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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

August 24 is National Waffle Day. Savory waffles, flavored with fresh thyme and buckwheat flour, are topped with a mushroom and braised veal sauce. (Blue Kitchen)

National Waffle Day: Savory waffles with mushrooms and braised veal

By Blue Kitchen / 08.24.12

Lots of people love eating breakfast for dinner. To me, though, it’s often been more of a meal of last resort. What you eat when you haven’t gotten to the store for more serious groceries, but hey, you’ve got eggs, and the bread is fresh enough if you toast it.

But recently, I stumbled across the idea of savory waffles – can’t remember where now – and breakfast for dinner suddenly became more interesting. For starters, you’ve got waffles, elegant city cousins of the country pancake. They even require their own machine to make – no mere cast iron skillet will do. Whenever my mom hauled out the waffle iron (always on a weekend morning, and certainly never for dinner), breakfast just felt fancier, more fun. 

Then there’s the savory part. Taking something generally meant to be dressed with syrup or jam (or somewhat disturbingly – at least to me – with sugary fruit and whipped cream) and topping it instead with something salty, even meaty, and definitely dinnerish.

Savory waffles is a bit of a misnomer. They’re not overly salty and don’t contain chicken stock or any other umami flavor. They’re just less sweet, a little saltier and more open to pairing with a savory topping. Fresh herbs give them an extra layer of interesting. Some recipes call for using corn meal along with flour, but I feel this takes you down a cornbread path that I didn’t want. Instead, I took a page from the French crêpes notebook. The difference between sweet and savory crêpes is that the latter includes buckwheat flour in the mix; it adds a similarly rustic note without going all cornbread.

Savory Waffles with Mushrooms and Braised Veal
Serves 4

For the mushrooms and braised veal:
1-1/2 pounds veal, cut into bite-sized pieces (see Kitchen Notes)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
3 small shallots, chopped and divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock, even better)
1 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh parsley
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used crimini mushrooms – see Kitchen Notes)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup Marsala wine (or Madeira or dry sherry) [editor's note: substitute same amount with cooking wine or beef broth]
fresh sage leaves for garnish, optional

For the savory waffles:
1 cup unbleached general purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour (or another cup of general purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 eggs
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Prepare the mushrooms and braised veal. Season the veal chunks with salt and pepper. In a plastic bag, toss the veal with 1 tablespoon of flour; this will give it a very light coating of flour to help it brown and lightly thicken the sauce. Heat a large, lidded nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the veal. If you have veal bones (I cut up a bone-in arm steak for my veal – see Kitchen Notes), add those to the pan too. Brown the veal lightly on all sides, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Turn the bones a time or two as you stir. Transfer veal and bones to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat slightly and sweat about half of the chopped shallots for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, drizzling in a little more oil, if needed. Take care that they don’t burn or overly brown. Add garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Pour in chicken broth and then wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Return veal (plus bones, if you have them) and any accumulated juices to the pan. Tuck in the bay leaves, lay the parsley sprigs across the top of the veal, cover the pan and reduce the flame to very low.

Braise the veal until very tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure your liquid doesn’t cook down too much; add a little water, if needed. You probably won’t need to.

As the veal is nearing doneness, cook the mushrooms. In a separate large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame and swirl in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the mushrooms until they give up their moisture and it evaporates, about 5 minutes or so. Stir in the remaining shallots and sage, drizzling in more oil, if needed (mushrooms love to soak up butter and oil). Cook until shallots are just tender, 3 or so minutes. Turn off flame and add Marsala. Stir for a few moments, then turn on the flame again. Cook mushrooms until Marsala is almost completely evaporated.

Remove parsley and bones from the veal mixture and add mushrooms. Stir to combine completely. Sauce will probably be pretty thin; if so, make a beurre manié (French for kneaded butter). Cut up 1 tablespoon of butter into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and, using your fingers, work flour into the butter.

Push mushroom/veal mixture to the sides of the pan and whisk bits of the beurre manié into the sauce until sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency; I used about half of it. Cover the mushroom/veal mixture and keep warm if waffles aren’t ready.

