Thursday, July 29, 2010

"i feel like a raindrop"

the food: Blueberry Peach Crisp
the song: "Raindrop" Tripping Daisy

Rainy summer days, how I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Do I love you more because you've kept my garden alive and thriving, despite my promises to ignore it? Or do I love you because the way you make me feel? Homey and quiet and calm. Like all I need is a good book (this one, right now) and a cat in my lap (this one, right now) and the rest of life will take care of itself.

I think I love you most because our house is so much nicer with the windows open. The smell of rain comes in and the gray sky matches our walls. The sounds of rain beats the humming AC anyday (and costs a lot less). Rainy days also makes me want to bake. Something sweet and buttery and delicious. The breeze makes the oven more bearable.

I whipped up this sweet treat out of necessity...a rainy afternoon and one over ripe peach. Lucky for the peach, Texas grown blueberries were on major sale at the grocery store and I had materials leftover from granola makin' a few weeks ago. This crisp is very nice... perfect dessert with ice cream, perfect breakfast with coffee. It couldn't be much easier to make. You could use anything you had on hand for this, really. Extra peach? Throw it into the mix. Cherries that were on sale? Sounds good. Apples? Yes, but I'll have to eat all of that one (apple crisp is my all time favorite.)

The crisp isn't the most decadent, because I reduced the amount of sugar on the fruit and butter in the topping. I was going for something we could eat all week and not feel guilty about. If you want to make this an all out rich dessert, you can increase the butter to a whole stick. Personally, I don't think it needs it- the fruit and topping are really nice on their own. The trick with this topping, regardless of how much butter you decide to use, is to get it nice and crumbly. I wasn't able to do it without mixing it with my hands. If you're mixing it with your hands you'll know when it's the right consistency.

As you can see, this makes a lot of topping. If you want less topping you can decrease the flour and oats to a 1/2 cup. 

Blueberry Peach Crisp

For the fruit:
1 cup peaches, sliced
2 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar

For the topping:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts)
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
pinch of salt

In the bottom of a buttered pie pan, mix all fruit together and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.

Mix all dry topping ingredients together. Cut room temperature butter into dry ingredients and mix with hands until crumbly. Spread evenly over fruit and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.


Friday, July 23, 2010

"life is really sweeter than it seems"

the food: Watermelon Aquas Fresca
the song:"Watermelon Dream" Guy Clark

When you're in need of some summer inspiration, there's nothing like a comically large watermelon. Our friend somehow acquired a free gazillion pound* watermelon that subsequently spurred a cookout last weekend with ten of our nearest and dearest. I'm so sorry I don't have a picture of this beast to share, but to give you an idea of the size, we had to cut it with a special Japanese blade that is meant to cut through wood. Sorry to my step-dad, who gave me the tool. I know that's not the way the blade is intended to be used! But does it really surprise you that I would use it on food? 

After the charcoal smoke cleared, the samurai sword was sheathed, and the watermelon was wiped off our sticky hands, there was a little bit left over. To be more specific, we had 2 huge bowls of leftover watermelon after feeding it to everyone at the party and giving some to our neighbor. Further inspiration for me, who hates to throw anything away. Help me out google...What do you do with leftover watermelon?

This x2.

The first step in most suggestions seems to be to juice it. It takes a little work because of course you have to de-seed the melon. But just think of the satisfaction of turning two huge salad bowls of something into 8 cups of pink. Think of all the refrigerator space you'll clear up! Think of your blender!

Ok, so maybe that doesn't excite you like it does to me.

So now what? Well, now you have a lot of watermelon juice. And from here the possibilities are endless. As I was juicing it, I couldn't help but think of no-bake strawberry pie and wonder how a watermelon pie would be. You would probably need more sugar unless your watermelon was over-ripe. There are lots of good ideas out there for everything from watermelon jam to sorbet to watermelon popsicles. The popsicles sound especially appealing to me, probably because of all the time spent with the little ones. At the daycare, very few things excited the toddlers more than making popsicles. Well, maybe bubbles.

The husband and I have been enjoying the simplicity of the watermelon juice with a little citrus (squeeze of orange, splash of lemonade...whatever you have on hand) and just a touch of grown-up. We've been using vodka to make our boozy aquas fresca, although I think rum or champagne would also be good. I thought we'd be in watermelon juice for weeks, but we've managed to put quite a dent in it with a simple summer drink. If you wanted to get super fancy and make this a full blown cocktail, adding a little muddled basil and cucumber (in the style of The Highball) would take it over the top.

No real recipe for this one...I'm just planting the seed. Have a great weekend!


