Faking French

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The end of summer is fast approaching. I reflect on this season and take pride in the two vacations my family enjoyed; first to New York for our family reunion, then to Shasta Lake for a week of water play. This is all well and fine, but to know me is to know that I have a Grand Canyon-sized travel bug, especially in the summer and sadly it feels unfulfilled.

I’ve suffered through friend’s Facebook updates from France, Croatia, Hawaii, & Mexico and I have felt a palpable ache inside to be somewhere more romantic, more exotic – especially France.

That daily fantasy of gallivanting off to France, frolicking through the countryside, apprenticing at a goat cheese dairy, sampling every cheese in every fromager in Paris, sipping an artful café au lait at an outdoor café watching the sharply dressed world go by, has to remain just that for now – a fantasy. Here is my life in the Bay Area demanding my attention: school, childcare, full-time employment, a mortgage, and all of the other pressures piled high on my plate.

So what to do with this can’t-fly-off-to-Paris angst? Cook French food! Yesterday afternoon, after arranging a culinary play-date with my close friend Cecile – who just returned from three weeks in her native France – I planned a menu that included coq au vin, a savory roasted early-girl tomato tart, just-picked arugula tossed in a homemade vinaigrette, and bittersweet chocolate pot de crème for dessert. Not to mention the stinky French brie for an appetizer.

With a close girlfriend at my side and a glass of chilled white wine in my hand, we effortlessly fell into sync assembling the coq au vin. I had a cookbook open, but I followed my friend’s lead and observed her make a roux like this was everyday-business. Cecile had never made coq a vin, but she naturally took the lead and helped me to produce what smelled and tasted authentic and mouth-watering.  

Caleb and Sadie had helped make the chocolate pot de crèmes earlier in the day, which were cooling in the fridge. After preparing the tart dough in the morning, I quickly assembled the savory, custardy, tomato and anchovy-filled tart alongside Cecile and placed it in the oven. Finally, we assembled the arugula with vinaigrette, set the table, poured the Bordeaux, and we were off to France!

While not the same as an airplane ticket in hand, or a baguette jutting out of my bicycle basket while peddling through the streets of Paris, this meal was fulfilling on many levels. Truly delicious and very satisfying, every bite held promise that one day – perhaps not too far off from now – I could be enjoying this meal in France.

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8 Simple Steps to Fabulous Homemade Sushi

Sadie Preparing Sushi RiceMixing sushi rice

If you have been paying any attention to my ramblings, you may have gathered by now that I delight in cooking with Caleb and Sadie! Sharing my passion for food likely stems from the fact that my parents were foodies before it was cool to be called one.

Back in the mid-eighties, my father and I strengthened our already close bond over a hands-on sushi making class at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Key takeaways: a) have all of your ingredients at the ready when you’re ready to roll, b) it’s much cheaper to make sushi at home, and c) don’t prepare sushi on an empty stomach!

Family assembling sushi togetherTa-da!!

Caleb and Sadie have eaten plenty of sushi in their short collective lifetime. We have even made Korean sushi (kimbap) before, but we have never made traditional Japanese sushi together. To prepare for our sushi-making adventure, I shopped at the local Ranch 99 for the ingredients we needed. On Saturday morning I prepared the sushi rice with Sadie’s help, then set it aside. Mid-day, we chopped the ingredients, and then put everything into small bowls for small hands.

Toward dinner time, the family gathered around the dining table to begin making sushi. Our ingredients included sushi rice, sashimi grade salmon and tuna, masago (fish row), cucumbers, avocado, wasabi, and of course the nori (seaweed). Our neighbor Mindy, lent us an ingenious wooden sushi-making contraption called Maki Sushi Ki. This made assembling our rolls a little easier for the kiddos. It might even be considered cheating!

Little sushi chefsHandsome husband

In full disclosure, making sushi with the kiddos was a little exasperating at first. With sticky rice hands flying everywhere and fish eggs (among other ingredients) falling on the floor, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself to be a patient teacher -and- to enjoy myself in the process. This helped. Before long, we were all feeling excited and accomplished as our rolls piled up on cutting board.

It was time to slice up our sushi rolls (maki) and arrange them on the platters. Mateo had a lovely idea to bring everything out to the patio, since it was still sunny and mostly warm outside. He poured me some warm saki and a glass of wine for himself. Caleb wanted to play the role of ‘waiter’, so we applauded and cheered as he carefully walked each platter out to the patio table. I created a Japanese-themed station on Pandora, then we got Caleb and Sadie settled at the table.

Our homemade sushi rolls were fresh tasting and delicious. We even assembled a sashimi platter from the extra fish. This was such a delightful and memorable cooking project. Caleb even remarked that this was “the best night ever!” I felt the same.

