Last Week I Cooked….

20161121_191802Red lentil soup with north African spices. My friend Tim hosted for lunch and whipped this up in about half an hour along with some cornbread. It was so simple, but so good! Especially finishing with the paprika butter. The next day I had a long one at work and didn’t really have a dinner plan…so quick, and comforting soup again! I know it is a tease that you can’t see the recipe at that link, but it is worth signing up for Cooks Illustrated trial to get it (or, drop me a line on the contact page and I’ll see what I can do).

Broccoli cheddar soup. A quick, vegetarian dinner completed in the midst of Thanksgiving prep.

20161124_145229Thanksgiving! I stuck to the menu I laid out last week and it all went off smoothly. My personal favorite was the Brussels sprouts with bacon that were finished with cider vinegar from Thanksgiving. Next time I would crisp the bacon, remove it from the pan, then cook the Brussels in the fat, and return the bacon at the very end. The bread crumbs were superfluous to me, but if you like bread crumbs then they were good ones.

20161125_104847Mashed potato cakes with Brussels sprouts and a fried egg. I’ve yet to perfect the mashed potato cake….but as long as they get hot its all fine. I mixed and egg into these to try to firm them up, but should have let them crisp for longer. Flaws were irrelevant once leftover Brussels and a gooey egg went on top.

20161120_084122Pecan pie. My grandma LOVES pecan pie, so I made her this one. I forgot to add the eggs into the filling after it cooled, half poured it into the crust, then remembered and had to pour it all our to rectify the situation. I am honestly not a pecan pie lover, but this one is not nearly as saccharin as others and was happily accepted by the other dessert eaters around the table. The dough is easy as pie, and I doubled it and froze the other half for my Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Though it is sticky and I wish the weight for the golden syrup was included so I didn’t have to measure it in cups, the filling comes together easily (just don’t forget the eggs!). Oh and I did not parbake my crust, which I think would be nice but I didn’t have the time.

 

Last Week I Cooked…. (and Thanksgiving Prep)

I finally sat down this weekend to make my Thanksgiving menu. The internet exploded with Thanksgiving inspiration before Halloween, but that was too much too soon for me. Within the week is just enough pressure to get my thoughts in order. Here are some of my ideas from last year and my menu this year:

(All the unlinked recipes are from Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well.)

Before all meal ideas became turkey-centric, I made a few other noteworthy things this week.

20161114_120804Spicy miso ramen express. I guess this was express because once it was actually time to eat, the ramen came together very quickly (and well, this was the first time I made ramen so I don’t have anything to compare it to). The most time consuming part was not actually part of this recipe, but I decided to make this smoked eggplant topping, which was a lot of work and then completely disappeared in the ramen.  So as written this was a very flavorful soup that is definitely worth making again.

Spinach and chickpeas. This dish was the center of a tapas inspired meal. It came together in half an hour, and went splendidly with salami, bleu cheese, sardines, and some red wine.

20161115_184918Pizza with kale and coppa. I’m still working to recreate the best pizza I’ve ever had, which was at Delancy. It was a magic combination of kale and coppa. It is hard to recreate the quality of ingredients, and I’ll never get the wood-fired effect at home, but the flavor profile is getting there. I used the dough and drained crushed tomatoes from this recipe as the base, then used thinly sliced kale, shredded mozzarella, and coppa over the top. The coppa shrinks a lot when it cooks, so I overlap them to get almost full coverage. I think this time around the cheese was my weakest link, so next time I will experiment with other brands/types.

20161118_191852Send the rice down beef and celery. This is my favorite recipe from Every Grain of Rice. It is quick and incredibly flavorful. I had half a head of cabbage languishing in the fridge, so I also made a simple cabbage dish with vinegar from the same book. Easy enough to pull off on a Friday without being overwhelmed, and then feeling super accomplished for also making dinner.

20161119_104016Breakfast hash with kale and onion. Inspired by the Serious Eats home fries I’ve been making a lot of potato dishes recently with sauteed onions and whatever else I have around. This one ended up being a bit onion heavy, but a runny egg and hot sauce on top masks many flaws.

Beer Advent Calendar

beer-advent-calendarIf you need a great gift for a beer lover, a beer advent calendar is hard to beat. Many liquor stores or specialty beer stores (like Craft Beer Cellar) sell single bottles or make your own six packs. (Looking on the Craft Beer Cellar website right now it even looks like they sell something to make a beer advent calendar…but you can do it on your own!) Find 24 distinct beers, keeping in mind the preferences of your beer drinker, but also the fact that you are buying single bottles of beer which is an excellent opportunity to take some risks. I went with 12 ounce bottles and a few 16 ounce cans, but if you are a big spender you can go for 22 ouncer bottles or bombers. It’s fun to make at least the final beer a bomber, and last year I ended with Culmination (which pleased me greatly). I used paper grocery bags to wrap them and just wrote a number on each, but you could get even fancier (that effort would have been lost on my recipient, so I did not bother).

