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oatmeal made alluring

By on Mar 15, 2014 in breakfast, for one | 0 comments

Oatmeal. What, not tantalizing enough? Nutella. Now I have your attention. You love it, right? Everyone does. I make it from scratch on a regular basis. But one cold winter morning, I had none. And I wanted it. And there was no way I was venturing out into the zero degree morning to get the ingredients to make some. Rummaging about, I decided to make oatmeal, a lovely bit of steel-cut oats I make on a fairly regular basis. Oatmeal, notably, is not nearly as sexy sounding as Nutella. To put it in perspective, my mother refers to my steel-cut oats with the not so flattering moniker of “Colon Blow,” but she means no disrespect to their flavor (or nutritional value.) After years of making them, despite knowing the time it takes to make them, anything less seems like eating lightly seasoned wallpaper paste. As I pulled out the ingredients for the base oats, I clapped eyes on my unsweetened cocoa powder. Bump down a shelf, a few hazelnuts from the last batch of homemade Nutella hanging out in a plastic bag. A quick swivel of the head and bananas came into view. Pre-coffee neurons shook off sleep and began to fire, waking that part of my brain that remembered the main thing that makes unsweetened cocoa powder actual chocolatey goodness is sugar, and OH MY you are going to add brown sugar to that oatmeal! And wait! Nutella is simply cocoa and hazelnuts, a few hazelnuts wouldn’t hurt, so let’s just toast some of those up, and, well, there should probably be fruit, so why not some sliced bananas? And while we’re at it, why not sauté up those bananas in a little butter, get a little of that glorious Maillard effect on them, get them all shiny, releasing the warm tropical flavors from within that might, just might, for one moment, make you forget the frost slowly creeping up the insides of your kitchen window. You see, the beauty of oatmeal is the blank palette it presents to you. It can be as simple as a swath of real maple syrup and a touch of brown sugar. It can be juiced up with finely diced granny smith and a swirl of cinnamon. It can go a touch off path and be laced with dried figs and cardamom. Or, on a cold morning where you crave chocolate but have none at your immediate disposal, you can fake some chocolate hazelnut goodness. Winter isn’t letting go quite yet, and there are some cold mornings ahead, so why not experiment a little with some steel cut oats of your own? Add in some raisins, some craisins, some nuts, some berries, see what you like. A personal favorite is adding fresh blueberries in while it simmers. They explode and turn the whole thing purple. Just one piece of advice: if you are serving this to others, leave the “colon blow” moniker out of the picture. Steel-cut oats: Serves 1 generously, so just multiply up from there: Scant tsp. of unsalted butter 1/3 cup steel-cut oats 1 ¼ c. hot water 1/3 c. milk (I use whole, the flavor and richness is better) 1Tbsp. brown sugar (or more, to your taste) 1 ½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (for the chocolatey option) pinch salt maple syrup (optional) Add-ins to your liking (dried fruit, whole fruit, nuts, spices, etc.) For the banana, I sliced up a whole one into 1/2” slices, ate 1/3 of it, and sautéed up the other 2/3 in a small skillet with a bit more butter. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Toss in the oats and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown a little and you get a lovely nutty smell coming out of them, about 1-2 minutes. Once the oats are smelling all nutty, pour in the hot water, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Go make a pot of coffee. After 15 minutes, pour in the milk, and add in any dried fruit or blueberries, if you are swinging that way today. Cover and cook for ten more minutes. Remove from heat, stir thoroughly, then add in the brown sugar, salt, and a touch of maple syrup (an excellent universal sweetener.) Add in any nuts or spices you like at this point. For one serving it doesn’t take much. A pinch of two of spice, a few nuts. Stir everything up, taste, adjust if you need to, then find a quiet place to sit and eat. And ignore the snow outside. (I occasionally go a little over the top and toast some nuts in a 350 degree oven for five minutes before I add them in, and occasionally melt a tsp. more butter in a small skillet and sauté up fresh fruit before I throw it in. It makes a lovely addition.)...

breathe in the fennel

By on Oct 12, 2013 in dinner, for one, love, quickie, salad, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 0 comments

