Sick Days

Sorry to disappear there for a few weeks. We’ve been sick. All of us. No real diagnosis, except the girls’ coughing still sounds pretty terrible, and we always need to have tissues close at hand for little noses. (Update: Lilli was up all night with what clearly is a stomach bug.) The best way to describe how I’m doing is that I sometimes feel hungover, which is pretty frustrating as I cut out all alcohol last year. The migraines aren’t worth it, but boy could I go for a gin and tonic this week.

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When I feel a cold coming on I cook up a different sort of tonic. It’s one from my childhood friend’s mom. This and her Salad Olivier are pretty essential to my life. My friend is originally from Latvia; I think her mom is from Lithuania, so I guess we can call it Baltic? Soviet? Eastern European? From the Old Country?

Despite being tasty and having magical healing powers, it hadn’t occurred to me to even share it here. But I was reading one of my new cookbooks given to me over the holidays – Small Victories by Julia Turshen – and she totally shares her “Cold Elixir” on page 255! I skip the cinnamon and cayenne pepper and use lemon, instead. She makes a big batch of it then keeps it in the refrigerator for up to two days and heats it up as she needs it. I make mine one glass at a time, though I see the benefit of cooking up a large batch. But I promise you, if you drink this right when you feel a cold coming on, it stops it in its tracks.

When I woke up last week feeling meh, I made myself a mug of this and settled down with a pile of my cookbooks. “Be careful, please,” Rich said as he saw me with a hot liquid and all the new books. Obviously I spilled my drink within 35 seconds of that. The books were fine, and Lilli actually jumped up from the couch, saying she would refill my glass. I heard her pushing her Kitchen Helper around the kitchen, turning on the faucet and collecting the ingredients; granted I was a little nervous for her to be using the microplane, but I knew she was psyched to use the reamer for the lemon. When she brought it to me, my heart basically melted all over the floor. It was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.

I made her the same drink the following week, but skipped the vinegar because I thought it would be too bracing. Her reaction? “Yuck!” Which is the same thing her sister said when she licked the cat a couple days ago. But that’s another story.

I measured this out so I could share the recipe here. As always, I recommend keeping your fresh ginger root in the freezer; just use a microplane to grate it into the hot water. If you have access to local honey, use it; among other things, like supporting a local business, you will be ingesting local pollen and lessening any allergies you might have to your surroundings.

Brigita’s Cold Elixir

Ingredients

8 oz. boiling water

Juice of ¼ lemon (or half of one if you think it’ll help)

½ or up to 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or chopped

1 Tablespoon honey

A splash, or up to 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

Combine the water, ginger, vinegar, honey and lemon in a mug and stir until the honey dissolves. Drink soon as it’s cooled down enough to sip.

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Twenty Years in the Making

Lilli has taken to carrying her stepstool around the house to help her reach things she isn’t supposed to reach. Of course, she rarely uses it for its intended purpose, which is to reach the sink to wash her hands after she uses the potty. She does, however, use it to reach the stickers that are supposed to be rewards  for when she does use the potty.

bea at 4.5 months

Last night Rich made the unfortunate decision to walk away from the bath he was drawing, and set down the bottle of bubble bath on a shelf. He came back to find her holding the bottle upside down and dumping it into the bath. All of it. She used up the whole bottle, and yes, it was like in cartoons with bubbles floating around the bathroom. She was in heaven, but the joke’s on her because this means no more bubble baths for a while.

The silver lining to the bubble bath debacle was that it reminded me that I’d wanted to share this recipe for green beans I finally nailed down. Of course, right now you’re probably asking yourself what an out-of-control bubble bath has to do with green beans, and I’m getting there.

When I was in high school my mom used to make these wonderful stir fried green beans. They were full of fresh garlic and ginger and tossed with a mixture of soy sauce and honey. The soy’s saltiness was balanced out by the sweet honey glaze. They were great. My best friend, who was originally from Latvia, would come to our house and eat them directly from the serving dish. That was fine by me because I would go to her house and eat insane amounts of beet vinaigrette, Salad Olivier and napoleon cake.

green beans

I called my mom this summer to get the recipe. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was 20 years ago.” Undeterred, I set out to recreate the dish. I remember the beans being very limp, crinkly and blistered by the time they were served, so I started by steaming the beans for a few minutes. I used chunks of shallots and fresh ginger and garlic – I actually even took a photo to so you could see for yourself. But I could not figure out the glaze at the end. I consulted Aleza who suggested corn starch. It didn’t sound right, so I called my mother again. “Still with the green beans?”

