Monday, August 18, 2008

oh, life.

I've sure you're sick of reading me say it, but I've been so busy! Work is kicking my ass, there are always a million things to do around the house, a million things to do with family and friends and assorted obligations and responsibilities and the like. In sum, I'm tired and no end is in sight.

But, I have been eating and cooking a little along the way. Some highlights along the way have been...

1. this Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake from (guess where!), Heidi Swanson's blog. Barbara and I, along with the E-dawg, went to dinner at some friends' house last week, and had a lovely evening with lovely food. One friend eats a gluten-free diet, so when I saw this recipe I knew it was the winner. Even those among us that hate goat cheese (I know! Blasphemy!) loved it. My photo of the cheesecake right out of the oven isn't as pretty as Heidi's, but it smelled so good I almost dug in right then.

2. While I was on a zucchini-grating bender for the cheesecake, I decided to play around with making some veggie pancakes with all my zucchini. I grated a few zucchini, drained them (and squeezed more moisture out for good measure) and a couple potatoes. Threw in some minced onion and herbs (dill, parsley, chives and basil), a couple beaten eggs, some freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper and about 1.5 cups of flour. Mixed it all together, and dropped it by heaping spoonfuls into a skillet that was over medium-high heat with some olive oil. I served these with a drizzle of crema, and they were really tasty! And, they were so easy and nice, I have been thinking of all sorts of variations with different vegetable and herb/spice combinations.

3. Roasted Quinoa with Potatoes and Cheese from Mark Bittman's, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He said that boiling and then roasting the quinoa would give it a crispy, nutty texture. Some of it on the edges was, but mostly it was just like quinoa when you just boil it. However, I did take it out halfway to go pick up Barbara (and loosely covered it with foil), and then put it back in the oven, so it definitely was user error. It was pretty and colorful (would've been more colorful if I'd had red bell pepper; I used green), and tasted really good. It was plain-ish, but nice in a stick-to-yer-ribs way. The cheese definitely made this. I just used a straight-up cheddar because my lady doesn't like smoked cheeses. I had some gorgeous baby purple potatoes from the farmers market, some red potatoes and a Hungarian hot wax pepper from my CSA, so I used all those.

Roasted quinoa with potatoes and cheese (from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
(4-6 servings)


1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb small waxy potatoes, like fingerling, new red, or Peruvian purple, peeled if you like, and cut lengthwise into wedges
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 cup of quinoa
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup scallion, sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1-2 tbsp minced fresh chile (like jalapeno or Thai) or add hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
6 oz cheese, preferably smoked like gouda, cheddar, or mozzarella, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup minced parsley for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Grease an 8 x 10 inch roasting pan with a tbsp or so of the olive oil.

2. Put the potato wedges and garlic into a large pot with water to cover, salt it, and turn the heat to high. When the water begins to boil, stir in the quinoa. Adjust the heat so that the water boils assertively and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 5 minutes.

3. Drain the quinoa, garlic, and potatoes in a strainer, but leave them fairly wet. Spread them into the prepared pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and gently toss with a spatula. Spread them out again. Roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Gently toss again, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender on the inside and golden on the outside.

4. Add the scallion, bell pepper, and chile and toss everything one last time. Taste and adjust the seasoning, keeping in mind that the cheese will add some saltiness. Spread the cheese over all and return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


4. Peach ice cream. I'd already made some peach frozen yogurt, but last week we had a great scoop of peach ice cream at Kaya, and had been thinking of it since. So, I made some yesterday with the recipe from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I mean, it tasted good, the texture was nice, but with the sour cream in the recipe it just made it taste tangy like frozen yogurt. I wanted strictly sweet creaminess this time. I LOVE frozen yogurt, and the tanginess is the biggest selling point for me, but I wanted ice cream this time. In fact, I still do. I might have to do another batch this week because I made some delicious blackberry syrup that is crying out for ice cream.

6. Blackberry Soda. As I mentioned, I made some blackberry syrup yesterday. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I got two pints of gorgeous blackberries from the farmers market, and had read some recipe for a fresh blackberry lemonade or cocktail or something a few weeks ago. So, I cooked them down with a little water, some sugar and a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and decided to make a blackberry soda. The syrup tastes fantastic on its own, but then I realized you can't just add that to perrier and expect a miracle. You have to add a lot more sugar to sweeten up mineral water. So I did. It was good. But, next time I'll just use a ginger ale or something. I'm having some friends over for drinks and a game of Foodie Fight on Wednesday. I'm going to make some kind of Blackberry Fizz.

And, after we have drinks and game fun, we're heading to the monthly Vegetarian Dinner at Kaya. The menu looks fab. I can't wait! (and will report back...).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

comfort food

I felt the need for some comfort food last night. I was crampy, cranky and all worned out. And, I'm in the middle of a YA vampire book that I'm currently obsessed with* so I don't really have time for time-consuming cooking.

I have the book How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman out of the library. (And, have How To Cook Everything Vegetarian on request). This is one of those books that I'm going to hate to return to the library, and probably going to convince myself before long that I need to actually own. I will justify it by stating indignantly to myself (and maybe to Barbara), "I mean, what well-stocked kitchen doesn't have a Bittman cookbook on the shelf? I mean, really!". Nevermind that the answer is, I'm sure: plenty. But, still. Baby gets what baby wants, right? Uh...