I love the calendar concept for a gift, even if beer is not your chosen medium. Mix it up with other beverages, chocolates, love notes, or anything else. Combine the childhood delight of getting a new gift every day with your expanded adult tastes (or just make one for a kid, they will still love it). Will liked this so much that we decided it would be an annual tradition and switch off making them for each other (which greatly simplifies the process, because buying and storing beer in secret in this house is HARD).

Another huge benefit of the beer advent calendar (besides maybe getting to partake in the consumption yourself), is the entire prep is done before Decemeber even starts, so you’re immediately ahead of the gift game. Instead of dealing with crowds Black Friday, spend a couple hours curating an awesome gift that lasts all month. Cheers!

Last Week I Cooked….

20161107_195132Pasta with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and parmesan cheese. While the pasta water boiled, I caramelized the onions, chopped up about 1/2 a cup of sun-dried tomatoes, and shredded the Brussels (maybe 10?). When the onions were cooked I added the sun-dried tomatoes and Brussels sprouts and tossed so the sprouts wilted. In a small pan I poured a few tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, and added in 4 cloves of garlic that I minced. That mingled over medium low heat until fragrant. When the pasta was cooked I drained it, then tossed with the vegetables, sun-dried tomato and garlic oil, and a bunch of black pepper. Served with parm on top.

20161109_192108Twice baked potatoes with buffalo chickpeas and cauliflower. I can’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about this recipe. It may have been that you don’t roast the cauliflower so the flavor wasn’t as concentrated, or the tomato sauce added to the hot sauce which wasn’t exactly right. All in all it was a wholesome, vegetable heavy meal, but I think I will stick to my own buffalo cauliflower method next time. (I did also add some bleu cheese on top, making it not vegan.)

20161110_190207Israeli couscous, roasted cauliflower, radish, feta, and dill. I had half a head of cauliflower already prepped, only two people to feed and no leftovers needed. I raided the pantry for a quick grain and found Israeli couscous. I popped the cauliflower in the oven at 425F (oil, salt, pepper), cooked the couscous, and got out some lemon, more olive oil, feta, dill, and watermelon radish. Once the couscous and cauliflower were done I drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice, then added the salad toppings.

20161111_081641Crisped potatoes with fried eggs and chard. This was yet another iteration of my most favorite breakfast. This time I used leftover baked potatoes (from the twice baked potatoes), which I cubed and fried.

20161112_194141Smoked chili and pumpkin sausage, squash polenta, and sauteed radish greens. This meal was entirely build around the sausage. I had a vision of it on a bed of squashy, cheesy polenta. I made polenta as usual, then stirred in about 3/4 of a cup of cooked squash and 1/2 a cup of shredded parm. I cooked the sausage, then took them out of the pan and sauteed the greens in the sausage fat. It was a great balance of smokey spice, creamy polenta, and slightly bitter greens.

Last Week I Cooked…

20161031_195225Roasted sweet potato and black bean tacos. It was Halloween, and I didn’t have a full dinner plan so I went back to an old favorite. Halfway through cooking I realized I was making an orange and black dinner. As Will said, it was a “Halloween miracle!!!” and a new tradition was born. I made a quick cabbage topping by massaging some red cabbage with salt and cumin seeds (a riff on the taco topping recipe in The Homemade Kitchen). Also served with Greek yogurt, cilantro, jalapenos, salsa, and hot sauce.

20161101_191405Roasted tofu rice bowls with miso tahini sauce (tofu roasting method from Thug Kitchen). Another favorite in these parts. For veg I used sauteed collards and cabbage, and shredded carrot which I left raw. I always double this sauce, because having too little sauce is the absolute worst.

20161103_120834Dijon lentils with roasted cauliflower and potatoes (shown as I ate leftover for lunch and read Classic German Baking). I think I will have to update this recipe a bit…I used a whole head of cauliflower (2.5 lbs before I removed the stem) and that was perfect for 6 servings. (I still used 1 lb of potatoes and 2 cups of lentils.) I forgot I was out of whole grain mustard, so I just roasted the veg with oil, salt, and pepper.

20161103_190507Bean and beer chili. Hearty, vegan chili for those nights you want something warming but not quite as heavy as this chili.

20161103_190753Date, feta, and red cabbage salad. This salad is just about perfect. The ingredient list is short and the parts come together quickly (you don’t even make a dressing!). It is crunchy, salty, and a bit sweet, plus very pretty and pink.

Whole Wheat Apple Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Sugar

20161029_113500Dating a Vermonter has opened up a world of maple products to me. Maple syrup is just the beginning, and then there is maple sugar, a delightful spread called maple cream, maple cotton candy, and solid maple candies. Will’s mom gave us a jar of maple sugar I have been savoring and trying to find the best possible uses for. Over the weekend I took my favorite buttermilk pancakes, swapped in whole wheat flour, maple sugar, and added a grated apple. Paired with maple breakfast sausage and topped with maple syrup, it was a breakfast to make a Vermonter proud. If you were really tempted you could add some cinnamon to the batter, but I like letting the maple flavor shine through.