*estimated weight

Monday, July 19, 2010

"i'm content to walk a little slower because there's nowhere that i really need to be"

the food: Easy Granola
the song: "The Difference in the Shade" Bright Eyes

I have truly been enjoying these last few weeks of joblessness. I've been able to go out with the husband, which is something I was rarely able to do when I had to be at work by 7. We've hosted cookouts, traveled, and been able to say 'yes.' Yes, I'll volunteer for my favorite organization in Austin! Yes, let's have friends over for dinner! Yes, let's spend all day on a pontoon boat! Yes, I'll go to the Farmer's Market! Yes, let's go see a movie! Yes, I'll help trap the feral cats that live in my backyard! (By the way, does anyone need want a kitty? She's 1.7 pounds of cute!)

I've also been enjoying the wonderfulness of time spent in my home. One of the reasons I stopped working is so I could devote more time to our home and figure out how to take my interest in domesticity beyond helping raise other people's kiddos. Working at the daycare was a wonderful experience that shaped who I am. It is nice, though, to devote a little time to figuring out what's right for me and what I want to devote my efforts to. I'm still working on that one...the picture is a little blurry, but I'm getting a better idea.

For now I'm appreciating the freedom to be here or there or anywhere I please. I have energy to give to my friends and family. I am meeting new people and trying new things. I have time to myself and am able to cook, clean, look out for the animals, watch the garden grow, write and read. I am enjoying saying yes.

Believe it or not, my tangent is leading to granola. When I'm feeling especially home-makery, there are two recipes that always come to my mind. Recipes that take a little time, but are very easy. Perfect for starting on the stove, then cleaning up the kitchen. The first of these things is homemade vegetable broth. The second is granola. If I have these two items, homemade and fresh in the house, I feel pretty on top of things. Maybe these two things and slow cooked beans in the freezer for an easy meal. Ok, make that three things.

But today, let's focus on granola. This granola is so good and so easy. This granola makes me scoff at the boxed stuff and giggle at how expensive the bulk bin granola is. It's true...this granola makes me snobby. This granola makes me buy and eat yogurt, which I do ONLY for this granola and the occasional yogurt sauce for falafel (yogurt freaks me out a little bit).

You can make this recipe fancier if you like. I'm sure it would be yummy with a variety of nuts thrown in. Dried fruit can be added after baking if you like fruit in your granola (none for me, thanks.) And I'm sure there are a lot of different spice combinations you could play with here, too. I like my granola simple. I had to make this a time or two before I got the hang of how to flip and transfer the granola to keep the big pieces. Don't be afraid to get your (clean) hands involved in the process.

Without further ado, here is an easy granola recipe for the next time you're feeling homey. Consider making it for your homies.

Easy Granola
adapted from The Amateur Gourmet

2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
small pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large handfuls nut of your choice (almonds, walnuts, hazlenuts...I like pecans)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter wrapper. 

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the melted butter, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Pour the honey mixture over the oats mixture and use your hands to combine them: Gather up some of the mixture in each hand and make a fist. Repeat until all of the oats are coated with the honey mixture. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly, but leave a few clumps here and there for texture.

Bake for 10 minutes, remove and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the nuts over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.

Bake for 10-15 more minutes, being careful not to burn the granola. Remove from the oven, let cool completely, and use your hands to transfer to an air tight container. Will store for up to one week.


P.S. My mom sent me this article about "femivorism" that was on my mind while I wrote this post. I'm not sure about the term femivore (do they eat females?), but I do think it is interesting to trace the value society places on homemaking with the rise of local eating and food awareness. I don't think it is feminist issue as much as an issue for all of us interested in eating real food. It takes time and effort for people to eat well and be healthy, and whomever is putting in that time deserves recognition.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"i found my mind in a brown paper bag"

the food: Japchae
the song: "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

I'm not gonna lie to you, Internet. I've been in a slump this week. No need to go into it here because this is a food blog, and lord knows I get personal enough as it is about my food. What I can tell you about, though, is how two nights ago Asian noodles and Spanish wine* made this Texas girl feel better than I've felt in a while. 

About a month ago, I ran across this recipe on Herbivoracious. You might recognize this site if you visit Serious Eats, where the blogger does a bi-weekly column on meatless meals. This particular recipe is from the creator of Savory Sweet Life, who shares her mother's authentic recipe for a Korean noodle dish called japchae or chapchae. According to Wikipedia, the meaning of japchae is actually "mixed and stirred (jap) vegetables (chae)."

Now, right off the bat let me offer a warning. This is not a throw together kind of meal, even though stir fry is usually associated with fast and easy. There are vegetables to julienne, tofu to press, sauce to make, and everything has to be cooked separately, then added back together. I consider myself an upper-middle class chopper, and this recipe took me more than an hour to make. But with a recipe like this, time is the whole point. You'll taste it, I promise. I apologize for the pictures, by the way. I was more involved with the cooking than the photography.

