Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just like mom used to make...


I remember being very embarrassed to have sleepovers at my house. It wasn't that I didn't like the idea of friends spending the night--I did! Who doesn't like getting to stay up late watching movies and eating junk food? What I didn't like was that in the morning, my mother would be downstairs making pancakes. They were pancakes that, had I not had friends over, I would have been delighted to eat, but because friends were over, they were embarrassing. These were not your typical pancakes, although they were (and still are) my favorite pancakes. They were whole wheat banana pancakes. Nowadays, I can happily admit that they are my favorite pancakes. But I distinctly remember being made fun of when I was in elementary school for being "too healthy" (go figure, kids will pick on you for anything, no?). Having friends sleep over meant that in the morning, they would see that I really was too healthy. My mother really did make whole wheat health foods with fruit in them. YUCK! How un-cool could I possibly be?
When I look back on these memories, I don't blame myself for being self-conscious, but I can at least see how ridiculous I was. I now warmly embrace the very diet I embarrassingly grew up with!
Here's my newer version of whole wheat banana pancakes, with a twist.



1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
a tad less than 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder

1 T molasses
1 egg
1.5 T melted butter
1 c plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
2/3 c milk

2 T raspberry jam
1-2 ripe bananas, sliced or mashed, depending on your preference
sliced baked pear (optional)
In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine molasses, egg, butter, yogurt and milk. Add the wet mixture to the dry, and stir until just mixed. Lumps are okay. Swirl in the jam--it does not have to be fully incorporated (I like leaving it in clumps). You may add mashed banana now, or add it, sliced, to pancakes as they are poured into the skillet. Either way works.

Pour by the 1/4 c full into lightly greased skillet on medium heat. Remember that the first pancake is usually the "tester", so if it doesn't come out perfectly, don't worry, but use it as a gauge to tell if the temperature is too high or low and adjust accordingly. Pancakes should typically cook on the first side until they are bubbly and look dry around the edges, about 4-5 minutes, then about 3-4 min on the other side, as well. Serve plain, or with baked pears and maple syrup, as I did this morning!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Procrastination Cranberry-Almond Scones!


Still in finals, I have decided to write about these wonderful scones I made. I really enjoy making scones- they are so good when they are good! Flakey, buttery goodness. Mmm Mmm Mmm! My work as a baker gave me a valuable understanding of the chemistry underlying baking and gave me a knowledge of how to make scones without a recipe. I'm not saying every recipe I make up is golden, but this one is! You can also experiment with different types of fruits (or no fruit) in your scones. I use frozen cranberries in this recipe but if you wanted to use dried, that would be okay, too.

2 c organic unbleached flour
1 c organic whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 c sugar
1.5 sticks very cold organic butter, cut into small cubes (maybe 20 per stick)
1 c frozen cranberries
1/2 c crushed almonds (with or without skin) plus 1/3 c for topping
1 c organic cultured buttermilk


Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, baking powder+soda, sugar and salt. Add your very cold butter pieces(which can be cut into pieces and frozen the night before for added coolness), and turn mixer on to low. Keep on mixing until the contents of the bowl resemble cornmeal. You want the pieces of butter to break down into crumbs, but not so much that the butter becomes integrated into the dry ingredients, turning it into, say, a pie dough texture. At this point you can add your frozen cranberries and 1/2 c crushed almonds, and keep mixing on low. Look and see if adding the biggish cranberries provides contrast to help you see the butter crumbs- if it seems the butter pieces are still really big in contrast to the cranberries, keep on mixing before adding anything else. It's great to be able to compare to the cranberries, but if you mix for too long, the cranberries will bleed, which we would like to avoid, unless you are going for pink scones intentionally.
When the mixture looks right, add your buttermilk. Mix until just incorporated- maybe two turns of the paddle. Then remove bowl, and use rubber spatula to scrape around the sides and bottom to make sure its all mixed. Again, we're not going for doughy consistency, exactly.
In fact, what makes scones so great and crumbly is that where a given piece of butter melts will crumble when you bite it. So you want it to not be a homogeneous mixture.
With an ice cream scoop, or in the palm of your hand, shape rounded mounds and place on parchment paper. Top with crushed almond pieces and/or turbinado sugar.
Bake on 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Let cool.
EAT!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

GIANT GINGER COOKIES


I have been bombarded by work for the past couple of weeks, and the end is in sight, but there is a bit more to do before I get there. Being that the kitchen is where I do my work when I'm home, my chosen form of procrastination is baking. The fruits of this type of procrastination are well worth the distraction from seemingly more important tasks (such as take-home test completion). I want to mention that often I bake because I love to bake--not because I want to eat an entire batch of cookies. I'm not saying I don't pig out on goodies from time to time, but overall, I enjoy the very act of baking. I find it meditative; an exercise in concentration, perhaps? Also, I like the act of producing something from scratch. True creation.
In the spirit of the cold, I whipped up some giant ginger cookies, inspired by a cookbook birthday present from my parents, The Modern Baker.
I also want to mention that I find the end result is always best when I don't rush through any of the process--when I'm fully present for each and every step, the process is much more gratifying.

If you know ahead of time that you're going to bake these cookies, it's a good idea leave the sticks of butter out overnight so it will soften nicely.

