It's not all brain surgery

November 25, 2009

You don't always have to add a ton of hoo-ha to an ingredient to make it delicious. Take the humble sunchoke. Also known as the Jerusalem artichoke, it looks like a cross between a knobbly piece of ginger and a potato. The flavor is a tad flowery and herbal and it has a slightly higher moisture content than a potato. But, really, all you need to do is to roast it. The photo at left is of small raw sunchokes.

Speaking of roasted, I happen to think any vegetable tastes better roasted. I won't eat asparagus or brussel sprouts any other way. Wait until they look like they are about to burn, then keep them in about four minutes longer, then add lots of salt. Just as good as french fries. Well, no, that's a lie.

Fair warning though, roasted brussel sprouts can be a little fart-a-rific. No worries, just light a scented candle or hang an air freshener off your back belt loop.

Sunchokes n' sprouts

sunchokes, preferably small, but if not, cut into 1 inch pieces
small brussel sprouts, or large ones cut in half (extra points if you get them on the stalk)
olive oil, just barely to coat

Roast at 400 til brown, crusty, and tender. See photo below for approximation.

Mostly about hell, but also waffles

November 24, 2009

I am really picky about eggs. I used to hate them in every way, but in showing some personal growth, I will now eat dippy eggs (aka sunny side up) and frittatas that contain lots of cheese. I still say that if there is a hell, they will serve me egg salad sandwiches, which combine my two vehement hates of cooked egg yolks and mayonnaise, not to mention eternal hellfire. On a recent road trip to Cincinnati, I saw a billboard warning: HELL IS REAL. So, I better stop being so judgmental, or an eternity of egg salad sandwiches awaits me.

Eternal damnation aside, my non-love of eggs has inspired a devotion to waffles and pancakes. When I had a little bit of canned pumpkin leftover, this was the perfect recipe to use it up. Also great as a turkey-day breakfast. Although the photo shows syrup as a condiment, I liked them best with just a little bit of butter.

Pumpkin waffles, from Gourmet
Makes 8 waffles (in my waffle maker, don't know about yours)

1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (aka 1/6 cup) brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 250 degrees or "warm."

Sift together the dry ingredients: flour through cloves. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then add the milk products, pumpkin and butter. Slowly whisk in the dry ingredients until just combined. Pour into your waffle maker as you would normally make waffles, keeping the early batches warm in the oven until all the batter is used.

If you're making this just for two people, you'll likely have leftovers. They are still perfectly delicious after refrigeration and then a turn in the toaster.

Using the surplus

November 18, 2009

A few months ago, my husband and I spent the better part of the afternoon reorganizing our refrigerator and pantry cupboard. Yes, our life is fabulous, we can't help it. Anyway - in this cleaning, we found three jars of hoisin sauce. Two in the fridge (one on the door, and one shoved in the corner of a bottom shelf) and one in the cupboard - our emergency stash, if you will. Heaven forbid Washington, DC, has a nuclear meltdown and we don't have any hoisin sauce! So the other night when we were scrounging a bit for food and didn't feel like walking the 250 yards to the grocery store, we threw this together. You'll see me later this week at H-Mart stockpiling the hoisin, now that we're down a 1/2 cup.

Hoisin chicken with clumpy (in a good way) rice
, adapted from Donna Hay's "Off the Shelf"
Serves 2-3


1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup wine or sherry (I used leftover champagne)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
4-6 chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces*

1 tablespoon peanut oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 red chili, seeded and chopped
3 cups COOKED rice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 small bunch swiss chard, bag of spinach, or head of bok choy

*vegetarian option: this would be really good with cubed tofu, too. Sear the cubes in a pan to get some texture on it before plopping them in the sauce.

Heat the hoisin sauce, wine and grated ginger in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and boil it for 2-3 minutes to thicken slightly. Add the chicken pieces and stir, until the chicken is cooked.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Cook the onions and chili for about a minute. Stir in the rice and cook for 3-4 minutes. (A spatula works better than a wooden spoon here.) Pour the egg over top, and move the mixture around constantly until the raw egg is no longer visible, about a minute. Stir in the greens, adding a tablespoon or two of water to help them wilt down.

Serve the chicken and sauce over the rice.

For my brother, the carnivore

November 16, 2009

One year for Christmas at my parents' house, there were three Crockpots exchanged between three people. I got two of them. (I kept the bigger one.) It will be forever remembered as the Holiday of the Slow-Cooked Meat. I know people say they can be used for so much more, but I've only ever done meat. Who doesn't love coming home to a big slab of slow-cooked meat? Well, probably vegetarians. Once my friend Rebecca had an incident where hers shut off in the middle of the day, leaving her with short ribs that had been sitting at a sketchy temperature for who knows how long. The pizza we had for dinner that night was DELICIOUS, though.

