Sunday, August 25, 2013

Laughable, unphotographable

I either need to take some darn cooking classes or just (wo)man up and start making food that doesn't look completely unappetizing.

Andy loved this dish so much that he propped a huge plate of it on his chest and shoveled it directly into his mouth; no fork-lifting required. It's a Thai-inspired tofu and shrimp salad with plenty of vegetables and herbs, initially conceived as filling for a lettuce wrap.

Since I figured the shrimp would get sauce-logged anyway, I did them ceviche-style, marinating them in lime juice and soy sauce instead of cooking them. There was a little too much dressing overall, since due to an unfortunate ketchup-related accident (see below) I had to add a bunch more ingredients to get the taste I wanted; otherwise, this was fantastically delicious. In the future I will (in increasing order of importance) add some diced bell peppers, measure the ingredients I put in, and make much, much less dressing. If you want to use lettuce in this, fine, but it's utterly unnecessary.

1 lb tofu, cut into very small cubes and baked until just golden on the outside
1/2 lb shrimp, chopped
Fresh cilantro
Fresh basil, preferably sweet basil
Fresh mint
Fresh parsley
3 shredded carrots
1 (large) cucumber
Fresh minced ginger
Fresh minced garlic
Brown sugar
Lime juice & lime zest
Fish sauce
Ketchup (this was an accident [I thought it was sriracha], although chopped fresh tomatoes would have gone splendidly in this)
Sriracha (for real this time)
Soy sauce
Peanuts or cashews, for garnish

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kernels of truth

I never know whether or not to post when I cook something I'm really excited about, but which comes directly from someone's blog or cookbook without significant alterations. For instance, I made this a few weeks ago. It was so moose-huggingly delicious that we ate virtually all of it in one sitting, but it felt plagiaristic to post just to say, "Oh, hi, someone else came up with a wonderful recipe requiring very little talent that I faithfully reproduced!" So when I initially saw this recipe, I was all, "Here we go again."

Never fear, however, for instantly the changes flowed in. First of all, I wanted a lighter, less coconutty broth. I added an ear of corn in addition to the husks, a jalapeno, some scallions, and extra spices in proportion to volume to the broth and boiled it down to about four cups of fresh, corn-scented goodness, then just finished it off with lime, Sriracha, and coconut milk (the combination of which turned it kind of pink). The dumpling mixture got beefed up with some ancho chilies instead of jalapeno, a little extra scallion, and sea salt.

One must trim one's cornsilk before using it to make broth.

Fresh sweet corn is one of my favorite summer foods, raw,
cooked, or anywhere in between.

Again, devoured most of the sixty (!!!) dumplings this ended up making. The recipe was time-consuming, so I could see making fritters or quenelles out of essentially the same ingredients as the dumpling filling and floating them in the broth, or making a creamed soup--strained, of course, to smooth it out--from all these ingredients*. I probably could have saved a couple bucks by using queso fresco or queso blanco instead of cotija, too.

*Actually, that sounds really good. Yet another use for fresh corn before the summer is out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lean, green, crunchy cuisine

Do you know what opal basil is?

Neither did I, at least not until after I bought it. The only thing I knew at the time was that at $1.50, it was less than half the price of the massive boxes of traditional basil Fairway was selling. Even the guinea pigs can't help me finish an entire box before it goes bad.

So opal basil it was, in with a bunch of greens and some raw cashews to make an herbaceous vegan spread. I just tossed the entire batch with some brown rice and baked tofu. It tasted great, but it was sort of damp and textureless. If I were smarter, I'd have put in some crunchy celery, red onion, tomatoes... anything, really. Doesn't matter, had zest.

Zesty green stuff

1 package frozen spinach, cooked according to package directions
1/4 pound raw cashews
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
1/2 to 1 cup packed opal basil
juice and zest of 2 limes or 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Optional: 2 tablespoons grated garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt, olive oil to taste

While the frozen spinach is still warm, macerate it and the cashews in a food processor until smooth. Allow to cool, then add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Add olive oil to the desired consistency, and salt to taste (keeping in mind whatever you're using the sauce for). Use in anything from a tofu and brown rice salad to regular salad dressing to sandwich spread.

Spag bol

What is more delicious than a big bowl of spaghetti with a simple meat sauce and sprinkling of Parmesan?

Maybe the vegetarian version, with lentils substituted for the meat! It uses canned tomato. Yes, yes, I know it's summer, but fresh tomatoes are expensive, and I'd rather eat them raw when they're at their best.

