Friday, September 30, 2011


I think sometimes Americans think about ethnic food as EPCOT. Lotsa different countries with easily accessible cuisines all in one place.

I get to live somewhere diverse, where I can get Korean barbecue, Peruvian rotisserie chicken, and Ethiopian injera all on the same block.

However, this causes me to believe that I can achieve that level of diversity in my home cooking. Despite my unwillingness to buy specialized ingredients or equipment or even research a recipe.

Er… mixed success.

What the things I make generally have going for them is that they originate with beautiful fresh vegetables. Plant based, baby!

Here is a lovely and colorful selection of spudlets.


I gave them a chopsie and a roastie. (Drizzled with oil. Baked at 350 til tender). And I topped them with some mushrooms partway through the cooking process so the mushrooms roasted too.


And then, my friends, you know what happened? “Mole”!

Not mole. Not the actual mole sauce from a specific region of Mexico that takes special kinds of chilis and about twenty four hours worth of labor to make its subtle, nuanced flavor.

No, here’s how I made mole:

I made some tomato sauce (it was homemade, I had that going for me). Then I dug around in the back of the pantry to uncover a dried chile. I think it was a New Mexican? Then I rehydrated that chili in hot water. I stuck it in a food processor, along with my tomato sauce, and some cumin, and some cocoa powder. And then when it seemed kind of abrasive I had a moment of genius and mixed in some leftover pureed squash, which added a soft sweetness that went perfectly with all the other flavors.

And it made…

actually really really good “mole”. Who knew?

So I stirred together my roasties, the “mole”, and some leftover shredded chicken to make a stew of sorts and it was fantastic!

Note: a common theme in this post will be that foods can taste good and be extremely ugly. Bear that in mind.


While roasting and things were happening, I made some highly ghetto guacamole. By combining some diced avocado, diced tomato, onion powder, cumin, crushed red pepper flakes…?

It wasn’t my best. My best is even lazier and basically entails mixing mashed avocado with salsa. Plus some extra garlic salt and lemon juice.


Still, with some nice tortillas for dippage, this made for a surprisingly delicious and well rounded meal.


One ethnicity finished, and rated…

Authenticity: C
Flavor: A-

… and, like Epcot, mere moments later, another ethnicity begins!

What do these spices signify to you?


If you said INDIA, you are correct!

The main reason I initially felt like cooking Indian food is that we had okra, and one of my favorite ways to prepare okra is with Indian spices.


I roughly adapted a recipe in Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, one of my favorite cookbooks that details a variety of Indian vegetarian recipes. I probably adapted it TOO roughly and skimped on the oil TOO much, because though the variety of spices was beautiful and colorful and well-rounded in scope, it was just too dry. Sigh.


I did not just make that okra, though. I apparently had an Indian food VISION. In part due to the fact that we had oodles of fresh farmer’s market produce. I fancied some eggplant.

I really really wanted to make bhaingan bartha, because I love love love ordering it at Indian restaurants and don’t want to be a slave to eating out. SO, I winged it. Surprise surprise.

As most of the recipes recommended, I roasted the eggplant in a very hot oven (they said you could also just toast it over a stove burner, but I have an electric stove so that option was not available to me, alas)


And I got to cooking some onion, cumin and mustard seeds, hot pepper, garlic, ginger


Then I added the soft roasted eggplant, a buncha tomatoes, and some liquid. It was essentially a stew, at least the way I made it. So that was groovin’ on low on the stove.

BUT WAIT. I also got some (similar looking) spices, onion, and pepper going in a (similar looking) pan to make some chickpeas, because what is an Indian meal without chickpeas? (Also, yknow, it’s good to eat protein).


So with the brown rice I’d started at the beginning of this whole endeavor, I had EVERY SINGLE BURNER GOING.

And this was a few weeks ago, when it was still HOT. Steam facial!


Things began coming off the stove.

The okra was delicious in its spicitude but dry in its texture. Live a little, Lele. Use some fat.


As for the eggplant, it had a nice texture (the eggplant flesh and tomatoes got all velvety) but the flavors were a little bland.