Just gathering ingredients started to nudge me out of my funk. Any meal that takes just as long to chop as it does to cook provides much needed time to focus and relax. Chopping vegetables never fails to make me feel at peace. Add in a glass of wine, and I'm on cloud nine. Seeing your handiwork waiting to be turned into something delicious is a good feeling. Plus, with all the peppers, fresh herbs, garlic and onion used in this recipe, your kitchen starts smelling good before the oil even hits the pan.

I mentioned a while ago my trouble with mediocre stir fry, but the Herbivoracious post suggests stir frying each ingredient separately. It is genius, because it allows each vegetable to be cooked just right and play its proper role in the completed dish. Just picture it...crisp carrots, non-soggy mushrooms, just-translucent onions, bright green spinach, spicy garlic. You'll be tempted to toss the ingredients in together, but don't. Cheesy as it sounds, there are subtleties to carrots and bell pepper that are brought out when you give them the individual attention they deserve.

I used tofu in this recipe, but of course you could use beef or chicken or nothing at all. A little side note- this was my first time to work with tofu that I'd previously frozen. I pressed it first, then wrapped it in foil to freeze. I was skeptical because the color was very different than when it went into the freezer. It was a little spongy, but it tasted great. 

This recipe strays from the authentic Korean original. Stir fry is perfect for customization, so find what works best for you. You might, for instance, have the sesame oil the original recipe calls for. I use olive oil, because that's what I use for everything. I also make our japchae really spicy, as per the husband's request. Thanks to this hot chili sauce made by the same masterminds behind Sriracha, these noodles have a serious kick. There are runny noses and teary eyes and big smiles when we eat this stuff. Who knows, maybe the spice contributed to my feeling better. If you're not a fan of spice, you can leave it out- the soy sauce/brown sugar/oil combination is very flavorful on its own. 

Feel free to doctor and add to the sauce that coats the noodles. You might find at the end that there isn't enough for your tastes. I don't like a lot of sauce...just enough to evenly flavor everything. If you want to stretch it out, add another tablespoon of soy sauce and olive oil in the final stir fry.

One more thing, the potato starch noodles might take a while to get used to. They are clear and have a unique texture. I like them now, but if you want to ease yourself in I recommend rice noodles or even (*gasp*) plain old linguini if you're really in a pinch. I warned authenticity here! But it does taste good. 

adapted from Herbivoracious

1 bundle of potato starch cellophane noodles (most packages contain 2-3 bundles and can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
1/2 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 medium onion, julienned
1 carrot, peeled and cut into match sticks
1/2 bell pepper (any color), julienned
8-10 mushrooms, sliced (cremini is my favorite)
1 block of firm tofu, pressed for 8 hours, cut into small rectangular pieces
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
soy sauce  (amounts will vary, see directions)
1-2 teaspoons hot chili garlic sauce 
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
fresh cilantro for topping (optional)

Boil one bundle of noodles for 5 minutes until softened and al dente in texture.  Drain the noodles and do not rinse.  Add noodles to a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon chili sauce. Add to noodles and toss until sauce is evenly distributed. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large frying pan on high.  Add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt and cook tofu until golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add half the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon brown sugar to coat the tofu. Remove from wok and set aside.

If needed, add a bit more olive oil to the same pan. Add sliced onions and cook until they start to turn translucent. Add onions to the large bowl of noodles.  Repeat the same process as the onions for the carrots, bell pepper, and mushrooms, cooking each to meet your preferences (I like to keep the peppers and carrots pretty crisp).

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot wok, then add minced garlic and spinach. Cook until garlic is fragrant and spinach turns bright green, about 30 seconds. Pour the entire bowl of noodles and vegetables to the wok/pan. Stir-fry everything for 2-3 minutes, adding extra soy sauce and olive oil if desired. Turn off heat and gently add tofu. Top with cilantro if desired, and extra chili sauce if you're feeling wild.


*I know next to nothing about wine. I'm a beer girl through and through. However, I'm trying to branch out and learn a little something about it this summer. I picked out a bottle of Salneval Albarino based on price (<$10) and because someone told me wine from Spain was good for the summer. Thumbs up all around in this house. What's your favorite inexpensive, light wine for the summer?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"too much birthday'll make you older"

the song: "Too Much" Guy Clark

Here's a little (very) late Father's Day gift for my Dad, who sent me this picture and asked me to post it here. As you can see, I've always enjoyed the finer things in life.

It seems like an appropriate time to post this picture, because yesterday I celebrated my last birthday that will start with a "2." What better time to indulge by licking the icing bowl?

Alright, 29. Here we go...


