31 December 2007

Mishy mashy

I just submitted my first two gradschool applications of the year. Now it is time to relax for five minutes. Also to party.

I've been so busy I have cooked almost nothing in a whole week. Yesterday for snack I had two pieces of salted wheat berry bread and a dried apricot. No one believes me about the salt thing. It is true, though. Salt makes grain taste grainier.

I also have ended up eating delicious things such as this:

That is leftover kale-potato mash with sesame, mixed with goat cheese and fried. I was going to try to make this into little cakes, but the mix was not sticky enough. So instead I just pressed it into the bottom of the pan and hoped for the best. It seems to have worked.

Big tato cake

leftover mashy potatoes, kale and other additions optional
butter/olive oil/earth balance
goat cheese if you want it, although tato cakes work very well without

Get out your leftovers and let them lose the refrigerator chill a little while before you want to cook. You Could use frigid refrigerator leftovers, but they'll take longer to cook and may end up still cool in the middle.

Get a good nonstick frying pan medium hot. Melt some butter or spread some olive oil around.

If you want goat cheese, mix some big crumbles in. Then, if your potatoes are wet enough, form them into little cakes. If not, just whack the whole thing into the pan and press it down.

Leave everything for several minutes, not moving the pan at all. Then start checking the bottoms of the cakes. When they are a nice deep golden brown, start flipping. This is clearly easier with actual cakes, but also feasible for the entire pan of stuff: you just have to not care that you're breaking it into chunks. I don't care; the potatoes are still good. Just get as much of the business as possible turned over, then let it color on the other side.

When everything is nice and crispy and hot, slide it out of the pan and eat it.

The whole idea of frying potato and kale like this is making me think of cabbage. Sometime in future there may be colcannon.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to go drink a bottle of champagne.

27 December 2007

We are tired.

We just got back from christmas. We are tired. Here is a picture!

The red pears are really, really good this year. I keep (kept) having them for breakfast with crispbread and cottage cheese. They are good pears. They are much better than the tiny gross personal domino's pizzas we ended up having for dinner tonight in the Atlanta airport. Eat pears. Pears == good.

25 December 2007

Traditional holiday meals 2007: 0

I need to update but there kind of hasn't been much cooking going on since we got to Ohio.

For Christmas eve we had wine and cheese and more wine and more cheese and bread and cheese and wine. This entailed a nice search of the internet to discover just what was available north of Columbus, resulting in a trip to Vino 100 and half a loaf of an excellent gouda made by a 24-year old cheesemaker who started making cheese to save her family's dairy farm. It would be nice if I had some idea who this person is and what the cheesery is called, but I don't. (ADDENDUM: yes now I do! It was Blondie's Best from Pedrozo Dairy. Go internet!) On the other hand, the reason I don't is that it didn't even have a label on it, so that's all clearly good. It was even better to sit around and eat with a bunch of fig-pecan boursin and drunken goat and manchego and champagne and some more champagne and also bread. Then we put the shrieking baby niece to bed and opened adult presents.

For Christmas dinner we're having totally untraditional stuffed shells. They are totally easy and totally creamy, almost too creamy for John. We are combatting this by adding copious spinach to the filling. Also, spinach in stuffed pasta is great.

We haven't made them yet but I have a feeling they're going to go like this:

Stuffed shells

big shell pasta/other stuffing pasta
tomato sauce
olive oil
parsley, basil, oregano, etc
salt, pepper

Make sauce first, so it can sit and get delicious while you do everything else. Chop up some garlic and sauté in olive oil with spices of your choice plus salt and pepper. I clearly like basil and oregano; if we were making it just for ourselves, we'd end up adding cayenne as well. If you want any other vegetables in your sauce, add them and soften them too. Then add tomato sauce and bring up to a simmer. Cover and cook slowly until you're ready to assemble the shells.

Pasta is easy: boil a package of shells until done. Drain. You could also use big manicotti or cannelloni: whatever has an appropriate aperture for stuffing. Or you could say screw it and make lasagna. This stuff would work fine.

While shells are boiling, wash and chop a bunch of spinach. Steam it over the pasta water (or over the sauce, I guess) for just a minute or two, until wilted. Then stick it all into a kitchen towel and squeeze as much moisture as possible out of it. Be serious and change towels if necessary. You want this as dry as possible so the resulting shells aren't watery.

Make shell filling: mix a tub of ricotta with half a ball of grated mozzarella and a some grated parmesan. Add some fresh chopped parsley, an egg, and the spinach. Mix really well and the filling is done.

Now is the time when you preheat the oven to 350F.

Assemble: spread a couple spoonfuls of sauce over the bottom of a big casserole dish. Use a spoon to fill shells full of ricotta business, then stick them into the dish. Pour/spread the sauce over all the filled shells, sprinkle with some more grated parmesan and/or mozz, and stick the whole business into the oven.

When the top is browned and starting to get crispy, you are done. Eat it!

Eat with copious salad business, bread, and red wine.

Also take pictures and remember to post them later.


21 December 2007

Eggplant muffuletta-type stuff

We are flying to Ohio for holiday business this morning. Snow! Snow!

Oh yeah, food.

If you have half a baguette rapidly going stale:

Eggplant muffuletta-type deal.

tomato sauce
olive oil
the half a baguette/other decent bread

First, cut the eggplant into thin slices. The amount here heavily depends on how many people you want to feed. We were making two sandwiches, so used about half a standard large eggplant. Make enough slices to fill whatever sandwich you want. The slices should be seriously thin, less than a quarter of an inch. Sear them in olive oil, turning as the sides get brown. Ooh, pretty!

At the same time, in a different pan, soften chopped shallot (or onion, or garlic, or a combination) in some more olive oil. When they are soft, add some type of tomatoes and some basil. I like tomato puree for nice soft thick texture, but whatever texture you like will work. Add salt and pepper and cook a bit, until tomato sauce has absorbed nice shallot and etc flavor.

Cut a baguette into appropriate pieces lengthwise. Brush them with more olive oil if you don't feel like this is plenty already.

Assemble: spread tomato business on each piece of bread. Add eggplant slices. If you want more tomato, you can add it on top of the eggplant slices. If you are in need of cheese or something, you can add it here as well. You might want to wait on nuts in particular until the last couple minutes under the broiler, though, since they can burn easily. I advocate pine nuts in this situation.

So. Put the baguette halves on a baking sheet and slide the under the broiler until everything is hot and toasty. Then take them out, sandwich them into sandwiches, wait until you won't totally burn the roof of your mouth off, and eat them.

If these weren't already tomato, I would say to eat them with tomato soup. Tomato! You are a summer vegetable, but the whole act of preservation makes you in character with a winter setting. In fact, considering food preparation and preservation methods, tomato has clearly been one of the winners for preservation and reuse in winter due to acidity. Tomato is in fact heritagenous as a winter food. It is strange, but still. "Strange but true!" I find it very interesting how food preservation methods have kept tomato as a winter food as well as a summer for hundreds of years, so much so as to make tomato soup not just something you have when you feel sick or whatever, but a serious bestselling store brand. Everyone has a taste for hot hot tomato soup in winter. It is clearly time to actually start canning.

19 December 2007

Breakfast kickery

AWWW YEAH. We rock the breakfast so hard. Now if only we'd had some dried apricots. We had no dried fruit at all, though. It was tragic.

One thing we did have was local sage honey. Dear everyone: get some local honey! If you eat a lot of it, your body will eventually develop a resistance to local pollen and start to ward off allergens! Also, honey is delicious.

Rock breakfast with breakfast cous:

butter/earth balance/a tasteless oil
optional dried fruit of some type

Chop up a shallot and cook it slowly in butter or choice of oil. Unless you want something savory, and are thinking about not adding any honey even at all, do Not use olive oil. This stuff is going to be sweet, so olive oil will make it taste gross.

While your shallot is getting all soft and melty, chop some almonds into chunks. Stick them in a baking pan and put them in a 250F oven to toast for ten minutes or so. Check often.