But then I had a flash to when I would make these in college. It was a vision of me holding the bottle of honey directly above the pan, just like Lilli held the bottle of bubbles over her bath. And it worked! Glaze achieved. When I posted the finish photo to Facebook my best friend chimed in immediately saying she loved those beans when we were teenagers. Success!

Lilli on hayride

A few things: I worked in half pound batches to nail down this recipe. I know it will double and triple just fine. The garlic, ginger and shallot pieces should be much bigger than a mince (see photo); you want to really taste the flavors with each bite. If you’re up for it, make it a tablespoon and a half of each. A little heat would be a nice contrast to the sweet honey. I steamed my green beans in the microwave, but if you feel prefer the stove top, go right ahead. My mom always used a wok, and even though I have one, I rarely, if ever, use it. A large saute pan will do just fine. I am convinced red pepper strips often made their way into this dish, and sometimes walnuts topped it. My mother, again, swears she has no idea what I’m talking about, but feel free to experiment.

Green Beans with Soy-Honey Glaze

½ lb. green beans, cleaned

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped shallots

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped ginger

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons honey, plus about a Tablespoon-and-half more for the pan

3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons canola oil

Directions

Steam the green beans for four minutes.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oils until they shimmer. Once they are shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir them for about a minute. Add in the green beans and toss them with the contents of the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the three tablespoons of soy sauce and three tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the pan and over the green beans. The whole pan should be sizzling. Cook everything down for about 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. But please use your best judgement – if it looks like something is going to burn, cut off the heat.

The beans will begin to wrinkle. At this point, grab your bottle of honey and pour about a tablespoon and a half directly into the pan. The heat of the pan will have the honey sizzling. The glaze should form in about a minute.

Serve over rice.

My Favorite Cookie

mixing together the spices

I’ve been meaning to share these cookies with you for years. They’re actually my favorite cookie, which is saying a lot. It’s a great November cookie, full of warm spices and just the right amount of chew. Sure, you can use them next month if you do the whole Christmas cookie thing, but something about these cookies say November to me. They’re from the same cookbook that gave us those wedding cookies back in May, but unlike those, these are nut-free, so they’re perfect for school bake sales. And even though the recipe calls for butter, you can easily swap it out for Earth Balance making them parve and perfect for post-turkey snacking.

mixing

Lilli and I made these last night for my mom’s birthday. I was going to bake a banana bread like I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the fruits weren’t as ripe as I prefer them to be. So we baked these cookies instead, and I’m happy we did, because as I have mentioned, I love these cookies.

Don’t roll your eyes at measuring out the dough by teaspoon; it takes less than 10 minutes when all is said and done. I’ve baked them on both parchment paper and a greased baking sheet. Both will work, but definitely let the cookies set for a minute or two before using a spatula to move them onto a cooling rack. I often get too excited and end up wrinkling half the batch in the process. More for me, I guess.

examining the dough

I hope you’ll give these cookies a shot and enjoy them as much as I do.

Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps from Favorite Cookie Recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas

Ingredients

¾ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¼ cup molasses

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

Granulated sugar for coating

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Beat in egg and molasses.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, soda and spices. Add to creamed mixture and beat until smooth. Batter will be soft.

Spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Roll in sugar to coat lightly. Place on greased baking sheets 3 inches apart.

Bake in 325F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

 

Kevin’s Grandma’s Soup

Lately, Lilli has been crawling over to her book chest – a soft cloth toy chest that I filled with books instead of toys – pulling herself up, pushing the cover aside, and taking out book after book. Sometimes we read the books, sometimes she eats them. It’s a mix, really. Watching her with her books reminds me of the books I used to love to read when I was a little girl. One in particular I was reminded of lately, and it’s because of a recipe.

