Saturday, July 31, 2010

Remedial dining

Following last night's post, I made some sauteed kale with a bit of Parmesan, because until I am buddies with this guy, kale ice cream is not in my future, and I decided that vitamins had to happen before I went to sleep.

We actually bought lunch today, given that there were no leftovers to munch on, picking up an assortment of salads from the Broadway Marketplace on the way to the Harvard science center to do some work. The salads mostly consisted of various marinated vegetables interspersed with large chunks of cheese, although we did get a couple vegetarian Vietnamese spring rolls just for variety.

Perhaps in unconscious self-redemption for yesterday, dinner today was all about the vegetables. I finally used that harissa sauce to make harissa- and honey-glazed eggplant. Because of various dining what-have-yous this week, I had leftover zucchini, cabbage, and celery, as well as some chives and cilantro that are on their way out and some kale that isn't. So I threw the zucchini in with the eggplant and made a cabbage-and-kale stir fry with orange zest and sesame oil to go with it. We ate before I remembered to pause and take pictures, which is no great tragedy; it didn't look quite as good as it tasted.

Dessert, if we choose to have it, will be ice cream. There's quite a lot in the freezer thanks to my buy-one-get-one-free discovery while shopping for baked Alaska supplies, and despite what the eternally wise They tell you, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. Especially when that good thing is Edy's Slow-Churned chocolate ice cream.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vegetables? What's that?

I have had ice cream twice today, once at an office park festival at Andy's lab area that featured a horrible, horrible cover of "American Girl" and a worse cover of "Wish You Were Here." I had some then because it was free and because it was Lizzie's. Then, we went out with some friends, and we accidentally stopped for ice cream, and I had some because there was pear yogurt and chocolate sorbet to be combined into one delicious, delicious mix. Tonight's scheduled dinner has been postponed until tomorrow for reasons of bluuuuh.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Dinner tonight was Mark Bittman's vegetable torte, consisting of pre-roasted eggplant and zucchini layered with tomato and Portobello slices, then topped with Parmesan and breadcrumbs and oregano and baked for about half an hour. It's technically supposed to be baked in a springiform pan, but I've had poor luck with those (the bottom to the one I had in high school disappeared, although we still retain the ring; a roommate of mine accidentally broke the one I bought in college. Third time may be a charm.), so I just used an eight-inch round cake pan.

Bittman warned in the recipe that it pretty much falls apart as soon as you try to cut it; this photo bears that out. I absolutely love roasted eggplant, and these flavors were simple and straightforward, a no-fuss, vegetable-highlighting meal.

Next time, I'll either make it more cuttable by arranging strips, rather than rounds, of vegetables in sort of a flower petal way or just roast all the vegetables separately, make some Parmesan crisps, mix the vegetables with whatever herbs are about, and eat it that way. All the arranging and pre-roasting and what have you was too much time for no additional benefit.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Totally baked

Thanks to the inestimable Other Hannah, I was inspired to make baked Alaska today. I used a devil's food recipe for the cake and decided to top it with Edy's Slow-Churned, the coffee flavor, in order to bring out the taste of the coffee used in the cake. Since I sadly lack a blowtorch (how much fun would a blowtorch be?), I decided just to use the broiler in the oven and hope for the best. My hopes got less hopeful when I noticed that the oven does not, in fact, have an actual heating element on its "ceiling." I also had no cutters to make neat rounds of cake or ice cream. I also had no pastry bag. This was pretty much the most low-tech baked Alaska ever.

So, as it turned out perfectly, I'm pretty damn proud of myself. Please excuse the following sequence of bad photos, since we had to take them really, really quickly before things started melting.

Step 1: mounds of coffee ice cream (not homemade, molded using a ramekin)on rounds of devil's food cake (homemade, cut using a water glass) that had been in the freezer since about 1 p.m.

Step 2: what it looks like when you pipe meringue over ice cream, very quickly and taking care to cover all the ice cream. I attempted a nice swirl that sorta kinda came out.

Step 3: broiled... er, baked as high as the oven will go for just two minutes.


By the way, there's about half of a sheet cake, mostly broken into bite-sized pieces, that I didn't use for baked Alaskas. Who wants?

In other news, I read all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck today. The protagonists of the short stories contained therein were primarily educated Nigerian women. And now for your daily dose of Slightly Offensive: Most of us have been reading the literature of the downtrodden since we were in middle school and got assigned Cry, the Beloved Country. We are, dare I say, accustomed to the narratives that teachers and the less imaginative among our professors wish us to see played out. Adichie's stories are intriguing to upper-middle class white readers in a fresh, new way. The various problems plaguing Nigeria are presented through characters with whom we can identify with much more closely than Ben Okri's spirit children or Achebe's proud, traditional Igbo leaders. I do not mean to devalue or denigrate or declare invalid the UMCWR's appreciation of Things Fall Apart or The Famished Road. But in reading The Thing Around Your Neck, I felt that I gained a new, alternative appreciation for both the experiences of an Nigerian immigrant to America and the experiences of a more well-off person embroiled in Nigerian political and social tensions, and thus, a more complete literary depiction of what Nigeria is.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Corny jokes

The bread of the hour is honey wheat. I lazily did not browse for the perfect recipe, instead modifying the first one I found. The blogger claimed it turned out a little heavy, so I moistened the dough somewhat more than the recipe called for with olive oil and water; I also used white whole wheat flour instead of... not white. This may or may not have made a difference. Either way, it was delicious. I basted the top with a little olive oil during the baking, to be replaced next time with a honey/water slurry. The crust wasn't so crusty; this is very much a sandwich bread.