When shallots are nearly done, make couscous. You know how to do this by now, considering how much of the past month has been all about the cous. Put cous in bowl; add some salt, lots of pepper, butter or oil; cover with hot water and leave to absorb/steam until done. While the cous is cooking, get your almonds out of the oven and into the pan of shallots. I mean, out of the frying pan and into my mouth. Wait, no.

Finish the shallot/almond mix with some pepper.

When cous is done, add shallot and almond. Then add a good big glob of honey. You could also use agave syrup. Then add a lot of cracked black pepper. If you want any dried fruit, such as apricots, cranberries, or currants, now is the time. If you want any fresh fruit, for instance if it is still fig season, now is also the time.

Stir it up and eat it.

John and I were sitting there eating very pleased with ourselves, talking about how if we had to feed kids breakfast, they would totally get this. No child vs adult palate crap at our house. No.

17 December 2007

Red red red

It is fall and therefore time for fallification.

This was more than a week ago, so I am having a fairly fuzzy time remembering much about it. Perhaps the camera will tell me things.

Cabbage braised in red wine

half a head of red cabbage
a glass of red wine
salt, some pepper
red or white wine vinegar
caraway seeds
couscous/something with which to eat it

This requires a serious knife.

Core the cabbage and chop it into fine, fine shreds. You want them as fine as possible. Cut across the shreds a couple times so your final product won't cling together in one long string.

Throw it into a medium-warm sauté pan with a big pinch of salt and a glug of vinegar. Turn on the overhead fan and try not to inhale any vinegar fumes; those hurt. Stir it all up and let it soften a little in the heat.

Add a glass of decent red wine, stir again, and reduce the heat. I think I had zinfandel, but it could have been cab or another dry red. Cook slowly, stirring every once in a while, until all the wine has been absorbed and the cabbage is soft and tender and tasty.

Add in a handful of caraway seeds. You wouldn't think these would make that much of a difference, but they do. Oh my god. Without them, the cabbage would still be pretty good, but with them, it turns aromatic and seedy in that way that highly flavored seeds (e.g. fennel, poppyseed) provide. It's almost a rye aroma. They also give the business a more interesting texture, so you get little bits of hard seed to grind up in your teeth along with the soft cabbage. Plus plus. Use them.

Cook for a few minutes longer, then eat.

I had mine over couscous, but you can clearly use whatever. Mashed potatoes would be good, and would turn a pretty spectacular purple when you stirred in the cabbage. They might be a little soft as a texture match, though. Some severe brown rice would be excellent.

If you want to do couscous, do the usual instant method: pour dry cous in bowl, add some olive oil or butter and salt and pepper, cover with very hot but not boiling water, and let sit to absorb, covering if you feel like it. Wait five minutes, check, add more water if needed, wait again. Eat.

I ate the entire half a cabbage myself, with two bowls of couscous.

14 December 2007

I am not Eileen

It is winter, and this means one thing. Grad school application time! Consequently: I am not Eileen. Eileen is studying for tomorrow's GRE. I, by contrast, am John: I have a MicroplaneTM.

Though I don't usually introduce myself to strangers (hello strangers! how are you I am fine!) by pimping out The Latest Kitchen Gadget, our new MicroplaneTM -- courtesy of our neighbors on the second to last day of Hanukkah, according to the electric menorah in the lobby at work -- has pretty much dictated what I've been cooking today. First there was a little (unpictured) snack of croûtes; in the oven there is Delicious Pasta Bake (I Assume).

Delicious pasta bake I assume

one large yellow onion
one shallot
half a head of garlic
smashed tomatoes from a can unless you're an overachiever
olive oil
dry vermouth
dried basil
ground cayenne (since I have an unholy affection for spicy pasta)
wheat rotelle

I'm counting on this to be intensely soporific and send a Certain Someone to bed so she cannot stress about her exam. You have similar exigencies.

Do the obvious: heat your biggest, flattest pan. Get some oil nice and hot while you smash garlic, then dice along with onion and shallot. Cook for longer than you'd like to wait, or until everything has softened to the point of melting under your spoon. Add your smashed tomatoes -- I used canned; they're fine if you add copious salt -- pepper, basil, cayenne, and vermouth.

Note on kitchen staples. It's the shallot and the vermouth that save this sauce from boredom. I used to go to restaurants all the time, taste their sauce, and notice that the thing that convinced me to put on my spendthrift hat was something I couldn't identify, but sorely missed in my own bland sauces. That something turned out to be, by turns, shallot, wine with the alcohol cooked away, or both. Now I always make sure that I have some shallots and dry vermouth on hand. The former can be a bit pricey, but vermouth is totally cheap. It's also useful any time you have a) a sauce; or b) crusty bits on the bottom of a pan. Just toss in some vermouth on high heat, flail away at the crusty bits with a spoon, and you have an Extra Delicious Bonus with your meal.

So we're up to three plugs: MicroplaneTM, shallots, vermouth.

Cook off the alcohol from same and put on water for your pasta. I salted mine pretty severely, since I was having fun with the grinder. We'll see how it goes. Let things bubble on both burners until the pasta is done. Drain and add to sauce. I drastically underestimated the amount of sauce I needed, so I added the remainder of the tomato can with some more salt.

Cheese. I used some parmesan, MicroplaneTMd into tiny strips, along with some mozzarella, cut into long thick slices with a regular cheese knife. Into the baking dish went a layer of pasta, a layer of both cheeses, more pasta, and a lot of cheese to top. Thence everything into the oven at 400F for at least half an hour, and longer if I can stand sitting here smelling delicious dinner without having any. Then we see what's up:

That's what's up. As is always the case, my ugliest food tastes best.

12 December 2007

drinky soupses

A couple weeks ago we went out and had extremely hot spicy soup at a new hotpot place in San Mateo. Ok, so apparently it's only new here, and has hundreds of restaurants already in China, but I can deal with that. A chain restaurant from China is almost certainly going to have more authentic Chinese food than a lot of US establishments.

So, hotpot: spicy broth served in a big pot on a heat source you control. Then you get lots of things to dunk into the pot, cook in the broth, fish out with chopsticks, and eat as hot as possible, while also drinking copious cups of tea and broth out of tiny drinky bowls.

It was pretty exciting because of the sheer amount of stuff we got to throw into the pot. Gigantic mixed mushroom platter! Slabs of cubed tofu! Huge daikon slices! Bok choy arranged artfully in a vase!

I think this was partially what inspired the avalanche of mushroom around here. Afterward, I spent several trips to the store looking ruminatively at the enoki and porcini that have all suddenly showed up since it's become appreciable fall.

Then one day I went for it.

Since we have no hotplate equipment and have to do everything at the stove, dunking at the table wasn't practical at home. That was fine; I did everything at the stove.

Fake hotpot

1. Make broth
2. Make/prep whatever you want to add
3. Strain broth
4. Serve.

This was kind of a lot of work, but it was worth it.

a hot pepper or two
hot pepper sauce

Things we added:
bok choy
brown mushrooms

Things I made separately and only added to mine:

First, make the broth. Put a bunch of water in a pot and bring it to a boil. Add a bunch of peeled garlic cloves; you can smash them or leave them whole. Splinter some lemongrass by whacking it with the flat of a knife and twisting it up, then add it as well. Get a knob of ginger, peel it with a spoon, chop it roughly, and add it as well. Halve a hot pepper or two and add it also in addition as well too. Then add a squirt of sriracha or other hot pepper sauce if you want. You could also add things like soy sauce at this point. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer while you're doing everything else.

Get out and chop up any vegetables or tofu you want in the finished product. I separated the leaves off a small head of bok choy, sliced up a big handful of mushrooms, and chopped half a block of tofu into maybe inch-long squares. Tofu selection: use something soft that will go well in soup. My extra firm tofu was really not the best choice for this at all. If you want to add other things, feel free; all the thick cabbagy greens are especially good for this.

