I don’t really understand the marketing of Mother’s Day. I see all these floral pastel cards and delicate lacy handkerchiefs and early morning breakfast in bed and advertisements for “brunch” and “afternoon tea” with fussy hats implied. Let me set the record straight. I am a mom, and I know a lot of moms. An informal survey of what our ideal Mother’s Day would look like involves 1) sleeping in; 2) a pedicure with some celebrity gossip magazines; 3) sushi; 4) chocolate and 5) lots of wine. Maybe this holiday doesn’t sell so well on a greeting card, but it sounds pretty awesome to me. Too awesome to be an also-ran Mother’s Day. Maybe I will name it something else, like “Saturday”. And it will fall once a week.
If your Mother’s Day veers towards the more traditional, or you’re trying to fill the time between pedicures, sushi and wine, try cooking brunch at home, and avoid the overpriced and overcrowded restaurant brunch options. (For more on this, see Brooke of FoodWoolf’s insider’s take on the restaurant Mother’s Day brunch. If you’re not feeling confident in your hollandaise sauce, or you’re a late sleeper yourself and don’t want a giant fuss in the morning, this is the brunch dish for you.
Continue reading Savory Baked French Toast Croque Monsieur (with Ham and Cheese)
I don’t come from a place where chili is a thing. Heck, I’m from California — we put barbecue chicken on pizza. We don’t have things. What this means is that I don’t have firm and fixed ideas about what should and shouldn’t be in chili, and as a result, I’ve tried many a chili recipe over the years. I’ve tried white chicken chili, turkey chili, chili con carne, chili without beans, vegetarian chili, what was supposed to be Cliff Huxtable’s super spicy chili from the Cosby Show, and even a really weird one from epicurious that had green olives and raisins (which wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t chili. I may not be a firm con carne or con frijoles person, but I feel about chili the way the Supreme Court feels about pornography — I know it when I see it). Continue reading The One I’ve Been Waiting For — Easy Slow Cooker Chili
Meatloaf is the butt of many jokes. I suppose it starts with the name — meat loaf is not exactly appetizing what with the lack of specificity as to the meat and the rather solid Anglo-Saxon stodge of “loaf. Then you move on to the appearance — there’s a certain sameness of texture in a meatloaf that may cause one to look askance at it. And then there’s the sort of cafeteria horror connotations of dry yet greasy meatloaf that could be made from the leftovers of yesterday’s lentil tortilla rollups, Salisbury steak and that gym sock you lost, all ground into an unappetizing mush and then baked into a grey brown loaf. And lets not get started on Bat Out of Hell References, shall we?
OK, I’ve even lost my appetite. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve never met a meatloaf I didn’t like. Think of it as a terrine or a sausage of sorts — it’s just seasoned meat and vegetables with some starch for binder, made smooth and shaped so as to be perfect for sandwiches. It’s good either hot or cold, freezes beautifully, and is the perfect thing to take to a friend with a new baby or cook for your new boyfriend (something about meatloaf suggests man food, I don’t know why.) And a good meatloaf is a thing of joy — savory and comforting with a crunchy browned exterior that’s set off perfectly by ketchup. And this, my friends, is a very good meatloaf.
It escapes the trap of being greasy by being baked freeform instead of in loaf tins — this makes it slightly less convenient for sandwiches, but whatever loss you have on that count is more than made up for in increased surface area for delicious crust. And the secret to juiciness lies in the use of sausage meat as one of its components. I also happen to think that the seasoning is just right in this one, but of course the beauty of meatloaf is that you can vary it — add a little of this, a little of that — and really edit it to your tastes. Essential in my mind, however, is the drizzle of ketchup over the top prior to baking — it caramelizes in the oven and adds a wonderful sweet counterpoint to the savory meat.
