Late September Tidbits

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Whenever I sit down to write a new post, it's like I'm walking into a big, sunny clearing. There is space, light, beauty, togetherness. I'm noticing it because I've had so many SHOULDS in my life lately. The "shoulds" aren't bad. I've chosen them, and I always remind myself that obligations lead to relationship. But, for the record, being here with you is definitely not a "should." I'm enjoying this moment in the sun, pecking around contentedly like these rascal chickens in Sarah and Dan's yard.

Some September tidbits for you:

Popcorn is as great as always. Jenn came over after the kids went to bed the other night, and we had gin and tonics and a giant bowl of popcorn. What is better than that?

A big bowl of chickpea curry. My friend Travis asked for some of my favorite vegetarian dishes the other day, and I sent him this recipe. Remember? I forgot how good it was. And, wonder of wonders, my kids like it.
Chickpea Curry again

World's biggest bunch of celery. I scored big time at MacPherson's this week. All these celery leaves are from ONE BUNCH! I've been using them in salads, tuna fish, sandwiches--the way I'd use lettuce or other greens. I love their clean, sprightly flavor. And MacPherson's had flawless chanterelle mushrooms for $8/lb. Unheard of.
Celery Leaves

Milo and Loretta palling around. Puh-lease! Could these two be any cuter? They see each other at the bus stop every day, waiting for their big brothers. They run around in the field beneath the power lines, talking about whatever 3 and 4-year-olds talk about.
Milo and Loretta

If you're a Seattle reader, I'll be at the Rainier Valley Cooperative Preschool Fall Festival on Saturday! 10-2, closing down the block with a DJ, bake sale, face painting, tattoos, a giant rummage sale. And yours truly will be contributing this and these to the bake sale. 1720 S. Forest St. Come have fun!

We are Dating...

wok

...and will be married soon. My wok and I, that is. I have a new love in my life, and we're diligently working on our relationship. Grace Young introduced us. It wasn't love at first sight. A $28 pan at Uwajiymaya, looking pretty flimsy and not capable of much, actually. Could I count on him to bring home the bacon? Would he be reliable, kind, and patient? Would he disappoint me like other dysfunctional woks in the past?

I realize now that I wasn't willing to face my own issues with previous woks. I didn't really believe all the stuff about cheap carbon steel woks being brought to life with proper care and seasoning. I didn't really believe the recipes that instructed me to turn the heat up to hellish temperatures and high flames. I was too timid, too slow, too Western. And I wanted something for nothing--a perfect stir-fry without all the research and failures. I wanted the art without learning the art form.

It's overwhelming to really let anyone in on our intimacy at this point. I'm the wrong person to give thorough tutorials, and don't know enough yet to counsel anyone else. When I wash and dry my wok at night (no soap!), I inspect him anew each time, watching closely for signs of the patina that will keep our vows strong. The darker and more variegated he gets, the more content I am, imagining all the things we'll create together, how we'll be partners through thick and thin.

Like other infatuations, my wok and I have been spending time together every day. None of those stories have ended up here yet, but they'll come out over time. For now, here's what I can pass on:

  • What you need is a 14" carbon steel wok, available for around $30 at lots of places. Mine is Joyce Chen.
  • Meticulously follow the directions for seasoning that come with the pan. Seasoning beats and blackens the pan, creating a natural nonstick surface over time.
  • My wok Bible is Grace Young's Breath of a Wok. I've been studying it diligently for weeks. Gorgeous photos, detailed explanations for wok dummies like me.
  • High heat is paramount. Don't be afraid. High heat cooks all the ingredients quickly so they're seared on the outside but retain their moisture.
  • Don't overcrowd your wok or everything will steam.
  • Except for meat (which you should brown undisturbed for a minute before flipping it), keep everything else moving, letting the ingredients take their turn on the bottom, the hottest part of the wok.
  • Buy a metal shovel-shaped spatula at an Asian market for a few dollars.
  • Cut your ingredients to uniform size and have them all totally ready before you turn on the heat.
  • Heat up your wok before pouring the oil in. If your ingredients don't hiss the second they hit the pan, your wok's not hot enough.
  • Saveur just ran a great article on wok cooking. Read it here.
  • Wok cooking really is an art form, and I plan on perfecting it. I haven't been this obsessed with something for awhile. I hope you'll join me.

Everyday Noodles
I'm getting closer to the day when I'm not using recipes for stir fries. I'm not there yet, though--not because of the ingredients, but the precise ORDER in which things should be added. This recipe is adapted from Saveur. My kids wolfed it down with unbelievable gusto.

3 tbsp. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1  1" piece ginger, minced
2 medium carrots, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 c. small broccoli florets
6 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tb. soy sauce
2 Tb. oyster sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
8oz. dried Chinese egg noodles, boiled according to package directions, rinsed under cold water, and vigorously shaken dry
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
Salt

Stir soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.

 

Heat a 14" wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add 1 tbsp. oil around edge of wok; swirl to coat bottom and sides. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Add remaining oil, carrots, and onions and cook until softened, about 2 minutes . Add broccoli and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Add soy sauce mixture. Cook, stirring, until hot, about 30 seconds.

