Wednesday, November 30, 2011

impulse buys

Sometimes, while driving home from work, you just need a detour. Sometimes that detour finds you at Chicken House, the completely irresistably aroma’d Peruvian chicken joint more or less on my path home from work.

And then a “side order” of fried yucca is just so cheap that you impulsively ask for one along with your horchata.

The horchata disappeared in about ten seconds, but I managed to hold off on the yucca til I got home (though not gonna lie, it smelled so amazing in my confined Toyota that I definitely had a nibble at a red light).

I sat on the deck in the sun and ate a ton of this.


Ahh, fried food among the foliage.

It was totally spectacular. And as my mother and I discussed as she looked over my shoulder as I wrote this post, the sauces are at least as good as the yucca itself. The green one is super zingy, probably a mix of fresh cilantro and chiles; and the yellowish one is like a remoulade. Mmm mm. And the yucca, of course, is carby, fatty comfort food at the max.


Sheila also enjoyed lounging on the deck. She knew how good she looked with the fall foliage and the blue sky.


Another impulse- I took (and passed!) a math placement test at my community college because I needed to be at least at precalculus level to take Chemistry. To apply to grad school programs. To do a dietetics program. Followed by a dietetics internship. To someday in a zillion years be a dietician.

Unbeknownst to me to place into this chem that’s the mean to the ends, rather than a quick trig test, you had to complete algebra, geo, trig AND precalc. It took like two hours. Mon dieu.

In advance, I’d told myself that if I passed (on the gloomy, dreary day I took the test) I’d reward myself with something I’d been fantasizing about when I saw it on the menu board at my favorite Korean bakery:

sweet.potato. latte.

I know, right?!


You know what this was? A cup of hot milk with some mashed sweet potato (the Korean kind; they’re a bit less brightly colored, more of a soft yellow, and milder in flavor) whipped up together.

As such, it’d be wildly inappropriate for me ever to pay money for it again, as I have a perfectly good blender and a constant supply of sweet potatoes.


I rounded out my plate with healthier things (though honestly I was weirdly un-hungry. Despite eating lunch at like 3:30 in the afternoon. Test taking’ll do that to ya.)

I’d made some roasted cauliflower over the weekend- just high heat, olive oil, salt and pepper.


Fun fact: we send out a newsletter to all the sites our department at the food bank sends food to. I doubt they ever read it. BUT this past month I got to write the recipes for it :D And included one for roasted cauliflower!

I enjoyed this serving of roasted cauliflower in my ice cream bowl :D


Something restaurants will charge you like $8 for as an appetizer: edamame and soy sauce. Attractively presented in dishes I got in Asia :D  Even organic, cause that’s the only kind of soybeans my Safeway sells (which is nice since I hate supporting Monsanto in any way).


This lunch was so… warm!


Another POWERFUL impulse: also sweet potato related. So many of my impulses when it’s cold out involve sweet potato.

I had part of a baked sweet potato left over and suddenly all my heart craved was biscuits. BISCUITS! Carbs and butter. Basically, I constantly crave those two ingredients, but this particular night the biscuits were really calling to me.

Fortunately, this was an impulse that I could (and should!) gratify by cooking at home. Not gonna lie, any chance I got during my childhood I’d snarf down a Popeye’s biscuit. But, yknow… trans fat. General unhealthiness.

So I got my bake on and got not just one, but a plateful. It’s nice having high quantities of a starchy food around when Steve is coming for dinner, since that’s how he attains any level of fullness :D

Love love love crumbling together flour and butter by hand. It’s so soothing. Got the required wet-sand look.


Then added wet stuff and sweet tater.


It took awhile for that stuff to combine and I didn’t want crappy-textured biscuits, so I did drop biscuits rather than roll them out and cut them (that’s also a lot EASIER, which is nice for me, isn’t it?)


Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 T milk mixed with ½ tsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 T spelt flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
heaping 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp. stevia baking mix (or sugar, obviously)
2 T chilled sweet butter, cut into small cubes
1 t. canola oil
3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp. baking powder

In a wee bowl, combine milk and vinegar and let sit til curdled.

Sift together dry ingredients. Work in butter, oil, and milk mixture with fingers until just combined and sandy. Knead in sweet potato.

Drop in golf-ball-sized pieces or roll out and cut with cookie cutter.

Bake on parchment paper at 425 15-20 min or until golden.

Made me 10 biscuits and 1 baby biscuit! Aww.