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia"

the food: Peach Salsa 
the song:"Summertime" Will Smith 

I'm with the Fresh Prince on this one...for me, summertime equals happy. I'm getting good and settled into July, and thanks to a nice rain that stayed with us for a whole week, the heat hasn't been unbearable. The rain cleared up just in time for fireworks on the 4th, so we were able to go out and celebrate with our best friend Will's family, which is one of my favorite another-person's-family traditions. I didn't take many pictures, so allow me to paint one for you: amazing food, dogs everywhere, swimming in the stock tank, good people, and (I'm guessing) more fireworks than the official Dripping Springs' city display. 

This summer, even though I have the time, I find myself cooking less. I like keeping my options open in case summer fun pops up...swimming at dusk, impromptu dinner at a friend's house, *just one more* beer with my friends, some good cheese and bubbly wine in the backyard. Summer is the time for openness. 

Summer food is no different. The farmer's market is overflowing with temptations to make you forget your menu plan. When the husband and I went this weekend (beginning of my birthday week!) we sampled watermelon, ogled blackberries, and floated through the rows of tomatoes, squash, sweet peppers, and onions. What has inspired me to cook lately is not my potential creations, but garden creations. Summer vegetables are so good on their own they really don't need much help from me. 

I made this peach salsa for the 4th of July exclusively from Farmer's Market goods, peppers grown in my yard, and a squeeze of a Texas mandarins from HEB. Freshness is the key. All these ingredients need is someone to cut 'em up- if the ingredients are fresh and vibrant, the flavor happens effortlessly.

I highly recommend blue corn tortilla chips for the beautiful contrast of color. You can adjust the heat by leaving pepper seeds in, or taking them out all together. The salsa would also be good with cilantro. But not everyone likes cilantro like I do (some people have a genetic trait that causes it to taste bad), so I left it out of this salsa. I found it plenty flavorful just like this...juicy and fresh for a beautiful summer day. We're having this salsa again tonight with tempeh fajitas and a pint of Festina Peche. Mmmm. Sounds like summer to me.

Peach Salsa
adapted from Chow

3 medium peaches, small diced
1-2 medium tomatoes, small diced
1/2 medium sweet onion, minced (I used a 1015 onion from the market)
1-2 peppers of your choice, minced (jalapeno, habanerro, anaheim, whatever you like)
squeeze from 1/2 orange 
Combine peaches, tomatoes, onion, pepper and orange juice in a medium mixing bowl. Gently toss and season well with salt. Let sit at least 20 minutes before enjoying with tortilla chips.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

"the best thing about new york city is you and me"

the food: not eating in New York
the song: "New York City" They Might Be Giants

Welcome to Part 2 of the New York vacation. As you might remember, we did a lot of eating while we were there, and that was one of my primary reasons for going. However, between meals, we did a few other things, too.

My favorite part of New York was the use of public outdoor space. Born and raised in Texas, I (like my Southern kinfolk) tend to take the outdoors for granted. New York is a different story. The city pays such close attention to the parks, and New York residents seem to take good care of them. We walked through several smaller parks, but my two favorites were (of course) Central Park and The Highline. The Highline especially stood out as a testament to the community's dedication to public spaces. It's a really cool idea...turning a decommissioned elevated railroad into a greenway. This time around, I chose parks over museums. It was just too beautiful to devote that much time to being indoors. If we're ever in New York when it is cold, then I'll visit The MoMA.

When we were flying in, my reaction was "Where are all the big buildings?" I saw much more green than I was expecting. Our hosts suggested we ride the Staten Island Ferry to get a view of the whole city. It was a really nice, totally free way to see the city.

We did the obligatory walk through Times Square, which wasn't my favorite part. I am, however, quite proud to say I found a bathroom in the middle of Times Square and quite disappointed that I didn't buy a King Kong nick nack. 

We visited the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre which for the husband was sort of like attending the Super Bowl. There was quite the all-star cast...Horatio Sanz, John Lutz, Jason Sudeikis, Ben Schwartz (a.k.a. Jean Ralphio from Parks & Rec!)...pretty much all the cool guys from NBC (minus Alec Baldwin *sigh*).Really funny. So funny, in fact, that we've decided to try to start actively supporting the comedy scene in Austin. It's not easy to get up there and be funny, and it is very inspiring to see a theatre pull it off as flawlessly as UCB.

Overall, though, the best aspect of our trip wasn't the food or the sight seeing. Being in such an amazing city was amplified hugely because we were there with our friends. These aren't just any friends--these are people we've known forever, who we've shared our home and many meals with. We've cooked together and traveled together. Our hosts dropped everything to show us around while we were there. They made us feel at home in a town that could have very easily been overwhelming. Because of them, we got a different view of this fabulous town. So, thank you, Chris and Jacqueline, for making our trip so perfect!

And thank you, New York, for being so lovely and fun. We'll be seeing you again soon.

Finally, thank you, reader, for indulging my retelling of our trip. It has helped me once again to pause and be thankful for our summer vacation. We now return you to your regularly scheduled kitchen.