Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kabocha Squash Spread with Homemade Crackers

I recently discovered the wonders of kabocha squash, so the next time I was at the market I picked one up. (Since it was at the HMART, I guess I can cross post to Asian Fling).   Last time the texture when roasted was like a sweet potato, so I had the idea to mash it into something spreadable.  After which I had the idea to make something to spread it on, like homemade crackers. 


This time, the squash was not as dry when roasted. It had the usual wettish feeling of any other squash (but still tasted just as good). Undeterred, I continued with my plan and made a simple spread anyway. This involved mashing the squash with a potato masher and mixing in some flavorings. I've tried it three ways now:

  • Olive oil and pimenton (smoked paprika), for a Spanish theme
  • Sesame oil and sesame seeds, for an Asian theme
  • Plain.
All three were great.  The plain may have even been the best.  The squash has so much flavor, it doesn't need much help.  And you can leave the skins on, since their edible -- it gives the dish a little texture.  I found them good served at room temperature.

As for the crackers, there are many recipes out there, but I found this one from allrecipes.com to be easy and full of whole wheat.  And, it turns out, tasty.  I won't repeat the recipe here....go look at theirs.  But consider this advice.  The first time I made it, I didn't roll it thin enough.  It was fine at the edges, but it was thicker at the center.  They tasted good, but the texture was off.  I compromised by calling them "flat bread".

The second time, I was careful to roll them very thin.  The instructions say to roll them to 1/8".  What's 1/8"?  Can you even attempt to measure it with a ruler?  No.  Just roll it as thin as you think it should be, and make it thinner.  I found I had to do the full recipe in several batches to get them to fit on a baking sheet.  The second time I also added toasted flax seeds.  About a quarter cup of them, half ground and half left whole.  They gave the cracker a complex toasty taste that was a real winner.  I also found that they took more like 30-35 minutes to bake, rather than the 20 in the recipe.

You could easily do the squash with storebought crackers or the crackers with something else entirely.  Both are dishes I will turn to again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Improbable Pantry - Asian Fling: An Improbable Pantry Side Project

You know how sometimes members of a band have side projects?  Well, now I have a culinary side project focused on cooking with ingredients found in Asian markets.  It's called Improbable Pantry -  Asian Fling.  The first post is about the Seven Brilliant Things About HMART.

I've got a couple of articles already written which I'll be rolling out in the next week or two. I'm excited about this project -- it's been great fun going up to the HMART and trying out all the new food there. The first article will be all about Kimchi. See you there!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Grab it and go -- what do I do with this Kabocha Squash?

I was in Whole Foods the other day, stocking up, and there was a large display of winter squash. Summer being a distant memory, I thought it was OK to be thinking about the longer indoor cooking times dictated by these. I usually get butternut, since it's easy to peel (and I'm not big on roasting the acorns and scooping out the insides. There, on sale, was a kabocha sqaush. Never heard of it. I looked at the description, and one thing caught my eye -- the skin is edible. Even better than something that's easy to peel. I grabbed one. It looks something like an acorn, but larger and with flattened poles. It sat in the fruit basket for a few days.

Susan asked, "what's for dinner?" I answered, "leftovers." She looked sad. I poked around a bit, and eyed the kabocha, sitting in the fruit basket.

IMG_5849I grabbed the squash (which conveniently had a little label so I could remember what the heck it was), come to the computer and asked The Google about it. First hit -- wikipedia. Of course. Confirmed that the skin is edible. Discovered that it's often used in tempura. Has a consistency that's like sweet potato. Hmmm.

Next. Tiny Urban Kitchen. Seems I'd heard of that blog, but had never read it. The first line of the post Oven Roasted Kabocha Squash said, "It's official. I love love love kabocha squash. It's like candy for me." Voila.

Although Susan was drawn to the idea of the kabocha squash gnocchi like a moth to flame, I was draw to the pictures of the crescent shaped slices of kabocha squash with oil and an little pepper. Slice em up. Brush with a little oil. Salt and pepper. Into a 400 degree oven. Come back 20 minutes later. Enjoy. You can read the official recipe on Jennifer's blog, but really, it's that simple. Oh, be careful about cutting those squash open. An accident waiting to happen. Really.

The skins really are edible. The texture is a little chalky. Like a potato, or sweet potato. The first bite is a puzzlement. Then the complex sweetness takes over. Not too sweet. The texture fills your mouth and stays there a bit. Smile.

I didn't have truffle oil on hand, as suggested by Jennifer. I did have some olive oil, which was ok. And some sesame oil which was also good. I liked the sesame oil on it.