Make waffles. Preheat your waffle iron according to manufacturer instructions. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and melted butter. Stir in thyme. Stir wet ingredients into dry and mix until thoroughly combined; don’t overwork. Let batter rest for at least 5 minutes before cooking according to waffle iron instructions. Cook them on the crisp side.

Keep waffles warm in a preheated oven, but don’t stack—they’ll steam each other and lose their crispness.

Assemble plates. Arrange waffles on individual plates. Spoon mushroom/veal mixture over waffles. Garnish with sage leaves.

Kitchen Notes

Veal – and other options. You can sometimes find veal stew meat. If not, look for a veal arm steak. Cut the meat from the bones and keep the bones to help flavor the sauce. If you can’t find veal or want other choices, you can substitute steak or pork or chicken. The taste will be different, but still delicious. You can also substitute the chicken and mushrooms filling from this crêpes recipe.

Picking mushrooms. I used crimini or baby bella mushrooms. Feel free to use any mushrooms you like, including button mushrooms.

Too many waffles. The batter will make 7 or 8 8-inch waffles. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to halve the 3 eggs called for. Besides, in my experience, the first waffle or two ends up not working out anyway and has to be tossed. If you have leftover waffles, some recipes suggest refrigerating or freezing them and reheating them in a toaster. You could also reheat them on a baking sheet in the oven. I wouldn’t use a microwave – that will make them soggy.

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This tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. (The Gourmand Mom)

Creamy tomato chipotle soup

By The Gourmand Mom / 08.23.12

We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my TV. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well … I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately …the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this … but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degrees F. oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

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Soup isn’t just for cold winter days. This light soup makes excellent use of summer’s bounty of greens and corn. It is particularly good with sturdy, slightly bitter greens, which are balanced by the sweetness of the corn. (The Rowdy Chowgirl)

Summer soup with fresh corn

By The Rowdy Chowgirl / 08.23.12

The windows looked out on rows of corn, following the contours of the valley until meeting low, tree-covered hills in the hazy distance. On summer mornings I lay quiet in bed for a moment after waking, listening to the breeze rustling the cornstalks. They say you can hear it growing at night. My sissy and I played at the edge of the lawn, where grass and field met. The feed corn was tall – much higher than my head, even taller than my Grandpa. The corn was always there, growing tall and strong, in my memories of summer visits to my grandparents’ dairy farm.

They say that corn crops are failing this summer in the Midwest due to drought. I can’t imagine a summer without corn. Boiled or grilled, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, it is the very essence of deep fertile earth, gentle rain and sunshine, distilled into a delightfully messy, handheld summer food.

Have you been eating your share of corn on the cob lately? I hope so. Why not cook an extra ear or two and cut the fresh kernels from the cob to use later in the week? Maybe even save your cobs, silks and husks and try making a batch of corn broth.

This light soup makes excellent use of summer’s bounty of greens and corn. It is particularly good with sturdy, slightly bitter greens, which are balanced by the sweetness of the corn. This version is vegetarian, but if you prefer you can use chicken stock, and if you have leftover chicken in the refrigerator by all means cube it up and use it in place of tofu. Be creative – it is a good opportunity to use up a few odds and ends in from the fridge.

The recipe only makes two generous servings – just enough for one dinner for two, or dinner and then lunch the next day for one, and it’s gone – but can be scaled up to serve a crowd as well.

Summer Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cups diced greens such as kale or mustard greens, about 1/2 bunch
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon white miso paste
2 cups corn broth (or water or chicken or vegetable stock)
1/2 cup leftover cooked rice
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
4 ounces of firm tofu, cubed, about ½ cup (or use leftover chicken)
squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about 1 tablespoon
salt to taste

Place large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and diced onions. Cook slowly until onions are soft and transparent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, dice greens: roll several leaves into a tight cylinder, then slice into narrow strips. Dice the pile of strips, then repeat process with remaining greens.

Add greens and garlic to saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, or until greens have darkened and softened.

Stir in miso paste, then add broth. Raise heat and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add rice, tofu, corn, and lemon juice.  Continue cooking until heated through.Taste and add salt if needed.

