Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paradise Found

"East, west, hame's best."
-the wise words of Gilbert from Anne of the Island

Yesterday I woke up to the sound of car alarms going off and the girl upstairs playing the Village People at about 8 AM. The former didn't stop for at least a good five minutes and, as for the latter, the general belief held by most reasonably normal people must be that nobody needs to be listening to "The YMCA" at that hour. However, I wasn't bothered...not in the least. You want to know why?

I was home. "Home sweet home." "There's no place like home." I could probably provide--and happily!-- at least 5 other cliches on this same subject, but there's no need. The real point is that it's wonderful to be back, surrounded by my books, clothes, cookbooks, coffee bean grinder (seriously, I was practically bereft without it), pink, fluffy, bee-yoo-ti-ful and sparkly things, the random piece of Hello Kitty memorabilia...I went outside today and, when I say that I felt a rush of love for the neighborhood, my building and even the often overly friendly and somewhat invasive owner of the local dry cleaning establishment who said hello, I'm being 100% truthful.

Will these euphoric feelings last? Probably not, but I'm going to enjoy them while they do. Just knowing both where the heater is and how to turn it on (according to a friend who wisely listens to NPR, it's the coldest summer in 40 years; as last week you could have found me in a bed in the hills sleeping under a down comforter wrapped in a fleece robe for extra warmth, I believe NPR's right), as well the fact that I am now both dog-less and hamster-less, it's like a new lease on life. And, not even two full days into my triumphant return, I've already cooked up quite the storm! I had a friend--a friend with whom I wanted to celebrate the recent good news of her engagement :) --over for lunch today; our feast included Buttermilk Squash Soup (if you, like me, foolishly left your beloved garlic at a professor's house, were hoping for additional flavor and just happen to have pimentos in your fridge from recipes past, it makes a fine garlic substitute; as I like to say, "Be bold!") and the fantastically delicious Buttermilk cookies featured in the above photograph (coincidentally enough, with birthday finery that another friend had bought for me; I really need to put that dachshund cookie cutter to work). :) They were just what the doctor...errr, the author, ordered. The simple truth is that my craving for them started when I was reading a Sologub story in which the main character, swept away by the fantasy of escaping his humdrum and bleak existence, drops the most delicious sounding yellow cookies on a crowded Petersburg street (if being in possession of such cookies doesn't sound overly bleak to you, he wasn't going to be the one to eat them...and, Sologub being Sologub, he was probably brutally spanked for having dropped them. *Judge not the lady by the books she reads but by the baked goods she produces after reading them*). Clearly, the point of dissertation research is to bake what you read--sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically...

Dinner for one then needed to be contemplated and, since a trip to the grocery store was made today, the options were endless. I felt the need for protein and was in an egg-y kind of mood, so I did some research (the hallmark of any "scholarly" personality) and came up with this: Curried Egg Salad (trust me when I say that adding a few raisins to this dish will automatically make it ten times better) on my favorite toasted sesame bread. It was a perfect meal, really. Well, except for the fact that, even though I know it's a really bad idea, I've been watching True Blood while eating. Unwise; don't do it!

Before leaving you to continue basking in my boundless joy and apartment love (luv!), I just wanted to say that I know I still owe you a recipe for Zucchini Cakes. It's coming; I promise! Believe me when I say I would never deny you the potential glory of cheesy, dill-scented zucchini fried in oil. That wouldn't be fair. I also had planned a post on Aloo Gobi (wimp that I am, I added everything but the chile; happy to report that it turned out just fine).

And then there was the successful tortilla that a friend and I made last week. Ok, it's true: she made it and I watched. Actually, while she was poaching the potatoes, I was putting together this little side dish for us; it's every bit as good as Deb promised (although, if you decide to make it yourself, please read the link about how all salts aren't created equal...not something you want to miss).

