Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies

I think this blog may need a new name, since I don't seem to talk about vegetables all that much. Right now, I am not going to break this trend, because I just want to take a moment to admire these cookies.


They're chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, a Martha Stewart recipe that I found here. I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt (because the recipe didn't call for any) and I skipped the 20-minute chill after shaping the dough (because I got impatient). In retrospect, I don't think the salt was necessary, although it didn't make the cookies too salty. The thing is, molasses has a fair amount of potassium, which tastes salty. So next time, I'd leave out the salt. As for the 20-minute chilling time, it seemed perfectly fine to skip that, even if you're not in a hurry.

I found the cookies to be exactly what it says on the tin: chewy, chocolatey, and gingery, with a little bit of crispness from the granulated sugar coating. These are not subtle cookies, but that's what I like about gingerbread anyway.

Also, they came out looking pretty much exactly the way they're supposed to. They didn't spread out too much, the top cracked, the sugary coating was still visible. I've made plenty of batches of delicious cookies that looked wrong, so this was kind of a moment of triumph.

Okay, so there's that. Next time, I will definitely write about vegetables. Probably.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oatmeal-lemon-chocolate-chip cookies

A few weeks ago, when I was in LA, my great-aunt gave me a bag of lemons for my mom. This is what the front of the bag looked like:


Things I love about this: 1) There was a picture of happy dancing teeth on the bag. 1a) Happy dancing teeth with sunglasses. 2) Someone felt the need to write LEMONS on the bag of lemons. 3) This person also felt the need to cross out the happy dancing teeth before writing LEMONS.

The last of the happy dancing teeth LEMONS got used in a batch of cookies last week, when I got the need-to-bake-cookies itch. We were watching a movie about Leo Tolstoy, and I kept getting distracted by cookie ideas. Something with chocolate, but not just chocolate chip. Oatmeal chocolate chip with cinnamon? Seems too wintery. Oatmeal chocolate chip with lemon? I like oatmeal, chocolate, and lemon; surely this will go well. (The movie was interesting enough. I was just multitasking, which is a nice way of saying "distractable.")

Despite the lack of forethought that went into these cookies, they were really tasty, confirming my instinct that it's hard to go wrong with oatmeal and chocolate. They are chewy, slightly lemony, and very chocolatey. If you like the combination of chocolate and citrus, I think you'll like them.


Oatmeal-lemon-chocolate-chip cookies
Adapted from the Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies recipe from a Quaker Oats lid
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1.5 cups granulated sugar (see note below)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp molasses
1 generous tbsp lemon zest (I used two lemons)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the sugar and butter until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater, then add the eggs, vanilla, molasses, and lemon zest. Beat until smooth and scrape down the bowl and beater again.

Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and rolled oats) to a separate bowl and mix well.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving room for the cookies to spread. Bake until golden brown on the edges and set in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack.

Note: The original recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. I substituted white sugar plus molasses for the brown sugar because I was nearly out of brown sugar, and I think this made the cookies chewier. Either way will work.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegetarian kimchi 1.0

Okay, I am not very good at the food blogging thing. I completely forgot about taking pictures of the Korean tacos and kimchi potato salad that I wrote about last time. But I did make some fishless kimchi, and I do have some photos of that to put up, which is more interesting anyway.  Like this one:

The color got a little muted when I uploaded this picture.  Trust me, in real life, it is BRIGHT red.

Looking up recipes for kimchi can be intimidating because everyone has their own way of doing it. Some recipes make it sound easy, some get mystical and cult-like about the benefits of kimchi making, and some are just completely intimidating ("People who say they got it down after the first couple of attempts are either a) lying, b) geniuses, c) don't really know what good kimchi tastes like or d) have low standards and expectations."). After getting rather overwhelmed, I finally decided to just do it, which is a strategy that I should probably employ more often in life.

All of the recipes had certain ingredients in common: napa cabbage, uniodized salt, water, gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, green onions, ginger, and almost always fish sauce. Many of them also used onion and Korean radish, and some used dried salted shrimp. Some of the recipes called for a paste made of mochiko (rice flour), water, and sugar (or Asian pear); the sugar is supposed to help start the fermentation, and I think the mochiko is for texture. A couple called for an acidic ingredient, like vinegar or lemon juice.

