Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Homage to the turnip

Turnips are a humble vegetable. They get little notice, seem to be an afterthought thrown into pot roasts. I grew up eating them only on St. Patrick's Day, boiled up with the corned beef and cabbage. Turnips even look humble, their purple skins make them appear to be blushing, coloring the otherwise perfect white flesh.

It's time turnips get their due. They are sweet. Throwing turnips in a pot roast adds an unmistakable sweetness to the broth. And unlike onions, which also sweeten during cooking, turnips are perfectly sweet and delightful raw. I first discovered this when I made this salad, which has since become a personal staple, being a favorite of mine as well as my roomate. Raw, turnips give a lovely crunch, more so than that of an apple. And turnips have a slight fire to them. A little heat to contrast the sweetness, a subtle spiciness.

And so, seeing a large basket of turnips for sale at the farmers' market last week for only $2.50, I couldn't pass it up. $2.50. Talk about a deal. That's like 10 cents a turnip. They were giving them away.

But what's a girl to do with all those turnips? They'll keep for awhile in the fridge, but aren't as hearty as a squash. So, I decided to pickle some. Maybe you've never heard of a pickled turnip. I haven't. But, I thought, what's the harm? $2.50 isn't much to pay for an experiment.

So I peeled about half my turnips down to their beautiful white flesh, cut them into chunks, and threw 'em in a pot. Added some vinegar and water to cover and to season, added: peppercorns, fresh ginger, star anise, crushed red pepper, sugar, and salt. I brought it all to a boil and let the turnips cook, but not get too soft. Then put it all in jars. I also packed some sliced garlic in with the turnips as I jarred them. Kind of an asian vibe going on.

And the result? Nice. It's exciting to bite into something pure white, but get all these spicy flavors melding together on top of that underbelly of sweetness. My pantry is a little happier with these babies around

Pickled turnips, canned tomatoes (both diced and crushed), chili pepper chutney

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Late-Night Mexican

Alright, so it's not even late. But when I'm home alone on a Saturday night, there's something that's bound to happen--snack concocting. And my kind of snack often starts with a drink. I was recently given a cocktail book, with everything from classics (a Manhattan) to "pitcher drinks" (Bloody Marys and rum punch). And then in-between there are handy little chapters organized by type of spirit. I have tons of tequila, but all I ever know what to do with it is make a margarita--wonderful, but maybe not on a cool autumn evening. So I turned to the book and found a sueno. Still has the lime of a margarita, but a little rosemary for warmth. To make:

Muddle a few slices of cucumber and some rosemary leaves in a cocktail shaker with 3/4 oz. lime juice and a pinch of sugar. Add 2 oz. tequila and ice. Shake. Strain into highball glass with ice. Pour over 1 oz. tonic water. Garnish with rosemary sprig.

Once the drink was made, I couldn't just leave it at that. I had some tomatillos that I got from my farm share today, so I chopped them into a simple salsa with onion, chili, sea salt and lime. Simple. And perfect for a little alone time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

After School Snack

I'm not great at packing lunches. It annoys me. I don't want to spend my precious morning time figuring out what I'm going to eat in five hours. Mostly, I just bring leftovers, and try to pack them up the night before.
Due to my dislike of lunch packing, I never end up packing a big lunch. And so I'm always hungry when I get home around 3:00.

But then I'm presented with another problem, which is that I never have much snack food around the place. It's for the best, but sometimes I want to eat something quickly, which means I have to make something quickly.

Now, sometimes I know exactly where I get food ideas. Just reading the mention of some food in a book makes me in the mood for it. But today I was in the mood for fried shrimp, and I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it was the nearly empty can of coconut milk in my fridge, begging for a use. In any case, I decided to give it a go.

There are certain foods that just scream "restaurant food," and I'd say fried shrimp is one of them. I've never had fried shrimp at someone's house, but it is the ubiquitous seafood appetizer on countless menus. I don't think of myself as a restaurant food cook, but it happened today. A bit of snooping around at, and I developed a passable fried shrimp with ingredients I had on hand. And quickly, too. Nice.

Here's the batter I used:
3 T flour
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. red Thai curry paste
3 T beer (you can drink the rest!)

Put first four ingredients in a bowl and use a whisk to combine. Measure out the beer and whisk in red curry paste. Whisk beer into dry ingredients to form a batter. Small quantities, but enough batter to coat nine shrimp, which was a good serving for one.

Heat oil in a wok to almost point of smoking, then turn down heat to medium-low.

Dredge shrimp in cornstarch, dip in batter, and fry a few at a time, for about two minutes, until golden brown.
Serve shrimp with a sauce made with coconut milk, a little lime, a little cardamom, a little chili, and little salt, a little sugar.

Quick. Easy. Delicious.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


The thought of breakfast burritos has never appealed to me. I know people love them, but I just always thought I wasn't that kind of girl.

But then last weekend I had a big party. I made a lot of salsa for the party. And, well, leftovers.

So I had all this salsa sitting my fridge, begging for a use. And somehow, it just hit to me. I had some beautiful farmers' market eggs. I love making tortillas.

So. It happened. Hot peppers sauteed. Eggs scrambled. Tortillas rolled. Tortillas cooked. Burritos assembled.

The creaminess of the eggs. The sharpness of the salsa. The softness of the tortilla.

Definitely a convert.

Sometimes food is just beautiful...

And that's all you can say about it.


Roasting beets for soup.

Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes...
That become my dinner. Arugula, tomato, and blue cheese salad.
Gorgeous world, huh?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Indian in a Flash

I had an exciting cooking experience last night when I decided to make bread from the fascinating Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent cookbook, which is just as much a scrapbook of Indian (and Sri Lankan, and and Nepali, etc.) life and culture as it is a collection of recipes. I highly recommend it.

