Saturday, September 20, 2014

Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach


I spend a lot of time in bed these days, staring at the massive pecan tree just outside my window. 
I think about the future a lot.
I often wonder if everyone else is in their bed too, thinking about whatever it is that comes next, and staring at their respective trees. 


When the future makes me lonely, I think about Georgia O'Keefe who lived alone in a tiny adobe house in the red desert of New Mexico. When she couldn't sleep she would make yogurt and knead loaves of bread and sweep her floor in the middle of the night. Then I think about the food writer, MFK Fisher, who liked to leave peeled oranges on her window sill, especially in the winter, until the clear orange membrane became dry and crackly, and so when she bit, the orange was only a cold punch of crunch and winter and citrus. 


Sometimes, I think about a boy I knew only briefly, who once cooked me a dinner that mostly consisted of boiled carrots and brown rice, and how kind it was, but how much it needed salt. We  later went to a party, where everyone was older, and speaking languages I didn’t understand. We sat in a corner, and he told me about his lovers, while a tiny French man sang and danced along to "Like A Virgin." The little man danced up to me, "Whenever I feel sad,” he said, “I just listen to Madonna! Like a virgin! Like a virgin!!!" 

And often, I think about my friend Mary Margaret, who was the most beautiful old person I’ve ever known, and she died too soon, but she would throw these parties that were catered by Torchy’s Tacos, and the old-school literati and glitterati of my hometown would go, and there was always this man who wore his cowboy hat inside, he would sit and play groovy ragtime licks on her baby grand piano for hours. 


So lately, I spend a lot of time lying on my bed, staring at the tree outside my window. 
Lately, it rains. 
The other night I made this pot of lentils, and added potatoes and all the remaining odds and ends in my refrigerator.
And the simplicity of the lentils reminded me of all these tiny beautiful things; dancing to Madonna, cold oranges, and tiny houses in big deserts and cowboy hats. 

And how small it all is, and how perfectly beautiful. 


Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach
from The Gourmet Cookbook 

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion 
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach
fresh lemon juice to taste
salt and black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add curry powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add lentils, stock, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. 
Stir in tomatoes and spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Jambalaya


I just moved again, my fourth time moving in the past four years. This is exhausting only because there's constant re-adaptation to a new kitchen, which is actually a real thing. I don't know how electric burners work?? Why does the oven light go on and off?? Just how cold IS my freezer? Also, because I've always lived with other people, everyone else always provided all the culinary hardware, which means that I've been getting inventive. 
Did you know you can actually shred cheese with a vegetable peeler? 


(Like a fool, I forgot to take pictures, so here is my brother and some nice pink skies.) 

Anyways, I made some jambalaya so fine that I thought I had been kidnapped as a baby because actually I MUST be Cajun.

This explains everything!

The real thing about jambalaya, is that you can adapt it to all your personal cravings.
After reading several recipes it appears that most people don't put shrimp in it?
But my mama always puts shrimp in her jambalaya, so I did too.
You can make it on the stovetop, or in the oven or both (I did both.)
You can add okra, or not.
You can add sausage or not.
You can make your own cajun seasoning or not.
It's great.



Mostly I liked making jambalaya, because it made me feel at home, and feeling at home is suddenly a rare and special thing. 
Lately, I find myself asking questions such as, do other people make a place a home?
Is home just where you feel safest? 

Sometimes, when these questions are too much, I sit in my small green bathroom, and watch a trail of tiny black ants crawl from the east end of my bathtub near the faucet to the west end where I keep my shampoo. 
I like the ants, because the ants are not concerned with questions of home or place or belonging. 
They just keep walking. 

The point is. 
This jambalaya is worth you time. It will make the air smell thick and rich and spicy. 
It will bring you back to the tactile, real version of yourself. The part of yourself that only exists in the HERE NOW.  
But mostly it tastes really good. And fills you up. 

You will love it. 

And I love you. 


XOXO



Jambalaya 
via AllRecipes.com 

These are guidelines, adapt as you please. 

2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
10 ounces andouille sausage, slices into rounds
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (16 ounce) can crushed Italian tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 cups uncooked white rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a large heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the sausage and chicken pieces with Cajun seasoning. Saute sausage until browned. Remove with slotted spoon, and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and saute chicken pieces until lightly browned on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

2. In the same pot, saute onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic until tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, and season with red pepper, black pepper, salt, hot pepper sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in chicken and sausage. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in the rice and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. (I actually ended up putting my Jambalaya in the oven at 375 F, for about half an hour because my electric burners didn't seem capable of cooking everything evenly for a long period of time.)


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Best Ever Yellow Birthday Cake with Best Ever Chocolate Frosting (and raspberries)



I first baked this cake on graduating high school. 
I baked it in two layers, frosted them as individual cakes for a party, drank a glass of champagne, went swimming, and then promptly went to college. 