Makes two servings.

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Peeling and removing the seeds from tomatoes is an easy seven-step process. (The Gourmand Mom)

How to peel and seed tomatoes

By The Gourmand Mom / 08.22.12

Using fresh tomatoes in homemade sauces and soups often requires starting with peeled tomatoes with their seeds removed. Fortunately, peeling tomatoes is easier than you may expect. Just let a bit of boiling water do all of the work! Here are a few simple steps for easily peeling tomatoes.

Step 1: Start with beautifully ripe, seasonal tomatoes.

Step 2: Cut a small ‘X’ into the non-stem end of the tomato.

Note: It’s a good idea to use a paring knife to cut out the tough green stem end at this point. It will help the skin to slip off easier and will save you from removing it later. 

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.

Step 4: Insert the tomatoes into the water for about 1 minute.

Step 5: Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. The skin should be practically falling off on its own.

Step 6: Use your fingers to slide the skin from the tomato. If necessary, use a paring knife to remove any remaining peel.

Note: Use the paring knife to cut out the green stem end, if you haven’t already.

Step 7: Cut the tomatoes in half. Gently squeeze the tomatoes to remove the seeds. Use your clean fingers to remove the seeds from any small pockets.

For a pictorial step-by-step guide, go to The Gourmand Mom

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Nearly 700 picnickers dressed all in white enjoyed a Diner en Blanc pop-up meal on the waterfront lawn of Boston's Moakley Courthouse. (Kitchen Report)

Diner en Blanc comes to Boston, New York

By Kitchen Report / 08.21.12

On Thursday, Aug. 16, the Boston waterfront beneath the swooping glass facade of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse was invaded by a throng of picnickers dressed in white and elegantly nibbling from white china plates.

Was it performance art? An extreme response to Zombie Flash Mobs? A cult?

Mais, non.

Dîner en Blanc had arrived in Boston. 

Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White) first began in Paris in 1988 when Frenchman François Pasquier wanted to call together long lost friends by having them meet for a picnic in the Bois du Boulogne, the equivalent of New York’s Central Park. One requirement: They must dress in white so they could find each other in the crowd. The experience was so delightful, they repeated the picnic the following year, and every year after, inviting friends along the way until it bloomed into what it is today: A flash mob pop-up dinner society that draws more than 14,000 picnickers to distinguished city landmarks around the world kept secret until an hour before the meal is to begin.

The combination of elegance and mystery under a midsummer’s night sky has proved so alluring that Dîner en Blanc has expanded across 5 continents to more than 15 cities worldwide. Paris itself featured three different dinners over two days this year.

New York’s inaugural event last year, the first in the United States, drew 1,200 with 30,000 people on the waiting list. This year’s guest list has been expanded to 3,200 for their event held last night on Aug. 20 in the courtyard of New York City's Lincoln Center. The Boston event on Aug. 16 brought 650-700 picnickers down to the waterfront.

I received an e-mail in mid July  – so nondescript that I almost overlooked it – with an invitation to become a member of Boston’s Dîner en Blanc. Dîner en Blanc uses a system of membership, guest sponsorship, and a waiting list to send out invitations.

I invited my friend Lisa, a true Francophile and a foodie to join me. We began to divvy up the details for meeting the evening’s requirements to wear white, dress elegantly, and assemble the following to carry to the mystery picnic spot:

  • A folding square dining table  + 2 white folding chairs;
  • A white bag or a white picnic basket (or covered with a white fabric) containing your dinner items as the following  items :
    • white tablecloth and 2 white cloth napkin
    • 2 white plates + 2 white plates for dessert (non disposable)
    • 2 sets of cutlery (plastic prohibited)
    • 2 glasses (plastic prohibited)
    • 1 complete meal, including: 1 first course, 1 main course, 1 final course (cheese, dessert, etc)
    • 1 white trash bag

A simple picnic, mais bien sûr mes amis!

We could elect to either arrive by public transportation (the subway) or by bus, for a few dollars more. Anticipating that we would be highly uncoordinated trying to navigate a full picnic basket and two chairs and a table, I signed us up for the bus. Then we turned our attention to more important things.