The underlying goal of the above paragraphs is to show that, wow, I really cook too much. Maybe not too much, but certainly too much to post about everything (and, yes, I have the urge to post about everything), so I'm going to have to start, as one professor once suggested about my need to write about everything as well, limiting myself. Being nothing if not pragmatic at heart (and also kind of scared since it's almost August and the waves of the fall semester are about to crash upon us), one to two recipes a week.....and, if I produce something truly remarkable, maybe, just maybe, the occasional third. I can't help myself; I enjoy it and, really, there's nothing more fun than cooking both with and for friends (perhaps something about shared vegetable chopping just really brings out the conversational best in everybody? Sharing the caloric intake? Most likely, it's just the fact that I have great friends). Plus, in the great brain on instant ramen vs. brain on scalloped tomatoes and tortilla match, we both know which brain would win.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Zucchini Fest, Part I: Details Schmetails

"In life, as in literature, we navigate via the stars of detail. We use detail to focus, to fix an impression, to recall."
-James Wood (How Fiction Works)

Some days the details really matter: a little fog can chill you to the bone, exacerbating the feeling that maybe you're coming down with something; a simple phrase like "Due to labor unrest, expect delays" (labor unrest!? Is it just me or is that phrase hopelessly nineteenth century?) can make or break your commute to your surrogate "home"; a scoop of Ben and Jerry's "Chocolate Therapy" ice cream and its comforting pudding-like texture can make the first 25 minutes of your hour and a half wait for the bus more than bearable, especially when you throw a little Bal'mont reading into the mix; maybe you like to mutter to yourself and, annoyed by the turn your day has taken, you're working yourself into a fine state and you say aloud in an angry tone "What am I? A common charwoman!?" (again, I'd like to stress that I am not an elitist; I'm just somebody whose nostrils are still smarting from having cleaned out a hamster cage yesterday...perhaps one day, thanks to the vivid memory of this detail, I'll have to tell my heartbroken children that mommy doesn't keep rodents in the house. Some memories aren't worthy of nostalgia), and then blush when the man across the street walking his dog throws you a knowing grin and says hello...Clearly, this is but a small sample of the details that made up my day, but they're the ones that stuck.

Then, there are other times when the details don't really matter (at least not in a big picture way). For example, last week I had a friend up for a dinner I had decided we should call "Zucchini Fest." Why? Because it's summer, zucchini is delicious and cutesy names make everything more fun (in fact, this has long been a habit of mine: there was "Russian Fever" in college, and then Part Deux/Redux in our post-college years....And then a Birthday BBQ, a Decadent Dinner Party I had this past spring in the lead up to my exams, a time period when all I was thinking about was Symbolism, Symbolism and more Symbolism)! And, between the two of us, I've always preferred both order and a unifying theme. This dinner was perfectly planned too; she was going to show me the secret of this delicious Zucchini Cakes with Cheese, Green Onions and Herbs recipe (to be featured in my next post) she had found and I was going to try this Zucchini Tart on a Hazelnut-Thyme Crust that I had been fantasizing about after discovering it on a food blog I enjoy reading. We had decided no dessert since we were both feeling a bit dessert-ed out.

But after painstakingly throwing the tart together (as a brief aside, I basically followed Clothilde's recipe to the letter, although I added more mascarpone cheese, which, frankly, is just as one always should in these situations. To be precise, her 1/4 cup became 1/2 cup in my version and, for more flavor, I also added some thyme to the cheese mixture. Also, I'll say that, despite the presence of the rolling pin in the above picture, I found it to be unnecessary. This is perhaps because my impatience--are you seeing a unifying theme/detail here?--got the best of me and I let the dough sit in the fridge for only 45 minutes to an hour) and making the zucchini cakes, we wanted sugar. However, as I hadn't been planning on dessert, I didn't know what to make and, more importantly, I had only one egg. A true conundrum.

You might think that I would have let a tiny, yet oh so important detail like this dissuade me, particularly considering my recent tortilla failure, but, no, in this case I knew it was going to happen. After all, dessert is my thing; having eaten lots of cake in my life (and then some), I knew I had at least a 75% chance of success...but the real reason I think I decided to go for it in spite of my ingredient limitations/deficiencies was that we were having such a nice night and a good time cooking together that the outcome didn't matter. Plus, come hell or high water, we were clearly going to eat whatever came out of the oven. :) These kinds of realizations can really be a confidence booster.