I hadn’t made this cake since then. 
Recently, I made it for my father’s birthday. 
Here he is, looking mildly pleased. 

 

What I can’t get over, is how much has changed between then and now. 

My last year of university is about to begin. “Season four begins.” My friends and I joke, because somehow, the entire three, now four years, has managed to feel like a bizarre, high drama miniseries, or at least, one that’s heavy on the taco-eating/beer-drinking/library-gossiping side of life. 

Since I was a child, college has always the goal and the next “next thing.” Somehow, I’m now facing the beginning of the end of it, and panicking a little about what my next “next thing” is going to be. 

I’m hopeful that I’ll bake this cake again soon, because it’s such a perfect, perfect cake. But also, I’m hopeful that I’ll bake it again soon because I really want to celebrate all the tiny victories and birthdays and half-birthdays and weekends and Monday nights and people. Mostly I want to celebrate all the people. 

Everything is going by so fast. 

There’s a bizarre musical called Auntie Mame. The best and only memorable line from the whole show is when Mame shouts, “Life is a banquet! And most poor suckers are starving to death!” And then she throws on a different wig and dances on the table, surrounded by multitudes of her tap-dancing lovers. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. 


When I think about goals or dreams for the upcoming months, of course I want to work hard and study and graduate-- but more than any of this, I really want to bake this cake, throw on the wig, dance on the table, just for the hell of it. 
Because life is a banquet. 
Because it’s the beginning of the end, which means it’s a new beginning all over again. 
And I want to celebrate. 
Because I’m so excited.
I’m so wildly excited. 

Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame

XOXO


Best Yellow Layer Cake
from SmittenKitchen.com 

In all sincerity, this one of the simplest and absolute best cakes you could ever wish that someone else would bake you for your birthday. 

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake (I have yet to audition the cupcakes, shame on me)
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 to 530 grams, see explanation) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.


Go-to Chocolate Frosting
from Allrecipes.com

Also this frosting makes me the happiest. It is so good. So so soooo good. 

1 cup butter, softened
4 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cups baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Add enough milk until frosting reaches spreading consistency.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

I wanted to make you a salad, but all you got was this blog post

I've been listening to a lot of Neil Young lately, and also the kind of funky, groovy R&B that makes me awkwardly gyrate and sway on the subway and street corners-- because the need to dance is so in me. 
I play the song "Harvest Moon" over and over again, and suddenly I am sixteen and driving alone for the first time and singing along, in order to forget how terrifying driving actually is. 


Listening to Neil Young pulls the curtain back, shows me all the wistful, swinging summertime sadness and dreaming that is often too difficult to express aloud, if you can even put words to it. "When we were strangers, I watched you from afar." 
Has a more perfect love story, ever been written in just one sentence? 


So I'm in the mood for holding other people's babies and in the mood for going swimming in the morning, talking the world over with a few beers and I want to dance until there are blisters on my heels. 
I think I'm a little in love with all the ordinary parts of being a person. Which maybe explains why I love things like weddings and birthdays and baptisms-- all marking the passage of time, and time lucky enough to be spent here
Mostly, I want to cook for you-- I wanna make fat salads with mountains of arugula and fresh mozzarella and sliced avocados, all with some sharp limey dressing, and some beverage so cold it hurts our teeth. 


Because I've been sickish, I didn't go to work yesterday, and instead ate a thick croissant egg sandwich with fries and talked to this barista. He was Moroccan, but grew up in Israel. He told me how he had done a 7-month long solo motorcycle trip across the US and most of Central America. All the way to Honduras and beyond. 
"What did you learn?" I asked him. 
He looked me right in the eyes, "I learned," he said, "that it is good to be alive." 





Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chicken-in-the-pot

Last night when I couldn't sleep I started going through pictures of myself on Facebook, which is narcissistic, but also, I guess it's in the perpetual attempt to try and figure out where I actually am, versus where I actually was, and actually how is it that anyone gets from Point A and arrives at Point NOW? 


I don't know. 

I've been thinking about the past year a lot, because years always seem to sort of roll themselves over in the summertime for me, and also I've been thinking about the future. 

I think I'm supposed to be thinking about my "career" and "the job market" and other imposing, adult, grey-sounding words that make me want to bury my head in the sand. 
Instead though, I just daydream about being home with my little brothers and making chicken-in-the-pot. 


I want to make this chicken every day for a week, because it smells like the actual smell of heaven, and I want to make it with bright sweet potatoes and fat sticks of celery and thin, translucent slices of yellow bell peppers and the rinds of pickled lemons. 

I want to make this more than almost anything else right now, but at the moment, I don't have a kitchen. 


