Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I made bread!

I've established at this point that I'm more of a cook than I am a baker. So it was really exciting for me last Saturday when I learned how to bake really good, French-style sourdough bread. There are two girls at Wesleyan, Tressa and Ellie, who are into organic and local food, and they a ran an instructional workshop on Saturday on homemade bread, butter and yogurt. It was so fun!

The girls ran us through the basics of making and maintaining sourdough starter and kneading, proofing, and baking bread. We also tasted two yogurts they had made the night before: raw milk (runny, rich and grassy-tasting) and pasteurized milk (firmer and somewhat bland in flavor). We also made butter, which (with the aid of modern technology) is crazy easy: all you do is whip cream with a Cuisinart or electric mixer until the butter separates from the buttermilk. Then you knead the butter in your hands to squeeze out the last of the buttermilk and wash it off in cool water. Add salt to taste and wrap in wax paper and you're done!

After gorging ourselves on warm, fresh bread with butter and yogurt with maple syrup and honey, we got sent home with parting gifts: sourdough starter, butter and buttermilk, raw milk in glass ball jars for making yogurt, and bread dough to bake.

But here comes the depressing part: I hate to admit it, but since Saturday I've tried on two--two--occasions to make yogurt, and failed. And it seemed so easy. All you have to do is heat the milk to 180°, let it cool to 110°, then add it to a few tablespoons of plain commercial yogurt that you've placed in a warmed ball jar, mix and let stand undisturbed in a warm place for 8-12 hours. After that, you should magically have yogurt. But all I've had both times was stringy, gooey warm milk that smelled like yogurt. Yuck! I suspect that my milk temperatures have been off, since I've been eyeballing it (I don't have a candy thermometer, but I think I need to get one). Either that, or the warm place I've been keeping the yogurt-to-be (a preheated oven that I then turned off) hasn't maintained temperature overnight. Who knows? I'm almost afraid to share this in case it goes awry again, but I have another batch in the oven right now. I still didn't use a thermometer, and if it doesn't work I'll buy one this weekend and try yet again. Oh well. Making yogurt (or failing to make yogurt, as the case may be) is really fun--it feels less like cooking and more like a second grade science experiment (baking soda/vinegar volcanoes, anyone?).

So as not to end this post on a down note, I'll display my workshop success below. Behold, the most basic and most satisfying of foods: freshly-baked bread. Mine is the long baguette in the front to the right.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Recipe index

Asian Soba Noodle Soup with Chicken and Tofu
Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Yogurt and Mint
Kale and White Bean Soup with Sausage
Lentil Soup with Spinach and Potatoes
Pork and Cabbage Wonton Soup
Spice-Roasted Carrot Soup with Yogurt
Sweet-and-Sour Cabbage Soup
Thai Chicken-Coconut Soup
Turkey Mushroom Barley Soup
Velouté aux Potimarrons (Puréed Squash Soup)

Asian Vegetable Slaw
Carrot and Fennel Slaw with Cumin-Honey Dressing
Corn, Black Bean and Red Pepper Salad
Green Bean, Roasted Red Pepper and Cherry Tomato Salad with Toasted Almonds
Lentil Salad with Potatoes, Red Peppers and Shallots
Mango, Tomato and Red Onion Salad with Lime
Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Mozzarella)
Roasted Red Pepper Salad
Spinach and Arugula Salad with Apples and Toasted Walnuts
Steamed White Asparagus with a Soft-Cooked Egg
Summer Tomato Salad with Grilled Corn and Fresh Basil
Warm Squash Salad with Candied Pepitas
Wheatberry Salad with Beets, Wax Beans and Fresh Cheese