More importantly, I also made this ridiculously delicious blueberry pie, for no reason other than the fact that blueberries were a dollar a pint. Go, do it. Now. Of note, I also added a pinch of cinnamon to the filling and reduced the sugar a little bit, added my usual teaspoon of vinegar to the pie crust for increased flakiness, and used all butter instead of shortening.

Spaghetti bolognes-ish (word to the wise: this makes LOTS of sauce)
1 28- to 30-oz can of tomato puree, good-quality
1 cup vegetable broth (or water, I suppose), plus more prn
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup olives, chopped, or capers, not chopped
juice of 1 lemon
marjoram, oregano, sage, rosemary, coriander, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, all to taste
fresh basil, fresh parsley
freshly grated Parmesan
1 to 1 1/2 cups green lentils
1 lb spaghetti or linguini

Mince the garlic and saute with the chopped onion in about 2 tbsp olive oil at the bottom of a large pot. When the onion is transluscent and garlic toasty, add the tomato puree, soy sauce, wine, broth, lemon juice, and dried herbs & spices, keeping in mind that the sauce will concentrate (so don't overspice!). Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until the alcohol is burned off and the "canned" tomato taste has faded. At this point, add the lentils, cover, and continue to simmer, adding more water or broth as the lentils cook.

Meanwhile, slice the mushrooms and chop the bell pepper. Add along with the olives when the lentils have 15 to 20 minutes to go. Simmer until the mushrooms are fully cooked. Stir in fresh basil and parsley, adjust the seasoning, and serve over spaghetti.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer is a-cumin in

After all that bragging about "Hey, exercising lots allows you to stuff your face!", I have a confession to make. I haven't been posting much because once again I've been embarking on that weird, autopunitive lifting-related meal plan. Again. It involves lots of vegetables, lots of protein powder, and not much else. I told you, autopunitive!

It's bad timing, however, that this is taking place in the last week of July and first week of August. That's when the farmer's market has a bumper crop of everything I love: stone fruits, grassy, fresh sweet corn, watermelon*, gorgeous lettuces, forest-green bundles of kale... it's my own personal Eldhrimnir from which I can pluck whatever delicious foodstuffs I like. I went a little crazy this past weekend, but because of the above diet, I didn't really do much with my bounty, which was as follows:

A tiny yellow watermelon...

...sadly, it was not nearly as tasty as it was pretty.

An ivory-white eggplant.

The most incredibly sweet, tangy, slightly spicy golden cherry tomatoes.

[Note pictured: massive bunch of Tuscan kale; gorgeous pale green ear of corn; firm red bell pepper]
 Here's what it made:

That's right, I just sauteed everything together with some garlic and lemon juice and fresh basil. It's not refined, and it's not pretty, but it tasted like unicorn hugs must feel. Best corn ever. Best tomatoes ever. Creamiest roasted eggplant ever. This upcoming weekend, I'm planning another spree, but I promise to make something fancy, maybe from Ripe or Tender.

*God, how I love watermelon.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Oatmeal, you get me

Dear Matthew Inman,

I have long been an avid reader of your snarky, George Grosz-esque* comics. As a guinea pig-owning vegetarian, I can't really identify with your sage observations on dogs and bacon, but this, this really spoke to me. I don't lift to get pretty**; I lift to be able to chow down on large amounts of fresh-baked bread with aioli and avocado and oil-doused eggplant.

Extremely hot weather is actually a detriment to bread-baking, especially for those of us without thermostats. Bread rises and proofs very quickly in a humid apartment, and running the oven at 475 for 40 minutes requires ozone-slaying doses of AC. Even Peter Reinhart's advice couldn't keep me from over-proofing this one. Andy chowed down on a third of the loaf in one sitting anyway.

No need for a recipe, other than to tell you to use lots of paprika
and put lime juice and black garlic in the aioli!

Oh, and macarons. I will eat all my protein calories from macarons, and let me tell you, at what I estimate to be just under 2 g protein per, that's a lot of cookies! I made a big batch for the end of my EM sub-I. They're not as showy as my first EM rotation's Ativan cupcakes, but a. I used clinical equipment to make them again and b. they let me do this:

Komm, süßer Tod, Part VIII: Abram Aronovich Slutsky

Most readers of this blog never had the privilege of experiencing the USSR firsthand, but Komrad Slutsky certainly did. After a humble birth to a Jewish family in the Parafievka (which I believe is in modern-day Ukraine) and taking part in the bitter fighting of World War I, Slutsky joined the Bolshevik party. The Bolsheviks' October Revolution was, of course, a great success, and Alexander Kerensky's Russia gave way to the (theoretical) rule of the people. Slutsky focused his efforts on securing Soviet authority in central Asia and quickly had a meteoric rise to head of the foreign department of the OGPU. Apparently, this was aided by several shady economic dealings directed against the poor, vulnerable Swedes. From there, it was a short leap to leadership of the whole kit and kaboodle!

Slutsky's tenure in the OGPU was illustrious. He managed to infiltrate Britain with the Cambridge Five and extort false confessions to Stalin's content. Unfortunately for him, the purges spared not even the highest-ranked. One day, Mikhail Frinovsky, deputy head of the secret police (by that point the NKVD... I know, it's complicated), invited Slutsky into his office for some nice, strong Russian tea. One thing lead to another, and soon Frinkovsky's own deputy was summoned... only to find Slutsky dead in his chair. Frinovsky claimed Slutsky died of a heart attack, and indeed Slutsky was known to have had heart trouble for a number of years. He was interred, and everything proceeded smoothly (if you count engineering mass assassinations and the starvation of millions smooth).

But mysteriously, two months after his death of very natural causes, the Party expelled Slutsky from its ranks as an "enemy of the people." Sure enough, just before Frinkovsky's own execution, he admitted that the chief of the NKVD himself had ordered Slutsky sedated with chloroform and injected with cyanide. The chief, Nikolai Ezhov, confirmed this upon his own execution.

The connection: macarons are made from almond flour --> bitter almonds --> cyanide. Almonds are also cool because almond trees are susceptible to aflatoxin-producing fungi. Aflatoxin can either cause acute hepatic necrosis or, on a long-term basis, liver cancer. Neato!

Since this post is already quite lengthy, I might as well extend it more and give you my spiel on macarons. They're light, slightly chewy almond-flour cookies filled with, well, anything! These are plain almond macarons with chocolate-salted caramel ganache. The filling was a little heavy for me, actually, since the cookies are so light.

Macarons require a lot of technique to get right... but the techniques required aren't actually that difficult, manually speaking. You just can't skimp on any of the steps. I'll provide a recipe for the cookies, but first, here are some helpful tips:

1. A scale is pretty much essential. I'll explain why throughout this list.
2. For the cookie batter, use powdered sugar and VERY finely ground almonds. Sift the ground almonds before weighing, especially if you grind your own! Mix the weighed/sifted portion with powdered sugar, and sift in small portions into the beaten egg whites. Here's one place a scale is essential, since all that sifting will give you variable volumes of almonds and sugar (if you're just going by cup measures).
3. Age your egg whites. This just means letting them sit, covered, at room temperature for 6-8 hours or overnight (it gets rid of some of the moisture). Weigh them both before and after aging! Most recipes call for somewhere between 90 and 110 grams of egg white, which may be pre- or post-aging. Pay attention to which it is!
4. Use a gel or powdered food coloring only (I used a few drops of leaf-green Americolor). Water-based dyes will make your batter too sticky, and the cookies will sink.
5. In my experience, letting the piped macarons sit before baking isn't necessary. Smacking the baking sheet firmly on the table is. That way, you get those pretty macaron feet!
6. Finally, DO NOT under any circumstances open the oven after putting the macarons in until you're confident they're at least 90 percent cooked. Opening the oven will crack all your cookies, guaranteed.

The Recipe
100 g egg whites, post-aging weight
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
pinch salt
50 g granulated sugar
100 g almond flour (post-sifting weight)
200 g confectioner's sugar
Optional: 1/4 tsp extract of some sort
Optional: 1/4 tsp gel (or equivalent powdered) food coloring

In a food processor, clean spice grinder, or clean coffee grinder, combine the almond flour and confectioner's sugar. Grind together for about 2 minutes or until very fine. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating until the whites are stiff; add in the food coloring and extracts just at the end, if using. At this point, begin to preheat your oven to 300 F.

Sift in about half the almond/sugar mixture. With a spatula, swiftly swirl the mixture into the egg whites only about five times. Sift in the rest of the almond/sugar mixture, and GENTLY fold everything together until the batter is homogeneous. DO NOT overmix this. The batter should fall in ribbons that meld together in about 30 seconds.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. With a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or a 100-cc syringe with the tip cut off), pipe even 1-inch circles about 2 inches apart. They need plenty of space for air circulation! Rap the baking sheet very firmly against the table 5-7 times to get out the air bubbles (if you see them rising, help them along by popping them with a needle or toothpick). Resting the batter isn't necessary, but go for it if you really want.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. DO NOT open the oven until at least 10 minutes have elapsed. Cool on the parchment paper, then gently use a thin metal spatula to lift them off. Fill as desired.

*get it? get it?
**Okay, so this part rings true as well. I'm not an inbred baked potato, but I am a ravening thigh monster.