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it’s not a spring renewal, it’s a summer one

By on Jun 23, 2014 in cooking, love, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

It has been a while, has it not? Asparagus season is swiftly passing, and with it my urge to channel the Spargelfrau of Germany and prance merrily amongst the green stalks. Strawberries with all their intoxicating floral scent have arrived, leaving me with faintly stained fingertips and a culinary endorphin rush. Farmer’s market tables, being slightly delayed this year from the long winter, are suddenly exploding, tables heavily laden with a chorus of greens, oranges, and reds, every table calling out to the person hungry for fresh vegetables after the long winter. And where have I been, you might ask? Working. Working. And then working some more. But with this begins a renewed effort to maintain a regular round of postings, both of my own devising, and visiting folks who make such delicious things as, well, beer. Because beer is always in season.   I have been thinking of you, dear readers, these past mute months. I have made things, eaten them, consumed them. I have occasionally photographed them, and then more often than not, I have just plow through the cooking so I could get to the good stuff and be done with it so I could eat and get back to work, work, and more work. And so I present to you a recipe not of my own devising at all (but of course I modified it to my own tastes.) A recipe that transcends seasons, as it can be a comfort and remarkably hearty in the cold, as well as lighter and filling without weighing down the gut in the warmer months we are now so blissfully sailing through. And it is… lentil salad. I know, I know, the idea of lentil salad for some brings forth some horrific affair of muted brown colors and the bland vegetarian fare of the 70s-era variety. Or at least, it did for me. The last time I encountered a lentil salad it involved a well-meaning effort from an ex-boyfriend’s father who wanted to welcome me into their home and was accommodating his daughter’s vegetarian ways. Which to him meant lentils. And it was a pile of mushy brown lentils topped with some vinegar and oil. There might have been a scrap of carrot.   But did you know that there are many, many types of lentils? And they really don’t need to be mushy at all? Brown and green, the type we mostly know, the type I like to use in a nice pilaf. Red, which fall apart beautifully in soups. And the now more readily available ones with enticing, sexy sounding names like “French green” and “Beluga”, smaller, more saturated with color, glistening, more toothsome than the more standard fare. This recipe originated from one of my favorite sites, the Kitchn. I scanned the recipe, looking for something that I could make easily that I could then pack every day for lunch. And something vegetarian, as I have a weird tic and really do not, for the most part, enjoy meat reheated in a microwave, which is all I had available there. I knew I could get French Green lentils fairly easily, but then my eyes lit on the amount of sun-dried tomatoes, and I almost called the whole thing off. They seem to be one of those things you are supposed to like. People seem to ooh and ahh when something involves a scrap or two of these desiccated vermillion bites. Me? I will confess… I really do not like them. Something in the process of drying makes them so cloyingly sweet I think they overwhelm everything in their immediate vicinity. I am convinced that simply placing them next to my coffeepot would cause my delicious brew to be tainted with their syrupy sweet flavor. And in looking at this recipe, in looking at all the other lucscious things therein, I decided that I needed to come to the defense of the warm walnuts, the crisp sweet peppers, the showers of mint and parsley, and I had to chuck the tomatoes.   And it was delicious. There was a lovely balance of sweet and savory, none being too bold or meek, and it had the added lunchbox benefit of being a salad that improved with age. The week I ate it (because believe you me, this recipe made enough to last solo me for a week and not tire of it) the weather yo-yoed between chilly dank and perfect sunny breezes, and somehow this salad bolstered my spirits every single day. The rich earthiness of the lentils felt delightful on the grey days, and the bright tang of the peppers and onions, the fresh hit of mint and parsley spoke of the promise of the warmer days that inevitably really did come.   So try it. Try it using their original recipe, if you are a fan of sun-dried tomatoes, or try taking them out. They have optional cheese involved, and much as I love me some cheese, it didn’t seem right after the tomatoes were gone, and without it was flatout vegan.   And with that, I have a head of lettuce soaking in the sink right now, slowly releasing dirt as it is fresh from the ground. So I can eat the sunshine now here in leafy form. And photograph it. And write it. Because I am back, ready to eat! Colorful Lentil Salad with...

crunchy granola, sans hacky sack

By on Nov 5, 2013 in baking, experimenting, love, snacks, vegetarian | 0 comments

