Reboot? The Mom Food Project takes some new directions

News and updates from MomFoodLand.

I’m finding that my MomFood efforts have turned a bit of a corner since I got out of school and The Kid became an adult. First of all, I’ve already made most of my personal momfoods for the blog. Just did chopped liver, for instance. It’s one of my favorite foods of childhood, and one I hadn’t gotten right until now. It’s also one of the only things I missed when I was a vegetarian (the other thing was shellfish). I’m running out of my momfoods!

Food dates with the kid

Enter The Kid. She has always appreciated that I cook and serve her own personal Mom Foods, many of which are things I grew up on. Lately, though, she and I have started doing a Sunday cook-together date, and it’s really great. She picks the food she wants us to make, and finds us a recipe to follow. I shop on Friday night or Saturday (with her if she wants to go) and we cook on Sunday. One time, we made okonomiyaki. The kid REALLY likes Japanese food and culture.

I didn’t think to photograph our most recent effort until we were packing up the leftovers, but we made the korokke recipe from JapanCentre (SO delicious) and some cucumber salad. (The dressing for the salad is just rice vinegar, water, and a ton of both sugar and salt — all to taste.)

Japanese korokke

cucumber salad

She wants to start cooking foods from different cultures, and I am 100% down with that. I had recently started a YouTube playlist about that very thing, using the State Department’s list of countries as inspiration. I also found a free e-cookbook of 64 national dishes from around the world. This is going to be FUN.

The MomFood Delivery Service

Sundays are also the day I have started cooking and delivering dinner to my mom’s, so that she and my uncle can skip meal prep for a day or three (depending on how fast they eat it up). This blog started out being about the foods my mom cooked for me, but it’s come full circle, and now I cook my little heart out on Sundays trying to make foods she’ll love and eat, and that my uncle won’t turn his nose up at. He’s a total traditionalist, so dishes so far have been of the meat-and-starch variety: fish and chips, grilled chicken and mashed potatoes, etc.

Again, I’m bad with photos lately, but the crowning glory of this week’s meal was a gorgeous and fiddly (but I like fiddly sometimes) potato dish from Sarah Carey’s Everyday Food YouTube Channel. I got a great deal on a new mandoline and only cut myself once. I call that a win. I also roasted a huge rib-eye roast, which was a big hit. Here’s the video about making the potatoes.

Here’s my version, badly lit — it’s really just a photo I asked the kid to take while she was downstairs and text to me so I could see if it was time for it to come out yet (it wasn’t).

roasted potatoes

Getting out of our food rut

Doing all this cooking has made me want to make my own dinner table a little more exciting. We’re in a rut, food-wise. Part of that is due to my dietary guidelines, but part is just that we’ve been busy and falling back on old standards during my exceptionally busy summer.

In order to combat this, I’ve been setting aside some time every day to read the stash of food magazines that builds up around here; they’re castoffs from my uncle, and while I wouldn’t spend all that money on them, I love love love reading them. I asked James to brainstorm with me about the best way to actually use them as a resource. I could just read them for fun and vague ideas for things, as I have always done, but I wanted to actually make some of the best things in the magazines happen in our house, so we can stop eating the same thing all the time. I thought about scanning in the pages I liked best and making a PDF “cookbook” for myself. I thought about going back to my roots and making a binder like I had in cooking school, full of plastic sheet protectors, keeping pages in there for inspiration, and cooking from that like a cookbook.

But James had a better, funner idea. And don’t tell me “funner” isn’t a word. When I find a recipe that looks great, that looks like we’ll both like it, I’ll tear it out and put it into an envelope. On Fridays, I’ll pull out an envelope at random and add the ingredients to my shopping list, so I can make the dish on Saturday. This way, I don’t add an extra trip, and I don’t try to cook yet another dish on Sunday when I’m doing both the kid thing and the mom thing. Cool, right?

Anyway, I’m cooking a lot and posting almost not at all, and I plan for that to change, but because of server changes, my lack of design skills, and my love of shaking things up, that may mean a reboot of the site. I’m going to consult with my tech team (translation: post to Twitter and ask for advice) and start working on a new look and feel for this site.

This blog has always been a labor of love, and continues to be, though I’ve been neglecting it. It’s also always been ad-free, and will continue to be. I may put up a store in the future, but will never accept ads.

Anyway, that’s all the update I have for you this week. Hope to be coming at you a lot more often from now on.

And if you want to make me super-happy? Tell me in comments what awesome things you’ve been cooking for your family, or wanting to try.

Fish ball soup in ginger-coconut broth

Soup is about comfort. Comfort is about love.