Recipe for sushi rice

Caleb inhales sushiDinner

I’m Just Not That Into Sports

spicy wingsLet’s put it this way, when you’re talking sports at me, pick the sport, my mind transports me to a virtual cookbook, a stinky cheese I’d like to slather on baguette, or a hip pair of shoes I could purchase from Zappos. I might be making eye contact, nodding my head at all the right pauses, but you lost me at NFLblah, blah, blah.

Here’s where I contradict myself…as a San Francisco native, if you put my team in the World Series or the Super Bowl, suddenly I’m paying attention. At the very least, I’m offering to cook something thematic for the game viewing. In the case of Sunday’s big game, San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens, I was locked and loaded – ready to cook something amazing!

Days ago, I began fantasizing about the perfect potluck offering to bring to my sister’s Super Bowl party; a recipe the kids could easily tackle (pun intended). Flipping through Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, I came across an enticing photo of Buffalo chicken wings and the corresponding recipe. I have literally never tasted Buffalo chicken wings, only avant-garde riffs on the flavor combination, but suddenly I was salivating at the thought of warm, spicy chicken dipped in cool, creamy, blue cheese-laden dip.

After Caleb and Sadie grew tired of their morning-long-bunk-bed-fort-building adventures, we tuned into Lady Gaga and danced around the kitchen while preparing to make our spicy wings. In no time, the chicken was under the broiler, and we were whirling the dip in the food processor. Everything was looking very edible. We jumped into the car with our wings n’ dip and hit the road.

At the party, everyone had been huddled (I’m getting good at this!) around the television set for a while. It felt like time to break out the Buffalo chicken wings. I wish I had snapped a succession of photos of the serving platter over the course the few minutes it took for the chicken to completely vanish. The wings received rave reviews and everyone loved the blue cheese dip. Despite the 49ers defeat, I felt a little victorious.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

For the wings

16 chicken wings (about 3 pounds)

¼ pound (1stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp Frank’s Hot Sauce or 1tsp Tabasco (we used TJ’s Chili Pepper Sauce)

1tsp kosher salt

For the dip

1 ½ cups crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

1 cup good mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk

¾ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Celery sticks, for serving

Preheat the broiler. Cut the chicken wings in thirds, cutting between the bones. Discard the wing tips. Melt the butter and add the cayenne, hot sauce, and salt. Put the wings on a sheet pan and brush them with the melted butter. Broil them about 3 inches below the heat for 8 minutes. Turn the wings, brush them again with butter, and broil for 4 more minutes, or until cooked.

For the dip, place the blue cheese, mayo, sour cream, milk, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steer blade. Process until almost smooth.

Serve the chicken wings hot or at room temperature with the blue cheese dip and celery sticks.

A Korean Feast Like No Other

Chapchae DinnerThere are a multitude of reasons for why I love living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being able to travel the world through ethnic cuisine is on my short list. Having long been a fan of Korean food, I was particularly thrilled when our neighbor Soonoak invited my family and one other over for a chapchae cooking lesson. I didn’t just jump at the chance, I did a pirouette, a back flip, and threw in a few break dance moves to underscore my enthusiasm!

Late Sunday afternoon, my family showed up on Glenn and Soonoak’s doorstep. Upon crossing the threshold, I could immediately smell deliciousness. Glancing over at the counter, I was excited to see sliced kimbap rolls. I had definitely come to the right place! The other family soon arrived and within minutes, rice wine and soju (Korean vodka) were being poured into small sake cups, more food was being placed on the counter, and conversation was flowing. One of the greatest pleasures of the evening was getting to know my neighbors better. Learning about their interesting careers, their families, and what brought them to El Cerrito.

A Korean custom we were taught was that the drinker never pours their own drink. It is not uncommon to clear your throat as a sign of needing a fill-up. Jokingly, we all got into the swing of clearing our throats throughout the night and sure enough, the drinks did not stop flowing. I found it particularly amusing that our gracious hostess, who had initially declined the opportunity to be photographed for my blog, warmed up to the camera after a few shots, posing with great animation.

Chapchae Dinner

After grazing on kimbap, chive omelets, kimchee pot stickers, rice cakes with soy bean powder, and spicy seasoned cucumbers, we finally sat down to feast on our chapchae. We gave the kids an amuse bouche of brown rice balls, sprinkled with fish roe, seaweed, and sesame oil (that I mixed by hand with traditional plastic cooking gloves under Soonoak’s guidance. Remind me to invent a version that doesn’t burn your fingers when handling rice just out of the cooker!) The rice balls were a clear hit with Caleb.