Guys, these were SO GOOD. You’d never guess that they were actually good for you. So buttery!

Steve and I had a very deep philosophical talk about how with most biscuits one part is going to be better- either the wonderful flaky slightly crisped outside or the soft tender interior.

But these both aspects were equally good. You just wanted to keep eating them!


That was rounded out with an awesome salad I found on Epicurious and sort of adapted, as always when researching recipes, by wanting things to be healthier and refusing to leave my house to buy more quantities of ingredients.

I have grown very fond of that site- their selection is just really BIG, cause they pull from so many magazines/cookbooks, and they have some more ethnic/creative recipes than you’d see in Cooking Light. Sure, they’re a little less attuned to the saturated fat grams, but even the more indulgent recipes are adaptable.

And in general, I love living in an era where you can buy something at the farmer’s market, go “Hmm… I feel like doing something new with that” and five minutes later you’re making shredded kale and brussels sprouts salad with toasted almonds. Mmm.


Shredded Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad (adapted from Epicurious)

2 T plus 1 t olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 small garlic clove ground into a paste with ¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch kale, shredded
10 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, put through the grater attachment on a food processor
1/2 tsp. olive oil
3 T almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 ounce Parmesan, shaved

With a fork, combine 2 T olive oil through pepper. Let sit.

Toast almonds in the 1 tsp. olive oil.

Toss dressing with kale and Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle with cheese


My adapted recipe is good, but the UNadapted recipe was served at my work potluck that was Thanksgiving leftovers themed (love. my. job.) and it was… splendid.

So make mine if you’re watching the oil or are serving a smaller group, but make the real deal for culinary bliss.

1/2 a cup of olive oil real deal salad found here.

And finally, for protein’s sake (honestly I’d eat biscuits and salad for dinner but the hungry man was over) I threw together a frittata. I’m super into frittata lately. I made and failed to photograph one with kale, potatoes, and caramelized onions that was delightful!

I made this one with sauteed leeks and sun dried tomatoes. My frittatas generally follow a theme called “Clean out the fridge/pantry”.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

control freak tendencies

So anyone who has spent any time with me in real life has figured out that I am a control freak. Like, pretty intensely. Never is this more manifested (at least in my head; hopefully it’s less visible to others) than when there are leftovers in my house.

To clarify: not my leftovers. Other peoples’ leftovers.

You would think that being a foodie, I’d enjoy getting food related gifts. Sweet treats, dishes made from exotic recipes, restaurant leftovers. But quite honestly, the only gift I’d really like is some sort of raw ingredient. That I can cook, MY way, knowing EXACTLY how it was prepared and WHAT went in it and the health implications thereof.

My aunt gave me a pumpkin one time. It was great!

Anyway, we never host Thanksgiving and are always sent leftovers from whatever we attend. This year was no different, since my aunt Jeanie, whose wonderful Thanksgiving I attended; and my aunt Joanne, who picked my mom and sister up at the airport the day before Thanksgiving, ordered them home, and promised them Thanksgiving delivered to the house, did too.

So this year, I decided to try and just CHILL OUT and ENJOY THE LEFTOVERS.

For this particular lunch I was helped by the fact that I got to eat outside, due to it being in the MID SIXTIES despite the fact that it is LATE NOVEMBER! Gosh, lucky me :D


Along with a bucket of tea, I made a wonderful Whole Foods Hot Bar-esque plate. It’s great having lots of different things to taste! This is the ultimate for me! I should enjoy it!


Starting at the mashed sweet potatoes and going sideways, there are those wonderful orangey mashes of delight; my roasted veggies; some broccoli stem relish (that I’ll post about sooner rather than later); black olives (I know fancy shmancy sour olives and wrinkly olives and all that are the gourmet things to enjoy but I had forgotten how much I loooooove BLACK OLIVES FROM A CAN!); and brussels sprouts.

Even better was the side dish:

Greek yogurt, shredded wheat, and the most EXTRAORDINARY cranberry slaw/relish thing. Don’t know how it was made but it’s marvy!


But wait! There’s so much more!

I feel like it’s such an obvious choice after Thanksgiving or any mashed potatoes occasion to make shepherd’s pie.

We had indeed been sent home with mashed potatoes (and though mashed potatoes are one of those foods that incite my control freak tendencies, these tasted delicious and fresh, and not positively overloaded in butter. You also just use a thin layer of them as the topping, as you’ll see, so I consider this a healthful choice.)

