Monday, February 28, 2011

throwback potluck

Potluck has continued to be a source of awesomeness in my life (new readers: my fellow Americorps members and I, as well as a growing circle of friends and friends-of-friends, hold a potluck every Thursday). However, I’ve been highly neglectful of posting about it. Thus, this week will be Potluck week: updating on all the good eatin’ that’s been going down.

Steve’s most recent hosting gig involved a nostalgia theme: everyone was instructed to bring a dish that reminded them of their childhood.

For me, that meant getting out a seriously gnarly recipe.


Many, many times my sister and mother and I ate “Spicy Spaghetti” (or “skabetty, as I once pronounced it), a cold sesame/peanut noodle recipe. We loved it, it was quick and easy, and as my mother points out, “I had just gotten divorced. It’s spaghetti and peanut butter. Do the math.”

But the main reason we ate it is because it’s DELICIOUS!

In order to get back the amazing flavor from my childhood, it meant using real peanut butter. In the past few years I’ve become a devotee of slightly gritty, less-sweet, all-natural peanut butter. For this, though? Sugar and partially hydrogenated oil, please!

Poached some work peanut butter. The classic stuff!


Also used regular linguine, not whole wheat. There is a time and a place.

The ensuing dish was as great as I remember (if slightly marred by crappy soy sauce: this is important. It is okay to buy reduced sodium soy sauce. You can always add more salt, but it is nice to be able to control the sodium content. However, do not buy La Choy low sodium soy sauce. It is gross. Pay 10 cents more and get another brand. I will take off my bargain hunter hat on the low sodium soy sauce issue. That is all)


Knowing that with a theme like this, potluck was not necessarily going to be terribly healthy, I made another of my favorite childhood recipes (well, ish, unfortunately I did not have the recipe on hand, so it was not as good).

Dena’s ginger carrots!

Got some butter (gotta use buttah! Though I mixed it with oil) in a pan, and add ginger and garlic to infuse it with flava.


Then add some baby carrots that’ve been pre-cooked to softness (I did ‘em in the microwave) and finish with honey.


Good reviews! But have to review Dena’s recipe, since they were not as magic as I remember them.

And now for childhood classics!

Pigs in a blanket (apparently LOTS OF PEOPLE add American cheese. I had no idea!)


Ants on a log (Erin is too cute: using Craisins meant that they were FIRE ANTS on a log!)


Also from Erin: apples and honey, from memories of Rosh Hashanahs past. It really is an exceptionally delicious combo.


Of course, no carb left behind.

Pizza from Caroline:


SO FANTASTIC apple cinnamon muffins from Patricia. I call her Leave No Carb Behind. She is GOOD.


But the boys did a nice job as well, gettin’ their cook on, makin’ a man sandwich in the very close quarters of the kitchen (hahahahahaha ladies you’re welcome).


Kyle made toast with peanut butter and bananas (amazing how many dishes involved peanut butter: it is a really powerful childhood staple! I wonder how it’ll be with this coming generation with all the allergy hysteria and peanut-free places. Madness!)


Also on toast: Steve’s dad’s chopped fried eggs.

Begin by topping toast with lots of butter (if Steve makes it and it’s delicious, there is always butter involved.)


Fried up eggs.




Then chop! Egg yolk oozing all over the place… it is really quite delicious.


But David definitely made me want to be a Peruvian kid. He made papas huancaina, which we enjoyed at a Peruvian restaurant not long ago.

The key is in the sauce. Into a blender went queso fresco (nom), evaporated milk (nom), saltine crackers (?! who knew?!), and aji amarillo, the yellow chile that I guess is a staple of Peruvian cooking.


On potatoes. With hardboiled egg. QUE DELICIOSO.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

baby’s first buffalo

Last week I made BUFFALO MEATLOAF! Buffaloaf :D

It was epically delicious. 10 out of 10 (I’ve realized I say everything is delicious and it is meaningless. So, a more sophisticated ranking system is born).


So here’s how it happened: our farmer’s market has a buffalo guy, and I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to buy it for several weeks.

I am not afraid of cooking raw meat, but I am afraid of expensive meat. Why? Because if I cook it poorly and I do not enjoy eating it then I have essentially thrown money away.

Still, this was local. It was beautiful. I went for it.


This was one where I wanted to do my research. Buffalo is naturally lean (score!) but as a result it is easy to overcook (boo!). I wanted a clear-cut recipe that took clear steps to infuse moisture.

I settled on this epicurious one for buffalo meatloaf because the first step was sauteeing scads of mushrooms and red onion for flava and juice-itude. Yes.