Lilli and her books

Kevin’s Grandma, by Barbara Williams, sounds like a pretty cool lady. She’s been a performer in the circus – riding a unicycle on a tightrope, no less. She knows judo, and goes sky diving. She is also quite the chef, because, according to Kevin, she makes a mean peanut butter soup. But Kevin’s friend, the narrator, has a hard time believing Kevin, and doubts about the peanut butter soup most of all.

This summer I was sent The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible. It’s not a vegetarian cookbook, so I haven’t checked out every recipe. Kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, and collards are some of the greens with recipes in here. I tested the Dijon mustard greens salad with capers and eggs on Rich this summer and he really enjoyed it. (I’m not a mustard person, so it was all him, and he licked the plate clean.) But it was the African Peanut Stew that caught my eye. Just like Kevin’s grandma, I thought.

This week, when both a bunch of kale and a bag of sweet potatoes came in the CSA I thought of the recipe immediately. Turns out I had everything else already in the house, including the fresh ginger I keep in the freezer. The only slight change is that I had a hot red pepper and not a habanero chile pepper in the fridge. Like all recipes, use your best judgment with how spicy you want your dish to be.

Anible suggests serving this over rice or another grain; I cooked up a cup of barley in the pressure cooker in 20 minutes while I was cooking this on another burner. I’m not going to use the times of how long each step took, because, like with most recipes, it’s a lie. I’ve never met an onion that becomes soft and translucent in 3 minutes, and sweet potatoes and carrots take more than 10 minutes of simmering to soften, but you’ll get the idea. Rich and I each had a serving the night it was made, and I had enough for 3 more Tupperware containers for lunches for the rest of the week. Of course, just like with the apple cake, I failed at taking a photo of the stew. It was very good, though. That’s the truth.

African Peanut Stew

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion (I just used an onion and was done with it.)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 chile pepper, seeded and minced

4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth or water

1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 large carrot, peeled and diced into ½ -inch cube

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups packed chopped spinach or packed de-stemmed chopped kale

¼ cup packed and chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper

¼ cup chopped unsalted peanuts

Directions

In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chile pepper, cooking for another 30 seconds. Add the broth or water, tomatoes, carrot, sweet potato, and peanut butter. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the coriander, cayenne, spinach or kale, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes, until the spinach or kale is wilted, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over rice or another grain. Top each serving with chopped peanuts. This stew can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Summer Obsession

Out of all the food magazines out there, Food & Wine has been my favorite for more than a dozen years. So you can imagine how excited I was when the August issue arrived, with its “Vegetables Now” cover touting “25 Creative Fast & Delicious Vegetable Recipes”. So I settled in on the bus (where I do most of my reading these days) and opened up my magazine.

Watermelon and Radish Salad

They should have titled it “Vegetables Eventually,” because I had to flip through 96 pages of burgers and steak and sausages and mussels before I got to the vegetables. But before I got there, I read about Tom Colicchio’s favorite weekend recipes. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I had to Google Top Chef because my knowledge of cooking competition shows begins and ends with the last 15 minutes of the season finale of Master Chef, and that was only because our friend Dave Miller was on it. Top Chef, the one with Salman Rushdie’s ex-wife. Got it.

But I do hope Tom What’s-His-Name reads this and invites me to his estate on Long Island, because I would like to personally thank him for this Thai-style radish and watermelon salad. It’s become my obsession this summer –like, stuffed pumpkin obsessed. I wanted to make it straight away. The radishes from the CSA were waiting in the crisper for me, and I spent my lunch hour collecting the herbs at Super 88. All I needed was the watermelon – not the easiest thing to schlep home on the T. With a baby.

Lilli and Rooster

I wasn’t alone in my obsession. I gchatted with Sylvie, who at the end of the chat left to cut up a melon. “Wait!” I wrote. “Did you see the new Food & Wine? There’s a radish and watermelon salad recipe that I’m obsessed with.” She came back to the screen. “Funny you should say that, because I bought this melon with that recipe in mind.”

After days of waiting and wanting, the weekend finally came, and so did a nasty head cold. I was so nervous about getting Lilli sick that I consulted my stepdad, a physician, about what to do: “Wash your hands like Lady MacBeth and wear a face mask when you’re near her.” His advice worked perfectly, but I knew that there was no way I could make the salad for our friends’ BBQ that weekend. So I put Rich in charge. “You know, dear, this recipe has A LOT of ingredients,” he said after reading the magazine. But he did it.

