On Mayonnaise


Mayonnaise. My grandfather used to make his own, and it was good. He also used to make his own pickles, and I'd leave a visit with Nana and Baba with a jar of freshly canned bread and butter pickles that were the best I've ever had (although the kosher Trader Joe's ones are pretty good too).

That was great until he got a lot older and I began to notice that he was neglecting things like refrigeration. I started to see rust on the jar lids. It was tough, because he and Nana were always trying to feed my daughters and me, and the food they were serving was getting sketchier and sketchier. I'd always make sure we stopped for Taco Bell on our way down to the Ventura Marina Mobile Home Park. "Who's hungry?" my grandfather would demand, as soon as we got there. "Oh, sorry! We just ate!"

I tried to get them to sign up for a food service. "It'll be so much easier!" This was in the days of the Schwann truck, long before Hello Fresh etc.

One time they got food poisoning which they were sure was from Golden China in Ventura, where they had eaten the night before. The health department came to their mobile home and inspected, then told them they had unsafe food practices. They laughed it off and Golden China retained its unfair bad rap.

This is a gross essay. Sorry. I meant to talk about mayonnaise.

Okay, so I have a love/hate relationship with mayo. For a couple of things, it's essential: tuna sandwiches and BLTs. It's also an important part of some pasta salads and coleslaws and fish tacos. But it's also a heinous restaurant kitchen shortcut. I've tasted mayo on deep fried shrimp and in Caesar dressing. Yuck.

If you're going to eat it, try making your own! You can do garlic mayo (aka aioli) or just plain mayo and it will taste amazing compared to the stuff you can buy.

Sometimes you want a mayo-esque experience but you don't want all those calories. This recipe is great for the kind of macaroni salad you'd eat with Hawaiian food or fish tacos. It's good as a sauce for fish tacos. It's good with cabbage as cole slaw.

Rain's Mayonnaise Alternative

1 small container Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce


That's it! Oh, some chopped scallions will go well with anything on which you'd put this sauce.



War and Food

Chicken Kiev/Kyiv

We were having some neighbors we hadn't seen in far too long over for dinner yesterday and I had a whole meal planned. I'd been wanting to make a rosewater cake so I was building a Middle Eastern menu around that. But when I woke up and read the news, and saw the footage coming out of Ukraine, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to cook Ukrainian food.

What do I know about Ukraine? Besides the brouhaha about Donald Trump's infamous phone call to and press conference with newly elected President Zelenskyy, and my friend Bernadette's incredible dyed Ukrainian eggs, not much.


My favorite way to find authentic regional recipes is to google, for example, "authentic Ukrainian recipes." You always stumble on some heartfelt website like this one filled with family dishes. Often compiled by people far from their homeland, the nostalgia and longing fairly ooze off the screen. Food, like music, is direct line to our history and our hearts.

Building a menu begins with a toehold. I needed something that didn't have to be marinated overnight. What is Chicken Kiev, anyway? I've seen it on a million menus but I don't think I've ever actually ordered it. Is there cheese? No, that's Chicken Cordon Bleu. You probably know this, but I didn't: Chicken Kiev is chicken breasts pounded and then folded around frozen garlic herb butter, then breaded, fried briefly and baked. If you do it right, the flavorful butter stays sealed inside until you cut it, then it flows in a steamy savory river onto the plate, to dip your crunchy chicken into. OMG.

Okay, so no need for any fancy side dishes. Boiled potatoes and steamed asparagus seem appropriately Eastern European and will be perfect for dipping in all that butter. My impression of Eastern European cuisine is goulashes and pierogi and borscht -- hearty peasant food with a lot of root vegetables. This impression was reinforced when I was in New York last fall and followed the ghosts of Lou Reed and Joey Ramone on a pilgrimage to Veselka. It was sooooo good. Definitely the food you'd need to go out and hitch up the draft horses in a frosty Ukrainian field.


But my hubby always wants something spicy for dinner. Is Ukrainian food ever spicy? It turns out: yes. There's a sweet and savory condiment called Adjika, which literally means "spicy sauce." For someone who just finally got the gist of saying "Ukraine" instead of "The Ukraine," there's a lot -- which is to say everything -- I don't know about the country or its food. For starters: it's "Kyiv," not "Kiev." Sort of like how there's no "cow" in Moscow. And also: Ukraine is not Doctor Zhivago-style frozen fields. It's got a temperate climate.

