Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Crockpot, My Self

The way some women rave about their crock pot, you’d think it was the latest greatest invention since the vibrator.

"If you’re a lazy cook, the crock pot is your best friend," a friend of mine gushed. "You just throw food in it and when you come home after work, it's done."

Yeah, but is the food any good?

I decided to find out for myself. I ordered a crock pot (a.k.a. slow cooker) online. Once it arrived, I let it sit in the box in the living room unopened for several days (the cat used it as a perch). Avo began counting the days before I put the crock pot up for sale on eBay.

I refused to let my crock pot fear get the best of me. Using a recipe from Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Cookbook," I whipped up "Lentil and Mixed-Vegetable Casserole."

It didn't make the crock pot my best friend.

Avo wasn't surprised the recipe was a bust.

"Here's a cooking hint: never cook a recipe that calls for a can of condensed golden mushroom soup."

I fear that the crock pot has begun to come between us.

"Please get rid of it," Avo begged.

I can see his point. For one thing, we don't have any room for it. For another, we haven't found a slow cooker recipe that doesn't suck. But I'm not ready to give up.

In a last ditch effort to save my crock pot, I decided to give this vegetarian chili recipe from Food Network a shot.


1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen baby lima beans or regular lima beans
1 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeno (from can or jar)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce (I'd go with two).
1/3 cup couscous (I used closer to 2/3 cup).
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese (I'd say more).
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients but the couscous, shredded cheese, cilantro and salt and pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Five to 10 minutes before serving (depending on temperature of slow cooker) add couscous, cover and cook, until couscous is tender. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.

Just before serving, top each serving with shredded cheese and cilantro.

According to Food Network, this should take just 15 minutes of prep time, but, of course, that depends on how fast you can locate ingredients, seed, chop, mince, open cans, and shred.

"I'm cooking!" I thought to myself as I headed out to pick up the girls at school and to take Ruby to dance class.

I made a mental note to check on the chili at 5 pm (since I put it in the slow cooker on high at 2 pm). But by 6:20, the chili was still mostly liquid. In an attempt to change the consistency, I added more couscous than the recipe required and crossed my fingers. Lo and behold, the couscous trick worked. All of the sudden, it actually looked like chili.

Unfortunately, it was pretty bland chili.

"This tastes like the sort of thing you might find at Anjelika Kitchen," Avo said, which was sort of a compliment (Anjelika Kitchen is a successful restaurant) and sort of not (their food is super-healthy, but not so tasty). Once you top it with the fresh cilantro leaves, Monterey jack cheese and douse it with hot sauce, it's not so bad.

"You know why I made this recipe, right?" I asked Avo.

"Yes, you wanted to use the crock pot so I don't throw it out. The problem is you've become emotionally attached to the crock pot, so now you need to find a reason to keep it."

He's right. I don't want to feel like a failure.

"Will you eat the chili for leftovers if I freeze it?"

"Perhaps," Avo answered.

Guess I'll have to keep looking for the crock pot recipe that will justify its existence.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Break Not So Fast

As a kid, I always got confused between the two Jewish High Holy Days. Eventually, a grownup simplified things for me: "Rosh Ha Shana is happy. Yom Kippur is sad."

It may be a ridiculously simplistic explanation, but at the time, it helped me keep the two holidays straight.

In other words, don't go around wishing your Jewish friends a "Happy Yom Kippur" or a "Merry Day of Atonement."

I haven't fasted on Yom Kippur since my junior year in Israel when I spent the day in Jerusalem and succumbed to peer pressure. By nightfall, I had to atone for one more thing -- being crabby to my friends all day because I was so hungry.

This year, at the last minute this year, I decided to host a very modest Break Fast. Given that it was just for me and my friend Dori and our kids and Dori was the only one among us fasting, it wasn't exactly a Break Fast. But we did serve some traditional post-Yom Kippur favorites: egg salad, tuna salad, bagels, lox and cream cheese, white fish salad and apples and honey.

Dori has an amazing ability to make even the most simple dish special. In the case of tuna salad, she has her own recipe:

Dori's Tuna Salad


2 cans of white tuna in water
2 lemons
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste


Open the cans of tuna and drain the water. Break tuna into smaller pieces. Squirt with lemon juice. Add mustard and mayo. Salt and pepper to taste.