The methods were more straightforward. First, you need to cut the cabbage into pieces and salt it, either by brining it or by coating it with dry salt, to inhibit the bad microbes and encourage the right kind of bacteria (Lactobacillus) to grow. Then you blend up everything else into a paste, usually using a food processor, and coat the cabbage leaves with the paste. Sometimes the cabbage sections are left intact (in which case they're sliced into bite-size pieces before serving) and sometimes they are chopped into pieces. You pack the whole mixture into a jar, leave it at room temperature for 24 hours, then put it in the refrigerator. And that's it.

Ultimately, I picked the intimidating recipe (from Eat, Drink, Man) because it was very specific, and I halved it so that I would only use one cabbage. I also tweaked the ingredients a little, mainly to avoid the fish sauce, since the point was to make vegetarian kimchi. I used gochujang (red pepper paste) instead of fish sauce, since I think it's more interesting than soy sauce (a substitute that I saw in a couple of places).

Kimchi, trial 1
1 napa cabbage (about 1300 g)
a lot of sea salt
1/4 cup mochiko (sweet rice flour)
3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1/2 bulb garlic
1.5 oz ginger
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 bunch green onions, white parts whole, green parts sliced into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup sugar

I cut the cabbage in quarters lengthwise, rinsed it briefly, and thoroughly sprinkled it with salt.

I let it sit for about 4 hours, turning it over after 2 hours, then rinsed it three times. After doing this, it was way too salty, possibly because I used fine sea salt instead of coarse sea salt. Obviously, kimchi is supposed to be salty, but it shouldn't taste like eating a salt lick. So I soaked it in clean water for about an hour, changing the water periodically, which made it a lot more palatable.

I cooked the mochiko and water over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it bubbled, then stirred in the sugar. In the food processor, I blended the garlic, ginger, and the white parts of the green onions into a paste. I combined this with the mochiko mixture, then mixed in the green parts of the onions, the gochugaru, and the gochujang. I also added a bit of the liquid from the purchased kimchi to make sure there were some good bacteria in there, but I don't think this is strictly necessary. I let this mixture cool.  I was still trying to un-salt the cabbage, so there was plenty of time.

I cut the cabbage into strips and mixed it with the mochiko-garlic-gochugaru paste so that the cabbage was completely coated, then put everything in a big glass container.

(Sorry about the somewhat funky picture. It was the middle of the night.)

I put the jar into a plastic bag, then put the bag into a tupperware container, which I left in the garage for 24 hours. I checked it periodically and right around the 24-hour mark, I finally saw some bubbles. Then I put it in the fridge and went away for the weekend. When I came back about four days later, it was noticeably bubbly and starting to get sour.  Today, about two weeks later, more than half has been eaten and the remaining kimchi is definitely sour.

So what did I learn from this experience?

First of all, there was the salty cabbage problem, which was probably my fault for using too much salt and the wrong kind of salt. I read that the cabbage stays crunchier if you use dry salt instead of brining it, and my kimchi does indeed have a good texture. But I think brining would give you more control over the salt level, so that's what I'll try next time.  In any case, it showed that a) it's a good idea to taste the salted cabbage, and b) overly salty cabbage is not a dealbreaker if you soak it in plain water for a while.

Second, I thought the kimchi tasted pretty good even before the fermentation got started, which surprised me because I'm not a big fan of raw cabbage.

Third, this stuff has a powerful smell to it, more so than kimchi from a store. It's like driving through Gilroy during garlic season. There's a reason why my kimchi is stored in a tightly sealed jar wrapped in two plastic bags.

(Also, speaking of learning things: if I were a teacher, I would totally have my students make kimchi. The process of making kimchi, even more so than most cooking, is full of examples of scientific concepts that I learned in much less interesting and tasty ways: osmosis, diffusion, pH, lactic acid fermentation, gas laws, symbiosis... Yes, I'm kind of nerdy.)

Overall, this was a really satisfying project that I'd like to do again. It's possible that I don't know what good kimchi tastes like, or that I have low standards and expectations, but I really liked this kimchi. Also, I gave some to my Korean friend and he didn't laugh at me (very much) when he tried it, so I'll count that as a win.

