Archive | June, 2010

FOOD IN THE STRANGEST PLACES

30 Jun

One of my boys plays drums. Tonight’s drum lesson was like the rest that I’ve sat through for the last year and two months. Lots of hard-driving beats (not beets) and use of food labels. Yep, food labels. Here’s a taste: My son, tapping out a rhythm with his drumsticks (not chicken) while his instructor ( professional jazz drummer) chants, “Cher-ry pie and ap-ple pie.” Neither appear to find this method of communication the least bit odd. I continue to snack on my peanut M & M’s and smile quietly.

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MARKET FINDS

26 Jun

My Market. I love you!

Had a very successful (with the exception of no honey–won’t be in season until mid-July) morning at the local farmer’s market.

I found all kinds of great produce.  Check it out:

Loads of Beans!

Lovely tomatoes

Eggplant and peppers for roasting

Perfect for Fried Green Tomatoes!

Truckload of Locally-Grown Corn

My Local Farmer! He stands by his produce.

Once home, I laid out my bounty. Sure is pretty.

My Beautiful Bounty

Then I got roasting. Check out my eggplant and roasting how-to’s in the Menu section.

TO THE MARKET, TO THE MARKET, I SHALL GO

26 Jun

Tomorrow, I shall go to the local farmer’s market for the first time this summer. I’m lucky, because it’s a mere 8 min. drive from my home–give or take. It pales in size and ethnic diversity to Kaukab’s (and by default, mine) weekly jaunts to the famed West Side Market in my hometown of Cleveland Ohio, but it’s my market, and it’s a good little market, at that. The farmers always bring their best and are happy to share stories and family recipes with me, and I with them.

 I’ll be looking for some nice veggies to take home and roast.  I’ll roast just about anything, really.  As long as you’ve got olive oil, sea salt, and a pepper mill, you’re in business. Make sure your oven’s working.  “Oh, onions, potatoes, green and yellow and red peppers, eggplant…here I come!”  Pictures and recipes to follow–I promise.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

25 Jun

 

I think I shall create an elaborate gastronomic rating system consisting of Kaukab’s infamous verbages with regards to other people’s food preparations.

The rating system would go something like this:

1 bottle olive oil     What tis dis?  

2 bottles olive oil    Put some lemon and salt in it.  Whatsa matter widt you?

3 bottles olive oil    I dunno.  Something’s not right wit it.

4 bottles olive oil    It’s not like I make, but it okay.

5 bottles olive oil    Never gonna happen.

AND NOW…A WORD ABOUT POTHOLDERS

24 Jun

There seems to be two camps in the cooking world: potholders or no potholders. I am in the second.  Tradition, notwithstanding, I find them cumbersome and, frankly, dangerous. My husband, on the otherhand, believes that they will, somehow, protect him from every conceivable hot surface within a 10-mile radius, and without them, will surely send him to the nearest metropolitan burn unit. Besides, it’s what his mother taught him. (Too hot to touch, you realize. Although, am tempted.)

Author's hand, safely applying tea towel to hot pan.

I choose to use tea towels.  The same ones I have hanging nearby for drying my hands, dishes, and anything else which needs drying. Within reason. Just like the master chefs you see on foodie networks around the globe, I, too, fold them in such a way as to fit over any pot opening, or stiffly (and safely) grab onto an awkwardly designed handle, or even pulling out a super-hot oven rack in the middle of basting a lovely meat. If you fold it correctly, you won’t need to worry about flames attacking your dutiful towel, or burned fingers, which somehow manage to occur while using potholders, no matter how large or thick they appear.

One caveat: Do not, ever, use a slip (while still on your body) to grab hold of a whistling tea kettle early in the morning, while Kaukab is asleep. The gas flames don’t care that you are an innocent 10-year-old child, who has watched her mother, several times, use her own daysmock to do the same. Only, her’s never caught on fire. With no one in sight. All this child wanted was a nice cup of tea. Luckily, the washbasin, used by Kaukab to pre-wash dirty laundry and being only feet away from the evil stove, (Can’t explain now why the stove and washbasin share the same cooking space; there’s an innocent child on fire!) said child tore off scorched slip and ran to her bedroom to change for school. The tea would have to wait.  Moral of the story: Potholders are dangerous.

Food Pantry Items

23 Jun

The following foods are essential to have on hand for making Kaukab’s (and her daughter’s tweaked Mediterranean) foods.

Notice, these are very inexpensive and easy to locate. Also, I find that local farmers’ markets and Asian/Mediterranean/Indian independent groceries seem to offer the best quality and value. On to the list. Not to be confused with your ‘bucket’ one. Although….

1. extra virgin olive oil and canola oil

2. sea salt (I like the French kind, but others will do just fine.) Really, I’m not that big of a salt snob.