Served on an everything bagel and topped with a slice of tomato, this tuna salad was the best I'd ever tasted. I'm sure if I had fasted, it would have been even tastier.

NOTE: After eating this meal, you will be VERY THIRSTY.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Super Cook

I used to make fun of Avo for building entire meals around one ingredient. He couldn't bear to see an unused stalk of celery go to waste, so he'd run out to buy more stuff in order to use the celery.

I am not laughing anymore.

Yesterday I got it in my head that I wanted to use the forsaken can of chickpeas that has been taking up space in our cupboard for months. Of course, I realize that its expiration date isn't for another couple of years, but that's beside the point. I wanted to put the chickpeas to good use NOW.

I found Super Cook, an online recipe search engine that finds recipes you can make with only the ingredients you have at home.

When I input chickpeas and broccoli, it came up with this recipe:

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti With Broccoli, Chickpeas and Garlic


6 garlic cloves, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
(10-ounce) packages frozen chopped broccoli (not thawed)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti

Accompaniments: finely grated parmesan; lemon wedges (optional)


Cook garlic and red pepper flakes in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add broccoli and salt and cook, breaking up frozen chunks and stirring occasionally, until broccoli is thawed and crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and cook until heated through.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Add pasta and reserved cooking water to broccoli and chickpeas in skillet and cook over moderate heat, tossing, until combined well. Serve drizzled with additional olive oil.

This all went very smoothly (although I did have to run to the store for the whole wheat pasta). It would have gone even smoother if I wasn't helping Jesse do her homework and emptying the dishwasher and putting away laundry and trying to bake chocolate chip cookies while I was cooking.

Amazingly, I managed to get the pasta perfectly al dente. Even Avo said so. And Ruby loved the dish so much, she asked to bring the leftovers to school for lunch today.

The cookies turned out great too!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Glorified Home Fries

Great. You're here. Presumably, you're interested in how my diced potatoes sauteed with persillade turned out.

"What's persillade?" you ask, just as my mother did last night when I told her what I was making.

"Oh, that's just a fancy way of saying garlic and parsley," I told her.

"Listen to you!" Avo exclaimed, grabbing the phone from me.

"Can you believe your daughter? Suddenly, she's using terms like 'persillade!' I bet you never thought this day would come, right?"

"Tell her she's got to start thinking about preparing a meal for me and Bernie when we're in town in a couple of weeks," said my mom.

"Can't we just go out to dinner?" I asked.

"No way! You're the one who is showing off with your persillade..." Avo said.

Speaking of persillade, here is how you make it:

Combine two finely minced garlic cloves (I like to use even more) with chopped parsley. Congratulations! You've made yourself some persillade.

This recipe (which I got from my crash course in cooking at Peter Kump, now the Institute for Culinary Education) is deceptively easy. Don't be fooled.

Diced potatoes sauteed with persillade

6 cups (3 pounds) all purpose potatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Fill a large saucepan with cold water. Trim the potatoes into rectangular blocks. Cut each into 1/4-inch slices. Stack 2 or more slices together and cut into 1/4-inch strips. Cut these into 1/4 inch dice and place in the saucepan until ready to cook (it will feel like forever!)

2. Bring the water to a rolling boil (which will also seem to take forever). Remove from heat immediately and drain the potatoes. Do not rinse. Allow the potatoes to air dry (which will take forever).

3. Prepare the persillade by the above method.

4. If the potatoes aren't thoroughly dry, blot them with paper towels (as Avo says "the more you dry, the less you fry").

5. In a skillet large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the potatoes, making certain not to crowd the pan, and saute, tossing occasionally, until the potatoes brown lightly, 6 to 8 minutes (a likely story! more like a half an hour!).

6. Pour off excess oil. Add the butter and continue sauteeing to brown and crisp the potatoes completely, about 5 minutes.

7. Just before serving, toss the potatoes with the persillade and saute to reheat, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

I got antsy standing in front of the stove moving the potatoes around the pan and asked Avo to "potato sit" while I ran to the corner store for a beer and chocolate run (beer for him; chocolate for me).

I followed all of the directions, but this recipe took me a couple of hours to cook (no kidding). By the time I finished, I had pretty much lost my appetite (after standing over a hot stove!)

Two hours to make and about two minutes to eat.

Avo made this dish before and it was delicious, but my version tasted like glorified home fries.

