31 August 2007

Risotto is not terrifying

Risotto was really trendy when I first started making it somewhere in the five to seven years ago range. It does not seem so trendy anymore. Has it slid into the range of normal foods that people just cook, or is it falling out of perception entirely? I mean, I definitely have a bunch of cookbooks with occasional risotto recipes, but it kind of seems like people have gotten sick of cooking something to which you have to pay such close attention. This seems strange, though, since there are lots of foods that require attention. It's not like cream sauce can just sit there and cook itself. So maybe we should go the other direction and posit that people may be scared of making something that has a reputation for high culinary technique. This makes sense until you notice that the technique is basically advanced stirring.

You can stir a pot. Make risotto. What better way to spend the last day of August than by standing over a hot pan for a half hour?

One of the best things about risotto is that you can put practically anything you want in it. In this case I wanted corn and red pepper. It was delicious, and will continue to be so tomorrow for lunch.

Risotto is delicious.

arborio rice
olive oil
yellow onion
dry vermouth or white wine
red pepper
salt, pepper, parsley
parmesan or asiago

If you don't have broth, it's the first step. Grab a handful of vegetable scraps, stick them in a pot of water, and put them on to boil. Simmer this while you're doing everything else. If you already have broth, you need to bring it up to a simmer too. This will ultimately make the risotto cook much, much faster.

Ok. Get out a big pot, set it over medium heat, and pour in some olive oil. Chop up maybe half a yellow onion and add it to the pan. Let the onion soften a bit while you go read a book, or chop up red pepper and decob or defrost corn. Whatever.

When the onion is soft, add a cup of rice to the pan and start stirring. You don't have to stir absolutely constantly, but pay close attention when you stop. Toast the rice for three or four minutes. It may start making popping noises; that just means it's getting hot, and is about ready for broth action.

Add maybe half a glass of vermouth or white wine to the pan. You can also use red wine, but I like white better. Start stirring; stir for maybe five minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the vermouth. At this point your rice should be translucent around the edges, with an opaque white core in the middle.

Add a couple ladlefuls of the hot broth to your rice. You want a pan of liquid nearly completely full of rice; when you stir, it will make big solid waves. Stir fairly constantly until the rice has absorbed the liquid.

Repeat this several times, adding water to your broth pot if necessary. You'll notice the rice's appearance changing as it cooks; eventually, the translucence will go away and you'll be left with a solid creamy-looking grain. Keep tasting as you go to make sure the rice cooks to your preferred texture.

When your rice is almost done, and you're about to add your last batch of broth, add the vegetables. You can use pretty much anything you want. If you want a long-cooking vegetable, like winter squash, make sure to precook. Meat should be precooked also. Everything else can be raw and room-temperature; you're just going to warm it in the pan anyway.

Combinations you can add:
- red pepper and corn, duh
- zucchini or summer squash and tomato
- just good diced tomato, or any individual vegetable
- peas, regular or sugar snap
- tiny green bean bits and lemon zest
- asparagus tips and mushrooms
- winter squash and slivered almonds

When things are cooked to your liking, take the pan off the heat. Add lots of grated cheese, black pepper, and chopped parsley. Taste and see if it needs salt, then add that too.

Put it in a bowl and eat it. You probably want dark green salad and wine and maybe a little bread.

Risotto is possibly the most soporific food on the planet. Be prepared to lie around reading books in bed for the rest of the night.

28 August 2007

Oven sammich

Sometimes you are tired yet hungry and end up just eating a sandwich for dinner. This is not such a terrible thing. It's not like you're having a bag of doritos for dinner, for example. You are having real food. If you take a couple minutes to actually cook said sandwich, it turns out even better.

This kind of thing works really well with nearly anything you have in the vegetable drawer. I mean, I probably wouldn't use potatoes, but other than that, close to anything goes.

decent bread, in this case half a baguette
olive oil
yellow onion
grape/other tomatoes
mild white cheese
salt, pepper, parsley

Slice some bread or split a baguette precariously down the middle. Anoint it with oil. That's right: indoctrinate your bread.