Whole Wheat Apple Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Sugar

Serves 2-3. Adapted from Cup of Jo.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons maple sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus additional butter for cooking)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 apple (leave it unpeeled)
  • Maple syrup for serving

Combine the whole wheat flour, maple sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl (make sure it is a bowl large enough to accommodate the wet ingredients as well).

Whisk the buttermilk, egg, butter, and vanilla extract. Grate the apple on the largest side of a box grater. Pick out the seeds and stem and discard.

Add the wet ingredients and the grated apple to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir up from the bottom and it is ready when there are no more dry pockets of flour.

Preheat your oven to 200F with a baking sheet placed on the middle rack.  Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt a bit of butter around the skillet and dollop the batter into four inch circles. The pan should be hot enough so that the batter does not spread much after it is added, so adjust accordingly. Cook the pancakes 4-5 minutes, until the edges are set and you can see bubbles on the top. Flip, cook for another 3-4 minutes, and then move to the baking sheet in the oven. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve with maple syrup (and maple sausage, if you eat meat and want to go all out).

 

Last Week I Cooked….

It was my first week cooking in our new apartment! Though half of the kitchen was in boxes, things slowly found there homes. As of this hour the only box in the kitchen in a box full of empty boxes, and its beginning to feel more like I actually live here. Now, to find a new shelf for that ever expanding cookbook collection….

20161023_202327Curried roasted eggplant with coconut milk and black rice. It was only fitting to cook eggplant in my first apartment meal. I have had this pinned for far too long, and it took a night at home when we were tired of takeout and in great need of vegetables to get me to cook it. There are a lot of spices, but it smells heavenly. I didn’t have full cardamom pods so I used some ground. The eggplant soaks up all of the fragrant, coconut milk sauce. I certainly won’t wait years before making this again. I used black rice because I didn’t want to go to the store, but it turned out very dramatic and Halloween appropriate!

Burmese-Inspired chicken braised in coconut milk & turmeric with sweet potato. Apparently turmeric was the spice of the week here (but now I’m all out, so a trip to the spice market is in order). This soup was a huge hit. The coconut broth is loaded with herbs and spices, and the squash (I used butternut instead of sweet potato) soaks up all the flavors. My one change would be to double (or maybe triple) the squash/sweet potato to make for a more even chicken to veg ratio.

20161028_201904Eggplant parm. This was the last eggplant of the season here, and only eggplant parm would do it justice. I ran out of breadcrumbs before breading all the eggplant, but I just fried up the naked pieces and layered them between breaded slices and everything was just fine (and slightly easier!).

20161028_082812Roasted butternut with za’atar, yogurt, and fried bread. I adapted Molly’s recipe a bit because I already had butternut and za’atar. The fried bread coated in olive oil with yogurt was my favorite part, but I would be open to this whole combination for future savory yogurt breakfasts.

Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, sauteed collards, and toast. At the end of the season most of our garden collards were decimated by some caterpillars (I think), but after the cold weather kicked in some of the plants bounced back. I was able to harvest a last big bunch before we moved, and of course it found its way into breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked….

We’re in the process of moving, and as of this weekend are more in the new place than the old place. This has led to much more eating out then normal, and meals at home are mostly cobbled together with ingredients already on hand. We’re leaving behind a big l-shaped counter, with a convenient lazy Susan right below it that held all my oils and vinegars. But the kitchen in the old place was awkwardly located in the middle of the house with very little natural light and low ceilings. The new place has its own quirks, like the sink and the stove in different rooms (a weird feature of many apartments in this area), but it is awash in natural light and two (!) ovens. It’s still not quite at my dream of a house that is 70% kitchen, but it is a big step up.

Sausages with peppers and onions on toast with mustard. I can’t entirely take credit for this meal, because my mom gave me all the ingredients for it. But it is a simple favorite that always satisfies.

Tomato and sausage risotto. This risotto has been in my rotation for years. It doesn’t require broth (just tomatoes and water), stretches a small amount of meat to a meal for many, is an excuse to open a bottle of wine, and has a big pile of greens stirred in at the end.

Pasta alla norma. The key here is to use enough oil to fry the eggplant in to get it really soft. The process itself is simple, and I finished off the tomato eggplant sauce with a large portion of ricotta cheese. It doesn’t melt into the sauce like mascarpone would, but it still tastes great.

Bacon fat potatoes with kale and fried eggs. Essential this, but I cubed the potatoes and cooked them in a couple batches. There was a wild storm in our parts Friday night and it was just the night to have breakfast for dinner, crack open a growler, and pack up the kitchen with breaks to watch the lightning.

Cinnamon toast with ricotta, honey, and sea salt. I wasn’t in the mood for eggs at breakfast much this week (who am I?????), so this was a nice change of pace.

Making Vanilla Extract to Give to a Crowd

dsc01924Vanilla extract only has two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Mix those together, give them some time to marry, and you have an incredibly potent elixir to bake with. If you’re going to go through the little trouble it takes to make extract, it is barely any more effort to make a big batch of it. Start that batch now, and you will have an excellent gift for friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors for the holidays. It fits into all kinds of diets, doesn’t go bad, and is one of those things that people don’t usually make so it seems more impressive than it is. To make a single batch you need a handle of vodka (nothing too fancy), about 25 vanilla beans, and some jars for gifting. The up front expense seems high (vanilla ain’t cheap), but it works out to about $5 a bottle (4 oz) for a homemade and actually useful gift. (I’ve seen nice vanilla extract go over $10 for 4 ounces.)

