Marinated beef kebabs with salsa verde

June 28, 2011 § 7 Comments

Having lots of pots of herbs growing on our little balcony has allowed me to develop another brand new obsession.  Salsa verde.  I’m telling you people, this stuff is magical.

Imagine someone walking out to a lushly growing herb garden and snipping a bountiful spray of fresh herbs from each patch.  Then, grinding them all together into an emerald green paste, with some garlic, capers, and anchovies because, you know, why not?!

The result is a massive wave that breaks over your taste buds in a spray of woodsy, grassy, briny, garlicky flavor.  I’ve been racking my brain, and I don’t think I can think of anything else I’ve had in quite a while that packs so much beautifully blended and balanced flavor into even a tiny bite.

I discovered salsa verde when making a riff off of the summer squash gratin from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.  My mother and I cooked it up while I was at home, with a few tweaks and the addition of a hefty amount of extremely good Italian sausage.  It was seriously delicious (though it had too much bread-crumb action sprinkled throughout for my taste).

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Moroccan carrots

April 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

There’s a lot of grousing in the US about the poor quality of school lunches these days.  And the bad reputation is, overall, well deserved, I’m sorry to say.  But, did  you know that, at least according to the last national dataset I looked at, on average the nutritional quality of the lunches and snacks kids bring from home to school is actually worse than the nutritional quality of school foods?  This varies a great deal with economic status and education and such, but even so, the average lunch a kid brings with them to school in this country is pretty abominable!  And, it’s little wonder, given how much cheap and convenient snack “food” there is out there marketed pretty much expressly to be packed for kids as snack or lunch.  It’s whack, I tell you!

One of the research studies I’m currently working with is evaluating some aspects of the foods elementary schoolers in this area are packing with them to school, and some of what I’ve seen is fairly astonishing (I can’t actually say more than that because of confidentiality!).  Some of the teachers we’ve met are taking matters into their own hands, instituting policies abolishing sweet snacks or sugary beverages from their classrooms (which does not always go over well with parents).

And, I’ve been in a couple of schools where orange snacks are not allowed.  When I heard this I was confused for a good long moment.  Orange snacks?  You can’t have carrots?  And then I realized, carrots weren’t the problem, and in fact things like Cheetos (which are especially problematic because little fingers covered with fake cheesy powder are apt to leave stains all over schoolbooks) are so much more common than carrots, that it works to ban orange snacks outright.  (I didn’t actually ask, but I’m guessing that if kids do bring carrots or tangerines or something of the sort, this gets an exception to the rule).

Not that I can really blame the kids.  Most of the time I wouldn’t want carrots in my lunch, and I actually like vegetables! But, plain old carrots can be a fairly blah snack. (It’s possible that I partly feel this way because I went through a bulk carrot phase a number of years ago, eating pounds of raw carrots at a time for a snack, until I really couldn’t stand carrots any more.  I’m still working on fully repairing the relationship.)  Sometimes, they’re what you want, but a lot of the time they need something to perk them up.  To give them some pizazz so that when you take a bite, you do a double take, and cry, “Wow! Now those are some carrots!”  And that, my friends, is where Moroccan carrots come in. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fiery roasted tomato soup

January 26, 2011 § 10 Comments

I’ve been suffering from minor food trauma the past couple of days, and it is a sorry, sorry state to be in. It’s funny because it was induced by a few dishes that I actually followed recipes to make, tasty looking recipes even, but it just didn’t work out. It all began when I decided to make caramelized radicchio, which sounds good, right? It’s not. Caramelizing did nothing for the bitter bite of radicchio except make it seem awkwardly out of place, and the texture was limp and, well, kind of squiggly. I tried to smile and choke it down, but it was as if somebody had set a plate of worms in front of me. I haven’t felt that way about a serving of vegetables since I was about 9. And like at age 9, I spent more time prodding it with my fork and eying it apprehensively than eating it. Epic fail.

This was followed by trying a recipe for spiced, roasted butternut squash slices. Cardamom and butternut squash?! How could that not be delicious? Seriously. I’m still not sure how it could not be delicious, but it wasn’t. It was overspiced and strangely cloying. It tasted more like an apple pie gone wrong than butternut squash. And the recipe suggested leaving the skin on, which may technically be fine and all, but having tried it, I’m going to go ahead and suggest you don’t. I had a couple more disasters and by last night I was feeling a bit gun shy and couldn’t quite bring myself to cook, so we went out. And I tried my first ever turkey burger. I should have known better. Turkey and I have a turbulent relationship anyway. Thinly sliced and paired with some really good bacon and we’re okay, but turkey in ground form, it turns out, icks me out to a completely irrational extent. According to Joel it was actually quite good for a turkey burger, but it still made my stomach do an unhappy flop. That was another meal of predominantly poking at the contents of my plate.

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Chicken and pumpkin tagine with garlicky couscous

December 8, 2010 § 3 Comments

I love having people over for dinner. Love it! Throwing a “dinner party,” inviting “guests,” that’s kind of stressful and I develop this performance anxiety about it (though, I find it exhilarating at times as well). But, having folks over, gathering them around the table, making new connections, strengthening old ones, and most importantly filling everyone up with delicious food, now that is one of my favorite things in the world. In fact, I think it may actually be one of my greatest life aspirations, more so than work or other achievements, to make sure that my table is a warm and comfortable place where people always feel welcome to drop in for a moment and then stay for a whole meal and conversation.

Because of this, I have a tendency to improvise and experiment when I’m cooking for friends who come over, just as much as when I cook for myself. I know the general wisdom is that you should never try out a new recipe when you’re having company, and in concept I agree. But, I still find myself standing at the stove, pulling out random spice jars and saying to myself, ‘let’s see if this works’ even as I’m waiting for the ring of our doorbell (which, on a side note, is the most awful doorbell sound you could possibly imagine and always makes me jump a foot and half when it goes off) and know that people are about to come piling in, excited to be fed. Sure, there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents with rubbery, flavorless chicken, or curdled mango-cream sauce, but life went on, and overall it has worked out for the best. And there’s been more fun for everyone! « Read the rest of this entry »

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