Sliver some onion and tomato into the thinnest slices possible. You can use whatever kind of onion/shallot/etc and tomato you have lying around, although I wouldn't recommend midwinter tomatoes or anything. Layer the slices onto the bread. Add some salt and pepper and stick the business into the oven. I had a bunch of fries already baking at 350F, so I just stuck my sandwich on the other rack.

After 5 or 10 minutes, check on your progress. If the onions have softened and the tomatoes have begun to crumple, it's time for cheese. You can clearly do this without cheese as well, although the finished product will lack a certain gooey quality. Slice some cheese thinly and layer it over the vegetables. You don't need too overabundant an amount. I used mozzarella, but whatever you have lying around should be fine.

Stick everything back in the oven for another five minutes, or until the cheese starts to turn toasty brown on top. Then whip out the pan, add some parsley/any other fresh greens you might want, smash your sandwich closed, and eat.

27 August 2007

The rest of the ricotta

The gnocchi were definitely great, but they didn't go through nearly enough ricotta. What do you do with 3/4 of a tub of ricotta, especially when you've had a gigantic cheesy pasta thing already? I suppose there is always the freezer. It's really easy to freeze a lasagna. There is also, you know, sucking it up and actually eating more delicious pasta things. I mean, gracious me! We can't do that! I will probably do that tomorrow.

Ricotta is mild enough that you can use it for other things, though. You can, for instance, use it in place of mascarpone. I don't think I've ever had mascarpone anyway; certainly I've never cooked with it. I have had cheesecake and other cheese-oriented dessert wonders, though. You can clearly use ricotta in a sweeter setting.

With this in mind, I went to the store and bought a pint of black figs and a stick of sourdough.

This is barely even a recipe; it's just cutting things up and spreading them around. Then it looks like the fanciest thing on the planet. You win.

Ricotta with figs

good bread
ricotta cheese
black pepper

Cut your bread into appropriate slices. Spread some ricotta onto each. Well, now we only have half the tub left.

Get a spoon and drizzle a bunch of honey over each bit of bread. Try to stay in the middle or you'll end up covered in goo when you start eating. Or maybe you want to get covered in goo, in which case get honey everywhere. Whatever.

Cut up some figs and lay the slices over each piece of bread. The honey will stick them securely on. Figs are pretty sticky anyway, but still.

Grind black pepper over the plate and eat.

Seriously, use the pepper. It makes everything else pop; it has the same effect as salt used well.

This is definitely the kind of thing you want to lie around eating on a saturday afternoon with a bottle of decent dry white wine. Figs and honey are mild enough that the whole business is barely sweet; it's just sticky and decadent.

25 August 2007

Gnocchi party

The other night I went to a goodbye dinner. Dinner was a massive, totally delicious lasagna. Eight people were eating and still we had something like a third of it left over. It was supremely satisfying, and provided needed ballast for the continuing evening.

So I kind of wanted more lasagna. In fact I had been wanting some sort of giant pasta combination for about a week, and continue to do so. I am so going to Osteria in the near future. I must have a gigantic plate of pappardelle with bolognese sauce from some source. In the meantime, I still wanted more! Immediate more! Lasagna is a large and awkward pasta, however, and I was already buying a pretty full backpack's worth of stuff. Fortunately, our pantry contained an alternative: gnocchi.

This stuff will get all the pans in the house dirty, but it's worth it. It's also really versatile, and can take practically any vegetable you want to throw at it. In this case I wanted spinach and tomato. In the future I will probably add zucchini and eggplant at least. Fresh basil would also be a good plan.

Baked gnocchi

potato gnocchi, premade or homemade
olive oil
a hot red pepper
half a red bell pepper
three good tomatoes
dry vermouth
ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan
salt, pepper, basil, sage, cayenne

Chop up your garlic, hot pepper, and bell pepper; sauté them in some olive oil with basil, cayenne, and a little sage. Oregano is always a good idea, but all we had left was a tiny smudge of powder, so that was out. Soften everything up while you chop up some good tomatoes. Because it was indulgent day, I was actually cooking with real tomatoes as opposed to just eating them outright. This was a good idea.

