Friday, July 30, 2004


I actually know the pedigree of this recipe—it’s from Pacific Grilling: Recipes for the Fire from Baja to the Pacific Northwest, by Denis Kelly. I really recommend this book if you can find it; I bought it for my friend L for her birthday because I knew she was getting a gas grill, and I ended up paging through it and writing down a bunch of good-sounding recipes before I sent it to her. I was very excited about grilling, since it’s easy and tasty and can be practiced year-round in California (as I realized when I was riding my bike around the neighborhood on Easter and smelled cookout after cookout). But we haven’t actually fired up the tiny charcoal grill on our patio yet, because of the George Foreman Grill (GFG). Yes. I’m almost embarrassed, but I love it. A got it as a gift from his brother, but had never used it until I moved in. Although I had always thought GFGs were kind of silly, I gave it a try and now I’m a convert. So quick! So easy! No scary fire involved! So we grill things a lot.

I tried this recipe for the first time a week or so ago, but it makes enough herb/spice rub for several meals, and I’d kept the extra in a jar in the cupboard. I didn’t get around to dinner until late in the evening last night, so I decided to just pull a couple of chicken breasts out of the freezer and whip out the rub. The convenience of this recipe is its main attraction to me. A and I both agreed it wasn’t quite as tasty as some of the marinade recipes we have for grilled chicken, but it was still flavorful and you didn’t have to start it the night before and wait around for it to marinate. (On revisiting the book online to write this entry, however, I did notice that Denis Kelly says he usually rubs the chicken with the spices and then lets it sit in the refrigerator a few hours or overnight so the flavors sink in. Maybe I’ll try this next time.) I should also point out that this rub can be used on any chicken parts you want, and also on pork.

Postscript: I haven't bothered to make this again.

Herb and Spice Rub:
¼ cup paprika
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon chile powder
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (the recipe says these should be “ground,” but this sounded complicated, so I just smashed them a bit with the bottom of a glass jar—sorry, Denis)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Mix all the rub ingredients in a bowl. (I used a former Grey Poupon jar I keep for making salad dressings--very handy because you can just shake it instead of stirring.) Denis says the rub will keep, covered, for a few months.

2. Start the grill. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Denis neglected to really describe the “rubbing” portion of the process, so I just poured some herb/spice rub into my hand (maybe a teaspoon or so per breast?) and rubbed it all over the chicken with my fingers. You can use however much you think is appropriate. I didn’t find the result overly spicy, though, so don’t be afraid of overflavoring.

3. Grill and eat.

Serves: I’m not sure. We’ve gotten 4 servings out of it so far, and I don’t think we’ve even used half of the jar of herb/spice rub.
Time: Maybe 20 minutes


No idea where I got this recipe. It’s easy, simple, almost plain. Call me a snotty foodie, but it seems only worth making in the summer, when you have fresh, red, ripe, meaty, in-season tomatoes from the farmer’s market or someone’s garden. I’ve tried it with supermarket tomatoes, and it turns out somewhat boring. On Wednesday night, with our good tomatoes, it was very tasty. When baked, the tomatoes turn unbelievably sweet and complex, a far cry from ordinary pasta sauce.

1 pound penne pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 pounds tomatoes, sliced
1-2 tablespoons butter, cut into tiny bits
a big handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
a big handful of shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the penne in a large pot in abundant boiling water with about 1 tablespoon salt. While it's cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and rub a little olive oil over the inside of a 9x13 baking dish.

2. When the pasta is al dente, drain it. Pour half the pasta into the baking dish and toss it with a tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Top this with half of the tomato slices, laying them flat side by side so they cover all the pasta. Then add the rest of the pasta and toss it (carefully so as not to disturb the underlying tomatoes) with another tablespoon of oil and more salt and pepper. Top with the rest of the tomatoes, drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top, and dab on the little bits/shavings of butter. Again with the salt and pepper to taste.

3. Put the dish in the oven and bake it for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down a little but still maintain their shapes.

4. Remove dish from oven. Immediately sprinkle with basil and cheese, and toss everything together in the baking dish (although my dish was so full that it would have overflowed, so instead I just spooned the servings of pasta into serving/storage dishes and then added basil and cheese separately to each serving). Do one last taste test to check the seasoning—it’s important in this recipe, since the flavors are so basic—and maybe add a bit more pepper.

Serves: 4-6
Time: I always forget to time myself. Maybe 45 minutes?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


I found this recipe in a cookbook I got from the library not too long ago, yet now I can’t recall the book’s name or identify it in the library catalog. Ah, well. Apologies in advance to the copyright holder. (Although I’m told people can’t copyright actual recipes—the lists of ingredients and measurements—only the precise phrasing of the directions, and I’ll be rephrasing those to reflect my own haphazard methodology anyway.)

