31 January 2013

Chole palak

chole palak chickpeas and spinach

The quest for making good Indian food at home is well and certainly on. This week we made Manjula's chole palak, aka chickpeas and spinach, and it was good.

The recipe itself is fairly simple, and follows a pattern I've started to see as I learn to actually cook Indian food instead of relying on restaurants all the time. (Not that we've stopped frequenting the buffet up the street from our house. NOPE.) The secret appears to be frying the spice mixture in oil, so the flavors all leap out dramatically in the finished dish. Sounds good to me.

chole palak chickpeas and spinach

My only problem was that I hadn't thought ahead and made a yogurt sauce, so I just spooned some straight plain yogurt over my plate to give it some extra creamy dairy action. This worked well, but some additional cucumber and cilantro would have worked even better.

This was filling enough that John and I couldn't eat it all, even with no supplementary sides. Isn't that always how Indian food works out, though? You go to a restaurant, notice that your entree looks pretty tiny, and then can't eat more than half of it without feeling like you're going to burst. Well, that's what happened here as well. So we had leftovers! Hooray!

chole palak chickpeas and spinach with fried egg

For my leftover breakfast, I quickly sauteed my chole palak with basmati rice and yogurt, then slid a fried egg on top. This worked amazingly well. I just broke up the egg and stirred everything together, so the yolk melded in almost invisibly and the bits of white provided a nice texture contrast. Who wouldn't want to boost the richness of a fairly austere bean-and-veg dish with a beautiful runny yolk? I ask you.

What new cuisines are you guys taking on?

29 January 2013


sesame bagel with hot roast beef, parmesan, and sprouts

Evidently bagels and bagel sandwiches are the main thing I want to eat lately. I used up an entire brick of cream cheese making different schmears, especially after I went to the farmer's market and acquired a box packed tightly with fancy sprouts. And not just the typical alfalfa sprouts, but a mix of alfalfa, arugula, red clover, and fennel. The result is especially cool, crisp, and refreshing, with just a touch of bitterness from the arugula. The anise flavor is really surprising, but perfect; I want to try it on egg salad pretty much immediately. It's so good.

So I promptly made a cream cheese schmear with sprouts, finely chopped yellow bell pepper, and shredded spinach, only to realize I was out of cream cheese when I went to make my bagel a couple days later. But that's ok! Fortunately, bagels can take anything you want to throw at them. This time I spread a sesame bagel with a thick layer of dijon mustard, some chopped roast beef, and a bit of parmesan cheese, and threw the whole shebang into the toaster oven until hot and delightful. Then I covered it with all the sprouts in the land, added a couple clementines, and was ready for lunch.

With my bagel, I had the new thing I want to drink all the time.

pompelmo grapefruit soda

Grapefruit soda! And not just grapefruit--yellow grapefruit, which seems to have fallen out of the supermarket almost entirely. This stuff tastes very much like the local grapefruits that people grow in their backyards. How have I never had it before?

If you ever get your hands on a homegrown California yellow grapefruit, be very happy. Then make a drink of some sort out of it. Fresh-squeezed juice, either alone or cut with sparkling water, is amazing; cocktails with juice or grapefruit supremes are even better. Otherwise, this soda is an excellent option.

Bagel, sprouts, clementines, soda: yes please.

sesame bagel with hot roast beef, parmesan, and sprouts

Of course, when you have a seed-encrusted bagel crammed with all the sprouts in the land, the detritus is going to fly everywhere. That's ok.

What have you guys been eating for lunch lately?

24 January 2013

Veg fried rice is so nice

vegetable fried rice

Today I was ready to sit down and write a blog post when I discovered that Blogger is having issues with their editor in Chrome. After several hours of frustration, I discovered that hey, if you use your problem-solving skills and try things in a different browser like a competent user, sometimes they work! ZOMG EXCITE. Ahem. Yes. How was your afternoon?

So! Who wants to hear about fried rice?

This is a dinner for the nights when you want nearly instant food and have some leftover rice (or whatever grain), as assortment of veg, and a few eggs in the fridge. It can take nearly any vegetable you throw at it and remain delicious. In this case, I had carrots, onions, broccoli, and cabbage: perfect.

