Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bringing Up Bonaparte

Odd Toddler needs a name change. His tyrannical ways and his sense of entitlement have caused The Carnivore to call him Napolean more than once in the past week. And he seems nonplussed by my pregnancy and the exhaustion I've been laboring under since his 48-hour hospital stay last week. His beautiful and dependable sleep routine has been chunked, and he now insists on being taken from his crib no later than 6:00 am on a daily basis. We are often awakened by his demanding shouts over the monitor as he yells, "MAMA, MAMA, MAMA" in military-precision staccato barks over and over and over and over again until I come stumbling into his room.

Of course, if I take into account that I am going through caffeine withdrawal while I wean myself and The Unborn off of coffee, then maybe I am just reading too much into Odd Toddler's behavior.

This afternoon, Odd Toddler insisted on being held while I made dinner, no easy feat considering I had to stand over the stove and whisk a roux for half an hour while juggling Odd Toddler with one arm. If you believe everything you read, pregnant women are not supposed to lift anything heavier than 30 pounds. Its a good thing he only weighed 29.5 pounds yesterday at his doctor visit.

Last night, feeling fatigued from a few nights of fighting with Odd Toddler over his bedtime, being slightly nauseated from being in my sixth week of pregnancy while at the same time battling pregnant sweet-tooth cravings, and desperately wanting to do something nice for myself and the ever-supportive Carnivore, I stood on the menu desk and started pulling down cookbooks. I hit the jackpot in Betty Crocker's Cookbook where I found the brownie recipe to beat all others. I haven't had the best luck with brownies the last few times I've made them, generally just running into trouble getting the texture right and cooking them for the hair-splittingly perfect amount of time, and I wasn't in the mood for something overly sweet last night to begin with. This recipe was crazy easy to make, not cloyingly sweet, and came out with a nice flaky skin on top while remaining chewy on the inside. And (if only I knew what I did to make it happen), for once the brownies stayed of uniform height across the top, not sinking in the middle as so often happens when they cool. This is a new favorite.

  • 1/4 cup shortening (man, this stuff really grosses me out)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (according to The Carnivore, walnuts are a Yankee thing - whatever- to appease him, I used pecans instead)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt (I used kosher, of course)
  1. Heat shortening in 1 1/2 quart saucepan over low heat until melted.
  2. Remove pan from heat, and mix in sugar, vanilla and egg.
  3. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  4. Spread batter in a greased 8x8x2 square pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Brownies usually last for a week around here. The Unborn was a big fan of these however, and we ended up polishing off half of them last night. This is going to be a long and high-calorie pregnancy.

(photo of adoring parents fawning over their terrible-nearly-two-year-old taken by the handsome, brilliant and talented Josh Brown)

Monday, November 07, 2005

At Long Last

I clipped a dip recipe out of Parenting magazine MONTHS ago, but was irritatingly unable to find all the ingredients I needed. Wasabi paste and dried fish flakes just aren’t readily available in small Southern college towns apparently. I searched for a couple of weeks, checking four different stores before admitting partial defeat. The only defeat I could cop to was the partial kind because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully give this one up. Wasabi paste seemed like something I SHOULD have around, particularly since The Carnivore and I love spicy food so much. And wasabi always makes me giggle when it makes my nose itch while I eat it.

After a time, I came across wasabi powder, and so I picked some up to keep around. Just in case. I figured that if I never found the paste that I would just figure out how to make it from the powder. The dried fish flakes, also called bonito, continued to flummox me. Under normal circumstances, I might have just gotten pissed off and thrown the recipe away, but this dip sounded so stinking yummy. And if there is something I want, I will move heaven and earth to make it happen.

When my big city friend Tisha was in town recently, I moaned to her about my difficulty finding the ingredients I need around here. She promised to pick up the wasabi paste and the bonito when she got back to San Francisco. I knew it might be a little while, but she has never let me down. I started to practice a little patience.

Sure enough, when we came back from Virginia last month, there was a package from Tisha with the stuff I needed. For a fleeting moment, I thought about what it must be like to live in a city where everything you need is just around the corner. Then I remembered how cold it was in San Francisco in July, and how high the tax rates are in California, and I figured I should just be happy that I have friends who are willing to indulge their small-town pals.

