Monday, May 21, 2012

Ginger Lime Mahi-mahi with Pea Tendrils

This recipe first came together after I purchased some Pea Tendrils and then found that mahi-mahi was on special.  Although I've eaten mahi-mahi on several occasions, most often coated with macademia nuts, I have never cooked it.  Wanting the fish to work with the pea tendrils, I though of my Tuna Steaks with Wasabi Butter recipe and modified it accordingly.

Serves 2

Marinate for ~1/2 hour

~2/3 pound piece of mahi mahi
2 T lime juice
1 t tamari/soy sauce
1 t sesame seed oil
1 t grated fresh ginger

Spread ginger and return liquid to top of fish frequently.

Grill fish on aluminum foil over medium heat for approximately 12 minutes or until mahi-mahi is white (check with a knife between the flakes). Just before the fish is cooked, in a small wok heat:

1 t sesame seed oil  then add
2-4* ounces pea tendrils (any tough stems removed)

Cook, stirring a minute or two just until the leaves are coated with oil and slightly wilted.  Remove immediately and divide between two plates.

Cut fish in half, remove from foil (skin should stick to and remain on foil) and place a piece of fish on top of the pea tendrils on each plate.

Served with asparagus this makes a wonderful spring meal.

* Use ~2 or ~4 ounces total depending on fondness for pea tendrils, other components of the meal and desired plating effect.  ~2 ounces of pea tendrils per person is shown in photo at top of page; ~ 1 ounce per person in photo at left and in photo below.


Follow directions given above but use 1 chicken breast per person (or if breast is large, 1 breast and slice after cooking).


Substitute wild salmon for mahi mahi.

Reviewed 5/22/2017

Ramps - Bitter Greens - Pea Tendrils

New things at the farm stand this month include ramps (late April/early May), bitter greens for stir fry, and pea tendrils.

I've walked by the basket of ramps, sometimes called wild onions or wild leeks, at our local farm stand for several springs, deterred by their price per pound and the fact I'd never had them.  Finally this year I decided to buy a few to use as a garnish instead of scallions.  6 ramps turned out to cost less than a bunch of scallions. I lightly coated them in olive oil, then Ed put them on the grill for just a minute being careful not to burn them.  The were very tasty -  a cross between onion and garlic. They made a wonderful garnish to Mushroom Risotto as well as grilled fish and chicken.

Bitter greens for stir fry, a combination of mustard and turnip greens and brocilli rabe are a new farmstand offering this year.  For a quick dinner, I sautee them in garlic and olive oil and serve over pasta topped with Parmesan cheese. When I told Powen, the farmer who suggested I try them that I liked them, he replied that I would like the just-arrived pea tendrils even better.

He was right! The pea tendrils are indeed my favorite of the group. They can be eaten raw in spring salads, sauteed in olive oil and lemon juice, Powen's favorite, or used in stir-frys.  As with other greens, any tough stems should be removed before cooking/serving.  I've read that pea tendrils should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and eaten within a day or two before they wilt and loose some of their wonderful delicate pea flavor. Maybe the reason I find them so tasty is I buy them fresh from the local farm stand and eat them soon after.

Ed and I like pea tendrils (sometime accompanied by snap peas) sauteed in sesame seed oil as a base for Lime Ginger Mahi-mahi.

Pea tendrils are also excellent mixed in and as a base for Mushroom Risotto.

Prepare the pea tendrils per the directions above and the risotto per Mushroom Risotto with Pea Tendrils variation.  Just before serving the risotto add a handful (to taste) of pea tendrils and stir just until the tendrils have wilted.  Serve the risotto on a base of raw pea tendrils or pea tendrils that have been lightly sauteed in olive oil.

Reviewed 8/23/2017

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cookies and Brownies

The bakery project*
The evening was billed as:
"... a special lecture series discussing the basic science and history of your favorite recipes for cookies and brownies featuring Michael P. Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and current Radcliffe Fellow.
What makes recipes different from each other? Where did recipes come from? You will learn about the recipe tetrahedron as well as the science and history that underlie it."

