bits and pieces

This, that, and the other…

Blog Changes

by maven on January 21, 2013, no comments

I decided to remove my book reviews from this blog and post them on a book-focused blog instead. I’ve also created a separate little blog dedicated to mail as well. I’m not sure how actively I’ll post there, but I thought it made sense to separate them.

Maven Books

Maven Mail

Salmon and Somen, Lentils and Macaroni

by maven on January 20, 2010, no comments

We’ve had some rough, rainy weather here this week, and it’s made me want to hole up at home with warm things to eat and drink. Unfortunately, I haven’t had all the supplies I needed, so I had to go out and get some things before I could cook. So much effort!

I really wanted some salmon yesterday, and since I liked how it was cooked in my first try at making Asian Salmon-and-Rice Soup, I made a variation of that. I used dashi again, left out the cilantro (I didn’t have any on-hand), and then swapped out the rice for somen noodles. I’d seen a package of them at Marukai (the nearest Japanese market) and realized I hadn’t had before, so I bought them. They’re similar in size to angel hair or cappellini, which is my favorite type of pasta, but with a slightly different taste.

The end result was all right, though a bit plain and not that pretty to look at. I didn’t have any fresh cilantro, so that was left out, and I definitely missed some green with this. But the salmon was nice and tender, though I wished I’d had more of it.

Salmon and Somen Soup (by Valerie.)

For tonight’s dinner, I made a recipe from The Kitchn, a food blog I happened upon last week. (I did find some interesting recipes there, though I don’t really have an interest in the kitchen design or “what should I do with (insert ingredient)?” posts.) The recipe is called Beth’s Lenticchie con Ditalini (Lentils with Ditalini), and was apparently part of a contest they held last year for quick meal recipes.

Again, I made some variations, though not really intentionally this time around. First, the pasta: I’d never heard of ditalini before, but it’s apparently not in the places I normally buy my foodstuffs. From the pictures, it looks like shorter macaroni, so I just used a box of that instead. As for the lentil soup, I accidentally grabbed a can of lentil vegetable soup, so I just went with that. Oh, and the Roma tomatoes I saw at the store didn’t look so happy, so I had to leave the single tomato out.

There isn’t really that much to the preparation, so it was done fairly quickly. My only complaint with the recipe itself is that the ingredients list calls for a whole pound of pasta, but then says to save some for another meal. You really don’t need all that pasta, especially for a recipe that serves maybe 2 people at most. I’d say to use half of that amount, unless you really want to eat that type of pasta all week.

Lentils with Macaroni (by Valerie.)

Now, as for the taste… I thought it was really nice, except for the mascarpone cheese. That part just didn’t work for me, and kind of muddied the flavor too much, as if you just put a whole pat of butter on something that tasted quite nice on its own. I preferred to enjoy the taste of the soup itself, combined with the pasta, so I’d recommend leaving the mascarpone out. If you really need some cheese though, I’d go with parmesan.

So, given all this, I didn’t really feel like the recipe itself added much to the soup itself. I’d never had this variety of lentil soup before, but it seemed like it would be fine as-is, without needing anything more involved than heating it up a bit. The green onions — always my favorite — were definitely a nice addition, but you could blend those in while heating it and get about the same result. I didn’t even really notice the garlic. I know I left out the tomato, but I’m not sure that it would have added much.

Chinese Cabbage Stir-fry with Rice Noodles, Pork, and Cilantro

by maven on January 15, 2010, no comments

Last week, I had a rough stomach flu-like illness, and it really knocked me down hard. I have gradually been getting back to eating more normal foods, but it was a slow process that involved lots of toast and soup, and very little cooking overall.

I’m feeling a lot better this week, so I’ve been trying to get back into my “to cook” pile of clipped and printed recipes. Tonight, I decided to try one from the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, but considering how it turned out, I would have much rather kept with soup.

The recipe is Chinese Cabbage Stir-fry with Rice Noodles, Pork, and Cilantro (the recipe doesn’t seem to be online yet), and it was in a section about cabbage recipes. What enticed me was the stuffed cabbage recipe, but this one had noodles and it was stir-fry, so it seemed easy enough. I will say that I made a number of changes, based on what I had, but I don’t think it made that big a difference.

Starting off, you saute the cabbage until it wilts a bit, then set it aside and start in with all the savory bits and pork. And after that, you add the spicier bits and noodles, bring back the cabbage, and then stir it all up a bit with lime and some garnish at the end. Not too hard.