In my experience, naan (which I've blogged about before) is the bread of India, ubiquitous on the menus at Indian restuarants in the States. And rightfully so, for it is delicious. But, as with all cultures, Indian food is greatly limited for us. It adapts to the culture it's in. Furthermore, the food of any one culture is so vast (and with strange, unavailable ingredients), that it would be difficult to get a comprehensive experience of all the culinary palate has to offer.

When looking at this cookbook, I was surprised and excited to find a whole chapter on breads, and knew I needed to try some. Last night was the perfect opportunity. I was planning a meal of many small vegetable dishes, and figured I should have bread it go with it. So after prepping my raw turnip-chili salad, grilled eggplant, and green beans with garlic and arugula pesto, I went about making the bread.

I chose something that looked simple, and my choice--a Bengali-style bread called luchis--were just that. Few ingredients and little prep, but an amazing result. Luchis are a fried flatbread, though despite the fact that they are fried, are not at all oily (the cookbook authors made this claim, and it was true). There is no leavening agent in the bread, but they puff up in the oil, little bubbles of air developing miraculously. Luchis are at the same time crisp and chewy, with a subtle sweetness to them (for this reason, I think they would be great sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar). Paired with a chutney of some sort, I think luchis would be the perfect snack to serve with drinks, and I can't wait to make them again. Here's how:

You'll need:
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vegetable oil (ghee would be a more traditional choice, but I would imagine most of us don't have any on hand!)
1/2 c. lukewarm water
oil for frying (peanut was recommended, I used vegetable)

*note: these are the quantities I used. The recipe in the book was double this--but I was only cooking for two! This made around 8 breads.

Measure flour and salt into a bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the oil (or ghee) and mix in with your hand or a spoon. When well-mixed, add the water, a little at the time, mixing to make a dough. Kneed a few minutes until smooth.

Let the dough rest, wrapped in a dishcloth. This can be for anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours, whichever is more convenient. I let mine rest for two hours.

Break off a golf-ball sized piece of dough. On a floured surface, roll out into a flat circle, of about a four-inch diameter. Continue with the rest of the dough, keeping the prepared rounds covered under a dishcloth.

To cook, heat oil until almost smoking. I find that recipes that call for frying like this always say to use 2 inches of oil, which I think is just excessive. I heated my oil in a wok, and used about 1 inch at most. Put dough rounds in one at a time. They cook so fast, that this is not at all inconvenient (if using a large pan, you could do 2 or 3). When dropped in the oil, the dough will sink and then rise, and immediately begin to brown. Turn over to brown both sides evenly. Put cooked luchis on a paper towel-lined plate. Enjoy!

Frying the luchis

A beautiful plate of luchis

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Garbage Disposal Chowder

I had some old corn. Corn on the cob, some of it already cooked, some of it not. I've been meaning to make chowder with it for a week now, but I just got around to it tonight.

So I decided to throw in my refrigerator. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. But I did get rid of some things. A small piece of red onion. A wilted leek. Celery about to turn brown. Sauteed that with some garlic and an old jalapeno for a ghetto-southwestern mirepoix. Added corn, cut off the cob. Added a potato, diced small. Some water. Some salt. A bay leaf. The tops of a daikon radish. Boil. Simmer. Puree. Splash of milk. Grinding of pepper. Eat.

This is enjoyable food for an alone night. Easy and quick to make. Simple food, but all the flavors working together to create something comforting. The earthy flavors of the potato and bay. The spice of the jalapeno. The bright freshness of the corn.

So, next time you're eating alone, just throw your refrigerator in the pot.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Developing Dessert

Well, here we go--my first post from my new kitchen! I have to say, it's taken awhile for me to feel comfortable cooking somewhere else. Of course, the kitchen at my parents' is much nicer than the one I have now, but that was also the kitchen where I developed my rhythm. I've been in my new place for about three weeks, and I still don't feel completely at ease, but don't worry--that hasn't kept me from cooking! Here are a few random pictures of things I've created in the new place:

A perfect lunch--baugette, goat cheese, honey, walnuts, and tarragon


Spaghetti cooked with swiss chard and fresh tomato sauce

Miniature red peppers stuffed with sauteed corn

The real reason of the update, however, is to talk about a dessert I made last night. I'm not a huge dessert person. I like dessert fine enough, though I don't eat it that often, and I certainly don't cook it that often. But I was watching an episode of Master Chef (something else completely out of character for me), and one of the challenges was to make a dessert. So I guess that got me thinking. It was pretty interesting how these amateur, yet talented, chefs were freaking out when they found out they had to make a dessert. But it makes sense. Dessert is an entirely different ball game. Dessert is measuring quantities and getting your dough, custard, or pastry to have just the right consistency. There's less room for improv in dessert. BUT--there is some room for improv. How did dessert recipes come to exist in the first place? Someone got an idea, tried it, tasted it, and wrote it down (if it worked!).

Well last night, that someone was me.

I'de been having a hankering for fried doughnuts. There's a recipe for them in this Mexican cookbook that I like to make, doughnuts flavored with anise and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. But I moved, so I don't have that cookbook anymore. Well, I thought, I will just make my own. I was feeling inspired from the show, I wanted to do something great, so I thought about it a little, and went for it.

