someone’s in this kitchen

Web journalism comes with equal doses of surprise, commotion, and amusement. There are ups and downs. We may shepherd stories along for months on end, but they’re still lovingly tended. They may not be earth-shattering, but they still contribute good things to the world.

On the flip side, there’s that screen, glowing in my face day after day and making this fresh-air loving soul feel a little empty now and again.

When the hum of machines gives me a headache and the incessant chatter on the internet overwhelms me, where do I turn for solace? The internet of course. From the Economist’s technology blog (via Andrew Sullivan) this bit of pro-technology is brilliant. Especially for this recovering Luddite.

All German terms for radio are derived from a single verb: funken, to spark. I’ve been trying to understand the continued appeal of radio when there are so many different and more convenient ways to get news and music, and I think it has to do with the idea that we know, when we listen to the radio, that someone, somewhere is alive. Es funkt. There is a spark at the other end, a fire on the hilltop.

A blog, done right, provides this proof the same way radio does. You hear a voice, which means that someone is actually sitting in a booth somewhere talking down the signal to you. And if they take your calls, or read your emails, then they’re listening, too. I think blogs and radio are more than the sum of the information or entertainment they provide; they’re a source of human comfort.

This week I got an email reminding me that people do read this blog, and even trust the voice behind it. It was titled “Help! Dolmas tanking!” A woman in California had tried my dolmas recipe, and, having substituting brown rice, found herself with uncooked, unappetizing rolls. She emailed me in a panic, and we had an amusing back-and-forth over the course of the day about cooking, expectations, and rice. I suggested she turn her failed dolmas into a success by dumping them in a pot with some sauteed onion and broth to make dolma soup. She took my advice and deemed her creation Ruined Dolma Soup. The point of the story is only to say that the above quote rings true. The internet doesn’t always alienate.

Last night’s dinner was one of those spontaneous successes, born of exhaustion from a brick workout (bike + run) and dictated by the contents of my fridge.  Cooking this way is freeing, as I’ve said before, and always faster than I imagine it will be. I head home night after night (hoping I’ll be motivated to get the ingredients together for some recipe I’ve had bookmarked for months) only to stumble lazily into a version of a loner’s feast: toast with sardines, cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola, kimchi and a fried egg, a simple salad, a square of dark chocolate.

I love those rare night when I get home early enough to create something actually resembling an entree. While I boiled up some linguine (left by a dear housemate who just left for Texas), I sauteed two minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. I threw in some thawed broccoli florets and let them cook a bit. Then I realized I needed protein, so opened up the cupboard and grabbed what I thought was a can of chickpeas. When I opened it, cannelini beans stared back at me. No matter. I dug my fingers right into the can and plopped them in the pan with the broccoli, adding two huge handfuls of raw spinach and a bit of chicken broth to the mix. I let the greens wilt, sprinkled on some chili flakes and salt and pepper, and then poured the whole sloppy mixture over the linguine and finished it with Parmesan. I’m lucky I had these random pictures on hand, because my camera was nowhere in sight.

This recipe is nothing special … not even worth typing out in regular recipe form. But it sort of restored my confidence in a kitchen that’s become a stranger to me in this 7 am to 8 pm life. I am so glad I remembered the fire in my kitchen (and in my stomach) for good, honest food.

Here’s the leftovers I ate today in the sun, camera in tow.

Advertisements

punjabi spinach and chickpeas

This week has flown by. Reunited with my love of swimming (thank you, one-week trial gym pass!), I plunged into cool water on Tuesday night after two months of land-based workouts. I emerged an hour and fifteen minutes later with my sore muscles, a refreshed mind, and a hungry belly.

Thank goodness this was waiting for me when I arrived home.

On Monday night I’d finally gotten around to trying this recipe, collecting digital dust in my recipe bookmarks. It’s the kind of thing you just might already have everything on hand for, provided you’re a hummus, stew, and salad eater who always has garlic around.

In other words, me.

I don’t know why I bookmarked this particular recipe, and I don’t know what made me pick it out of my long list of delicious-sounding dinner candidates. It’s not that it looked that different—I make things with curry and tomatoes and chickpeas all the time. The appeal of habit? Perhaps.

Well, it turns out it lived up to its bookmark-worthy status. With a depth and complexity of flavor I can only describe as more “authentic” than my usual curry-powder based curries, this stew radiates turmeric, cumin, garlic, and ginger. I learned later that its author (the famed Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey) deems this dish characteristically Punjabi. Perhaps that’s why it seemed new to me.