Set those all aside while you let the soup simmer. After about a half hour, strain out and chuck all the added bits. You can either use a wire mesh sieve or a slotted spoon for this. If you want to eat any of the bits, such as the delicious, delicious garlic, go ahead and leave them in. Then add the tofu and bring things back up to a simmer. Cook until tofu is mostly done, add mushrooms, and leave another five minutes or so to finish. Bok choy you can either add at the last minute to wilt in the broth, or steam over the pot beforehand. I steamed it and added it to bowls instead of the whole pot.

If you stop at this point, your soup is delicious and vegan. If you want meatballs, the second half of the simmer is the time to make them.


ground turkey
a piece of bacon
more lemongrass
more garlic
and I think also more ginger (it can't hurt)

First, stick your ground meat into a big mixing bowl. You can really use whatever kind of meat sounds good to you; I used half a pound of ground turkey.

Get out a piece of bacon and chop it into tiny pieces. Stick a particularly fatty bit into a sauté pan and put it over medium heat to render some fat for the meatballs to cook in. This is especially useful if you're using a dry meat like turkey.

Throw the rest of the bacon into your bowl of meat.

Remove the hard outer layers of lemongrass, chop the soft inner bits finely, and throw them into the meat. Mince some garlic finely and throw it into the meat. If you want ginger, hot pepper, or anything else, mince it finely and throw it into the meat. You have the power!

Mix everything together with your hands, then start making meatballs. I try to make my meatballs as small as possible, so they'll cook faster and get a high proportion of crispy outer bits to soft inner bits. If you can stand to make them the circumference of a quarter, that's pretty good. Of course you can also make them as big as you want, or even say screw it and make them into highly spiced burgers instead.

I got about twelve or fourteen little meatballs out of my mix. This was way too much for me, so I stuck half of them in the freezer. This means that if I feel like it, I can have meatballs tonight as well! Ha ha ha!

Toss the rendered bacon rind out of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and throw in the meatballs. Press them down with a spatula to flatten them a little. Now let them cook for five minutes or so without moving them. When their bottoms are brown, flip them all over and do the same to the other side. When you think they look done, break a big one apart and look at its middle. Is it done? All right then.

Serve. Each little bowl gets some bok choy, some tasty soup, and some meatballs if you want. Eat the vegetables and other bits with chopsticks and drink the soup directly out of the bowl.

10 December 2007

Crispy bits aka I am spoiled

John went to the store and got us Presents.

sourdough baguette
more chanterelles
red wine
etc etc delicious presents!

We sat around eating all the berries and drinking cabernet. Apparently we really like cab. Perhaps we should have done some of this "trying more of it" sooner.

Then it was latenight snacktime so we went into the kitchen to put butter in a pan.

Crispy bits

butter/olive oil
the more chanterelles
loaf of good bread

Cut up the shallot and sauté in butter. Clean off the chanterelles or whatever other mushroom you want. Decide how you want to cut them up. We had big chunks. Add them to the shallot and cook everything slowly until soft and nice.

Cut as many slices of bread as you want to eat.

Chop some pecans into chunks. You can toast them in the oven beforehand if you want.

Cut some cheese, fontina or other mild melty white, into small cubes or strips. You can also clearly use no cheese and things will still be tasty.

Assemble: each piece of bread gets mushroom and shallot, pecan bits, and cheese bits. They can also get salt and pepper. Put all the bits of bread on a cookie sheet and stick it under the broiler.

Leave the oven door cracked and watch everything really closely. When cheese is melty and bread is starting to brown, pull everything out.

Eat. Tasty crispy bits for children!

07 December 2007


Our friend Carrie makes perhaps the best banana bread in the world. It is this thick soft highly-risen bright yellow concoction, and I haven't even gotten to the best part: chocolate. Yes. She puts not just chocolate chips but gigantic chunks of good chocolate into her banana bread. This is perhaps the best idea ever. So, since Carrie is about a thousand miles away, this time I made banana bread. We had lots of bitter and semisweet chocolate left over from the two sorbet excursions, so we had plenty to add.

Banana bread with lots of chocolate

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour (or whatever flour)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp butter
2/3 cup turbinado sugar
2 eggs
2 black mashed bananas
a couple big spoonfuls of yogurt
as much good chopped chocolate as you want

The recipe I was working from had you mix things specifically: cream the butter and eggs, add sifted dry ingredients, add bananas, mix, bake. I might have done this in order had our butter not been frozen, but it was frozen, so instead I just melted it, combined everything, and mixed it all up. Seriously. You may care a little more about attaining a particular crumb, but I didn't; this stuff turned out fine and delicious anyway.

So. Melt butter. We melted it in the loaf pan, which needed greasing. This is an excellent way to make sure the pan gets grease ALL over it. Also preheat the oven to 350F at this time.

Put everything in a bowl. Make sure you use really ripe bananas. This provides an excellent use for all the black bananas that you may have been otherwise throwing out; stick them in your freezer and you'll have adequate equipment for banana bread at any time. Just thaw the bananas, cut their tops off, and squish their insides out into the bowl with everything else.

For chocolate, use whatever good stuff you want. I had Ghirardelli, which is fine and good. We also had a serious darkest dark Ritter Sport bar, but I decided to save that for Secret Eating.

Mix it all up with an electric mixer of some type, or with a spoon and your arm if you really want to. Make sure you get a good, uniform consistency. Then dump it into the pan, put the pan into the oven, and bake for 45 minutes or so. Check occasionally to see how it's doing and rotate the pan if necessary. Then, when you think it looks done, test with a toothpick to the middle. As you know, sticky cakebreads of this type should not cling to the toothpick when done.

Let the bread rest upside down on a rack, still in the pan, for five or ten minutes. Then attempt to get it out of the pan. Mine came right out with only one tiny tear; it was great.

Then we ate several pieces in a row with the chocolate still warm and oozing everywhere.

The next day I took it to work. Everyone at work has been busy making food and bringing it in, since now it's apparently "the holiday season" and thus time for chocolate peppermint chip cookies and warm apple cider. I kind of got sucked in. So I brought it to work, stuck it on the kitchen table with a note, and went off to do work stuff in San Francisco. When we got back there were two pieces left. Clearly, people like banana bread.

05 December 2007

I feel better.

John has been making me lots of little spoiledy snacks lately when I am hungry and tired. They are all tasty and tiny and not at all the sort of junk food that I might end up eating while I'm as busy as I've been. On the other hand, everything he's made is strongly like what I make when even a little more full of energy and time.

The other day it was time for couscous and zucchini. This was an excellent plan. It was such an excellent plan that over the weekend I made it again for myself, with slight embellishment. Oh man. I kind of want some more right now, but our garbage disposal is not working and thus we are screwed in all kitchen matters until it is fixed. It's a good thing we have lots of chili to heat up.


Couscous with zucchini and sundries

olive oil/butter
salt, pepper
garnish cheese if you want

First, start on the zucchini etc. Peel and chop your shallot and put it in a sauté pan with some olive oil. Cook slowly while you slice the zucchini and eggplant finely. The amount you use depends on what proportions you want. I would use at least half a small zucchini, or even a whole one, and a quarter or less of an eggplant. Slice these as finely as you can, so they'll cook quickly. You can cut the slices into smaller bits if you want; John and I both cut our eggplant into small squares. Add them to the shallots, add a little more olive oil, and cook until nice and tender.

While things are tenderizing, make everything else.

If you want pecans, toast them by putting them in a pan in a fairly low oven (250F) for ten minutes or so. Check often to make sure they don't burn; take them out when the smell toasty and delicious, without browning much, if at all. You may want to put these on before starting the vegetables, actually.

Make couscous. Couscous is easy, especially if you decide you don't care about properly steaming it. I've made it by steaming, by baking, and by straight instant poured water absorption. The last method tastes just as good to me as the first, so that's how I make it. If you want to go to extra effort, go ahead. If not, get out some couscous and put it in a bowl. Heat some water in the teakettle. When it boils (or a little before, so as not to crack the bowl), pour water to cover the dry cous. It should absorb pretty quickly; add a couple more slugs of water and let the bowl sit for a few minutes. Then taste to see if the couscous is fully cooked. If not, add a bit more water, stir it up, and leave to absorb again. I'm sure there are specific proportions around online somewhere, but this works just as well.