“Eat your salad.” It is a refrain most of us have been hearing since childhood, and as adults we do (mostly) understand we should probably be eating more vegetables, but in reality, most of us view the act of eating salad as drudgery. Some sad little bowl of pale lettuce with a viscous bottled dressing poured over it, all hoovered down with one eyeball on the main plate, which is all you really care about. That is what most people encounter when they think of salad. This just makes me sad. When I eat a salad, I make it an event, piling mixed greens with exotic sounding names into a bowl the size of my torso, throwing whatever veggies I can get my hands on. Invariably, the cool delicate crunch of a cucumber gets involved. A sliver or twelve of red onion, perhaps briefly pickled in some red wine vinegar. Some sweet little tomatoes. If goat cheese happens to be in my fridge, it will be on my salad. Or blue cheese. Croutons. I insist upon croutons. If I’m really ambitious, I make them myself, chopping up a baguette from the store, letting it dry out overnight then tossing with some melted butter mixed with paprika, salt, maybe some garlic powder, and baking until crispy. Fruity olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grind or two of pepper, a sprinkle of a nice kosher salt, and I am good to go. No need for the eerily red “French” dressing of my youth (which was my favorite, but now I can not stop thinking about what on earth goes into it…) But sometimes, I ponder a giant bowl of lettuce, sigh deeply, and think, “Really? This again?” There is an answer to this vegetable quandary. Get rid of the lettuce. Judith Jones, the remarkable editor for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, wrote a lovely little book called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One”. Yes yes, the joke can be easily made about the depression level of a single person cooking alone, but really, it can be enjoyable. And no one sees you when you manage to drop noodles on your cleavage and scoop them up with your fingers and slurp them down. Not that I have ever experienced that situation before… But I digress. Ms. Jones wrote this book with the idea that you should be able to cook for just one, and cook well. And despite her long relationship with Julia Child, this does not instantly translate into a cookbook filled with 24 step recipes. As fall slowly descends upon Chicago (well, it seems to be waiting somewhere, bathing us in bizarre mid-70s days in October, which of course means it will snow at some point in the next two days,) apples crop up everywhere. And so I decided to try a quick recipe for an apple fennel salad for one, of course tweaking the recipe just a hair for my own good. This involves not a single leaf of lettuce. It is simplicity writ fancy. Bright crisp apple mingles with the cleansing yogic breath of raw fennel, wreathed through with a classic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. And of course in my case, it was whole grain mustard I had made myself (it is October Unprocessed, after all!.) It is a salad without a familiar leafy refrain, yet still crisp and cool, feeling a bit more substantial than a wedge of iceberg lettuce. Give it a whirl. I guarantee it will not be drudgery. Apple Fennel Salad Serves 1-2, depending on your appetite   1 small tart apple 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and reserved 8 walnut halves, roughly broken 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar ½ tsp. mustard (whole grain or Dijon) pinch of salt a grind of black pepper   Core the apple and slice thinly. If you have a mandoline, use it on a very thin setting. Trim the fennel bulb, getting rid of the tough bit at the bottom, and slice thinly (again, using the mandoline if you want). If it is just you and you only want half of this salad now, place half the apple and fennel slices in a container with cold water and refrigerate. Trust me, it’ll hold for a few days.   In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Arrange the apple and fennel slices in a bowl, and yes, you should make it fancy just for you, because you deserve it. Drizzle the dressing over it. Mince a few of the fennel fronds and scatter over the whole. Toss the walnuts on. Sit down, breathe deeply, and...

springy spinach awakening

By on Apr 7, 2013 in dinner, experimenting, for one, love, vegetarian | 0 comments

