Saturday, November 29, 2008

Drunken Carrots

Even at my pickiest stage, I always loved raw carrots. Cooked carrots took a little more time, as in, until I graduated from college. I enjoyed carrots combined with other ingredients, in dishes like soups and stirfry, but just carrots always seemed to be mushy and too sweet.

Then I discovered the concept of experimenting with food. These are simple, savory, and pair wonderfully with most "standard" American dishes.

Drunken Carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup wine (I like white)

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic and carrots. Sautee until garlic is soft and carrots are slightly brown, about 5 min. Add wine and cook uncover until the liquid is all cooked off.

Serves 4.

Wednesday Strikes Again

I swear, I don't mean to keep stealing Luisa's ideas, but I guess great minds think alike. And hers is just a few steps ahead of mine.

Apparently pomegranates around here are like zucchini back in North Carolina, mention you like them, and suddenly you have a lifetime supply. Thanks to my generous C.S.A. and coworker donations left in my locker, I found myself with almost a dozen pomegranates arranged decoratively on my kitchen table. Fortunately, just when I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a distant cousin (we share great-great grandparents, if I remember correctly) who advertised himself as an "experimental" cook. Fancy food, a trip to San Francisco, eclectic dinner guests? Sign me up, and of course I'd be happy to bring the soup.

I did some hunting to find this lovely Amy Scattergood carrot pomegranate soup. Except, then the internet showed me Luisa already tried this recipe (but to great success!) Oh well. I did take it a step further and prepare my own pomegranate molasses. If you don't have a dozen pomegranates on hand, or aren't tempted by the idea of making your own molasses, this should be available at gourmet or Middle Eastern food shops, or even online. First things first, how to make pomegranate molasses.

Pomegranate Molasses

6-8 large pomegranates
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

Remove the seeds from the pomegranates by slicing fruit in half, then removing seeds in a bowl of water. The seeds will sink, the white membranes will float.
Drain the seeds (set aside a few for the garnish, if you're making the soup!), then run through food processor for a few seconds, until very liquidy.
Place colander lined with cheese cloth, or a fine-meshed strainer in a large bowl, and pour seeds + juice mix through. Press pulp with a spatula to get rid of most of the juice through. If necessary, squeeze cheesecloth to get as much juice as possible out.

Pour juice into a measuring cup, hopefully it should be about 4 cups. If not, adjust the sugar and lemon juice accordingly.

Combine all ingredients in the bottom of a 2 quart saucepan. Simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then continue to simmer uncovered for 70 min until the liquid has reduced to 1 cup and is very thick.

Pour into a glass jar, allow to cool, then store covered in a refrigerator for 6 months, if you can make it last that long.

This stuff is AMAZING: I found myself licking the pot clean. Now I dip the tip of a spoon in it, then scoop up some plain yogurt. Apparently if you're into meat, it's excellent in Middle Eastern rubs. Then there's the soup, where it adds a punch of tart sweetness, if that makes sense.

Carrot Pomegranate Soup

4 tbsp olive oil
4 cups peeled & chopped
2 cups onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin (I prefer whole)
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
4 cups broth
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
additional pomegranate molasses (optional)

Heat oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add carrots, onion, cumin & molasses. Sautee for 15 min, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Add 3 cups of the broth and simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, about an hour.

When it's finished, it will look very brothy, and not particularly attractive. Allow to cool, then puree, in batches if necessary (if you're lucky enough to have an immersion blender, no need to cool.) Return to the pot, add the last cup of broth, season to taste, if necessary, and warm back up.

Serve garnished with pomegranate seeds and more molasses.

Serves 6 to 8.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

About the cake

Last night was one of the few times I've wished I had kids of my own. You see, I baked a cake and decided to try a Martha hint I heard about. I normally grease and coat a pan with flour, but heard that cocoa powder works as well, plus it's brown and won't leave a white residue on my chocolate cake. Well, my friends, Martha was wrong. Cocoa makes the cake stick. Or maybe that's because I was overeager, and tried taking the cake out of the pan early. I also decided that sifting the powdered sugar for the frosting was a waste of time. Regardless, last night I wished I had a child, so I could blame this on them.