Side Dishes
Caribbean-Spiced Rice and Beans
Celery Root Mashed Potatoes
Classic Potato Latkes
Classic Potato Salad
Colcannon (Irish mashed potatoes with kale)
Indian-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower
Marinated Kale on Garlic Toasts
Oven-Roasted Asparagus
Potato-Beet Latkes
Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Breadcrumbs
Roasted New Potatoes
Sauteed Chard with Dried Cherries and Pine Nuts
Simple Stewed Lentils
Slow-Cooked Green Beans with Garlic and Tomatoes
Spring Vegetable Saute
Stir-fried Green Beans with Sesame Seeds
Traditional Southern Collard Greens
Warm Mediterranean Vegetables (Ratatouille/Caponata)
Wild Rice and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Main Dishes

Braised Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Leeks and Red Wine
Chicken and Broccoli Fried Rice
Chicken Mole Poblano
Chicken Tacos
Grilled Chicken Marinated in Honey, Mustard and Soy
Jerk Chicken
Kitchen Sink Turkey Burgers
Mediterranean-Style Turkey Burgers
Mixed Greens with Duck Meat, Apples, Currants and Pecans
Roast Chicken
Roast Chicken 2
Soy-Braised Chicken Thighs with Star Anise and Brown Sugar
Turkey Fried Rice

Eggplant and Pork in Chile-Garlic Sauce
Grilled Marinated Flap Meat Steak
Kofta Kebabs
Lamb Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Feta
Lamb Shoulder Chops Braised in Tomatoes and Red Wine
Parmesan and Herb-Crusted Lamb Chops
Puerto Rican Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder (Pernil)
Safaid Keema (Indian Ground Lamb in Yogurt Sauce)
Southern-Style Barbecued Pulled Pork
Steak, Pepper 'n' Onion Stirfry
Thai Beef Salad with Lime Dressing


Asian-Style Fish Cakes
Fish Tacos
Pescado a la Veracruzana (Fish Fillets, Veracruz Style)
Squid, White Bean and Tomato Stew
Stuffed Squid Braised in Aromatic Tomato Sauce


Baked Goat Cheese
Baked Marinated Tofu
Baked Stuffed Delicata Squash
Black Bean Cakes
Braised Eggplant with Tofu in Garlic Sauce
Coconut-Braised Chickpeas with Spinach and Lemon
Curried Red Lentils
Garlic Toast with Sautéed Beet Greens and a Poached Egg
Grilled Pizza
Mexican Chilaquiles with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans
Mexican-Style Beans
Mushroom Quesadillas
Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Herbed White Bean Spread and Arugula
Potato, Red Pepper and Spinach Frittata
Revueltos (Spanish-style scrambled eggs)
Salmon, Leek and Dill (Crustless) Quiche
Savory Leek, Mushroom and Ricotta Tart
Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli with Tofu

Bowtie Pasta with Fresh Plum Tomatoes, Green Beans and Basil
Calamarata with White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
Cold Sesame Noodles with Vegetables
Pasta with Squash, Leeks and Lardons
Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, White Beans and Chicken
Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe, Fresh Tomatoes and Italian Sausage
Spaghetti with Green Beans, Potatoes and Pesto
Whole-Wheat Penne with Tomatoes and Dandelion Greens
Ziti with Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese and Walnuts

Cinnamon-Almond Granola
Corn Griddle Cakes
Homemade Yogurt
Matzoh Brei
Sourdough Pancakes
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Sweet Milk Scones

Desserts and Baked Goods
Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Apple Tarte Tatin
Banana Bread
Black Magic Chocolate Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Ganache
Bruléed Apple, Rhubarb and Blackberry Galette
French Country Sourdough White Bread
Grandma's Blueberry Cake
Middle Eastern Orange and Almond Cake
"Queen of Sheba" Chocolate Torte
Pumpkin Apple Bread
Rhubarb Sponge Cake with Almonds
Skillet Cornbread
Sourdough Starter
Za'atar Flatbreads with Cucumber-Yogurt Salad

Sauces, Salsas and Spreads
Baba Ghanoush
Basil-Walnut Pesto
Bitter Greens Pesto
Classic Guacamole
Corn and Black Bean Salsa
Fresh Tomato Salsa with Sauteed Corn
Herbed White Bean Spread
Hummus with Marinated Chickpeas
No-Cook Tomato Sauce
Pico de Gallo
Pineapple Salsa
Radish Salsa
Salsa Verde
Spinach and Almond Pesto with Lemon
Sweet and Smokey BBQ Sauce
Tomato and Red Onion Salsa with Roasted Corn Kernels