I spent most of my life really disliking fish and seafood, but I’m slowly coming around. It started with a growing love of sushi, which got an extra jolt from a surprisingly enjoyable introduction to raw oysters (courtesy of my friend C). I still like fish raw best—the cold, tender, almost buttery texture and the fresh, sort of cucumber-like flavor—but I’ve been venturing into the cooked realm. I had delicious lobster ravioli at an Italian restaurant in Boston (thank you, K) and a series of tentative eating-out encounters with salmon and fried walleye. When I moved to California, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and try preparing fish myself. Salmon seemed the most approachable. I think this is my fourth attempt (though my first with this particular recipe), and I’ve been pleased with all the results—easy and light, but sophisticated. And this recipe was good. I’d feared it might be too bland, but my worry was unfounded. After all, how could you go wrong when garlic and butter are involved? I made only two servings (I’m not still quite keen enough on fish to enjoy it as leftovers), but I’ll give you the full recipe here. We ate it with a side of steamed asparagus, which was perfect with a little of the lemon-garlic-butter juices from the fish pan spooned over it. We had strawberry shortcake for dessert; all very summery. Would definitely make this again.

2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1½ pound center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut crosswise into 4 portions
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for garnish
¼ cup minced fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Mince the garlic and smoosh it into the butter with a fork in a small bowl, then add the salt and pepper and smoosh again.

3. Skin the salmon if necessary, and place it in a single layer in a 9x13 baking dish. Spread the garlic butter on top of the salmon, then drizzle it with the lemon juice.

4. Bake 10-15 minutes, until the salmon is just cooked through. Pull the salmon out of the oven, place the pieces on plates, sprinkle them with parsley, and squeeze the lemon-wedge garnishes over them.

Serves: 4
Time: Very quick. Maybe 30 minutes, at most.

Monday, July 26, 2004


I'm not sure where I found this recipe, but I've had it for a couple of years. Pasta with potatoes seems like it would be starch overload, but the two go together surprisingly well. I suppose if you're "counting carbs" (ugh) you might want to steer away from this, but for everyone else it's a tasty and serviceable recipe. Best of all, it's very quick and easy, because you boil the pasta and vegetables together in the same pot and then just add some moisture and seasonings. I wouldn't eat it every day or serve it to elegant company--it's what the cookbooks call "hearty"--but it's a nice combination of flavors. I think zucchini may be my favorite vegetable, as well as a fun word to type.

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2-3 tablespoons salt
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound spaghetti
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
2-4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley (basil is better, I think)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring water to a boil in a 5-quart pot. Add the potato and the 2-3 tablespoons salt (which sounds like a lot, but most of it stays in the water and not on the food). Cook these for 2 minutes, then add the zucchini and spaghetti to the water. Cook everything until pasta is al dente, being careful not to overcook the potatoes (which turns the dish into a sludgy mess) or the zucchini (which saps them of their nutrients).

2. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot.

3. Toss the pasta and vegetables with 3 tablespoons oil and season it with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Then add the basil (or parsley), 3 tablespoons of the cooking water, and the cheese. Toss again, gently to avoid making mashed potatoes. If the pasta looks too dry, feel free to add more water. Be forewarned it's not going to be the sauciest, slipperiest pasta you've ever seen, but it shouldn't be unpleasantly sticky, either. Taste for salt and pepper. Be generous with the pepper--it's great with zucchini.

Serves: 6 (WARNING--all these pasta recipes claim to serve 4 in Recipeland, a parallel universe where people apparently work in the fields all day to burn calories and stimulate their gigantic appetites. But it must be pointed out that a 1-pound package of pasta purports to contain 8 servings, and that's without the pound or so of veggies and cheese we just added. Granted, those 8 servings are probably tiny, maybe side dishes. But 4 servings seems equally unrealistic, even as a main course with no sides. If you're a moderate eater, expect 5 to 6 servings for this and most of the other pasta recipes I'll post.)
Time: 30-45 minutes for me, but I wasn't in any hurry. I bet you could do it faster.


I found this recipe in the L.A. Times Food section last week and tried it out last night. The tastes were nice together (I particularly enjoy things stuffed with other things), and thanks to tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil from the farmer’s market, it made a light and summery meal. Still, I don’t know if it was completely worth the effort required (which, as usual in the things-stuffed-with-other-things genre, was slightly above average). Final verdict: I wouldn’t be opposed to making it again, but I’m probably not going to crave it, either. For the record, A was more enthusiastic, requested I definitely make it again, and noted it reheated well as leftovers.

Oddly enough, the recipe didn’t mention anything about browning the sausage first, so I did it and hoped for the best—using raw meat seemed bizarre. I was using Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage, although the recipe asks for hot and I prefer that. We’re just having a little sausage problem here in Pasadena; the hot stuff at our large supermarket isn’t very good-quality meat, and Trader Joe’s, which has good-quality meat, inexplicably doesn’t make hot Italian, only sweet. So. I took three sausage links, slit open the casings and removed them (I always find this task simultaneously gross and satisfying—it feels surgical), threw them in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and broke them apart into small bits with the back of a spoon. To remedy the sweet/hot problem, I added a pinch each of red pepper flakes (one of my favorite secret cooking weapons) and fennel (which my parents hooked me on from a young age). When the sausage had browned, I scooped it out and placed it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Postscript: I haven't made it again.

