Saturday, November 20, 2010

Japanese comfort food

I inherited a lot of japanese ingredients from my friend Jennifer who is moving back to the US next week. Her mother is Japanese and arrived to visit with a suitcase full of wakame, roasted sesame seeds, and roasted barley tea. I don't know a lot about Japanese cooking but I love it!

Yesterday, I used some buckwheat soba noodles that I had and made a little sauce of Dashi, bonito flakes, mirin, and soy sauce. I threw some wakame in there and some of the sesame seeds. It was a bit salty but very satisfying.

This morning, I wanted something warm and soothing but needed some protein. I cooked up some rice in the rice cooker she gave me and soft boiled an egg. I put the boiled egg on top of some of the rice in a soup bowl and poured miso soup on top. I threw in a little dot of wasabi for the broth and then put some smoked salmon in the bowl. I finished it off with a pre-packaged japanese mix of sesame seeds, nori, and some crunchy things that I have no idea what they are.

It was fantastic.

Japanese food is delicous but quite salty. I think I need to get some cabbage and mushrooms in the house so I can add some texture. I"m looking forward to exploring Japanese cuisine this winter!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Image from 101 Cookbooks blog

Ribollita is a famous Tuscan soup of peasant origins whose name literally means "reboiled". I had some left over pasta all'agnolione sauce, a little left over Tuscan sage flavored white beans, and tomato juice which I threw in as well. It was delicious!

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small chili pepper
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Parmesan rind
  • 1 bunch kale, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, pancetta, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onion is golden brown and the pancetta is crisp, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. Add a splash of red wine, the kale, beans, chicken stock, bay leaf, chili pepper and Parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pici all' aglione

One of my favorite dishes in Tuscany was the Pici Aglione (Pici with Thick, Garlicky Tomato Sauce or as it was translated on my menu once Pici strongly flavored with garlic)

The following recipe is from Buonconvento's restaurant Da Mario... not the one I ate at but one that was recommended...

2 cups canned, peeled Italian plum tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound pici

Drain the tomatoes. Cut them open to release inner juices. Chope and drain again. Smash 2 of the garlic cloves, cut them in slivers, and put them into a heavy pan with the oil. When the oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the tomatoes and a good amount of salt and pepper.

Coarsley chope the remaiing 2 cloves of garlic and add to the sauce. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the garlic is softened and the sauce nice and thick. Add more salt and pepper to taste. 

Cook the pici in salted boiling water until just al dente, drain, and mix with the sauce.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some food adventures from my traveling life...

I am excerpting the food section of a post I did in February 2010 about the best and worst things I've experienced while traveling! For the whole post, please go here.

Best meals in foreign countries:Side of the road from Boguila to Bangui, Central African Republic, March 2007A piece of freshly caught fish grilled over a charcoal flame with hot peri peri powder and tomatoes and onions, washed down with a cold coke, eaten with fingers. It might have been made better by the fact that I was on a 10 hour land rover trip squashed in the front seat with another person and with a big barrel that reeked of oil behind me.

Beirut, Lebanon, August 2006:
Everywhere we went, we would get some sort of street food and it was ALL divine - from zataar filled croissants to labneh to zataar pizzas with fresh goats cheese on them to the Arabic and Italian ice cream parlours where we conducted our meetings. At night, we went to divine little bars and drank "Malcom Lowry's" and ate fresh Ceasar salads prepared by beautiful men while listening to the latest lounge music. All war zones should be so gorgeous.

Le Quartier Francais, Franschhoek, South Africa, October 2003: Freshly caught salmon trout grilled and served on a plank of wood accompanied by a divine South African Sauvignon Blanc by the glass in a beautiful old French Huguenot farmhouse overlooking a vineyard. Downside: My traveling companion had a stomach virus and couldn’t even eat her broth although she tried valiantly.

Califa del Leon in the Colonia Condesa neighborhood, Mexico City, Mexico, May 2006: My first Taco al Pastor - roasted pork served with cilantro and pineapple on a fresh tortilla. All you can eat until you can’t eat anymore. Washed down with a cold beer and eaten on the street corner in a beautiful neighborhood in Mexico City on my first night there.