My big mistake, I think, was not fully drying the potatoes so they never really became crispy. Also, as Avo pointed out, I should have used a slotted spatula rather than a plastic spoon (so that I wouldn't mush the potatoes and create lots of fried bits in the pan). More garlic and parsley would have helped too.

Apparently, Avo also used curly rather than flat leafed parsley. To be honest, I didn't know there was more than one type of parsley.

After we're finished eating, I look down at my shirt -- it's splattered with grease. (NOTE: That is not me in the photo).

"Guess I should have worn my apron," I tell Avo.

"Oh well. There's always next time."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cooking School for Dummies

My best friend Dori is the sort of person who phones just to tell you she made the most fabulous Potatoes Au Gratin with Gruyere that you just have to try.

When her children were infants, instead of relying on store bought baby food, she mashed sweet potatoes and peas from scratch. As her kids grew into toddlers, Dori insisted on cooking them homemade chicken nuggets since she couldn’t stomach serving them the frozen kind.

A bonafide foodie, she always makes cooking seem easy. Somehow, she manages to whip up dinner for eight with two kids underfoot while still looking as glamorous as a movie star. Not surprisingly, she has always been baffled – if not a bit irked – by my culinary ineptitude.

It wasn't such a surprise then that for our wedding present back in 2000, Dori, my matron of honor, presented Avo and me with a gift certificate for a cooking class at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School (now the Institute for Culinary Education). It was a thoughtful gift with an underlying message – now that you’re married, you might try cooking rather than ordering out.

"I want your most basic class," I said when I phoned the cooking school.

"We don't recommend the Cooking 101 class. It's about how to boil water. You know that already," the woman on the other end of the line said.

Why offer a class if you don’t recommend it? Too ashamed to set her straight and admit that I didn't, in fact, know how to boil water, I signed us up for their second most basic class, "Techniques of French Cooking."

I pictured myself preparing crepes and quiche. And drinking lots of French wine.

For the next six weeks, the cooking class served as a built-in date night. With Avo by my side helping me and with an instructor guiding us as we whipped up gourmet delicacies, I could do no wrong. Since the school had purchased all of the ingredients for us and presented us with the appropriate cooking utensils, all we had to do was show up and follow the recipes.

We learned how to prepare warm lentil salad, to roast a chicken and to flambé bananas. We sautéed potatoes, grilled vegetables and braised lamb shanks with juniper berries and rosemary. Avo hoped the class would magically transform me into Julia Child. But, like Cinderella at the ball, as soon as I returned home, the spell wore off.

As soon as the course wrapped, I looked at a potato and my mind went blank.

“What do I do with this thing again?”

Now, more than nine years later, I have finally begun to put some of the information I learned in the class to good use.

Last night, I broke out the binder they gave us at the cooking class. I have held on to it for all this time hoping that it would one day come in handy. Skimming through the recipes we tried out in class, I settled on veal cutlets piccata and diced potatoes sautéed with persillade.

One stop at the local gourmet shop changed my mind about the veal (it cost $21.99/pound!) I opted for chicken cutlets piccata instead.

Chicken Cutlets Piccata

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound chicken cutlets
1 lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced parsley

1. Dry the cutlets with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the cutlets and saute until cooked through, turning once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to a warm serving dish.

2. Add the lemon juice to the pan and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. Cook 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and gently swirl in the butter. Add the parsley and any collected juices from the meat platter. Pour the sauce over the cutlets and serve.

All in all, it was quite easy and turned out quite tasty. Still, it was hard not to feel somehow cheated because we were eating chicken rather than veal.

Even more problematic -- my timing was so off so that we didn't end up eating the potatoes until hours after we had finished the chicken.

Sorry, but you'll have to wait until my next blog post to hear about that fiasco. Please be patient!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Talking the Foodie Talk (and Making Pesto)

People at the Park Slope Food Coop seem to speak another language. They toss around phrases like "Lacinato Kale" and "Dandelion root" and expect me to understand.

They know which farm their apples come from and even the name of the cow who supplied their grass-fed beef (why are they all named Elsie?).

My husband speaks their lingo and so does my best friend, Dori, but, until recently, I've felt ignorant and illiterate.

But, I'm pleased to say that starting to get the hang of it.

Yesterday, when I did my work shift at the coop, I tested out some of my newly acquired knowledge and tried to speak this foreign tongue. Amazingly, people seemed to understand me (or at least they acted like they did).