Granola. You know what just popped into your head. You do. I will bet it has nothing to do with cityscapes, suits, ties, evening gowns or limos. I will bet it has something to do with mountain landscapes, flannel shirts, hiking boots, and possibly white boy dreadlocks. And there is good reason. Granola is not sleek, nor is it sophisticated, likely not drunk with a martini while wearing heels. But it is really, really, tasty. Years ago I witnessed Alton Brown whip together granola on his show “Good Eats”. At the time I was an absolute acolyte, worshiping at the Food Network altar, dutifully engaging in the ritual drooling required of all viewers, back when they actually showed you how to cook. There were many, many things done on his show I could not do in a crappy apartment kitchen in Brooklyn (and frankly still can’t now in my tiny Chicago kitchen,) but granola… that I could do. I followed his recipe exactly, and thought it was tasty. I wrote it down, I sent it to other people, I never strayed, fearful that… well I honestly can’t say what I was fearful of. Secret agents employed solely by Alton Brown busting down my door and confiscating my spatulas? A team of granola-sniffing hounds arriving at my door, ratting me out the second they smelled ½ cup of sugar instead of the required ¾ cup? Oats programmed to spontaneously combust if they were not actually stirred exactly every 15 minutes in the oven? On the day I finally broke with the recipe, none of this happened. I didn’t break with it that much. Just a little. And then a little more. And at this point, I do not know if I strayed far or I am only a few tablespoons of oats off. I have made it so many times I can’t remember. And homemade granola is so delicious, so much lighter and full of life that I can’t bring myself to buy even the fancy stuff at Whole Foods. Frankly, after years of making my own, even the “high end” stuff feels like it might break my teeth from the rock hard oaten gravel found within. So of course I had to figure out granola bars. Granola bars proved a little trickier. Recipes abound, and there seems to be no through line. One called for a whopping two sticks of butter, another for piles of goopy corn syrup. I do love butter, but don’t relish the idea of a bar that left my fingers shiny and slick. And I want to avoid corn syrup. The first batch I ever made used granola I had already baked. I am fairly sure you could have used them in light construction projects. The next batch was oatmeal gone horribly, goopily wrong. And then I started to figure things out. A hair less oil. Something other than solid oats to fill it out. 50 degrees less, 25 degrees more, 35 minutes more, 10 minutes less, score them 5 minutes after, 15 minutes after, use an 8×11 pan, use a 9×13 pan, a never ending parade of oaty delights. My colon wept, wondering when the assault would end. And then finally, one day, it all clicked into place, and I found the ratio. Ingredients, times, everything sunk into place, and a crispy bar that held together (until you bit in, then bits of it become a bit graceless, but as per the previous associations, I am fairly sure no one is eating granola in an evening gown,) but did not threaten to carve up the inside of your mouth like a Christmas roast, but not goopy, leaving you with sticky hands you are unwilling to swipe across your smartphone screen. OK, maybe that would have been a nice break, we do spend too much time on those damned things, but I digress. I had it. Granola bars. Ultimately, for all the research and experimentation, it ended up being not far off from the original granola recipe, with a few adjustments to make the whole thing hold together. And it means much like regular granola, I will never buy granola bars again. But I might figure out how to pair one with a martini. Granola bars makes 12 bars, roughly 1 ½”x3” each Dry Ingredients 1 ¾ c. whole rolled oats (I do not use quick-cooking, I use regular) 1 ½ c. puffed rice cereal (no, I do not mean a certain cereal championed by a trio of elves, go look in the natural food aisle. I probably wouldn’t eat this on its own, but it lightens this up a bit) ½ c. pecans (or other nut, if you like, but you don’t have to, this is just what I prefer) ½ c. unsweetened flaked coconut (important: do not substitute sweetened shredded coconut. Find the unsweetened stuff.) 2 Tbsp. flax seed (because it totally makes it healthy. Also totally optional) 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt ¼ c. dark brown sugar ½ c. dark chocolate chips (again, optional, but… it’s dark chocolate, so why would you not want it?) Wet Ingredients scant ¼ c. sunflower or safflower oil (I like these better than canola, as they are light but with a touch of warmth to them, but you can use canola if you like) ¼ c. brown rice syrup (found in natural food places, call it...

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...

bring me the salt lick

By on Oct 6, 2013 in quickie, snacks, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 2 comments