And I always like a recipe that suprises: usually, you chop up the garlic and saute it along with the onions, right? Not in this stew. I had to re-read the recipe about four times until I believed that yes, putting garlic, ginger, and water in the blender would produce something I’d want to add to my dinner.

This frothy mixture, and the addition of lemon juice at the end, take this bright yellow curry to a whole new level: you just might want to back your chair up a little from your co-workers if you decide to take it for lunch.

Continue reading

buttercup lentil soup

Squash is a rather deceiving name for the vegetable to which it refers. With pudgy approachability and even cuteness, the squash family is far from cushy. Take, for example, this buttercup. Looks delightful enough. With its little cap and almost folded-in appearance, it’s the grandmother of the fall harvest.

But set a knife to it and it sure puts up a fight. This hard fact is what led me to one of the most important realizations of my cooking life: squash need not be peeled before cooking. Nope. No matter what those recipes tell you, “squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped” need not require a follow-up cool down and protein shake.

The secret’s in roasting the squash first: Hack it up (or not, as some argue) throw it in the oven, and digging into that squishy soft squash-flesh will become one of your happiest soup making memories.

Lately I’ve been trying to venture out of my butternut rut. There are just so many other squashes to try: hubbard (not so impressed with my specimen), spaghetti, and acorn (one of my favorites to stuff), to name a few. I finally got around to this buttercup, whose dense, creamy flesh surprised me. I’ve also got two Delicatas on hand to try sometime this week.

There are as many ways to prepare squash as there are to love it, but one of my favorites has to be soup. I know I could have just substituted this buttercup into any squash soup recipe, but instead decided to do an off-the-cuff version with whatever needed to be used.

And it was good. Very good. With bright tomato red, spinach green, and buttercup orange, this soup is fall’s palate in a bowl.

Continue reading

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

Spoony Sundays #4

Easter is early this year. I barely noticed Palm Sunday creeping up on me until this morning, ushered in by the kids at church swishing green palm fronds in the air as they passed me in the aisles.

Usually, Easter brings a slight renovation of my taste buds (not to mention my health — cheap chocolate and hot crossed buns, anyone?) But an early, wintry Easter like this year’s has caused a tangle in the cravings department. Easter is a fresh green season — the joyous end to a sparse Lent, colour and springtime riding on the coattails of Holy Week. But when Easter sneaks up in March, divorced from new grass and sunshine, my associations get all mixed up. The gray skies and occasional snows taunt me with chili and hot chocolate, while the stores offer up impossibly green asparagus. The lilies look pretty, but out of place. Suddenly I realize how the supermarkets capitalize on the changes of seasons, and even our most beloved holy-days.

For this edition of Spoony Sundays, I followed a comment I received a few weeks ago on this blog. The commenter passed along a recipe for Greek Egg-Lemon Soup, or as we cultured folks might prefer to call it, Avgolemono. On our way to the grocery store however, I realized that I hadn’t copied down the recipe, let alone made a list. To save me from pure frustration upon returning home to cook the soup (“arghhhhh, we don’t have any garlic!?”), I dashed into the books section and grabbed a Reader’s Digest soup cookbook. There it was, my Avgolemono staring out at me from the page with its spartan list of ingredients.

This soup’s velvety richness is enough to warm you through the last grips of winter, while splashes of lemon zest and delicate spinach begin to tickle your tongue with spring. This soup is surprisingly satisfying given its humble ingredients; it’s as lean as a broth soup but twice as filling. I’d never heard of a Greek soup before, and being a long-time admirer of their cuisine, I just had to give it a try.

There’s also a bit of magic in watching this soup come together. Just when you think that all you’ve got in your pot is another boring broth, you whisk in the egg and egg whites and an opaque stew emerges. I can say now that the Greeks succeeded not only at civilization, philosophy, and baklava, but some pretty great things in bowls too.

Continue reading

grown-up pizza pops

Aside from last night’s French rendezvous, this past week’s cuisine has transported us to the Mediterranean twice. Who needs a tropical holiday?