A piece of advice - only use your slow-cooker when you'll be gone all day. Because otherwise, you'll be smelling amazing smells all day, and you aren't allowed to even peek in and stir it. It's a little torturous.

And a quick note about pork shoulder: Yes, it can be really fatty. I actually trimmed TONS of fat off of mine, leaving us with not-too-greasy sandwiches. And to all those out there protesting, "but fat is flavor," well, we all have to be able to zip up our pants the next day, and I don't see you pitching in for my personal trainer, so suck it. I don't fear the fat, but I'm also not ashamed to say I trim where I can.

Pork Barbeque, from an Epicurious recipe
Makes about 8 sandwiches

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pepper, chopped (I used a skinny red chili, because that's what I had)
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (with seeds)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons hot Mexican powder
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
3 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of as much fat as you want (because she who holds the knife is the boss!), cut into 2-inch hunks
1 12 oz. can or bottle of beer (I used an ale.)
1 bay leaf

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic, cook one minute. Remove from heat.

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients: brown sugar through hot pepper sauce.

Fish out your Crockpot from whatever dark corner of the kitchen it usually lives. Put in the peppers and onions, pork and sauce, and stir it around. Pour the beer over the whole lot, and float the bay leaf on top.

Set your slow cooker on low and cook for 8-10 hours. DO NOT PEEK OR STIR.

Using tongs, remove the meat to a bowl. Transfer the juices and vegetables to a saucepan. If you want to, skim off some of the fat from the top. (I got a few tablespoons without much effort.) Over medium high heat, reduce the sauce for about 30-40 minutes. Turn off the heat, and using an immersion blender, puree into a smooth sauce. You could also put the sauce in a regular blender. Add the meat to the sauce, and shred the meat a little bit with two forks. (Don't make it look like cat food, though.) Warm on the stove until heated through. Serve on buns of your choosing, or just as-is.

I know it seems like this might be REALLY spicy, but we really did not find that at all. I actually shook some more hot sauce on top of mine, because that's how I roll.

A cranberry bar and some hot green tea

November 12, 2009

Please enjoy this guest post from my special baking correspondent, also known as my husband. And it's true, he hoards berries like a squirrel.

When fall rolls around I always grab a couple of bags of cranberries the first time I see them in the grocery store. They are only on the shelves for a few weeks and I get this strange urge to horde them. (I don't know whether that's from growing up in New England or a hereditary trait.) And while some form of cranberry sauce or relish is always at the table when my family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, for some reason we never make it before then. So we find ourselves awash in berries and looking for things to use them in. The recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag for a cranberry bread has been a consistent go-to, but this week I gave this recipe from Dishing Up Vermont (a great cook book with recipes from restaurants and inns around the Green Mountain State) a go. I found it lighter than the usual quick bread recipes and a piece goes great with a cup of tea.

Delicious cranberry bars
Makes 9-16 squares

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3/4 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup apple sauce
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup of sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x9 baking dish. Combine the sugar and eggs in an electric mixer. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients, starting with the cinnamon through the flour. Mix the butter, applesauce, and vanilla extract into the sugar-egg mixture until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and then fold in the cranberries and almonds.

Pour the batter into the dish and bake for 50-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack before serving.


November 11, 2009

Have you ever watched any cooking shows on public television? I contend they are far superior to anything on the Food Network. Public tv shows seem more authentic and have a genuine desire to teach you something, while Food TV is more in the mood to entertain you. Which is why I am so disappointed never to have seen a Rick Bayless public tv show. He is like the American godfather of authentic Mexican cooking. I have two of his cookbooks (thanks Mom!) and they are awesome. Everything I've made of his is hot-damn delicious. Apparently he used to have a show, but now he doesn't. How about some reruns, PBS? I've seen some old Baking With Julia's that are about a century old. Give me some Rick Bayless!

I've written about my love of the poblano pepper before. This is the first time I've made a soup with that dark green delicacy, and I can see it happening again every poblano season.

Roasted poblano soup, adapted from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen
Serves 4-6

6 medium-large poblanos (I only had 5, and the world is still turning)
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small bunch chard, stems removed, leaves chopped into 3-inch ribbons
4 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch or instant thickener* OR 1/4 cup masa harina
1 teaspoon salt

Possible toppings
crushed tortilla chips
feta cheese
cheese quesadillas, for dippin'

Roast the poblanos under a broiler or on a grill until the skin is blackened in spots. Put them in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let them rest for about 10 minutes. Peel the skin off (no sweat if some stays on), and remove the stem, seeds and ribs. (The seeds and ribs is where the heat lives. After roasting, the ribs will look small and innocent, but cut them out if you are heat sensitive.) Cut the poblanos into strips. (You can do the roasting a couple of days ahead and put the strips in the fridge.)