Camel Market, Khartoum, Sudan, December 2005:Freshly slaughtered lamb purchased and then brought to Sudanese women who stir fried it over charcoal briquettes with salt and pepper -served with a leafy green like arugula, tomato salad, freshly baked bread, and peanut sauce. Washed down with lukewarm plastic bags of water while sitting on plastic garden chairs and swatting flies away in the mid day heat of Sudan. Sometimes the setting isn’t that important.

Malabar House, Fort Cochin, Kerala, India, January 2010:Seafood Uttalpillum (?) – a spicy 
mix of freshly caught Sea bar, tiger prawns, and squid cooked in a spicy tomato curry sauce with tapioca mashed potatoes served with sparkling water and a Kingfisher beer in the courtyard of the Malabar House next to a Sitar and tambla concert under a full moon. I sat under a mango tree next to a pool of water.

Somewhere outside of Saint Johann in Pongau, Austria, May 1998: I fell off the meat wagon and was trying to get back on. My boyfriend at the time wanted to stop at a famous place for Frankfurters dipped in mustard and grated horseradish. Even though I was a vegetarian, I couldn’t resist. It was delectable and I’ve never looked back since.

Pave d'Auge in Beauvron-en-Ange, Normandy, France, July 2009: A Michelin 1 star – foie gras,  a chilled red Sancerre, divine fish, vintage calvados, exquisite service

Castelmuzio, Tuscany, Italy, August 2009: 
My first taste of pecorino cheese dipped in 
truffle honeyserved with a Vino Nobile. To die for! Eaten in a small little apartment overlooking the hills of Tuscany, an olive grove, and the abbey from an English Patient.

The Royal Thai restaurant at the Cinnamon Lake Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, September 2005:Thai Seafood Green Curry with Joel. “Make it how it should be made” he answered in response to do you want it spicy. We sweated and ate and sweated and ate until we almost passed out and had to stagger back to our hotel rooms. We came back the next night for more.

Hotel La Cayenne, Les Cayes, Haïti, 2001-2003 :
Poisson au gross el or Lambi Kreyol for dinner. Served with a big boiled plantain and spicy rice and beans and cold Prestige beer. Or Spaghetti with avocado and hot sauce for breakfast. Something about that hotel and the food brings back good memories.

Little restaurant near a great small Fado joint in Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal, February 2008: Grilled sardines, a bottle of vinho verde. Divine!

Worst Meals in a Foreign land:
Saclipea, Liberia, December 2004:Boiled cow head with hard rice in eaten out of a communal bowl with five Liberians and a Congolese. “That white woman can’t eat that hard rice!”

ICRC party in Nyala, Darfur, October 2004: Ate nothing but rancid “La Vache Qui Rit” cheese and sandy bread for three weeks, came to a party at the ICRC rooftop and lined up for the barbecue. My mouth was literally watering. The par-cooked goat meat that I swallowed almost without chewing was bad. I had to decide whether to make myself vomit then or hope for the best. I hoped for the best and got food poisoning. That’s when I learned about Oral Rehydration Salts thanks to my friend Mamie and the MSF clinic.

Most Monotonous Diets in foreign lands:
Everything at our hotel in Pretoria, South Africa, March 2004:All you can eat buffet. You had to fight off hordes of German tourists to get to the food and then it was bland, over cooked, and sauced with what seemed to be paste. Terrible in its nothingness particularly compared to what I knew South Africa was capable of.

Traveling through Kinshasa, North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, DRC , May 2005: Almost every day we ate beef brochette, pommes frites, and a beer. By the end of three weeks, I was dying for vegetables and was pretty convinced that I had “trigger finger” from gout.

The MSF Cafeteria, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2007-2010:Every day you have your choice of dried out breads, processed mystery meats and cheeses packaged in plastic wrap or odd salads such as canned beans, celery, canned corn, and olives in mayonnaise or red peppers, canned black olives, fake tofu/feta, celery, and raw onions swimming in olive oil with no vinegar. Deep fried cutlets that when cut open are made of spaghetti. Soups that are either grey or brown and taste vaguely like paste or canned beef flavor. Buttermilk or milk to drink. “But it’s free!”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

After effects of cheese and pastries!!!!

Although I failed in my quest to document ALL the cheeses that I ate in Paris, I certainly ate my share. A particularly memorable cheese was a silky, creamy Roquefort that will forever  banish lame gorgonzola to a distant memory.