Asian Pork Broth
Fresh Herb Marinade
Grilled Halloumi Cheese
Homemade Applesauce
"Mexican pizza"
Pickled Carrots
Pickled Red Onions
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

How to Make Almond Flour
How to Trim Artichokes

The last soup of the season

It's springtime here in Connecticut, and the time for soup has almost passed. But when I was considering what to make with the kale I got from the co-op, kale and white bean soup immediately came to mind. Deeply flavored with browned sausage, tons of garlic and a touch of red pepper flakes, it's the perfect dish for these last few cool spring nights:

It's a dead-simple recipe, if you can even call it that. In a large pot, brown six ounces of fully-cooked sausage of any kind in olive oil (I used andouille, but chorizo is my personal favorite). Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and sweat one large, finely chopped yellow onion in the remaining oil. Add 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic and cook a minute more. Then, add one bunch of kale that you've washed, destemmed, and torn into bite-size pieces. Cover the pot and let the kale cook out most of its moisture. Add back the sausage, along with one small can of drained white beans, one small can of chicken broth, and a can-ful of water. Cook, covered, for about 15-20 minutes more, until kale is dark green and tender. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and enjoy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The bread of affliction

It's Passover, at least for another day or two. I've been meaning to make some Passover food for the blog for the past week, but didn't get around to it until today. Although I don't keep kosher for Passover, I have a lot of affection for many Passover dishes. When I lived at home, my family and I would always go to seder at my cousins' house in New Jersey, and we ate very well: chicken-matzoh ball soup; tender long-cooked brisket; sweet and sour meatballs; various vegetable kugels; and, best of all, the desserts. Oh, the desserts! Light-as-a-feather sponge cake, sweet and lemony and towering high over everything else on the table; dense, chewy vanilla meringues studded with bittersweet chocolate chips; flourless chocolate cake heavy with ground hazelnuts.

And then, of course, there's matzoh. It's not very good, and it's not supposed to be--eating it is supposed to remind us Jews of our flight through the desert all those thousands of years ago. I always think it's funny when people say how much they like matzoh, because those people are never Jewish. If you had to eat the stuff growing up, it pretty much loses its novelty.

That said, there are certainly lots of applications for matzoh that I think are delicious. It's hard to argue with a matzoh spread thickly with salted butter, for instance. I like it piled high with haroset, an apple-walnut chutney that's a traditional component of the seder plate. And my very favorite matzoh recipe is matzoh brei. Matzoh brei is, very basically, a kosher for Passover version of French toast. You break up the matzoh and soak it in beaten egg, then fry it up in a pan and eat it either sweet (with honey, maple syrup, jam, or cinnamon sugar) or savory (with butter and salt). It's simple, homey, and satisfying--and with coffee, it's the perfect breakfast. In fact, that's what I just finished eating. Here's how I made it (serves one):

First, break up two matzohs into bite-size pieces. Place them in a colander and run water over them for 10-15 seconds, until they're moistened:

Next, beat an egg in a bowl and add the matzoh. Mix it well and let sit for about 5 minutes, so the matzoh soaks up the egg:

In the meantime, heat up a small pan and grease it generously with butter. Add the matzoh mixture and press it into the pan. Cook over medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes, flipping once, until the "pancake" is browned on both sides:

If you're a savory kind of person, eat the matzoh brei with more butter and some salt. If you're like me, though, you'll want to enjoy it with jam:

Breakfast is served.

