Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back of the Kitchen Cupboard Door Recipes

by Lisa

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My mother used to tape copies of her most-used recipes, usually clipped from newspapers and magazines or handwritten on index cards, on the inside of a kitchen cupboard door. The recipe I remember most clearly was for pancakes, probably because it was one of the first dishes I prepared all by myself. I remember standing on a chair, opening the door, and reading through the list of ingredients. I measured and mixed the flour, broke the eggs, heated the skillet. Everything went smoothly until we took the first bites. I had used a full tablespoon of baking soda instead of baking powder.

Most of us have a handful of recipes we can rely upon and make again and again, ones we can eventually make without much thought or measure, with ingredients we have on hand. This summer, I had the pleasure of teaching some of those recipes--scaled down to single portions--to our son, who just began a study abroad term in London and is, for the first time in his life, responsible for cooking for himself.

As my husband and I left him in his apartment last week, I couldn't help worrying about all the recipes and techniques and tips we didn't get to. But it is no small comfort, as I imagine him walking each day to class over Waterloo Bridge with a spectacular view of Big Ben and the London Eye, as he looks to a future he is just beginning to create, to know that he feels enough at home in the kitchen that he won't have to rely entirely on sandwiches from Pret a Manger or Sainsbury's. I had originally planned to send with him a fistful (or Kindleful) of detailed recipes, but as the summer days wound down, it was clear he did not need them. While we didn't get around to all of the dishes I wanted to show him, we did enough.

How do I know? When we were shopping for apartment necessities and I suggested measuring cups and spoons, he said he didn't need them, that he could guestimate using drinking cups and regular spoons.

He'll be fine.

Below are two of the dishes-for-one now taped to his mental kitchen cupboard door, each requiring only one saucepan. Pasta, Peas, and Peanut Butter Sauce is a family favorite he has enjoyed since toddlerhood, filling, tasty, and easy to make. The second, which I'll call Ramen Rivero, is his own creation, after several experimentations with easy, low-cost vegetarian ramen dishes (sans salty and usually non-vegetarian seasoning packet).

What are your back-of-the-kitchen-door recipes?

Pasta, Peas (or Broccoli), and Peanut Butter Sauce

2 - 3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter (or half peanut butter and half tahini)
1 -2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
several drops of toasted sesame oil
water as needed
1/2 cup dry elbow macaroni or other pasta
1/3 cup frozen peas or 1/2 cup chopped fresh broccoli

1. To make the sauce, combine in a medium bowl the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary, add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.

2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add pasta, and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add peas or broccoli, and cook until pasta is soft enough to eat but not mushy.

3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste and a little more water if necessary, and eat straight from the bowl.

Ramen Rivero

1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 single-serving package ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded)
1/2 cup packaged broccoli slaw or cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage, carrots, etc.)
1/4 pound homemade or packaged baked and seasoned tofu, such as White Wave baked Thai-flavored tofu, cubed
1/4 cup fresh bean sprouts
a sprinkling of chopped peanuts and scallions, optional

1. To make the sauce, combine in a bowl the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.
2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add ramen noodles and slaw vegetables, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add bean sprouts, and cook an additional minute.
3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Add cubed tofu, and stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste, and sprinkle with peanuts and scallions, if desired.

Pad Thai-style Version: Add a chopped, scrambled egg when you add the tofu.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's the eggs that bring me down.

Egg 02When I answered the phone, the doctor sounded grim.

"Well...hello," he said. Then, he let out a deep sigh. At that point, I knew.

A week before he called, I had taken my son in for another blood test to see if maybe - hopefully - my son's allergy to eggs was beginning to wane. This was his third blood test, and my son (then seven years old) bragged to the phlebotomist about how he had cried the first time but hardly at all the second time and this was his third time and it might pinch a little but he probably wouldn't cry at all. Then he watched her every move.

He was very brave.

And, it was all for naught.

His numbers were still high, the doctor told me -- those mysterious numbers that to me as a parent mean little but to our doctor meant his growing out of this allergy was not likely.

I told my son about the news, and he fell quiet for a moment. Then he went back to his business of riding his big wheel up and down the block. He moved on, as kids are known to do, but I didn't.

I wanted to keep talking, shed some tears together, curse the egg.

Now, at almost ten years old, he's still highly allergic, to eggs and nuts. While the nuts prove to be more life-threatening, the egg allergy is just as hazardous, because it's more difficult to circumvent and more frustrating to explain. Especially during a call to RSVP for a birthday party or a playdate.