I follow the formula laid out here of 1 vanilla bean for every two ounces of vodka. This year I wanted to make a lot to give out, so I bought two 25 packs of beans, and two handles of vodka. The last few years I’ve used the US Kirkland Vodka from Costco, but any lower to mid-range vodka should work (not the worst, not the best). I use quart mason jars to make the measuring easy – just count fourteen beans for each jar, split them, put them in the jar, and then fill it up to the 28 oz line. A handle of vodka (750 mL) is just under 60 ounces, so that would fill two 28 oz mason and make about fourteen 4 oz bottles. This year I put fourteen beans in three quart jars and filled them, so I had about a half handle of vodka leftover from the two. I’ll use that to make a second batch with doubled-up used beans after Christmas that I can use myself. I have eight beans leftover that I’m saving for other cooking projects, as they are far cheaper bought in bulk like this.

dsc01927The shortest amount of time I’ve let them sit before gifting is five weeks, but longer is better. Order beans and vodka now, put them to steep, and by the holidays you will be all ready. How is that for lazy gift making? Past years I’ve bought twelve packs of Boston round bottles which are economical and just the right size, but I’ve found they leak a bit so I’m searching for a better sealed option.

I like to check up on them and give the bottles a shake every few weeks, but that is mostly just for fun and observing the process. The change in color is dramatic, especially after the first few days. I took these photos just two days after I started my jars and look at the difference already!

dsc01932

So many gifts and celebrations around the holidays focus on rich foods and sweets. I like giving something that can help create decadence later on, but does not need to be consumed on top of the already collected mountain of extravagance. Someone can tuck it away in a cabinet and maybe not use it for months without the quality or usefulness being compromised. Start a batch now, and you can take care of your giving list before Halloween!

Last Week I Cooked….

20161014_181909This Friday the farm staff was invited over to one of our volunteer’s home for a Cowboy Cafe. This volunteer and her family regularly host these nights for friends where they cook entirely in cast iron over a fire. We had beans with bacon, onions, and garlic, stewed tomatoes and okra, grilled chicken breasts, blueberry streusel, steak, and salads. The food was incredible, and we had so much fun hanging around the fire while everything cooked. It made me want to cook everything in cast iron over a fire, but since that isn’t as easily achievable, at least come up with an easy party theme that I can execute reliably so entertaining is never a second thought. (Maybe meatballs?) While I didn’t help cook there, I still fit in a few other meals in this short week.

20161010_090050Almost full Irish. It’s tough to find blood sausage around these parts, and I did use use streaky bacon in place of rashers…but otherwise this has all the important bits. Bangers, mushrooms and tomatoes (cooked in bacon fat), an egg, toast, and Worcestershire. Simply cooked ingredients that are fantastic in combination.

20161012_195654Autumn vegetable soup with sausage and green lentils (from Flour, Too). This soup is not one you just throw together. There are a lot of ingredients, and they all need to be prepped and ready for the right time. I found myself pushing the soup pot off the burner a few times to give myself a bit more time to get the next step ready. All that work though, and it made for a great, flavorful soup. I loved all the spices (cumin, curry powder, fennel, smoked paprika, bay, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon!), the mix of vegetables, flavor from the sausage, and lentils. Worth the time, but next time I will make it on a Sunday.

20161013_190837Roasted eggplant and za’atar pizza. I’ve been making this pizza for years, and it is always worth returning to. Two cookings makes for extra creamy eggplant, which always pairs well with tahini and feta.

20161015_105513-2Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, along with sauteed kale and tomatoes, and toast. Getting in the last of the cherry tomatoes!

Last Week I Cooked…

20161002_192936Lamb and eggplant moussaka. This was a big hit in the house with roommates, who it should be noted, are not quite as eggplant obsessed as me. There are a few steps here to make multiple parts, but the results are the perfect seasonal crossover dish.

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. Why did I wait so long into tomato season to make this?! I even wrote about how excited I was to make it in August. It is dead simple, perfectly balanced sweet from the tomatoes, tart from the balsamic, and fat from the sausage.

Leek potato soup. An old favorite that is delightfully leeky.

20161004_192022-2Spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce. I also made some brown rice to make these a little heftier. Tofu, veg (I used collards instead of broccoli), a zingy sauce, and herbs are always a win on this dinner table.

20161007_201554Two pizzas and a salad: butternut squash with goat cheese, red onion, and bacon; pepperoni and hamburg; greens with cucumber, pepper, and a champagne vinegar dressing.

Breakfast tostadas with egg, cheese, spaghetti squash, and black beans. I follow the basic method here, but topped with extra spaghetti squash (from the bowls earlier in the week), black beans, and hot sauce.

 

 

Last Week(s) I Cooked….

