Friday, October 28, 2011

Better than it sounds


I can't even remember why I tried this in the first place. Was I thinking of nicoise salad? Craving protein? Down to the last things in the fridge? Beats the hell outta me. Usually I'm not too excited about sandwiches in cold weather, at least, not ones that do not feature melted cheese, but this is an exception.

1 can of tuna in olive oil
1 smallish carrot
6 or 7 olives
1 teaspoon fermented black bean sauce

Drain most of the oil out of the tuna, chop the olives, shred the carrot, and mix everything together. You know, just make tuna salad with it. It's not fancy or anything.

 On the other hand, I do think it's special. The oil-packed fish is the big thing, of course. I've made this with TJ's brand fish, which is pretty darned good, and I've done it with this fancy(ish) brand I got at Fred Meyer that has a gold label and some Italian stuff written on it which costs a dollar more per can and is good enough to eat plain with a fork. TJ's is plenty good enough for this, but I sure did enjoy the 'italian tonno'. In either case, tuna in oil has got more tuna flavor without being offensively fishy. The texture is better too. Tuna in water can have a slightly fiberous mouthfeel, which needs to be amelioreated by heavy doses of mayonaise. Mayo also helps with the typical blah-ness of ordinary canned tuna.  But if you're going to do that, why not just have fish that tastes like fish? It'll have the same fat content, or less, than all that mayo, and less cholesterol, if you're worried about things like that. I loves me some mayonaise, but it is a condiment, not a primary food item.

Olives and black bean sauce is not an intuitive combination, but it should be. They are both fermented and brined. You would think that one or the other would be good enough, but no, both is actually better. I'm afraid I have no geeky theories about what is in each ingredient that makes the two together better than either alone; you'll have to take my word for it. Use good olives. I start with rather boring kalamatas and punch up the brine with a little more salt, vinegar and some herbs, usually rosemary and a bay leaf.

The carrot is not insignificant either. There is a lot of salt in the rest of the ingredients, the sweetness from the carrot really balances things out. It also adds crunch, which is very important. No matter how good your tuna is, it's still canned tuna and needs a veggie to go with, even beyond lettuce. I think that must be the main purpose of celery in traditional tuna salad recipes.

No cheap bread! Disappointing bread will be the downfall of any sandwich, be the innards never no good!

Sunday, October 23, 2011



I missed the Polish festival, didn't I? Dang. Those ladies know how to make some serious grub. Plus, there are people running around in costumes at events like that, and I'm always in favor of playing dress-up.

But I missed the cabbage rolls! Drat and drat. Cabbage rolls are a thing I have loved for many years. Dad used to make them filled with beef and rice. I think he topped them with a lot of ketchup, which may have influenced my liking for them; be that as it may, I start hankering for them in the fall. There is no way I'm going to fiddle around with scalded cabbage leaves and so on for hours on end, so I came up with this stew instead. It has the earthy/savory/sweet/sour flavor combination of a really good cabbage roll, without all the fussing. Plus, it isn't as greasy as the traditional ground beef or pork things.

2 chicken thighs
a small can of tomato sauce
about 4 cups water
1 teaspoon chicken broth concentrate
1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram
a shake of onion powder
2 or 3 allspice berries
3/4 lb cabbage

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Take the first 5 ingredients and put them in a large, heavy, pot, one that has a good lid. Bring them to a slight boil, and then keep it that way, covered, until the chicken shreds easily.This could take a while. Assume at least half an hour, maybe longer, if you use frozen chicken like I do. Stir it from time to time until you can smash the meat with the back of a spoon. About half the water should have cooked out by this time.

Coarsely chop the cabbage and add it along with the allspice, marjoram and onion powder. Simmer until the cabbage is very tender, which could take another half hour. You can turn the heat up a bit, but make sure the pot doesn't go dry.  Add the lemon juice, simmer for a few more minutes, taste for salt, and serve with some fresh thyme leaves on top. I'm going to eat it with potatoes, but you could serve it over rice, which would approximate the ingredients of a cabbage roll.


1. You could use any can of plain tomato something. Sauce is what I had, but crushed, diced, pureed, any old tomatoes would work. You just have to taste the stew to see if it has the right amount of salt.
2. You can use oregano if you don't have marjoram, but use a little less of it. Marjoram is sweeter, and oregano is more peppery.
3. Don't rush it. The most important ingredient in stew is time. Enough time to break the collagen in the meat down into gelatin, for the texture. Enough time for the cabbage starches to begin to convert to sugars, and for the acids in the tomatoes to mellow out a bit.
4. The reason you want to use whole allspice berries is so that you can fish them back out when you have flavored the stew as much as you like it.
5. Do use thighs. You need a little fat in it to help carry the oil-soluble flavor molecules, as well as to make you feel full after a reasonable portion.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I am 37


I celebrated by doing nerdly innocuous things all day. Like go to the Portland Nursery to buy apples, and ride my dreadful bike. I went over to my brother's house, which had no electricity, and had family dinner, and we were all glad that a) the self-destruction of his electric meter did not result in anything worse, that b) my brother in law had cooked the turkey at his house, c) that a gas grill makes really good roasted cauliflower and d) cake.

The cake is an improved version of the banana cake I made before.

Banana cake 2

1 package TJ's freeze-dried bananas
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Pre-heat the oven to 350.
Butter & flour a 9 x 12" pan

Pulverize the bananas in a food processor until they are a very fine powder. Cream the butter, sugar, and banana powder together until the mixture is very smooth and light. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue to beat until the batter has an even fluffy texture. Sift in the dry ingredients alternating with the milk, mixing gently but thoroughly between each addition. Spread the batter in the pan and tap it gently on the counter so that any big air bubbles pop out. Bake for about 25 min, then allow it to cool before removing from the pan.

