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    Microwave-roasted eggplant salad

    This simple roast eggplant, pepper and onion salad is one of the first microwave recipes I ever posted and one of the most versatile.

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    Copyright 2008-13Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.


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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

OK, Fried PLUS Dairy for Chanukah

Well…I figured out something quick to fry for the first night of Chanukah: slices of panela cheese, a white rubbery fresh cheese that’s almost exactly like halloumi. Only it’s Mexican rather than Greek, so it’s a locally abundant variety (along with queso fresco) and about half the price per pound here in Pasadena.

I decided to do something a little different with it though. While the spoonful of olive oil was heating in the nonstick (very important) pan, I pressed the slices of panela into about a tablespoon mixture of toasted sesame seeds, crumbled oregano, sumac, a pinch of caraway, and Aleppo pepper–essentially za’atar mix, only without the added salt. It didn’t stick incredibly well to the cheese but I was able to press it in on both sides long enough to get it into the pan.

When I started frying the cheese, some of the whey immediately bubbled out into the oil, but although the slices softened up and started melting a little, they mostly kept their shape and I was able to flip them with a wide spatula to fry the other side. Halloumi firms up again as it cools–a little flatter, but pretty tasty, especially with the za’atar mix I improvised. I served it on top of our salad, but in restaurants it goes by itself, with its own bed of greens, maybe a bit of chopped tomato and onion, or with bread and olive oil. It’s only a few minutes of work for something unusual and delicious.

Lightening up for Hanukkah (aka Chanukah)

Tonight’s the first night of Chanukah, and not only haven’t I thought of presents, I haven’t thought of dinner. It’s also the night before my kid starts semester finals. So we’re probably going to do something fairly standard for supper and easy on the chef. As we have been all week, really (one of us–wonder whom?–got sick right after Thanksgiving and didn’t feel like getting fancy).

Typical Chanukah fare is known for two things: frying things in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (filled jelly doughnuts), and cheese or sour cream-based dishes. Healthy, no? Once a year, whether you need it or not…

I know, the oil’s a symbol of a miracle and the cheese represents a key military victory, but–oy. Fried foods and rich cheese dishes are a good way to get indigestion. Also enough poundage to start a new battalion. So as they say it would take a miracle and some military strategy to figure out something that fits the bill, tastes like a treat, and doesn’t impose a full-on doughnuts-and-hash-browns diet.

One of those miracles, as I see it, is the invention of Teflon, as in nonstick frying pans. Just being able to use a spoonful of oil instead of half-an-inch for the latkes is a huge improvement.

The other (you’re not surprised) is the invention of the microwave oven. The military strategy comes into it when you combine the two methods to make something brown easily and quickly in a lot less oil than the usual recipe. I’ve managed to do that for fish (fry on both sides first to brown, then nuke between plates to cook the middle gently), onions and mushrooms for omelets (nuke first to wilt, then fry), green beans and broccoli (for Szechuan stir-fries), and larger vegetables like red squash, eggplant or peppers (slice and nuke to cook through, frying optional if you want it to look browned). Any of those things might happen tonight as the frying requirement portion of the meal.

As if being sick weren’t enough, though, last week my microwave died–or at least the control panel did. Two years after I bought it. Not a miracle–as I discovered by looking it up online, Panasonic’s inverter models have had more than a few complaints on this score.

A typical lifespan for a modern 1000+ watt magnetron should be about 2000 hours, or 6 years at about maybe 45 minutes or an hour a day max of microwaving at full power. My other microwaves in the past decade–Sharp, Samsung–have lasted about 3-4 years each, which is also pretty disappointing, but given how aggressively I used them, I wasn’t so surprised. Still, they gave me 3-4 years of high use each. Certainly not two. And it wasn’t clear that it was the magnetron in this case.

The price for a new microwave is just less than the price of repair, not to mention the time without a working microwave oven. So I did something I’m not happy with, because it seems wasteful to just throw out a microwave after two years, and bought a new one from Sears–Sharp, not Panasonic again. About 1.8 cubic feet inside, and 1100 W. And it’s huge on my shrimpy kitchen counter, but at least I can cook bigger items in it than I would have been able to with the dinky models Target had.

