mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

a cool dish for a hot night . . .

We live in New England – and it’s forecasted to be hot and humid tonight – around 88 degrees today. So, this morning, I made part of our supper for tonight – cold soba noodle, persian cucumber and wakame seaweed salad. I happen to have a boat load of soba noodles in my cupboards so that was easy to find, boil water and cook on the stove. I drained it, spritzed it with very cold water and then drained it well again.

For the cucumbers, they’re the small ones that you get in packs of 5 or 6 at the grocery store. I like them because they’re very crunchy and less full of seeds and juice compared to the bigger ones. After I cut off the ends, I quarter-cut them (cut on a slight angle, turn it a quarter, cut, turn, cut, turn) until you have small chunks of cucumber. In parallel, I heated up some water and soaked some dried wakame to reconstitute the seaweed. A little bit goes a long way and I usually use too much. This time, I used half of what ballooned up in the soaking liquid. Rinsed it with cold water and chopped it up into smaller pieces, draining it well.

In a small bowl, I mixed together some homemade teriyaki sauce (soy, mirin, sake, sugar heated in a pan and cooled, kept in an old honey jar,) Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, Asian chili sauce, honey and sesame oil. Tasted it and added a little more vinegar to make it more piquant. Shook it up in a small jar and then added it to the drained soba noodles, cucumber and wakame seaweed. Mixed it together gently, covered it with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge until tonight. DSCN9087

With the soba noodles, I’m planning to prepare some extra-large shrimp, either stir fried in the shell with ginger, scallion and garlic or fry as tempura with hoisin sauce dip. There’s a brand of “colossal” size shrimp that I keep in my freezer so that I can take out a handful for meals like this. They’re now thawing in a plastic bag on the kitchen counter.

So that’s it for tonight. I’ve been striving to cook two dishes a meal for supper – rather than the usual 3, so combining vegetables with noodles is a good option, made in many ways – also with risotto (Lundberg parmesan risotto or Near East couscous with pine nuts.)  Last night, I sauteed cut-up asparagus with the risotto and have also done the same with zucchini and mushrooms to add to couscous. Handy & dandy too!

a small sponge cake . . .

DSCN9056DSCN9061DSCN9062To celebrate the last batch of seasonal strawberries, I made a small sponge cake this morning that’s baking in the oven right now. It’s a recipe that I have made many times in its regular size with fresh sliced plums on top, sprinkled with sugar.

But for this little treat, I halved the recipe and baked it in a 5 inch cake pan. Here’s all it requires:

1/2 stick unsalted butter (soft or melted)

1/2 cup turbinado sugar (the grainy sugar is nicer than fine white sugar)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

a pinch of salt (which I forgot)

Cream the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla by hand – beating it gently until mixed together. Add flour, baking powder, salt  and blend well. Butter a small baking pan and fill it with the cake mixture. Preheat the oven to 345 degrees (a little less than 350 because the baking pan is dark metal.) The cake took about 25 minutes to bake.

Later tonight,  I’ll serve the cake with some prepared strawberries (I sliced them up this morning and added some sugar and fresh lemon.) Then, whip up a little heavy cream and add a dollop or two on the strawberry topped sponge cake. Delicious!

 

 

“Faux” Pho . . .

IDSCN9000I’m usually a purist when it comes to cooking. You know, making bone broths and homemade stocks, storing quart tubs of them in the freezer to use for various dishes. But when it comes to making Vietnamese Beef Pho broth, I’ve decided to take a short cut by not making the beef stock from scratch. That’s because it requires 10 pounds of beef bones, a beef brisket for the stock – and THEN, a choice piece of beef to thinly slice and place on top of the Pho before you add the broth (a kind of inverse Shabu Shabu way to cook the raw beef.

As a first step, I trimmed the bone off of a beef strip steak and put it in the freezer to harden up so as to make it easier to make very thin slices with a sharp knife to serve on top of the Pho. I put the bone into two cups of spring water and cooked it for about 45 minutes, skimming off the scum that rises to the top. Once that was cleared, I added one box of Emeril’s organic beef broth. To this combination, I added some Vietnamese Pho spices in a cheesecloth bag and set the heat on low. DSCN8998

After simmering the beef broth spice mixture for an hour, I let it cool a little and tasted it. Disappointingly, it tasted watery and lacked flavor. I added a half gelatin of Knorr beef flavor and it still tasted very bland. So in the rest went. After that, I added about half a teaspoon of instant Dashi granules – (probably substituted for fish sauce which I couldn’t find in the fridge.) After these additions, the broth started to taste quite a bit better – especially after the dashi was added. Next time, I might try College Inn robust beef flavor and see how it does. In any case, it tasted more robust than the tepid pho broth I had in a restaurant a few weeks ago.

