Mushroom, spinach, and cheese roulade

December 4, 2010 § 7 Comments

I had the sudden realization during a conversation the other day that I have a tendency to go through, shall we say, unique obsessive phases.  I was telling someone that I was really obsessed with igneous rocks – well, actually just obsidian and pumice – for about a year in middle school, and they gave me a look that clearly said, “I think that either you are from some planet that is separated from Earth by at least one asteroid belt, or else you probably grew up under one of those igneous rocks that you were obsessed with.”  It had never really occurred to me before that this kind of obsession may not be entirely normal, and then I started thinking about some of my other obsessions.  Scarab beetles, for a while.  I was also fixated on Aquaporins (that would be the protein channels that allow water to travel through cell walls) and prions (the misfolded proteins that cause mad cow disease) at various points in time.  And the concept of zero.  And bloodroot flowers.  And the “cerulean” Crayola crayon.  And, well, you get the idea.

I also go through obsessive food phases (surprising no one).  Like ricotta, or lemon zest, or chorizo, or mini turnovers.  The phase I am currently in is Ottolenghi.  That would be Yotam Ottolenghi and his eponymous cafes in London.  One of my younger brothers is currently in London for grad school, which means that in theory he could get take out from Ottolenghi any time he wished.  Ah, how unfair the world is.  My obsession with Ottolenghi is by no means unique, however.  He’s a bit of a buzzword in the food world, particularly because he has a new cookbook of vegetarian recipes out this year, and ever growing swaths of people are being extolling how fresh, curious, vibrant, and downright stunning his recipes are.  He is the cure for food doldrums.

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Easy crab toasties

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

You know what’s not a very cost-effective food binge to go on?  Crab.  I suppose it could have been worse.  It could have been lobster.  But I don’t know, call me unsophisticated but I really like crab better than lobster.  Anyways, while most people’s Halloween weekends were filled with chocolatey, peanut-buttery, crispy, fruity, caramel-dipped treats, mine was filled with buckets of crab.  Tender, slightly sweet and buttery with just a hint of the sea, crab.  I’d take it over a tootsie roll any day!

I guess it must have been a result of our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay.  As I mentioned before, we road tripped down to the DC area for the weekend and while there we had to eat out a lot.  At every restaurant, when I opened the menu, there was crab in some succulent sounding manifestation – chowder, salad, cakes, sandwiches – that I simply couldn’t resist.  Our drive back up on Sunday was on a perfect slightly sunny, slightly grey turning the corner into November day, so we wended our way up north with frequent stops for coffee, leg stretching and a little exploration.  We stopped for lunch in Delaware because, well, because none of us had ever stopped in Delaware.  We discovered an adorable little coffee shop in Newark, DE, and there on their posted lunch menu was crab melts.  Guess what we ordered.

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Pickled green tomatoes and “the farmer’s lunch”

November 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

So, one of the really great/really awful aspects of having a blog about what you cook is that it holds you sort of accountable in a way (that way being: to a lot more people) that you wouldn’t be otherwise.  If your family is bored by the fact that you go through two weeks alternating between only spaghetti and scrambled eggs for dinner, well that’s their problem.  But, then if that’s all you have to write about for a whole contingent of people who are strangers yet friends and who don’t have to love you no matter what, well suddenly you find yourself a little abashed and searching in all sorts of nooks and crannies you wouldn’t have checked otherwise for ideas for something new and creative to cook.  I should do a study on whether blogging changes the eating/cooking habits of the people who keep the blogs.  Is it too late to change my dissertation?

Anyway, last week was one of those weeks that was really, truly not worth writing home about (from a culinary standpoint).  Joel was away working in Washington D.C., so I was home alone for the week, and I was incredibly busy with work/school insanity.  So, my meal preparation took a little wonky tour through the land of On A  Shoestring.  Which, all things considered, is not at all a bad place to visit, but which is probably not very interesting to others (like, nothing but really drab, boring postcards and chintzy souvenirs).  I went to dinner with a friend one night.  Prepared steak and roasted vegetables the next, which I progressively ate my way through over the next 4 days.  Then I had sauteed greens with a fried egg.  I didn’t even get my camera out. « Read the rest of this entry »

