250 Cookbooks: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking

Cookbook #192: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, Kenneth H. C. Lo, Pantheon Books, Random House, NY, 1974.

Chinese Vegetarian cookbook

“In spite of the widespread popularity of Chinese food, Chinese cooking is still rather new and strange to the average Western housewife. By concentrating each chapter on one method of cooking, the book should make it much easier for the Westerner to conduct an initial trial, after which the mystique still surrounding Chinese cooking should evaporate. One of the purposes of this book, apart from introducing Chinese vegetable and vegetarian cooking, is to help dispel some of the mystery that still pervades any subject connected with the Chinese.”

So reads the introduction to this 1974 book. By 2017, much of the mystery about Chinese cooking has been dispelled, and Americans have adopted many Chinese dishes: stir-fries, steamed and fried dumplings, egg rolls, hot and sour and egg drop soup, fried rice . . .  dishes part of our restaurant and home culinary fair.

Lo wrote over 40 books on Chinese cooking from the 1950s to the 1990s. According to the back cover of Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, he was also a news commentator for the BBC, a diplomat, a fine-arts publisher, a champion tennis player, and a food critic. He certainly knows a lot about Chinese cooking and culture! It’s evident in every page of Chinese Vegetarian Cooking.  I search the internet to see if had a web site, and perhaps recipes that are not 40 years old. No such site exists. I did find from a 2015 bibliography entry stating that he has passed away.

(Curious fact: One of his books, Oriental Cooking [1996] is listed for $1141.11 on Amazon in February 2017.)

I especially like reading about the unusual ingredients in Chinese Vegetarian Cooking. For instance, “red-in-snow”. I envision a pile of crushed ice with spots of red coloring in it. I search the index, but do not find a description of red-in-snow. But, I found a webpage explanation: “Basically any pickled green vegetables in the mustard family can be called ‘red in snow.’ The word ‘red’ in Chinese doesn’t literally mean the colour here. Red symbolises spring and livelihood. And because many types of mustard green can still thrive in cold winter with snows, this name was given to it.” (Accessed 2017.) And I found this on Google books:

red-in-snowI decide to look for red-in-snow at the Asian Seafood Market on 28th St. in Boulder. Nothing under that name in the store, but I did find pickled mustard greens:

red-in-snow

I was pretty proud of myself! I picked up a package just to see what it tastes like. Heck, it only cost 99 cents!

So what shall I make for this blog? As I page through Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, none of the recipes look familiar, and none are marked. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked any recipe from this cook book, although I’ve owned it for forty years. When I make pot stickers and dumplings and soups and egg rolls, I use recipes from other of my Chinese cookbooks. But I have to find something! After a lot of searching, I choose to make Chinese Salad.

Chinese Salad recipeI pick up some bean sprouts for this salad at the Asian Seafood Market. I really like that this market sells bean sprouts in bulk – most stores sell them in packages, and the two of us can never finish them before they go bad. I don’t find chives, but pick up a bunch of green onions; these too are always good a the Asian Seafood Market. I get some ginger, and a big baggie of peeled garlic ($1.50!). I decide to put some of the pickled mustard greens in the salad to see what they taste like. I don’t have and sherry, but decide to substitute with a little rice wine vinegar. It’s not in the salad, but I buy a big bag of bok choy (the storeowner always gives me grief when I just buy a couple bok choys).

Chinese Salad
serves 2

  • romaine, torn or chopped into bite size pieces; enough for 2 people, about 4 ounces
  • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 tomato, peeled and chopped in chunks
  • bean sprouts, about 1/2 cup
  • green tops of 1-2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 onion or 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated or chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or use sherry, but it will be a sweeter dressing)
  • sesame oil to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • red-in-snow for garnish (totally optional)
  • fried chow mein noodles (optional)

Place the romaine, carrots, tomato, bean sprouts, and green onion tops in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a pan, then add the onions, garlic, and ginger; stir fry 1 minute. Put the mixture in a small bowl and whisk in the water, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Toss the salad, then plate on two dishes. If you like, top each salad with a few crunchy chow mein noodles.

Here are the items I bought at the Asian Seafood Market. Note how fresh the bean sprouts are! I used the bok choy in a stir fry to go along with the salad.

Chinese salad ingredients

My Chinese Salads:

Chinese Salad

The salads were a success. The dressing is good – probably better than store-bought “Oriental salad dressing”. The dressing was also easy to put together and it was quick and convenient to make enough for just two people. Of course, vary the salad ingredients to whatever is on hand!

Although this recipe was a success, I will recyle this cook book. Can’t find any other recipe in it I’d like to try, and I have other proven references/recipes for Chinese ingredients and dishes.

250 Cookbooks: Cuisinart Prep 11

Cookbook #186: Cuisinart Prep 11, Cuisinart, East Windsor, NJ, 2001.

Cuisinart Prep 11 cookbookThis is the instruction booklet for my first Cuisinart, a DLC-2011 series, that I gave to my daughter a year ago. It is still a working unit, although over the years I had some issues with the top and its attachment to the working bowl. (And now the blade has been recalled due to issues with the rivets in the blade falling apart.)

Included in this instruction booklet are about 40 recipes for appetizers, soups, breads, entrees, pizzas, sauces and dressings, sides, and desserts. The instructions for all recipes are excellent. I love the recipe for hummus – have made it many times. Although I have my own banana bread recipe, I read with interest the one in this booklet: finally a recipe that does what I came up with on my own. Why hand mash bananas? Use a processor, mix the bananas with other wet ingredients, and then fold in the mixed dry ingredients. I have used the pizza dough recipe, but not often. You can use the dough blade and the unit to knead yeast breads, but I rarely do.

The pesto recipe on page 43 is excellent and I have used it lots. As the instructions state, this pesto “is lower in fat than traditional pestos, and just as flavorable”. It makes a lot, but can be frozen (I’ve frozen it before in ice cube trays).

Creamy Chevre and Peppercorn Dressing catches my eye. This is a salad dressing with shallots, green peppercorns, lemon, vinegar, sour cream, and olive oil. I think I’ll make it for this blog! If I ever want to make my own mayonnaise using a food processor, I would use the recipe in this booklet.

I use a modified version of the french-cut green beans on page 54. Generally, I start with the chopping blade in place, then run the machine andI drop in a clove or two of garlic. I leave the garlic in the bowl, but remove the blade and insert the slicing disc and use it to process the green beans. Then I dump the lot into a sauce pan and saute in butter for a few minutes, add water and cook another few minutes, drain and serve.

I will definitely save this cookbook. I noted at least 10 recipes to try!

Below is the recipe for Creamy Chevre and Peppercorn Dressing.