Anyhow, I sliced up the semi-frozen beef strip steak and it looked appetizing. Running the hot water, I soaked a section of Vietnamese rice noodles which will be boiled briefly when soft. On a platter,   I set out rinsed Thai basil with purple edges, fresh bean sprouts, a lime, hoisin and siraicha sauces to dip the beef slices in the hot bowl.

So. Would I do this again? Definitely – but I would look for a more robust starting beef broth than the Emeril brand I tried this time. And who knows, maybe I’ll take on the multi-hour task of making making the beef broth after all,  but not in the summertime. I’ll do another run at this again soon – and see if I can capture what hours of cooking produces without actually doing it.

Footnote: After all the hand-wringing about the broth, the dish, with the sliced beef on top was surprisingly tasty – the fresh bean sprouts, lime and condiments all added to this light supper on a warm night.

 

a cool supper on a warm night!

DSCN8933It’s Saturday and we enjoyed a casual platter of romaine, persian cucumber spears, sliced campari tomatoes with fresh basil, coarse pepper and a nice pile of cooked shrimp. The centerpiece of this feast was a bowl of homemade Ranch dip which made everything taste delicious! Alongside were some warm biscuits from the oven and after dinner, some chocolate chip walnut cookies.

This idea came from a Pinterest photo of a half head of romaine sitting on a board with some creamy dip topped with coarse pepper, some barbecued meats and so on. It stuck in my head as I went to the store and picked up some packets of Ranch salad dressing and dip mix. I’ve always liked the taste of freshly made dip because it contains sour cream, a little Hellmann’s mayonnaise and a little whole milk. How thick or thin it is depends on you. I mixed it up and it was a little runny, so I scooped in another big dollop of sour cream, stirred it together – and tasted it. Really yummy. It’s particularly good with cut up spears of the small Persian cucumbers – crunchy and so tasty!

I was thinking that if we had a bigger crowd, I could add some prosciutto ham, rolled up, deviled eggs with smoked paprika, and more fresh basil cut up and sprinkled all over along with other herbs from the kitchen planter: cilantro, parsley, thyme. Cut up fresh lemon adorned the plate – for squeezing on your shrimp or other vegetables.

We enjoyed this way of eating a lot – and will try other combinations for evenings when it’s too warm to cook (except to bake some biscuits!)

 

 

“PIZZA!”

DSCN8925The other day, G. said in a kidding voice that he’d like “pizza and beer” before the Stanley Cup Game 5 tonight. As you might know, the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara was hit by a deflected puck and broke his jaw in Game 4. Alas and alack! More injuries for  our home team, the Bruins. So we’ll have to see how the Bruins do tonight with so many injured players.

Earlier, I was going to take the easy way out and make an “easy” pizza using whole wheat tortillas, sauce, cheese and mushrooms. But this morning, I read a review of a pizza place in New York that made little round puffy pizza pies that looked delectable.

So, I looked up a pizza crust recipe, an easy one mixed in a food processor and let to rise just a little while before storing away in the fridge. And just like the recipe, the ball of dough came together with a little olive oil, salt, yeast and warm water. I kneaded it as the recipe directed – making a 6 X 8 rectangle, making indentations with my fingers, folding it one third, then the other side. Wrapped it back together and let it rise on the kitchen countertop. Pushed it back down, divided into two balls and set it in the fridge until dinnertime.

I’m kind of excited to have made the crust. I’ve tried it before but this one seems more promising. When the time comes, I think I’ll make two small puffy rounds, add a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce, sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and then thinly slice fresh mushrooms on top. The directions say to spread out the crust on parchment paper sprinkled with cornmeal, then set the baking sheet in a very hot pre-heated oven (450 degrees) and bake until the pizzas are done, no more than about ten minutes. Sprinkle fresh basil leaves on top just before serving. Yum!

