Friday, August 6, 2010


There are a few benefits to living in a tropical climate. They include, but are not limited to:
  1. Slip-and-Slide seasons extends most of the calendar year. Consult the perma-browned gauntlet of grass in my parents' back yard for reference. See also: pool floating.
  2. Salt-free highways and tire-free chains.
  3. Room in your coat closet for more useful items likebeach chairs and extra sunscreen.
  4. Your wardrobe can comprise two to three tank tops, successfully laundered, for months on end.
  5. Money well spent on cute sandals and pedicures.
  6. Figs. Giant, juicy, battle-the-bees for that hanging fruit, droopy on the branch, taste the warmth of summer in your mouth figs.
So the mom and I went fig-pickin' yesterday, since I'm visiting Louisiana at the moment. Look at her go, isn't she the cutest? And by "cute" I mean "relentless."
If I had to choose, I really would not elect to land in 102º heat on a Wednesday afternoon, immediately melt, compose myself, and slink from the airplane to the terminal. I would not necessarily pick wet armpits over 'Sure' ones or a beading upper lip or a mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and mid-evening costume change just to stay dry. But at dawn, before the sun has begun its daily scorch, I will hop in the car with my mom, fight snakes and beetles and honeybees, and haul home a couple of baskets of fresh figs.
Do you like my shirt? It was my dad's. Approximately 30 years ago. It's held together by safety pins. Word to the wise: do NOT try to pick figs in short sleeves. I highly doubt Adam and Eve were slapping these leaves to their privates. Unless it was for their adhesive properties.

So take some home. Caramelize a few.

Then make your birthday cake out of it. Thanks to Miss Suzanne for hand modeling!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moving... totally the worst.

There is no reason any stable, well-meaning individual should be forced to take into stock every single thing she owns, organize it all, pack it into cardboard categories, and physically carry it somewhere. This week I have suffered--sometimes successfully, sometimes maniacally--the minutia of moving. Where do I put safety pins? How many pairs of underwear do I need? Why do I have two sets of salad tongs, both missing the fork half? Will anyone take two oversized, mismatched spoons?
Look at my kitchen. Do you like my clever packing system? K stands for kitchen. Good, we're up to speed.

Look at my refrigerator. Wha-- why yes! I cleaned it myself, thank you. Then it became the refrigerator of a bachelor: Coors Light and mustard. Who lives here?

Point is, no cooking for a while. This is what we're currently eating. Hershey's Special Dark and some dates I found in the back of my cabinets. Sad. Oh, and some Halloween napkins that I think were actually supposed to be tissues. Whatever. It wipes my face.

Well, at any rate, goodbye, Cambridge. You've been good to me. I'll miss you dearly.

Hello, Virginia.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Crepe Update: Spelt-Carrot Crepes

You remember when we did crepes way back when? It was kind of nonstop there for a while. Binge crepe-ing.

Then we took a year-long break, just to be safe, and today I have returned to the crepe party. Welcome.

Picked up a sweet book called 'Vegetarian Planet' at Lorem Ipsum and it does that thing that I always want cookbooks to do, but so often they don't: It has new, interesting, unique recipes at every turn. It's 564 pages long and I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Enter a recipe for carrot crepes (I know! Carrots in your crepe batter? Why haven't we been sneaking stuff into these puppies all along?). Carrot Crepes Florentine, to be exact, with a simple filling of spinach sauteed with onions and garlic. I used some greens I had in the freezer, and you're welcome to use whatever you want, but the real star was the crepes. So that's all we're going to worry about here. See here for crepe and filling tips.
So, since I was feeling a little granola today, I swapped the all purpose flour called for in the recipe for some spelt flour I had on hand. Worked like a charm. Feel free to just use white flour if that's what you have on hand.

Carrot Crepes
Makes 4 large crepes (enough for 1, or 2 if eating light); ready in 45ish minutes

2 medium carrots
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 cup (scant) spelt flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
  1. First, cook your carrots. Peel and cut them into 1/2 inch segments. Either place them in a pot of water on the stove and simmer 20 minutes, or place them in a microwave-safe bowl with 1/2 cup water, cover in plastic, and cook 8 minutes. When they are tender, drain and run them under cold water. Transfer to a food processor.
  2. For the batter, whisk together milk, egg, and honey in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and nutmeg, if using. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the wet mixture, whisking until smooth. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of batter and add to carrots in processor. Buzz until smooth. Whisk back into remaining batter.
  3. Let batter rest 15 minutes.
  4. Now, heat a large (9- or 10-inch) NONSTICK skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl with 1 tsp oil or coat with spray oil. Whisk batter before using; it should be the consistency of thin pancake batter. If it is too thick, add a TBSP or 2 of water. Scoop about 1/4 cup of batter into the hot pan. Pick up by the handle and swirl so that it is thinly and evenly distributed across the bottom of the pan. Cook 1 minute. Flip, cook 15 seconds more. Remove to a plate and repeat until batter is gone. You can stack them on top of each other--no harm done.
  5. Fill with your choice of delicacies. But enjoy the nice orangey hue while you eat.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

M.Y.O.S.R. -- Make Your Own Spring Rolls!