  It is unclear to me how January 1st became some marker for a brand new year, particularly living here in the Midwest. All those resolutions, made giddily (or ponderously) the night previous, just inebriated enough to not notice the freezing temperatures outside. All these grand plans, fueled by this energy found solely in the idea that the year has flipped from 2012 to 2013. And then in the quite literal cold light of dawn, what you really want to do is curl up under that comforter on the couch with a cup of tea and watch reruns on television. Which is pretty much what you did the day before. You might get roused again around Groundhog’s Day, along with that lying rodent who relies solely on the random chance of sun being in the sky to tell us if we can look forward to a time sans bleak grey skies and naked brown trees. In recent winters with so little pretty blanketing snow, it just seems worse. But now… now… it is April. In the city as I walk along, there are sprigs of green pushing out from the layers of brown detritus that have been slowly decomposing all winter. Crocus are springing free, brazenly waving bright purples and yellows at the weather that still dumps into freezing at night. The tighter unfurled blooms in the middle are a floral middle finger to the cold. They are here. And with that, I say… spring is the time for resolutions, for fresh starts. And so it goes with this blog. It is spring. To put it bluntly, I want this to become something more. When I figure out what the specific definition of “more” is, it’ll be great. But for now I’m just saying “more” as in “more than once a month. The new calendar widget I installed has shamed me. So here it is. The first entry of an increasing deluge, using a brand new interface (that still bears some functionality tweaking). On the subject of spinach, so verdant, green, and full of life. Just ask Popeye. He burst with superpowers every time he sucked down a can of it. Of course, I could never go near a can of it. EW. I just like it fresh. So now the Patsy Cline is playing, the coffee is steaming in a mug next to my keyboard, and here we go. Spinach. Eggs. Two ingredients foreign to no one. I’m sure this could somehow be the opening to Eggs Florentine or some such thing, but this is far, far simpler. I have a lovely little book written by Judith Jones, the editor for the original “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It is called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One.” Some out there might find this a depressing thought, but don’t. Why? Sometimes you find yourself alone. Does this mean you deserve inferior food? To spend the evening meal with a beer and a bag of potato chips, noisily sucking the excess salt off your fingers, bemoaning the state of your solo moment? Absolutely not. Unless you really want that beer and potato chips. This cookbook kicked off a wave of inspiration and variations on things I could cook for me, toute seule. Simple things that felt fancy and complicated, deserving of a placemat. Enter the baked egg. I had never in my life encountered a baked egg. Having now eaten many, I feel a bit cheated. There is an absolute perfect smooth texture, the yolk elevated to the status of culinary velvet, that feels completely luxurious. From an egg. A standard egg. I could always bake an egg on its own and eat it, but that doesn’t seem a full proper meal, or any basis for experimentation. So I decided to bake the egg on a bed of spinach. Fresh spinach, cooked down into a brilliant green mass, ready to impart its green goodness. The first time I did this, I was merry, triumphantly smug in cooking down and devouring an entire bunch of spinach all by myself. How self-righteously healthy! Except for that part where about a quarter of the way in the inside of my mouth began to feel like a chalk mine. If there are chalk mines. It felt dry and tacky while eating juicy greens. What the hell? I engaged my nerd glasses (which happen to be my normal ones) and discovered that spinach has this element to it known as oxalic acid, and that particular acid is what makes solo spinach taste as if you have ground some fine sidewalk chalk into your dish. But of course, there are ways to alleviate the dry ways of this sly little acid. Lemon. Or bacon. Oh yes, that fetishized ingredient of the moment, it had more than a cosmetic purpose. On the day I discovered this, it was in one of those endless long streaks of grey that plagued Chicago this year. I wanted that comforter on the couch. Lemon just seemed like it would mock me with promises of sunshine. So of course I went with bacon. And cream. And romano cheese. Because dammit, it just needed to happen. The bacon version:   For one dish… a single slice of bacon is cut into small dice and cooked until it has become sizzling crispy red bits of porcine tastiness. They are removed to rest for...

noodling around

By on Dec 16, 2012 in dinner, experimenting, for one, love, vegetarian | 0 comments

It has been a while, hasn’t it? I was reminded of this by a few friends the other day over beer, who encouraged me to get at it again, and where the hell have I been? Many, many months ago, I embarked upon a freelance job that involved the election in November. Slowly, slowly, I watched the summer slip away while I remained indoors parked in front of dual 24″ monitors, the unnatural blue glow helping me to maintain the look of a pale fish in the middle of a summer of record heat. As a part of my increasingly vampiric existence, food became something scooped out of tin foil pans and shoveled in mindlessly with plastic forks. My favorite season wherein I could giddily run around a farmer’s market and buy obscene amounts of fresh veggies, and I was spending it eating scads of starchy takeout, because even my staunch home-cooked-dear-sweet-christmas-not-out-of-a-box food ethos was no match for marathon hours and never-ending days. On one of the days off somewhere in August, I attempted to make a pot of rice, and as it turns out I was so far gone from having normal human skills, I could not even do that simple task. So I began to take up a weekly roost at a local bar on my one free day where I could at least slowly drink a couple glasses of magnificent beer and quietly suck down one of their delicious ham sandwiches. But then… it ended. Time began to realign itself into sensible chunks. Having become accustomed to takeout, I kept on in that vein for a while, unable to break the chain. And then, one day, I had an urge. It involved vegetables. Fresh ones. And noodles. A simple pile of things I could cook myself and pile steaming into a single ceramic bowl and eat with a fork made of metal, things I would actually wash later. It’s a simple thing I had concocted a while ago, something that doesn’t have a formal recipe, but just involves a lot of zen slicing. Udon noodles boiling in a pot with a strip of kombu. Then there is ginger, red peppers, shitake mushrooms, onions, jalapenos, snow peas, bok choi, garlic, anything I could get my hands on, sauteed up in whatever order I saw fit in some peanut oil, just until the veggies cooked, glistening brilliantly and bursting with their own flavors, then tossed with the cooked noodles and soy sauce and tossed into a bowl. This is no fancy presentation, no refined recipe, just… veggies and udon noodles, piled unprettily in a bowl. It was delicious. And slowly, bit by bit, I inched back into my kitchen. There are veggies to saute, meat to sear, and dough to knead. And of course, a few blog posts to photograph and write. Until the next...