It started with me thinking about the anise. I didn;t have any anise, and I do have fennel seed, but that wasn't quite the flavor I wanted. So my mind wandered to cardamom. Yes. I've made sugar cookies with cardamom before, and they were delicious. When I think of cardamom, I think of India, and when I think of India, I think of tea. A great lover of tea, I sometimes try to incorporate it into my cooking, and this seemed a good opportunity to try. I decided I would make a syrup with the tea to put over the doughnuts, and when I was getting my ingredients out, I spied some dried apricots, so those became part of the syrup as well. So here you go, my recipe for Cardamom-Spiked Doughnuts with Ceylon-Apricot Sauce:

For the doughnuts:

1 c. flour

1/2 tsp. salt (maybe a little less)

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. crushed cardamom

1 tsp. baking powder

3 T. butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/2 c. milk (I used condensed milk because that was all I had)

2 T. honey

For the sauce:

2/3 c. of strong brewed Ceylon tea (or other black tea)

1/3 c. sugar

4-5 dried apricots, sliced

Mix first five ingredients in a bowl, using a whisk to make sure they are well incorporated. In another bowl, use a whisk to incorporate milk and honey. Whisk well! Add milk/honey and melted butter to the flour mixture. Stir to make a sticky but firm dough. Will look something like this:

Put the dough in the refriderator to chill for about 15 minutes. While this is happening, you can make the sauce. In a small saucepan, mix tea and sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat, add the apricots, and simmer until a syrup-like consistency is acheived.

After the dough has chilled, fry the doughnuts. Pour vegetable oil in a pan, so it is about 1/4 inch deep. Heat at medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, turn down the heat to low (this is so the doughnuts cook all the way through and do not burn). Form the dough into little balls and flatten them--the doughnuts will puff up as they cook. Drop the dough into the oil and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Adjust the heat as needed so the doughnuts brown and don't burn. Move cooked doughnuts onto a plate lined with a paper towel. To serve, put on a plate and drizzle with sauce. Enjoy!

A note about the sauce: I would recommend brewing the tea very strong. Because there is so much sugar needed to make the sauce, the flavor of the tea can easily be drowned out. That is the one big change I will make to this recipe in the future, because I did not brew my tea strong enough!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer in a glass

Tomato. Pomodoro. Tomate.

However you say it, tomatoes scream summer. They are sweet and juicy, but not sweet enough to be called the fruit they really are. Tomatoes have a green, herbal taste to them, and in a really ripe tomato, I think you can taste the sun beams that lovingly reddened its skin and flesh. Tomatoes are the building blocks of great sauces--marinara, bolognese, barbecue--but in the summer they beg a simpler preparation. Tomato salads abound. Tired of these, you can move onto salsas and uncooked pasta sauces. For the family party this past weekend I made a bunch of tomato topping for bruschetta, and it was during that process that I got an idea.

As I diced up the tomatoes, I kept thinking about all the seed-y pulp that I wasn't using. Couldn't I do something with it? As it turns out, yes. I got the idea to push the pulp through a strainer into a bowl, and was rewarded with a beautiful, rose-colored, vibrant tasting tomato juice.

And what else would I do with that, but mix up a drink? Tomato martini, anyone?

This is just vodka and tomato juice, about a 3:1 ratio. Garnished with a sprig of basil, tomato's best friend. Think a more alcoholic, yet lighter version of a bloody mary. It's all about the taste of the tomato, but there's no thick vegetable puree to wade through.

But my weekend tomato cocktail experience didn't end there. My sister was home, and she mentioned seeing a "white bloody mary" from Tyler Florence. She didn't even have to ask if I wanted to try it. She pulled up the recipe, we had all the ingredients, and on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, we dove into making them. For this, you make your own juice using a melange of all things green: green tomatoes, green grapes, cucumbers, celery, and a little jalapeno. Puree and push through a seive to create a gorgeous electric green liquid. Mix in a little lime, a little horseradish, and add your vodka. And now, you just spent so much time mixing the drink, you might as well go the extra mile with a salt and pepper rimmed glass and a fun garnish.

A few notes on the recipe:
~Tyler says to put the puree in a cheesecloth in a seive. You really don't need the cheesecloth.
~There's some sugar in his recipe. Not necessary, in my opinion. The grapes are sweet enough.
~Abby and I added a couple spoonfuls of the leftover puree to add a little texture.

A note on green tomatoes:
I love green tomatoes. I might even love them more than ripe tomatoes. They are a little citrus-y, a flavor I love. They have a little crunch, a texture I love. Fried green tomatoes are sublime. Dredge in a little flour, dip in egg, cover in cornmeal, and lightly fry. You want to brown the cornmeal, but not overcook the tomatoes. I like them best when some of the hardy texture is retained. And you can top your fried green tomatoes with so many things. Maybe even a ripe tomato salsa. So delicious.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Family Feast

Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic, or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating nor cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine, unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation? ~Nicole Mones, The Last Chinese Chef

When I came across the above quote in Nicole Mones's excellent novel on Chinese cuisine, I instantly loved it. I'm moving in a week, and I plan on posting a copy of it in my kitchen to remind me of the great truth--company trumps cuisine. It is only people that are eternal.

This past weekend was another great one of family and food, shared with some of the same people I enjoyed the crab feast with. I love the cooking just as much as the party itself, but even that has a communal aspect to it, because I'm spending all my kitchen time with my mother. We have a great rhythm, and it's a joy to share the kitchen with her. Plus, after many years of entertaining, we have reached a point where everything is perfectly relaxed. We cooked over the course of two days, and had plenty of time to sit with a beer before our guests came.

A few pictures from the event:

Lovely place settings.

Drink trolley

The spread

Close-up: beautiful greens

Ironic napkins!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

An old married couple

Artichokes are frumpy. That's really all there is to it. They actually look pretty nice when you first buy them. The lovely color green, sometimes brushed with purple, all in a neat little bulb, with the "petals" hanging down like a tutu. But then, you cook it. And that pretty little green becomes a dull and completely lifeless shade of camo green. The petals, which had once been tightly closed, open up a bit. It's not the prettiest sight.