And it was just not the transcendental experience to which eating bhaingan bartha in an Indian restaurant can elevate one’s consciousness.

It was… eggplant and tomato stew. Yawn. I really want to hang out with someone’s Indian grandmother and have her teach me how to make bhaingan bartha. Anyone?


Chickpeas and rice. I make both of these things all the time. They tasted like they usually do. Pretty good.


So this was a lot of effort… a lot of chopping… a lot of pans.


Authenticity: B- (the spices were legit but the chickpeas were canned)
Flavor: C

Finally, my dad just returned from Thailand. He just sort of… wanders over there once or twice a year, teaches Asian businessmen about Facebook, and returns. (He spends the remainder of his time in his yard and garage).

Anywho, I very kindly picked him up at the airport in rush hour. So I went ahead and helped myself to some of the curry pouches he brought back.

Green curry paste!


Straight from Bangkok!


I would enlighten you about the ingredients, but they were all written in Thai (in my opinion, an exceptionally beautiful alphabet). If anyone can read Thai and translate, I’d be eternally grateful. Kup khun kha! (<< spelled wrong, I am sure).


I knew the curry paste would go nicely with some of the ingredients my mother had picked up at the farmer’s market. Yes, more eggplant in the same week. She buys eggplant like it’s her job. She loves it. A lot.

(I mean so do I. I am certainly not complaining. Actually, eggplant love runs in the family. My aunt Kathy ate in the North End while traveling to Boston over the weekend and awesomely sent me a play-by-play of each of the courses she and my uncle Tom ordered. Like other families are with fantasy football, we are with fantasy eating! Anyway, one dish they shared involved ‘eggplant bonbons”. It sounded so tasty!)

Anyway, these lil eggplants were particularly vibrantly hued specimens.


But wait, you ask, what is that colorful, caterpillar reminiscent item in the corner.

Any guesses?


FRESH GINGER! Isn’t it gorgeous? The taste is special. Which I was actually counting on, because though I had an authentic Thai cookbook (I got it at cooking school in Thailand!) I lacked some of the ingredients. I hoped that this mild, special ginger flavor would resemble galangal, which is what the recipe actually called for.

The source for said recipe was this book:


The thing I like… and hate about the book is its casual measurements and ingredients. “Handful”. “Mixed vegetables”. Those of us who like freedom with our recipes no doubt respond well to this. But honestly, when venturing into a cuisine with which I am less familiar, I crave the order of a concrete recipe. But also lacked a lot of the ingredients (kefir lime say what?!)


So I improvised.

Lacking an all-purpose wok type instrument we had in our cooking school, I used a nonstick skillet. I put it on highish heat (as we did throughout our Thai cooking training), drizzled in a bit of peanut oil (which can stand high heat) and then added a healthy quantity of curry paste.


WHOO BABY! If you have any sinus blockages, I highly recommend simply heating up some green curry paste.

I let it get brown and aromatic (cough cough cough) and then added my ginger, which I’d minced, and eggplant, which I’d cut up into bite sized pieces.

Eggplant really craves tons and tons of oil, and just looooves soaking it up. Being scant on oil, the eggplant only sort of browned, but I cooked it til it was a bit blistery.


Then it was brothifying time!

I mostly used vegetable broth (homemade, dontcha know), but of course one cannot have green curry without:


With just the little bit (1/4 cup?) of the coconut milk I originally added (compared to probably a cup of vegetable broth), it thickened the mixture up beautifully.


(see those thick and creamy looking bubbles!)

However, the eggplant had to finish cooking.

And, though the cooking school where I’d learned my recipe was vegetarian, I had some leftover chicken to add, which I first shredded:


Fortuitously enough, the chicken had been marinated in honey and lime (as well as, er, tequila), and those sweet and sour flavors perhaps contributed to the finished curry?

I also added some flavoring: you were meant to use a mix of light and dark soy sauce but since I only had one kind of just regular soy sauce (is that light or dark?) and knew for a fact she’d included that in the recipe to omit fish sauce, a classic Thai ingredient, I just continued to be unvegetarian and added both soy sauce and fish sauce.