Needless to say, this isn't authentic. It's just good and easy and fast. You will also notice that it looks like a giant mess, and not just because I took the pictures well after dark. That's ok, though; the worst-looking food usually tastes the best, and this is no exception.

Vegetable fried rice

peanut oil/flavorless oil of your choice
green onion
ginger if you have any
a optional hot pepper
assorted veg: carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, bean sprouts, mushrooms, etc.
leftover cooked rice or other appropriate grain
soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil

Chop up all your vegetables and have all your other ingredients out and ready before you start cooking. Fried rice can go very quickly over high heat.

Okay. Start by warming a slug of peanut oil on medium-high heat in a wide saute pan or wok.

Throw in your chopped onion, the whites of green onion, ginger, and hot pepper. (If you don't have any fresh ginger, add a bit of ground ginger with the eggs later.) Fry quickly and vigorously, stirring or tossing frequently, for two to three minutes.

Add any vegetables that need longer cooking time. In my case, this meant broccoli and carrots. Continue to stir-fry for a few minutes, and then add the more tender vegetables. I was using a massive amount of shredded cabbage: RECOMMENDED. I love cabbage, and it's so underused. More cabbage for everyone. Continue cooking until your tender veg is mostly wilted.

Add the rice, season with a bit of soy sauce and sriracha, and stir to combine. Give it a minute to warm up and mingle with the veg. While you're waiting, crack your eggs into a separate bowl, add ground ginger if needed, and whip with a fork until combined.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the eggs to the pan. Stir immediately and thoroughly, so the egg is distributed well throughout the veg and rice. Keep stirring as the egg cooks.

When the egg is done to your liking, turn off the heat and stir in a few drops of sesame oil. Serve your fried rice as instantly as possible, with a garnish of green onion greens. I added some more sriracha and gomasio, because I like heat and the sesame seeds add a nice toasty crunch.

Hooray! Dinner!

You wouldn't think fried rice would be great left over, but it turns out to be pretty good if you warm it up on the stovetop. Who knew?

What are you guys conjuring up from leftovers?

21 January 2013

3-ingredient DIY deodorant

3-ingredient DIY deodorant

Yep, homemade deodorant.

I've been using Soapwalla's natural deodorant for the past 11 months (the time it took me to go through one jar), and it is exceptional. If I were a less make-y sort of person, I would probably be ordering another jar right this second, and if you don't want to take on making your own deodorant, I encourage you to get over there and order some. However, I do like to make things, so I've been thinking about making my own for quite awhile. Running out of deodorant was an excellent opportunity to do just that.

There are numerous deodorant-making how-tos out there. The first one I remember seeing is Amy Karol's classic recipe. The problem was that earlier recipes like this usually called for ingredients I don't normally have in the house, like shea butter and beeswax. But more recently I've started to come across simpler recipes like this one from Crunchy Betty. Three-ingredient deodorant? Sign me up.

The three main ingredients are simple: cornstarch, baking soda, and coconut oil. The first two are easily available and very cheap; the third is less easily available, and can get pretty expensive. I had some in my cupboard, fortunately, but if you don't, I would recommend looking for it either at Trader Joe's or in the food aisle at TJ Maxx/Marshalls. This way you can get a standard 1-lb jar for about six bucks instead of fifteen. You're welcome.

DIY deodorant

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup baking soda
5 tbsp coconut oil
optional: ~5-10 drops essential oils of your choice

To make your deodorant, simply mix all of your ingredients together with a fork and pack the result into a jar of your choice. I added 6 drops of lavender essential oil, because that's what I had. Otherwise, that's it. Voila!

Wait, wait. This sounds simple, but is it? Coconut oil is solid at room temperature; its melting point is 76F. We generally keep our house at 64F in the winter, so my coconut oil was basically a big rock. Rocks are not very easy to mix with anything at all.

