Saturday, February 1, 2014
As I've mentioned before, I love the throw-together dinners. They're way better than the ones that I plan for days and make special grocery runs for. My best creations are usually conceived on nights when a grocery run has been overlooked and I need to make dinner with leftover ingredients from planned-dinners and whatever I can find hidden in cupboards and the far reaches of the fridge. Again, for someone basically spontaneous-less in life, flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants in the kitchen always seems to work out beautifully.
And sometimes, when throwing together a dinner, you get an absolutely fabulous idea in your head, but then you try to execute it and you mess something up in the middle and you have to be at work in a half hour, so you have to completely abandon your original idea and come up with an alternative on the spot. It's like a Top Chef quickfire except you've got ten minutes instead of a half hour and if you fail you don't get dinner. And sometimes, those quickfire dinners are dishes that you would have never created otherwise, and which are way better than the seemingly "absolutely fabulous" idea you started out with.
And so, I present to you, my latest quickfire dinner: Thai-peanut-baked-sweet-potato-mash (I'll come up with a better name at some point...) I mean, you could have it as a side-dish, but it way better as your whole dinner. Slice some avocado on top and drink a glass of a big Cab, and bam! That's your dinner right there, baby.
makes four very generous servings
3 large sweet potatoes
2 heaping tbs peanut butter (I used Earth Balance creamy coconut-peanut butter)
3 scallions, chopped (plus a little extra for garnish)
1 small red onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fresh grated ginger
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbs Thai chili sauce
red pepper flakes
+ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
+ Using a fork or pairing knife, poke the potatoes all over (take out all your angst/anger/frustration from the day/week/year on those potatoes, it's cathartic and will help the potatoes cook faster). Wrap each potato in tin foil individually and place on a baking sheet. Bake for an hour or until the potatoes are tender.
+ While the potatoes are cooking, combine peanut butter, scallions, onions, garlic, ginger, soy, and chili sauce in a large bowl. Give it a quick mix, just to combine.
+ When the potatoes are finished cooking, allow them to cool for a few minutes, just until you're able to handle them without burning your fingers. Cut each potato in half, then remove the skins (they should peel off very easily, but if they're a little tougher, use a spoon to scrape them off). Then cut the halves into big chunks and add to the bowl with the peanut mixture.
+ Combine the potatoes with the peanut mixture using a potato masher until gently mashed and well combined (I liked leaving some nice bite-sized chunks of potato, but you can make it as mashed or un-mashed as you'd like). Add the sriracha to taste.
+ Transfer potatoes to a medium baking dish. Put under the broiler until the peaks of the potatoes begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
+ Serve warm right from the oven, garnished with scallions and red pepper flakes for added heat.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I looked for a carrot-banana bread recipe (I may have been in an experimental mood, but I wasn't insane), but couldn't find one - well, at least one that wasn't a cake. I decided to use a zucchini-banana bread recipe, tweak it to my liking, and then pray it'd come out as good as it was in my head. And, not to brag or anything, but it was even better. It wasn't a particularly sweet bread, but the dried fruit was a great balance, giving it just the right amount of sugar. At the last minute before baking, I decided to crush some raw almonds, mix them with a little cinnamon and brown sugar, and sprinkle them on top. Let me tell you, best spontaneous baking decision I've ever made - it made the top super crunchy, which was a nice pairing with the soft, fluffy base. I think this may just become my new go-to snow day baking recipe.
makes 2 loaves
3 cups AP flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
just shy 2 cups sugar
1 tbs honey
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1½ cups carrots, shredded
2 cups dried fruit, chopped (I used a mix of golden raisins, cranberries, figs, dates, and apricots)
¼ cups raw almonds, chopped
2 tbs brown sugar
+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.
+ In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
+ In another bowl, whisk the eggs until broken. Add the sugar and honey and whisk until smooth and creamy. Add the bananas and stir until combined.
+ Combine half the dry ingredients with the wet. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. Add the rest of the dry and mix, but stop while there's still flour and its a little clumpy. Add the carrot and dried fruit, then fold until just combined.
+ Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick can be removed cleanly from the middle of the breads. (Note: I baked the loaves on the same rack, one in the back and one up front, then halfway through the baking, spun the pans and switched their positions to ensure even baking.)