This accompanied a fresh corn soup. I've really grown to love soups that are pureed but use only a little potato or a few tablespoons of milk for creaminess (or, in some extreme cases, neither) rather than ridiculous amounts of cream. This was one of them. The recipe called for marjoram, but I didn't have any and didn't feel like buying it, so I substituted oregano.

The fresh, raw kernel component was key to the success of the garnish. I appreciate how this soup could be made flexibly seasonal; with the tomatoes and chives, and at slightly-warmer-than-room temperature rather than boiling hot, it was quite refreshing, which I sort of needed after lots of errand-related walking*.

No dessert tonight (too much bread!), so perhaps tomorrow can be brown butter monkey bread or whoopie pies with peanut butter filling or caramel cupcakes or raspberry lemonade bars or basil lime sorbet or...

*One of these errands was a trip to the library, where I intended to drop off two books and pick up one. I dropped off two books and picked up four. Oops.

Bracingly spicy, part 2

I made a sort of variant on using the Szechuan sauce from yesterday. They're really, really tasty. A few pointers:

1. My balls didn't hold together well (yes, you fifth graders, get the laughs out now). I'd recommend throwing in an egg white, or perhaps just mincing everything more finely than I minced... But really, I think an egg white would help.
2. I added slightly more ketchup to cut the spiciness, and it was still very hot. At the first bite, you don't really notice it. And then the massive amounts of ginger and garlic begin to catch up to you. And then the jalapenos help them along. And just as you finish your first veggie ball, you're sweating a little and idly wondering if there's any chance of getting a nice, cold, creamy milkshake. It was never unbearable, though. If you're buying readymade Szechuan sauce, the heat will probably be less intense. I also threw in some rice vinegar, just for kicks.
3. I served this over rice, but because the kitchen was very hot and the pepper fumes were a-risin' and my extraordinarily and unpleasantly bizarre housemate was clogging the kitchen, I scooted out of there before making the soy-broiled eggs I'd planned to use as a protein. You could just do a little egg-drop thing in the sauce, or you could braise some tofu in it. Whatever floats your boat.

They were actually prettier in person, I swear.

My sauce isn't as red as the sauce in the real cook's picture, probably because I did the homemade thing and she bought the real sauce. No matter.

I really want to make these again, but I think I'll eschew the mind-blowing homemade stuff in favor of a nice, controllable jar I can get from the Asian market down the street.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

My fingers burn. My lips and nose burn. My eyelids burn.

All because I decided that it would be a good idea to get all the very spicy sauce-making over with in one session.

Tonight was stuffed poblano peppers (which are generally mild, but for some reason, two of the four were extremely hot!), but later this week I'm making eggplant glazed with honey and harissa, and then later in the week I'm making Szechuan vegetable balls in Chinese tomato gravy. I made a home version of harissa that's sort of chunky, since I lack a true spice grinder, and I made the Szechuan-style hot sauce, which will be added to the overall tomato sauce later.

First was the Szechuan sauce. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the fact that it called for a quarter cup of garlic, plus five more cloves for later, as well as red onion, celery, ten dried hot peppers, and two fresh hot peppers. Cooking it all up with some vinegar and cornstarch and salt and sugar released some truly potent steam (God, for a fume hood!). When I tasted it, I said, "Ow!" out loud and then had to sit down for a minute. I diluted it a bit after that, mostly out of fear that it would melt my plastic spoon, but it still packs a punch.

Next, the harissa. It didn't have to be simmered, so there were no chili inhalation problems, thank god. Still, chopping the fresh and dried chilies (and no, I didn't have any gloves) just added to the burn. There were five cloves of garlic to chop, too.

And last, the poblanos. Garlic and jalapeno and onion went into the tomato sauce they cooked in; garlic and onion and beans and cornmeal and cilantro and cheese went into the filling. I also made a tomato cumin rice and some simple steamed green beans to go with it.

Overall, pretty tasty. But who knows, perhaps I'd have enjoyed it more without the residual burn from a total 20 dried and 8 fresh peppers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And babka's your uncle

I made my first risotto tonight! I was sort of intimidated for two reasons:
1. Rumor has it that a good risotto is very difficult to achieve.
2. We've been watching a lot of Hell's Kitchen, and most of the chefs screw up their risottos on the line, which leads to torrents of profanity from Gordon Ramsay accompanying either the complaint that "it's MUSHY!" or "it's BULLETS!" I did not want to serve either mush or bullets for dinner.

But seriously, the hardest thing about it was making peace with the fact that I didn't have fresh herbs (the basil didn't last as long as I'd hoped, and I had to toss the brown and mushy remnants) and just using dried. Or maybe standing over the stove in the air conditioning-free kitchen for 25 minutes. Despite that, risotto will certainly become one of my new low-cost, easily variable dishes; I'm particularly excited thinking of all the options for the liquid, since in addition to the combination of white wine and vegetable broth I used today, I could see using a dab of red wine, porcini broth, or putting a little cream or milk in.

This had carrots, onions, garlic, spinach, tomato, and Parmesan in it. The rest of the spinach and tomato went into side salads.

Dessert was yet another supposedly difficult project: babka. Now, my perceived ease with it could have been a result of the fact that I made one babka instead of the three that the recipe called for. Three. That would have taken 2.5 pounds of chocolate, a pound of butter, six cups of flour... You get my drift. Who has three 9-inch loaf pans? Who can eat three babka before they go stale? Anyway, with the smaller proportions and a few more modifications that I can share with you if you're interested in baking the scaled-down recipe, this turned out... well, pretty much like a loaf of sweet yeast bread filled with cinnamon and chocolate. I didn't put streusel on the top, partly because I was simultaneously risotto-wrangling and partly because I have been using my food processor to make confectioner's sugar and have begun to fear bagassosis from all the sugar dust that I've been inhaling as a result and partly because streusel has no place on babka and those who think it does are just wrong.

