Wednesday
Aug032005

Jasmine tea gelatin and lavender limeade


Gelatin made from jasmine tea, ginger, and lemon with sweetened condensed milk

I got this recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, she who eats. Chika brewed jasmine ginger lemon tea, mixed with gelatin, and then served with a lemon ginger syrup. I brewed plain jasmine tea and mixed in some lemon and ginger juice before adding to the gelatin.

The resulting gelatin was funky on its own. Spicy and a little too lemony (if I make it again I'll probably skip the lemon altogether). I think beyond traditional jello desserts and savory aspic I just didn't have a sensory context for this. But when I added the sweetened condensed milk it all came together. It became a very sweet, slightly gooey, slightly chewy, slightly spicy, slightly floral dessert. Still too funky for Lane so I'm not even going to ask him to try. Jasper tasted it and found the texture very similar to egg white but the taste unpleasant. He liked the condensed milk, though.

Inspired by the other food blogs I read I've decided to include a photo. As you can see, mine did not turn out in lovely tangerine shades like Chika's. It came out brownish. Oh well. This is the dessert just before Jasper broke the class by tapping it with a spoon. And just because the little devil is so cute, here's a picture of Jasper. But I could't get his picture to upload right-side-up. The file itself is right-side-up. Arghh, technology. Just turn your head to the side. Trust me. He's really cute.

Lavender limeade is one of my summer favorites. I got the recipe from Oprah Magazine. Steep some culinary lavender in water and then mix the hot lavender water with sugar. Then juice several limes and add more water as necessary before chilling. The proportions I use are about 3/4 cup sugar and 8 or so limes, depending on their size. And you can pick up culinary lavender at Adriana's Caravan at Grand Central Station. I don't know where else you can get it. Maybe Kalyustans.

I didn't really make anything for dinner. Instead we had premade hummus and baba ganoush with the rest of the flatbread and some tomatoes, onions, yogurt, and parsley. Jasper and I cowered from the heat indoors all day until the evening, when we finally ventured out to the playground. This was fortuitous, because I ran into some old friends who had moved to Montclair about five years ago and were in Brooklyn to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Tuesday
Aug022005

Feast for Saddam: Iraqi lentil patties and medieval style fava been puree

Fried croquettes of lentils, tomatoes, onion, currants, parsley and spices; fava beans pureed with ground pistachios, onions, and lemon juice

A couple years ago I read an article (maybe in the New York Times) about an Iraqi immigrant who published her own cookbook. It's called Delights from the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah. It's nearly 650 pages long and filled with recipes for everything from salads to desserts. Nasrallah also included some Iraqi cuisine history as well as some of her own personal history. I haven't cooked much from the book. I think I've been a little intimidated by the size. But I did use it to prepare an Easter dinner just before I found out I was pregnant with Jasper. I spent the entire day cranky as hell and not knowing why.

Well, today I became cranky as hell again. I just tried to fit too much into the day. But more on that later.

I'm actually quite pleased with how this dinner turned out. I never, NEVER, fry foods. The croquettes were in danger for a while because the tomatoes made the lentil mixture too wet. I had already added flour (I used wheat, though Nasrallah calls for rice) and had to add more. I was also worried about the bread crumbs I rolled the patties in before frying. I'd used some leftover miche, which turned out to be too chewy to make proper bread crumbs, more like small pieces of toast. And Nasrallah doesn't give a temperature for the oil. All I know is that it should be very hot if you don't want your food to turn out greasy.

Despite all of this they turned out just as she'd promised, a "crisp shell" with a "melt-in-mouth soft" interior. I loved the currants, their sweetness punctuating each savory bite. I made a yoghurt tahini sauce to go with the patties and served them in a Middle Eastern flatbread that's a little fluffier and thicker than pita bread.

As for the fava beans -- my, what a high-maintenance vegetable. You pull them out of the pods, then boil them, then pull them out of skins. But oh my Great Green Goddess that puree is delicious. Favas taste a little like peas when raw, but cooked they aren't sweet at all, but have an earthy, nutty flavor. With ground pistachios and a little lemon and garlic they really sing.

In addition to the dinner I also went grocery shopping, made a jasmine tea jello dessert (I'll write about it tomorrow), and took Jasper to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Every Tuesday the children's discovery garden has a themed activity. This week it was butterflies. We looked at books about butterflies and made little butterfly wings that the kids can wear. Jasper wouldn't wear his, of course, but he enjoyed smearing around the glitter glue. Who wouldn't? The discovery garden is actually the point of the Garden farthest from our apartment. It's only a half hour walk, but in the heat of the 2:00 sun it seems long. Then we wandered our way through the rest of the BBG, spending a lot of time at the Japanese garden.