+ Allow the breads to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely...well, not completely. Let it cool for like five minutes, then cut that baby open while its still steaming, smear a little bit of butter on top, let it melt into the soft, fluffy insides and then enjoy this delicious snow day loveliness with big cup of coffee.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Now normally when I ask my mother what she wants for dinner, she gets frustrated. Mainly because I ask her everyday. Usually more than once. And usually before 10 AM. But this time it was Beth who called me for the dinner-prep chat. Before I could get done saying hello, she cut me off with "I want that African stew tonight." I had stumbled across a recipe for a West African peanut stew a few weeks ago and immediately showed it to Beth - not only does she love stew and all things peanutty, but she has a very strong attachment to Africa. About ten years ago, she had her first of many trips to Africa - participating in a walk for the Elizabeth Glazier Pediatric AIDS Foundation in South Africa. I think she really fell in love with the country, especially the people that she met. She couldn't stop talking about it. I'd leave her alone for five minutes in the grocery store and next thing I know she's turned to the bag boy going, "Well, when I was in Africa..." (a decade later and we still tease her relentlessly about it). So, on a foggy, rainy birthday-week night, this stew seemed like the most perfect thing to have for dinner.
Beth's Birthday Stew
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tbs ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup unsalted, smooth peanut butter
½ cup tomato paste
6 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch collard greens, chopped
salt & pepper
+ In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stir so that they are evenly covered with oil. Salt generously and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent, add the ginger and garlic. Add a little bit of stock - this not only deglazes the pot and prevents burning, but it helps to create a nice base for the stew. Once the onions are caramelized and the mixture is nice and thick, add the rest of the stock. Turn the heat up and bring to a low boil.
+ While the onions are cooking down, combine peanut butter and tomato paste in a large bowl. Add a couple ladles-full of hot stock from the pot into the bowl. Stir until smooth, adding more hot stock if necessary.
+ Turn the heat to low, then add the peanut-tomato mixture to the pot, stirring until well combined. Add the collards, cooking until the greens are wilted, stirring occasionally. Salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste - but let's be honest, the more spice the better.
+ Serve to the birthday girl warm and garnished with peanuts in a orange clay bowl. Pour over brown rice or slop it up with a big hunk of crusty bread or both.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
|Quintessential Christmas Market.|
The market night that sticks out most in my mind is the one spent in Dusseldorf. It was my first market, my first mug of gluhwein, and my first taste of traditional German fare. I wasn't familiar with much of the food being sold in the stalls (flammkuchen: essentially a German version of a flatbread pizza) or with their foreign names (heisse maronen: hot chestnuts), but there was one food that I was very familiar with - kartoffelpuffer.
|Me in my bier maiden get-up.|
Every October we have a big Oktoberfest weekend-long celebration at the restaurant where I work; our brewers make huge batches of Pilsner and our signature Oktoberfest; the staff dresses up like idiots in "traditional" German garb (see photo); and the chefs re-do the menu with entirely German flair - we had a giant slab of wood piled high with various wursts, spatzel, sauerkraut, and, my personal favorite, the potato pancake, the kartoffelpuffer...mainly because its was so much fun to say. Kar-toof-el-poof-er. Whenever a table asked me what was good or what they should order, I would blurt out "kartoffelpuffer!" (lots of times before they could even finish asking me). So, you can imagine my excitement when, walking through the Christmas Market, feeling slightly overwhelmed with all the foreign signs and people and smells, I caught sight of the first familiar thing I'd seen all day. I may have grabbed my friend Jessica's arm, pointed and yelled "kartoffelpuffer!" causing concern in Jess and all the other market-goers. She looked at me sideways as I said it again, a little quieter this time, "kar-toof-el-poof-er!" "You mean kar-tofe-el-po-fer?" Yes, I had been pronouncing it incorrectly the whole time, but the "real" pronunciation is waaaay less fun to say. Needless to say, I dragged Jess over to the stall and made her order us a round of kartoffelpuffers. Traditionally, they're served with applesauce, but we got the inside scoop from the teenage stall-boy who told us that you haven't had a kartoffelpuffer until you've had it with Thai chili sauce. It sounds crazy, but by god its amazing. I've mentioned before the surprisingly overwhelming Asian influence in Germany, but I assumed that it was mostly in the metropolitan, newer parts of the country. I was shocked that such a traditional dish was getting such a modern and strange spin. But I loved it. The salty, crunchy-on-the-outside, melt-in-your-mouth inside of the pancake paired beautifully with the sticky, sweet and wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Add a mug of hot gluhwein and you've got a match made in heaven...or in the Dusseldorf Christmas Market.
