Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Exam Friday. Food is fuel.

I made a pasta salad last night with some kidney beans, spinach, soaked white onion (to remove the thiols and reveal a sweeter flavor), fusilli, rice wine vinegar (it's all I had, or I'd have used cider), and salt and pepper. I ate it for lunch. And then I ate it for dinner, with some peas and a small piece of cheese, just because I felt like it. And now it's time to go back to teaching myself what connective tissue looks like, because apparently we're not actually learning it until the day before we're being tested on it, so learning it starting now seems prudent.

Speaking of, here's a paragraph from an online study module:
"When macrophages encounter large foreign bodies they are stimulated to increase in size, forming epithelioid cells, and several may fuse to form multinucleated giant cells. The cells seen here were produced in response to thread sewn through an animal's skin. The phages surround and try to engulf the individual fibrils of the thread."

I imagine the histology prep staff saying something like this: "Oh, we need to see some giant cells! Let's sew up a bunny!"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eat food. Fried rice. Mostly vegetables.

I made coconut rice using a 3:1 ratio of ("lite") coconut milk to water, intending to do sort of a Thai-influenced curry fried rice. But I didn't have red curry paste, and exams are impending, so it seemed stupid to deal with making up a red curry mixture myself. Instead, I dumped huge amounts of peas and sauteed onions (thus the title of the post) into the rice, added a star anise pod and some dried ginger and some sauteed garlic and some soy sauce and some Szechuan pepper, and fried it all up in a tiny bit of sesame oil. Unorthodox? Probably. But it tasted good, and I'm choosing to believe it's reasonably healthful.

(Note the flashcards in the background. That's been pretty much my day. But the reason I ate dinner so early is that I'm going to a free opera soon.)

That last part is important, because earlier today I made a loaf of whole-wheat cinnamon bread. Bread-making is great for studying: Each stage of the process roughly corresponds with a point when I like to get up and move around a bit or some such. I get my naturally timed breaks in, and there's deliciousness at the end of it!

Speaking of: Friends and potential study-mates, please eat this bread, or else it will go stale and then I'll have to make bread pudding out of it. Horrors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Horseshoes and hand grenades

This post subtitled: "Because my dinner was almost there."

I've had a major craving for pancakes today, but I didn't want to go the totally unhealthful route and just eat a stack of them with honey for dinner. I also only had one egg left. But how to stifle that craving enough that I could concentrate on studying genetics? I decided to do a "pancake Florentine." This entailed making whole-wheat pancakes, which only use egg whites, and topping them with spinach and a poached egg yolk.

Taste-wise, this was completely successful. However, I decided it would be a good idea to use my small not non-stick pan in order to limit the pancake size rather than the larger non-stick frying pan. BIG mistake. Despite my reasonable coating of oil, the batter completely adhered to the bottom of the pan. I didn't photograph the result, because instead of what I'd pictured--beautifully browned whole wheat pancake with a yolk nestled in some spinach placed on top, perhaps with a punctured yolk so that the yellowy insides would flow nicely over the whole plate--I got that yolk beautifully nestled in the spinach, which was placed on top of scrambled pancake bits. Delicious? Yes. Nutritious? Mostly. Pretty? Absolutely not.

Instead, here's a picture of a kitten!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twenty-minute minestrone for all my fellow time-pressed students

This isn't, like, the height of delicious minestrone, but it's a serviceably tasty, eminently nutritious, and easily variable soup.

Stir fry some chopped onion (okay, is it cheating that I had some extra chopped onion in the fridge from the last time I cooked and so didn't have to spend time chopping?) in a couple tablespoons of heated olive oil until the onion is soft and just golden around the edges. If you really wanted, you could put in some chopped carrot and/or minced garlic as well, but for the twenty-minute stuff, I usually just use garlic powder.

Anyway, put in some pre-chopped (cheating again) tomatoes and tomato paste or just some canned chopped tomato or tomato puree and add water or broth to the desired dilution. Add the herbs and spices of your choice (salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay, aforementioned garlic powder) and some pasta (I like fusilli). Cook until the pasta is almost done, then add some drained canned beans (I just added kidney) and some sort of green vegetable. By the time the pasta is done, the vegetable and beans will have heated through to proper tastiness.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Synchronicity is awesome

I was on the subway today reading The Crying of Lot 49, and there is a point when Oedipa Maas reflects briefly on the fourth movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. As I read that passage, my iPod shuffled to the fourth movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. How cool is that?