3/4 c (1.5 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg
2 c organic unbleached flour
1 c organic whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
One inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, diced super finely
1 T ground ginger
1/4 c finely chopped candied ginger pieces

Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mix flours, baking soda + powder, salt, and ground ginger.
In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. When you notice the original color of the butter has lightened in shade, add the one egg. Continue to beat until fully incorporated. Stop mixer and add half the mixed dry ingredients. Turn mixer back on low for a bit, until mixture is smooth. Stop it again, and add the rest of the dry mixture, fresh ginger, and candied ginger pieces. Mix until incorporated. Use a rubber spatula or plastic bench scraper to make sure all the bits and pieces from the sides and bottom of the bowl get mixed in.
Using a #15 scoop, (a large serving spoon, or tablespoon will do, but you'll need to make the scoop HEAP), scoop level scoops of dough onto sheet pans. You should have enough dough for approximately 10 giant cookies, or many little ones. Flatten each scoop of dough on the tray so it will bake evenly, but don't make the cookie THIN. We want them to be GIANT! You may also sprinkle on a teensy bit of white sugar, but it's not entirely necessary.
Bake in oven for 12 minutes. Remove trays from oven, let sit on tray for a few minutes out of the oven, and then you can either move them to a cooling rack, or eat them!

Fun with leftover noodles!



As I opened the fridge, I realized I still had six or seven leftover lasagna noodles. Since I was already home alone, preparing myself for a night of staying in to write a few papers, I decided to whip up a single serving of lasagna. Not a re-do of fall lasagna, but a variation of a more traditional-looking vegetarian lasagna: mozzarella, red sauce, noodles...

I started the sauce on the stove; we were out of onions, so the improv recipe is below. It was actually pretty good even minus the chopped onion. The recipe is below. I used a round ramekin, probably 4-5" in diameter, but any smaller single-serve pyrex or other dish will do.

Preheat oven on convection to 350 degrees, 375 if you don't have convection.
Sauce:
1-2 T Extra Virgin olive oil
4 cloves smashed or diced garlic (I like to smash, then chop roughly, but it might just be a phase)
1/4 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried thyme
1/8-1/4 t crushed red pepper (less or more, depending on how much heat you like)
1 16 oz can peeled whole tomatoes, crushed in your hands*
pinch salt and pepper (to taste)

Filling:
1/4 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c small curd cottage cheese
1 c very very lightly steamed spinach
salt and pepper to taste

Leftover lasagna noodles
1/4 c mozzarella, shredded

In a small-medium saucepan, on medium heat, pour in oil. When it's hot, add garlic, oregano, thyme. Stir, cook for a bit but do not let garlic brown. After 5 min or so, add tomatoes, their juice, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Stir it up, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat so sauce is simmering. Leave on a low simmer from 30 min to an hour.

While sauce is cooking, let's trim those leftover noodles! Place ramekin on top of one noodle. With either kitchen scissors or a pairing knife, trace noodle to be the shape and size of the ramekin. Then cut your new shape in half, if need be (I did). Use your newly shaped noodle as a template and cut out some more (however many layers you will need for your lasagna).

Mix together cottage cheese, ricotta, and spinach, s+p.

Place two halves (or one whole) noodle in bottom of ramekin. Spoon a bit of filling on top of noodles. Spoon a bit of sauce on top. Add another two halves of noodle shapes on top. Continue to layer filling and sauce until you get to the top of the ramekin. When you reach the top, sprinkle on mozzarella. Put it in the oven for about...40 minutes, but keep an eye on it after 30.

It should look deeelicious. You can spoon leftover sauce on top when you serve it.
Oh, also- it ended up being more than just one serving for me-- more like 2 and a half.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fall Lasagna Dream


Some people think the coming of winter means an end to fertility of the land. While the winter may not be the most fruitful season (literally), there are still some great vegetables that are enjoyed between late fall/early winter. One of these is squash. A lot of people think squash is really bland, only to be eaten if there's nothing else in the fridge or pantry. And when the only ideas you can conjure up when you think of squash are split + roasted or puree/soup, I don't blame them!

The other day I was driving, and all of a sudden this thought landed in my head: Butternut squash lasagna. Now, I've never eaten such a dish, and I wasn't sure if it was original (it's not), but for some reason, the idea planted itself in my head and continued to grow. All day I thought about how I would make my butternut squash lasagna. I had a couple of organic winter squashes in the pantry from our CSA, and also had some of the farm's curly kale in the fridge, but I wasn't sure about the logistics, so I did some research.

I consulted my trusted Alice Waters Vegetables cookbook and read her section on winter squash. She did not have a recipe for lasagna, so I continued to look, enriched with the knowledge of how to roast and mash squash, and make sure it isn't too watery. Gathering bits and pieces from many of my cookbooks, including inspiration from Deborah Madison (famous Greens chef), as well, I turned to the World Wide Web. It was here that I came upon the food network's website's recipe for butternut squash lasagna: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/butternut-squash-lasagna-recipe/index.html , all The New York Times archives on butternut squash and, finally, coconut & lime, an excellent food blog. This website is great! Mad props to Rachel Rappaport. Check out her site here: http://coconutlime.blogspot.com/2008/11/butternut-squash-swiss-chard-white.html
I think my final creation was a mix between the cook deep down inside of me that takes over when I begin, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, and maybe Rachel Rappaport, too. What wonderful women to be inspired by!