But all that is made up for because artichokes are so fun to eat. I grew up eating artichokes, and as a kid, they were probably the most fun food. Eating an artichoke is like playing with your food. You break off one little petal, scrape off the meat with your teeth and continue. My mom has always served artichokes in a pretty traditional way, steamed, with lemony mayo for dipping. I've never been much of a mayo girl, and though I am coming around, I've started to prepare mine a little differently. The cooking method remains the same, but before cooking, I stuff bits of lemon peel, mint, and garlic between the petals. Toward the end of cooking, I pour over a little vermouth, which adds a lovely sweetness. All of this adds some subtle flavor to the artichoke.

Recently, I had two artichokes. I prepared one in my usual way. But then I decided to try something different with the other. I'd read about bagna cauda in an issue of Bon Appetit magazine, and had been wanting to try it. Bagna cauda means "hot bath" in Italian, and is a warm, garlicky dip for vegetables. The dip is very easy to make, and contains very few ingredients: garlic, butter, anchovies, olive oil. You can read a recipe here, though I made mine a little differently, with less olive oil.

And oh my goodness, it was perfect. An amazing accompaniment to the artichokes, which have a very mellow flavor. Bagna cauda, as you can probably tell from the ingredients, is anything but. So the combination of mellow and intense works really well. The artichokes let the other flavors shine. The garlic becomes mellow and sweet, and the anchovies add their very unique saltiness. And though I can't believe I ate a whole bulb of garlic in one sitting, it was worth it, and not at all hard to do.

Plus, bagna cauda is just as frumpy as an artichoke. They are a perfect pair.

Comfort Food

Today I'm writing about something I was sure I'd blogged about before. But I checked just to make sure, and I haven't. So it's about time I give a shout out to one of the most sublime dishes of all time, the croque monsieur. This little baby comes to us from France, and is basically an amped-up version of a ham and cheese sandwich. The big difference is that everything is slathered in cream sauce and then thrown under the broiler.

I first heard about croque monsieur in high school French class, which is most likely where you've heard of it if you ever took high school French. I seem to remember it being pretty ubiquitous; "Qu'est-ce que tu veux manger?" "Je voudrais un croque monsieur." That sort of thing. Well, high school passed, and so did my study of French, but I was reunited with the sandwich on the pages of Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris. I decided to give it a shot, and let me tell you, it was amour at first bite. I began making croque monsieur all the time. I think my mom thought I was a little crazy. But I was hooked. Croque monsieur (with a glass of red wine) has become my ultimate comfort food.

Maybe that statement is a little shocking. For one, isn't comfort food supposed to be hearty things like meatloaf and pot roast that are rich and warm and make us feel good in the winter? Perhaps. And isn't comfort food those meals we grew up with, the ones our moms poured so much love and care into, and to this day remind us of childhood? Absolutely. But for me, I choose a croque monsieur, and I choose it for two reasons. (1) It's quick. The brilliance of the croque is that it takes very simple ingredients and makes them into something that doesn't taste simple. Making a cream sauce may seem like a lot of work for a sandwich, but you can make one in less than five minutes. When I come home after a long day and need something to cheer me up, I know that I can have bliss, quick. (2) It just. tastes. good. In yesterday's post, I talked about taste, and how we can eat food and not even be aware of what we're tasting. That never happens to me with my little monsieur. It tastes delicious to me every time.

I think it's the mustard. Funny, because growing up, I never liked mustard. In fact, I didn't like many condiments. I've come to realize it's mostly a texture thing--globs of those soft, almost gelatinous mixtures just didn't appeal to me. But then I made croque monsieur. And I just spread the thinnest layer of mustard on just one slice of my bread. It was a revelation. The gooey texture of the mustard is not there at all, but the flavor certainly is. And it's a sharper flavor than everything else. It cuts through the creaminess of the sauce, the nuttiness of the cheese, and the silkiness of the ham. And the result is beautiful.

So, I'm thinking right now you might be wanting to make a croque monsieur of your own. Do it. Here's how:

Throw a couple slices of good white bread (Pittsburgh people--I use Mancini's, but anything Italian-style will do) in the toaster to lightly toast. Basically, you just want to crisp it up.

While the bread is toasting, make your Bechamel (the cream sauce). Here's how to do it:
  • Melt 1 T of butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.
  • When the butter is melted, add 1 T of flour and stir together, making a kind of paste (this is called a roux, and it's what thickens the sauce).
  • In a slow stream, pour in about 1 cup of milk (maybe less), quickly stirring the whole time, to avoid lumps.
  • Let come to just under a boil, and cook for a few minutes so it thickens a bit.
  • Take off the heat and add a combination of grated parmesan and gruyere (or swiss) cheese, about 1/3-1/2 cup.
  • Sprinkle in a pinch of salt, nutmeg, and fresh ground pepper. Stir.
That's it!

Now assemble the sandwich. Take the bread, and on the bottom slice, spread a thin layer of mustard. The French would probably use Dijon, but I like something with a little spice. Use what you like.

Put a couple slices of ham on top.

Spread a thin layer of Bechemel on the top slice of bread, and put the sandwich together.

Now slather the whole thing with Bechemel. Make sure all the bread is covered in sauce. Any parts that aren't may burn when you broil.

Sprinkle with grated cheese (or sometimes I just a slice of swiss from the deli counter).

Put on a pan and put under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and golden.

Eat with a knife and fork. And a glass of red.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Umami, or, why our senses matter

“It’s good when food tastes good. It’s kind of like proof you’re alive.”