Apartment hunting and a weekend with friends visiting made for delayed blogging! I feel as if I now finally have time to truly devote to cooking again, and of course my favorite produce is on its way out. At least there are still greens, squash, and apples to embrace!

Spaghetti squash tacos with black beans. The first time I ate spaghetti squash was in these tacos. Ignore any notion you may have that spaghetti squash can only be used as a spaghetti replacement, and try these out. The squash shines in its own way with a punchy lime chili powder sauce.

Sweet potato nachos with black beans. I don’t know if I would call these nachos…loaded fries seems more apt. Either way, it was an excuse to pile beans and cheese on fries and call it dinner. I didn’t have smoked cheddar on hand, so I used a shredded Mexican blend. Easy and gratifying.

20160924_103331Pesto polenta with tomato and egg. I actual made this for dinner, with sauteed greens and garlic topped with an egg, and the leftover polenta became breakfast the next day with tomatoes instead.

Tomato cheddar galette. This galette was GOOD. Incredibly flaky crust, a thin layer of mustard, a dense cheddar base, and sweet tomato slices. It was like a great tomato grilled cheese….but with more butter. We had it alongside an eggplant salad, and to bulk the meal up a bit for lunch I made hard boiled eggs.

Vegetable soup with chickpeas and greens. This soup was entirely born out of the things in our fridge and a desire to clean out the freezer. I started the soup with a chopped onion, carrot, and pepper, and then added in 3 minced cloves of garlic. Then went in a couple quarts of stock, chickpeas, and a big pinch of salt. That simmered for a bit, then I added a huge bunch of chopped greens (kale, collards, and chard) until just wilted. Served with grated parm, a dollop of pesto, and toasted crusty bread.

20161001_165724Fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah. I didn’t actually try this since it was a gift, but I’ve made it before and it was delightful. It comes together including baking in about 3 hours, the directions are incredibly easy to follow, and then you’ve made challah! I don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook, so I start the dough in the food processor and run it until the motor starts to get annoyed.

Spaghetti with vodka sauce. This barely counts as cooking because I took half a box of noodles out of the pantry, topped them with jarred vodka sauce that had been evicted from our freezer, and then finished with cheese. But you should know that I don’t always feel like cooking with much exertion.

20161001_105059Apple Dutch baby. An impressive breakfast without all the fuss of flipping. I skipped the step of cleaning the pan, reheating it, and then putting the apples back in. I just poured the batter in and stuck the whole thing in the hot oven and everything was fine.

A repeat breakfast recently has been toast, a swipe of Dijon mustard, fried tomatoes, and a fried egg.

Last Week I Cooked…

In the last days of summer I’ve been focusing on just letting the vegetables around and my pantry dictate my cooking (especially things that need to be cleaned out of the freezer).

20160912_182927Pasta with pesto, goat cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes and summer squash. This was a meal of found fridge and pantry things. I had some pesto, but not quite enough for a full pound of pasta (at least to achieve what I consider an appropriate pesto:pasta ratio). I slow roasted the cherry tomatoes at 350F for about an hour, and roasted the summer squash at 425F for 30 minutes. When the pasta was cooked, I reserved a bit of the cooking liquid, then added in about 1/2 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of goat cheese, and about a 1/4 cup of cooking water. Then I stirred to combine everything and added in the vegetables. Easy, summery.

Quesadillas with pinto beans, sauteed peppers and onions, and a quick tomato salsa. These were basic, but such a satisfying quick dinner.

Rice noodles with roasted tofu, roasted eggplant, sauteed collards, and peanut sauce. I marinated and roasted the tofu and eggplant a la Thug Kitchen, chopped up a huge bunch of collards and quickly sauteed them, and defrosted the peanut sauce from the last time I made a batch.

Composed salad with lemon caper dressing. The most work here was thinly slicing and roasting potatoes (425F, about 30 minutes). While that happened I hard boiled a few eggs (1 per person), made the dressing, sliced up a couple smaller tomatoes, and grabbed some dilly beans and a can of tuna.

Cast iron crisped potatoes with collard greens and fried eggs. This was a camping meal! I did all the potatoes, chopped small, on medium in some olive oil. When they were cooked I added in the collard greens and tossed them to wilt. Then I transferred the potatoes and collards to a plate while I fried up eggs. 1 pan!

A question of taste

20160913_080501I hear the summer blockbusters were disappointing, but the new non-fiction at my local library has been jumping into my book bag every week. Not every book gets read, but I prefer to have options so I can pick the book I most prefer in the moment. A great recent find was You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice about the psychology of taste. Not so much why we all have different tastes, but how we decide what we like, how other people’s decisions affect our taste, and even how presentation and order can determine our preferences (if you are being judged in a competition, do your best to go last).

Our tastes define who we are, and it is disheartening to think that what we like is so easily changed by what is around us and how often we are bombarded with something (for instance that pop song you hated at first but starts to grow on you after the umpteenth play…) (102). But it happens. When presented with foods conventionally or with a bit of flair, we like the foods better with the extra flourishes (23). Or when tasting/judging many things in succession, we prefer the things presented to us later because we have all the previous experiences to judge it against (the “direction of comparison effect” 189). This psychology stems from our origins as humans surviving in a dangerous and often unfamiliar world. New things (especially foods) could often be deadly. So it was supremely to our benefit to remember and recognize foods that were safe, which maybe you wouldn’t have seen since it was last in season a year ago (or maybe longer).