From all I read in an afternoon, I began my creation of fall lasagna. The recipe is below. I want to mention that in my family, there are two very picky eaters, who just happened to be home for Thanksgiving weekend. One of them rarely eats more than one serving, and the other (although he assures me I'm stuck in the past and his eating horizons have broadened) is just plain picky. Both picky eaters very much enjoyed this dish and we almost finished the entire casserole in one evening! I was very satisfied with my creation, to say the least. As always, I always try to use as many organic ingredients* as possible.

What you'll need:
One large-ish (I used a 9x13 pyrex) casserole dish
1 lb lasagna noodles (NOT the no-boil kind)
1 large *butternut squash (approx. 3+ lb), cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded
1 bunch *curly kale (or any greens you like, really), washed, ribs discarded, and chopped into ~2" pieces
1 T *dried sage (fresh will do, too)
2 c ricotta cheese OR small curd cottage cheese (if you're on a diet or just like cottage cheese...)
salt and pepper to taste
1 c part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 c *milk
1 T *butter
1 T *flour (for a thickener; any flour will do)
1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
3 *cloves garlic, chopped

Place squash, cut side down, on parchment paper on baking sheet. Roast squash in oven on 375 for 45 min to 1 hr. Don't worry about time so much; it's very hard to burn squash. When it's done, let cool. When you can touch it comfortably, peel off the skin (which should be easy if it's done) with fingers or a pairing knife for extra help. Put squash in a bowl and mash with a fork or masher. If the mashed squash looks watery, put it in a saucepan, turn to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, so the water evaporates and squash thickens. If you don't do this, the noodles will get very soggy (not to my liking).

Cook lasagna noodles according to box. Starches can be very sticky, so when the noodles are done, try to lay them flat in a single layer, or under ice cold water, so they remain independent.

In a pan on the stove, place WET, washed, and cut kale (or other greens). Cover pan--this is going to steam till almost tender, so you want some water in there. If it's not wet enough from being washed, add a bit; start with a 1/4 cup. When it's done, dump it into a medium bowl. Add ricotta (or cottage) cheese, sage, salt, and pepper, to taste, and mix.

The "sauce" of this dish is sort of a lighter bechamel, which is basically a butter-flour roux plus milk. This is a "light" bechamel, because there is not much butter in it (in my opinion the lasagna is rich enough w/ out the excess). In a small sauce pan, whisk, butter and flour on medium-low heat. When smooth, add your milk, garlic, and nutmeg. That's it!

Now, for the layering (read: the fun part). In your casserole or baking dish, place some noodles in a single layer. Now take your thickened mashed squash and spread over noodles in about a 1/2" layer. Next, in easy to handle globs (hands work well for this), spread on some cheese-kale mixture. NEXT LAYER OF NOODLES! Squash, cheese-kale. Noodles... you get it. When you've either filled the pan or exhausted your fillings, pour on your sauce. Depending on your liking, you can use all of it, or less. I used almost all of it. Sprinkle on shredded mozzarella.

Pop it in the oven for about 45 min on 375 (convection) oven; or 400 if you don't have a convection setting for your oven.

When it's done, let it sit a bit (5 min?) so that it's not incredibly liquidy when you serve it. Hopefully it will be wonderful and taste delicious. Enjoy!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding


Tonight, I had a regular Shabbat meal with my family and some of their friends. Translation: a whole lotta food. Sadly, I didn't help out too much with the main meal, but I did contribute a side dish and a delicious dessert.

I figured since it is fall (though I'd think it's winter with it snowing in the mornings) I'd make a fall dessert. I've always loved rice pudding, and most custards, for that matter. But rice pudding has always taken the cake. It's been my favorite since I don't know when, but it's an ultimate comfort food for me.

I decided to experiment with a pumpkin flavored brown rice pudding, which worked out wonderfully considering my overload of leftover cooked brown rice in the fridge. Fortunately the experiment was a total success, with the dinner guests serving themselves 3+ helpings. I plan on having some with milk for breakfast tomorrow.
Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding

1 12 oz can organic pumpkin puree
3/4 c sugar
1.5 c unsweetened, unflavored soy milk (optional; you can also use all whole milk)
2 c whole milk
2 eggs
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground ginger
1 t vanilla

3 c cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix pumpkin and sugar with a whisk. Add milks and two eggs; continue to beat with whisk. Add spices and vanilla, mix until completely blended. Add the rice, and mix with a wooden spoon.
Pour mixture into a large casserole dish (it is also possible to pour into individual ramekins).
Place in oven and bake for close to one hour on 375, or until set.

I was shocked the dish turned out so well, but it was really really good! The dinner guests and my parents were all really into it, and I encourage you to try it some time. The pumpkin definitely made it a good "autumn" dish. I will definitely make it again some time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Purple Pancake Eater


This week's CSA brought baby beets and knobby, gnarly carrots, some broccoli romanesco, and radicchio. I had already eaten some of the beets sliced super thinly (by my mandolin) atop some Whole Foods Harissa Hummus spread on Organic Mixed Grain bread from the Bread Alone bakery (which is superb). So I knew the beets were a treat. They taste amazingly sweet and fresh and earthy when RAW, so I could just imagine how the flavor might have been enhanced if they were cooked just a touch.