The solution: stick the jar of oil in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes. The oil will liquefy in short order. At that point you can easily measure it out and mix it in with the cornstarch, baking soda, and essential oil. As the mixture cools, the oil will return to its normal solid state, forming a mostly solid balm. You're welcome.

It's also a good idea to use the pastry chef trick of adding only half the liquid to the powders, whipping everything together well, and then mixing in the remaining liquid. This will eliminate lumps and produce a beautifully smooth final concoction.

3-ingredient DIY deodorant

While the result was disconcertingly liquid at first, it started to harden to a frosting consistency almost immediately. I didn't have any big problem with it hardening too much to put into containers, though. You'll just want to make sure you have your containers and a spatula ready and waiting.

After hardening, my resulting deodorant is almost entirely solid, with a strong coconut aroma. The lavender scent is there, especially when the essential oil comes into contact with warm skin, but it's not particularly strong. You could increase the amount to eight or ten drops pretty easily, depending on the strength of your chosen oils.

To use, just dig a bit of deodorant out of the container, quickly warm it by rubbing your fingers together, and apply. It feels slightly gritty at first, but softens right up as your skin warms the oil. And the most important part? It definitely works. If you're switching over from a store-bought deodorant to natural, you'll probably need to let your body adjust for a couple days. Since I was coming from the land of natural deodorant already, everything was already fine. I smell just delightful.

This recipe made about double what I needed to fill my little jar, so I dug out one of my tiny condiment containers and filled that up too. I'm thinking a 1/4 pint mason jar would hold one full recipe. You could also try putting it into an old empty deodorant stick; it's definitely solid enough to hold up as long as your house temperature is under 76F. I could see melting being an issue in summer, however.

This also leads me to my next thought: if my first jar lasted 11 months, did I just make nearly two years' worth of homemade deodorant? Signs point to yes. I mean, we'll see, but essentially: yes. Hooray!

Have you ever made your own deodorant, lotion, balm, or what-have-you? How did it turn out? Should I make some too?

17 January 2013

The anti-bagel: sourdough, cream cheese, avocado

tosted sourdough with cream cheese, herbs, and avocado

I love bagels. I love going to the bagel shop for a spontaneous lunch. I love how low-pressure, inexpensive, and easy the whole experience is. I love picking out the exact combination I want--one day sun-dried tomato with basil schmear, and the next pumpernickel with copious dill. I love how it never gets old.

However, I am also a big cheapo, and I often want a higher vegetable content in my cream cheese. Thus the anti-bagel was born.

I've been making my own cream cheese schmears for quite some time. It's super easy. All you need is cream cheese, vegetables and herbs of your choice, a spoonful or two of yogurt, and some pepper.

In this case, I wanted a super-green and herbal cream cheese, so I grabbed several sprigs of parsley, some green onion greens, and a couple handfuls of arugula. A few minutes with my trusty knife produced this:

chopped parsley, arugula, and green onion

Then I just mixed my mass of finely chopped green with a chunk of cream cheese, a little plain yogurt, and a sprinkle of pepper. The yogurt makes the mixture a lot more workable, not to mention a bit more tangy and complex. You could use a splash of milk instead.

Cream cheese can take much more vegetable content than you might think. I actually used about a third again more greens than cheese, and I could have added even more. You can absolutely just keep mixing in more chopped veg until your schmear is bursting with all the chlorophyll in the land.

Then just toast your bread of choice, spread on your cream cheese, and add whatever else you'd like. I had an avocado in need of use, so I sliced it up and layered it on. I also added a bit more pepper and a pinch of salt, because what avocado doesn't benefit from a bit of seasoning?

Voila! Now you have your very own customized anti-bagel. Eat it in good health and good conscience.

Other options for amazing schmears:

- green olives and lemon zest
- sun-dried tomato, basil, and a little crumble of feta
- chard, beet greens, and toasted almonds
- cilantro, hot pepper, and a couple cubes of cooked sweet potato
- all the sprouts in the land!
- herb spectacular: parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
- dill, capers, and red onion
- dried cranberries, orange zest, and toasted sesame seeds
- dried apricots, pistachios, and lots of black pepper

The possibilities are endless. GO FORTH.