Some references:
Eat, Drink, Man's kimchi page
Kimchi and Kaktugi from
Heidi's Kimchi Recipe
Closet Cooking's kimchi
The Paupered Chef's kimchi contest results

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Korean tacos and kimchi sweet potato salad

On Monday, I decided that I was going to make spicy Korean tacos, which I've been wanting to try since they became super trendy like a year and a half ago.  Since I don't live in LA, nor do I have the patience to track down the Kogi truck anyway, making them myself seemed like my best option. In order to do this, I needed to acquire some gochujang (red pepper paste) and some vegetarian kimchi, and I decided that it would be a good excuse to find a Korean grocery store. (I like going to grocery stores. Yes, I am weird, news at 11.) And that's how I ended up wandering around in Hankook for at least half an hour, probably more like forty-five minutes. I may have lost track of time a little bit.

There were many kinds of gochujang. I'm not sure you'd find that many kinds of ketchup in a standard American grocery store. I wanted a container the size of an index card box (do people even use index card boxes anymore? suddenly I feel old), not a five-gallon container, which narrowed it down to a couple of varieties. They were the same brand and their ingredients were very similar, but one of them had some additional seasoning and slightly less sodium. Beyond that, I'm sure the packaging explained the difference quite clearly to people who can read Korean, a category that I definitely don't belong to. I ended up choosing the plainer one, more or less at random. When I opened up the container, there was a plastic flap on the inside that said "NO!" along with a bunch of other Korean writing.

I think it probably says something like "NO! MSG" or "NO! artificial ingredients," but it could say "NO! don't use this as an ice cream topping" or "NO! dilute! dilute!" with equal accuracy, and I would not know the difference.

There were also many kinds of kimchi. In addition to the jars and packets of kimchi, there's a section of the store that sells prepared food in bulk, like the salad bar at Whole Foods, and a large proportion of it is kimchi. But for all that, it turns out that there is no such thing as vegetarian kimchi. It all has shrimp and anchovies, kind of like all Vietnamese food has fish sauce. (I swear I've seen kimchi that is just cabbage, salt, and red pepper...but it might have been Japanese kimchi, and Japan is the country that decided it was a good idea to put corn and mayonnaise on pizza, so.) Anyway, after I'd looked at about fifteen different kinds of kimchi, I finally found a package that did not list anything fishy in its English ingredients. The problem here is that products sold in the US have to have an English ingredient label, but sometimes the translation is...loose. In this case, after I'd gotten home, I realized that there were cute little icons on the front depicting cabbage, peppers, garlic, ginger, shrimp, and fish.

Sigh. I used it anyway, because I'm the worst vegetarian ever.  (I'm a vegetarian mainly because I object to how animals are treated on factory farms, not because I feel a deep mystical connection to animals. As such, in situations where I have to choose between eating an animal product or wasting food, I tend to believe that eating the food is the lesser evil.) In any case, next time I'm making my own darn kimchi.

The tacos probably made my non-existent Korean and Mexican ancestors spin in their graves, but they were pretty good (and also INCREDIBLY spicy). I modified the recipe by just cooking the tofu with the sauce, rather than coating it with the sauce and then deep-frying it. This made me feel all health-conscious, but honestly, I'm sure I would have liked the deep-fried version better.

I also made kimchi sweet potato salad, omitting the mayonnaise (because I can't stand it) and the bacon (because so far, there are no pigs made of vegetables), and that was pretty awesome. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for both sweet potatoes and kimchi, but I think they do actually work well together.

I'll add pictures of the actual food to this post tomorrow.

Update: I clearly flaked out on taking pictures, but I did make My Own Darn Kimchi, which you can see over here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

summer salad number one (peaches, tomatoes, and shiso)

This salad, which was part of dinner tonight, reminded me why I like summer.

It's a four-ingredient salad:

1. super-ripe peaches
2. tomatoes (these were green zebra tomatoes, which taste like...tomatoes)
3. shiso, a fuzzy Japanese herb with a flavor that is hard to describe
4. a drizzle of olive oil

I've also made this with peaches, tomatoes, and basil. There, the combination of tomatoes and basil is expected, and the peaches are the unusual element. Tonight I wanted to use basil in another dish, so I decided to try shiso instead, and now I'm completely intrigued by the concept of combining shiso and fruit. Who knew?

Hooray for summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raspberry brownies

In lieu of my usual verbose introduction, I will just say this: if you like chocolate and raspberries, you will like these brownies. They're thick and moist, and they have a definite raspberry flavor. It's a little time-consuming to strain out the raspberry seeds, but it is definitely worth it. No photograph, once again, but you know what brownies look like, right?

Raspberry brownies
adapted from Fine Cooking and words to eat by

To substitute semisweet chocolate for unsweetened chocolate in this recipe, use 4 oz. semisweet chocolate and reduce the amount of sugar by 1/4 cup.