So I embarked upon a journey through the interweb to find a recipe that would let me use the beets in a new way (I usually go raw or roasted individually wrapped in foil). I found this recipe on Epicurious.com for beet and carrot pancakes; the recipe is obviously not written by a heeb such as myself, or the author would have automatically named the recipe Latkes, not pancakes. These lightly fried discs of sweet root vegetable resemble latkes more than pancakes, but at least the name pancake sounds better in the title of this post...

Here is my version of the recipe, to be served with plain yogurt (I used Seven Stars Farm organic low fat plain, but any would do). I also think a yummy raita would compliment the sweetness of the pancakes, as well. Or maybe a cucumber salad. I was just too hungry to wait and try those compliments tonight. I also think in the future I could mix in some cottage cheese or ricotta either instead of or in addition to the egg... We'll just have to see next time.

Here it goes:

1 c shredded peeled beets
1 c shredded carrots (I choose not to peel if they are fresh or organic-- the "skin" is delicious!)
1/2 a medium onion, sliced very very thinly and chopped into pieces no longer than 1"
1 beaten egg
salt and pepper to taste (I say a pinch of salt and 1/8-1/4 t pepper)
2 T whole wheat flour

Preheat pan on low-medium heat and oven on 300 degrees F. Mix the veggies in a bowl. Add beaten egg, salt and pepper. Add flour, and stir till well mixed. Grease the pan with veggie or olive oil. Using your hands (they will already be pretty dirty-pink-from the beet shredding session), scoop out about a palm-full of the mixture, and press into a patty. Place in pan, and cook for about 5 minutes on each side. You cook as many at a time as can fit in your pan, with room to flip. When each one is done, place it in your preheated oven.

I really enjoyed these because even though they are "cooked", the veggies still taste really fresh and not overdone at all. Their flavors are still pretty bright, especially when contrasted to the tart plain yogurt. Definitely something I will try again, maybe next time with shredded potatoes, as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Black Banana Bread

The name of this recipe does not refer to the color of the bread, rather it describes the color that the banana peels should be before using. The banana peels should be so black that you probably wouldn't want to eat them raw, because the flesh is more brown than light. However, bananas of this condition are PERFECT for baking with!
As with most of my cooking, I also experiment with baking. I try to push myself to use creativity along with or instead of a recipe. And if the end result is bad, so what? We all make mistakes, and move on from there.
This is a recipe I created last night. Fortunately it turned out better than expected. It uses an alternative sweetener, agave, which contributes a sort of maple-smokiness along with being sweet (sweeter than sugar, even). I also used pecans, which I don't usually do. Add nuts, that is. I'm not sure if pecans actually taste buttery naturally, or if I'm so used to eating them in butter pecan ice cream that I just associate them any time as buttery, but either way, the richness pecans lend to this bread is wonderful.
Finally, I decided to use whole wheat flour, because I just think it tastes better than white. Actually, the very fact that it has a flavor is more than I can say for white flour. It's sweet and distinctive, and works very well in this recipe.
Here it is:
Preheat oven to 325 and lightly grease a loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together:
1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder

In a second bowl, mix wet ingredients together:
4 black bananas, peeled and mashed to an almost homogeneous consistency (fewer lumps)
1/2 c agave nectar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 T vanilla
1/4 c vegetable oil

1/2 c roughly chopped pecans

Add banana mixture to dry ingredient mixture, and stir until completely incorporated. Add chopped pecans, and stir. Pour mixture into greased pan, and pop in the oven for about 45-55 minutes. Check your loaf after about 45 minutes. It should be nicely browned and, when a toothpick or pairing knife is stuck down the center, it should come out *mostly* clean. Some goo is okay- it can either be banana goo, or if you like your loaves moister, this is okay. However, there should not be raw dough visible on the toothpick (or knife). If there is, keep it in the oven for longer, perhaps checking every 5 minutes.

Remove from oven, and when the loaf pan is warm enough to touch, invert it to release the bread onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting, otherwise bread may dry out (yuck).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Potato-Kale-Acorn Squash Gratin


For my last birthday, I was lucky enough to be given the item at the top of my kitchen-tool wishlist: a mandolin. I wanted a mandolin for so long, but now that I've had one for the past two and a half months, I've sadly done too little with it.

Fortunately, tonight I was able to put it to great use. This week's organic CSA goodies included lots of yellow-fleshed potatoes and kale, among other things. In past weeks, I also received some winter squashes, which have been piling up in the pantry. Tonight I sliced potatoes and one acorn squash as thinly as possible, and layered the slices, along with kale, in a greased square pyrex dish. I then poured in some melted butter and milk, grated some manchego cheese on top, and popped the dish in the oven for 40 minutes on 375 degrees.

When the dish was almost done, I soft boiled two organic eggs, which I cut open atop a serving of my delicious gratin.
This dinner is simple and very tasty.
The sweetness of the squash, plus the slightly-rich potatoes and earthy kale combine beautifully. The soft boiled egg, seasoned generously with salt and pepper, only adds to the amazing boldness of flavors.

Party in my mouth!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Meg Cooks Old Skool

This is rare for me- a double post. Two posts in one day. Wow.

But after what I made for dinner, I think the blogosphere deserves to know how I used to cook, back before I became a food snob. On nights like tonight, when I don't really have much in the fridge and I'm alone and not quite in the mood to cook up a storm, I used to make this dish. It's sort of a mix between fried rice and an omelet and a casserole.