I stared dinner before Lane got home to relieve me of Jasper duties, but even with my head start I didn't finish until around 8:45. I usually feed Jasper earlier, so dinner is more just one more opportunity to eat. He was ready to go to sleep promptly at 9:00, about the same time Lane finished setting up his new g-mail account and the same time I'd almost finished eating. All of this, plus the prospect of cleaning the huge mess in the kitchen, sent me into one of those classic maternal seething rages. But Lane and I had it out, reached a new understanding about dinnertime, I cleaned up the kitchen and now I'm full, in a cool nightgown, and ready for bed.

For more about Nasrallah and her cookbook, read this NPR article.

Monday
Aug012005

Pork, ginger, and lime stir fry

Stir fry of pork, bok choy, carrots in ginger, lime juice and kaffir lime leaves over rice

I finally got to use my lime leaves! This dish is from the Donna Hay cookbook, Flavors I mentioned a few days ago. It turned out pretty well for the most part. The only trouble I had was with the lime leaves. The leaves each have two leaflets. So when Donna says "6 lime leaves" does she mean the entire leaf or just the leaflets? I went with the entire leaves, and I guessed wrong. Kaffir lime leaves have a floral tone, which is best in small amounts. My stir fry tasted just a wee bit like soap.

The recipe is pretty simple, like most of the recipes in the book. That's why I love it. The recipes deliver loads of flavor (the book is organized by flavors, from citrus to onion/garlic to chocolate) but are usually quick and easy to execute. The only recipe I haven't liked so far is for a spiced creme brulee. Not fatty enough. I would substitute the milk for cream. It is dessert, after all.

But back to the stir fry. You cook shredded ginger and lime leaves in peanut oil for a few minutes, add sliced pork, then add a mixture of lime juice, brown sugar, and sweet chili sauce (which I'd also just gotten at that Southeast Asian market), cook that a while, add the bok choy, and you're done. I added the carrots as well because they were growing elderly in my vegetable drawer. I also added only a few drops of the chili sauce when she called for three tablespoons. Jasper cries with spicy food.

I had a wild afternoon at the playground. The playground I frequent has two little water fountains that gently sprinkle water into a joined trough, if that makes sense. It's perfect for toddlers. Today a cranky 3-year-old boy was hogging one of the little fountains. He was smashing against the water with this belly so no one else could play with the water. Also, curiously enough, his pants were rolled down so as to expose his little buns. The rest of the kids were complaining and no one seemed to be in charge of him. I pulled his pants back up and tried moving him a couple times but he just resumed his position. So I gave up and took Jasper over to the other fountain. Thirty seconds later I heard screams of disgust from the other kids. Mr. Mooner was gone, but in his place was a lovely collection of feces.

I looked around for Mr. Mooner and finally spied him with the person supposedly in charge of him. He was with a nanny who was completely preoccupied with a newborn. Hence the acting out and potty training malfunction. It was one of those moments when I just wanted to track down the parents and ask them how they feel about public defecation. But who knows, there may be a sad story behind that situation. Someone returned from maternity leave after six weeks because they have to pay for the $800K 2-bedroom apartment in the PS 321 zone, no time to screen nanny, dad had an affair with the last nanny...

Anyway, a very brave and responsible mom named Sasha took it upon herself to clean up the mess while I cowered several feet away, reporting to 311. Later, when I was talking with her and Jasper was mooching food off her friends (always so embarrassing -- I fed him chicken salad for lunch! Protein! And fruit! And milk for crying out loud!) I overheard one of the women mention someone I know, Julie. Turns out they knew each other back when the woman lived in Manhattan. So between that small-world moment and the poo incident my head was spinning this afternoon.

Sunday
Jul312005

Grilled sausage and peaches

Cheap turkey sausage, peaches, Bone Suckin' Sauce

This was actually Saturday night's dinner. We used to have this for dinner nearly every night last summer, but for some reason hadn't yet had it this summer. We discovered that grilled fruit goes very well with salty, savory sausages. I especially like peaches. Fruit at the height of the season is sufficiently loaded with sugar to carmelize a little on the grill. Just add the halved fruit cut side down when the sausages are about half-way finished cooking.

Here I must admit that when we grill Lane actually does the cooking. Even when we were a dual-career couple we divided many of our household tasks along gender lines: Lane took out the trash, fixed things, and grilled (though he did at least half of the cleaning as well). But just a couple months ago we decided to simplify our lives. I quit my job. Now that I'm home full time I almost feel as if we're reverting into some sort of 1950's model of domestic life. What next? Will I be handing Lane a fresh martini when he returns from work every evening?

