Category Archives: I cook

Thank you for being awesome noodles

Within the space of a single week, my lovely, relatively-new-on-the-scene boyfriend 1. went with me to visit my terminally ill favorite cousin (and held me through the wracking sobs afterward), 2. met every member of my immediate family, driving me all over New England in the process, AND 3. helped me assemble some Ikea furniture. Such overt good guy-ness makes me want to cook something delicious and since he has an especial fondness for (currently blogless) Carolyn D’Agostino’s Spicy Peanut Noodles, that’s what he got. I’m including her instructions for assembling the salad, but I didn’t follow them. Instead, I cooked some chicken thighs separately, shredded them and tossed the meat with whole wheat udon noodles and served it alongside a raw salad of shredded carrot, cabbage and fennel with a lemony vinaigrette.

Spicy Peanut Noodles

3 cloves garlic, peeled
a 1″ piece of ginger, peeled
a handful of cilantro
1 c. natural, unprocessed peanut butter
3 T dark brown sugar
4 T balsamic vinegar
4 T soy sauce
1โ€“3 T chili paste with garlic
2 t dark sesame oil (I keep spicy sesame oil around and used that for a little extra kick)
about 1/2 c hot water

Put garlic, ginger, and cilantro into food processor and mince finely. Add peanut butter and all remaining ingredients. Process. If too thick (it should be the consistency of thick cream), add more hot water.

To assemble salad: Cook a pound of Chinese noodles, wheat soba, or even thin spaghetti just past the point of al dente. Run under cold water to cool thoroughly. Put in a large bowl, surrounded by sliced cucumber, red onions, mesclun, if desired. Top with cubed extra firm tofu. Pour sauce over and garnish with shredded carrots, green onions, etc.

Drive-by blogging

Some things!

1. A ripple blanket. I think I’m going to end up giving this to my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas.

2. A striped sweater! Making the third attempt at the neckline I want.

3. Spinning! Some finished merino/tencel and alpaca/silk in the works.

4. A lace scarf! This is the porcupine stitch from one of the BW treasuries. I love it. It has an odd number of rows, so is automatically reversible. #neato

5. Bacon jam! The full, glorious jar and spread on bread with ricotta. Recipe here.

6. Silkscreening! I took a workshop last weekend, which was really fun, even though there were a lot more chemicals involved than I was expecting. Jenn has a much more comprehensive report here.

In which I crave vegetables and then eat them

A few dishes I can recommend when you too have those days when vegetables are pretty much all you want to eat, and you want them to be exciting and filling and varied and delicious.

1. Soba Salad With Spinach, Edamame, and Miso Dressing

What I changed: I doubled all of the vegetables except the edamame, which I recommend doing, and also doubled the noodles, which I don’t recommend, since the end of the leftovers were definitely on the gummy side, but otherwise, this was great. I used shredded kale instead of spinach and shaved the carrots with a vegetable peeler instead of chopping them. I added the edamame when the noodles were al dente-ish, then, once it came back to a boil, dropped in the kale and carrots for a second or two before draining the whole thing. This dressing is really, really delicious and, for them what cares about this sort of thing, I will point out that it doesn’t use any oil.

2. Fresh Fennel and Lemon Slaw

I don’t seem to have taken a photo of this one, but it’s a good basic that I expect I’ll have some version of in my fridge all summer: a big bowl of shredded raw vegetables with a light and tangy dressing. Most of my lunches this week were a container filled halfway with the soba salad and the rest of the way with this slaw. They made for a nice pairing.

3. Orange Pan-glazed Tempeh

My friend Zoe had made this for me once, a couple of years ago, and I’d been holding on to the recipe since then. Savory orange dishes always make me think of Chinese food, so I played up those qualities here, adding a bunch of chopped broccoli (and peeled broccoli stems) to the pan to cook for a few minutes after the tempeh browned, but before I added the sauce. The main change I made to the sauce was adding a generous shake of crushed red pepper flakes, but next time I’ll likely add some chicken or vegetable stock so it’s still saucy after the extra vegetables absorb a lot of the liquid. I ate this over brown basmati rice for dinner last night, lunch today, and — I predict — lunch tomorrow. It’s a keeper.