4 large tomatoes (about 2½ pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
½ pound hot Italian sausage
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

1. Brown the sausage as described above.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the onion and garlic and cook “until soft.” (The recipe claimed this would take 5 minutes, but it was more like 10—and even then, in retrospect, I think the onion could have been softer.)

3. Wash and dry each tomato. Slice off the tops and set them aside. Use your fingers to “extract as many seeds from the base of each tomato as possible” (another gross/satisfying sensation). Hollow the flesh out of the centers. (The recipe said “a grapefruit spoon works well,” but—come on, a grapefruit spoon? Who am I, Martha Stewart? I used my sharp knife--being careful not to pierce the side of the tomato--to cut around the edges of the flesh and loosen it, then scooped it out with a spoon.) Coarsely chop the pulp and place it in a strainer in the sink to drain. Place the shells and tops cut-side down on paper towels to drain.

4. When the onion and garlic seem soft, add the drained tomato flesh (I gave the strainer a few good shakes over the sink first, to get rid of as much moisture as possible) to the pan, stir, and cook everything another 5 minutes or so. Season “liberally” with salt and pepper and removed from heat. Allow the onion-tomato mixture to cool completely.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get out a 9-inch square baking dish. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into the bottom of the dish and spread it around. Place the tomato shells in the dish ("cut side up," the recipe helpfully reminds us) and season the inside of each with salt and pepper.

6. Mix the breaadcrumbs in a large Pyrex mixing bowl with the basil and sausage. Add the cooled tomato mixture. Spoon this filling into each tomato shell, “packing gently.” (After this I still had enough filling left for two more tomatoes, so I packed a little less gently and ended up fitting most of it in. Still, breadcrumbs could maybe be cut back to 1 cup). Drizzle everything with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and place the tomato tops on top. (This seems mainly cosmetic—my tomato tops all had big stem/core pieces on them, so they weren’t very edible.)

7. Put the dish in the oven and bake “until the stuffing is cooked through and the tomatoes are soft but not falling apart, 30 to 35 minutes.”

Servings: 4
Time: “About 1 hour,” according to the recipe, but I think I took at least 15 minutes longer than that.


Here’s the deal: I really like food, I really like reading, and I really really like reading about food. Hence, Bookcook.

I cook for myself and A, my partner in crime, four or five nights a week, and we eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. I plan the menu ahead of time and shop accordingly once a week, because I’m not really an improviser. I like to know where my next meal is coming from, and I need to be following a recipe. Sure, I’ll make small adjustments to the recipe, but I’m not one to whip something together out of whatever’s in the fridge on the spur of the moment. So I’m constantly scouring cookbooks from the library and cooking sites on the Internet for recipes, but I’m pretty particular about the kind of food I like to make. I’m not a big meat eater, but I don’t like hard-core vegetarian things involving tofu or imitation meat (and A’s a carnivore, so we eat meat at least once a week). I like to eat healthy, but not at the expense of flavor—so please, no margarine substituted for butter, no Mrs. Dash in place of salt, no Egg Beaters instead of eggs. I’m relatively scornful of convenience foods and avoid any recipe that calls for garlic powder instead of real garlic or a can of Campbell’s soup and a jar of spaghetti sauce, but I’m also cheap and a pragmatist and can’t stand anything too fancy or fussy. I refuse to use a mortar and pestle, a food processor, parchment, pancetta, capers, cheesecloth, or duck. (Note from May 2006: I have since used a food processor, parchment, and cheesecloth. To my great shame, they turn out to be useful tools.)

There are plenty of recipes out there, but there are a lot of bad ones—I’ve accidentally tried some of them, and there is nothing that depresses me more than carefully handcrafting what turns out to be a disappointing dinner. In my constant search for new recipes, I was really hoping to find some site, blog, or diary where someone whose taste I shared and trusted would personally recommend recipes and write something more about them than just a list of ingredients and steps. Something like the fabulous Julie/Julia Project, but more useful (sorry, most French cooking may be beyond me). I never really found what I was looking for, but I figure I could at least try to make something similar myself. Because did I mention I like thinking about food? I read menus and cookbooks and food essays, and if you tell me you went out for dinner last night, I will always ask you what you ate and how it was. Also, I know that I keep promising various people (hi, mom) I’ll give them the recipe for this or that, and now it will all be handily available online. I think this could be handy for me, too, since I’ll have a virtual cookbook to consult on the go. And maybe, if you have a recipe you like, you can send it to me and I’ll try it out, and if I like it I’ll post it.

So it’s sort of a food diary. My plan is to post, with comments, the recipes I make on the nights I cook. Eventually all the recipes from my usual repertoire will get entered, so thereafter I suppose I’ll only post if I try something new. Who knows? Let’s eat already.