P.S. Here's an excellent article on the merits of sweet vs. savory matzoh brei from the New York Times.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Co-op time

Valencia oranges, collard greens, baby portabello mushrooms, anjou pears, and an ear of corn.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A wholesome snack

As I sat in my living room this morning, eating breakfast and pondering whether to do the responsible thing and go to class or give in to the more tempting option of sitting in the sun and enjoying the beautiful spring day, I tuned in to one of my favorite cooking shows, the Barefoot Contessa. The Contessa (also known as Ina Garten) was doing something she does often on her show: cooking for her beloved (and honestly adorable) husband, Jeffrey. This time, Ina was making Jeffrey breakfast. Though she joked around by saying that she would be serving dry toast and coffee, she in fact produced a lavish spread of mini brioche loaves, homemade strawberry jam, peach bellinis, and parfaits of yogurt, fresh fruit and granola. Enter my inspiration. The granola looked so tasty and easy, and I realized that I had never before made it--though I couldn't imagine why.

Fast forward to the evening. Walking back from dinner, I stopped at the on-campus grocery and made my way home armed with rolled oats, shredded coconut, slivered almonds and honey, the ingredients which I would utilize (along with dried fruit and some cinnamon) in my take on Ina's granola. Here's the mixture pre-baking, already looking mighty appetizing:

20 minutes later, a toasty, golden brown and heavenly-smelling medley emerged from the oven. I added some chopped dried cherries and golden raisins to the granola, let it cool, and stored it away in a glass jar:

Given how fast and easy it was to make this granola (and how wonderfully its honeyed aroma perfumed the house as it baked), I felt sorry that I had never done it before. And I urge you to make your own granola, too. Even though you can buy a million varieties of it at the store that feature exciting ingredients like chocolate and dried mango and the like, this homemade version tastes more honest, simple, down-home. That's probably because the list of ingredients comes to a grand total of eight items, whereas commercial granola is chock-full of additives and sweeteners. I prefer this version, and I think my friends agree with me: when they came over to watch Top Chef earlier tonight, they greedily spooned up the dessert of granola-topped vanilla ice cream that I presented:

How indulgent! And speaking of indulgence, you might be wondering whether I gave into it this morning, as well. I can't really answer that--but let's just say my skin's a bit more tan than it was yesterday.

Cinnamon-Almond Granola
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

4 cups rolled oats
2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, almonds, coconut, and cinnamon. Add the oil and honey and mix well, making sure the mixture is well-coated.
3. Spread the mixture evenly on a baking sheet (you'll probably need to use more than one) and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The granola is done when it is dark golden brown and fragrant. After removing it from the oven, allow the granola to cool completely, stirring it occasionally.
4. When granola is cool, added the dried fruit and store in an airtight container (it will keep for about a month--if it lasts that long).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Friday night dinner

Sarah and Becca came over on Friday night for an easy roast chicken dinner. Sarah contributed the chicken (thanks Sarah!), which was free-range and organic, and very moist and tasty, too:

This was a very small chicken, only about 2.5 - 3 lbs. What I did was pat the skin dry and season the outside with an extremely liberal amount of salt and pepper. I seasoned the inside of the chicken, too, and also placed a quarter of a lemon and a bunch of fresh oregano in the cavity. I placed the chicken on a bed of quartered artichokes, which soaked up all the chicken-y juices, and roasted it in a 425° oven for about 40-50 minutes, or until the juices ran clear when I made a small cut in the leg (the dark meat takes the longest). We let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes so it would stay moist. While that was happening, we made a salad with the lettuce and cucumbers from the co-op, along with some tomatoes I had lying around. The mise:

Sarah made a tangy dressing using olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, fresh oregano, and salt and pepper. The finished product:

The salad was crisp, light and refreshing--the perfect counterpoint to the warm, salty and rich chicken.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How to trim an artichoke: a tutorial

A lot of cooks are intimidated by artichokes, which are thorny on the outside and filled with the sharp "choke" on the inside (I always wonder, with foods like these, how it was discovered that they were edible at all). As a result, it seems that people typically just steam or boil artichokes whole. This is, of course, a delicious and perfectly appropriate way to enjoy the vegetable, especially when you dip the leaves in melted butter. But it's really not that hard to trim an artichoke for use in all kinds of dishes: a little time consuming, maybe, but definitely worth it. And even though the method might seem wasteful, all of what you'll be left with will be tender and easy to eat. Here's how you do it:

1. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top portion of the artichoke, which will remove many of the spiny tips of the leaves. Remove the leave that are lower down and do not get trimmed--they're too tough to eat.