Such as, where to buy a white hat. And of course, a new white dress, très chic.

On the evening of Aug. 20, we met Zach, our group leader, at the appointed time in front of a cathedral in the South End and quietly filed onto the bus with a group of strangers all decked out in white. We were oddly shy, surprising since any passerby immediately lumped us together: “What is this, a wedding?”

I had a hunch we’d be heading down to the waterfront, and we did. As we wheezed our way through the downtown streets we passed groups of people in white emerging from various subway stations. The demure masses carried tables, picnic baskets, balloons, and even a parasol. Ooo la la!

Eventually, once assembled at our final meeting place, we all fell into line and rounded the corner to the courthouse. It was a beautiful setting. A green lawn stretched out to the boardwalk. Boats bobbed peacefully in the inky harbor water, lights twinkling. The night air was perfect – partly cloudy, 77 degrees, with no disturbing wind.

Lisa and I were flanked by other women also picnicking with their female friends. How did you hear about this? we asked. One person said, Twitter, another said she stumbled across it on a website.

As we set up our tables, our votive candles, and bouquets of flowers, a cellist elbowed jazz riffs on a stage. We twirled our white napkins overhead (a Dîner en Blanc tradition) and ate our five course meal as a French band called C’est Si Bon performed. Then came a DJ and we all got up to dance beneath giant white balloons hung from low branches in the trees. Si, c’est très bon.

Alas, one visual treat of Dîner en Blanc was omitted: No sparklers, usually held aloft to signal that the dancing will begin. Massachusetts doesn’t allow fireworks. Zut alors!

At 10:30 came the call to pack up and just as quickly as we had appeared we vanished like wisps of white mist. 

It was a huge undertaking to be sure. To Angela Giovine, Wendy Goldstein, and Zach Taranto, the organizers of Boston’s event, we lift our white hats in gratitude.

Bravo! Encore, s’il vous plait!

For a slideshow of the event and a menu of what was in our picket basket, visit Kitchen Report.

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Fresh summer corn is lovely grilled on the cob and its husks can be boiled down to make a light corn broth. (The Rowdy Chowgirl)

How to make corn broth

By The Rowdy Chowgirl / 08.21.12

We wait for so many things in life, whether with dread or anticipation. We check our watches and flip through magazines waiting for our name to be called. We sit at a restaurant bar, dressed up and hopeful, and glance toward the door with fluttering heart each time it opens. Is that him?

And we wait for summer. That wait gets shorter every year it seems, as the seasons fly by in a blurry montage rather than creeping along as they did when I was younger.

Just like that, it is mid-summer and corn season again. Out of the gigantic cardboard box at the produce store, I selected six fat ears of corn.  On Sunday, after a long lazy afternoon spent lolling on a picnic blanket in the park, we put them on the grill. Rather than cooking the ears straight on the grill in their husks as I normally would, I peeled back the husks, removed the silks, then tugged the husks back into place. I soaked them in water for about a half hour, then rolled them in foil before placing them on the grill in order to prevent the husks charring.

We ate two ears of corn with our dinner. I husked all the corn, cutting off the funky brown parts of the silk at the top, but otherwise saving the husks and silk. I cut the remaining four ears of corn off the cobs, and saved those cobs and all of the husks and silks in the refrigerator. The next evening, I made corn broth. The inspiration for this came from a wonderful cookbook I’ve been reading, "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One" by Joe Yonan.

Although I make stock from poultry carcasses and vegetable trimmings, it had never occurred to me to make stock out of the leavings from fresh corn.  This idea appealed on a few levels: I try to avoid food waste and am always on the lookout for new ways to use what would otherwise be discarded.  I also look for opportunities to turn one meal into two or several.

And so there I was, boiling up some corn broth. This was really no harder than it would have been to dump those leftover bits straight into the compost bin.  I admit I was a bit skeptical when I looked in the pot after an hour or so and saw mushy corn husks and water. But after cooking a little longer then straining, what had looked like water turned out to be a pale yellow broth – mild and sweet and tasting of summer corn.