I used to make it in the oven, casserole style, but tonight it was on the stove. The ingredients are simple: cooked brown rice, kale (any kind), low-sodium soy sauce, and egg. I used to combine all the ingredients, then sprinkle in some shredded cheddar cheese, and bake in an oven at 375 for about 20 minutes. It was pretty good.

But you could also make it without the cheese, as I did tonight, and serve it in a bowl with some sri racha hot sauce. This dish (kale surprise?) is a wonderful use of leftovers, a great source of iron and protein, and is delicious. Hope you can learn to love it as much as I have.

Ingredients:
1 c cooked organic brown rice
5 or 6 leaves organic kale, roughly chopped
1-2 T soy sauce (I prefer low-sodium)
1 organic egg, beaten with 1 T water and pinch sugar or agave (optional)
1/2 T Sri Racha hot sauce

On medium heat, add a minimal amount of vegetable oil to a skillet. Throw in your rice, shaking pan occasionally, letting rice get hot but not burnt. After ~5 min, add kale and soy sauce. Cover pan so kale can steam. When kale is bright green, it is about ready. Dump rice mixture in a bowl, wipe out pan. Lightly oil skillet again, and add egg beaten with water and sweetener, if using. When egg starts to set, add rice mixture, and stir. When egg is cooked, dish is done. Dump into a bowl, add Sri Racha to your liking.
Enjoy!

Here, Fishy Fishy


Growing up, my only real exposure to the meat category came from beings with fins or wings. I don't know why these animals were considered more appropriate to eat than, say, a four legged mammal, but they just were. Red meat was just never welcomed in the house in which I grew up. It was shunned by my mother (head chef) and not missed by me, because I had never eaten it. The first time I voluntarily ate red meat I was almost twenty. A certain someone asked me, "why not?" and I did not have an answer, I realized. There was no theory behind not eating red meat for me-no philosophy; I could not even say I didn't like it, because I didn't even know if I did! So I tried my first red meat. A juicy cheeseburger (double whammy- red meat AND milk+meat on my first try). What did we find? It was delish! In the two years to follow I ate as much meat as possible. I tried everything. I wanted to know what it was all about.

When I finally decided I knew what red meat was about, and felt that I had enough information to satisfy my lack of first-hand knowledge of it, I felt comfortable making a decision. Red meat just isn't really for me. Sure I'll have some lamb once in a while, if someone else is preparing it, and I rarely pass up a burger at a BBQ (but those are few and far between). I respect the value of meat, and respect even more the chefs that can prepare it beyond my wildest dreams, creatively and with wonderful inspiration (props to San Francisco's Christian Noto).

But when it comes to what I love preparing for dinner, I stick to what I really deeply know and feel good about preparing, cooking, and eating.
A few nights ago I prepared a delicious black cod in parchment paper, served with broccoli + garlic mashed potatoes and green salad. For sure, the highlight of the meal was the fish. Here is the recipe:

black cod (think ~1" thick, a 5" long piece per person)
garlic cloves, thinly sliced
lemons, sliced paper-thin
fresh or dried oregano (best quality you can find; either from your garden* or Greek leaf + stem oregano)
fresh parsley leaves, chopped or whole
salt+pepper

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees F.
Place each piece of cod on its own strip of parchment paper. Sprinkle parsley and oregano onto fish, then place a few (5-6) slices of garlic on top, then salt and pepper, and finally, a couple of lemon slices. Wrap in paper by joining two diagonal corners in your hands, rolling down as you would a paper lunch bag, and then fold the remaining to corners underneath (See picture). Place each packet on a baking sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes on 400. Eat. Smile.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pizza!














Those of you who know me beyond the scope of this blog know that I spent a good portion of my Friday afternoons in Oberlin cooking pizza in Old Barrows coop. I guess my love of pizza making and all the pizza skills I possess came into being in a process similar to... a stone rolling down a hill, accumulating dirt and moss and all sorts of gross particles along the way. But the stone is at the bottom of the hill now, free to grow legs and walk away (?)

My proper pizza career started when I was a lowly but idealist first year student at Oberlin College. I ate in Fairchild, perhaps the most environmentally and food-politic conscious coop of all. But I knew no better. I was a two-hour cook for a headcook called "Slayer" on pizza night. I honestly do not even know his real name. Regardless, Slayer taught me to use the Hobart the grate hotel pans full of mozzarella (and whatever other odds and ends were in the walk-in). He taught me that once the dough is mixed and has had its first rise, to ball individual doughs and let them rise again. When the second rise is complete, the dough, in his words, will feel "like a booty!" This was my first semi-professional baking experience- seeing if the dough feels like a booty. It may sound trite, but this was excellent experience!

Second year at Oberlin, Tom taught me the ropes to his version of pizza night. I learned everything- all the details that go into making pizza night creative and fun and successful. How to make dough without being afraid to experiment, how to mix the best sauce, what topics are good (and not good), and that vegan pizza can be...eh...okay.

These were my Oberlin pizza foundations. Becoming pizza head cook allowed me to harness what I'd learned over Fridays past and take the creative reigns. My last job in San Francisco as a baker only built upon my pizza love. I've learned to trust myself and the dough. We have an understanding.

I save pizza making for times when I know it will be enjoyable. It is never a task, and I don't want it to become one. So tonight was pizza night.