When couscous is done, stick a pat of butter or a slug of olive oil into it, add some salt and fairly copious pepper, and stir it up. If you're using butter, make sure it's covered with cous so it'll melt in the heat.

When everything is done, tip your pecans into your zucchini and shallot. Salt and pepper, mix it up, and scoop it onto your bowl of couscous. Add some shredded parmesan if you want. You could also use lots of other cheeses. I think I may have used cubed leftover fontina when I made it the second time; this is clearly also good, since fontina plus pecans = ++.

Eat it all together. Now eat a pear.

03 December 2007

Blurry chili!

There's this dude at work named Erik. We have some mild food competition going on, made especially mild by our different-genred food; I say "I have quinoa salad!" and he says "I made brisket!" It's more of a "that's interesting!" response, followed by speculation on lunch and what to cook later on that day, plus occasional offers to try whatever was so good (like today, when I got to try a piece of his sisterinlaw's curry pizza, in which you could taste the coconut milk in the curry sauce. It was strange and good at the same time). But! the mild competition is still there. I won't generally come in and say "hey! We went across to the taqueria and got takeout burritos last night!"; I will come in and say "I made this awesome palak paneer!"

So the other day I mentioned that I was going to make chili. I didn't expect this to get that much response, since chili is one of the easiest things ever. I was just hungry and wanted to talk about dinner. So it was pretty surprising when he got extremely, intensely interested and started saying things like, "From scratch? You don't use a set starting mix or anything? That is pretty hardcore! Word."

I was kind of taken aback. It is chili! You boil beans in a pot! Then I started thinking about food culture in the US, and the very specific fooding events such as barbecue competitions and chili cookoffs, and how everyone practices and refines their own particular secret recipe over years of patient, delicious study. I guess that could produce this kind of response.

My recipe is not secret at all. It's also cheap and easy. It requires a lot of sitting around doing other things while it boils and boils, but that's no surprise considering chili. Then in the end you get a gigantic vat of deliciousness that you can reheat and reheat for days at a time. That's certainly worth the sitting around part to me.

Giant vat CHILI.

beans of some type
olive oil
hot peppers
bell pepper
frozen corn
tomato puree
water/bean broth
chik patties if you want
paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano

Start the day before: get out your choice of dried beans and soak them overnight in twice their depth of water. You can use any kind of beans you want. Red kidney beans are probably the most classic chili bean, but you get good results from navy beans or black beans as well. Sometimes we even use garbanzos. Use whatever combination of beans you like. I would soak about two cups for gigantic long-lasting vat of chili.

The next day, pour off the water, replace it with fresh, and put the beans on to boil. They need about an hour to get really tender; while they're cooking, you can start on spicy happy vegetable base.

Chop up a big onion and several cloves of garlic. You can use shallot if you want, but chili is spicy enough that you won't be able to taste the specific shallot flavor. Stick them in a large, deep pot with some olive oil and cook slowly while you chop up a jalapeño, or whatever hot pepper you like. I think I used two jalapeños this time; you know your own spice tolerance, so you use whatever you want. Chop them really finely for maximum flavor balance, then add them to the onion.

Also start the initial spicing at this point. I used lots of paprika and cumin plus a little oregano and cayenne. Normally one might use chili powder for something like this. I didn't have any, so I looked on the back of the chili powder jar and found out it was made of ground chili pepper, cumin, and oregano. Ok. I had cumin and oregano. Paprika and cayenne are both chili peppers, so I had it pretty well covered.

Once the spice and onion mix has softened and matured a little bit, it's time to start on vegetables. I listed a whole lot of vegetables up there, since I might use any or all of those in a pot of chili. None of them are Absolutely Necessary, though I think bell pepper and corn are the most important. You should use whatever you have and think would be delicious.

In this instance, I used:
- a carrot
- the very heart of a bunch of old limp celery
- a whole green pepper
- a cup or so of corn.

Dice everything up as finely as you like it, then add it to the pot. John likes the most finely textured chili possible, so we try to dice everything really finely. You can defrost corn before adding it, or you can add it frozen; it will just take a little longer to reheat the pot contents if you use frozen.

Stir it all up and cook it together while the beans finish.

At this point you can start thinking about meat replacement bits. First, do you want any of them? You are already going to have a whole bunch of beans in this business. You could clearly do without. If you do want meat replacements (or meat! Brown some ground meat of choice. Done.), think about what kind. I think this is the perfect vehicle for tvp, since it provides chewy bits of ground-beefy texture. John likes to add some warmed chik patties, diced up, to become slightly differently chewy bits. You could also do tempeh pretty easily, although I'd probably cook that separately at the end, crisping it in a frying pan and then crumbling it over my bowl. I would not put tofu in the chili.

Ok. Are the beans done? We are ready for combination.

Pour the entire pan of beans and boiling liquid into the big onion pot. You could also pour off the liquid and use broth, but since said liquid IS broth, I see no real reason to do that.

Chop up whatever meat replacement bits that might need chopping, then add them to the pot.

Open a can of tomatoes, or defrost a big preserved garden hunk, you responsible person, then add them to the pot. Salt, especially for commercially canned tomatoes. I like to use tomato puree for the smoothest texture.

Stir it all up, check seasonings, and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to low, put on the lid, and let the whole business simmer for as long as you can possibly stand. Aim for an hour or longer. Check it every once in a while to see what's going on and whether you can think about eating it yet. Then, when you can't stand it any longer, get out some bowls and a ladle and lay into it.

Things to serve with chili:
- aforementioned crispy tempeh crumbles
- little cubes or shreds of cheese stirred into each bowl; I like mozzarella

Guess which one I made during the last half hour of chili cooking, when I was about to die of hunger.

For cornbread, I just used the recipe off the side of the Bob's Red Mill bag. It worked pretty well. I made it in muffin tins for maximum later portability. This was an excellent plan, although I would change one thing: for the love of god, BUTTER and probably also flour the muffin papers if you want to have any chance of getting them out in one piece. Make cornbread right at the end, so you can sit down and have bowls of scorching chili with muffins hot enough to melt the butter, or perhaps the HONEY you put on them. Honey.

30 November 2007

Fungus explosion

In the continuing theme of mushrooms: CHANTERELLES.

I had never had these before. Ok, I know I've had various wild mushroom businesses at restaurants from time to time, but I had never bought them before. This time they were on ludicrous sale. In conclusion, I am cheap and chanterelles are expensive.

Anyway, I bought them. I let them sit in the refrigerator for several days while I thought about what to do with them, and what would complement them best, and when the perfect time would be, and hey, did we have any champagne?

Yeah. I love mushrooms.

John hates mushrooms.

We have a basic, fundamental difference in pizza orders.

(Not that pizza was a candidate for these, but we Did have that frozen pizza a while ago and I Could have put the chanterelles on my part had that pizza been worthy. Ok, now I desperately want a real homemade pizza with all the wild mushrooms I can handle. Maybe that will happen in the future. In the meantime, gah!)

John does not mind cooking mushrooms, however, which helped a few nights ago when he proceeded to cook the chanterelles for me.

Sautéed ridiculous chanterelles

bag of chanterelles/wild mushroom of choice
a shallot
white wine/dry vermouth
toast to eat it with

Peel and mince up a shallot, maybe two. It depends on how many mushrooms you have. Clearly we want the mushrooms to dominate here.

Melt a big lump of butter in a sauté pan. You can use olive oil; it will still be good, but it won't have those severe dairy qualities. Add the shallots and cook slowly until softened.

While they're cooking, examine your chanterelles. Do you want to cut them up? Do you want to leave them whole? I want mine whole, but you can clearly cut them into chunks or whatever. Make sure to get rid of any dirt or grit on them, and cut off any particularly tough stems.