How to Make Corn Broth

Save husks, silks, and cobs from 4-6 ears of corn. Discard any browned husks and silks. Cut cobs in half, and put everything into a large stock pot. Cover with water: approximately 8 cups. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for about an hour and a half, or until broth is pale yellow and tastes like corn. 

Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then strain through a colander into a large bowl. Press solids to remove as much broth as possible.  Pour broth through a finer strainer to remove any last bits. You will have about 5-6 cups of broth, which can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few months.

Related post on The Rowdy Chowgirl: Grilled Corn

Michelle Obama hosts first 'Kids' State Dinner'

By Kendra Nordin / 08.20.12

First lady Michelle Obama is hosting more than 50 children from all over the United States today for the first-ever Kids' State Dinner.

The youths worked with their parents to create "an original lunch recipe," Ms. Obama stated in a letter announcing the dinner. The luncheon is Ms. Obama's latest public effort to serve up healthy eating and healthy lifestyles as an example Americans – particularly children – should strive to adopt. Her first book released this spring, American Grown, aimed to inspire children to dig in the dirt and grow vegetables as it chronicled the transformation of the White House's South Lawn into a working kitchen garden.

Now America's future is coming to the White House for lunch with a meal they have dreamed up using fresh ingredients.

The Kids' State Dinner, served on historic china from the Regan administration, is being broadcast live on the Web site for Let's Move!, Ms. Obama's initiative to combat childhood obesity.The children will be cooking under the guidance of White House Chef Sam Kass.

The Kids' State Dinner came out of a contest where children were invited to submit original, healthy recipes. A panel of judges from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, and the food-focused website Epicurious selected 54 of their favorite recipes. The winners of the more than 1,100 entries are the guests in the East Room of the White House with their parents today.

The White House plans to make a free printable and downloadable cookbook with the winning recipes.

Filipino pancit, like Korean japchae, is a favorite at potlucks. Both dishes feed many, are tasty even at room temperature, and are well-loved by all and featured in 'The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook' by Patricia Tanumihardja. (Sasquatch Books)

Cookbook review: The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

By Monitor Contributor / 08.17.12

There's a reason I go out to eat Asian food: I don't have a wok, the ingredients, or the time.

Not only does Asian cuisine require those three things, but you also need someone watching over your shoulder who knows what to do. That's where The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Patricia Tanumihardja comes in handy (available in paperback from Sasquatch Books on Aug. 21). In her book, Tanumihardja offers a straightforward approach to cooking elaborate recipes and outlines the ingredients, process, and preparation needed for each. 

Tanumihardja didn't just want to write any ordinary how-to cookbook. She wanted to go straight to the source of Asian cuisine: the grandmother. She claims, “All grandmothers are the keepers of culture and the culinary flame,” and thus proceeds to seek out grandmothers, mothers, and other "goddesses of the kitchen" to record their unique recipes, often only passed down orally. Each recipe has detailed instructions so that even the novice can take a crack at it. The cookbook also includes profiles of the women behind the recipes, some of whom have fascinating stories to tell.

“The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” includes a myriad of dishes ranging from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and everything in between. Additionally, the dishes allow for a lot of experimentation – if you don't like a certain ingredient or if a certain sauce is too hard to find, you can easily replace it with other seasonings. If you're worried about hard-to-find ingredients, fret not. You can find most of the items at your local Chinatown or Korea Mart, and even grocery stores like Whole Foods have many of the foreign ingredients you will need. 

The best feature of the cookbook is an entire glossary of the Asian cabinet with descriptions of each type of item you might find in it, including all variations of noodles, rice, and sauces. It also explains the different processes of Asian cooking, such as steaming, deep-frying, and stir-frying and the different kitchen implements needed and substitutes you can use. The outlining is essential if you've never thought of cooking Asian food on your own, and proved extremely helpful when I tried two of the book's recipes. 

Here's the account of my attempt to make japchae (or chapchae), a mixture of glass noodles and vegetables including carrots, onions, and mushrooms, usually served as a side dish in Korea. Some background is needed: 

I've never cooked anything very Asian apart from a simple stir-fry, and never thought I'd have a reason to with dozens of options outside my door. But when my family's favorite Korean restaurant went out of business, there was nowhere else to find the same authentic Korean cuisine. Sure, there were plenty of Japanese-Korean-Chinese fusions that offered similar dishes, but they just weren’t the same.