Yesterday, after my first day back to work after the holidays, the void seemed bigger than ever. Stumbling aimlessly around the internet, I inadvertently happened upon a recipe for a potato waffle, and I knew that's what I needed, what might aid in dulling the ache in my chest. I'm not huge on fried foods and even more so on frying at home (the hot oil always spits all over, which always makes a mess of the stove and burns me at least ten times), so the waffle was the perfect way to get the kartoffelpuffer crunchy, yet soft consistency without having to fry. I even made a special stop at the grocery store for Thai chili sauce. And topped it with a poached egg, cause, I mean, why not? And, oh, it was so good. I mean, definitely not as good as having them made right in front of you, then eating them on the bar on the side of the stall in the middle of the market in Dusseldorf, but on a freezing, post-holiday night, its the best way to fill the little hole in your heart.
Potato Waffle - adapted from Joy the Baker
4 tbs butter
¼ cup buttermilk
2 cups mashed potatoes
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp curry powder
Thai chili sauce
salt and pepper
+ In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Cook until the butter crackles and begins to brown. Immediately transfer browned butter into a large bowl. Whisk in buttermilk and eggs until well combined. Mix in mashed potatoes.
+ In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and curry. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
+ Heat waffle iron and grease well to prevent sticking. Drop about a ¼ cup of batter into the middle of the iron. Cook until brown and crispy on the outside. Remove from iron carefully (they're super delicate!) and place on cooling rack to prevent the bottoms from getting soggy.
+ To serve, drizzle with Thai chili sauce and top with poached egg. Best consumed standing out in the cold with hot mug of gluhwein.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
It all started on a chilly Sunday this past November. It seemed as though the Indian summer had finally run its course, and it was just starting to truly feel like autumn - the perfect day to take a long drive, look at the changing leaves, and hit up a winery (while I may not be religious, my father and I religiously stop at one of the many wineries in the area for our traditional Sunday tasting. And yes, the employees of such establishments may be on a first name basis with us, though they have yet to waive the tasting fee *cough cough*). These drives, while not completely aimless, tend to be meandering, allowing for a bit of discovery, spontaneity, and the unexpected. On this particular day, we stumbled upon a barn sale. What we thought was going to be yard sale-esque ended up being a local artist selling his found-art work in a barn (complete with a dozen scruffy, scrappy cats and a couple of old sheep) - sculptures made from bits of barn wood, antique toys and old farm equipment; intricate paintings made on scraps of metal that were lying around the barn; wood carvings from his days as a shop teacher...but I digress. The best part (and the reason I'm telling you all this) was the chestnuts. Yes, the chestnuts. So, as I'm walking around this old farm, looking at all this incredible art, the wrinkled, greying farmer/artist, comes and stands next to me, and without any prompt or explanation, pulls his hand out of his pocket, holds it out to me and says, "Chestnut?" Now, normally I'm a bit wary of anything that comes out of a strange man's pockets, but something in me said that yes, yes I really did want a chestnut. It was still warm from the fire and his pockets, cracked open easily between my numb fingers to reveal the delicate, fleshy meat within, which melted like buttah in my mouth...After that I may or may not have spent the rest of our time there hopefully trailing the poor man, waiting for him to offer me another chestnut. Which he did. Until his pockets were empty.
|Barn. Art. & Roasting Chestnuts.|
|Awkwardly happy about chestnuts.|
I hadn't realized the possibility and versatility of this beautiful little nut past roasting until last week when I stumbled upon a Mark Bittman recipe for a chestnut soup. Not only did it include chestnuts and was created by Bittman (the Minimalist, the Flexitarian, the Vegan Before 6), but it was vegan. How could I not make it? And what better night for soup than tonight, so bitterly cold with the super storm Hercules pounding down on us; with fat, fluffy flakes drifting softly past my window; with snow accumulating faster than the plows can keep up with? Exactly. And it was. It was perfect. And as we speak (or I write and you read later), my mind is currently working on a way to incorporate chestnuts into a snow day breakfast...I'm thinking chestnut-banana-date smoothie, but I'll keep you updated...
