Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chino Caponata

Do you find eggplant a challenging veggie to cook? I do.

It took me a long time to find an eggplant recipe I really loved. This one fits the bill! Sometimes I even find myself craving the rich smoky flavor. It's from The Occasional Vegetarian by Karen Lee, a cookbook I have consistently found I can count on when I need something interesting to do with a certain vegetable. If only it had pictures too!

I promised this recipe to a friend a week or so ago and then forgot to send it. So, I'll share it here with a recommendation for this excellent cookbook! She also gives menu suggestions including this and her other recipes.

Chino Caponata
Karen says: "My Chino Caponata has been evolving for twenty years. It began as a Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce, took on the influence of a French ratatouille, and I finally named it Chino Caponata when it acquired Italian overtones. Lusty and unbelievably versatile, I use it as an appetizer with Toast Rounds (page 47), as a side dish, a part of a buffet, and as a topping for pasta.
This recipe can easily be doubled, but be sure to fry the eggplant in two batches to ensure proper charring - the secret to its intense, smoky taste."

Yields 3 1/4 cups; serves 8-12 as an hors d'oeuvre or as part of an antipasto, 6 as a side dish [I serve it as a main dish with brown rice, in which case it serves 4]

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus 1 hour to let the eggplant rest after salting; Cooking time: 10 minutes
1 medium eggplant (approx 1 pound)
1 teaspoon salt
Seasoning Sauce:
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce, preferably homemade
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or other vinegar -- your choice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon chili oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, roasted
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon small capers, drained

1. Trim off the ends of the eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with the salt and set aside for 1 hour.

2. Rinse the eggplant cubes under running water. Let them drain in a colander for 10 minutes; blot well between paper towels.

3. Prepare the seasoning sauce by combining the tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sherry, and chili oil. Set aside.

4. Place a 12-inch wok or iron skillet over high heat until it smokes, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Immediately add the eggplant cubes. Stir every couple of minutes and press down repeatedly on the eggplant with the back of a spatula to aid scorching. Cook for approximately 5 minutes over high heat until the eggplant is soft and well-charred. Remove the eggplant from the pan.

5. Return the wok to a high heat and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Add the onion and fry, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute more. Add the charred eggplant and seasoning sauce and stir until the sauce has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the roasted pepper, oregano, and capers and stir for a few seconds before removing from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Keep refrigerated. Return to room
temperature before serving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To the Water

You know how everyone says how your kids will shock you by being so different? Well, in most things, my boys are very similar. Their sleeping patterns have been the same (both as infants and as toddlers), their eating habits have been the same (both in nursing and in baby food and now in table food), they are both entertained by really similar things (like books and buses) and they are both quite social.

But looking through the beach pics from our annual October weekend in Port Aransas has me thinking about how different my boys are when it comes to the water. As a young toddler, Zack was very nervous about the ocean. As he grew older, he alternated between timidity and outright fear. He especially did not like the feeling that waves were continually coming closer to him. I think this year, at five years old, was the first year he was really comfortable running in and out of the shallows, filling up the buckets with water.

Sammy, on the other hand, at one and a half years old was already perfectly delighted with the water. He was most fascinated by the little shell creatures that appeared as the water receded and then burrowed themselves back down into the sand, but he was also tickled that his feet became buried in sand as the water swirled around them. He giggled when the waves covered him to his waist and pointed to all the bubbles. He didn't show any of the trepidation that we expected. It made for a very easy and fun time on the beach!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Let's just ride last weekend's wave, shall we?

This was part of last weekend's scene.

This weekend's scene had bloody noses, scraped faces and knees, teeth knocked back into the mouth and all-together too much bleeding. There were some really fun moments this weekend, but I'm not sure they were captured on film. From last weekend we've got plenty of great beach pics, so I'm going to focus on those for a bit. Now that my mom is visiting, we've got more good fun coming, for sure!
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The USS Lexington

While we didn't have a chance to go tour replicas of Columbus' ships, we did spend a day (or as much of a day as one could expect with an 18 month old) aboard the USS Lexington, a WWII era aircraft carrier which has been converted into a museum.

