Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thai Chicken with Young Corn

Okay, so maybe this seems a little funny right before Christmas--I mean, Thai food?  Where's the frosting?  Where's the cooked fruit?

Or maybe it's exactly what you need:  light, fast, a little sweet, a little tang on the tongue.  

It comes, unadulterated, from Thailand:  The Beautiful Cookbook.  It's a small-ish recipe, but doubles well. 

Thai Chicken with Young Corn

Enough cooked rice for your family (I usually do 2 cups for the five of us)
3 Tablespoons oil
1 lb. boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized slices
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup baby corn
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (straw or otherwise)
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground peppercorns
2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces (or smaller, if you have fussy buggers)

  1. Cook rice according to instructions. 
  2. Cut up your chicken and slice your mushrooms.
  3. Rinse the baby corn.  This helps give it a fresher taste
  4. In a small bowl, mix together oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and peppercorns. 
  5. Heat your wok or skillet to high heat.  Add oil. 
  6. Stir-fry chicken and garlic for 2 minutes. 
  7. Add everything else.  Stir-fry for two more minutes.  
  8. Serve hot over rice.  

Family Ratings: 

Will, who really is starting to develop an appetite:  10
Lucy, who was fighting the flu:  7
Jamie, who is becoming a fussy butt:  8
Ellen, who's not crazy about mushrooms:  10
Paul, who still resents the fact that he wasn't able to go to Thailand because of the red-shirt revolution:  10

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Baked Spaghetti That Doesn't Suck

I'm sorry, but when someone says "baked spaghetti," I think church luncheon and midwestern caterers.  I mean, if you're going to have spaghetti, why not do it right instead of dumping a jar of Chef Boyardee on overcooked noodles and cheddar cheese?

My sense that baked spaghetti was the realm of culinary hacks was confirmed when Lucy decided that that's what she wanted to make for dinner last week.  Because, I assumed, I didn't have a recipe on my shelf, I went straight to  Guess what?  No baked spaghetti!  Ha.  

So I went to, which is another good site.  They have several versions of BS, all of which, at that crucial moment, explicitly said, "Now dump a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce into the mix."  

A simple question:  if I wanted jarred spaghetti, why would I be on-line looking at recipes?  

Feeling smug, I hit my bookshelf--Bittman, Betty, even the NYT cookbook, which carries some pretty crazy stuff.  Nothing that looked good.  

At this point, I was pretty much ready to switch over to Chinese fried dumplings.  At the last second, though, I pulled down one of those old church cookbooks where all the women of the church--"Ladies," they used to be called--shared their favorite recipes in an attempt to raise money for a new organ or baptismal fount.  You know the kind of book I'm talking about, where the recipe for Chicken Dumpling Soup explains that if you want a really good stewing chicken "old hen is the best."  (I'm not making this up!)  This is the same book that contains Will's all-time favorite fajita recipe, and I figured if anyone would know how to make baked spaghetti that didn't suck, it would be some old Lutheran lady from western PA.  

Dang, was I right.  What follows goes waaaaaaay beyond "not sucking" into the realm of oh. my. god. It's just tasty.  The only change I made was to include some Italian sausage.  Otherwise, it's exactly as Dolores Kupsh created it all of those years to go.  

I love you Dolores.  Truly, I do.  

Baked Spaghetti That Doesn't Suck

1/2 lb ground beef
1 lb mild Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
28 oz canned chopped tomatoes
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella (it's a pain, but I'd suggest grating this by hand, because the pre-grated is always dry)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. sugar
1.5 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. basil
8-12 oz. uncooked spaghetti

  1. Cook spaghetti al dente (basically, cook it according to directions, only taking it out of the water 2 minutes earlier than the lowest time listed)
  2. In a dutch over, brown the sausage, beef, onion, and garlic, until there's just a touch of pink left in the meat. 
  3. Drain the grease.  
  4. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, mushrooms, sugar, oregano, salt, and basil.  Bring to a boil and boil gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  5. Preheat oven to 375. 
  6. Drain the spaghetti and stir it into the sauce. 
  7. Place half of the sauce mixture in a 13x9 pan.  Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella.  Top with the rest of the sauce mixture, then top with the remaining mozzarella and the parmesan.  
  8. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Serve with crusty bread and lime-jello salad with shredded carrots in it (just kidding!)

Family Ratings: 

Will, who would probably really like lime-jello salad:  10
Lucy, who loves sausage, and likes getting her way even more:  10
Jamie, who wants to show his enthusiasm, but isn't sure how:  42
Ellen, who's not all that crazy about ground meats:  8
Paul, who's going to track down Dolores and give her a big smooch:  10

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beef Scalliion Stir Fry

Even if your kids HATE onions, do not dismiss this recipe.  The green onions in it basically cook down to the nothing and your kids can easily pick them out.  Left behind in the beef, though, is the lovely buttery flavor of scallions--so not only will you get to eat something that tastes great, they'll also, slowly and without even knowing it, become acclimated to the taste of onions.  How wonderfully Machiavellian is that?

This should be served with rice, of course, so be sure to figure that into your cooking time.  If you hate cooking rice, and use this as an excuse to not make this dish, then perhaps it's time to suck it up and invest a whole $19.99 on a rice steamer.  They're so easy even a distracted monkey can do it.

This recipe comes from Helen Chen's Easy Chinese Stir Fries, an excellent book that lives up to its title.

Beef Scallion Stir Fry
1 lb. flank steak, trimmed
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (I use the sherry)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 round slices of unpeeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 small can of slice bamboo shoots, drained
5 green onions
1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Cook your rice, according to instructions.  
  2. Slice the beef with the grain into 2-inch wide strips. 
  3. Slice the beef against the grain into 1/8-inch wide pieces. 
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the hoisin sauce, the soy sauce, the cornstarch, the wine, and the sugar. 
  5. Add the beef to the sauce and mix well.  Set aside.  
  6. Slice the roots off the green onions.  Then cut the bulbs off and cut them in half, lengthwise.  
  7. Cut the rest of the onions (the green stems) into 2-inch long segments. 
  8. Heat your wok over high heat.  Once it's hot, add the oil and heat until it shimmers. 
  9. Now add the ginger and garlic.  Cook for ten seconds.  Do not let them brown!
  10. Add the beef mixture and stir-fry for 1 minute. 
  11. Stir in the broth and the bamboo shoots, stirring constantly, for another minute. 
  12. Add the green onions and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes until the scallions are wilted.  
  13. Turn off heat.  Drizzle sesame oil and mix.  
  14. Remove ginger slices and serve!