As for the differences in my approach, I used different cabbage (Napa instead of Chinese), “fake meat” instead of pork (basically vegetable protein in crumbly form) because I wanted to try it out, and dried cilantro instead of fresh (I just didn’t have it on-hand). Oh, and I used stir fry tea oil instead of vegetable oil, which is almost standard for me now. I used bottled lime juice as well, which I was a little worried about after my lemony linguine disaster, but I went ahead anyway.

Chinese Cabbage Stir-fry with Rice Noodles, Pork, and Cilantro (by Valerie.)

Not really as lovely as the photo, but the real problem for me was the spiciness. I don’t like a lot of spice, and the sriracha sauce (and maybe fish sauce too?) was pretty potent. So potent I couldn’t really taste anything else, other than a little bit of lime here and there. The fire in my mouth got a bit too intense, and I just couldn’t eat any more, so I had to stop. And rather than save the leftovers, I just dumped the whole lot, because I knew I wouldn’t bother to reheat it.

Unlike the previous recipe disaster, I think this one at least has some salvageable parts. The basic ingredients are good, and together I think they could be really great. But without the sriracha sauce for a start, and perhaps leaving out the lime juice and fish sauce to see how that is first. That would allow you to taste the main ingredients, but then still have some garlic and ginger too.

Now, I just hope this won’t wreak total havoc on my guts this evening. I don’t need more of that or heartburn right now! :(

Here’s the original recipe for reference:

Chinese Cabbage Stir-fry with Rice Noodles, Pork, and Cilantro
Serves 8


  • 4 oz medium flat rice noodles
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 head Chinese cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs), shredded (8 cups)
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 4 scallions, white and pale-green parts separated, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tsp Asian chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 limes, halved
  • Garnish: cilantro sprigs and lime wedges


  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; stir, and remove pot from heat. Let stand until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, and rinse with cold water.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or Dutch oven over high heat. Add half the cabbage. Sear, pressing with a wooden spoon, until slightly wilted and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside. Repeat with remaining cabbage.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add remaining tablespoon oil, the pork, garlic, ginger, and white pars of scallions. Cook, stirring constantly, until pork browns, about 1 minute. Stir in fish and chili sauces. Toss in rice noodles and seared cabbage. Add soy sauce to taste. Remove from heat, and add green parts of scallions and the cilantro. Squeeze limes over noodles. Garnish with cilantro, and serve with lime wedges. Serve immediately.

Pasta with Avocado, Ginger, Pine Nuts, and Cilantro

by maven on January 3, 2010, no comments

Or, How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Bowl of Pasta (and an Avocado).

I like pasta. I like avocados. So, when I saw the recipe for Pasta with Avocado, Ginger, Pine Nuts, and Cilantro (they call it Coriander) in the book Noodles in 60 Ways: Great Recipe Ideas With a Classic Ingredient, I thought I’d try it. Now, I wish I hadn’t, and I feel like I’ve wasted perfectly good ingredients by turning them into something inedible.

The recipe itself is fairly simple. You basically toss linguine, avocado chunks (doused in lemon juice to prevent them from browning), and pine nuts together, dousing them in a huge amount of olive oil and (more) lemon juice with some ginger and coriander (I used dried because I forgot to buy fresh) in it. I didn’t full realize the dousing part until I started making it though; I like olive oil, but 1/3 cup of it for a dish serving 2 people seemed like a bit much. I considered being more conservative with it and starting with a smaller amount, but I didn’t.

Pasta with Avocado, Ginger, Pine Nuts, and Cilantro (by Valerie.)

As you can see in my photo, the end result was a pile of greasy, lemony noodles with some other bits in there somewhere. Contrast that with the photo in the book, which is clearly less shiny of a dish; perhaps they did what I should have done and only added olive oil sparingly. I ate a few bites of it, even adding more pepper and some garlic powder to try and “fix” it, but I just had to give up after all. Hopefully my guts will forgive me for this error!

I’m not really sure if using less oil or lemon juice would have saved this dish though. Beyond the quantity of oil, it just seemed like something wasn’t working and I’m not sure what would have fixed it. And honestly, I’m not sure I want to try at this point, so I’ll move on.

I think in future, I need to be careful when making recipes from Noodles in 60 Ways. I’ve tried 3 so far, and 2 of those didn’t taste or look appealing, while the third tasted all right but didn’t sit well afterwards (though that could be my own stomach to blame). Those aren’t very good statistics!