Saturday, May 31, 2014

Golden threads

I don't have anything to say, but I thought I'd share these shots of an art installation at MFAH.  It's by Jesús Rafael Soto and called Houston Penetrable. The first two shots are taken from inside the work, the last one gives you an idea of what it looks like from a distance. 

Have a good weekend!

It is amazing how the light coming in from the street makes it seem to glow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Salad #1

I've always felt that radishes, as a vegetable, are under-appreciated. They are carved and left on the edge of the plate as a garnish, or used as thin slivers to add crunch, but you almost never see them in the main role.

That ended this week, when I found the radish salad of my dreams. There is no lettuce to temper the radish's peppery bite. Instead, it ups the ante with garlic, capers, and anchovy.

The coolness of the radishes and the intense garlicky-ness of the dressing would be a wonderful counterpoint to a grilled steak. Technically, the recipe serves 4, though to be honest. I ate the entire salad for dinner by itself.  Eat with garlic-loving friends, or brush your teeth afterwards. This is a salad to frighten vampires.

Only one clove - but it packs a punch
And it is a snap to put together. I didn't time myself, but I was surprised at how quickly I was done. Definitely in the 20 minutes or under category.

Radish Salad with Anchovy Dressing

large bunch of radishes
1 teaspoon of capers
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 anchovy fillet (the kind that come packed in oil)
1 tablespoon parsley
salt to taste

Wash and trim radishes. Dry and cut into quarters.

Blend/crush the rest of the ingredients together in a mortar or in a small grinder until it forms a rough paste. Salt to taste, anchovies and capers are salty on their own, so be cautious.

Put dressing on radishes and serve.

Monday, May 19, 2014

'Bowl' ing

Last week, I found a map of Houston's Museum District and realized that there were a lot of museums that I had never heard of, let alone visited, so I am making it my summer project to go see the little museums around town.  Everyone knows about the Museum of Fine Arts, but how many people know that Houston has a Czech Museum? I didn't.

Saturday, I went to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, whose mission is "to advance education about the process, product and history of craft." There is a gallery, a little garden in the back (with some truly huge chard plants), workshops and a really neat little gift shop, where you can buy contemporary crafts.

A bowl of bowls!
I didn't know this when I decided to go, but my visit coincided with a charity event, Empty Bowls 2014. The place was filled with bowls donated by local artists and craftspeople. You chose a bowl, (or bowls) that you like and paid $25 per bowl. The proceeds went to the Houston Food Bank. Whole Foods got in on the act by giving a bowl of soup, a roll and a bottle of water to those purchasing bowls. 
Lunch, provided by Whole Foods. 
With an opportunity like that, I had to stick around and see what was on offer.  

More bowls than you would have thought possible. Wooden bowls, bowls made of laminated paper, felt, clay, and even vinyl. Crocheted bowls, which if you turned them over, looked suspiciously like hats.  Bowls in every color of the rainbow, and incised with geometric patterns. 

If you were willing to pay more, there were "bump-it" bowls, which were larger and extremely lovely. And there was a silent auction of bowls that had been commissioned for the event. 
Wouldn't that be a surprise under your morning cornflakes?
I bought two, a delicate and simple turned maple bowl, and a brightly glazed pottery one with colors that called to me. I don't know what I'm going to do with them, but it's $50 for the food bank, and that's what's important. 
My pottery bowl. I love the swirl.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Water Hot is a Noble Thing

Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest

Last week, my hot water heater stopped working. At first I thought, it's not a big deal, people have lived for centuries without hot running water. But it's one of those everyday luxuries that you really don't appreciate until it's gone. 

I was without hot water for a week. A week of cold showers. A week of debating if my hair was clean enough to go without washing it. A week of wishing Humble had thermal springs, instead of an alligator-infested lake. It was fixed on Wednesday, and it was not cheap, but it was totally worth it. 

Tolkien gets it.

The Bath Song - J.R.R. Tolkien

Sing hey! For the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away
A loon is he that will not sing
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better then rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed
but better is beer if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!"

So does Ernie

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day Lunch

As much as I cook, I don’t usually plan entire meals, because I’m only cooking for me. I make an entree on Sunday night, and that will last me for about 3 days. Then on Wednesday, I make another entree to last the rest of the week. So even though I’m eating at home every night, I’m only cooking twice a week.  

But last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I was in charge of lunch, so real menu-planning was required.  I spent most of last week browsing through cookbooks, trying to come up with a balanced menu that met my mother’s requirements of “chicken” and “flavorful”.

This is what I came up with: 
  • Turkish flatbreads with seasoned olive oil
  • Quick-Braised Chicken with Moroccan Spices, Lemon and Olives
  • Haricot Vert (aka green beans)
  • Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
  • Drinks: Sauvignon blanc and ice tea
I did not bake the bread, but went to my favorite Turkish restaurant and begged them (very prettily) to sell me some of their magnificent bread. Fortunately, I mentioned that I had driven all the way from Humble, so the manager allowed me to buy 4 flatbreads, because that kind of devotion deserves a reward. 