Add the tomatoes and some vermouth to the pan. Salt and pepper. While everything is reducing, wash, stem, and chop most of a bunch of spinach. Boil and drain the gnocchi; they're done when they come to the surface of the water.

When your tomatoes have reduced, the sauce in the pan will be really liquid. You can either reduce it more or just use it as-is; the gnocchi will suck up lots of tomato juice in the oven. Add your spinach to the sauce and stir until it's wilted. Then add the gnocchi and mix everything up well.

Take the pan off the heat. If there are any non-dairy people at your house, now is the time to separate out portions for different pans or whatever. You can also clearly just eat things at this point instead of baking them. I wanted cheese, however.

Once your pan has cooled slightly, so as not to break the dairy, add several spoonfuls of ricotta. You can add shredded mozzarella here, too, if you want the interior to be especially goopy. Stir it all up and turn it into a baking dish. Then spread lots of shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake it. I used a fairly slow oven, since I wanted the gnocchi to have time to absorb as much juice as possible. Start at about 325 or 350F and reduce heat if the top crisps too soon. It took maybe a half hour for ours to be done.

Now eat it. Have red wine. Have the rest of the spinach in a salad. Have a loaf of bread to mop the bits of tomato juice and oil off your plate.

Don't you like how the most delicious food looks the least pretty? I love it. I can't possibly make these pictures pretty, and I don't care! Eat it! It is delicious!

23 August 2007

Dinner rescue

The other day I was hungry, but there was no food in the house. This is normal but annoying. So I looked around to find something that would actually provide sustenance. We pretty much always have beans and rice; this time I found beans and barley. So I made a batch of refried beans and put a cup of barley in the rice cooker, and when everything was done, I proceeded to look at it and notice that I didn't really want a burrito at all. In fact, I appeared to want, say, some lettuce, which we did not have.

We did have quarts and quarts of broth in blocks in the freezer, however, and it would be silly not to eat any of the gigantic amount of food already made. So I defrosted a cake of broth, dumped in some beans and barley, and toasted half a loaf of bread. That was much better.

Refried beans are pretty thoroughly covered already. Barley is cooked just like rice, and broth is made from a chicken or many vegetables. We eat the same things all the time; can you tell?

20 August 2007

Wake up!

Time for breakfast:

Real scrambled eggs.

salt and pepper
very optional: whey

Heat up a frying pan. Swirl up some butter. You want butter.

Crack some eggs into a container suitable for mixing. Add salt and pepper. If you have whey lying around waiting to go bad, add a little of that too. Mix it up.

All the classical egg cooking technique people seem to want you to just stir the eggs lightly together. Er. No, I don't think I'm quite going to do that. I don't do very well with the chunks of stringy, albuminical white. That said, I don't beat my eggs into complete submission, either. I just mix until the white and yolk are clearly amalgamated.

When the pan is medium hot and all the butter is melted, add the eggs. Start stirring. Do not stop stirring. This is the secret to scrambled eggs: stir. I generally use a rubber spatula for optimal scraping action.

It will take at least five minutes for your eggs to curdify. Keep stirring. Stir up all the semi-solid bits from the bottom of the pan and mix them with the liquid bits. Do this over and over until all the eggs have coagulated and reached your preferred level of solidity. I cannot stand runny scrambled eggs, and so tend to overcook them. To avoid this, take the eggs off the heat when they're just barely too wet for your tastes. They're still hot and still keep cooking.

Eat eggs as hot as humanly possible.

- lots of crispy toast with butter; hot black tea
- egg sandwich: everything crammed between slices of crispy toast; hot black tea
- warm tortillas and salsa; coffee
- warm tortillas, salsa, sour cream, and green onion; coffee
- warm tortillas and mashed avocado; coffee
- steamed spinach; rice; hot black tea (good bland food for sick time)

So, why did I have whey? Perhaps it was because the previous night I had put a good cup of plain yogurt on to strain for yogurt cheese, aka labneh. This stuff is not actually cheese cheese, and requires no rennet, cooking, or any other device. It is just yogurt with the whey drained out, so as to attain a semi-solid consistency much like whipped cream cheese.