Family Ratings

Will, who never takes seconds but did for this dish:  10
Lucy, who's not crazy about bamboo shoots:  9
Jamie, who's still getting the hang of this numbering system:  88
Ellen, who's not a big red meat fan: 9
Paul who loooooooves onions:  10

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Weekend Chicken Pot Pie

Okay, so:  A)  This dish takes a little too long to make on a weeknight; and B) It uses a pre-made crust, something that, snob that I am, I generally try to avoid.  But even so?  Dang, it's GOOD!

This comes to me from my friend Jane, who got it from a blog somewhere.  I've cut back on the boiling times, because Lucy doesn't like overdone veggies and I hate chicken that's been cooked so long it's stiff.  

Keep in mind, this dish will be great with your store bought chicken, but if you take the time to find a local meat cutter who carries local foods, you won't regret it!

Weekend Chicken Pot Pie

3 medium carrots, chopped
2 large stalks of celery, chopped
4 small red potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 quart chicken stock (I use store-bought broth; I'm just lazy that way)
6 T butter
1 yellow onion, diced
6 T flour
1.5 lbs chicken breasts
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry (Pepperidge Farm is good)
1 egg, beaten

  1. Take the puff pastries out of the freezer to thaw.
  2. Peel and slice all of your veggies. 
  3. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil and add the carrots, celery, cauliflower and potatoes.  Simmer for nine minutes, or until just tender. 
  4. Remove veggies with a slotted spoon.  Pour stock into a measuring cup for later use. 
  5. Simultaneously (or afterwards, whichever) bring a pot of water to boil.  Add the chicken breasts and simmer for 10 minutes. 
  6. Drain the chicken, allow it to cool, then cut it up into tiny bits.  
  7. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  8. Melt the butter in a dutch oven.   Add onion and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  9. Add the flour and stir to make a roux.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the roux starts to darken a bit and give off a toasty smell.  
  10. Slowly stream in the reserved stock and stir constantly.  Don't panic if it starts to thicken.  Just keep adding the stock steadily.  
  11. Cook for another three minutes, then turn off the heat and slowly add the cream. 
  12. Add the veggies and chicken to the sauce, along with salt and pepper.  Mix well and pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish.  
  13. Layer the puff pastry over the top of the pie.  Brush with egg for shine.
  14. Cut small slices into the crust to allow steam to escape. 
  15. Bake for 10 minutes. 
  16. Cover with foil and bake for 25 more minutes.  

Family Ratings

Will, who's getting less fussy as he's becoming a teenager and starting to eat everything: 10
Jamie, who's getting more fussy as he figures out it's a way to draw attention away from his sister:  7
Lucy, who likes everything, particularly when she can help make it:  10
Ellen, who's pleased that there's no cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup in this:  10
Paul, who's been craving homemade pot pie for about a year now:  10

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Night Mac and Cheese

To understand this dish, it helps to know that I was stuck in Seattle during Hurricane Sandy.  While generally I like this city, I'd already been gone five days and I missed the kids and really wanted to get home.  When I finally got a plane back, it was diverted just as we flew into the Roanoke Valley due to wind sheer.  As a result, I finally pulled got home at 7 a.m., two-and-a-half days late, not having slept for 24 hours.

Fast forward to Friday.  I've worked all day and I have no idea what Ellen has in the house, food-wise. I'm too tired to run to the store, so I start digging through the fridge.  The results are as follow.  They may sound a little bizarre.  So be it.  You won't regret this dish.  

A note for the grown-ups in the family:  this dish pairs nicely with red wine, white wine, beer, or hard liquor.  

Friday Night Mac and Cheese

6 ounces grated Colby-Jack Cheese (grate it yourself; the pre-grated stuff lacks flavor)
2 ounces grated Gouda
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
12 ounces pasta of any kind (though I prefer penne)
1 small onion, minced beyond recognition
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 of 1 one-inch thick pepperoni stick, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 Tablespoons corn starch
2.5 cups milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Boil water for the pasta and heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook pasta until al dente
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the pan over medium heat
  4. Add the onions, garlic, and chopped pepperoni.  Cook 4-5 minutes, until onions are just soft
  5. Add the milk and the corn starch.  Stir well and bring to a boil. 
  6. Add one cup of the cheese (Gouda and Colby-Jack only).  Stir until melted. 
  7. Turn off the heat and remove the pan.  Pour the drained pasta into a 9x13 baking dish. 
  8. Pour the melted cheese sauce on top of the pasta. 
  9. Add the rest of the Colby-Jack and the Gouda, as well as the salt and pepper to the pan.  Mix well. 
  10. Top with the grated parmesan.  
  11. Place in the oven and bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes
  12. Serve with baby carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes

Family Ratings

Will, who was done before I could even ask:  10
Lucy, who's idea it was to add the garlic:  10
Jamie, who's becoming increasingly fussy:  8
Ellen, who isn't one for American-style comfort food:  10
Paul, who felt rather clever (and still very sleepy):  10

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grilled Salmon with Thai Basil Sauce

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  I found it in Cooking Light way back in the nineties and the first time I cooked it for friends, it was s show stopper.  "This," my friend Greg said, pointing at it with his fork, "is really good."  I'm pretty sure it was the first time I realized that not only could I cook food that didn't suck, I could find recipes that: a) blew people away; and b) even I could make without overtaxing myself.  Seriously, this recipe can be made well ahead of time, it doesn't take very long, and I've never known it to fail.

One additional bonus is that since all of the spice is in the sauce, kids and adults can take it or leave it as fits their own personal tastes.