Yup. The cake fell apart and the frosting was lumpy. Thank goodness chocolate + butter + sugar still tastes good. And since the frosting already contained yogurt, it meant I could stir some of the leftovers into my yogurt this morning.

Happy birthday to me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comfort in a Bowl

I've always thought about soup as comfort in a bowl. It just feels warming and healing. Plus it's so easy to make. You can throw just about anything in, walk away for 30 min and come back to a tasty new creation. Tonight was less about experimenting, and more about a childhood favorite, updated. Growing up, going out to eat was a special treat, and I loved to order French Onion Soup: it sounded so exotic. Then, while studying in Spain, I learned the trick of making my own croutons (or migas) and that soup suddenly became so simple and accessible.

Adding a leek tonight brought a splash a color and a different texture. I imagine if you don't want to make your own croutons, but you're welcome to buy them from the grocery store, but I promise, they're very easy to make, and definitely worth it. My soup, of course, is made with vegetable broth, but I suppose beef broth is more authentic.

As for working with the leek, I admit I was confused by the amount of dirt the first time I cooked one, but they're actually simple to clean. Rinse off the outside to get rid of outer dirt, then slice in half lengthwise. If there's visible dirt, rinse it out. Peel off outer layer, and slice into half moons.

French Leek Soup
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, cut in half, and sliced thinly
1 leek, cleaned and sliced into half moons
3 cups vegetable broth
croutons (recipe below)
swiss cheese, grated

Melt butter in the bottom of a medium pot. Add garlic, onion, and leek, and sautee over medium low for at least 10 min, or until onions are caramelized. Make sure to stir often. Add broth, bring to a boil, then allow to simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 min.

Serve topped with cheese and croutons.

Serves 2, 4 as a side dish.

Stovetop Croutons
2-3 slices bread (stale is fine)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper

Tear or cut bread into 1/2 in pieces. Put in a bowl, and toss with olive oil and seasonings until evenly coated. Taste a piece to see if it's sufficiently salted. Err on the side of salting lightly, then add more as needed.
Heat a dry skillet over medium/medium high heat, until toasted on one side, then flip so other side gets lightly golden.

These will keep for a few days in an airtight container, but I love them best still warm in soups or salads.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Yes, I said Ramen. The $0.15 pack of noodles that somebody in your dorm ate way too much of your freshman year. The salt bomb. Nothing redeeming about this stuff, right?

That's what I thought until I went to China and found aisle of this stuff in every grocery store. Then I realized what a variety of flavors can be found, and what can be done with it. Think of the advantages: it's fast, it's preseasoned and in consideration of today's economy, it's cheap. Go to your local Asian food store and you will find an enormous variety of flavors. If the ingredients aren't translated and you're concerned about finding vegetarian varieties, steer away from packages with pictures of meat on the front. And if you have a friend who speaks Mandarin, Japanese or Korean, don't be afraid to ask for help. Of course, regular Top Ramen won't hurt you.

Anyways, start with your average salty noodle pack, and see what vegetables you have on hand. Carrots are always good, so are greens, I also like mushrooms. Sticking with the cheap theme, I like eggs for protein, but tofu is also tasty and cheap, or if you have leftover chicken that isn't strongly seasoned, that can be thrown in as well.

Vegetable Ramen
1 pack ramen
1 large carrot, or handful small carrots, diced
2 chard leaves, chopped
2 eggs

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add seasoning packet and carrots and simmer, covered, for 3 to 5 min. Add noodles and greens, and cook, covered, according to package directions. When 1 minute remains on timer, crack the eggs and drop into the soup. Stir with a chopstick or fork. When noodles are cooked and eggs are set, soup is done.

Serves 2.

Lazy Leftovers

Sometimes, even I get my fill of my own cooking. Certain recipes can make more than I realize, and after eating the same thing for 4 meals, I'm ready for a change. I find that cooked veggies do really well when turned into a frittata. They also taste great in Spanish style tortillas, which are a little more work, but worth it, and in quiches, which require pie crust.

For this recipe, since I didn't use any herbs or spices with my roasted turnips earlier this week, I decided to throw in Swiss cheese. If you do use distinctive spices associated with a particular cuisine, or Italian, try and pair with an appropriate cheese.