All jokes about mystery meat aside, I tend to vary the type of meat I use for meatloaf — some days using ground turkey, others ground beef, and the sausage can be either pork or turkey. What shouldn’t vary greatly is the texture — the vegetables should be chopped fairly finely so that they don’t interfere with the structural integrity of the final loaf.
Of course, structural integrity can be dismissed if you’re merely eating this meatloaf hot — it can crumble on the plate with some mashed potatoes and a nice green vegetable, and noone will be the worse for wear. But to truly experience the glories of a cold meatloaf sandwich (I like mine on toasted bread with ketchup) some sameness of texture is necessary. But when you combine that crisp softness of toasted bread with the tender chew of the meatloaf and add the herbal notes from the meat to the spiciness of the ketchup that’s magic, no mystery. And that’s no joke.
Continue reading Meatloaf — It’s not Funny, OK?
When people think of comfort food, they usually return to their childhood, and foods of the nursery. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle soup. The food of my childhood, while delicious, was not in the same vein. My mother was a child of California, and the 1970′s and 1980′s saw the rise of California cooking and a focus on health food. While I did have occasional macaroni and cheese, the foods I remember most vividly from early childhood are grilled steak, fresh cantaloupe, Caesar salad. Oatmeal cookies and Crystal Light lemonade on hot summer days by the swimming pool. Chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour and raw sugar. Lamb steaks with red wine and garlic. These are the foods that evoke childhood for me, but I would classify them as staples more than “comfort food”.
Although I do occasionally, in times of distress, turn to foods of my California childhood, namely whole wheat toast, either buttered or spread with soft avocado and salt and pepper, as an adult, I have had to create my own idea of comfort food, and the world is a different place than it was in 1978. What’s more comforting than a steaming bowl of pho? Or a dish of perfectly puckered soup dumplings? Or some green corn tamales, dripping with melted cheese? When I want quick comfort at home, though, I turn to okonomiyaki.
I first encountered okonomiyaki on a cold day in New York. I had heard about a tiny place in the East Village that made octopus balls, and being interested in any curiosity, I sought it out. It was tucked on a side street, and miniscule – even in NYC, my closet was bigger than this place, which consisted of a counter (for ordering, there was no room to sit) and a galley style kitchen. The menu was equally tiny, consisting of the sought out octopus balls, or takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. The takoyaki were good, but it was the okonomiyaki that really caught my eye.
Referred to variously as Japanese pizza or a pancake, it’s a common street food in Osaka whose name roughly translates to “As you like it.” There are some basic ingredients that don’t vary, but additional ingredients can vary widely from seafood to cheese. The okonomiyaki I make at home is really a few fresh staples that I always have around, plus a few traditional Japanese toppings which are inexpensive and store almost indefinitely, and it comes together easily and quickly — the perfect thing for a Wednesday night dinner.
Continue reading Small Comfort – Okonomiyaki
Ah, the poor crockpot. It is used, nay, embraced all winter, when it churns out a steady stream of warming soups, hearty stews and stick-to-your-ribs casseroles. Then, come summertime and hot weather, the lonely crockpot is summarily dismissed, banished to the cupboard below the stairs with the spiders. “No!” it cries, “Wait! It doesn’t have to be like this! I can be summery! I am more eco-friendly than the grill! I don’t heat up your kitchen like an oven! Save me!” But you remain deaf to its piteous cries, and turn your back on the crockpot.
Until now. Look, I know where you’re coming from. Nobody wants to eat pot roast with gravy in July. But the crock pot should not be so easily dismissed. Just because it’s daylight until 10 pm doesn’t mean you don’t want to come home and have dinner waiting. And any appliance that doesn’t heat up the kitchen should be put into play in the summer. The key, of course, is to look to cuisines from tropical countries, where warm weather is the norm. You’re still making a stew or a casserole, but it seems, somehow, more fitting. Take this Thai pork with peanut sauce. I might not make this during a heat wave, but for a normal summer dinner, a crockpot may be just the ticket.
Continue reading Consider the Crockpot — Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce