Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Falafel and tahini sauce

Sometimes, I'll start a recipe thinking that it'll be a piece of cake (so to speak) and then have it dirty more pots than I own and  take an hour longer than originally planned. This soup immediately comes to mind. It's a great recipe but takes more work than a pureed soup should take. (Frankly, the eight-ingredient garnish should have been a dead giveaway) So it's nice to have recipes take less effort and turn out better than expected once in a while. It's like an unexpected bonus, or like having an experiment work out on the first try...

This falafel recipe was one of these pleasant surprises. The falafels were tender and flavorful, and despite my initial fear of balls falling apart during frying, or the deep frying itself, it was definitely easier than I expected. During the frying process, I actually decided that being a fry cook might not be a bad career after all. I can kind of see myself reigning over the greasy corner of a diner, shrugging off oil burns to produce batches of golden, glistening fried goods.

I used my 3 quart cast iron fryer for this and it worked out great. The pot was small enough that it didn't require an excess amount of oil (1 liter for an inch deep). The additional benefit was that this process more than re-seasoned my pot and now it's absolutely nonstick. Lovely. The other lesson I learned from this first foray into deep frying is that it really doesn't use all that much oil. I started with a liter of oil and pretty much ended up with a liter minus a couple of tablespoons after frying 40 balls of falafel. But this begs the question: what do I do with a liter of used falafel oil?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happiness is a warm bowl of minestrone

Technically, I broke in my newest kitchen toy, a beautiful 6 quart Staub enameled cast iron pot, with the no-knead bread. But since that loaf turned out much more like a rock than expected, I will erase that from the official records and say instead that this absolutely wonderful soup is the Staub's first food product .

Why on earth does it matter what I cook as a first meal in this thing? Well, it matters, because I had been deliberating on this rather large purchase for what seems like forever. Ever since I read about it on my very favorite food blog quite a few years ago I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Le Creuset or Lodge or any other brand aside, I knew that I could have no other.

But now that I have it in my kitchen, I honestly can't figure out why it took me so long to get it. Having a really big heavy pot ROCKS. I can keep adding random stuff from my freezer in it and IT WON'T OVERFLOW. As an added bonus, the heavy material allows the contents to heat evenly and I don't have to continuously stir the contents until my arms falls off. And now that it's officially autumn, I can make as much soup as my heart desires and not worry about having to leave the stove on for hours, which is the time required to cook almost anything in this magnificent beast.

I recently discovered the cookbook section of the DC public library and have been eagerly checking out new cookbooks ever since. The only problem with this system is that lugging big cookbooks such as the NYT one from the library to my apartment is pretty hard work. That's why I ended up taking the light and carry-able New Moosewood Cookbook with me. Almost all of the recipes in this book are simple but delicious sounding vegetarian dishes.

I was looking for a good, hearty soup, and this recipe is definitely it. I think many sub-par minestrone tend to taste too much like canned tomato sauce, but the fresh tomato in this recipe solves that problem without sacrificing tomato flavor. The original recipe also called for celery and eggplant but I didn't have them on hand at the time. Lastly, I un-vegetarianed this recipe by adding a cup of chicken stock and some chicken tenders, both of which can be easily omitted.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shrimp Scampi

All of my writing energy is going towards secondary applications for medical school right now, so postings will remain pretty sparse for a while. But I've really missed writing about food. Maintaining this blog really forces me to step outside of the typical meal rotations of soup, salad, and cereal and keeps me excited about my new-found situation of cooking for one everyday.

I'm really glad I found this recipe because it's super quick to throw together on a weeknight. It's also a really bright-tasting dish and a nice change from a tomato-based pasta sauce. Plus, since most of the ingredients are usually in my fridge anyway, as long as I remember to buy shrimp ahead of time, it doesn't take any advanced planning. Lastly, for quite a few reasons, I'm trying to incorporate more animal protein in my diet and shrimp seems to be an easy way to do it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A dinner party for very important folk

The amazing, world-stomping (17 countries in one year!), Alphorn-tooting Madeleine Abromowitz graced the DC population with her presence this weekend. To commemorate the event, I threw a dinner party. And since the party was to be attended by Watson fellows and a Fulbright scholar, aka people who are "kind of big deals," I knew that I had to try my darndest to whip up the best that my little kitchen can come up with.

