sarah’s rice pilaf

I’ve been a little slow on the blogging draw as of late. But rather than bore you with the details of why, here’s one of those dusty old drafts I never got around to posting. Maybe because the photography wasn’t as good as I’d hoped—the actual printed recipe yields a much better-looking dish than what’s pictured here, which was my “I don’t have everything” adaptation! Whatever the case may be, this is a hearty, chewy rice pilaf will make you feel like curling up at a big wooden harvest table with a bunch of good friends. Which reminds me…

How much I miss my Syracuse supper club people. We weren’t a formal club, just a group of couples who loved to eat. I think I only attended three or four of the actual events before I moved off to D.C., but being still relative newcomers to our new town, I miss eating regularly with others. This dish was one of the first, served at a cozy home in Tipperary Hill, Syracuse, but the lovely and fleet-footed Sarah. We ate buttery, garlicky mussels, and then this pilaf stuffed into individual mini pumpkins. Sarah introduced me to trail running and French wine, and to that I owe her the world.

Or at least, dinner. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be able to return the favor.

last image courtesy of Huro Kitty/Flickr Creative Commons

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yosenabe (Japanese hot pot)

If there’s a life conducive to food blogging, it’s being unemployed in a college town and newly attached. Conversely, if there’s a lifestyle conducive to letting that blog go stale as an opened box of wheat thins, it’s a nine-to-five job in a full-fledged city with your mate 370 miles away.

These things—with all their promise, exhilaration, and loneliness—have wrecked the most havoc here on these pages.

The excuses fly in: I don’t have the time. I’m too tired and too transient. I don’t have a car. I already spend my days thinking about and working on food. With three new housemates, there’s no space in the fridge for leftovers.

But every good excuse has a better antecedent: I have my weekends. I need the energy and the sense of home good meals bring. I have my bike, the metro, and a great co-op nearby. I can never get enough of food. And lastly, when you share life with great people, there are seldom leftovers anyway.

Perhaps without knowing it, my new housemates have helped eased my transition back into domesticity after more than a month spent country, county, and couch hopping. (Shout out to my wonderful sets of parents, June and Raul, and Rebecca and her parents for their respective hosting!)

They’ve been there with cookies at midnight after long days exploring the city. They’ve offered liver and onions before a treacherous bike ride through D.C.’s morning traffic. They’ve shared roast chicken and salad after a long day at the office, and left notes on perfectly-ripe avocados to spread on my evening slice of supper toast. And they’ve introduced me to Japanese hot pot: a first, and a delight to come home to one chilly Monday night.

As the chef herself put it, nabe is a “true communist meal”: each diner gives and takes according to their ability and need. There’s one big pot in the middle, steaming and stewing away with fresh cabbage, spinach, and seafood. Rather than tending your own little morsel, as is the case with fondue, you simply toss things into the pot at will and fish them out as you so desire.

In the end, everyone is amply fed.

I’m slowly relaxing into life here: exploring the smooth corners and rough edges of the communities around me, giving my hours to this new world and taking from its pool when I need to. There will be times, I know, when take-out will triumph and I will succumb to canned soup. But because I believe in and love good food, my fully-stocked (and darling) kitchen will call me back to a place I hope to never unlearn.

Until then, I owe it to my housemates.

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chocolate mousse for the skeptic

Enter the chocolate mousse. Not something I crave on a regular basis or would order at a restaurant. Those priviledges usually go to other treats I deem more worthy of my love than a bowl of whipped chocolate.

But when dippable chocolate is placed in front of me, especially accompanied by the fresh berries of summer, I am no fool. When I tried this mousse at a party earlier this summer, I was pleasantly surprised by its fondue-esque debut on my dessert radar. Why had I strayed from the mousse for so long?

The second surprise of the evening came when the mousse-maker shared her secret. An ingredient so unlikely in such a dessert that I just refused to believe it. Surely there had to be cream in this dip? Cream cheese? Butter? Eggs? Milk?

Guess again, ingredient sleuth.

The bowl of chocolate indulgence had come to me from none other than the Goddess of the Bean. Not the black bean or the kidney bean, but the soy bean. The very thing that brings me edamame, soy milk, and, you guessed it, Tofu.

