Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cucumber-Mint Salad

I got this recipe from a “how to cook Indonesian” cookbook years ago, and re-made it from memory the other day, to go with the sate-style chicken below. The freshness complements the chicken’s heavy flavors.
(To be honest, I never had a real Indonesian serve me a salad like this. They would usually serve diced cucumber, shallots and bird's-eye peppers floating in 20%-acetic-acid vinegar with no sugar added.)

4 cucumbers
¼ red onion, minced (optional)
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
3 T brown sugar or palm sugar

For each cucumber, peel, cut in half crosswise, then lengthwise. Stand the cucumber quarters on end and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Discard seeds; slice the cucumbers thinly. You should get little crescent-shaped pieces. Place in a large bowl.
Mince the onion and add to the cucumber.
Wash the mint leaves, pat dry, and chop. Mix with the cucumber. (Shown)
Measure the vinegar into a measuring cup. Add the 3 T brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour over the cucumber and mint; stir. Cover and store in the fridge, stirring periodically so that all the cucumber gets a chance to marinade.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sate-Style Chicken in Peanut Sauce

Indonesian "sate" is street food served in roadside booths in the evening. It consists of chicken ‘bits’ skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over hot coals. (If you try this method, you should soak the sticks first so they don’t catch on fire.) So that the meat will cook quickly, the chicken pieces in Indonesian sate are generally very small. One bamboo skewer will typically contain a few pieces that are meat, a few that are mostly skin, and a few that are organ meats. This recipe was adapted to American tastes and recommends boiling the chicken because that is the fastest method and will produce tender juicy meat.
6 to 8 chicken breasts or other meaty pieces, + 2 cups reserved broth
2 jars all-natural peanut butter (1 crunchy, 1 smooth)
¼ onion, finely minced or grated (optional)
8 - 10 cloves garlic, minced or grated
6 – 8 tablespoons soy sauce
10 tablespoons brown sugar
6 – 8 teaspoons hot pepper sauce (optional)
Boil chicken in a large pot. If necessary, debone and boil further until no pink remains. Reserve 2 cups broth. Cool chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Meanwhile, add peanut butter, reserved broth, onion, garlic, soy sauce, sugar and hot pepper sauce (if using) to another pot. For hot sauce and sugar, add a little at a time, tasting in between. Cook on medium heat, stirring, until the ingredients combine to produce a sauce. If necessary, add more water as the sauce cooks to achieve the desired consistency. Add chicken to sauce, stir, and heat through. If desired, serve with rice, extra soy sauce and extra hot sauce. To make it really Indonesian, the beverage should be iced tea.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Baby Carrots on Snopes

I eat a lot of baby carrots. So this was moderately disturbing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Don’t tell Dad, but the wheat flour, wheat germ, and yoghurt in this recipe make the cupcakes … not health food certainly, but at least not quite so bad for Dad.

1 c. white flour
½ c. wheat flour
1 T wheat germ
½ c. cocoa powder
1/3 c. sugar
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
2 eggs
2/3 c. milk
2/3 c. oil
2/3 c. plain low-fat yoghurt
1 t. vanilla
¼ c. natural peanut butter (containing peanuts only)
1/3 c. butter (softened)
1 to 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
mini M&M’s

Preheat oven 350 F. Line 2 cupcake pans (for 24 cupcakes) with liners, or grease and flour. I had better luck with metallic liners than with paper.
In a large bowl mix or whisk together dry ingredients for cupcakes. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and oil; beat again. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture. Add the egg mixture, and mix or beat until smooth. Add the yoghurt and vanilla and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Drop dough by scant ¼-cupfuls into the cupcake pans. (1/4 cupful should fill each cupcake liner about 2/3 full.) Bake at 350 F for 19 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan 5 minutes. Carefully transfer cupcakes to cooling racks and cool completely before frosting.
For frosting, cream together peanut butter and softened butter. Add powdered sugar ¼ cupful at a time until you get a stiff, spreadable frosting. I ended up adding a total of 1 ¼ cups of powdered sugar, and it made more frosting than I needed for the cakes.
Frost cakes with the peanut butter frosting. Decorate with mini M&M’s in the colors of your choice (yellow does not look very good). In the States, you can buy M&Ms in just one or two colors at some candy or party stores. Or get a child to help you go through the bag and sort the M&Ms into color piles. Even with mini M&Ms, the cupcakes were not big enough to allow me to spell out “Dad.” But you can put Dad’s initial, or a heart or design as shown.
Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 24 hours before the frosting begins to melt and the M&Ms begin to bleed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Book Review: In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan, 2008