I had in mind a light summery meal of fresh bread, antipasti, and salads and my friends were nice enough to accommodate their contributions to that theme. On the menu were:

Two loaves of freshly baked bread
Roasted red peppers + mozzerella
Ina Garten's marinated artichoke hearts (recipe below)
Feta + watermelon + spinach + arugula salad
Pearled cous cous salad
Two types of quinoa (red and white!) salad by Rob and Roz
Zucchini corn cake by Colin
Potato salad by Helen and Bobby
Bean salad by Jess Engebretson
A fantastic peach pie by Madeleine
Chocolate cake

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A good idea

About three years ago, the Scientific American podcast did an episode on the huge monocropping of bananas. It talked about how our grandparents ate a banana cultivar tastier than what we have today before a fungus wiped it out. Inevitably, our current banana, the Cavendish, is threatened by yet another fungus. This goes hand in hand with the seed bank article in the current National Geographic, which presents the paradox of needing to feed 7 billion people with high yielding crops while preserving a diversity of farming practices and thus our future food supply.

Between all that talk about America's unsustainable banana eating habits and the NYT article about the terrible inequalities of banana pickers in Latin America, I find myself totally unable to eat bananas. That is, until recently, when I saw fair trade bananas at Whole Foods.

I haven't researched very deeply into this but a quick trip to google makes the whole thing seem more or less legitimate. Excited, I bought a few, and make this quick and delicious "ice cream." This is is a great summer frozen treat recipe, for those times when you've finished all the Ben and Jerry's in the freezer and it's too hot to even open the door, let alone walk down the block to Giant. If you stock up on bananas, freeze a bunch of them, you'll never find yourself without ice cream.

While this recipe is infinitely adaptable, I like this particular version because it lets the peanut butter shine through. And if you eat this straight from the food processor, you'll get soft serve. You can also let it harden in the fridge for a few hours for ice cream as well (I would imagine, since I've never actually been able to get to this stage, ever).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NYC food recap

I have to confess that I more or less disliked New York for many years. My first visit took place over the dead of winter. As a silly teen, I didn't wear nearly enough clothes, and wind blew between the oppressively tall buildings right through my clothes so I was miserable almost the entire time. Adding insult to injury, the mounds of honey roasted nuts I ate on that trip gave me my first breakout ever. Needless to say, that was not my last. Many subsequent trips also took place in the winter and I never really did embrace the damp, cold, unfamiliar and unfriendly city.

But over the years and visits, as I explored more and more of the city (often in better weather), I found myself getting more excited as I figured out the subway, ate some fantastic foods and returned again and again to the museum of natural history. This past weekend I went up to visit my dad, who is here on business, and found myself really falling head over heels in love with this place.

For me, memories of places are often formed through the lenses of food and this visit was no different. Throughout the trip, my dad and I spent most of our time either eating or traveling to places to eat. And that's exactly how I like to travel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pasta Carbonara

My great uncle is the lucky owner of several productive hens, making me the lucky recipient of a dozen awesomely tasting eggs. I honestly don't remember the last time I ate chicken eggs so delicious.