Heat oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and let them get a little brown, about five minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and dried herbs,** about 1 minute. Add the roasted poblanos and chard. You might need to add a little water if your veggies are sticking to the bottom. Cover the pot and let the chard cook, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat, and in two batches, puree the chard/poblano mixture in a blender. Be careful, it's hot. Technically, Rick Bayless will have you the press this mixture through a sieve. I did this, and frankly, I don't know that it made that much of a difference. I'd skip it next time. But if you're feeling sieve-y, go for it.

Put the poblano puree back in the pot and put the heat on medium. Stir in 4 cups of the chicken stock, cream and salt. Put the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock in a small bowl and stir in the magical thickener, cornstarch, or masa. Add the thickened stock to the soup pot. Let the soup cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until thickened and hot.

*Instant thickener is made by King Arthur Flour and is part magic.
**I like to put dried herbs in my palm and rub my hands together to release some of the scent from the herbs.

Not posh

November 9, 2009

Remember when I wrote how Glasgow has the highest per capita Indian restaurants of anywhere outside of India? Well, you know what they must have the lowest per capita of? Mexican restaurants. Or anything Latin American. I nearly succumbed to burrito-deficiency-itis when I lived there for a semester in college, after living off of Anna's Taqueria for two years. One day my friend Sue and I decided to make regular old ground beef tacos in my windowless dorm kitchen. We got all the goods: crunchy yellow shells, that scary "seasoning" packet, salsa, sour cream, orange cheese, and even a green tub of goo labled "guacamole." So there we are, assembling our comfort food that I'm sure 1 million other Americans were eating at home in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Florida. And the Scottish girls who shared the kitchen start talking about how posh our dinner is. Because they had never witnessed taco preparation before. Um, Ortega taco kits are really anything but posh. I would even declare them the exact opposite of posh.

I won't lie. I still make the occasional ground beef taco. Why not? They are kind of awesome. But I now have about 15 other favorite tacos in front of it. Here's one.

Crunchy black bean tacos - adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
Makes 6 tacos

6 small corn tortillas (don't use flour tortillas)
vegetable oil
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage (either from a head or coleslaw mix)
2 green onions, finely sliced
juice of half of a lime
2 tablespoons cilantro OR mint

To serve
homemade guacamole (mash an avocado with some minced garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, maybe some cilantro)
chipotle hot sauce

Mix the cabbage, green onions, lime juice and herb of your choosing together well. Season with some salt.

Mash the rinsed and drained black beans with the cumin, vinegar, and garlic.

Preheat toaster oven to 250, or set your oven on "warm." Heat a large skillet with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil over medium heat. Swirl the oil around so it covers the skillet evenly. Put three tortillas down in the skillet. It's ok if they overlap a bit. Using one half of the bean mixture, divide it among the three tortillas in the pan, spreading it on one half of each tortilla. Top with some of the feta cheese. Using tongs, fold over the other half of the tortilla and press down, making the tortillas into half moons. Once the tortilla is crispy and light brown on one side, flip it over and brown the other side. (I think tongs are easier to use than a spatula here.) Keep the first batch warm in the toaster or oven while you repeat with the last three tortillas.

Shove some of the cabbage mixture into each taco, and then serve with the guacamole and chipotle hot sauce. Heaven, I tell you. Crunchy, beany heaven.

What about cauliflower? Nothing about cauliflower.

November 8, 2009

Exactly. Nothing about cauliflower. It's one of the very few vegetables I won't eat. I highly doubt this blog will ever discuss cauliflower. Or gnomes. Nothing about gnomes either.

You know what I will talk about? Incessantly, actually? Eggplant. I will likely write the Song of Solomon to eggplant. It's so versatile. Italian, Indian, Asian, classic American, and Mediterranean cuisines all love the mighty eggplant. My dear friend Elsa (who until the past year has never lived more than 1.5 miles away) and I probably talk about the latest thing we've done with eggplant about 60% of the time we talk on the phone or via e-mail. So, Els, here's a really good eggplant recipe.

Roasted eggplant pizza
Serves 3-4

1 medium and 1 small eggplant (any variety)
2 big tomatoes
1 head garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lb. of pizza dough (I used the whole wheat from Trader Joe's)
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon basil
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons green garlic, chives, or green onions
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices and the tomatoes into 1 inch chunks. Brush the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Liberally salt and pepper the eggplant. Put the tomato chunks on a separate baking sheet with just a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Peel the outermost paper off of the garlic head. Put the whole head in a piece of foil, drizzle with about a teaspoon of olive oil, and wrap it up tight in the foil. Put the tray of eggplant, tray of tomatoes, and the foil-wrapped garlic in the oven. Roast until tender, about 18-20 minutes for eggplant, 10 for tomatoes, and 30-40 for garlic. Midway through each roasting time, flip the eggplant and stir up the tomatoes. Let everything cool to a reasonable temperature.

