Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Asian Market

I am half Chinese, and grew up in a house eating peking duck and hot dogs, bird's nest soup and Campbell's Cream of Chicken. Mom is from Hawaii, and when we lived there, every day after school we'd walk over to what looked like a typical ice cream truck that was parked across the street. But we called this truck a "Manapua wagon" and instead of popsicles, it served steamed buns filled with pork, along with flimsy paper plates that sagged under the weight of the Pancit noodles piled on top.

If you know Hawaii, you know that any event is really just a thinly veiled excuse to eat. A Little League game means at least 5 families will have their grills set up in right field by the second inning, and the moment that final out is made, we'll all chow down.

So when my amazing photographer friend (who captured the vibe of the place perfectly) and I took a field trip to 99 Ranch Market, a huge Asian supermarket in San Diego (employees wear buttons that say, "For 100 We Try Harder"), I felt like I was going to visit old friends. "Hello, Aloha Shoyu!" "Shu Mai, it's been too long!"
"Aji-No-Moto--I haven't seen you since high school!"

When I got home and started putting things away, I realized I had gone a little nutso with the fresh noodles. I wanted a good recipe for Cantonese pan-fried noodles like the ones my dad used to order from the China Doll restaurant when I was little, and came across this one from Yan Can Cook. If you don't know him, you should--he acts like a goofball but he's an amazing chef, and if I had his knife skills, I would be a happy camper.

Bird's Nest Soup and Thousand Year Old Eggs for dinner? Don't forget the French's!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sour Cream Pound Cake with Fresh Fruit, Whipped Cream, and Toasted Coconut

Happy Birthday Mom! She's not much of a paint-the-town-red type, and moms are notoriously hard to buy for (unless you go to my company, insert shameless plug here), so I made dinner for her and Dad and delivered it to them. Dinner was salmon--good but not especially blogworthy. The dessert, however, was a reliable showstopper that I've been making since I found the recipe in an issue of Family Circle magazine years ago. They say pound cake was so named because it contains a pound of butter and sugar and while the measurements are not entirely accurate, it's certainly a special occasion treat.

Wilma Head's Sour Cream Pound Cake (with Janet's garnish of whipped cream, fresh fruit, and toasted coconut)

1 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 8-oz. container sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Butter and flour 10" tube pan with removable bottom. Cut out a piece of wax paper to fit bottom of pan and slide into place. In medium-size bowl, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly blended, about 5 minutes. Beat in yolks.

In large bowl, combine sifted flour, salt, and baking soda; sift two more times. Alternately beat flour mixture and sour cream with the extract into butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

In large clean bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry peaks form. Stir one-third of whites into batter. Fold in remaining whites. Spoon into prepared tube pan.

Bake 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours until cake tester comes out clean. Transfer pan to wire rack; let cool 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan to wire rack; let cool completely.

Janet's Notes: Man, what a Type A personality Wilma Head must have. Instead of the zillion-step preparation to get that tube pan ready, I lined my 8 1/2x5x3 loaf pan with a bit of parchment and dumped the batter in because I have better things to do with my life than cut waxed paper into perfect rounds. Also, on that same note, I didn't sift my flour three times and instead sifted it zero times. The pound cake came out great. Finally, I just beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and didn't worry about their dryness. Get real Wilma! (Great recipe, though, I have to give you that.)

Not a tube pan, and no, it's not bulging at the sides. That's your imagination.

The crunchy top is the best part.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shameless Plug: Paintbox Soapworks

I'm not a girly girl, but one thing I do love are really nice bath products. I'm picky about the scents, though, and generally stay away from sticky sweet smells like vanilla or cinnamon bun (and if you give me anything patchouli...gag). I prefer fresh, and my all-time favorite is white tea. Or was.

Recently I ordered the gingermilk sugar scrub, and then soon after, the gingermilk lotion from Hayley at Paintbox Soapworks. Oh man. It's like no smell I've smelled before--well, aside from ginger...and milk.

It's my new favorite and my family is hoping the enchantment will wear off soon so I'll stop sticking my forearm in front of their faces and saying, "Smell me."

It also doesn't hurt that Hayley and I seem to have the same taste in music, and she names many of her products after alternative rock songs like "Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground," "Big in Japan," and, best of all, a scent named after my all-time favorite band, The Smiths, called "This Charming Man."