How do you guys customize your bagels and bagel-like sandwich concoctions at home?

14 January 2013

New year's ramen noodles with oyster mushrooms and cabbage

fresh ramen noodles in broth with oyster mushrooms and cabbage

John and I really like noodles. Our pantry has prominently featured an assortment of noodles, from somen to rice sticks to soba, for years on end. We also live in an area with a preponderance of ethnic foods available. Why, then, are we just now starting to cook with fresh Asian noodles?

An excellent question.

So we went to our closest big Asian market and stared at all the fresh noodles in the case, wondering what to try first. It turned out that we wanted ramen. So we bought a pack of four wodges of fresh ramen noodles and brought them home, where they disappeared in short order. Several days later, I went back and got a pack of eight wodges of fresh ramen. Half have vanished so far. If this trend continues, we're going to be buried in fresh Asian noodles for months on end. Are you ready?

You may be familiar with dried ramen in instant soup form; fresh ramen is not even vaguely similar. Instead of being overly salty, either too crunchy or too mushy, and awkward to eat, it's perfectly chewy and silky and amazing for slurping up. You want some of this ramen.

I went simple to start, with ramen and vegetables in broth. This soup is perfect for January--clear and hot and spicy, with fragrant herbs and onions and pepper assailing your sinuses. It's an amazing (not to mention vegan) alternative to the traditional flu season chicken noodle.

This is exceptionally easy to make. All you really need is twenty minutes and a pantry stocked with the right seasonings. And if you do have the flu, it also helps to have someone else cook it for you. I'm just saying.

fresh ramen noodles in broth with oyster mushrooms and cabbage

Fresh ramen noodles in broth with oyster mushrooms and cabbage

peanut oil/veg oil of your choice
green onion
hot pepper
oyster mushrooms
green cabbage (standard, Chinese, savoy, or sub bok choy et al)
optional soft tofu
fresh ramen
vegetable broth
soy sauce, mirin, sriracha sauce or sambal oelek, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil
black pepper & cilantro to finish

If you need to make vegetable broth, start with that. Also, put a separate pan of water on to boil for your noodles. It can sit on the back burner until you're ready to cook them.

In a soup pot of your choice, warm a slug of peanut oil. Add minced garlic, sliced white of green onion (keep the greens for garnish), and minced ginger.

Slice or mince a hot pepper and add it to the pan, including the seeds or not at your discretion. I used a red fresno pepper--conveniently also available for next to nothing at the Asian market--but jalapeno, serrano, or whatever other hot pepper you have on hand would also work well.

Stir it all up and let cook for about five minutes, or until everything is amazing and fragrant and you essentially just want to dive into the pan.

Cube some oyster mushrooms and shred a wedge of cabbage. The sizes and shapes don't really matter that much here; just cut them however you like. It's also fine to use button or other mushrooms if you have them on hand.

Add the mushrooms to the pan, stir, and cook for several minutes before adding your cabbage. Give the cabbage five minutes or so to wilt.

Next, add vegetable broth, bring the whole business to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer. If you want tofu in your soup, cube some up and add it to the hot broth. Since soft tofu is fragile, try not to whack it around too much. Now is also a good time to cook your ramen. Mine took about four minutes, but timing will depend on the brand.

When your ramen is cooked, add it to the soup, turn off the heat, and start seasoning. I tend to add small amounts of soy sauce, mirin, and rice wine vinegar, a larger amount of sriracha or other hot pepper sauce, and just a few drops of sesame oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Start small and add more gradually, being especially careful not to oversalt via an overabundance of soy sauce.

Serve your soup with chopped green onion greens and cilantro scattered over the top. You can always switch out the cilantro for basil or just eliminate it if you think it tastes like soap. You can also grind some black pepper over your bowl if hot pepper plus sriracha sauce is not enough of a spice kick for you. I have definitely been known to do this on occasion, but I also have a fairly high spice tolerance.

Now drink up your bowl of hot soup and eat your ramen and veg. You might need both spoon and chopsticks for this one.

Pass the kleenex. Feel better, whether you have the flu or not.