But there was an after effect to the cheese, pate, and baguette diet that I maintained for 18 days in Paris - that's an "overly curvy" figure that I'm not too thrilled about. After some reading and discussion with friends, I've been looking at both the "Chrononutrition" diet that my fabulous French friend (let's call her FFF) is following and the "Blast Bellyfat diet" that another friend, amazing australian epicure (let's call her AAE) told me about. These diets are all about cutting carbs but not ignoring them. You can eat them but mostly during the day so you have a chance to burn them off. On the chrononutrition diet, you can eat bread and butter and cheese in the morning (very French!) but no carbs after lunch. On the belly blast diet, you drastically reduce your carbs and you increase your fat intake from avocados, olives, and nuts.

So far, it hasn't been too difficult except to be home in time to cook something. I don't think I could do this in the winter but with all the great summer produce, its not too difficult.

I've been having omelettes with onions and mushrooms or red peppers for breakfast. Sometimes soft boiled eggs with a piece of cheese or some poached chicken or salmon left over from the night before. At lunch, I have a big salad with nuts, meat, fish, or eggs on it. Filling and tastes great. Having some time off, I can make all my own salad dressings.

On the chrononutrition diet, they recommend that you eat nuts or dried fruits in the afternoon. I love roasted almonds and the Moroccan vendor at the Dappermarkt sold me on some fantastic dates so this has been lovely.

So far for dinner - I've often skipped dinner because I'm out or just not as hungry. But tonight, I'm going nuts cooking up everything that I've made so I have it in the fridge to make things easier.

I'll post the following recipes but here's my menu for the weekend:
Slow cooked Salmon with braised Leeks tonight.
Tomorrow lunch, poached chicken salad with a tarragon mustard dressing
Tomorrow dinner, Summer gazpacho.

Stay tuned for recipes!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cooking in Paris

So dinner is quite expensive in Paris and eating alone, while not terrible, is not my favorite thing to do. One of my favorite things to do is go to food markets and shop for fresh produce, however!

So today, I had lunch with a friend who showed me the nearest food market. He took me to his favorite bakery which had a lovely "formule" where you could get a sandwich/tartine/quiche, a cold drink, and one of their delectable desserts for only 6 Euros! We sat on the gazebo of a park nearby and talked about dating, love, and finding personal happiness while I munched on a delicious baguette filled with cornichons, sauccisson, and butter. My dessert was a delightfully creamy pudding/cake with fresh plums in it.

After he left to return to work, I strolled through the street market and bought some beautiful yellow plums, some ripe peaches, a bunch of flowers, and some fresh French radishes.

I'm also trying not to succumb to the bread in Paris - its so divine that its tempting to eat it with every meal. And pasta is easy but getting boring and also just as fattening as bread so Omelettes have been my go to meal for one...

Tonights dinner:

Mushroom and Picodon omelet over salad of Arugula and Bayonne ham:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Picodon and Pont-l'Évêque Cheeses

Today's cheese are:

Picodon de la Drôme: a goats-milk cheese made in the region around the RhôneToday's cheese are:

Picodon de la Drôme: a goats-milk cheese made in the region around the Rhône river in southern France. The name means "spicy" in Occitan, a romance language spoken in Southern France.   The cheese itself comes in a number of varieties, each small, flat and circular in shape varying from speckled white to golden in colour. The pâte of the cheese is spicy and unusually dry, whilst retaining a smooth, fine texture.


Pont-l'Évêque: a cheese originally manufactured in the area around the commune of Pont-l'Évêque between Deauville and Lisieux in the Calvados department of Normandie and is probably the oldest Norman cheese still in production. Pont-l'Évêque is an uncooked, unpressed cow’s milk cheese, square in shape.  The central pâte is soft, creamy pale yellow in colour with a smooth, fine texture and has a pungent aroma. This is surrounded by a washed rind that is white with a gentle orange-brown coloration. The whole is soft when pressed but lacks elasticity. It is generally ranked alongside Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort as one of the most popular cheeses in France.

My review:
The Pont-l'Évêque  is just as I remembered it from Normandie... slightly stinky but wonderfully rich and  creamy on your tongue. I ate it with some french radishes to cut the creaminess and it was divine! 