Anyhow, last night I needed to comfort food, and I remembered this recipe I'd paged past in the book where Bittman argued that there was no reason to EVER make mac-n-cheese from a box (or any "convenience food") when you could make this recipe in the same amount of time, and have the result be so much more satisfying and delicious. So, I did, and it was. Apart from the time it took to boil the water, it was about ten minutes start to finish. You just boil some salted water for your pasta, and in the meantime, melt 6 T. of butter (I used half unsalted, half salted) in a saucepan, and add 20-30 fresh sage leaves (or the equivalent of dried--I don't remember what that was) and some freshly ground pepper. Cook that over low heat until the butter is lightly browned, and the sage leaves are crispy and fragrant. Grate about 1 c. of parmesan cheese. When the pasta is done, drain (I used penne), reserving 2-3 T. of cooking water, and add it to your warmed serving bowl. Toss the pasta with the butter, sage and half the parmesan. Pass the rest of the cheese for serving. Enjoy!

It was SO good, so simple, and so perfectly what I wanted.

*Seriously. I went with some coworkers (who led me into this obsession) to Barnes and Noble at the Waterfront at 11pm on Friday night for the book release party. It was us, a few other adult nerdladies, and about three hundred tween/teen girls (and about five boys). We made t-shirts. We got tweens to help us with the trivia contests. We raced home with our books and read them into the night. I'm on page 607 (of 753) now. I can't wait to read the rest. And actually, the writing's not even that great. It's often painfully cheesy. But, I still can't stop reading. One of my co-workers (and the genesis of the workplace frenzy over these books) pointed out that the writing isn't really good, but the storytelling is. I think that's the key. Plus, I just like fantastical books. Especially about vampires. Because I'm a nerd. So?

Monday, August 4, 2008

more summery goodness

Last week a co-worker got to talk to Lynne Rosetto Caspar! He'd called in with a question, left a message, and then got a call back with a time to call in and speak to Lynne herself, to possibly be aired on The Splendid Table. So cool! He suggested I call in about my mint conundrum/fascination. Speaking of, I asked a farmer from Goose Creek Gardens (a local herb farm) at the Firehouse Farmers Market (where he was selling spearmint, peppermint and chocolate mint--and who'd supplied the spearmint in my CSA last week). He said that spearmint was his default, and he felt like it just went better with most things. So, the debate continues...

And, speaking of the Firehouse Farmers Market, I got some delicious stuff this week in the Strip:
-Next Life Farms: poona kheera cucumbers, a mix of baby tomatoes, a bunch of red and purple (I think Cherokee Purples?) tomatoes
-Blackberry Meadows: a big basket of white (?) potatoes with this odd peel-y skin (pretty starchy and really tasty, yellow-y flesh), a bunch of parsley, a bunch of Thai basil
-Goose Creek Gardens: some little greens that I was really excited about, and now can't remember what they are for the life of me
-Mushrooms For Life: chanterelles
-Najat's Cuisine: the best hummus EVER
-Puckerbrush Farms: some really fantastically sweet bread and butter corn and a small bag of fresh figs

And, not at the market, but also in the Strip:
-those unbelievable flour tortillas from Reyna
-some Cheddar-Onion bread still hot from the oven from Sunseri
-yummy coffee from 21st Street Coffee

In a word: Mmm.

So, beyond just hunks of bread, and thick slices of tomato, I did a little cooking this weekend. More from the vein of my summer cooking style--don't mess with it too much because it's hot in the kitchen and already pretty perfect the way it is.

D'oh, that dinner got rabbit ears!


That dinner is potato taquitos--based on the Mad Mex version that I constantly crave, tomato salad, cucumbers with dill, Mexican street corn (Ellen calls this "goopy corn"), and carrots with a honey-dijon glaze. Fresh peach frozen yogurt with blueberries for dessert. And mint iced tea (spearmint, fyi).

The peach frozen yogurt is SO easy, and it's a peach party around here right now! To make yourself some...

4-5 ripe peaches
1 32oz container of your favorite organic plain whole-milk yogurt
about 1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Puree in a blender or food processor most of the peaches (save a couple for the end so you'll have some chunks) with all the rest of the ingredients. When the mixture is well blended and the sugar is dissolved, add in the last 1-2 peaches and puree for just a few seconds so you have some fruit chunks. If it's already well chilled, put it right into your ice cream maker, and follow your manufacturer's directions. (mine takes about 20 minutes!). If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can follow David Lebovitz's instructions here.

Wow. I was just looking around this site, and this recipe jumped out at me. Dang. (E-dawg--this sounds like one for you, too). Barbara got me his book (along with my fantastic ice cream maker--mine actually came with two freezer canisters. so awesome) for my birthday. It's so amazing. I need to make some ice creams--I've been fixated on frozen yogurt for months, but ice cream's good, too, right? I need to make this SOON.

Oh, and the corn that I mentioned above--in the style of Mexican Street Corn? I think I've mentioned this before (recently), because I'm obsessed with making corn this way, but here's what you do:

Boil some water (I put in a bit of salt and sugar in the water; I'm not sure why), and cook the shucked corn for about 5 minutes in boiling water. Remove it, and slather on some crema (Mexican sour cream. You can find it locally at Reyna--make sure to get the sour, not the sweet, kind), crumble or grate some cojita cheese (again, you can find this at Reyna--2031 Penn Ave in the Strip; don't forget to get some of their housemade tortillas while you're there), sprinkle with some kind of chili powder or cayenne (I've been using a chipotle chili powder), and serve it with wedges of fresh lime. Give it a squirt, and eat it up until you're too full to move. Such a wonderful flavor--the sweet corn, the sour, creamy crema, the saltiness of the cheese, and the bite of the lime. Perfection.

I had some great goopy corn at Kaya last week, too. The corn was roasted, and given a generation slather of chipotle aioli, sprinkled with Idiazabal cheese and served with lime. I'm going to (finally!) check out the Vegetarian Dinner at Kaya this month on the 20th. The menu has me drooling already.