What new ingredients have you discovered lately?

10 January 2013

Cauliflower leek soup with smoked pepper flakes

cauliflower leek soup with smoky pepper flakes and salad

Let's continue the new year by catching up on something I made before we even flew out to Michigan, okay?

The night before we left, we were doing the responsible thing and trying to eat everything perishable in the refrigerator. This included a cauliflower, a couple leeks, a potato (okay, that was in the cabinet), the tail end of a loaf of sourdough, and an entire head of red-leaf lettuce. Clearly, this called for soup and salad.

You'd think a soup created from a random assortment of veg on the turn would not be that interesting. NOPE. This was one of the best dinners we'd had in ages.

The key was smoked pepper.

My friend Gus just moved overseas, which is very sad, and we will miss her. Actually, two different sets of my friends have moved overseas within the past 6 months. Boo! But one side effect is that I was one of the lucky recipients of half a kitchen's worth of various food and spices. And that's how I came to own a grinder full of Trader Joe's South African smoke seasoning--which is to say, full of paprika flakes (have any of you even seen paprika in flake form?), sea salt, garlic, and basil--with an unmistakable smoke scent and flavor.

Why have I never eaten such a thing before? I mean, in our half-vegetarian household, bacon has never been a particularly viable flavoring agent. So we've had to get our dose of smokiness through bottled smoke seasoning or smoked cheese. But now? Now there is a third way. I'm SUPER EXCITED.

So I made cauliflower leek soup with smoked pepper flakes, and it turned out to be amazing. While the soup was cooking, John made the sourdough into garlic toast fingers. Those were also amazing. Then we tore up the lettuce and made salads with homemade vinaigrette. In short, it was just about the best possible clean-out-the-fridge dinner ever.

garlic toast soldiers

Cauliflower leek soup with smoked pepper flakes and garlic toast

olive oil
vegetable or bean broth
smoked red pepper flake, marjoram, thyme, sage, salt, pepper
if I'd had any dry mustard I would totally have added some of that too
dry vermouth
yogurt, sambal, and/or parsley for garnish

Start by warming a slug of olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. If you don't have any veg broth, start up a batch in a separate pot.

Split a couple leeks lengthwise and wash them thoroughly under cold running water. Trim them, chop them into inch-long pieces, and add them to the soup pot with a pinch of salt. Stir to distribute the oil. Cook for a few minutes while you prep all the other vegetables.

Notice the ethereal glow of slowly melting leeks. NICE.

sauteed leeks

Scrub, halve, and slice a potato or two. Core a cauliflower and chop it into small pieces. Don't worry about keeping the florets intact; you're going to puree the finished soup anyway.

When your leeks have softened, after about five minutes of cooking, add your potato and cauliflower to the pot. Season with smoked red pepper flake, marjoram, thyme, sage, and a bit more salt. Stir it all up and cook for another five minutes or so. Deglaze as needed with the dry vermouth (or dry white wine if you happen to be drinking some).

Next, add broth to cover. Bring the pot to a boil, lid, lower the heat, and simmer until all your vegetables are cooked through. Our soup probably took ten or fifteen minutes.

Take the pot or soup off the heat, puree with an immersion blender, taste, and correct seasonings, adding black pepper if nothing else. Cook your soup down a bit if you want a thicker texture. Otherwise, go ahead and serve it.

I think a garnish of additional smoked pepper flakes would go pretty well here. I had mine with a big spoonful of plain yogurt and one of sambal oelek, which, as you may have noticed, are a couple of my default soup garnishes.

cauliflower leek soup with smoky pepper flakes

We ate our soup with the aforementioned garlic toast. It was super simple.

Garlic toast

clove of garlic

Toast sliced sourdough until deep golden. Let it rest and harden up for a minute while you peel a clove of garlic and cut it in half. Rub each slice of bread with the cut side of the garlic, covering one entire side. The garlic will grate a bit against the rough toasted texture of the bread.

Cut your slices of bread into little strips to serve. Dip them into your hot soup and eat them all.

Which hot, comforting winter soups are you guys eating this January?