In fluent "foodie talk," I compared my homemade pesto recipe with a fellow co-op member.

Paula's Pesto

Puree 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 2 cups fresh basil leaves, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor until almost smooth.

Add 1/4 cup olive oil gradually, with the blades turning, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to ensure that all of the mixture is incorporated.

Unfortunately, I couldn't brag because when I tried out this recipe on Sunday night, it didn't taste quite right -- even after Avo dutifully ran out to the back garden for more basil to add to the mix.

"It's better, but it's disappointing when your homemade pesto isn't as good as the kind you can buy at the store," he said.

"It's not surprising when the store you shop at is the Park Slope Food Coop!"

Even if my pesto didn't measure up, at least I can now tell the difference between basil and arugula. I just need to study up on the varieties of Kale.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cook This Dish At Your Own Risk

It was bound to happen. Just as I was getting all cocky about my newly domesticated self, I had to backslide and cook something truly awful.

It began auspiciously enough with a plan to make turkey burgers. I even splurged and bought fancy brioche rolls and a beautiful organic tomato from the Park Slope Food Coop. Oh, I had such plans for this burger (Look how happy I am in the picture)!

I blame my failure on the recipe -- and more specifically, on the dry onion soup mix, which I've decided is a definite no-no for any decent recipe.

In case you're curious, this is the recipe I followed:

Seasoned Turkey Burgers


1 1/2 pounds ground turkey breast
1 (1 ounce) package dry onion soup mix
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
6 hamburger buns, split

(I improvised step #2. The original recipe called for the burgers to be grilled, but the grill is Avo's domain).

1. In a large bowl, mix the turkey with the onion soup mix, pepper, garlic powder, soy sauce, and egg. Refrigerate the mixture about 10 minutes, then form into 6 patties.

2. Heat up frying pan with canola oil. Place patties on. Cook for around 20 minutes, turning once, or until well done. Serve on buns with fixings of your choice (I opted for tomato slices, cheddar cheese and ketchup).

It was the first time I made burgers of any kind (except for pre-made veggie burgers I've tossed in the toaster). I'm proud to say that I'm no longer a burger virgin.

But, sadly, my burgers were inedible. They tasted more like onion soup mix than turkey or burgers. Even the ketchup, cheese, tomato, and brioche bun couldn't mask the overwhelming taste of the Lipton mix.

Ruby, who salivates at the sight of meat, balked at the burger, complaining it was "too spicy." And I didn't even attempt to get Jesse to take a bite -- I didn't want to turn her off burgers forever.

When Avo got home, he took one look at the burgers and promptly made himself some ravioli with tomato sauce and sauteed zucchini with garlic and grated parmesan.

Unfortunately, I was too full from the (disgusting) burger I forced myself to eat to try any of his dinner.

But it certainly looked much more appetizing than mine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kitchen Cabinet Chicken

Chicken cutlets is a dish everyone should know how to make (unless, of course, you're a vegetarian). It's a culinary basic that our kids will probably like (given their penchant for chicken nuggets).

I have fond childhood memories of watching my mom pat bread crumbs onto chicken breasts (not sure why that simple act was so reassuring. I'll need to talk to a shrink about that).

So I bought the chicken breasts and I'm all set to go.

Oh no. It's nearly 7 pm and I just realized I forgot to buy the bread crumbs.

I call Avo, who assures me we have bread crumbs, but I can't seem to find them.

"Well, you can make your own bread crumbs," he suggests.

Um, no. Too ambitious at this hour.

I check the fridge for backup ingredients, but, aside from some sliced cheddar cheese, plain yogurt and moldy salsa, it's empty.

I vowed to make chicken tonight and Damnit, I'm going to do it.

After scouring the cabinets, I manage to find some tomato sauce and fresh garlic.

I decide to go ahead and invent my own recipe:

Paula's Baked Chicken with Garlic and Tomato Sauce

1. Place two skinless chicken breasts in a baking dish.

2. Dump in Fairway tomato sauce and chopped fresh garlic.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for a half an hour.

That's it. A half an hour later, I have succeeded at baking chicken, but it's bland and a bit chewy.

Luckily, I get the inspired idea to add one more step:

4. Add Avo's leftover white bean soup (fresh rosemary, garlic, sausage, white bean and other misc. ingredients) and warm in the microwave together.

Avo arrives home and immediately locates the bread crumbs.