A few little notes before I get to the recipe. De-shelling the roasted chestnuts is a labor intensive process. Its not difficult, it just takes a little time and effort. Though here's one trick I discovered tonight that makes the whole thing much easier - place the nut on a cutting board, then place a flat plate or another cutting board on top of it and then press down until it cracks (much like what you do with a knife to peel garlic). If you're short on time or just don't want to have to roast your own, they do sell packages or pre-cooked, pre-shelled chestnuts that are actually really very good - though you lose the way the roasting flavors your house and your soup. Oh, and I garnished my soup with some chopped-up chestnuts tossed in ground thyme. I liked the texture of the chestnuts in the creamy soup and I'm also mildly obsessed with thyme so it seemed appropriate (thyme tastes like coziness and warmth and I use any and every excuse to use it my dishes all winter long).
Vegan Roasted Chestnut Soup - adapted from Mark Bittman
10 large chestnuts
2 tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
4 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut. Roast in an open pan for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the shell begins to open away from the meat. Remove the outer and inner skins from the chestnuts while still warm.
+ Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and a good amount of salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and chestnuts (reserve a whole or partial chestnut for garnish if so desired), bring to a boil and cover partially. Reduce heat and simmer until the chestnuts are mushy, about 30 minutes.
+ Puree the soup with a stick blender. Continue to cook until desired thickness is reached. Season to taste.
+ Serve steaming hot in big bowls on a cold, snowy night. Top with chopped chestnut and a little dash of thyme, and pair with a deep, round glass of Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon.
Monday, December 30, 2013
|Me and Jessie pre-German Korean Thanksgiving.|
Fortunately, I didn't have to forgo the holiday at all. This year I had three, yes three, Thanksgiving dinners. Albeit they were all terribly unconventional, delicious dinners spent with strange, but friendly and welcoming faces. The first was the night I arrived in Dortmund (a week before the actual holiday), hosted by another teacher at Jessie's school, a German who spent time in America over a decade ago, fell in love with the Thanksgiving tradition, and hosts the dinner every year to show her appreciation for her family and friends. Our host's "American Thanksgiving" staples were meatloaf and a roasted-tomato and fresh corn cornbread that, while non-traditional, was probably the best cornbread I've ever had. Jessie and I made a turkey (her first Americans and turkey at her Thanksgiving dinner table), stuffing, Brussels sprouts with chili peppers (my addition to the meal), and fresh-pumpkin pie (which totally freaked all the Germans out. The idea of pumpkin pie completely disgusts them, which was hard to believe, but I didn't mind, because it meant more for me).
|Dinner 1 & 2.|
The second dinner was at Jessie's fiance's parents' house in London. They were worried that we would be missing America terribly during the holiday season (we weren't), so made a huge meal with turkey and gravy, mashed sweet potatoes topped with roasted butternut squash, homemade cranberry sauce with scallions and brandy, pecan pie, and my favorite dish, "roasties" - crispy, crunchy baked potatoes cooked in goose fat reserved from last year's Christmas goose. Goose fat is vegan, right?
My Thanksgiving day dinner this year was shared with Jessica at Namu, a cozy little Korean restaurant on the cobblestone streets of Dortmund, Germany. Stuffing and mashed potatoes were replaced with bowls of bibimbap and udon noodles. One of the most difficult and exciting aspects of the trip was not being able to speak the language (I know, I know, I'm a jerk and an ugly American, and I really should have at least attempted to learn a little conversational German, but being thrown into a foreign country without the ability to communicate gave everything an edge and air of spontaneity and possibility. There's something freeing about it). Not only did this make asking for directions and chatting up the cute guy sitting at the bar next you a struggle, but it made eating out down-right impossible. Thank God I had my fluent friend with me, so she usually took control and ordered for us, or tried her best to translate. However, trying to decipher the Korean menu written in German had us both lost. Thankfully, we had a very nice waitress who set us up with the most traditional dishes - my favorite of which, was a kimchi stew. Kimchi is a combination of veggies fermented using a variety of spices - it sounds scary, but the sour and slightly sweet flavor was something I had never encountered before and its delightful.