Grilled Salmon with Thai Basil Sauce

1 & 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (divided)
1/2+ cup fresh mint leaves (not quite 3/4 of a cup)
1-2 Tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeno pepper
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons minced, peeled ginger
1.5 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons fish sauce
3 garlic cloves, chopped

4-6 six-ounce salmon steaks, at least 1 inch thick
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 4-6 lime wedges

  1. Prepare the grill.
  2. Set aside 1/2 cup basil and the limes for garnish.
  3. Combine the rest of the basil and the next seven ingredients (through garlic) in a blender or small food processor.  Process until relatively smooth. Set aside. 
  4. Sprinkle salmon steaks with salt and pepper. 
  5. Coat a grill rack with cooking spray (I use a separate grilling basket), then grill the salmon, skin side down, for five minutes. 
  6. Turn the salmon over and grill for five more minutes.  Should be flakey when tested with a fork.  
  7. Serve salmon on individual plates, with sauce in a bowl.  Allow everyone to take as much sauce as he/she desires.  Or none at all.  

Family Ratings

Will, who likes fish but doesn't take much of the sauce:  8.5
Lucy, who swears she hates fish but really doesn't and who likes Thai food:  8 (but really probably 10)
Jamie, who can't understand why anyone would eat that green stuff:  7
Ellen:  "Are you kidding? 10!"
Paul who's essentially just a big show-off:  10

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Own Private Kitchen

A little piece I wrote for Roads and Kingdoms about the best private kitchen in Hong Kong.  Arguably the best meal I've ever had.  Feel free to read about it here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Salade Nicoise

There's just no other way to say this:  this dish makes you look really really cool.  And by "cool" I mean:  sophisticated, accomplished, cultured.  Bring this salad to a party and you will rise in people's estimation.  They will begin to look at you differently, and certainly with more respect.  Even people who used to look down on you, thinking you were trash from the wrong side of Main St., will begin to have second thoughts (not that I would, um, know).

I wish I were kidding, but I'm not:  this salad is just that cool.  Period.

And though it looks fussy--part of the cool factor, of course--it's really not.  I got this recipe from Betty Taylor, a Lexington institution who used to run a catering service out of her house, a beautiful massive brick estate home with twelve-foot ceilings, a grand staircase, and a dining room that could seat eighteen easily.  Betty was my neighbor, and years ago when I was on sabbatical and working on a now-defunct novel, I would sit out in the back yard under the shade of an oak tree and proofread my soon-to-be (I was certain) Pulitzer-prize winning manuscript.  More than once, a smell would drift over from Betty's kitchen, suffusing the air with the scent of rosemary or baking bread or stewing tomatoes.  Needless to say, this made it hard to work.  One day it actually got so bad that I had to walk over, knock on Betty's front door and say, "Please stop.  Whatever you're doing, please stop.  You're killing me."

Of course, Betty was nice enough that she let me in and gave me some of whatever she was making that day--a tomato tart, I seem to recall.  And she also gave me this recipe, which is a joy to cook, a joy to eat, and yes, a joy to show off to your friends.

A few tips:

  • Don't freak out when you see the list of ingredients and the necessary steps.  There are a lot of steps, but they're all pretty easy, and it doesn't take that long.  I always find myself finishing this dish sooner than I think I will. 
  • Don't skip the anchovies.  Believe me:  you want them in this salad because it gives the whole dish an earthy, salty taste.  If you have fussy little eaters, or if you yourself don't like the look of the slimy little buggers (the anchovies, not your kids), feel free to chop them (again:  the anchovies, not your kids) into tiny little bits that will disappear into the salad.  But again:  don't leave out the anchovies!  Doing so will diminish the taste of the salad enormously.  
  • Don't overcook the tuna.  It absolutely must be pink in the middle.  Otherwise it'll taste like a big lump of masticated cardboard.  
  • This salad can feed 10 people very easily.  Feel free to cut the recipe in half.  

Salade Nicoise

6 eggs for boiling
1 lb. Tuna steak
1 small tin of anchovy fillets
2 bags freshly washed and dried mixed lettuces
2 lbs. small New potatoes
2-3 lemons, squeezed to create 1/2 cup of juice

1 lb. sugar snap peas or those really skinny French green beans
Nicoise olives (or Kalamatas, if you can't find Nicoise)
1-1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup small capers

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1.5 cups first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil 

Fresh or dried dill weed OR Provencal herbs  (I prefer dill)
Fresh chives (chopped)
Freshly ground pepper and sea salt
2 Tablespoons vermouth

  1. Hard boil six eggs, peel (under cold water for ease), place in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate until later. 
  2. Scrub and trim (if necessary) the potatoes, cut into halves and quarters (if necessary), and steam or boil until just done, 10-15 minutes.  Do not overcook.  If your fork can just go into them, they're perfect!
  3. Puree garlic in a food processor. 
  4. Add the Dijon mustard and the lemon juice to the food processor. 
  5. Turn the processor on and very slowly--VERY SLOWLY--add the olive oil.  This should take up until about a minute or a minute-and-a-half before it's all in.  
  6. Allow this mixture to emulsify into a creamy dressing, then season with salt, pepper, and herbs
  7. Place the potatoes in a small bowl and drizzle with the vermouth.  Once they've absorbed that, add the fresh chives, the capers, and 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette.  Mix and set aside.  (If you're pressed for time, the potatoes can be prepared the day before and refrigerated).  
  8. Rinse and dry your tuna steak.  Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a little of the vinaigrette. Allow to marinate while you warm up the grill or a skillet.  
  9. Grill--or fry--the tuna on a very hot grill for three minutes on each side.  Do not overcook. 
  10. Bring a pot of water to boil, then cook or sugar snap peas or your skinny fancy French beans until they turn bright green.  Then remove from heat, pour into a colander, and run cold water over the beans until cooled.  Set aside or refrigerate.   