File this one under "Because You Can." Also, under "Easy to Consume with One Broken Arm," "Fits In Pocket," and "Freshalicious."

One pack of rice papers (dehydrated) from my Asian market costs approximately nothing (actually, you can see the price tag in the photo) and, if the Vietnamese were into things like expiration dates, you might see a date well into the next century stamped right next to "Machine Made!" on the lid. To the left of the shamrock. Naturally.

Actually, spring rolls are a fantastic alternative to the sandwich, which is sooooo yesterday's post (literally). You can stuff them with anything that's finely shredded and moisture free, and they'll last a couple days in the fridge if you can't shovel all six at once. Be sure not to skip the fresh basil leaves here, as they are imperative to the springy taste.

Also, don't get discouraged if your rolling skills take some practice. My first few attempts at spring rolls were loose, chaotic messes. It takes a little finesse to pull as tightly as possible without tearing the paper. You'll probably never get as good as the folks at the take-out restaurant, but you'll love them because they're yours.

Vegetable Spring Rolls with Baked Tempeh and Peanut Dipping Sauce
makes 6 rolls, takes 45 minutes with tempeh, about 15 without

For the Tempeh:
1 8-oz container tempeh
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger, or about 1 tsp dried
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tsp toasted Asian sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seed

For the Spring Rolls:
8-inch round rice papers
1 cup (scant) shredded cabbage, very dry
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 scallions, thinly sliced
12 fresh basil leaves

Peanut Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
  1. For the tempeh: Slice your slab into 10 logs. Mix water, soy, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes together and pour into a small saucepan over medium high heat. Lay tempeh logs in a single layer over the bottom.Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450º. Brush a shallow baking dish with the sesame oil. When all the marinade is absorbed, transfer tempeh slabs into baking dish and sprinkle with half of sesame seeds. Turn and sprinkle with other half. Bake 15 minutes, turn, and bake 15 minutes more. Let cool.

  3. For the rolls: In a large bowl, toss together cabbage, carrot, and scallions.
Make yourself a nice workspace with all your ingredients laid out, a clean dish towel in the middle, and a pie plate or large bowl filled with warm water. Start by submerging your rice paper into the water until pliable, about 10 seconds. Transfer to kitchen towel and blot dry. Plop about 1/3 cup cabbage mixture on the bottom 1/3 of the rice paper round. Top with 1 1/2 tempeh logs and 2 fresh basil leaves.Lift the bottom edge over the filling and fold the two sides in toward the center. Roll as tightly as possible without tearing the paper. Set on a plate, seam side down. You go, girl (or whoever).
Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
pinch cayenne, or a dash of hot sauce
water (3-4 Tbsp)
  • Combine all ingredients except water in food processor and spin until smooth. Add water until a desirable dipping consistency is reached.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Banh mi is just about the sexiest sandwich around right now. New Yorkers are absolutely besotted with it, if the New York Times is to be believed, and as a result, the rest of us must hear about it all. the. time. I've never sampled the real deal myself, but it seems to be an ode to the pig that is resounding in little cult waves across the country.

Fine. Take some French colonial influences--like baguettes, mayonnaise, and pate--to Southeast Asia and slap them together with local tastes like burn-your-face-off peppers, cilantro, and pickled stuff. Add 13 different layers of pork and you're sitting on a gold mine of foodie-hipster street food.

While I'm not going to run out and do extensive research, sampling, and blogging about the 10 best banh mi spots in Boston (which probably don't exist anyway...) I am willing to try the approximation in and old Bon Appetit I was flipping through the other day. One particular article was all about fancying up the meatball. I like meat. In ball-shapes. I also like fancy sometimes. Why not try the Pork Meatball Banh Mi?