The above quotation is from a novel by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (I believe Norwegian Wood). It's a simple and profound truth—our senses matter. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, these are the mediums through which we perceive the world. They are crucial to our understanding, to our emotions. A writing professor of mine once said that our senses are avenues to our feelings. Our brains react to what we perceive and register an emotional reaction. When we feel the sun on our skin, we are happy. When we see grey skies, we are subdued. Yet somehow, we often forget that our senses exist, even as they are happening. Our eyes take in images that we forget. We hear music, yet simultaneously drown it out.

Taste is perhaps the most interesting of all the senses because taste comes to us through a necessary human action—eating. We must eat and drink to sustain our physical lives. Yet it is possible to participate in the act of eating and never taste a thing. Perhaps we only see and feel our food. We eat a plum, and our mind registers the image, so our brain knows to “taste” a plum. But the experience of actually tasting is much different. We do more than see purple, smell sweetness, and feel juices. All of these other senses affect our taste, but they are not taste. Taste is rather difficult to describe. Scientists say our tongue registers four tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. In the early 2000s they finally acknowledges a fifth--umami. Technically, umami is amino acid. It's what we taste in meat and parmesan cheese. But umami, named from the Japanese language for the Japanese chemist who first did experiments to "discover" it, is translated into our language with one simple word--delicious.

And can we really describe food any other way? We see that it is beautiful. We smell that it is fragrant. We feel that it is crunchy (or smooth). We even hear it sizzling in the pan. But when it comes to taste, I think the best we can hope for is to taste that it is delicious. To be truly aware of what we are eating. It is possible to eat and not know that the food is good (and sometimes, it really isn't). The food will keep you alive. But when you eat, and know that the food is good, you can also know that you are alive.

To close, some random photos of what I've been eating this summer (it was all delicious):

Hodge-podge meal: Golden beets with ricotta salata, greens with bacon, sauteed corn with jalapeno

Summer lunch: fried green tomato "BLT", toast with roasted red pepper spread and summer sausage, ricotta salata

Summer breakfast: lemon blueberry pancakes with black mango tea

Summer happy hour: soft-ripened goat cheese, peaches with honey, glass of vinho verde

Friday, July 23, 2010

Remembering summer one bite at a time

So, recently a friend blogged about summer experiences/memories and ended by asking other people to share some. So I thought I'd leave a few thoughts here...

I'm sure it's obvious that food is a big part of my summer. It's exciting to eat so many fresh vegetables after the cool winter months. It's the time of year for picnics and grilling. I love that I can go grab some fresh mint if I need it. I can drink iced tea. And probably best of all, eating outside all the time.

And looking back, food has always been a big part of my summers. Here's what I remember:

Dad grilling ribs and me loving them so much...making sassafras wraps with my friend Catherine and opening our little "Nature's Way Cafe" with my brother and sister as customers...eating sassafras off the tree in our lower yard and my dad commenting, "looks like deer have been getting the sassafras"...husking corn on the cob...picking black raspberries for hours...walking down the creek to the falls with my mam-ma and making "soup" with cut up carrots and celery...sucking the "milk" out of milkweeds...the whole family going out for ice cream after random dinners...going to the camp in Punxsutawney and cooking over the fire...telling Abby that my favorite drink was "highly shooken water" and shaking water in a bottle to make it...eating artichokes and then using the leaves to "draw" on brown paper bags...always bringing my parents a "treat" with their beers...

I'm sure there are many more! What are your summer food memories? Or what summer food do you like forward to this summer?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Birthday Treats

Monday was my birthday, and it would be impossible for me to celebrate without a few special food items. To start the day, I made gingerbread waffles with a star-anise-scented plum syrup. (In keeping with the slightly Asian theme, served with Chinese black gunpowder tea.) Both of these were new recipes, and I was really pleased with how both turned out. The waffle recipe was from the Colorado Collage cookbook, and I based the syrup off of your basic bar staple, simple syrup. Here's how to make it:

Mix 1/4 c brown sugar and 1/3 c water in a saucepan with two small pieces of star anise. Bring to a boil, stirring to mix. When boiling, add 4 small halved plums (I had mini plums from the farmers' market, if yours are bigger, cut into smaller pieces) and boil for a few minutes to let the sauce thicken. Take off the heat and let cool slightly. (I used the leftover syrup, chilled, to make martinis later that evening--recommended!)
For happy hour, I made some simple cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for my mom and me to share. Drinks were Gin Rickeys with raspberries, and the food was radish-ginger pot stickers and homemade pickled beets. I used chioggia beets, which have a lighter red skin than regular beets, and are red and white striped on the inside. They are also a little sweeter. I sliced the beets very thin and put in a pot with about 1/4 c vinegar, 3/4 c water, a few peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then simmer until beets are cooked through, just a few minutes. Let cool and then chill in the fridge. Yum!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Crabbiness is next to godliness

I've been putting off writing this post all week, because the task of putting into words culinary perfection is so daunting. But that's just what I experienced last weekend, so I'll give it a shot...

I wonder what it would have been like to live in the Garden of Eden. Can you imagine? Perfection. Perfect love between Adam and Eve. Perfect harmony between all God's creatures. And perfect food just waiting to be eaten. I don't imagine that Adam and Eve spent time trying to build fancy cooking gadgets. They probably didn't marinate their steaks for hours before they grilled them. They just, you know, reached up to a tree and grabbed a piece of perfect fruit. Granted, that method didn't always yield such desirable results, but you get the picture: peaches were hanging there in all their peachy-ness, lemons have never been more lemon-y, and beets were sweet enough to pull out of the ground and bite into, skin and all.