  1. Pile the potatoes in the center of a large platter.  
  2. Spread the lettuce around the potatoes. 
  3. Circle the beans or peas around the potatoes, on top of the lettuce.  
  4. Quarter the eggs (sewing thread works well for this) then scatter them and the tomatoes around the dish, on top of the lettuce. 
  5. Place the anchovies, olives and capers at regular intervals on top of the lettuce.  
  6. Cut the tuna into chunks and place it over the salad.  
  7. Drizzle liberally with the vinaigrette.  
  8. Serve!

Family Ratings: 

I'll be frank:  I don't normally serve this to the kids.  I love them, really I do, but this is just too good for them!  That said, I have prepared just the tuna steaks--seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with the vinaigrette included in this recipe--on their own to the kids, with great success.  Even Lucy, who insists she HATES tuna, gave it a 10.  Granted, we didn't tell her it was tuna, we just told her it was "steak."  Which gave Will, who likes fish, great glee.  

And for what it's worth?  Ellen and I both give the entire salad a 10.  And so do all our friends.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Grilled Sate Beef with Peanut Sauce

This recipe is just tasty tasty tasty.  My kids love it, especially since they can control how much peanut sauce they do or don't have with it.  Serve with rice and a nice salad . . .

Sate Beef with Peanut Sauce

1-1.15 lb. flank steak
3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Tablespoons coconut milk
1.5 Tablespoons soy sauce
2.25 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1.5 teaspoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons lime jice
3/5 teaspoon red curry paste (you should be able to get this at your grocery store, on the "foreign" food shelf)

  1. Start grill (or broiler, if you have air conditioning in your kitchen)
  2. Cut steak diagonally across the grain in 1/4 inch slices. 
  3. Combine steak and hoisin sauce in a bowl.  Mix to coat.  
  4. Thread steak onto skewers.
  5. Sprinkle with salt. 
  6. Mix sauce ingredients together, stirring until smooth.  Set aside.  
  7. Coat grill or broiler pan with cooking spray or lightly brush with oil.
  8. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until they're done.  They should still be a little pink in the middle.  If they're not, they'll taste like chalk dust.  
  9. Serve meat along with sauce in small dipping bowls.  

Family Ratings: 

Will, who loves this dish but hates picking little bits of beef out of his teeth:  9.999
Lucy, who hates peanut butter but digs this dish:  10
Jamie, who eats it without the peanut sauce:  10
Ellen, who's not a big beef eater, though she does have one of those funny hats: 8
Paul, who's a big fat pig:  10

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Very Easy Grilled Korean Chicken

In terms of the ratio of things my kids love to things that are incredibly easy, this dish is the absolute winner.  It takes all of six minutes to prep, and all of my kids love it.  I use it with chicken breasts here, but it can also be used with thighs, salmon, steaks, or pork tenderloin.

Grilled Korean Chicken

1.5 lbs skinned, boneless chicken breast, cut into 2-3 inch strips
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced

  1. Mix together all of the ingredients except the chicken together in a small bowl.
  2. Lay out chicken on a large plate and rub each piece with mixture.  Be sure to do both sides. 
  3. Start your grill.
  4. Allow chicken to sit for half an hour, more or less. 
  5. Grill 3-4 minutes each side until juices begin to run clear and chicken is just firm to touch.

Family Ratings

Will, who tends to like grilled meat:  10
Lucy, who likes all things sugary:  10
Jamie, who'll go along with whatever his brother and sister do:  10
Ellen, who really hasn't forgiven me for going to Korea without her:  10
Paul, who's a lot like Lucy:  10

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Baked Ham Feta Pasta

I've always laughed at recipes that state the obvious:  "Stir occasionally."  Oh really?  Because I like my pasta in one big  lump.  "Simmer on low."  Huh.  So "simmer" doesn't mean "boil at top speed"?  

Then my friend Julie sent me this recipe, and man:  I screwed it up six ways from Sunday.  First time I made it, I baked the pasta for 15 minutes uncovered it, stirred it, put it back in the oven--

--and promptly turned off the heat.  

 Needless to say, when I checked on the oven thirty minutes later, the pasta was kind of, uh, raw.  

The second time I cooked the dish, I missed the part where, after baking for 15 minutes, uncovering and stirring, I was supposed to RECOVER the pasta.  So that time my pasta was cooked to a crisp.  Even Lucy, my culinary adventurer, said, "It taste good daddy.  Except for the crunchy parts." 

Third time, though, I got it right, and had no regrets.  This is a tasty dish, and very kid friendly:  the feta and tomatoes add just enough zest to give it some kick, and the thyme makes sure you know you're not eating frozen pizza.  

Two notes:  First, notice that the dish has to bake for 45 minutes (covered the whole time--have I mentioned that?).  So this isn't one of those things you can throw together between soccer practice and piano lessons.  That said, what prep is there is pretty quick.  

Second, when Julie gave me the recipe, it called for four tomatoes and no onions.  I cut back on the tomatoes because one of my kids isn't crazy about cooked tomatoes.  I added the onions (in teeny-tiny, minced little bits) because I wanted a bit more kick.  And if you chop 'em small, kids won't even know they're there.  

Ham Feta Rigatoni

12 ounces rigatoni (or other medium-sized pasta)
1 1/2 cups diced ham (about 8 ounces; don't go cheap here:  get black forest or smoked ham, at the very least)
3 large plum tomatoes, chopped
3 Tablespoons micro-minced red onion

1 cup (or slightly more) crumbled feta cheese 
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces) 
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme 
1 cup whipping cream 

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  2. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. 
  3. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Place in prepared baking dish.
  4. Mix in ham, tomatoes, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese and thyme. 
  5. Pour cream over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to blend. 
  6. Cover with foil. 
  7. Bake pasta 15 minutes. Uncover and stir to coat pasta evenly with melted cheeses. 
  8. Cover again. Have I mentioned this?  You should cover again.  And leave the oven ON. 
  9. Bake another 15 minutes.  Uncover and mix again.  
  10. Recover.  
  11. Bake another 15 minutes or less, until cooked through.  