Saturday I whipped up some pizza dough from my Moosewood cookbook. I divided it into two, saving half for a future night of inspiration. Loosely following a pizza recipe from Cooking Light, we topped it with pesto, red onions, artichokes, prosciutto, mozzarella and feta cheese, for a light and crispy feast.

dsc_1598.jpg

dsc_1601.jpg

But what to do with the other half of the dough? I’d always wanted to try calzones, those little Italian inspirations for the pizza pop (yet having so underrepresented it). I looked over a few fancy recipes online, but decided to go with what we had kicking around.

dsc_1637.jpg

dsc_1646.jpg

They turned out perfectly crisp on the outside and nice and chewy inside, and when broken open, let out a burst of earthy tangy steam. The sheep’s milk feta we bought from our favourite Lebanese grocery importer Samir’s complimented the almost nutty hints from the steamed spinach. I concluded that I like cooked spinach better than fresh. So sue me.

dsc_1649.jpg

Continue reading

40 days of hummus

I just realized that I started this new site in sync with the beginning of Lent. What was I thinking? Isn’t this supposed to be a time of renunciation (at least for those of certain faith of which I happen to be a part of)?

But before I could even think about what on earth a Lenten food blog might look like, my thoughts turned to what Lent is about in the positive. Perhaps this is just an elaborate justification for not giving anything up. Whatever it is, it makes me grateful, and I think that’s kind of the point.

We usually associate Lent with self-denial. But this time in the Christian year is not just about becoming vegetarian or denying yourself a few meals. While these things have played a role in Lent, so has teaching new believers and restoring drifted ones, inviting the poor into one’s home, and cultivating divine awareness through prayer and meditation.

The 6 Sundays during Lent aren’t even counted in the 40 days, but instead are termed “Mini Easter” celebrations. I like how in the midst of the solemn 40-day procession towards Good Friday, people found ways to savour the things of the Earth.

Maybe the rest of us could focus our 40 days on filling our kitchens and diets with more hospitality, generosity, creativity, and life. I am reminded that the word lent quite literally means spring. Green things are on the horizon, however frozen our world may now appear.

Driving home from church last night, the words spoken to me echo in my mind: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Then I got to thinking about what any normal person would think about on such an holy day. Hummus.

It’s a mediterranean spread made with chickpeas, but it also refers to the organic material derived from partial decay of plant and animal matter. Mmmm, mmm. That went with the “returning to dust” theme, didn’t it? So while I pondered whether I’ll end up in the carrot or beet row of someone’s future garden, I whipped up a couple batches of spreadable earthiness. And they all taste better than compost, I promise.

Given the persistent grayness that has descended upon this city and the fact that the book I’m reading (though exquisitely written) is also bleak and dismal, I decided to put some colour into my day via hummus. Inspired by the “beet this hummus” at the restaurant I worked at for some time, I decided to see what other hues I could transform the humble chickpea into.

I felt like a 5 year old with three new cans of play-dough. For the plain one, I added some ground cumin, chili powder, and turmeric. For the fushcia one, I boiled up some beets — you really don’t need much, even one quarter-sized slice will turn the hummus pink. I garnished it with black pepper which I thought went nicely with the bright colour. For the green one: boiled spinach along, a drizzle of pumpkin oil and basil.

Go ahead and experiment! (I tried adding black beans once and it turned out purple!) These “hummi” would be great for theme parties (St. Patrick’s day, Valentine’s) or just to spice up a dreary February day.

Basic Hummus

1 large can (1lb/13 oz) chickpeas, or 2 smaller ones, liquid reserved

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice (ok ok, the bottled stuff will do)

1-2 T tahini paste (peanut butter will also do, but the flavour is not as subtle)

salt and pepper

Pour the liquid off the chickpeas, reserving it. Rinse off the peas. Place into an empty yogurt container, or other cylindrical container (or into the pitcher part of a blender. I like the hand blending method much better, though.) Add either 2 T of the reserved liquid, or 1 T of olive oil (the first is higher in sodium, the second in fat). Add the garlic, depending on how peppy you like your spread. Blend, moving the hand blender in an up and down motion. You will have to stop periodically (unplug!) and scrape around the blade to “help” the blender get to all the peas. Continue until you have a nice, creamy paste. Add the tahini paste and salt and pepper. Blend again.

Now for the fun. Add any of the following, according to your tastes! Plain yogurt (for extra creaminess, but keep in mind it won’t last as long in the fridge), cumin or curry powder, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, basil, lemon zest, pumpkin oil, chili powder, boiled spinach leaves, cooked beets, cooked carrot, other beans, etc.

Serve with toasted pita chips, pretzels, and fresh veggies. Or, spread on burgers, sandwiches, and in pitas.