Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Mmm 'Mmm Flu

This was not how I was planning on honoring the conclusion of the semester. There was suppooosta be a lot more Christmas shopping and beer-drinking involved. Instead I've spent the last forty-eight hours drifting in and out of consciousness like I had an oxy habit, hacking up archaeological remains from my lungs that would make Indiana Jones swoon, and catching up TV-via-the-internet. Several hours of the Daily Show later, I have to say that I'm shocked that the naughty-language-no-no crew is ok with Jon and Co.'s rampant use of “dick,” “dickishness,” and “assface,” but puts the iron fist down on “cock” (eehheheheh, á la Peter Griffin). I mean, at least “cock” has a counterpart in the animal kingdom. But who am I to question? I'm just a helpless recipient of third-party infotainment.

Between fits of feverish delirium and picking up the graveyard of used tissues on my bedroom floor, I followed through with hankering for something similar to chicken noodle soup. It started when my amazingly matronly sister brought me some velvety-delicious red lentil and rice soup on Thursday. I ate half of it and it got my wheels turning in the way-back direction of my mom heating up some Campbell's with Ritz crackers when we were young and sick. Of course, even when I was little, those dark, globular, pseudo-chicken bits freaked me right out. So, I have an updated, chikless response that has lots of immuno-boosting goodness. It's got all the tiny minced vegetables of the original, but it replaces the mystery meat with lentils. It took me a day and a half to finish it. I kept crawling back into bed over the effort of standing. Hopefully health input will balance out the net energy output.

Sick Day Noodle Soup

1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water, or more as needed
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced
a whole mess of garlic (six cloves or more), vertically sliced
2-inch piece of ginger, grated or minced
olive oil for saute
1/2 cup lentils
salt and fresh pepper
hot sauce
1-2 ounces spaghetti

Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. When it's warm, add the onion and saute for a couple minutes, until just translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the carrot, celery, pepper and ginger and saute for a couple minutes to soften. Add the stock and water, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and cook until the lentils are cooked, about 20 minutes. Check the liquid level and add more water if it starts to look more sludgy than soupy.

In the meantime, cook the pasta and set aside. When the lentils are cooked, add the pasta an season the soup with a good pinch of salt, several grindings of pepper, and as much hot sauce as you're up for. It's good for your sinuses.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cocoa Cram Fest

By no rights whatsoever should I be interrupting my researching/writing cram session to write a blog post right now. But of course in the frantic twilight of the semester we have the first legitimate snowfall of the year. As the sunlight reached my window and bounced the vibrance of fresh, fleeting snow through the glass, I finally put the academics on life support to go for a quick walk. It was lovely out there; the Jamaicaway looked more like the interior of a snow globe than one of the more suicidal tracks in MarioKart. I came back invigorated, ready to focus – only after satiating one relentless craving for hot chocolate. It was a perfect storm of needing to make something, and actually having everything I need to make it. And as I write this and fish out the last cinnamon-y, cocoa-y bits from the bottom of my mug (so?), I feel prepared to take my sugarized, caffeinated brain back to business.

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

½ cup almond, rice, or soy milk

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

sugar to taste (I used about a teaspoon, since I used sweetened almond milk)

½ teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon spicy (Vietnamese, Saigon) cinnamon

1 cinnamon stick

Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat. When it just starts to steam, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk constantly for a minute, checking to make sure that the cocoa doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour into one or two (but really one) mug, garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tandoor-ish Tofu

If you ever find yourself tempted to immerse yourself in the magnificent world of food studies, prepare yourself for an inexhaustible journey into the nature of “authenticity.” Seriously, people can't get enough of it. Who eats what and why and for how long and since when – these are the questions we ask to chip away relentlessly at someone's personal or cultural identity until we either figure out why they do what they do, or, more realistically, until we just start asking different questions. These are issues I love to explore, but ones that have rendered me incapable of just sitting down for “ethnic” food without deconstructing every menu item, every ingredient. I find this to be particularly the case with Indian food (though it applies just as much to “Italian,” “Mexican,” or – god help you - “American”). The bottom line is that there is no national cuisine of India, but an amalgamation of regional specialties. Even what is arguably the most “Indian” dish around – curry – is borne straight out of the womb of colonialism.

Despite my hyper-analytical brain and pseudo-scholarly cynicism, I still found myself yesterday taking stock of the ingredients I had on hand and deciding they spelled I-N-D-I-A-N. And hey, if an American-borne white girl can't marinate some Chinese-invented fermented soy in a mix of flavors that she calls Indian, then, shoot, we might as well take the curry away from the Brits.