Family Ratings

Will, who likes ham:  10
Jamie, who for some bizarre reason won't eat the ham but likes everything else:  7
Lucy, who picks out most of the tomatoes until we yell at her:  9
Ellen:  10
Paul, who's pretty much going to love anything that has two different kinds of cheese plus butter in it:  10

Friday, May 11, 2012

Deep-Fried Sweet and Sour Tofu

The trick to this recipe is to lie.  When your kids ask "What's for dinner," tell them, "Sweet and sour chicken."


Actually, our kids like tofu.  This always surprised me, but then I met other parents who said the same thing (about their kids, not about mine).  And I guess it makes a little sense:  after all, the texture of tofu is generally inoffensive, and it simply picks up the tastes of everything it's cooked with, so as long as you cook it with good stuff, what's the big deal?  

This recipe comes from Gary Rhodes's Great Fast Food.  Because he's English, this is in the "Hot and Spicy" section of the cookbook.  Lord knows what he and his editors were thinking, because it's neither.  

This is served over egg noodles.  It also works with rice.

Deep-Fried Sweet and Sour Tofu

14 oz. (or thereabouts) firm or extra firm tofu, cubed
Vegetable oil
1 tsp. peanut oil
4 English Cucumbers, cut into chunks (no need to peel; regular cukes will also work, although you will need to deseed)
4 ounces unsalted peanuts
4 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
6 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons tomato puree (you can usually buy this in a tube in the Italian section)
2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with a little water to make a paste
Egg noodles to serve.  

  1. Heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable or canola oil in your wok.  When it's really really hot, add your cubed tofu. 
  2. Cook for 3-6 minutes, until golden brown.  You should stir some, but not too much.  Let it cook.  
  3. Spoon the tofu out of the wok, setting aside on a plate lined with paper towels.  
  4. Drain off the oil from the pan and wipe with a paper towel. 
  5. Heat the peanut oil in the wok.  When it's hot, add the cucumbers and peanuts.
  6. Cook 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan, leaving behind juices. 
  7. Mix tofu and cucumber in a bowl, and cover. 
  8. Mix the soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and tomator puree together in the wok.  
  9. Simmer for 1-2 minutes.  
  10. Add the cornstarch mixture and allow sauce to thicken. 
  11. Spoon over the tofu/cucumber mixture, and serve over noodles.  

Family Ratings:  

Jamie, who, yes, does think the tofu is chicken:  10
Will who actually likes tofu, especially with the peanuts:  10
Lucy, who likes the idea of tofu more than the actual tofu:  9
Ellen, who thinks we should have been eating this stuff for years:  10
Paul, who likes deepfrying crap until it's barely healthy anymore:  10

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thai Ginger Chicken

If you'd told me three years ago when we were getting ready to go to Asia, that we'd spend a year there, take upwards of 20 flights traveling all over the region, and not visit Thailand, I would have told you you were crazy. Ever since the first time I sat down to a Thai meal in Madison, Wisconsin, I've been fascinated with this country. It doesn't hurt that every time I pick up a travel magazine and there's a picture of Thailand, it shows blue blue water and warm peaceful beaches.

Once we got to Hong Kong, there was a special program that sent Fulbrighters to various countries in the region, and I campaigned and bribed and arm twisted my way into getting an invite to Thailand. But then the stupid Red Shirt revolution happened in the spring of 2010, and all our plans fell through.

Which maybe explains why one of my favorite cookbooks right now is Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook. Or maybe not. Maybe this is my favorite cookbook because the recipes are many, varied, and awfully authentic; the pictures are wonderful, and there's a lot of history and cultural stuff that's really interesting.

This is a relatively easy recipe. The key is the white pepper. Don't leave it out. I'm not saying your kids won't notice it--it's hard to miss that little tingle on the tongue--but they won't mind it. This recipe is sweet and full flavored.

(PS--My friend Jane tried this and said the quarter-cup of ginger blew her kids' ears off.  That in mind, you may want to cut back some the first time you try the recipe).  

Ginger Chicken

2 cups jasmine rice (or any white rice, really)
2 TB oil
1 lb boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 TB fish sauce
2 TB oyster sauce
2 TB sugar
A pinch of white pepper
1/4 cup slivered ginger
1/4 sliced green bell pepper
1/4 sliced red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced onion
cilantro to garnish

  1. Start your rice, according to instructions, maybe 15 minutes before you do anything else.
  2. Chop all your vegetables and slice your chicken. If your kids don't like mushrooms, chop them into tiny pieces. Don't leave them out, though, as they really soak up the juices and add flavor.
  3. Mix ginger, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar
  4. In a wok or large pan, heat the oil.
  5. Add the chicken and garlic; cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Add all the chopped goods, the white pepper, and 3/4 of the sauce.
  7. Mix well and stir fry for another 3 minutes, adding additional sauce if necessary.
Family Ratings:
Will, who likes chicken and is beginning to think he might be more adventurous than he thought: 9
Lucy, who likes to eat things she thinks are "exotic": 10
Jamie, who digs red peppers (go figure): 10
Ellen, who hated cilantro the first time she had it: 10
Paul, who's still determined to get to Thailand: 10

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Popcorn Fish

I've never been a real fan of fish. For years, the only kind I would eat was the deep-fried perch that you can get at most restaurants on a Friday night in Wisconsin. Originally, of course, this tradition had something to do with the Polish Catholic population in the state, but eventually it just became a means of delivering grease to the general populace. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyhow, these fish are not deep-friend, and not "popcorn" in the sense that they're small finger food, a la Kentucky Fried's popcorn chicken barrel. Rather, I call it popcorn fish because that's what it tastes like: buttery, salted popcorn. The kids love it.

This recipe originally comes from Gary Rhodes' Great Fast Food. This is a good book, despite the cheesy picture of Rhodes on the cover with a doofy, late-90's only in England would a person get this kind of haircut, haircut (says a man who used to have a mullet). Indeed, at first the recipes were so easy that I kept thinking I must be cheating. It's also the kind of book where, everytime I flip through it, including this morning, I find an appealing recipe I hadn't noticed before.

