Category Archives: C(h)ristine

Quick and Easy Meal: Baked French Toast

Baked French toast

Since breakfast is the first meal of the day, I thought I’d put up a recipe for baked french toast as my first Quick and Easy Meal post.

I love breakfasts on weekend mornings, but it’s pretty hard to cook breakfast with a baby attached to you in a sling. Breakfast involves tending to things that are sputtering in oil and butter on a stove top. Things like bacon and eggs and pancakes and french toast that you can’t readily leave to soothe a crying baby–and things that would potentially scald your kid. Nisht gut.

So when I woke up this morning craving french toast, I wondered how I would pull it off. I could put the baby in her high chair and make french toast as quickly as I could (so far, she’s happy for about 15 minutes in the high chair–and after that, all bets are off–she’s known to sit in her high chair for 30 minutes, but she’s also known to scream her head off after 15 minutes, announcing that she is Done With The High Chair Pick Me Up, Dammit).

Orrrr I could bake a french toast casserole. I figured it could be the best of bread pudding and french toast worlds. There’s no required knife work, everything is mix and combine, and the most dangerous part of the whole deal is taking the dish out of the oven. But you can ask someone to take it out for you, or set the baby down for an entire 20 seconds while you do so.

So in sum: no knife work, no open flames. Quick prep. Easy bake. I made the whole thing with my kid in a sling.

It was absolutely simple to cook, and I think you could even prep the whole thing the night before and then just pop it into the oven when you wake up. My husband, who loves custardy french toast, thought this was good. And if you top it with a sugar and butter topping before baking, I think you could even go without the maple syrup. 😉

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Quick and Easy Motherhood Meals (aka welcome to motherhood)

Untitled

I had a baby recently. About five months ago, in fact. And what used to be a life filled with elaborate desserts and meals is now a desperate struggle to get food on the table. In our first few months of parenthood, we’ve had our fair share of McDonald’s, delivery food, and sandwiches, so I’m now raring to get hot, home cooked food on the table and in my belly.

But I’ve a few challenges now: I’m either fighting time (baby might wake up from a nap or scream to be picked up) or negotiating safety (baby is in a sling on my body). And I can’t be babysitting a dish on the stove, because well, I’m actually babysitting. (I’ve ruined many a batch of rice while failing to watch the stove and so I finally bought a rice cooker–and it has made a huge difference).

So I’ve been turning to Quick Cook, Easy Prep Motherhood Meals–which are either adaptations on old favorites of mine or recipes I’ve encountered.

The criteria for my Quick and Easy Meals (QEMs) are such:

  • Any knife work has to be minimal (I have decent knife skills, but even then I can’t be chopping for longer than 15 minutes). I can’t chop with my baby on my body, and I don’t know if I have longer than 15 uninterrupted minutes at any one point in my day as a new mom. I have been making good use of pre-prepped salad lettuces these days.

  • Meal prep has to be simple (not a lot of dishes used up, again not a lot of chopping, no fancy gear that I then have to wash).
  • Cooking time is preferably very short or if long, very straightforward (i.e., stick in oven for an hour or simmer on very low heat for an hour). Basically, nothing I must have to guard/watch. There will be no caramels for my QEMs.

Also, these recipes will be reported on this blog under time crunch, too–so forgive the slapdash nature of the posts. Right now, the baby is napping–so who knows how long I have to finish this post? But I thought I’d post them here so I can look them up easily for my own purposes–and so I could share them with you; when I asked my Facebook friends if there would be any interest in such recipes, I got such an enthusiastic response, I thought I’d revive this food blog. 🙂

And no–you don’t have to be a mom to appreciate these recipes. Anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time and doesn’t want to do a bunch of work to get food on the table would enjoy this, whether you are a beginning cook, have come home after a long workday and aren’t up for making beef wellington, or someone who’s got a kid strapped to them and is freaked out about cooking and slicing/burning their baby.

Stay tuned. I’ve already got a couple recipes to share, like quick stovetop lasagna, baked french toast, and of course, the ever awesome classic, chicken marbella.