Finally, at the BBQ, I had a bowl of the salad – and was underwhelmed. I wished it had more punch. Maybe more fish sauce. Just a little more oomph. And then I heard hollering from across the back yard: “Oh my God! You guys, you have to try this watermelon salad! This is the best thing I’ve ever had. This salad, oh my God!” The other guests had spoken. Lesson learned: Don’t trust the girl with the cold when it comes to tasting new dishes.

A few notes: My wonderful friend Caitlyn was in from Portland last week. She lived in Thailand for five years so I had her take a look at the recipe. She said that everything about the recipe, except for the ginger, was dead on. She also made it clear that SQUID brand fish sauce is the only brand to use. Listen to Caitlyn.

Thai-Style Radish and Watermelon Salad by Tom Colicchio from August 2013 Food & Wine

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

1 Tablespoon sambal oelek or other Asian chile sauce (use the Siracha that’s in your fridge)

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

One 5-pound watermelon – rind and seeds removed, flesh cut into 1 1/2 –inch chunks (8 cups)

12 radishes, very thinly sliced

8 scallions, thinly sliced

2 fresh hot red chiles, such as Holland or cayenne, thinly sliced crosswise

¾ cup lightly packed mint leaves, coarsely chopped

¾ cup lightly packed Thai basil leaves, torn

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, sambal oelek and ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Add the watermelon, radishes, scallions and red chiles and toss. Fold in the mint and basil, season with salt and pepper and serve right away.

Champagne Wishes and Fish Sauce Dreams

A few weeks ago, I had a quick procedure. Not a big deal, not even worth getting into the details here, but they did need to sedate me. I was a little groggy afterwards, and I was given the instructions not to drive, go to work or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. But when Rich brought me home from the hospital, I grabbed a canvas grocery bag from the backseat and started wobbling my way to the market around the corner.

“Um, what are you doing, dear?” Rich asked.

“I have some stuff I need to pick up,” I replied.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, given your condition.”

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s 500 yards from our house, and I promise to use the crosswalks. There’s no heavy machinery involved.”

Rich soon realized this was a battle he would not be able to win, even though his opponent could barely stand up. He watched me steady myself to the end of the street, green sweatpants and all, and turn the corner.

I had had Vietnamese noodles on my mind for the past few weeks, and the chalush (an uncontrollable hankering) was one that not even a minor sedative would keep me from. The secret to Vietnamese noodles is fish sauce, which can be found in Asian markets, and more often than not, in the Asian aisle of most decent grocery stores. It’s usually made of anchovies, and is a bit akin to garum, the stinky fish sauce the Romans doused nearly everything they ate with. Hey, I said the blog is “mostly” vegetarian, cut me some slack.

And the noodles were perfect. They were exactly what I had hoped for. Looking back, I probably should have stayed out of the kitchen that afternoon, and not used the stove or a large chef’s knife. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it was too citrusy, so I stumbled around the kitchen adding a splash of mirin and a dash of soy. Of course, after a few minutes of fussing, I realized I hadn’t actually added the fish sauce; it had been measured and waiting next to the bowl. Oops. But I did succeed in the end, and somehow I managed to photograph it as well.

When Rich returned home from work that night, I greeted him with an offer of the noodles spiked with fish sauce. “Oh,” he said, “so you did end up making them.” “Huh?” I asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? When you came to after the anesthesia, you were mumbling noodles with fish sauce.”

Vietnamese Noodles aka Thai Noodles slightly adapted from Myers + Chang Thai Ginger Chicken Salad, minus the chicken salad, from Bon Appetit September 2011

Ingredients

1 Thai chili, sliced thin

Juice of ½ lime

2 Tablespoon mirin

2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoon. ginger, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

12 oz. rice stick noodles

4 oz. cubed tofu

4 springs cilantro, stems included, chopped

Directions

Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

When the water boils, cook noodles until tender, but still firm to the bite, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain; put in large bowl.

Add cubed tofu to the noodles, pour the dressing, toss to coat, then sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.