A Vanilla Cardamom cake was mentioned, but, in the true spirit of the evening, I decided to add zucchini (flavorless in this context, but good for making a cake moist)...and then also the cherries that were in the refrigerator. Thus was born a Zucchini and Vanilla Cardamom Cake with Bing Cherries (more affectionately dubbed the "Everything Cake"). You might be wondering how I managed with only one egg? Since adventure was the name of the game, I went with Lemon Curd and the leftover mascarpone. A moment of inspired genius or madness? Make this yourself and see. We were happy with the results; this cake, a combination of tangy and spicy deliciousness with a spongy texture, may just be a keeper...

Zucchini and Vanilla Cardamom Cake with Bing Cherries
Yields many delicious slices

2/3 c. sugar
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 Finely grated zucchini (semi-drained)
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. Lemon curd
4 oz. Mascarpone
1 Tbsp. Pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of half and half
½ tsp of baking soda at the end
cherries (as many as you like), pitted

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 cake pan with parchment paper.
-Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed.
-Add the egg, then the lemon curd and finally the mascarpone and vanilla, beating after each addition.
-In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt.
-Add half the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix on medium speed.
-Add the remaining flour and the grated zucchini, beat at medium speed, then increase to medium-high and beat until incorporated.
-At this stage, add the half and half and beat until just combined.
-Add ½ tsp. of baking soda and mix it in with a spoon.
-Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place the cherries on top (they will sink when baking)!
-Bake for 22-25 minutes (as I baked mine for 25 and it browned slightly on top, I would say 22 minutes should be sufficient. Then again, despite being a little brown in places, the flavor was perfect).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Humpty-Dumpty Tortilla

"There is only one recipe--to care a great deal for the cookery."
-Henry James

I guess you could say that it all started on Bastille Day, which, for some odd reason or another, I like to mark in some small way: perhaps by having lunch at a French restaurant, a nice glass of French wine or even a few crackers with some delicious French cheese (oui, vive la France!). I suppose it makes sense since a) I'll take advantage of any excuse to eat good French food (yes, a college friend and I splurged on dinner at Bouchon to celebrate my having passed the PhD exams; it was well worth every cent!) and b) I did study French for several years of my life and it's something that I've always been sad I've given up...then again, I strongly believe that what has been lost can usually be regained (was this not Proust's point as well? Not that *cough* I've ever actually read the man, but so I've heard...), especially if all it requires is a little bit of effort.

But, oddly enough, the meal I planned for Bastille Day was not at all French in its origins, but Spanish. So much for vive la France, right? How fickle is the heart! To explain myself, the simple truth is that though I like Paris (who doesn't like Paris, after all?) and enjoyed my travels throughout France, I've been fascinated by Spain ever since I went there for spring break one year in college. I loved the food, the culture, the people...the paella, churros and marzipan (hmm, that all falls into food, but clearly food can make a big difference in one's travel experience), even the little lisp of Castilian Spanish and I'd go back in a heartbeat. But since I have a little something called a dissertation to write and a grad student's salary/budget, that's not in the cards right now. So my goal is to attempt to master Spanish cooking in my very own kitchen and, while avoiding the view of the next apartment building over, to pretend that I'm there. :) With the right music (and a little rioja), this is entirely possible. On this occasion, however, I made one tiny concession to la France by playing a French radio station (Radio Douce France), which is awesome and has led to my discovery of Francoise Hardy (sorry, I couldn't resist sharing; it's that good).

Despite the fact that I attended a paella cooking class in the fall and apparently now have the knowledge to make my very own paella at home, I'm still a little frightened of such an undertaking, so I decided instead to make a tortilla de patatas with cauliflower. This seemed a manageable task, I had my camera ready and, in short, the makings of a blog post were underway.

And then everything went wrong. Ok, yes, that's a bit of an exaggeration (I tend to go for doomsday scenarios, but, to be fair, I do study Russian literature and Symbolism in particular, which means that I have a special place in my heart for the apocalypse), since the potatoes had poached beautifully. The cauliflower had also softened quite nicely, though they still retained a little crunch, which is exactly what I had wanted. Then I added the egg and this, yes, this is the moment when things fell apart...quite literally too. At that point, Z had arrived, we were talking and then it was time to flip the pan so that I could put the tortilla back in so the other side could cook. Well...only half of the eggs came out. While the other half was glued to the all-clad stainless steel non non-stick skillet. I was horrified; Z kind of laughed until I gave him the evil/disappointed eye. And then we tried again. Let's put it mildly: once stuck, eggs aren't going anywhere. That is, not without brute force, which ruins a would-be tortilla and turns it into mere scrambled eggs. This is why non-stick is preferable; good ingredients and painfully precise chopping mean nothing if the cookware is going to fail you in the end....

