Food Memories, Dudes who Laugh at my Jokes, and Fish Chowder.

A couple of nights ago, when I posted my first post to Facebook, my friend Andy mentioned he’d made clam chowder that night.

That immediately shot me back to one of my first memories of food made from scratch, and it filled my head with fish chowder.

In the eight grade, my science class went on a field trip to New Hampshire.  I loved that teacher, so much.  Because it was a pretty progressive Vermont school, we called our teachers by their first names, and his name was Mark.  Mark was awesome.   I liked dissecting things, and so Mark found me stuff to come in and dissect, for extra credit, after school.  Two years ago, he ended up valiantly trying to teach chemistry to my youngest, with mixed results.  But Thirtyshutup years ago, he was valiantly trying to teach science to 8th graders.  He was (and remains) gifted, and giving, and I loved him.

I remember 3 things from that trip.  1) I kind of think there was a visit to a nuclear power plant involved.  (Okay.  I CLEARLY remember 2 things). 2) We went to visit the clam flats.  Per, clam flats are a level stretch of mud, exposed by the tide, where clams burrow.  And I remember that mud.  Gilligan’s Island quicksand mud where you sink to your knees.  Also, they smell strongly of what I guess is clam poop.  3)  Fish chowder.  On our last night there, we made fish chowder over a campfire, and I remember distinctly being so excited to come home and tell my mom, the feeder of us, all about it.  I’d had clam chowder from Campbell’s before, of course, but this is the first time I remember realizing that, HOLY COW, YOU CAN MAKE STUFF YOU BUY IN CANS FROM SCRATCH!  I have had other chowders since then.  But I always think of that chowder, cooked over a campfire, with nostalgia, and love.

The other thing you should know is about my friend Jessica and Carla’s dad.  I’ve had Jessica and Carla for almost forever, for Fortyshutup years, since I was 4.  When I was little, I was really pretty scared of their Dad.  He was a lot bigger than us, and he was not one of those people, I think, that finds little kids particularly cute.  He could be kind of loud.  Also, he had the best laugh you’ve ever heard in your life, and as I got older, I noticed that I could make him laugh, and the older I got, the more frequently it would happen.  I really completely blame Dan, Carla and Jessica’s dad, for the fact that I judge men on whether they think my jokes are funny.  Making Dan laugh is on the short list of things that I love and am thankful for in this world.

What in the hell do these things have to do with each other?

Well, I’m married to Scott.  And I love him, in part, because he understands that I am hilarious.  And he laughs at my jokes.

So, yesterday, I was at the supermarket.  And all lined up in a row were three salmon heads, just staring at me.  And you may not know this, but salmon heads are made of salmon.  But not regular salmon, $1.49 a lb salmon.  And as my mother has been known to say – “At that price, you really can’t afford not to buy them.”  So I bought all  three of them, thinking I would make some stock.  But then I thought, “Heck, at 1.49 a pound, I could put them, mouth up, in the toilet to scare Scott in the middle of the night.”

I would never buy food just to waste it in this manner, and I, actually, would never do this, because there is a very actual risk that I would literally die laughing, but I did come home and tell Scott about this really excellent joke I’d thought of, and immediately he started laughing in that way that lets me know I’ve married the right guy.

What I did, instead, with the salmon heads, was throw them in the crockpot and cover them with water and cook them at low heat for about 24 hours, to make stock, which I will freeze and use and use and use.

Hi.  We're in your toilet, judging you.

Hi. We’re in your toilet, judging you.

Then I thought about that fish chowder all day, and then I came home and boy, howdy, did I ever make a delicious soup.

