Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"baby, you've got to be more discerning"

the song: "This Modern Love" Bloc Party

I woke up this morning with a plan to clean house, but was quickly distracted by this Serious Eats post about Modernist Cuisine. Now, you know me...I'm wordy, not visual. But these photos stopped me in my tracks. I thought you might enjoy them too.

 I'm a simple girl. My taste in art is questionable at best. But I'll ogle pictures of food all day long. Cooking is truly a beautiful thing. These photos resonate with me because these images actually exist in the kitchen. While cooking, if you take time to notice, you can loose yourself in all kinds of gorgeous moments. 

The best part is that these shots aren't made in Photoshop. Apparently the studio is fairly low-tech and the photographer is just out of art school. The wok picture above was achieved by (wait for it...) cutting a wok in half and then tossing noodles in it. Is that not amazing?

The beautiful 6 volume cookbook is due out next month. I rarely use cookbooks, but would happily have this on my coffee table for the art alone. If you have an extra $500 lying around, you can pre-order your very own copy here. You can also do what I'm doing and dedicate a few minutes of your morning to art appreciation. It might just inspire me to make lunch, too.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"i dance in dirty pants, a drink in my hand"

the food: whole wheat pasta with cauliflower & chickpeas
the song: "Dirty Pants" Smog

In my cooking class this afternoon, we made a whole wheat orange raisin muffins. While perusing the recipe, I commented to my coteacher that the muffins would be earthy. My elementary kids (kindergarten through fourth grade) picked up on our talk and asked me what it means when something tastes "earthy."

"You know," I said to my group of thirteen aproned foodies-in-the-making "It's when the food has a nice texture in your mouth, but is also really simple and natural. It kind of tastes like dirt." The reception to my answer was less than enthusiastic.*

My coteacher came to the rescue, as he often does. "Granola bars are earthy," he offered, "And you all like granola bars, right?" Good save. I'm happy to report that the majority of my kiddos ate the muffins that were indeed very dense and "earthy." 

It was an honest mistake. As a gardener, I genuinely appreciate when I can taste the dirt in my vegetables. Perhaps my afternoon conversation inspired my meal this evening. The husband is out stretching creative muscles, so I decided to treat myself to a special solitary meal. A meal to show myself a little love. A reminder that a night at home in pajamas with a cat in your lap and a can be pretty freaking awesome. The pint of Scottish Ale was a nice touch as well. 

This particular dinner featured homegrown cauliflower and parsley with grainy chickpeas, tart feta, and a hearty dose of garlic. It is the definition of "earthy." It's dense and simple all at once. I find it extremely satisfying; I kept going back for one more taste of the cauliflower/feta/chickpea combination. If you can manage a big crunchy grain of sea salt in the same bite, more power to you. This dish would actually be delicious without the pasta, as well (I was planning ahead for lunch leftovers for tomorrow, otherwise I would have left it out.)

Whatever ingredients you add, use the freshest/highest quality you can get your hands on. This goes for the olive oil and salt, too. And please don't overcook your vegetables. Roast the cauliflower until the florets are just tender. Saute your herbs and garlic just until fragrant. Most importantly, take a minute to really taste it while you eat. Earthy, right?

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Chickpeas, & Feta

1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1-2 large garlic cloves, diced
cracked red pepper, to taste
small handful parsley (or other herb), chopped
salt (preferably large sea salt)
about 3/4 cup whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
olive oil
1/4 cup feta cheese

First, roast your cauliflower. Toss the florets with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, then spread evenly onto a roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes depending on size of florets, until just tender and slightly browning.

In the meantime, cook your pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add your chickpeas, parsley, garlic and cracked red pepper (I like quite a bit). Stir until herbs and garlic are just fragrant, about 30 seconds, then turn heat to low. Add cauliflower and oil from roasting pan and stir gently to combine. Stir in pasta and remove from heat. Add feta cheese and salt to taste. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


*Note to self: In future classes, don't suggest to children that what they are about to make tastes like dirt. Also, eight year olds have no appreciation for mouthfeel.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"i can feel it in the air"

the song: "When (and if) the Big One Hits...I'll Just Meet You There" the pAper chAse*

Valentine's Day, Schm-alentine's Day. Am I right? I mean, everyone knows this "holiday" was just created to sell cards and make people spend needless money on empty calories and fluffy things.

Ok, is my cynical cred intact? Good. Now come closer and let me tell you a little secret.

I actually kinda like Valentine's Day. 

Please don't tell my cool friends.

Today marks the 10th (count 'em, tenth) Valentine's Day the husband and I have spent together. Our very first date happened right before Valentine's Day in 2001, when we were babies. He brought me Hershey's kisses in a Chinese takeout box. We've moved and graduated and bought a house and gotten jobs and quit jobs and become such grown ups in the last ten years. 