Sounded interesting.  It began with Professor Brenner presenting a quotation by Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin:
"The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star."

And then asking what we thought constituted a "new dish".    Ummm....  I've thought about this a lot. If I take a recipe from a cookbook and change the quantity of one or two ingredients even slightly, is that a "new dish"?  The evening's focus being on cookies and brownies, Brennan noted that the earliest recipe for cookies in the United States was probably in The First American Cookbook (1796):

The Boston Cooking School Cookbook
"Classic Cookies"

2 # flour
1 # sugar
4 oz butter
1 c water

The ratio of butter was probably low because butter was scarce and expensive. 

A sugar cookie recipe I found in the Sixth Edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer (first edition published 1896, sixth edition, 1936) is richer: more butter, eggs and cream as well as baking powder (a mid nineteenth century invention). This recipe (photo above, left) also offers several "variations". My Grandmother's Cookbook (photo at left)  contains 3 sugar cookie recipes, one quite similar to The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, one quite different.  "New Dishes" or variations? (The third recipe must be a mistake as it contains sugar, shortening, an egg and milk but no flour.)  

An arguably "new dish" is the brownie.  According to Brenner's lecture, the first published recipe for a "brownie" (Fannie Merritt Farmer's of The Boston Cooking School) appeared in the 1896 edition of the Ladies Home Journal.  The recipe contained no chocolate, and a little more flour than sugar [1/3 c butter, 1/3 c powdered sugar, 1/3 c molasses, 1 egg, 7/8 c flour, 1 c pecans ].  In 1905 the Boston Globe carried a recipe for "Bangor Brownies".  This brownie contained chocolate and 2 times as much sugar as flour [1/2 c butter, 2 eggs, 1 c sugar, 2 squares chocolate, 1/2 c walnuts, 1/2 c flour]. The brownie recipe has been evolving ever since. My grandmother's recipe (at left), containing a higher ratio of flour to sugar (but still more sugar than flour) and  the addition of baking powder, is probably more cake-like than "Bangor Brownies".

The Joy of Cooking states: "Brownies may vary greatly in richness and contain anywhere from 1 1/2 cups of butter and 5 ounces of chocolate to 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 ounces of chocolate for every cup of flour.  If you want them chewy and moist, use a 9 x 13-inch pan, if cakey, use a 9 x 9 inch pan [for a 2c sugar : 1 cup flour recipe].**  Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything writes: "Brownie and bar doughs are virtually identical to cookie dough (in fact you can take any drop cookie dough and bake it in brownie form). The major difference is that brownies and bars never become crisp (unless of course, you overcook them mightily).  If you like very soft brownies, remove them from the oven when the center first sets; a toothpick inserted into the middle will still bring a few crumbs out with it, although it will not actually be wet."***  While the lecture focused on ingredients, technique can also make a difference in the final product. When I checked out brownie recipes in my current favorite cookbooks I generally found a sugar : flour ratio of 2:1. The major exception being an incredibly rich recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook.**** Though introduced as "Traditional American Brownies - what could be better?" This recipe is relatively heavy on butter and eggs and has a sugar to flour ratio of 1:0.25.  

My Grandmother appears to have added (different hand style from most other recipes) another brownie recipe which calls for Wesson [vegetable] oil instead of butter and a sugar to flour ratio of 1:1. I suspect this recipe was added during World War 2 when butter and sugar were rationed.  On occasion, recipes are adapted due to ingredient availability and sometimes to make them healthier (Orange Poppy Seed Olive Oil Cake with 3 T olive oil to 1 cup flour vs Orange Poppy Seed Bundt Cake with 4 T butter to 1 cup flour).  In some cases ratios change, in others they remain constant.