*sigh* Aesthetics aside, it tasted good. Then we played backgammon and, as yours truly won, my general cheer and goodwill were restored. :) At the end of the day, all this means is that I can now add yet another recipe to my list of cooking "bête noire" that must be mastered: pound cake and tortilla española. And when I finally get it right (a friend who lived in Spain for a month is coming over this week and we're going to try again; *fingers crossed*), believe me, you'll be some of the first to know. After all, how could I not share the secret of my success?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream Baby

"Everything aspires to the light. You don't have chase down a fly to get rid of it--you just darken the room, leave a crack of light in a window, and out he goes. Works every time. We all have that instinct, that aspiration." -Tobias Wolff (Old School)

Today was the first day in my house-sitting stint that the sun shone for more than a few hours and, needless to say, it was glorious! The house was alive with light; at one point I even needed to pull the blinds down because it was becoming positively hot in here (and, no, that's not a complaint; it's about time). In short, it was just what the doctor ordered: reading for pleasure (Mr. Wolff makes a fine companion on a lazy summer day), trimming my bangs (surprisingly, they look good; let's be grateful they're supposed to be the slanted kind) taking a walk through the hills, a little house maintenance and quality time with the pooch.

Oh, and of course there was food. Much food, in fact. I not only polished off Saturday's dinner (today's topic of conversation), but baked a Cardamom Banana Bread with raisins simmered in a dark rum. Though my love of banana bread runs deep, the simple truth is that my bananas were becoming overly ripe and thus inedible, leading me to experiment with both an old and a current favorite, the latter clearly being cardamom (it's the spice of summer, in my humble opinion). But I must confess that I didn't anticipate that the rum would catch fire (yes, people, I do know that alcohol is flammable, but I thought I had it under control) and right when I was leaning over the pot to look in, blithely humming along to Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby." *Oops* All I can say is that today must have been my lucky day because a) I still have the bangs that I so painstakingly trimmed this morning and b) the professor's house is still standing. I even managed both to enjoy and snap a photo of the amazing sunset that I witnessed (picture below). My advice to you, dear readers: when bringing dark rum to a simmer, don't turn up the heat to save a few seconds, especially if you're using a gas stove. Also of equal importance: don't throw water on the burning rum. Despite my advanced (advancing?) age and various experiences, I'm always amazed at how much there still is to learn in life.....At least I can now safely check the "little stove-top burning rum incident" box, particularly as that lesson has been learned.

Besides this near culinary calamity, my day was fairly peaceful. I reheated Saturday's crowning achievement--a Chicken Dijon and White Bean Brown Betty--which was adapted from and inspired by my new cookbook, Savory Baking (can you imagine the decadence? It's a brilliant idea to take sweet things and, with a few substitutions, turn them into dinner), that I purchased on a walk with a friend last week. When she and her boyfriend came up to the castle on Saturday night, cake ingredients in tow, I decided it was only fitting that I should use this book to find something to make for dinner. I do, however, have to say that the funny thing about my recipe selection is that, before actually preparing the dish, I had no idea what a Brown Betty was. Only today did I put my scholarly training and google-savvy self to work and take the trouble of looking it up; according to "Baking 911", "Betty was a popular baked pudding made during Colonial times. It's made by layering spiced fruit with buttered bread crumbs. All sorts of fruit can be used, but apples are the most common." Truly, looking at the site, it's amazing how many desserts there are out there! Two of my favorites, based on their names alone: "The grunt" (Fruit topped with biscuit dough, covered, and baked so that biscuits steam rather than bake. Also called a slump) and the "Roly Poly" (made by rolling fruit up in a type of pie pastry, wrapping it in cheesecloth and steaming it. Sailors made this dessert and often called it a duff). Maybe it's time to come up with a new dissertation topic on the evolution of sweet things and food etymology. I see a New York Times bestseller in my future. :)

