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.

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.

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

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


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

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:

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.


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:

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.