Creamy Chevre Peppercorn Dressing recipe“Chevre” is more commonly called “goat cheese”, at least where we live. I have used green peppercorns before (ages ago), and they were packed in brine, as called for in the printed Creamy Chevre & Peppercorn Dressing recipe. According to my Food Lover’s Companion, “the green peppercorn is the soft, underripe berry that’s usually preserved in brine. It has a fresh flavor that’s less pungent than the berry in its other forms”. But all I could find on my venture to Whole Foods was a spice jar of hard, dried green peppercorns. I bought that jar, and soaked a few peppercorns in a mixture of salted hot water and vinegar for awhile, then drained. They were still pretty hard. Thinking they are sort of like capers flavor-wise, I used half a tablespoon of these peppercorns and half a tablespoon of capers. If you can’t find brined green peppercorns, I suggest substituting with a teaspoon of capers and then grind some fresh black peppercorns into the dressing to your own taste.

Creamy Goat Cheese Dressing
makes about 1 3/4 cups

  • 1 1/2 ounces shallots, peeled and roughly chopped (for me, this was one medium-sized shallot “clove”; you could substitute a portion of a regular onion)
  • 1 tablespoon drained and rinsed brined green peppercorns (or substitute as I suggested in the above paragraph)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Insert the metal blade in a food processor. Start the machine, and drop the shallots down the feed tube; process 5 seconds. Add the green peppercorns and process 10 seconds. Scrape the mixture out of the bowl and reserve.

Add the lemon juice, vinegar, water, sour cream, salt, and goat cheese to the food processor bowl. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the shallot/peppercorn mixture. Start the machine running, and slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube. Process until all the olive oil is added and incorporated.

Remove the dressing from the processor. Let stand at least 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. This dressing will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Below is a photo of my just-finished dressing, still in the processor. You can see I have a couple drops of olive oil still on top.

mixing dressing

I honestly didn’t think my husband would like this goat cheese dressing. So when I made up our salads, I only dressed mine, and told him he could make his own choice.

Goat Cheese DressingHe ended up choosing the goat cheese dressing, and he liked it! He even chose it the next night too.

Me? I love this dressing. It’s creamy and pungent and only about 50 calories in a tablespoon. It was even better the second night. I am using it for all of my salads until it is gone!

250 Cookbooks: Step-by-Step Microwave Cook Book

Cookbook #168: Step-by-Step Microwave Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa, 1987.

Microwave Guide and Cookbook

I do like Better Homes and Gardens publications! As I leaf through this one, I find myself enjoying most everything: the photos and the writing and the recipes. Reminds me of the BH&G Golden Treasury of Cooking that I covered a couple weeks ago. Checking my cookbook database, I find 17 BH&G books, and I have covered all but this one so far – and most I decided to keep.

I bought this cookbook for my mother in 1990, when she got a microwave oven.

inscription

My mother never really liked “new fangled things”. She held out on a garbage disposal for years, and never wanted (or had) a dishwasher or clothes dryer. She relented to a microwave oven around 1990 – it came as the upper oven in her new stove. (I remember how long she needed a new stove, how the bottom was almost baked through by the time my father gave in and bought a new one.) My guess is that I found this cookbook in a bookstore, because I (still) like it so much (and purchasing in a brick-and-mortar bookstore is likely too because online book-buying was in its infancy in 1990).

I went into some detail on microwave ovens when I covered cookbook #17, Whirlpool Micro Menus Cookbook. I highly recommend reading that “old” post of mine! It talks of early microwaves and my uncle and how we were a bit wary of microwave ovens at first but how even ex-hippie-me finally added one to my kitchen. Now I would hate to live without a microwave oven, even though I use it mostly for tasks like defrosting or re-heating or melting cheese or making burritos, or baking chores like melting chocolate.

Microwave cookbooks encourage the reader to prepare the entire meal in the microwave, from appetizers to soup to stews to meats to breads to desserts. That’s simply not the way I cook! But, I am always looking for ideas and sometimes I need microwave cooking times and methods, so I will keep one or two microwave guides on my cookbook shelf.

Okay, details on why I like this cookbook. The appetizer section gives lots of good ideas, especially South-of-the Border-Style Meatballs, Pork Kabobs, Taco Chicken Nuggets, and party and snack and nut mixes ideas. The bread section describes how to use your microwave to raise yeast dough. I like the quick breads Cranberry Orange Loaf and Chocolate and Whole Wheat Ring and the cakes Pumpkin-Raisin Cake and Applesauce Cake, but I’d probably adapt them for a conventional oven. I’ve never thought of making candies like divinity or brittles in the microwave, but it might be nicer than standing over a hot stove. Excellent instructions for scrambled eggs and omelets. Fish and Vegetables En Papillote sounds good. Mother tried and liked “Saucy Tuna-Mac Casserole”. Walnut Bananas Foster! Sounds good for grandkids (if you leave out the rum!). If my regular oven breaks, I could simmer a pot roast in my microwave. I like the Spaghetti Pie, Mexican-Style Manicotti, and Saucy Sausage and Noodles casseroles. Good instructions for defrosting and cooking chicken pieces and a “Creating a chicken casserole” section. I like the chocolate and butterscotch ice cream toppings.

Clear instructions for thawing and cooking different foods are throughout the book, and the end of each section has the nutritional analysis of each recipe. Throughout, I am impressed by the clear instructions. Yes, I will keep this cookbook.

I choose to make Mexican Beef Salad for this blog.

Mexican Beef Salad recipeThe round steak is cooked in the microwave, plus the prep takes just a few minutes. The whole salad can be prepared in just one bowl. It’s July, and hot, and the less time spent in a hot kitchen, the better! I do think this salad needs a little salsa and avocado. I also put a few tortilla chips in our salads for some crunch.

I had trouble finding a small can of “yellow hominy”. At my local supermarket, they only had 6 pound cans of hominy! The labels didn’t say “yellow” hominy, but the picture on one of the choices looked a little yellower than the others. I bought that one huge can, and when I opened it, the hominy inside was pretty pale. And now I have the rest of the can to re-purpose.

The ingredient amounts in my version of this recipe (below) are approximate. It is, after all, just a salad! Experiment as you wish.

Mexican Beef Salad
serves 2

  • 8-12 ounces beef round steak
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (I used champagne vinegar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup hominy (about)
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced
  • 1/2 green (or red) pepper, chopped or sliced
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup sliced black olives
  • halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup jack cheese, cut into small cubes, or grated
  • torn lettuce (I suggest romaine or iceberg)
  • optional: avocados, salsa, and tortilla chips

Slice the round steak into bite-sized strips. (It is easier to slice thinly if you put it in the freezer for about an hour first.)