Miyuk Gook aka Seaweed Soup aka Korean Postpartum Soup aka Birthday Soup

Miyuk gook/seaweed soup!

I like to imagine the first time someone looked at a bunch of kelp on a beach and decided to boil a big pot of soup with said clump of seaweed. Maybe someone really hungry. Or someone really creative. Or totally broke. Or all of the above. And rejoicing in its deliciousness and reveling in its health benefits, converting all others to do the same.

Over the years, this soup has taken on different variations (made with fish stock, beef stock, chicken stock, anchovies, with tofu or not, etc), but it’s had a central role in celebrating milestones in Korean lives. And over the years, I’ve often been found eyeing a clump of seaweed on a California beach and thinking about taking it home to eat. Ha.

High in vitamin A, C, iron, and calcium, miyuk gook is served to women after giving birth. It is *the* Korean postpartum food, and you’re supposed to eat it, and only it, for 3-4 straight weeks. So it’s basically your first birthday food, because your birth mom has  theoretically had some on your birthday. My mom has always served me noodles for long life on my birthdays, but many other Korean kids eat miyuk gook on their birthday, too.

I’ve always loved this soup; I’ve never needed the excuse of pregnancy or a birthday to down a nice bowl of seaweed and broth. But here I am–cooking up large batches of the stuff now that I’m due anyday.

You can buy the kelp in either dried or fresh format. I usually buy the dried kind (if you buy the wet kind in the refrigerated section, you’ll want to wash and drain it so that it’s not so salty). Pictured here is a bag of dried kelp:

Dried seaweed

A little seaweed goes a long way. You’ll want to grab a handful and reconstitute it in water, where it will expand and rehydrate into a large mass of seaweed. You’ll also want to cut it up with scissors or chop it with a knife into more wieldy pieces so that when you go to eat the seaweed soup, you won’t have to chew on a seaweed piece the size of your face.

See the bowl of seaweed below? That was about a handful of dried seaweed before soaking in water for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not kidding about how much it expands.

Prepped

Like I said, there are various meats and stocks you can use. In the past, I’ve used dried anchovies, but my favorite is to use a few short ribs. Because uh, I love short ribs. You’ll see that I’ve scored the short ribs. Better to eat with, my dear!

Also good to add are garlic and green onions. And if you’re so inclined, some sliced tofu.

For the record, my favorite tofu is Pulmuone brand, which I’ve only been able to find in Korean stores. If I can’t find Pulmuone, I tend to pass on the tofu as an ingredient in this soup.

My Fave tofu

After prepping your ingredients, heat up a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or soup pot. And add the garlic and green onions until they soften. Then add your meat until it browns (if you’re using dried anchovies, no need to brown the anchovies).

Sauté

Then add water. About 6-9 cups. Or whatever your soup pot’s capacity might be. Add the rehydrated seaweed and optional tofu.

Bring to a boil and then simmer.

Add a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you don’t have it, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a nice flavor). Add a tablespoon of soy sauce (if you don’t have soy sauce, you can add some salt–but be careful not to over salt the soup).

This is what the soup looks like after about half an hour of simmering:

Miyuk gook after 30 min of simmering.

Add some black pepper. Serve with rice. Live long and prosper.

Recipe after the jump…

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West coast apple cider donuts/doughnuts

a pile of homemade glazed apple cider donuts

It’s Spring (ah-choo!), a time of year garnished with blossoms (pollen–ah-choo!) and greening trees that I wish I could watch entirely from inside a hermetically sealed room that no pollen can permeate. I miss Winter and Autumn. While everyone dances to mentions of rhubarb and salivates in anticipation of stone fruit, I wax nostalgic about Autumn. Yes, I’m contrary like that.

Oh, Autumn, ye of sweaters and crisp-non-allergenic-air, and persimmons and…apples…and apple cider donuts. Over the past couple of months, I’ve heard my East Coast friends rave about apple cider donuts (or doughnuts, however you want to spell it). They have been eating the apple cider donuts from NYC’s Greenmarket, and they have been raving about the donuts at Atkins Farms.