The second twisting sort of came untwisted during the subsequent resting period and the oven rising it did, but no matter. It was still pretty, and it was still threaded with chocolate in that particularly babka-y way.

Andy suggested that the only thing that would have improved this would be a dusting of cinnamon sugar on top immediately post-final egg wash. I agree. This has replaced St. Louis butter cake as my favorite homemade dessert.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Brevity: the soul of nutriment

I made caprese pasta, giving it balsamic flavor by steeping caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar. I stirred up the pasta and onions, spinach, tomatoes, herbs, and spices, then topped it with mozzarella and baked it in a 475-degree oven for 15 minutes. It was a satisfying dinner for a rainy day. I didn't bother to photograph it.

Now, back to writing tossups for that pesky tournament tomorrow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Better late than never

I don't consider myself that great a baker or cook. Here's why: It is consummately easy to follow a recipe, which I do the vast majority of the time I bake (recent honey wheat cookies: exception). If you can pipette a solution containing E. coli or plate some yeast*, you better damn well be able to bake something. As far as cooking goes, I'm not so much into the strict following of recipes, but most of my dishes are at least inspired by a recipe I've seen, so it's not like someone with a little less kitchen confidence or experience couldn't just follow the inspiration more closely.

Luckily, I do have the so very special ability to mentally divide recipes by whole numbers and deal with possibly awkward recipe fractions (who the hell has a third of a tablespoon measure?). This is necessary when, as occurred today, I encounter a tasty-looking brownie recipe that calls for a pound of butter. If Andy and I consumed a pound of butter's worth of brownies between us, there would be problems, so I divided the Ina Garten recipe's portions by three, browned the butter, and had at it. Originally, I'd planned to make cherry walnut brownies, but then Andy said he preferred his brownies sans nuts, and the cherries** tasted so good on their own... so we're sticking with plain, folks.

Dinner was pizza, sticking with the crust recipe I used last time. I loved the cornmeal crust, but it doesn't give you as much flexibility with the toppings. The mozzarella, spinach, fresh basil, and olives I wanted to put on this just don't go well with cornmeal, at least according to my palate.

What can I say about how it turned out? I followed a crust recipe, and it's hard to go wrong when there's mozzarella and basil involved. And a bunch of other toppings.

Check out the big, cheese-covered dough bubble on my pizza.

Close-up of Andy's first pizza.

The last pizza had to use up all the remaining toppings, so things got piled a little high.

Making sort of a crust.

The array of toppings. Underings consisted of olive oil and tomato sauce.

The only thing is... I didn't have much room for pizza after eating about a pound of cherries. No, I'm not kidding. No, I have no regrets.

*I realize that not everyone has tried their skills at this, but believe me, it's not too hard.
**I don't impulse-buy clothing. I impulse-buy fruit. Thus, while purchasing these cherries as planned because I saw that Shaw's had organic cherries on sale for $2.99, which is pretty much the best you're going to get around here, I also bought a watermelon, because it, too, was on sale for $2.99, which is also the best you're going to get.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ash miveh and didactics

As the time to leave Cambridge and relocate to medical school draws nigh, I've been thinking more about how to decrease the number of pots used and the time spent on creating a certain dish, even if it requires rather drastic modifications of the form of that dish (see: kale rolls, prev. post). Tonight's dinner took a small frying pan, small pot, and medium pot, but I can absolutely see combining it all into the one medium pot and calling it a day.

I made a sort of riff on abgishte miveh, or ash miveh (I think that's how you might spell it), a Persian dried or fresh fruit stew. Usually, there is a lot more fruit than the combination of chickpeas and either lentils or white beans that shows up in the stew, especially if the fruit is fresh. I altered that ratio and made it more about the lentils. The nectarine, peach, and two plums I chopped and put in gave everything a fruity aroma and, in the absence of tomatoes, brought in a nice acidity. I also put in raisins and pistachios, as well as the usual garlic/onion/carrot base. Next time, I think I'll reserve some fruit to put in for the last ten minutes of cooking so that there are larger fresh fruit chunks rather than just stewed, squishy bits. I didn't add too much chopped fresh chili, but there was a lot of turmeric and cumin in there (and a few other spices as well), and one star anise "flower" provided a bit of an anisey finish without smacking you in the face as soon as you took a bite.

The one-pot system failed when I used another pot to make saffron rice and a small pan to mix that rice with some spinach and stir fry it for a bit. I can see just boiling the rice in with the lentils, or using small chunks of potato instead, or eschewing the carbohydrate altogether, and either mixing in some shredded spinach to a bowl of steaming lentils right before serving to let the spinach wilt somewhat or just eating it on the side as a salad. That would reduce the time spent tending rice and veggies and washing dishes. Instant med school meal.

And now, by a total lack of popular demand, here are my tips about How to Eat Vegetarian Cheaply and Well that I intend to take during the year and that you, fellow cheapskate and aspiring vegetarian/less-meat-than-usualitarian, can take as well.

