29 April 2012


I was pretty excited one night to try out the Chinese place in town. Let me explain. 

We just moved to rural Pennsylvania where eatery options within a 10-mile radius include a few fast food joints, some pizza places, and a couple of diners. So a typical Chinese food establishment--while not generally my first choice--provided the tantalizing dream of some ethnic eating. Too bad it was just a dream. The place was filthy, the food smelled . . . somehow "off", and it made me sick later in the evening. Hmmmmmm. Rather disappointing (plus, they didn't give us any of those delightfully slightly stale fortune cookies that you usually get with Chinese takeout). Good-bye dream of the occasional break from cooking to eat some hot, saucy, delicious Americanized Chinese food! 

Hello making my own. 

The first time I made Chinese dumplings (jiaozi) was when I was in college. Somehow, I got invited along with my sister and brother-in-law to make jiaozi with a group of visiting Chinese professors for the Chinese new year. I remember it was a lot of fun, the dumplings were delicious, and my sister and I even made them another time for our family. I was sure I could do it again. I found this recipe, and followed it pretty close, though I ended up with only 25 dumplings instead of 40 (I think I put more filling in each one that I was supposed to).   I kinda had fun figuring out how I liked to close them up.

To go with the dumplings, I made a spicy venison and vegetable stir-fry out of a cookbook called "Extending the Table" (which has an index that organizes recipes according to their country of origin--yay!), rice (duh!),  and a cabbage, carrot, cucumber salad with a ginger/lime dressing and toasted sesame seeds that I made up out of my own head.  The meal was delicious, MSG-free, and didn't make me sick!  The downside: I'm not sure a 1/2-day's labor counts as a break from cooking.  Guess I'll just have to order pizza when I don't feel like making dinner.

19 April 2012

Strawberry Cake

Remember back when I was sorting those five cases of 1/2-molded strawberries? Probably not. I sure remember it though. And I've got loads of crushed berries in the freezer waiting to be used.

I got out a bag the week before Easter to make this cake as an early birthday surprise for my mother-in-law. The recipe is one of the few I found that actually uses real strawberries instead of strawberry-flavored gelatin (and a cake mix!). It is moist and just lovely with a zesty lemon icing. Best eaten the day it's made or the following day. The one I pictured above is a 1/2 recipe baked in a 9-inch round pan. I would recommend waiting to put any sliced berries on top until just before you serve the cake. I did mine ahead and they bled a bit by the time we ate it. Still delicious, but not as pristine looking. =)

17 April 2012

Recipe Review: Parsnip Latkes

I found this interesting recipe for parsnip latkes on the Smitten Kitchen website a few weeks ago when I was looking for ways to use my impulse-buy bag of parsnips from the grocery store. While I enjoyed making them, they took a lot of work (hey, when you don't have a dishwasher, any recipe that calls for the use of a food processor is a lot of work!). And I didn't think the outcome was really worthy of it all.

It wasn't the flavor so much-- I enjoyed the parsnip perfuminess--but I found the texture a bit . . . limp. Maybe I didn't wring enough liquid out of the potatoes and parsnips. Maybe we didn't eat them soon enough. Maybe I didn't use enough/used too much oil. Who knows. The bottom line is I don't think I'd do it again (and I'll just avoid parsnips altogether until I find another interesting recipe to try).

Oh, I did dig that horseradish-dill sauce though!

Corn Chowder

A great dish for when you might be low on supplies and low on time. Luckily, we have plenty of sweet corn in our freezer right now, but I'm sure this would taste good with canned corn too. I'll leave off the amounts as I trust you experienced cooks can figure out how much is good for you!

Simple Corn Chowder

Onion, diced + a little butter for sauteing
Potatoes, diced (I like to use redskins and leave the jackets on)
Milk or half-&-half or cream
Salt/Pepper to taste

Yep, that's the whole ingredient list! I even resisted any urges to add garlic. =) Saute your onions in butter (or oil if you like) until nice and soft. Add potatoes, corn, and just enough water to cover. Cook until potatoes are done to your preferred softness. Add milk, etc. and salt/pepper to taste. How easy was that?! All of the following make excellent garnishes: shredded cheddar, chives, cilantro, or bacon.

Cook's Word: The first time I made this I had some half-&-half sitting around (not being used!). The half-&-half made the soup incredibly silky and delicious, but the flavor was still good with plain old 1% milk another time around. I think a bit of celery sauteed with the onion would be yummy too.

10 April 2012

The Bread Journey Concludes

Well, Lent is over. I think I had a 90% success rate with my chosen discipline of making bread each day. And I'm still in the frame of mind (two days out from Easter) of wondering what bread I should organize my dinner menu around. I did enjoy finding some recipes that I may just include in meals more regularly like chapati, tortillas, and the Greek Easter Bread pictured above (okay, maybe I'll just break out this tender, butter and egg bread once a year!). All in all, I think I really needed the daily reminder of God's goodness throughout what was an emotionally up and down Lenten season this year.

Some of the breads of the last two months . . .

Irish Soda Bread--appropriately as St. Patrick's Day on March 17 is smack in the middle of Lent. I made an Irish stew to go along with it for a family weekend in Virginia.

This was a "No-Time" bread (google that!) in which I substituted my remaining cocoa powder (so I wouldn't have to pack it). It was good, but I baked it waaaay too long, resulting in a burnt crust. Bummer!

French Bread (Corinna, you asked me what bread I was making one particular day--here it is!)

Mmmmmm . . . Ethiopian food! I got the injera recipe along with the recipes for beef wat [ahem, venison], lentil salad, and the vegetables from a cookbook called "Extending the Table". A truly delicious combination of flavors and fun to eat with our hands!

And an experiment: Vegan Peach Pancakes

I substituted a flax meal/water mix for the eggs, and put in peaches with juice in place of milk. They were a little soggy, but YUM! Of course, I had to non-vegan accessorize with real buttah and a glass of milk to wash it all down. Yes, all.

Easter Cookies (Ma'amoul)

I learned the make these pretty cookies from some Arab friends when I lived in Nazareth, Israel. They are made with a semolina dough and filled with date paste. Not too sweet themselves, the powdered sugar dusting makes them go down just a tad easier. I've been trying to make these every year around Easter (usually on Good Friday) as the shapes are symbolic for the season--a circle for the crown of thorns, a straight one for palm branches, and an open arc for the empty tomb. I think I made up the last one myself and the dough is so easy and fun to work with that it is open to all kinds of new interpretations. I use a recipe from Joan Nathan's "The Foods of Israel Today" which calls for semonlina and flour, but I will link to a similar recipe I found online (but have not used myself).

Each year I try to make them with friends rather than just by myself as that seems like the right thing to to with an Arab holiday recipe. The first time I made them was with my mom and sister. Another year, a group of friends came over to help. This year, I introduced the cookies to my mother-in-law. We only made a 1/2 recipe, but there was still plenty of time while rolling and shaping the cookies to talk and enjoy each other's company. I tried my hand at making Arabic coffee (strong coffee with cardamom) which we shared with our husbands along with some of the fresh-baked cookies. We both kept some for ourselves and a few to give to friends.

Let me know if you'd be interested in being on my invite list sometime!