smokin’ shells

It had to happen eventually. Sometimes life gets in the way of pretty pictures, and these, well, these look like I have these last few weeks of fall semester. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. On the inside, they’re almost perfect. 

And so with this introduction of the worst photos ever to grace this website, I bring you the best kind of indulgence: the kind that surprises you. This one sneaks in the back door and kisses you right on the mouth. With a mouthful of soft cheese and slippery, al dente pasta shells, this dinner proves that the stomach’s is more reliably discerning than the eye.

You know what the problem is with being a food blogger/photographer? There are no smiles, no shining eyes, no expressions to capture. Often food that blew your mind winds up looking like a pile of brown mush, or in this case, a Michelina’s frozen pasta entree. But food also symbolizes moments, and that is what I think these photos of my lunch-time leftovers do best–haphazardly taken after an eight mile run just before rushing to class.


This dish looks a lot better when it first comes out of the oven–the cheese all flecked with brown and the roasted tomatos bubbling up from beneath like a secret. Let’s face it, the microwave just leaves something to be desired when it comes to putting the best food forward.

I think part of the joy in this dish is that I didn’t make it. It was past of the third installment of a (once-every-some-weeks’) cooking group I have with two of my favorite friends: something we affectionately refer to as “estro-cook.” While I was laboring away on the butternuts, my partners in crime were busy working away at this little number. Two weeks later, it emerged from my freezer, masquerading as an Italian getaway. 

Not the kind of food I usually make, this dish left me delighting in the simple things: cheese I don’t care about the fat content of, garlic (ohhh, garlic), the taste of roasted things, and that everyday miracle of stuffing ingredients into a little boat of pasta. What could be better?

Continue reading

Advertisements

skippin’ jenny (vegan hoppin’ john)

I’m having a blast with Veganomicon, a cookbook that arrived on my doorstep one dreary afternoon from the sunnier climes of Berkeley. I had a bit part in helping its sender find an apartment in Syracuse, and I can’t wait to try more of its recipes out on her when she arrives. It’s my first vegan cookbook, and so far it is proving itself a mighty contender beside the omnivore-focused books on my shelf. Filled with recipes that are sure to stun even the most die-hard flesh eater, this book promises no end of fun with my favorite food group.

New York is the furthest South I’ve lived in North America, yet still miles away from the soul of Southern cookery. But since I’m a sucker for smoke (give me bonfire-perfumed sweaters, lapsang souchong tea, smoked cheeses and fish any day), Southern cooking seems right up my alley. So, wanting to branch into Southern cuisine a little more, the BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Rolls jumped to the top of my list of things to try. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the recipe—something about it sounded smoky and satisfying, and different from how I normally cook.

My only contact with smoky food was purely of the accidental sort, up until landing a job at the Ouisi Bistro in Vancouver. There I was introduced to Cajun and Creole cooking, slinging their marinated Alligator, Andouille gumbo, and Jambalaya for eight months straight. And their cornbread? I left Vancouver carrying 12 extra pounds of it. Some souvenirs are tough to lose, even when they’re strapped right around your belly.

But onto the recipe: Black-eyed peas star in the famous Southern dish, Hoppin’ John. Eaten on New Year’s Day, the dish is thought to be lucky and is consumed widely. The beans’ characteristic markings are supposed to symbolize coins; when your plate runneth over your proverbial cup is said to follow suit. Collard greens, large cabbage-like leaves, are often served alongside Hoppin’ John. In this recipe, they star right alongside the beans, wrapping them tenderly like a rotund grandmother.

Now for the fun part. According to Wikipedia, on the day after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny and shows a continuing frugality supposed to last throughout the year. Little did I know I had a namesake dish!

I happen to like Skippin’ Jenny much better than BBQ Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls. My apologies to the cookbook’s authors Isa and Terry, but I might just have to re-christen your creation. After all, your lighter, greener, more vegged-out version is quite likely to make this Northern cook want to skip. I promise I’ll give you credit.

Continue reading