Tandoor-ish Tofu

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained

¼ cup plain yogurt

1 tsp tomato paste

1 jalapeno, finely diced

1 tsp cider vinegar

1 inch grated ginger

pinch of brown sugar

1 clove of smashed garlic

2 tsp-ish of garam masala powder, or an audacious mix of cumin, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, black pepper... combined with a mortar and pestle

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the tofu into strips, cubes, or steaks. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl, whisking together and adjusting the seasoning (I emphasized the cumin, just because I thought it was “safe”). Pour the marinade over the tofu in a small baking dish and marinate for twenty minutes or so. Bake for about ten minutes, or until the tofu is slightly browned, turn, and bake until the other side is browned. Serves 4-6.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Optimist Prime

Sometimes the best things happen when we suspend our conventions. In love, and life, and the kitchen, there really are no recipes, no rules – just a continuum of trial and error. Quoth the lady Julia, after expertly flipping an omelette square onto the side of a saute pan: “you just have to have to courage of your convictions.” And how she stands to embolden us all.

So today I spare the recipe. Though I'm flattered that my mom requested that every page of this modest blog be printed out so that she may try these silly recipes (!), I really can't claim to know many of the rules. I'm just finally in touch with what feels right. I will, with that in mind, share this bangin' breakfast sammy I made today, one that last year's vegan-leanin', dogmatic locavore would have only dreamt of, and never realized. In completely non-structured format, I suggest you toast a couple pieces of bread, brush one with a touch of spicy mustard, fry or scramble an egg, slice up an apple, shred some Wisconsin sharp cheddar, heat up a couple Morningstar veggie patties, stack it all up, and go to town. Life is too short and too rich with potential to worry rules, be they self-imposed or otherwise. And I was too hungry to care that London-cat walked into the frame the instant the shutter turned. 'Cause this little glass of o.j. is half-full, y'all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

¡Ay Ay Arepas!

Since incurring moving costs, darting between jobs, and spending several weeks without a paycheck, the food budget's been pretty tight. But I remembered how I avoided starvation in my early 20's on a thrift store employee's salary: ethnic = cheap. Find yourself an Indian, Chinese, or Latin market in your neighborhood and put your grocery savings towards bills, beer or, ahem, a new tattoo.

Enter my new affair with Hi-Lo, the Latin supermercado up the street. I'd rather go there than to the Stop-and-Shop in Jackson Square; it's closer and cheaper, and as long as I stay clear from the creepy meat aisle, I'm all set. No, it's not organic, not local, but it's what I got. And shopping there always inspires me to cook Latin. I wanted to do something with the Goya corn flour that my sister gave me awhile back. It's just been chillin' in my freezer, so for inspiration, I went straight to the back of the bag: arepas! They're a Columbian/Venezuelan griddle cake made from corn flour, sometimes milk and butter, or just water.

Polenta, mush, hasty pudding, grits, hominy - folk culture has a long history with similar dishes, as corn was often the only grain available to poor or disenfranchised groups. Most of our ancestors probably ate a steady diet of corn and cured meat, and we can be thankful if they were spared from pellagra. Which is why I'm always amused when a polenta dish shows up on a menu. Peasant food becomes haute cuisine and the green grass grew all around...

Anyway! ¡Back to arepas! I threw in some additions based on this Times recipe and had enough batter to make 'em twice. The first time I fried them, as tradition dictates, and found them to be crispy, yes, but too greasy even for this lover of all things deep-fried (potatoes, clams, oreos...). The next day I baked those babies, and while they were more palatable with less oil, I was missing the crispy outside. So, I'll lay out both ways and let you be the judge. Also, I wussed out and removed the seeds from the jalapeño, and I got no heat, which was not my plan. And let me just say that while I don't love cornmeal dishes (I've never had a polenta dish that I like), I see oodles of possibilities with these guys. I first tried them with flash-cooked cherry tomatoes. I ate my leftovers with sauteed kale and onions. With some sort of gravy, these would be a bangin' breakfast item.


1 cup cornmeal

1 cup water, milk, or perhaps soy milk (which I just thought of!)

½ cup queso fresco o queso columbiano, crumbled

1 jalapeño, seeded if you're shy about heat, and finely diced

¼ cup cilantro, finely minced

possible accompaniments (not all traditional, but tasty): salsa, black beans, cooked greens, quartered tomatoes, chopped scallions, gravy...

For the dough: Combine the cornmeal and queso, then slowly add the water or milk and stir to combine. Allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes. Form the dough into a golf-ball sized ball and flatten with your palm.

To fry: Add 3 tablespoons of mild oil (corn, grapeseed, or canola) to a a fry pan with a sturdy bottom. Heat the oil and when it's good and hot, add the arepas, cooking until crisp and browned on one side (about 3 minutes). Flip and cook the other side. Set on a paper bag or paper towel to drain.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a baking sheet or pan with oil. Add the arepas, bake until brown on one side (about ten minutes), flip and bake until the other side is browned.

To serve: You can slit a cooled arepa through the middle like a pita and stuff it with your choice of yummies. Or you can serve them sandwich-style, with two arepas subbing in for bread. Or you can serve them griddle-cake style, with some sort of veggie on top.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Operation: Rescue Soup

Try though it might, my poor little body just can't seem to get over last week. Maybe it was working 32 hours in two days. Or that, for six days straight, every meal I ate was some combination of bread and cheese (I am not making this up). Or the excessive drinking that seems intrinsic to the life of a swingin' culinarian. All I can say that it is with great irony that I am staying home sick the day after being officially offered the job I've been unofficially doing for nearly two months.