What you need:

  • 2 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • A Tbsp of oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp of that garlic ginger paste from last night
  • 2 potatoes, peeled, and tell your husband to cut them into 1/2 inch cubes but then he’ll really cut them into quarter inch cubes
  • 1 12 oz bag of frozen corn
  • Fish stock – about 6 or 8 ladles full
  • 2 frozen tilapia filets, cut into about 1 inch squares
  • Whatever salmon you’ve picked off the fish heads
  • 4 cups of milk
  • More salted butter than I’m ready to admit to
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Oyster crackers

What you do:

  1. Fry the bacon over high heat (9 on my electric stove, which goes to 10) with the oil until it’s dark brown, and crunch looking. Pull it out with a slotted spoon, and drain it on paper towels.
  2. Add the onion to the oil and cook it for a few minutes on 7, until it’s translucent.  Add the ginger garlic paste, and cook a little more, about a minute.
  3. Add the potatoes, and stir them around for about a minute, just for fun.  Toss in the frozen corn.
  4. Add the fish stock, and bring it to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer (a 3 on my stove) until the potatoes are soft, maybe 10 minutes?
  5. Invite the salmon and tilapia to the party, and cook until just about done.
  6. Add the milk, turn up the heat long enough to bring it to a boil, and then turn it back down to about a 5 on my stove, and add the butter.
  7. When the butter is melting, start goofing around with the salt and pepper, (mostly the salt) until it’s right.  I added about a quarter tsp at a time.  Pepper, is really a matter of taste, and you should just add as much as you want.
  8. Garnish with the reserved bacon, and oyster crackers.
  9. Eat it.
  10. Maybe have seconds.

What it looks like:

Here's what it looks like

Here’s what it looks like

What Scott said:  “Pretty good”

What Amy said: “Yup.  That’s the stuff.”

What the fish heads said: “Get us out of this toilet!”



Some of My Favorite Things – Palak Paneer and Dal Makhni

A few years ago, my daughter’s friend Sam lived with us for a while.  Sam is an absolute love.    Sweet and kind and enthusiastic.  One fun thing about Sam was that he eats with the same enthusiasm as Scott, and if he finds something to be delicious, he will tell you.

Another fun thing about Sam is his enthusiasm for learning new things, and often, if I was thinking of trying something new, or if I’d cooked something he really liked, he’d want to learn how to make it.

And that’s how we found Manjula one day.  I had that day, as I had when I woke up Saturday morning, a hankering for Indian food.  In my quest to break everything down to its elements, I wondered if I could, in my kitchen, make the paneer for Palak Paneer.  It turns out I can.  Manjula has a video for that.  Sam and I spent a good deal of time watching Manjula’s videos, declaring our love for her.  You could say that the camera loves her, but I think, instead, that the person behind the camera loves her, and knows how special she is.  I love the gentleness with which she stirs the pot, and I love how she gets into that paneer with her hands to squeeze the water out.

Anyway – I woke up Saturday morning with a taste for paneer, and the knowledge that I had spinach in the freezer.  I stole the paneer recipe wholesale from Manjula, and made some tweaks to her palak paneer recipe which turned out to be ill advised.  I found a recipe for dal makhni on another website, looked through my spice cabinet, and realized that, with the exception of ginger, I was good to go.  I took a half hour in the morning to make the paneer, and set the beans to soak for the dal, and headed off to work for the day.  I spent a lot of the day thinking about dinner.

And the spices.  The first time I made Indian food was about 23 years ago.  I was going vegetarian, and the Moosewood cookbook had all sorts of great Indian recipes.  I was entranced by the spices.  By the fact that I could mix certain flavors together, and come up with a result that was not only edible, but was good, and new to me.  The first time I made chutney I was just about over the moon, with the sweet, slight hot, tangy, flowery deliciousness.  Amazing.

How to make the paneer:  Paneer is a soft cheese that you can make in your kitchen with some milk and a lemon and that’s it.  I use Manjula’s paneer recipe.

  • Six cups of milk
  • A quarter cup of lemon juice
  • A half cup of warm water
  1. Bring the milk to a boil in a large bottomed pan
  2. Add the lemon juice to the warm water, and stir into the boiling milk
  3. Cook over medium heat until the curds and whey separate.  Feel pretty fancy that you’re making cheese.
  4. Line a strainer with some cheese cloth, and strain the curds from the whey.  The curds are the chunky part.
  5. Rinse the curd under cold water to bring down the temperature, and rinse away the lemon flavor.  Spend more time doing this than I do, unless you don’t mind a vague lemony flavor in your palak paneer.
  6. Wrap the curds in the cheesecloth in a ball, and squeeze out as much water as you can.  Leave it sitting in the strainer over a bowl for at least a half hour, or most of the day if you have to go to work like I did.
  7. Think about that paneer all day.