Anyway, lunch was more bread (it has spinach in it, happy?), and I went out to a restaurant called, amusingly, Tiffin Wallah with a quizbowl friend for dinner (eating out stops as soon as classes start, believe you me). But I couldn't let my final day of relative freedom pass without making something.

Remember the latest batch of chocolate chip cookies? I didn't have enough bread flour to make a whole batch, and I didn't want to substitute all-purpose because the results of the bread flour were so amazing, so I made a half recipe. In order to avoid having six massive cookies all alone on a cookie sheet, I made mini-cookies out of them and baked them for about half the time.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some recipes are more like suggestions

I unwisely decided to make both Andy's rosemary garlic bread and garlic soup for tonight, unwisely both because it will probably inhibit my ability to make friends due to the intense garlic breath it may engender and because I now only have about a third of a head of garlic left for the next two weeks (I've vowed not to go food shopping until I finish my first exam).

But I've been sick, and roasted garlic actually helps settle me--garlic can upset some people's stomachs in large amounts--so I went with the garlic soup I made once this past summer. Due to Circumstances, there ended up being more onion available than called for and slightly less garlic than available, so I chose to caramelize some of the onions in olive oil (rather than butter) and soak the rest briefly in cold water, then saute them, and make the soup without dairy in it (heavy cream was asked for; all I have is yogurt). Instead, after immersion blending, I broiled some mozzarella on top and made a crouton by broiling a square of the bread.

The presentation of the peas needs work (what, you mean I can't just plop them on the plate and expect magic?), but I think the soup ended up looking nice. The whole meal was warm and soothing; I'd eat this any night.

Addiction => withdrawal

There are a lot of things that have changed abruptly since I've left Boston; not cooking at all for the past few days is one of them! I'm a little ill, so I think the solution is to skip today's orientation events and stay home to make bread that I will then try to foist off on the unsuspecting public. Or just freeze to be baked at a later point. Photos to come, perhaps?

Additionally, I think this blog needs a new name, considering that its original purpose has been completely exhausted. Feel free to post your ideas below, and I'll probably use one of them (with due credit, of course!) if I can't come up with anything sufficiently witty.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's like an addiction.

I admit it. I cooked again tonight.

I *could* have just had a bagel--Andy and I bought a dozen, which actually means fourteen, in order to grant him sustenance for his bus ride to Pittsburgh--but instead I invited someone to dinner in my dormpartment (neologism alert!) and cooked. The results have sort of led me to think that maybe I don't have to give up good, homemade food after all. I'm not saying that there won't be nights, and maybe more nights than most, when I'll come home and just make some oatmeal and bolt it down and hit the books once again.

But tonight was a chickpea curry that took me literally 20 minutes, including chopping the onions and garlic and including making the rice, to put together. There's no reason why that sort of meal can't happen semi-regularly once things get going, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Maximum efficiency

Less than 12 hours after Andy and I woke up yesterday, I had bread rising in my new housing in New York!

I used the minimal supplies that I'd brought with me from Boston, plus eggs purchased that afternoon, to make shakshuka. The dish basically consists of eggs poached in spiced tomato sauce that usually has onion in it as well, although we neglected to get an onion during the egg run. After poaching the eggs and portioning out the food, I layered some spinach on top to wilt from the heat a bit. All we'd eaten that day, aside from a Starbucks coffee, were some carrot sticks and grapes and cashews we'd brought to nibble on the U-Haul ride up, but moving takes a lot out of you, and this concoction hit the spot. No photos, though; I was too tired to bother tearing myself away from my bowl long enough to dig out my camera.

I miss Boston horribly already, but it looks like this will be a good place to live and study.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Now that everything (well, almost everything) is packed, I have to get lots more minimalist with dinner. I was thinking what I could cook for tonight without buying any more groceries, and particularly without buying any perishable items. I thought about the half-bag of frozen green beans still in the freezer, and then I thought about how bread requires flour, yeast, water, and salt. And then I thought about how easy it is to go next door to Trader Joe's and buy cheese.