Add scallions, noodles, and sesame oil; cook, tossing, until hot, about 1 minute. Season with salt.

Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

mushroom bulgar soup

This delicious soup was influenced by what was lying around (of course), this great primer on bulgar, and my recent reading of Mark Bittman's Food Matters. Permit me a small soapbox for each one.

1) What lies around. In the last week, I purchased several bits of produce for which I had no specific use. At the end of the week, I had a large fennel bulb and pound of mushrooms from Pike Place Market, and two tight, beautiful leeks from the Columbia City Farmer's Market. They were taking up space in my fridge, which is a problem around here. The only other fridge I've seen that even remotely resembles mine is my Mom's. Stuffed to the gills, everywhere tupperware I own in use all the time. So I'm always motivated to clear more space in there, and cooking things down is the surest way. But my soapbox-worthy point here is this: Buying small amounts of produce  you have no plan for helps make you a more creative cook. There might be a recipe for a soup like this out in the universe--I haven't Googled it. But the fun for me is in seeing what's possible. And I can't do that if everything in my fridge is allotted for a specific meal. I realize everyone can't cook like this--it might be beyond stressful for you to improvise. But 1) I made this on a Sunday afternoon when I had some time and 2) The more you cook, the better you'll get at making things up.

2) Bulgar. I have loved and used bulgar for a long time, but it fell off my radar for awhile. It's back in favor, big time. For fine bulgar, all it needs is moistening, and it's ready for salads. To make a delicious side dish as a substitute for rice, saute 1 c. coarse bulgar in a bit of olive oil in a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 c. water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover for 10-15 minutes, until the grain has absorbed all the water and is soft. Wrap a towel around the saucepan lid, put it back on the pot, and let the bulgar steam for 10 minutes. Take the lid off, fluff with a fork, and add some coarse salt and whatever else you want. So much quicker than brown rice (and more delicious, I think).

3) Food Matters. I'm really quite hopeless at giving systematic reviews of things like restaurants or books. What I can do is tell you about my experience of them. Mark Bittman's book didn't open up any new territory to me, per se, but it was a great shot-in-the-arm. It reminded me how much better I feel when I fill up on vegetables. And here's something to think about: our bodies hardly know the difference between white flour and sugar! So more whole grains in this house, even less meat, less eggs and dairy. MB would never villainize those things, but he follows a "flexitarian" diet, which is plants and whole grains for breakfast and lunch, then pretty much whatever he wants for dinner. That's similar to the way I eat, but the last few months have seen me slipping quite a bit. And I've felt worse because of it. Didn't I warn you that I'd be dragging you along with all my resolutions?

Alright. Down from the soapbox. This soup is quick, filling, and good for these bodies of ours that could use some kindness. Sub onions for the leeks or leave out the fennel. Add some finely chopped greens, like kale, chard, or spinach. Or experiment with whatever it is in your fridge that's calling out to you. Do it!

P.S. I often get questions like, "Do your kids eat this kind of stuff?!" I've talked about that here. They both ate all their soup last night. They didn't love it, but they suffered through. Good enough for me.

Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

2 big leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (I used my mandoline)
5 big gloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan rind, if you have one
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tb. fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
water
1/2 c. medium or coarse bulgar

In a large stockpot, heat 3 Tb. olive oil. Add leeks,fennel, and garlic, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add parmesan rind, sliced mushrooms and saute for 10-15 minutes longer, adding salt, pepper, thyme, and more olive oil if needed. Don't be afraid of the oil here--it's the only fat in the soup.

Add water to cover vegetables by about 1 1/2". Add bulgar, bring to a boil, then simmer until bulgar is tender, about 10 minutes. Take 3 ladles of soup and puree them in a blender or food processor, then add back to the pot. Adjust seasoning to taste, and serve with grated parmesan on top if you like.

Soup will get thicker as it sits. If you're eating it the next day, you might want to thin it with a bit of water.

More Falafel and Spring Lunch

falafel

I'm not big on combing through archives--blog or otherwise. Guess I wasn't meant to be a historian. If I'm at the doctor's office and I have the choice between two magazines, I'll pick up the most current one even if the older one is more interesting to me. What's that about?! My guess is it's about relevance. I want to know what everyone's talking about now, not what they were talking about last month.

The good thing about no one digging through these archives is it allows me to repeat myself now and then. This is a blog about leftovers, after all. So my public service announcement today is this: Homemade falafels are dizzyingly delicious. I'm going to make you go back into the archives for the recipe, but here are some tips I've learned from making them so often in the last year:

  • I haven't tried making them with canned chickpeas--I've always soaked dried ones overnight and had beautiful success every time. After working with the mixture several more times, I really think they'd be too wet with canned, cooked beans. Expect them to fall apart if you make exceptions here.
  • I've discovered that dry chickpeas are hard to find outside of specialty stores. If you're at Safeway, try looking in the Mexican food aisle.
  • Good pita is also hard to find. Why?! I get mine (Kronos Greek Bakery Authentic Pita) at PFI. I've also found it at Halal groceries in my neighborhood and the Red Apple on Beacon Hill. Or you can skip the pita altogether and make a falafel plate instead of a sandwich.