All this to say, that sometimes the best food doesn't need much adornment. When that first ripe tomato of summer comes along, what do you do? Certainly not mash it into a pulp with garlic and spices for spaghetti sauce. Save that for winter. You just eat the tomato. That's it. In this month's issue of Real Simple magazine, one of the features is "3-Ingredient Summer Recipes". In the introduction, the editor comments, "Smart, sophisticated food is not about the number of ingredients involved; it's about finding great elements that work perfectly together."

Well, I'd like to share a little 3-ingredient recipe that just about equals perfection. It's been around for ages, and it goes a little something like this: dump crabs (1) and Old Bay seasoning (2) into boiling water (3). Take crabs out. Eat.

This is what I was blessed enough to experience for hours on end last Saturday at Jimmy Johnson's annual Crab Feast. Jimmy is my mom's cousin, and for the last ten years he's invited carloads of crazy relatives down to his place in Maryland, and tirelessly serves up crabs all day. People go around dumping buckets of crabs on the tables. There's also corn, and plenty of mallets and paper towels to go around. This is simple food. But it's real food, and other than a couple cold beers to wash it down, you don't really need anything else.

But, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one important ingredient, and that's the family. All the wonderful people milling about are what make the day. Hearkening back to the Eden reference, it's a day of perfect love between this big Italian family. And of course that makes everything more delicious. Because no one wants to eat crabs in a room all alone.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer Lovin'

One of my most favorite types of produce to buy from a farmers' market is apricots. I love their small, humble beauty. Tiny little orbs of light, they are simple, and a little sexy. To me, they have one of the most pure tastes I've ever experienced; very definitively apricot. There is no mistaking it. I love that, like orange, grape, and tangerine, they have a color name.

Ever since my 21st birthday, my mom has always given me a handmade card. Nothing fancy, just white paper with "Happy Birthday" written on it. But the precious part of these cards, is that, year after year, she finds some little poem to paste onto it. I don't know where she comes across these things. She doesn't particularly care about poetry, but she knows I do. And so there they are. These small, surprising, unknown poems.

The first year she did it, the poem was about apricots:

A Newborn Girl
by Nan Cohen

Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots--
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day. One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn't matter

A child is born and doesn't know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.

Ah, I just love that. The taste of apricots is in store for her. The mother is so excited for all the beautiful things that her daughter has yet to experience. Surely the taste of apricots is one of them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spotlight on: shrimp

Shrimp is one of my favorite foods to have on hand. I buy it frozen in large, two-pound bags, and use as much or as little of it as I need at one time. It's easier to prepare for one person than a piece of meat, because I can control exactly how much I'm using. It takes hardly any time at all to thaw. And it's incredibly versatile. I recently prepared two different shrimp dishes, and both were delicious.

One: Spicy Mexican Shrimp

Preparing shrimp in this way is really easy, but incredibly flavorful. Make a spice blend using about 1 T each: chile powder, garlic salt, cumin, brown sugar, and 1 tsp. each of black pepper and dried oregano. Toss thawed shrimp in blend and saute (with some green onions, if you like) until cooked and heated through. Serve over rice, or in tortillas. Can also top with mango salsa, made with diced mango, onion, jalapeno, tomato, and lemon/lime juice.

Two: Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

This just kind of happened the other night. I'd thought about trying bacon-wrapped shrimp before, and finally got around to it. In my head, I imagined it to be easy, but dreaded that in reality, I would run into problems, with the bacon falling off the shrimp, etc. Luckily, there were no problems, and it was easy! I used half a piece of bacon for each piece of shrimp, simply wrapped it around, and pan-fried. A few considerations that will make this dish a piece of cake:

  • If there is a lot of fat on one end of the bacon, cut it off (before wrapping).
  • Frozen shrimp can be bought raw or pre-cooked. Make sure to use raw for this, as otherwise the shrimp will be over-cooked.
  • Wrap all the shrimp first, and then put it in the pan, so it cooks at the same rate.
  • One side of the shrimp should have the two ends of bacon, overlapping. But this side face-down into the pan first.
  • Do not move the shrimp until you are ready to flip it.
  • After flipping the shrimp, use a toothpick to secure the two ends. This will also make the shrimp easy to serve.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Spotlight on: rosemary

I thought it might be fun to occasionally highlight some specific raw ingredients, with the intent of showing the very different ways the ingredients can be used. Food is vibrant and exciting, but if you prepare things the same way over and over again, it might get boring. I hope that never happens for any poor food out there!

As I cook, I've been amazed by how similar some cuisines are. Food from Mexico and food from India is surprisingly similar. Meat (usually chicken) is often prepared in a thick, spicy sauce. Cumin is a popular flavor in both cuisines. Lime is a popular fruit. And both cultures have a flatbread (tortillas or naan) to sop it all up. Yet, somehow, the end result is noticeably different. Chicken mole gets heat from dried chilies. Chicken tikka masala gets richness from ground almonds.

So we learn that every raw ingredient out there can pose in a variety of guises. Today I spotlight rosemary, a potent herb used most often in Italian cooking. But these uses are quite different.

To begin, a very traditional approach--rosemary focaccia with tomaotes. I made a basic bread dough and added 1 tbs. chopped rosemary (something you can do too--keep in mind these simple proportions 3:1 flour to water, plus ~1 tsp. dry yeast, salt, and ~1 tbs. olive oil), used my fingers to create dimples, topped with olive oil, and a mix of halved cherry tomatoes, more chopped rosemary, grated lemon peel and sea salt. Bake about 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Voila! Molte italiano!