I threw some frozen roasted potatoes in the oven with my frittatas, because potatoes and eggs make me think breakfast. Also, I was feeling lazy, and didn't feel like dirtying my knife and cutting board with cutting my own potatoes.

Roasted Vegetable Frittata

2 cups roasted vegetables
1-2 oz grated swiss cheese
3 lrg or 4 med eggs
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease 2 ramekins with butter. Divide leftover vegetables between ramekins, and top with cheese. In a bowl, beat eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper, and pour over vegetables and cheese, not quite coming to the brim. Place on cookie sheet or over tin foil, and bake for 25 min or until center is set.

Serves 2.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gingerbread Pancakes

It's Saturday and I have to clean. Which means I woke up this morning wanting pancakes, but realized immediate thought was, I have no pancake mix. You see, every Saturday morning growing up, we'd have pancakes before cleaning the house as a family. In fact, pancakes were the first dish I learned to cook by myself. Mom would mix up the Bisquick, I'd pour them into the skillet and wait for bubbles to form, then flip them over. Afterwards, I'd get to cover them in real maple syrup, an annual souvenir from my grandparents and their yearly vacation to the Adirondacks.

So, even though I've adapted to making almost everything from scratch, including dishes I never would have considered as a child (pie crust or mac & cheese, for example), somehow I've never thought about making pancakes, which consist of like 4 or 5 ingredients. Fortunately, I had all of them, as well as the all important maple syrup (Thanks Grandma!) But, because I can't ever seem to leave well enough alone, I had to play with the batter. I wanted something more grown-up, more fall-y, even if it is 75 out today. I think my concoction turned out just fine.

As always, I like my food fairly strongly spiced. I also use whole spices, and grate them myself with a microplane grater. So, if you use my exact proportions with preground spices, it'll probably be a little milder.

Gingerbread Pancakes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk + 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg

Mix lemon juice and milk, and set aside to curdle.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Add liquids in, and stir until just mixed.

Heat skillet over medium heat, and lightly grease. When hot, pour batter in by 1/4 cup scoops, about 3 to 4 to a pan. (A standard ice cream scoop is about the perfect size for this.) Cook until edges are dry, and a few bubbles have broken on the surface, then flip.

Great with maple syrup, whipped cream or spiced apples or pears.

Serves 2

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


While in college, I volunteered with an organization to help teach Hispanic immigrants English. In exchange, I got to practice my Spanish, and my lovely student fed me on a regular basis. The only downside was that she refused to share recipes. The one that I most enjoy recreating is something she called Pasta Pimienta. When she first served it, I thought it was regular spaghetti with pesto on top, but in fact the sauce is based on green peppers. It's definitely unusual, but it's light and refreshing and a great side dish to Tex Mex food. She served it usually with garlicky limey chicken or shredded beef. I tend to eat it as is, with a glass of milk.

Pasta Pimienta
1-2 oz pasta (I use whole wheat)
4 small or 2 large green peppers, cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
1 tbsp sugar

Boil water in a pot and cook pasta to al dente.

While pasta is cooking, combine remaining ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until peppers have been almost completely pureed.

Drain noodles, return now-empty pot to stove, and adjust heat to medium high. Once dry, pour in sauce from food processor. Heat for 3-5 minutes, until hot throughout and the raw flavor has been lost. Return pasta to pot, toss to coat.

Serves 2

Spaghetti Squash How-To

So far, I've only found one real use for spaghetti squash, and that's to use it almost like real spaghetti. I prepare it like I do all hard squashes, then top it with marinara, usually as a side dish for something heavy and Italian, like my eggplant parmesan. Today, I was lazy and hoping to be healthy, so I paired it simply with a mock chicken patty (Quorn tastes scarily like McDonald's chicken) that I also added marinara to. But figuring out how to just cook it took some practice. So, here is how I get it ready a la Pioneer Woman.

Start with one spaghetti squash. It's large, yellow and oval.

Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. (Save the seeds, they can be roasted like pumpkin seeds.)

Place one half cut side down on a plate, put water in the bottom, and wrap tightly in Saran Wrap. Then microwave on high for 15 min.

Once done, take out carefully, as there's lots of steam built up. Turn cut side up and scrape with a fork. It should come apart in little strings, that resemble actual noodles.