Of course, after all the waiting on this recipe, I dragged my feet for another couple of weeks and finally got down to business this weekend. As it turned out, the dip took about 4 minutes to prepare (after about 6 months of pre-prep, of course) and it was the coolest, most unique dip I’ve had yet. I’m hooked. The flavors are so complex, the texture is perfect and the taste is so refreshing, especially after being subjected to so many salad dressing-based dips. Loving it.

  • 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 2 tsp prepared wasabi paste
  • 1/3 cup bonito (dried fish) flakes
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  1. Cut the cream cheese block in half horizontally so you have two thin slabs.
  2. Place one cream cheese half on a serving plate and spread wasabi paste on top.
  3. Sprinkle on half of the bonito flakes and place the remaining cream cheese half on top.
  4. Pour soy sauce over the layered cream cheese and sprinkle with the scallions and remaining bonito flakes.
  5. Serve with crackers and raw vegetables.

Interestingly, it was the dip that cemented what I had been suspecting for a few weeks. Maybe it should have been obvious by the way I was drinking less coffee, or the way that the smell of my baby brother’s feet made me gag. It certainly was a big tip when I heaved the first time I opened the pack of dried fish flakes and the putrid smell hit me. And then I sat down and ate most of the dip in one sitting.

So I finally broke down and took a pregnancy test…

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Baby Gourmet

It has not escaped my attention that most of the pictures I use here were taken in my kitchen. Our days are varied, but Odd Toddler and I always manage to spend time together in the kitchen, whether he is helping me unload the dishwasher, taste-testing everything I make, or just playing with a big stack of pans. He has made me proud with his willingness to try any food, and especially with the pleasure he takes in eating. If I hold out a spoon, he comes running, mouth open. He will sample whatever I am making, and then he always rewards me with a big smile and a hearty "Mmmmm." I love it.

We went to Earth Fare today, my absolutely favorite grocery store around here, but one in which I step foot no more than once a month. I could go broke there. Everything is organic and the selection of cheeses and produce is to die for. I have gone up to the deli counter many times to ask the cooks for help with making substitutions in a recipe, or just for general advice about a specific dish. This has often resulted in three of four of them coming out from behind the counter to read the entire recipe and to ALL give me tips. In a pinch, I have even called them on the phone.

Now that I am much more confident with cooking, and since I wasn't in a hurry (for once), I strolled slowly around the store, noticing things I hadn't seen before and which I wasn't even sure were available around here. I was particularly excited to see walnut oil, an ingredient that has popped up in more than one recipe now in Cooking For Mr. Latte, New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser's collection of columns that I am currently reading (for a hilarious blog about her, go here). I had been paging right past those recipes, mildly irritated that she calls for so many things that would send me bouncing from store to store in my often fruitless searches for ingredients. I intend to backtrack now in the book to find her recipe for walnut cake.

I pointed out endless items to Odd Toddler today. "Whole wheat couscous," I would say. "Mmmmmm," he would respond. There were samples of aged gouda at the cheese counter. I took a small bite, savoring the delicious pungency of the cheese, and then popped the rest of it into Odd Toddler's open mouth. He closed his eyes, "Mmmmm" he said, rubbing his belly. I'm pretty sure I kissed my little gourmet 12 times while we were there, tickled to death that he has as much fun with food as I do.

I have always wanted to try the deli items or their salad bar, but have been either too cheap or in too big of a hurry. Today was a beautiful exception. I perused the choices for a few minutes, sure that I would get a small portion of tabbouleh, but also craving some sort of a sandwich. I leaned towards the spinach pie for a minute or two, but then my eye was caught by the hummus wrap. I nearly drooled while I place my order. With a Gerolsteiner (a sparkling, sharp-tasting, mineral water that my German friends turned me on to) and a chocolate mint cookie bar to round out the meal, I relished every bite of my purely decadent lunch.