Zack was extremely excited about seeing the ship. We had really talked it up - partly because we wanted him to enjoy it but partly out of concern that he would freak out about being on a ship. You see, lately he has a lot of fears about things being unsteady. He has never liked any feeling of instability, even as a young toddler - although he would happily climb higher than my head, he would freak out if he was turned upside down. More recently, he's refused to get in a canoe and been afraid his ceiling fan would fall on him. He even asked that we take things downstairs because he thought they were too heavy for upstairs and would cause our house to collapse (not sure what's up with that one). Then, after we read some stories and information about the Titanic, I was just sure it was going to cause our planned Lexington trip to fail. I had this vision of him crying and refusing to go on board (right after we bought the tickets, no doubt) for fear it wasn't "stable". Hence all the talking up of the Lexington. When he talked to his grandmother about the Titanic and the Lexington in the same conversation, I was standing behind him saying, "And wasn't it very safe and very stable on the Lexington, Grandma?" while nodding vigorously out of his view to indicate she should say it was. I guess it worked because he was thrilled with the whole experience.

It's interesting how steep some of the stairs and low some of the ceilings are! But most of the fun was to be had above the hangar deck - the main deck where most of the "museum-y" stuff is - on the flight deck - the top of the ship where planes take off and land. It was a windy day and the winds on the flight deck felt like it might just knock us over. The kids love wind, so they were in heaven running around. They also loved looking around at the planes and trying the simulators - the ship held 200 planes when it was in service! We loved climbing up to the bridge with all its buttons and dials and big wheels, and also seeing the mechanism that catches the planes. The historical information on the ship's namesake and WWII service was spread out through the lower decks and gave a lot of interesting stories about that time, the ship and related vessels. James and I liked the history, but Zack of course breezed by most of it. In every area, he was ready to move on before everyone else, then me (because I'm not as much of a museum-sign-reader as someone else in my family), and then James at the end, craning his neck to read every word before he had to leave one room for the next one. By the time Sammy had enough of everything, we made it through the whole ship. It was a great experience and one we'll want to do again when the kids are older.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Nina

Zack has taken a recent interest in Christopher Columbus. I'm sure what started it. I think maybe he thought the rhyme was fun, but then when a reference to Columbus' sailing showed up in his reference book about pirates, he was drawn in to listening to more information.

We found a variety of picture books about him at the library that we've been enjoying. Columbus is an interesting figure, in that much about him is heroic, and much... well, not so much. It's been a learning experience on the Mommy side of things too. If today had more time in it, I'd like to write more about that. Too bad today is already stretched a little thin.

Anyway, we were at the coast this weekend and discovered that they have full size replicas of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria on display in Corpus Christi. They are accurate all the way down to the forests in which the wood for the ships was cut. They were even built in Spain and sailed here (I think in the 1990s). We didn't have time to go to the museum where you can tour the Pinta and the Santa Maria in dry dock, but we did pop down to see the Nina. It's a lot smaller than I expected! You can see from that "No Trespassing" sign that shows up in both photos that these pictures are showing the whole ship. Not the size of vessel I would imagine for an ocean crossing of unknown length and difficulty! We'll be continuing to learn about this, and maybe we'll get back down to Corpus soon to tour the other two ships.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Trying

Just so you know, I haven't given up on the bread mix!

I can't let go of the idea of having a bunch of these in the pantry with the dry goods already mixed and all I would have to do is add a fizzy beverage, stir and bake!

I keep making trial versions; they are good but they still aren't great. I have an idea for the next batch...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Boys and Books

These boys love books. I'm really, really glad. Their grandparents (both sets) deserve a hefty amount of credit for spending time reading with them, but it may be in their blood too. Even the little one is getting in on the book-action.

I'm not sure how well it shows in the picture collage, but sometimes we find Zack has sequestered himself in a little hidey-hole, especially when there's a lot of background noise.

I'm enjoying trying to snap some boys and books pictures. I especially find myself running for the camera when they are reading together. That's a sight to warm a mother's heart!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Garlic-head, that's me

I have a friend, April, who is a toxicologist. She's a lot of other cool things too - like a computer programmer, a great cook and more - but because of the advanced toxicology degree and her interest in the subject, she's got a lot of interesting information about medications and such. A while ago, I thought I was coming down with something and really needed not to get sick. She said to eat a clove of raw garlic - once a day or so - because it has antibiotic and antiviral properties. I eat a lot of cooked garlic, but she said it has to be raw or it doesn't have the illness-fighting effect.

I proceeded to actually chew up an entire clove of raw garlic.