This can be done with any hard squash, like butternut, acorn or delicata that you want to use in a larger recipe. With those, scoop out the cooked flesh with a spoon and add to soups, pastas, etc. If you're simply roasting to serve as a stand alone dish, I do recommend the oven, as it just tastes better.

Wednesday Chef

I'll confess, I came across the previous recipe thanks to the Wednesday Chef. I love checking out her blog for analysis of NYTimes recipes and ideas for how to use seasonal produce. Unfortunately, as she lives in NYC, her produce tends to come into season just a little after mine. But, checking out her archives is always an adventure.

Another one of my perennial favorites that I found on her website is Regina Schrambling's Collard Squares. When I want to take more than 15 minutes to simply sautee my greens, I make a version of this. The collards aren't bitter, caramelized onions provide sweetness, and the addition of eggs and cheese make this almost an entire meal in one dish. I love this with a side of cornbread to make it feel just a little bit more Southern.

Like most of my recipes, play with the proportions, substitute the Cheddar with Swiss or Mozzarella, portabellos or cremini for shiitakis. Even the collards can be substituted with some other bitter greens, like mustard or turnip tops. Heck, if you're a mushroom-phobe, substitute ham. And increase all ingredients by 50% and baked in a 9x13 pan for a larger crowd.

Collard Squares
1 large bunch collards, washed thoroughly, destemmed and coarsely shredded
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb shiitakes, destemmed and diced (dried and rehydrated shiitakes do great in this recipe)
1/2 tsp soy sauce
4 large eggs
2 oz shredded cheddar
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Place collards, pepper and pinch of salt in a large pot with water to cover. Simmer covered for 20 min, then drain.

While collards are simmering, heat butter in the bottom of a skillet. Sautee onions and garlic with a pinch of salt until softened. Add mushrooms and soy sauce, sautee for an additional 5-7 minutes before removing from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 inch casserole dish (I do like to use butter for this).

Combine cooked vegetables in a bowl (I use the empty pot when I don't want to wash more dishes) and add rest of the ingredients, mixing until everything is well combined. Pour into casserole and bake for 20 min.

Serves 4

Monday, November 10, 2008

The BEST Tomato Soup

Lately, I've been seeing those Progresso commercials that call themselves the grown-up version of Campbell's. Well, this is the ultimate grown-up version of tomato soup, slightly altered from Bill Telepan. I personally can't go back to the canned variety after I made this for the first time. And no, it doesn't feature current fresh vegetables, but think of it again next summer when tomatoes are ripe.

Tomato Bread Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes, OR 3 lbs plum tomatoes, quartered, and run through a food processor
2 cups sourdough bread, crusts removed & cubed
salt and pepper to taste
ricotta salata cheese, grated (optional, but it makes the soup)
fresh basil, chifonnaded (optional)

Heat oil in the bottom of a stockpot. Add onion and garlic, sautee until softened. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and simmer covered for 30 minutes (45 if using fresh tomatoes). Stir in bread cubes, and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes.

Garnish with cheese and basil.

Serves 4-6.

Roasted Veg

Yesterday I mentioned my roasted vegetables. This is my favorite way to deal with a new root vegetable I'm somewhat unsure about. Mix it up with vegetables I do like, toss with olive oil and garlic. Extra virgin oil isn't necessary here, as the volatile elements that make it taste so excellent are destroyed at high heat. Regular olive oil offers the same health benefits at a lower cost.

If you have herbs on hand, they're wonderful to throw in. Rosemary is particularly delicious, I also enjoy sage and thyme. Hierbes provencales are an excellent blend, as well. Basically, think French.

Just to throw in more variations, the temperature I used below isn't hard and fast. 450 is nice because they cook fast, and caramelize the outside some, but it's also the temperature my oven already was at after baking bread.

One note though, if your turnip still has the greens attached, and they look nice (i.e. green and crisp), save them. Turnip greens can be delicious, prepared the same way you'd make most any winter green.