Yogurt cheese

straining device
desired herbs
black pepper

First, acquire a straining device. Cheesecloth is normal; coffee filters or tea towels can work. I use an actual thing called a yogurt strainer, which looks like one of those permanent reusable coffee filters, and is made of plastic and nylon mesh. I found it at the goodwill store in some classic 70s packaging. There are some more modern types around, but really, you don't have to go find another appliance for this. You can just use cheesecloth.

Get your strainer positioned over a container to catch the whey. I stick mine over the top of a wide-mouthed measuring cup. When I used cheesecloth, I would suspend it in a mason jar with a rubber band or two. You could also line a metal mesh strainer with cheesecloth and lay it over a pan. Any way will work as long as you make sure there's some room for whey drainage underneath. A couple inches of clearance is good.

When your strainer is ready, put in some plain yogurt. I generally use about a cup at once, since that's what the filter holds well. Now put the whole business in the refrigerator and leave it there overnight.

The next day, go see what's happening. You should find your yogurt (now cheese!) looking solid and a little collapsed in the middle, and a good bit of whey in your drainage. You can keep whey and use it as extra sharp dairy deliciousness in soup bases, in rice, or in scrambled eggs if they happen to be going on. Scoop your cheese out of the strainer and into a bowl.

Leave your cheese plain or season it. You can add whatever herbs and etc you think sound good. I like lots of black pepper with chopped basil and parsley. Some people put olive oil in their yogurt cheese as well. Some people also do exciting things like adding honey and chopped figs, then eating it for dessert. This is also an excellent plan.

If you can stand it, leave the cheese to sit another half hour or so, for flavors to mix. I personally just wanted to eat mine as swiftly as possible. I used it as a dip with grape tomatoes.

What should you do with yogurt cheese?

- Use like sour cream, with big scoops over your enchiladas
- Use like sour cream, to mix with tomato soup for tangy buttermilky action
- Or as a garnish for spicy lemony lentily soup action
- Spread it on good bread and freaking just eat it
- Make a sandwich with it and cucumber and radish
- Dip all the vegetables in the house into it
- For that matter, dip all the chips in the house into it
- Mix it with avocado and salsa for super cream-laden guacamole
- Mix it with raspberries for ridiculous health-laden dessert
- Put it on bagels and avoid processed cream cheese forever

I have eaten breakfast and am thus satisfied.

17 August 2007

Breakfast is delicious

When we went to Europe, the immediate highlight was breakfast. It's a pretty clichéd reaction, which is not surprising, considering a real French breakfast. I don't even like croissants. What I did like was immediately pounding the double shot of orange juice that had clearly been in an orange five minutes previously. I don't want bottled orange juice, since it always tastes like the bottle, but juice from an orange is a different picture. Then there was the giant bowl of coffee, the loaf of bread, the actual butter, and the yogurt.

I keep saying I can't do sugar at breakfast, but that's not entirely true. It's more that I can't do processed gack at breakfast, and processed gack with lots of sugar is both prevalent and worse. In contrast, here I had no problem downing lots of bread and butter, followed by a pint of yogurt. The yogurt was plain: shocking and wonderful (in the old sense of actual wonder inducement) after years of totally disgusting fruit on the bottom. Ok, actually after years of not eating yogurt in any way except as an ingredient in something else, since fruit on the bottom and all its relatives are so repulsive. This stuff tasted clean and fresh, to begin with. Then I started putting spoonfuls of honey and jam into it, and wondering if I could find some chopped almonds.

Clearly, gigantic dairy conglomerates are trying to make exactly this product. They fail, however. You have to have actual plain unadulterated yogurt (dairy or soy), actual fruit, and natural sugar content if you're going to come up with an edible end. The jam worked well in December; real fruit works well in August.

With that in mind, here's what I had for breakfast the other day:

plain yogurt, with
chopped nectarine and

At some point we're going to have a giant yogurt-making experiment. I expect the results to be stunning and fruitful.