The Picodon is a lovely dryish but sweet typical goat cheese. Not too heavy - nice and light. Enjoyable! 
 river in southern France. The name means "spicy" in Occitan, a romance language spoken in Southern France.   The cheese itself comes in a number of varieties, each small, flat and circular in shape varying from speckled white to golden in colour. The pâte of the cheese is spicy and unusually dry, whilst retaining a smooth, fine texture.


Pont-l'Évêque: a cheese originally manufactured in the area around the commune of Pont-l'Évêque between Deauville and Lisieux in the Calvados department of Normandie and is probably the oldest Norman cheese still in production. Pont-l'Évêque is an uncooked, unpressed cow’s milk cheese, square in shape.  The central pâte is soft, creamy pale yellow in colour with a smooth, fine texture and has a pungent aroma. This is surrounded by a washed rind that is white with a gentle orange-brown coloration. The whole is soft when pressed but lacks elasticity. It is generally ranked alongside Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort as one of the most popular cheeses in France.

My review:
The Pont-l'Évêque  is just as I remembered it from Normandie... slightly stinky but wonderfully rich and  creamy on your tongue. I ate it with some french radishes to cut the creaminess and it was divine! 

The Picodon is a lovely dryish but sweet typical goat cheese. Not too heavy - nice and light. Enjoyable! 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A few weeks in Paris

So I will be spending a few weeks in Paris and I thought I might be able to chronicle my eating adventures while here...

After lounging around this morning drinking coffee and picking at some leftover pasta while listening to Jazz, I finally got myself motivated to go to the Monoprix grocery store. Its just down the road and while I would like to shop at the nice outdoor markets while I'm here - it was getting a bit late and I needed some provisions.

I purchased:

Provisions are purchased!

Pont L'evoque and Chevre cheeses
Pancetta and Prosciutto
A bottle of Cotes de Rhone

Tonight, I am going to go out to dinner - although its Saturday night, if I eat early enough at 6:30, I think that I'll be served. Then I will bring my book with me and have a glass of wine at one of the bars here in the Bastille. I'm not being super adventurous my first night here but I'm pleased with my purchases. I have plans to make brunch tomorrow and talk on the phone to my friend Mike in Berlin and then head out to the museums. I'm pleased! 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the hunt for Mexican food in Amsterdam

This week, an American friend of mine suggested that we try out a Mexican restaurant in Amsterdam. Now, I'm extremely cautious about mexican food (and hamburgers) in Europe. In general, they don't taste right. Either they substitute bad ingredients or they make concessions to the local taste (cucumbers instead of pickles on burgers?!?!, Whole wheat buns? ). My sad experience with trying "salsa" throughout the world has made me reluctant to eat it outside of North America. I try to make it a priority to eat Mexican food when I'm in the US - in NYC, in DC, in California - I'll try it in South Carolina but usually there I only want to drink margaritas and eat chips and salsa. Although with the influx of Mexicans into the state, I've heard rumors of "real"  taquerias in West Colombia that I've been on the hunt for.

Anyway, the restaurant that we went to is called "Tomatillo" and it was sold to me as "Exactly like Chipotles". Here's my review:

Looks: Tomatillo's operating model is just like Chipotle. The menu has the same options: burritos, soft tacos, chips and salsa and salads. You can get beer and wine but no margaritas. The tables are brushed metal with high stools and the decor is reminiscent with framed photos of latin america and an open kitchen. Very clean and nice. They play "lounge" music and they deliver.

Advantage: Tomatillo - the lack of margaritas is made up for by the fact that you can get it delivered to your house.

My meal:  I had a dos equis beer, chips and salsa and guacamole and a chicken fajita burrito.