Place the meat in a 1-quart glass casserole. Add 1 tablespoon oil, then microwave on high for 3-5 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, until the meat is done.

Remove the meat from the casserole with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the drippings in the casserole. Stir in vinegar, salt, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and cayenne. Cook in the microwave on high about 30 seconds, or until it is bubbling. Add the cooked meat, hominy, onion, green pepper, and olives. Toss to coat. Cover and chill 3-24 hours.

When ready to serve the salad, stir the cherry tomatoes into the meat and vegetable mixture. Fill two bowls with as much lettuce as you like. Add the meat-vegetable mixture.

If you like, add chopped avocados and salsa, and garnish with tortilla chips.

Mexican Beef SaladThis was a great salad for a hot summer night! I’m sure I’ll make it again.

250 Cookbooks: Artichoke to Za’atar

Cookbook #133: Artichoke to Za’atar, Greg Malouf and Lucy Malouf, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, CA, 2008.

Artichokes to Za'atar cookbookThis is a beautiful cookbook. The photos are amazing. Pleasing designs and colors are carried throughout the pages. And – the Middle Eastern recipes are interesting and often enticing.

My daughter brought me this cookbook when she moved from Washington, DC to Togo, West Africa. She knows a lot more about Middle Eastern cooking than I do. I only took a class in it – she traveled to Morroco and stayed with families there. I do want to learn more about this cuisine, and Artichoke to Za’atar is great for reference and for recipes. I’m glad this blog got me to take this book off the shelf and spend some time with it.

A little about the authors. Greg Malouf is “modern Middle Eastern” grand chef. He lives in Australia but his heritage is Lebanese. On this site, you can see some of his handiwork (2015). I recommend his Facebook page too. Lucy Malouf, who is now his ex-wife, has had a “rich and varied career”. From her site, Lucy “. . . is regarded as one of the most experienced food editors in the publishing industry. She is also a member of that peculiar group of people who enjoy compiling indexes.” Ah, a woman after my own heart! I once indexed an organic chemistry laboratory text and thoroughly enjoyed that task!

Oh yes, I can learn a lot from Greg and Lucy Malouf.

Many recipes in Artichoke to Za’atar look exotic, but the directions seem clear and easy to follow. I think that my problem will be in finding some of the ingredients in local stores. Examples: amardine (apricot leather), orange blossom water, haloumi cheese, merguez sausages, white haricot beans, fresh fava beans, juniper berries, sumac, quinces, rose water, Vialone Nano rice, poussin (very young chicken), pigeon, rabbit. (Rabbit? We have tons of rabbits on our land this year, but I am not about to kill and dress one.)

I decide to make “Honey-Roasted Pear and Walnut Salad” for this blog:

Honey Pear Walnut Salad recipeThe ingredients that might be hard to find are orange blossom water and haloumi cheese and frisee. I start in downtown Boulder with a visit to my favorite ingredient and spice shops. Got lucky on my first store, Peppercorn, and found the orange blossom water (with the help of a saleswoman).

Orange Blossom WaterCypricot haloumi cheese? I know that Whole Foods has a good selection of cheese, so I started there. Couldn’t find it in the fancy cheeses, but a store helper led me to the area of fresh mozzarella, feta, quesa fresca – those sorts of cheeses – and there it was:

Hamoumi CheeseWhen I got to the check-out stand, they couldn’t find a price on this cheese, even sent the bagger back to look, so they gave it to me for free! The clerk raved about this cheese as a “grilling cheese”. I am looking forward to tasting it!

Frisee is a type of lettuce that is often in the “spring mix” packages, but I don’t recall seeing it sold separately. I was wrong! I found “endive frisee” sold by the head in the produce section of Whole Foods.

I have cardamom pods in my own spice cabinet. They smell wonderful! Cardamom comes in seeds, powder, or pods. Here is my jar of whole cardamom pods:

Cardamom JarThe cardamom seeds are inside the greenish pods. I cracked a pod and peeled it apart and found these black seeds:

cardamom pods and seedsIf you have cardamom seeds or powder in your pantry, my guess is that you could substitute them for the pods.

The rest of the ingredients (even watercress) are easy to find. Pears especially are easy – it is fall and pears are in abundance. (Once I ordered “roasted pear salad” at a restaurant in Boulder, and they only put one measly pear in it! This time I will have a lot of pears.) The recipe does not say how many it serves. It looked like too much for the two of us, so I cut back the ingredients.

Aargh. As I prepared this salad, I took issue with many of the instructions. It said to use a “very hot oven” for the walnuts. To me, a “hot” oven is 475˚, the temperature I use to bake rustic breads. I chose 450˚ to roast the walnuts, and they were burnt after 4 minutes of cooking (I had to start over). It calls for the “juice of 2 lemons” but did not specifiy how much went for the cheese and how much for the dressing. I don’t think running the onion under water for 5 minutes is necessary. It says to “add the pears”, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to add just the pears, or the pears and their cooking liquid. (For that matter, I was disappointed that the pears were “roasted” by frying in a pan, not cooking in a hot oven.) The recipe lists frisee but does not specify when to add it to the salad. Whisk the oil and lemon juice “gently”? That’s odd, usually you want to whisk it to an emulsion.

Below is my version of this recipe.

Pear, Walnut, and Haloumi Cheese Salad

Pears

  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons honey (about 50 grams)
  • 3 cardamom pods, seeded (use the seeds only)
  • 1 tablespoon orange-blossom water
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the honey, cardamom seeds, orange-blossom water, and sherry in a small pan and heat gently to combine. Save.

Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy fry pan. Keeping the heat at medium high to high heat, add the pear and sear the pears for 1 minute on each “side” (my pears had 3 sides). Add the saved honey mixture and cook for 2 more minutes, or until the liquid is a caramel color. Turn the pears carefuly a few times as the liquid is caramelizing.

cooking the pearsSet the pears aside and save.

Walnuts

  • 1/2 cup walnut haves

Roast the walnuts by placing in a pan in a 400˚ oven for about 5 minutes. Check during the cook time, as they can become black quite quickly.

Cheese

  • 4 ounces Haloumi cheese, sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (extra-virgin not necessary)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (juice one lemon and use 1 tablespoon here, the rest in the dressing)
  • thyme, about 1 fresh sprig chopped or about 1/4 teaspoon dried

Heat a fry pan over high heat and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Dust the haloumi cheese in the flour and then cook the cheese slices until they are golden brown on each side. Remove the cheese from the pan and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the thyme.