For a less traditional use, I turned to the liquor cabinent and made...a rosemary martini! Create a simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan with a few rosemary sprigs, bring to a boil, then simmer for three minutes. Cool completely. In a cocktail shaker with ice, mix four parts vodka (though this might be even better with gin, but I was out) to one part syrup (or to taste) and squeeze in some lemon juice. Shake, pour into a frosted glass, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. The rosemary makes this cocktail very refreshing!

As you can see, it's possible to use the things in your refrigerator in very different ways! I hope to write on a new ingredient soon, and am open to suggestions! What do you wish you had more uses for?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's a food blog, anyway?

On Saturday, I had the privilege to cook for three men, two of whom were brand-new friends. We chatted and drank beer while a pork loin was in the oven, and somehow got on the topic of food blogs, by which I mean, I was explaining to them that, in fact, food blogs exist, and that, in fact, lots of people read them. It was a new and difficult concept for them to understand, especially blogging of the Julie/Julia variety--talking about someone else's recipes. "What do you write? Today I made chicken?"

But all kidding aside, it occurs to me that the gentlemen make a valid point. Of course I find reading about deglazing a pan terribly interesting, but perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that (most) people haven't given the subject a second (or a first) thought.

So in this post my purpose is to attempt to answer the question--why do people write and read about food?

To begin, I will say this: it is not to catalog or learn new recipes. Oh, that may be part of it, but recipe writing is too simple an answer. First, it's already been done before. People like Fannie Farmer and Marion Cunningham have cataloged just about every basic American recipe you can think of in their cookbooks. We are in a new food stage in America. Sure, new cookbooks from celebrity chefs are coming out all the time (and I love them), but mostly they are part of our new "foodie" landscape. I think a lot of people are interested in food for the sake of food, not for the sake of cooking it. Second, I don't use recipes all that often. If I want to make something specific that I've never tried before (falafel), or want to know about cooking times/temps (roast chicken), I'll refer to a recipe. But generally, I don't bother. That doesn't mean I don't read recipes. I do. I look at cookbooks everyday. You may wonder what the point of looking at cookbooks and not making the concoctions contained therein is. The answer has three parts, and I think, each part will answer the question at hand about food blogs.

(1) For some people, and I am among them, food has a magical quality. The mere mention of the word "artichoke" has the power to excite me. I like reading about food like I like reading about my friends. I read cookbooks, food blogs, and food memoirs (autobiographical works that center around the preparing or eating of food--check out Ruth Reichl or Marlena de Blasi) because I love hearing about what different foods--or maybe I should say ingredients--are doing. My friend Richard is quickly becoming my favorite person to cook with because he gets just as excited as I do. One mention of "pizza dough" and he comes running. Cooking is just as much fun as eating.

(2) Reading about food builds a mental catalog of flavors and their combinations. The reason I don't use recipes is that, when it comes time to do something with the fava beans I picked up at a market in Charleston, I've already seen ten different ways of preparing favas, and I know which ingredients are a fava bean's friends. This kind of information sinks in through osmosis, the way anything does when you become familiar with it.

(3) Reading about food reminds me of food (or introduces me to something new). What I mean by this is that when I read someone talking about the barbecue they ate in Texas, I remember how much I like barbecue, how I haven't eaten it for months, and how I should make some. I also discover new ingredients. For example, last spring, Bon Appetit magazine featured ramps (see it here), which I had never heard of or seen before. But they looked great. And ever since my first introduction, I've seen recipes for ramps. But I've never actually seen ramps. Until today. I snatched them up. And, because of reason #2, I already know how I'll prepare them.

My beautiful ramps!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Something I love about spring

That I can have this for breakfast:

Honeydew melon is so refreshing and just seemed like a perfect companion for sourdough toast spread with an amazing goat cheese chevre from my local farmers' market.

After a long winter, I am so ready for the clean tastes of spring. The changing seasons are so beautiful to me, and it's pretty amazing how they directly influence our lives--what we wear, how we spend our time, what we eat and drink. I never once considered eating tomatoes (save for the canned variety) all winter long, and I can't wait for the long, hot days of summer when they finally come around. I think it's exciting that we have to wait for certain foods. And all winter, I sought out full-bodied, spicy red wines; I'm looking forward to lightening it up a bit as the weather grows warmer. Here's a list of 10 things I'm excited for as the world warms up:

1. Basil!
2. Vinho verde
3. Iced tea with mint
4. Violets (they're here! look around you, they grow wild and are a tasty and beautiful ingredient to add to salads, desserts, or a cheese plate)
5. Lacinato kale (this farm grows the most beautiful kale I've ever seen)
6. Baby new potatoes
7. Watermelon
8. Beets
9. Wheat beer
10. Arugula

What are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Food Rant

So normally I come here to share some recipes. I know a few people read them. I have no idea if people actually make them. And if you don't, that's fine--I myself rarely make recipes that I read on food blogs. But what I do very sincerely hope, whether you cook my recipes or not, is that you are cooking. I hope that you are feeding yourself well. I hope that you are putting food into your body that will sustain your body. That your diet looks like a rainbow. And maybe even that you follow one of Michael Pollan's food rules--"Eat as much junk food as you want, as long as you cook it yourself."

The British chef Jamie Oliver has been a hero of mine for a long time now. Not only does he run a restaurant in London, he seems to come out with a new cookbook every year (I have six of them), and his restaurant itself is doing a world of good--it's called Fifteen, because he takes in 15 young people who have had a rough time of it, and trains them to be chefs. Wow. Plus, he reformed the school cafeteria scene in Britain.

And now he's getting a ton of press for what he's doing in America. I encourage you to watch his show, which is on ABC every Friday at 9pm. His latest cookbook, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, has the same title as the show, and I would recommend it if you're looking for something to teach you basic recipes. Or at least watch this inspiring clip, in which he talks about what exactly it is he's trying to do.