I sort of ignored the roasted potatoes and spinach (I had other plans) but basically did the loaf as the recipe requested (except I subbed fire roasted tomatoes, squeezed up, for the tomato sauce; and had no fresh herbs, which I totally forgot about TIL I TYPED THIS but I guess I *didnt’* use dried the way I’d planned and it was still hella flavorful!).

Onto the pan it went (a freestanding loaf is *brilliant*, cause fat goes onto the baking sheet rather than traditional meatloaf where it’s just sitting in the pan being… fatty)


Baked it 30 minutes. Glazed it. Baked another 10 minutes.

It was supposed to go for an additional 10, but it smelled… really good. My cousin the pastry chef never times anything and is of the opinion that food tells you when it is done. And you know what? I sometimes have to TRUST MY INSTINCTS.

Fortunately, this evening I did and I took it out 10 minutes early and it was PERFECT. PERFECT.



I may only eat buffalo from now on.


Buffalo has such a wonderfully delicate taste on your palate- savory and satisfying in only the way red meat can be, yet didn’t leave me feeling weighed down at all. Gently biting into the delicate meatiness (sounds like a contradiction in terms, but with buffalo, it is both!), I was left feeling utter bliss.

Regular readers know that I am not a big slab of red meat girl, but hot damn. Give me buffalo any time.

Did round out the meal with veggie wholesomeness: spuds and green things.


The only brussels sprouts I will ever really want:

Olive oil in medium pan, to coat. Sliced brussels (tiny ones whole, small/medium ones halfed, big ones thirded or fourthed) into the pan, cut side down. Brown. Flip around. Brown. Add 2 tsp. honey, 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp. dried dill, 1 tsp. water, salt and pepper. Cook til tender.


Next recipe is, hilariously, from a completely vegetarian cookbook. Am definitely continuing my love affair with Moosewood.

Why group them together? They are both easy (ish) weeknight friendly meals that involve local ingredients and honor this season: that means they are warm and comforting. Blessedly, they are also healthy.

I admired the beautiful artwork in the Moosewood recipe, as usual. I sort of missed out, not living in the 60s/70s. Everything was so cute and hippie. All those people who ate vegetarian and listened to folk and wore love beads vote Republican now… strange.


As usual, I amended the recipe using what I had on hand, and found it utterly delicious. Thus, the following is a beautiful blending of Moosewood and Moi.

How I did it:

1. Vegetable things got browned in oil in a big Dutch oven.


2. Two of my favorite pantry staples were utilized:


3. Homemade veggie stock for depth of flava:


4. Beautiful colorful somewhat eclectic spice selection (copied them on this one- who knew the same recipe would include turmeric, basil, and nutmeg?! My kitchen smelled so bangin’ after I added all this):


5. Cooked for a bit. Get in my belly!


Gypsy Soup, by Moosewood via Lele!

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 a butternut squash, chopped
3/4 cup chopped red pepper
1 cup canned fire roasted tomatoes with garlic
1 can chickpeas
3 1/2 cups homemade vegetable stock
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

Heat olive oil in medium Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, red pepper, and squash. Cook until golden. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetable stock, and spices. Bring to a boil. Simmer gently, uncovered, until vegetables are tender.


Delicious the first day, even better the second!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

root veggie fries

Sometimes I love to spend hours in my kitchen, stirring various pots and chopping colorful produce and tossing exotic spices.

And sometimes I’m home alone for dinner and all I want (actually, to rephrase, all I want after demolishing a large quantity of chocolate immediately after returning from work) is a big plate of parsnip fries.


Feeds. Your. Soul.

Fortunately, usually there is someone around and for others, if not myself, I am keen to include food groups.

A beautiful source of protein? A rainbow of beans!


This bean soup mix was a gift from my godmother, who every Christmas sends us a foodie’s dream gift basket filled with mixes from an awesome charity she supports which teaches employment skills- via food prep!- to women in poverty.

Thus, the Blessed Bean Soup.


It really is absurdly easy. I’m slightly embarassed. They even include a seasoning packet (and, um, holy deliciousness, they did I way better job than I did. Is it the fennel?! The parsley and cilantro combined? Just the right amount of cumin?)


Had many bowls straight up, in lunch, etc., but my favorite incarnation included more, you guessed it, root vegetable fries, in the form of butternut, Hungry-Girl-style.


They will never be a substitute for actual french fries, and any claims of that by Hungry Girl are just… silly. And mine never get particularly crisp, actually.


But mean, give me these limp orange bad boys any day. When they get all brown and caramelized like that? No words.