Catching up: a list

1. I have new glasses!
A little over a month ago, I went to my (fabulous) eye doctor and learned that something was rotten with the state of my inner eyelids. There was … texture where there should be only smoothness. So I wasn’t allowed to wear my contacts for about a month and had to deal with glasses that were several prescription updates out of date. Like, I couldn’t read street signs unless I was standing right under them. I had a lot of awkward moments at a professional conference when I literally had no idea who was talking to me or waving at me or, worse, trying to get my attention from more than an arm’s length away and thinking I was ignoring them. It was a blurry, dreamlike month and one I’m not particularly interested in repeating. Happily, my strict adherence to my regime of several kinds of eyedrops administered many, many times a day has cleared things up enough that I’m back in contacts again, but not all day and not every day. So, since they’re a big part of my life again, I figured I’d get some new glasses. I had heard good things about Classic Specs and I really like the direct-to-consumer approach they take. I went to the Brooklyn Flea a few weeks ago to try on the frames in person and ended up ordering two:I’m really happy with the glasses themselves and with the Classic Specs guys. They comped the surcharge for the high-octane lenses I require on one of the pairs, an unnecessary nicety, since they were having trouble with their fax and I had to send my prescription through twice. Being able to try stuff on in person was great, especially since the two I ended up ordering weren’t ones I was originally considering. I think they arrived within a week of placing the order. And you can’t beat the price; I took my vintage frames to an optician near work to have the lenses changed out and it’s costing me more for that than for two pairs of frames WITH lenses and one special-lenses-for-the-blind-girl fee.

2. I made this pizza and it was delicious.

3. I saw Jason Schwartzman on the street today. He looks like every other dude in Brooklyn and only caught my eye because he was wearing a weirdly gigantic windbreaker.

4. The crabapples are blooming! This is my favorite shade of pink.

5. I’ve been knitting. I’m almost done with Buttercup.It’s a pretty straightforward knit and the only things I’m changing are crocheting around the neck instead of picking up and knitting (tried, was either too loose and floppy or too tight) and doing a hemmed lower edge instead of whatever the pattern calls for. That’ll help weigh it down and drape nicely, as well as look tidier. The yarn is three strands of laceweight held together: two of the burgandy cashmere/silk and one black merino. So it’s a little tweedy, a little shiny, very soft. It’ll be superdreamy once I wash all of the spinning oils out. I don’t know how much wear I’ll actually get out of this, since I don’t really like handknits when it’s warm enough for short sleeves, but it would work under a jacket or cardigan when it’s cooler and it’s flattering and was a good use for this yarn, which I’ve had kicking around for a really long time.

I’m also working on a pretty dull stockinette scarf in the most fabulous ombre yarn EVAH.It’s slow going, but the end result will be lovely. My plan is to block it as hard as I can to make it as drapy as possible. I tried it out in a couple of other patterns, but when I thought about ombre items I want to wear, realized that I’d just prefer it as a large stockinette rectangle.

Finetuning

I tried another homemade nutella recipe, this time from David Lebovitz, but this one isn’t it either. The consistency is good, but somehow the dairy managed to blunt the flavors of the hazelnuts and chocolate. It just tastes like mild chocolate pudding. I *like* pudding, but if I want pudding, I’m not going to bother toasting and getting the skins off a cup and a half of hazelnuts. I’ll just make pudding.


In happier news though, I think I finally found my go-to custard recipe: 2 c. whole milk, scant 1/2 c. sugar, 3 eggs, 1 t vanilla, pinch of salt. Heat the milk ’til steaming, whisk the other ingredients together, pour the milk in slowly while whisking furiously, bake at 300F in a water bath ’til set.


This one developed a skin because I put it in the fridge overnight without covering it. Because I’m an ignorant slut. Don’t be like me.

Another way you shouldn’t be like me: don’t bother trying to see what happens if you put a spoonful of that nutella on the bottom of a couple of your custard dishes. It’ll float to the top while it bakes and dry out and be neither pretty nor delicious. The custard, though, is ACE.

Breakfast on the run

I try to be good about eating breakfast, I really do. I’m just not hungry until I’ve been up and moving around for a while. So anything I have for breakfast has to come to work with me, which means I have to take potential spillage and temperature issues into account.

I don’t know why it took me so long to hit on the idea of bringing my granola and yogurt in a jar. The lid screws on, the stuff stays inside. Frozen fruit โ€” in this case wineberries that I picked last year and froze โ€” keeps the yogurt cold. And eventually I get around to eating the most important meal of the day.

Homemade Nutella: Take One

Thanks to my mom and one bitchin’ sale-plus-coupons trip to Macy’s, I scored both a nice food processor and cast-iron Dutch oven for my birthday. Then I promptly got food poisoning and didn’t care if I ever saw them again, since food could just go to hell as far as I was concerned. (Even online pictures of food made me queasy; it was a bad week.) But then I got better! And I figured that homemade Nutella was a good way to break in the food processor, since chocolate and hazelnuts are two of my favorite things, but I think the actual stuff is kind of gross. I used to love it and I don’t know if they changed the formulation in recent years, or if it’s just my aging palate or what, but I don’t really taste anything beyond oil and sugar. Not surprising, since sugar and palm oil are the two first listed ingredients. And since oil palm plantations are a major contributing factor to deforestation and loss of biodiversity in Malaysia and Indonesia (orangutans!), it can just go to hell too.