4 oz. (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, plus some for the pan
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1-1/2 cups sugar
Scant 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) flour
2 Tbs. natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
12 oz. frozen raspberries
optional: about 1/2 cup chocolate chips to sprinkle on top

1. Put the frozen raspberries in a small pot over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has broken down and the volume has reduced somewhat, 20-30 minutes.

2. While the raspberries are cooking down, place an oven rack on the middle rung and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan (so that the parchment will stick), then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.

3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler or in the microwave. Cool slightly, then pour into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated.

4. Pour the cooked raspberries through a strainer to remove the seeds. Use a spoon or a spatula to force as much pulp as possible through the strainer; this should yield about 1/2 cup of raspberry pulp. Discard the seeds and thoroughly stir the pulp into the chocolate mixture.

5. Add the flour and cocoa powder to the chocolate mixture and stir until just incorporated.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the top, if you like. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs, 35-45 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool, then cut into squares.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lychee lime granita

Hello, internet! I haven't forgotten about this blog, contrary to all appearances. I've just had a combination of lack-of-inspiration, lack-of-actually-cooking, and lack-of-photogenic-food in the last few months. I still don't have any food photos, but I do have a super-easy summery recipe. And I swear I won't wait three months before I post again.

I don't have an ice cream maker, so granita is my homemade frozen dessert of choice. This is a little surprising because descriptions of granita tend to make it sound completely uncompelling. Its Wikipedia entry says it is a "semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings", and I think I've read that "granita" means "grainy" in Italian. Mmm, grainy. But once I got over my skepticism and tried making it, I discovered that it was a perfect light dessert. It's also incredibly easy to make: you just have to make a syrup, put it in the freezer, and remember to stir it up every half hour or so. The final product is something like shave ice, but with the flavoring in the ice instead of poured over it.

Recently, I was inspired to make granita by this recipe on the Pioneer Woman Cooks (possibly the only vegan recipe I've ever seen there), plus a giant bag of limes that we got for about a dollar. Instead of making a syrup, I used the syrupy liquid from a can of lychees, because I love lychees even though they look like what you'd get if you applied a melon baller to a raw chicken breast. They have a unique, sort of floral flavor. You could use another kind of canned fruit syrup, but I'm pretty sure that you can buy canned lychees at Safeway, even though they're an exotic fruit. If not, I think they're definitely worth a trip to an Asian grocery store.

Lychee lime granita
Two notes: 1) I have to be annoyingly imprecise here because the lychee can was not an American standard size, and I don't remember exactly how big it was. But the exact proportions aren't too important. If it tastes good before you freeze it, it'll be fine. 2) In the past, I used a glass pan to freeze granita, which was fine except that the granita tended to freeze onto the sides. This time, I accidentally discovered that this is not a problem if you use a plastic container, like a reusable ziploc food storage box.

1 can of lychees (about 20 oz.)
3-4 limes

1. Drain the liquid from the lychees into a freezer-safe container and reserve the lychees. Juice three of the limes into the container, then taste the mixture. Add the juice from the fourth lime if you like.

2. Cover the container and place it in the freezer for about an hour. Remove the container from the freezer and stir the granita with a fork to break up the ice crystals, then return it to the freezer.

3. After half an hour, remove the granita and scrape it with the tines of a fork, using a raking motion. Continue to scrape the granita every half hour until it is completely frozen (2-3 hours, depending on the size and shape of the container). If it hardens too much to scrape easily, which may happen if you store it overnight, just let it warm up a bit.

4. Serve with the reserved lychees or other fruit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

three corners has my hat

Hamantaschen are filled triangular cookies that are eaten during Purim, a Jewish holiday that happened last weekend. I'm not Jewish, so I'm going to focus on the cookies rather than the holiday, except to explain that Haman is the bad guy in the Purim story. The word "hamantaschen" means "Haman's pockets," but they're supposedly shaped like Haman's hat. Apparently, there's also an association between eating hamantaschen and symbolically eating Haman's ears, since the Hebrew name for them means "Haman's ears." (Sephardic Jews make fried pastries called orejas de Aman: literally, "Haman's ears.") I guess that's one way of getting revenge.