More vegetable broth to finish cooking the eggplant to tenderness and heat up the chicken. Cooked covered, a bit longer. Added a dash of coconut milk as a final flavor enhancer and thickener. Throw in some fresh basil leaves. Not thai basil, just basil basil.

Anyway, apologies. This green curry was delicious but fugly. What it was not was green.


On the bright side, I’d give myself the highest rating for it.

Authenticity: B (Yes, I didn’t have kefir lime leaves and galangal, but the curry paste was legit! As was what I served the curry atop, see below!)
Flavor: A

There were no leftovers! (Well I mean… Steve was over. So there usually aren’t. But it was really good!)

As a vehicle for the curry, I used not rice (as is typically the carb of choice in American Thai restaurants), but the starch that served as a bed for the curry when I made it in Bangkok: noodles!


Made out of rice, a product of Thailand. An elephant on it and everything!


The source of these authentically Thai noodles? No, my dad did not attempt to pack delicate rice noodles in his suitcase.

Those are a product of my EPCOT neighborhood :D

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

blissful brunch, raging rapids, perfect pizza

I’m feeling sentimental. It’s rare, but like lunar eclipses, two headed goats, and bipartisan cooperation in Congress, it happens (no not really that last bit is a joke. The poli sci major in me has given up. GIVEN UP. I am ensconced in a nonprofit doing a specific constituency a lot of good and want nothing to do with any of the rest of it).

Anyway, this sentimentality is manifested in the general direction of my boyfriend. I appreciate many things about him.

For example, he buys me Greek yogurt and delicious toppings.


This act was part of a generally sweet trajectory taken on a particularly lovely and relaxing morning.

Steve… doesn’t really do breakfast.

If, like me, you are a breakfast lover, you likely find this appalling. But Steve is just different. He kind of does the caveman thing, actually. Much like the males of the prehuman species set off on the hunt, downed a mammoth, went on an eating spree, and then went without for lengthy periods of time, Steve views everyday eating. He loves a mammoth, caveman-sized meal at night. This means he has a lackluster appetite for breakfast and even lunch, and then can experience his full hunger for dinner. (For part of college, to save money, he had a once-a-day meal plan. So he ate really really really huge dinners.) Those of us who’ve studied nutrition may be horrified by Steve’s lifestyle choices, but I will point out that he has a six-pack and the energy level of a Golden retriever puppy. So.

Anyway, despite the fact that Steve doesn’t really do breakfast, he knows that I loooove breakfast and even more than breakfast I love brunch (cause you get to eat twice as much and sometimes even have alcohol!) So he ran out and returned with the fixings for a brunch FEAST.

I am a total micromanager in the kitchen and tend to sort of take over and Steve is a good sport about that, though I suspect there are times he just wants me to sit in the living room and leave him alone. But I did my one official duty and then did obediently disappear to the living room with an issue of Glamour til he unveiled his masterpiece.

Anyway, my production: His and Hers yogurt parfaits!


A bottom layer of Vanilla Chobani (which I cut a bit with his and a LOT in mine with plain yogurt, since I tend to get overwhelmed by both the thickness and sweetness of that stuff).

A gorgeous and colorful assortment of fruit (bananas and berries of the black and rasp persuasions).

A sprinkling of granola atop, very generous on Steve’s and scant on mine (though it must be pointed out that I was sort of just nibbling and snacking at it from the box cause it was vanilla-y with dried cranberries and DELICIOUS).

Man serving:


Me serving:


I relaxed in the living room (slash got a little nutrients in my belly cause I kind of wake up immediately hungry) with a beverage abandoned by Steve’s former roommate.

In fact, the existence of the living room was the demonstration of David’s absence. Due to a sort of shady midyear Americorps housing snafu, Steve had another dude living in his living room for many months. David’s great, but it’s kind of nice to be able to hang out places other than the kitchen and Steve’s room. Anyway, David is the person I have to thank for this beverage, which he left when he moved. David’s Peruvian, and always had all kinds of interesting Latin products.

This product, evidently endorsed by some kind of famous soccer player, was sort of a healthy hot chocolate (a la Ovaltine)


The ingredients, reasonably wholesome:


It was yummy!