The star of the show, our chapchae, was outrageously good. The perfect meal to warm your belly on a crisp autumn evening, it consisted of warm cellophane noodles (made from sweet potato), tossed with sautéed onions, carrots, spinach, bell pepper, mung bean sprouts, marinated beef, sesame oil, and other seasonings. The chapchae, as well as the other Korean delicacies we prepared, including a refreshing dessert of sliced Korean pears and apples, was far better than what I’ve tasted in restaurants. I am so proud of our collective effort and am grateful to Soonoak and Glenn for opening up their home and treating us to a fabulous Korean cooking lesson amongst neighbors, who I can now call “friends.”

I have already begun dreaming up the cooking demonstration I would host. I’m thinking a cheese, wine, and food pairing. Not exactly the Eastern European cuisine of my people, but an invitation I would bust another one of my break dance moves for any day.

Oh Mexico

“Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now”

–James Taylor

Our family just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. With the Pacific Ocean at our feet, the sun above our heads, and the lush mountains at our backs, we devoured our time together and all the delicious food we came in contact with.

We feasted on the freshest seafood (mariscos), cooled off with fruit filled paletas (popsicles), enjoyed mango on a stick, shrimp on a stick, juice from a coconut, flan, rice pudding, fajitas, guacamole, and the freshest salsa that tasted so right because we were eating it in Mexico…I could truly go on.

Caleb was particularly adventurous when it came to our food adventures. I’ve never seen him consume so many quesadillas and plates of coconut shrimp in his six years on this planet. Sadie was thrilled to have so many ripe avocados available to her. Mateo and I were clearly in food heaven too.

I can still hear Caleb and Sadie’s laughter as we all ran along the beach, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore below our condo, feel the sun on my face, and the bug bites on my legs. Our time together in Puerto Vallarta was muy delicioso!

Little Dumplings

Last year, Caleb and I participated in a fabulous empanada-making class taught by our friends, Simran and Stacie of A Little Yumminess fame.

Not only did we make by hand a variety of delicious empanadas, we were also treated to a demonstration of one of their most popular recipes, easy-peasy dumplings. Following the demonstration, Simran handed out the recipe and we came away excited to re-create them at home. We had made pot-stickers and dumplings before, but I was impressed with how easy (hence the name) these were to make and how delightful they were to gobble up. It was also clear that this would be a hit with my dumplings.

After long last, it came time to make these bite-sized treats in our own kitchen. Hoping that it wasn’t too much of an undertaking for a weeknight, I shopped for the ingredients after work, picked up the kids, and drove home to embark on our dumpling making adventure. In no time, I had the ingredients laid out on the kitchen table, and Caleb and Sadie at my side ready to make some delicious dumplings. Caleb mixed all the ingredients in a bowl and Sadie assisted some. I placed the won-ton skins out on a mat and let the kids take turns using a tiny spoon to dole out the filling onto the wrappers. While the water was coming to a boil on the stove, Caleb brushed the wrappers with egg wash and both kiddos took turns folding and sealing the dumplings with their tiny hands. As busy as we were, it was a sweet sight to step back and behold.

We experimented with two different cooking methods – first steaming, then boiling. We were most successful with the boiling method – not too much water at a medium boil in a large pot. The dumplings didn’t stick together and they looked appetizing and ready to enjoy. We could hardly wait to eat them. Before sitting down to dinner, I made the easy dipping sauce from the recipe and placed it in individual ramekins. I found that tripling the recipe made enough to go around for my little soy sauce junkies.

Caleb and Sadie very quickly gobbled up their creations before I could even ask what they thought. It was evident that our easy-peasy dumplings were a weeknight hit. What a gratifying (and tasty) treat! Not just making these delicious dumplings, but having a great excuse to spend some special time with my kiddos in the kitchen, at the beginning of a busy week ahead. They clearly enjoyed taking part in the dumpling production and I appreciated how easy it was to pull together.

Make these at home (try pan frying for instant pot-stickers!) and let me know what you think! Click here for the recipe and for more inspiration, do check out my friend’s website: A Little Yumminess - it will very quickly become a favorite destination when in need of cooking and eating inspiration for your little dumplings.

Kimbap – It’s How We Roll

Growing up in San Francisco’s Richmond District, I was exposed to kimbap, Korean style sushi, at an early age. I would skip down to the local Korean market and for a few dollars, make off with a tray of delicious, sesame oil scented kimbap.

I have a fondness for these Korean rice rolls, which are frequently filled with seasoned rice, marinated beef (bulgogi), fishcake, cooked egg, carrots, spinach, daikon, cucumbers, even kimchi. When my friend Mary – who was born in Korea and raised in Southern California – offered to teach me how to make them, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mary and her older son Christian came over in the late afternoon for our kimbap lesson. Christian and Caleb are buddies and met through Sadie’s childcare program. The boys ran out into the backyard, while Mary and I prepped the kimbap ingredients, some of which we had prepared in advance. Once the ingredients were laid out and we had cooked the bulgogi (which Mary purchased raw and marinated at a local Korean market in Oakland), we got to rolling.