If these turn out well, I’m game to make more pizza crusts to freeze and perhaps fine tune the recipe so that we’ll be able to enjoy margherita pizzas at home, right before the night of any game – and be happy eating our own little pizza in front of our TV set!

“ambrosia” . . .

DSCN8909Last week is the first time I came across yellow mangoes. They were on sale at Whole Foods for $1.00 each. Plus, they were easy to peel and tasted delicious – the texture was smoother than peaches, we thought. Then, I read an article about Tupelo honey, harvested in the South: Florida and Georgia. We enjoy honey and wanted to try it so I ordered a jar and the taste is richer and honey-er than other honeys we’ve had.

Given this background and the fact that white nectarines were also on sale at WF, I began slicing up the nectarines after dinner to have with a little honey and fresh lemon. At lunch, I had yogurt with mango slices, a dab of honey and some crushed toasted hazelnuts on top. Today, I bought a pint of beautiful blueberries and made this fruit melange: yellow mangoes, white nectarines and blueberries. I dressed it with some grated lemon zest and juiced the whole lemon, then dribbled a healthy swirl of Tupelo honey on top. With a large spoon, I wafted the fruit and ingredients together.

Honestly, I don’t know what ambrosia is supposed to taste like, but my idea of it is right here in this glass bowl. The only thing I might add to it is some fresh mint leaves on top when it’s served. A sponge cake underneath it with creme fraiche on top would be delightful too!

In this warming weather, this fruit mix is so refreshing and versatile. I could also imagine serving it as a salsa-like side to cold roast meat, or leftover roast chicken salad. Yum!

turkey burgers! . . .

turkey-burger

Can’t believe we haven’t tried turkey burgers before now. My nephew cooks them up which he eats with baked Japanese sweet potatoes. I bought some ground turkey and made patties up for our lunch: I grated some minced vidalia onion and added it to the turkey; sprinkled Lawry’s garlic salt, pepper and some plain panko bread crumbs. After cracking an egg into the bowl, I used a large fork to blend the ingredients together. Then, I molded them into patties, placing them into a container with parchment paper, folding the paper between layers. Set them into the fridge before cooking.

I cooked them over medium high heat in a skillet, toasted G.’s roll and sliced up some red onion. He added Grey Poupon coarse mustard to the turkey burger and gave a thumbs up on the combination. I ate mine without a roll and mixed up some Hellmann’s mayonnaise with fresh lemon juice which was super tasty with the turkey burger. A keeper for future meals – set the remaining patties in the freezer!

Forgot to take a photo of ours so included this photo from http://udderlydeliciousmilk.com/products/poultry/

 

 

tomato, tuna pasta dish . . .

DSCN8892I was browsing the NYTimes cooking section today and came upon this recipe by Julia Moskin: a tomato, tuna pasta dish. As I read through all the comments, there were cooks who didn’t like canned tuna fish with tomatoes and preferred mozzarella cheese instead. There were those who complained it wasn’t tasty enough and added more garlic, more lemon, and so on and so on. One comment caught my eye because instead of garden ripe tomatoes (which we all know are not in season yet,) she used a fresh marinara sauce.

So, to Whole Foods I went where I picked up a container of said marinara sauce, a box of fusilli pasta (spirals) and two pots of herbs (cilantro and thyme) to add to my other two that I potted up the other day (parsley and basil.) I couldn’t decide whether or not to make it for dinner tonight or tomorrow night until it was already 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

So, I decided to make the dish anyhow – even though I didn’t have hours to let the recipe mixture marinate for 3 hours. I figured that if we ate around 6:15, it would still have over an hour and a half to do its magic. Here are the things that I added: a finely minced garlic clove (on my new box grater which is so much easier to use than my 30 year old one with large holes;) grated lemon zest (which was optional) and some fresh lemon juice (a one inch slice;) two kinds of olives (green pimiento and kalamata – about a scant fourth cup of each; a LOT of fresh herbs cut up with a small pair of scissors (basil, cilantro, parsley;) and a healthy spoonful of capers.

DSCN8889

The canned tuna I bought at Whole Foods was “wild caught” tuna “with a line.” The marinara sauce was more runny than whole tomatoes cut up but it’s very tasty if you add a spoonful of sugar to it before using. I added some salt and pepper to the mixture and picked up a spoon to taste it with a little trepidation. WOW!! It tasted incredibly good!