I know that there are other suggestions for how to make kabocha squash on Jennifer's site -- in the comments. I'll read them soon. Until then, Susan and I were brainstorming up some ideas. Cut in half and fill with brown rice, sausage and tomatoes (or roasted tomatoes!) Unlike and acorn squash, you wouldn't have to do any scooping. Just eat the whole thing. And maybe those gnocchi someday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Late summer tomato and pasta collision

It's cooling off enough to cook inside again (even though it was unseasonably warm today). The flip flops are stashed in the closet, and I haven't been wearing shorts too much any more. There's a brief period of time when fresh tomatoes are available, but it's cool enough to cook them. So last weekend I spent the morning hauling rock for next year's raised beds and roasting some plum tomatoes scored from Wilson Farm. I've written about the roasted tomato thing before, so I won't repeat. Go for the original Molly Wizenberg version -- that's what I did. Suffice to say, that roasted tomatoes on hearty bread, perhaps with some goat or other soft cheese is heavenly. I tricked the season a little by doing them on the gas grill outside, so it wouldn't heat up the kitchen.

But that effort only used up about 1/4 of the four quarts of tomatoes I brought home. What to do?
Susan brought home some fresh pasta (with herbs de Provence) from the Lexington farmers market from Nella Pasta -- a small pasta maker that uses the Crop Circles shared kitchen in Jamaica Plain.  (More on shared kitchens in another post).
Enter the vegetable drawer in the fridge, with zucchini and summer squash, some garlic, onion, and a little time (not thyme), and it made the perfect accompaniment to the fresh pasta.
What I loved about creating this dish was how the vegetables changed over the half hour or so on the stove.  At the beginning, it didn't look like much.  And didn't taste like much.  But a little simmering concentrates that tomato flavor, softens up the squashes, and melds in the onion and garlic.  By the time the pasta was ready, the vegetables were soft but not mushy.  And the few splashes of red wine added enough depth to really round out the dish.  A little salt and grinds of black pepper finished it off for a fine dish.  You could add some Parmesan cheese if you want, but really, the veggies tasted wonderful, so no real need.

1 medium onion, diced
1 zucchini, medium, diced
1 summer squash, medium, diced
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed, to stay in one piece
1 handful of swiss chard (from the garden!), chopped (stems removed...you can use them if you want)
olive oil
red wine
1/2 pound fresh pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil gently, and add the garlic and onions.  Let those cook easily while  seeding and dicing the tomatoes.  Add them when ready and continue to cook slowly.  Start a pot of water for the pasta.  Dice the squashes, and add them after about 10 minutes.  Remove the garlic.

Continue to cook gently while the pasta water boils.  After about 10 minutes or so, and add the chard. Add some more olive oil if desired, and a few splashes of red wine.

When the water boils, cook the pasta until it's done (only a couple of minutes if you're using fresh pasta).

Drain the pasta, and serve with the vegetables.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Celebrating Heirloom tomato season -- a season of it's own.

Tomatoes.  Heirloom tomatoes.  I wait for them all year, and when the season arrives, I have them just about every day.  Because you can't get them the rest of the year.  Make hay while the sun shines.
From Food Blog Pics

Sweet, with a depth of flavor and texture that demands being eaten simply. With a little sale (fleur de sel, perhaps) and pepper. Maybe a drizzle of olive oil, and maybe a lighthanded splash of balsamic vinegar. Perhaps some cilantro or parsley. That's it. Or, over a nice bed of greens for some textural variety.

This year, I have three tomato plants growing. One cherry tomato variety that brings in tomatoes smaller than grapes. But sweet and tasty. The other, called red zebras (pictured above, yellow and red stripes), modest size. And the Paul Robeson's which are supposed to be black, still ripening.

I usually get them at Verrel Farm in Concord, which specializes in them, and still sells them for $2.99 a pound -- the same price they've been for ten years. But the Davis Square farmers market had a few vendors with heirlooms, at just a few cents more and a lot less driving.

So, this post is just a celebration of the season, with a couple of pictures. Enjoy!

From Food Blog Pics

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Salad with chicken rather than chicken with salad

We'd spent the day at the Lowell Folk Festival, an annual celebration of folk music that we mark on our calendars early so we won't miss it.  Last weekend in July -- check it out.  It was hot all day, and we'd taken Gracie with us.  Plus, we'd spent part of the day nibbling on festival food -- ethnic meat skewers, rice concoctions and the like, so we weren't up for much, but we had to eat.