The bakery project*
How does one sort out all of these recipe variations?  Enter the Recipe Tetrahedron, the discussion of which comprised the bulk of the lecture.  The tetrahedron depicts 4 ingredient dimensions: flour (F), sugar (S), egg (E), and liquid (L) Over 1,000 recipes from were placed in a data base and analyzed to determine ratios of these 4 key ingredients. The recipes were from 8 groups including brownies and sugar cookies and each group given a different color (see key at left). Each recipe was then mapped as a point on each face of the tetrahedron with each "face" showing the ratio of three of four main ingredients.

The bakery project*
Loaves clustered near the flour vertex (some bread having no ingredients other than flour, water and yeast), moving toward the sugar vertex one finds a "cloud" of cookie recipes, then even more toward sugar a "cloud" of brownie recipes.  While some define brownies by the pan they are cooked in, Brenner proposes that it is the high sugar to flour ratio that defines brownies. Finally, the pancakes and crepes cluster in clouds with a higher ratio of eggs and liquids.  While many of a similar type recipe are clustered and can can contained in a "cloud", there are outliers in every category. The Boston Globe article about the Recipe Tetrahedron observes "Recipes are varied, tested, and refined over the years, and the most beloved succeed in large part because they've hit on the right ratios."  The Recipe Tetrahedron is all about ratios.

As part of the program, we sampled cookies that the students had made using different ratios of ingredients.  The ones high in sugar were obviously sweeter but had a fragile, crumbly structure, the ones with a higher flour ratio, not as sweet and with a harder denser texture, and the ones with a higher egg ratio, limper and wetter - almost like a crepe.  Ratios do make a difference, and the results will be further from "traditional" as one pushes the boundaries of or leaves the "cloud".

For some of the "science" covered in the lecture see the "Cookie Ingredients and Textures" section of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.  The preface to this section states: "Most cookies [McGee includes drop, cut-out, hand-shaped, bar (as in brownie) and icebox cookies] are both sweet and rich, with substantial proportions of sugar and fat. They're also tender, thanks to ingredients, proportions, and mixing techniques that minimize the formation of a gluten network. But they may be moist or dry, crumbly or flaky or crisp or chewey.  The diversity of textures arises from a handful of ingredients, and from the proportions and methods of cooking them."***** A concise description of the role of flour, sugar, eggs, fat and leavening in producing a cookie then follows.

Although only major  ingredients are reflected on the tetrahedron, the data base compiled for this study contains 60 separate ingredients for brownies alone. And broccoli was not included.  Yes, there are recipes on line for "Broccoli Brownies" but given their lower sugar ratio and other ingredients they would fall more in the cake "cloud". A "new dish"?

So what did this all teach me?   Well... one can probably change the proportions of one or more ingredients or add or subtract ingredients and own the recipe. Since changing the proportions changes the results, particularly in the type of recipes discussed on this post, the recipe/brownie I prefer may not be your favorite version.  Consequently, when I post a recipe derived from another recipe, I will continue to note changes I have made. While I prefer my adjustments you may prefer the original.

*  Photo taken of material found on (and assembled from) The Bakery Project website (no longer available)

**  The Joy of Cooking, page 653,  (1964 edition) 
***  How to Cook Everything, page 717 (first edition, 1998)
****  The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 260 (1982 edition)
***** On Food and Cooking, page 568-568

Reviewed 2/22/2017

Monday, May 7, 2012

Easy Asparagus Pho

This time of year I'm always looking for interesting ways to cook asparagus and  Vegetarian Pho with Asparagus and Noodles  in April 23rd's New York Times caught my eye.  I liked the concept, but the recipe for the Simple Vegetarian Pho Broth which was a requisite ingredient did not seem so simple. Then I remembered seeing a "new product" recently at Whole Foods, Pacific Vegetarian Pho Soup Base (also available in chicken and beef). I bought the pho and a box of Annie Chun's brown rice noodles plus the veggies to make an easy version of this recipe:

The NYT recipe is for 6,  I made it for 2, scale accordingly.

