Sunday, November 28, 2010

Asian Slaw and Peanut Dressing

Recent obsession: thinly sliced, highly crunchy, very veggie slaws.

Add peanuty, tangy dressing in the style of Trader Joe's Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette, but made at home and put back in the TJ's bottle.

Peanut Dressing recipe, approximately. Feel free to throw in some cilantro or other goodies.

6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

Mix it all up in the food processor or blender. Try not to eat it all at once, on every salad, all the time.

Slaw recipe, very approximate. The key is slicing everything very, very thin.
1/2 head of green cabbage (Savoy is nice), sliced by hand
1/2 head of purple cabbage, sliced by hand
A couple of carrots, shredded in the food processor or by hand
A bunch of cilantro, chopped up
Add some green onions if you like
Throw it all together and top with peanut dressing. Yum.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Salad Days of Fall

The fall garden is treating us very well.

There's been more salad eating in the last few weeks than there was most of the summer, thanks to our abundance of arugula and Santa Fe lettuce. Check out the green waves of arugula leaves.

We're letting the buttercrunch lettuce grow a bit more before we start eating it, but the time is coming soon.

No sign of broccoli crowns yet, but the leaves are getting huge. The stems are very strong.

Grow, broccoli, grow! We want to eat you!

Along with the fall salads, we've been eating plenty of greens. Our chard and kale are enormous. It's so convenient (and delicious) to just go out and pick some greens and eat them right up, straight out of the ground and into the frying pan.

Even the ursa kale, which got planted in the second round with the buttercrunch lettuce, is getting massive. We'll eat you soon, too!

In other domestic news, I made a throw pillow! It was my first sewing project in many years.

I used this very easy envelope pattern and sewed it all by hand. The original blogger said it would take 10 minutes, but she was using a sewing machine. It took me about an hour to do it all by hand, and the hardest part was cutting the fabric. And look, a great little throw pillow for the guest bedroom! I have plans to make several more so the bed looks extra cozy and comfy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Recent Cooking Adventures

Mini-roundup style...

My biggest recent accomplishment: baking Challah for Shabbat dinner with friends this past Friday night.

My first challah ever, and it came out beautiful and delicious. I followed a recipe from Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame) because I was making quiche out of the same cookbook for dinner. I was very, very proud.

It was a long process, with lots of kneading and separating the dough and waiting. But it was fun nonetheless; the process felt meditative and the dough was lovely to touch.

I also had a cooking adventure day recently with a friend, creating a few recipes from the book Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects.
I'd seen the book mentioned on various food blogs (including Food In Jars) and waited for weeks for it to arrive in my request pile at the local library.

We made crackers.

We made black bean dip.

We made chai.

I had to return the book, but next I'd like to make marshmallows from scratch. Or maybe peanut butter cups?

Fall Garden

We planted our new fall garden a few weeks ago! The tomatoes finally kicked the bucket. We ripped them out of the ground, added tons of new dirt, and purchased new starter plants from the market.

We started out with tuscan kale (also known as black kale or dinosaur kale), swiss chard, arugula, broccoli, and a lettuce called Santa Fe.

They looked so tiny in the garden after having the monstrous tomato plants in for these last few months.

But in just a few short weeks, they've grown and grown!

See the leaves on that kale? Check out the height on that chard on the right!

As with the spring-summer garden, this fall one is lovely to look at and hopefully will be yummy to eat. It significantly less work this time around, since we already had our fence built, most of the soil in, and a better sense of what we were doing. We added some buttercrunch lettuce and another variety of kale today. Photos to come. Luckily, we got it in right before a huge rainstorm all afternoon, the first rain we've had in weeks. Excellent timing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tomato Summer

With thirteen bountiful tomato plants in the garden, all growing ferociously for the past nine or ten weeks, it's been a very tomatoey summer.

Several nights a week, there's been a plate of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

There's been fish with tomatoes.

There was gazpacho, seen here in its pre-blended state.

I canned whole Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

I canned tomato sauce with fresh basil.

I baked loaves and loaves of almost-no-knead bread to sop up tomato juice left on the plate.

I admired bowls of tomatoes on the countertop all summer long.

And now, somehow, August is turning into September, the plants are slowing down production, and we're digging up the grass next to the garden to expand it for the fall. Soon we'll pull out all the tomato plants and replace them with kale, or maybe spinach, or broccoli. It's been a pleasure to watch the tomato stalks grow, and grow, and grow, and blossom into these beautiful fruits, and finally land in the kitchen, all of thirty feet from where they started out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Garden Growth & Fish Firsts

Here's some photos of the garden over the last few weeks. It's grown a ton since we first got our plants in the ground a little over a month ago. The tomato plants are about four feet high, the cucumber vines are flowering and curling, and the peppers are starting to show themselves.