I promised chickpeas three ways this week. That may excite or depress you, depending on who you are. Falafel is the first way. The second is, predictably, hummus, but there's tahini in this one. (Yes, I sometimes make humus without it.) I don't like the way homemade hummus tastes made with canned chickpeas. So whenever I've soaked a big batch of dried ones, we eat hummus all week.

The third chickpea creation is coming up. Delicious, easy, friend-making fare. Stay tuned.

Here's our little lunch today. I was home watching Loretta while Yancey worked on house projects. Have I told you already what a cherished scenario it is, assembling bits of leftovers and calling my husband in for lunch? He doesn't want to stop working, usually, but is glad once he's sat down. The three of us, sharing sweet English peas from Pike Place Market, dipping triangles of whole wheat flatbread into hummus. Life is rainy and good here today.

spring lunch

Roasted Eggplant and Mint Pizza

eggplant pizza

How did I let this happen? It's been at least three weeks since another version of pizza has made it up here. What have you been eating?! What other foods are there?

My parents were here last night for an early dinner. I made the dough and let it rise while we all went up to the bus stop to get Wyatt. Then we came home for gin and tonics while I chopped and shredded. My Mom said, "Sarah, you've gotten a lot better at cleaning as you go." I told her it was Yancey and I's biggest fight. I used to be in the "Detonate the Kitchen" club with my Mom. I've switched my membership to the "Maintain Harmony in Your Home" club.

Nothing says "Friday night" like pizza. And it feels like we've had a big couple weeks in this house. My brother-in-law got a job after ten months of unemployment. Yancey fought his first fire and passed his Year One tests. Loretta is going all night without a diaper and has given up her pacifier at naptime. (All it took was a bribe involving Columbia City Bakery and some new pink sunglasses.) I launched my new consulting website and have already gotten work as a result. So, for heavens sake, we deserve some pizza.

This eggplant could be used in lots of other ways--tossed with pasta and a little cream, sandwiched in a panini grill, eaten just like it is. Coarsely chopped, tossed with oodles of garlic and olive oil, and roasted, it gets almost candy-like. Spread on my favorite crust with mint and feta? Absolutely irresistible.

Happy Weekend, everyone.

pizza with nana and papa

Roasted Eggplant and Mint Pizza

Follow the recipe and directions for this crust

2 medium eggplants, cut into 1" pieces
6 cloves minced garlic
1/4 c. olive oil
coarse salt
1 c. crumbled feta
1/2 c. finely grated parmesan
handful fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
handful fresh mint, torn

Preheat oven to 375.

On a large baking sheet, toss eggplant with salt, olive oil, and garlic. Roast until eggplant is very soft and charred in places, about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove and let cool a bit.

Press your crust into a baking sheet, then scatter roasted eggplant over. Top with feta and parmesan and bake at 500 until crust is crisping and cheese is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle mint and cilantro over the top.

Ancho Parsnip Soup

ancho parsnip soup

The story of this soup is not romantic. I wasn't wandering through the farmer's market with my hand-woven basket. I wasn't talking with vendors about their wares or adjusting my straw hat against the spring sun.

I was cleaning the fridge. But you probably already knew that.

This silly pound of parsnips had been knocking around the produce drawer for at least two months. Annoyingly, they would not go bad, which would have given me an excuse to compost them. They were firm as ever, and never seemed to fit into my meal plan. And darn those 4 sweet potatoes next to them. Sick of looking at them.

I didn't engage in many noble pursuits this week. I watched too much TV. The clean laundry is still piled up in the basement. I didn't participate in the Immigrants' Rights March downtown or offer to watch anybody's children. But here's what I did--I rescued these parsnips and sweet potatoes. I made something delicious out of them. Surely that counts for something.

Ancho Parsnip Soup
You can sub yams for the sweet potatoes or use a combo. Some carrots thrown in here would be delicious, too. I happen to have some wonderfully smoky ancho chile powder around here. If all you have is regular chile powder, it will work, but might not taste quite as magical. You average supermarket chile powder is a mixture of chile,cumin, and other stuff.

6 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 2" sticks
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 garlic cloves
olive oil
coarse salt
2 Tb. ancho chile powder
1/2 c. cream
juice from one large lime
1/4 c. orange juice

Heat oven to 450.

On a large baking sheet, toss parsnips, garlic, and sweet potatoes with lots of olive oil, salt and ancho chile powder. Roast until edges are caramelized and everything is soft, 35-40 minutes. Stir once, halfway through. Take out and let cool down a bit.

In two batches, puree vegetables in a food processor, adding about 1/2 water each time to loosen. Puree until mixture is very smooth, about 2 minutes.

In a large pot, mix puree with cream, lime juice, orange juice, and more water according to your preference. I don't like my pureed soups to be too thick, but it's easier to add more water than to make it thicker, so do it slowly. Add  more salt to taste and more chile powder if you want. Serve with a swirl of cream or sour cream on top.