Aside from a simple fried egg that's wonderfully fresh and tender, I can't imagine a dish better suited for these eggs than a carbonara. I went for this recipe, which was amazing. However, I made the mistake of not adding enough bacon and parsley -- I ran out of bacon (a sad affair) and was worried the entire bunch of parsley would totally overwhelm the dish but found myself missing the greens to cut the richness a little. Despite these setbacks, dinner time was pretty quiet, until everyone had eaten their fill, that is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Salad with herring and small potatoes

As much as I like to complain about how expensive the Dupont Circle farmer's market is (6+ dollars for a single tomato??), there are plenty of reasons why I go back as often as I can. Last weekend, I found the most beautiful head of lettuce there for only 3 dollars. Compared with the 4-5 bucks you can spend for a few ounces of organic bagged greens that goes bad in a few days, this is totally worth it. In fact, I've stopped buying pre-bagged salads altogether in favor of this technique. Now, I am much happier with the quality of my greens and my salad budget.

The single head of lettuce took up my entire salad spinner and lasted several salads. (Next to the spinner is a bunch of Erba Stella, which is an Italian herb with a light, savory taste -- I highly recommend sauteing it with a little garlic in pasta or tossing it in a salad for some color contrast against some beautiful Boston lettuce) One of the salads I made more than once is this one, which was adapted from a recent Serious Eats post. I used canned herring instead of tuna because I like the texture and flavor of the former much much more but you can use pretty much any canned fish you'd like.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Vodka gnocchi

I've never been much of a pasta eater. I don't really know why. Maybe it's because it's one of the foods I eat the most slowly, and if you know me at all, you know it how slow that would be. It's virtually impossible for me to finish a plate before it goes cold. And cold pasta is rarely delicious.

But everything changed when we made this dish.

This is a seriously amazing recipe. My stomach is grumbling and my mouth is watering as I think about it. It combines the lovely mouth feel of a great cream sauce with a tomato sauce's tanginess, plus some vodka. I tried to understand the role of vodka here but failed -- some claim that since ethanol is such a good solvent, it can readily hold onto all the good flavors of a dish. But my question is: if all the ethanol evaporates during the cooking process and vodka is supposedly a tasteless alcohol, what exactly does it do?

Well, regardless of this mystery, this dish has become our go-to meal. I use gnocchi because I can actually manage to eat it fast enough without everything going cold by the time I finish AND because Trader Joe's gnocchi is fantastic. And if you eat everything with a spoon, it doesn't really matter that the shape of the gnocchi doesn't do anything to hold onto the sauce.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mango Smoothie

For me, smoothies are the perfect post-workout beverage. It's cold, nutritious and damn tasty. After frisbee today, I made the best mango smoothie yet: 1 part (by volume) of TJ's European style yogurt, 1 part frozen mangos, 1 to 1.5 part soy milk, a bit of maple syrup, a squeeze of lime, and the secret ingredient: a pinch of salt. It was so good -- creamy, cold, tart -- everything I needed after running around for 3 hours. I found that the small pinch of salt really brought out all the flavors whereas in its absence smoothies can often taste a little flat. So even though I originally added the salt to bring a tropical, margarita-like flair to my mango smoothie, I'm convinced that its will help other fruit smoothies in a similarly awesome manner.

On a separate note, my smoothie consumption has vastly increased after I started to use my beloved immersion blender. Instead of having to take apart all those finicky pieces on a blender, all you have to do is rinse off the stick after use. Things cannot get anymore perfect than this.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dip into summer - Green pea hummus, cucumber and spinach raita

DC experienced a brief bout of heat and humidity before it was relieved by the thunderstorms (thankfully no tornadoes). During that time, I transitioned from still wanting soup now and again to just wanting to crawl into that bag of frozen blueberries in my freezer. As a sort of compromise, I made a couple of dips, all with success. So much so that after multiple meals of pita, dips, and smoothies, the only thing I want is more pita, more dip, and more smoothies even though the weather is no longer oppressively warm. 

A recipe for green pea hummus appeared on Serious Eats the other day and having recently acquired a well-loved second hand food processor (thanks, D+D!), I was eager to try it out. It involves simply processing a bag of frozen peas with some oil, lemon juice, and cheese but the results are fantastic: light but filling, and a little sweet from peas frozen at their peak. And it's seriously satisfying to dig into something so vibrantly green.