I have never had an apple cider donut, yet found myself craving one as if it were my #1 childhood comfort food. Finally, Alexander Chee slyly slipped me the Washington Post’s apple cider donut recipe and put an end to my whining yearning. Time to fulfill a wish.

While I normally adapt recipes, I followed this one exactly, even draining the donuts on “several layers of paper towels” instead of a wire rack.

It is not a recipe to be made on a busy weekday morning, but rather on a pleasant and lackadaisical weekend morning. The dough is easy enough to form; while you boil/reduce the apple cider down, you cream the sugar and butter, and combine with wet ingredients, before adding the dry ingredients. There are two time consuming steps that involve putting the dough in the freezer to firm up, before cutting into donut shapes.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Don’t walk too far away, because you don’t want the dough to freeze entirely. This is a concoction that cannot be fully ignored until it’s finished…and then well, when it’s finished, you’ll find it impossible to ignore.

After cutting into donut shapes (I used a 3″ biscuit cutter, and an upside down bottle of Boylan’s cherry coke to cut the holes–this made it so I had zero donut holes because I couldn’t.get.the.donut.holes.out.of.the.bottle, but oh well), you put the donut shaped dough into the freezer to firm up (but not freeze!), before frying, and watching the dough “poof” up.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Make sure you work fast–the donuts only need 60 seconds on each side in the hot oil, so you want your area prepped–a paper-towel-laden plate on which to drain the donuts. And another plate on which to set the cooled donuts.

While the donuts were frying on their first side, I moved the draining donuts onto a non-paper towel plate…and when the donuts were frying on their “second” side, I would move chilled donut dough out of the fridge.  Be organized or they will burn.

The cider glaze is a must, and something you prep while the donuts are in the final freezer step.  I didn’t have powdered sugar on me, so I zapped granulated sugar in the food processor for a couple minutes. Worked just fine (I guess I did adapt the recipe). 😛

They came out perfect. Oh so perfect.

Hints of apple with each bite accompanied bursts of flavor explosions in my head as I bit into the first fresh, warm donut. They didn’t cease on the subsequent bites, either.

disappearing

Recipe after the jump…

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KCCEB’s kimchi making class/series: kimchi, de-mystified.

montage of kimchi-making class

(pictures from our kimchi making class, from left to right…top row: quartered napa cabbage, and brined, quartered napa cabbage ready for pogi kimchi assembly…red hot pepper…shrimp and anchovy sauce for kimchi.  middle row: brined quartered napa cabbage…pogi kimchi filling…pogi kimchi filling.  bottom row: pogi kimchi assembly…pogi kimchi assembly line….bottled pogi kimchi ready to ferment!)

My mom would, upon sitting down at a Korean restaurant, immediately gravitate towards the kimchi. “You can tell if they cook well by how their kimchi tastes,” meaning that if their kimchi sucked, their food wasn’t going to be good. Inevitably, that was true.

Despite the fact that my mom makes miserable Western food (e.g., raw celery in barely simmered tomatoes making for what she unveiled as “spaghetti sauce”), she is a terrific Korean cook. Even when I look up a Korean recipe in a cookbook, I will adapt the recipe inevitably, to match the tastes of my mom’s cooking.  Her food is my gold standard for Korean food.

You’ll hear “my mom’s kimchi is the best” echoed all around the community: people get really picky/emotional about their favorite kimchi (we Koreans have deep emotional ties to our favorite kimchi–a certain balance of tang, heat, salt, and sweet can feel like a mother’s embrace in childhood, and if your mother has long passed on, that very taste can bring her back to you even for that one split second), and I’ve found that there is never one exact standard recipe for kimchi…only guidelines. These guidelines exist because the size of the ingredients (cabbage, radish, cucumber, what have you) are inexact, and because people hold on very dearly to their family’s secret kimchi recipes.

There are “secret ingredients” ranging from salted shrimp to a rice flour paste to anchovies to oysters…but they exist. Yes, kimchi often contains shellfish: my orthodox rabbi once reassured me, “kimchi is kosher.” Whoops. At the time, I didn’t realize kimchi contained shellfish. Whoops.