That risk has almost entirely dissipated. Only the extreme minority are foraging their every meal, and an even smaller portion are trying something for the first time to determine that it is food. In fact humans are hard core generalists, and able to survive on an incredible variety of diets (Unlike, say…pandas. Bamboo or bust!) (18). Most of what we eat has been specifically cultivated for human consumption (often over many, many generations). Yes, there are new ways of preparing foods influenced by new technologies and all the foods that were prepared before them. But we have a basic understanding of what keeps food safe: not cross contaminating, keeping foods stored at certain temperatures, how light damages food, what temperature foods need to be cooked to to make them safe, etc, etc, etc.  So must things that are “new” are created within these constraints of safety and availability. They are all things we could put the USDA GRAS (generally recognized as safe) stamp on, even if they haven’t been specifically tested.

So why are so many people neophobic (afraid of new foods)? Convinced that they have a concrete definition of what they like, and anything outside of the lines isn’t welcome in their mouth? Presenting people with foods they’ve never had or previously declared not to like is a regular part of my job. I most often work with kids who one would expect a certain amount of reluctance with, but I’m still surprised by the number of adults that declare hatred of something or refuse to try it. Sometimes this is in adult classes, which is mostly to their own detriment (but can also unfortunately influences the other adults), but dishearteningly it also often happens with teachers or parent chaperones with kids. “Do as I say, but not as I do” is far, far less effective in these situations (and, well, most of the time).

Vanderbilt points out that the single factor most likely to predict whether or not someone will like something is the fact that they’ve had it before (24). Our psyches are constantly working counter to our tongues. But no one comes into the world with a defined palate. Yes, we are born with certain general affinities like those for sugar, salt, and fat (19), but we all develop unique preferences based on the things we’ve tried. Every food that we love, we had to try for the first time. Our tastes change over time as we try more and more new things, have foods prepared in different ways, we develop or lose tolerances to certain flavors, or our bodies fluctuate along with our physical and psychological health, major happenings like pregnancy or menopause, or just simple aging. Do you like all the same foods you did 2 years ago? 10 years ago? 20?

Our tastes should be like our personalities: constantly changing as we experience more and try to define ourselves and our place in the world. None of us will ever like all foods, we naturally have preferences for some over others. Since I first tasted them, I’ve had an aversion to caraway in just about any quantity and strong instances of fennel. But…while they are not my favorite flavors, I still try foods containing them and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some.

The list of foods I used to not eat is embarrassing for a food blogger. Pasta with tomato sauce (though I would eat meatballs with sauce….). Lobster. Coffee. Beets, summer and winter squash, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower, EGGPLANT. Tofu. Eggs in any form (WHO WAS I??).The list of foods I used to eat is probably even more embarrassing. Taco Lunchables with meat you squeezed out of a tube. Smore’s Pop Tarts. Cheese steak Hot Pockets. Snackwells cookies (Thanks, low-fat craze of the 90’s!). Over time I’ve become much more conscious of my health and experienced so many more foods that my palate has broadened and evolved for the better.

As some of my favorite childhood foods illustrate, this willingness to try is only as good as the foods one samples. It doesn’t benefit our bodies to be constantly trying all sorts of processed, sugary, salty, fatty foods. As long as you eat primarily fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains (real food), you are likely on the path to health. Even within the limits of real food, there are almost infinite flavors and food combinations. Encouraging variety also increases the likelihood that you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need from foods.

I’m working on my methods for making new foods less scary. I’m getting better at pairing new things with familiar things, so they are less of a shock to people. Presenting items with flair. Giving people more choices.  Introducing them to something new that they will love and incorporate into a healthier diet. But also accepting that sometimes I’m just one step in a long path of learning to like something.

Don’t let neophobia win. Fully embrace your generalist nature. Try foods you thought you hated. And not just once, or always prepared in the same way. You might be surprised. And liking more things means there are more delicious things in the world to eat. No matter how old you are, there are still new foods to try and ways your taste can change. As Vanderbilt describes again and again, our tastes are in constant flux and being aware of how they can be influenced and changed can be to our benefit. Know your mind is working against your mouth, but that it doesn’t have to win. The world would be a boring place if we all liked everything, but each of us could benefit from liking a few more things. Explore tongue first.

 

 

 

Last Week I Cooked….

After a month of busy work and vacation, I felt like I was finally back in the kitchen again. I had barely cooked any eggplant this season, so this week I piled on the eggplant recipes; mostly old favorites, but a few new as well. Even though the month has changed, it is still very much summer at the farmer’s markets!

Eggplant parm. This is a many step dish…but it is ALWAYS worth it. Helpful if you have another set of hands (or 2) to help with the breading and frying portion. Reward yourself partway by eating some pieces of fried eggplant. And maybe with a glass of red wine.