We've gotten a dozen or so yellow squash, some basil, a handful of sungold tomatoes, and a single cucumber in our first week of harvesting. The tomatoes have a few more weeks until they fully ripen, but the big guys (Cherokee Purple and Better Boy) have a few fruits on each plant. We're proud of how it's going so far!

Of course, a first vegetable garden for gardeners with limited experience has its moments of sadness as well. Three of our four yellow squash plants have completely died, even after giving us a few squash each. Our neighbor Sammy came over today as I was digging up the most recent plant. He showed me the shriveled stem and explained that the cause of death is vine borer worm, which wriggles its way into the stem and kills the plant in the process. Like a parasite, the only way to save the plant is risky surgery involving cutting a slit in the stem and pulling out the worm. Blech. Our last squash plant is in the opposite corner of the garden and is still growing strong. I'm worried about the cucumbers, which grow right next to the former yellow squash, but its too early to do exploratory vine borer surgery yet.

Despite the loss of these plants, the squash we've grown is the sweetest I've had. Our other neighbor, Charlie, recommended we harvest them while they're still small. I fried some slices up last night with basil and some salt and pepper, and they were sweet, crunchy, and delicious.

In other exciting foodie news, I joined a fish CSA with my friend Sara. We get weekly deliveries of 2-3 pounds of freshly caught fish and seafood, all cleaned up and delivered to Carrboro from Beaufort County NC via the Core Sound Seafood Community Supported Fishery. It's Sara's first venture back into eating fish after 14 years as a vegetarian, so we went all out our first week. We got a delivery of flounder and shrimp.

Thursday night Sara and I made Flounder Poached in Coconut, Ginger, and Basil Broth. It smelled incredible simmering on the stove and tasted like restaurant-worthy Thai food.

Friday night Erin and I cooked Stir-Fried Ginger Shrimp using a recipe from The Splendid Table. Easy and fresh and messy and tasty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Granola and Asparagus Mushroom Bread Pudding

As a head's up, the garden is looking incredible, and we've harvested our first bounty! Photos and details to come. For now, onto crunchier topics: granola.

I've made several batches of granola recently, based on the Cook's Illustrated recipe. Making this hippie goodness from scratch brings into perspective how incredibly overpriced the premade stuff is. Really, the ingredients are pretty cheap: a bunch of oats, some nuts, some seeds, some dried fruit. Once you've invested in one jar of good maple syrup and one of honey, the rest is really inexpensive, and the cooking process is terribly easy - to call it cooking might even be an overstatement. In reality it's just throwing a few items on a pan and stirring it up every few minutes. I made a half recipe the second go-around - the first batch got a bit stale (which, in granola terms, means soggy and uncrunchy) after two weeks or so.

Cook's Illustrated Classic Granola
1 cup walnuts , broken into 1/4-1/2-inch pieces
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup blanched almonds , halved
1/4 cup sesame seeds (I had none, so I upped the sunflower and nut content a bit to make up)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup raisins

1. Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix first 6 ingredients together in large bowl.

  1. 2. Heat maple syrup and honey together with oil in small saucepan, whisking occasionally until warm. Pour mixture over dry ingredients; stir with spatula until mixture is thoroughly coated. Turn mixture onto an 11-by-7-inch jelly roll pan, spreading mixture in an even layer.

  2. 3. Bake, stirring and respreading mixture into an even layer every 5 minutes, until granola is light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Immediately turn granola onto another jelly roll pan to stop cooking process. Stir in raisins, then spread granola evely in pan; set on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Loosen dried granola with a spatula; store in airtight container.

Several scoopfuls on vanilla yogurt in the morning before work? Yes please.

I receive almost daily emails from Vegetarian Times with recipe suggestions, and though I tend not to make them, I enjoy the food inspiration. I decided to try this one out as a way to appropriately use my stash of frozen asparagus. I figured the frozen stuff would need something that requries a fair amount of cooking as the defrosting process would leave them a bit soggy, and no good for grilling or other methods that would normally make raw asparagus shine.