Here's the easy version of my recipe, with room for alternative ingredients, of course:

Crust
1.5 c luke warm water (too hot will kill yeast, too cold will only make rising take longer, so I say if you're not sure, cooler is better)
1 package dry yeast
1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c whole wheat flour
hearty splash of extra virgin olive oil
sprinkling of salt (definitely no more than 1 T but exact amount's up to you)

The fastest and easiest way to mix the dough is with a standing mixer. If you don't have one, it's all good, you'll just use a wooden spoon and a bowl, mix by hand, and when the dough starts to come together, knead it for about 5-10 minutes.
If you do have a standing mixer, you'll just get your hands less dirty. Put water in the bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water (you don't want it to just sink to the bottom). Walk around your kitchen for five minutes while the yeast starts to dissolve a bit. Add your flours (you may use only one type if you prefer. I just like to use more whole wheat than white), oil, salt, and any other ingredients you think may be good (ie: chopped fresh rosemary, oregano, other green herbs, diced cooked potato, honey...whatever your pizza lovin heart desires). Make sure you're using the dough hook attachment to your mixer. Crank bowl into position (or grab spoon), flip onto stir, or #2, (or stir with your spoon), until dough forms and looks like a cohesive unit or begins to crawl up the dough hook. If you're doing this by hand, you'll want to start kneading (the dough hook effectively kneads for you). This kneading starts to make a nifty network of gluten, which potentially makes your dough chewier.
When done, put dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover top with plastic wrap, tightly. Leave it for a few hours (at least 2, I say).
Preheat oven to 475 F.
Roll dough out (I say go as thin as possible without tearing), prick with fork a few times.



The reason I mention that this is the easy way is because it does not require you making your own sauce. You may use your own (recipe in another post), or you may open a jar, and spread sauce onto ready and rolled out dough (to desired thickness, of course).

Now the cheese: fresh mozzarella is the best, especially if you try to dry it out a bit with paper towels. Sprinkle or lay out thin slices over pie.
Put it in the oven at 475 for about 10 minutes.
When done, cheese should be browning and pizza should look like pizza.

THE END!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Red Hott

Sometimes when I begin to cook something, part of me takes over. It is not a conscious take over- it is not until I have completed a dish that I realize my conscious self was not completely present during its creation. This pot of soup worked a little like that.

My mother, an "almost vegetarian", came down with an awful cold the night before last. She's been in bed wheezing and sneezing and just looking and feeling plain bad. I was going to whip up some chicken soup for her, but the vegetarian part of her insisted she would not have chicken soup. So instead, I set out to craft a hearty vegetable broth from the odds and ends in my fridge.

I began by chopping an onion in fourths, halving four carrots, breaking some green onions in large pieces, grabbing some whole garlic cloves, and chopping a large yukon gold potato into 8 pieces. I dumped all of this in a 4-quart pot, and covered it all with water, about an inch from the top of the pot. The idea was to put the pot on high, bring its contents to a rolling boil, and lower the temperature to insure a light simmer, with the lid on, from anywhere between an hour to two to three hours (it only gets better with time).

But somewhere in between dumping the ingredients in the pot and sitting down to eat it, I do believe an subconscious component of myself took the reigns. First, a small handful of peppercorns were added to the simmering pot. Then a bay leaf, and a teaspoon of tarragon. After 30 minutes the potatoes were removed, skinned, and diced into cubes. The skins were added back to the pot, the potatoes set aside for later.

Towards the end of two hours, the contents of the pot were strained into a container and set aside. About four cups of the liquid, plus a whole carrot were poured back into the pot and set on the stove. A perfectly ripe tomato was skinned and chopped into fourths, pieces added to the pot. Black pepper was ground and added in addition to about a tablespoon of salt. Finally, about 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper found its way in, too. The mixture was blended with an immersion blender (one of my favorite tools). Set back on medium heat, the soup beckoned the cubed potatoes from earlier.

Now I'm sitting with a mug full of this red hot soup in front of me. Definitely sinus clearing. It's amazing!
I remember how I made it, but I'm telling you, I did not feel in control when it came together. And although I made it for my sick mother, there's more than enough to go around. I also still have quite a lot of veggie stock left over, which I will either use in the next couple of days or freeze.
I urge you all to try it, or use this as a guide and make something like it. You can't go wrong. And if you do, you can try again tomorrow!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy to Fast

Today is the day of atonement: Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, following ten days after Rosh Hashana, the new year. Although the significance of Yom Kippur is to be a day of reflection, a day to think about those you have wronged, a day of the culmination of forgiveness and humility, if you ask me what about Yom Kippur stands out the most, I'd say the fast. This is primarily a blog about food, but I thought I would spend today's piece discussing intentional abstinence from food.

I didn't fast for some time- not for one of my four years in Oberlin. But when I moved to San Francisco, I began my own research into the significances of Judaism and Jewish holidays, and developed my own interpretations. I still don't know where I stand, exactly, in relation to my Judaism, but I've at least made some personal progress.

Part of this is my new outlook towards Yom Kippur. I now embrace the day's fast with open arms, proud to be part of a religion that reflects my interest in holistic health, including fasting in its tradition.

I know a day of fasting can seem to progress rather slowly, but the term FAST actually comes from the effects, or goals, of a fast; the idea is to cleanse your body quickly. Fast.