We sit down to eat.

"My chicken and your white bean soup...It's a true collaboration!" I declare.

"Not bad for a Monday night," says Avo.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Gourmet Me

I'm beginning to think I can no longer in good faith call myself "undomesticated." I'm still not the world's best cook, but I now know how to do much more than boil water and toast bread.

As promised, inspired by Giulia Melucci, on Friday night, I prepared Salmon with Lemon-Tarragon Butter and French Lentil Stew.

Melucci includes both of the recipes in her wonderful book, "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti," (p. 81) but I'm posting them here just for you:

Salmon with Lemon-Tarragon Butter
(Adapted from

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
juice and zest of 1 large lemon
freshly ground pepper
2 salmon fillets
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced

In a small saucepan over low eat, melt butter with lemon juice and zest, remove from heat.

Place salmon skin side down on a broiler pan. Brush with half the butter mixture, season with salt and pepper. Broil until just cooked through, about 20 minutes (there is no need to turn).

Transfer to plates. Add tarragon to remaining lemon butter. Spoon over salmon and serve over lentils.

French Lentil Stew
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson, The New York Times)

1 shallot
1 clove garlic
1/2 stalk celery
1/2 carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup French lentils
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Finely chop the shallot, garlic, celery, and carrot. It's easiest to do them all together in a food processor if you have one. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and cook until they have softened (about 5 minutes), then add 3 cups of water, lentils, thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a steady simmer, then lower heat. Allow the lentils to cook for 20 to 26 minutes. When they are tender and have absorbed most of the water, they are ready to serve; if they are still a little tough, add more water and continue to cook until softened.

It was a lot of fun for me to buy French lentils. Anything French sounds fancy and I felt like a culinary snob seeking out the French lentils rather than the plain old boring American ones.

The lentils took a while to soften and I did end up adding more water. I realized too late that I should have waited longer to start making the salmon, which was ready much faster than the lentil stew.

I also should have bought bigger fillets of salmon. The salmon was delicious, but there was much too little of it -- especially once Ruby joined us for dinner.

In general, I can only handle cooking one dish a night, so this was a big treat for Avo to have a balanced meal for once.

"This is your best dinner yet!" Avo declared.

Paired with a glass of white wine, it was all very sophisticated.

We even had leftover lentils for lunch on Saturday (served over brown rice, it was a satisfying meal).

It doesn't get much more domesticated than that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Loved, I Lost, I Blogged

After reading I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, I was compelled to write a fan letter to author Giulia Melucci.

Yes, the header was "I Loved, I Lost, I E-mailed."

"Dear Giulia," I wrote. "Just wanted to write to let you know that I just finished your book and I feel as if I devoured a delicious meal!"

To be honest, actually, I felt as if I wanted to eat a delicious meal -- prepared by Giulia herself.

I could relate to Melucci on so many levels. We're around the same age and we both worked in magazine publicity before eventually writing a memoir. We both dated a string of losers (though I went on to find Avo). We both live in Brooklyn. But mostly, I wanted to be her best friend because I love the dress she's wearing in her author photo.

Oh, and did I mention that she's a terrifically funny and perceptive writer?

And unlike me, she is also naturally talented in the kitchen.

Throughout the book, Melucci cleverly interweaves recipes with her romantic interludes and various heartaches.

Reading her book inspired me to continue my efforts to learn to cook. I only wish she had written it years ago when I was a single gal subsisting on greasy takeout. She makes cooking seem easy -- and fun!

Those who don't cook think it's too much trouble, especially if it's just for one. If there is anything I want to convince the world of, it is that this is not the case: Cooking is impossibly easy. Food that is prepared simply from a few fresh ingredients is the food I like best.

Last night, I tried out:

Giulia Melucci's Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

1/2 cup orzo
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes (a mix of red and yellow if the latter are available), halved
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the orzo (remember that orzo cooks quicker than regular pasts, so check it earlier than you normally would, 6 minutes should do the trick). Drain the pasta and add the oil. Once it is cooled, stir in the tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Early September surely must be the best time to prepare this recipe. The mix of red and yellow cherry tomatoes I bought at the co-op were so ripe they were about to burst.

But, once again, I made that same classic beginner's mistake of not checking to see if I had all of the ingredients before proceeding with a recipe. After the orzo was ready, I realized we had no pine nuts in the house. I phoned Avo on his way home from work, but our local gourmet food shop had just closed (at 9 p.m.), so we had to do without.