Onto the recipe! Despite my lack of "Brown Betty" knowledge, the fact that I'm certain there wasn't enough chicken in the freezer (while the recipe calls for a pound, my estimate is that I had only 8-10 ounces) and the sad moment I experienced when, after walking to the closest grocery store, I realized that I must have been dreaming to have believed they were ever going to carry fennel bulbs (hey! This is not a sign of my snobbery; it's a small market and sometimes small markets just don't carry these things...even in upscale suburban areas!), inspiration and a little bit of faith can work wonders. No fennel bulbs: use celery and add crushed fennel seeds; not enough chicken, add a can of white beans (yeah, I would have preferred fresh, but beans should soak overnight and time was of the essence)! It was flavorful and comforting (the fog was thick that night), not to mention filling. Brown betties just may be the way of the future. Well, at least my future....

Chicken Dijon and White Bean Brown Betty
(Adapted from Savory Baking)
Yields 4 servings

2/3 cup bread crumbs (I made my own in the food processor with some wheat bread that sorely needed using)
1/2 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs, literally "little bread")
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley (I mixed Italian and curly parsley)
1 Tbsp. Pecorino Romano

Chicken Dijon and White Bean Filling
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 stalk of celery, chopped, and mixed with 1 tsp. fennel seeds (crushed in a mortar)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 8-10 ounce boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups Half and Half
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (I prefer Maille)
1 Tbsp. clover honey
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can white beans (drained)

-To prepare the topping, put the dry bread crumbs, panko, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter and 1 Tbsp. of the chopped parsley.
- To prepare the filling, preheat the oven to 375. Butter and spray four 8-ounce ceramic ramekins and arrange them on a baking sheet.
- Melt better in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery with fennel seeds and salt. Cook until soft and tender, 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chicken, nestling them down into the bottom of the pan. Continue to saute until the chicken is cooked through, another 3-5 minutes.
- Add the white wine and stir to scrape up any carmelized bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in the half and half, Dijon mustard, honey and pepper. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and cook for 1-2 minutes to reduce the sauce slightly.
- At this point, stir in the white beans.
- Divide the chicken and white bean mixture equally among the prepared ramekins and sprinkle each with 3-4 tablespoons of the topping. Sprinkle Pecorino Romano on top.
- Put in the oven and bake until golden brown on top and bubbling around the edges, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and sprinkly each ramekin with the remaining chopped parsley.
- Serve piping hot!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Basically Bougie

What a lovely weekend! I had brunch this morning with a friend at a local gem, where you can find delicious blueberry pancakes, scones and lemon curd (no, I didn't eat all three! At least not any individual dish in its entirety! =P) and then we walked to the local farmer's market, where I found the ingredients for my next recipe "victim." Yep, to a certain extent, you could say I'm living the suburban housewife's dream. And it's really kind of true. After all, when I last left you, I was both freezing and basically living in a castle. :) Not much has changed since then.

Well, that's not entirely true; at least three things have changed: 1) I've had several visitors and have had amazing, blog-worthy meals with each of them (more on that shortly), 2) I discovered that it took only 25 minutes to walk to civilization (i.e. cafes, restaurants, bookstores, grocery stores, banks! In short, all of the workings/conveniences of modern society), and 3) most importantly, I discovered that the dog doesn't like to be left alone. Oh no, no, she doesn't.

To explain, I bravely went out into the fog on Wednesday to pay a long overdue visit to campus and the Slavic library, for which the final budget report will soon be due. Then, I decided to try a new yoga studio since, during my house-sitting stint, my usual haunt is much too far away, and that I would grab some groceries afterwards since a good friend was going to venture uphill with me to cook dinner on Thursday night. It was a lovely day; North Berkeley was my first neighborhood and I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic. It was fun to return to my first grad-school supermarket, where I used to stand and debate the merits of McIntosh and Pink Lady Apples (it's still a toss-up) and find the perfect cheese and cracker combination for our Monday departmental colloquia (thankfully, as much as I love grocery shopping, especially on somebody else's dime, I have since passed on that torch...). I managed to find everything I needed in a timely fashion, from the broccoli to the anchovies (NB: in six anchovy slices, there is 1,050 mg of sodium; I'm not going to lie, this was shocking to me! However, it's ultimately a small price to pay to the food gods) since I had a bus to catch.