Japchae was one dish that I would always order and which I could not find at any other Asian restaurant. I am absolutely in love with this dish, and missed it so badly that when I traveled to South Korea with three of my friends I was eager to taste it again.

During my time in Korea, we visited the island of Jeju off the southern coast of South Korea. The island is known for its touring honeymoon couples who wear matching shirts as they explore its famous dormant volcano and other natural wonders. My Korean friend's grandparents kindly hosted us while we were there, and every morning we would awake to a full Korean breakfast, featuring mouth-firing kimchi, purple sticky rice, pork with onions, and several other dishes. I couldn't speak to YoungSun Kim, my friend's grandmother, who spent hours preparing each meal, but I was able to utter an abundance of badly pronounced kamsahamnidas (thank yous).

I gratefully received her many homemade traditional dishes that are difficult to find in the United States. That's why I was delighted to see so many unique recipes in "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook." As you might guess, I was most excited about the recipe for japchae. 

Because japchae is a side dish, I chose to make Thai basil pork as a main course. There is a Korean mart called Lotte Market on my way home from work and I went there to pick up the necessary ingredients. I told the storekeepers what I was making, and they helped me navigate the dozens of sauces, noodles, and vegetables to find the right ones. 

Once home, I immediately placed the dried mushrooms in a bowl of water to soak. I should have begun chopping all the rest of the ingredients, but instead followed the directions and soaked the noodles and spinach. This was a mistake. Although it might seem obvious to chop everything ahead of time so that it's ready to go in, I didn't do this step until after everything else was ready to go, which made the whole process take much longer.

Ideally, after taking care of the mushrooms, chop as much as the ingredients as possible. Towards the end of chopping, soak the noodles, and at the very end, soak the spinach. After that, follow the directions provided and you should be golden! 

After the many hours spent preparing the japchae, I was happy to find that it tasted just like japchae should: noodle-y with a sweet flavoring soaked in. The noodles were a bit larger than normal japchae noodles tend to be, the carrots were chunks rather than thin julienne slices, and I would have liked more onion and spinach interspersed throughout, but apart from these details, which can be easily fixed, the dish was a success.


Serves 6-8

1 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
Hot water
8 ounces spinach, trimmed (4 to 5 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
6 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into thin slices (3/4 cup)
           To rehydrate: soak in water for 30 minutes or several hours if you start ahead of time
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin crescents
3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Place the noodles in a heatproof bow and soak in hot water for 15 minutes. With kitchen shears, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. You just want the noodles to be manageable so don’t worry about getting exact lengths. Drain and set aside.

Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and soak in very hot water for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Gently squeeze the water from the spinach and cut into 3 sections.

Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, green onions, and garlic and stir and cook until the carrots are crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and toss in the noodles. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Stir everything swiftly around the wok for 3 to 4 minutes, coating the noodles evenly with the seasonings. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the bottom of the wok. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Mix in the spinach and sesame seeds at the very end and toss with a couple more flourishes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature. 

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Fresh corn mixed tossed with a bit of paprika, green onion, and garlic make a kind of kimchi-style side dish. (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

Kimchi-style corn

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 08.16.12

As much as I adore canned creamed corn, come summer, I love sinking my teeth into a fresh cob and gnawing off the sweet corn kernels bit by juicy bit. My other favorite way with sweet corn is to toss the niblets into a salad with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers brightened with herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Even though I’ve been eating corn since I was yea high, I realized I didn’t know much about it. So I did a little research and discovered some corn trivia and tips.

First, just-for-fun trivia:

 An ear of corn always has an even number of rows, with an average ear having 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows.

Popcorn, sweet corn and field corn are three distinct varieties. Popcorn is, obviously, made into everyone’s favorite movie-going snack. Sugar-rich sweet corn is cultivated for human consumption, and field corn is cultivated for livestock feed and processed foods.