Put water for the noodles in a large saucepan on the stove to heat and prepare the veggies:

1/3 pound asparagus, break off tough stems and cut on the diagonal into ~2-inch pieces
3T Asian of purple basil leaves, slivered (I just had regular basil :-(
1 scallion, white end thinly sliced, green end cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 c cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 serrano chili, finely chopped
4 mint sprigs
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
1 c bean sprouts (not included in  NYT recipe)

In a small sauce pan heat

16 oz. Vegetarian Pho Soup Base (I use less pho than the NYT recipe which uses 2 1/2 quarts to serve 6, or ~26 oz./ 2 servings)

While the pho is heating, cook according to package instructions (~4-5 minutes)

4 oz. brown rice noodles

While the noodles are cooking  blanch the asparagus for 2-3 minutes, just until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

Drain the noodles and divide the noodles and then the pho between 2 soup bowls. Divide the asparagus, the sliced scallion, half the basil and half the cilantro between the two bowls. Divide the bean sprouts, mint sprigs and lime wedges between two plates.  Place the bowls on the plates and serve accompanied by the chopped chili and remaining basil and cilantro.

I think the purchased pho which uses a mushroom base is quite tasty, but you can always make your own  :-)

Reviewed 7/9/2017


Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Grandmother's Cookbook

I'm working on a post that cites my Grandmother's Cookbook and thought this might be a good time to put it in context as several other recipes on this blog come from this source.  My grandmother, Hope Dorchester, was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1887. She was 9 years old when Fannie Merritt Farmer's The Boston Cooking School Cook Book was first published. She met my grandfather, Alfred Densmore, while he was a student at Brown University, married him and moved to Lebanon, NH in 1909.

Most of her recipes are written in ink in a consistent script. A few recipes are in pencil in a different script, perhaps added at a later time, perhaps by others.  There are also recipe clippings from papers and magazines of the time. The cookbook is divided into tabbed sections:

Bread: a rather small section including an Oatmeal Bread recipe clipping labeled "Jeanette Gill's".

Cakes: quite an extensive group of recipes including "Tomato Soup Cake", a spice cake, the ingredients of which include "a can of Campbell's tomato soup".

Russian Tea Cakes & Other Cookies
Cookies:  a very large section: Hermits, Date and Nut Bars, Ginger Snaps - Aunt Lou,  Molasses Crinkles and Russian Tea cakes which are similar to Nut Puffs. This section also includes an interesting variation of a chocolate chip cookie, "Toll House Orange-Chocolate Cookies" calling for the "rind of an orange", in zest form I presume.

Ice Cream (and Sherbets): also quite a large collection of recipes. In the early twentieth century ice cream was generally sold at the Ice Cream Parlor or Soda Fountain - often found in small town "drug stores", but it did not become readily available in markets until the second half of the century when cheaper refrigeration became available. This section  includes a recipe for Cranberry Ice, though different from my post as it contains slightly different ratios of ingredients, as well as "4 egg whites, beaten" and no lemon juice.  The recipe for "Cranberry Sherbert (Martha)" is identical to my post for Cranberry Ice.  This is the last entry in this section and though the ink is similar to other entries it looks to be in my mother's (Martha) handwriting.  Quite likely, since my mother arrived in NH in the fall of 1945 and Hope died in the winter of 1946.

Jellies: a small section with only 4 entries

Pies: includes 2 for "Pecan Pie"; both recipes contain corn syrup but are different from my mother's. My recipe for Pecan Pie does not contain corn syrup.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Pickles (and Relishes): not many recipes, but includes a recipe for "Bread and Butter Pickles".  I remember having these delicious pickles at my grandfather's and would like to try making them sometime. "Sweet Pickled Watermelon" was ubiquitous on restaurant "relish trays" when I was a small girl.   I lost my taste for these pickles after our summer neighbor who had six small children made a batch with their nibbled rind remains.