Enter the botanical rescue squad! Ginger, miso, and local honey for immunity, and good god, anything vegetal. Nothing has to be prepped for looks, and there's something so earthy and wholesome going on here that it can't not make you feel better. At least, I hope that's the case for me.

Carrot-Miso Soup

3 cups water or stock

5-6 carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1 large onion, roughly chopped

I medium potato, peeled and chopped

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 heaping tablespoon miso paste, preferably white (I used brown, which I don't actually love, but it worked.)

1 tablespoon honey

olive oil for saute

Heat the oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until translucent, about five minutes. Add the ginger and carrots and cook for a couple more minutes, until the carrots start to soften. Add the water or stock, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes, or until the carrots and potato are softened. Remove from heat, then stir in the honey and miso paste (it's important to add the miso at the end – boiling miso kills its happy little microbes that lend it its healthful quality). Puree with an immersion blender or food processor and season with a few grindings of black pepper. Serves 2-3.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall - In a Tortilla!

I must have been inspired by the perfect-beyond-description, quintessentially Autumn in New England day today.  I'm talking the bluest sky and the brightest leaves you can imagine. Like, it might not have been real. So I went for the staples: apples and butternut squash.  I suppose I was partially inspired by a favorite from an old haunt of mine, The Other Side. I haven't been there since they started requiring a nylon messenger hat for entry, but I used to love that apple and brie sammich of theirs. But, I can say with absolutely no bias: this is better. I can say that because it won the approval of Executive Chef Kevin Olmstead of Pittsburgh's freshest, illest spot – J'eet Cafe (plug plug plug)! Like any good chef, he knows how to steal a good idea when he sees one, so watch for something a lot like it on him menu before long... Of course, we've been friends for years and he's been my biggest fan since post the first.  So Kev, it's all yours. Consider it my housewarming gift. I'm so proud of you!

Apple and Butternut Squash Quesadillas with Brie and Caramelized Onions

3 tortillas
6 oz brie, cut into thin slices
1 medium apple (I used Cortland), sliced
1 medium onion, sliced into crescents
1 small (under 2 lbs) butternut squash, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeds scooped out
2 tbs butter
olive oil for saute
salt and pepper
minced cilantro, parsley, chives, or toasted walnuts for garnish

Preheat oven to 375F. In a shallow baking pan, place the squash halves face up and add the butter to the hollows where the seeds were. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the squash is mushy. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh and set aside in a bowl. Stir in a little salt and pepper. Spread the squash over the tortillas.

Heat the oil over medium-low heat, add the onions.  Cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are nicely browned and limp. Set aside.

In the same pan, place a tortilla with the squash, then add three or four slices of brie, the apple, and a spoonful of the onions. Allow to cook open-faced until the brie starts to melt, about three minutes. Fold the tortilla in half, press with a spatula, flip and press again, and transfer to a plate. Allow the quesadilla to sit for a minute, then cut into wedges and add your garnish.  Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Happens to a Vegan Deferred?

I think there's another, more closeted reason why my posts have have been so few. Like with any proper latent Catholic, it pertains to guilt. I started this blog with the ambition of posting healthful, wholistic, mostly vegan (or completely veganizable) recipes.  Of course, posting in this vein implies that I'm living as such. And well, I've sort of fallen off the health-food wagon since starting school. It's really, really hard to maintain a healthy, animal-free lifestyle when you work at and attend a school with an outstanding French culinary program co-founded by Julia herself. Couple that with being broke, and my defenses are completely shot. When lunch time comes around, guess which one wins: the over-priced bagel sandwich from the chaotic hipster coffee shop down the street, or a few (free!) slices of hot, homemade pizza with potatoes and brie? And I haven't even gotten to the tuna aux poivre incident (the incident was that i loved it)...

So, the moral seems to be that I have no morals. Not true! More like I'm toying with my boundaries. As if to prove a point, I made one of my most un-vegan creations in awhile tonight: quiche.  I hardly even had veggies to put in it. I had a paltry amount of broccoli, and I stretched it out by chopping the stem and cutting the florets reeaally small (which addresses my love for all things teeny-tiny). I've toyed with tofu-quiches before, and will likely revisit them. But I doubt anything soy-based will come out looking as drop-dead delicious as this.

Broccoli Quiche

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
3-4 tbs ice water

4 eggs
splash of half-and-half or whole milk
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cup broccoli with its stem, cut into tiny florets
1/2 - 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I had mozzarella on hand) 

To make the crust, combine the flour and butter with a butter knife. Add the water, a little bit at a time, and stir the mixture with the knife until a crumbly dough forms. Resist the temptation to use your hands! The warmth from your hands will warm the butter and give you a tough crust.  Chilling the dough is the next step, and I just discovered this trick: slip the ball of dough into a plastic bag (I used the bag my broccoli was in), flatten into a disc, and refrigerate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add the broccoli. Boil for just under a minute, strain, and rinse under cold water.