2. Trim artichoke stem, removing a slice from the very bottom as well as a thin layer from the sides. Don't throw the stem away! It tastes similar to the heart and is the second-best part of the artichoke. Trim away any excess material at the base of the artichoke where the stem is attached.

3. Slice the artichoke in half, exposing the (very pretty) choke, which you'll want to get rid of.

4. Use a teaspoon, or, even better if you have it, a grapefruit spoon to scoop out all of the fluffy (but deadly!) choke. You'll be able to see where it meets the artichoke bottom. Rinse the artichoke halves under water to make sure you get it all out.

I used the above artichokes in a roast chicken dinner, so stayed tuned for that post.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


'Nuff said.

Catching up

Here's what I received from the co-op on Thursday (less one grapefruit, which I ate already):

Strawberries, a grapefruit, two artichokes, two cucumbers, and red leaf lettuce.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Check my column

Every other week, I contribute a food column to Wesleyan's newspaper, the Argus. Here's the link to yesterday's edition. You can find my first installment here.

Some side dishes

Classic Potato Salad

Serves 4

1. Cut 4 large or 6-8 small, waxy potatoes into large chunks. Place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, bring them to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until just fork-tender, about 10-12 minutes.
2. Drain potatoes, transfer to a bowl, and immediately douse them with red wine vinegar. The hot potatoes will absorb all the flavor. Allow potatoes to cool.
3. Add plenty of salt, black pepper, olive oil, a spoonful of dijon mustard and more red wine vinegar to taste. If desired, add one finely chopped hard-boiled egg. Mix well, taking care not to break up the potatoes.
4. Finish the potato salad by adding 4-6 chopped scallions and a large handful of chopped fresh herbs of any kind (I used oregano).

Sauteed Chard with Dried Cherries and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

1. Using 2 bunches of chard, seperate the leaves from the stems. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl; roughly chop the stems and place in another bowl.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic, cook briefly, and then add the chard stems. Stir to combine, and then add 1/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth, along with 1/2 cup dried cherries. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until stems are mostly tender.
3. Add the chard leaves along with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Stir and cook until leaves are tender, about 6-8 minutes more. Remove to a bowl and garnish with 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The time was ripe

On Sunday afternoons, my tendencies toward procrastination really reach their peak: Monday (and its associated deadlines) looms near, and yet all I seem to want to do is laze around and watch cooking shows, or, now that it's spring, sit in the sun with a book, intending to read but really just people-watching. Another thing that I like to do on Sunday afternoons is bake. Baking can take a fair amount of time, since you need to be quite precise in what you're doing, and so rather adequately satisfies the requirement of keeping me from doing my work. It's also a fairly low-energy activity, which is important after a long week of intellectually and physically taxing commitments (or after a too-late Saturday night).

My baking repetoire is somewhat limited. As I've mentioned on the blog before, I don't really follow recipes, preferring to wing it when I'm cooking (for better or for worse). But with baking, you really do have to adhere somewhat strictly to a recipe, since your delicious, fragrant cookies/pies/muffins/etc. are the result of a series of complex chemical reactions. Tip the balance of the recipe even slightly out of proportion and you're liable to end up with something that's leaden where it's supposed to be fluffy, or raw where it's supposed to be cooked. In cooking, on the other hand, you can usually take creative license with your ingredients and methods to little detrimental effect. It's kind of liberating.