3. long grain rice, especially the basmati kind

4. whole peppercorns

5. chicken boullion (Knorr brand only, please) and cartons of chicken broth (Kitchen Basics, or the like) Veg. boullion (Knorr), also good to have.

6. garlic salt (for certain things)

7. soy sauce

8. cumin

9. 5-spice mixture (can get in Asian or Mediterranean markets)

10. canned tomato paste or tube paste (which I really have learned to appreciate–a little goes a long way)

11. canned whole and crushed tomatoes

12. dried mint, rosemary, oregano

13. cinnamon

14. tahini

15. canned cannelini beans

16. canned chickpeas, also known as garbonzo beans

17. #1 (grain size) bulgar wheat (Can’t believe I forgot! Essential for making tabouli–a lovely parsley salad–among other treats)

18. balsamic vinegar (Kaukab doesn’t much use, but I find it indispensible.)

Fresh ingredients:

1. lemons

2. limes

3. garlic

4. parsley, mint, cilantro (buy when need)

5. unsalted butter

With these, you’ll be able to add various fish and meats–or keep strictly veggie–to make a multitude of recipes for your eating pleasure. Also, it’ll keep Kaukab from running to the market, ranting in Arabic, “What da madda weed you? Why you no keep nodeen een da keechun!” I’ll tell you one thing; she’s a pro with the double negatives.

A Naive Blogger’s Admission

20 Jun

Given that I’m one of  those people who cringe when someone states the obvious, it is with reluctant surrender to irony that I now join said someone. So, here it is: I’m a new blogger, and as such, I haven’t gotten used to all the fancy bells and whistles that make a blog uniquely fetching. By fetching, I’m talking about providing you with beautifully photographed foods to go along with the recipes. These not only would serve to provide you with lovely eye candy, but could help better illustrate what the final product should look like.  One other glitch. I haven’t any recent (nor distant) pictures of any of the recipes reported upon. Never any good reason qualified in the past. But, now I have! So, what does that mean for you? Soon-to-be-added pictures. Just as soon as I get cookin’. Your patience is most appreciated.

Recipes From My Mother’s Table (with some daughterly tweaking)

20 Jun

So, what of the recipes?  Well, for starters, Kaukab never learned to use them. She comes from a long list of women from the ‘old country,’ which means…there’s no safe, neat list of items–like measurements. No pantry list. No words of encouragement, like “Don’t worry, I’m sure your family will still love you, even if the hummus tastes nothing, nor looks, like the one that we’ve made for generations, harking back to the Phonecians.”

With that in mind, I give you the first of many.  I wanted to make this first one especially special, so I decided to start with the ubiquitous chickpea spread, universally known (and spelled) as “hummous,” “hummus,” or “humous.”  Personally, I go with the middle one. I’ll do us all a favor and not comment on the various pronounciations.

So, the main question I get from my non-Lebanese, hummus-making friends, is: “Why doesn’t mine taste like yours?”  Except for Kaukab.  If you flip the third and sixth words in that lovely question, you’ll have a good idea the relationship for which the perennial ‘mother-daughter’ one refers.

Here’s the secret to “authentic” (i.e., Kaukab’s hummus) hummus-making.  Reserved cooked chickpea water. Now, you may ask, “Where am I gonna find chickpea water?!”

The secret to a flavorful hummus is to cook the canned chickpeas (for the more adventurous cooks with plenty of hand-time, who start with the dried ones, you’ll already have the cooked “pea” water).  This will achieve two important things. One, it will provide you with the sacred pea water, and; two, it will soften the pea skins enough for you to remove them so that your hummus will be nice and smooth. Let’s get started!

For a party of up to 15

3 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 lemon

garlic, 3-4 lg. cloves (peeled, of course)

3-4 T. tahini (Mediterranean equivalent of American peanut butter)

1C. reserved, cooled pea water

salt to taste (I prefer sea salt, although Kaukab used regular, old Morton’s)

Olive oil (Xtra Virgin, preferrably)

In medium pot, put in chickpeas and cover with cold water. Cook chickpeas on med. to medium high, lid partially tilted. Cook to boil, then turn down to medium and cook another 15 minutes.  Remove from stove and pour 1C of liquid into measuring cup and let cool. Drain the cooked peas. Rinse with cold water, until cooled. Pick off any thin, clear pea skins and discard.