Naan Pizzas

spouse-less pizza

My goodness. Anyone watching me in the kitchen these days wouldn't suspect I was a food blogger. Distracted mother? Check. Freezer full of potstickers? Check. Cookbooks collecting dust? Check.

I'm not apologizing. It's just amusing how seasonal life is. As soon as I make a bunch of pronouncements, things are guaranteed to change. In other words, as soon as I'm pontificating about getting all my produce from the farmer's market, one stop at Safeway becomes all I can manage.

I had a moment tonight--setting the table for me and the kids, listening to them play in the living room (ah! Playing sounds so much better than fighting!). How did I get to be the mother of these two rascals? I deliberated about whether I wanted to be a mother at all. After eight years of marriage, I gave in, mostly because I wanted someone to visit me when I'm old. And I wavered just as much the second time around. Would I love her as much I loved Wyatt?

Now, they're the reason I spend less on restaurants and more on apples; the reason I go to fewer concerts and more parks. They're the reason I'm sleep deprived and eat piles of pancakes; the force behind 20 pairs of little shoes cluttering the porch and thousands of dollars spent at Costco. They can take almost all the credit for my increased humor, realism, and even productivity (!) in the last 7 years.

And they can take credit for my ability to make pizza out of virtually anything. This time, Trader Joe's garlic naan, pulled from the freezer after a long spouse-less day. Theirs were marinara, mozarella, and pepperoni. In the spirit of realism, here's the recipe for mine.

dinner with the kids

Sarah's Spouse-Less Day Naan Pizza
Preheat your oven to 400. Scatter about a tablespoon of pizza or marinara sauce (yep--from the jar!) onto an oval of naan. Sprinkle a handful of whole milk mozzarella over it. Thinly slice 4 or 5 5 rounds of pepperoni, and sprinkle those on. Top with thinly sliced red onion, a bit of julienned fresh spinach, a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, and some crumbled chevre. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until naan is crispy on bottom and cheese is bubbling.

Chocolate Cake for Ginger

chocolate cake for ginger

My old high school friend Tammy started reading In Praise of Leftovers in the spring.  She told her friend Ginger about it, who quickly became Leftoverist Fan #1.  Tammy contacted me this summer with an idea--for Ginger's 40th, could I come and surprise her?  So we've been planning since then.  Mostly Tammy, actually.  She invited Ginger's friends, set a beautiful table, faked getting lost on the way to the party.  And we were not disappointed.  Not even a little bit.  When Ginger knocked, I opened the door.  She looked at me, looked back at Tammy, then said, "Is this Sarah?"  When Tammy nodded, the freaking out ensued, and it was easily one of my 2009 highlights. Screaming, hugging, laughing, jumping up and down.  All of us.

There were so many things about the evening that I loved--seeing Ginger's friends love and celebrate her; seeing Tammy's sheer delight in surprising her in such a thoughtful way; meeting new people and getting to be part of their lives for a night.  Even more, though, I'm so honored that they wanted me there.  More than my food (which we ate plenty of), they invited me so we could cook together, rub off on each other a little bit.  Ginger said a few times, "If I were you, I'd be feeling really good right now." And I was--in every way.  Thanks for a memorable night, ladies.  And Happy 40th, Ginger.  Such good things are in store for you.

me and the birthday girl

One of the prerequisites was chocolate for dessert.  That's a pretty wide boundary, but I knew right away I would make Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  It's in her book, and I'm sure it's all over the blogosphere.  But no one has made it for Ginger's 40th before, I'm willing to bet.  This almost-flourless cake is dependable, easy, perfectly silky and rich, and can be dressed up any way you want.  This photo with a bit of orange zest is from a few weeks ago.  I've also poured a balsamic reduction around it, and last night, I served it with candied Meyer lemons and lightly sweetened whipped cream.  I cut it into very small wedges, as it's akin to eating a truffle--you just need a bit.  Plus, by that time, we were hardly hungry anymore.

I keep Molly's book up with my cookbooks, and it's all dog-eared and grease-stained already.  I join the thousands of other food bloggers who say things like, "I started my blog after reading Orangette," or "I was inspired by Molly."  Though her posts have been infrequent the last few months, I'm still drawn there--her humor, descriptive (but not overly) prose, and the light she shines on her little corner of the world.  In many ways, the joy of last night could be traced back to one winter day last year when I sat down to read her blog for the first time.

Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
I used nicer chocolate this time, but I made this before with Trader Joe's bittersweet chocolate and it turned out just as good.  I wouldn't advise using semisweet chocolate chips, though.  Too sweet and chalky.

7 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Callebaut 60%, and Molly says you can even use Ghiradelli 60% chips)
7 ounces (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter  cut into ½-inch cubes
1 c plus 2 Tb. sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tb. unbleached all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 375F degrees, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Finely chop the chocolate and melt it gently with the butter in a double boiler, stirring frequently to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well until dissolved, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition before adding another. Lastly, add the flour. The batter should look silky and luxurious (though it might not look that way 3 eggs in--don't worry).

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.)

Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan onto a flat dish, remove the parchment, and flip it back over onto another flat dish, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

You can keep this fresh on the counter for 3 days, wrapped in plastic wrap, or tightly wrapped in the fridge for 5 days.  And you can serve it with a million different twists depending on what's in season.

Chickpea and Potato Mulligatawny Soup

mulligatawny

I slept fitfully last night, and woke this morning with a lot on my mind--overdue work tasks, mounds of laundry, all the recent violence in our country and city. Every time I turn around, there's news of another shooting or violent crime.  This doesn't make me scared, necessarily--like I always say, stepping out the door each morning is an act of faith--but it makes me sad.  The Fort Hood tragedy touches me on so many levels, especially since I've always been interested in Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Secondary Traumatic Stress that caregivers (like Major Hasan) experience.  These wars are leaving deep, destructive ruts in the lives of American families--servicemen and women coming home traumatized, suicide rates skyrocketing, and most Americans not knowing how to recognize or acknowledge this.  I don't have an answer, but I'm just sad.  I love my little kitchen and the meals around our table, but I've been so aware lately of our larger context.  Now, more than ever, we need to be taking care of each other.

Today, that meant making dinner for my friends Tiffany and Chris who just had a baby girl.  I always marvel at these juxtapositions--sweet, new life against so much loss.  I love taking dinner to new moms.  With both my babies, I remember feeling so completely grateful for those folks that showed up on my door with dinner in a bag.  Every time, it was hard for me to accept, but I helplessly needed them.  My friend Sarah says that mutual dependence is the only way to intimacy.  Having children teaches me that every day--I need Mary, I need my hardworking spouse, I need my mothers' group and friends, and they need me.  There's no way around it.

Since I seem to do dinner deliveries on a semi-regular basis, I have some rules for myself.  They have to be easy, things I would normally make, and dessert is optional.  This morning I got out of bed at 6:45 and had to have soup made by 8:00.  I knew potatoes and onions would be involved since I just bought a whole box from the organic farm my friend Dana works on.  Beyond that, I wasn't sure.  Scrounging Time.

bainbridge potatoes

Onions, garlic, ginger with curry powder.  Then potatoes and apples, chickpeas, coconut milk.  According to Wikipedia, mulligatawny means "pepper water" and is a "curry-flavored soup of Anglo-Indian origin."  My mom made a version growing up, and past versions of mine have included lentils, carrots, yams.  Today's was dictated by a coming-home-from-vacation pantry, and it was delicious.  I had it for lunch while the kids were eating Top Ramen, and topped mine with apple, chiles, and a dollop of yogurt.

Turning in tonight after a long day, I'm glad babies are still being born into this crazy world.  If all else fails, maybe this photo of Loretta will bring world peace.  (My predominant gift is being able to link anything to food and photos of my children.)

peacemaker

Chickpea and Potato Mulligatawny Soup
If you're a meat person, you can put shredded chicken in here, but I don't think it needs it.  And if you have some lentils around, you can cook and use them instead of chickpeas.  As I intone about about every soup, salt it until it tastes right!  There's nothing (or hardly anything) less satisfying than a not-salty-enough soup.

3 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2" knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 Tb. curry powder, mild or spicy
salt
4 medium potatoes with skin, washed and diced
1 crisp apple, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 c. basmati rice
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 15 oz. can occonut milk
juice of one lime
1/4 c. brown sugar
Optional garnishes:  cilantro, fresh chiles, toasted coconut, diced apple, plain yogurt, green onions

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add curry powder, salt, potatoes, apples, rice and garbanzo beans to onion mixture, stir until coated, then add enough water to cover everything by an inch.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes, until rice and potatoes are tender.

Add coconut milk, lime juice, and brown sugar, and cook on low heat for 10 more minutes--don't bring it to a rapid boil since coconut milk can curdle.  Add more salt to taste and top with any combination of condiments.

Fried Greens and Rice with Ginger

fried greens and rice with ginger

I had planned on taking Milo and Loretta to the play gym yesterday morning, but the community center has moved the playtime to 1:00.  What toddlers are awake at 1:00?  Budget cuts, probably.  So we're in the car, in the middle of a torrential downpour (Did I sing the praises of fall recently?  I take it back.), and I'm not about to go back to the messy house. Grocery shopping to the rescue again.  We drove to the Safeway that has truck grocery carts with little steering wheels--you know, the kind that are impossible to steer and make you feel like a drunk driver.  The two of them sitting side-by-side lasted about five minutes, but I tried. We left a trail of goldfish around the store, and a few shoppers even thought we were cute.  Those smiles matter a lot to me, actually, because they make up for the leers I've gotten from bumping into other shoppers with my cumbersome cart.

I could dedicate several posts to how much I dislike Safeway, but sometimes torrential downpours and fighting toddlers prevent me from going to the produce stand and other favorite places.  Things I never buy at Safeway:  spices, olive oil, coffee, salsa. Things I rarely buy:  fruit and vegetables.  Good deals at Safeway:  flour, sugar, eggs, milk. Don't get me started on grocery store comparison.  Okay.  I'll say one thing--Ballard Market is my favorite.  We lived near there when we were first married, and I'm still hopelessly attached.  Every once in awhile, I'll drive up and shop there for a treat.  Some women go the spa, I go in search of a good bulk foods department.