For the egg mixture, lightly whisk the eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper in a bowl.  It's ok if the yolks don't completely mix in with the whites. Don't overmix, otherwise the mixture will back up tough and rubbery (can you tell that a light hand is the French way?).

Now press your dough into an 8- or 9-inch pie or tart pan. I must say that I used a 9-inch tart pan and was pressing the dough dangerously thin, so I would say stick with the 8-inch. Add the broccoli, then the cheese, then the egg mixture.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the tops in bubbling up and browned nicely. Allow to cool slightly before cutting. Serves 6.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blog's Not Dead

I live for the fall. Apples and crunchy leaves and scarves and pumpkin beer and pale blue skies wrapped up in the inexplicable scents of pepper and cinnamon that linger in the air until the first snow. And this is, without question, my favorite time to cook. This fall coincides with a big move, a new job, and 200+ pages of reading a week. But I've got an itch for the kitch. I will make something awesome, soon, I swear. You'll hear about it as soon as I do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summertime, and This Salad Is Easy

A prolonged crack of the knuckles and uncurling of the USB cable, and I”m back to work. I can't believe I've let over a month go by without updating this thing; in fact, I've barely had time to check in on the awesome foodliness that's being written on out there. So, what have I missed?

The lamentation is old and tired, but true – summer is whizzing by way too fast. I've done some traveling, a lot of working, and maybe too much boozing, but it's been a good one. My recent trip to DC yielded a stop to the King Street Farmer's Market in Alexandria, Virginia, where I awed at the okra (not a Yankee specialty), and sampled a sweet, southern peach. I loved this market, because unlike the Boston-area ones, this featured local artists, designers and cooks selling their goods. I even snagged a last-minute accessory to the wedding I was attending. And speaking of farmer's market, on another summer trip to my mom's house in upstate New York, I brought along this last-minute, produce-centered summer salad to help feed the masses. We were staging what turned out to be a very successful yard sale, and I knew we'd be hungry. Lo and behold, the fam scarfed down the entire vat of it I brought – and yes, my mother tried and liked quinoa. Summer is nothing if not a time to be bold.

Make this with any combination farm-fresh veggies, and you really can't go wrong. Throw in some fresh herbs (parsley, dill), for even more delectable umph. The secret short-cut: bottled salad dressing. I made it again with homemade pesto, though, and the results were an equally addictive salad.

Simple Summer Salad

1 cup quinoa, cooked

1 handful cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 zucchini, diced

1 summer squash, diced

2 ears of corn, husked

a couple small carrots, peeled and diced

1 bottle Goddess salad dressing, or one cup pesto 

some fresh herbs (parsley, dill, basil, thyme), chopped.

Cook the quinoa in two cups of boiling water in a covered pot for 20-30 minutes. Turn down the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Meanwhile, several cups of water to boil in a large pot. Boil to corn for about 6-7 minutes until just tender. Drain, but save a couple inches of the water. Cut the kernels from the cobs. Steam the vegetables (except the tomatoes) in a colander over the remaining water VERY briefly – thirty seconds tops. Shock the vegetables in a bowl of ice water and drain. In a large bowl or plastic container, combine the quinoa, veggies, herbs, and salad dressing or pesto. Toss, cover, and head to the beach/picnic/car for your well-fed getaway. 

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Great A-Scape

Lawd a-mercy, things looked dicey there for a minute, but I finished my first class yesterday.  Summer has solstice-d, and I must've missed the dove clutching an olive branch in its beak, but the rain has stopped!  In short, things is looking up. I can't wait to attend to all the things I've been neglecting for the past few weeks, like my apartment (the bathroom is starting to attract mycologists), my cat (I just brushed a kitten's-worth of fur from her shedding coat), and of course, the kitchen.  Holler!

I made this loosey-goosey soup last week after my first farmers market trip.  And none too soon – another day without produce and I would've been pushing scurvy.  It's great for those wet spring days that are supposed to happen in, say, April, not late June. I'm just sayin'.  Anyway, spring veggies, some fresh herbs, an aromatic, maybe some white wine, and you're done.  The scapes, garlic in its young, spindly stage, are great.  They reached a near-celebrity status last year after this New York Times article, and well, once it's cool in the Times, it must not be cool anymore, right?  Well, I'd like to believe that vegetables transcend that hipster mentality.  Cut up, the taste and texture is rather like fresh green beens with a kiss of garlic. Trendy or no, what's not to like? 

Spring Vegetable Soup

6 cups water, vegetable stock, or combination

olive oil for saute

1/4 cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)

1 shallot, cut into rings

2 garlic scapes, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 carrot, sliced diagonally into ovals

stems from a bunch of swiss chard, chopped

a few asparagus stalks, scut into 1-inch lengths (reserve a few stalks for garnish)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

a combination of a couple fresh herbs, mix 'n' match 'n' chop – parsley, thyme, lavender, rosemary... any suggestions?