To take a crash course in Ukrainian food is to learn about a place whose rich soil has long made it one of the world's biggest producers of grains (wheat, barley, corn) and the seeds and oil of sunflowers (the national flower), not to mention its geopolitical desirability as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe and as the gateway to the Black Sea. You see the culinary influences of a region that has ping-ponged between empires for hundreds of years, only declaring a rocky independence in 1990. Russia's invasion this week only reinforces the fragility of Ukraine's existence as a sovereign state, captured in its young leader's defiant and stirring declaration night before last of the self-determination of proud, tough people.


We started with Vodka gimlets with Rye crackers with cream cheese, smoked salmon and dill. Then the Chicken Kyiv with boiled new potatoes and steamed young asparagus, with Adjika on the side. The butter didn't stay entirely inside the chicken, but I'll improve it next time. It was still freaking delicious.

And for dessert: a Ukrainian Apple Cake topped with vanilla whipped cream.

Here are two recipes, which are very easy and delicious.


(source: https://momsdish.com/recipe/130/adjika)

  • 7 large Tomatoes

  • 10 medium Carrots

  • 6 large Red Bell Peppers

  • 6 large Green Apples

  • 5 tiny Cayenne Chili Peppers (or 2-4 tablespoons ground cayenne, to taste)

  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil

  • 3/4 cup Vinegar

  • 2 tbsp Salt

  • 1/2 cup Sugar

  • 1 1/2 Garlic Heads, peeled and chopped

Puree the vegetables and apples in a food processor. Put in a big pot and cook on medium for an hour, stirring occasionally. Stir in the oil, vinegar, salt and sugar and cook for another 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the garlic. Let it sit at room temperature for an hour before serving. This recipe makes a lot, but once you try this, you'll want to put it on everything, so you could can it or keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Yabluchnyk (Ukrainian Apple Cake) (or pear, or cherry, or plum...)

(Source: https://redcipes.com/recipe/ukrainian-apple-cake-yabluchnyk-olga-drozd/)

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ⅓ cup cream
  • 4 large apple - peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly butter an 8 inch square baking dish.
  2. Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in 1/2 cup of butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir together the egg with the cream and gently mix into the flour until a soft dough has formed. Press into prepared baking dish. Layer the apples into the dish overlapping, in neat rows. Prepare streusel by mixing the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over apples.
  3. Bake in preheated oven until apples have softened, and topping has browned, about 25 minutes.

на честь хоробрих людей України!

What's Missing Here?

Ever make a bean or lentil or split pea soup and it takes good, but it seems like something is missing? Like when you're listening to music on cheap speakers and you can hear the guitar and the bass drum but there's no middle?

Dried apricots might be the answer.

Next time you make a soup with legumes, toss in 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced dried apricots along with the dried beans/peas/lentils. They add a hint of sweetness and a depth of flavor that will give your soup a little sparkle!


Taking Stock


Making stock feeds my deep desire to use up food. I think I inherited my grandparents' Depression-era ethos: never throw anything away. (Though they took that to kind of a disgusting extreme, to be honest.)

I love that you can take bones from a roasted chicken or pork chops, add veggie scraps you've been saving the the freezer -- ends of onion, celery and carrots, the outside leaves of lettuce that are less-than-beautiful, parsley stems -- and in a few hours turn them into a steaming pot of deeply flavored stock. (Omit the chicken bones and add some chopped mushrooms for a vegetarian version.)

It's a metaphor.

Read more

Candied Pixie Peels

These are Pixies. They are an important part of local history and a source of great pride here in Ojai -- the sweetest, most seedless, easy-to-peel, organic little gems. Growers from other places aspire to steal their market with names like "Cuties," but it's not the same at all.

When they're in season, my family goes through them by the crate. We have a few trees ourselves, but they're still too small to grow enough for us.

Throughout the summer, whenever we eat one, we toss the peel in a freezer bag. And then, near the holidays, I candy the peels and create a sparkling burst of citrussy goodness for cocktails, fruit cakes and general snacking.