The meat:
Now the best thing about Chipotle is their chicken. Their chicken is marinated in crack cocaine and is delicious - its salty and a bit spicy but not overwhelmingly tasting of one thing or another. its still a bit fatty but tender and juicy. I ate this chicken almost every day for two years.  At Tomatillo, there appeared to be cinammon in the marinade for the chicken in the chicken fajita burrito I had.  While I didn't mind it, it just added a "what's that flavor" to the chicken that I wasn't expecting. They claim its marinated in an adobo marinade.
Advantage: Chipotle

The burrito:
It was double wrapped in paper and tinfoil which helped because it was messy. It had beans, rice, meat, and veggies in there. I saw big roasted red peppers.  At Chipotle, the other thing I really like is that they use romaine lettuce instead of iceberg (although they are always super stingy with how much they give you) but I couldn't really tell what lettuce was in my Tomatillo burrito. I suspect it was iceberg.  The black beans were more soupy and less whole pure black beans than Chipotle and there was no option of pintos. but I like black beans so this was fine.
Advantage: Tied

The chips:
At Tomatillo ,the chips were actually made there on premises and crispy - tortilla chips are the biggest problems in the Netherlands... these were good but not salty enough. I love the Chipotle chips becaus they are thin and crispy and served in a paper bag.

Advantage: Tied

The Guacamole:
The Guacamole had too much lime in it and not enough chunks of Avocado. And it was WAY too expensive for the amount I got. At Chipotle, you get a giant scoop for 1.50 and I paid for a little to go souffle cup for 3.50 euros. but it was pretty good compared to most guac here.

Advantage: Chipotle

The beer:
They had a selection of Mexican beers - Dos Equis, Negro Modelo, and Corona and served it with a lime and without a glass, which I liked but they need to crank down the temperature of the cooler a bit since Mexican beer needs to be cold, in my opinion.

Advantage: Tied - the 'generic' alternative is Heineken at Tomatillo which is better than Bud.

The Salsa:
Now, for the most important part....the salsas. I ordered the Chipotle medium spicy salsa and the Habanero extremely spicy salsa... on a scale of spicy from 1-10 with 1 being tomato sauce from a can and 10 being biting a habanero pepper in Jamaica, I would give the Chipotle medium spicy a 4 and the Habanaero a 5. I didn't consider either to be spicy. The chipotle wasn't even as spicy as Old El Paso spicy taco sauce.  And they pureed their salsas which I normally don't like but I noticed a lovely looking pico de gallo on the serving board so next time I go back, I might try that.

Advantage: Chipotle

Overall grade: For Amsterdam, this is the best Mexican (Tex-Mex) that I've had. But as far as "just like Chipotles" - I would give it a B-. But I'm now sufficiently intrigued about how authentic it can get to Los Pilones and try their margaritas.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dutch Asparagus

I decided to go old school for dinner tonight and make white asparagus, Dutch style! According to all the Dutch people, I know, this involves serving the asparagus with melted butter, a hard boiled egg cut up in pieces, and a slice of ham.

I read an article in the Thalys magazine about the Low countries food specialities so I also decided to get Belgian endive to have with it instead of the more traditional boiled new potatoes.

I even have a good beer from the Brouwerij 't Ij to go along with it. When the weather is as sunny and the sky is as blue as it has been for the past days, I want to celebrate all things Dutch!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vernaccia di San Gimignano

"It kisses, licks, bites, thrusts and stings" says Michelangelo

Dante banished Pop Martin IV to purgatory because of it
Boccaccio fantasized about flowing streams of cool Vernaccia
Pope Paul III reputedly bathed in it
Santa Caterina of Siena used it as a medicine.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano was the first DOC wine, first white wine to get DOCG status.

And another fabulous cabbage dish

Cabbage with Hot Sauce

This is more of a method than a recipe, so the quantities I’ve listed below are only approximate. Just taste as you go, and tweak to your liking. It’s hard to mess this up, as long as you get some color on the cabbage.

When choosing an oil for this, be sure to choose one with a high smoke point, the safest bet for high-heat cooking. We usually use canola oil, because I keep it around for making 
granola, but we have also used peanut oil and grapeseed oil. (Or, if you’re the type to have lard lying around - ooh la la - you could use that. It has a high smoke point too.) To learn more about high-temperature oils and fats, click over here or here.

½ head green cabbage, quartered and sliced into ¼-inch-thick ribbons
½ medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced (optional)
Canola oil, or another oil with a similarly high smoke point
¼ tsp. to 1 tsp. sambal oelek, to taste
Soy sauce, to taste
Salt, to taste (optional)

Place a wok over high heat. Let it heat thoroughly; it should even smell hot. Working quickly, pour in a glug of oil* and then immediately add the cabbage and the fennel, if using. Stir briefly to coat with oil, and then leave it alone for a minute or so, to allow the vegetables to begin to take on some color. Then add sambal oelek to taste, and stir again. (If you have a hood over your stove, turn on the fan! The hot sauce gives off spicy fumes.) Continue to cook until the vegetables are browned in spots and wilted. It won’t take long. Then add a glug of soy sauce, and stir well again. Taste, and season with more soy sauce or salt as needed.