It was in 2006 that I first heard the term “trans fats.” Returning to the U.S. after a four-year absence, we discovered that many food products now boasted they had “none” of something we had never before heard of. A new food baddie had been discovered, or perhaps made up. This constant turnover in nutritional buzzwords is one aspect of a wider phenomenon which Michael Pollan critiques in his book.

Pollan’s basic thesis is that the nutrient-by-nutrient approach to healthy eating has served to confuse consumers by taking nutrition out of the realm of common sense and putting it in the hands of the experts, those scientists who alone can detect the nutrients that are invisible to the naked eye. The same approach has been very profitable to the processed-food industry. If the experts say a nutrient is bad, manufacturers can find a way to remove it from their products. If the experts say a nutrient is good, it can be added to just about anything.

The problem, says Pollan, is that foods are probably greater than the sum of their parts, and certainly greater than the sum of the very limited number of nutrients that have so far been discovered. That’s why taking a supplement that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, and folic acid is not as good for you as eating a carrot. It’s a classic case of scientific reductionism. Reductionism fails again and again, but the modern dream lives on. We keep trying to use our limited knowledge of science to make foods that are better than the plant and animal foods that God causes to grow right out of the ground for us. And of course the foods we make are always much worse than the God-given foods, though sometimes it takes us decades to figure this out. So we spent a generation eating hydrogenated vegetable oils, now known as trans fats, because the experts told us that they were better for us than lard. That's right, lard. Pollan demonstrates that they're actually much worse for us. Than - I must say it again - lard. That was the biggest surprise in the book, for me.

(An interesting side note: part of the blame for Americans’ susceptibility to the notion that basic, natural foods such as meat and cheese could be unqualifiedly bad, can be laid at the door of the church. There has been a strain of asceticism that keeps popping up in the church at various times and places that mistrusts the enjoyment of food, viewing such sensual pleasure as an indulgence of people’s “animal nature.” Its roots lie in the acceptance of the ancient Greek notion that matter is evil and spirit is good. This notion, by the way, is in defiance of the Bible which teaches us that “the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of what we eat or drink” and that “God gives us all things richly to enjoy.” This mistrust of table pleasures goes way back, but it flowered in the modern age in such characters as the Seventh-Day Adventist John Harvey Kellogg, whose contributions to American food faddism Pollan briefly documents [56 – 57]. Just more proof that error in the church can have bizarre, long-term effects in the greater culture.)

Pollan closes his book with some rules of thumb that can be summarized: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants” and include injunctions like “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” So: hooray for steak! Hooray for eggs and fish and chicken! Hooray for milk and yoghurt and real cheese (not “cheese food”)! And double hooray for apples and cantaloupe and peppers and tomatoes and cherries and sweet corn and mangos and squash and carrots and watermelon. And lest you think I am a food puritan, hooray for homemade cake as well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cupcakes are hot

They made the cover in a recent Winter issue of Taste of Home magazine. They featured in a 2007 Reader's Digest "100 Best" article. And in the April 09 Family Circle's recipe contest, the winners in the Cakes and Desserts divisions were both cupcake recipes.
The trend seems to be huge gobs of frosting. Fine with me.
My sister suggested we make these for a family party. Hers was the vision of cupcakes in bold colors. We just made them from a mix. We whipped up our own frosting with shortening, butter, powdered sugar. Then for each cupcake we used a knife to spread a thin layer of frosting for a base, then we piped on the stars using a very large pipe tip. The final touch was sprinkling them with clear sugar ... also my sister's inspiration. They went like, well ... cupcakes.