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stock pot.  Add the shallots and cook until just softened.  Add the rest of the veggies and cook until they brighten up and soften (poke or taste; the cook time will depend on the veggies you use).  Add the wine, stir, and cook for a couple minutes while some of the wine evaporates.  Add the water and/or stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer.  Halfway through the simmer (probably about ten minutes), add your fresh herbs. Simmer until the soup is fragrant and the veggies are softened but not mush – twenty minutes or less.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a garnish of asparagus spears and a pinch of the freshly chopped herbs. Serves 4-6.

Friday, June 19, 2009

June Is Bustin' Out

It's a little-known fact that June marks the beginning of monsoon season in New England. Or at least that's what this week of relentless rainfall would have me believe. It is also, after seven solid months of sweaty-palmed anticipation, the beginning of farmers' market season! The one behind my apartment has just opened; others have been kickin' for a couple weeks. Check out the Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets for more days and locations. My overtired, overworked body was buoyed at the mere site of all the offerings. Paper-writing was just going to have to go on hold for the day. You can hardly pay me enough to go out and buy jeans, shoes... but this is a place where I'll gladly empty out my wallet week after week. I bought tons of veggies, of course, and some potted plants and herbs (to help supplement the ones that bit it as seeds under my watch), and what I'd really been holding out for: strawberries. Their time with us is terribly fleeting, and I'll snatching 'em up by the quart for as long as they're around. Half of this week's were gobbled up plain, as tiny, plump, juicy, impossibly sweet little bursts of awesome in my mouth. The rest went into this tart, one that I've been fantasizing about making for an embarassingly long time. Almond meal makes for a really moist pastry – not as flaky and buttery as one might want in a tart shell, but I think the flavor more than makes up for the difference. And if you have and fresh basil around for garnish, all the better – one whiff is like pure, concentrated essence of summer.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart 

For the tart shell:

½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour (or pastry flour. Or good ol' all-purp)

½ cup almond meal

½ cup Earth Balance

¼ cup confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pie or tart pan. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and almond meal until you get a crumbly mixture. Press the mixture into the pan, pushing along the seam of the pan so the mixture creeps up the sides. Bake for twenty minutes, or until just browned (I got away without using pie weights, but if your shell starts to bubble up, throw something lightly weighted on it to hold it down). Set it aside and let it cool while you make the filling.

For the filling:

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed, and thinly sliced (I didn't bother to hull mine, since the berries were so tiny)

2 stalks rhubarb, washed and finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons sugar

juice from one lemon

3 tablespoons flour

In a medium saucepan, gently heat the lemon juice over low heat. Add the strawberries and rhubarb and cook gently, until the rhubarb is just softened and the strawberries start to release their juices. Stir in the sugar, taste and add more if it's still quite tart. Stir in the flour one tablespoon at a time and let the mixture thicken for a minute. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake for about five to seven minutes, or until the mixture is pretty well firm in the shell. Garnish with ribbons of fresh basil. Serves 6.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vegetarians: Uncle Sam-Approved!

This is one of those academic breakthroughs that scholars dream about. It's also one of those revelations that rabble-rousers scour the internet trying to find. Very briefly: I'm researching the history of the American home garden for a class - American Agricultural History. There's no approaching this topic without examining the victory gardens of the World Wars. Victory gardens literally sprung up at the behest of government propaganda - boatloads of it. And by gum if it didn't work - by 1918, over 5 million Americans were "earning the right to stay home" by producing and canning vast amounts of their own food. Um, wait. So the government of a century ago implored us to be producers, not consumers, in the brink of global terror and impending war. Fast forward to the last months of 2001, and we're being implored to shop from September 12th until ever-after. Can you imagine the state of the nation's, the world's economy, if we'd again taken to the soil and not sales rack (or dare I say the sub-prime mortgage)? 

Mind blow. 

Anyway, back to vegetables. For my research, I got my hands on a copy of the original gangsta of victory gardening, the government-issued tome The War Garden Victorious. I literally threw my fist in the air oi-punk style when I read this quote:
There is need for vegetable food. The body is kept in better condition  if it does not depend too largely on a meat diet (119).
BOO-yah! There you have it, kids. Next time your mom/boyfriend/coworker (not autobiographical, ahem) bugs you about how imperative meat is to your survival,  just turn them to this non-scientifically based early 20th-century factoid. Wait, that came out wrong. But you get the idea. A plant based diet is good for you. Though to remind the government it's old opinion would be like reminding your friend about that drunken night when she peed in the sink - they'd both get really embarrassed and try to deny it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

5 Ingredients+10 Minutes = A Meal

An equation even I can wrap my harried brain around. You know you're too busy when hygiene becomes an afterthought and pizza becomes a food group. I don't have time to miss flossing, but my craptacular diet since starting this class and a second job is starting to catch up to me. Somewhere in the melee I had the time to whip up this salad. The flavors here are uncomplicated, cliche even, but delicious. This truth was only amplified by the fact that it was two days before I had time to eat it. And I guarantee it would be worlds better if I'd used dried rather than canned beans. Oh well. I'll try it the right way in a few weeks. Summer school is the pits; can't wait for the end of June... 