When I was a kid, I tried some homemade hamantaschen that apparently made a lasting impression on me. Although I don't remember them very well, I do remember that they had two different types of filling. The interesting one was poppy seed filling, since I'd only ever seen poppy seeds in the context of bagels and possibly muffins. I was fascinated by the idea of using poppy seeds as a central ingredient, and once I learned to bake, I occasionally thought about making some hamantaschen of my own. It seemed like a rather ambitious project, but I kept walking past the bin of poppy seeds at the grocery store and thinking, How hard could it be? So this year I finally decided to plunge in.

None of my cookbooks have a hamantaschen recipe, so I turned to the internets, where I learned that everyone and their grandma has a favorite hamantaschen recipe. There are lots of possible fillings, from poppy seeds to apricot to Nutella. And then there's the dough: some recipes use oil or vegetable shortening to comply with Jewish dietary laws (you can't eat dairy and meat in the same meal), some use butter, and some use butter and cream cheese. And then, somewhere in left field, there are savory hamantaschen and even mochi hamantaschen (not gonna lie, I want to try these). Anyway, I settled on a dough recipe from and I made up a filling recipe based on the poppy seed recipes that I found.

The verdict? These cookies are really tasty, with a nice citrus flavor from orange juice and citrus peel, and they weren't as complicated as I expected. I did get tired of folding them halfway through, so I tested out my new squirrel- and monkey-shaped cookie cutters on the rest of the dough. I had leftover filling, which I've been eating with yogurt. mmm.

Poppy-seed filling
makes about one and a half cups of filling...I didn't measure, but it was enough for more than a dozen hamantaschen

1/2 cup poppy seeds
2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped candied citrus peel (or zest from 1 lemon)

Pour the boiling water over the poppy seeds and soak overnight.

Drain the water and grind the poppy seeds briefly using a food processor; you can also use a mortar and pestle, but they will be less finely ground.

In a small saucepan, combine the ground poppy seeds, butter, sugar, citrus peel, and 1/4 cup of water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture looks dry. Allow it to cool before using as filling.

I used a dough recipe from with minimal modifications, so I'll send you over there. I rolled my dough a little thinner than the recipe indicates, and my hamantaschen took 10 minutes to bake. So, keep an eye on your first batch. This dough also makes excellent crispy cut-out cookies.

To form the hamantaschen, you need to roll out the dough, cut out circles, put the filling in the center of each circle, and fold the edges up to form a triangular shape. An alternative to using a cookie cutter is to roll balls of dough, then flatten them with a rolling pin, as shown here. In either case, pinch the seams together so that they won't come apart during baking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Upside-down apple cake

For the most part, I'm not a cake person. With the possible exception of chocolate idiot cake, I'll choose pie over cake any day. (That kind of makes it sound like this is a dilemma that I face frequently. I wish.)

But my mom's birthday was last week and I thought I should probably make her a birthday cake rather than a birthday pie. I'd seen some recipes for apple cakes, like this one, which looks like a distant cousin of tarte tatin (an upside-down apple tart). Since tarte tatin is one of the best things in the world, it follows that a cake tatin should be pretty tasty too, right? And my apples say they were grown in the USA, so it's even somewhat seasonal.

I ended up using a How to Cook Everything Vegetarian recipe, "Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake," with several modifications. 1) Obviously, apples instead of plums, and no rosemary. 2) Caramel instead of a layer of brown sugar on the bottom of the pan. 3) I added some spices. 4) Yogurt instead of buttermilk. 5) I just realized that I doubled the amount of butter in the recipe, since you're supposed to use half of it to grease the pan. Oops.

Upside-down apple cake
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
makes one 9-inch cake; takes about 1.5 hours, mostly baking time

1 cup sugar (divided use)
1/3 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 apples, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick (I used two Granny Smiths and one Pink Lady)
1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat)
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter (skip this if you're using a nonstick pan). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup of the sugar with the water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it is amber-colored, then pour it into the cake pan as evenly as possible. It will harden fairly quickly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange the apple pieces in a single layer in the cake pan. This will end up being the top of the cake, so try for a nice-looking pattern. Mine looked like this:

Whisk the melted butter, yogurt, eggs, and remaining sugar together until foamy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The batter will be thick. Spoon the batter evenly onto the apples and spread it into an even layer.

Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a serving plate. (Place the serving plate on top of the pan, then flip the whole thing over and remove the pan slowly. The cake should fall right out, but if it doesn't, run a knife around the edge of the pan and try again.)

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

(Please excuse my poor photography. It was really pretty in real life.)