The night before, I'd bought a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods.  An experiment.  These rotisserie chickens can be hit or miss at a lot of supermarkets, and my last few hadn't been good (from other markets).  I was impressed that Whole Foods marks the time they put out the chicken, and this one had been sitting for less than half an hour -- a good sign.  I'd had some the night before, while in even less of a mood to prepare food.

The great thing about these chickens, when they're good, is that they can last for a few days.  So driving home from Lowell, I had in mind some hunks of chicken to be eaten by hand, with a little side of salad.  By the time I was in the kitchen though, I noticed all the limes and avocados in the fridge, and the lettuce wouldn't last another day.  And remembered the cilantro growing in the garden, and thought to turn this meal on it's head.  Make it a salad, with some of the chicken cut up and laid on top.

It was a winner.  A powerfully flavored salad with olive oil and half a lime drizzled on top of each bowl, a hearty handful of cilantro, and the other raw veggies.  Avocados and lime.  Like guacamole, but not so messy.  It's all we needed, really, and took only a few minutes to throw together.

Oh...and here's some cute pictures of Gracie on her Festival outing.  She was quite the attraction.  I'm learning that if you have a dog, especially a cute dog, everyone's friendly to you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Winding down, winding up. But then there's the food!

This five month break is winding down.  I go back to work in five days.  Five days!  Less than a week.  I could get philosophical about this.  And maybe I will.  But not now.

Right now, I just want to enjoy the memories.  And transition.

Intermission is ending, which means my travel blog, Intermission, is also ending.  But I'm gearing up some other exciting activities on THIS blog about cooking and eating.  So, stay tuned here, because this is where the action will be.

It seemed only fitting, then, to do a little tribute to the food of our trip, mostly in Europe, but some in North America and the Caribbean.  Just a bit of fun.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keep it simple

I don't spend a lot of time reading about studies with the latest fad diets and health claims. It does seem like what was good for us yesterday is no good for us today. My favorite was when dark chocolate was declared good for you. I didn't hesitate to embrace that concept, regardless of what new research might come and say some years from now. A square or two a day keeps me happy!   I don't remember where coffee is these days?  Villain?  Savior?  Use in moderation and I think I'll be OK.

This article, Eating Brown Rice to Cut Diabetes Risk, in the New York Times caught my eye."Just replacing a third of a serving of white rice with brown each day could reduce one’s risk of Type 2 diabetes by 16 percent, a statistical analysis showed. A serving is a cup of cooked rice."

Pretty simple.  Pretty low risk.  Easy to try.  Big payoff, because you can do so much with brown rice.  The simple concept that I remember most vividly from my reading of the books by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman about the health effects of a simpler diet was the difference between whole grains and processed grains, how our body handles them, and what it means for keeping weight in check.  Whole grains and vegetables make you feel more "full", so you don't overeat.  And if you DO eat a lot of these, they don't make you fat.

Brown rice is a perfect example.  Brown rice is as easy to make as white rice, it just takes 45 minutes instead of 20.  Make some extra and you'll have some for another meal or two, in different incarnations.  It's a perfect start to any meal. 

So, if you've been looking to make some changes, start with the brown rice.  Give it a chance to shine in a tasty pilaf or cold rice salad with bold flavors.  And once you get the hang of brown rice, you might find yourself wondering about other whole grains for variety -- wheat berries, buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, and more that I haven't tried yet.  Get a cheap rice cooker, and you can do any of these grains as easily as you can do white rice.

Bittmans's book, Food Matters, suggests that entry to this world of whole grain, real food cookery starts with a pot of beans.  Good idea.  But a pot of brown rice may be so much simpler and less intimidating.  Try starting there.  It's simple.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thinking one or two moves ahead

IMG_4486I'm on a little weekend retreat on a lake in Maine.  There aren't any grocery stores within easy driving distance, so I needed to do at least a little thinking about what food I'd bring, so  I didn't end up eating crackers, cheese and peanut butter for two and a half days.

I didn't know exactly what I'd have, but I knew I had stuff in the fridge that could easily be transported in a cooler -- basically moving my food stores up north.  But I had to be selective.  And I only wanted to "cook" one night.  So, the food puzzle became, "what food can a bring that will be cooked once, and lend itself to multiple interpretations?"