Well I'm happy to report that it was go-ood. Really, meatballs in general are a good idea. But meatballs with zesty Asian spicing swimming in hot sriracha mayonnaise and showered in pickled vegetables? That's quite a sandwich.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
serves 2; ready in about an hour

Hot chili mayo
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tsp hot chili sauce; I used sriracha (the rooster)

1/3 lb ground pork
2 Tbsp finely chopped basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp hot chili sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

The Rest
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup grated daikon radish
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
2 small baguettes*, or one large baguette cut into 6-inch lengths
fresh cilantro
  1. Make the mayo: stir all ingredients together and season with salt, if desired. Store covered in the fridge.
  2. Make the veg: stir together carrots, radish, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally, while you are preparing meat.
  3. Make the balls: gently mix all the meatball ingredients together and form into balls. Use about one Tablespoon amount and form 1-inch balls. You should get about 8. In a small skillet heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Saute all the balls at once, turning often, until browned through. Mine took 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  4. Make the sandwich: Slice baguettes in half and pull out excess middle bread, leaving the shell 1/2-inch thick. Spread mayo, then layer plenty of fresh cilantro sprigs, then meatballs. Squeeze out pickled vegetables and sprinkle over. Top with remaining baguette half.
*About the baguette: I brought home a firm, bready baguette from work to use for this sandwich. Not the best choice. The real Vietnamese baguette usually used for banh mi has a combination of wheat and rice flour, giving it a nice, thin crackly crust and a soft interior. When you're looking for bread, the softer the better in this case.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

2 Great Butter-Free Cakes

Before you get all excited, thinking that the term "Butter-Free" in the title suggests there's something healthy on this page, just stop it. Stop it right there.

There are such cakes. They rely on an extravagance of egg whites and patience. They are low in fat, impossibly airy, and perfect sprinkled with some fresh berries on a hot summer day. In fact, given the relentless heat in our un-air conditioned apartment, that kind of cake would probably have hit the spot.

No, these cakes have plenty of fat, but in liquid form. This gives them two advantages: (1) they're just a tad easier to throw together--no creaming or streaming here*; and (2) they are perfect refrigerator cakes. Meaning, if you want a delicious pudding, mousse, whipped cream, custard or other fancy layer in your cake creation, you will have to store it in the fridge. Meaning, you want it to be texturally perfect when it is eaten cold. Meaning, you want a cake with little-to-no butter, which hardens up when chilled.

Enter Mr. Chocolate and Ms. Vanilla. Each of the following recipes will make one 8- or 9-inch cake. Chocolate made its debut as the sis's delicious 30th birthday cake. Vanilla, as this year's Fourth of July flag cake.

*P.S. if you are still using boxed cake mixes because "they're just so convenient," try these recipes. They're just as easy and chemical-free!

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and line your cake pan with parchment paper cut to fit (this is important!).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda, powder, and salt. Add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes. Add egg and beat 2 more minutes. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until tester inserted near center comes out clean.

Easy Vanilla Cake
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and line your cake pan with parchment paper cut to fit (this is important!).
  2. Beat eggs and sugar with electric mixer until slightly thickened, about a minute. Add flour, buttermilk, oil, powder, and vanilla. Beat for one more minute, until well incorporated. Pour into the pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, until tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beet Hummus

Are you seeing this? Are we looking at the same bowl of jewels? Can you look at this picture and not want to jump in and swim around? Maybe in a boat made of pita chips?

Because beets are good for me, because I also happen to like them, and because food is just more fun when it's technicolor, I try to buy them whenever I'm at the market. David has yet to fully jump on the bandwagon, and I don't really blame him. My beet repertoire is limited (I mostly just stick with some version of this guy), and their earthy-sweetness can definitely be an acquired taste. Especially if all you've ever had is slippery mush-balls from a can.
But I'm working on changing that. Recently, while dining at the delicious Sofra cafe in Cambridge, a rubicund little tub shouted at me from their display fridge. "Beet Hummus!" it said. "Beet Hummus?" I thought back. At it.

And then I tried it. And David couldn't stop eating it. "It's like dessert!" he says--for a dippin' dinner which also happened to include hummus and baba ghanoush. (Hey, once you've got the processor out, you might as well make it work.) Weird how beets tow the line between sweet and savory, right? Here's a perfect way to find out for yourself:
Beet Hummus
Makes about a cup, adapted from Simply Recipes

2 large beets (or the equivalent in small beets) roasted*
1 Tbsp sesame tahini paste
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas OPTIONAL

*To roast beets, wrap them in foil and bake for 45 minutes at 375º. Beets are done when a small paring knife slipped into the beet meets almost no resistance. Let cool, unwrap, and peel off skins--they should slip right off. Use the foil wrapper to get some traction. Also, small beets roast faster than large beets, duh, so if you're in a hurry, buy 4 smaller beets instead and shave 15 minutes off the cooking time.
  • To make hummus: combine in food processor. Buzz. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. I did not use chickpeas, but some of the recipes I consulted had them. I think it tasted just delicious without, but you can use them to up the density of the finished product, if you like.

Special Digestive Note: Beets influence the, well, the hue of your bodily out-products. Be forewarned. And unafraid.