"So...he can't have butter?" the party host asks.

"No, no. I mean, yes. Butter is fine. That's dairy. He can't have eggs," I say.

" eggs. But cake is good, right?"

"No. I mean, sure, it's good. But not for him. There are eggs in the cake. Unless it's a cake baked without eggs."

"...Right. Is there such a thing? A cake without eggs?"

"Well, sure," I say, and I go off into a diatribe about egg substitutes and my own failed experiments and Depression Cake, which is - by design - absent of eggs but barely big enough to feed a horde of sugar-hungry boys, and I might mention Vegan cakes, which are again really small, but by this time the other end of the line has gone quiet and all I hear is my own manic voice, so I go back to, "Generally, cake is out."

I fall back to the old standard. "You know what. I'll pack some cupcakes for him. It's no problem. I'll pack two, in fact, so that he's sure to get his sugar fix even without the birthday cake." We laugh, both of us relieved. Then, I hang up the phone, and I curse the egg.

Most days, I'd like to forget about the eggs.

So, that is exactly what I propose right now.

Forget the eggs.

Instead of offering you a recipe with some fancy concoction of a substitute (and know what I typically use is a concoction, all white and chalky -- mmm, yes?), I give you a recipe absent of egg, completely "friendly" for all those who must do without.

It's also kid approved, which pleases this mama even more.


1 jar spaghetti sauce (if you make your own sauce, you're my hero)
1 box lasagna noodles
1 medium container of plain Greek yogurt
1 medium container ricotta cheese
Shredded mozzerella cheese
(other cheese depending on your taste - parmesan, provolone)
1 cup of water

Mix yogurt and ricotta. Add a teaspoon of oregano or other herbs.

Starting with uncooked noodles, layer each section - noodles, sauce, yogurt mix, cheese.  You can do two or three layers, depending on the size of your baking pan. End with cheese.

Add water to corners of lasagna, about 1/4 cup in each corner. You'll think it's not enough liquid to bake the noodles, but it works.

Bake covered for 1 hour at 350 F. Remove cover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until cheese is browned.  Take out of the oven and let stand for 20 minutes. Without going into the chemistry of baking (because, what do I know about chemistry anyway?), this dish holds together well. Even without the you-know-what.

(Thanks to my sister-in-law for passing on such a yummy recipe.)

Your turn. What ingredient would you like to forget?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Griddle Cakes

I'm sitting on a hotel room floor in the dark listening to my family snore with one ear and a very mellow Joseph Arthur sing "The Real You" in the other. This is the end of our time in Arkansas hours after Dad's famous spaghetti dinner when I'm thinking about the real him and I'm left, again, completely confounded.

I'm thinking about how we know our parents, or rather, how we don't know a thing about them. I'm thinking about how everything they are to us comes from what and how they give. Everything I know about my dad comes down to these generic things: He loves big breakfasts and natural things; he's always enjoyed fishing and hunting; he cheated on my mother; he remarried when I was 11; and when I was in high school, he moved to Arkansas where I would avoid and ignore him for nearly ten years.

He's not so simple. Nobody is. Yet I still don't know his story, what turned him from my work-a-day, joke-telling dad to the man I shot with silent anger for so stupidly long. That is a bravery I don't know that I have. But outside of today, we never know the time there is.

Here's to pancakes and dads with layers--

My Old Fashioned Griddle Cakes (Tested weekly)

Sift together into a medium bowl:
1 1/2 Cup white flour
1 1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
6 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Make a well in the center and add 2 1/2 cups cold lowfat milk, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 2 beaten eggs. Whisk well, making sure to scrape sides and bottom of bowl.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 cup fruit of choice (berries, mango, banana)

If the batter is too thick add more milk until you reach the desired consistency. Although lumpy with fruit, I like the batter to be similar in consistency to heavy cream, as the cakes cook they will puff.

Ladle onto hot griddle or pan and flip when cakes bubble. I use an electric griddle set at about 320 degrees.

These are very forgiving pancakes, the more you make them the more you may feel like messing around with the ingredients--mango ginger, pumpkin (don't use too much pumpkin or the cakes will be too thick and heavy, add pumpkin spice), banana coconut almond, pumpkin chai, eggnog...

Serves: 4+ 

Update:  I've been making these cakes for months from memory and I have to admit, I don't often measure out the milk. It seems the above 2 1/2 cups is far less than what this recipe needs. I'll give you my standard measure--pour a bunch in, stir, and pour more if you think it needs it.

Today we're eating raspberry cakes. What's your flavor?