This cake was pretty good, and it was actually better the next day; I'm not sure why. It was even sort of healthy, for cake. My problem was that I wanted it to be more apple-y: I only used one layer of apple slices because I was worried that raw apples wouldn't cook properly if there were too many of them, but that wasn't enough for me. I can think of a few ways to fix this: 1) Use more apple slices. There are a lot of apple pie and apple crisp recipes that use raw apples, and they turn out fine, so it should work here too. 2) Cook the apples briefly, as in the tarte tatin recipe. 3) Grate or finely chop the raw apples and add them to the batter.

Or I could just make pie next time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Experimentation fail

Tonight I made maacouda, a Tunisian dish with eggs and potatoes. Basically, you mash potatoes, then mix them with a whole lot of eggs and some flavorings, then bake the whole thing. It pretty much tasted like fritatta, which is not my favorite thing ever because it's like eating a sponge dipped in egg. (This may have been my fault for using leftover baked potatoes instead of freshly boiled potatoes.) But the flavor combination really seemed like it should work: potatoes, egg, caramelized onions, olives, and mint. So, I think I'll try making potato salad with those ingredients.

I also made a chickpea...thing. I was determined to cook the beans from scratch, because that's what I did last week and it was awesome. This was not awesome.

We didn't have any dried garbanzo beans, but there was this bag of garbanzo beans labeled "Dalia" in the cupboard. It came from an Indian grocery store that has been gone for so long that its former site is now an empty lot with plants growing on it. That probably should have been my clue that it was time to throw away the bag, but I forged ahead. It turns out that dalia is roasted chickpeas, and The Google said that there are basically two things to do with them: chutney or a dessert called channa dal ladoo.

But I wanted to make soup, so I ignored the recipes and made soup. I've never met a combination of garbanzos, tomatoes, and spices that I didn't like, but it turns out that stale beans will push it pretty far in that direction. sigh.

Anyway, moral of the story: canned beans >>> stale beans.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Darn good imperfect split pea soup

I wasn't going to post until I found an awesome recipe or took an amazing picture or something, but then I realized that strategy would probably result in an average of one post per year. If that. So, I'm going to try a different approach. I'm going to post about the things that I cook, even if they're neither perfect nor photogenic. Because cooking isn't really about perfection, in my opinion, it's about good food.

So. Last week, I made some darn good split pea soup by adopting the ideas that I liked from three different recipes:

1. Veganomicon has a recipe called "double pea soup with roasted red peppers," which calls for both split peas and frozen peas. I think this is a stroke of genius. Normal split pea soup is dull green and not all that appetizing in appearance, whereas the addition of frozen peas makes the color much brighter and also adds some texture.

2. I wanted to use Indian spices, so I found a pea recipe ("carrots and peas with ginger and Chinese parsley") in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and approximated its mixture of spices. (I didn't have fenugreek or mustard seeds. I'm not sure I even know what fenugreek is.) Then I looked at the Veganomicon recipe more carefully and realized that it did call for cumin and coriander...oh well.

3. The Veganomicon recipe makes "6 to 8 servings," which sounded like overkill, so I used the proportions from the split pea soup recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I liked the flavor of this soup a lot. I liked split pea soup before I was a vegetarian, when my mom made it with ham or bacon, and it turns out that you can also make something really good without any animal products or Bac-O-Bits. (Did you know that Bac-O-Bits are vegan? Kind of freaky, isn't it?) Which I guess is hardly surprising, considering that a significant part of Indian cuisine is about making legumes taste good to vegetarians.

Besides adding the frozen peas, I changed the cooking process a bit by caramelizing the onions on their own and adding them at the end, rather than cooking them along with the soup. I think this gave them a better texture, and it was definitely more time-efficient because I didn't have to wait for the onions to finish cooking before I could start the soup. I used roasted garlic because I had some left over from a different recipe, but if I'd used fresh garlic, I would have cooked it along with the onions.

The next time I make this, I'll use more spices, and I'll add something hot-spicy. And maybe a little more lime.

Anyway, here's how I did it.