After getting off at the wrong bus stop, nearly colliding into a cute young man who scared the bejesus out of me as he came around the corner of a fenced-in house (to be fair, we scared each other) and walking an extra half and unnecessary mile with two bags of groceries, I finally made it home. But what did I come home to? Shredded plastic, clothes pulled out of my suitcase and strewn about the room, toiletries scattered off of the cedar chest and, last but not least, the wagging tail of the dog. *Big sigh*, but lesson learned: all personal belongings should be in the closet. After all, logic leads one to believe that dogs can't open closet doors...but we're not dealing with just any dog here.

Having "safeguarded" my belongings, I again left on Thursday, had a semi-productive day of processing library books and beginning to draft the prospectus (*gasp* 4 chapters, from the 1890s to the 1930s with accompanying "windows" into the Japanese side of things), managed to escape to Sur la Table to buy a cherry pitter and tart pan (I warned you about the suburban housewife thing) and then met one of my friends and dining companion--my sous chef for the evening :)--on the bus and we returned to the house together. I hate to be overly redundant, but nevertheless I will repeat the question: what did I return to? A panic-inducing note from the housekeeper ("Call me. I need to talk to you, ok?"), a suitcase that had been pulled out of the closet (don't ask) and a dog that had been left outside on the fenced in downstairs porch, which, apparently, is exactly where she belongs when people aren't home. Why? Because she once chewed a door off in her rage/grief/boredom. Abandonment issues, anyone?

Needless to say, after all this, I was in need of not only a good meal, but a glass of wine and good conversation. Fortunately, the evening delivered on all three counts; cooking is, if nothing else, incredibly therapeutic. We put the cherry pitter to good use by making a Cherry Macaroon Tart that I found over at 101 Cookbooks; I'm offering you only the link because I basically found this recipe to be perfect: who doesn't love cherries, coconut and a buttery crust? My point exactly. In fact, my only personal touch to this recipe was the dark chocolate shavings I sprinkled on top because, frankly, a macaroon wouldn't be a macaroon without a little chocolate. And, from the chocolate to the cherries, this recipe was the perfect dessert companion for the salty and spicy main course of Pasta with Spicy Broccoli and Cauliflower.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli and Cauliflower
(adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
Yields 5-6 servings

3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8-12 ounces broccoli, trimmed and sliced lengthwise (about 1/8 inch thick)
12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed, trimmed and sliced lengthwise (about 1/8 inch thick)
Sea salt
1-2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and slightly chopped
1 lb. gemelli pasta
1 Tbsp. chopped salt-packed anchovies (6 fillets)
6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped or put the through the garlic press
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly pounded
4-8 pinches of red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped Italian parsley
4-5 Tbsp. pitted, rinsed and chopped green olives

-Warm about 1/4 cup of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board (this final step is to prevent burning).
-The oil should be sizzling and, at this point, swirl the pan, leaving the vegetables to cook until you see the edges browning, about 3 minutes.
-Salt very lightly and toss.
-Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan.
-Add the capers and swirl. Continue cooking over medium heat for another few minutes until the edges brown, then give the pan another stir or toss. The point is for the vegetables to turn out both crispy and chewy, rather than steamy and soft.
-In the meantime, drop the pasta into rapidly boiling and lightly salted water. Cook until al dente, about 12-14 minutes.
-Once the broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about 1/3 and is tender, reduce the heat, add a few more spoonfuls of oil and mix in the chopped anchovies, garlic, fennel and red pepper flakes.
-Toss vegetables to distribute evenly.
-Cook for another few minutes and then add the parsley and olives.
-Toss with the well-drained pasta and mix the cheese in.