Janet's Wish List (in case any of my followers or husbands are interested....)

Glycerin soap in a scent called Downpour.

White Cotton Sheets....I love these fresh, clean scents.


And by the way, Hayley had nothing to do with this shameless plug, except for selling me awesome products. I bought them and loved them so much I asked her for permission to brag about her. She graciously accepted.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mexican Rice Like in a Restaurant

We had the new neighbors over for dinner last night, and since we hardly know them yet, my goal was a no-fuss meal that would allow me to spend the day cleaning obsessively instead. I wasn't planning to blog this meal because "build your own burritos" is not that exciting, but my Spanish rice is, after my family, my pride and joy. Yes, I did just say that rice is the fifth best thing in my life. Is there a problem?

I first saw this recipe on the long-defunct Food Network show Too Hot Tamales (remember Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger? Mary Sue is now on Top Chef Masters and I love her more than ever...but I digress) and scribbled it down while watching the show. And of course, in typical Janet style, I changed it to suit my taste, so I don't know how much of the original recipe remains, but they still deserve credit for the concept.

More than a decade later, it remains my go-to recipe for perfect, easy rice that bakes in the oven while you assemble the ingredients for your smorgasbord (Como se dice smorgasbord in Espanol?).

Mexican Baked Rice
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup oil
1 cup rice
1 carrot, diced
1 zucchini, diced
3 Tbsp. enchilada sauce
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 cup chicken stock

Heat oil in skillet. Add rice and cook til toasted and golden brown. Add onion and garlic; cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add carrot and zucchini and cook about 3 minutes longer. Add enchilada sauce and mix well. Add black pepper.

Put the rice mixture in a small casserole dish and add boiling stock until it covers the rice by just under an inch. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Momer's Cigar Box: Shaker Lemon Pie

My great-aunt Willa (left) and my grandma, Momer.

In this installment of Momer's Cigar Box, I'm using a recipe from my great aunt, Willa Bennett. Aunt Willa is from Birmingham Alabama but moved to Hawaii when her husband took a job at Pearl Harbor. After he retired, they moved to Lanai, then finally to Missouri where her son lived. She died at age 84, leaving behind a recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie.

This recipe intrigued me because it uses whole lemons, rather than just the juice. I've never seen anything like it so had to give it a try.

Shaker Lemon Pie
2 large lemons
2 cups superfine sugar
4 eggs
pastry for a 9" 2-crust pie

Wash and dry lemons; slice into paper-thin slices. Remove seeds. Sprinkle with sugar and toss gently to cover all slices. Let stand at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours. Stir occasionally. Prepare pastry; line 9" pan. Combine beaten eggs with lemon mixture and pour into unbaked pie shell. Cover with top crust that has been slashed for steam escape. Bake 15 min at 450 degrees. Lower to 350 and bake 30-35 minutes longer. Serve warm. 8 servings. 422 calories per serving. (Recipe is from Redbook Magazine, August 1976.)

Janet's notes:
I used 3 medium lemons and let it sit about 6 hours. Since I knew all the lemon slices would show, I opted for one crust instead of two so it would look pretty--plus, two crusts just sounded like it would be so dry. I put whipped cream instead of the top crust.

What I Did Wrong: Sliced the lemons too thick. I was trying to slice as thin as possible while keeping them in rounds. Next time I won't worry about the look of the lemons, since the look of lemon slices in a pie is striking anyway and some of the slices were tough.

Verdict: I loved this. I love tart things and the filling was sour enough to be refreshing but still sweet, and the lemon peel gave it a tiny bit of bitterness that my husband didn't care for, but that I liked. This would be a showstopper at your next summer picnic or dinner party. Email for my address so you'll know where to send the invitation.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Misunderstood Lyrics

The other day I heard the old AC/DC song "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and it took me back to my childhood, specifically our neighbor Christian, who swore it was called "Dirty D and the Dunder Chee." No amount of demanding to know what a Dunder Chee was could convince him otherwise.

Fast forward to high school and the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" which has been misconstrued in myriad ways, including "Rob the Cash Box," which is what I thought it was called for the longest time.

Fast forward once more to my son Sean, age 4 at the time, singing from his CD of nursery rhymes. When he got to "Little Jack Horner," he sang, "He stuck in his thumb and pulled out his lung," and I just about peed my pants.