Squeeze the garlic out of its paper into a mini-chopper or food processor. Add the 1/3 cup basil, parsley, and green garlic, and pulse to make a paste.

Roll out the pizza dough and place on a baking sheet that is lightly oiled. Spread the garlic paste all over. Lay the eggplant slices on top, followed by the tomato chunks. Top with the mozzarella. Bake in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Garnish with remaining tablespoon of basil.

Tiny giant-headed lady cures hangover

November 2, 2009

Have you ever watched Giada De Laurentiis on the food channel? I have several observations to share. I shall make a list.

  • She is very fussy and delicate with her garnishes, and makes complicated hors d'oeuvres.
  • She takes very small bites when she tastes her food.
  • She is teeny tiny with a giant head. And a giant rack.
But despite all that, I actually kind of like her show. (Aside from the one she did in DC and apparently forgot her fact checker and stated all kinds of erroneous information about the District. Georgetown is IN DC, not outside of it!) As long as you ignore her weird fussiness, she can serve up simple, classic food.

And she is Italian, and therefore knows how to do a thing or two with leftovers. Those Italians, I tell you, they are a resourceful people! Once she made leftover spaghetti into pie! Spaghetti pie, that is. And let me tell you, nothing cures a hangover faster than spaghetti pie. Well, maybe an IV drip, but I don't know how to make that.

Spaghetti pie
Serves 2-4

2-3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
at least 2 cups leftover spaghetti with tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk together two eggs, milk and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Stir in the leftover spaghetti. The mixture should be gloppy and wet. If not, add another egg.

Heat half of the olive oil in a non-stick skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. Once it's good and hot, pour in the spaghetti, spreading it around evenly. Let it be - don't fuss with it. After about 8 minutes, it should be golden brown and crusty on the bottom. Loosen the edges and invert the spaghetti onto a plate. Let the rest of the oil heat up for a few seconds, then slide the spaghetti pie back in, uncooked side down, and let it cook for about 6 minutes. You can either slide it onto a serving plate, or cut wedges directly from the pan.

Note: My photo depicts spaghetti made with yellow tomato sauce, so traditional red sauce would look more, um, red.

Outburst included

When whole wheat pasta first became readily available, I was all about it. Pasta with less guilt! Who isn't a fan of that?! But then I realized that some of my favorite pasta dishes didn't necessarily jibe with the nutty, hearty flavor of whole wheat pasta. So I went back to cooking with the old-fashioned white flour pasta. But in some cases, whole wheat pasta can be really wonderful.

You know what else was wonderful? GOURMET MAGAZINE. And THEN SOMEONE KILLED IT. And it DIED. FROM ALL THE KILLING. I shake my fist at you, Conde Nast.

I'm not quite over the end of Gourmet. And I got all shouty because this recipe is based on one from the LAST issue of Gourmet EVER, November 2009. But it is really good, and I used fresh walnuts from the farmer's market in it. They are nice and lovely and a little chewy, but in the best way.

Spaghetti with blue cheese and walnuts
Serves 2

1/4 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 head escarole, chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 oz. blue cheese, cut or crumbled into pieces
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Cook spaghetti in boiling water.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet and cook walnuts, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Remove walnuts from pan. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan and cook onion and garlic for about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add escarole, a few tablespoons of boiling water from the cooking pasta, and blue cheese to pan. Stir with tongs until the escarole is wilted and the blue cheese melts. Add vinegar. When the pasta is done cooking, toss it with the escarole mixture. Top individual servings with walnuts.

And then they did the Monster Mash

Eating isn't just about the food. My husband and I both grew up in families where it was important to sit down and have dinner together. You know, talk about your day. Discuss what furry kittens you destroyed because someone voted Republican. Determine who the cuddliest member of your species is. Et cetera. It's not just about what you eat, but who you share it with!

This particular night we had a fall feast of acorn squash stuffed with cheesy orzo, sauteed chard, and crusty bread. It was almost as warm and cozy as we are.

Acorn squash with orzo and Gruyere, adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 2

(In case you can't tell, I am a huge fan of food stuffed inside of other food.)

1 acorn squash
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere cheese
a couple of grates of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of powdered nutmeg
salt and pepper

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place face down in a dish or pan, and pour some water around the squash to a depth of about half an inch. Cover with foil, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo in boiling water about five minutes. (You don't want to fully cook it.) Drain, then put back in the same pan with the milk and vegetable broth. Bring to a bubble, and stir for three minutes. Stir in the chopped green onions and stir for another minute. Grate in the nutmeg, and add 1/2 cup of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.

Take the squash out of the oven, pour off the water, and turn the squash halves cut-side up. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon in the cheesy orzo. Top each squash half with 1 tablespoon of grated cheese. Bake uncovered until the top is brown and crusty, about 20 minutes.

We love acorn squash!