This recipe is rich, so you don't have too make too much. And it goes great with a simple green salad and, as Rhodes recommends, boiled baby yukon potatoes.

Popcorn Fish

4 six-ounce cod fillets, skin removed
1 ounce butter, softened
4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

  1. Turn on the broiler.
  2. Season the cod on both sides with salt and pepper and brush with softened butter.
  3. Place on a baking or broiling tray and grill for eight minutes. Do not turn over.
  4. While the fish is cooking, place the unsalted butter, the lemon juice, and the stock in a small pan. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly. Do NOT let the sauce boil. If it curdles, you'll have to start over again.
  5. Place the fillets on plates and cover with sauce. Serve.
Family Ratings
Will, who loves, of all things, fish: 10
Lucy, who hates fish but loves popcorn: 10
Jamie, who's pretty sure he's eating chicken: 8
Ellen, who worries about eating too much fish, what with the environment and all: 9
Paul, who's starting to rethink this whole "hating fish" thing: 10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thai Chicken Wraps

This recipe comes from the cleverly named Wraps by Mary and Sara Corpening and Lori Narlock. I like this book a lot, though I have to admit that: a) some of the recipes are a bit fussy; and b) the instructions aren't that great, very often burying time-intensive ingredients like cooked rice toward the end of the list, so that you think you're way ahead of schedule and then all of a sudden you have to stop and boil something for 45 minutes.

That aside, this is a tasty tasty recipe, the kind of thing that on paper looks like it'll be okay, but on the plate thrills even the really fussy eaters. The trick, I think, is the mint, which gives the whole dish a lighter, slightly surprising taste.

A vegetarian version of this is easy enough: just omit the chicken and add another cup of zucchini. I've also found that it's a large recipe, easily enough for two meals for our family, so you can either plan for that, or cut everything in half.

One key, by the way, is to cook the zucchini until it's just soft: the meat inside the skin will begin to shine. Once you see that shine, stop cooking or the whole thing'll go mushy.

Thai Chicken Wraps
2 cups cooked jasmine rice, warm (use regular, if you want)
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup diced onion
1-1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup coconut milk (be sure to mix the coconut meat and the milk really well)
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Kosher salt (if you're using regular salt, decrease amounts by half)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 inch tortillas (I just use plain; they're fine)

  1. Cook your damn rice.
  2. Chop the veggies and the basil and mint, and cube the chicken
  3. Blend the coconut milk, lemongrass, curry paste, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid thickens, about 15 minutes. Don't freak out if the liquid sort of thins first before it thickens. That's normal. You'll be fine.
  4. Remove from heat and add the lime juice to the sauce.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini and the onion, seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the meat just inside the zucchini skin starts to look shiny, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook! Set aside in a large bowl.
  6. Wipe the skillet (or don't) with a paper towel, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil, heating over medium heat. Add the chicken and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until no longer pink in the middle, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Drain all the juice out of the pan.
  7. Add the chicken to the zucchini. Add the rice and the basil and mint, and mix well. Stir in the coconut milk sauce.
  8. Serve in a big bowl on the table, with lots of spoons so that kids can take as much as they want and put it on and roll it into their own tortillas.
Family Ratings:
Will, who only gives a 10 to fajitas: 9
Lucy, who's just learning math: 8 and four quarters
Jamie, who struggled a little bit trying to hold the tortillas: 7
Ellen, who was happy to have the leftovers: 10
Paul, who could actually see eating this even without meat: 10

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Carmelized Leek and Potato Soup

This is one of those recipes where you look at the name and say, "What? Seriously? My kids are going to like that?" Then you glance down at the list of ingredients and see pretty much nothing but starches and lots and lots of dairy, and it all makes sense.

Okay. So this is not a light recipe. But it is rich and filling, and you can have it with a salad and maybe some crusty bread and be perfectly satisfied.

The trick here is to burn the leeks. Seriously. The first time I made it, I cooked it too long and my leeks turned brown and made the whole stock brown. I thought it was a disaster until I tasted it; we've never looked back.

This recipe also works with vegetable broth.

Carmelized Leek and Potato Soup

1 cup butter. You heard me.
2 leeks, sliced pretty much up to the green part
1 quart chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups of peeled, cubed potatoes (about 1-inch square). I prefer Yukon gold
2 cups heavy cream. Like I said: the recipe is NOT messing around!
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Chop all of your vegetables, and blend your broth and cornstarch. Set everything next to the stove, so that you're ready, because when those leeks go brown, everything will happen quickly!
  2. Melt the butter (all of it) in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Saute leeks in the butter for 15 minutes, adding a little salt and pepper. Right around 12-13 minutes, the leeks should start to go brown. This usually happens very very quickly. Once they've begun this process, let them cook another minute, stirring constantly. If they don't brown, let them go another minute or two past 15. If they still haven't browned, turn up the heat and let them go yet another minute more. If they STILL haven't browned, don't worry about it. Just follow the rest of the directions.
  4. Pour the cornstarch/broth mixture into the pot. Add the potatoes and more salt and pepper. Add the cream, every last drop.
  5. Reduce the heat to simmer, and let it go for thirty minutes, maybe a little more, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.
  6. Serve immediately.
Family Ratings:
Jamie, who loves potatoes: 10
Lucy, who loves butter: 10
Will, who's not crazy about potatoes: 8
Ellen: 10
Paul, who's not getting any skinnier: 10

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rosemary Citrus Chicken

One of the great things about living in southwestern-ish Virginia is that we have access to the Roanoke Times, one of the last great independent small-city papers. The food editor for the Times is a former student of mine, if by student we mean someone who was at the college when I was a teacher there, who knew me by name and vice-versa, and who was gracious enough to laugh at my stupid jokes. Anyhow, at the back of the Extra section of the Sunday Roanoke Times there's always a weekly meal planner, coaching people how to get through the week without killing themselves or eating Stouffer's for three nights. I'm not sure if Lindsey is in charge of that section or not, but every week there's something great in it. That's where this recipe comes from.