15 August 2007

In the continuing vein of eggplant as delicious

I've written about this so many times it's not even funny. So there's this tiny little restaurant in Ann Arbor, the Earthen Jar, which serves a mostly vegan Indian lunch buffet by weight. It usually gets overlooked, though, because it's right next to one of Ann Arbor's most avidly desired Middle Eastern places, Jerusalem Garden. Most people looking for cheap, fast delicious vegetarian lunch don't even notice the Earthen Jar is there: they head straight for the falafel. So did I, mostly, but when I did go next door, everything was always fantastic.

One of the regular buffet pieces was a spicy eggplant with tomato and sesame. My friend Ryan particularly loved this stuff, so much so that he went home, experimented, and came up with his own version. Then he wrote it down and we stuck it up on the kitchen wall with all the other things we wanted to make all the time. Since the Earthen Jar never has matching names on any of their buffet cards (although the online menu now tells me that the real name is Baingan Bhujia), we had no idea what the stuff was actually called; it became Eggplant Business. It was the perfect food for houseful of poor vegetarian college students.

The whole vegetarian college house menu is pretty interesting, actually. Everyone was starting to experiment with interesting food and develop actual cooking techniques while spending as little money as possible. Eggplant business works extremely well under these circumstances: one eggplant, one large can of tomatoes, and one pot of rice can easily be enough to feed six people.

Eggplant business

olive oil
sesame seeds
curry, cumin, ginger, cayenne

Dice up some garlic and an onion and sauté them in olive oil with sesame seeds. Mince and add fresh ginger if you've got it and have the sufficient energy to actually deal with it. When things have softened, add a diced eggplant and a can of diced tomatoes/some diced actual tomatoes. Spice with curry, cumin, and cayenne, plus salt and pepper and ground ginger if that's all you have. Use lots of spices. Stir it all up; add some water or broth if things are too thick to simmer.

Ryan's original directions are to "stew till delicious!" This usually takes somewhere from ten to twenty minutes, but it depends on so many variables that you can't count on time. You can easily count on deliciousness, however. When everything looks collapsed and stewedy, and the spices are impossible to avoid even in the topmost corners of the house, it is probably done.

Eat with rice (traditional), naan (effortful but delicious), or barley. We chose barley. Here is one grain that gets overlooked in the flock of people mooning over things like quinoa, which is interesting considering it's a tenth as expensive. Cook it exactly like rice, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. It is great.

13 August 2007

Here is the broiler

Well. The week of actually bearable temperatures had a side effect I should have realized earlier: tomato season is over. There is nothing at the store but flats and flats of plasticky greenhouse ugh. So I couldn't spend this weekend hovering over a hot water bath. This was probably good, considering the heat, but still. Boo no tomatoes! Instead we sat around with lost appetites, eating snacky dinners and drinking frigid beer.

I did a lot of broilering. This is clearly useful and hazardous for the same reason: its instantaneity. Watch out, or things will burn; keep the oven door open and watch. Seriously.

Crostini, this time with knife pesto:

Rip the leaves off a bunch of basil; smash and peel two cloves of garlic. Mince it all together, mixing so garlic and basil are chopped together over and over. Stick it in a bowl; add olive oil; mash further with a fork. Release the basil oil.

Cut real bread into slices; add pesto; add parmesan and mozzarella. Keep cheese on the light side; you want it to nearly vanish.

Stick it all under the broiler for a few minutes. Keep an eye out.

That was saturday's snacky dinner. On sunday I did something even easier. Well, first we went to Fiesta del Mar for lunch: easier every way but financially. It was substantially delicious and worth it, as Fiesta del Mar always is. Afterward, though, I noticed that we still had some of the tahini sauce from the eggplant last week, and that I had better do something with the leftover pesto, and that we had pita bread.

Crispy pita dudes

Cut pitas into eighths. Open them up and spread insides with tahini sauce, pesto, or whatever sounds good. If pita is having opening issues, you can just use the top of each piece. Other things: melted or softened butter with herbs is always a good idea, for instance, or roasted red pepper mash. Close, stick on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil if you want, and stick under the broiler. Continue to keep an eye out.