Serve hot or warm.

From orangette

Thai Red Curry seared cabbage

I've been craving this dish all day! 
Thai red curry seared cabbage
Serves 2-3 as a single-dish meal; more as a part of a multi-dish meal
4 scallions, cut into ½-inch lengths, white and green parts separated
4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (I like Mae Ploy brand; it's tasty but not very hot)
12 ounces cabbage, red or green (about ½ of a smallish head)
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (preferably Asian brands; be sure it's not sweetened coconut "cream")
½ teaspoon sugar
6 kaffir lime leaves, cut into chiffonade as thin as possible (optional, but you'll want it)
5 sprigs Thai basil, thick stems removed (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Fish sauce or salt, to taste
Optional garnish:
1 package enoki mushrooms
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt, to taste
To serve:
Steamed rice (jasmine, preferably)

  1. First cut your cabbage: If there are loose outer leaves, just peel them off and toss them. With a sharp knife, halve the head and take out the thick white core by making a V-shaped cut into the bottom of the head, removing the stem. Now, with the flat side down, cut the cabbage into ½-inch slices, give it a quarter-turn, and cut it into ½-inch dice.
  2. If making the mushrooms: Heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy saucepan or wok, something large enough to give you room to toss all that cabbage in. Cut the bunch of mushrooms off at the bottom of the stem to free them all (and to get rid of the dirt that's probably clinging to them). Turn the heat up to high, and when the oil is just smoking, add the mushrooms, preferably in one layer. (If you really can't reasonably call what you have "one layer," do this in batches.) Now don't touch them! Let them sizzle, shrivel, and brown, which will be quick. When they are the color of light caramel, toss and flip them in the oil and let them color all over. When they are a medium brown, remove the mushrooms, drain them on several layers of paper towel, and salt them generously. They won't really crisp, but they will be pleasantly chewy with a deep flavor.
  3. Now make sure all your ingredients are cut to the appropriate sizes and ready to go; the cooking goes pretty quick. (This is a little weird, but give the curry paste a tiny taste. If it's painfully hot to you, go ahead and use less of it in the initial cooking; you can always stir in more later if you like.)
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil (or, if you've made the mushrooms, just pour off enough oil to leave 2 tablespoons in the pan) over high heat in a heavy saucepan, wok or a wide sauté pan, something big enough to let you toss all that cabbage. When the oil shimmers, add the white parts of the scallions, and roll them around a bit. When they just start to take on some color, add the curry paste and spread it out with a heat-proof spoon or spatula. Specks of it will want to jump around; don't mind them. Stir and flip the curry paste for a few seconds until it is fantastically fragrant and turning a deep brick red.
  5. Add the cabbage, and stir and toss to distribute the curry paste through it evenly. Season with a few pinches of salt or dashes of fish sauce and toss, vigorously, until the cabbage begins to wilt. Add the coconut milk, sugar and kaffir lime leaves (if using), and scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Bring it all to a boil, and turn down to a simmer.
  6. Give it a taste! If you held back on the curry paste before, does it want more now? Maybe a little more salt or fish sauce to heighten the flavors? Is it too pungent or hot? You can help balance that somewhat by adding a little more sugar.
  7. Let simmer until the cabbage is tender but with still a slight bit of resistance, a very soft crunch, and the sauce has thickened somewhat. Stir in the basil, let it wilt to unlock its fragrance, and serve over rice, garnishing with the fried mushrooms. 
From Francis Lam's column on

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My dad's famous spaghetti sauce

My mother actually taught me how to make this Spaghetti Bolognese recipe. In third grade, I had to write a recipe so my mother taught me how to make it. It became my first dish that I could cook for the family. Family legend had it that my mother learned to cook this while working in the galley of a big ocean liner that sailed around Africa when she was young. 

My father liked the flourish of having some signature dishes so took over the spaghetti sauce preparation. After my mother died, it became standard for my sister and I to be served spaghetti on our first night back home. Alyson and Dad even had it for Thanksgiving dinner once. It was the dish that signifies family more strongly than anything else in my life. Proust had his madelienes, I've got my spaghetti sauce. 