One note: I've lowered the cooking times here slightly, because I tend to use local organic chicken which means the breast pieces are smaller. Seriously, if you haven't yet switched to local meats, you really should. I say this not because I'm a food Nazi (my affinity for Nacho Cheese Doritos automatically excludes me from that club), but because, damn man, it just tastes better. That and, frankly, it kind of scares me when I go to the grocery store and pick up a package of Tyson chicken breasts where the breasts are the size of dinner plates; that's just not normal and whatever they do to make the breasts that big very likely is somehow related to what it is the causes people to die fat and young in this country.

I'm just saying . . .

Anyhow, if you live in Lexington, Virginia, you need to go to Donald's Meats immediately. Fresh chicken arrives every Friday, and you can buy frozen breasts all week long. And guess what? It's cheaper than at the grocery store. To get there, just go down the road behind Taco Bell and drive a quarter mile until you see the sign on the right (how's that for small town Virginia directions?).

If you don't live in Lexington, find a local meat cutter and see if you can't get some real food from somewhere nearby. You won't regret it. Seriously, it's all about the taste.

Regardless, enjoy this recipe. It's easy and will please everyone.

Rosemary Citrus Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (more, if they're local and not filled with hormones)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp canola oil, divided
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp butter
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar

  1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper
  2. Heat 1 tsp oil in large skillet on medium-high
  3. Add chicken breasts and cook 2.5 minutes on each side; remove and set aside, covering with foil to keep warm
  4. Add 1 tsp oil to skillet; add shallots and garlic and cook for one minute
  5. Add juice and broth, bringing to simmer
  6. Return chicken breasts to pan, reducing heat to low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, longer, if breasts are large
  7. Transfer chicken to a fresh, clean plate, leaving juices in the pan
  8. Stir butter into pan, along with rosemary and vinegar; season with salt and pepper
  9. Once the butter has melted, spoon sauce over the chicken and serve
Note: this goes well with the Sweet and Tart salad:

Family Ratings:
Will, who will pick every single one of the tiny bits of shallot off the food: 10
Jamie, who loves chicken: 10
Lucy, who prefers her chicken with a head on it: 10
Ellen: 10
Paul: 10

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Crispy Thai Mango Tacos

Okay, let me be frank with you: the real name of this dish is "Crispy Pork Larb"; You can understand why I changed it for this blog. That said, whatever you call it this dish is one of the reasons (my spouse is the other) that I have any friends--or, more bluntly, why even if I don't have any friends, I still get invited to potlucks. Put another way, this is the best tasting food you will ever put in your mouth. I've never met a person who's tasted it an not loved it.

The recipe below comes from Small Bites by Jennifer Joyce, but I've made some adjustments to make it more kid friendly (The adult version, for instance, takes another quarter of the red chili pepper). This dish also works well with vegetarian-friendly fake ground meats, though it won't get quite as crispy.

Thai Mango Tacos

3 TBSP brown sugar
1/4 medium red chili pepper (or jalapeno or whatever) deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 TBSP peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup lime juice (or slightly less, say 3/8 of a cup)
1.5 TBSP fish sauce

3 stalks lemongrass
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb ground pork
1-1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 ripe mango, diced
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
20 heart of romaine lettuce leaves, to serve (I find these packaged in the produce section, usually three stalks to the bag. Simple wash, cut off the stem at the bottom, and allow to dry)

  1. Make the sauce first by crushing everything but the juices together in a mortar and pestle or a small food processor. Add juices and mix well.
  2. Cut away any tough bits from the lemongrass, and finely slice the rest.
  3. Heat your wok to high. Add the oil, let warm, then toss in the lemon grass and cook for 15 seconds.
  4. Add the pork in one big lump and cook it until crisp underneath. Seriously, while you don't want it black, you are burning it here.
  5. Break pork with a fork and/or spatula, then add the sugar and continue cooking for three minutes.
  6. Add onions and cook for two more minutes or until the meat is thoroughly done. Remove from heat.
  7. Pour the dressing over the pork, add the mango and the cilantro, then mix to combine.
  8. Serve to table, allowing everyone to make their own by lining the seams of the lettuce leaves with the meat/mango mixture and eating like a taco.
Have plenty of napkins handy! This is messy but good!

Family Ratings (on a 1-10 scale):
Will, whose idea it was to cook the onions: 7.5
Jamie, who has a little trouble managing the lettuce leaves: 7.5
Lucy, who loves Thai food: 10
Ellen, who loves Thai food: 10
Paul, who likes being invited to parties: 10

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Soft Molasses Cookies

When I was little, I used to refuse to eat store-bought cookies. No Chips A'Hoy, no Nutter Butters, nothing. If it wasn't fresh, I wasn't eating it. This cookie recipe is largely the reason for that: these cookies are so good that when my mother used to package half of them and put them in the freezer downstairs, I used to sneak down and steal two or three at a time. I'm sure she was a little disappointed--but not too confused--when she found the tupperware container two-thirds empty.

Anyhow, if you're thinking, "But I don't like those molasses cookies with the sugar on top," don't worry; these are nothing like that. They are much much much better, largely because they contain sour cream, the secret ingredient to most of the world's best baking. In fact, I can say pretty unequivocally that these are the best cookies in the world.

I would strongly encourage you to double the recipe. And don't bother putting half of them in the freezer . . .

Soft Molasses Cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup light molasses
1 tsp vinegar
1 cup cultured sour cream
3 cups flour
1/5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

  1. Cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar.
  2. Beat in the egg and the molasses.
  3. Add the vinegar and the sour cream. Blend.
  4. Blend in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Chill for at least one hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.
  8. Cook for about 9 minutes. Press lightly on the top to test. If the cookie bounces back, it's definitely ready--and maybe a bit done. If the cookie doesn't quite bounce back, it's perfect.
  9. Cool and remove from pan.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Family Ratings on a scale of 1-10.
Lucy: 10. Duh.
Jamie: 10. More. More. More.
Will: 15. I don't care about the mathematical improbabilities.
Ellen: 10. Damn it, Paul, you have to leave some for us!
Paul: 1,000.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stir Fried Tomato Beef

It's funny to think that there used to be a time when Chinese food seemed exotic and Chinese cooking seemed like some sort of uncrackable code. Back in the early '90s, my brother-in-law gave me a wonderful cookbook called "Everybody's Wokking," by Martin Yan. It was an introduction to Asian cooking very broadly, including Chinese recipes, yes, but also Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese. Despite the cheesy title--I mean, really? That's the best the marketing people could come up with?--it's a great resource, one that I've used so often some of the pages are falling out.