Chana dal with collards and tomatoes (from Vegetarian India). The original recipe called for spinach, but the collards leaping out of my garden right now called for a substitution. The chana dal does take over an hour to cook, but requires no soaking. I loved the starchy, spiced sauce it created that coated the greens. This was a good seasonal transition meal; full of summer produce, but a bit more warming for slightly cooler nights.

dsc01882Gratin of tomatoes, eggplant, and collards and kale (from Vegetable Literacy, photo taken before baking). I made this with collard and kale instead of chard (Do you need any greens? I have extra!). There is some work upfront to prep the eggplant and greens for the gratin, but the assembly is as easy as layering. I used feta instead of mozzarella, and served it with my friend Zach’s roasted garlic sourdough….both excellent choices.

dsc01884Eggplant parmesan pizza with crispy capers. I constantly post this recipe because it is my go-to pizza dough…but now was finally the time to make it in full! The eggplant melts into the pizza crust, and the crispy capers are brilliant bits of salty goodness on top.

20160909_191621dsc01890Sichuanese “send-the-rice-down” chopped celery with ground pork and Hangzhou eggplant (from Every Grain of Rice). The original send-the-rice-down recipe calls for ground beef, but it works just as well with pork (and I’ve also made it with chopped turkey thighs). Spicy sauce, crunchy celery, and fatty meat make for a winning dish. I went for the Hangzhou eggplant instead of the usual fish fragrant eggplant so the meal wouldn’t be overwhelmingly spicy. Though they are similar preparations and it was certainly delicious, the sweet did not overtake my favorite spicy version.

20160907_083655Leftover rice, sauteed collards with garlic and ginger, a fried egg and chili garlic sauce. Why have I never thought to make this for breakfast before?!? I never seem to make exactly the right amount of rice, and often have an awkward extra amount leftover that isn’t enough for a full meal. Now it will always have a purpose.

 

Last Week I Cooked….

There wasn’t a ton of cooking last week as I spent a large part of it out of town and at the beach. Even though I had a full kitchen at my disposal, it felt great just to eat fruit for breakfast, and leave lunch and dinner in someone else’s hands (thanks, Mom!!!).

20160831_190204BLTs with melon. This meal came almost entirely from the farmer’s market and my laziness. The BLTs I made a few weeks ago were just so delightful, they begged to be made again this summer. We went a step further though, and at Will’s suggestion grilled the bread in the pan in some bacon fat. Maybe there’s time to fit these in once more before tomato season ends…. Just BLTs didn’t seem like a complete dinner, so I also cut up a tiny, sweet sugar cube melon to go alongside.

20160901_185636Burrito bowls. This was a meal to use up as many things in the fridge as possible. I had leftover beans from last week’s stuffed peppers plus pork loin that came home from the Cape with us, rice (made with chicken stock that needed to vacate the freezer), roasted corn, shredded summer squash, and topped fresh tomato salsa (tomatoes, hot peppers, salt, pepper, lime).

On Friday I brought a simple appetizer of melon wrapped in prosciutto to a family dinner. simple is best right now!

 

Last Week I Cooked…

20160824_082727Toast with mayo, sliced tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and deviled eggs. A delayed arrival home after a weekend away (caused by a distracting book store stop…) made me rethink my more lengthy dinner plans. Tomatoes from the garden made toast awesome, and deviled eggs are always welcome.

Zucchini feta pancakes and tomato salad. These were served at my friend’s awesome New Year’s brunch and it seemed like the perfect time to make them myself. Whipping the egg whites does make for a bit more work than your usual fritters, but it also makes these wonderfully light. I intended for these to be a light summer dinner, and it said they served 4-6…but that was definitely meant as a side. This served 3 for dinner and I would certainly make them again, just double for leftovers.

Beer bean stuffed poblanos with green rice. The stuffed poblano recipe came from The Sprouted Kitchen. I love chile rellenos, but this riff makes for a much more wholesome and easier meal. The one thing I would change is omitting the cinnamon added to the beans which I found overwhelming. For the rice I made 2 cups of brown rice and roasted 3 ears of corn. I removed the kernels from the cooked corn and added them to the rice, along with a mixture of chopped cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

20160824_190405Baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella (pictured before the pasta cooks). While this does require turning on the oven, and a few cooking steps, it’s about as summery as you can get with a baked pasta dish. Eggplant, tomatoes, and mozzarella are virtually impossible to turn down together (at least for me), and I appreciate that you don’t have to cook the pasta beforehand.

Breakfasts this week included yogurt with fresh picked raspberries, nectarines, and granola (pictured at top), plus burritos with beans (I cooked extra when I made the poblanos) with sauteed collards and scrambled eggs.

Everyday Peanut Sauce

DSC01879Why aren’t we all making peanut sauce? Every day? To put on everything? These are big and important questions. Many a meal can be made from peanut sauce. It takes any combination of rice or noodles with vegetables and unites them into dinner. Or in this instance, takes a collection of vegetables and herbs from the garden/crisper, rolled up in rice paper skins, from a dry, protein lacking appetizer to a legitimate, hot weather dinner option (at least in these parts). This sauce is vegan, comes together quickly, freezes well, and can be easily adapted. It is mildly spicy on purpose, and I usually serve hot sauce alongside so people can increase heat at will. It is worth making a double or triple batch to stash in the freezer for dinner emergencies during heat waves.