For me, fasting generates lots of thoughts, not just about bodily purification. It also enlightens me as to how many times during the day I eat, just because I am bored. The truth is, I'm not even that hungry right now, at 4:43 pm, only another three hours to go. But I keep feeling tempted to eat. The commercial world is filled with cues telling us to EAT EAT EAT! How many times a day do I eat something not because I'm hungry, but because I'm bored, and responding to cues in my environment? It's definitely worth thinking about.

Fasting also promotes mental purification. I believe I am in an altered mental state right now, not having eaten since last night's early evening meal. That altered state is probably what Buddhist monastics are going for. Consider this: some Buddhist monastics (at least those in the Theravadan tradition) do not eat food after noon every day. They eat morning meals, and in the afternoon and evening may consume perhaps some tea or soup, but no solid food. Does this promote a more ideal atmosphere for meditation?

Also, Sakyamuni Buddha didn't eat for many days before he reached enlightenment. This is not to say he did not need food; legend has it Sujata brought him milk rice to eat. Had it not been for this meal, he may not have attained enlightenment. But was it all that meditating without food that brought him closer to it? Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods suggests that absolute fasting, that is, a complete fast, "is the fast which best encourages concentration on the ultimate and absolute nature of reality" (p. 279). With this I agree. I also like the imagery that Pitchford puts forth by referring to fasting as sustaining yourself on only "air and light". There are other types of fasts; fasts that prescribe eating only one type of fruit or vegetable for a series of days, or fasts during which you only drink a certain liquid. These are fasts I am willing to try but have never given a shot.

I believe the best way to end an absolute fast is by drinking water or tea, and eating fruits and vegetables- basic foods. However, I do admit that at my break fast tonight, where I know there will be all sorts of Jewish foods, from bagels and lox to noodle kugel, I will have a hard time restraining myself. Guess we'll just have to see what happens!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What's in season?


I've officially been living in New York for almost two months, and I'm finally going to admit, it's hard eating what's local and in season here!
It was so easy in San Francisco, probably super duper easy for me, since I was working at a Farmer's Market, to eat local, seasonal, organic food. I think obviously part of this is because California has a much longer growing season with more produce variability. Also, though, I think it is because there is a higher awareness in the Bay Area around why it is good to eat locally and seasonally. It is sustainable! You are supporting local growers and also putting the freshest possible ingredients into your meals and into your body.
Here, in New York, I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture). Every week, I pick up a box of vegetables and some fruit from Golden Earthworm Organic Farm, out in Riverhead on Long Island.
In San Francisco I think I was a big food snob--I didn't belong to a CSA not only because I was at the farmer's market once a week, anyway, but also because I wanted to be hand-picking my fruits and veggies.
Now I realize that's not as important. Receiving my produce from the CSA each week is just as fulfilling, when it comes down to it.

So what's in season now? In this week's CSA I received two heads of lettuce, a pint of grape tomatoes, a few bigger ripe tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, a couple of pumpkins, bok choy, and a big bag-o-apples (among other things). And if these items won't last me the whole week, I'll at least have some great basics to start with. You can also see when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in season, and what's in season now by checking out this website:


http://www.prideofny.com/harvest.html

I think the Bay Area also currently has more public education about living sustainably. Kids in public schools ask where the compost is when they are done with lunch- they know that most of all of their scraps and even some of their food containers can be composted, instead of thrown away.
Last week I discovered Birdbath Bakery on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Where are more places like that? They have (and encourage use of) their own compost, their goods are delivered to the store form the bakery via bike rickshaw, and they even collect extra water in a bucket under the sink's undone pipe (so that water you don't use when you run the faucet can be reused, say, to flush the toilet later). And the vegan raspberry muffin I ate was delicious! Well, at least it's a start. I think New York may be moving in the right direction.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Ultimate Procrastination

So, instead of starting the loads of reading I have to catch up on for school, I decided to make sandwich cookies. I made the dough last night and stuck it in the fridge as a flattened disk. This morning, I woke up, thought about all the work I had to do and, instead of telling myself the cookie dough could stay in the fridge for a couple of days, probably, I decided to start rolling and baking. I just took the last batch out of the oven about five minutes ago.

These are your average butter cookies, made with simple ingredients: organic butter, organic unbleached white flour, organic free range egg, vanilla, baking powder. However, instead of using traditional white sugar (which I ingest too much of anyway), I used agave nectar, which has the same amount of calories as sucrose but you need less to achieve the same level of sweetness.
Also, it is far less refined than white sugar.

The recipe for the cookies is as follows:
1 1/2 stick butter
2/3 c agave nectar (or less, even)
1 egg
2 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
pinch salt

Cream butter in bowl. Add agave and continue to cream with butter. When fluffiness is achieved, add your egg, and beat until fluffy again. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, BP, and salt. Add dry mixture to wet, and combine. Mixture will be sticky but that's okay.
Line a medium bowl with 2 pieces of plastic wrap-- place one piece across and hanging over bowl, place the other piece perpendicularly over first. You'll want these pieces of plastic wrap to each be quite long.
Put the dough into the plastic wrap-lined bowl. Wrap! This is an easy method for wrapping dough in plastic.
Flatten dough into a circular disk, and put it in the fridge for a few hours (I left it overnight).
Similarly, you can shape the dough into a log and wrap it in parchment paper, and stick it in the fridge or freezer for later use.