Here’s what I learned in a week without a microwave oven:

1. I get a little dysfunctional for a day or so.

2. I can make basmati rice a lot more easily than I thought by the conventional 20-minute method of rinse-rice, bring-to-boil, cover-and-simmer-on-low. It comes out fine, I just have to pay more attention and not walk away.

3. I can make a slab of salmon or other fish almost as well on the stovetop as with my standard “indoor grilling” method (brown on both sides with garlic etc., then stick it between two plates and nuke for 1-2 minutes to cook the middle gently). The nuking part I substituted for by covering the frying pan after browning both sides, and turning the heat down to low or just above low, and it came out really well. But it took 15-20 minutes extra for a pound of fish. If you have the time, it’s fine. But if you’ve got an emergency dinner for your kid and her project partner, and the mother’s picking the other kid up in only 45 minutes, a microwave would be so much nicer.

4. I hate, absolutely hate, heating milk for coffee on the stove. Or  reheating coffee. Or reheating just about anything in a regular stainless steel pan. Not because heating it’s such a pain, but because scrubbing the pot afterward is.

5. You can’t reheat anything quickly on the stove without having to dirty a pan. Microwaving really does save on dishwashing, and it keeps things from scorching on the pans or plates you use.

6. It’s a good thing it’s winter here and cold (for LA, anyhow–60s daytime, 30s-40s nighttime) or I wouldn’t have been able to cope at all. I managed to cook a few things in the oven instead of the nonfunctional microwave last week, but it was a relief to be able to get back to microwaving. Just in time for Chanukah.

Here are a few links to my earlier Chanukah posts (with recipes or at least good-tasting ideas).

Not strictly for Chanukah but probably a good idea:

  • Ganache because chocolate is also clearly a Chanukah food
  • Spinach fritadas (a version with zucchini was listed in a post on Passover, but it works fine with spinach, and with flour instead of matzah meal if you want it for Chanukah)

Sometime this week I have designs on posting a chocolate devil’s food cake in the microwave, which I tried a couple of weeks ago, plus an attempt at sufganiyot, which I haven’t made since my kibbutz days.

Also rye bread–I made a dough Thursday just to try it and didn’t get a chance to bake it until Saturday evening because we had guests (the good part of this week). Because the dough was old it came out a little flatter than ideal, more like a heavy dark ciabatta, but it was crusty, covered in toasted sesame, and still slices and tastes pretty good after a few days. And it isn’t any harder to make than regular bread. I’ll try again with a younger dough, or maybe use a sourdough starter plus some extra yeast and flour, and see what happens.

In the meantime, Happy Chanukah! light the lights, sing the songs, dance around the table and don’t worry like this guy about dreidel being a too-simple game of tops that takes too long to finish. I mean, War and Spit (the card games, not actual war and spit) aren’t exactly for geniuses either, and kids like those.

What happens when you age champagne?

A couple of weeks ago on a Friday evening, the week before our anniversary, my husband and I were scrambling to find a bottle of kosher wine in the house for the Shabbat blessings and coming up empty. We didn’t even have grape juice. I took one more look in the last-chance box and realized one of the bottles was kosher after all. It was a bottle of Yarden 2000 champagne I’d picked up on an after-Passover sale several years ago (our local Kroger affiliate supermarket has a not-quite-tuned-in approach toward Jewish holiday ordering; sometimes the matzah boxes arrive and disappear a week before Passover; sometimes they hang around for months, and sometimes they sell good wines at a fire-sale bargain because of the kosher label).

I’d saved that bottle for a special kosher-requiring occasion that never quite arrived. Vintage 2000–definitely the oldest bottle I’ve ever opened at home. As old as our daughter. Has it really been that long since 2000???

(OK, given the sorry yet predictable result of the mid-term elections, I have to say it hasn’t been long enough. But still.)

The bottle was QUITE dusty–almost a prerequisite for experimentation.