A second dip was inspired by a raita (yogurt relish) dish in Madhur Jaffrey's new cookbook, which is a beautiful book with highly approachable Indian recipes. I substituted mustard seeds with the more commonly found cumin seeds and added some cucumbers at the end. The result is a light but flavorful sauce that is delicious alone, on a salad, with a pita... you name it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Greek Salad

My trip to China was great (pictures of roasted baby pigeons to come), but frankly, after two weeks of half-familiar vegetables and proteins swimming in a pool of MSG-infused oil, I was really excited about coming back and eating some crunchy, non-greasy foods. Solution? A diet consisting of cereal and salad has never tasted so delicious and chemical*-free.

The Dupont Circle farmers market was going on the day I got back. Not only was it nice to walk around in the beautiful weather under blue skies, which incidentally, I saw precisely twice on my entire trip to China, but it was also great to see all the wonderful produce I can start playing around with. I bought some lovely little Persian cucumbers, which are infinitely tastier, crispier, and more fragrant than their fat, overly seeded and thick-skinned counterparts, whose existence is as inexplicable to me as America's obsession with chicken breast. Seeing those cucumbers immediately inspired me to make a Greek salad.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gnocchi Sunday

The post-MCAT life is good. There are sunshine, friends, happiness, and in my case, a lot of gnocchi. If I try really hard to forget about the whole not-getting-your-score-back-in-a-whole-month thing I can even manage to forget that this thing even happened in the first place.

I've been making a long list of things I want to do after my test, now that five extra hours just opened up each day. So the day after my test, I hosted a gnocchi party.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Swiss chard and sausage over polenta

"Is there a greater leafy green than swiss chard? It's more versatile than Meryl Streep." Seriouseats has never been more correct. Of all the leafy greens, swiss chard is by far my favorite. It's kind of like the perfect boyfriend: low maintenance for something quick and easy, like sauted simply in garlic. But if you have the time to dress it up you can take it out to some place nice, like in a Provencal tart.

Last night, Hughes and I made this recipe. We browned some Whole Foods pork sausages and then sauteed the chard in the pork-y juices left in the pan. The mild and creamy polenta was the perfect background for the savory sausage and garlicky chard.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spinach and Chickpeas

This recipe comes with the recommendation of the wonderful Natasha Weiser, so you know it's good. Great minds (if my brain can really be compared to hers) must think alike, because I was just thinking about what I was going to do with the pound of chickpeas in my freezer and some leftover spinach.

Now, you know I love my legumes, but I think my favorite thing about this dish is the bread pieces. I didn't have a blender/food processor/mortar and pestle, so I feebly tried to mash up the bread with a big spool and failed. But fortunately, this failure left the vinegar-y, garlicky bread pieces with their soft center and crisp exterior in all their glory. I seriously might just start sauteing bread + garlic + red wine vinegar for dinner in the future. Try it, you'll love it too.

My ratios were off when I made this tonight but I think the linked recipe as it stands can use more tomato sauce. The chickpeas can also stand to simmer for a good amount of time more to absorb maximum flavor. I'll probably come back to this post and add my own version of the recipe but use the link for now. I served the dish with a fried egg on top and over a slice of the same bread I used in the recipe, because frankly, Trader Joe's Italian Pane is good enough to appear twice in any meal.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Breakfast calories

Like most health magazines, the NYT health column, Well, is really good at taking iffy studies and generalizing them even more. This article, which was featured this weekend, claims that breakfast doesn't decrease a person's caloric intake later in the day and is positively correlated with daily caloric intake.

The main message of the article addresses the notion that some people treat breakfast as a free-for-all, thinking that they can compensate for whatever calories they eat at breakfast with calories not consumed later in the day, when this really isn't the case. And yeah, if you're eating 500 calories at breakfast, it's probably an unhealthy and fat-laden breakfast anyway so of course you're going to keep snacking during the day. The article, especially the last paragraph, almost encourages people to skip breakfast entirely when it really should be preaching a balanced and filling breakfast. By emphasizing the caloric value and not the quality of a breakfast undermines its importance.