Meanwhile, Steve was cookin’ up a whole lotta peppers and onions!


(the peanut butter in the background didn’t make it in, though with Steve it actually wouldn’t totally surprise me)

The purpose of those zesty veggies was revealed to be BREAKFAST BURRITOS!

Big huge mega tortillas, perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs, and the aforementioned veggies. (I’d brought some tomatoes over, and he said he didn’t really know what I’d intended to do with them, so he’d just chopped them up for a topping, hahaha. They were really good!)


Though Steve always wants to serve me (his family’s Italian… apparently it’s the ultimate in rudeness for someone to have to serve themselves in an Italian home? Whatever), his portion sizes are way way massiver than mine.

So I politely, yet firmly declined, and made my own half burrito.

All the toppings plus, this being a Steve recipe, Sriracha.


Yum yum yum yum yum!

Because Steve is forever coming up with whacky food combinations (another thing I am fond of- Steve is highly, highly creative), his opted to add some fried almonds on top of his. Why not?


He made me take a bite and it tasted like… lots of things that taste good… mixed together. I preferred to keep mine a little purer.

Plus a delectable and colorful parfait. A scrumptious, healthy, well-rounded brunch. Mm mm mm.


Another Saturday with Steve- remember when we went to Pennsylvania to go camping and white water rafting but our tent flooded so we had to go home?

Well, we had a rafting trip to reschedule!

That trip happened this past Saturday. Straight up: I was kind of apprehensive. Something about having to sign the waiver myself for the first time (rather than, as a minor, leaving that grisly task to a parent as I did when I was just a wee child gallivanting around the West). Also, fear of the cold. Other people were renting wetsuits but the girl working the sign in said 50 Boy Scouts had done a trip earlier in the day with no wetsuits. And I had a perverse desire to be tough. And I don’t know… just fear of the unknown. I have never fallen in a river and just really didn’t want to.

But, lo and behold, it ended up being great out on the water. No pictures (due to that whole “river” thing), but we enjoyed all kinds of pretty fall foliage and mildly scary rapids.

And then it was time for the part of the day which I had most excitedly awaited. We made our way to my favorite site in rural Pennsylvania, the Lucky Dog Cafe!

As before, I was enchanted at its mix of rural charm and style. I’d like my house to have this comfy, hang-out-y vibe.



We began with water, and then his and hers beverages: PBR for the boy with oh so refined taste in beer; Earl Grey tea for the girl who is always, always cold. (And had recently been soaked with river water).


We hemmed and hawed over the menu for a lengthy time, because both Steve and I take food very seriously. Eventually, we decided on three things.

First, a salad, because they’d boasted of a dazzling variety of homemade dressings. The cilantro lime vinaigrette was indeed delectable, alongside a utilitarian but tasty house salad.



And then Steve saw bacon on the menu and ordered himself a nice heart attack.

This monster of a bowl included a gargantuan quantity of fries, a huge amount of cheese, lots and lots and lots of bacon, and a quarter cup or so of sour cream atop.


I ate some, more than I should or desired to, just because I was really hungry and it was there.

Oi. The problem was, I was waiting.

I knew from the get-go the real reason we were there: PIZZA.

You see, when we’d previously visited The Lucky Dog, on the recommendation of a local, he’d casually mentioned “good pizza”. Well, we ordered one and gobbled, awestruck, at the most blisterylicious crisp and doughy thin crust pizza we’d ever been lucky enough to taste.

Obviously, obviously, we got the same bliss-crusted, tomato-basil-balsamic reduction topped beauty.


I actually (sadly) think the oven was slightly less volcanic this time, because while the crust was blissfully doughy and chewy, it didn’t have quite the same crackle on its edges.

However, the strength of the toppings was 100%. Ooey gooey mozzarella, fresh red summer tomatoes, basil, and oh my gracious that balsamic reduction.

We just may have to do a Pizza Pilgrimage to Pennsylvania every six months or so.


And more fun awaits us. I am off to Steve’s for dinner tomorrow night, where we will then enjoy a viewing of Return of the Jedi. Basically, we are the coolest people ever.