Neither my husband nor I are usually all that impressed with champagne–even the expensive mid-level ones, at $40-100 a bottle. Not that we’re usually in a position to sample those at home, but sometimes people splurge on them at Thanksgiving, New Year’s, etc., and we wonder why. They’re usually not as good as the cheaper Spanish cavas–if I had to buy champagne-style wine, I’d rather go with something like Freixenet, not to be cheap but because it’s closer to that bone-dry, yeasty, buttered-toast style I prefer to all the more acidic and flat-flavored mid-level champagnes out there. Taittinger and Moët et Chandon both come to mind as severe disappointments at the $45ish level. Their top-level champagnes might be quite different, but these just seem to be trading on the brand name and pricetag for the naive American market.

For that kind of money, I’d rather have a good, deeply-flavored still chardonnay than almost any of the usual fizzy lifting drinks, and you can get a pretty decent bottle of chard for under $20. Actually, most of the time I’d rather have a decent red.

And frankly nothing is as good as the (once-only) bottle of Dom Perignon my husband brought home 17 years ago, when we finally decided to get engaged after all those years of dodging family and friends, celebrating with some couples and outlasting others. After a lackluster and slightly glum Sunday afternoon discussion that ended with, “Well…okay,” we called each other at work the next morning and agreed we should probably do a little better than that. We were getting married, after all. Oy. We clearly needed some bolstering before we broke the news and faced the inevitable hocking from our families.

A really nutritious dinner consisting solely of Dom Perignon and a (smallish) box of Godiva truffles, each of which looked exactly like Miracle Max’s big chocolate pill from The Princess Bride, seemed to do the trick.

Of course, under the influence of the DP and chocolate, we decided we could do the parts of the wedding we liked (huppah, food, klezmer music, line dancing, ketubbah signing, friends and family, more food, more dancing) and just skip the stereotypical parts we found laughable, uncomfortable or downright detestable in other people’s weddings and wedding-themed tv ads (tux, white puffy dress, veil, speeches, first waltz, which neither of us knew how to do, tiered wedding cakes, arguing with either of our mothers over invitation fonts, color-coordination of any sort or description…)

We ended up having fun at our own wedding, which never really seems to be the primary goal somehow, we only decided where to go on our honeymoon the next morning while sitting around in our pjs, and I maintain that we’ve just kept getting weirder ever since.

Which brings us back to the Yarden 2000. To be fair, Yarden has been making some very decent kosher wines the last 10-20 years. But kosher or not, 14 years for any champagne below the DP level?

Champagne is supposed to be the only white wine that can age–maybe it’s all the trapped carbon dioxide fending off oxidation, but I’d never gotten close enough to try it out. The chemist in me has been waiting for another crack at mad scientist status for a couple of years now, so this was it. Plus it was getting after sunset already and we were hungry and there was no regular grape juice in the house.

Well…if we were daring enough risk our stomach linings and our eyesight by trying mead that had been sitting around for more than a year, we could probably risk a 14-year-old bottle of kosher champagne, once I got the major dust coat off it, anyhow. I found a deep enough pot to improvise an ice bucket but didn’t really have enough time or patience to chill the bottle well.

“Do you want a towel for the cork? It’s probably lost all its zuzz, you know,” my husband said.

Just in case it hadn’t, I opened the bottle carefully and with approved champagne-opening technique (the point-away-from-people-and-twist-the-bottle-gently-away-from-the-cork routine, not the find-the-Napoleonic-era-saber-up-in-the-attic version). The cork actually made a proper popping sound and the usual CO2 fumes rose up. It wasn’t dead after all! (“It was only mostly dead,” I hear you chime in. Stop digging around in that Godiva box already, willya? We already took the good ones.)

Then we poured it, and it foamed up–zuzz intact. So we made the blessing over the wine, and my husband very generously said he’d let me take the first sip. Which I did, but…

“You haven’t gone blind yet, have you?”

I glared at him. Or at what I thought was his general direction.

Continue reading

A Slow Food Fast Thanksgiving


This was my roundup of microwave-friendly Thanksgiving recipes three years ago, and I think it’s still decent. It doesn’t include any of the horrors the New York Times uncovered in its Google analysis of the most typical desired Thanskgiving recipes by state. Jello, whipped cream and Snickers Bars will not be making an appearance. I’m really hoping we have good fresh greens to go with the standard main dishes.