Then I dispatched Avo to the back garden with a flash light to pick the fresh basil. It was worth the effort. The basil was looking (and tasting) fresher than ever.

Even without the pine nuts, the dish was a taste sensation.

"Nice! Very nice indeed!" Avo declared after his first bite.

"The fresh tomatoes and basil helps," I said.

"Featuring the flavors of summer," said Avo.

Thanks for dinner, Giulia.

Tonight, I'm going to try your Salmon with Lemon-Tarragon Butter over French Lentil Stew. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Salad #87

After my last failed experiment, I'm determined to successfully pull off #87. It sounds like a no-brainer crowd-pleaser:

87. Cold not-sesame noodles: Combine about a half-cup peanut butter with a tablespoon soy sauce and enough coconut milk to make the mixture creamy (about half a cup), along with garlic and chili flakes in a blender or food processor. Toss sauce with cooked and cooled noodles, a load of mint, Thai basil, and/or cilantro, and lime juice. Shredded cucumber and carrots optional.

My advice: don't put peanut butter in a blender. Stick with the food processor.

Also, I made a classic beginner's mistake -- I forgot to check that I had all of the ingredients before proceeding with the recipe (and I didn't feel like dragging the kids to the store). So I had to make do without garlic or lime juice (Avo accidentally bought lemons instead of limes).

Another mistake: instead of shredding the cucumber, I peeled it in long strips. Next time, I'll chop it or shred it (I skipped the carrots entirely).

Instead of Thai basil, I used "a load of mint" (as Bittman recommends) and lots of cilantro. Plus, I decided to top the salad with peanuts to add some crunch. That turned out to be a smart decision, although next time, I would crush the peanuts.

Despite my minor mistakes, the salad turned out to be quite tasty -- the fresh mint and cilantro helped to give it flavor (the garlic was sorely missed).

And now we've got fresh mint to make a Mojito.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Salad #37

Damn you, Mark Bittman. Why did you have to list 101 Simple Salads for the Season? Why couldn't you stop at 10 or so? Now the summer is nearly over and I'm not even close to finishing my quest to try out the entire list.

My latest attempt was #37.

37. Cube smoked tofu, then brush it with a mixture of honey and orange juice; broil until browned. Toss with chopped cucumbers, radishes and peas or pea shoots; drizzle with soy sauce and lime juice.

I had no problem buying smoked tofu and cubing it. Then I brushed it with the mix of honey and orange juice. No problem until I get to the part about broiling.

"You mean I put it on a pan and broil it?" I asked Avo.

"Yes, but keep an eye on it. If it's too far from the flame, nothing will happen. If it's too close, it will turn black."

That sounds ominous.

I tried my best to keep an eye on it, but I guess I got distracted because the tofu ended up a bit crispy.

My second mistake was to use frozen peas rather than fresh ones.

The result? Somewhat inedible.

Avo added salt and hot chili sauce and then piled it on fresh rice, but it still wasn't quite edible. In fact, the unlikely combination of peas, honey and orange juice was somewhat disgusting.

Sadly, we ended up tossing out our dinner (better than tossing it up!)

It's worth noting that this is the first recipe from Bittman's list that didn't work out for us.

Don't worry: I haven't lost faith in Bittman and his salads. Next up, I'm going to try #87, cold not-sesame noodles. Let's hope that I have more luck with that one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Domesticated Cookies

I'm so proud of myself. Yesterday, desperate to entertain the little ones, I decided to whip up oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from scratch.

I followed the recipe on the box of the Old Wessex Scottish Style Oats container and adapted it to suit my own taste (substituting chocolate chips for raisins and/or nuts).

Undomesticated Me's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups uncooked Old Wessex Scottish Style Oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey or maple syrup
3/4 cup softened margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup Chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli chocolate)

Heat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat cookie sheet with vegetable oil. Combine dry ingredients, mix well.

Mix honey, margarine, and vanilla until smooth. Add egg. Blend dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Stir in chocolate chips. Place rounded spoonfuls of blended ingredients onto cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Cool. Eat. Enjoy.

What do you know? I didn't burn them.

They're actually pretty tasty -- and good for the digestive system too!

Avo gave them his thumb's up.

"You're becoming pretty domesticated, honey!"

Thanks, dear. I'm trying.