But I found a gorgeous head of Savoy cabbage at Safeway yesterday--bright green outer leaves, tight and curly, lying there in the bin just waiting for Georgia O'Keefe to paint it.  And some fresh brussel sprouts.  Good ones are bright green, tightly closed, and have shiny skins.  When we got home, I sliced the Savoy into thin ribbons and made little wedges of the brussels, fried them over high heat with lots of julienned ginger, Thai chile, and garlic.  I threw in a little bit of cooked rice at the end, doused everything in soy sauce, and ate Fall in a Bowl while the kids stopped fighting long enough to eat their bagel and cream cheese.

I didn't call this "fried rice" because it's really more a bunch of greens with a little rice to bind it together.  Like chopped salad or soup, this is a great way to get heaps of vegetables in one serving, and you'll have energy aplenty to get you to dinnertime. After you've braved Safeway with toddlers, you'll need it.

Fried Greens and Rice with Ginger
Serves two.  If you want to make more, do it in batches.  I've talked here about why--you want crusty bits and not a mushy pile. Lately I've been using my big nonstick skillet for fried rice instead of my wok, because I'm still having trouble with starchy things sticking to my cast-iron wok.  I'm either doing something wrong, it needs to be seasoned more (!!), or it's just not the best medium for fried rice.  Stay tuned--I know you're on the edge of your seat.

1 Tb. vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2" piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 Thai or other spicy chile, seeded and cut into strips
4 c. thinly sliced savoy cabbage (or other cabbage or leafy green--collards, kale)
1 c. brussel sprouts, cut into about 6 wedges each
1 c. broccoli florets
3/4 c. cold cooked rice (or other grail, like quinoa, barley, etc.)
2 Tb. soy sauce
handful of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
2 egg, fried over-easy or sunny-side-up

Heat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat.  Add vegetable oil, heat up for a second, then add garlic, ginger, and chiles.  Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli, and saute over medium high heat until cabbage starts to wilt and the brussel sprouts are becoming blackened in spots, about 3 minutes.  You can add a little more oil if things seem too dry.

Add rice and soy sauce, stirring to break up rice and coat everything with soy sauce.  Dump into bowls, put a hot fried egg on top, and garnish with cilantro.

Chocolate Cake for Papa's Birthday

another dessert requiring hyperbolic language

It's been a busy weekend--church retreat in Port Orchard, racing home across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to be home in time for my dad's birthday picnic at Seward Park.  A lot of sunshine and memories packed into 48 hours.  Last night, crossing the field with the kids to the sing-a-long, it occurred to me (for once, I was being reflective.  Ha!) what a countercultural thing it was for all these busy people to break away from their lives and be together.  As we got closer to the lodge, I could hear the guitars, everyone singing Edelweiss, and it felt like we were warming ourselves in the middle of a cold world.  I love the people at my church--lawyers, teachers, retirees, single moms, kids with two moms or two dads, lonely people, passionate ones.  We need each other like crazy and I'm glad we didn't stay home and do whatever it was we would have done.

But then this cake.  Oh my Lord.  I don't post an awful lot of desserts on here.  I'll leave the baking blogs to people with more patience than me.  And I didn't make this one--my sister did.  It so happens I've made it before, though, and always meant to come back to it when an occasion arose.  My mom brought an amazing portable feast down from Bellingham--tomatillo pulled pork with grilled Hatch chiles on rolls, guacamole, corn and rice salad, slaw.  That's a whole other posting.  Then my sister unveiled this cake, and we must have barraged her with compliments for a good 20 minutes.  I could tell, slicing it up for the panting grandchildren, that it was going to be perfect.  The knife slid through with just the right amount of resistance, a bit of bittersweet buttercream sticking to the blade.  And its crumb was so moist and firm, I could eat it with a spoon.  This is what chocolate cake is meant to be--two layers that have reached their fullest potential.

after our attack

All my dad ever wants for his birthday is to be with us, and sometimes the stars don't align.   This year they did, and he seemed so happy to have us all there, Loretta following him around like he was Brad Pitt.  She adores him and thinks everything he does is perfect.  Can't say I disagree with her.  Happy Birthday, Papa.

Happy Birthday, Papa

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
My sister followed this recipe EXCEPT she used bittersweet chocolate for the frosting instead of semisweet, which I think was a wise move.  And she shaved a bit of white chocolate on top and added some raspberries in her beautiful, designerly way.

You can find the recipe here

Chickpeas Four Ways


Last week, I cooked up the last my dried chickpeas, the bag I got at the Indian grocery in Lynnwood.  Don't know the name of the place and it's highly doubtful they have a website, but I'll still torture you by singing its praises.  Indian food is one cuisine I don't know much about.  If I had moved to a neighborhood with a big Indian population instead of Southeast Asian, that might be different.  So I've got some learning to do.  In the meantime, these dried chickpeas plumped up more than any I've ever cooked and I'm sad to see them go.


