Losing My Noodle

It tastes way better than it looks.

Well, it sure isn't pretty, but it's delicious. Massaman curry with sweet potato, onion, and spaghetti squash. #oklavore
What I had for supper: massaman curry with sweet potatoes (from Urban Agrarian), spaghetti squash (from Guilford Gardens CSA), and onion.

The secrets: I used massaman curry paste that I picked from the huge selection at Super Cao Nguyen. The paste lasts forever in the refrigerator and its label provides guidance for making delicious curries.
To save on cooking time, I roasted the spaghetti squash last night. Spaghetti squash has a nutty flavor and loads of fiber. I stab it about 10 times and cook it at 400° for about an hour; cut in half, scrape out seeds and “noodles.”

I can’t eat massaman curry without thinking of Sukho Thai II in Denton, Texas. It is (was?) right off the north side of University of North Texas campus and you could get a mountain of massaman curry and rice for $3 or so. That was my first exposure to the deliciousness that is massaman curry, although tonight’s version was just as good and probably a lot healthier. I’m not sure if that tiny cafeteria-style Thai place is still on Hickory Avenue, but last I heard, they got all “fancy” and raised their prices.

I ♥ Okra

A lot of this came from my garden. All of it is from Oklahoma (except for the beer; shame on me). width=
Tomatoes, okra and onions from the garden

My garden is a late bloomer. I think this is because it doesn’t get full sun. But my okra plants are finally consistently producing, and I accumulated enough pods to make this okra dish recommended by my friend Marcy.

I am usually so late in sharing seasonal recipes/experiments that their usefulness isn’t realized until the following year. But not this time! You probably have okra in your garden, or have seen heaps of it at the farmers’ market. Here’s an easy recipe you can use tonight. (And there’s more where this came from.) And if you’re growing okra, let a few pods get really big and dry out. You can save the seeds and the dry pods look pretty cool in vases.

Okra Stir Fry
1 pound okra
1 T veg oil
1 t cumin seed
1/4 c dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1 T sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
1/4 t turmeric

1. Heat oil in wok* over med heat. Add cumin seed, sizzle 10-15 seconds.
2. Add remaining ingredients, stir fry 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until okra is tender.

*I don’t have a wok, so I used an 8-inch cast iron skillet and lid. Worked like a charm.

Part Two: Corn bread

beans and cornbread
Blue corn bread with purple hull peas from last summer’s garden. I cooked the peas in the same manner as the Christmas butter beans.

Might I propose an extra verse to the traditional Irish blessing? May you always have corn bread to sop up your bean juice.

But will it be sweet (Johnnycake) or savory corn bread? In my past life as a married woman, baking corn bread required negotiation. My ex-husband sees corn bread as another vehicle for sugar, but I like it hearty and rustic. (Like my men! Ha! Couldn’t resist.)

Rare Romance, Well-Done Marriage, a story I recently heard on The Moth podcast, explored household disagreements on food preferences. The storyteller, Adam Gopnik, pondered how “food becomes everything else.” Gopnik is insulted when his wife insists that he finish sauteing high-quality tuna until it looks as though it came from a can; her repeated rejection of his sense of taste hurts his ego. But the story sweetly concludes with a compromise: Gopnik will braise everything, which eliminates the rare/well-done divide.

I can relate to Gopnik’s thesis that “mouth tastes become moral tastes.” My college roommate, Nicole, was disgusted by my love of cilantro, celery and fizzy drinks. (She is still disgusted, but I don’t have to defend myself as often since she lives in Austin.) And I confess that since I’ve grown to love fried eggs over easy, I question the tastes of those who require a hard yolk, which is just gross.

What enduring food-related rivalry do you have with your partner/roomie/kid/lunchmate? Miracle Whip or mayonnaise; chocolate or vanilla; crunchy peanut butter or creamy; coffee or tea; white meat or dark; ranch or vinaigrette; white or wheat; medium or rare. What else is there? What am I missing?

blue corn cornbread
Indulgent blue corn bread with candied jalapenos
The blue cornmeal came from Stone Stack Mill via the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. The corn is grown in West Texas and is milled in Hydro, Okla. This batch was made with bacon fat. The candied jalapenos complemented the smokiness from the bacon.

Corn Bread
from the 1975 Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna

1 cup sifted flour
1 cup sifted cornmeal
1 T baking powder
¾ t salt
1 T sugar
1 egg
1 c milk
¼ c bacon drippings

Preheat oven to 400˚. Sift flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt, and if you like, sugar into a bowl; beat egg with milk and oil just to blend. Make a well in dry ingredients, pour in egg mixture, and stir until well blended. Pour into a well-greased 8x8x2 baking pan and bake 20-25 minutes until bread pulls slightly from edges of pan, is lightly browned and springy to the touch. Cut in large squares (or wedges) and serve oven hot with lots of butter. (That’s really what it says! Lots.)