There are loads of Nutella recipes online, but I’d printed this recipe from the LA Times at some point and started with that. In the ‘pro’ column, it tastes very good. It’s very nutty and not too sweet and has a thick, velvety, ever-so-slightly gritty texture that I really dig. That said, I had a couple of problems with it, both with the making of and the actual product. First, my nuts never turned into a smooth butter, despite whirring around for far longer than the five minutes the recipe said it would take. They achieved the texture of wet sand and stayed there. I’m pretty sure it’s the oils in the nuts that make the sand-to-butter transformation possible, so I’m guessing my nuts were too dry? They were nice, fresh coop nuts and I tasted a few as I threw them in the bowl (they were fine), so I don’t know what the deal was. I ended up having to double the amount of oil to make something that wasn’t the consistency of library paste. I didn’t have hazelnut oil so I substituted walnut oil, but I doubt that made a huge difference. My biggest problem, really, is that I can’t taste the chocolate at all. It’s a lovely toasty-hazelnut concoction that I’ve been eating by the spoonful more or less nonstop for the last 24 hours, but it just isn’t right. I would have added more cocoa, but since it was kind of dry to start with, I didn’t want to get into a more-cocoa-more-oil cycle.

I think my next attempt it going to be either David Lebovitz’s recipe or Julie’s slightly simplified version of it. The ingredient lists are pretty radically different from the LA Times one, so I have high hopes for a radically different product.

CustardQuest ’11: Part 1

I love baked custard. It’s sweet and milky, but substantial enough for breakfast or a good snack. There’s something very wholesome about it and it’s a great source of calcium and deliciousness. But after all my years of making and eating it, I still don’t have a go-to recipe. I figured I’d spend a little time this winter trying different ones out and declaring an allegiance at the end.

I started with the basic recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which uses 2 cups of 1% milk, two eggs plus two yolks, half a cup of white sugar, and a bit of vanilla. That initial effort was very, very good and the pictures I took are stuck on a flash drive that self-destructed last week. (Also on that flash drive: photos of a disastrous custard I attempted using buttermilk. It didn’t really set up correctly and it curdled. It was a weird recipe I found online that only used one egg, plus some flour, so I probably should have known better.) However, I hate only using parts of eggs. Either I freeze the egg whites and never use them again, or I throw them away and feel guilty about the waste.

This batch used three whole eggs and half and half instead of milk. I thought using a higher-fat dairy might help in case not having that extra yolk in the mix kept it from setting up as well. It’s also very, very delicious (especially with the addition of a handful of the wineberries I collected in Inwood Park this summer and froze for just such an occasion), but I don’t want to consume this much half and half on a regular basis. Back to the drawing board…

Silk Purse Pasta

Last night on my way home from work, I made a deal with myself: I could skip yoga if I made a very long to-do list full of stuff I’ve been avoiding and then did everything on it. (I know this sounds vaguely insane, but I’m trying to train myself to schedule exercise and then treat those appointments as sacrosanct. It’s one area where I tend to be pretty lax with myself.) (No, YOU shut up.) One of the items on the resulting list was ‘cook and eat brussels sprouts,’ meaning the bag of them in my fridge that were starting to go yellow and wouldn’t be a viable foodstuff for much longer. I figured I’d either chop them finely, saute ’em, and throw an egg on top or roast them until they turned brown and nutty.

But then I remembered that I had some very good, happy-pigs-fed-on-acorns-and-cream-and-pixie-dust bacon in the freezer. Using a slice of that and a very few pantry staples, I started playing around and ended up with something that’s almost like an eggless carbonara. Not quite as gooey and decadent, but not far off. If I’d had any white wine open, I would have splashed some in, but the combination of bacon, garlic, brussels sprouts, parmesan, and salty, starchy pasta water managed to turn into a rather splendid sauce all on its own, something I might even make on purpose in the future. Even though the extra time at the cutting board and stove meant that I didn’t get to every item on my (admittedly ridiculous) list, it was absolutely worth it, especially since I get to eat the leftovers for lunch in a few minutes.

I used that amount of sprouts that I had as a guide and ended up with two smallish servings. It would be easy to scale up though.

Silk Purse Pasta

1 slice excellent bacon, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 c. brussels sprouts, finely chopped
4 oz. spaghetti
~1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan

Set the pasta water to boil, salting it with abandon, and cook the pasta. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned and crispy. If it gives off a lot of fat, spoon off all but a tablespoon or so. (Or don’t. No judgment here.) Add the garlic and cook until golden. Add the sprouts, stirring to coat, and let cook until softened and browned in spots. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of cooking liquid, and add the the sprouts. Combine, slowly adding pasta water, until mixture is voluptuously saucy. Stir in cheese, adding more water if it becomes too dry. Serve with extra cheese if desired.