Welcome to tonight's dinner of provolone, pseudo-baguette, green beans, and a balsamic vinegar and oil dressing with basil and pepper in it for dipping. Enjoy your stay.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Call any vegetable

Bonus points if you know what the title refers to without having to watch this video.

Anyway, I spent my birthday eating tasty, tasty carbohydrates. Lunch was the last of the bean soup, with the last of the brown rice mixed in. We went out for Thai at Pepper Sky shortly after abandoning plans to eat at S&I (long story. I still want to try them, though!). While Pepper Sky isn't the deal that S&I Thai is, their food is very, very good. I had pad see ew, and Andy had spicy pad thai; we split a fried tofu appetizer. It was basically good, solid Thai food for good, solid prices. Added bonus: server with hilarious hair and a neon yellow shirt who considered it his duty to refill our water glasses as soon as they were even a quarter drained. Thanks, Server with Hilarious Hair and Neon Yellow Shirt!

And then, there were cookies. I've been searching for The One for ages; for a long time, I thought it was the browned butter cookie recipe I've mentioned on here several times. But no, I think my own little Neo of the Dough Matrix (in which are suspended chips, of course) has at last truly revealed himself.

These cookies are big. They have a crispy crust and crispy edges, but the inside is oh so chewy. I used half a cup of peanut butter chips and half a cup of chocolate chips, a reduction of 1/3 cup from the original recipe, but I think the chippiness could be reduced further just to highlight how magnificent the dough is. Perhaps it's because the recipe calls for bread flour? The only sad thing is that they have an eight-hour refrigeration period.

I ate of them unabashedly. Happy birthday to me.

2 sticks butter, softened to room temp
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten.
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
3 cups BREAD flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
up to 1 1/3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

It is very important that you do not overbeat at any of these steps. Beat butter with sugars just until blended. Add eggs and extract and beat just until blended. Add dry ingredients and mix until dough is just homogenized; gently fold in chips. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Divide dough into 12 chunks and roll gently between hands until balls are formed. Bake at 350 for 15 to 17 minutes on ungreased cookie sheets. The cookies won't feel done when you take them out; they should be squishy. Let rest for 7 to 10 minutes on the cookie sheets. Eat. Eat them all.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Coconut, sans lime

Last night, I made a black bean and coconut milk soup. I knew the recipe would turn out when I saw it contained a cup of fresh chopped cilantro and a tablespoon of cumin (as well as some coriander), and it didn't let me down. There is one key modification I would like to try. Interestingly enough, the recipe calls for two cans of black beans, one of which is pureed into the coconut milk/garlic/onion/herbs and spices base. I was much happier with the taste of the broth pre-puree than post-. Afterward, it was waterier, more salty, less pungent, and just the slightest bit clammy to the tongue. I'd like to try either boiling things down and then perhaps giving it another pass through the immersion blender, as well as increasing the spices, or just use only one can of black beans.

In any event, it was very satisfying, served over a scoop of brown rice.

Oh, and I forgot to add the tablespoon of nut butter that was supposed to go in. In the event of non-pureeing, that nut butter would likely be a helpful thickener.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Biscuity goodness

More leftover lentils today; I think by tomorrow, we'll have finished them off! I made some broccoli sauteed with thinly sliced toasted garlic and some biscuits to go with it. Once again, Andy hasn't let the poor bread products last; they're already gone. Maybe it was because they just tasted too good when eaten warm with honey.

Recipe follows.