But wait! I not only had leftover mashed potatoes. I had leftover VEGGIE BURGERS, having made a batch of my lentil burgers earlier in the week.


So this isn’t just Thanksgiving Leftovers shepherd’s pie- it’s VEGETARIAN shepherd’s pie!  

I had previous made and loved Cooking Light’s wild mushroom lentil cottage pie, so I roughtly followed its methodology.

I sauteed carrot, celery, and onion to tenderness, then added some mushrooms.

Then deglazed with a splash of veggie broth.


Rather than adding cooked lentils, I crumbled in my veggie burgers. I used considerably less vegetable broth- maybe 1 cup total. To enhance flavor, I added red wine vinegar and some ketchup.


It looked somewhat astonishingly meaty; and also did a beautiful job of thickening up as it baked, producing a texture (though not a flavor) very reminiscent of traditional shepherd’s pie.

By far the most fun activity- frosting the pie!

By which I mean smearing on mashed potatoes.

This was fun but I also had a slightly control freak-y moment when I worried I’d run out of mashed potatoes. But I did not. And got really the perfect layer.


When my pie emerged from the oven it had charmingly sprung a “gravy” leak in one corner, but goodness the potatoes were lovely.


As for the taste, my mom and I chowed down on roughly three fifths of that big pan there. Very nice.

Finally, this is the ultimate in my control freak tendencies: when I inherit something I’d never in a million years make on my own.

When I look at a sweet potato, I see a vegetable. I see a vegetable that is very sweet and delicious on its own, and mixing in large amounts of sugar seems silly. I see a vegetable that is silky and tender in texture when cooked well, and mixing in large quantities of butter seems silly (and less than heart healthy).

So when I get sweet potato casserole… with sprinkles on top… I am left slightly befuddled.


BUT in these circumstances, just MAKE SOUP.

Really, when the world throws you a curveball, it is just always a good idea to make soup :D

My sweet potato casserole soup has three ingredients:

1. Sweet potato casserole
2. Vegetable broth (to thin it into soup, dilute calories/butter/sugar)


3. Roasted butternut squash!


Compatible in flavor, adding a nice texture to sink one’s teeth into, the butternut squash did a PERFECT job of bringing this soup together.

And lo and behold, all that butter and sugar and pecans? It made for a DELICIOUS soup.


In fact, it was positively INSPIRED and never something I’d make on my own. So there, control freak. Let a little outside influence in.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

thankful day

For me, the gratitude began not on Thanksgiving, but the previous day, when my poor exhausted mother and sister returned from the hospital in New Orleans. They were HOME! And my sister, rather than the woeful, morphine-sedated girl I’d heard on the phone for a few anxious days, seemed like herself!

I drove Steve to the airport :( then went home, tucked myself into bed, and felt ready for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Since the previous two days had involved attending a Thanksgiving celebration with the kiddos at my previous workplace; and a trip to not one but TWO delicious but nutritionally dubious ethnic bakeries (of the Salvadoran and Korean types); I woke up with not much of an appetite at all. At the crack of dawn, arrgh.

I did like five crossword puzzles in bed (amazing); did yoga (Morning Flow from, my old friend); went grocery shopping to get my sister whatever she asked for cause she got a bloody appendectomy and deserves some enjoyment (I was pleased to discover that if you arrive at Safeway at 9 am on Thanksgiving it is actually not very crowded at all); and then sat down to a highly delicious breakfast.


Greek yogurt; chopped up farmer’s market apple; shredded wheat (which was slightly stale so I also added a splash of milk) and the last of some roasted almonds I’d made the previous day.

Ohhhh the TEXTURE!


Morning was spent reading cookbooks, taking a walk with my mom, laying the groundwork for the evening’s recipes.

Lunch first featured a savory butternut bread pudding; leftovers from the night before when I welcomed my family back to the nest with a comforting pot of home cookin’


Sweet tender squash; wonderfully chewy bread (in all honesty, I did this in a large part because I let some beautiful farmer’s market spelt bread go staaaaaaaaaaale while my mom was outta town- this revived it, thank goodness!); rich eggy custardy bottom that got all golden.


Made it more or less the way I did last time- savory butternut bread pudding-, minus the spinach.

Did get in my leafy greens via a serving of kale.


My new FAVORITE way to make kale in a hurry, inspired by reading Kath: just rip it into pieces and microwave it for a minute and a half, making sure you rinse it for cleanliness and so it’s slightly damp and- this is what’s INSPIRED- throw in a little soy sauce, too.