10 August 2007

Lamb part II: fake shawarma party

Clearly we needed to rectify the previous not enough yogurt situation. This meant a half hour of wandering around the store wondering what to get. Well, yogurt, obviously, and some kind of food to marinate with said yogurt. So I actually ended up getting lamb twice within a week. This is a startlingly high amount for someone who eats about 75% vegetarian. Fortunately my iron deficiency seems to have actually righted itself via copious meat and dark greens injection, but at the time it was very strong "hmm, fish? Chicken? I could get--oh what the hell, more lamb. More lamb!" and I got half a pound of ground lamb and took it home to make into meatballs.

This time I decided to use spices for shawarma, although I did no meat shaving and ate things as a platter instead of a sandwich. It was really not a shawarma at all; that was just the name on the spice mix. In this case, they consisted of ground bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seed, cloves, curry, garlic, black pepper, nutmeg, onion, sumac, saffron and thyme. See, I was smart and saved the back of the packet this time.

Lamb meatballs

ground lamb
plain yogurt
shawarma spices, or whatever you like
olive oil

Get some lamb into a mixing bowl. Mince up some shallot and toss it in. Add a couple big spoonfuls of yogurt and a bunch of shawarma spices, and mix with your hands. GOOPY. Form the mix into meatballs. Mine generally turn out about an inch in diameter. Put the meatballs in the refrigerator to let the flavors mix; leave them there for at least a half hour.

Chop up some parsley and stick it in another cup or so of yogurt; leave it to marinate as well.

Go do something else for an hour.

When you're ready, put on some rice. Heat up your frying pan to medium-high. When it's good and hot, add a little olive oil and swirl around to coat. Then add in your meatballs in a single layer. Flatten them a little with the back of your spatula, and let them sit for at least three or four minutes without moving. Once the undersides are browned, turn them over and brown some more. Continue until the meatballs are browned on all sides. Some fat will render off into the pan; if it's too much for you, spoon some of it off. Don't spoon everything off, though, because you want at least a little fat to coat the rice.

When everything is done, scrape up any pan bits and take the meatballs off the heat. Add the rice and mix it all up. Let things cool slightly, just enough so the steam has had time to subside, then mix in the yogurt. It's important to actually cool things since you don't want curdling dairy solids happening if you can help it. This should be enough time to prevent a huge split.

Serve. You may want more parsley or some lemon juice. You may want more yogurt. You may want some tabbouleh or olives or I don't know what. You especially may want your leftovers wrapped up in some flatbread with cucumber and more yogurt and eaten all contrasty the next day for lunch or breakfast. In this case, you may notice that you're applying it as real shawarma, although it's still not even close to authentic. It is good, however, so who cares?

08 August 2007

Lamb za'atar

I think we will all agree that middle eastern food is awesome. You cannot go wrong. On our next vacation I want to lie around in an olive grove eating labneh and naan, sucking lemons, grinding sesame seeds in my teeth. I would not mind a grape leaf, a plate of hummus or baba, a pickled turnip bright pink down the middle of a falafel roll. I would not mind red wine, mint tea, or both.

I expect there are actually some visitable olive groves in our part of California. I'm going to have to look into that.

Anyway, this brings us to lamb.

I barely ever eat meat-oriented middle eastern. Lentils and eggplant and chickpeas, oh my. However, there are weeks like this past one in which I am clearly iron-deficient. I go to the store and buy only meat and dark greens. Then I stand in front of the spice shelves for a while, examining everything in detail to figure out what I actually want to do with said meat and greens. The spicing of choice this time was za'atar.

Za'atar consists at base level of toasted sesame seeds, thyme, and salt, with sumac added for red za'atar. The blend I got had some other things in it, such as marjoram and savory. Clearly you can change the proportions however you like. You can also do interesting things such as grinding up the sesame seeds; mine were whole. You can also say screw the lamb and just use it while cooking eggplant or whatever. It is definitely worth trying in some form, whether or not your body is having any particular iron drive at the moment.

Lamb za'atar

olive oil

Get a decent lamb chop or two, or a bunch of stew chunks. I got some ridiculous bright red cut marketed with the name of a certain abhorrent diet. It was clearly the best quality cut in the store, so I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the labeling. Anyway, I also got a pound of rice. Take that!