As soon as I did it, I realized one of the other things April is: very funny. I was immediately siezed with the conviction that I'd been had: the garlic thing had to be a trick to convince me to do something crazy like eat a whole clove of raw garlic! I called her and said, "OH, I FELL FOR IT!" I was convinced that I'd been a giant, garlic-flavored sucker. But, it turns out - no joke. The garlic thing is real and scientific and all that. And I think it works. However, it isn't very pleasant.

Well, now all that has been remedied. April, who is also the FrooGal Foodie, has shared one of her recipes that I love. It is for a Lebanese Garlic Sauce (similar to Greek "skordalia" if you happen to be familiar with that - I wasn't). She has been making it for a while and it used to be a hassle - I wasn't willing to try it myself, I just ate hers whenever she made it. But now, the recipe has been perfected and it's super-easy. I made a batch this week and it was not only simple but delicious! The texture is somewhere between that of hummus and mayonnaise and the flavor is sharp in the best possible way.

Here's the problem: I'm eating it all. I started with about one and a half heads of garlic (equivalent to the 22-25 cloves called for in the recipe) and got about a cup and a half of thick sauce. That was Friday night and by Monday snacktime, I had just about polished it off. I've been eating it on veggies and on chips and... well, with a spoon. The only reason it isn't gone completely is that I couldn't bring myself to have none left, so I put the last couple of bites back in the fridge (I do that a lot - drives my mother crazy when she visits). I guess when I buy more garlic, I'll eat those last bites and make another batch.

Garlic has got to be oozing from my pores by now, but it's soooo good that I can't stop. Must be addicting. And even if no one can stand to come near me, at least I should be really healthy.

Check out the Garlic Sauce Recipe, complete with references to scientific studies about antibiotic and antiviral benefits!

Update: I gave the last bites to my hubby who thought he was getting sick (he says it worked), so I immediately made a new batch. But, maybe because the garlic heads were bigger, it turned out way too strong. I thought the first batch was strong, but it was enjoyably so. The second batch, wow. It wasn't working for me. So, after a consultation with April, I added another recipe's worth of lemon juice and salt, more oil (didn't measure, just streamed some in), and blended it again. The texture is still great and now the flavor is right on the money. I'm back to eating it like a crazy person.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Can Be Taught

(It seemed like a shame to have a pictureless post so I'm including gratuitous cute picture.)

Sometimes I find current events a little discouraging. I've mentioned before that my ideas seem to run opposite to those on both sides of most debates. And too often I just don't know what to think. But, in watching a recent show that had some Vietnam War era flashbacks, I've realized something about this country. We didn't learn a lot of things one would hope for but we did learn something. Nobody is aiming their anger or disapproval at individual soldiers. The times of spitting on a veteran in a wheelchair are gone. The lesson - the shame at what went before and the determination not to repeat it - is etched deeply into our culture.

And that leads me to an encouraging conclusion: We can be taught. Our national consciousness can learn - as a whole, and across the political spectrum. I like that.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Favorite: Kitchen Tongs

For the longest time, I only used a spatula for sauteing. I'm not sure why I got these kitchen tongs - I think I wanted to feel chef-y. I guess it worked, because now they are one of my favorite kitchen tools! I use them for lifting and turning pieces of meat, turning over veggies as I saute, and holding a hot item steady for slicing. They are really practical.

This pair has all the characteristics valuable in tongs: sturdy, scalloped points to help you grip large items, a stay-cool material on the handle, and a locking catch that keeps them closed in the drawer.

If you are adding a pair to your kitchen, check out Cook's Illustrated's Tong Recommendations. It's a good bang for not much buck.

Here's my favorite simple preparation for asparagus. Call me crazy, but I think they taste better when cut before cooking. I have no idea why this would be (ideas, cooking-science folks?). You can definitely avoid a stringy texture by cooking them this way, which is something that tends to turn kids off from asparagus.

Sauteed Asparagus
1 T olive oil
dried thai chilis, to taste (my grocery has these next to the garlic - very inexpensive)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
coarse salt
squeeze of lemon juice and grated Parmesan for garnish, if desired

1. Heat oil and chilis in a large skillet. Cook the chilis a few minutes to let the flavor infuse the oil (leave them whole if you want flavor without heat).
2. Turn up the heat and add the asparagus. They should sizzle and cook without liquid pooling in the pan - that way they will be sauteed rather than boiled. Cook until tender, allowing a little brown (not black) char to form on a few edges of the asparagus. This gives a sweeter flavor.
3. Finish with salt to taste and serve!
Sometimes I squeeze some flavor-brightening fresh lemon juice on top, in which case I add a little grated Parmesan to balance it out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Happy Fifth!