While I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by HEB Central Market and picked up preserved lemons and peonies.  The rest of Saturday was devoted to cake baking and cleaning the house, since I don't want my parents to realize what a horrible housekeeper I am. 

Mother's Day I made the chicken, which came out beautifully, and made such an wonderful, deeply flavored sauce I was happy I went to such lengths for good bread. It would have been a crime to leave that sauce on the plate. 

Then we all took a break and played with the cats, discussed plot developments in Game of Thrones, gardening, and what's going on in European financial markets, giving everyone some time to digest before the cake.

Dad had two helpings, and took some home, so I think I can safely call this a success. 

All the recipes come from Melissa Clark's wonderful book In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Quick-Braised Chicken with Moroccan Spices, Lemon and Olives

The ingredients list is long, but don't let that intimidate you. It's all goes in one pot and takes one hour. 

1 lemon (fresh, or preserved in brine)
1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks (I skinned mine)
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 fat garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2-3 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup green olives
3 tablespoons dried currents or apricots (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or mint

1. Thinly slice the lemon crosswise into rounds. Cut the rounds into quarters. Place in a small saucepan with water just to cover and stir in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well and rinse the lemon under cold water.

2. Season the chicken with the remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and the pepper. In a large deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Place chicken in an even layer in the skillet and brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

3. If the skillet looks dry, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin,  paprika, turmeric, and cayenne and cook for 1 minute more.

4. Add the chicken and turn to coat with spice mixture. Pour stock into the skillet until two thirds of the chicken is covered.  Stir in the saffron and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer for about 25 minutes.

5. Uncover and add lemon slices, olives and dried fruit, stirring to combine. Cover and return to a simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Raise the heat to high and boil the sauce, uncovered until it has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro or mint. Spoon sauce over the chicken to serve.

  • If using a preserved lemon, skip blanching process in step one. 
  • Turmeric will stain anything and everything bright yellow. Wear an apron.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

3 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
buttermilk or plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Whipped cream for serving (optional)
Honey-blood orange compote (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Grate the zest from two oranges and place in a bowl with the sugar. Using your fingers, rub the two ingredients together until the zest is evenly distributed in the sugar.

2. Supreme the two oranges you just zested. This link will tell you How to supreme an orange.

3. Halve the remaining orange and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. Add buttermilk or yogurt until you have 2/3 cup of liquid. Pour the mixture into the bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in the eggs.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gently whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ones.  Switch to a spatula and fold in the oil a little at a time. Fold in the orange segments. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

5. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes, or until it is golden brown and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right side up. Serve with whipped cream and Honey-Blood Orange Compote.

Honey-Blood Orange Compote
Supreme 3 more oranges. Drizzle in 1-2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes and stir gently.

  • I didn't have blood oranges. I think blood oranges would be better, but regular old oranges were pretty good.
  • I added a little rum to the compote. About a tablespoon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Washoku: Hand-Pressed Rice and Ginger Seared Pork

Wrapped and ready for lunch
You know you are getting comfortable with a cooking style when you feel free to experiment a little, rather than slavishly follow the book.  Going through the grocery store this weekend, I remembered I needed about a pound of pork for Gingery Seared Pork (shoga yaki), but I forgot that the recipe called for a solid piece of pork loin, or shoulder, and I got ground pork instead.  And while I was at it, I changed the recipe slightly, adding a touch of rice vinegar and a couple drops of sesame oil. 

Ginger seared pork - with a few tweaks of my own
It's not a pretty recipe (at least not when made with ground pork) but it is definitely tasty.

And since I had all this seasoned ground pork, why not try hand-pressed rice (omusubi)? I saw them at the Japan Festival a month ago, and I thought "they're just filled rice balls, how hard can it be?"

rice balls, ready to be filled
Harder than you think. Rice doesn't want to mold around things, and it doesn't stick to what you want it to stick to. I have a feeling that's why you can buy molds to make these. I wanted to make the popular triangle shape, but roundish blob was more my speed. Even my nori (dried seaweed decorating the outside) tore and didn't want to stay put.

filled with pork and some cucumber, for crunch
They are not the prettiest omusubi in the world, but they taste pretty good, and that's all that matters, right?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dragon Boats!

Wasn't last weekend lovely? just gorgeous, sunny, low humidity, a trifle hot, but as long as there was shade it okay.

Perfect weather for a regatta, in fact.

 Saturday was the 14th Annual Houston Dragon Boat Festival

I didn't get there at the beginning, but there were multiple heats, so I was still able to see a lot of action.  It's exciting when those boats come barreling down the bayou, with drums beating.  

And to while away time between heats, there are performances.  I watched the Houston ShaoLin Kung Fu Academy do a series of exercises, and then the DJ played the theme to Love Boat, Sponge Squarepants and other traditional nautical ditties.  
waiting for their turn onstage
I loved this team's slogan "Victory or Valhalla!"
There was food, drink, a bouncy castle, information on dragon boat racing, a tourism booth for the Philippines, and a guy with the coolest kites ever.

How was your weekend?