Into the cooler/provisions bag went:
  • Shriveling Asian eggplants (2)
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • One cup of brown rice tossed into a plastic bag
  • One avocado
  • One lime
  • One half a large red onion
  • One half a long English cucumber
  • One heckuva lot of marinating Korean style beef from the HMart, needing to be eaten.
  • Granola
  • Milk
  • Assorted fruits and snacks (which don't count for this little exercise)
One the way up, I thought some corn on the cob and tomato would be good too, in unspecified ways.  I bought more corn than I needed for one meal, because cold corn cut into salads is fantastic.

There was plenty of meat for a crowd, so I figured if I grilled it the first night, it would be useful for several meals to come, in various ways.  I'll probably end up bringing some home.

It was still pretty hot out by the time I was ready to cook, so doing almost everything outside made some sense.  I got the rice going, because that would take the longest -- 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, I sliced the eggplant and brushed them with oil for grilling on low heat, and removed the silk from the corn to roast on the same low fire, encased in the silkless husks.  The eggplant were ready in ten minutes, the corn in 15.  I created yet another variation on the "dress the eggplant after you grill them" theme, this time with oil, cider vinegar, habanero pepper sauce (a few drops), regular paprika (didn't have smoked), garlic powder (forgot the fresh garlic, doh!), salt/pepper.

So the first night was pretty straight-ahead, after I grilled the meat.

For lunch today, I had a pretty good assortment of things from which to create something tasty.  Cut the kernels off a couple of ears of the corn, chunked the avocado, diced some tomato, pulled the leaves off a good handful of parsley, tossed in about half the leftover corn, and remembered the red onion at the last minute.  Dressed in a little olive oil, lime juice and salt/pepper and it was a meal, accompanied by a little beef sandwich. Forgot I had cucumber, which would have been a good addition -- perhaps for tonight's rendition.  And the leftover eggplant is still waiting to be used.

Nothing fancy, but a satisfying lunch -- one that I'd pay for if I were out somewhere.  I still have a couple of meals to go, and I now have the salad plus a few other items.  No need to cook everyday, just leave some open ended opportunities for the use of the leftovers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back from Europe, Now Exploring Asia

Wake up! Wake up!

While in Europe for 11 weeks, this little blog as been on sabbatical too. It's time to wake it up!

We had some spectacular meals while traveling. Some disappointments. And some that got us adequately fed to keep going from day to day. We discovered that it was tough to pick the memorable meals -- sometimes they just came out of nowhere and surprised us. Like the braised pork knuckle in the beer joint in Regensburg. Or the rotisserie rabbit from the chicken man in Ansouis. Or that dried out gnocchi that I discovered could be pan fried.

DSC06307But it wasn't till we hit northern Europe that we found meal after meal of reliably great food. Like this one from a fabulous Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam. Unlike the France and Italy, which seem mired in the past, where you were hard-pressed to find any food other than French or Italian, the Dutch have embraced a wide variety of cultures, and their food has benefited from this. Even in the restaurants that were not primarily Asian or middle-eastern we found a sense of adventure and experimentation that led to fun, tasty meals, prepared by fun, energetic chefs.

I do prefer the bold, knock-your-socks-off flavors that come from Asia and the Middle East over the more subtle flavors of Europe. They take hold of your palate, shake it around, and don't let go. Yum.

Before we left, I discovered the HMart, a relatively new Asian grocery mega store in Burlington, MA. Every aisle is jam-packed with tasty goodies. And I don't know what to do with most of it. An opportunity!

Eleanor and I took our first visit since "the trip" a couple of days ago, and she was pretty good about keeping me for over-buying, saying several times, "Dad...remember, we've got to eat that stuff before it goes bad". Point taken.

My problem in the past with the HMart has been that I don't know what to do with anything. But then I don't remember what the possibilities are when I'm home preparing for the NEXT visit, so I'm never prepared. So this time, I snapped pictures of the stuff that intrigued me, and that I needed to learn more about. And I bought a book on Amazon, still to come, called, Asian Ingredients: A Guide to the Foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, which promises to help me figure some of this stuff out. Here's some of the stuff I've got my eye on...a SMALL sample. Greens galore. Tubers and roots and fruits and greens. Greens.
A visit to the HMart

And the prices were very reasonable.

And fish. I'm very excited about trying out the fish. They have a spectacular fish counter with LOTS of fish, that mostly looks very fresh, which they will dress for you any way you want. Next time, I'll be prepared. I founds some good recipes in a book that Susan had on the shelf.