I've been on the bean train a lot lately, and a few of you have asked for more bean recipes.  I feel like chickpeas have been showing up everywhere in the blogosphere lately--the darling of the legume world.  I always have a couple cans in my pantry, but I don't really like the taste of canned chickpeas.  Ones I cook myself always taste infinitely better.  Don't you hate it when cooks and cookbooks say that sort of thing?  I do. It's like they're trying to make everything difficult.  I'm not trying to make things difficult.  If you pull out those cans I will still like you.

If you decide to go the long route though, buy some dried chickpeas.  Places with lots of turnover and bulk foods (like PFI or an Indian grocery) will turn up better ones than Safeway, but start where you can.  Soak them overnight.  The next day, put them in a slow cooker with some salt, and you can use them for dinner that night (and three nights thereafter, if you're me).  If you don't have a slow cooker, put them in your biggest stockpot, cover with a couple inches of water, bring to a boil, then simmer till they're done.  They'll probably take at least two hours.  This is a good thing to do on the weekend.  Especially when we have a rainy spell like we're having now, I immediately want to start simmering things in big pots.  You have not known me in soup season.  Watch out.


You can find the hummus recipe here (though I added a few tablespoons of tahini to this one).

For the bulgar salad, I mixed coarse cooked bulgar with chickpeas, some leftover grilled eggplant and zucchini, feta, and some slivered grean beans from the garden.  Plus olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and red chile flakes (I am so predictable).


The Toasted Chickpea salad is greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, griddled pita bread torn up, feta, and some cooked chickpeas that have been toasted in a hot cast iron skillet with salt and cumin seeds.

And here's the recipe for the Two Bean Salad.  Plant-Based Proteinly Yours,

Sarah.

Two Bean Salad with Hazelnuts and Parmesan
This makes enough to be part of an antipasti dinner or a side dish.  If you're taking it to a party, double it because people will be begging for more.

1 c. freshest green beans, slivered lengthwise
1/2 c. hazelnuts, toasted in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes, and coarsely chopped
1 c. cooked chickpeas
1 ts. whole cumin seeds
juice from 1/2 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
parmesan

Heat up a cast iron or nonstick skillet on medium high.  Put in a tadbit of olive oil.  Dump chickpeas in, sprinkle a little salt and the cumin seeds, and toast until chickpeas are brown in spots (about 4 minutes), shaking a few times.

Combine green beans, toasted chickpeas, and toasted hazelnuts on a platter.  Squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing and drizzle a generous amount of olive oil.  Sprinkle on lots of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Take a hunk of parmesan and, using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the salad.

In Praise of Monotony (and Buttermilk Cornbread)

cornbread and beans

Didn't I threaten that you were going to see these beans again?  Not an idle threat, clearly.  Tonight, my favorite cornbread, warmed beans, fried eggs, salsa, and chunks of avocado.  Oh--and a bit of sharp white cheddar.  I love to see Wyatt scarf this cornbread.  He could never be on the Atkins Diet.  I often make cornbread when we're in the middle of a big batch of beans because the kids love it and it breaks up the monotony a bit.

But I'm praising monotony today.  My friend Kerri, an AMAZING mother who's raising three girls by herself, was telling me how much dinnertime stresses her out.  She's gets home from a really demanding job, her kids are hungry, and she feels a lot of pressure to put something creative, nutritious, and novel on the table.  I told her to let her worries about variety go.  Her kids are happy and well-fed and she's got enough to think about.  And then I told her about the refugee families in Chad.

On vacation, I read the amazing book Hungry Planet.  Hungry Planet photographs 30 families from around the world with all the food they eat in a week--a refugee family in Chad with a bag of sorghum and some dried tomatoes, and a Texan family with more processed food than they can fit in their kitchen.  A Bhutanese  family that grows or tends every single thing they eat and an urban Aboriginal family that  subsists on McDonald's. But mostly I keep thinking about that refugee family, eating small rations of gruel three times a day for as far into the future as they can imagine.  Sometimes a little dried meat if they're lucky.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want to glamorize that life.  It's sad, depressing, and wrong that they are suffering while lots of us sit around reading food blogs looking for new ways to prepare our farmers' market veggies.  I don't want us to stop eating diets full of freshness and variety, but I do want us to be thankful for it and also know it's alright to eat the same (healthful) thing day after day.  It gives us some solidarity with people who do it without choice, and gives us more appreciation for a perfect peach or decadent dessert.

I also read Christopher Kimball's Kitchen Detective on vacation, and found this lovely tidbit from him:

Most cooks I know are constantly looking for new recipes the way some folks are constantly on the lookout for antiques, clothes, computer software...There is nothing wrong with living life vicariously through recipes--we all do it to some extent--but the problem with most home cooks is that they have too many recipes rather than too few...Like good musicians, good cooks [realize] that restricting one's repertoire has great advantages:  It allows one to focus on the underlying technique instead of just a new set of notes...So, my suggestion is to start with shortlist of 25 recipes that you make most often, and stick with them for a bit.  As you get better, slowly increase  your range.