Cut the lamb into small chunks. Break up a head of garlic and peel the cloves. Peel and slice some eggplant into small chunks. Then toss everything together with olive oil and za'atar, and leave refrigerated to marinate for at least a half hour.

Also, get some plain yogurt into a bowl with a handful of chopped parsley and maybe some minced shallot. Let it sit as well. Use a lot of yogurt, more than a single cup; we didn't have enough.

When things have marinated sufficiently, put on the rice and heat up your frying pan. You want a pretty hot pan to sear the meat and seal it well.

Swirl some olive oil around the pan; add the lamb and garlic. It will be loud and smell delicious. Turn and sear other sides as appropriate. When all the sides are at least a little browned, add the eggplant. You may need more oil. You also may not, since the meat will have given off some fat by this time.

Turn down the heat a little and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft and the meat is cooked through.

Notes on yogurt. We added the yogurt into the pan directly, to cook it into everything. This seemed like a good idea, and the food remained tasty, but it also produced a lot of little spots of dairy solids all over everything. They then turned pink from the meat juice. It was classy. In the future, I would just use it as sauce to stir into the finished product.

Ok. Is everything done? Take the lamb and eggplant pan off the heat. Fluff up the rice and turn it directly into the meat. Stir at all up and get it well combined and give some steam a chance to escape. Then add yogurt and stir to combine again. You may want to reserve a little yogurt to pour delightfully over servings for presentation, but whatever. I know you will definitely want another handful of parsley for each serving.

This was exactly what I wanted.

06 August 2007

Eggplant impulse satisfied.

EGGPLANT. It is perfect. It is delicious. It is also something I tend to use just for spicy pastas of some type, eggplant parmesan, or stirfry. Clearly, however, eggplant can do a number of other things.

I have been wanting to make this stuff for weeks! weeks! and yet somehow it was always too hot to even consider turning the oven to 500F. Then this weekend it was suddenly cool enough to yank an extra blanket onto the bed.

Tahini glazed eggplant
per Food and Wine

olive/sesame oil
salt and pepper

First, make sure it is not over 90F in your kitchen already, or be heat tolerant. Then set the oven to 500F. Oh my god! Move an oven rack to the lowest position.

Take some eggplant, peel it, and cut it into 2/3-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into quarters or whatever looks appropriate for finger food; if you have tiny eggplant, leave the slices round. Put them on a cookie sheet, salt and pepper, and put them on the lowest shelf of the oven. Leave them for about 10 minutes, or longer for thicker slices. If you start to smell anything at all during this period, GO CHECK ON THEM. My thinnest slice turned itself into a dark brown eggplant crisp very easily. When the bottoms are golden brown, take them out of the oven and move the rack up to broiler level.

While this is all happening, get some tahini, olive oil, minced garlic, honey, and salt and pepper into a bowl. Whisk it.

I used two cloves of garlic, a couple spoonfuls of tahini, a couple spoonfuls of the excess sesame oil from the top of the tahini, the barest drizzle of olive oil, and a couple spoonfuls of honey. The oil proportions were really because we were pretty much out of olive oil, and a drizzle was all I could get out of the bottle. Sesame oil definitely worked instead. I might even leave it that way in future. I was also supposed to add lemon juice, but I forgot. This was easily remedied by later squeezing a huge wedge of lemon over the entire serving dish.

Flip all the eggplant slices over. Spread the sauce over the eggplant and put the pan back in the oven, this time at the broiler level. They only need a minute or two for the sauce to heat and brown, and for everything to be perfect. Check on them!

When they are browned, get them out of the oven, off the pan, and covered with lemon juice as soon as humanly possible. Then put them in your mouth and eat them.

This would be really, really easy to prep for a party the night/a few hours before. You could clearly cut up and brown the bottoms of all the eggplant. You could also make the dressing. You could make three eggplants' worth of stuff! On the day of, you'd just have to spoon sauce and stick everything under the broiler for a couple minutes. Then you'd suddenly have three gigantic serving plates' worth of fantastic vegan food.

