Archive for the ‘last night’ Category

Last Night at MB’s


Recently I’ve been craving sushi like it’s going out of style, but since I’m living on a tight budget right now, going out to eat it isn’t a possibility.  So last night I made sushi with some friends!

We made a mix of avocado, cucumber, crab stick, and eel.  It was awesome!  Totally fulfilled my sushi craving without spending a billion dollars!  Yum.

And I have to give a million thanks here to Luke, who is the master of sushi rice.  If it wasn’t for him I’d have ended up with rice that wasn’t sticky at all and the entire operation wouldn’t have worked.  Now that I’ve seen his technique, maybe I’ll be able to handle it for myself next time!


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M-C:  Oh, Margaret, it was so much fun talking with Darwin on the phone.  Sometimes I can’t quite understand him, which I’m sure I would be able to if I were there, but when I can’t see what he’s talking about I get a little lost.

MB:  Oh, he loves talking with you too.  You know, if there’s any remaining confusion, I can always help you figure it out.

M-C:  Well, for instance he was telling me you “made mushrooms,” or something that sounded like that, but I know it couldn’t be right because you hate mushrooms.  Maybe that was it?  He said hate and I thought he said made.

MB:  I know it’s weird, but what he said was true.  I actually did make mushrooms!
M-C:  What?  Mushrooms?  You’ve changed your mind about mushrooms?

MB:  Well, the first time I picked up our book of the month, Sauce, I saw the recipe for the mushroom sauce in there.  I thought to myself that I should make it, because it would make J so happy if I did.  But it’s mushrooms, and I do, I HATE mushrooms, so I put it out of my mind.  But every single time I picked up the book to flip through it, this was the recipe I kept coming back to.
M-C:  A recipe for mushroom sauce was calling to you?  You make it sound like a quasi-mystical experience.

MB:  I just knew that I had to make it.  Even if I ended up hating it I had to try!
M-C:  And how was it?

MB:  It was fantastic.  It’s very important that I be clear about why I hate mushrooms.  It’s entirely textural.  I love the taste of them, but the texture is the part that I can’t stand.  The picture of this recipe in the book shows the final result of a sauce with big slices of mushrooms.  I made the sauce and then, at the very end, took my immersion blender to itand turned it into mush.
M-C:  Brilliant!

MB:  Totally.  I served it over pasta and chicken and broccoli.  It was fantastically delicious and I got to enjoy all the flavor of mushrooms without any textural issues.

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All winter long I made this soup once a week.  Considering exactly how much that makes, my whole family was eating chicken soup for up to three meals a week.  No wonder we didn’t get all that sick this winter.

Place a whole chicken into a large pot and cover with water.  Put the pot over medium-low heat and let the pot simmer (not boil) for about an hour and a half, until the chicken is cooked through and the water has taken on all of its delicious essence.  Remove the chicken from the pot into a bowl for right now.

To the pot add:

  • two carrots cut into big chunks
  • 2 celery stems cut into big chunks
  • a large onion, cut in half, with its skin still on
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 stems fresh thyme

Let the pot continue simmering until everything in it is totally cooked through, has become completely saturated with the chicken broth, and the amount of liquid has decreased by about one-third.  Pour the stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl and then leave it in the bowl for right now.  Everything that’s in the sieve has served its purpose and can now be thrown in the trash.

Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Then add:

  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stems, diced
  • 1 onion, diced

Let the carrots and celery and onion fry up, making sure to let them stick a little bit.  The browning and sticking means they’re caramelizing and burning just a little bit, which will give the soup a much richer and deeper flavor.  When they’re beginning to stick to the point where it’s hard to scrape them off the bottom, add the stock back into the pot and turn the temperature down to low.  Now scraping the bottom of the pot should be pretty easy.  (Deglazing … it’s a wonderful thing.)  Put the top on the pot and let everything cook through.

By now the chicken in the bowl should be cooled enough that it’ll be easy to handle.  Remove as much of the meat as you want to add to the soup and then discard the rest of the chicken.  Add the meat to the soup pot and give everything a good stir.

