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Tuesday, February 18, 2014


As those of you who are You Little Tarte regulars know, I am not a big Asian food fan.  Sure, I'll occasionally humor Ted and go out for Chinese or sushi, but for the most part I let that be something he does with Charlie.  Ditto the Asian cooking.  Just not my thing.

But surprisingly, I do like dumplings.  Not enough to ever attempt making them at home, but I do enjoy a good dumpling every now and again.

Anyone who cooks dinner every night knows how boring it can sometimes be.  I mean there are only so many things you can do with chicken before you start to get a little bored.  This is why I am diligent about reading the NYT Dining section everything Wednesday.  More often than not, dinner comes from those pages.

Back to the dumplings.  Apparently Melissa Clark isn't all that enthusiastic about making dumplings either.  But she does like them, and being far more adventurous than I am, she offered up this riff on pork dumplings deconstructed.

There's a fair amount of chopping and measuring in this recipe, but it's not nearly as labor intensive as actually making dumplings would be.  And when I served it for dinner Ted was so happy.  "Could Nadine finally be embracing my love of Asian food?" Maybe not, but dinner sure was good.

Recipe:  Spicy Ginger Pork Noodles With Bok Choy
(Melissa Clark, A Good Appetite, 2//5/2014)


12 ounces baby bok choy (3 or 4 small heads)
1 ounce ginger root (1 fat 2-inch-thick knob)
Kosher salt
8 ounces rice noodles, not too thin
2 tablespoons peanut or safflower oil
1 pound lean ground pork
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh Thai or habanero chile, seeded if desired, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, more for drizzling
Cilantro or torn basil, for serving
Black vinegar, for serving


Trim bok choy and separate dark green tops from white stems; leave tops whole and thinly slice stems. Peel ginger and finely chop half of it. Slice remaining ginger into thin matchsticks.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package instructions. Drain and run under cool water; drain again.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, breaking up with a fork, until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1/2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to a bowl.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Stir in half the scallions, the finely chopped ginger, the garlic and the chile. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bok choy stems and a pinch of salt. Cook until bok choy is almost tender, about 2 minutes. Toss in leaves and return pork to skillet.

Toss noodles, remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar into the pan. Cook until just warmed through.

Transfer to a large bowl and toss with remaining scallions, sesame seeds, sesame oil and herbs. In a small bowl, combine ginger matchsticks with just enough black vinegar to cover. Serve ginger mixture alongside noodles as a garnish.

YIELD 4 servings

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Best Birthday Present Ever

These days birthdays aren't all that exciting.  Every passing year is jus that: another passing year.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining.  It's just that I find it hard to believe that I just turned 54.  54!  Back when I was young, say 35, 54 seemed very old.  Now, having arrived at the ripe old age of 54, I'm surprised (and quite thrilled) by how young I feel.

I can remember being around 12, and laying on the bed in my childhood bedroom (which featured orange plaid wallpaper on just one wall, as an accent).  I remember thinking that being 16 would make me really mature.  In retrospect, all that happened when I turned 16 was that the State of California presented me with a driver's license.  The San Fernando Valley was never quite the same after that.

So I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Totally by coincidence, we went up to New York to visit Charlie over my birthday weekend.  I would love to say that we did this to celebrate my birthday, but mostly we went because it was a better weekend for Charlie than any of the other weekends in February.  I'll take it.  What could have been better now that we're all alone in our way too big for two people house, than to go and see our son, our first born, in New York?  As far as I'm concerned, any weekend that we can go and see him is a celebration.

But the fact is, now that both of my kids arel out of the house, spending the weekend with either of them (or better yet, with both of them), and having our family reunited, even if just for a day or two, is a cause for celebration.  And, since it was my birthday, this happy little coincidence made this the best present Ted could have given me.

(Note:  This did not let Ted off the hook for a nice little something tied up with a bow.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Measurements Count

Lest you think everything I make is perfect, let me tell you about these blueberry muffins.

Let me just backtrack a bit.  I've made blueberry muffins maybe 10,000 times and they've always worked.  I think I may have even made this exact recipe in the past, and it's always worked.   Blueberry muffins are the workhorse of muffins.  You can do just about anything to them and they work.  They're forgiving that way.

So, over the weekend,  I decided that some nice little muffins would be a good accompaniment to the omelet I was making for the two of us.  I always say "why have toast when you can have a muffin?"  I checked the frig for possible fruit additions and found that I had about a pint of somewhat less than inspired looking blueberries.  (It is February, after all.)  Anyway, I set to work.

I didn't want to make the 16 muffins that my standard Ina Garten recipe produced, so I thought "why not make half?"

Well, I'll tell you why not to make half.  Or at least why not to make half the way I made half.  To say that my measurements were a little sketchy would be a vast understatement.  I actually googled how to measure half an egg (because the full recipe called for 3 eggs), but mostly I eyeballed it.  Same with the berries.

Here's a basic truth.   In fact,  if you learn nothing else ever from reading my blog,  learn this.  You can't eyeball it in baking.  You actually have to have exact measurements in baking, because exact measurements matter.  Baking is chemistry, albeit really tasty chemistry, and being exact counts and really affects the outcome.

So, having only somewhat followed the recipe, I ended up with what can only be described as a blueberry mess.  The muffins were a little flat, and that would have been okay, but when I peeled the paper muffin liner away, half the muffin stuck to it.  I clearly went overboard with too many blueberries.  The end result was a little mound of blueberry glop stuck to the muffin paper.

Moral of the story: If you're going to make half, make sure to accurately measure out half of the ingredients.  Because eyeballing just won't do the trick.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I've Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

Saturday was, by February standards, a lovely day.  It was in the 40's, dry, and almost sunny.  Given how cold and snowy it's been, it practically felt like summer.  Needless to say, the traffic was awful because everyone was so happy to be able to get out of the house without dressing for the polar vortex.  It practically felt like sandal weather.  It's funny how your perspective changes after a couple of weeks during which the temperature haven't risen above freezing.  Temps in the 40's feel positively springlike.

But, heaven forbid we have two nice days in a row.  Sunday was cloudy, rainy, and bone chilling.  Today it's snowing.   Saturday I thought I might actually be able to see the end of winter on the horizon.  Today it feels as though it might last forever.

So imagine my glee when yesterday morning I saw Giada make this sunshiny couscous dish on her Food Network show!  It's light, but substantial enough to be considered dinner.  It features lots of lemon, which makes everything taste a whole lot more cheerful and bright.

As an added bonus, I had all the ingredients on hand.  At least I could just observe the ugly day from my window, instead of feeling it when I went outside.

Recipe:  Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Peas
(Giana De Laurentiis)


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cups (about 7 ounces) pearl (Israeli) couscous
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Zest of 2 large lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 green onions, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 rotisserie chicken breast, chopped to yield 1 cup of meat


In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook until lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until the couscous is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the cheese, green onions, peas and chicken. Spoon into bowls and serve.