This is how we roll

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As we assembled our kimbap, Mary offered “I heard once that the Japanese eat with their eyes, Chinese eat with their stomachs, and Korean’s eat with their mouths.” She was referring to how much Korean’s value good flavor in their food. I then added “…and Jews, we just eat and eat and eat!” We laughed.

The boys came into the kitchen for a brief lesson in kimbap making and each took turns adding ingredients to a roll, which we then helped them roll up in a bamboo sushi mat. When we brought them some neatly sliced pieces of kimbap, they quickly gobbled them up and ran back to their game playing in the backyard. I don’t think Caleb grasped just how excited I was to be making this exotic snack from my childhood. That’s okay.

This was a fabulous cross-cultural exchange that I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to Mary for the kimbap lesson. If you want a helpful visual of a kimbap recipe, just click here.

Something to Chaat About

We may be house- and childcare-poor, but Mateo and I consider ourselves to be quite family-rich. World travel just isn’t in the cards for the time being. To seek out the exotic, we head out for good things to eat in our little corner of the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, we went on a lunchtime food adventure to Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley.

Already apprehensive about bringing our kiddos to a “spicy food” restaurant, it didn’t help matters when as we were walking toward Vik’s, we witnessed a young boy retching violently into a potted plant outside the front door; his mother hovering over him (turns out this was not a bad omen, as his family was just entering the restaurant, not leaving). Mateo and I very quickly ushered Caleb and Sadie inside with reassurances that they would not meet the same fate.

Beyond the front doors and through the narrow Indian market leading into the restaurant, my senses were flooded with intoxicating Indian fragrances and the promise of exotic and delightful things to eat. We watched crowds of hungry people of all walks of life, flood the line toward the front counter. Mateo and an already weary looking Sadie quickly grabbed a table, while Caleb and I stood in line with great excitement. I was overwhelmed by all of the Chaat choices on the chalkboards above our heads. Chaat is a term describing savory snacks, typically served from road-side stalls or carts in India. We are fortunate to have in our midst, an abundance of restaurants featuring these delectable and most affordable treats.

Wanting to appeal to everyone’s food tastes, I ordered the vegetable samosa (fried puffed-pastry appetizer filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and spices), lamb biryani (seasoned rice entree with fall-off-the-bone lamb), a large cholle bhature for Caleb (huge puff of hollow, fried dough, larger than your head), pani puri (bite-sized crispy puffs, filled with curried chickpeas, yogurt, spices, and tamarind chutney), mango lassi (amazing tart yogurt and mango drink), and a handful of desserts of primary colors. Not knowing which desserts to choose from the expansive case filled with an overwhelming assortment of handmade treats, I asked the Indian man behind the cash register if he’d pick out some of his favorites. I’m not usually a huge fan of Indian desserts, but he did not let us down. After lunch, our desserts were gone in a flash.

I wanted to make my friend Simran proud by telling her that Caleb was venturing toward the spicier, more exotic food choices. Instead, he took comfort in the ‘tame’, as he hoarded the cholle bhature (fried dough), his mango lassi, and most of the dessert. Sadie only took bird-sized nibbles of the biryani as her eyelids got heavier with sleep. We’ll get there, I have no doubt. For now, my kids aren’t huge fans of the spicier foods. Give them stinky French cheese though and they’re the happiest little budding foodies.

We left Vik’s with enchanted taste-buds, full bellies, and a very tired Sadie-bug. We headed out to the parking lot feeling very satisfied and world-traveled. It was time to head home to put Sadie down for a nap.

Vik’s Chaat Corner is located at 2390, Fourth Street in Berkeley, CA.

A Time in Ireland

Sheperds Pie with Cheddar Topping

In the early eighties, I left San Francisco and headed off for a six-month adventure in Dublin, Ireland. I went to live with my sister Jody and experience life in another country.

I arrived on a typical Dublin day; cold, wet, and dreary. I was ecstatic when I set eyes on Jody in the airport. She had come with her friend “Jacko” to pick me up. I was missing her immensely, since she left San Francisco to follow a flame to Dublin. My parents seized the opportunity to send their tween-angst-filled daughter off to Ireland – a much needed break for them and an exciting opportunity for me to visit my big sister, 13 years my senior.

Right away, Jody enrolled me in St. Catherine’s, a Catholic Montessori in Dublin. There, I learned to sing Catholic hymns beautifully (a huge departure from all of the songs I had learned in Jewish summer camp), prepare shepherds pie, and learn basic Gaelic, which I’m sad to say, has come in handy not at all! Not only was I the school’s only Jewish student, but I was the lone American. Classmates were fascinated by me, tempted to poke sticks at me, and unsure of what to make of this curly-haired, left-wing-raised, wacky kid from San Francisco.