Salad

  • 1/4 of a red (purple) onion, thinly sliced
  • about 1/4 of a bunch of watercress, leaves only
  • about 1/2 cup endive frisee lettuce (if you can find it)
  • (use any lettuce combination you have on hand)
  • about 1/3 cup whole black olives, brined are especially good
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of one lemon (well, what is left after taking out the 1 tablespoon for the cheese slices)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put the pears (fish them out of their cooking liquid), the fried haloumi cheese, the watercress, frisee, olives, onion, and most of the walnuts in a bowl and mix gently. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice and salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix gently. Serve topped with the remaining walnuts.

My version of this salad was very flavorful, and quite pretty. In the cookbook they say to serve it as a “starter”. Since it is a fairly substantial salad, I decided to serve it plated with salmon and garlic bread as a complete meal.

Honey Pear Walnut SaladI will make a version of this again, I’m sure. But next time I might try a couple variations. I would like to try the haloumi cheese grilled outside instead of fried in oil. For the pears, I want to try roasting them in the oven instead of frying in a syrupy sauce.

A small additional note. This cookbook is organized in alphabetical order by ingredient name. But, “artichoke” is not the first entry, “almond” is. And the last entry is “zucchini”. “Za’atar” is a thyme spice mixture, and does not have it’s own entry. I guess they did not want to call this book “Almond to Zucchini”!

250 Cookbooks: Diet for a Small Planet

Cookbook #128: Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, Ballantine Books, NY, NY, 1971.

Diet for a Small Planet cookbookI bought Diet for a Small Planet in the 1970s when it was a popular book in the health food movement. In this book, Lappé encourages everyone to become vegetarians (or at least eat less meat), because raising meat requires a lot more resources than does growing crops meant for direct human consumption. One drawback to becoming a vegetarian can be a lack of protein in the diet. Lappé has a solution for that: the quality of protein found in meat could be had for vegetarians if they combined specific vegetable groups to obtain “complete proteins”.

What is a “complete protein”? Here goes. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids (trust me, this is true, I am a chemist!). According to Lappé, a complete protein contains the eight amino acids that our bodies cannot make: tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, valine, threonine, the sulfur containing amino acids, and the aromatic amino acids. These are the essential amino acids, or EAAs. These EAAs must not only be present in our foods, they must be present in the right proportions. And you need to eat the complementary foods in the same meal.

For instance. Nuts like sunflower seeds are high in the amino acid tryptophan and low in lysine, while legumes like black beans are high in the amino acid lysine and low in tryptophan. Toss some sunflower seeds on top of black beans and you consume a complete protein. Examples of other combinations are grains and milk products, seeds and legumes, and grains and legumes. (Note the milk products: this is not a vegan diet.) Often the traditional dishes of cultures exemplify Lappé’s theory: Cajun red beans and rice, India’s dal and flat wheat bread, Mexican beans and corn.

Below is a scan from the book that illustrates the complementary protein scheme:

complete protein chartThe first part of Diet for a Small Planet contains a ton of charts and tables to support Lappé’s hypothesis: Amino Acid Content of Foods and Biological Data on Proteins, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Composition of Foods, Amino Acid Content of Foods, Protein Requirements, Calorie Cost per Gram of Usable Protein, and more. The data in these tables is supported by bibliographical references. The second half gives recipes for twenty different vegetable combinations.

I swallowed the “complete protein” theory totally, and although I never became a vegetarian, I believed the theory after reading this book. I do remember hearing that you no longer had to eat the combinations in the same meal, only the same day or so. Imagine my surprise when I went online today and found that the complete protein method is no longer held as true!

In this 2013 article, Jeff Novick writes that Lappé’s hypothesis is based on a 1952 article by William Rose that reported minimum daily requirements of the eight EAAs. Rose then doubled the minimum and claimed it as the recommended daily requirement. Novick states: “Modern researchers know that it is virtually impossible to design a calorie-sufficient diet based on unprocessed whole natural plant foods that is deficient in any of the amino acids.” Setting the Record Straight, by Michael Bluejay (2013), is another good article that refutes the complementary protein theory. Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article on Complete Protein does not address the controversy.

Back to cooking. I decide to make Tabouli, or “Zesty Lebanese Salad”. It incorporates the “complementary protein foods” wheat (bulghur) and legumes (garbanzo beans). Bulghur (or bulgur) is a wheat product, kind of like a cereal. (We enjoyed a related wheat product called burghul or cracked wheat in Turkey. Bulgur is fine-grained and quick-cooking, while burghul takes a long time to cook and is big and chewy.)

Tabouli RecipeTabouli, or Tabbouleh, is an Arabian dish. It usually doesn’t contain garbanzos (chick peas), although these beans are quite common in Middle Eastern cooking. Lappé’s version of tabouli calls for dried garbanzos and I wanted to use canned ones, so I just sort of guessed at the amount of beans to use. Also, I often make myself a bulghur salad, and usually just toss it together sans recipe, so I again strayed from the book’s version of tabouli.

Tabouli
serves 3-4

  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (no substitutes!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper

Boil the water in a pan, then add the bulgur. Leave it on the burner for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and let stand at least 10 minutes. Put in a strainer to drain off all the water, then put it in a bowl.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix. Refrigerate until cold. Taste the salad and adjust the seasonings if you want to. Serve as a side dish or over greens.

TabouliI really liked this salad, especially with some feta cheese mixed in. And the cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet? I will keep it, for nostalgia rather than the recipes.

250 Cookbooks: 500 Snacks – Bright Ideas for Entertaining

Cookbook #126: 500 Snacks – Bright Ideas for Entertaining, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, Consolidated Book Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, 1940. 500 Snacks CookbookI’d call this a “vintage” cook book. That’s my polite way of saying I think most of the recipes are not appetizing. Rounds of bread topped with cream cheese, eggs, and anchovy filling; olives lined neatly over cream cheese on squares of bread; toast topped with ground boiled ham, cheese, horseradish and condensed tomato soup; celery stuffed with tangy cheese spread; bananas rolled in cereal crumbs and deep fried; sausages baked in bananas; anchovy paste mixed with eggs and formed into balls and served on toothpicks; sardines on toast covered with melted American cheese; tomato juice and ground ham and cream cheese and mayonnaise in a molded salad loaf. (Actually those deep fried bananas sound kind of good . . . ) I was ready to recycle this book, but I checked my database and found that it was my mother’s. There is some handwriting in this book, not sure it is hers, perhaps my grandmother’s? Maybe she gave it to my mother, that’s about the time my parents were married (1940). This book is for sale online, for about $10. Guess I’ll keep my copy because it is so old. And 500 Snacks is kind of fun to leaf through. Brings back memories of the adult cocktail hour and the hors d’oeuvres always served at family gatherings. I especially remember smoked oysters on toothpicks in a special serving dish (I’ll put a photo on the bottom of this blog entry) and the family story from when I was a little girl – once my cat got up and ate the little oysters off the toothpicks. I like the introduction to 500 Snacks: “The Smorgasbord”. smorgasbordI decide to make “California Chicken Salad” for this blog. It actually sounds good – a mixture of chicken, apples, olives, and celery, bound together with mayonnaise and sour cream. Should be good over lettuce or with crackers, or maybe in a sandwich. California Chicken Salad recipeCalifornia Chicken Salad

