Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Do you strave easily? I do.

Hawaii 1964: Liane (9), Lisa (4), Mom, Melanie (11)

Anyone who knew my mom (aka Grandma Lavon) was aware of her obsession with reading. The house could be burning down, but Mom would be engrossed in her mystery novel as the firemen carried her out. I'll never forget the day I told her I was leaving home for good and never coming back. She barely looked up from her book and said, "That's nice, dear." Of course the next day she freaked out but I was already gone.

I have in my possession a note that my little sister gave my mom in Japan in 1968, when she was 8 years old. Apparently Lisa had been begging Mom to put down her book and make dinner, but Mom kept saying, "In a minute! I'm at a really good part." In desperation, Lisa wrote this note:

Dear Mrs. Mama,

Will you please cook dinner?

I'm straving, and I strave easily.


Mom says she cracked up when she got the note and got up to make dinner.

Now whenever someone in our family is very hungry (which is often), they let it be known that they are “straving”. (Direct translation: "Get cookin', Ma!")

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Steamed Fish with Ginger and Shitakes

I love fish! I'm always looking for new ways to prepare it. This is adapted from a recipe I found in a magazine.

4 – 6 filets Tilapia (or other white fish)
Sea salt
Cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh ginger, cut into thin strips
1 cups finely sliced shiitakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sesame oil
½ cup soy sauce

Bring water to a boil under a metal or bamboo steamer. Sprinkle fish with salt and cayenne pepper; place on top of parchment paper inside steamer. Top with ginger and shiitakes; cover and steam for 15 minutes.

Remove fish and place on serving plate. Sprinkle cilantro and green onions on fish; drizzle with juices from parchment. In a small sauté pan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until smoking. Pour some oil over each fillet to wilt the cilantro and green onions. Drizzle again with soy sauce.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cowboy Caviar

This is an easy recipe that is suprisingly yummy.

1 can corn - drained

2 cans black beans - drained & rinsed (some recipes say 1 can black beans and 1 can black-eyed peas)

Chopped tomatoes - 1 large- or you can use a can of chopped tomatoes - drained

red onion - chopped
cilantro to taste - finely chopped (I use a mini food processor to do this)

fresh jalapeno or serranos to taste - finely chopped (ditto)

1 cup italian salad dressing - make your own or use your favorite bottled
avocados - 1 or 2 depending on size

Combine first 7 ingredients and refrigerate overnight. This step is important to allow the flavors to marry. Just before serving dice the avocado and add to the salsa. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes a boatload of salsa so be prepared to share.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cheater's Key Lime Pie

How many times have you been inspired about the lovely dinner you're making and suddenly realize, 'Crap! I need a dessert!" This recipe is one of my old stand-by's. Best of all, the kids love it.


1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice (fresh is best but I'll admit it's a pain to squeeze all those key limes)
1 container of Cool Whip (about 2 cups)
Lime zest
Green food coloring (This is optional. Traditional Key Lime Pie is not green, but the kids get a kick out of green. Just add a dash for fun.)

1 store-bought graham cracker crust
Some more cool whip for the top
A lime, cut up fancy if you wish

Mix the first 5 ingredients together and pour into the crust. Cover and stick in the freezer for as long as you can. When it's time to serve, spread the top with more cool whip and decorate with some lime if you have it. (Once I sprinkled on toasted sweetened flaked coconut which was a hit.)

NOTE: This recipe can be made without fresh ingredients which makes it real handy in a pinch. The Cool Whip and pie crust can be kept in the freezer, and of course the sweetened condensed milk is in a can. I always have this juice on hand which I keep in the fridge:
Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice*

*Goes very well with gin (the juice, not the pie)

Piggies in Blankets

I know these look corny and old-fashioned (right out of one of those awful Sixties' cookbooks), but they are a hit every time I make them. Folks just can't seem to resist them, especially with the hot mustard sauce!


Package of Lil' Smokies or other cocktail wienies
1 package of refrigerator Crescent Rolls
1 cup of sour cream
Hot mustard (1/4 - 1/2 cup, according to your taste)

Take out one triangle of refrigerator Crescent Rolls and cut into four pieces. I do it like this:



Then roll up a wienie in the dough

Ta da!

You should get 32 piggies from one package of refrigerator dough. No doubt you've been eating some of the raw wienies while rolling, but you may have some left over. They are delicious cooked and I just stick them in the oven along with the "blanketed" ones.

Bake the little guys in a 375 oven for 15 minutes or so till they are nice and brown.