07 January 2013

Poached salmon with peas and mushrooms

poached salmon with peas and mushrooms

I sat on this for a few days because I wasn't sure how it would go over. I'm still not sure, but I think it's important enough that I'm just going to bring it up and see how you guys respond.

I'm pretty happy with how we've started off the year of food. I mean, we're still at the very end of vacation, and have eaten a bit of restaurant food already, but I'm okay with that. We don't do resolutions at our house. I'm not going to beat myself up for eating a dosa. Everything is fine. And when I actually started cooking myself new year's food, my brain and body wanted poached fish. So I made poached fish.

Man, could I be more defensive? Probably.

I tend to stay away from discussing this kind of thing because I find it horrifying that anyone should be smacked around by perceptions of female beauty. I myself have largely escaped this type of body issue. How did that happen? I think it was a convenient confluence: I met traditional beauty standards while not really caring what other people thought. But it's unhappily clear that I am an infrequent exception to the norm when I discover foodblog posts about following certain diets, or self-consciously targeting exercise to a particular body area, or overcoming eating disorders that should never have had to occur in the first place. January is a particularly bad time for this, with page upon page of new year's resolutions outlining how this year the author will Be Good and Eat Healthy, too often with a galloping subtext of self-hatred and dysmorphia. I especially don't like how I notice myself also edging into self-judgement after reading these things, even when I actually think what I'm eating is healthy and normal.

No one should have to deal with body hatred, especially in conjunction with food--something that should be joyful and amazing. Obviously a simple statement like that is not going to suddenly change things, though. The situation is far too problematic. So I don't quite know where to go, or if I'm even qualified to open a discussion, and I REALLY don't want to alienate anyone or exacerbate the problem in any way. But I also think the subject is too important to ignore.

I think the best thing for me to do is to acknowledge the situation here, but also to continue simply presenting cooking and eating food as an approachable, delicious, and normal experience. That's how I normally see food, and that's how I hope others can see it too. So that's what I'm going to do.

I made poached salmon and vegetables because I wanted poached salmon and vegetables. They were really good.

poached salmon with peas and mushrooms

Poached salmon with peas and mushrooms

filet of salmon
bay leaf
butter/olive oil
dry vermouth
salt & pepper
parsley & lemon to garnish

Fill a small saute pan with about an inch to an inch and a half of water--enough to cover your piece of salmon. Add a bay leaf and a generous sprinkle of salt, and bring the pan to a boil. Slide in your fish, reduce the heat to simmer, lid the pan, and poach for about five minutes, or until done to your taste. The timing will depend on the filet's thickness.

In the meantime, slice up a shallot and a big handful of mushrooms. In another saute pan, melt a chunk of butter or warm some oil. Add the shallot and saute for a minute or two, until softened, before adding the mushrooms. Season with salt and maybe a little paprika. Cook over fairly high heat, shaking or stirring frequently,

When your mushrooms have exuded all their liquid and begun to brown a bit, tip in a bunch of frozen peas. Add a splash of water and dry vermouth, stirring to deglaze. Now put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and let the peas steam for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to finish.

To serve, pour your peas and mushrooms onto a plate. Top with your finished salmon. Quickly deglaze the pea and mushroom pan with a pat of butter. Pour the melted butter over your fish and top with chopped parsley and a grind of salt and pepper. If you want a squeeze of lemon, now is the time.


Isn't it great?

02 January 2013

Happy new year!


The perfect new year's breakfast is always bagels. Bagels with cream cheese. Bagels with hummus. Coffee. Yes.


In other news, if you still have eggnog in the house, have I got a deal for you! First, in John's words, "Just admit it! Admit that you like eggnog-flavored things!" Of course, if you have eggnog in the house you may have already accepted this. I had not. ANYWAY, here's what you need to do. Go brew a cup of strong hot chai. Now, instead of adding milk to it, add eggnog.

chai eggnog


If you happen to have made any of the gingerbread liqueur we discussed a few weeks ago, and you have remained sober enough throughout the holiday season to consider drinking now, you may want to add a glug of that too. It's so good.