I used mushroom soy sauce. WOW. SO SO SO GOOD.


That didn’t quite do it, trying to eat light though I was for Thanksgiving, so I had the rest of the morning’s apple. Jonagold. FAB!


Then it was time to pull the gingerbread out of the oven, and poke it with sticks!

I followed the technique from a recipe I’d made before, warm gingerbread with lemon glaze, and I kinda tweaked it (omitting eggs, due to not wanting to buy eggs; adding pumpkin cause all the cool blogs were doing it, etc.) but honestly the original is way better.

So… make that.

You will still get to poke holes in your gingerbread


Then pour the lemon-sugar glaze atop


And watch the magic when it turns from the appearance of Elmer’s glue to a thin lovely glaze.


I want to add that I woke up in the morning unsure whether I’d be attending any Thanksgiving at all, nor what if anything I’d be contributing.

But I’d decided that yes, I’d put in some face time with my dad’s family because we’ve all had a loss together and I feel like I’ve barely seen them.

So naturally I called Jeanie, the hostess, and said, “I know I don’t HAVE to bring anything, but if I WANTED to bring something, what would round out your table?”

Her luscious-sounding descriptions left me confident that I’d eat well, but I thought, why not, round out the table. I brought the above gingerbread (a favorite of my uncle Tim’s; his favorite thing is to soak it in dark rum hahahaha), and I also brought this:


Roasted carrots and kohlrabi- just chopped up the kohlrabi and drizzled it with olive oil and threw it in a 400 oven to give it a, say, 20-25 minute head start. Then added chopped up carrot and a ton of minced garlic, another 20-25 minutes. Took everyone out, drizzled them with balsamic.

Also made cranberry sauce with the fresh cranberries I’d pounced on at the grocery store. Buncha cranberries mixed with this weird but tasty pistachio jam we have from the Lebanese store; some ginger, and some cinnamon. It was great.


A tip for transporting holiday items in a safe and effective way.

Step 1: Go to Buy some boots!

Step 2: Take out the boots, put your food in the box.


The highlight upon arriving at Jeanie’s, as it’s been for our past several visits, is sitting on the uh-mazing new porch.

It’s so beautiful and so comfy and even warm thanks to space heater and apparently god-awful-to-install-but-wonderfully-insulting plastic film stuff over the windows. Also a wonderful red fluffy piece of furniture we call the floof.

 DSC08191 DSC08192

Nibbles were in abundance: cheese (excellent), crackers and piri-piri sauce (the green one- it’s South African, my dad’s family’s heritage, and FABULOUSLY spicy) as well as a Jacques Pepin (my aunt Jeanie loves him a LOT) red pepper dip that we basically decimated.


I may have drunk both of those Diet Cokes…

Soon enough it was time to go in and check out the formidable buffet:


Those mashed sweet potatoes? I got a special shoutout from my aunt, who said she’d added the bergamot infused balsamic vinegar (!) I got her as a birthday present. It’s from my favorite new store- will post!

My aunt’s dining room is way too small to do a sit down dinner, and we’ve grown to appreciate our casual help-yourself style anyway, so I grabbed a plate and headed to the living room floor.

I ate this plate (along with more nibbles, obvi)


From the top, my roasted carrots ‘n kohlrabi; the mashed sweet potatoes; my cranberry sauce, the wunnerful roasted brussels sprouts with apples, and Trader Joe’s cornbread stuffing in the middle. Skipped turkey due to Advent fasting for church. And, as all previous Thanksgivings I have done this, didn’t miss it. Side dishes are really what the holiday is all about. Er… and gratitude, obviously.

We took an eating break and enjoyed lots of quality chatting, and then disaster!

Lou, a friend of Jeanie and Tim’s, had brought a GORGEOUS tart (you can see it in the buffet pictures above). She put it in the oven to warm up, and then came in and went “It went splat!” and she had burned her arm, too!

And then we all went “Ehhhhhh… we don’t really care.”

She put it back together and we ate it. Like, homemade butter crust, almond paste (!) and poached pears (!). The hell we were throwing that away.



Along with some of my gingerbread. And, yeah, probably a pumpkin pie sliver was nibbled. More gingerbread, too. And the tart was just in PIECES so it was just BEGGING to be picked at.


My dad: Did you make the brownies?

Me: The gingerbread?

Him: The ginger brownies?

Me: Juuuuust gingerbread.

Him: Oh… they’re good!

So… always nice to get cooking compliments. Of a sort :D