1 1/4 cups cake flour (or all-purpose with some cornstarch mixed in)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter + 1 tbsp, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk with about a tablespoon of white vinegar mixed in)

Put the butter in the freezer and preheat the oven to 500 F. Mix the dry ingredients, either in a medium bowl or the bowl of a food processor. If using a food processor, cube the butter and process until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. If not, use a pastry cutter, two knives, or a chilled grater to mix in the half stick of butter. Stir in buttermilk just until blended; it's important not to overmix. Put the dough on a floured surface and gently pat it out until it's 1 inch thick, then either cut it into square biscuits or use a biscuit cutter to cut square biscuits. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the biscuits with it. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Last night, I didn't post because we ended up going out to dinner at Charlie's Kitchen with some quizbowl acquaintences, where I had a vegetarian reuben. The concept sounds off-putting, but it turns out that when you combine high-quality fake meat--none of this Boca Burger dross, if you please!--with the awesomeness that is grilled rye (with, I suspect, a lot of butter), cheese, sauerkraut, and mustard, you get a delicious sandwich. Plus, there were fries on the side. I haven't had a meal so unhealthful and greasy in a long time. It felt really good and really bad all at once to chow down on that sandwich.

Earlier in the day, I had made, for said acquaintances, two varieties of cookie: chocolate with peanut butter chips and matcha shortbreads. The chocolate with peanut butter chips were good--although the dough, annoyingly, was so runny that it had to be refrigerated before baking, so I think I'll choose a different dough to spruce up with peanut butter chips next time--and the matcha shortbreads were as well, but I was disappointed because the latter had the potential to be great. They were a little too strong in the matcha department. While making the cookies, I saw that they called for two tablespoons of matcha (to a two-sticks-of-butter recipe) and was dubious, but since it was the first time I'd made matcha cookies, I didn't try to change things right away. Shortbread relies on a dominant buttery flavor for its goodness, and it treads a fine line between crumbly and chalky. The matcha was both so strong and so powdery that it both eclipsed the buttery flavor to an unreasonable degree and put the cookies a little too close to chalky. I'd reduce the matcha by as much as half next time in order to restore this balance.

Now, all unknowing that we'd be eating out, I prepared a marinated (in red wine vinegar with a bit of sugar, salt and pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice) salad of chopped Swiss chard, kidney beans, and thinly sliced red onions and baked Andy's rosemary garlic bread. We had most of that for lunch today, and Andy is making good headway on polishing off the loaf (now it's gone. I did not photograph it or the salad, which I assure you was quite pretty.). For dinner, in the interests of cook-this-before-the-produce-spoils, I made Ethiopian green beans and potatoes with misr wat, or lentil stew. Berbere is one of my favorite spice blends, and one of the few that I'm committed to buying instead of making. This is eminently good, wholesome food. I swear, if the bread-salad-cheese option were removed, I could live on lentils, potatoes, and green beans.

The last of the tomatoes we bought spoiled Wednesday (after just four days, which seems odd to me), and all I had was a very large can of tomatoes, so I just used tomato paste, of which I had an appropriate amount, for both dishes, to no discernible ill effects.

I would now like to note that after either tomorrow or Sunday, I'm no longer going to be making planned meals, since I'll be busy packing for medical school and trying to get rid of ingredients rather than pursue new ones. The blog may suffer accordingly.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stuff it.

One of the things I love most about stuffed peppers is that the filling can be varied in all sorts of ways while retaining the deliciousness that is a soft oven-baked bell pepper. For dinner tonight, I tried a new (for me) variety: quinoa-stuffed peppers with carrots, caramelized red onion, and Swiss chard mixed in.

I bought a few different colors of pepper, just for fun.

As a side dish, I mixed the leftover oil from last night's salad and with cinnamon and brown sugar and tossed sweet potato slices, then baked them until soft. This is possibly my favorite side dish of all time. Or main course, really. Sweet potato oven fries or rounds or whatever you want to call them would be a delicious main course.

Earlier in the day, I'd gone to a friend's to play with her family's pasta maker. I'd never used one before, and the last time she used one, she was 6, but we managed to turn out some lovely looking linguine in about an hour (counting setup but not cleanup, which wasn't too extensive). I'll hear back from her as to how it tasted.

Oh, and it turns out there's a reason last night's chili oil wasn't as strong as I would have liked: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/a-szechuan-discrepancy/?ref=dining

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rabbit food, updated

Celery and tofu sounds like just about the most bland combination of too-healthful foods you might imagine, right? Naturally, Mark Bittman--or, rather, Mark Bittman's favorite local Chinese restaurant--found a way to make those ingredients interesting with a complex chili oil. I added some carrot and made seared sushi rice balls to add a little bulk to the meal, and I also pressed my own tofu* rather than purchasing pressed tofu.