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 cup finely diced apple
  • 1 cup chopped ripe olives
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream

Combine the chicken, apple, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Add a little more sour cream or mayonnaise if the mixture is not moist. California Chicken SaladSuccess! The apples and olives really perked up an ordinary chicken salad. We all made sandwiches for lunch on toasted wheat or sourdough bread with some good crunchy romaine. I put provolone cheese on mine. And now for the promised photo of smoked oysters on toothpicks. I have this ceramic chicken with holes for toothpicks in it. In fact, I have a gang of these chickens. They are all family hand-me-downs. Here is one of the meanest-looking chickens with some smoked oysters stuck in it: chicken with oysters on toothpicks

250 Cookbooks: Joy of Cooking

Cookbook #100: Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1964.

Joy of CookingIf my house were on fire, and I was able to save only one of my cookbooks, the Joy of Cooking would be it. It has lived in my kitchen since the seventies. The cover has fallen off the spine and I have many pages marked – but only with note papers, I never wrote in this book, I tried to keep it clean. Quite simply, this is my favorite cookbook, and entirely suitable for the placement of “100” in this blog.

I know I bought this book for myself, but I don’t recall the trip to the bookstore. It must have been in 1974, since that is the last listed printing date on the copyright page. That puts me living in a rented funky old house near downtown Boulder, a graduate student, fairly poor, just beginning to expand my cooking repertoire. I am sure that I stood in the store and paged studiously through this book before I purchased it – brand new and hardcover – with money that I had religiously saved up (or maybe the money was a gift from my Mother). It was a big purchase.

Joy of Cooking has a long history. In 1931 the author, Irma S. Rombauer (1877-1962), a Missouri homemaker from an immigrant German family, created the Joy of Cooking. She began as an amateur – she was neither a writer nor a professional cook. Her daughter, Marion Becker (1903-1976), illustrated the first version of Joy. The second edition came in 1936, and the third in 1943/46. By 1951, Irma Rombauer’s health was failing, and she negotiated a book contract that named her daughter as her sole successor in any future revision. (Wikipedia) Hence, the 4th edition, 1951, is the first authored by both Rambauer and Becker.

My edition of Joy of Cooking is the 5th, first copyright 1962. On the Joy of Cooking website, I learn that there is some controversy about this edition. Apparently the publishers released a 1962 version without the final consent of the authors, a version that was “garbled” and fraught with errors. It wasn’t until 1963 that the 5th edition was published in a form acceptable to Marion Becker. Luckily, my edition was printed in 1974. The 6th edition came out in 1975. To many, the 6th edition is deemed the best, although I would vote that the 5th edition is my favorite.

After Marion Becker’s death, her sons, Ethan and Mark, took over the Joy of Cooking. The book remained unchanged until 1997. During this period, Bobbs-Merrill folded and Simon and Schuster purchased the copyright. Working with Ethan Becker, Simon and Schuster hired a cookbook editor, changed the writing style of the book, and included input from various professional food writers/chefs. Diehard Joy of Cooking fans often don’t like the seventh edition. The eighth edition, the 75th anniversary edition, came out in 2006. The original voice of the Joy of Cooking was restored, and it includes some of the information deleted in the 7th edition.

The Joy of Cooking has been in print continuously since 1936 and has sold more than 18 million copies. Pretty amazing.

Why do I like this book? It is extremely comprehensive, and has a bent that satisfies my scientific side. If I want to learn how to cook just about anything, I consult this book first. I did in the seventies and I do so today. How to make German potato salad? It’s there. How to cook a lobster? Yes. How to pluck a chicken? That too.

I like too that the recipe instructions are clear, and written in “action-style”. For instance, the ingredients for a recipe’s first step are listed, instructions given, then ingredients for the second step are listed, instructions given, etc. (See my recipe scan below for an example.) Often, alternative ways to finish a basic recipe are given, such as different fillings for raviolis, or three different variations for a chicken stew. When recipes include methods or ingredients that are covered in a different section of the book, a referral page number is given for the convenience of the reader. And, this book has a great index.

I enjoy the “voice” of this book. It is written in the first person: “we like this version” or “if you, like us, expect a 100% return on your efforts” or “In the foregoing pages we have supplied . . . “. Countless comments are throughout, for example, for hollandaise sauce they write “Our cook calls this “holiday sauce”, isn’t that a grand name for it?” or for banana cake “Do try this, if you like a banana flavor . . . ” or for maple cream candy “Who would ever suspect that this delicious confection was just plain maple syrup in a more solid form?” Throughout are asides: stories about their travels or historical figures. It’s written with a little attitude or bossiness, as illustrated in the instructions for cooking Puffed Potatoes in hot oil: “Drop the slices in separately. Do not crowd the pan. The slices will sink. This next admonition is not without danger for the unskilled. When, after a few seconds, they rise, use a continuous shaking motion with the pan, which will set up a wave-like action to keep the floating strips bathed in the fat.”

The Joy shows a definite German influence. As such, it appeals to my own German heritage: three out of four of my grandparents were mostly German. Thriftiness, industriousness, stubbornness, holding to traditions – these are the traits that I associate with my German ancestry. Irma Bromauer and her whole family worked hard to get this book out and keep it updated over many decades. And it’s a long book – my edition of Joy is 849 pages. That is a ton of work! Oh – this is touching. In the dedication, Marion Becker writes: “Working with Mother on its development . . . ” Note that she, like I, called our mothers “Mother”. Not mom or mommy or ma. Maybe it’s the German heritage.

Finally, a quote from the foreward that speaks to me: “Most important to us are all of you, both at home and abroad, who are preoccupied every day with that old yet ever-new question, ‘What shall we have for dinner?'”

I always use a Joy of Cooking recipe for my cheese souffles, blender hollandaise sauce, cooked red cabbage, and potato pancakes. And Caesar’s Salad, which I decide to make for this blog. I’ve made this tons of times. If I have a Caesar’s salad in a restaurant, I always compare it to the Joy’s version, and they rarely measure up. This is a “classic” Caesar’s, no mushrooms or other vegetables, and the perfect dressing, made on the salad rather than in a bottle.