15 minutes before serving sprinkle your tiny pasta of choice into the pot (about 1/2-1 cup) and give everything a stir.  Put the top back on and let it all simmer together until you’re about to serve.  Then salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

This is by far my son’s favorite food.  Even when he says he’s not hungry he’ll eat two bowls of it.  When he’s very hungry he’ll eat four.  It’s kid-friendly, budget friendly, healthy, and delicious.  Even though spring’s officially here, in my house we’re still going to be eating this once a week.

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Coffee custard sauce, our first recipe from the cookbook of the month, Sonja Lee’s Sauce.  Delicious.  Served it over fried bananas.  Yum.  Great combination of flavors.

But:  A sauce calling for one cup of cream, another cup of whole milk, and three eggyolks.  Sonja says it makes four servings.  Four servings!  Sixteen servings, more likely.

Luckily, leftover coffee custard sauce makes ice cream.

P.S.  Best ice cream I’ve ever made.  I love the simplicity and clean taste of gelato, but Margaret’s been telling me for years I’ve got to make French ice cream sometimes, ice cream on a custard base.  As is so often the case, she’s right.

P.P.S.  And how many servings will the ice cream be?  Should be fourteen, right?  Ah, would that I had the willpower.

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For the last night of the month I decided to do a recipe from Indonesian Kitchen that I had been eying for quite a while … slow cooked beef in coconut milk with spices.  Yum.

Now, I had a difficult time with one specific piece of this recipe.  I couldn’t find galangal anywhere, either fresh or dried.  I checked the regular grocery store and the Asian supermarket near me and couldn’t find it either place.  My mom was afraid that maybe I just didn’t know what I was looking for (very true), so she put up that post about galangal for me.  Very helpful in the long run, but by then it was too late for this particular dinner.  Oh well.

To make this dish you blend together a bunch of delicious spices and shallots and such to make a paste and then cook stew beef in the paste and some coconut milk.  A lot of coconut milk.  Ok, an obscene amount of coconut milk.  And then you let the meat simmer away in the sauce until the milk is almost entirely evaporated.  It’s a very cool cooking technique, for sure.

But did you know that one can of coconut milk has 10 (count them, TEN) grams of saturated fat?  You know how many cans I put into this recipe?  Three.  You know how many people ate the finished product?  Two.

You do the math.

Don’t get me wrong, the dish was incredibly delicious.  It was rich and tender and tasted like you were eating food meant for royalty.  But I think it was actually too rich.  And I made the mistake of not preparing anything other than rice to go along with it.

I think when (note when, not if) I make this dish again I’ll make it with only 2 cans of coconut milk.  I think it’ll come out just as wonderfully, but without the feeling of my arteries instantly clogging.  And I will never serve it without a cucumber salad on the side again.

(Edited to add:  check out this article my mom found on the benefits of coconut oil!)


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coconut rice
peanut sauce
stir-fried vegetables
raw vegetables
beef with thin gravy
lemon cake with fresh pineapple

Another Last Tuesday, recipes from or inspired by our cookbook of the month, Sri Owen’s The Indonesian Kitchen.  In attendance: M., R., Scot (no Jeff, boo-hoo), Stephen, Dave (no Jake, boo-hoo), plus Mark and me.

Now, I have to admit I did something insane.  Stir-frying is a last-minute technique, and stir-frying more than one thing means the cook is back there in the kitchen, unable to hear anything anybody is saying over the roar of the flames and the intense crackling of the food.  But I did it anyway.  All the folks who came are good conversationalists, and I wasn’t worried about their keeping one another entertained.  So fry away I did.  Here’s the run-down on the dishes.

coconut rice

Simplicity incarnate.  The ratio is 1 cup of brown basmati rice to 1 big can of coconut milk (13.5 or 14 ounces by weight) to 1 teaspoon of salt.  One cup of raw rice will, as Sri explains, serve four Westerners or one Indonesian.  I made two cups and felt that amount was a little sparse.  Three cups would probably have given me some left over, which is not a bad thing.

1. Soak the rice in plain water for at least an hour (all day is fine).

2. An hour or an hour and a half before you want to serve the rice, you drain it (but not fanatically), put it a big lidded saucepan (the coconut milk likes to boil over, so the pot should be four times as deep as the rice), and add the coconut milk and salt.