A few grinds of salt and pepper on top of the finished product did the dish some good. I would have liked the oil to be stronger: the ginger and clove were very, very faint. Bittman's instructions said just to heat the oil with the various spices in it until it was sizzling, then turn off the heat and let the oil cool; I'll probably sizzle the spices for a few minutes next time to extract more of their oils.

The orange slices on the side were my buffer in case the oil was very spicy. It wasn't, so instead they were just delicious in their own right. Other thing I'm going to do next time: increase the amount of red pepper flakes.

Still working on that second container of ice cream... but later this week, there should be baking excitement for the posting.

*Just so you know, homemade pressed tofu isn't precisely equivalent to store-bought pressed tofu, that is, unless you're a true tofu maven. "Real" pressed tofu involves some serious compression, some sort of flavored crust, etc. and so forth. Mine involved freezing to get that chewy texture, then pressing with large books and paper towels to extrude as much moisture as possible. Making an extra trip to find pressed tofu might have been worth it, but I really didn't feel like it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I can't divorce myself from these velvety Slovakian crescent rolls

That's right, a history joke! A sort of forced history joke...

Anyway, did you know that in Slovakian (and, this recipe I found suggested, Latvian) tradition, midsummer is celebrated with, among other things, cumin cheese? I'm not sure what cumin cheese is, but I discovered a recipe that put it in crescent rolls, along with dill and garlic and all sorts of stuff. I decided crescent rolls sounded like a good idea generally but the specifics were a little odd (eating dill and cumin together? I'd type "insert offensive Slovak joke here," but instead I used Google in order to bring you this and, much more excitingly, this). Slovakia is just weird.

So I decided to pick and choose and ended up with crescent rolls filled with a blend of gouda, mashed roasted garlic, and dill, plus a little pepper. Before I baked them, I gave them a brush with some butter and sprinkled chopped chives on top. The recipe was 1. in metric and 2. not so procedurally specific, instructing, among other things, to put the oven on "medium heat," so I had to do some experimenting. Here's what I ended up with:

They were delicious. The roll part was pillowy, and there was just enough garlic to make a bold statement without overcoming the relatively delicate Gouda. I could absolutely see filling these with cheddar and red pepper, or enriching the dough with more sugar and maybe an egg and filling them with cinnamon sugar for a cinnamon roll that takes much less time than usual. We ate them with, naturally, salad. Once again, I will declare that you can never go wrong with salad, bread, and cheese.

Before I present you with the recipe, an elegy that some of you who regularly visit Facebook may have already seen: Mike's banh mi is no more. Mike's was the creme de la creme of banh mi in Boston's Chinatown. As a bonus, it was basically a food cart tucked inside a sketchy store! But instead, I had to content myself with (actually a really delicious) "vegetarian duck" banh mi from a lesser nook (now that I think of it, that vegetarian duck was really, really good). Mourn, Bostonians, mourn.

Crescent rolls
4 cups flour (I used all-purpose)
350 mL milk, warmed
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt (this could probably be increased just a tad)
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (the equivalent of one package)

Stir the yeast and sugar into the warm milk and wait until the yeast gets foamy. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead and stretch until smooth. Let rise for one hour, or until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375. Divide the risen dough into 5 chunks and roll them gently until they are approximately spherical. Roll them out into a circle until they're... well, the recipe didn't tell me how thin to make them, and I'm horrible at estimating how thick things are, so let's just say roll them a little thicker than you'd roll a piecrust. Maybe 1/4 of an inch? Anyway, slice into wedges. Sprinkle or spread your desired filling either along all but the pointiest part or, for a more solid filling, just along the wide part of the wedge (which is what I did; in retrospect, sprinkling a little farther down might have helped hold the rolls together a bit). Roll them into a crescent shape, starting with the wide part and going inward (common sense, really). Brush with butter or an egg white (I used butter because butter is delicious, but egg white would be prettier, frankly), and sprinkle with something if you want. Bake until golden brown.

For the filling, I roasted six cloves of garlic and mashed them up with some dill and pepper and about two cups, maybe a bit more, of grated Gouda (grating soft cheeses: not fun).