Roasted Turnip Mix:
1 purple globe turnip, peeled and diced (the peel is very bitter)
1 medium onion, coarsely diced
2 large carrots, or bunch of scarlet nantes carrots, coarsely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 F.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat evenly. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 min, or until the onions are slightly caramelized and the turnips are fork tender.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

French Food

Last year I read with my book club "French Women Don't Get Fat," and thought of it today as I made my Sunday lunch. Today's meal was entirely vegan, but felt so Continental. Mark Bittman's no-knead bread, garlicky roasted turnips, carrots and onions (turnips and carrots thanks to my C.S.A.) and white bean spread. This is my new favorite way to eat white beans and it's soo easy.

Garlicky White Bean Dip
1 can white beans, drained OR 1 cup dried beans, soaked and simmered
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in a medium sauce pan, covered with about 1/2 inch water. Simmer until water is almost gone and beans are falling apart.

Makes 4 1/2 cup servings.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fruit Quest

I'm still on a quest to actually liking fruit, or at least get more of it in my diet. Since my C.S.A. here is a grab bag, and I live in the agricultural center of the U.S., it tends to come with a fair amount of fruit. This past week included half a dozen Asian pears.

Now, I am giving eating fresh, unadulterated fruit a chance. After all, if it's fresh, organic and local, it's probably the best circumstances for me to like it, right? Well, Asian pears weren't my bag. The skin was so bitter and the texture horrible to me. But I did like the flavor of the pear itself, which I consider an excellent start. Googling poached pears, looking through my pantries, and some experimenting led me to these ginger poached pears. I suppose you could have them over ice cream, or as is for dessert. I personally have been eating them over granola and plain yogurt for breakfast. And of course, the sugar and ginger can be adjusted to your own tastes. I didn't add very much since I wanted this to be less of a dessert, but added more ginger because I like the kick, and it would cover any "yuckiness." Yup, I'm real mature about fruit. Someday you should ask me about dried apricots.

Ginger Poached Pears
6 pears, peeled, cored, sliced
2 inches fresh ginger, diced OR 1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups water

Bring ginger, sugar and water to a boil. Add pears, and allow to simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until tender.

Serves 6.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Well, fall has finally hit Northern California. Fortunately the C.S.A. still has the last of summer tomatoes and beans, but now the red of the tomatoes just make me think of the leaves changing back East. I honestly came up with this dish because I wanted to make long beans, which I've never had before, safe and to only use one pot.

Pasta Roma:
4 oz whole wheat pasta (I used spaghetti, but bowtie would be awesome with this)
1 lb roma beans, cut into inch segments (green beans are also good)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb roma tomatoes, chunked or diced

Bring salted water to a boil (salt here is important!), and add pasta. Add beans in the past 5 minutes, and cook until noodles are al dente. Drain into colander, and set aside.
Put pot back on stove over medium high heat. When dry, add olive oil. Once hot add garlic and cook until softened. Add tomatoes, salt to taste, then cook until hot and lightly softened. Add noodles and beans back in and toss until coated with olive oil and tomatoes are distributed. Serve with parmesan on top.

Serves 2-4

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chard Carbonara

After a few months of moving and settling in, it's good to find a new C.S.A. and get back into the swing of basing my menus around the vegetables and fruits, not whatever carb is most handy. My new farm prepares the same box for everybody, and it's much bigger than my last place, but it only comes every other week.

With the dropping economy and my own tight budget from moving across the country and refurnishing an apartment, I'm trying to minimize buying other ingredients, and instead use up what's in my fridge and pantry. Dairy and eggs come from local farms, I always have garlic, onions & ginger on hand along with select spices, and I buy minimal pasta, rice and dried beans at the Co-op.

I'm also getting used to cooking for one, which isn't the same as cutting cooking for two in half. My normal preparation that would be enough for two for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day, is now enough to feed me all week. That gets boring quickly, so I'm playing with using things that do better in small amounts. Along the same lines, I hate to spend an hour making something that'll take me 15 minutes to eat by myself. All of this brings me to today's creation:

Chard Carbonara
1 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bunch chard, chopped
2 eggs
1/4 cup parmesan
salt to taste
pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
1-2 oz whole wheat spaghetti

Bring pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to directions.
Melt butter in the bottom of a medium skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add garlic, and cook until lightly browned. Throw in chard, season with salt and pepper, and sautee until wilted. Add cooked noodles, eggs and parmesan. Toss in pan with tongs to distribute egg and cheese through noodles until the egg is cooked through.

Serves 2.