After school, I occasionally took disco classes in downtown Dublin, or played around in the open field outside our house with a neighbor friend.

In need of extra-curricular activities, I quickly learned the ‘lay of the land’ in Jody’s kitchen, which she shared with her boyfriend and another couple who rented the house with them. In their kitchen, was a giant sack of potatoes slumped against the wall next to the oven. Cooking – already my most beloved hobby – was something I very quickly took solace in. Taking advantage of this wealth of potatoes in our kitchen was a welcomed challenge. On a regular basis, I would return from school and make either French fries (“chips”) or potato latkes.

Jody’s Jewish friends very quickly caught onto the afternoon latke making tradition and would occasionally show up unannounced, lining up on the front stoop with plate and fork in hand. Okay, I think it was just one friend, but I was clearly very popular with her.

My mom came to pick me up from Dublin at the end of the school year. We met up with my father in London, and then traveled to Denmark to visit family. As much as I was thrilled to spend a large chunk of time with my sister, I was understandably eager to travel back home with my folks and return to the familiar.

Back in San Francisco, I proudly showed off my Irish brogue (lasting all but two weeks), shepherds pie expertise, disco moves, and a new-wave music catalog, which hadn’t yet made its way to the States. I was thinking I was pretty cool.

Last night, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, I made shepherds pie with Caleb and Sadie. This dish allowed me to tell tales of my time in Ireland, while hanging out with my kiddos at the end of a long week.

After we polished off our hearty Irish comfort-food, we ended the meal with ice cream sundaes made with Strauss Family Farms Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, toasted almonds, and warm fleur de sel caramel sauce. Caleb played us an after dinner tune on his guitar and I reflected a bit on the past 30 years. Interesting thing, this life continuum. I love what I have learned and have taken with me along the way, and the opportunities I now have to share these parts of my personal tapestry with my children.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Click for shepherds pie recipe (Addition: add shredded cheddar before placing in oven.)

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Toasted Almonds and Salted Caramel Sauce

An Irish Ballad

Photos: A Kitchen of One’s Own

I am so pleased to be able to share photos, even if belatedly, of the delicious offerings from the cookbook group at Simran’s home two weekends ago. Thanks to Simran for sharing her beautiful photos.

A Kitchen of One’s Own

Last Saturday evening, I took some much-needed me time and participated in the first cookbook group hosted by my friend and fellow food blogger, Simran of A Little Yumminess, at her home in the City.

I spent all of Saturday preparing for the gathering and what I regret most is that I didn’t charge my camera battery in advance. I have no photos to share, only vivid memories of the food I prepared (which kicked ass, I must say) and the amazingly delicious dishes I enjoyed at the potluck.

I welcomed the opportunity to spread my culinary wings, which I rarely get to do on harried weeknights when popping something frozen in the oven is standard procedure. For my contribution, I made three-hour tomatoes on crostini shmeared with Bellwether Farms ricotta; and pureed Moroccan chickpea soup, co-starring roasted butternut squash and saffron, and topped with a preserved Meyer lemon crème fraiche that I prepared. Oh and oatmeal raisin cookies. Take on much, Anya?

On Saturday, I ran around the kitchen like a headless chicken who loves to cook. While the beans were simmering on the stove top, I began the three-hour roasting process for the tomatoes. After halving, medium-sized, vine-ripened tomatoes, I cored them, then placed on a cookie sheet. Over the tomatoes, I lightly drizzled olive oil infused with crushed garlic and lemon zest, then a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. As soon as I could get these gorgeous little morsels out of the oven, I blew on one, then popped it in my mouth. I was floored by the concentration of flavors from three hours of cooking. The lightly toasted baguette slices brushed w/ olive oil, topped with fresh ricotta cheese were the perfect platform for these incredibly flavorful tomatoes.

As much as I love cooking with Caleb and Sadie, I also get much pleasure from having a little solitude in the kitchen – time just for me when I can let my inner ‘Alice Waters’ out. A kitchen of one’s own.

While the tomatoes and soup were cooking, Caleb and I made the oatmeal raisin cookies. I had been busily working away in the kitchen, almost to the point of exhaustion, and really needed to involve him somehow. I missed him. We stood side by side at the kitchen table preparing cookie dough together and once the tomatoes were done, we popped the cookie sheets in the oven.

Our house smelled like a small bakery and old Morocco combined. Not such a bad thing and the cookies were gobbled up almost as quickly as they came out of the oven. We sat on the couch together reading a book and shoving way-too-hot cookies in our mouths…what weekends are made for.

Once all the food was prepared, I kissed my family goodbye and headed to the City.