So now that I’ve turned you off completely from ever making this mousse and sending you straight to a more chic, French, and bigscreen-worthy recipe such as this one, I’ll type out the recipe for those who have tried it and know that low-fat, protein-rich silken tofu can stand in once in awhile for all those indulgence that make life worth living. It’s your dessert: you decide.

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slaw salad

I’m not sure anymore whether Syracuse feels like home. In any case, it’s good to have my own jug of milk and a fruit bowl with peaches in it. Life on the road teaches the joy in simple things. Natural peanut butter. Homemade granola. Kefir smoothies. Iced lattes that don’t cost $4.

Missouri and Colorado were good to me. Stacking up the archives with their own memories. Creeks and campfires, peaks and rough roads. Glancing back through pictures, they feel like different lives.

I haven’t hit the cutting board with the kind of excitement I was expecting. Trying to create 8 decent multimedia pieces in 2 weeks is eating up more of my time than I have to, well, eat. The work is rewarding, but tedious. The final push is here, Friday’s deadline looms like with giant jaws.

On Thursday our team was exiled from our cozy lab by the new masters class. It was a beautiful day for bonding, so we dragged our office chair-imprinted bottoms to the park for some lunch and a strange sport called wiffle ball. (It’s a conspiracy: Canadians do not excel at wiffle ball.)

I was instructed to make “a delicious salad” by our faithful event planner, and so (as any disenchanted foodie who’s been wrenched from her Henckels for too long would do), I consulted my mother. She came through faithfully, and so for all those requesting the recipe, here it rests.

It’s not really salad, with its torn leaves and chunks of veggies. It’s not really ‘slaw either, at least in the southern sense. In fact, I think it was inspired by a salad at some insipid restaurant chain, but no one needs to know that, right? Besides, any cabbaged loved by your own two hands maketh a far happier bowl of ‘slaw. At least in my home, wherever that may be.

The thing I love best about this salad is that you don’t have to follow the recipe. I bought all the ingredients on Thursday, and I’ve made it twice since the initial picnic debut, with different amounts. It doesn’t matter if you use more red cabbage one day and more Napa the next. Feel free to omit and substitute as you wish, whether it be using chopped up snap peas instead of the carrots, or leaving out the bean sprouts.  Use all the the cabbage heads to make a bowl for a large crowd. Top it with BBQ’d tofu or chicken strips, or roll it up in a wrap.

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tofu deli slices

Summer hit Syracuse last weekend with the impetuosity of a season long-forgotten. Blazing down during a Sunday bike ride, it left its pink hand print squarely between my shoulders. Yesterday it reached 30°C (87°F) and today the mercury is still up in the high 20°s (70°s). Our apartment, in good second-floor sun-drenched form, is responding as expected.

One of my favorite things about hot weather is eating cooler foods. Anything I can make without turning on my oven or standing over my stove gets my immediate approval. Coming in at a close second are things that can be cooked quickly or on low heat.

But first, a warning: I can’t promise you this will be the prettiest post. But food doesn’t always present us with the most photogenic subjects does it? In this case, tofu came out a little camera-shy, looking rather drab drenched in marinade. But once it was tucked into a toasted sourdough sandwich, it was reunited with greatness.

Tofu, which a wonderfully healthy source of natural soy protein (as opposed to all those junky bars, shakes, and factory-produced cereals), seems to have this way of sitting in my fridge too long. For some reason, I seem to have this horrible tendency to neglect it. But you know what? It deserves to be loved. And topped with avocado, sprouts, and fresh tomatoes, tofu-love comes easily. Even if you’ve been known to say a mean word or two about it.

And that’s where this tofu saver comes in. When I stopped buying deli meats, I missed the thick, juicy filler they gave my summer sandwiches. Egg salad and tuna got old fast. And so I hauled out the tofu, tapped it three times, and politely asked it to become something wonderfully sandwich-worthy. I’ve been making these slices ever since. And best of all, they last (almost) forever in the fridge.

Tofu Deli-Slices

Slice firm tofu in ¼ to ½ – inch slices.

Mix up a marinade: There’s almost no limit to what you can do here, just mix up any liquid things you think go together. In the past I’ve used brown sugar, soy sauce, worchestershire, even ketchup. You could use pesto, or a curry-coconut milk mixture, or any supermarket bottled peanut, Thai, or Indonesian sauce. I’m sure some salad dressings would do a great job, too. For a smoky taste, try a few dashes of liquid smoke, or BBQ sauce.