Part One: Beans

Something Good

As I peered into the cabinet, it hit me: Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. (That’s the Sound of Music soundtrack for ya, always lurking in the shadows, readily employed when lacking courage or encountering a gazebo or rolling hills.) Maria’s soft, punctuated cadence popped into my head as I hoped something edible would come of some random ingredients, kind of like when she made play clothes out of curtains.

So I hummed and assembled this soup, which turned out quite good.

Something Good Soup
:: flavorful pork broth (reserved from the ham hock experiment)
:: acini di pepe (a fun pasta I like to keep on hand)
:: dehydrated gray oyster mushrooms (from Om Gardens, which, sadly, no longer exists)
:: chard from the garden
:: cilantro from the garden
:: green onion

And, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s Maria and the Captain singing “Something Good.” (Hang on until at least 1:05.)

And an adaptation by the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata. (I recently acquired their wonderfully bizarre debut album, The Hills are Alive.)

Heavenly Ham Hock

I pulled a ham hock out of the freezer and read the label: “ham hock.” “Are all ham hocks smoked?” I wondered. I sniffed it, but detected no smoky goodness. Apparently not. I didn’t know what to do with a fresh ham hock. My cookbooks provided no guidance, so I went to the Internet and found a couple of recipes for braised fresh ham hock (also called “pork shank”).

heavenly ham hock
I used this recipe for Chinese braised hocks. The braising liquid calls for dark salted rice wine, which I didn’t have, so I used sherry.

I wanted crispy skin and melty fat, so after it was in the slow cooker for about nine hours, I moved the hock to a 450˚ oven for about 30 minutes. While it was in the oven, I attempted to reduce the braising liquid into a sauce. I didn’t have enough time for it to noticeably reduce, but it still worked fine drizzled on the meat, rice, and greens. (The meal that keeps on giving! Later I made soup by adding  kimchi, bok choy, and rice to the remaining broth.)
heavenly ham hock
Ham hock, sautéed bok choy, and brown rice.
The meat fell off the bone and this former vegetarian wanted to scarf down every bit, along with the skin and fat! However, I had some restraint, but only because I needed leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
heavenly ham hock
The flavor and textures were incredible and comparable to pork belly, except with more meat.
I’ve gone from being unsure about fresh ham hock to actively seeking it so I can cook it again, but in a milder liquid so I can get a better sense of the cut’s flavor.

Mushroom Sauce

I really need to build a culinary repertoire. I rarely make the same thing twice (exceptions: stir-fried bok choy, chicken and dumplings, fruit crisps and cornmeal cobbler), and I’d really like to cultivate some go-to recipes for when I have company. Enter: mushroom sauce. It’s vegetarian; it’s delicious; and it’s easy to keep all the ingredients on-hand. I’m on my way!

Mushroom Sauce
from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (This is a great cookbook. Thank you, Christine!)

:: 3 T butter
:: 2 ½ c chopped mushrooms*
:: 1 c minced onion
:: 1 t salt
:: 7 T sherry or broth (use sherry!)
:: 2 T flour
:: 1 large garlic clove, minced
:: pepper to taste
:: 2/3 c water or broth**
:: 1 c sour cream or plain yogurt (room temperature)

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion and salt. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in sherry, then turn heat to low and slowly sprinkle in flour. Keep stirring for a minute or two after all the flour is in. Add garlic and pepper to cook and stir over low heat 5-10 minutes. Stir broth and yogurt into sauce, mixing well until it is completely incorporated and heated throughout. Serve over hot cooked pasta and top with freshly grated cheese. Fall variation: Serve over sweet potatoes or on toast.

*Don’t you hate it when there is an asterisk with no corresponding footnote? I promise to never do that to you.
To the matter at hand: I used dried golden oyster mushrooms from Om Gardens.
**I intended to use chicken broth for the sauce, but realized I could use the strained liquid reserved from reconstituting the dry mushrooms. It’s full of flavor and tastes earthy, delicious and nutritious.

dried golden oysters
sweet potatoes, gravy sauce, chard
The sweet potatoes roasted while I made the sauce and sautéed chard from my garden (thanks, Chelsey!).

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Do you still have Thanksgiving leftovers? If so, combat boredom with Mark Bittman’s suggestions for transforming Thanksgiving mainstays.

Last night I used the last of my mashed potatoes to make something like Bittman’s garlic-rosemary potato fritters. Instead of garlic and rosemary, I used caramelized onions (which I cooked the night before to save time) and thyme. Some crumbled blue cheese would have been a fantastic addition; I found my fritters a little dull.

An aside: How I love fritters! Here are posts on pumpkin fritters, corn fritters, and zucchini fritters.
potato fritters
Onion-thyme potato fritters with Greek yogurt and some endive and olives.

Along the same lines, read this great essay by Tamar Adler about applying Thanksgiving-meal planning to everyday cooking:

We see in everything we buy and cook the promise of leftovers, and the makings of meals to come. … To cook sustainably, we need meat and vegetables to come in their own skins and on their bones and covered in their leaves, because they’re more economical and will leave us more to turn into future meals. We need to cook a bit more at once, and then do little cooking, and more adjusting during the week, which is often all we have time for, anyway.

Sounds a lot like someone I know.