Step 1: Keep a constant supply of your favorite beans and legumes in the house. For us, that means lentils. Buying in bulk lowers the cost, and it's not like they rot.
Step 2: On the same note, keep a constant supply of carrots, onions, and garlic in the house. We never get tired of some combination of those three plus some sort of bean, plus other spices or veggies to liven things up (cumiiiiiin). It's not that variety is hard to achieve, but everybody needs a go-to. Plus, carrots, onions, and garlic are some of the most versatile and most baseline ingredients around.
Step 3: Remember that cheese is, if not the most healthful protein, at least the quickest to incorporate. Got a meal all set up but for the protein? Add Parmesan (the real stuff, not the Kraft Kanned Krap). Tofu can be a quick addition as well, but it's not as universally liked as cheese.
Step 4: Lead with your veggies. They're the most flavorful aspect of the meal and usually the most nutrient dense. A meal involving some tenuously healthful carbohydrate, like plain old cheapo pasta, isn't too bad if the bulk of the dish consists of vegetables. That leads me into...
Step 5: Stay approximately seasonal. Finding a good brand of canned tomatoes (and good god is this difficult sometimes) will save you from using mealy wintertime tomatoes. Avoid stone fruits unless it's summertime, and avoid asparagus unless it's springtime. And so on. This will keep your ingredient quality higher and your grocery bill lower.
Step 6: This I've mentioned before: Attempt to plan a menu, even an approximate one, for the week. Reducing the number of grocery runs you make will give you a realistic perspective on how much you're spending (which will be less than if meat was on the menu. I almost guarantee it.).

There you have it. Keeping good vegetable stock on hand (or making your own, which is a perfect destination for vegetables that are still edible but not quite fresh enough to eat raw or to be the best when cooked, actually; the stock doesn't seem to suffer from limp celery), baking your own bread, and finding your personal favorite flavors for dressings and quick spice combinations also help.

Oh, and buy Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's cooking equipment

As soon as I get a stand mixer*, I'm going to try this recipe, simply for the aural, visual, and tactile joys she describes. Until then, it's the old standbys for me.

I made a basic, uncomplicated artisan loaf (gotta love those long rises in the fridge while you're out getting things done) to go with a Mark Bittman recipe, kale rolls. It involved stripping the leaves off the stems, which were chopped and sauteed in olive oil with some minced garlic. The leaves were then rolled around sticks of feta and placed on top of the sauteed garlic and stems, topped with chopped red onion, tomatoes, and olives, and stewed on medium with a half-cup or so of white wine in the covered pan for about 10 minutes. I garnished it with a little basil just for the sake of basil, because the fresh stuff we have is already beginning to rot (the speed at which fresh herbs go bad is one of my eternal torments).

I really loved this dish. But the rather time-consuming rolling process is completely unnecessary. I can see just sauteeing the stems and garlic, then chopping the leaves and putting them on top, then putting the chopped olives and tomatoes and onions on top and pouring on the wine, then putting the feta on top and covering and cooking it for 10 minutes. The feta would still mush up a bit, the pan juices would still be delicious, and I wouldn't have spent half an hour carefully slicing intact kale leaves off the stems and rolling feta sticks in them. I can also see putting Portobello mushrooms in here, omitting the olives if you don't like them (I didn't salt it at all, thinking that the feta and olives would be plenty salt on their own, and it turned out just fine), or cooking down the tomatoes or some such to make the pan juices more abundant and then serving a more liquidy version over rice.

Look at the cute little feta stick poking out from that kale roll!

Pie report: Because of the free coffee and scone I got today while out getting my hair cut (curls status: aspiring-to-be-chic-African-American-lady short), I didn't indulge in further dessert, but Andy reported while yumming it up that the whipped cream didn't break and that the day-old pudding filling is just as good.

*I'm not usually given to cupidity, but I do have a list of kitchen products I want to acquire that make me rub my palms together in greedy glee. They are:
1. small stand mixer, which I intend to acquire in New York with the aid of a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card.
2. cutting board (yes, I know, I should have one by now)
3. wire strainer (ditto)
4. mandoline
5. internal read thermometer
6. plastic squeeze bottles
7. springiform pan (I've had horrible luck with not losing/breaking these)
8. spider
9. cooking scale
10. cooling rack
11. four-cup liquid measure
12. refillable salt and pepper grinders

Secondary wants include a pizza peel and real baking stone, as well as some sort of indoor grilling apparatus.

I'm going to browse thrift stores and Target for some of these things and save up for the more expensive ones. And simultaneously plot how to make space for all these implements.

Dubious images and dubious references

Is it a day that ends in Y? Then it's Horrible Photos of Tasty Food Day once again here at mah blawg.

This is pan-seared garlic blue cornmeal polenta with some veggie burger slices on top (the last of that box of the Morningstar variety that I love so much) with watermelon, feta, basil, and cucumber salad. As the Wild Man of Borneo says, "Yumyum, eat 'em up!"

And then there was pie.

This being our Splurge on Good Ingredients week (see: fresh basil, real mozzarella, lots of tomatoes, blue cornmeal), we bought one of those Trader Joe's pound plus bars of 72 percent, the darkest they had. Four squares of that stuff made the puddinglike filling of this pie the right degree of chocolatey. Honestly, although it was fun to eat it in a pie crust, I'd be happy just spooning it up as pudding.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Who is the fruitiest of the evil Smurfs? Gargamelon.

My mother's comment when I told her I was making watermelon gazpacho today was something along the lines of, "That sounds incredibly unappealing." Andy was dubious, if less so, that watermelon would work in gazpacho form. But even he admitted that it turned out surprisingly good. I immersion blended about five cups of watermelon, three smallish tomatoes, a little chopped jalapeno (easy on this stuff), the juice and zest of half a lime, and some paprika, white pepper, and salt. To garnish, I mixed some chopped cucumber and red onion, cubed feta, some fresh basil, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar and plopped that on top. It's probably not for everyone--I mean, most people aren't huge fans of the watermelon/tomato combination to begin with, much less pureed--but we found it refreshing and novel.