Toss the mushrooms into the shallots, add some torn parsley and a little salt, and cook slowly. After five minutes or so, when the mushrooms are about halfway done, add a half glass or so of white wine. You can also use dry vermouth. Stir it all up and continue to cook; John put the whole business under lid so as not to lose the precious juices, but it will work whichever way.

Toast some bread. I had rye. Sourdough would also clearly be an excellent plan. You want something seriously grainy and aromatic to stand up to these.

When the mushrooms are done, pour them into a bowl with toast on the side. Or you can pour them directly over the toast.

Now eat them. Eat them!

Alternate forkfuls of mushroom with toast or pile said mushroom on bits of toast.

Mushrooms make me very happy.

28 November 2007

So much dairy

Guess how much cheese we had left over. Ans: SO MUCH CHEESE. Gracious me, what could we do with it?

Breakfast: champignon brie omelet.

Omelets are easy as long as you are ok with the possibility that they will at some point degenerate into egg mess. I am fine with that. Egg mess still tastes good. I also have a little tiny nonstick pan, which makes the egg mess slightly less probable.

This was perhaps the richest omelet ever made. Ok, at least the richest omelet I've ever made, due to my general issue with rich and stinky cheese.

Ridiculous omelet the morning after the party:

brie, or other decadent cheese
brown mushrooms
salt and pepper

First, make the filling. If you just want cheese and no additional mushroom and etc., you can clearly skip this part. So. Mince a small shallot and a handful of mushrooms. Melt some butter in a little frying pan, add the shallot and mushroom, and cook until nice and soft and happy.

While they're cooking, prep everything else. Dice the cheese and tear up some parsley. Crack the egg into something with high sides, add some salt and pepper, and mix it up with a fork.

When mushrooms and shallot are done, tip them out of the pan. If your pan looks low on butter, add some more and let it melt. Then lower the heat to medium-low and pour in your egg. Jerk the pan back and forth; slip a flexible spatula around the edge of the egg to let the liquid bits get underneath. Then just keep working the spatula around the egg until it comes mostly loose.

Ok! Is the egg mostly set? Stick your cheese, shallot, mushroom, and parsley onto the omelet. You can fuss around trying to only cover one side or you can let things fall everywhere; I don't really think it matters, since it's also time to fold the omelet. Fold it into a half, continue cooking for a minute or so to melt cheese and rewarm other bits, and that's it.

Flip your omelet onto a plate and eat it. HOT. Egg must be hot.

26 November 2007

Longest lunch ever!

So just about the entire day friday was given over to PARTY. We made a lot of things we'd made before, so as to ensure success as opposed to failure. Well, we mostly had success. We had so much success we've been eating the leftovers for days.

French onion soup
wheat berry and chickpea salad
red cabbage and apple salad
Santa Cruz farmer's market green salad
tons of bread and cheese
and wine and olives
and pickles
and cauliflower and mangetout and carrots
with spinach dip and tahini dip
and many cups of coffee
and the failure of the evening: ice cream.


There was so much cheese. We had: cotswold, gouda with garlic and basil, champignon brie, jarlsberg, an English hard cheese with horseradish, and a totally ridiculous French cheese in a box called epoisses. Oh yeah, and we had gruyere on the onion soup. We went through four loaves of bread and a box of water crackers. It was ridiculous.

Witness detritus!

The wheat berry salad is pretty similar to this one, but with a few surprises called "delicious chickpeas". Also "parsley". Ok ok.

Wheat berry salad for five

big pan of cooked wheat berries, from 2 cups or so dry
can and a half of good chickpeas (or soak and boil them, if you want to boil Two things)
bunch of scallions
a red pepper
handful of parsley

olive oil
salt and pepper
mustard powder
juice of a lemon

For wheat berries, you treat a grain like a dried bean. At least for hard wheat berries you do. So soak wheat berries overnight, drain, rinse a few times to get rid of overabundant gluten, cover with new water, and boil for an hour or however long you need to get them tender. Drain and rinse well.

All the vegetables can just be cut into little pieces. Throw them into the wheat berries. Use whatever proportion you like. Then open a can or two of chickpeas, drain and rinse, and put them into the salad as well. you might want a little salt and pepper as well. Mix it all up, check that ingredients are proportioned as you'd like, and dress.

Dressing: you can use whatever good bottled vinaigrette you want, or you can make our dressing. Pour several large glugs of olive oil into a measuring cup. Add several good grinds of salt and several more again of pepper. Juice a lemon and add it as well. Then mix everything with a fork to emulsify the oil and combine well. Taste and make sure it works for you; adjust proportions if you need to. Then pour it all over the salad and mix until everything is well coated.

You can clearly sub all kinds of things in or out of this salad. First, you can use other grains in place of wheat berries: rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, whatever. You can sub in a different onion component for the scallions: red onion or shallot would work well. You can take out all the vegetables and use whatever sounds good: carrot, broccoli, other kinds of pepper, corn. You can take out the chickpeas and use lentils, black beans, white beans: whatever. Then you can add feta or parmesan. It depends totally on what you have lying around and what you think sounds delicious.

We ate and ate and ate and ate. Also we cooked. It was clearly thanksgiving.

When lunch was over, sometime around four in the afternoon, we started on grand ice cream experiment. Actually, it was a grand sorbet experiment: dark chocolate sorbet with rum raisins and hazelnuts. Actually, we'd started some bits of it the day before, such as soaking everything in dark rum.

This seemed like it was going to be a really good idea, especially since the rum would lower the freezing point of the ice cream a little bit. It would totally stay creamy and easy to scoop, instead of turning into a vast chocolate block. HA!

It certainly did lower the freezing point: it wouldn't freeze. We sat around for a long time drinking lots of coffee out of tiny little cups. Then eventually we gave up and had some very rummy chocolate soup. In the future, pour OFF the extra soaking rum and only add the soakees.

It was a good party.

24 November 2007

Palak paneer! Yay!

I was at the Milk Pail a couple days ago, doing regular shopping as opposed to gigantic holiday shopping. This necessitated some cheese. I mean, the store is called the Milk Pail. Cheese!

Normally this means something like "chunk of romano". In this case, I noticed something new on the top shelf.


Paneer itself is really easy to make if you want to lug an entire gallon of milk home from the store. The basic process: boil milk, add lemon juice, watch it separate, drain off the whey, hang the cheese in a cloth, and press it with a heavy pan. Then cut it up and use it. However! We do all our shopping either on bikes or walking, so the gallon of milk is a serious weight/volume investment. This little piece of cheese was much easier to carry. I had an excellent excuse to make palak paneer: spinach curry with paneer cubes.

Palak paneer is definitely in our top ten of Indian dishes. If we go to an Indian restaurant, it's almost certain that one or the other of us (usually John) will order palak paneer, and the other will spend half the meal stealing bits of it. Well, we share in general, but still. This stuff is so good we nearly fight over it.

I use sneff's recipe, because you can't get much better than an actual chef's concoction. The only things I do differently is substituting spices, since we never have whole cumin seeds. Clearly, actual seeds are better, but even with the back-of-the-spice-cabinet ground stuff, this turns out fantastic. I also use olive oil instead of ghee. Horrors! This one makes a much larger difference in the quality of fat and general unctuousness of the finished product, so try to use ghee if you at all can.

Most Indian restaurants I've been to create a completely green puree, with pure white cubes of cheese discoloring in the ghee. This is definitely a bit more rustic, with distinct tomatoes and spinach, and cubes of cheese actually goldenized in the pan. Of course, it is also totally delicious, so who cares?

Eat with rice or naan. We had rice; if I make naan, I use the recipe here. It's totally easy and produces really, really good results. However, sometimes you just don't have any yogurt in the house.

Yay palak paneer!

22 November 2007

happy freaking thanksgiving

No, seriously, we had this for lunch.

Tomorrow is actually the party. Right now we're lying around drinking EXCELLENT merlot (Castle Rock 2005 Napa Valley Merlot BUY IT YOU GUYS! MESQUITE!) and talking on the phone to relatives. It's my turn for phone next.