So anyway, this is all to say that despite my knowing how to cook various Korean dishes, and despite all my years of cooking…I don’t know how to make a decent kimchi.  And until I can make a good kimchi, I’ll never consider myself a good Korean cook.  Because I believe my mom’s measure of a Korean cook.

So when a friend of mine forwarded me an email about the Korean Community Center of the East Bay’s kimchi making class, asking me if I was interested…I immediately said yes. (well to be exact: YES!)

It’s a grassroots organized class, held in a private home, taught by a volunteer. You pay $50 for a 3 hour class.  But in return you get to learn how to make kimchi, get some hands on experience with kimchi making, you get a free lunch…annnnd you get to take home a small container of kimchi made in that very class.

You don’t have to speak Korean to take the class, because it is conducted in English, but you may want some familiarity with Korean food ingredients because ingredient names are thrown about very casually: the class today was comprised of all Korean American women, all of us who, for one reason or another, never learned to make kimchi, but had grown up eating the stuff and oftentimes watching our moms make the stuff.

Even if you don’t have that intrinsic experience, you’ll still be okay.

It was tremendous fun to be shown how to make kimchi (today we made “pogi kimchi,” a kimchi that involves pickling entire quartered portions of napa cabbage, one of the more challenging kimchi to make…but it wasn’t overly challenging at all). It was a tremendous relief to have kimchi de-mystified.

The next KCCEB Kimchi-Making Class will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2009…from 11am-2pm.  Cost is again $50, and the venue TBD.   Cost includes ingredients for kimchi and…lunch (this is a very good deal).  If you’re interested, you can leave a comment here…or contact annrmenzie AT kcceb DOT org  (remember the “r” in ann r menzie’s email address).  The class FILLS UP FAST (within a day or two–and this class was announced earlier this week), so don’t delay, if you’re interested.

The next class will tackle a different kind of kimchi, and I’m probably going to attend (every kimchi is different).  I look forward to seeing you there!

Farm City

my friend Novella's book is AWESOME

Farm City is an awesome read, written by Novella Carpenter, whose book I rank up with Bill Buford’s Heat, with the spirit of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. And I love the voice–Novella the narrator often wonders why people open up to her and accept her so readily (among others, Chris Lee of Eccolo, who teaches her how to prepare pork from her pigs); the voice of the narrator (straightforward, funny, unblinking to the point of childlike wonder, compassionate) is hers, and as a reader I found myself liking her so very much.

I mean, she describes her community in the ghetto with compassion and humor (describing the “tumbleweeds” as “tumbleweaves”).

I’ve been meaning to buy the book at one of our local stores, at one of Novella’s book tour readings, but my availability did not intersect with her schedule. And so I ordered the book off Amazon–but for as long as I waited to buy her tome, I wasted no time in cracking it open and settling in for what turned out to be an absorbing, delightful, educational reading of a book that drips with optimism and moxie in a world that has in recent months, gone dark and brooding.

Novella has a farm.  She has a farm on an abandoned lot in a part of Oakland nicknamed “Ghost Town,” near the freeway and BART tracks. I’ve visited her farm and was astonished on my first visit to discover an oasis in a part of town that is not a destination site for many–most people drive past it on the freeway, ride past it on BART, there are very few grocery stores, and abandoned lots are many. Like the Valley of Ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  But on her street corner, behind a chain link fence, is a lot full of green vegetables and myriad fruits, with a quiet symphony of animal noises.

Turkeys

The farm is serious work, with its share of tragedy: some of her birds die at the mercy of wild neighborhood dogs. Because the abandoned lot on which she squats and plants the garden is purposely unlocked, sometimes others come by and harvest things without permission.  (This, she takes in stride–it’s not “her” land and she willingly shares the harvest).  A farm, rural or urban, is not a perfect fairytale. Nature is unpredictable–but rewarding and complex, too.