It is hard for me to process that I am the mother of a FIVE year old!

Zack had a Biscuit Brothers Birthday, complete with concert-ticket invitations, guitar-shaped cake, farm-type food, bandanna-fabric napkins and shoebox banjos. If you don't know the Biscuit Brothers, they have a locally filmed PBS show about a musical farm. It is about elements of music, introduces classical pieces, and has a lot of fun folk music. Zack really loves them. We went and saw them in concert, and then saw them again on location where they film.

The concert invitations were really fun. I was a little overwhelmed with the thought of making them, so my sister designed them for me, then I printed them, embossed the No. 005 (for the fifth birthday) and added perforations to create a ticket stub look. Hey, she'll make them for you too!

We served ham and biscuit mini-sandwiches in a big chicken-wire basket, fruit, veggies and herb dip, and deviled eggs. What's more farm-like than deviled eggs, right? James had the idea to make the guitar strings into the Happy Birthday writing. I really thought that made the cake.

Our craft was just right for a small group. If it had been any more kids, I would have had to do more prep ahead of time, but as it was they did their own while I demonstrated, making one for Sammy. The idea was an imitation of a cigar-box guitar, but without the tobacco smell or power tools. We used shoeboxes with a hole in the front and at the end, plus some sturdy doubled cardboard for the handle. The rubber bands just wrap around the box rather than going up the neck of the guitar. Once we added those bridges (cut from a dowel), the sound was surprisingly good for just some rubber bands.

And the soundtrack for the party was really, really easy to select.

Happy Birthday to Zack!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Huh. I really am obsessed with soup.

But I'm not just obsessed with soup. I'm also obsessed with red peppers. And avocados. At least my interests are broad.

Our new Sprouts has had red peppers and avocados at great prices and the best thing about it is that the quality has been so good. I sprung for a dozen of the peppers and roasted those beauties under the broiler (so that I could do several at a time). Then I peeled and sliced them and froze them away for later. I feel so rich.

I'm wondering about freezing the avocado. You can buy frozen guacamole. Maybe if I peeled and halved them and tossed them in lime juice. Has anyone tried this? Do I need to borrow a vacuum sealer to make it work?

This roasted red pepper soup was so good. Too bad I didn't follow the recipe or even write down what I did. I'll probably never recreate it.

p.s. Yes, that is (another) trial homemade bread mix in the background. It's good, but not fabulous. I shall endeavor to persevere. A tough job, but someone's got to do it!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I command you to do as you please

Zack has learned the secret of getting Sammy to do what he tells him: Wait until Sammy starts to do something, then, Quick! tell him to do that very thing.

At least they are playing together - two boys laughing is a really good sound.

Monday, October 05, 2009

More Fun with Cardmaking

Continuing (a little later than promised!) about card making: I am really enjoying this branch of crafting lately. The projects are small enough to accomplish in one sitting, and depending on how fancy you want to be, they don't have to take that many supplies.

Check out these two projects that Neelam designed and we got to make ourselves.

The first used a great technique of coloring directly on a stamp with markers. That way, in one stamping, we could get multiple colors. The coloring was a little hard to see what should be where - I think I could get better with practice.

The second used an outline stamp and then a blender pen to watercolor inside, plus inking of the edges of a die-cut shape. One think I really liked about this is that the branch by itself looks like bamboo, but it still goes with these graphic flowers. I like seeing unexpected things that look good together.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fun with Cardmaking

I had so much fun at my card-making party last weekend! Neelam, the consultant who conducted the workshop, demonstrated some technique-heavy ideas that I thought were really great. I was so inspired.

Want to see? Today I'll show what she made, and tomorrow what we made ourselves under her direction.
The paper was heat embossed with sparkly embossing powder- this is such a striking effect, even more glittery in person than I could capture here. Then the sparkly paper was cut with a die cutting machine to create this lattice. I got to keep all the scraps - hello glittery creations!

This was done on an pressure embossing plate in the same machine as was used for the die cuts. The butterfly has a rhinestone brad in the center, which also serves to keep the wings up from the paper surface - clever!Is this guy adorable or what? Neelam colored him using regular stamp pad ink and a blending pen. Seeing the blending pen work was most exciting to me - I love the artistic options this technique gives! And isn't this little guy super cute??