Soup can be such a comfort.

My mom had only a handful of soups she made–my dad preferred canned–but when he was out to sea, she made them fairly often, and what they lacked in variety or complexity, they made up for in deliciousness. Her clam chowder has four or five ingredients; her split pea is just split peas, ham hocks, carrots, onions, and celery; kneidlach soup is a bit more of a production. I can’t remember any others that she made with any regularity.

Me, I could eat soup every day.

Here’s a soup that was a bit of an accident. I was in the mood for kimchi soup, but I was out of kimchi and didn’t realize it until I got to the fridge. Oh, woe!

I have made several iterations of this, and as I always was with mom’s soups, I’m impressed with how flavorful and complex it seems with so few ingredients (and some of the ingredients there are are optional, so you may have even fewer).

Soup isn’t about spending hours in the kitchen, usually, at least not for me. Soup is about comfort. And comfort is about love.

Please have this soup recipe from me, with love. Even better, serve it to someone who will feel loved because of the gift.

fish ball soup in coconut ginger broth

Fish ball soup in ginger-coconut broth
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Thai-ish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
This improvised soup is reminiscent of a Thai coconut-milk soup. Fish-lovers will really enjoy it.
Ingredients
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil or other oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 cup potatoes, chopped (optional)
  • dash salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-sodium)
  • 1 can (15 oz or so) coconut milk (I use organic to avoid the additives)
  • Vietnamese fish sauce to taste (or use soy sauce or tamari)
  • 1 cup (5-10) Japanese fish balls or other fish-cake-like item (or use cubes of fresh boneless fish, or shelled and deveined shrimp)
  • ¼ to ½ cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, carrot, potatoes (optional), and salt to saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to turn translucent.
  3. Add garlic and ginger and cook for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
  6. Add fish sauce to taste. I usually start with a few tablespoons and taste the broth, then add more if necessary.
  7. Add fish and peas and cook about 10 minutes more, until fish is heated through.
  8. Garnish with cilantro if desired, and serve.
Notes
I used 4-5 purple marble potatoes (very small new potatoes) in this, but any kind of potato, or none, is fine, and noodles or rice would be fine, as well -- just cook them first, place some in each bowl, and pour soup over the top.

If you don't have an East Asian grocery near you, some ingredients may be harder to find, so I've offered substitutions that I know from experience are good.

 

Korean-style braised beef

Korean braised beef stew. So good!

The starting point was Maangchi‘s recipe for Doejibulgogi, or spicy stir-fried pork.

I used a pound of chuck, and since chuck prefers a slow braise, I put the ingredients (minus the green peppers, which I didn’t have handy) into a cast-iron Dutch oven instead. I browned the beef first, then added the remaining ingredients and about a half cup of water, then cooked on low heat for about an hour and a half.

It’s not too spicy, but it’s got a little zing to it. It’s very very rich and delicious.

Korean beef braise

Two bad photos equal a good one, right? This stuff was far more tasty than it looks here.

Korean braised beef stew

Banchan: learning to cook Korean side dishes

Learning to make Korean banchan, tiny side dishes.

Yes, I’ve been on a Korean-food kick lately. I’ve got a batch of kimchi in the fridge; it’s a lot less salty than the last batch, but not as spicy. I’ll keep working on it.

soup and banchan dishes on the table

And I’ve bought some little dishes for banchan, because I’ve been in love with those little dishes of joy since the first time I had dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant, Sura. At Sura, they bring out a dozen or more of these little side dishes, and sometimes the little treasures last long enough to be part of the meal, as they’re intended. My idea of heaven is small amounts of lots of different kinds of food, so banchan is a natural for me. Same with Indian thali–I just LOVE little dishes of food!

We gave this concept two tries this week. First, I made a Korean cold noodle soup. Bought the broth pre-made at Koreana, along with the noodles and the banchan dishes.

Korean cold noodle soup in a white bowl, before adding things

I put out a bunch of little bowls of ingredients to add:

boiled eggs, pickled herring, more boiled eggs, pickled daikon, peas, nori, gochujang (red pepper paste), pickled garlic, pickled red cabbage, dried fried garlic

Then we each added our favorite things from the little dishes (click to embiggen).

Serene's soup with nori, pickles, peas, and gochujang The kid's bowl, with egg, nori, peas, and garlic James's bowl with egg, gochujang, pickles, and nori

Later in the week, though, I decided I wanted to learn to make some of the items I get at Sura, so I headed over to find Korean cooking videos on YouTube, and hit the motherlode. Oh, Maangchi, where have you been all my life?