When you're ready to use the dough, preheat oven to 350 if it's a convection oven, 375 if not. Flour a work surface, take out disk, and roll it out.
If you're going to try to make sandwich cookies, I think a dainty thinness works wonderfully. That is, thin enough to very delicately scrape up from work surface and onto parchment paper of pan without ripping (quite thin, about an 1/8 of an inch or so). With a cookie cutter or a drinking glass, or even a jar lid, cut out as many cookies as you can.
If they are sandwich cookies, some of these new circles will be the bottoms, some will be the tops. You can have identical tops and bottoms or you can cut out a smaller circle in the tops, so that you can see the filling, as in the pictures of the ones I made.
Keep in mind you can probably roll this dough out and cut cookies from it about three times, so try to get it as right as possible the first time, but if you don't, you have a few more tries left.
Once you've gotten all the circles out of your dough as possible, bake for about 7-10 minutes a pan. These bake really quickly and so you've gotta keep an eye on them or they'll burn.

Now. As for fillings. Anything you want!
You can use store-bought jam if you'd like, or you can whip up a batch of lemon curd (YUM!). Another option is chocolate ganache, which you can also make by placing chocolate pieces in a double boiler along with a little bit of cream or milk, stirring till melted.
I opt for the lemon curd, recipe as follows, for a really great lookin little cookie:














zest of five lemons, juice of three of those lemons- don't worry about seeds
4 egg yolks, 1 whole egg (you can save the whites for later-- egg white omelets? meringues?)
1 c sugar
3 T butter, cut into about 8 little cubes



In a small saucepan, whisk together egg and sugar on low heat. After a couple of minutes, add lemon zest and juice. Stir. Add butter, cube at a time, stirring until melted. You should be stirring the whole time. Leave on low-medium heat and gently stir until mixture thickens a bit. You can tell if it's done by if it coats the back of a wooden spoon. If yes, you're golden.
At this point, pour mixture through a sieve, into a bowl. Either place bowl in ice bath (if you have low patience) or cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge until cooled.

Once cool, you may spread this delicious goo onto cookies, and cover with tops.
Leftover lemon curd makes an excellent breakfast topping for scones or toast.

And now you have great sandwich cookies!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Welcome! And Lycopene!


Hey there, Blogosphere!
I hope you enjoy reading and replicating many recipes I hope to post in the coming months. As my first post ever, I'd like to begin by introducing myself and talking a little bit about my influences and goals.
As an herbivore, I do consume meat when I have access to high quality product. For me, high quality meat must be local and/or organic. The more sustainable the meat, the more likely I am to buy, cook, or eat it. When I was living in San Francisco, finding local and organic animal products was a cinch. I knew where to go to buy the best quality animal products around. However, I recently moved to New York for graduate school, and am faced with the both daunting and exciting task of exploring and finding new hot spots for great produce and meat.
Even though I do eat meat and recognize the benefits of animal products to the human body, when I cook, I tend to find my creative juices flow more freely when I cook vegetarian meals. Something about using only fruits and vegetables turns me on. I just can't explain it, but it might have something to do with my obsession with holistic health.
Being able to cook up a meal of fresh seasonal and local veggies is exciting!
It makes me feel grounded no matter where I am. It connects me to the earth in a very real way.
And so tonight I would like to share with my readership a very simple soup for a rainy night (like tonight in New York).
Rain always makes me want to eat soup. And when I crave something, the most fun option is to make it myself.
This recipe is inspired by a soup I used to eat at the Black River Cafe in Oberlin, OH. Also, it should be noted that bell peppers are nearing the end of their season! So if you can, get to your nearest farmer's market and pick some up between now and mid-October, because chances are you won't see them again till summertime.

Red Pepper Puree (4-5 servings)

Equipment: saucepan, cutting board, knife, immersion blender.

1 or 2 T extra virgin olive oil (it's really up to you how much)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped (or more to your liking)
splash or two of dry white wine (or liquid of your choice to deglaze pan)
4 cups red peppers, roughly chopped
few twigs of fresh thyme (dried will be okay but not as good)
1 c water (or stock)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add oil to a medium saucepan on medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions. You can test if it's hot enough by adding one piece of onion first. If it sizzles in the oil, add the rest. Stir these around, and cook for about 5-8 minutes, until onions are translucent, but not brown. Add garlic and deglazing liquid of your choice. Allow ingredients to simmer in saucepan until most of the liquid is evaporated, ~5 min. Now add all of the chopped pepper, thyme, and water. Stir, bring to boil, cover, reduce to low. Allow to simmer 20-40 minutes, or until pepper is soft. At this point, you can remove the saucepan from the heat and use the immersion blender to puree soup. Taste, and add salt and pepper as to your liking!
*Variations include roasting the peppers before chopping on an open flame until skins are charred. Remove skins by placing peppers from flame into brown paper bag or bowl of ice water. Both of these methods help the skin peel. Peel off the rest of the skin, slice each pepper lengthwise, remove seeds, and add to soup. It will not have to cook for as long, this way, either.
**Another variation is to add a bit (start small- maybe one ounce at a time) of good quality blue cheese to the soup before blending. It will make it slightly creamy and add a dimension of flavor.
***One last variation includes toasting slices (one per bowl) of French baguette and placing a dollop of raw goat cheese on top, then placing each crouton on top of soup, just before serving.

Enjoy!