We had a later dinner than usual tonight, so there was exactly zero natural light available to make the beautiful colors of the soup and garnish actually appear beautiful in these photos. 'pologies. Average the really bilious first picture and the murky second one, and you'll get something closer to the true, appetizing shade.

I made a (once again massive) loaf of ciabatta that we ate alongside the soup. The crumb was amazingly moist and might drive me to use this recipe as my go-to. The only problem is that the crust softened within an hour of taking it out of the oven. Ciabatta crust isn't as crisp and crunchy as, say, just a rustic boule or some such, but it should be a little crunchier than it ended up, I think. It wasn't bad--to the contrary!--but it was inexplicable. Can anyone deinexplicate it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why does it always have to be so complicated?

Don't worry, it's not as emo as it sounds. I'm just referring to the fact that I could have gone ahead and spent less than half an hour on dinner, but something made me complicate it with a longer-term side dish.

The centerpiece was pasta with bitter greens, tossed in a light lemon and goat cheese sauce. I didn't cook the greens (mustard, I believe they were), just chopped them and put them in the colander before I poured the pasta into it, then stirred them in with the hot pasta so they got tender. To make the sauce, I mixed goat cheese, pepper, lemon juice, and a little pasta water. It's like a slightly more adult version of the meal my mom always made when we were younger and clamoring for dinner RIGHT NOW: noodles 'n' cheese, which consisted of mini shells tossed with cottage cheese.

Once again, this was a meal that could have taken 20 minutes to make, but I had to make a semi-pickled carrot slaw with a lagniappe*: cayenne pistachio brittle, to be crushed and sprinkled on top. I sliced the carrots very thin, sort of a rustic julienne, if you will, and marinated them for about two hours in a blend of rice and red wine vinegars, a little olive oil, a chopped jalapeno, a few chopped cloves of garlic, and some caper juice, pepper, and cayenne. These were pretty damn good, but also pretty damn spicy. I love spicy foods and chowed down, but for the less gustatorily masochistic, the pickles might be better on a sandwich. Banh mi or something southwestern come to mind. The brittle offset the spiciness a bit, since it obviously had some sweetness to it, and less spice than the carrots themselves.

Now, a conundrum. I've got less than a month here in Cambridge before it's off to a much bigger city for much bigger things than food blogging. Among the items I'd like to cook before I go (and no longer have time to be so intricate about my meals) are:

homemade seitan
Persian fruit and chickpea stew
fava and fennel salad with fresh mint
honey- and harissa-glazed eggplant
stuffed poblanos
homemade ginger ale
strawberry lemonade bars
pesto rolls (instead of cinnamon rolls)
basil lime sorbet
sweet onion sorbet
vegetable biryani
butterscotch pudding
Mark Bittman's vegetable torte
cream of corn soup without the cream
blueberry salsa

Thoughts? Other dishes you'd recommend?

Oh, I made up a cookie recipe! This usually isn't something that happens. Here it is:

6 tbsp browned butter
scant (not packed) 3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp honey (orange blossom would be good if you're not using zest or citrus juice; for sweeter, more honied cookies, use up to three tablespoons)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cornmeal (yellow or white, doesn't matter)
1/4 cup white flour
2 tsp vanilla
Optional: 2 tbsp flax meal or wheat germ
Optional: finely grated zest of one orange
EITHER 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar OR 1/2 tbsp citrus juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder

Put the sugar in the (slightly cooled) browned butter and whisk furiously. Whisk in egg for 30 seconds, then let rest for 3 minutes; repeat that process twice. Whisk in honey, vanilla, and vinegar/citrus juice. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients and zest, if you're using it. Drop heaping tablespoons on parchment paper, 2 inches apart, and bake at 350 for 10-13 minutes.

*Cajun term for "a little something extra." Also, the name of a restaurant that some family friends (or perhaps relatives; I've never been quite clear on this) own in New Iberia, Louisiana.


I've had a lot of chickpea falafel, but I'd never even considered the possibility of making them with edamame until recently. The recipe was very easy to assemble, especially with my handy dandy immersion blender. I wonder if they can be baked or pan-seared as patties; if so, I can definitely see them fitting into a half-hour dinner plan, as the real timesuck in tonight's prep was dealing with the pita, rather than the horrific tasks of chopping a single onion and mincing a few cloves of garlic.

Slightly sweet in a vegetal way, edamame falafel are brighter and less earthy than the regular kind. Added bonus: they're the embodiment of chartreuse.

The outsides got dark very quickly while frying, but the insides stayed light. We ate them with whole-wheat pita, tzatziki, and a tomato and cucumber salad. טעים מאוד! Take that, recent history of unhealthful meals!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mac daddy

I decided that it was high time Andy demonstrate his culinary skills this summer, so he was the head chef as I played sous chef tonight. We made his dad's mac 'n' cheese using rotini and cheddar, as well as panko mixed with Italian seasoning for the breadcrumb topping. I got to do all the grating and breadcrumb/seasoning mixing and chopping of vegetables for our garlic/spinach/mushroom side dish, while Andy actually tended the cheese sauce and sauteed the vegetables. Cremini mushrooms are fantastic, by the way; I got some on sale at Trader Joe's, so they were no more expensive than white mushrooms for twice the goodness.