3. Bring the (uncovered) pot up to a simmer and simmer it till the rice is yielding but not soggy (like al dente pasta), around one hour.

4. When you’re satisfied with the texture of the rice, turn off the flame and cover the saucepan with a towel (to soak up drips), put its lid on (over the towel), and let it sit undisturbed for at least 15 minutes.

5. Serve it up or let it sit some more — it will stay nice for another 15-45 minutes.

Most of the eaters wanted more coconut flavor:

“The coconut is so subtle that its flavors meld imperceptibly with the brown rice.”  “So many flavors at this point it’s hard to pull out the coconut.”  “More coconut?”  “Delicious on its own, but wasted when eaten with the peanut sauce.”

I think the problem was that I called it “coconut rice.”  I should just have said “Indonesian rice,” so as not to arouse any coconut-cream-pie expectations.

And some folks did get the point:

“Subtle and wonderfully al dente and a good mate with the peanut sauce.”  “The coconut flavor is so gentle.  And the rice is so hearty!  A perfect foundation.”

peanut sauce

Oh, beloved peanut sauce, page 138 of Craig Claiborne, editor, The New York Times Cook Book (Harper & Row, 1961).  I made a small set of changes to Craig’s recipe in 1962 and since have deviated only in the matter of the lemon or lime juice.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t learn the difference between ReaLemon and real lemon for another fifteen years.  Hey, I was an idiot, what can I tell you?

You make the peanut sauce in your blender, adding in this order:

1/3 cup roasted peanut oil
1/2 cup peanut butter
   (roasted peanuts and salt, nothing else)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander seed
a pinch of cayenne pepper
4 grindings of black pepper
1/16 of a yellow onion (not a sweet onion), chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar (not light brown sugar)
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce

Be sure everything gets completely smashed.  You may need more peanut oil to loosen the sauce if your peanut butter is kind of blocky.

“It’s like Indonesia’s answer to ranch dressing.  It makes everything better, and it’s probably as bad for you.”

“I can imaging carrying a bottle of this everywhere I go.”

“Holy crap!  Love it.  More more more.”

“Excellent as usual,” said Mark, who has probably eaten it 10,000 times.  Age has not withered it, nor custom staled.

stir-fried vegetables

One of the great discoveries of the month has been nasi goreng sauce in a jar.  Nasi goreng is stir-fried rice, considered a Chinese dish — and a favorite — by Indonesians.  I’ve been using Kokita brand, and I’m sure Conimax, a trusted name in Dutch/Indonesian circles, must also be worthy.  The cool thing about the sauce is that you can doctor it with (a) soy sauce or (b) something sour (like lemon juice, lime juice, tamarind water, wine or cider vinegar) or (c) a flavorful oil like roasted peanut (Spectrum Naturals is good) or any two or three of the above and it comes out different every time.  Nobody at the table realized that all the stir-fried vegetables were seasoned with the same nasi goreng sauce, just mixed with other ingredients in various proportions.  Remember that Indonesians invented ketchup — they know their sauces.

I stir-fried, each separately: potatoes, green beans, zucchini, and red, yellow, and orange bell peppers.  I also had some carrots and spinach at the ready, but it seemed like we had enough food.

Everybody singled out the potatoes for special praise.  Small waxy potatoes cut into eighths, stir-fried in peanut oil, cooked through (most should be glowing and browned, 4-5 minutes), then a little nasi goreng sauce cut 50/50 with soy sauce.

raw vegetables

Butterhead lettuce leaves, halved cherry tomatoes, avocado chunks, cucumber sliced thin.

Some people used the raw veggies on their own as a palate refresher, others combined them with the cooked stuff.  Two people commented on how the raw veggies changed in their minds as they ate their way through the meal:

“I sort of used them as a rest from the spices and intensity.  Now I’m feeling a little guilty for neglecting them, treating them as second-class.”

“Seemed garnishy in comparison with the cooked veggies until you tasted them.”  (“Garnishy” is such a lightning-bolt word here.  My advice to anybody thinking of putting together occasions like our Last Tuesday tasting meals is to invite several professional writers.  Not only do they produce excellent copy, they raise everybody else to a higher level.)

