can follow along), drain and set aside.

Pat the duck breasts dry and pan-saute on medium-high heat, about 3 minutes on each side. Slice the mushrooms into thin strips while the duck rests and add them to the soup, then slice the breasts into thin slices. Add the mustard greens to the soup, and stir.

When the greens have wilted, divide the noodles into two or three large Chinese-style soup bowls. Ladle the soup on top, distributing the greens and mushrooms evenly. Fan the duck slices on top and serve, with Sriracha and oyster sauce on the side.

Riff references: Asian Greens, New Food Fast