Anyway, the macaroni and cheese. This is probably one of the best recipes I've made (sorry, we've made) for the stuff. There's no flour in the roux, only cornstarch, which I like, and the cayenne powder on top gave it a nice warmth. I can see making a few modifications (orange cheddar for color, less milk and cornstarch for the same amount of cheese, a thicker crust [although the crustiness was left to our discretion, so I have no-one to blame but ourselves], some chopped tomatoes in there), but it was creamy and absolutely delicious. To follow such a high-fat meal (although the cheddar was low-fat and the milk fat-free, I'll have you know), we had a few white peaches for dessert*. Fabulous.

This week's meals have been rather lipid- and carbohydrate-heavy; previously, dishes had been much more about the vegetables. Next week's menu should be better.

*I admire Andy's capacity to take in food with no obvious repercussions on his constitution or lanky frame. Exhibit A: spending part of last night working on the computer with one hand while chawing down on half an enormous loaf of challah held in the other. Exhibit B: having some Edy's Slow-churned Fudge Ripple ice cream as I was typing that sentence about white peaches and lipid content. It's truly wondrous.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I think I've improved on bread baking more than anything else this summer. I still suck at estimating portion sizes of all foods (as you will further discover in this post), and I haven't really sought to make any great strides in combining various spices or in messing with pastry (partly due to a lack of equipment), but I've got a much better feel for what various moisture levels, rising times, and flour combinations will do to a loaf of bread.

This is why I decided it was time to try challah, which relies on a light and delicate interior for much of its appeal. After poring over about 10 recipes, only one of which was not on the Internet, I chose this one for its straightforward directions, superficially appealing egg-to-flour ratio, and once again superficially appealing size.

I mostly made the right choice. This bread has the best texture of any I've ever made. It's fluffy and feathery and has that half-firm, half-chewy crust that I associate with challah. The honey flavor isn't quite as strong as I anticipated, but in the context of how this particular challah was intended to be served, that was just fine, and if I want to make a sweeter bread, it's easy to upregulate the honey and correspondingly downregulate the white sugar.

The real issue here, which I'm going to attribute partially to my error and partially to an unfortunate vagueness of terms in the recipe, was the size of the loaf. The recipe said that it would make "two small" or "one large" loaf of bread. Any time I've run into that term in other recipes, the two small loaves have been, say, small boules, or enough dough to fill a six-inch rather than nine-inch loaf pan. What I feel the recipe should have said is that it makes "two regular loaves or one titan loaf." I tore a chunk out of the center of the bread (the choicest part, of course) before I thought to take a picture, but here's a vague reconstruction, with a fork in the photo for size:

Most of this happened during the second rise, completely eliminating what I thought was rather a nice braid (Pride? You bet I have pride about eking a nice braid out of my artistically disinclined self.). The first rise doubled the dough volume, but no more; the second much more than doubled it. In any case, it will keep us in bread for the next three days.

I originally intended the bread to accompany this avocado soup, but it's clear that the avocado soup accompanied the bread. Sadly, the soup was the first thing I've made all summer that was just not good. I followed the recipe with no alteration other than to reduce the amount of salt a bit, and it still tasted like nothing so much as salty, limey yogurt. That's not bad, per se, if you're going for a savory lassi or some such, but lassi this was not. I choked down a bowl for the purposes of protein and then ate a rather impressive amount of salad and bread to make myself feel better. It's definitely going to be salad, bread, and cheese for lunch tomorrow rather than soup, salad, and bread.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"I love the humour of bread and cheese"

In the absence of leftovers, I decided to make goat cheese and arugula sandwiches on fennel fig bread for lunch today, baking one loaf as a boule and one in a loaf pan. I really should have read the comments left on the bread recipe more thoroughly, because they would have helped me improve the recipe somewhat. First of all, it's very, very heavy on the figs and fennel. Normally, I'm a fan of strongly spiced baked goods chock-full of dried fruit or what have you, but the fennel overwhelmed the very lightly rye-flavored dough, and the sheer quantity of chopped figs gave the loaves an uneven second rise. Next time, I'll halve the fennel and add maybe 75 percent the figs (which I intend to soak in boiling water before kneading in), or 50 percent if I feel like adding walnuts. I added some olive oil and extra water to the dough, too, which turned out to be an excellent decision. That being said, you can't go wrong with the flavor combination, so it made a good lunch.

Dinner was, well, bread and cheese and vegetables in another form: cheesy onion bread with garlicky peas. Andy and I keep saying that we're totally stuffed and then breaking more pieces off the loaf. It's got baking powder and soda in it, not yeast, and copious amounts of buttermilk; the texture is like nothing so much as a more refined KFC biscuit (the butter I drizzled over the top probably helped that along). (Only a quarter of a loaf left at this point. No more, I swear. Oh, wait, Andy just put like half of the last chunk into his mouth. Maybe I could have one more bite, just to speed the loaf-finishing along?) The recipe called for Gruyere, but I used the much cheaper cheddar, and I caramelized the onions in a bit of oil instead of just browning them lightly in butter. (All gone. Luckily, Andy and I ate it in a 2:1 ratio, so I only feel like a little bit of a fatass.) I also may or may not have added an extra half-cup of flour; I was distracted while measuring it out, and when it came time to mix in the liquids, the batter was incredibly runny. Another half-cup of flour sorted it out just fine.

The recipe is here. I used the full stick (gah!) of butter in the dough, but like I said, I used a bit of oil for the onions and just drizzled butter on the top instead of putting as much on as she suggests. And I saw no need to butter the loaf pan; sure enough, the loaf popped out easily despite this. The assembly scheme for the loaf is also poorly described, so if you want to make it and are confused, drop me an e-mail and I'll give you a diagram.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trinities: sooo first century

I planned to make a trio of fries and dips tonight, but it didn't go my way. There was even a cute little plan for presentation! Unfortunately, the potatoes and one of the sweet potatoes I had set aside for this rotted, so I had to cut the rosemary goat cheese oven fries with ketchup-spiked aioli and cut the portions on the peanut butter curry sweet potato fries with cinnamon yogurt dip. Dualism is where it's at, anyway.