The previous post on this subject covered most of the important points, but there are a few things I should point out:

I used the same cream cheese frosting as I did the last time I made cake, although I forgot to mention at the time that the strawberry portion needs an additional 2 or 3 tablespoons of water. The strawberries reconstitute very rapidly, and will make the frosting too thick and sticky to spread without a little more liquid.

This cake did not rise as much as the other one. I think my oven is getting worse. I made this, and the top of the batter did not cook at all well. It still tastes good, but the upper stratum of each cake layer is a smidge under-done. Regardless, I think that the formula I used this time is an improvement over the last one.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this cake. On the plus side, the insides of this version are much more visually appealing, I think. The freeze-dried bananas don't brown the batter the way fresh ones do, and the contrast with the pink icing is better. On the minus side, this still needs either an electric mixer to get more air in the batter, or more leavening. The cake is quite dense, rather than fluffy, but I'm not going to be too picky.  More importantly, it has a subtle but rich banana flavor which is enhanced by the frosting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Migas is to the latin world what fried rice is to asians: a method of using up leftovers. I read that migas is just the word for crumbs, and while the dish is usually made with tortilla chips or fried stale tortillas, I had a cornbread muffin. I took the word crumbs literally, and rooted around in the fridge for whatever else I could find, and here is lunch.

Fried squash & cornbread migas

some roasted summer squash pieces
a stale cornbread muffin
some chives or scallions, minced
a bit of bell pepper, diced
an egg

Chop the muffin into 1" chunks, and fry them in a little oil or butter along with the squash and pepper bits until they're brown and the muffin is a bit crispy. Sprinkle in the onions or chives and a dash of salt & pepper, then crack an egg over the lot. Poke the egg around a bit so you have a nice mix of egg, bread and veggie bits. Salsa, yogurt & avocado are optional, but the avocado is especially nice.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eggplant Sandwiches

You know, I had a perfectly clean kitchen this morning, so of course nothing would do but that I must make something not only deepfried, but breaded as well. I won't include pictures of the before & after of my kitchen, but I think I ought to sometime. If nothing else it would serve me as a cautionary device against my own ambition. Do I really want to cook the whatsit? Do I remember the eggplant tempura? Yes? Ok, I've been fairly warned.

Dad used to make these as one of his catering dishes. I think he used bigger eggplants, but I was also very small, so I could be wrong. I do know that he cut them in semi-circles, and that he filled them with pork, rather than chicken. But in any case, here is my version.

3 small eggplants- by small, I mean each of the ones I used were about 8" long and no more than about 3 1/2" wide.

1 chicken thigh
1teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 minced green onion or several chives ( I had chives)
half a slice of good white bread
ground pepper
about a tablespoon of water

1 egg
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
flour for dredging

oil for frying

Slice the eggplant about 1/3" thick. Salt generously, and set aside to sweat while you make the filling.

Chop the chicken coarsely, then put it in a food processor with all the other filling ingredients. Process until well combined. It can have a little texture left in it if you want.

Start heating the oil. You want it between 350 and 375 degrees to cook in. Also, preheat the oven to 400.

Combine the batter ingredients and mix thoroughly. This time you want no lumps. Set the batter aside, it will thicken slightly before you use it, but it will remain quite thin.

Dry the eggplant slices on paper towel, then make sandwiches with about a tablespoon of chicken mix in each one. The amount of filling will depend on the size of the slices. You'll end up with some extra slices, but that's ok.

Once the oil is hot, blot any sweat off the outside of the sandwiches, then lightly roll them in flour. Tap off the excess, dunk them in batter, and slip them into the oil. Fry them just until they start to brown a bit on both sides, take them out and drain them a bit, then finish them on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 15-20 minutes to get them good and crispy. Serve them sprinkled with szechuan pepper and salt. Ponzu sauce would be pretty good too, of you have it.


1. Theoretically, you should be able to cook them entirely in the hot oil. I'm not very good at deepfrying, so I cheated. I put them in the oven to finish so that they wouldn't end up being sodden oil pucks.
2. The salting of the eggplant it important, for anybody that is unfamiliar with eggplant. They're kinda bitter, and salting them before cooking will make the bitter juices sweat out by osmosis. It also affects the texture, making the eggplant cook up more tender and custardy.
3. Make sure the sandwiches are dry before flouring them, or the batter will just fall off.
4. Choose male eggplant fruits rather than female ones. They have fewer seeds, and so they hold their shape better. How do you know the difference? Male fruits tend to be slightly smaller. They are also quite convex at the blossom end, and are more ovoid in shape. Female fruits tend to be a little larger, have a more pear-like shape, and the blossom end tends to be slightly pushed in, like a bellybutton.

What the heck is tempura, anyway? It's Japanese, right? Well, supposedly, it's a version of the battered, fried, fish that Portuguese sailors, being Catholic, ate during lent and other times (latin, tempora) when meat eating was discouraged. What's that got to do with Japan? Well, the Portuguese made it to Japan sometime in the 15th century, I think...

I think the batter is pretty neat, actually. If you have any extra at the end of the sandwiches, you can drizzle the batter into the hot oil and make some nice little crunchy bits. These are nice, because the sandwiches are quite soft, and the teensy cracker things add contrast.