We are having post-thanksgiving soup and salad with just a couple friends. It will be great.


21 November 2007

White bean bargain basement

My brain doesn't even want to remember the weekend at this point. I spent a lot of time lying on the floor taking naps. There was a little part of sunday afternoon, though, that I spent in the kitchen trying to convince my blood sugar that everything was ok, it would get food in just a little while!

It was time for a soporific protein infusion. I already had a pan of boiled white beans. Clearly, I should roast a head of garlic, mix it into the smashed beans, and eat it on toast.

White bean business

white beans
salt, pepper

Soak white beans overnight; boil until ok. Or use a pot of beans you boiled yesterday and stuck in the fridge. Or use a can. We are feeling sick here.

While beans are boiling (if you're doing everything at once, or "to oncet" as we say while being pretentious language nerds), get a head of garlic. I used one, but would probably use two in future for total garlic immersion. Anyway, chop the top off the garlic to expose the tips of its cloves. Then douse it in olive oil and roast it around 375F until golden and squishy and perfect. This will take an hour or so for ultimate garlic happiness.

I've always roasted garlic well wrapped in foil, but this time we didn't have any. We don't have any fancy terracotta garlic equipment either. So I improvised a garlic cooker from two little stainless steel bowls: I oiled the bigger bowl, stuck in the heavily anointed garlic, and covered it with the smaller one. Then I just stuck them in the oven.

Eventually I started hearing pinging noises, as if someone were continually and rhythmically hitting a pipe with a wrench. This bothered me a lot, since I felt sick and it was the weekend and why couldn't maintenance come during the week? Then I realized that my garlic was actually sputtering so hard inside the bowls that IT was the thing continually pinging. After that the noise didn't bother me at all. Moral: I can certainly put up with constant banging if I get roasted garlic at the end of it.

When beans are done, drain. Mash by the method of your choice. I expect a lot of people would use a blender (with liquid added) or a potato masher for this. I did not want anything to do with the blender, so I went a different route: I tipped batches of beans onto the cutting board and chopped them up with my knife. Then I mashed them with the flat of the knife. Then I added a handful or two of parsley leaves and chopped and mashed again. I did it over and over again until all the beans were at least roughly smashed. Clearly, this is not the easiest method, but at that point avoiding washing the blender was more important to me.

You could also add some fresh chopped garlic to bean mix at this point. I added the tips I'd cut off the cloves. Garlic!

When the main garlic is done roasting, squeeze it out of its skin and into the bean mixture. I advise either waiting a few minutes for the garlic to cool, or wearing an oven mitt while squeezing. My oven mitt certainly got some squishy garlic and skin stuck to it during this process, but that was ok with me.

Get a spoon and beat the garlic into the beans. Beat in some salt and pepper, too, and any other spices you want. If I had lemon, I would certainly have squeezed half of one in.


This stuff would clearly be excellent on some good serious hot rye toast. We had it with pita dudes, carrot and red pepper sticks, and (storebought) hummus.

Pita dudes are easy: cut pita into triangles, coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever other spice you want; put in oven to toast until browned and crispy. I made mine with cayenne so they were good and spicy.

I was so hungry at this point that I was having serious jitters, shaking the cookie sheet while spreading oil. I also became super-anal about fitting every single bit of pita on the sheet Just So. Then I had to tell myself to calm down and eat a spoonful of honey out of the jar to get myself enough blood sugar to function. You know how when you're really hungry and weak, and you open a jar of honey, you want to just eat the whole jar facefirst? Yeah. It was like that.

We had a lot of beans left over. For lunch on monday, I split open some pita, spread it with bean business, and added feta and spinach. That was also a good idea.

19 November 2007


What to have while lying around all weekend feeling terrible:



(If you can handle the knife)

makes half a tumbler

one red grapefruit
two tangerines
ice to get up to the halfway point

- Cut.
- Ream with pink reamer.
- Pick out seeds.
- Drink.

If you have the fruit/strength to double the recipe, you can even have a whole glass of juice! Excuse me, JUICE. This kind of thing makes it obvious why juice glasses are generally small.

Man, I felt awful. It makes me want to teach a class called "Advanced Realism for Suckers".

16 November 2007

Black bean experiment successful

Since the lentil business was so clearly awesome, I wanted to experiment further in the bean burger direction.

This takes up a lot of dishes, but it's worth it. For one thing, you can make a huge batch of the burger mix and freeze things for later eatings. For another thing, these were so good I actually did not care at all about the cleanup. Everything was great. Yes.

Black bean and millet burgers

pot of black beans from ~1 cup dried
2/3 cup millet
olive oil
an onion
some garlic
marjoram, cayenne, salt and pepper, I think mustard powder
fresh parsley

Soak black beans! Boil! Drain!

Put millet in pot with 2x as much water! Boil! Cover! Simmer! You could also use quinoa for SUPER PROTEIN BUNDLE GOODNESS. You don't really need to do that, though.

Chop up onion! Dump into sauté pan with olive oil! Cook slowly! Caramelize! Add garlic! Add spices! Caramelize more!

Spice choice can go any way you choose. I was looking for a savory but not especially spicy mix, something neutral, since I was intending to keep some and eat them on various other occasions. This necessitates some versatility, which excludes any too overt spicing. So I just used some marjoram and cayenne, plus salt and pepper. I think I may have added a little mustard powder as well, but I can't remember. I know I used it later!

(Later: sauce!)

Anyway. When beans, millet, and onion are all done, combine them. You want approximately equal amounts of beans and grain. I had too much millet in the mix, but that was ok; it just made the end result slightly crumbly. Add some fresh chopped parsley if you want some more green in there. You could also go for chopped green onion. I thought I had the onion department pretty well covered, though.

Wet your hands and shape the mix into burger patties. This method worked a lot better than my previous attempts with floured hands. Burgers should be four or five inches across and at least 1/2 inch thick. Just make them the size of any burger and you'll be fine. I would go for extra thickness, though, so the middles retain some moisture. I got eight burgers out of this amount.

Bake burgers for about a half hour at 350F. Check and rotate the pan at about the 15-20 minute mark. They're done when very slightly browned (as if you can tell with black beans) and the outsides have acquired a nice crust.

Now you can eat them! Put them on buns with big whacks of lettuce and a lot of good grain mustard.

We of course had no buns, so we decided to eat them plain. No we didn't! We decided to make barbecue sauce and slather them in that! Then we decided to chop up a lot of greens for double salad/sauce mopping action!

I was not particularly into my last effort at barbecue sauce, so this time I decided to actually stick to one recipe. I looked through several of my cookbooks and found nothing. Then I got out The Joy of Cooking. Clearly, that should have been the first place I looked. Not only did the recipe look awesome, we had almost all of the ingredients. The only problem was worcestershire sauce. We had some, but not the vegetarian kind. Ok, so what does worcestershire sauce taste like? Kind of raisiny and smoky. Why look, what is this I have in the back of the spice cabinet? It is mesquite seasoning!

I used that. It was an excellent choice.

The only other thing I did was to use olive oil instead of veg oil, since veg oil is gross and generally makes everything taste rancid.

I feel a little awkward about cribbing out of the Joy of Cooking, and you probably all own it anyway, so here's the source:

Rombauer, Becker, and Becker: The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 1997. "Barbecue Sauce", p.90.


You guys, we ate these all week. If you cover burgers with sauce and put them in the oven, then baste every once in a while, the sauce takes on a fully jamified taste which I assume also develops over an actual grill.

14 November 2007

crispy crunchy soggy spicy

Are you too lazy to make a pie? Me too, apparently, even though I have pie in my title and everything. I can achieve a pie crust if I want; right now I would just prefer to spend my time lying around the living room reading books and trying very hard not to watch someone play Halo 3.

The obvious solution: don't make a pie crust, make a crumble.

You could argue that pie crust and crumble are not that far apart in terms of effort. This is true. I think I just like making crumble. You get to mush crumble up with your hands with far more abandon than pie crust. Then you get a result pretty close to pie anyway: a crisp.

Apple crisp

four or so apples
orange or lemon juice
butter/earth balance
rolled oats
spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves

Get out enough apples to pile in a pie tin. You can really use any apples you have lying around. (Or you can use pears! Or any other fruit!) I had fujis. Don't bother to peel your apples unless you are really thoroughly bothered by cooked peel. I barely noticed mine in the finished product. Core the apples by cutting four straight cuts down the sides of the cores, then cut the chunks into thin slices. Or you can do what I used to always do and just cut chunks off around the whole apple, thus combining the coring and chopping steps in one. Whatever. The shape of the slices doesn't matter in the slightest, unless you have presentation issues. I do like to make the pieces thin, though, so as to avoid big pieces of crisped apple skin.

Stick all the apples in your pie tin and add sugar, lemon or orange juice, and appropriate spices. These depend heavily on you and your tastes. Most people are used to a lot of cinnamon and sugar in their apple pie. I like having only a little cinnamon, so instead I load the pie with ginger, cloves, and a little allspice and nutmeg. Fresh minced ginger would even be feasible. So spice with what you like and toss it all together with your hands. You can also add delicious things from the liquor cabinet if you are so inclined. I had a bottle of Grand Marnier sitting around looking lonely, so I stuck my thumb over the lip of the bottle and shook some of it out over the apples. I can also see delicious results coming from brandy or bourbon.

When the apples are prepped, make crumble. Mix a couple handfuls of oats and flour with some sugar and any of the apple pie spices you like. Then cut a big chunk of coldish butter into fine dice and rub it into the dry mix. You can use a pastry cutter or table knives if you want, but I like to use my hands. Get things roughly mixed together, so most of the dry mix has some butter sticking to it. The coarse cornmeal texture would be optimal, but I don't care that much, and besides, it's not really possible with oats in the mix. Of course, you can also make this with more flour and no oats if you want that kind of result. Just squidge it together until you are satisfied. Then take big handfuls of crumble and scatter them over the apples as evenly as possible.

Bake the whole thing at 350F for about 45 minutes. Check it occasionally, rotating if necessary.

When the crumble is crispy and browned, the apples are dark and liquid, and the whole thing smells like someone threw a spice bomb into your kitchen, you're ready.

The classic side for any hot apple bake is vanilla ice cream. I have never been that into vanilla ice cream in general, so I didn't have any. I did have a big vat of plain yogurt, though.

12 November 2007

Adult palate oatmeal

Oatmeal is the best breakfast. Well, it depends on whether you are feeling large impulse toward egg and protein with yolk smashed all over your toast, but still. Oatmeal! You can make oatmeal so many different ways, all fast, easy, cheap, and delicious. DELICIOUS!

I bet most of your parents forced you to eat a healthy breakfast (although the whole several eggs a week thing is clearly not Actually healthy) hurriedly before school every day for your entire childhood. I for one could Not do this; my stomach has never been ok with me getting up and immediately eating a lot. Even now I spend an hour doing other things before I have anything past a cup of tea. Back to the point. I would guess that lots of you therefore have bad memories associated with oatmeal, even though it's easy, cheap, and good. You can fix this by a simple method known as "eating oatmeal as an adult."

Here's my bowl of oatmeal as a kid: Oats boiled with water, no salt. We then shoveled as much brown sugar as possible over our bowls, and my mom poured some cold milk over the whole. Ok. So this wasn't actually that bad for a kid's palate: lumps of concretized brown sugar are pretty appetizing when you're eight and would happily eat your brother's halloween candy for breakfast. It has some serious problems, though. First, the oatmeal was unsalted. This wasn't something I could readily identify as a kid, but I can see it now: oats need some salt, otherwise their taste comes perilously near to "brown sludge". Salt makes oats taste like actual grain. Second, the cold milk. Milk in oatmeal can be great, especially if you cook the oats in it. It just can't be COLD; your whole bowl will get cold and damp and unfortunate. Third, the brown sugar. Clearly I would not do this now, just considering my lack of sweet tooth. It had a problem at the time, though: stir a spoonful of brown sugar into oatmeal, and the oatmeal's texture changes radically. Then you end up trying to eat a bowl of paste. Gleh.

However! Who controls the stove now? YOU, ADULT PERSON!

Adult palate oatmeal

rolled oats
milk or water
maybe some butter

The basic bowl of oatmeal is really easy. Get out a little pot; add some water, a pinch of salt, and a couple handfuls of oats. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for five minutes or so, until the oats are edible. Eat. This makes a bowl all about oats and oating.


- Cook oats in milk instead of water. This makes the whole business more creamy. You can also add some butter if you want to make it totally rich.
- Cook oats in chai or coffee instead of water. This way your entire breakfast can be in one bowl.
- Add spices to the oats. I like to go for some combination of apple-pie type stuff: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, or everything at once.
- Add toasty nuts and drained plain yogurt for happy high-contrast oatings. Keep the yogurt in a layer on top to avoid cold oatmeal.
- Add lots of jam for porridgy muffin-tasting oat action. Tart things like cranberry sound really good here.

Eat oatmeal, drink tea, go to work. Oatmeal!

09 November 2007

Delicious exploding soup

It has been week of soup. Soup is great. It is fall and I want soup.

So when I came home from work the other day, our neighbor suddenly popped out the door with a bagful of surplus carrots. Sure, I will take some carrots! I took some carrots and made this soup.

Carrot and white bean explosive blender soup
Why is it called that, I wonder? HMM

white beans boiled
four carrots
a stalk of celery
half a red onion
olive oil
all of your sage
some thyme
some cayenne
dry vermouth
salt, pepper
a blender

First, soak white beans overnight in twice their depth of water. Fortunately, I had done this part already. The next day, pour off the water, replace it with new, and pour the entire business into a big soup pot. Add a bay leaf and whatever other seasoning you want. I decided to try some cloves, which ended up pretty aromatic at first but later got lost in the soup, so whatever. I would maybe add some olive oil in the future, though. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about an hour or so. Drain, reserving at least some of the bean water for soup broth.

You can clearly do all that in advance if you want.

When you're ready to make the actual soup, get out two pots, one big (for soup) and one smallish or whatever size (for broth). Make broth by adding some chopped vegetables or scraps (stockpile!) to bean broth and/or water. Bring it to a boil, reduce, cover, and simmer. It's broth! Make it like you make broth!

In your big soup pot, warm some olive oil while you chop up half an onion and several cloves of garlic. I used red onion because that's all we had left; any onion would work. Throw the onion and garlic in the pot and stir it all up. Also, add your herbs and spices. I was considering going two ways with this soup: either ginger or sage. I chose sage, but a hot ginger and clove theme would be good too. This time, though, I added the entire rest of the bottle of sage plus some thyme and a little cayenne. Let the onions and spices cook while you dice a stalk of celery into tiny bits and add it to the pot. Then start peeling carrots. I think I used four fullsized fat carrots for this batch. They were very juicy. Chop them up and add them to the onion mix, then stir and let soften. If you want a splash of dry vermouth, add it in, stir it up, and let it absorb in as well.

When your broth is bubbling, your beans are boiled, and your vegetables are softened, combine. Strain the broth into the soup pot; throw in the beans. Add a little salt and some pepper, stir it all up, and let it simmer for another ten minutes or so. Then taste and see if you want to add any more spices. Simmer more if you feel the need.

Ok, kids. It is time for the blender.

Be intelligent while using the blender. Don't let it explode all over your stove. This means a couple things. 1. Let it cool off a little before you try to blend it. 2. Don't fill the blender more than a third of the way full. 3. Keep your hand pressed firmly down on the blender lid while processing. and 4. GET AN IMMERSION BLENDER so you don't have to deal with any of this.

Of course the blender exploded all over our stove. I also fortunately had the spice cabinet door open. Double trouble! When John came downstairs, it took him a couple minutes to figure out why all the spices were in the sink. "How did you get that in the spice cabinet?....ok, I'm going to go hide."

It wasn't That bad, but still.