Steamed Chocolate Pudding
Puddings: many recipes, including  "Indian Pudding - Mother" which must have come from Hope's mother, Mary E. Brown Dorchester, Date and Nut Pudding, and "Steamed Chocolate Pudding" which I remember as very good but have yet to make. It was cooked in a steamer containing individual cups about the size of egg-poaching cups.

Salads: 9 of the 11 salad recipes are "molded" and contain Jello or gelatin and food coloring and mostly cucumbers, carrotts, onions, celery, pineapple or apples.  Only 1 salad, "Vegetables for salad for 170", contains fresh greens (9 heads of chickery).  This section also includes a fair number of salad dressing recipes including "Salad Dressing" (2 small t salt, 2 small t mustard, 3 small t sugar, 4 small t flour, 1 egg, 1 c cream, juice of a lemon or 1/2 c vinegar - "good to mix with boughten dressing"). The idea of flour in a salad dressing seems a bit bizarre, though I did find a recipe in the The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, "Plain Cooked Dressing" which  included 2 T flour.

Punch: all fruit.  This section also contains 3 candy recipes.

Sausage: 1 recipe, "Dimick (the maiden name of my great grandmother Densmore) Sausage - For 40 pounds of meat, part of which should be beef. 3oz. pepper / 5 oz. sage / 8 oz. salt / little ginger". No further instructions.

Cooking Vegetables
Meats:  These two tabs share the same page. There are only a few vegetable recipes, for potatoes and beets, perhaps because, except in the summer, vegetables came out of cans. There is a recipe for "Salmon Loaf", 3 recipe clippings for meat loaf, a  few clippings which give cooking times for various cuts of meat and a guide for broiling meat.  Perhaps, cooks of this era turned to The Boston School of Cooking Cookbook for directions for cooking meat and vegetables (photo left).  As I recently explored Ms. Farmer's cookbook for the first time, I decided this must have been my mother-in-law's source for cooking string beans. Directions read: "Beans, string 30 min - 1 hour" or until tender.  When Ed and I were first married, his mother Florence would start cooking the green beans  just before we sat down for a cocktail (so they cooked until they were grey-green and mushy). To her credit, she soon, following my  suggestion, cooked green beans for just a few minutes.

"Casserole" Recipes
It is interesting that there is no section for "casseroles" and no pasta entries except for three loose recipe cards (1) "Spaghetti Supreme" (2) "Spaghetti West Texas"  and (3) "Corned Beef Dinner" (containing among other things macaroni, ground meat, condensed cream of chicken soup, and grated cheese).  The last two recipes do not appear to be in the same hand as the rest of the book and may have been added, perhaps by my mother, in the 1950s after my grandmother's death and when lighter weight metal and glassware made the one-dish casserole more popular.

Since my Grandmother died shortly before my first birthday, I do not remember her cooking - just her recipes as cooked by my grandfather's housekeeper, ironically named Mrs. Dessert or by my mother.

OCT 2012:  Some recipes are hard to translate.  While looking for a specific recipe yesterday  I came across a recipe for Apple, Quince and Cranberry Jelly.  This recipe calls for "1 qt. cranberries, quince - 25 cents worth, 1 doz. apples".

Reviewed 9/23/2017

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Egg For Breakfast

An article, Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This?, by Nicholas D. Kristof in last week's New York Times got me thinking about eggs again. Eggs have come full circle in my life.  When I was a child living in New Hampshire my grandfather raised chickens and sold the eggs and eventually the chickens when they no longer produced eggs.  I remember going down into the mud floor, brick walled basement of his old New England home and helping to clean, weigh and pack the eggs.

This was slow food production at its extreme. Each egg was hand cleaned then weighed on a single egg scale (actual scale shown in photo at left) to determine its size and then put in the appropriate box.The basement was cool and damp and a wonderful place to escape on a hot afternoon. Also, I sometimes helped collect the eggs in the large roomy hen houses that were near the barn.  These too were pleasant places to be, a world away from the industrial egg production squalor described by Kristof.