So in any case, I don’t have a ton of creative ideas this year, but I can say if you want an actively good whole turkey, do what my in-laws did last year: rub olive oil and garlic all over the stuffed bird, stick it in not one or two but three whole brown paper shopping bags (stapled shut for good measure), forget which way is up, and come back to find you’ve stuck the turkey in the oven upside down–back up, breast downward, and essentially self-basting. Why we don’t do that more often is a mystery. It was actually good, and no one had to be dutiful and utter the good-guest phrase, “It’s so moist”. They were too busy eating. I am off to my in-laws’ again–relegated to salad-making this time (good, maybe I can let my teenager stand in while I catch up on my reading safely out of the room) and a pumpkin pie, although I doubt my mother-in-law would be happy to try microwaving it in her old 600W oven. Pity, really! But it does work for higher wattages. Just substitute a microwaveable ceramic pie dish wherever it says “Pyrex”–see the sidebar on the right for an explanation.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Originally posted on Slow Food Fast:

Pumpkin pie in the microwave

I’m not sure how to take all the following good news–it’s been such a strained year that the sudden release of pressure is going to make me zip around the room, once the coffee kicks in.

1. My mother-in-law has threatened to favor the brand-new kosher butcher in her town this holiday season so that we can eat the turkey too this year (and maybe not fight about it). She promised not to smear said turkey with butter. We’ll cross our fingers. But at least we won’t have to cook. I’m keeping that firmly in mind.

2. As of this week, my daughter’s finally on an insulin pump and fairly thrilled about it, so she can navigate dinner AND dessert at my in-laws’ without breaking down and crying that she only gets two tablespoons of pie for a reasonable serving. We are still encouraging her to count carbs and not…

View original 590 more words

Tehina goes with fish

tilapia pan-fried with tehina, hummus, onions and curry spices

Two large tilapia fillets pan-fried with a hummus, tehina and yogurt coating. The fillets pick up a lattice of browned onions and curry spices when you flip them over.

This is no great surprise if you like Middle Eastern food, I suppose, but tehina or sesame paste is not just for hummus, felafel and eggplant (or roast butternut squash, for fans of Yotam Ottolenghi). It’s also a great match for white-fleshed fishes such as sole, red snapper and tilapia, because it’s rich-tasting and smoky, goes really well with cumin-type spice combinations, and can be dressed up or down.

But despite its richness (it is an oily paste like peanut butter, after all) it has very little saturated fat, mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (the heart-healthy kinds) and it has enough flavor that a little goes a long way. So if you like fish and have a jar of tehina handy and some garlic (a must) and a few basic spices like cumin on your shelf, you can take advantage a couple of different ways without a lot of work.

I’ve already tried Poopa Dweck’s recipe for cold whitefish salad (much like tuna salad, but made with lighter-textured cooked white fish) where tehina, lemon juice, cumin, paprika and garlic stand in for the more usual mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt in conventional western versions. The basic version was very good, even though I cut the quantities severely for home use and didn’t bother making sliced-cucumber scales to lay out over the whitefish salad (because I’m not that arty just for us). Although maybe if I do a brunch sometime later this year I’ll “scale up” in both senses…

More often, though, I cook tilapia as a standard hot weeknight dinner. It’s relatively inexpensive for fish, lighter and much quicker to cook than chicken, can be served with dairy in kosher homes like mine, and it’s pretty adaptable. But as with skinless, boneless chicken breasts, it can get a little boring if you don’t do something new with it once in a while.

One of the dishes I recall fondly and still miss from the Pita!Pita! Lebanese restaurant when it was still on Fair Oaks in Old Town Pasadena (must be something like 10 years ago now!) was sole fillets baked under tehina sauce. May Bsisu gives a recipe for two similar dishes (samak harra b’tehina and tagen al-samak) in The Arab Table, which I highly recommend. I think I mentioned this book in passing in a post about making your own yogurt in the microwave, but it really deserves more attention.