When Novella’s animals are slaughtered (by her or, rarely, by a third party), it is not a heartless act but a very complex one; sad, respectful, awful, spiritual, and ultimately, pragmatic.  Once during a visit I commented on how “cute” her rabbits were and Novella quickly responded, “They’re food. Don’t fall in love.”  BTW, they were totally cute.

When she buys pigs at auction, unsure of what “Barrow” or “Gilt” might mean, she asks a boy, “Does G mean ‘girl’?” The way she describes the boy’s reaction, “He looked at me as if he might fall over from the sheer power of my enormous idiocy. Then he nodded, so stunned by my stupidity he couldn’t speak,” is so full of humility and frank humor that I was bowled over as a reader. I laughed out loud. (lol to you). Most writers in the foodie/food realm are so pompous and full of themselves, that I was truly delighted and charmed by Novella here, as I am in real life.

I’m always interested in novel structure (in recent months, I’ve been blogging less because I’ve been steeped in writing my fiction), and I took a quick look at how Novella structured Farm City: Rabbit, Turkey, Pig. (Those who read her blog know she has added goats to her farm in recent years, goats with whom I have visited and fallen in love).  She now has goats because during her month of living exclusively off her farm and a 100 yard circumference, which she includes in Farm City, she decided she wanted to have a ready source of milk, sorely missed during that month.

Bilbo and the baby goats sunning on the steps
(Bilbo, Georgina, and Orla).

The book is written, more or less, chronologically–because Novella really did start with rabbits, moving on to turkeys, and then pigs.  But I still found the livestock-centric structure interesting and effective because yes, to a farmer life and time revolves around the livestock at hand.

The book is on Oprah’s list of 25 books to read this summer, and deservedly so.

fancy it up with truffle

truffle salt and truffle oil

I’ve only had truffle overload once: in New York, at the now-defunct Palio restaurant a dozen years ago, with so much truffle on my risotto that afterward I burped truffle. And ended up throwing up truffle risotto into the toilet of my hotel room. Lucky toilet.

It took me a few years to venture towards truffle again; in hindsight, I blame the red wine for ejecting the truffle out of my body. But I have never turned my back against this earthy, rich flavor again and every year I look forward to Fall for all its beauty, including the emergence of truffles.

Truffle is decadent, it’s a taste that’s hard to put a finger on. It’s like the high fat European-style butter of the mushroom/fungus world (hey, truffles are technically fungi that sprout fruiting bodies beneath the ground, while mushrooms are fungi that sprout above ground).

We can’t always get our hands on truffles; they’re in season for only several weeks a year. But I still seek its flavor all year long, and I did come upon truffle salt at the Fancy Food Show this past year. Why had I never thought of it before? I scored a little sample vial of truffle salt with a little squeal of glee (along with lots of free vanilla and vanilla paste, flavored sugar (mrmm lemon sugar and sweet onion sugar!) and all manner of chocolate). The vendor, fusion, maker of many fine artisanal salts, advised me to sprinkle the black truffle salt on some on popcorn.

But I had a better idea. I “fancied up” some scrambled eggs (made with farm fresh eggs of course!) with a sprinkle of this black truffle salt and a splash of truffle oil.

These days, I’m trying to eat healthier, and eat fewer carbs. I’m in this weird tundra of food possibilities (carbohydrates are my promised land–meat, not so much) and I’m in a continuous search for flavors and textures that will make this high protein, lower carb land sparkle for me (lower carb meaning, not 95% carb anymore).

Wow. The truffle did it. It made something ordinary, extraordinary. I now crave truffle infused scrambled eggs as much as I do brioche bread from the Cheese Board or morning buns from La Farine.

I recommend splurging on the black truffle salt (available at salt works for $17.99 for a 5.5 ounce jar…or if you care to pay more for less, dean and deluca offers 3.5 ounces for $28), to make something ordinary, extraordinary. The possibilities are endless: on some simple boiled pasta (okay that’s carb), or on vegetables or on popcorn, or all manner of egg preparations, whether it be poached, fried, scrambled, omelet, frittata, or quiche.