Contrary to popular belief, Orville Redenbacher didn’t invent popcorn. Evidence of popcorn was found in archaeological remains in New Mexico dating back to 5,600 years ago.

Corn is a grass and cornstalks grow between 2 and 20 feet, with the average being 8 feet.

Heirloom corn varieties come in a rainbow array of colors, including blue, red, black, and green.

And some practical tips:

 When buying corn, look for bright green husks that fit snugly around the ear of corn. You don’t have to strip the husks off the ears to check for freshness. Just squeeze down the length of the corn gently to feel for bald spots. If you can’t resist peeking, the kernels should be plump and in tight rows right to the tip.

Try and eat the corn as soon as possible after purchase but if you must store it, wrap in damp paper towels for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. The kernels become starchier and less sweet the longer the ears are stored. In fact, half the sugars can be converted to starch only 24 hours after sweet corn is picked!

For maximum freshness, husk the corn just before cooking.

Remove the silk (white hairy threads under the husk) by using a wet a paper towel and wipe down the corn.

Amazingly versatile in the kitchen, corn kernels can be stir-fried with tomatoes and onions, tossed into salads, added to salsa, turned into relish, and, a childhood favorite, churned into ice cream. Or simply grill, boil or roast the ears.

A few weeks ago, I came home from the market with six ears of corn without any inkling of what I wanted to do with them. After rummaging around in the fridge and pantry, I found some leftover garlic scapes and an unopened pouch of Hungarian paprika. I decided to improvise on the ingredients used to make kimchi for a corn side dish. Koreans turn just about any vegetable into banchan so why not corn?

The result is a refreshing summer side dish, crunchy and sweet with a touch of heat and just the right amount of garlicky. It’s lovely with grilled meats or mixed into a green salad.

Kimchi-Style Sweet Corn

Unless you make kimchi often, it doesn’t make sense to buy the one-pound bags of Korean red pepper powder (gochu-garu) they sell at Asian markets, and some recipes call for both fine- and coarse-ground red pepper! Instead I used paprika powder, specifically one that my friend brought back from Hungary. In my opinion, the kimchi flavor was a close approximation to that made with Korean red pepper.

Time: 15 minutes, plus melding time
 Makes: 6 to 8 servings as a side dish

4 fresh ears of corn, husked
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika powder
1 teaspoon sugar
6 garlic scapes, buds and flowers trimmed, remainder chopped, or 3 small cloves garlic, chopped
1 green onion, chopped

In a pot large enough to hold the corn plus water to cover the corn, bring cold water to a rolling boil over high heat. Don’t add salt as it toughens the corn.

Add the corn, cover and bring the water back to a rolling boil which will take 3 to 4 minutes. At this point the kernels will be crisp. If you like them a little softer, cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer but don’t overcook them.

Promptly drain the corn into a colander over the sink and plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking. Do not overcook them. Once cool enough to handle, stand the corn in a large bowl and scrape the kernels off each cob into a bowl using a small, sharp knife.

Add the salt, paprika, sugar, garlic scapes, and green onion. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours for the flavors to meld.

Related post on The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook: Tickle Me with Pickles

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American television chef Julia Child shows a salade nicoise she prepared in the kitchen of her vacation home in Grasse, southern France, on August 21, 1978. (AP)

Two birthday cakes for Julia Child

By Kitchen Report / 08.15.12

Julia Child’s birthday is August 15 and this year marks her 100th. I decided I wanted to honor Julia by baking a birthday cake for her on my birthday, just a few days before, using a recipe or two from one of her many collections.

I must admit that while I am an admirer, I am not a Julia Child disciple. Even though I own “The Way to Cook” with this inscription: “Christmas love to Kendra, from Mom, 1998,” I remain somewhat intimidated by it.

My birthday this year fell on a Sunday, and the weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to host a little backyard picnic with some friends, offered in a kind of casual elegance that describes August. My mom’s house on the Cape is the ideal setting for this kind of thing. More so than me, I think my mom and Julia would have been good friends, had they ever met. A intellectual fervor and the tendency to not sweat the small stuff are characteristics they share.