Darn good split pea soup, version 1
(with help from Veganomicon, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and An Invitation to Indian Cooking)
(took somewhat more than 1 hour, made about 5 servings of soup)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups dried green split peas, picked over and washed well
6 cups of water
the cloves from 1/2 head of roasted garlic, squeezed out of their skins
1 onion
1 cup frozen green peas

I heated 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When it was hot, I added the spices and let them cook until they were fragrant (about a minute), stirring constantly. I added the split peas, water, roasted garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I stirred it to make sure the spices weren't stuck to the bottom of the pot, then turned the heat to high so that it came to a boil. Then I turned down the heat to low and covered the pot. I let it simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I accidentally left a lot of water in the peas after washing them, so there was a lot of liquid in the pot. This meant that the peas didn't stick at all. It might be different if you drain your peas better, but you don't have to worry about it a lot.)

While the split peas were cooking, I chopped the onion. I heated the rest of the olive oil in a skillet, over medium low heat, and cooked the onion with a pinch of salt until it was medium brown. This took about as long as it took to cook the peas.

When the split peas had cooked for 45 minutes, I tested them to make sure they were soft (they were) and added 1/2 cup of the frozen peas. I stirred the pot and let it simmer, covered, for five minutes. Then I blended it thoroughly with an immersion blender and tasted for salt. I believe I added about 3/4 of a teaspoon more, a little at a time. (I go through a lot of tasting spoons when I cook.) Since there was too much water in my soup, I boiled it down for about 5 minutes, but this step would not usually be necessary.

I added the onion and the rest of the frozen peas and simmered for five more minutes, until the frozen peas were warmed through and bright green.

I served this with bread (and butter, because I'm not really vegan, I just steal their soup recipes) and salad.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Roasted parsnip soup with pear

I think that parsnips are my favorite underappreciated vegetable. They look like mutant carrots. They're a little sweet, like carrots, but they have an interesting, sort of herbal flavor.

I was going to make something with parsnips for Thanksgiving, but at the last minute I changed my mind and ended up with a couple of pounds of parsnips that I had no idea how to use. A certain amount of googling gave me the idea of parsnip and pear soup, like this simple one or this curried one. I thought it would be more interesting to leave the pear raw, instead of cooking it with the parsnips. I mixed the chunks of pear with lime juice to keep them from turning brown, and to add some acidity to the soup (since everything else is slightly sweet). I pureed the soup, but reserved some of the roasted parsnips to give the soup more texture. And I added smoked paprika for a little more complexity.

My cooking experiments definitely don't always work out (e.g., I tried making braised rice cakes from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but overcooked it and got warm sesame-flavored glue), but this one did.

(I'm learning that it's challenging to take appetizing photos of soup.)

Two other notes on this recipe: 1) You can substitute an apple for the pear, which will give it more textural contrast. I liked it both ways. 2) The chipotle in this soup doesn't make it fiery, just noticeably spicy. Adjust the amount if it makes you happy.

Roasted parsnip soup with pear
makes about 4 bowls of soup
takes about an hour to cook

olive oil
6 medium-sized parsnips (about 1.5 pounds)
2 carrots
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 ripe Bartlett pear
1 lime

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. While it's heating, wash the parsnips and carrots (and peel them if you like), then cut them into roughly equal-sized pieces. Halve and core the parsnips (you can skip this for the smaller ones). Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper, spread out the parsnip and carrot pieces on the sheet, and drizzle them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a little bit of salt. Mix them around with a spoon so that everything is coated with oil. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with a knife.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes. The onions are ready when they are starting to turn brown, which will probably take about the same amount of time as it takes to roast the vegetables. If the onions finish first, turn down the heat until the parsnips and carrots are ready.

3. When the parsnips and carrots are done, add the smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and salt to the onions. Add the water, all of the carrots, and half of the parsnips to the pot. Raise the heat so that the water comes to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the soup until it's smooth, adding more water if necessary. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Chop the reserved parsnips into 1/2-inch chunks, add them to the soup, and simmer the soup again so that everything is warmed through.

5. To make the pear topping, cut the pear into small chunks and squeeze the lime over it. Serve the soup topped with the pear mixture.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

err on the side of chocolate

(This post has nothing to do with vegetables. I'm getting there!)

When I was figuring out which kinds of cookies I should make for my relatives for Christmas, my mom said, "Err on the side of chocolate." And I did. In fact, I think that's generally a good principle to follow in life.

These are the recipes that I used this year.

Chocolate truffle cookies. I use a recipe from Gourmet magazine that I can't find online. The one I linked above is essentially the same recipe, but the cookies look better if you roll the dough balls with dampened hands when you're putting them on the baking sheets. It's kind of a pain (I'm a fan of drop cookies where you really just drop the dough on the cookie sheets), but absolutely worth it.