But incredibly enough, we're still in love. We're still best friends. We still support each other even though we're completely different than we were when we met. Heck, we're really different from when we got married. But it still works. All my humanness-- however flawed it might be-- somehow matches up with all of his. No, it hasn't all been a piece of cake (food idiom!), but looking back on the last 10 years, I'll say it's all been pretty damn great.

So that's that. Happy Valentine's Day!  


*This sweet little song about the end of the world was the very first song we saw at our very first concert together.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"a special kinda lovin' reaches right to my heart"

the food: savory butternut squash muffins
the song: "Night by Night" Chromeo

Good news! I uncovered my garden after the cold spell and everything made it! Plus, after a little snow on Friday we had sunny beautiful shorts-worthy weather all weekend. Austin, I am so in love with you.

Speaking of things I love...

I have been eating butternut squash all winter long. Eating it with lentils. Eating it with couscous. Eating it with pasta. And most recently, in delicious savory feta muffins. Can I take a minute to explain my love for butternut squash? It makes me feel warm and fuzzy and indulgent. But it also makes me feel strong and healthy, like I'm making a good choice. I think those are signs of a healthy relationship. 

A few weeks ago, our friend had a Sweet & Savory birthday party (good idea, huh?). These tasty little butternut squash muffins were my contribution to the party. There were also bacon cupcakes, which probably would have won had there been an official savory/sweet battle. But these little muffins held their own and I'm proud of them. They may not have been the champion, but you should see the other guy...

Looking at the ingredient list should give you a good idea about whether or not these muffins are your style. The creamy butternut squash and sharp bite of the feta kept me coming back for another sample. There's not much else to say about them, other than me encouraging you to give them a try.

Savory Butternut Squash Muffins
adapted from 101 Cookbooks  

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups butternut squash, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper 
1 small bunch spinach or other greens, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup feta
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups flour 
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Preheat oven to 405 degrees with rack in the top third. Use the butter to grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside. (You can also use muffin cups, which worked well for me.)

Toss the squash with the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a roasting sheet or baking pan and bake for 15 - 25 minutes or until cooked through entirely. Set aside to cool.

Transfer two-thirds of the squash to a large mixing bowl along with the spinach, parsley, Parmesan, and two-thirds of the feta. Gently fold together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk together and add to the squash mix. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the squash mix, top with the salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper and fold together just until the batter comes together.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full. Top each muffin with a bit of the remaining squash, feta, and pumpkin seeds. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

"best to get you some sleeves"

the song: "Damn I'm Cold" Bun B

Oh my gosh. It is so cold. Once again, it is evident that Texans are totally unprepared for winter. 

Flash back to Sunday morning when the husband and I were watching SNL on the laptop in our backyard in shorts. I have literally nothing to complain about, but cold always makes me mopey. A friend of mine put it best "I live in Central Texas. I should be in jorts and a tube top." Even in February.

So, in an attempt to stop feeling sorry for my self, I present my current top ten favorite things about winter. No particular order here, I'm just going with it.

1. Winter gardens. They are so lush, so pretty, so low maintenance. I probably lost all my plants last night, but they have been a pleasure while they lasted.

2. Over-the-knee socks. I'm a little late, but I just got a pair of these bad boys and they are making me love life just a bit more.

3. Cuddly Pets. They lay around all day. All they want to do is eat. My cats might have SAD. But it sure makes them cute. 

4. New classes. Each semester, I am assigned a whole new slew of cooking classes. It's always fun and challenging to get to know a new group of kids. Thankfully I've picked up a lot of classes this time around. Busy feels pretty good sometimes.

5. Roasted vegetables. Cold nights call for lighting the oven. Roasted vegetables served up with a bit of creamy polenta is one of the most perfect, simple dinners ever and to works best in the winter. Same goes for chili. It's just not right to eat chili when it's hot outside.

6. Baked goods. This is a lot like the last one, but any excuse to heat up the oven on a cold winter day is good in my book. Plus, cookies!

7. T.V. We have watched so much television this winter. And it has been so awesome that I have no regrets. I mean, have you seen the John Lithgow season of Dexter? And don't get me started on Portlandia. Actually, I'll just leave you with these two words: Nucky. Thompson.

8. Books. Definitely did more tv than books. But that's ok, because the books I read were really good! The Walking Dead is soul crushing in the best kind of way.

9. Seasonal beer. La Bestia Aimable. Cascabel Cream Stout. Winter Warmer. PrimusAnd these are all beers brewed in Texas. Holy cow- I love winter beers. Don't tell the other items on the list, but this is definitely my number 1. I mean, just look how happy/cold I am. 

10. Promises of things to come. Springtime in Austin. Potato planting. Green lawns. Margaritas. Planning a trip for my (eek!) 30th birthday. Really cheap asparagus. Sundresses. SXSW. Cookouts. Off-centered Film Festival. Swimming. 

And lots and lots of sunshine, because honestly I'm pretty over the rolling blackouts. Bring on the jorts!