How to make the palak paneer:  I also used Manjula’s palak paneer, but decided to substitute greek yogurt for the  heavy cream.  Don’t do this.  You’d just be mixing something thick with whole wheat flour, which is there to thicken the cream, and then you’ll have to end up pouring in milk like I did, and it will be thicker than you want, but it will turn out okay and still be delicious.  Trust Manjula.  Manjula knows all.

  • 1 package of frozen spinach.  10 oz.  Leave it on the counter all day to thaw
  • The paneer that you made this morning
  • Take a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes and drain them and food process them until they’re pulp.  Use 3/4 of a cup of these.
  • 1 tsp of chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp of coriander
  • 1/2 tsp each of turmeric and red chili powder
  • a Tbsp of oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • Manjula says to use asafetida but frankly, I have no idea what it is or what it does, and have never seen it in my life, so I leave this out.  Forgive me, Manjula.
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp of Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/3 of a cup heavy cream.  If you want to do what I did, then you’ll need to substitute greek yogurt for this, and then just know you’ll be splashing milk into the pan to get the right consistency.  You could use milk instead of the heavy cream, I think, and you’ll be just fine.  Just don’t try it with yogurt.  I mean, you can if you want.  I just probably wouldn’t.
  • Ignore Manjula’s garnish of sliced tomato, unless you really care about garnishes, which I don’t.

What to do:

  1. Make the paneer in the morning, and leave the spinach out to thaw like I already told you.
  2. If you want to do some other mis en place work at the same time, you can mix the spices except for the cumin seed all together and you’ll be fine.
  3. Mix the ginger into the tomatoes.
  4. Add the spices to the ginger tomatoes stir a little and leave them in a bowl for a minute.
  5. Mix the flour with the yogurt if you’re doing this a dumb way.
  6. Fry the paneer until it’s golden brown.  Manjula says to cut it into cubes, but I just crumbled it into the pan and it was just fine.
  7. Heat the oil, and add the cumin seed until they make little crackling noises.
  8. Then add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes until thick.
  9. Add the spinach, lower the heat, and let it cook for a few minutes.
  10. Add the yogurt/flour mixture, and realize while you’re stirring it that that was a dumb idea. Splash in some milk until you have got something that mixes together smoothly.  OR JUST DO IT THE WAY MANJULA TOLD YOU TO TO BEGIN WITH.
  11. Stir the paneer in gently and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.

At the same time, you should be making the dal makhni.  I remember the first time I was introduced to a variation of this dish was at an Indian restaurant called Ambar in Cincinnati with my friend Scott.  Not Scott Scott, other Scott.  Other Scott said that he’d had this chicken makhni at Ambar, and that every time he’d go there he’d go with the intention of trying something new, but that he was constantly thwarted by the deliciousness of chicken makhni.  He had a very good point.  Dal makhni is a variation on Chicken makhni, using beans instead of chicken.  It kind of comes out like mushed chili.  It is very good, and a plate of rice (also, remember to cook some rice) with dal makhni and palak paneer is a touch of heaven, trust me.  The dal is spicy, I will warn you now.  I don’t care about this, but you may.

How to make the dal:  I used this recipe from a website called, and it was perfectly good, although it could be improved with a little Manjula.