Everyday Peanut Sauce

Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen. This makes enough for 2 meals to each feed 4. I usually freeze half because frozen peanut sauce at the ready is money in the bank.

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or peanut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 15.5 oz can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup smooth natural peanut butter (though I have used chunky in a pinch and blended it at the end)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or other Asian hot sauce (omit if spice adverse)
  • juice of one lime

Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute a minute or two, until they are just fragrant. Add the other ingredients except the lime juice and whisk to combine (it may take a couple minutes for the peanut butter to loosed up and integrate). Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and whisk to combine. If you like a really smooth sauce, put it in a blender or food processor for a minute.

Last Week I Cooked….

This was our third week of farm camp, which is a wonderful but exhausting experience. I left most of the meals this week unplanned, and just allowed the wealth of produce guide them. Not planning led to much simpler endeavors, and just about every dinner this week was made in under an hour (who am I?!?!). It was great to let the veg do most of the work, and spend the rest of my evenings recuperating and preparing for another day of excited campers.

Roasted corn, zucchini, and black bean enchiladas. It was in the 90s when I turned on the oven to make these. During the cooking process I questioned my sanity multiple times. But once they were on the table, all the sweaty cooking was forgotten. Still one of my favorite zucchini dishes.

20160815_193045Pesto pasta with green beans and tomato salad. I followed the pesto recipe from The Art of Simple Food, threw on some pasta, and in the last minute of cooking added in a pound of halved green beans. The tomato salad was a simple affair of basil, olive oil, mozzarella, salt, and pepper. This whole meal felt like summer done right.

20160816_183244Frittata with sauteed collards, roasted cherry tomatoes, and feta with buttermilk biscuits. This was a develop “dinner idea that requires no shopping on the 3-minute drive home and execute in an hour” situation. I halved the cherry tomatoes and roasted them at 400F for about 30 minutes (basically as long as it took me to pull the biscuits together and harvest, wash, and chop the collards). The collards went into the bottom of a cast iron pan, were covered, and sauteed for about 5 minutes until wilted. Then I scattered the tomatoes on top, covered that with 1/2 cup crumbled feta, and then poured 6 eggs that had been beaten with a dash of milk, salt, and pepper over everything. That went into the oven (still at 400F) for 10 minutes.

20160818_183010Tacos with black beans, corn, zucchini and feta. This was yet another dinner made without shopping. I simmered a large can of black beans with onion and garlic which the corn broiled. Then I used this taco seasoning to coat the corn once I cut it off the cob. Inspired by this other corn taco recipe I made a quick slaw with zucchini and lime, then topped the whole bit with feta and hot sauce.

Grilled chorizo verde with grilled zucchini, summer squash, and peppers, and cilantro slaw. The real star of this meal was the sausage (as usual). I made a quick green sauce with chopped cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to brush over the veg before they went on the grill (and saved more for after too). The slaw was red and green cabbage, sliced tomatoes, a handful of cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. As was the surprising trend this week, this was all pulled together within an hour (with a little chopping help).

Last Week I Cooked….

20160807_17482320160807_172954Spicy tomato and pepper dip (ezme), yogurt with cucumber, dill, and garlic (cacik), Eastern-style focaccia, and stuffed eggplants with lamb, garlic, and tomatoes (karniyarik). All from Persiana. Each of these items was fairly simple to put together, and collectively made for a lovely summer meal. I love just about any version of a yogurt dip, and this one went nicely with the bread. I forgot I only had wheat flour on hand, which made for a heavier focaccia but it was still warmly spiced and a good vehicle for for salads. I should have left the eggplant in the over for longer, because even with the frying they weren’t fully cooked through. This made for even better leftovers once the eggplant was reheated.

20160808_195005BLTs. With Short Creek 7-spice bacon, Potter Hill tomatoes and lettuce, and my sourdough, this was everything I dreamt of in February. Worth the wait.

20160809_193607Zucchini turkey burgers with nectarine and tomato salad and leftover Eastern-style focaccia. So much summer on a plate!! I roasted the burgers instead of frying and then roasting them. They weren’t nearly as pretty that way, but so much easier. The slightly sour yogurt sauce with these is so good.

20160810_190504Lo mein with roasted tofu, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. I didn’t have a real dinner plan, then saw this on Instagram and knew I had a way to use up some random veg in the crisper. I loved the easy lo mein from Serious Eats and had all the ingredients, so I went with that plus some roasted tofu.

Green scrambled eggs. Good thing I have a food blog, otherwise I might have forgotten about this delightful summer breakfast.

Nectarine and sour cream pancakes. When I made these, Will said “sometimes I think you spoil me.” Maybe true, but I also get to eat these pancakes…so it’s not selfless. The batter comes together quickly, but they take a little bit to cook. Totally worthwhile.