after the rush

By on Oct 18, 2011 in dinner, experimenting, for one | 0 comments

It had been a couple of weeks since the vegetables had been addressed. Many of them, having seen the colorful forms of mold forgotten polenta could achieve in the dark depths of a neglected refrigerator, simply fell into compost-ready oblivion. But the peppers were blessedly still there, gleaming red and gold. Before there was any chance to protest, they were roasted, the blistering skin emitting a scent not unlike freshly fallen leaves. A perfect fall dish, but what else had survived that could accompany it? There, a red onion had escaped the fate of so many other neglected vegetables. A shallot, too! The spicy alliums were wedged and set to cook, long and slow, in a luxurious bath of fruity olive oil. Potatoes, ever the survivor of the most brutal refrigerator disaster, were scrubbed up, fresh skins almost glowing. They were quickly diced, tossed with more olive oil and a hit of salt and pepper, and slid into a hot oven. The roasted peppers were gently relieved of their dark blistering skins, revealing a sweet slippery flesh close to velvet. They were roughly sliced and added to the pot where the onions and shallots now lay, glistening and translucent. A few capers, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper were thrown on top, and everything swirled together, followed by a turn in the oven so the silky smooth vegetables could have time to get to know one another, to let their flavors mingle deeply. The simple honest dry saltiness of the potatoes played nicely with the impossibly smooth and juicy sweetness of the peppers. The onions faded back into the background, a hint of earth in this burst of sunshine released in hot sugar form. A single piece of potato was dropped to the ground in remembrance of all the vegetables that had gone before in this most recent round of refrigerator neglect. May it never happen again. Save the Vegetables (i.e. a recipe entirely based on what survived three crazy weeks of freelance)   Root through your neglected refrigerator, bemoaning the waste you created with all those vegetables bought just before an onslaught of work. Vow to never do it again. Again. Cook something, anything, with everything you have left, making it work for the memory of all the others who have gone before.   You will want to roast the peppers first, then preheat the oven. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil a baking sheet   6 small potatoes, preferably of a variety like Yukon Gold, scrubbed and diced small olive oil salt and pepper   In a bowl, tossed together the potatoes, salt, pepper, and a generous pour of olive oil. Spread onto the prepared baking sheet, keeping it in a single layer. Throw into the oven. Bake until done (about 35-40 minutes, depending on size of dice and character of potato).   6 bell peppers, red and yellow (farmer’s markets are great for this, because otherwise they cost a fortune in the grocery store) 1 red onion, peeled and wedged 1-2 shallots, peeled and wedged a luxurious pour of olive oil about a tsp. of capers salt and pepper   Roast the peppers. I like to seed them first and set them on an oiled pan under the broiler until they turn black and bubbly, then throw them in a large bowl and cover with a plate so they can steam for a good ten minutes. With a round this large, I did them in shifts. While they are steaming… In a large pot or dutch oven, pour in a generous hit of olive oil. Warm the oil over low heat. Add the onions and shallots and cook over low heat until they become soft and translucent.   After about ten minutes, using only your fingers (or a paper towel, if you must) remove as much as you can of the skins, which should slide off at this point. DO NOT rinse under water, it really takes the flavor away. I have never managed to get all the skin off, something always sticks. Slice thickly lengthwise. Throw into the pot with the onions and shallots. Once all the peppers have been added, add in the capers and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and slide into the oven with the potatoes and cook for at least 20 minutes.   Eat slowly with a glass of wine, and vow to make more time to...

polenta redux

By on Oct 2, 2011 in dinner, for one, love | 0 comments

It was a Tuesday with a solo diner. It would be all to easy to heat up a bowl of canned soup, pour it into a bowl, and squash into the couch, mindlessly slurping while watching reruns of shows already seen and deemed not that great. But why? Even the solo diner deserves the respect of a little plating. On the bottom shelf of the refrigerator lies a beautiful chilled dish of polenta, the leftovers of the evening previous. A few mushrooms still roost in a paper bag, a shallot with dirt from the field still clinging to it sleeps quietly amongst the onions and potatoes in the bottom-most drawer. And in the door sits a half-drunk bottle of white wine, singing of its quiet bubbles. A few triangles of polenta are cut out, lightly bathed in olive oil, and stuck under a low broiler, where the flickering blue flames warm the slices and crisp the top. The shallot is swiftly peeled and wedged and tossed into a skillet with more olive oil, the mushrooms washed and cut into carefree thick slices which soon join the softening shallot. A sprinkling of salt and a grind of pepper go over all, and the weary cook lazily stirs with one hand while the mushrooms slowly brown, drinks a glass of wine with the other, and contemplates absolutely nothing. Before the glass of wine is even drained, everything is done. The faintly sizzling polenta squares emerge from the broiler, their color deepened a few notches with warm brown beauty marks adorning them. They get stacked in a neat pinwheel on the plate. A quick splash of wine gets added to the mushrooms and shallot, a quick blast of heat to cook it down a hair, and the fungal mix is scooped over the center of the polenta pinwheel, the excess tumbling down the sides. A few grates of parmesan, a twist of black pepper, another fresh pour of white wine into the glass, and dinner is served. Tuesday night is a very good night indeed....