That being said, there's definitely a place, in my kitchen, for the comforting confines of baking. I find the process to be relaxing: the steps of reading, measuring, and mixing are soothingly methodical, and then, of course, there's the wonderful aroma you get emanating from the oven and filling your house, making you feel right at home. Although I will occasionally branch out and make an elaborate cake or tart for a dinner party, when I'm baking for myself I find that I most often make muffins and quick breads. They're simple and don't take too much time to prepare, and, unlike yeasted breads, their results are reliably predictable. They're also the perfect breakfast food, so when I bake such things I always freeze a few individual portions that I can just grab on my way out the door in the morning.

Yesterday afternoon I made banana bread. It's something I make frequently, because there are often spoiled bananas lying around my house, and I can't stand to see them go to waste. So whenever I see a rotten banana in the kitchen, I throw it into the freezer to save it for banana bread. That way, when I'm ready to bake, I just thaw the bananas I need and I'm good to go. I've made this recipe so many times now that I feel I've perfected it. Although some people are purists, adding only walnuts if that, I go the opposite route, including not just nuts but golden raisins, dark chocolate, and spices, as well. Who says less is more?

Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf

1. Preheat the oven to 350° .
2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup vegetable oil with 3/4 cup sugar.
3. Add 3 mashed bananas and 2 large eggs; mix well.
4. Into the bowl, sift 3/4 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. Stir until batter is just combined. Optional: add 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, 1/2 cup golden raisins, and 2 oz. chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips.
5. Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, using a toothpick to check for doneness. Take the bread out as soon as you think it's ready--you want it to stay very moist.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Instant Caribbean

I had some tender, delicious jerk chicken left over from lunch yesterday, so I decided to throw together two quick, complementary side dishes. A salad featuring the mango from the co-op, along with tomatoes, red onions, lime juice and zest, olive oil and cumin; and brown rice cooked with black beans, cumin, and coriander, and garnished with green onions.

Quick and healthy

After gorging on such varied items as jerk chicken, beef patties, fajitas and cream puffs at a free all-campus lunch yesterday afternoon, my friends and I found ourselves a bit too stuffed to consider making anything very involved for dinner last night--in fact, none of us really wanted to think about cooking at all. However, I had a pound of green beans left over from last week's co-op pickup that were begging to be used before they went bad, so we soldiered on in the name of the blog. We wanted something quick and light and found the answer, as it so often is in such cases, to be Asian (or Asian-style) food. I improvised a recipe for baked marinated tofu, which we enjoyed with the green beans, stir-fried with garlic, ginger and sesame seeds, as well as Korean-style white rice, which has barley in it and is delicious. On paper (or on screen, as the case may be) this meal may sound like a bland 70s-style health food experiment gone wrong, but I assure you that everything was flavorful and satisfying. Even Malcolm, a consistent skeptic of soy products, approved of the tofu. Our appetites were sufficiently revived, and we even found room for a dessert of Kahlua-doused ice cream.

Baked marinated tofu: thick slices of extra-firm tofu marinated in a rather imprecise mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, rice wine vinegar, fresh garlic and ginger, and red pepper flakes. I also added a dash of Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce to ensure a good balance of flavor. The tofu sat in the fridge, covered, for 2 hours, but overnight would be even better. Afterwards, I drained the marinade off of the tofu and reserved it to spoon over the finished dish. I coated the tofu with olive oil on both sides and baked it at 375° for 45 minutes, turning once. The final product is crisp on the outside and surprisingly meaty and chewy in the middle: it's really the perfect dish for people who think they don't like tofu. Finished with a scattering of scallions and toasted sesame seeds:

Green beans, stir-fried for 8-10 minutes with fresh minced ginger and garlic, as well as the usual suspects of soy sauce, sesame oil, and the aforementioned teriyaki sauce:

Simple and satisfying Korean rice, rinsed well and made in a rice cooker with a 1:1 ¼ ratio of rice to water:

Surely too good to be called health food.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday already?