Since the oven was already on, that meal also included the squash seeds, roasted, and sure, throw some almonds in there too.

My mother said it was like being on a first class flight, the assorted roasted things :D She was just one one, actually, due to the whole having-to-fly-back-from-Antarctica-with-a-broken-pelvis situation.


Another night’s protein of choice: salmon cakes!

Had some salmon in the freezer that had partially thawed during that unfortunate blackout. According to my neighbor who works for USDA and patiently and sweetly answers our food safety questions (love love love Nancy) it was fine to eat, but the texture might be off.

SO, ground it up in the food processor with green onion, then seared it up in a skillet.

Wish my camera had adequately captured its beautiful pink-ness!


Yummy though slightly distracted cooking meant cooking for longer than optimal. Still, a slight bit of dryness was pleasantly counteracted by a walloping of Sriracha!


Plated up with, did you have to ask?, more “fries”. Parsnip. So sweet!


Plus, to round it all the way out, my green vegetable. Beet greens, steamed, lemon, olive oil. All I need.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

food bank triumphs

My work food situation is a little weird. The extra 8 pounds on me since starting the job would tell you this.

Basically, there is TONS of it and it is always around, and I am always all up in it.

The afterschool program at which I work serves low-income children and, as such, gets money from the Capital Area Food Bank to give the kids a daily “snack” (more like dinner). An official part of my job is processing weekly food bank deliveries, preparing and serving the snack, and writing reports about it.

An unofficial fact is that kids are picky eaters and there is always a ton of extra food which we feel compelled and/or lured to eat.

A work lunch:


Hot tea (a necessity), leftover yogurt (the kids actually LOVE yogurt. I wish it were something more feasible to donate during a food drive or something. It’s so nutrient-rich! Incidentally, if you’re looking to make a donation, may I recommend oatmeal? It’s a whole grain and our kids LOVE it, even if it does seem slightly random as an afterschool snack), apple slices (from home), and a taco salad.

Now, let’s talk about this taco salad. The lettuce I brought from home, but the topping was black bean-pineapple-cheddar salsa. Classy, no?


The cool part? Our kiddos made it! The food bank offers a program called Kids Cook that sends volunteers (who are well-meaning and enthusiastic, if ever so slightly inexperienced with children) to teach the kids simple recipes (meaning ones that do not involve knives/stoves/measuring/etc.) that they can make at home.

Jarred salsa+ canned pineapple and black beans+ shredded cheese is ADDICTIVE! And includes an impressive quantity of food groups.

As for that beautiful sandwich I had the other week during that picnic?


Along with avocado, it was filled with a recipe that was also culled from Kids Cook leftovers.

The previous week they’d made mashed bean burritos (it involved sticking pinto beans in a bag and punching them. Good times!) and there was leftover filling of the aforementioned black beans and more salsa and cheddar.


I brought that home and, wishing to amp up the vitamins and amp down the fat, I decided to stretch it out with some beautiful local butternut squashed.

Cubed and sauteed for awhile til golden…


Then in went the bean mixture, plus some extra salsa I had on hand, plus some water for stew-ification, and I let that all cook until the squash was tender (as an added bonus, the cheese had gotten all melty and awesome. It was beautiful to behold!)

The ensuing dish was SO MEATY! Something happens when mashed pinto beans, butternut squash, and cheddar cheese meet! Totally vegetarian and this STUCK TO YO’ RIBS!


Plus some roasted squash seeds :D Waste not, want not!


The cooking part of my job is definitely a lot of work: I make a meal for 40 people every single day.

Sometimes that means setting out trail mix, but I’m often cutting up fruit (I am stoked that they send fresh produce and don’t at all begrudge the time it takes to prepare it but multiply 40 oranges into 8 slices and it takes aWHILE), or making stovetop recipes on an extremely large scale (8 boxes of mac and cheese, anyone?).

Some of the food bank ingredients that they send are just challenging to make appealing to children, who in general are reluctant to try new things and are highly distrustful of vegetables.

The latest case in point? Canned carrots. Canned diced carrots. Honestly, even my coworkers and I were skeeved out.

The solution popped into my head: carrot cake muffins! Disguise vegetables in a sweet and delicious outer shell! Create a marketing campaign that says CAKE, not carrots!

I googled vegan carrot cake muffin recipes (due to the fact that the food is sent long distance in a truck, we absolutely never have eggs; they’d be totally impractical) and settled on this one, which I amended by tripling it, substituting canned carrots, omitting walnuts, etc.

The result?


EVERY SINGLE CHILD ate one. I was so stinkin’ proud.