This recipe comes from that book (obviously), though I have adapted it for a big American families/bellies, and I've adjusted some of the cooking times so that the vegetables come out tasting a little fresher. The great thing about this recipe is that it tastes like "real" Chinese food--or, more accurately, like the food you get in a Chinese restaurant. Part of the secret, in case you're thinking about leaving it out, is the sesame sauce, so it's well worth the extra trip to the grocery store after you forget it the first time.

This dish can be served over either white or brown rice, and despite the fussiness of all the various sauces and marinades, it really doesn't take too long--in fact, once you start the stir-frying, it's really only about five to eight minutes.

Stir Fried Tomato Beef

3 TB soy sauce
3 TB dry sherry
1 TB cornstarch

3/8th cup chicken broth (just under half a cup, for the mathematically impaired)
3/8th cup ketchup
1.5 TB soy sauce
1.5 TB distilled white vinegar (is vinegar ever not distilled?)
1/2-1 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1.5 teaspoons sesame oil
1 TB sugar

Stir Fry
1-1.5 lb flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain
3 TB vegetable oil
1.5 teaspoons minced garlic
1 medium onion, sliced into eight wedges
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced into eight wedges
1 can bamboo shoots, drained
1 head of broccoli, chopped into kid-friendly "trees"
2.5 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB of water

  1. Cook the rice according to instructions
  2. Mix marinade ingredients, add the sliced beef, and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Chop your vegetables and drain your shoots.
  5. 2.5 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 TB water, set aside.
  6. Heat the wok. Once it's hot, add two TB of oil and swirl to coat (the wok, not you).
  7. Add beef and stir-fry for two minutes exactly. Remove. Don't worry that it's still pink.
  8. Add remaining TB oil, heat, add garlic and onion, cook for 1-1.5 minutes.
  9. Add the bell pepper, the bamboo shoots, and the broccoli. Stir fry for two minutes.
  10. Return the beef to the wok and add the sauce. Stir in half of the cornstarch mixture.
  11. Cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  12. Add the tomatoes. Stir, cook for thirty seconds or so, adding the rest of the cornstarch if sauce still seems runny.
  13. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Family Ratings, on a scale of 1-10:
Jamie, who always needs a toothpick afterwards: 9
Lucy, who doesn't like cooked tomatoes but loves beef: 9
Will, who hates everything: 10
Ellen, who would be a vegetarian if she were married to someone else: 8
Paul, who has fond memories of going to eat "authentic" Chinese food in LaCrosse, WI: 10

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Japanese Chicken Soup with Rice

Yeah, I know: you look at this title and think "Really? My kids are going to eat that?" Yes, they will actually. The soy sauce gives this a wonderful salty taste that will appeal to kids, and the sherry adds just a bit of a sweet edge.

This recipe is one of Ellen's (as in, one of the dishes she cooks) and it comes from "Food Adventures," by Elisabeth Luard and Frances Boswell. Ellen has adjusted some of the amounts to make it more kid and large-family friendly.

Japanese Chicken Soup with Rice

2 and 2/3 cups short grain rice
3.25 cups cold water
1 lb boned, skinned chicken breast
5-6 cups chicken broth
2-3 TB soy sauce
1 TB dry sherry
6 medium eggs, beaten lightly
4 green onions, finely sliced

  1. Cook the rice in the cold water. If you have a rice cooker, adjust the proportions to meet cooker instructions.
  2. Cube the chicken and set aside.
  3. Bring stock, soy sauce and sherry to a boil in a medium-sized pan.
  4. Add chicken, return to a boil, and cook for six minutes.
  5. Pour in the eggs and add all but a spoonful of the green onions.
  6. Return to a boil, then turn the heat down and cover, allowing to cook on low for 3-4 minutes.
  7. Divide the rice evenly into bowls, then laddle in the broth and chicken. Garnis with green onions.
Family ratings:
Jamie: 10
Lucy: 10
Will, who hates most things: 10
Ellen: 10
Paul, who isn't crazy about soup with bits of meat floating in it: 10

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sitr Fry Pork with Snow Peas

1 1-1.5 lb. pork tenderloin
4-6 oz. uncooked rice noodles (get them in the Asian section)
3 TB soy sauce, divided
1-1.25 cup chicken broth
3/8 cup hoisin sauce (you heard me!)
1.5 TB cornstarch
1.5 TB honey
2 TB sesame oil, divided
2 cups snow or snap peas
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1.5 TB minced fresh ginger
1.5 TB minced garlic
1/4 chopped green onions

  1. Trim the pork, and slice it thin (1/4 inch thick at most)
  2. Mix with 1.5 TB soy sauce. Set aside.
  3. Prepare rice noodles according to instructions. Usually this involves soaking in warm water, but who knows these days, right?
  4. Combine hoisin sauce, the chicken broth, the rest of the soy sauce, the cornstarch and the honey in a small bowl, stirring until smoothish.
  5. Heat your walk. When it's hot, toss one TB sesame oil in and stir to coat. Saute pork 3-5 minutes, until more or less browned. If there's a little pink, no big deal. Remove and set aside.
  6. Add remaining sesame oil to wok. Stir in peas, bell pepper, garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for one minute.
  7. Return pork to pan. Stir in broth mixture. Simmer for a few minutes until it begins to thicken (no more than five minutes, tops).
  8. Remove from heat, stir in green onions, and serve next to noodles.
Family Ratings:
Will, who hates everything: 10
Lucy, who loves everything: 10
Jamie, who thinks he's eating chicken: 9
Ellen, who's not crazy about meat: 8
Paul, who's a big fat pig: 10