My other gripe with the article is that it throws in the fact that people who eat breakfast tend to have a higher level of physical activity at the very end with no discussion. If an article going to talk about caloric intake, it's irresponsible to not talk about expenditure.

The bottom line is that the article addresses an important issue of how breakfast calories play a role in a diet, but no props to NYT for spinning it in such an unhealthy way.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Black bean soup

For many years, my go-to black bean soup has always been super simple: saute onions, garlic, and cumin in oil, dump a can of black beans in pot, simmer and consume.

Not any more. Now that I've upgraded my bean cooking technique, I'm upgrading my bean soup recipe as well.

This black bean soup is awesome. It's loaded with vegetables, which brighten the flavor and appearance by a whole lot (not that you can tell from my terrible picture). The reconstituted beans  give it a less homogeneous texture than if it were made from canned beans. And it's so filling. Holy moly, I had a medium-sized bowl full and I was stuffed. Gotta love legumes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Paying for food (or not)

I have an excel spreadsheet on my computer desktop named "money" where I record all my expenses. I've always kept something like this but it has been sort of meaningless without a real income. Now, things are different and it's actually possible to learn about my spending habits and change them for the better. Since a huge majority of my expenses are food-related I'll share some of my thoughts on food money here.

Cooking mostly for one means also buying food for one, and that was harder than I thought it would be. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to minimize food waste. But the thing that made the biggest difference (and I know this has been said many times) is to shop with intention. Instead of buying all the food (I think) I need once a week, I buy what I need to cook that night, and that's it. If I have an ingredient leftover, I incorporate it into the next thing I cook.

Some other unrelated thoughts:

- Eating a diet of legumes and grains is awesomely cheap. A pound of dried beans ($1.69) lasts several meals.

- Splurging on good quality, in-season produce is almost always worth it.

- I am extremely lucky to have not one, but two, grocery stores within walking distance. I buy most things at Giant and occasionally wander over to Whole Foods to get grains/legumes/soy milk in bulk. Also, whatever produce they have on sale tends to be a good deal.

- The two basil plants I bought for $2.50 at the Dupont farmers market were some of the best investments I've made. When summer comes around, I think I'll start an indoor herb window box.

- Knowing how to cook makes saving money on food significantly easier.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beer-glazed beans

Aside from my immersion blender, I also received Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Not only is it an excellent cookbook, it also makes for nice bedtime reading.

I've spent the most time on the legume section, which offers a convincing argument for buying dried beans and reconstituting them yourself instead of relying on canned beans. I recently did that with a pound of pinto beans and cooked some in a dish of roasted cipollini onions, tomatoes and beans. Having cooked with canned beans for as long as I can remember, the difference is phenomenal. Instead of a homogeneously mushy glob of starch, these beans have a firm but creamy interior that's enveloped by a nice and intact skin that offers just enough chew and texture. What's more is that they don't taste like the bland and slightly metallic liquid that they've been sitting in for goodness knows how long. They taste like, dare I say it, real beans.

Aside from the taste factor, this process is also dead easy: start by soaking your beans in cold water in the morning. After 8-12 hours, if they're softened, salt and then simmer your beans until they're tender and cooked. If not, simmer until they're soft, add salt, and continue to simmer until tender. I got about 6 cups, or four 14-oz cans worth, from a pound of dried beans. You can freeze whatever beans you don't use in their cooking liquid with no loss of texture, making this process just as convenient as buying canned beans.

Yesterday I made some beer-glazed beans from the cookbook. Between all my adventures adding booze to desserts and a few recent recipes that calls for beer in soups, I'm convinced that alcohol, when used appropriately, always makes food tastier. This dish is like a two-ingredient chili, with a nice earthy flavor from the chili powder and a slight sweetness from the beer and honey.