As he says, "My wish is for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

I hope you will, in some small way, support this. Even if just means going to a farmer's market, buying something fresh, and cooking it for dinner.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cooking for One: India

Let me state up front that today's cooking for one takes a little more time than previous entries, but (a) it's the weekend, so maybe you have a little extra time, and (b) I want to show that making a full meal--especially in a cuisine that may be foreign to you--is not as time-consuming as you think it is. This meal can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. And considering that most people only eat Indian food at a restaurant, you will certainly save money by cooking it yourself. And, as promised, I've followed another cooking-for-one principle--using ingredients that I already have on hand, so you actually save time that way too, because you don't have to seek out anything exotic.

Here's the menu:

Chicken Tikka Masala
Ginger Chive Rice
Onion Naan

Now, in order to do this meal as quickly as possible, it's important to do things in the order that I list here. The naan dough, for example, has to rest before it's cooked, so you'll want to mix it early in the cooking process. If time isn't really important to you, or you plan on prepping this meal over the course of the day, feel free to mix up the steps as is convenient for you. But, to do this all in one go, here's what should happen:

1. Peel and finely chop 2 cloves of garlic, 1-2 inches of fresh ginger, and one medium onion (I've started to keep chopped onion in my refrigerator because I use it almost every time I cook. Consider doing this. That way, you don't have to spend time peeling and chopping every time you make a dish.).

2. In a small pan, heat some olive oil over medium-low heat and sautee the garlic, half the ginger, and one crushed chili pepper.

3. While it's sauteing, mix your naan dough (recipe found in previous post--add some finely chopped onion if you wish). Cover with a dish towel.

4. Pour the garlic mixture (leaving olive oil in the pan) into a bowl along with: 1/2 c of plain yougurt, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. ground cumin. Mix.

5. Cube one or two small chicken breasts, add to the yougurt mixture and stir to coat. *Note: Usually, I do this with already cooked chicken that I have leftover. Feel free to use raw chicken, just increase your cooking time later.

6. Make the rice. I used basmati rice because I had it, but use what you have! Because it's just one, make a small portion. Boil 1/2 c water--won't take long--with the rest of your chopped ginger and some salt. When it boils, add 1/4 c rice, turn down heat, and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed. Take off heat and leave covered until ready to use.

7. In the pan you sauteed the garlic in, saute your chopped onion, a sprinkling of paprika, cumin, and salt, until onion is transluscent. While this is happening, begin to heat a dry pan, preferably cast-iron, over high heat.

8. Add chicken/yougurt mixture to onions along with 1 T of tomato sauce. Saute until cooked or heated through. Meanwhile, cook your naan. Divide rested dough into three balls of equal size. Roll out on a floured surface, and cook in dry pre-heated pan until browned on each side (~1 minute or less).

9. Sprinkle rice with chopped chives.

10. Enjoy! You can use the naan as your only eating utensil!

A few closing notes:

*Of course, this isn't true chicken tikka masala, which would include a spice blend called garam masala and ground almonds, and maybe even some ground coriander and mustard seed. These aren't really ingredients I have around, so I didn't include them, as I was following my cooking-for-one principles!

*These recipes--along with all the recipes I share--are flexible. You don't have to add ginger and chives to your rice. I did because I happen to have a lot of ginger around my place, and chives are growing wild on my street. You could add anything you have to the rice--parsley and lime juice, for instance. Or just leave it plain.

*If you don't have yougurt for the sauce, you could use heavy cream or half-and-half instead.

*I'm eating mine with a nice iced Ceylon black tea.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cooking for one advice--eat like an Italian peasant

See, I told you I'd be back! Coming to you tonight with my second installment of cooking for one, and my advice this time is simple--make a pot of beans.

Beans are the solo-cook's best friend. They are cheap--less than $3 for a whole pound of them--and they can be reincarnated in many, many ways. At first, cooking beans might seem like a hassle, and not all that quick. But I promise--once your beans are ready, they can become a meal in no time (for many nights of the week).

Here's what you'll need to do:

Buy a 1 lb. bag of cannelini of great northern beans (white beans).

Put the beans in a large pot, cover with water, and soak overnight.

The next day, make sure there is enough water in the pot (should be 3x as much as the beans). Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. If you have them, throw in some whole peppercorns, a sprig of thyme (or sage or rosemary), and a whole bulb of garlic, with about a 1/2 inch cut off the top to expose the cloves. DO NOT ADD SALT. (Note: I understand that you may not have pepper, herbs, and garlic on hand. Don't worry. These items aren't necessary, but they do add subtle flavor to your beans)

Over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer at least 1 1/ hours, or until beans are tender.

NOW you can salt.

Ok, the hard part is over. Although this process has taken several hours, it really only requires a few minutes of hands on time, and now you have a whole pot of building blocks for various recipes.

Note: When you drain the beans, you might want to save the cooking liquid, which can serve as a nice broth in bean recipes. Also, save the garlic! You now have a whole head of soft, fragrant garlic which can be used in a number of ways (for example, mashed into a white bean hummus).

Here's one idea for how to use your beans:

Beans and greens, a classic Tuscan combination. Rip up pieces of kale and saute in olive oil until it wilts--won't take long! You can add a little water if you want it to cook more. Mix kale with some of your beans and sprinkle with crushed red pepper and Parmesan. Yum.

The main lesson of this cooking-for-one installment is that sometimes taking a little extra time, can actually save you time in the long run! Don't be afraid to try a pot of beans. My dad did this all the time in his bachelor days!

Your pot of beans will last all week in the refrigerator. For more ideas, look here:

White beans with sausage and tomatoes

White beans with tuna and red onion

White bean and asparagus salad