Tag Archives: home cooking

The Age of Arugula

It’s taken me a few weeks to realize this, but arugula has decisively replaced baby spinach as my green of choice. This shift in allegiance has benefits and drawbacks, as is only natural. Benefit: arugula is a springier green, frilly and tickly and with the sharp bite of pepper. Drawback: arugula does not have as much iron as spinach, and I need all the iron I can get.*

The takeover occurred slowly, as these things do; at breakfast yesterday, I noted with a start that it has been weeks — maybe a month? — since I’ve eaten another green.Still, I’m not concerned. I’ve got my jar of iron pills — dingy capsules that taste like dirt — and the full assortment of greens remains available, always. I actually love personal food trends (food gravitations) and what they might signify. I don’t believe, as some people do, that they hint at deficiencies that our bodies seek to correct; rather, I suspect they’re rooted in something murkier — a convergence of physical and psychological preferences, seasonal cues, social prompts, what have you. I’m not fully tempted to suss out the causes, not only because the causes might be unidentifiable, but because I’m content with this small, benign mystery.

I have a policy of heeding food gravitations. If arugula appeals to me, arugula it is! I know myself, and I know that I’ll eventually tire of the gravitation food.We’re still reaping the benefits of our V-day bounty: yesterday’s breakfast drew on a few leftover ingredients and a few freestanding ones. Clockwise from top: Josey’s wonder bread, buttered (and, post photo, slathered in Donna’s jam); bacon; and eggs with two cheeses and arugula.

The toast and bacon are self-explanatory. The eggs could stand for a tiny bit of elucidation, I think. Alex beat the eggs with salt, pepper, milk, and goat cheese and cooked them in the normal fashion — low & slow. When they were mostly set, he added some sheep’s milk cheese from Bi-Rite (name escapes me = ack! Where is my cheese journal when I need it?) and some washed arugula, letting the eggs cook until the cheese melted and the greens wilted.

I don’t have to tell you how this story ended. (Answer: with two clean plates.) Arugula and eggs are my new favorite pairing; the textural contrast between the two is pleasanter at breakfast than it would be later in the day, when my mouth has adjusted to the world’s input, and arugula’s peppery flavor is pretty damn hard to beat. Arugula: it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

***

*As I discovered several months ago, when my doc revealed that my iron levels are pretty low.

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Weekend of Delights

Man: I just wrapped up one of the best weekends in recent memory. Spent most of this morning on a recipe-organization project (which is still underway, if you were wondering), then met up with Alex for an afternoon of record shopping & other adventures. Oh, were there adventures! I got a Barbadian folk guitar album & a few others, and then it was well beyond lunchtime and Alex and I felt as though we both might pass away, so we hit Zeitgeist for refreshments. Bloody Marys, because they are the spiciest — cough & sputter spicy — and because they have the saltiest olives. Burgers with homefries because I recently discovered that I like mayonnaise (WHAT?), and because a burger sounded good. I’ll tell ya, Zeitgeist does homefries right. I don’t know their secret (though I suspect it’s rooted in oil), but their fries are golden-orange-and-crunchy on the outside, pillowy within — a rare find.

Lest you think I subsisted entirely on candy and mayo this weekend, think again! The above photo depicts the veggies — Brussels sprouts, broccoli florets, and fennel — that I roasted with chickpeas and golden raisins and served over quinoa.

The dish was partially inspired by a recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit; my take includes a few random ingredients — ones that make for small, indisputable improvements. It was also inspired by my desire to cook from my pantry, if only partially. The resulting dinner was relatively light and diverse of texture — an 8 of 10, in Garkypoints.

Quinoa with Fennel, Brussels Sprouts, and Golden Raisins (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Six ounces Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved (or quartered, if you have unusually large sprouts)
  • One fennel bulb, sliced into rounds
  • Approximately one cup broccoli florets, found near the back of the fridge
  • One cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • Scant 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, fresh black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • One cup (uncooked) quinoa
  • One tablespoon lime juice
  • Crumbled goat cheese (for serving)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 400. While the oven heats, prepare your veggies for roasting. Place sprouts, fennel, broccoli, and chickpeas in a bowl; toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread on a baking sheet, creating an even layer.
  2. To the layer of veggies, add your golden raisins. Bake the veggie/raisin combo for about 35 minutes, flipping once.
  3. As the vegetables roast, prepare your quinoa. Fill a saucepan with 2 cups water and your quinoa; bring to a boil; and reduce to a simmer, cooking until the grain has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from heat and transfer quinoa to a large bowl.
  4. Once the veggies have cooked, allow them to cool for a moment before transferring them to the quinoa bowl. Blend ingredients well, adding lime juice as you stir.
  5. Serve quinoa salad topped with crumbled goat cheese.