Double ginger crackles. These are really good, but next time I'm going to try adding grated fresh ginger.

Mexican chocolate cookies. I used chipotle powder instead of cayenne. These are spicy in a sneaky way: the first bite just tastes like chocolate, but later you can definitely taste the pepper. (I didn't give them away. Some people are really into the chocolate-plus-pepper thing, others not so much, and I was concerned about making my relatives hate me. It had nothing to do with wanting to eat them myself. ahem.) I was going to do the variation with dulce de leche, but then I decided that I liked them the way they were. They were my favorites this year.

Chocolate-almond buttercrunch toffee (one batch with almonds and one with walnuts). I used to be awesome at toffee, but this year one batch came out too hard and one came out too soft. sigh. It still tasted good, though.

Florentines. When I was in high school, I used a Fine Cooking recipe for florentines that had about fifty steps. Since they were really good and they looked impressive (you can see a picture here), I kept making them for a long time. But it was a big time commitment and occasionally I'd burn the topping and it was tragic, so I decided I should try something new. This recipe is a) ten times easier, b) healthier, and c) I like it better. I used untoasted almonds; toasted almonds would've made the cookies crunchier. (The egg cooks before the almonds toast, so only the edges of mine got crisp. I think it's okay for them to be chewy, but it would have been nice to have something crunchy in my cookie tins.)

Brown butter cookies (original from Gourmet here; adaptation here). I kept reading about how awesome brown butter was, so I finally had to try it. The first time I made them, it was late at night and I misunderstood the step where you cool the butter. I'm pretty sure it's still supposed to be liquid, but I stuck it in the freezer until it was solid. Did the dough stick together? No, it really did not. So I added two tablespoons of melted butter (plain, not browned), and the dough came together beautifully. I did the same thing this time, but next time I'll do it the way I'm supposed to. Another thing: I had to add salt because I was using unsalted butter. 1 teaspoon of salt was too much and 1/2 teaspoon was too little. Next time, 3/4 teaspoon. For SCIENCE.

Coconut-cranberry chews. Actually, I made my mom make these.

Flaky black sesame cookies. The recipe calls for equal amounts of butter and shortening. I had a vague recollection of reading that shortening will give you arteriosclerosis and steal your socks (and the shortening at the grocery store was full of trans fats in any case), so I used the Smart Balance stuff that is half butter and half margarine. Also, I used my hands (instead of a food processor) to mix the dough, because it sounded like pie crust and that's how I do pie crust. So it's probably not the recipe's fault that the dough gave me all kinds of problems: I froze it, and it broke into pieces when I tried to roll it out; I let it soften, and it got sticky. When my cookies were baked, they definitely didn't look as pretty as the ones on that page. So this was another batch of cookies that I didn't give away. In spite of all of that, they were really tasty. So I have to try it again.

Anise-scented fig and date swirls. These cookies involve making a giant mess in the kitchen, but they are lovely.

Leckerli, Swiss spice cookies. One of my uncles is Swiss, and he gave us a box of Basler leckerli last year. They were cut in precise rectangles and they had a thin white glaze on top. I thought they tasted like something that Tolkien's Elves would make, like holiday lembas. (I am a nerd, yes.) So this year I tried it out. I followed the recipe linked above, but I had no kirsch. Instead, I soaked dried tart cherries in hot water for a while and used the water. I'm sure it wasn't the same, but it was darn tasty. Also, I used chopped almonds instead of sliced almonds, because that's what was in the version that I tried before.

A gingerbread house! (Not part of my cookie tins, obviously.) This recipe looked really weird to me, but it worked.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the one where i decide the internet needs another food blog

In the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years of college, I went to Utah and became a vegetarian. I'd sort of been thinking about it for a while, but there were a couple of factors that finally made it happen: 1) neither of my roommates ate meat (one was vegetarian and one was vegan), and 2) within a few weeks of getting there, I gave myself food poisoning by eating leftover chicken. The only problem was that I knew about three vegetarian recipes, so I spent the summer eating oatmeal, quesadillas, black bean chili, and rice.

I'm no food expert, but I've learned a lot since then. Most importantly, I've learned that vegetarian food can be awesome, and that I really like to cook it. So, here I am, starting a food blog. Hi.

When I say that I'm vegetarian, some people get defensive or decide that they need to tell me why they still eat meat (I could never be a vegetarian because I love fried chicken/tofu makes me barf/I hate cows!). I always want to say, Okay. More vegetables for me!