Most of the hummuses I've tried have been pasty, with a slight oily sheen and a coarse texture. I have only tried making hummus once, and the result was much the same, only less tasty. The hummus wrap, with thick crunchy slices of cucumber and carrot, nestled on a cloud of romaine and sprouts, was just oozing with the lightest, creamiest, dreamiest, fluffiest hummus I've had the pleasure of tasting. I tried describing it to The Carnivore, and he reminded me that a friend of mine is taking some free cooking classes at Earth Fare and he suggested I join her. I had been tempted before, but now I'm convinced. I will be RAIDING their website tonight to see if I can find the recipe for that hummus.

The tabbouleh was a disappointment at the first bite, not as vinegary as I tend to make it, but it grew on me quickly. The flavors were much more delicate than I am used to in tabbouleh, and it took a few bites before I could fully appreciate it. The grains were nearly smothered by chopped fresh parsley, more than I ever would have dared to use, but it worked perfectly. Parsley is so often used only as a garnish if its fresh, and overcooked when used in soups and pastas. The grassy taste of the herb, just this side of bitter, was enhanced by the olive oil and the juicy, flavorful chopped tomatoes in the dish. Now I want that recipe too.

Odd Toddler helped me eat everything, of course, and the tabbouleh was his favorite. I felt I would pop with pride over my adventurous little foodie son, until we got home and he popped a piece of dog food in his mouth and said, "Mmmmm!"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Babes in Thailand

Efficiency was the name of the game this weekend. Between sleepless nights, friends visiting from out of town, time changes and the amount of time it takes to stuff a toddler into a costume two days in a row, there wasn't a lot of time for cooking over the past few days. Matter of fact, I served microwave popcorn for dinner on Saturday night, much to the utter delight of Odd Toddler, who parked himself between me and The Carnivore and grinned alternately at us as he stuffed kernels into his mouth for the better part of the evening.

On Monday evening, much as I tried to convince myself we would stay home and stick with our usual routine, I was smart enough to extend the Efficient Meal Schedule one more evening and serve a new stir-fry recipe, thus allowing Odd Toddler and I to make the eleventh hour decision to attend the firehouse shindig with my mother and her always entertaining vanload of circus clowns.

For the second evening in a row, I brought home a glassy-eyed, overtired, party-pooped toddler who skipped his bath in favor of going straight to bed. I can't remember another evening when he actually ASKED to go night-night.

  • 1 Tbs peanut oil (I used two Tbs - no need to scrimp here)
  • 3 tsps Thai red curry paste (found at Publix)
  • 1 small onion, sliced into rings
  • 1/2 lb tofu, cut into cubes (blech! - I skipped this ingredient for obvious reasons)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Thai basil leaves (no luck finding basil of this particular ethnicity - settled for regular Southern American basil)
  • 1 (14-oz) can coconut milk
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce (needs two Tbs)
  • 1/4 lb snow peas
  • 1 small zucchini, cut crosswise into strips
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
  • I also added: 1 can baby corn, drained...
  • ...and 1/3 head napa cabbage, shredded
  • 2 cups cooked jasmine rice
  1. In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, stir together the oil and curry paste until well-combined.
  2. Add the onion and that nasty tofu (if using), and cook until the onion is translucent or that godforsaken tofu begins to sear.
  3. Remind me to tell the story of how my mother traumatized me with a tofu recipe when I was a kid.
  4. Add the peppers and the basil. Cook and stir until the peppers start to get tender and their colors brighten.
  5. Add the coconut milk, brown sugar and soy sauce and stir to combine. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the snow peas, zucchini, bamboo shoots, corn and cabbage. Cook for about 4 minutes, until snow-peas are just crisp-tender.
  7. Serve over rice. I found the creaminess of the sauce to be much less overpowering if drained slightly before ladling the veggies over the rice.

The tweety-bird-disguised-as-a-pumpkin costume was an incredible thrift-store find of my sister-in-law Georgianne. The recipe is courtesy of the AJC Food Section, along with the usual tweaking from yours truly. And yes, my constant repetitious recipe-sourcing has made me consider renaming this blog "Cooking My Way Through the Atlanta Newspaper."