At Simran’s warm and welcoming home, I was treated to a host of delicious vegetarian dishes prepared by the other guests – all women who love to cook as much as I do. There was eggplant polpette (meatballs), roasted cauliflower and red onion with Indian spices, served with basmati and a delicious carrot raita, another more rustic version of Moroccan chickpea soup, a tomato eggplant gratin, peanut udon noodles, brown butter pound cake…I could go on. Everything was so flavorful and very well made. I only knew two of the women (and only slightly) but I left feeling like I had a roomful of like-minded friends, two of which went to my high school – Lowell – as it turns out. All of us homemade gourmets, most of us moms, and all were fantastic cooks.

I need to do things like this more often!

Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Moroccan Lemon Crème Fraiche

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Japanese Penicillin

I woke up feeling pretty crappy on Sunday. I caught the latest bug that Sadie was toting around and had an extremely sore throat, and no energy. The thing about parenting is that once you sign on, you have to keep on moving. Even if you feel sick, no one is going to take pity on you (okay, well maybe an awesome husband who let me nap half the day on Sunday). Generally speaking though, it’s no rest for the weary.

I was still signed on to cook our Sunday night meal and also wanted a fun afternoon cooking activity for the kids. Good thing I had gone shopping at Monterey Market on Friday and purchased a bunch of exotic ingredients to turn into a big pot of chicken soup. Not your ordinary chicken soup, mind you, but chicken udon soup…Japanese penicillin!

I had been walking around the market looking for inspiration and noticed a hand go into the refrigerator and pull out a package of fresh udon noodles. With no game-plan, my hand went in immediately after and grabbed my own package to take home. With a make-a-game-plan-as-you-go approach, I wandered over to the imported food section and found a bottle of Kikoman soup stock concentrate. Hmmm, what else to put into my udon soup. I grabbed a handful of shitake mushrooms, some snow peas, and knew I could use some chicken that I had at home.

Wanting something else delicious to accompany the soup, I also purchased sushi rice and a can of inari skins, for a fun project with Caleb and Sadie…making our own inarizushi.

The Sunday afternoon inarizushi project was really easy. I made some seasoned sushi rice (add vinegar, sugar, and salt) earlier in the day before my nap. Caleb opened up the can of inari skins (Japanese thin, fried tofu skins in a sweet sauce) and I poured the can into a shallow bowl. We had the bowl of sushi rice placed next to it and a plate to catch our finished inarizushi. Caleb and Sadie each took turns stuffing the rice into the inari with their little hands. I placed their inari pouches carefully on the plate and later arranged them onto a platter.

Around the same time, I filled a pot up with water and added enough chicken stock and soup seasoning until the broth tasted like a classic udon soup stock I had tasted at Japanese restaurants. I added the chicken, cut in small pieces, and the uncooked udon noodles. Once they were done, I threw in the sliced shitakes and snow peas. After a few more minutes of cooking, we were ready to eat.

Caleb sat down for dinner and immediately began sipping his udon soup…chopsticks in right hand, soup spoon in left. I was so pleased to hear him say “This is the best food we ever made!” We were all happily enjoying our Japanese meal – slurping our noodles, sipping our broth, and munching on our sweet pouches of inarizushi. It was pretty delicious…very nurturing and rewarding.

This was a very easy food project for a wiped-out mom to facilitate; truly what the doctor ordered. I can now hear the spirit of my Jewish mother saying “Why are you sitting at the computer when you should be in bed getting some rest!” Okay, Ma…I’m going, I’m going!

Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)

Sunday was a cold, wet, wintery day and I woke up with meatballs on my mind. I was very specifically in the mood for Frikadeller – Danish meatballs in a delectable cream sauce. I had recently viewed a slideshow in the food section of the New York Times dedicated to ‘the meatball’ and all of those images of yummy bite-sized morsels of goodness must have infiltrated my brain.

After a Sunday morning shopping trip, Caleb and I rolled up our sleeves and got to cooking our Frikadeller. As I was taking pictures, one of my all-time favorite sound bites came out of Caleb’s mouth…”Momma, can I press the ‘cheese button’ on the camera?” I will now and forever call the shutter release the “cheese button!”

I first learned of Frikadeller on a trip to visit my family in Denmark over 10 years ago. I had been there several times in my life, but this was my most recent trip, which included Mateo who hadn’t yet met my Danish relatives.

First…how I have family in Denmark. My aunt Edie (my mom’s sister) and my uncle Labe moved from Los Angeles to Denmark with three small boys, when Labe was offered a research position in Copenhagen in the early sixties. My first cousins: Jon, Andy, and Tim grew up in Denmark and now have beautiful (huge understatement) families of their own. Our families remain incredibly close and share many values in common such as: the importance of family, cooking and eating delicious food, sense of humor, being a mensch / making the world a better place, and so forth.