It got me thinking about the potential bloggability of this subject. I Googled "misunderstood lyrics" and came across a Web site called, what else, kissthisguy.com. Long after I should've started making dinner, I'm still crying with laughter at some of the misconstrued song lyrics.

Here are a few favorites:

Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall
No dogs are spazzin' in the classroom

, Losing My Religion
Let's pee in the corner, let's pee in the spotlight

J.Geils Band, Centerfold
My anus is the center hole

Bon Jovi, Bad Medicine
Your love is like bad venison

Madonna, Like a Virgin
Touched for the thirty-first time

Do you have any gems to add?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Laura Ingalls Recipes: Vanity Cakes

Mailman Mike (via Amazon) delivered my very own copy of The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker today. Both the library and I are very happy, as I can now return the long-overdue copy that I couldn't bear to part with.

I flipped through and immediately stopped when I got to Vanity Cakes. Remember in By the Banks of Plum Creek when Laura had a birthday party and Ma made these, and then Laura chased Nellie into the water with the leeches in it?

"She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom. Then it swelled underneath till it was round, and Ma lifted it out with a fork. She put every one of those cakes in the cupboard. They were for the party."
-Excerpt from By the Banks of Plum Creek

The cookbook mentions a time when Laura was interviewed about vanity cakes, and here's what she said: "Were crunchy, not sweetened, and were so light, really a bubble that they seemed almost nothing in one's mouth. They were a golden color when fried. They simply puffed up when fried until they were nothing but a bubble." The cookbook also mentions the difference between balloons and bombs being dependent on the cook's deep-frying expertise, which I'm proud to say I do not have.

Vanity Cakes
Lard, 1 to 2 pounds (I used Canola oil)
Egg, 1 large
Salt, a pinch
White flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose
Powdered sugar for dusting

Pour oil in a pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat it to 350 degrees. In the bowl, beat the egg and salt for a full minute. Beat in thoroughly 1/4 cup of flour. Add more flour, one Tbsp. at at a time, until the batter is too stiff for beating but too soft to roll out.

Cover a dinner plate with flour. With a teaspoon, spoon the batter onto the plate in six separate portions. With a knife turn each spoonful of dough over to flour it, then drop it into the hot oil.

Cook each cake for at least 3 1/2 minutes, during which time it may need help in turning. If it darkens quickly, the fat is too hot. Drain cakes on brown paper and dust with powdered sugar.

Oh man...can't wait to cut into these and see how they turned into a bubble!

Dang it!

Janet's Notes: First off, I used a tiny pot because a 3" depth is a heck of a lot of oil. And while I normally don't worry too much about the minor details, I did use a candy thermometer because I wanted balloons, not bombs--turned out it didn't help. Finally, keeping the oil at 350 degrees was difficult. My oil temp soared up to 400 pretty quickly and turning down the flame didn't bring it back down fast enough, so the Vanity Cakes cooked faster than 3 1/2 minutes. I doubt that made the difference though. You put a big lump of dough in the fryer and it all of a sudden magically disappears and turns into a big bubble? I don't buy it.

My guess is that Laura didn't have a lot of delicious food on Plum Creek (they lived in a dugout underground, after all) and this was a treat worthy of a birthday party for her. Another opportunity to let my kids know how spoiled they are, and isn't that what motherhood is all about?

They taste like nothing.
Janet: They taste like a fried cream puff but without anything delicious inside.
Vince and Sean: No thank you.
Elise: (See photo caption above.)
Max: Can I have a popsicle instead?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Magazine Rack Refinishing (or Reupholstering?)

Found this magazine rack at a garage sale today for $5. It was so ugly it may as well have had "Janet's a sucker" spray painted on it. I brought it home and immediately cut the fabric from the frame--I would have disassembled the frame but all the screws had been stripped and it was not coming apart.

I put the frame out back with an old tablecloth. When I came back two seconds later with a can of spray paint, this is what I saw. Seriously. Why do they do that?

I spray painted it a gloss black, and while it was drying, went to the fabric store and found a replacement. I laid the old fabric out on my dining room table and cut the new fabric to fit the size, not worrying about the handle holes. I hate sewing so much that when I want to tackle a project that involves my sewing machine, I usually don't worry about such trivial matters as measuring, or matching the thread to the fabric, or anything that involves basting. I just want to get it done, and fast.