In the course of a week it suddenly became spring, a development that's left me pretty much giddy with happiness. I got some beautiful fruit at the co-op today, along with some staples that aren't very seasonal but which will be nice to have on hand nonetheless:

A pound of onions, a pound of russet potatoes, two bunches of Swiss chard, a mango, and three plums. Here's hoping I can force myself out of the sunshine and into the kitchen soon.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An elegy for the tomato

Although pretty, the plum tomatoes I received from the co-op last week were somewhat anemic in taste. Doesn't that seem to be the case with all tomatoes these days? When I was a kid, my family would buy these huge beefsteak tomatoes in the summer with which we would make tomato, mozzarella and basil salads all season long. The tomatoes were deep red and juicy and absolutely delicious--they were, of course, great with the cheese and herbs, but all they really needed was a bit of salt and they were good to go. I haven't had a good commercial tomato like that in years. The ones that are available at the supermarket nowadays are a sickly pale shade of orange--not even red--and they're weak in flavor and usually mealy in texture, too. Luckily in the past year or so heirloom tomatoes have become all the rage, and they're reliably tasty. They're not commonly available in supermarkets, though, and they're more expensive. Since when is the tomato a luxury product?

I've come to depend on a few reliable methods for getting good tomato taste into my cooking even when what's available in stores leaves much to be desired. In soups, sauces and stews I almost always use canned tomatoes, preferably from San Marzano or elsewhere in Italy. They're full of flavor and cook down nicely in long-simmering dishes. I like to get the whole, peeled ones so that I can break them up with my hands--I prefer the texture to the large chunks you get from a can of already-diced tomatoes. For salads and salsas, I use grape tomatoes almost exclusively. They're tiny and sweet and, I've found, are the only product that comes close to approximating the flavor that ordinary tomatoes used to have. And when I end up with supermarket (or, in this case, co-op) tomatoes that just don't taste too good, I slow-roast them.

Roasting is pretty much my favorite method for cooking vegetables (I know that tomatoes are biologically a fruit, but you catch my drift). It draws out their sweetness and concentrates their flavor, and is super easy, too--once the vegetables are in the oven, all you have to do is stir them around every once in a while. So when I found those plum tomatoes to be sub-par, I used a favorite recipe (more of a method, really) and slow-roasted them.

All you do is halve the tomatoes, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any dried herb (I used oregano), and bake them in a 200° oven for 4-6 hours. Yes, it's a very long time, and what this does is produce an incredibly soft, intensely flavorful tomato that can be used in a myriad of ways. One application that comes to mind immediately? Pile them on a rare burger covered in melted blue cheese. The combination of the sweet tomatoes with the pungent cheese is pretty incredible (can you say umami?) Or you could make yourself a BET (ha): bacon, a fried egg, and the roasted tomatoes on toast. You could gild the lily by adding mayonnaise, if that's your thing (personally, I don't care for the stuff), but you won't even really need it--the creamy softness of the runny egg yolk will bind things together quite nicely. Finally, you can do what I did, and enjoy the tomatoes on some crusty baguette topped with manchego cheese. Yum.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The beautiful eggs I got at the farmer's market

And the lunch I made with one of them:

Wow. Just, wow. I wasn't sure I would post about this meal--anyone can fry an egg, after all--but Jesus Christ did this taste good. It's dark German bread, toasted, with a slice of locally-produced cheese from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Connecticut. And the egg, of course.

I've had the excellent cheese from Cato Corner many times. They sell their products at the farmer's market that Wesleyan hosts once a semester, and my friend Zander works there. The cheese I used on my sandwich is called Bridgid's Abbey. Here's the blurb about it from the farm's website:

"Our popular Trappist-style monastery cheese with a smooth, creamy consistency. Bridgid's Abbey has been our best seller for years--its irresistible rich, mild taste is ideal for all-day eating for breakfast, sandwiches, or snacking. It melts well, performing excellently in quiche, toasted cheese, or over vegetables. Bridgid's Abbey varies in consistency somewhat from summer to winter--the winter batches are very creamy, while the summer milk yields a slightly firmer and chewier texture. Aged 2 - 4 months."

