Here is the amazing napa cabbage we brought home from the farm last week:
Look at it! That's a cabbage to feed your whole family. Napa cabbage has not got really anything to do with the Napa valley. It's also known as Chinese cabbage, which can be somewhat confusing, because bok choy is also also known as Chinese cabbage. Usually, when you see a napa cabbage in the grocery store, it's a much paler, celery color, but it's still good (just not as good as this one).
To keep things interesting, I used both the napa and the bok choy we got from the farm in the chicken salad:
It's adapted from a recipe in Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, as per the stuff I had in my fridge.
The important part is the dressing, which is damn simple to make, and absolutely fresh and fantastic, and as follows:
3 TB fresh lime juice
3 TB fish sauce
2 TB rice or cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 - 3 bird or serrano chiles, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 shallots, thinly sliced and separated into rings
Mix up the liquids and the sugar, then add the rest and let stand for 30 minutes or as long as it takes you to make the other stuff.
For my salad, I used poached chicken, the napa and bok choy, cilantro, mint, scallions and some chopped up peanuts. I mixed it all up and served it over noodles, and had enough left over for sandwiches the next day. It's really perfect hot weather food.
For the completists out there, the original recipe calls for 2 lbs chicken (poached and shredded), 1 cup bean sprouts (blanched for 30 seconds), 2 cups shredded napa or Savoy cabbage, and 2/3 cup Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), or substitute 2/3 cup basil or 1/2 cup mint, chopped or coarsely torn.
This week was our first farm pickup, and it was incredible. They've already got lots of lettuces and greens and things. Next week I promise I'll try to remember my camera, because it's just lovely.
This is just a sauté that I tossed with some pasta and cheese. The flavors are so fresh that I didn't want to get in the way. It's turnips, radishes, peapods, some greens, scallions and chives, with butter and walnuts.
Recently I found myself, just before bed, fantasizing about Fettuccine Alfredo. I wanted the very simple version, more creamy than cheesy, that I used to get as takeout in college. Unfortunately, it was too late to make my own and I no longer live anywhere near enough to that restaurant for takeout, but the next day I was able to make that fantasy a reality.
Since the sauce itself is very simple, I thought it would be fun to make my own pasta as well, and it was. I have a pasta roller/cutter thing, which I like using a bit more than rolling and cutting it by hand because the kids always beg me to let them help out turning the crank. The recipe for the pasta dough, if you can call it that, was simply one and a half cups flour mixed with three large eggs.
And the results were even better than my dreams. I've made all kinds of Alfredos, and I usually enjoy them (butter, cream and cheese? what's not to like?), but in this recipe the prosciutto and nutmeg definitely give sort of a form to all that fat, and the cream is reduced and full of flavor, and the homemade pasta just sucks up all the sauce... I'll be in my kitchen.
As you may have guessed, I'm not a huge fan of convenience food. Even so, my family enjoys a frozen pot pie on occasion, and they're reasonably good. A pot pie made from scratch, however, is a joy for ever, or at least until dinner's over. Not only are they one of nature's perfect comfort foods, they're also a great way to use up leftover chicken and/or veggies. They're a little more work than the frozen kind, but they take about the same amount of time to make, since they don't bake near as long.
What follows is a quick and dirty recipe, the kind that allows for a lot of improvisation depending on what you've got (you can even leave out the onions, if you must). Try it and let me know how it comes out.
(with apologies to long-time readers who've seen this before in my livejournal)
You may suspect, by now, that the chief ingredients of all chili are fiery envy, scalding jealousy, scorching contempt and sizzling scorn. - H. Allen Smith (the first International Chili Society World's Chili Champion)
My favorite history of chili story is the one where the Aztecs cut up some conquistadores and cook them with chile peppers, thus inventing chili. In fact, Incans, Aztecs and Mayans can all lay claim to a stew of meat, beans, peppers and herbs that is probably a precursor of modern chili. Canary Islanders, transplanted to San Antonio in the early 18th century, were used to spicing their food up; when they got to Texas they combined their traditional cooking styles with local ingredients to come up with something very similar to Texas-style chili. Cowboys certainly immortalized the dish. It's been posited that their cooks found that the spices cut the flavor of the fresh (as opposed to aged) beef they had to eat on the trail. Who actually counts as first and what actually counts as chili, however, are apparently matters of heated debate.
Then there are the chili recipes themselves. Thick (perhaps even thickened with cornmeal, hominy or cracker crumbs) or thin? With beans (and what type of beans) or without? Should there be tomatoes? Onions? Bell peppers? And what about that spice blend (cumin, especially, is a matter of contention and family feuds)? The controversy rages. Many self-professed chili lovers insist that chili can't be made by Northerners, period. Others hold that a good, "real" chili can only be made by men (this despite the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio history).
Frankly, I find it all a bit weird. Maybe that's what happens when you let men do the cooking - they make it into a big controversy and competition and call attention to themselves so we'll congratulate them for cooking at all (see also: barbecue).
I do, in fact, have a personal favorite chili recipe, but that doesn't mean that I go around condemning other chili cookers and refusing to eat their chili. My mom, who's a vegetarian, happens to make a pretty kick-ass chili with sweet potatoes and pinto beans.
The thing about comfort food is that it often tastes great but looks brown and smooshy. Thus, even though I have been cooking, I haven't been photographing much and therefore haven't been blogging it. Still, I wanted to preserve this beef stew for posterity, because it managed to be pretty much everything I wanted in a beef stew.
...Christmas cookies. But hey, they're really just sugar cookies, why save them for the holidays? Cut them out in hearts and give them to an early Valentine.
This is my favorite cookie cutter cookie recipe ever. The dough has sour cream, and a bit of nutmeg, so the cookies aren't boring, and it rolls and cuts out easier than pie. Trust me. The icing is just confectioner's sugar and milk, with a little vanilla, separated and dyed whatever colors suit your fancy. (Other people use water or lemon juice, in which case I'd omit the vanilla.) Mix it up thick enough to spread easily (not too drippy) and let your inner Picasso (or Pollock, in my case) out to play.
Clockwise from the front: Santa's Balls, Ginger-Orange Stars, Old Fashioned Filled Cookies, Mocha Shortbread, Cookie Cutter Cookies, Chocolate-Dipped Florentine Shortbread, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Have a great holiday. I'll be back next week with more cookies, lots of homemade presents to recap, and other random stuff.