There are days you sit and crave a crunchy salty snack. At first, you ignore it. But the craving will not die. Oh sure, you might find something crunchy. An apple, a carrot, but really? It is a carrot. And you really want a chip. In the interest of this unprocessed October, I could always heat up a vat of oil, thinly slice some potatoes, and fry up some homemade potato chips. And they would be delicious. But the craving demands a salty crunch NOW, not after slicing potatoes and heating a vat of oil and all that other frippery. A quick fix would be to sprinkle some salt on the end of the carrot, but… um… no. Enter the pita. OK, I am not about to bust out and make homemade pitas (yet.) But I am lucky enough to have a local store that sells locally made pitas, all made by hand, and the ingredient list really is just flour, yeast, water, and salt. And they pretty much taste like cardboard (there really isn’t that much salt.) You see, I love those pita chips they sell like potato chips now, but have you actually read the ingredients list? Well actually they still aren’t that bad. But this is October Unprocessed month! And they are still processed. They are baked so long that they can develop edges sharp enough to be considered lethal weapons. Really not what I am looking for in a snack. And so here is it, my crazy complicated recipe for your own pita chips. Quarter 3 pitas (my local ones are pretty awesome and homemade, so I am letting them slide into this unprocessed thing.) Split the quarters apart and lay them out, smooth outside of pita down, on a baking sheet (or two, if you decided to split up more pitas.) Brush the chips with a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil. Yes, it will take a few minutes, but bear with me. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grind some black pepper over it (do these from high above, you get more even coverage.) Pop it under your broiler set on low. After a couple of minutes, flip the baking sheet around. Obviously, if you’ve got two sheets, you’ll have to do it one at a time. Keep an eye on them, because they can go from golden brown to torched in a few seconds. You just want them golden brown, which should take about 4 minutes total. And there you have it. Warm pita chips, crispy without being wheat-based weaponry, the delicate floral aroma of the olive oil wafting up. Every bite differs a bit, some with a bit more salt, some with a bit more pepper, each one revealing their inner character. Sure, it’s just a salty crunchy snack. But it is not uniformly salt. It is whatever you make...

gingery peachy creamy good

By on Sep 15, 2013 in dessert, experimenting, fruit, vegetarian | 2 comments

Somewhere in my travels I have heard a person’s rump be compared to a ripe peach; so pert and juicy you want to take a bite out of it. I think I would rather be literal and take a bite out of an actual peach. All winter long I stare balefully at the stacks of hard peaches as they sit in pallid orange pyramids at the grocery store. Much like a tomato, I find it hard to buy them, knowing what is coming. Summer. July. August. September in my luckiest times. Farmer’s market peaches so juicy you have to stand over a sink due to the river of juice that bursts forth as you sink your teeth into the sunny sweet flesh. I’m sure there are several lovely derrieres out there in the world. I would still prefer to take a bite out of an actual peach.   I will eat peaches straight up, I adore making a succulent pie with a splash of dark rum, and who can deny the beauty of a jewel-toned peach preserve? But summer (even though we are technically just past it) brings out another deep and abiding love. Ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, I salivate over the thought of a certain dark chocolate ice cream from my favorite ice cream place in my neighborhood, but of course I had to explore making my own ice cream, and of course this had to involved fruit so fresh it almost seemed a shame to freeze it. Almost.   But of course, just straight peach? Peaches in vanilla? Seemed a little, well, vanilla. The peaches needed a home with a bit of zing to balance out their velvet sweet. Enter the ginger. Steeped in cream. I’ll just let you sit on that a while. Have you thought about it? Dense, creamy ice cream with this tantalizing streak of spicy ginger floating up out of the luscious icy creaminess as it dances across your tongue. Bright, smoothly sweet peaches swirled in, dancing a tango with the ginger. Do you want to make it? Good. This is not a quick ice cream. No homemade ice cream is. But once you have made it, you realize you have to do it again. Flavors start whirling through your mind, every spice and item of produce in the house becomes a likely candidate. No plain vanilla will ever do again. Unless you do it with a nice fat fresh vanilla bean, scraping out all the seeds. That’ll do. That’ll do. Ginger Peach Ice Cream   (this almost overflowed my 1 1/ 2 quart ice cream maker, especially once the peaches were added. I had to ultimately mix in the peaches after the churning.)   2 c. heavy cream (there is no such thing as good low fat ice cream. You can keep telling yourself that, but no.) 1 c. whole milk ¾ c. sugar, divided 1 tsp. good vanilla extract 2 ½” ginger root, peeled and finely chopped 1 ½ – 2 lbs. peaches (err lower, trust me) peeled and finely chopped 1 Tbsp. lemon juice 6 egg yolks   Combine peaches, ½ c. sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.   In a heavy saucepan, gently heat 1 c. cream, the whole milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and ginger. Do not let boil. Heat just until tiny bubbles start to appear around the edge. Remove from heat and let steep for one hour.   After one hour, grab another bowl and whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy. Strain and gently reheat cream mixture (remember, no boiling), and scoop ½ c. of the mixture out and add to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add the egg mix slowly back into the pan, whisking constantly. Keep stirring over gentle heat until mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. (Conventional wisdom says to heat to 170-175 degrees. The back of the spoon thing works too.) Pour into a container with the remaining 1 c. cream and stir to combine. Cover and chill for at least three hours.   Now for the final fun! Remove the peaches and the cream mixture from the fridge, and strain the peach juice into the cream mixture, stirring to combine. Pour into ice cream maker and process according to maker’s instructions. In the last five minutes or so, add in the peaches. If your ice cream maker is almost overflowing like mine was, once the ice cream has reached the desired consistency, transfer to a freezer container and gently fold them in. Freeze the ice cream for at least two hours before eating. And then eat it. Merrily....