Here's a recipe. You can use any pesticide-free citrus peels you like. But try the Pixies and you'll know what I'm talking about.





Pie Shake


Something special is happening this week and I bet you've never thought about it before. After Thursday, millions of people across the United States, people who may disagree about everything, are going to find themselves with something in common: they are all going to have some goopy leftover pie and they are not going to want to throw it out.

I have the answer. It's a Pie Shake.

Take whatever pie you have lying around. Toss it in the blender with a scoop of ice cream for each person you're serving, and add a little milk. Not much. Blend and serve!


Mostly Empty Jam Jar

You find yourself with a mostly empty jar of jam - or peanut butter or Nutella or Speculoo. Do you toss it in the recycling? Well, no, because as my husband's cousin, whose family was in the waste management business (for real, not the Tony Soprano version), explains: leaving crusty food inside jars makes them much harder to recycle and more likely to end up in the landfill.

So how do you avoid that while not catching yourself in a moral quandary by wasting water rinsing out the jar just to feel good about recycling?

The simple answer is the same answer for many questions: ice cream! Take your mostly empty jar and add a scoop of ice cream to it. Stir it around to pick up the remaining raspberry or peanut goodness. And a jar with milkfat is easier to quickly rinse out (in dishwater is fine).

A win-win!



A Very Ojai Recipe

Okay. You go to Ojai Rotie. You get a chicken and a bunch of delicious sides. You also wisely buy a whole loaf of Claud Mann's sourdough.


You have leftovers: part of a chicken, a small scoop of tabouleh, a few potatoes, some of the carrot stuff, that awesome garlic spread.

Do this:

Strip the chicken meat from the bones and toss it in the fridge along with what's left of the sides. Simmer the chicken bones on the stove overnight in plenty of water with some veggies. (I keep a silicone bag in my freezer and toss in onion ends, wilting celery, carrot chunks, Italian parsley stems - anything that would be good in broth - for whenever I have a chicken or want to make veggie broth. Not cilantro or beets or anything dominant like that.) Maybe throw in some peppercorns and a bay leaf.

The next day, cool and strain the broth, toss in all your Rotie leftovers, simmer for 15 minutes and serve with the sourdough and some good butter. YUM.





Stale Bread, Part Three: Soup

Tomato-Bread Soup Recipe | Martha Stewart

This week is a double whammy of repurposing: you took your leftover bread and made Panzanella. Now, you take your leftover Panzanella and toss it in some veggie or chicken broth, throw in some combination of cannelini beans, chopped onions, canned tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, basil -- whatever you've got -- and presto: a delicious, bright, hearty soup! Salt and pepper to taste and drizzle some good olive on top.

(If you want to make this but don't have leftover panzanella -- just saute some onion in olive oil and throw chunks of leftover bread and the above ingredients in. Maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar too. It also works well with leftever garlic bread.)



Stale Bread 2: Panzanella


In the oeuvre of recipes designed to use up food that's getting a little stale, panzanella is a bit of a showstopper. Meaning "little swamp," panzanella is something to make when two stars align: great tomatoes are in season and you have some really good leftover bread. Something springy with a good crust, like sourdough or a peasant loaf. It's got to stand up to being marinated without becoming soggy powder. And only make this when you can get the best tomatoes, bursting with flavor and juice at the height of the season.

There are millions of recipes around for this bread salad, with lots of variations. (I'm sure the original concept was: "I've got stale bread -- let's go see what's in the garden today and make a salad out of this.") 

So: tear or slice your day old (or couple of days old) bread into chunks. Toast it in a low oven or a cast iron pan until it's crunchy all the way through. Make a vinaigrette of your choice and toss chopped tomatoes and torn basil in it. Some recipes add chopped cucumbers, diced red onion, bell pepper, oregano. Some have capers. Some have chopped Greek olives. You want a roughly equal volume of bread chunks and veggie mix. You can also toss in some feta chunks or fresh mozzarella. (If you use feta, ease up on the salt elsewhere - like maybe skip the capers or greek olives.)

Make layers of bread chunks and salad mix in a baking dish. Cover it and let it stand for an hour or two before tossing and serving. A sprinkle of microgreens on top would be lovely too!

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