Anyway. Blend everything in as many batches as necessary. Wipe up any explosions as quickly as possible.

Then be happy, because even if it did explode, the soup is AWESOME.

It is exactly what you want in the fall, even if you live in California where technically the only season is "late spring forever". John was especially excited about the smooth creamy pureéd texture. Perhaps the blender madness is worth it!

We had this with baking powder biscuits, which baked while the soup simmered. I used to always use the recipe on the Clabber Girl can, but apparently they've replaced it with some OTHER recipe using baking powder. How could there be a more classic use for baking powder than these biscuits with baking powder in the very name?? I ask you. So I had to use The Internet instead. Fortunately, I came up with exactly what I needed.

I did do a couple things differently: 1. I used whole wheat flour and 2. I just made the dough into balls with my hands after some marginal patting-oriented kneading in the mixing bowl. No biscuit cutting at my house! They turned out really well, barely damp inside and with a slight but discernable butter taste. Plus, since I made the half recipe, I only got nine biscuits. We can eat nine biscuits in a sitting with no problem whatsoever. Ok, we can actually eat eight and leave one for me to have for breakfast the next morning. Either way you avoid the "bag of biscuits getting rock-hard in the refrigerator" problem that has long been a quandary for our times unless you eat them all over the next couple days for various lunches. In conclusion, WE WIN.

07 November 2007

Frozen delight

Remember the strawberry ice cream? Turns out it gets hard as a freaking rock in the freezer, over time increasing in hardness to something resembling "diamond". I tried valiantly to chip off bits to eat, but only succeeded in shaving a fine layer of pink fuzz off the top.

Solution: Ice cream cubes.

First, get your ice cream container into a hot tap water bath. Fill a big pan or the sink with hot water to come well up the sides of the container. If you have a really tight-fitting lid you can even immerse it, but I wouldn't try that unless you're really sure disaster will not ensue. Let the ice cream container sit in hot water, replacing water as necessary to maintain warmth, until the ice cream loosens enough to move around in one big block. Then take the container out, turn it upside down (over your hand or a cutting board), and catch the block of ice cream as it falls out.

Now it is time for knives.

Get a good, serious, big knife out and immerse it in/run it under hot water. Give it a minute or two. Then, when the blade is warm, start cutting up your ice cream. You'll probably need to rewarm your blade between every cut or two, as ice cream is cold and hard. You can cut it into whatever dimensions you want. I cut about inch and a half wide slices, then cut crosswise through them to make rough cubes.

Now you can have a bowlful of ice cream cubes! Since you've drastically increased the surface area of the ice cream, these cubes will get soft enough to eat much faster than the huge, immovable block.

The rest of the cubes don't even need to go back into the regular container. They can go into a ziploc bag and thus get shoved wherever there is space in the freezer. Yay flexible ice cream storage!

With the sudden huge space available in our freezer, we could even make MORE frozen business! Double yay!

I poked around The Internet and decided to make Clotilde's David Lebovtiz's dark chocolate sorbet.

I accidentally got semisweet instead of bittersweet chocolate, but somehow the sorbet turned out fine anyway. The best part was that the entire thing was non-dairy. I mean, I like ice cream and everything, but I would pick fruit and no cream, thank you, any day. The same goes for chocolate. Ok fine, I also like milk chocolate, just not white chocolate. GROSS. But dark chocolate is so clearly preferable that most other things go straight out the window.

So we made this sorbet. It was so delicious and so transitory that we have only two pictures, both of the machine in motion.

The rest is gone.

Sometime there will have to be an experiment to replicate the best candy on earth in iced form. This would be Ritter Sport's dark chocolate bar with rum, hazelnuts, and raisins. I can see this happening in the very near future, somehow, especially as the rum would keep such a creation from becoming so hard as to be chiselable.

05 November 2007

Lunch at Joann's

Last weekend we had what was probably the best lunch party I've ever been to. Maybe some of this is because lunch is not generally the time for party, but still. I know I've certainly had/been to plenty of brunchy things, but none of them have been as good as this.

Anyway, we went to my friend Joann's to admire her new house and shower her with champagne for getting her PhD. OK, actually to drink the champagne and cook and eat and wander around her neighborhood feeling astonished that there is actually some part of the bay area that we'd actually want to live in.


pistachios, pears, cheese, and bread
kabocha squash salad
sweet potato gnocchi again
mozzarella, tomato, and basil panini
lots of red wine

It was the falliest lunch ever as well.

Joann was really excited about making her squash salad. It was a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a cookbook I had heard of but never had the chance to see before. Perhaps one of these days I will have to borrow it and see what else is as delicious as this, because this was perhaps the best salad ever. We did have to modify the dressing, because it was all about lardons of bacon and two out of the five people eating were vegetarian. Seriously, the recipe text went into great detail about exactly what constitutes a lardon. It's just cut up bacon! Anyway, even though I'm not sure what that dressing would be like (although probably good, because hot bacon dressing on dark greens? The answer is yes), I can tell you our sub dressing was fantastic.

Kabocha squash salad from memory

a kabocha squash
some whole pecans
mesclun mix

dressing: shallot, butter, bottled raspberry mesquite sauce

First, roast the pecans: put them in a pan and put them in the oven for a few minutes. Since nuts are liable to scorch and burn, I'd put them on at a lower temperature and watch them closely. Ten minutes at 200F sounds about right. When they are clearly fragrant and awesome, take them out and let them cool.

The hardest part of this is cutting up the squash. While the nuts are roasting, take a whole kabocha and whack it in half with a knife. Scoop out the seeds; Joann had an old ice cream scoop that worked really well for this. Cut off the stem and blossom scars. Now we come to the most annoying part: peeling. Since winter squash is too hard for any junky vegtetable peeler, we used a knife and painstakingly cut all the skin off the outside of the squash. It took a while. Then we cut the peeled squash into inch-thick slices and Joann put them in the oven to roast. She might have tossed them with olive oil to do this; it seems likely, but I'm not sure. Roast your squash in the 350F range until soft and starting to brown. This will take about a half hour, from what I recall. Take them out and let them cool as well.

While the squash is roasting, make dressing. We just chopped up a shallot finely, sautéed it in butter, and added some commercial sauce. Joann had chosen that sauce since it had mesquite, and so would taste smoky without actually being made of bacon. All we did was warm it up with the shallot, and it was ready.

To assemble: fill a bowl with mesclun mix and roasted squash; toss with some dressing. Add pecans and strips of shaved parmesan. Add more dressing if you want. That is it.

We also had panini. Joann was disappointed in the panini since they weren't as crispy as she wanted. I was not at all disappointed because I prefer softer sandwiches and these are damned delicious. I did nothing to prepare these but take a couple pictures, but they seemed pretty easy. They were an excellent way to break in her new panini pan. I'm going to call them panini caprese since the filling combination was exactly the same as the ingredients for a caprese salad.

Panini caprese

good bread
fresh basil
olive oil
probably salt and pepper

Cut up the bread into good inch-thick slices. Rub both sides of each slice with olive oil.

Cut up tomato and mozzarella and layer the slices on the bread. Wash basil, rip leaves off stems, and layer them in as well. Add some salt and pepper if you want. Top with another piece of bread.

Then get a panini or grill pan and heat it up. The too soft texture was clearly caused by insufficiently high heat, so get it good and hot if you are bothered by such a thing. Then set your sandwiches in the pan. The panini pan had a heavy weight to put on top and smash the sandwiches good and hard. You could create a reasonable facsimile of this with a heavy cast-iron pan or a big pot filled with water. If you don't care about bar marks on your sandwich, you could even do the whole process in a regular frying pan.

Cook, weighted, until first side is browned and delicious. Then flip and do the same to the other side.

We also got to show off our gnocchi-making prowess. Everybody helped roll the dough out. There is nothing like communal dough activity to make people like cooking and food.

Now go to the table and eat as much as possible of everything. Have red wine. Talk a lot.

You won't be able to eat as much as you want.

I was particularly enamored of the salad and kept sneaking bits out of the serving dish later.