The avocado fries with the rest of the Thai chili sauce as a dip were incredible. Each of us made a yummy sound a la Young Frankenstein ("I didn't make a yummy sound. I just asked you what it is." "But you did! I just heard it!") upon biting into our first ones. I wish I'd cooked some of them a bit longer; I was juggling five things in the kitchen as I was frying them and got too nervous about burning them. And remember what I said about the chili sauce looking like mucus? These photos will prove that to you. But the insides were creamy, and with panko as a breading, there's really no way not to get a light, crispy crust.

The sweet potato fries were good, but not as punchy as I'd have liked. Next time, instead of doing a curry blend, I'll spice them more heavily with cumin and lots of cayenne or chili powder so that the cinnamon yogurt dip is distinctly cooling in contrast to the spicy sweet potatoes.

The reduced portions didn't leave us any for lunch tomorrow, so I'll have to make something else. But paired with a simple arugula salad*, they were perfect for dinner.

Post-Petersburg, I've moved on to The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, acquired at a nice $4 from a used book sale next to the Cambridge post office. It's Eco as usual. You should read this one, too.

*Arugula is possibly the best green thing in the world. Or maybe kale. But really, arugula.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some things I have learned from food blogging, plus an odd sort of dinner

Some things I have learned from my highly amateur attempt at food blogging:
1. Most food bloggers are married or very attached women who refer to their significant others by obnoxious and often cloying nicknames. My Man's Belly, aside from being generally terrifying, is one of the worst in terms of blogette/beau de blogette relationship portrayal. Occasional good recipes, though.
2. Most food bloggers have very good cameras, are very good at photography, or both.
3. Planning out a week's meals and buying all ingredients at once is a great way to keep food costs down. The one week (this past week, incidentally) I sort of threw things together, my food was both uninspired and the product of a few dollars here and a few dollars there, all of which added up to much more than the usual amount we spend on food in a week.
4. Nobody cares nearly as much about your food blog as you do. Suck it up and stop trying to convince people otherwise. Posting each blog entry on Facebook is acceptable, however.
5. It is sometimes shamefully difficult to pause before horking down your dinner and photograph the plate.
6. Adverbs are seductive. Give in to the overuse.

Anyway, dinner. I made udon tonight! It's the easiest of all the pastas, chiefly because it doesn't have to be rolled so damn thin*. My increasingly dull knife--I'm getting them sharpened either tomorrow or Tuesday, I swear it--was probably the worst possible tool for cutting pasta, so as you can see, the slices weren't as thin as I'd have liked.

To make things worse, these puff up a whole lot while boiling, so I ended up with some very thick, slightly undercooked udon. But they tasted really, really good.

I tossed the udon in miso, spooning a bit of the broth at the bottom of the plate, and topped it with raw grapefruit and blanched, room-temperature bok choy, and then some steamed edamame for protein. I then drizzled on top an Asian serrano chili sauce I'd made earlier in the day. The recipe I based it on exhorted me to use only red chilies, but the green looked so much better; I discovered that the reason why red were deemed necessary is that green chilies yield a mucus-colored sauce, like chartreuse with a case of food poisoning, while the red ones are a nice, bright light red (no, not pink, and yes, there is a difference). The sauce is extremely good. I used two serranos, seeds in, and would have liked it to be spicier, so next time, I'll either use a spicier pepper or just use more peppers.

Dessert was "baked donuts." Now, this recipe looked great, and the pictures were very pretty; the doughnuts were jam-filled and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar, and we all know how tasty that looks. Unfortunately, the taste didn't measure up. It's not that they weren't good. They were, and the texture was wonderfully fluffy. But it wasn't significantly better than, say, a scone with jam in it or on it (or custard... custard would have been good on these...), and much less work, too. So I'm not going to call this a failed experiment, because they were delicious, but I'm going to call it one that I will not repeat.

Oh, and I finished Petersburg. Go read it. Now. Seriously. It's that good.

*For those of you who've never made pasta, consider that pasta dough is not like cookie dough. It's highly elastic and thus springs back at least a third or so of the distance it's just been rolled out if not summarily attended to.

Shockingly seasonal

I keep wanting to make foods that have absolutely no place being served during this particularly scorching Massachusetts summer. Take, for instance, this soup. It, along with a very similar mushroom, kale, and barley soup from the New York Times, embodies that tonic quality that's welcome during the winter months. It's full-bodied, warming, and, while not a heavy meal, not cool and light summer fare, either. Still, I was craving the stuff, and Whole Foods just expanded its bulk section in all sorts of wonderful ways, so I got to pick up some dried porcini mushrooms for only 70 cents.

And then this afternoon, the weather decided to cooperate with my dietary choices. It poured, as in flash-floods-in-Somerville poured. Unfortunately, the heavens opened just when Andy and I were walking to MIT with nary an umbrella in sight. I usually don't post pictures of myself, but this was the particularly unflattering result of our walk in the driving rain:

Here's the view from where I stood taking shelter under the overhang of the Green Building in MIT's McDermott Court:

And here's the view from where I stood over my plate:

Andy and I collaborated on his bread (the recipe calls it Jo's Rosemary Bread, but it's all lies, since Andy has added the crucial ingredient [garlic] and the crucial baking step [not using a freaking bread machine]), and I made a little green salad to go with the soup. The rosemary in the bread was a great complement to the soup; herbs in the soup itself would detract from the rich mushroom broth, but alongside the soup, they're perfect.