Winter Squash Calzones

October 11, 2010 § 12 Comments

It’s a Monday holiday, which means an already beautifully languorous and relaxed weekend (if you can really call a weekend relaxed when it includes staining a set of cubbies, running a half marathon, going to a parade, and having a dinner party…Hey, that doesn’t sound relaxing at all!! And yet, it was. Something in the air, I think.) is even longer. I think every weekend should be a three day weekend. I’m convinced that it would actually increase everyone’s productivity by oh, at least 5 trillion percent, or so. Saturday allows you to begin to unwind, Sunday allows you to relax and also putter through some odds and ends that need doing, and by Monday you are free to be completely loose and carefree and rejuvinated so that on Tuesday you’re ready to jump back into work. Well, maybe.

Anyway, what I’m dancing around and trying to get at here is that on Monday holidays (however little the person whom the holiday is celebrating actually deserves said veneration, ahem, Columbus didn’t actually discover America, ahem, the Vikings did, ahem. Sorry, something in my throat there.) my mind had reached a state of complete and utter emptiness. Which, I think in Eastern spiritual practices is considered an ultimate goal. In Western practices it’s considered being blonde (hehe, gotta live up to your stereotype sometimes!). And either way, it turns out it makes it very hard to think of something to write, even if you really want to.

Am I allowed to just say these calzones were seriously delicious, you should make them, the end!? Because they were. I think “calzone” might actually be Italian for delicious. Or at least, it should be. Think about it. You take all sorts of delicious seasonal ingredients, add delicious cheeses, stuff it into a delicious dough, and then eat it steamy and crusty and gooey after it comes out of the oven. Overall they’re just a pretty darn good idea. They also make wonderful leftovers for lunch because your food is all neatly wrapped up in a portable little package and they reheat nicely. You can stuff them with whatever vegetables are in season, but even if it weren’t in season I’d say winter squash is one of my very favorite fillings. The combination of warm, sweet squash with pungent, nutty cheese sings songs of fall and coziness and contentment. « Read the rest of this entry »

Roasted vegetable tartines

September 11, 2010 § 8 Comments

Tartine is one of those many French words that sounds beautiful when said by a native speaker, but is rather difficult to get out when you’re someone trying to learn the language.  The particular combination of vowels and consonants with that French “r” right in the middle gets stuck in the roof of your mouth a bit like a spoonful of peanut butter.  You had best learn to say it, however, if you plan on eating breakfast anywhere in that lovely country (unless you’re having a croissant, the pronunciation of which people seem to struggle with just as much anyway).  Traditionally, a tartine is simply an open faced piece of baguette, most often smeared with butter and jam.  This is what I had for breakfast every single sparkling Parisian morning (because it turns out that Paris sparkles, even when it’s gray and drizzly) while I studied there back in college.  Two baguette halves with copious amounts of butter and confiture de framboises, dipped in my coffee.  And then I would be ravenously hungry again within about half an hour.  Scandinavians are bred to require protein at breakfast.  Oh well.

Even though they never filled me up, I loved tartines.  And even more so on the day I realized, “what the heck?!  Why not have an open faced baguette sandwich with something more than just jam?”  (I know, so revelatory, right?)  Much deliciousness ensued.

I like to think of this particular creation as what would happen if an eggplant Parmesan sub studied abroad in France, got a little comfy, and eventually became an expat there.  It has an affected French accent and attempts an air of sophistication, but in the end it can’t help but be overflowing with gooey, bubbling melted mozzarella.  “Deep fry zee eggplant?!  Mais non!  I couldn’t possiblee.  I vil roast eet wiz some peppers and tomatoes, maybe add a leetle chevre and Dijon.  But somesing eez meesing…Oh yes, mozzarella!  Sweet!  I’m so gonna melt that all over the place…Nice.”

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Shrimp and avocado tacos

August 22, 2010 § 4 Comments

Even though I generally think of myself as falling into that category of “people who like to cook“, sometimes I kind of wonder.  Right now, for example, I feel more like resting on the laurels of “one who has cooked well and enjoyed it at times” rather than wanting to actually cook up anything notable.  Also, lately, every time I’ve noticed I’m hungry, I look up and discover I’m either in an airplane, visiting someone, driving the hour and a half commute to my summer worksite, too grouchy to be trusted with a knife, or too hot to consider eating anything other than flavored dry ice.  Not exactly a recipe for being inspired to cook.  And I find it so much more of a schlog to cook when I’m not inspired (gee whiz, there’s a surprise).