In the meantime, I had a lot of greens on my hands -- something called Yu Choy, which looked like a cross between spinach and mustard greens and bok choy. And Shanghai bok choy, which was smaller than regular bok choy, but bigger than baby bok choy. And some hen-of-the woods mushrooms. And a new tamari sauce. So I prepared what to me has been my go-to Chinese food preparation, which I haven't done much of in years:
  •  Marinate thinly sliced meat (in this case, frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joes) in a mixture of a few tablespoons of soy sauce and dry sherry, some splashes of rice wine vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of corn starch.  
  • Prep all the veggies in advance, minced garlic, bit-sized pieces of scallion, and the chopped greens.
  • Stir fry the scallions, then the garlic for 20 seconds or so, then add in the greens, and when the greens are a little wilted and bright green, pull them out of the wok and set aside.
  • Stir fry the chicken in a some oil and garlic in batches, until just done.
  • Add back in the veggies, turn the heat down, and add a sauce made of the same soy/sherry/vinegar/corn starch mixture as the marinade, till heated through and shiny.
  • At the very end, stir in a couple of teaspoons of crab paste.  Secret ingredient.
  • Serve over rice (in this case, brown rice).

Anyway.  There's a project a-brewing to experiment my way through the HMart.  It may take a decade or two, but I think I'm up to it.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


For anyone that's following this blog, wondering what's going on, it's that I'm on sabbatical -- intermission.  Blogging my way through that experience.  Will return to this when I return home.

Follow me on Intermission:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not just rice and beans

Here's why I love cooking. Take a simple pile of dried beans and turn them into something sublime. Without a whole lot of muss or fuss.

A few months ago, I took the hint from a few of the blogs I follow to order some heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. There were so many beans, it was hard to choose, so I went for the starter pack, which had five types. Those beauties you see up there are cranberry beans. They were the start of the inspiration. It was MLK day on Monday, so I was home, and it was sleety and cold, and I was going to be around for awhile, so around noontime, I put a pound of the cranberry beans (about two cups) in with about four cups of water and a half an onion into the slow cooker on high for as long as it was going to take. This is the Rancho Gordo suggested method, which I'd used once before with good success. No soaking, no preplanning, just some beans, water and a half an onion, and a lazy afternoon.

I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but with a pile of cooked beans, there were options.

Click "read more" to continue...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Linguine ala Carbonara - Extreme

First of all, Happy New Year!  I started this post just after New Year, and am just getting around to finishing it off.

My New Year's eve experiment was to do a recipe out of Jim Lahey's new book, My Bread. Walnut bread, with raisins and a subtle cinnamon flavor. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. Fortunately, it was fantastic!! My first foray beyond the pretty basic no-knead approach I'd been using since Bittman first popularized the technique a few years ago. But I digress. Hopefully, I'll make it again, and report back.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square, where I discovered fantastic sandwiches. Fantastic. If you've never been, go.  You won't be sorry.  It's hard to imagine getting wound up over a sandwich, but check it out, you'll see.

But it's called Dave's FRESH PASTA, so I thought if they were so good at sandwiches, they'd have to be wizards at pasta.  I hadn't ever paid much attention to fresh pasta before, other than the gluey stuff you get at the supermarket. At Dave's they've got four or five basic pasta types (plain, black pepper, tomato, spinach). And they say a pound will serve 3 or 4.  But when I saw the size of a half-pound black pepper linguine, I figured it would never be enough, so got another quarter pound  The half pound would've been fine -- lesson -- listen to the experts.  

I've been making Spaghetti Alla Carbonara for years, and it was always a family favorite.  With bacon as a central character, how could it not be?  This was to be different, however.

First, I used guanciale instead of bacon, that I procured on my last trip to Seattle, to Salumi.  I'd been wanting to try guanciale for some time, and Salumi had some on their special board, so I picked up a quarter pound to bring home.  Guanciale, by the way, is pork jowls.  Cured.

So I got a pot of water going for the pasta, and got the diced guanciale going in the skillet.  Meanwhile, I mixed two beaten eggs with a few glops of half-and-half, and a half cup or so of parmesan cheese made nice and fluffy by my new microplane and quite a few turns of the pepper mill.

When the guanciale was crisp, it was time to immerse the pasta for a couple of short minutes, until al dente tender, a quick drain, back into the pot and add the egg mixture and the guanciale.  Stir quickly to let the eggs cook in the heat of the pasta, and serve while hot.

The pasta was unlike anything I'd ever had.  It had taste. A depth of flavor that I really don't expect from pasta.   And texture -- silky but with some backbone..  And the carbonara treatment was perfect to accentuate all the fun of the fresh pasta.  I think I'm now spoiled.  It's going to be difficult to go back, except that it's not as easy to keep fresh pasta in the cupboard for months on end.


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