I’m especially fond of the flavor combination produced by the fennel and golden raisins (which aren’t as intensely sweet as their cousins). Perhaps I should add to my list of resolutions a plan to eat more fennel…

Quick & Dirty Minestrone

Via gchat, SS and I discussed the limitations of canned soup. Well, one limitation: that it’s spiked to the gills with sodium but strangely flavorless. “I just want to keep dumping salt in,” SS wrote, “but I don’t because it’s already hella salty, so then I force myself to eat bland soup.” And that, folks, sums it up.

Making soup from scratch isn’t difficult, just time consuming. If you use canned beans, it’s not that time consuming — certainly not in the geologic scheme of things. The bit of effort you invest will yield stellar results.

Aida Mollenkamp recently published a Minestrone recipe via Chow. Minestrone, I thought, I haven’t had that in ages. Just like that, the craving set in. Campbell’s minestrone — the only kind I knew — was one of my childhood favorites. I loved the uniform cubes of potato, the strangely symmetrical green beans, and the rich, tomatoey broth. I was gonna own this recipe.

My version deviates from Mollenkamp’s. As stated, I used canned beans. I also omitted a few things (frozen peas, zucchini) and added others (random chickpeas, Manchego rind, cilantro). Though a bit less salty than I’d have preferred — HA! — my soup was pretty spot on.

Do yourself a favor: set aside an evening to make a big pot of this Minestrone. Put half in the fridge and half in the freezer, and you won’t have to reach for a weird microwaveable cup of Chicken and Stars for your weekday lunch.

Aida Mollenkamp's Minestrone -- mine is a lot chunkier than this (but no less tasty)

(Photo Source)

Garky’s Minestrone (adapted from Aida Mollenkamp’s recipe)

Ingredients

  • Three tablespoons butter
  • Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • One smallish yellow onion, minced
  • Four cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • Salt and pepper
  • One huge carrot, cut into small pieces
  • Two celery ribs, cut into small pieces
  • One bigass Russet potato, scrubbed and cut into uniform cubes
  • Two Bay leaves
  • One 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (juice and all)
  • Four cups of low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • Parmesan or Manchego rind (optional, but recommended)
  • Eight ounces fresh green beans, cut into small pieces
  • About 1 cup of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • One can of cannellini beans (liquid reserved)
  • About 1.5 cups of water
  • About 1.5 cups small pasta (I used orichette, but use what suits your fancy)
  • One-quarter bunch cilantro, chopped

Method

  1. Heat butter and oil in a soup pot over a medium flame. When the butter is mostly melted, add your garlic and onions. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add hefty shakes of salt and pepper.
  2. Once your onions are cooked, add your carrots, celery, potato, and Bay leaves. Mix to combine with onion/garlic mixture, and cook until celery is soft. Again, add salt and pepper (trust me on this one).
  3. Add your diced tomatoes, liquid and all. The original recipe recommended simmering until most of the liquid had evaporated, but I didn’t follow this directive — I knew I’d need that liquid.
  4. Add your broth and cheese rind. Simmer for a bit.
  5. Now, add your green beans, your chickpeas, and your cannellini beans (and the bean juice). If your soup looks more like stew, add water. It’s OK to eyeball the amount of water — I added more toward the end of the process, right before I added the pasta.
  6. Now is a good time to add your cilantro. Cilantro doesn’t belong in Minestrone, you say? Rubbish! (The store I went to was out of Italian parsley, so I subbed this in. Worked great.)
  7. This step is important: ten minutes before you remove your soup from the heat, add your pasta. Don’t add it too early, lest it become overcooked. I let my pasta cook for about eight minutes before moving the pot to an unused burner.
  8. Allow soup to cool, and enjoy!

One note: the next time around, I’ll add a bit more water (or broth). Though the soup’s consistency was dead-on right after I pulled it from the flame, the pasta absorbed some of the liquid and my soup is a little chunky as a result. This doesn’t bother me — I’m a lover of chunky soups — but it’s a good thing to bear in mind.