I think the elegant casseroles of fish baked in tehina sauce are worth doing for a larger crowd and with more time than I usually have. But I’ve always thought the flavors would be good in a quick frying-pan version with tilapia too. The coating in this version is a mixture of  hummus and a thick Greek yogurt/tehina/garlic spread I had originally made for pita and vegetables (and uncooked, it’s pretty good  for that). Because of the hummus, the coating cooks to a breading on individual fillets rather than remaining saucy, but the flavors are really good and it takes maybe 20 minutes, including browning the onions well. I tried this twice last week and it was terrific both times. Continue reading

Fennel Mania

way too much fennel for one salad bowl

This much whole fennel kind of overwhelms my largest mixing bowl.
What was I thinking?

I hear a lot of complaints, among those of my friends and relatives who subscribe to CSAs, about weekly baskets arriving at the doorstep with surprise odd vegetables in unusually large amounts, and what the heck do you do with it all? I’ve never experienced that myself–I’m my own worst (or best) CSA challenge. So I can’t really blame this dilemma on anyone else, because I do my own shopping at my local greengrocer’s. And because the prices are low and the vegetables generally better than what I can get at the supermarket, I sometimes go a little overboard. Fresno tomatoes, when they’re in, are so good I end up with a 7 or 8 lb sack of them every week while I can. If I had more room in the fridge (oh, sacrilege! but they’re already so ripe it doesn’t hurt them), I’d buy even more. An overload of good tomatoes is no problem. However…

too much fennel from the greengrocer's

This week’s hot purchase: fresh fennel at a fabulous–too-fabulous?–price. Fifty cents apiece for large, clean-looking fennel bulbs with about two feet of stalk attached. They’re never less than two dollars apiece in the supermarket, and usually more like three.

So of course I couldn’t resist. I bought FOUR. Yeah. Two dollars total. For what turned out to be more than five pounds of useable produce, because if the fennel’s fresh, it’s all good eating. After washing and cutting it up into useable sections (only a 10-minute operation, surprisingly; fennel’s pretty cooperative for a big frondy vegetable), I actually weighed everything on our food scale.

Three pounds of bulbs for salads or grilling or whatever, two pounds of cleaned stalks chopped into celery-stick-length batons, and about six ounces of the cleaned chopped fronds to use as anise-to-dill-like herbs in tomato vegetable soup, fish, etc.

i1035 FW1.1

But how to use it all in a small household? We have only three people, and I’m the one who likes the anise-y taste of fennel most. Can I freeze some of it for later use (other than the fronds, which I did)? Are we going to be stuck eating it every day for weeks? How long before it starts going bad? What the heck was I thinking?

But it’s enough, and cheap enough, that I get to play around with it. Maybe I can find something good and even original to do with it that doesn’t require long roasting steps (Italian), stewing, or cheese-and-cream-filled gratin-type disguises (French) for the anise flavor, because really, for that you could have just bought celery.

The most obvious thing to do with fennel is slice it up and nosh on it raw. The first time I ever ate it was at the home of a large Moroccan Jewish family up in the  north of Israel. The mother, who invited me over for Shabbat lunch, started the meal with hraime, fish steaks (served cold, thank g-d) in a garlicky broth with enough evil birds’ eye chiles floating in it that the younger children (all the ones under 20, anyhow) started whimpering. “Only one pepper!” their mother replied, but none of them were fooled. I, the self-conscious guest just out of college, took the first bite and nearly fell off my chair as all the brothers and sisters laughed. Luckily the rest of the lunch was pretty unspiced–brisket, long-cooked eggs, farro with chickpeas, a lot of little cooked and raw vegetable salad dishes. I was still recovering from the “appetizer” though; I reached repeatedly for both water and the sliced fennel. Actually, I miss Esther’s hraime still, these many years later…

But mostly you don’t want to just gnaw on raw fennel for relief from the evil chiles. Fennel is pretty. Continue reading

New hope for lowering arsenic levels in rice

A new study has identified a key protein in rice plants that allows some varieties to keep any absorbed arsenic safely contained in a separate part of the plant from the grain itself. The authors are hoping to introduce the gene for this highly effective transporter protein into plant strains that don’t have much of it and see whether the new genetic hybrids can reduce the arsenic level in major rice crops.


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