Into food processor, put chickpeas, 2-3 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2-3 T. tahini, 1/4 C. reserved, cooled pea water and pulse until fairly mashed. Pause, and scrape down. Add rest of garlic, 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. more salt, tahini, 1/4C. cooled pea water, 1/2 lemon, and pulse enough to make smooth, loose paste. Add more lemon, tahini, garlic to correct taste. You should taste the tahini in it. Use more pea water, if needs loosened. Kaukab’s hummus isn’t thick, like peanut butter. Pour finished hummus onto platter, or in bowl, and add finely-chopped parsley, a sprinkling of paprika, and a few whole chickpeas–barely inserted. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with pita bread, cut into small triangles.

 A word about adding spices, like cumin. I tend to avoid any discussion about this with Kaukab, since her usual response goes something like this: “We don’t do this. Only Americans do this. We don’t do it!” Personally, I like cumin. But, not in my hummus. In black bean or mango salsas? For sure.

Kaukab’s Green Beans w/Tomatoes

20 Jun

Toddler-Approved

2lbs. fresh green beans (as fresh as supermarkets can provide)

1 lg. onion, finely chopped

2 whole cloves; peeled, of course

a small wedge or two of lemon

1 28oz. (or close to) can whole or crushed tomatoes. (4 or 5 med. fresh tomatoes, skinned and quarted, will also do effectively)

cinnamon, 1/4-1/2 tsp., depending upon amt. of green beans and taste

salt, 1/2tsp. to start, a bit more as cooks down and to adjust taste

cooking oil (I prefer Canola oil; you can use any veg. oil, but don’t use olive oil)

Water, to cover.

I think I should have stated earlier, but now’s as good a time as any…Take my measurements as estimates, only. Kaukab never measured (as stated earlier), and so, I learned to ascribe to her cooking method, as well. Cooking something new takes rehearsal. Eventually, you do it, relying on all your senses, rather than waiting for a bell to ring (much like Pavlov’s dog) to tell you when the food is done. Plus, my taste buds are home-grown. By that I mean, they were acclimated to my mother’s cooking, as yours was to your’s, so when you taste the “same” recipe, is it ever going to taste exactly as Kaukab’s? Not really. Not at least, according to Kaukab. Mine gets very close–an assertion mildly grating to my mother. But I’ve learned to compromise, and let her have her win. For a woman who defines herself by the extraordinary food she prepares for friends and family, it would be self-serving, and impish of me to grant her anything less. This conciliation (and confession, of sorts) has only come my way in recent years, and I believe I’m the better for it. Now, on to the green beans.

So, now that you have all the ingredients, let’s start.

Wash and string green beans. Drain and paper-towel dry. Snap beans in half.

In pot, pour enough oil in bottom of pot to just come up the sides. Heat oil over med. high heat. Throw in the chopped onions and cook until nearly transluscent. Toss in the green beans and cinnamon, stirring with the onions until green beans begin to turn yellowish–up to 5min, maybe. (This is where you’re going to start learning to use your eyeballs.) Then add tomatoes. If whole, or fresh, break them up in the pot. Stir around.

 Add water, enough to cover beans about an inch, or so, above them. Add salt.   Cover with lid, partially tilted. Once boiling, stir, and then return lid (partially tilited, of course) and turn down heat to medium. Let cook about 30 min. and check for liquid reduction. Stir. Add more salt, if needs. Turn down heat to med. low. Squeeze a wedge or two of lemon, for a bright note of flavor. Continue cooking until tomato liquid is rich red and somewhat thickened–usually an additional 20 -30 min.

In Mid-Simmer

 

Serve with pita bread. Of course.  As an aside: These beans are really good served cold, or at room temperature the next day. With pita bread.

What To Feed A Picky Toddler–Green Beans w/Tomatoes!

19 Jun

Green beans and tomatoes? Really?! Toddlers would eat this?  All fine and appropriate questions. However, I have proof. Years ago, a friend of mine, who had a very picky eater of a child, had eaten some ‘green beans w/tomatoes’ (I like to put them in quote marks, to give them more importance) that I had made earlier that morning. It’s a standard Lebanese method of cooking said beans, except, that I add a couple of whole garlic cloves to Kaukab’s “recipe.”

The beans, eaten with pita bread (because, in the Middle East, everything is eaten with pita bread) are a lovely blend of cinnamon, crushed tomatoes, and fresh stringed beans. Given that toddlers, especially American ones (of which I had three, a sufficient time ago), seem to prefer sweet, processed food, or the standard CHICKEN NUGGETS, you’d think that offering a picky one something so polar opp0site of preferred-sweet-processed-food, would be akin to expecting it to enjoy drinking espresso from his sippy cup. And I would concur. But, a few days later, my friend called and was ecstatic. Her picky eater loooooved them. Not sure if she fed them with the pita bread. The thing was, this “picky” eater preferred real food to its artificial counterpart. Imagine that. Kaukab’s ‘Green Beans w/Tomatoes’ above. Enjoy!

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