Medallions of Joy

It had been too long since I spent a full day in the kitchen. I’m not beating up on myself — things like jobs and social goings-on prevent such time allocation, ya dig? But I missed my all day cookingfests: the sort where you put your iPod on shuffle, pour yourself a glass of wine, don your favorite apron, and use every dish you own in the creation of something fabulously non-routine.

Before he left for Maine, Alex made me a gorgeous dinner: pan-seared salmon, succotash, bread (from Josey!), wine. Pie for dessert, natch. I swooned, and I ate a lot of bread. I wanted to repay the favor but was stumped about what to make. I don’t have a go-to dish — not one to serve to guys, anyhow. The dishes I typically make for myself are tasty, yes, but not showy enough for company.* I consulted my cooking magz — finally, these magazine subscriptions are being put to good use! — and found a recipe for herb-crusted rack of lamb. Droooool.

You know how common sense dictates that one should not prepare a wholly new recipe when one is entertaining? Heh. It crossed my mind that maybe I should stick with a known quantity, but the promise of medium-rare lamb encased in buttery, herbacious breadcrumbs was irresistible. That, and the recipe was one paragraph long. I felt certain that I wouldn’t fuck it up.

The biggest challenge in the preparation of the Roast of Awesomeness was securing the rack of lamb. I’m close to a few grocery stores (OK, two Safeways), but neither sells quality meat. Whole Foods is a bit of a trek — an hour ride (RT) on the 71. Fortunately, Guerra Meats is right in my hood. The shop has a pleasingly old-timey awning (and similarly antiquated interior), a passable selection of dry goods, and hella friendly butchers. The dude I spoke with raised his eyebrow when I requested a rack of lamb.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have chops?” he asked. “Chops are also nice.”

“No,” I answered (hesitantly). It had to be the rack.

Looking at me, the butcher knew my plan. HE TOTALLY KNEW. Smiling, he wrapped the meat in lilac paper and sealed the bundle with tape. “Here’s what you do,” he said. “Rub it with whatever herbs you want — oil, herbs, doesn’t matter — and cook it for half an hour. Not too long.”

“Okey doke,” I said. I fairly skipped into the sunlight and walked all the way home.

How was the lamb, then? Better than even I could have hoped for. At the risk of sounding like a True NorCal Hippie (TNH), I think a higher power preordained that this roast would turn out perfectly. When I removed the rack from the oven, it measured exactly (to the degree) 130. Precisely medium rare. It rested for a good ten minutes before we broke it into chops, and then? Oh, yeah: we dug in.

Rack of lamb is my new go-to dish. I half wish I had to host a company dinner or something (bridal shower? Do brides eat meat? DON’T ANSWER THAT.) just so I could prepare it again. Or maybe I don’t need an occasion, the eating of lamb being an occasion itself. Bingo.

***

This dish is easy enough to prepare last minute (trust me) and lovely enough for whatever sort of shindig you’re throwing. Allow two chops per diner — more, if you want leftovers — and serve with a green salad.

One other suggestion: I added extra butter to the breadcrumb mixture, and I suggest you do the same. Now is not the time for dietary restrictions.

Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb (from Bon Appetit, January 2011)

Ingredients

  • Rack of lamb, well trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1.5 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Method

Preheat oven to 450. Brush lamb with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs. Place lamb, meat side up, on rimmed baking sheet. Mix breadcrumbs, garlic, butter, and mint in medium bowl. Press breadcrumb mixture onto meat side of lamb. Roast until thermometer inserted into lamb registers 130 degrees, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Cut into chops.

***

*And I’m blushing a little at my admission that I wanted to make something showy, but, you know, that’s how it is! OKcool.

Let me count the ways.

Hook made this dinner for me because he is a sweetie pie.

Wednesday evening, still in my gym clothes and looking a hot mess after my commute, I came home to find Hook preparing a dinner surprise: Steak Tacos with Pico de Gallo and Cumin-Infused Rice. Nothing sets my heart aflutter like warm tortillas and homemade pico. Boyfriend, you are the best.

Muffin Madness!