Caesar Salad recipe Joy of CookingIf you follow this recipe, you will be successful!

I am not going to type in this recipe, since I always refer to this cookbook to make it. I always halve the recipe for the two of us, but I still use a whole egg. Remember to put a clove of garlic in olive oil early in the day. Use fresh lemon juice, no other. I prefer grated fresh Parmesan cheese rather than the stuff that is sold in a can. I use the amount of romaine lettuce that I think the two of us are hungry for. Anchovies? My husband loves them, I only like them, so I put more in his salad. When adding the vinegar, lemon juice, and oil, I usually measure out the recommended amounts, then add a portion of each, toss the salad, taste, and add more if I feel it needs it.

Here are my ingredients, sans lettuce and croutons:

ingredients for Caesar saladThe croutons are stars in this salad. Make them fresh and just before you put the salad together. And use that garlic-soaked olive oil to fry them.

croutonsHere are our salads, moments before we ate them:

Caesar SaladsMmmm. I still have lots of romaine. I think I’ll make Caesar’s salads again tonight! Thank you Joy of Cooking for helping me make a great dinner, once again.

250 Cookbooks: The Calculating Cook

Cookbook #99: The Calculating Cook, a gourmet cookbook for diabetics and dieters, Jeanne Jones, 101 Productions, San Francisco, CA, 1972.

The Calculating CookThe Calculating Cook, a gourmet cookbook for diabetics and dieters is one of my old-favorite cookbooks. I learned about the diabetic “exchange diet” from this cookbook, a diet plan that correlated well with a health club’s plan that I acquired in the early 70s. I still make crepes from a recipe in this cookbook.

So it’s with pleasure that I return to my well-used book. I open to Jeanne Jones’ personal and friendly Introduction. Ms. Jones always loved to cook and went to several French cooking schools. She liked to entertain, holding small dinner parties for friends, filled with good foods and with no thought to calories. Her life changed with a shock: she found out she had diabetes. She felt her life was ruined: “How could I give lovely, gourmet dinner parties when I had been put on a diet that I had never even heard of before, without sugar, with practically no fats and measured amounts of almost everything else!” But a thought came to her: “If I could adjust my favorite recipes, and work out new ones, so that I knew exactly how much of everything was in each portion I could still cook very exciting food and stay completely on the diet program at the same time, and so could anyone else using my recipes. That was the day I stopped crying and became The Calculating Cook.”

The Calculating Cook was Jeanne Jones’ first book (as far as I can tell). Since then, she has authored over 30 books, including Cook It Light Menus for Every Occasion, Homestyle Cooking Made Healthy, and Canyon Ranch Cooking: Bringing The Spa Home. She writes a syndicated column called “Cook it Light” for King Features, a kind of “Dear Abby” column where people write in with recipes that they would like to lighten up. She also consults for spas, restaurants, and food companies, lectures at conferences, and has appeared on TV talk shows. A couple bios: Jeanne Jones website and Women’s International Center. This link to the Akron Beacon Journal website illustrates some of her Cook it Light columns, and here is one on the Arizona Republic.

During my searches, I learned that she is now in her late seventies and lives in Laguna, California, just down the coast from where my husband grew up. In 2013 she was robbed at gunpoint in that home and in 2014 the robber was convicted. I saw a photo of her home online, and it is gorgeous. She was even the executive producer of a film, The Streetsweeper (2003).

Exchange Diet

The exchange diet is a food choice system designed to help diabetics plan manage their glucose levels. Food exchange categories include: fruit, bread/starch, vegetables, milk, meat, and fat. This is a balanced, sensible diet plan that eliminates calorie counting because it’s already been done for you, all you have to do is adhere to portion size and choose the appropriate number of exchanges from each food category each day. More information: USDA National Agriculture Library on the diabetic diet and University of Arkansas’ food exchange list.

What to cook from this book?

I have some trouble finding a recipe in The Calculating Cook to cook for this blog. Why? So many of the recipes call for things that you need to prepare and have on hand, like “tomato juice ketchup”, “jelled milk” (a concoction of skim milk, water, and gelatin), or “magic mayonnaise”. In today’s supermarkets, I can find thousands of low-calorie basics, so no longer do I have to resort to homemade tactics. Many recipes call for sugar substitutes; I prefer not to use these. While I learned a lot from this book when it was new, I have since graduated from it: I have the knowledge in my own head to create light versions of almost any recipe.

I choose to make “Happy Hollandaise Sauce” and serve it over asparagus. My usual hollandaise sauce ingredients for 1 cup of sauce are:

  • 1/2 cup butter (810 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 egg yolks (180 calories)

Thus this sauce has close to a 1000 calories in 1 cup. The Calculating Cook’s version has about 350 calories in a cup. That’s quite a difference!

Happy Hollandaise SauceTo go with the hollandaise-asparagus, I find a recipe on Jeanne Jones’ website: Lamb Chops with Herbed Apricot. My slightly changed and re-named version of this dish is below. The original recipe calls for a can of fat-free chicken stock. I usually keep homemade stock on hand, so I used that instead. I always de-fat my stock by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. And that’s exactly how The Calculating Cook tells me to make stock. Maybe I learned this technique from this very book!

Light Hollandaise Sauce
makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a little pepper (use white pepper if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter and then add the flour. Cook and stir for at least a minute (do not allow to brown). Add the boiling water all at once and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs, then add them in a slow stream to the butter-flour-water mixture, whisking constantly. Return the pan to low heat and cook about a minute (to cook the eggs), then stir in the salt and pepper and lemon juice. Serve.

Lamb Chops with Dried Apricots
serves 2

The leaner the lamb the lower in calories this dish will be. I found bone-in lamb chops, and they had a bit of fat on them that I tried to cut off.

  • 2 lamb chops, boneless if possible
  • garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 ounces dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary
  • a few dashes of nutmeg, preferably fresh ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar, preferably balsamic

Sprinkle both sides of the lamb chops evenly with the garlic powder, salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick or a cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil or non-stick vegetable spray if you wish. Brown the lamb chops on both sides.

Combine the dried apricots and the chicken stock in a saucepan and boil, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then put in a food processor or a blender. Add the herbs, nutmeg, salt and vinegar and process to a puree.

Pour the mixture over the browned lamb chops in the pan, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

lamb with apricotsComments

This meal was a hit, from the asparagus with light hollandaise to the lamb chops with apricots. I thought the sweet apricot topping counterbalanced well the distinct flavor of the lamb.