Asparagus-Mushroom Bread Pudding

1 leek, white part finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
2 lb. fresh
asparagus (36 to 40 medium spears),
cut into 1-inch pieces
12 oz. white mushrooms, sliced (2 cups)
4 cups skim milk
4 large eggs
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs.
chopped fresh basil
1 1-lb. loaf crusty
bread, cut into cubes
16 oz. soft goat cheese log, sliced

1. Coat skillet with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add leek and garlic, and sauté 8 minutes, or until soft. Add asparagus and mushrooms, and cook 4 minutes more, or until asparagus is tender. Set aside.

2. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and basil in bowl. Set aside.

3. Coat 13- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half of bread cubes in single layer in baking dish. Spoon asparagus mixture over top, and cover with remaining bread cubes.

Arrange goat cheese rounds over top. Pour egg mixture over all, pressing down with spoon to submerge bread. Cover, and chill 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake bread pudding 45 minutes, or until center is set. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

This meal came out pretty good, and in fact was better the second day, though I should know to be wary of recipes that don't call for salt. It definitely needed some. It's flavorful, though nowhere near as incredible as the butternut squash and kale bread pudding of last fall, but this was admittedly easier to prepare.

Alright, look out for garden updates soon. Squash! Tomatoes! Beautiful sprawling cucumber vines!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Banana Bread Success

This post is about how Anna is always right about most things, and especially when it comes to baking. Or, as Anna says, just trust Cook's Illustrated. After living with Anna in Brooklyn for almost a year and tasting many a delicious baked good that she whipped up, I was lucky enough to be given a copy of her secret handbook: Baking Illustrated, a cookbook published by the gastronomical science geniuses at Cook's Illustrated.

Seriously, these people know what's up -- because of science! They experiment with recipes, starting with a few different versions and then varying them to figure out just how many eggs you need , or whether sour cream, yogurt, or milk will lend the best flavor and texture. The scientific method at its best.

For example, with their banana bread recipe, they experimented with just how mashed the bananas need to be to keep the batter thick and smooth. Mashed just a bit by hand? Mashed very well? Pureed? They varied mixing the different ingredients in several ways to figure out how to create the best texture and rise in the bread. And, not only do they do all this work for you so you can make awesome food on the first try, they also tell you why it works! Food science is cool!

I chose the banana bread recipe because it's the first recipe in the book - a very good place to start, I figured. But I also have had a hankering for the chocolate chip banana bread made by Blue Sky Bakery, my favorite one in Brooklyn (they sell their baked goods at Grumpy Coffee as well as at their store on 5th Ave and Bergen in Park Slope) and wondered if the Baking Illustrated variation of Banana-Chocolate Bread could measure up.

Of course, despite starting the bread immediately after returing from the grocery store to buy a bittersweet chocolate bar, I realized as I was pouring the batter into the loaf pan that I had forgotten to follow the variation recipe and instead had made plain old banana bread. Fail! I was disappointed for a few minutes and pouted my way around the kitchen, eventually taking a little walk outside to admire the garden, but my spirits were lifted when I came back inside and smelled this delight baking in the oven.

Banana Bread from Baking Illustrated

Greasing and flouring only the bottom of a regular loaf pan causes the bread to cling to the sides and rise higher. If using a nonstick loaf pan, on which the sides are very slick, grease and flour sides as well as the bottom.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups toasted walnuts , chopped coarse
3 very ripe bananas , soft, darkly speckled, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs , beaten lightly
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

(As Baking Illustrated suggests, I had frozen some very ripe bananas and let them thaw on the counter a few hours before baking. They slipped right out of their skins. The fruit seemed a bit juicy, so I removed a bit of the liquid from the bowl before mashing in the other ingredients.)

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of regular loaf pan, or grease and flour bottom and sides of nonstick 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside.

Combine first five ingredients together in large bowl; set aside. Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with wooden spoon in medium bowl.

Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky.

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; bake until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Um, yeah. This banana bread is good. Really, really good. Moist as can be, strong banana flavor, nutty without being crunchy. So tremendously good. I baked it less than 24 hours ago and there is less than a third of the bread left, after eating a hunk with Erin straight out of the oven and bringing another hunk to American Idol last night. At first I hoped I wouldn't be too sick of banana bread to try the chocolate variation in a couple of weeks; now I'm counting on folks to help me finish the remaining bit of bread as soon as possible so I can whip the chocolate version up, say, later today. Quick! Come over and eat some banana bread! And a big thanks to Anna for showing me the light of Cook's Illustrated - I am now a paying member of their website and plan to subscribe for the magazine as soon as my Bon Appetit subscription ends. As the banana bread shows, tried and tested food science wins out over shiny photos on magazine pages.