When I was young, my mother owned a copy of “Mostly Muffins.” Perhaps your mother (or dad) did, too: it seems to have been a staple in kitchens in the early 1990s — in my neck of the woods, at least. I was fascinated by this book: by the alliterative title, the book’s square shape, that picture of a basket piled high with perfectly formed muffins. Never mind that I don’t have one single memory of my mom ever baking from this book; never mind that we rarely ate muffins. “Mostly Muffins” was a central part of my childhood kitchenscape, occupying the same shelf as the Joy of Cooking, The Victory Garden Cookbook, and recipe binders filled to overflowing, yellowed and dog-eared pages curling over the edges.”Mostly Muffins” conjures tangential images of the kitchen’s faux-Southwestern patterned wallpaper, of the citrus-fruit-themed needlework pieces my mom hung above the cordless phone. The cordless phone! God, cordless phones: Where Are They Now?

Did your parents own a copy of this book? I'll bet they did.

I owe a lot to “Mostly Muffins,” primarily its ability to shuttle me back to a more innocent time, but also my present-day love of muffins. I mentioned that we rarely ate muffins when I was a child; I think this dietary absence owes to the muffin’s dubious categorical status. Similar to a sweetbread, it’s too sugary to be a proper breakfast food (or it was in my household), but it wasn’t quite decadent enough to be a showcase dessert. The muffin’s in-betweenness left it in the dust of healthier breakfast fare and fattier desserts. “Mostly Muffins” mostly stayed on the shelf, except when my sis and I flipped through it to look at the pictures.

Working against my family’s innate prejudice, I’m making an effort to incorporate muffins into my dietary life. While I enjoy them (and enjoy baking them), I’m not a fan of having a dozen muffins around the house. Despite my best efforts — that is, even if I eat muffins for snack and dessert every day — half of the muffs usually get stale and are dumped in the compost bin. I could freeze some, sure, but freezing compromises the texture and taste of the muffins.

(Note: The only things I’m really OK with storing in the freezer are meats, some berries, some breads, cookies, and Things That Are Meant To Be Frozen, like ice cream sandwiches and frozen pizzas. You can disagree with me on this, but it has been my experience that freezing alters the taste and texture of many foods in an undesirable way — not to mention that it’s better to eat food fresh. Not to mention, too, that a cluttered freezer reflects a cluttered interior life. Just sayin’.)

Baking supplies in a dark kitchen.

Knowing this, I only bake muffins when I’ll have a larger audience for them. My audience, in this case, includes my housemates and Hook’s coworkers. And myself, of course.

Waiting to be baked.

This summer, I bought a megabox (5 lbs.) of berries at an insanely good price. I froze most of them; I still have a few cups in the freezer. My nutso berry buying spree prompted me to find a reliable Blueberry Muffin recipe: one that’s quick, relatively healthy, and can be enjoyed by the health-conscious and muffin lovers alike.* For my past several batches of muffins, I’ve used this recipe found on Simple Daily Recipes.

An ill-lit shot of the finished goods.

Not only is the recipe super simple, but the muffins aren’t overly sweet (and are therefore suitable for breakfast!). I do add about a teaspoon of vanilla and a few liberal shakes of cinnamon to my batter — as written, the recipe doesn’t call for any spices, and the cinnamon notably enhances the flavor. With my next batch, I may add some ground ginger (just a smidge!) to see how that alters the flavor.

Meanwhile, if you have a favorite blueberry muffin recipe, please share it! I’d like to test a few versions to see how they stack up to my current fave. (Note: And feel free, too, to share any other muffin recipes you love: I have a latent goal of writing a muffin-centric cookbook with a cutesy title and a bounteous feast of muffins featured on the cover. Some say “copyright infringement,” others say “recreating a childhood dream.”)

Looming large on the horizon.

*I wouldn’t argue that these categorizations are mutually exclusive, though they’re not always complementary, either.

Sunday Roundup

Two things:

1) Hook and I made a superb dinner last night: Top: Dover Sole, brushed with Blood Orange olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh dill, thyme (grown and dried by Hook himself), and lemon juice. Exquisite. Bottom: Swiss chard and onions in vegetable broth, seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, and a sprinkle of dried basil. Yes, the chard looks like a Zombie Landscape, but it was mighty tasty. With dinner we had fresh sourdough and chardonnay.

2) After a long(ish) quest, I found an Entemann’s coffee cake, and you’ll never guess where. Give up? Andronico’s. (Note: for those who don’t live in the Bay Area, Andronico’s is akin to a Whole Foods, but smaller.) How is it that neither a middling-to-below-average grocery store nor three corner/package stores had a crappy coffee cake, but Andronico’s did? Mysteries of the world…