I used fewer apricots than called for. I purchased a 5 ounce bag of dried apricots, and according to the nutrition label, it has “4 servings at 100 calories each”. Thus adding the original amount of 4 ounces would have added close to 400 calories to this dish for two people. So, I cut the amount of apricots. My apricots didn’t contain any chemical preservatives, so they were dark brown. Not pretty, but tasty.

p.s. A couple days later, I reheated the leftover light hollandaise sauce, and it was still very good – over broccoli the second time. It would also be good over fish, I think.

250 Cookbooks: Recipes for Healthy Living

Cookbook #78: Recipes for Healthy Living, Miriam B. Loo, Current, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1980.

Recipes for Healthy EatingPretty cover on this cookbook! I probably picked it up at a local book or gift store, since it was published in Colorado. I don’t think I have ever tried any of the recipes!

The book begins with several hints for healthy eating. Miriam Loo recommends using fructose instead of regular table sugar because it has fewer calories and tastes sweeter. Miriam likes tamari sauce instead of regular soy sauce because it has a stronger flavor. She also recommends triticale flour. This is a high protein, low gluten flour that was popular in the 80s. It is still available today from companies like Bob’s Red Mill, but I haven’t seen it called for in a bread/baking recipe in ages. And I read a lot of bread recipes!

Another of Miriam’s hints for healthy eating is safflower oil. According to Recipes for Healthy Eating, safflower oil “is the most polyunsaturated of the vegetable oils. Next in diminishing value are soybean, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and sesame seed. The more polyunsaturated the oil, the better the cholesterol-lowering properties.” Safflower oil is still available, but it is no longer the darling of healthy eating enthusiasts, perhaps because canola oil has entered the food scene. Canola oil has less saturated fat than safflower oil, although canola (rapeseed) oil has had its own bad press. This Wikipedia article has a nice table of the saturated/polyunsaturated content of cooking oils.

I turn the pages of Recipes for Healthy Eating. Recipes for “Whole Breakfast Drink” and “Yogurt-Fruit Shake” resemble today’s smoothies. “Almond Crunch Cereal” is essentially granola. Recipes for “Crispy Oat Thins” and “Graham Crackers” look interesting, but even I am not ready to put in that amount of work just for crackers. Today’s supermarkets carry a good variety of whole grain, additive-free crackers.

Miriam’s hints for healthy eating continue throughout the book. She also has hints for saving money. “In mid-winter when milk prices soar, pull the zucchini milk from the freezer and laugh at the high prices as you substitute this milk in your baking.” Zucchini Milk! You take zucchini (from your garden, if you have one), pare them, then blend them and store in the freezer to use instead of milk in recipes. Talk about pinching pennies!

“Mock” cream cheese and sour cream dressings call for low-fat cottage cheese, buttermilk, and/or skim milk. A nice idea, but low-fat cream cheese and dressings are now available in the markets.

The recipes for lean-meat main dishes do not spark any enthusiasm on my part. In the vegetable section, mushrooms are touted as “calorie bargains in vegetables” because they only contain 64 calories per pound as opposed to one calorie apiece for sugar peas. Talk about pinching calories!

The quick breads and pie crust recipes are whole grain and low-fat. Nothing sparks my interest. “Zucchini-Lemon Pie”? Hmm.

I probably picked up this cookbook because I used to be obsessive about counting calories, and in the 80s, many low-fat and whole grain prepared foods (salad dressings, crackers, cereals) were not readily available in local markets. I am not that obsessive any more, I just get lots of exercise and keep (what I consider) healthy foods in the house.

I will recycle this cookbook, but I need to cook a recipe for this blog. On this particular day, I plan to make beer can grilled chicken and I need a side dish to go with it. So I choose to try “Hot Broccoli-New Potato Salad”.

Broccoli Potato SaladI don’t have new potatoes and it’s not worth the gas money to drive the 12 mile round trip to the nearest store, so I will use russets (and peel them). I don’t have safflower oil, so I’ll use canola. Dried basil? I have fresh basil in my newly-established garden! I didn’t keep the broccoli and potatoes really hot before serving, they were more like room temperature and it tasted fine that way. The following is my version of this recipe.

Broccoli and Potato Salad
serves about 6

  • 3-6 potatoes, any variety, I used about 1 1/2 pounds
  • broccoli, about 1 pound
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or fresh basil to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • hot pepper sauce, a few drops
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Scrub the potatoes, and peel them if you like. Cut them into bite-sized chunks and cook until just tender.

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and cook until just tender. You can boil or steam the broccoli – your preference. I just got a microwave steamer so I used that.

Combine the oils, vinegar, orange juice, garlic, salt, basil, parsley, and pepper sauce in a saucepan and heat until just boiling.

Combine the potatoes, broccoli, green onions, and the heated sauce and toss. Serve!

Here are my ingredients for the sauce.

ingredientsAnd here is the completed salad. At least part of it – I tossed in some steamed asparagus after I took this photo!

Broccoli Potato SaladThis was good, and I am likely to make it again. We all liked the flavor of the dressing/sauce. I’m not sure it’s really important to heat the sauce, next time I might mix it like a vinaigrette. And feel free to add any vegetables besides just the broccoli!

250 Cookbooks: Michael Chiarello’s Flavored Oils and Vinegars

Cookbook #58: Michael Chiarello’s Flavored Oils and Vinegars. Michael Chiarello, Chronicle Books, LLC, San Francisco, CA, 2006.

Michael Chiarellol's Flavored Oils and VinegarsMy daughter gave me this cookbook. As a gift, along with a pretty cruet that I use to store olive oil.

This is a wonderful, contemporary cookbook. And a bit different from run-of-the-mill tomes, as it teaches how flavored oils and vinegars can bring bright flavors to meals. I admit that when I first got this cookbook, I made a couple oils then put the book away. But that’s before I had time to play with new recipes, and before I learned more about herbs and spices in the cooking classes that I took.

Chiarello presents basic methods for making the oils and vinegars, and shows how to use them in recipes. The techniques are not difficult nor long and tedious. Today, this sounds like a fun project for this ex-chemist!

I’d like to try a lot of the recipes (besides just making the oils/vinegars). Here are a few: Grilled Halibut with Basil Orange Marinade, Grilled Steak with Garlic Smashed Potatoes, Pork Tenderloin with Molasses, Bacon, and Porcini Vinaigrette, Roasted Salmon with Green Beans and Citrus Vinaigrette, and Pickled Shrimp and Vegetable Salad. (Long titles!) Those are the recipes both of us might like; there are a lot of meatless dishes I’d like to try, like a recipe for white beans and pasta, pesto pizza, roasted polenta, and pumpkin ravioli. He includes an interesting recipe for pineapple upside down cake and a peach and boysenberry cobbler.