The main difference, of course, is that we have choices. I have a couple of degrees and several years of professional experience in by back pocket should I choose to return to the salt mines. But you literally couldn't pay me enough to go back. Even while Jasper enters the age of tantrums and I face more time scrubbing the toilet and unloading the dishwasher this new pace of life is too delicious. I've been granted a golden reprieve, the chance to slow down and watch my son grow -- gradually, imperceptibly one day, explosively the next. And work takes on new meaning. My labor benefits only what lies closest to my heart.

But enough about me; back to dinner. We had the sausage and peaches with a barbecue sauce we found at the food cult, Bone Suckin' Sauce. Is it just me, or is that a provocative name? The sauce is mildly spicy, very sweet, and harmonized with the sausage and peaches like a barbershop...er, trio. I think it helped that the turkey sausage, though juicy, was no-frills, plain sausage, so there was no competition with the sauce. And the sauce was just tart enough to stand out against the peaches, but still sweet enough not to detract.

I didn't post Friday because we were Monroe's guests at a dinner party preceding Celebrate Brooklyn's presentation of The Sound of Music. We had vinegary roasted chicken, bruschetta, seafood salad, tomato and feta salad, pita bread with hummos (with a little cumin -- nice) and key lime tarts. I wonder if the key lime tarts were Steve's Authentic? Tonight we just grilled chicken with the bone suckin' sauce and had leftover fruit salad from our picnic with Mikelle and Mike, who are leaving us this autumn for Ann Arbor.

Since I've been ruminating on gender roles, household tasks, and barbecue sauce, I'll end with a little story a friend told me. He was raised by his divorced father. When their church congregation put together a cookbook this was his father's contribution:

Barbecued Chicken

Heat chicken. Pour barbecue sauce over all. Enjoy!

Thursday
Jul282005

What someone else made for dinner: dim sum

Shitake mushroom and pork dumplings, shrimp and watercress dumplings, steamed rice ball with pork, sesame ball

I was in the mood to go to Chinatown this morning. So Jasper and I rode the train in to Canal Street and worked our way along Mott. As I imagine it, my readers are going to fall into two camps. Either you live in New York and already know about all of these places, or you live in a city like Salt Lake with no Chinatown at all. But maybe, just maybe, one of my readers does not already know about May May and Fa Da and Kam Man. If I can just reach one reader...

All right then. First stop was a shop specializing in Southeast Asian foods on Mosco. I can't remember the name of it, but it's the only food store on that street. I got ingredients for Pad Thai and some kaffir lime leaves. One of my favorite cook books, Flavors (by Donna Hay) has several recipes calling for lime leaves.

Next stop was May May (35 Pell, 212-267-0733), where I picked up the dim sum. May May is known primarily for their dim sum -- little appetizer goodies of all sorts. They also have some fun prepackaged Asian treats, like Poky sticks. I always get their mango crab dumplings, but this time I decided to try something new. The shitake pork and shrimp watercress dumplings were delicious -- I'm glad I picked them. I also picked up a little pack of some sort of bubble drink for Jasper. It has an illustration of a cooler-than-necessary guy with three earrings in one ear, and it's inexplicably called Day Baby. Jasper found the packaging interesting and sipped a little at it. Eventually he expelled the viscous goo out all over himself and his stroller. Smooth move there, Mom. Should've gone with the Pocky sticks.

Then we went to Fa Da Bakery (83 Mott, 212-791-3884, though there are five other locations including two in Flushing). They had a lot of yummy looking pastries. It had been a long time since I'd had sesame balls, so I bought some of those. Sesame balls are spongy rice flour pastries with red bean past filling. They're fried like dounts and coated with sesame seeds. I love the crunchy exterior. I also bought a coconut ball, but it wasn't fried and that made the gelatinous aspect of these balls more apparent. I also got Lane pork roll for his lunch tomorrow. As we were leaving I spied some lemon pastries I wished I'd seen earlier. I'll have to try them another time.

Last stop was Kam Man (200 Canal, 212-571-0330), a Chinese grocery where I could spend hours if I wanted to. But Jasper was beginning to tire of our adventures already. So I bought my fresh noodles (egg and spinach) and a steamed pork ball. Unlike the pastries, this is ball of rice stuffed with roasted pork, peanuts (fresh), and egg, wrapped in banana leaves, and then steamed. We had this along with the dumplings for dinner tonight.

Lane confessed to me tonight that he hated last night's seaweed salad. Too tart, slimy texture, etc. Oh well, so much for that one. Guess it's back to individual-sized seaweed salads from the Asian delis.

A big congratulations go out to JaneAnne, who just gave birth to a baby boy. Welcome to the world, Leif!