The Pape Family in Denmark

Okay, so back to the Frikadeller. When Mateo and I were visiting my cousins, we – in true Anya fashion – ate our way across the country. One of my favorite meals, enjoyed in a small café in the seaside town of Dragør, was a warm plate of Danish meatballs served over red potatoes. This food resonated deeply inside of me. It tasted like the food my people should be eating.

I haven’t made (or, even thought much about) these delicious meatballs since our visit to Denmark. But, something about the wet wintery day, this past weekend, brought the delicious recipe to mind.

What I learned from making Frikadeller for the first time is that it’s an incredibly kid-friendly dish – both to make and to eat. I also learned not to leave my two-year-old daughter unattended with a set of watercolors while I’m cooking with Caleb in the kitchen! The final (and not at all insignificant) observation is that Sadie is now clearly ready to step up to the stove. She joined Caleb on the “cooking chair” for the first time and I felt so proud as she stirred the meatballs in the pot with a long wooden spoon. I see this as a hugely important right-of-passage in my family…both for my son and my daughter.

My “Meatballs”

Recipe: Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)

Inspired by the New York Times recipe for Finnish Meatballs.

These taste exactly how I remember them (or perhaps even better!)

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

¾ cup whole milk
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
1½ cups loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, finely minced

3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
½ cup flour
¾ cup chicken broth
¼ cup vegetable oil, or as needed
½ cup heavy cream

Method

1. Warm the milk in a saucepan or microwave just until steaming. Remove from heat and press bread into the milk; set aside.

2. In large bowl, add parsley, garlic, eggs, salt, black pepper and allspice. Stir well to combine. Add ground beef, sausage, and milk-soaked bread. Knead by hand or mix with a large wooden spoon until well-blended.

3. Spread flour on a plate. Roll meat mixture into 1½-inch balls, and roll in flour to coat. Place a Dutch oven over very low heat, and add broth. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.

4. Working in batches, add enough meatballs to loosely fill pan. Sear for about 1 minute, then shake pan to turn meatballs. Continue until well browned on all sides, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Transfer meatballs to Dutch oven and allow them to gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Add cream and heat just until warmed. If desired, serve with small potatoes (my favorite) or egg noodles that have been tossed with butter and parsley.

Yield: 8 servings.

 

Making Stew with Caleb

Soul-satisfying beef stew

Autumn has arrived. In honor of the season, Caleb and I made a soul-satisfying batch of beef stew today. Fall is just a very stewy and get cozy time of year and what better way to welcome it, then to make a hearty stew to keep us warm as it starts to get chillier outside. We also made the stew in honor of my dad, or “Zadie” as he’s known to Caleb & Sadie, because we’re missing him a little, and because he LOVES beef stew. He’s visiting family in Denmark right now, then off to Scotland and Holland with his lady-friend, Charlotte.

But, more than an homage to autumn or anything else, today was really about taking time out of my way too busy life (as of late) to spend some much-needed one-on-one time with my Caleb. I wanted to make some memories with him today…to carve out some time to be together and to make each other laugh. So, we cooked, we got silly, and we produced a tasty and very hearty beef stew for dinner and several meals to come.

We also had a very interesting conversation. As it turns out, my “future vegetarian” is not so much a vegetarian! Almost a year since writing “We Don’t Eat Farm Animals, Momma!”, Caleb is now very aware of not only where meat comes from, but that he loves to eat it. I saw this in how he quietly devoured his meal, truly enjoying every bite…that was one nurturing pot of beefy stewy goodness! My apologies to the vegetarian nation! I thought I had a new recruit for you, but I was mistaken.

Mateo’s remark after eating the stew tonight was “Caleb, I love what you and Momma made so much, I’m going to finish it all up!”

Did I mention that we also made blueberry cornmeal muffins and oatmeal raisin cookies today? Later in the day, I told Caleb that I had such a great time baking cookies with him. Caleb responded enthusiastically, “I had a great time eating them!” It’s just been a cooking and baking, and being together kind of day…perfect activities for a “lazy” Sunday in autumn.

So, welcome to fall and we miss you Zadie. Good thing beef stew freezes so well!

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Recipe

Hearty Beef Stew

Adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Ingredients

3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, or about 4 1/2 pounds beef shank, meat removed from bone and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

salt

ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium-large onions, chopped (2 cups)

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Côtes du Rhône, Zinfandel, Shiraz or Barolo)

2 cups beef broth (I use “Better than Bullion”)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/2 pound of small potatoes cut in half

1/2 pound of butter nut squash cut in large chunks

1 cup (6 ounces) frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preparation

Place meat in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a medium-size Dutch oven; add meat to pan in two batches. Brown meat on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch, adding an additional 1 tablespoon oil if necessary. Transfer meat to a platter.