As Judy Rodgers explains about this recipe: "every flavor should be clamoring for dominance" and I'm happy to report that, with every bite, this was pleasantly true.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Winter Wonderland

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking over
harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

-Carl Sandburg

I'd like to preface this post by saying that, despite my choice of title, I'm more than aware that it's summer; I also know that, in some parts of the country, it's 100 degrees and positively sweltering, making everybody an unpleasant mix of lethargic and miserable. So, what gives in the Bay Area?

Sure, I understand that this is not the kind of place that really gets hot and stays hot, although, truth be told, I've seen exceptions to this rule in the four years I've now been living here. I also know that most people would say that the no-humidity factor plays a large role in the Bay's charm and appeal. Personally, however, I don't buy it. And I realize it's ironic for me to be saying this because I just gratefully escaped the inferno that is Manhattan in the summer, but that doesn't mean that I was hoping to return to an icebox!!! It doesn't matter what I want though as an icebox it is.

The wind that nipped my romper-covered legs as I took a walk yesterday with a close friend (amazing how many new places can spring up during a month's absence) was only a preview of the horror that was in store for us today. Yet the amazing thing is that, no matter how much of an aberration the fog-covered bay is at this time of year, it's still beautiful to look at....and the best thing about it is that, as I'm now house-sitting for a professor who lives in the hills, I can watch the fog come and (hopefully) go at my leisure. All with my new constant companion extraordinaire, the dear old dog Ocia. :)

Besides the fact that Ocia and I clearly don't agree on how many treats she should get in one day and she tends to bark and loudly to express her disapproval, I think she thinks I'm crazy. I'll admit that I also think I'm kind of crazy. Why? Because, due to the arctic blast outside that kept me indoors and unmotivated to do much of anything (plus, in a new place, a girl's got to get her bearings...), I decided, after seeing a beautiful squash in a bowl on the counter, to make Acorn Squash Soup. In July. You've got to love the irony: last week in NYC I was contemplating a bowl of gazpacho before going to a yoga class where I melted; this week it's like I'm jumping into fall, roasting winter squash and looking for a good excuse to turn on the oven. Welcome to summer in California, folks! Didn't Mark Twain say it best?

And who am I kidding? Does it really need to be fall/winter for a creamy squash soup with a dash of curry powder to be appropriate? No. This is half the fun of cooking: using the ingredients that are on hand and being experimental. It's funny because I'm the kind of cook that usually likes to have some kind of a recipe in front of me, but this one is largely my own. I'm happy to say it was tasty, warm and soothing. In my quest to perfect the recipe, it even forced me to go outside to grab some fresh parsley from the "spice rack" growing on the porch. Between these spices, my discovery of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook on the bookshelves in the dining room and the soup itself, my life is basically complete.

"Foggy Weather" Acorn Squash Soup

Yields either four modest portions or two large ones

1 Acorn squash
Half of a red onion, finely chopped
1 white pearl onion, finely chopped
I can (14 oz.) of chicken stock
1/2 cup whole milk + 1/2 Tbsp. extra (to be added at the end)
A sprinkling of sea salt
3 generous shake of red pepper
1/2 Tbsp. curry powder
1/2 Tablespoon ground ginger
Parsley to garnish

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Place on a baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender, about 40 minutes.
-In the meantime, place the chopped onion in a pot with olive oil and cook until tender (3-5 minutes).
-Place the onion in a food processor and, once the squash has cooled, add it as well
-Pulse until smooth (this is very much a matter of taste, but I prefer a creamier soup)
-Add chicken stock and pulse again to mix
-Move soup mixture back to the original pot and bring to a simmer
-Add salt, curry powder, ground ginger, red pepper and milk, then stir
-Let the soup simmer for about 10-15 minutes; add the final 1/2 Tbsp. of milk (I'll admit that it's a largely decorative gesture)
-Garnish, serve and enjoy!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Sunday Kind of Love

"I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there." - Toni Morrison, Beloved

Blogging is a funny thing; just when you're certain that maybe you have no readers (or, at the very least, only a few), you get a comment from one telling you in a somewhat indignant fashion that you need to update more often and give his starving eyes something deliciously pleasant to look at. After all, the poor soul is in Moscow and so you can't blame him for wanting something a little easy on the eyes. :).....So here I am in the Pittsburgh airport, writing what is sure to be a disjointed post after a brief trip to the city of my heart, dear old New York (photo of Grace Church below, taken during one of my many rambles).