Mostly I’ve simply been adding salt and pepper to everything that crosses my path and putting it on the grill.  And, while fulfilling the role of “home cooked food that nourishes and does not offend the palate”, it’s not particularly interesting.  Someone get this girl a tantalizing recipe, stat!

Thankfully, inspiration fell out of my freezer (literally) in the unlikely form of a bag of  frozen shrimp and some corn tortillas.  Shrimp tacos!  Now that’s something worth hauling the frying pan out over.  Especially shell-on shrimp.  I know, I know, shell-on shrimp seem like way more of an effort and are way messier than already peeled shrimp.  But, you see, they cook up infinitely much better.  Peeled shrimp almost always wind up over-spiced and over-cooked to a rubbery texture.  The shell protects this from happening, keeping moisture against the delicate meat to keep it tender and lightly flavored.  Plus, it’s really kind of wonderful and fun to get your fingers goopy and sticky, peeling shrimp to put into your taco.  So, why not just go for it?!

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Two Turkish stuffed flatbreads (one savory, one sweet)

June 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

If you picture yourself walking down the path of your life, what do you see?  A straight path?  Hilly with amazing vistas?  Through deep dark woods?  All of the above?  I’m starting to feel like in my own life, I’m taking a rather circuitous, meandering route.  It’s as though I’m putsing and poking about, the actual path way off somewhere to the left.  Back there, before I got distracted by a berry bush or a patch of wildflowers and wandered off.  Sometimes it feels as if there is no continuity, no path at all.  But, then I find myself looking at a familiar tree or rock and thinking, ‘hey!  I’ve been this way before!’ And, each time I touch back onto the path, I have come at least a very short distance further than I had before.  It’s another way in which my cooking, amusingly, mirrors life.

Maybe you do this too.  You discover a recipe, or try making something new, and fall in love with it.  So you go through a spurt of making it over and over and over.  Until it starts to come burbling out of your ears, and then you stop.  And completely forget about it.  Until you come across it in your old notes to yourself, or a meal somewhere else jogs your memory, or, I don’t know, it comes to you in a dream.  Then you start making it again, maybe tweaking it or experimenting with it, making it more your own, and you wonder, ‘Why on earth did I ever stop making this?  It’s totally the bomb!’  (yes, I’m sorry to say that inside your mind you still call things ‘the bomb’).  But, eventually you stop making it and forget about it, until you rediscover it and reclaim it once more.

Okay, maybe you actually don’t do this, but I can tell you for certain that I do.  And, these Turkish flatbreads are a prime example of it.  I first encountered a description of Turkish flatbread a few years ago in the great Paula Wolfert’s, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. It’s one of a small handful of foods in the book that don’t take between 4 hours and a week to cook, but even if it had, I probably would have made it.  In the preface to the recipe Ms. Wolfert conjurs up the aura of a steamy, bustling marketplace in Turkey where she bought slices of the slightly flaky, fragrant bread, bubbling and oozing  with pungent cheese, still scalding hot from a coal fired oven.  Upon reading it, I  immediately went and checked on the price of tickets to Turkey.  Yikes!  Nothing doing.  So, I settled for baking flatbread, though settled is hardly the right word for it.  Her version calls for simply stuffing them with runny, stinky (in the good way) teleme cheese, which is what I did.  And, for several weeks I did my best to monopolize the local cheese shop’s supply of teleme, and baked veritable stacks of flatbread.  But, as suddenly as I started, I stopped.  I probably got distracted by a desire to eat tomatoes, or kale, or something.