On Sunday morning, however, a steady rain drummed on the roof. Jenna, Gretchen, and I could all hear it from our beds tucked under the eaves. A text arrived from my brother who would be on his way soon with his family to join us in the backyard. “Is there a Plan B?”

No, there was not.

After glumly deciding against a swim in the pond, Jenna, Gretchen, and I set to work on not one, but two cakes: Orange and Almond Sponge Cake and Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba) from Julia's “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Cooking, at least successful cooking, tends to be a solitary affair. A cooking party, which this turned out to be, is more fun, and more chaotic. When you have many cooks, things go faster and they can also go awry. They did.

I sat at the long kitchen table and called out instructions as Jenna and Gretchen tried to navigate an unfamiliar kitchen. The electric mixer wasn’t working, so Jenna beat the egg whites by hand (a strong swimmer’s arm is good for this).

Another setback, the sudden arrival of guests ready for lunch was a distraction in our work flow and more ground almonds went into the cake than necessary. We were nowhere near ready.

Another distressing discovery: I had called out the instructions for the wrong cake – I had wanted to make a Queen of Sheba cake that required no filling and had instead skipped ahead a page and was directing a Chocolate Sponge Cake without realizing it. Two sponge cakes was not in the original plan. But the chocolate sponge cake and Queen of Sheba are so similar in their ingredients it hardly mattered, we thought, except for one thing. The sponge cakes didn’t rise.

Maybe it was the rain. Humid Cape air is a constant presence in the summer as it blows in one window and out the next. It’s one reason why things are so causal on the Cape. Everyone slumps around in wrinkled clothes and tugs at swollen doors because that’s the way it is. The kitchen, with its low raftered ceiling and bones dating back to 1840, has no air conditioner. Or maybe we beat the egg whites too hard. Or maybe we shouldn’t have used unbleached cake flour.

But this is what I love about Julia’s example. I don’t think she’d worry too much over our flat sponge cakes. She says to master cooking, and that means doing things many times until it clicks. It also means don’t get hung up on a failed dish. You don’t master something on the first try, after all. Maybe on the 10th or 20th try. I think Julia would be satisfied that we had tried at all.

“The measure of achievement is not winning awards,” Julia once remarked. “It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.”

It looks like I have some more sponge cakes to make.

In the prologue to her memoir “My Life in France” are these thoughts on her own learning process:

“I would approach the stove armed with lofty intentions…. My meals were satisfactory, but they took hours of laborious effort to produce. I’d usually plop something on the table by 10:00 p.m, have a few bites and collapse into bed. [Husband] Paul was unfailingly patient. But years later he’d admit to an interviewer: ‘Her first attempts were not altogether successful…. I was brave because I wanted to marry Julia. I trust I did not betray my point of view.’ (He did not.)”

This quality of forging ahead is one of the endearing traits viewers of her many PBS shows came to love (and still do). A dropped ingredient, a too-brown omelete were part of the flow as the cameras rolled on. Delicious meals are a noble goal, but with the tempermental medium that is food, at some point you just have to flow on, sit down, and eat.

Or in Julia’s words: ”The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell?’ attitude.”

Despite our flat sponge cakes, which were really too flat to cut in half and fill with icing, we pressed on. We melted chocolate and butter for icing and stirred preserves with sugar on the stovetop for an apricot glaze. We dressed the Chocolate Sponge Cake with festive raspberries and birthday candles. Almond slivers made an interesting pattern on the Orange and Almond Sponge Cake.

And then the skies cleared. Sunlight cut across the lawn. We shifted our indoor picnic back outside and carried out towels to dry the lawn chairs. It was too windy to light the candles, but we sang “Happy Birthday” anyway and sliced the cakes.

Of course they were delicious, because we were happy. Glad to be together picnicking above the damp grass tickling our feet on an August afternoon, and relieved to be out of the kitchen.

"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," Julia once said.

And that recipe is absolutely right.

Happy Birthday, Julia, to the woman who taught us that home cooking can be a learning experience, an adventure, as well as a delight.

Bon Appétit!

Related post on Kitchen Report: "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food," by Judith Jones

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