The Basic Bean Salad
24-32 oz any ol' beans - navy, pinto, kidney, chickpeas, black beans...
1 shallot, minced
juice from one lemon
a handful of fresh parsley, minced
pine nuts for garnish

Drain the beans and rinse them in a colander. Combine the beans, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a bowl, tossing gently to coat. Let it sit for an hour (or 48) while you run to class, the post office, Philly, whatever. Just before serving, stir in the parsley and top with toasted pine nuts. Serve as is, over rice or grains, or salad greens. Serves 6.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

...Grey Gardens

They paved paradise... and you know the rest. Let me clarify: by "they" I mean my landlord, and by "paved" I mean mowed, but I'm still heavy-hearted this morning. See, I took it upon myself to tackle the backyard of my apartment building. That's right, there's a yard! I did a little neighborhood reconnaissance and learned that the growth hadn't been touched in at least three years, and the dingy, Fisher Price detritus was beginning to try my neighbors sense of taste - and patience. I spent a couple weeks bagging dead leaves, pruning vines, planting bulbs, and tackling the mint. Oh, the mint. I had no idea before I got into gardening, but mint has this Godzilla-lke tenacity and will take over every inch of growing space once you give it a chance. Just FYI, best to keep this stuff in a pot. 

I was, yes, proud of the work I did. And I loved that with a 

little work, the overgrown vines, dainty violets and proud dandelions came to look like the Secret Garden. Mission accomplished? Until this morning, when I went out to water the porch garden to discover the yard snipped and hacked to bits. 

From Secret Garden to... a poodle with an awkward haircut. Maybe this is a lesson to my ego, or to my horticultural vigilantism. And who knows, maybe my landlord has some epic landscaping plan or k

ickass vegetable garden in the works. And my story is nowhere near as heart-aching as Gayla 

Trail's city garden disillusionment (she also reflects on the sometimes nasty role of the ego in gardening). 

I'm glad I got to do a little foraging a couple weeks back when the pickin's were good. You've probably heard by now that those persistent little buggers, dandelions, offer an edible, nutritious, and abundant supply of greens. Early spring is the best time to hit these up, when the greens are more tender and sweeter. If you decide to snag your own wild dandelion greens, use ya head: look for small leaves unmunched by critters, avoid areas that have been sprayed (a well-manicured lawn/public park is likely laden with chemicals), and rinse them thouroughly before use. This "recipe" (unrecipe?) is a basic treatment for dandelion greens; it's fun to throw in anything else you can forage. In the case of what was in my backyard, I added some chives, mint, and violets. The flowers are edible, pretty, but add little more than a food-and-garden-nerd accent.

Sauteed Dandelion Greens

a handful of small dandelion greens, rinsed and dried

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or sherry- or white vinegar. I like the rice vinegar for its grassy flavor against the greens.)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the water in a medium saute pan and add the greens. Cover and steam for about three minutes or until wilted. Add the oil and saute briefly (less than a minute), then stir in the vinegar, salt and pepper and any other garden add-ins and saute for a minute more. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Green Gardens

It's been awhile, too much of awhile! I haven't even started school yet, but my days are already packed. Yes, as of today, I am an officially matriculated student in Boston University's Master's in Gastronomy (insert triumphant sound effect here)! I'm tickled pink to be going back to school, studying food, glorious food, and gradually weaning away from a life of waiting tables. But the stress has been intense: applying for financial aid requires everything other than my signature in blood. And yes, the blogging has tragically suffered as the application process wages on. But that's not to mean that I haven't been loving life - and that I haven't been eating! 

As springtime flowers finally bloomed from the sleeping soil, I took on a new season of container gardening. So far, so good - both my garden and I are a year older and a year wiser, so I hope this growing season will yield some better results. Last year I harvested a couple tiny bell peppers and a resilient crop of basil and parsley. The tomatoes never blossomed, the pumpkin suffered a tragic death over the side of the porch rail. I've started some herbs both from seed and seedling, and they're doing quite well. Well, enough, in fact, that I was able to harvest some for this pesto. Pesto, by conventional definition, entails basil, loads of olive oil, nuts for a surfactant and flavor, and cheese to bind. But with a garden of herbs, greens and hand, and tummies hungry enough to eat NOW, it's easy to bend the rules. This pesto uses arugula (I had some from Trader Joe's, sorry), garden herbs, and no cheese. You don't need the Parmesan if you're using the pesto immediately; the binding agent is nice, but necessary only if you're planning on storing the pesto for more than a day. And while this combination of greens and herbs isn't "real" pesto, it's herby, light, and delicious. It won raves from my dinner partner and the coworkers who sampled it when I took the leftovers in the next night. Here's looking forward to a continued harvest - cheap and fresh eats this summer while I work the hours and hit the books.