Marinate the slices in a plastic container or bowl for a few hours, overnight, or until it  starts calling your name.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Lay the slices out on a piece of parchment or foil, and bake until they become dry and leathery at the edges, and maybe start to brown slightly, usually over an hour. You can continue to bake them until they’re completely “meaty” all the way through, or leave them soft an squishy at the centers. Up to you.

Cool, and store in the refrigerator to use in sandwiches.

simply soba

When it comes to food, I am really quite easily satisfied.  I love anything healthy, seasonal, and simple. I am enticed by brown grains flecked with hues of green. The bold tang of garlic frequently meets up with gently wilted leaves in bowls on my table. And unlike my last post, this one will be purely service-oriented, hopefully generating nothing but raving comments from all ye who enter its savory embrace.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not garlic the most universally seasonal of the aromatic family? Kale too is a cold-weather green, with leathery hardiness unrivalled among greenery. Think of it as the biker of cabbage family. It almost got me wanting to listen to G n’ R while I cooked. Almost.

This dish is responsible for the 2 pound package of Japanese Soba Noodles waiting patiently in my cupboard. They are the buckwheat darlings of the glorious noodle kingdom —  slippery-soft, done in 3 minutes, and can be tossed with just about any legume, vegetable, spice or sauce. Try them in stir-fries or as a carrier for your next back-of-the-fridge mash-up. Eating buckwheat shouldn’t really feel as glorious as this, but it can. Oh yes, it can.

And thanks to the hubby, my new favorite garlic companion makes six cloves of garlic a breeze. Yep, six cloves. Instant garlic love. No more of this sticky ridiculousness.  If you’re lucky enough to find one, do yourself a favor

There’s nothing to this dish. Set some tofu to press in the fridge before you go out in the morning.  Cook up some noodles. Bread the tofu slabs and bake or fry.  Mix up the noodles and presto! You’ve got a robust,  hard-core winter dinner companion.

When Axel’s busy, this will more than do.

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Spoony Sundays #2

Gooooood evening and welcome to the second edition of Spoony Sundays, where we forsake forks and knives for that most graceful of utensils. This week our tastebuds will be given quite a run around. First we’ll dip our spoons into the smoky-spicy soup pots of the south and then lift bowls overflowing with lip-puckering eastern infusions.

The first black bean soup I made was off the label on a can of (you guessed it) black beans. It was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made— beans, corn, salsa, lime juice and some cumin. In spite of its delicate simplicity though, I eventually had to face the hard fact that my “I just moved out on my own” bean soup was lacking a little something something.

The kind of soup I was after is hearty and rugged, dark and a little bit dangerous. The kind I picture cowboys and frontiersmen rigging up over campfires and eating out of dented tin pots. I couldn’t find any recipes in the latest issue of American Cowboy, so I turned in the opposite direction: Food and Wine. (Like I always say, when the guys in boots let you down try the ones in kitchen clogs.)

F&W’s Mexican Black Bean Soup got an 8 out of 10 out of me. I’m beginning to see how you really need hefty meat stocks for true depth of flavour, but I just didn’t have a ham hock laying around for that kind of recipe. The blob of green on garnishing the soup is my improvised a cilantro-cream.

My second guest tonight is Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook. By the way, if you have trouble coming up with menu plans for parties and special occasions, this is a great book. I can’t wait to try their chocolate-filled calimyrna figs (when such a specific craving next overtakes me).

But before I proceed with extolling the joys of recreating a slightly foreign favourite, I just have to introduce you to the woodear mushroom, or auricularia auricula-judae for short. There he is, making his debut appearance on my blog and in my life. Good to have you, auricula. You were a delight to work with, so slippery in my hands and on my little Asian spoon.

My first attempt at Hot and Sour soup — something I’ve only had the pleasure of enjoying at a Chinese restaurant — was gratifying even if for that reason alone. I also don’t own a mandoline, so julienned carrots came about via a slightly longer, zen-like process (old-fashioned chopping). I still ended up with some pretty nice looking carrot matchsticks — an evocative technical term if I ever heard one. The woodears and bamboo shoots came from our local Asian market.

Both of these soups are thick, simple to prepare, and use affordable ingredients. Both can be made vegetarian or even vegan, and both respond well to flashes of creativity and flourishes of genius. As some of you already have, please let me know if you try these out and how they work for you.

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