I still haven't been able to buy chives once this summer though (they're supposed to top the soup). Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Shaw's have all failed me continually.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Product placement ahoy!

I got tired of making rice dishes and using egg as protein, and tofu can turn into mushy pablum, especially the next day, when used as a mix-in for dishes like this, so I decided to go with cubed Morningstar Grillers veggie burgers. This is now my favorite of the Morningstar products I've tried, although their veggie sausages are a close second. The flavors aren't so much trying to exactly imitate meat--which usually fails--as trying to capture a general meaty savor that tofu can't give you. The cubed Grillers (which I chose over "Mushroom Lovers'" and "Original Garden Veggie") were perfect for the sticky rice bowls (other ingredients: rice, mushrooms, red bell peppers, fresh cilantro, scallions, garlic, red onion, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, served with a salad with a peanut-ginger).

Because I once again completely forgot to photograph dinner (it was pretty, though) and because I'm not baking anything tonight (still got 3/4 of a cheesecake left, if anyone is interested), instead of waxing lyrical about how awesome my [insert dessert here]-making skills are, I'm going to ask your opinion on something. What do you think of making a watermelon gazpacho? It would probably involve a high watermelon-to-tomato ratio, with some avocado either cubed or blended in (probably cubed), and a little garnish of chopped cucumber, red onion, and cilantro on top. I'd add a little splash of some sweet vinegar, but only a tiny bit, and season it with pepper, maybe some chili powder, and either cilantro or Thai basil.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Blame it on the ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-alcohol

I've really grown attached to cooking pasta sort of like you'd cook a risotto. It takes more attention than the usual method, but the results are charming, particularly when water isn't the only liquid added to the mix. I used the rest of the $3 bottle of red wine from Trader Joe's, along with a little water for volume, to cook spaghetti with thyme, bay, and lots of red pepper, as well as assorted vegetables. Cooking pasta in wine adds a whole other dimension to the dish with zero more effort (Okay, fine, I guess you have to expend energy to take the bottle of wine off the shelf and carry it home along with the rest of your groceries. Happy now?). Using capellini or some other extremely thin pasta would have lessened the cooking time somewhat, but it only took 25 minutes or so to actually cook the dish. I used a couple baby squash that a nice hippie man handed us as we were walking home from the fireworks on the Fourth of July, a couple carrots, a tomato, and some peas (and onion and garlic, obviously), and boy, did it make a pound of pasta go a long way. We're going to be eating this for the next two days, easy. My suggestion for leftovers: Before you pop the container in the microwave, sprinkle a little liquid (water, broth, whatever) on top so that it doesn't dry out, because that gives the surface of the noodles this weird, grainy mouthfeel.

Oh, and then I made this cheesecake.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A second intrepid foray into homemade veggie burgers

Evaluation: more successful than Shackleton's trans-Antarctic voyage, less successful than the Drake circumnavigation. I neglected to follow the recipe's instruction to chill the burgers for three hours before frying them, which meant that they held together only as long as I flipped them very, very gently and did not sneeze or make any sudden motions around them. Since I, um, slept in too late to get fresh hamburger buns started before going to work, I just served these with the last of the kale and a simple yogurt sauce. They had a nice golden-brown sear that unfortunately did not come across in any of the poorly lit photos I took. I also made a quick loaf of carrot cake at Andy's request; the photos of it were equally poorly lit and half as interesting, so those don't get to see the light of day.

And a note on garlic: Lately, these purple-streaked "jumbo garlic" or "Mexican garlic" heads have been cropping up at the various supermarkets we frequent, even Trader Joe's, and sometimes, like a pernicious invasive species, they drive out the cute, white little bulbs of much less expensive garlic I'm used to seeing in the grocery store. Uncomfortable race-related subtext aside, my unwillingness to pay $4 a pound for garlic led me to Trader Joe's pre-peeled packaged garlic cloves. In a quintessential example of overpackaging, one plastic zipper bag contains seven or eight vacuum-sealed pouches, each of which contains seven or eight peeled cloves of garlic. The convenience is not an enormous difference, but it is noticeable, and I'm willing to engage in this outlandish, yet inexpensive garlic purchase as long as purple jumbo garlic continues to reign supreme. Anyone else having this unfortunate experience?

Melting pot food for the fourth

No, sadly I did not make a fondue. One day, though. One day.

We did, however, have a picnic that included German, Middle Eastern, and French food items. Pictured here is broiled kale, pumpernickel bread, goat cheese and Moroccan (or so the recipe claimed) marinated carrots to put on the bread, Brie, fruit salad with mint (which I ate most of, to Andy's amusement. I love fruit salad.), and some cookies from yesterday.

The bread came out quite well! I would have liked a little less sweetness and a little more caraway, but under the sandwich-making circumstances, light caraway flavor was a good thing. Amusingly, consulting the Wikipedia page on pumpernickel in an effort to find the origins of the bread's name (indeterminate) led me to discover that the reason pumpernickel is usually so dark is that the traditional slow baking process allows the Maillard reaction to occur and color the bread. I didn't want to take up the oven for six to eight hours, considering that we've got housemates, and so the bread got a fifty-minute bake instead; it's not too dark, but it sure is tasty. Bonus: It held up well to the strong flavors of goat cheese, marinated carrots, and caper-and-parsley-and-lemon zest garnish.

Projects for the rest of the day include going to watch the Pops and fireworks at the hatch shell and making a recipe of Mark Bittman's vegetable stock. Oh, and I should finish working on ANGST. Stupid quizbowl.