Herbed Lemon Pesto with Cannellini Beans  

1 1/2-2 cups mixed herbs and greens (so. I used 1 cup arugula and a mixed half-a-cup of parsley and lemongrass. Try using all parsley in late summer when it's abundant, or mixing cilantro, or dill, or mint... just shoot for about 2 cups of tasty, light green stuff)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup good-quality, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil (good oil is they key to good pesto - don't settle!)
3-4 cloves garlic: 1 smashed and roughly chopped, the rest finely slivered (or more to taste; I'm a garlic freak)
pinch of sea salt
12 oz cannellini beans
juice from one lemon

Pasta - just cook some pasta before or while you're doing the rest of the cooking. I used 4 oz whole-wheat spaghetti and it was exquisite.

Using a food processor, chopper, or mortar and pestle, process the the green stuff, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and the smashed garlic until pasty and uniform. 

Heat some olive oil over medium in a saute pan, the add the rest of the garlic. Cook the garlic, stirring almost constantly, until just aromatic and not browned. A couple brown spots are fine, just don't burn it! Add the beans and saute for about two minutes to infuse the beans with oil and garlic goodness. Turn off the heat, squeeze the lemon juice over the beans and stir. Add the pasta to a big bowl, then add stir in the pesto (it takes a little effort, but well worth it), then stir in the beans. Garnish with any extra pine nuts. Serves 4.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Champions of Breakfast

Runners, tighten your laces! Liquor stores, stock your 40's! It's nearly the third Monday in April here in Boston - Marathon Monday. The marathon represents one of two things: the indomitable nature of human will or the irrepressible urge to drink in public. Or there's the soul wrenching battle between the two - I could easily be one of those people with a beer in hand, an unlit cigarette in the other, thinking to myself: " year... Sob!" Now, not to be Little-Miss-Goody-Two-Asics, but I've never participated in the widespread debauchery that goes down on Patriots Day (yes, Boston likes to provide two names for its construed holidays; see also St. Patrick's Day/Evacuation Day). But this is the third consecutive year where I've intensified my running routine 'round about this time. I feel like a bit of a poseur running the trails right around the marathon. I'm usually being lapped by runners with highly sculpted calves and windbreakers from a previous year's race (the older the year, the more distinguished the runner, I think). But I plan to watch some of the runners as they come down Beacon tomorrow, and I know I'll catch the elite men and women cross into Copley and, as I always do, cry like a baby over the beauty of it all.

I just got back from a run and, starving, whipped up some breakfast. There are tons of recipes for tofu scramble out there, to the point where you don't really need a recipe. The most important part for me is the turmeric, for that sunny color and umami-liciosness. I'm not usually this serious about my morning meal, but hey, gotta load up for my big catharsis tomorrow.

Anything-Goes Tofu Scramble

1 package extra-firm tofu, thoroughly drained and crumbled

1 small onion, finely diced 

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 heaping teaspoon turmeric

a few splashes of hot sauce

a good plop of salsa

Additions: corn and cilantro; chopped kalamata olives and oregano, green onions and parsley... use your imagination!

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened and just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the tofu and cook until the tofu starts to brown, about five more minutes. Stir in the turmeric, hot sauce and any additions and enjoy (with hearty whole-wheat toast, yum!).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Potluck-y

Whether you mark this time of year with marshmallow chicks, matzo or a maypole, I think it's a pretty fine time to be alive. It's a time of triumph, really: over mortality, over adversity, over darkness. That's how some of our major religions slice it. But you don't need a set of dogma to feel cheered by green's victory over grey.

I got to celebrate Easter with most of my favorite people outside my bloodline, and yes, I felt like a lucky duck to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and a-freaking-mazing food. My apartment really felt like a home as soup simmered, onions brown and crusts baked last Sunday afternoon. My friend floored me with their culinary chops (quiches: feta, kalamata and asparagus, the other with apricot, peach and stilton), ingenuity (and improvised
potato and scallion soup), and resourcefulness (the food biz provided a scavenged salad and spring rolls accompanied by the best peanut sauce in Boston). 
I brought to the table (literally, woo!) portabello mushrooms stuffed with quinoa and spinach. My tye-A chef-y side prepped the day before; I just put them in the oven and let everyone else have at the kitchen. Admittedly, what I made was tame and health-foody compared to the robust flavors of the rest of the meal, but hey, I keeps it real like dat.

This is an ingredient-short but prep-heavy dish, but you can do near all of it at least a day before you serve it. You could even do the quinoa-spinach mixture two day prior, bake the mushrooms and assemble the day before and reheat when it's dinner time. Anything with this many steps is suitable for company. After all, your effort is a way to give to your family and friends for free.

Quinoa and Spinach-Stuffed Portabellos
8-10 portabello mushroom caps (plan on serving one per person as a side, two if it's a main dish)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable stock
12oz fresh spinach or one bag frozen (thawed and super-well-pressed for moisture if frozen)
olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic clove,s minced
1 bunch chevril or parsley, chopped
2-3oz nice Swiss, like Emmantaler or Havarti (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Clean the portabello caps with a dry paper towel and scrape out the gills with a small spoon. Use a gentle hand, as the cap will break under too much pressure (for those of us not used to handling textured, meaty ingredients, this part is really cool). Discard those insides. Place the caps (cap-side down, hollowed-out side up) on a non-stick baking sheet and spray or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until you smell the earthy mushrooms and they start to release their juices. SAVE THAT JUICE! Take the mushrooms off the pan and drain the juice into a small bowl for extra flava in the quinoa...