I choose to make Pasta with Tomato Vinaigrette and Spiedini of Prawns with Pancetta and Oregano Dressing. I’ll need both oregano and basil oils for those two recipes. For our salads, I’ll make a vinaigrette using a flavored vinegar – my own recipe, I’ll share it – and round out the meal with a loaf of my no-knead bread.

(I am not going to scan in or copy any of Chiarello’s recipes because of copyright issues. Michael Chiarello is an active chef, author, and entrepeneur. I’ll send you to his website instead, and let you know that I highly recommend this book and his methods of cooking.)

I check my pantry to make sure I have plenty of olive oil and good vinegar. At the grocery store, I look for fresh basil, oregano, and tarragon, as well as shrimp and pancetta. (My goal for this spring is to plant at least one herb and learn how to cultivate my own. I have a long history of loss-of-interest in gardens.) Pancetta is a type of Italian bacon. The only pancetta I’ve used before was thick and sold pre-packaged. At Whole Foods, I find pancetta at the deli counter. They slice it very thin, like prosciutto. It is rippled with meat and fat. I can hardly wait to try it.

I settle into my kitchen and turn on the music. Gathering my ingredients, I take each herb out of its packet and enjoy the aroma. How different fresh herbs are from dried!

Since I’ve cited my source, I think it’s fair to overview Chiarello’s techniques. Below are my interpretations of his instructions for herb-flavored oils and vinegars. (And a photo of my way of marking my place in his cookbook.)

bookmarksHerb oil: Chop up a half cup of an herb, then put it in a pan with a cup of olive oil. Heat the mixture until it starts to sizzle. It only takes a couple minutes. Then, strain (I used a chinois) and the oil is ready to use, or to store in the refrigerator.

My oil in the cruet and some oregano:

cruet and oreganoStraining the heated oil-herb mixture through a chinois:

straining through a chinoisIf you like your oils to be less murky, you can strain them through coffee filters. A regular strainer, and maybe cheesecloth, would also work.

Herb vinegar: Chop up a cup of an herb and put it in a cup of vinegar. Chiarello recommends champagne vinegar, because it has an acidity of 6% compared to 5% for plain white vinegar. Process the mixture in a blender or mini-processor, then strain. It’s fun to watch the freshly made herb vinegar slowly change in color as the pigments extracted from the herb oxidize.

If you just try these two simple procedures, you will have two great tools in your cooking arsenal. Chiarello expands to variations on methods and the use of many types of spices and peppers in his oils and vinegars. If you are intrigued, find a copy of one of his books, or check online.

Here are three oils that I made: oregano, basil, and annatto seed.

herb oilsThe annatto seed oil is a remnant of my last cooking blog entry. The day I made the Mexican seviche and tortilla ball soup meal, I tried grinding a few annatto seeds. Then I read the annatto seed package: It suggested heating the seeds in oil until they sizzled, then straining the oil. So I did it – and note the method is the same as Chiarello’s. The annatto seed oil is richly red, staining everything it touches. It smells earthy and tastes just a bit hot.

annatto seedsstraining annatto seed oilNow to use my oils in the recipes. Pasta with Tomato Vinaigrette is pretty simple. You mix together peeled, seeded, chopped fresh tomatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, basil oil, and salt and let it rest at room temperature for about a half hour. While it rests, cook some pasta until al dente. Then mix it with freshly grated cheese (like Parmesan) and toss it with the vinaigrette.

The Spiedini of Prawns with Pancetta and Oregano Dressing takes a bit more time to prepare. The prawns are individually wrapped with a “slice” of pancetta threaded onto a wooden skewer. My pancetta was round in shape, and really gooey with fat. I just kind of worked some around the shrimps and threaded them snugged tightly on the skewers. The vinaigrette is prepared from garlic cooked in hot oil until quite brown and then sliced thinly, vinegar, oregano oil, green onions, and red peppers. Then, I grilled the shrimps about 5 minutes total and added them to the vinaigrette.

Here are the two vinaigrettes, some of the browned garlic cloves, the wrapped shrimp (before cooking), and the tarragon vinegar that I made for my salad dressing: oils and vinegars prepAnd here are the two finished dishes, the Pasta with Tomato Vinaigrette on the left, and the Spiedini of Prawns with Pancetta and Oregano Dressing on the right.

oils and vinegars mealAlong with bread and a salad, this meal was a hit, one of the best Saturday-night dinners that I have ever made. The flavors were bright, the shrimp cooked to perfection beneath the tasty pancetta.

Because I am not giving you the exact pasta and shrimp recipes (copyright issues), I will instead share my own recipe for a vinaigrette salad dressing. I learned the basic proportions and how to whisk the ingredients together to make the perfect emulsion in the “Sophisticated Sauces” cooking class that I took at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder.

Salad Dressing Vinaigrette PLF
makes enough dressing for 4-8 salads, depending on tastes

Here is how I make a vinaigrette for a salad. I experiment with different types of vinegars (rice wine, champagne, balsamic, red wine, homemade flavored vinegars) or citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange) and different types of oils (extra virgin olive, canola, walnut, grapeseed, homemade flavored oils). If you don’t like shallots or garlic, leave them out. What is important is the amounts of vinegar(s), mustard, and oil, and the constant whisking as you slowly add the oil. This recipe can be doubled.

  • 3 tablespoons of a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon mustard (Dijon or your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon very finely diced shallots (or onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about a tablespoon of fresh herbs: thyme, basil, parsley, etc.
  • 9-12 tablespoons oil (olive oil or a mixture of olive oil and a lighter oil like canola oil)

I usually chop the shallots, garlic, and herbs together until they are not quite a paste. Put the vinegar/lemon juice, honey, mustard, and shallot-herb mixture in a large bowl (yes, a large bowl).

Have your oil measured out in a pourable measuring cup (9 tablespoons is a little over half a cup, 12 tablespoons is 3/4 cup).

Use a big wire whisk to whisk together the mixture in the big bowl. Keep whisking while you very slowly pour in the oil. Do this drop-by-drop at first! After you have added a couple tablespoons, you can add it in a thin stream. Keep whisking!

After you have added the 9 tablespoons of oil, taste the dressing by dipping a piece of lettuce or a raw vegetable into it. (This is better than tasting with a spoon.) If it is too tart, whisk in more oil. If it needs salt or another seasoning, add it now. If it is too oily, you can whisk in a little vinegar or lemon juice.

This vinaigrette will keep emulsified for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator.