Monday, March 29, 2010

Guacamole Salad

Serve as either a side salad, a condiment for tacos, or a dip with chips. We do all three.

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bell pepper, any color, seeded and diced small
1 can black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup red onion, diced small
4-5 ripe avocados, diced in medium chunks

Dressing:
zest & juice of two limes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt (add more later, as needed)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (add more later, as needed)
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Make the dressing separately and whisk until combined. Mix together all the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing. Adjust seasonings. Serve as either a side salad, a condiment for tacos, or a dip with chips. We do all three.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why My Children Like Fish

Several friends have asked me, how do I get my children to eat fish? Here is my explanation:

Ryan and I like fish.

My children love to eat fish: salmon, scallops, tilapia, halibut, cod, shrimp, calamari, snapper, swordfish, sushi, ahi, tuna fish sandwiches, crab, etc. Ryan and I love it too. If you do the math, that means everyone in the family loves it. That means when we order calamari as an appetizer, there is an all-out scramble for it.

Let me tell a little story to illustrate: In Kindergarten, Madison, along with 200 other students in her school, had a writing prompt: Tell about your favorite sea animal and why you like it. Every student wrote something like "I like sharks. I like their teeth." or "I like starfish. They are pretty." or "I like dolphins. They are fast." or "I like seahorses. I wish I could ride one." You get the idea. 199 students all followed the same pattern. Except for one. Madison wrote: "I like crab dipped in butter." The teachers howled over that one and word spread that they had an out of the box thinker. The point of the this story is that my children have always loved it.

I should clarify that they are not fans of just any fish. It you put overcooked, dry fish in front of them, they will react like any normal child. One bite and it will sit there for a very uncomfortable amount of time. They won't touch it. It must be moist and just cooked through, not overcooked. They like their ahi rare. Just seared on the outside and red and rare inside. They also don't like it heavy seasoned. No fancy-smancy herbs, spices, seasoning. Their favorite is basic salt and pepper with a little lemon. They will tolerate a little teriyaki or other Asian influenced flavors.

I usually will not cook fish in an oven or broiler, because I feel like I don't have enough control over it. There are essentially two ways I prepare a standard fish. One is sauteed in a pan and the other is BBQ'd on a cedar plank. The method of pan saute is one of feel and experience. The cedar plank is pretty much fool proof. It will produce a moist fish.

You must purchase cedar planks. You can buy them in gourmet shops or kitchen supply stores. You can also get them at a place that sells lumber. You want them to be about a half an inch thick, completely untreated and the right size. Small enough to fit inside a covered BBQ, large enough to hold enough fish to feed your family. The ones sold at Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table are about 12" by 6" roughly. That will hold a nice sized fillet.

First, you must soak the plank in water for at least two hours. It is going to be put directly on the grill so if it is not wet enough, it will burn up before the fish cooks. Soaking it does two things: it keeps it from catching fire and burning, and it produces steam for cooking the fish.

When you are ready to cook the fish, remove the plank from the water, tap dry and lay your fish on top, skin side down. (I am assuming at this point, it has already been cleaned and ready to cook.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and any other seasoning you desire. If you wish, you may spread a little butter on it. I don't do this because generally the cedar plank gives it a butter taste naturally and salmon already has enough fats in it. However if you are using this method with a less fatty fish, you might want to add butter. It is a matter of personal preference.

Depending on the heat of the grill, check the fish after about 10 minutes and it will usually not take more than 20 minutes. Now, here is the key: take it off right before you think it is done. It will continue to cook after you take it off, so let it have a little rareness when you remove it from the fire. By the time you get it on the table, it will be perfect. If you wait until it is done, it may be overcooked. Remember overcooking is bad ... is dry ... will make a person hate fish.

When sauteing in a pan, I coat the pan with olive oil, add a tiny bit of butter for flavor and heat it up. Cut up the pieces into the serving sizes. Sprinkle both sides with a touch of slat and pepper. Next, put the fish in the pan. It should be hot enough to sizzle immediately. Let it cook until you notice that you can see that about two-thirds of the way up looks cooked. Flip the fillets. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the fillets. This will produce some steam and more sizzle. When you see the sides of the fish appear to be fully cooked, remove the fish. Remember, the fish will continue cooking. You want it to be slightly uncooked in the very center when you remove it. I don't give times because the thickness of the fillet has everything to do with the amount of time. Thin fillets will cook extremely fast. One-inch fillets of salmon will take about five to seven minutes (and that depends on your heat level as well.) I generally make sure everything else is ready and on the table before I put the fish in the pan. Fish is definitely and infinitely better when it is cooked immediately before serving.

To summarize & add a few more points:
1. Never feed your child a piece of overcooked, dry fish.
2. Be careful to not overly season your fish.
3. Cooking your fish with a little fresh ginger will diminish the fishy smell and taste.
4. Using the freshest fish possible will also diminish any smell and taste better.
5. Start feeding your children fish at an early age. That includes sushi, crab, lobster, caviar, calamari and other types that are typically more of the adult fare. Let them taste the good stuff. It will develop their taste buds for seafood in general.
6. Don't treat them like they will hate it. Act like it is the best thing ever. Have a positive attitude yourself. Don't pass on any negative feelings towards any type of seafood.
7. Never expose them to overcooked, dry fish. I might have already said that. It is very important.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray

I am reading this book for a book group I just joined and had to share this one:
I held four chicken breasts in my cupped hands. I stared into the cold, translucent flesh, wondering how I could make them sing. I got tired of cooking dinner. Everybody gets tired of cooking dinner. There's too much responsibility. Did we eat this last week? Is this good for you? Is it balanced, is it green, will he like it, will she eat it, do I have the right ingredients, enough time, will this new recipe fail me? Camille wouldn't eat red meat anymore and had recently informed me as I set a plate of chops on the table that pork, so widely advertised as "the other white meat," was in fact as red as a flank steak. "Pigs are more intelligent than dogs," she said. "Why don't we just eat Benjy for dinner?" Lately she had been talking about giving up chicken and fish, maybe even becoming a vegan, which would reduce me to coming up with fascinating ways to cook broccoli every night without benefit of cheese sauce. My mother clipped chilled-salad recipes from women's magazines and taped them onto the refrigerator to voice her own preferences. Sam was deeply suspect of anything that he hadn't eaten before and had been known to pick dishes apart until he could clearly identify each of their elements. Wyatt, my vacuum, the only truly brilliant eater in the family, was a junior in college and enjoying the deep, hot wells of cafeteria food that could be ladled onto a tray. As for me, I couldn't have cared less. I think I would have been happy with a carton of lemon yogurt every night if it meant I didn't have to cook. Dinner, I think, would be fascinating if I only had to do it once a week. Dinner could be riveting if there was a way to make it cake.

I washed the chicken breasts and stripped out their tendons with pliers. As I was beating them flat between sheets of wax paper I started thinking about making a carrot cake. I had plenty of carrots. I had been planning on making glazed carrots for dinner but there was no reason why I couldn't shred them instead. My family tended to grumble when there was too much cake in the house. As a rule, they liked to see cakes go right out the door, to school bake sales, to sick friends, for someone's birthday. When Camille's friends came over they told her she was lucky. "My mom wouldn't know how to bake a cake if you threw a box of Duncan Hines at her," her friend Becca said as she lobbed off a hunk of chocolate chiffon, but Camille only snarled. Still, if I made the carrot cake without frosting, if I put a minimal amount of sugar in it and baked it on a sheet pan so that I could slice it into squares, I could practically pass it off as cornbread.

For some reason, I can totally relate.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fried Rice

After many requests ... here is one of my best recipes.

I first learned how to make fried rice on my mission. I served in Taiwan and most of my companions were native Chinese. Some could cook and some could order take out. I learned a few things about fried rice. First, it is so yummy and each time it is different. It is called leftovers and they eat it for breakfast. It is hard to find in restaurants. I mean why would you go to a restaurant to order leftovers? I only saw it in one restaurant my entire mission. They always served steamed white rice. Sticky. Oh how I love sticky rice. By the way, the proper way to cook sticky rice is half the battle, so here it is:

STICKY RICE

Measure the rice in the ratio of 3:4 rice to water. For this recipe, I made 1 1/2 cups of rice to 2 cups cold water. But I am getting ahead of myself. First measure the rice and pour it on a pot or bowl. Add water to cover and swish the water around with your hands. The water will turn cloudy white. Pour the water out without loosing your rice grains. Repeat. Repeat again and again until the water no longer turns cloudy but stays clear. This usually takes three or four times depending on how good of a swisher you are. Get all the water out and then add the cooking water following the above ratio. Make sure it is in a pot big enough for it to triple. It will probably only double, but you need lots of room for the steam. Put in over high heat and watch it until it boils. As soon as you see the bubbles, turn the heat to a low simmer, cover with a lid and set the timer for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off, DON'T touch it. Turn off the heat and set the timer for another twenty minutes. When that is done, you may lift off the lid and VOILA, sticky rice. Or you can buy a rice cooker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

So now on to FRIED RICE.

So in the Chinese home, they make a lovely dinner of rice, veggies, and a little meat with yummy sauce (not sweet) and then seasonal fruit for dessert. The leftovers go in the fridge and in the morning, all that goes in a wok with a little scrambled egg. And there you have it: Fried Rice. It is indeed a breakfast food. In many homes, it is eaten every morning. Sometimes people will take take it for lunch if there is still some leftover. It is the ultimate Chinese comfort food.

So how do you put that in a recipe? It has taken a while. When I make it, it is always a little different. But I have developed a standard recipe. This is a sure fire winner. My girls love this and will eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so I make a big pot.

You will notice that this version uses bacon. I do this for several reasons, not the least of which is because it tastes so good. For one thing, bacon is so flavorful that you can actually use less meat and get more bang for your buck than using other types. I spoke with my friends from Taiwan about whether that was kosher. They now have several Costco's throughout Taiwan and bacon is one of the most popular items. The Chinese are not food snobs. They will use anything that tastes good. Bacon is becoming more and more the rage with people who have access to it. Why? Because it has a lot of flavor.

So here goes, for real this time:

FRIED RICE

1 1/2 cups rice cooked with 2 cups water so it is nice and sticky. (This can be cold or hot. Usually they start with it cold, because it was in the fridge.)

1 medium brown onion, chopped and sauteed until very soft
1 lbs bacon, or other meat of your choice; cooked and chopped
3 eggs, scrambled
1 small bag mixed frozen veggies (I like to get the pea, carrot, green bean mix)
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

On top of the cooked rice, dump in the onions, meat, scrambled eggs(cook them ahead of time) and frozen veggies. In a small cup, mix the water and soy sauce and then pour over the rest. Mix it all up with a spoon until everything is all distributed. (If you pour the water and soy sauce separately, it won't mix as well and some portions may be more strong tasting than others.)Now you are going to fry this in thirds, depending on the size of your pan. Add oil (you can use the bacon grease, peanut oil, or regular canola oil. If using olive oil, add a little butter to cover the taste. Do not use sesame oil, it is far too strong although a few drops will add a nice flavor.) Add just enough oil to cover the bottom and get it hot. Add one third of the mixture and spread it out on the bottom of the pan. Let it get nice and crusty and then start turning it and mixing. It is the crusty part that you want. When the moisture is cooked out and you have lots of crusty parts, Take it out of the pan and repeat with two more batches. Remember, you want as much rice to get cooked on the bottom of the pan as possible. Add more oil each time too, but just enough to cover the pan, not to deep fry.

Mix all three batches and season to taste. If using bacon and bacon grease, you most likely do not need to add any salt. So definitely taste it BEFORE you add any. I usually add quite a bit of pepper, 'cause that is how I roll.

Now that you have the hang of it, go nuts. Try different combinations. Soon you will be cooking Chinese food for dinner just to get leftovers so you can make it for breakfast in the morning.