We ate it simply - very 1970s style. Plain spaghetti noodles (often the Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly brand) - never angel hair or penne or anything else. Kraft Parmesan cheese on top. A salad usually made with iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, bell peppers and served with a choice of store bought dressings and often, if we didn't have the frozen garlic bread , then white bread with butter. Remember, this is Sumter, South Carolina - the nearest place to buy arugula is a 60 minute drive away. We convinced my father to switch to curly green leaf lettuce and romaine when it became plentiful in the 21st century and he became quite a vinaigrette maker but the "Shake cheese" and frozen garlic bread were always a favorite.  

As my sister and I became older, the spaghetti and salad were joined with a glass of red wine - sometimes good and sometimes bad as he had a habit of checking out the sales racks at the local grocery store and buying his wine there. It always COULD have been good but sometimes it had gone bad. And he would often regale us with the story of eating spaghetti while as a young man in Italy. He would carefully chop it all up and then tell us about the Italian who was so appalled that he rushed across the restaurant to shout "Don't cut the spaghetti! Don't cut the spaghetti!". My dad would laugh and say - but I like it this way. American imperialism! I would shout as a 20 year old. Knew his own mind and didn't care about fashion, I thought as I mellowed and became older. My father knew his own mind - he didn't really care what other people thought about him. He liked the finer things in life but when it came down to it - he was a child of the depression and an American. He wasn't going to waste money on more expensive wine when this wine was "perfectly adequate" (plus I think he liked the thrill of perhaps finding an overlooked jewel in the wine bargain bin) and he liked to cut his spaghetti and wasn't Italian so who cared?
My father perfected this sauce and all my childhood friends had it one time or another. They always wanted the leftovers. Christmas 2008, my father was living with my sister in a house in Columbia, SC. A dream kitchen with a beautiful big gas stove, plenty of counter space, and a stainless stell refrigerator, dishwasher, and every type of appliance one could wish for were in that kitchen. He was quite frail from his repeated hospitalizations and couldn't stand as long as he used to. One of the most difficult things for him was having to be dependent on my sister who didn't really like to cook for his dinners. When I came home, I made him whatever he wanted for the Christmas holiday. I cooked elaborate breakfasts and his favorite lunches and dishes like Orange Fool that he had read about and was interested in trying (it was Winston Churchill's favorite dessert). He ruefully shook his head one day and said - I've never even cooked on that stove. 

I decided that wasn't a good state of affairs. We set him up at the kitchen table with the chopping blocks and the knives and the vegetables and in television chef style, we put everything in its own bowl. I put a chair next to the stove and we moved him over there with his walker. As he needed a dish, he shouted it out and I, his happy sous chef, handed it to him. We made a great batch of spaghetti sauce. And he got to yell at me like he always did when I was a child for "cooking the spoon" because I never take the wooden spoon out. 

Today is the one year anniversary of my father's death. In his honor (and in my mothers honor) I've cooked the spaghetti sauce. It never tastes quite the same as his sauce did but it puts me back in touch with him and happy days in the kitchen in Sumter, South Carolina. 

Martin Family Spaghetti Bolognese

1 pound of ground beef (the leaner the better)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
1/2 container of mushrooms (sliced)
1 large onion (diced)
2 small carrots (grated)
1 can of tomato paste
1 can of chopped tomatos
dried oregano
2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic (minced)
dash of "Italian seasoning" (basil, marjoram, oregano, sage mixture)
lots of fresh ground black pepper

2 bay leaves
2 cubes of beef bouillon
dollop of olive oil

Brown the beef in olive oil. Add 2 cloves or so of chopped garlic, the onion, the bell peppers and stir well. Cover the beef and vegetables with enough water and two small beef bouillon cubes to cover them all. Add oregano, italian seasoning mix, bay leaves, black pepper, and bring to a boil. Add two carrots grated very fine. After it comes to a full rolling boil, turn the temperature down to simmer and add the tomatos and mushrooms.

Stir well and simmer until reduced down. Tastes even better the next day!

My dad also added celery and fennel seeds or italian sausage from time to time but I don't care for those so my mother and I omitted those.