It was a mistake to have only one lettuce leaf per person; three per person would have been better.  Wrapping the lettuce leaves around other stuff, Vietnamese-style, was a winner.

beef with thin gravy

Making meat a side dish rather than the center of a meal gives the cook leeway to try something a little unusual.  I chose to do a coconut-free interpretation of Sri’s recipe for gulai gajebo (pp. 266-269).  (I love coconut, but really, enough coconut already, Indonesians.)

1. Simmer a piece of flank steak or brisket, some kind of long-grained beef, in water flavored with lemon grass, lime leaves, bay leaves, and galangal for up to an hour, till it’s cooked through.  Let it steep in the broth until you need it for step 3.  An hour is not too little steeping, a day is not too much.

2. Make a paste of shallots, garlic, jalapeno, paprika, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, and lemon juice, and fry it in a wide skillet until you can no longer taste the raw shallots, 4-5 minutes on a high flame.  Hover over the paste as you’re cooking it, because it loves to burn.

3. While hovering — or after the paste is cooked through and removed from the flame, if you don’t like to mix hovering with other activities — remove the beef from the broth and scrape off any clinging aromatics.  Put the beef into the frying pan and slather it all over with the paste.  Put it on a cutting board that you don’t mind serving from.  Ideally, people should be able to serve themselves by cutting off pieces, but that seemed too complicated, so Mark cut the whole piece of beef into small cubes.

4. Now strain the broth and discard the aromatics; add the strained broth to the remains of the paste in the frying pan, mix the two together, and empty them into a pitcher, to serve beside the beef.

The beef was nobody’s favorite.  (I, of course, loved it; I love stringy, flaccid soup meat.  If “stringy” and “flaccid” don’t sound laudatory, that’s just a reflection of other people’s taste.)  Several people remarked that it was dry.  The highest (faint) praise it received was “Subtle.”  I would have been so sad if the beef had been the centerpiece of the meal, but since it was a side dish I just noted the responses and added them to my mental scoreboard.

lemon cake served with fresh pineapple

Shirley Cake #4, full size.  I don’t want to give too much away before Margaret and I make our official report, but we rose from our chairs in spontaneous applause.  I followed Margaret’s good advice on disposing of the surplus, sending everyone off with extra pieces.  Two were left, one for Mark and one for me.  We’ll have them for Wednesday dessert.  (Not Wednesday breakfast because Scot brought us some heavenly banana walnut muffins.)

Thanks to all!  (Especially to Mark, who helps out in every way behind the scenes and never takes any of the praise except for his delicious coffee.)

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Sunday night Mark and I had an omelet from our cookbook of the month, Sri Owen’s The Indonesian Kitchen, and both of us found it a little bland.  During this month, I’ve taken to leaving a jar of sambal oelek on the table.  Sambal oelek (also spelled ulek, and perhaps a thousand more spellings) is an Indonesian/Dutch chile sauce.  Both of us added some to our eggs, and even then felt that although we had made the dish spicier we hadn’t made it much more interesting.

So last night, Monday night, when I tasted the fried noodles from Sri Owen and found them also a little bland, I chucked in more of some of the seasonings Sri calls for, some sambal oelek, some soy sauce, and another small dash of ketchup, keeping in mind our friend T’s admonitions about making Indonesian food too sweet.  I tasted it again.  Mmm, just right.

Just right?

Well, no.

Not right at all for Mark.  He tried cooling off his mouth with the raw cucumbers and tomatoes I was serving as side salads.  He tried laboriously scraping the sauce off every individual noodle.  He tried drinking soy milk.  He tried eating ice cream after every bite.  Finally he gave up and had cereal for supper.

He and I agree about so many things.  We both love sumo, we’re fiends for recycling, we’re learning more about opera all the time, we’re completely bonkers about our grandson, we love working on our house.  We’re a good match.

But in the kitchen I have to beware of three differences:  I like things saltier than he does, I like them sourer, and I like them spicier.  In all three cases, if I use amounts that are very faint for me, he can enjoy the dishes and I can add more at the table.  I never avoid salt and sourness and spiciness completely, I just tone them down.

Except sometimes I mess up.  I’m so sorry!  I’m sure I’ll write mountains of prose about these problems in Chapter 6.  Meanwhile, I’ll try to do better.

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