Maangchi is the embodiment of Mom Food. Simply and cheerfully, she makes the recipes of her childhood while telling stories of Korea and her family. She clearly tastes home when she eats the results of her cooking, and her love of sharing her Mom Food is palpable. (“You could palp it if you wanted to.” — Tripod)

I made most of the banchan you see in the photo below. If you want to know more about each dish, I’ve given the names, and you can go to Maangchi’s site and find out how to make them.

Rice in a covered bowl. Big bowls of figs and bulgogi. Little bowls of kimchi, pickled herring, seaweed, kongnamul muchim, pickled garlic, Korean barbecue sauce, musaengchae, plain myulchibokkeum, gamjachae bokkeum, spicy myulchibokkeum, and gochujang

I bought 5 of the things in this photo at the store: pickled garlic, seaweed salad, Korean barbecue sauce, gochujang, and pickled herring. I picked the figs off Guy’s tree. I made the rest.

The bulgogi is from Bonnie’s recipe; kimchi is from Closet Cooking’s recipe; the kongnamul muchim (soybean sprout side dish), musaengchae (radish salad), plain myulchibokkeum (pan-friend dried anchovies), gamjachae bokkeum (potato and oyster mushroom side dish), and spicy myulchibokkeum all came from Maangchi.

Thank you, Maangchi! As you can see, we really like this way of eating!

the remains of the banchan (mostly eaten)

Frugal Cooks Note: The recipes for banchan all make a fair amount, and most keep for a really long time, so beyond the fact that the recipes are cheap to begin with, they’re even cheaper because they’ll serve you for several meals. I plan to continue learning new banchan dishes and re-making faves so that we have a steady stream of things to fill our cute little bowls with.

New Mom Foods: Porcini and Puffball Mushrooms

Try new foods! If they’re really expensive mushrooms, try a SMALL amount of new foods.

Two Mom Food urges fought with each other this week.

Mom Food Urge #1: Don’t spend too much money! Buy food on sale! Get the best deal!

Mom Food Urge #2: Try new things! Strange and untried foods are exciting! Fish candy? Pickled hairy plums? Jackfruit jelly? Sign me up!

This week, I had an email conversation with Anna Mindess about how to approach shopping in markets that sell foods from cultures other than one’s own.

My answer: Buy small, and be brave.

whole porcini mushroom

But it’s easy for me to say that, because mom and I are both frugal (okay, cheap) and adventurous, so we often have shopping trips in which we make it home with some inexpensive grocery item that neither of us has any earthly idea what to do with.

One time, we thought we’d be game and buy fish candy. Pro tip: don’t buy fish candy.

We (mom and James and I) have discovered some of our favorite foods by being brave this way: seasoned nori strips; shrimp chips; ceviche; kim chee; unagi; passionfruit; oxtails.

(Full disclosure: another time, our nerve failed, and we never opened the jar of hairy pickled plums. Scary, seriously.)

So I was talking to Anna about how excellent it is to eat new foods, and the next day, I was at the Berkeley Bowl and saw that they had both fresh porcini and puffball mushrooms, neither of which I’ve tried, so I decided to be brave.

But.

Puffballs: $11.95 a pound. Porcini: $20 or so a pound. Oy.

So I figured out a way to do both things: buy new foods, and not spend too much money.

I bought one of each.

About $3 for one puffball mushroom. About $5 for a porcini. Here’s what they looked like whole:

whole puffball mushroomwhole porcini mushroom

And here they are after slicing:

sliced mushrooms: puffball and porcini

I decided that the best way to sample the true flavor of these was to cook them very simply: After taking a tiny bite of each raw, I sauteed them separately in a little butter, with a tiny bit of salt.

The puffball was much drier than the porcini, and soaked up most of the butter, so it got almost grilled:

sauteed puffball mushroom

This interesting little fungus gave James a little too much of a moldy vibe, so he gave me most of his, which I call a win. I adored it, especially the nutty flavor and the firm texture.

But my real new love is fresh porcini. Here it is after being sauteed. Because it’s so moist, it was almost stewed:

sauteed porcini mushroom

I could have made a whole dinner out of the mushrooms. However, here’s the dinner we actually ate. Roasted veggies, cheddar sausages, crash hot potatoes made with purple potatoes, and the mushrooms. VERY very good.

dinner: roasted veggies (carrots, onions, garlic, red peppers); cheddar sausages; crash hot purple potatoes topped with each kind of mushroom

In the future, I will use this New Mom Foods feature to try new things that I’ve been wanting to taste, or to take your challenges for new foods to try. Ideas?