While they are baking, mix the sour cream with the hot mustard sauce. I used to get this little jar of "Hot English Mustard" that I just loved but lately I haven't been able to find it. Now I use this:

"Beaver" Sweet Hot Mustard

I always add 1/2 cup to the sour cream because I love the mustard sauce spicy. BTW, this sauce is also delicious with ham or corned beef. Enjoy!

Linda's Frijoles Borrachos

This is a simple yet delicious bean soup. The name means "drunken beans", since half a beer is added towards the end for flavor and to soften the beans. They are also called frijoles charros in some areas of Mexico.
1 pound of pinto beans
1 large pot of water
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1/2lb - 1 lb of bacon, coarsely chopped
2 bunches of fresh cilantro
1-3 chiles serranos or jalapeños
1/2 can or bottle of a smooth Mexican beer (feel free to drink the other half if your religious and/or dietary restrictions permit)
4-5 cloves of garlic (optional)
pinch of salt
  1. Bring the pot of water to a rolling boil while...
  2. Rinsing the beans, picking out any rocks or other rubbish. (Consider soaking them for several hours or overnight, rinsing again before boiling)
  3. Add the beans, onions, and bacon, and reduce heat to medium.
  4. Cook for several hours until the liquid begins to turn thick and brown from the ruptured beans, stirring occasionally and adding a few cilantro leaves throughout the cooking time. Add more water if needed. (Note that the beans in the picture are nowhere close to being done).
  5. Add the chilies toward the end because they will lose their kick if cooked for too long.
  6. About 20 minutes before finishing, add the beer. Avoid any beers with strong or bitter flavors. I used a whole bottle of Pilsner Urquell once with disappointing results.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thai Curry

This is my basic recipe for a Thai Curry. You can use pretty much any curry paste you want although Green Curry and Massuman Curry use additional ingredients. I use this recipe for Red Curry, although this time I used Panang curry paste and it tasted quite similar. Yellow Curry paste is also similar. Feel free to substitute ingredients where you see fit, but you must keep the coconut milk, fish sauce, and curry paste. Anything else will yield very different results. If you use fish, just float the filets on top and cover. It will cook in about 5 minutes and then you can break it up with a spoon.

I used a combination of 1 box tofu and 1 fish filet.

Joe also excels at Thai curries, especially when fish is involved, so he is welcome to post his version(s).

1 medium onion, halved and sliced
1 bell pepper sliced into short strips
1 zucchini, quartered and diced
1 Tbsp garlic-ginger paste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup mushrooms
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced (or approx. 1 lb of chicken)
2 tbsps red curry paste (or yellow curry paste)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 can coconut milk (you can use lite coconut milk but you should reduce the chicken broth to ½ cup)
1-2 cups chicken broth (depending on how many veggies you are using or how thick you like your curry)

Sauté your onion, bell pepper, garlic, and ginger in vegetable oil until onion is tender or translucent. Add curry paste and mix.
Add chicken pieces and cook in onion mixture just until chicken turns white on the outside.
Add coconut milk, chicken broth, and fish sauce.
Bring to a boil on high and then reduce heat to medium.
Add vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes. You can increase the heat or simmer longer to reduce the sauce if you like.

Serve with Jasmine rice, garnish with Thai basil or cilantro if you have it on hand, and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pico de gallo

This is a very basic, simple, easy-to-make fresh accompaniment to traditional mexican food. It is not, strictly speaking, a salsa, since salsa means sauce and this is not a liquid. It makes an excellent topping for simple authentic tacos (no iceberg lettuce or sour cream), goes great with high-quality corn tortilla chips, and you can stir some into a bowl of crushed avocadoes for an authentic guacamole. Note that if served with chips, this will disappear quickly, so set some aside for the main course if necessary. Other ideas: mix with canned tuna or pre-cooked shrimp for what I call poor-man's seviche, or mixed with canned or pre-cooked beans for a delicious cold bean salad.

Ingredients: (adjust proportions according to your taste)

4-6 tomatoes (preferably roma or plum tomatoes)

1 bunch of fresh cilantro

3-4 fresh green onions (freshness is very important here. Use half a white or yellow onion if the green onions at the store don't look fresh enough)

1-2 chiles serranos (these look like skinny jalapeños; jalapeños can also be used)

juice of 1-2 limes

pinch of salt

drizzling of olive oil (optional)

Finely chop all the ingredients, stir together in a large bowl and serve. I recommend chopping the onions, then the chiles (very finely), then squeezing the limes on top of these to mellow the flavor of the onions and let the lime juice take on the heat of the chilies. This will help spread the flavors and heat evenly throughout every bite.

There are five ingredients (aside from the salt), and I find this makes it easy to remember to pick up all of them when shopping. (Hint: there are most likely five fingers on your hand, which can be used for counting purposes)