Busy with school and then work, I forgot about eggs for a while except to grab the most convenient box when they were on my shopping list.  Later, after Alex and then Chris came along we got back into eggs going to programs at the Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm.  We hung out in spacious hen house, with large pens with direct links to outside pens.  Compare these pens to the "cages" referred to by Kristof: 2' x 2'.  Federal standards are currently  67 sq in/bird with proposed legislation to increase this to 144 sq in/bird.    (Note: all references square, not cubic inches.)

We welcomed the baby chicks in the spring, collected eggs, weighed eggs, and bought eggs.  They weren't like "store eggs", they came in all sorts of different colors: tan, off white, blueish, greenish, and they tasted so good. Then this ceased to be a family activity and stopping at Drumlin Farm for eggs was out of the way.  I went back to the grocery store but increasingly opted for free-range organic eggs when available.

Last year one of our neighbors whose chickens were producing more eggs than their family could use, started putting a few crates in a cooler in their driveway on Saturday mornings.  These eggs like the Drumlin Farm eggs come in a variety of colors and often a variety of sizes.
This is what the chickens produced this week. More uniform in size than last fall. I'm continually reminded how special really fresh eggs are and how perfectly they poach or fry.  Kristof writes, "Somehow, fried eggs don’t taste so good if you imagine the fetid barn in which they were laid."  Understood.  However, eggs fresh from well cared-for chickens taste amazing." 

A couple years ago Alexandra gave me Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for Christmas.  It is an excellent read describing the origin/"natural history" of four meals: industrial farmed, big organic, small farm organic, and hunted and gathered.  Kristof's op-ed is about industrial farmed, Drumlin Farm is small farm organic.  When writing about small farm organic eggs, Pollan describes Polyface Farm and Joel Salatin's portable chicken pens and Eggmobile. "Left to their own devices, a confined flock of chickens will eventually destroy any patch of land, by pecking the grass down to its roots and poisoning the soil with its extremely 'hot' or nitrogenous manure.  This is why the typical free-range chicken yard quickly winds up bereft of plant life and hard as brick."*    Eager to see if since I last visited, Drumlin Farm had embraced this concept, I went there last Sunday.  

I was not disappointed.  Drumlin Farm now has its own Egg Mobile (photo left) complete with attractive signage which describes its purpose: "The Drumlin Farm Egg Mobile moves from field to field to give our free range chickens a steady supply of fresh bugs, seeds and grasses to eat.  A healthy diet allows them to produce superior quality eggs while their manure fertilizes the fields."

Another portable chicken house is located in the the field where the sheep and goats graze.  While the chicken houses at Polyface Farm are moved daily, the ones at Drumlin Farm, to the detriment of the grass, appear to be left in place much longer.

The chicken house has been refurbished  and has new graphic displays as  well as a continually accessible (woodenl) egg weighing station for visitors to experiment with.  One display notes "If you're like most Americans you eat 22 dozen eggs each year.  The majority of eggs come from hens raised in cages.  Only 2-5% come from hens in cage free houses."  One fact on the interactive portion of this display is caged chickens lay an average of 265 eggs per year, cage free, 330. Despite this increased productivity, cage free eggs are considerably more expensive. Kristoph writes: "Industrial operations like Kreider are dazzlingly efficient at producing cheap eggs, so they save consumers money."  The average price of large eggs in the US is under two dollars (~$1.75 - $1.80) while in the area I live local (in-town) cage free eggs run four to six dollars a dozen. Cage free eggs from larger producers tend to be less.** Think about it.  Maybe more oatmeal and maybe fewer but free-range eggs, and your egg for breakfast will be worth it.

*  Page 210

** In 4 local stores I recently checked the lowest price for cage-free eggs ranged from $2.79 to $3.69 a dozen.  Lowest price in some stores is for cage-free but not organic eggs; other stores carry only organic cage-free eggs.  

Reviewed 9/23/2017