So, using brown thread on my black, white, and turquoise fabric because that was what was already in the bobbin, I hemmed all four sides of my rectangle and then folded it over the frame. Fabric strips on the bottom had to be hand-sewn because of the aforementioned stripped screws that prevented me from taking apart the frame. Ditto for the fabric folded over the top of the frame.

This project took no more than two hours from start to finish (FAST!) and I decided to put my new rack next to our entry pew to hold shoes. Even though the closet is literally one step away from our staircase, there are shoes lying on the bottom step every single day. A cute new shoe rack will certainly solve the problem. Right? I know. But it looks darn good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Acai Bowl, Hold the Acai

Another hot day, and another walk at the beach. Tough life, huh? Today I even got a bonus: breakfast afterward with my friend Jen. She took me to a place in downtown Encinitas, which has kind of an urban-chic-hippie vibe, if you know what I mean.

We were hot and thirsty and an omelet just sounded like too much. Jen suggested the Acai bowl so I gave it a go. But what the heck is Acai? According to Google, Acai berries come from a palm tree, and they're about the size of grapes. They are too perishable to sell at the grocery store, so they are frozen and imported, and they have tons of antioxidants. Jen's definition varies slightly: "This is Encinitas. Just eat it."

The dish consisted of granola in the bottom of the bowl, with an Acai smoothie poured over, and fresh fruit and coconut on top. It was just the thing. The Acai was liquidy but still freezy (can you guess that I write for a living?) and it was so good and filling that when I was finally hungry again six hours later, I craved it.

So what else to do but invent my own version:

Janet's Acai Bowl (Hold the Acai)
1/2 cup homemade granola
1 cup smoothie (use your favorite recipe or mine)
1/2 cup fresh diced fruit
A little coconut as a garnish if you like it
Put the granola in the bottom of the bowl. Pour smoothie over, add fruit, and top with coconut. Yummers!

Berry Smoothie
1/2 cup frozen berries (I used strawberries and blueberries)
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup strawberry yogurt
Whirl it up in the blender but keep it pretty loose so it'll pour over the granola.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quinoa Granola

Still working my way through a large Zip-Loc bag of frozen cooked quinoa. So far I've made quinoa pizza and a quinoa stuffed artichoke in my quest to work more of this high-protein grain into my vegetarian daughter's diet.

Today I went on a hunt for a homemade granola recipe. I like granola, but hate when it's teeth-shatteringly crunchy and I have to take a break from chewing because my jaw is killing me. As usual, I looked at about 20 recipes on the Internet, used the ideas I liked, changed most of the ingredients, and came up with this.

Granola with Quinoa
1/2 cup each sliced almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 cups oats (I used equal parts steel cut and rolled oats)
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. kosher salt

Melt butter and add oil. Mix in all other ingredients. Pile onto a greased baking sheet and spread out, leaving some clumps. Bake at 275 degrees for 20 minutes, stir, and bake another 10 minutes. Keep doing this (it may take a couple more 10-minute intervals) until it's golden brown. Cool on baking sheet.

Serve this as a cereal with milk, or as a yogurt topping, which my kids love. Or be like my son Sean and eat it straight out of the bag because you're a teenager and you are perpetually starving. And stay tuned for tomorrow's post about a super delicious recipe using this super delicious granola.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Maple Bacon Scones

The must-use ingredient in this week's recipe contest between The Grody Gourmet and me was maple syrup, a tribute to Amy's recent trip to her home state of Vermont. If you look at her blog, you'll notice that while I call it a friendly competition, she refers to it as "death match." That's how she is.

I am not a big fan of maple syrup so this challenge perplexed me, until I remembered an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain (swoon) went to Portland and ate a maple donut with bacon at Voodoo Doughnuts. Inspiration! Which led to this:

Maple Bacon Scones

2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup heavy cream
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

Combine dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter, cut into 1" squares, and process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add syrup, cream, and most of the bacon bits (reserve a few Tbsp. for sprinkling on top of the finished scones); pulse until dough forms. Turn dough onto floured board and roll out to a round about 1" thick. Cut into 8 wedges and place on a prepared baking sheet about 1" apart. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. nonfat milk
2 tsp. maple syrup
Combine all ingredients and drizzle over top of cooled scones. Sprinkle reserved bacon bits on top and let glaze harden.

A photo of me putting scones into the oven, for no other reason than Max was home sick that day and loves pushing the camera buttons.