Another thing that could happen: instead of making tahini sauce, smash up some roasted red pepper and garlic with olive oil and parsley/basil and use that as the sauce. Another thing: pesto.

So one of my eggplant impulses has had results. Now I just need to get my hands on some miso. Then we can move on to the land of baigan bhartha.

03 August 2007

Worthy drinks for further hot appetitelessness

1. Blueberry pomegranate juice.
2. Champagne cocktails.

The first is good for the blood sugar; the second is good for the latenight relaxation.

Blueberry pomegranate is by far my top choice in juices. I do not care that it costs like seven dollars a bottle. So what? It is the most delicious juice on the planet, especially since I've grown out of my teenage palate. I mean, I guess that serious real cranberry juice no sugar or white grapefruit would be the top juices for the total adult palate. I still like them, particularly cut with tonic or sparkling water, but I like blueberry pomegranate better.

Ruby red and tangerine comes in second, but it has been falling back in the rankings for a while. First this was just because I was cheap and could drink water. Then I started to taste the corn syrup in the giant luggage-bottles of ocean spray. No one else seems to make a grapefruit tangerine. I can make it myself, but it's kind of difficult to procure the amount of red grapefruit and tangerines for more than one big tumbler of juice at once.

Also, I want to use the grapefruit in champagne cocktails.

Two days ago I was walking around the neighborhood at lunch when lo! I came upon a big cardboard box on the sidewalk in front of somebody's house. This particular house has a gargantuan lemon tree and several rows of corn, among other things, planted in the front yard. Clearly, the box contained excess harvest; when I looked inside, I discovered a pile of tiny apparent CSA-box remnant white grapefruit.

I didn't take them all, apparently because I am too polite to do intelligent things. I did take two.

Yesterday John cut them into champagne cocktails, and we let them sit there and absorb the gin, and I shoveled all the peels into the refrigerator to make into candied peel/something at an immediate later date.

Champagne cocktails

dry champagne or sparkling white wine
grapefruit or lemon

Cut some grapefruit off its peel and into whatever size chunk you like. Put the chunks in your champagne bowls. Add about half an ounce of gin, then top with frigid champagne.

We clearly do not buy actual champagne from Champagne (land of mushrooms! Champignon! Ok ok.), uh, pretty much ever. Our standard sparkling wine aka champagne is Chandon, generally blanc de noirs. In this case, we used the brut. It was a good choice.

01 August 2007

Melon in a blender

Before we moved to California, we had a period of apartment limbo and ended up staying with John's parents for most of the summer. John's dad gardens, and what he gardens is food, so we ate all kinds of fantastic homegrown things: beans, zucchini, squash, basil, tomatoes, and melon, melon, melon.

Melon dominated the entire summer. We had red watermelon, yellow watermelon, moon and stars, muskmelon, cantaloupe. We ate melon at nearly every meal, and not just pieces in salad or inch-wide slivers on the side of the plate, but entire halves. They were huge and succulent and delicious, and I couldn't eat them. It was so hot I had lost my appetite.

This would have been the perfect solution. We went through gallons of ice water; why not go through gallons of melon juice? If only I'd been used to thinking in terms of blender.

Melon in a blender

fresh mint
ice cubes
water, or gin/vodka if you want to make it alcoholic
maybe some lemon juice to adjust taste

This should work with any melon. Maybe not bitter melon, but you know. I just got cantaloupe because it sounded best with the mint right then. Besides, I can carry a cantaloupe home in my backpack much more easily than I can ever carry a watermelon.

Seed and chop up the melon. Rip several handfuls of mint off the stem. Put everything in the blender with some ice cubes and a cup or so of the liquid of your choice. Blend until liquid and frothy. Drink it.

Clearly, this is going to be sweet. If you want something more savory, you can always experiment with peeled, seeded tomatoes and basil or thyme. The cucumber route might also be good. Cucumber, lemon zest, lemon peel, and a dash of bitters, or maybe even worcestershire? Cucumber and radish, strained, for a really astringent gin and not tonic, or with Pimm's? I'm going to have to try some things.