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Grilled bread with thyme pesto, lemon cream, and a fried egg

June 10, 2010 § 16 Comments

Okay, before my perpetually wandering mind meanders off into some story or digression, let me make sure I get my main point across right away.  And that is: do not rest until you make this sandwich!! It is unbelievable.  I may henceforth reserve the word luscious to be used only in describing this sandwich.  It came to me in a passing flash of inspiration, and I’m so glad I trusted the inspiration enough to follow it.  Lemon, thyme, and garlic are one of the all time great flavor combinations – woodsy, tangy, nutty bright – and the textures combine crispy, crunchy, and creamy while the fabulously goopy egg pulls everything together in one delightful, messy sandwich perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I took one bite, held it up to my face and asked it, “where have you been all my life?” (Yes, I have that kind of relationship with sandwiches)  I polished it off, and just sat there kind of hugging myself in (slightly smug) sensory glee.  The thyme pesto and the lemon cream are steps that take some more effort than one might generally expect to have to put into sandwich making.  But, be not deterred!  They’re still quite easy (each only takes a few minutes to pull together), and then you’ll have extra spreads that will last a couple of weeks in the fridge so you can keep making more and more and more sandwiches!  (Or add them to pasta, or grilled meats or fish.)

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Pork tortas with jicama slaw (Mexican style pork sandwiches)

June 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

I wish the Earl of Sandwich were alive today, so I could write him a very thoughtful, personalized thank you note.  What a stroke of brilliance, the sandwich!  Deciding to stick your meal between two pieces of sliced bread is like, I don’t know, the best thing since slicing the bread in the first place.  I’m hard pressed to think of foods that aren’t good, or even improved by, being added to bread.  And, I think it’s entirely possible I would be quite happy eating only sandwiches for meals for the rest of my life.  Would it be good for me? Probably not (though you could do worse, especially if you’re using all sorts of interesting whole/sprouted grain breads).  But it would be oh so crusty, and tender, and juicy, and succulent, and crunchy, and spicy, and salty, and all the other wonderful things sandwiches can be.  (When I was in France, everyone who was complaining abut weight gain was blaming the fact that they had started eating sandwiches  for lunch, instead of nice sit down 3-course meals.  Having access to those baguettes, and that Camembert and pate, I could easily see how 3-courses may accidentally be replaced by 3 sandwiches before your stomach had time to override your tastebuds!).

On a standard day, I eat an open faced sandwich for breakfast, and another open faced sandwich at lunch (just classic smørrebrød, for those who are familiar).  Then on a happy day, I might also get to have a messy, finger-licking, stacked sandwich just packed with goodies for supper.

On special occasions (also known as: random days when we decide to get together and grab a bite to eat) my friend Megan and I sometimes like to go to a teensy-tinesy little restaurant in downtown Boston that we call “The Fancy Sandwich Place” (it’s real name is Mike & Patty’s).  Now, I’m more apt with sandwiches than with any other food to look down at it and say, “oh my gosh, this is the best thing I have ever eaten!”, and at “The Fancy Sandwich Place”, I think I’ve done this to every sandwich I’ve gotten there.  They make them with uber-fresh, high quality ingredients, and assemble them with care and a chef’s flair.  You absolutely can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches there, but one of my favorites is the torta, which is kind of like a burrito put onto a sandwich: beans, cheese, vegetables, meat, guacamole.  The best, is the one made with carnitas – slow-cooked, juicy pork, that’s falling to pieces it’s so tender.  It’s topped with a slaw made of jicama root, which adds a wonderful sweet crunch. « Read the rest of this entry »

Hipp Hurrah for Pizza! (slow-rise pizza dough)

May 10, 2010 § 6 Comments

Overall, I don’t think I can comment on my own fashion sense.  I’m certainly not an objective party.  But, I can say that what I secretly (or not so secretly, really) aspire to, and the way I actually decorate and dress are pretty different.  I kind of wish I could attain that sleek, minimalistic Scandinavian style décor, and dress in a simple classic way.  But I can’t.  Heaven knows I’ve tried, but I somehow always come out with bright colors and bold patterns, and just a teensy bit of friendly clutter.  It turns out that’s just what I like.

And, just last week, I came to the realization that the same goes for me and pizza!  I know it’s all chic and gourmet to like pizzas with a few perfect and sparsely scattered toppings on a delicate crust.  But I like piles of toppings.  Big, gratuitously stacked, piles, I say!  A pizza, to me, is a chance to put a whole bunch of vegetables and cheeses and meats I like in various combinations together in one perfect delivery vehicle.  But, that’s just me.  I won’t force my topping opinions on anyone.  On the other hand, I do want to graciously bestow my pizza dough recipe upon everyone.  Because everyone deserves to have a wonderful, wonderful crust to put their favorite toppings on – without having to pay $0.50-$3 something for each additional topping, or tipping the delivery person!

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