Add onions to pot; sauté until almost softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; continue to sauté for about 30 seconds longer. Stir in flour and cook until lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits that may have stuck to pan. Add broth, bay leaves and thyme; bring to simmer. Add meat, carrots, potatoes, and squash to pot and once boiling, cover and lower heat. Cook on low for one to two hours. I like to serve the stew over buttered egg noodles. Yum!

Enjoy!

Personal Pot Pie

I overheard one of those ‘keeper’ conversations yesterday coming from the other room. Caleb asked Mateo, “Poppa, am I Hindi or Budi?” I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. Mateo replied, “Well, neither, you’re Jewish. But, did you mean Hindu or Buddhist?” Caleb responded “Yeah, am I Hindist or Buddhist?” Mateo’s response…”you’re still Jewish.” Mateo and I both laughed out loud. Who knew that at five, my son would already be taking on world religions? I needed to take on something simpler with him – a recipe.

I recently read a post on Dinner: A Love Story, a blog that I enjoy, about making monogrammed chicken pot pies with sweet potatoes. I fell in love with the idea of trying this at home with Caleb. He loves yams, and pot pies are always a hit at our dinner table. Plus, what kid wouldn’t love their very own tiny pot pie with their name written on it? This big kid adores the idea!

We’ve made chicken pot pie before, and my favorite recipe is from the New Best Recipe cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. Inspired by the personalized pot pie idea, I decided to take our tried-and-true recipe, substitute yams for carrots, and set off on a personal pot pie adventure with my son.

Assembling the ingredients was simple. Caleb helped to peel the yams and dice the celery (with mom watching closely, of course). Once we had all of the ingredients combined, we poured the pot pie filling into a larger casserole for the family, and a small ramekin, just for Caleb. At this point, Caleb took a break to watch a rainy Sunday movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan. Not that this was hard work, but I enjoyed going at a relaxed pace, and I’m sure he did too. We forget to slow down on the weekends after racing through the week at a frantic pace, but kids have a natural inclination to do so. Note to grownup: take a lesson from your kid!

While Mateo, Caleb, and Sadie were on an outing, I rolled out the pie dough and placed on top of both pies. Using both hands, I rolled out tiny little letters for the pies. I enjoyed the time in the kitchen to myself and was excited to surprise Caleb later with his personal pot pie.

Closer to dinner, we reconvened the pot pie session and brushed the top of our pies with the egg wash. Caleb has done this before, and I enjoyed stepping back and watching the master at work. I watched as he spelled out his name on his pie and smiled from ear to ear. “Mine says Caleb!” I knew he’d love that!

It doesn’t get much better than eating chicken pot pie on a rainy Sunday evening, sitting around the dinner table with your family. The pot pie was delicious and Caleb devoured his with quiet intention. What a fun thing – to eat food with your name on it. Now, I’m eager to think of other edible wonders that we can personalize together.

The Best Chicken Pot Pie

Adapted from the New Best Recipe cookbook. Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

1 box of pie dough from Trader Joe’s

1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I use the brand Better than Bullion)

1 ½ tbs vegetable oil

1 medium-large onion, chopped fine

1 large or two small yams, large dice

2 small celery ribs, cut crosswise ¼ inch thick

Salt and ground pepper to taste

4 tbs (1/2) stick unsalted butter

½ cup unbleached flour

1 ½ cups milk

½ tsp dry sherry

¾ cups frozen peas, thawed

1 egg for wash (mix with a fork in a small bowl)

Method

  1. Take pie dough out of freezer to defrost at room temperature
  2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the chicken and broth in a small Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Cover, bring to a simmer, and simmer until the chicken is just done, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large bowl, reserving the broth for a measuring cup.
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and heat the oil in the now-empty pan. Add the onion, yam, and celery and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. While the vegetables are sautéing, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Transfer the cooked veggies to a bowl with the chicken; set aside.
  4. Heat the butter over medium heat in the again-empty pan. When the foaming subsides, add the flour; cook about 1 minute. Whisk in the reserved chicken broth, the milk, any accumulated chicken juices, and the thyme.  Bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer until the sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and stir in sherry.
  5. Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture into individual ramekins, or split between one larger casserole and one or two ramekins for the kids. Top with the pie dough; wash with egg whites; and have fun personalizing your pie. Be sure to poke a few vent holes in the top of the pie. Bake until pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 30 minutes for the large pot pie and about 20 minutes for the smaller ones. Serve hot.

Authors note: I often make this recipe on Sunday night for the week. I pour the filling into a large lasagna pan and top with biscuit dough cut out in rounds. When we’re ready to serve, each person gets their own biscuit topping. This has been a huge hit in our home.

Original recipe from Dinner: A Love Story – Monogrammed Pot Pie