So, in the spirit of sameness, here's the cornbread recipe I've made a million times.  Sometimes they're muffins, other times it's bread in a square pan, but I can do this in my sleep.  5 minutes for mixing, 15 or 20 minutes in the oven while Wyatt sets the table and  I warm that same old pot of beans (for which I am very grateful).

My Favorite Cornbread
From Epicurious.

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 12 regular (1/3-cup) muffin cups or an 8" square baking pan. Sift cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and egg in another medium bowl; whisk in melted butter. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; stir just until incorporated (do not overmix). Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (or pour into pan). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes for muffins and 20-25 for bread. Cool for 10 minutes.

Stir-Fried Quinoa

stir-fried quinoa

On Friday night, Yancey was at the station and I opened up the fridge to see what could be thrown together.  My inventory:

  • Cold rice
  • Leftover quinoa collard salad from my cooking class
  • half a ziploc bag of shredded cabbage from my cooking class
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 1/2 yellow pepper
  • carrots
  • a few sugar snap peas leftover from our Farmer's Market picnic on Wednesday
  • ever-present garlic and ginger

Stir-fry, obviously.  I love pulling out my wok.  It's so heavy and dark, ready to transform any hodge-podge into something delectable.  I made two batches because I knew my sister and her family were stuck on I-90 in the 100 degree heat waiting for a tow truck.  I said dinner would be waiting for them once they made it back to Seattle.  I managed to have brought the cantaloupe over from the other house and made some ginger mint iced tea.  They were so bedraggled and tired by the time they got here, though the kids were amazingly chipper.  Poor things.


In this post, there's been a little debate going on in the comment section about who's suited to work on the "big" political things like healthcare and who's suited to small loving acts of service.  That's a longer conversation, but I will say this--NONE of us are excused from small loving acts of service no matter what the bigger agenda.  In fact, the bigger agenda doesn't matter if it's not carried out in the context of love and the little things have everything to do with the "big" things.

There was a time when I wouldn't have offered to make dinner for someone unless I had gone to the store and gotten really serious about the endeavor.  About 10 years ago, Yancey and I lived next to a multi-generational Latino household, and I credit them with my hospitality salvation.  The daughter-in-law and grandmother worked together at one of the McDonalds downtown.  When they got off work, there would be a little knock at our door, and they'd be standing there with a bag of leftover Egg McMuffins or apple pies.  The grandmother was an excellent cook, so often when the doorbell rang, what we'd get was posolé or molé.  But it didn't matter what was in their hands--what mattered was the community being built between us and the small acts of kindness and generosity that were its building blocks.  For me, those little things often involve food. In this case, Refrigerator Stir Fry.

for tired travelers

Stir-Fried Quinoa
I used a mixture of rice and quinoa here because that's what I had in my fridge.  You can do that, or just use one or the other.  If I was deliberately making this, I'd use all quinoa.  And of course, there are so many other things you could put in here depending on what's around.  I love Hsiao Ching-Chou's simple stir-frying tips if you think you might make a habit of this.   You can also look at this old post of mine for more on stir-frying. This recipe makes enough for 2.  If you want more, double everything and make two batches.  Too much stuff in the wok at the same time just steams everything instead of getting it crusty.

2 Tb. vegetable oil
2 minced garlic cloves
1 Tb. minced fresh ginger
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1/2 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, finely diced
2 c. finely shredded green cabbage
1 small zucchini sliced into very thin rounds
handful sugar snap peas, coarsely chopped
1 c. cold cooked quinoa, clumps broken up  (and it must be cold)
2 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. sesame oil
sesame seeds
fresh cilantro or mint

Heat wok, cast-iron pan, or nonstick skillet on medium high heat.  Add oil and turn down a tad.  Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  Then add carrot, pepper, cabbage, zucchini, and peas and fry for 1 or 2 minutes until crisp-cooked.  Add quinoa, mix with veggies, fry for a minute.  Add soy sauce to coat.  Remove from heat, drizzle with sesame oil, and garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro or mint.

Friday night at Thanh Thao

Thanh Thao

On my menu plans, Friday usually says "Out."  It's unrealistic to expect otherwise.  The little cooking dial in me turns to "I Quit" on Friday nights.  Even though, as you know, I adore being in my kitchen.

We usually go to someplace cheap and in the neighborhood.  Last night we went to Thanh Thao, the Vietnamese restaurant we've been going to for over 10 years.  Wyatt got a kid-size bowl of pho and emitted short grunts as he slurped it down.  I didn't have pho till I was in my 20's.  Loretta got rice and egg rolls, Yancey got this beautiful tray for making spring rolls, and I gut bun (rice noodles--pronounced "boon") with chargrilled pork.  Number 131.  Same every time.


I felt so content, watching Yancey deal with Loretta's demands (not me!), surrounded by loads of families and lovers eating heartily and celebrating Friday night.  It was as if the click of our chopsticks was saying, "We made it through another week. Some of us barely, others with flying colors.  But we're here, we are not alone."  Amen.  (And our bill was $30, even with extra egg rolls and my beer.)