Under the warm fried egg on my sandwich, the cheese got yieldingly soft, and its salty bite perfectly complemented the runny unctuousness of the egg yolk. I was eating with my housemates, and after every bite I just kept exclaiming how good it was. I think I made them a little jealous.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dinner and a movie

My housemate Nina and I went to see Eat Drink Man Woman earlier tonight. Beforehand, I made a quick and easy dinner using some of the vegetables from the co-op:

Bowtie pasta with fresh plum tomato sauce, green beans and basil. It was super simple: while the pasta was boiling, I sauteed a generous amount of chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the diced tomatoes and a good deal of salt to break them down quickly. Then, to create more of a sauce, I added a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and cooked the mixture down some more. During the last 3-4 minutes of the pasta's cooking, I tossed some cut green beans into the boiling water, drained it all and added it to the pan of tomato sauce, coating the pasta well. After I took the pasta off the heat, I mixed in a bit more olive oil (to get the raw oil's green, fresh flavor), along with shredded basil and lots of black pepper. Only 10 minutes' work resulted in a big payoff in flavor.

After eating, it was off to the movie. This was my third time seeing Eat Drink Man Woman and it's really a lovely film. The reason I'm including it in the blog is because it's pretty much the ultimate food movie (well, behind Big Night, maybe). It takes place in China and centers on an older, retired chef and his three daughters, who, in their 20s and 30s, still live with their father. Though the man's relationships with his daughters are often difficult and complex, he pours his heart and soul into the cooking that he does for them--mainly on Sundays, when the four of them gather around a table groaning under the weight of course after course of intricately wrought Chinese specialties. In these scenes, the camera, in extreme closeup, glides over the surface of the food in all its glistening, steamy, intensely colorful glory. This is food porn in its truest sense. But the movie goes deeper than that, really getting to the root of how we use food as--or sometimes as a substitute for--communication. I highly recommend it.

It's Thursday

And here's a look at what I got at the co-op this week:

Basil, zucchini, plum tomatoes, blueberries, a Valencia orange, and green beans. I'm excited. Visions of delicious pesto-coated Italian foods are dancing through my head.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Got rice?

The broccoli from the co-op ended up in an (admittedly bastardized) fried rice. My housemate, Kat, is Korean, and her fried rice is pretty incredible. She's shown me a few times how to prepare it just right, but even so, my version never comes out tasting quite like hers. That's OK by me--it tastes good in its own right. And that's kind of the whole idea of fried rice, isn't it--to be a quick dish that uses up all the odds and ends hanging around in your refrigerator, to be easily adaptable to whatever seasonings you might have on hand (whether they're strictly "Asian" or not), and to turn out well regardless of your culinary background. It's not a very authentic dish, and that's exactly what I like about it; I like flexibility in cooking.

Here's how I made it (one serving, eaten with chopsticks at a leisurely pace if you're lucky, or scarfed down with a fork in front of your computer as you put the finishing touches on an overdue Powerpoint presentation if you're not):

Cut one boneless, skinless chicken breast into chunks and place them in a bowl with some soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil, and some red pepper flakes. Allow the chicken to marinate as you cook your rice (if you don't have any left over) and get your other ingredients ready.

Cut some broccoli into bite-size pieces and blanch them in salted simmering water, cooking them for 4-5 minutes. During the last minute of cooking, add a handful of frozen peas and carrots, and then drain all the vegetables. I run them under cold water to stop the cooking.

Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet and add the drained chicken, cooking it all the way through. Set the chicken aside. Wipe out the skillet and return it to the heat. Add about a tablespoon more oil and a goodly amount of finely chopped garlic. Cook for 30 seconds, then add your rice (I used short-grain brown rice). Fry the rice, seasoning it with soy sauce, sesame oil, and gochujang, if you have it (which I did, thanks to aforementioned Korean housemate). Add a beaten egg, stirring rapidly so the egg breaks up and cooks through. Add in the chicken and vegetables, season more to taste, and heat mixture through.

Or, you know, just go with your instincts, like I did.