|Kimchi stew in the foreground with our ridiculous seafood platter behind.|
|My vegan kimchi stew.|
Vegan Kimchi Stew - from Vedge
2 tbs toasted sesame oil
½ cup diced onions
1 tbs minced garlic
4 cups chopped napa cabbage
8 cups vegetable stock
2 cups vegan kimchi
¼ cup tamari
2 tbs gochujang
2 tsp sugar
½ cup finely chopped scallions, white and light green parts only
1 cup peeled, shredded daikon radish
+ Heat the sesame oil in a large pot over high heat until it ripples. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.
+ Add the cabbage and continue to brown for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
+ Add the stock, kimchi with its juice, tamari, gochujang, and sugar. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.
+ Serve in big bowls, garnished with daikon and scallions.
Note - if you can't find gochujang (because I couldn't), you can mix equal parts curry paste and miso to get the same effect.
Oh, also, I allowed the stew to simmer for about an hour, since I find that the flavors develop more the longer you stew a stew. I might have liked to even cook it down more to thicken it up. Though I do have very high hopes for tomorrows leftovers, since a night in the fridge seems to have the same effect as hours simmering on the stove.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
One year. One whole year. To the goddamn day.
The unexpected and unplanned twelve month hiatus from blogging has proved to be terribly enlightening. This past year has exposed me to new, exciting, and mainly uncomfortable and anxiet-inducing experiences, that have sparked personal growth and change, which has spilled over into my cooking. I started working as a server at brewpub, a job which requires you to be social and interact with strangers, putting a fairly substantial crack in the shell of social anxiety I had been retreating into. It also revealed the back of house world and gave me the opportunity to learn from real chefs...mainly by skulking around the kitchen and bugging them about how certain things were made.
On top of working a full-time job, I also became primary cook at home. Instead of making the occasional elaborate dinner with homemade pastas and port-wine reductions, my dishes became simpler and more efficient time and money wise, but I still strove to keep them healthy, fresh, and full of flavor. I got to the point where when I ate something at a restaurant or saw a recipe or technique used on one of the many cooking reality shows I watch regularly, I could take it, put a little spin on it or tweak it in a way that I could use it in my weeknight dinners. I'm always looking for something in others' food that will spark the excitement in me, which I then translate into creation and experimentation tested on the very brave and willing members of my family. Even though I wasn't writing about my food this year, I became a bit of an Instagram-whore, posting pictures of almost every dinner plate and breakfast smoothie. While the amount of photos might be on the verge of obnoxious, it helped me hone my food photography skills, especially in terms of plating - I can thank the chefs at my restaurant for that, too. My family has even become experts, knowing which plates look best with which foods and that they can't start eating until I'm sure I got the best picture with the best plate.
This year, much of my inspiration came from travel. In May, I was in New Orleans with my family and a few weeks ago spent two weeks in Germany and a little bit of that time in London - the latter trip was personally incredibly challenging, but an experience that I wouldn't do any differently looking back. Both trips were spent mainly eating and drinking, taking in the flavors and soul of the respective cultures (I ate blood sausage in both Germany and London, something that honestly freaked me out and thought I would never ever try, but I did and it turned out to be ridiculously delicious, though it probably won't become a regular dish on my table). My food-spiration came from some pretty surprising places, like being exposed to the best Asian food I've ever encountered in a small Korean restaurant in Dortmund, Germany on Thanksgiving Day. When I got home from that trip, I told my family I was going to make them a dish that embodied my time spent there, and then served them a big bowl of miso soup with udon noodles, they were quite confused.
My year off provided me quite a bit of time for self-reflection, in which I realized that cooking is something I want to do. All the time. I need cooking and food in my life in some capacity, and at what capacity that'll be I still don't know, but I'm not in too much of a rush to figure my life out at this point. But I want to make moves, take a leap, put myself out there, and do something. So here we are. I'm back, dread&butter has gotten a little update, a fresh start. I'm just excited to share my food and to see where it takes me.