When we’re about ready to eat supper, I’ll boil up some fusilli pasta and drain it well, add some freshly grated parmesan cheese to the hot pasta, and then, because there’s a lot of sauce, I’ll plate the pasta into our bowls and spoon the tomato tuna mixture on top and gently mix it together. This way, I can better control the ratio of sauce to pasta. Oh, and I sprinkled some crushed red pepper into the sauce before combining it with the pasta.

I’m happy to report that G. and I both enjoyed this new dish – and thought it was tasty and light – the lemon juice and zest in the sauce were just terrific! I’ll make this again in August when the first tomatoes start to ripen – or with freshly harvested (and hoarded) Supersweet 100 cherry tomatoes and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. Can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

 

angel hair pasta with garlicky fava beans. . .

DSCN8879Tonight, I’m preparing a simple pasta dish with fava beans. If you have ever eaten fava beans, you know how delicate and tasty they can be. If you have ever prepared fava beans, you know how many steps it takes before those little nuggets of tender beans are ready for eating.

They’re in season right now and I found a handful of them at Whole Foods the other day. They’ve been in the fridge and I thought today is the day to prepare them, no matter what. First, the thick pod needs to be slit open with your fingers and the little pods of beans shelled out of the pods. Next the beans with their white opaque covering require being parboiled in boiling water for about five minutes. Once they are drained and rinsed under cold water, the final task of preparing them takes place: that is, pulling apart the white rubbery covering and shelling the tender bright green beans into a small bowl. I say small bowl because it takes a lot of fava beans in the pod to harvest a small cupful or handful of the fava beans to actually eat.

Be that as it may, I find the exercise rewarding, especially when I chop up two large cloves of garlic and heat them in some melted unsalted butter in a skillet and add the shelled, shelled beans in the mix to warm them up a little. I sprinkle on some truffle salt (yeah!) and a little black pepper. I scoop them up just when they are warm in the garlicky butter mix and hold them aside.

Then, I prepare the Alfredo sauce that I think I invented but probably not: I melt more butter into a clean skillet, sprinkle in a little flour and whisk it together. Then add some fresh light cream that I shake up beforehand just to make sure it’s creamy and pour some into the pan. I whisk the butter roue and cream so that it is a light consistency – not pasty – and then sprinkle in some shredded parmesan cheese. I taste it with a small spoon and it tastes pretty divine. Turn off the heat, pour it into a bowl and add a little more cream if it looks too thick.

When suppertime is near, I boil a pot of water with salt in it, cook about a third of a box of angel hair noodles and take it out after about five minutes of cooking time. I drain it WELL – because there’s nothing worse than soupy pasta to spoil the dish.

Once the pasta is well drained, I heat up the parmesan alfredo sauce in a large skillet, add the angel hair pasta and stir gently to combine. I taste for thickness of the sauce (not too) in relationship to the amount of parmesan cheese. I’ll add more cheese if it tastes too bland and more cream if needed.

Around the sides of the pasta, I’ll spoon the fava bean garlic mixture, sprinkle on some black pepper, chopped fresh parsley growing near the kitchen sink. and finally, some pieces of fresh basil, cut with scissors at the last minute.

If this doesn’t taste delicious, I don’t know what will. Happy Spring!

 

salad insalata . . .

fullsizeoutput_760A few days ago, I noticed an article in the NYTimes called “The best green salad I ever ate,” and had to try it out. This recipe calls for multiple kinds of greens (which I found at the local Vietnamese food market on Saturday.) When I brought them home, I soaked Boston lettuce, romaine and watercress in a large red mixing bowl, changed out the water a few times and stored them in a plastic bag in the fridge.

This morning, I took them out and cut the bases off, rinsing the leaves 3 times in tepid water, colder water and then cold water. I spun dried them in a salad spinner and put them into a fresh plastic bag to chill in the fridge.

I then made the salad dressing that called for adding warm water to the vinaigrette. Besides minced shallots and garlic, I added sherry wine vinegar, two kinds of mustard and some local honey that a piano customer gave G. from his own hives.

We ate the salad tonight and G. said it tasted “pure.”  It was tasty but it wasn’t the “best” green salad I ever had. With the remaining crisp greens in the fridge, I think I might add a little more honey and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the dressing.

If you want to try it, please let me know if you think it’s the “best green salad you ever ate.”