  • 2 Tbsp of whole black lentils (urad)
  • 1/2 c kidney beans – I only had dried white kidney beans, so I used those, and it was fine.  I am going to point out that, now that I look at it, that I got the measurements backwards, so, if you want to do it the right way, instead of the way I did it, you actually want to use a half cup of the dal, and 1 Tbsp of the kidney beans.  Dang it.
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1 tsp of oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tsp ginger garlic paste (here is how you make this.  Food process equal parts of fresh ginger and fresh garlic together.  DONE!  I used 43 grams of each, but you can make as much or as little as you want)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 c of the mashed up tomatoes
  • salt
  1. In the morning, set the beans to soak.
  2. Measure out the dry spices, except the cumin seed
  3. When you’re ready to start cooking, drain the beans, stick them in a pressure cooker with two cups of water, and set the pressure cooker to cook.  The recipe I used said to pressure cook them for six or seven whistles.  I literally have no idea what that means.  Look for a chart on line about pressure cooking and see that it says 6 to 8 minutes for white kidney beans, so try that, but then later realize that that is absolutely wrong.  Put more water in, and pressure cook some more.   Think back, and figure that you probably pressure cooked for an additional 10 – 15 minutes.  Acknowledge that the kidney beans still came out a little chewy, but they were fine, and it may have been because they were pretty old.  Mash the beans and stir in the milk
  4. Heat the oil, and add the cumin seed until they crackle.  Add the onion and garlic ginger paste, and sauté a tiny bit.
  5. Add the dry spices and 2 T of water, and cook for about a minute, while stirring.
  6. Add the tomato pulp and I guess if you want to follow the recipe add 2 T of water, but if you want to do what I did, then completely miss that you’re supposed to do that.
  7. Add the beans and milk and stir it up and cook it for about 10 minutes.
Here is what it looks like

Here is what it looks like

Here is a list of my favorite things in this post:  Sam, Manjula, Indian food, making stuff from scratch, spicy food, mixing spices together and having it come out delicious.

What I got at the grocery store today – Milk, carrots, ginger, garlic and a small container of greek yogurt.  Oh.  And three salmon heads, because Salmon – 1.49 a pound, and fish stock.  And another thing that I’ll mention in the next post.  The only thing I really needed for tonight’s dinner was  the fresh ginger to make ginger garlic paste for the dal, and the greek yogurt, which turned out to be a bad idea.

Turkey meatball curry ramen with spinach

We’re just about done reorganizing our cupboards and whatnot.

Since it might be said that I’m a little obsessive… I’ve inventoried what I’ve got in the pantry (some of it is REALLY old) and now I’m going to see how little I can spend on groceries.

Here are the ingredients

1) Chicken broth – about a quart
2) Coconut milk – one can
3) Masaman curry paste – a tablespoon
4) Frozen spinach – 1 box package (about 10 ounces)
5) Ground Turkey – 1 lb – probably really really freezer burned
6) Bread crumbs (some)
7) Egg – 1
8) Hard boiled egg – 1
9) Ramen noodles – 2 packages, real Asian, not American if you can help it – toss the spice packets.
10) Sriracha sauce (ALWAYS – probably also good with chocolate is what I’m saying)
11) Some weird Vietnamese sesame peanut salt that you’ve had for 4 years (or just some chopped peanuts, if you have to get all fancy about it).
12) A slice of lemon

Makes about 4 large servings

Here’s what I did

Mix the broth, coconut milk, and curry paste, bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Mix the egg and the turkey and the bread crumbs and make some tiny meat balls and toss them into the simmering broth with the spinach and simmer for about, oh, let’s say 10 minutes. Hard boil the other egg while everything else simmers. Go to stir the broth, find out the damned spinach is still frozen, swear a little, and turn the heat up.

Double check the spinach, decide it’s getting there. Open the peanut stuff and smell it, decide it smells a little rancid, taste to confirm and toss it. Hope you don’t die from eating the ground turkey meatballs.

Bring the broth back to a boil. Turn off the heat on the broth, throw in the dried ramen, and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Stir it up, throw in some Sriracha garnish with 1/2 a hard boiled egg.

Stir that puppy and eat it.

Verdict: Scott – “Thank you for not putting octopus in this. Delicious”
Me: Pretty good. I’d give it 4 stars out of 5.

Here is what it looked like.Here is what it looked like.