Bring two cups of water or stock to a boil and add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom juice and let the quinoa sit for a few minutes.

In a large saute pan, add few tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chevril or parsley and stir until just heated. Add the spinach and stir to coat. Stir occasionally to uniformly wilt the spinach, about 8 minutes. Combine the quinoa and spinach mixture in a large bowl and season with sea salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Add a heaping tablespoon-full of the quinoa-spinach mixture to the portabello caps. Top with some grated or shaved Emmantaler if desired (I did some with and without). Bake until the filling is hot, the portabellos are juicy and until the cheese -if using- is just bubbling. Serves five as an entree, 8 or more as a side dish.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips: Kick it Root Down

This was a component to one of those rare, glorious meals that reinvigorate one's zeal for the tri-component plate model: a starch, a vegetable, and a protein. I think many of us grew up with this tradition, one that's steeped deep in the fifties. It's played-out enough to make a grown person never want to sit down at a table and eat without cardboard and styrofoam detritus again. But this old-school meal can get its groove back if we acknowledge that: 
  1. The starch need include the prefix with "Instant" or the suffix "-a-Roni." 
  2. The vegetable need not be canned 
  3. The protein need not, dur, be meat.
I once again cleaned out the veggie drawer in my fridge for this piece. Still roots, yes, and it seems to still be winter - at least botanically. That's gonn
a change, though, because I'm waiting for my next actual day off to zip(car) over to Allandale FArms, whose farmstand opened last Friday. Yaaaay! I'm sorry - Opening Day? Josh Beckett? Ted Kennedy's first pitch? Farmer's opening day is one to get amped about. But I was working. Sob. Anyway, here's what I hope will be the last featured parsnip until the fall (sorry guys, but I'm ready for some leaves 'n' such). Wintered-over parsnips are something special, though, and I chased away the their winter blues with sunny, peppy lemon and ginger.

(By the way, the other star player in this meal was an adaptation on Vegan Dad's Maple Barbeque Tofu - a full report on that is hunkered down in the dugout.)

Roasted Carrots & Parsnips with Lemon and Ginger

1/2 lb each carrots and parsnips, washed, peeled, and cut into matchsticks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced ginger
juice from half a lemon
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 425F. Combine the carrots, parsnips and olive oil in a good-sized dish (big enough so the veggies aren't all heaped on top of each other). Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the edges are browned and the veggies are tender, turning halfway through. In the last couple minutes, pour the lemon-ginger mix over the veggies. Stir when you take it out of the oven and season with a pinch of salt.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Wrecking Ball Through the Fourth Wall

...not that bloggers have a fourth wall. But in that vein, these images are a little glimpse of my kitchen, and this post is a little window into my obsessive mind. Food bloggers are a good crowd. I suspect we're all retaining some of the quiet, unassuming middle schooler in us: bookish, averagely likeable, prone to retreat to semi-closeted nerdish indulgences like beating Mario 3 in ten minutes or less, or doggedly rehearsing some musical piece. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, food bloggers follow the same formula - just replace those after-school pastimes with researching, writing about, and cooking up all types of comestibles.

I felt a wave of camaraderie wash over me when I heard Marc Matsumoto speak on NPR about his fantastically rad blog No Recipes. It was serendipitous that I heard the broadcast; my friend was driving over to get some dinner and texted me en route: "Turn on NPR." So I did, and nearly everything Marc said struck a chord with me. Oh, to be inspired by a single ingredient; the craftsmanship that goes into turning a botanical into a meal; the dream to stick it to the man and just cook and write, cook and write. Well, sometimes that dream is actualized in the form of a hastily-built lemonade stand after a severe downpour of lemons. But why fret when your lemonade is the best on the block? 30,000 hits per month adds up to a lotta quarters! (Really, listen to the broadcast. You won't regret the few minutes.)

Suffice to say, I was inspired - then a bit star-struck. In another uplifting turn of events, Cathy at Not Eating Out In New York done-gone-'n'-done it a-gin. This month's featured Reason for Not Eating Out is scrumscalescent montage of some of the healthiest, eye-candiest recipes on Foodblogland (rhymes with Newfoundland). She features Marc's drool-worthy pasta fazool, Becky (-and the Beanstalk's) homemade tofu bacon, and other images that I recognized from the past few months of great postings. And, gasp, there's little ol' me... my Chickpea Patties snuck in there, too! I am flabbergasted, dillywithered, to be included with some of the greats. I can humbly say that it's one of my favorite recipes on this li'l blog of mine, and Cathy's caption makes it sound all the more appealing.

So thanks to Marc for the inspiration, and to Cathy for the esteem. Don't worry, a few hours on the floor ("I wanted milk, not cream") should put my feet back on the pavement.