(un)sexy soba

By on Jul 14, 2013 in dinner, experimenting, fail... or not, process, vegetarian | 0 comments

Soba is not inherently sexy, at least not at the home cook level. In the past, I have been accused of describing food in an overly salacious, borderline obscene manner. Who am I to deny the seductive quality of a plump, juicy peach as it explodes under the fervent explorations of eager teeth? But these are noodles. Made of buckwheat flour. Even the sound of it… the hard consonants dropping out of the mouth, clattering about the ear. Buckwheat. (crash) Not sexy. But you see, there is a hidden seductive joy in the noodle. Perhaps it was implanted in my brain by a certain old Disney movie, leaving my brain to still believe that somewhere out there I will meet a scruffy fellow who will give me the last meatball and share a long, slow slurp of a last noodle, ending in a kiss. Perhaps it is simply that fact that one uses the word “slurp” a lot with noodles, and that has a certain… quality… Perhaps not. Food ricochets about the world, each culture having its own iteration of bread, pickles, soup, and of course, noodles. I love noodles. Adore them. Pasta, egg noodle, rice noodle, udon noodle… I will eat them all. As a child my mother would occasionally bust out and make egg noodles from scratch for soup. I can still see the cookie racks, carefully tented into one another, egg noodles drying over them, while my impatient little self pouted that we had to wait so long to eat them (even though in the end I always loved them more than the ones out of a bag.) When it comes to pure ingredients, there is not much to most noodle making processes. Mostly, it is about technique and time. You can definitely mess them up, some more easily than others. When I first started messing with traditional egg pasta dough, there were a few batches that ended in cursing and tears. Enter the soba noodle. Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour, which is a flour with zero gluten, which means it has zero power to create the traditional stretchy dough one usually associates with a flour product. In Japan there are chefs who can do it totally with just buckwheat flour, but I imagine them to be serious men who have spent years studying with a former soba noodle master, shoulder muscles huge and taut from years of muscling about dense, gluten-free dough. I am but a woman in Chicago, lacking in years of careful culinary tutelage. I have the internet. The internet told me to add some regular flour. One day I ran across this post at The Kitchn, which is a remarkable site and a minor obsession of mine. It is how to make your own soba noodles. I had never made soba noodles or any noodle outside of European heritage. So of course I had to. I found some buckwheat flour, read the recipe through a few times, and dove in. I frowned at it, because my noodles were significantly… well… greyer than hers. My dough did not look nearly so appealing. It looked vaguely like it was meant to fill in scratches on wood surfaces. But it smelled… it smelled amazing. Straight flour has a clean scent. Whole wheat adds a bit of nuttiness to the nasal palate. But buckwheat… smelled warm. Inviting. Like it would have wrapped little buckwheat arms around me, had it the gluten content to form dough that could stretch that far out. I nibbled a bit. Even in my brief foray into kneading it, there was no trace of the nasty grittiness I normally associate with whole wheat pasta. (And no, I really do not like whole wheat pasta. It is fine in certain applications, and only a few brands don’t taste like carefully crafted sandpaper noodles, but it is no direct substitute for a classic plate of spaghetti. Not in my world. Putting my white pasta soapbox away now…)   Nothing about my noodles looked like the beautiful post I had read. They were thicker, due to my rash method of cutting, which of course I had to improvise rather than being a good person and following their recipe. And of course, because I do not have a prop kitchen or fancy prop dishes for this endeavor, just my tiny kitchen so small I had to move the rolling to my dining room table, a 1950s formica number, they were really not that sexy looking at all when I pointed my camera lens at them. I should point out that I did not use one of the two flours she recommends, I used Arrowhead Mills because it is what I could get my hands on, so it is entirely possible that I am not getting the full effect of these noodles from scratch. And yet, boiled in salted water and rinsed in cold water, just as prescribed, they were still divine. Chewy, nutty, smooth, proving the age old adage that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And it really does. I splashed in some sunflower oil, soy sauce, minced scallions, and red pepper flakes, almost entirely as described in the recipe (they call for dark sesame oil, which I did not have on hand.) Then I added on a bit fat chiffonade of shiso, a lively Japanese herb I found at the farmer’s...