It was a lovely surprise to know that the blog/my internet presence had been missed by somebody =P, although the simple fact of the matter is that, having been away and on vacation, I have produced zero recipes of my own. Instead, I have been out and about, both gluttonously sampling the food at several fine establishments and also myself serving as food, at least for the ravenous mosquitos living on the tiny and oh so humid island. I kid you not; from my pinky finger to the tender skin above my elbows, I have quite clearly proven myself to be delicious. It's either me or my vanilla-scented body wash; neither is a particularly comforting thought, especially the latter since, having grown-up on the east coast, I really should have known better. But I digress and probably largely because the itchiness of my arms is unbearable...In any case, my apologies; this is hardly the stuff of a food blog (what can I say? Traveling may just bring out the whiner in me)!

Instead, what you really want to hear about is my trip, which was truly lovely--just as it should be. My goals were simple: to see friends and to eat good food. To put it simply; done and done. :) From Tuesday afternoon to Sunday morning, I basically moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, eating my way through the city; some highlights:

1) after a Russian musical evening at Avery Fisher Hall (a girl has to pay her duty to her chosen profession no matter where she goes), dinner and olive oil gelato at Otto (they were out of the Salted Peanut, but let me assure you that Olive Oil fit the bill in terms of the just right combo of sweet and salty)

2) Japanese-style curry in the quickly developing Little Japan in the East Village, followed by Momofuku Milk Bar's Cinnamon Bun Pie (yum and yum)

3) onigiri and the best green tea and black sesame macaron of my life (a delightful combo, as well as in terms of flavor) from a Japanese bakery, Pan-ya, that stole my heart even though they insist on also selling tacos and burritos; they were so delicious and travel-friendly that I even bought some for the road (ume, or plum, has always been one of my favorites; sour things make me happy)

4) a seared Mackerel filet with Cumin Orzo at Mary's Fish Camp in the West Village, where a friend and I had planned on going for the Lobster Rolls and then decided to deviate from the plan amidst talk of the pitfalls of grad school and the joy of Kitchen Aid mixers :) It was a beautiful day and, in fact, just around the corner I found the building I would happily live in if I were to move back to Manhattan and suddenly discover myself in possession of a vast fortune....

5) Russian food at the Mari Vanna, where they infuse their own vodka (honey and oat vodka = surprisingly delicious) and offer the friendliest Russian service I've ever seen either in Russia or outside of it, which is no mean feat! Although I do have to laugh because they translate sosiski as "sausage", when any Russian speaker knows that sosiski really means "hot dog." Even knowing this, this is what I ordered, which I suppose you can attribute to nostalgia for the motherland, although I was highly amused when the hostess came over to see how I had enjoyed the Russian sausages that are "unlike any other." You've got to love that Russian messianism extends even to good old-fashioned hot dogs!!

6 )

Two tea services: one with a grad school friend at Alice's on the Upper West Side and another with my old college roommate at Podunk, where we appropriately shared the "Old Friends' Tea" and iced creamsicle tea (the photo below is after we put a dent in it and the clotted cream....and, believe me, the dent was a large one).

7) a pulled pork platter at Blue Smoke that I barely put a dent in (how much pork can one girl honestly eat?)

I could go on and on--really, that all just seems like the tip of the iceberg!-- but perhaps I've already overstayed my welcome by being overly bubbly about the various foods that I've enjoyed in the past week? In any case, the real point here is that I had a lovely time; New York never fails to deliver. There's too much variety, too many fantastic things just waiting to be discovered around every corner.....The good news is that, after such an ongoing and largely celebratory feast, I'm now ready to return to work. Ivanov-Razumnik awaits me, as does Sologub. And my palate has been inspired by my travels: I'm ready to attempt an eggplant pasta, macarons of my very own, and maybe even something resembling the Cumin Orzo of Mary's Fish Camp (as requested, it may be a fancier version of Russian plov, or rice pilaf). Let's bring on the age of productivity! And maybe Spanakopita; I've had a hankering for Greek food recently. We'll see how that turns out. <~_->


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