I don't know what I'm supposed to do with all the past selves, that linger on various social media platforms, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do with the future cubicle that real adulthood sometimes appears to be. 
I'm trying to trust that even when I can't fall asleep, everything is still okay. 
I think this is what they call "faith." 
Besides, the future isn't here yet, and the past went. 
So I'm craving chicken-in-the-pot. And for the time being, I can't have it. 
It's okay. 
So I guess I'm here, at Point NOW. 
And really, it ain't so bad. 



Chicken-in-the-Pot Makes 4 servings (but you can multiply the recipe easily)
from cookbook goddess Dorie Greenspan 

Approximately 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 heads of garlic, broken into cloves, but not peeled
16 shallots, peeled and trimmed, or 4 onions, peeled, trimmed and quartered, or 4 leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise
8 carrots, peeled, trimmed and quartered
4 celery stalks, trimmed and quartered
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Grated zest of 1 lemon
16 prunes, optional (apricots or dried apples are also good in this dish)
1 chicken, whole or cut-up
1/2 small (2 lbs or less) cabbage, green or red, cut into 4 wedges (try Savoy cabbage)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine, or another 1/2 cup chicken broth
About 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, for the seal
About 3/4 cup hot water, for the seal

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Set a large skillet over high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss in the garlic cloves and all the vegetables, EXCEPT the cabbage - you might have to do this in two batches, you don't want to crowd the skillet - season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly browned on all sides. Spoon the vegetables into a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid - you'll need a pot that holds at least 5 quarts. Stir in the herbs, lemon zest and prunes, if you're using them.

Return the skillet to the heat and add another tablespoon or so of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown the chicken on all sides. Put the chicken in the casserole, nestling it among the vegetables. Fit the cabbage wedges around the chicken.

Stir together the chicken broth, wine and 1/2 cup olive oil and pour the mixture over the chicken and vegetables.

Now you have a choice: you can cover the pot with a sheet of aluminum foil and the lid, or you can make a paste to seal the lid. To make the paste, stir the flour and water together, mixing until you have a soft, workable dough. Working on a floured surface, shape the dough into a long sausage, then press the sausage onto the rim of the casserole. Press the lid into the dough to seal the pot.

Slide the pot into the oven and bake for 70 minutes. If you need to keep it in the oven a little longer because you're not ready for it, don't worry - turn the heat down to 325 degrees F and you'll be good for another 30 minutes or so.

The easiest way to break the seal, is to wiggle the point of a screwdriver between the dough and the pot - being careful not to stand in the line of the escaping (and wildly aromatic) steam. If the chicken was whole, quarter it and return it to the pot, so that you can serve directly from the pot, or arrange the chicken and vegetables on a serving platter.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ragu alla Bolognese


I went to a wedding recently, and the man giving the homily said this thing that I wrote down, he said, "Tell each other the story of being someone who has been loved well." 

Or something like that. 
And I thought, what a beautiful thing. 
The story of someone who has been loved well. 


I've been thinking a lot about marriage recently, maybe because all of a sudden, people my age and a little older are starting to get married, and I’m seeing all these newlywed people pop up in my facebook feed, and also in my real life. 
Some of them are even having babies. 
And it's all so magical and wonderful, but at the same time-- 

what. 

I mean. 

What. 

And the sort of quiet realization that the people you meet and maybe wake up next to and spend your minutes and hours and days with, does it all suddenly matter more? Is this the big leagues of life? Has it always been the big leagues and I just haven’t been paying attention???

It all suddenly seems much, much more real. 

The story of someone who has been loved well. 

In addition to being recently obsessed with the whole concept of marriage, I've also been obsessed with recipes that are stupifyingly simple. Because painfully and perfectly simple things are usually the best. So fuck crazy spices, fuck elaborate and trendy and especially fuck everything to do with quinoa. (I keep trying and I keep wishing and the supposed actual taste-goodness of quinoa keeps not happening.) 


But this ragu. 
This humble meat sauce with pasta. 
This is it. 
Like most painfully perfect simple things, it takes time and a little heartache and attention and also confidence. Because you have to be gentle with it, and you have stir it for forever, and you brown everything, and let juices evaporate, and then, most importantly, you let it simmer for a million years.
By the end of making this ragu, you’re basically in a relationship with it. 
And that’s okay. 

Baby, I’m wishing you good things. 
But more than that, I hope you know that you already own the story of being someone who “has been loved well.” 
You are already that person. 
You really are. 
But if you feel like maybe you need a little boost of confidence, then make this ragu.  
You’ll like it so much, you’ll wanna put a ring on it. 



I love you. 



Ragu alla Bolognese 
via TheWednesdayChef.com and her book My Berlin Kitchen 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, finely minced
2 large carrots, finely minced (you want roughly equal amounts of minced onion and carrot)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup red wine (open a fresh bottle and drink the rest with dinner)
1 28-ounce can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1) Put the oil and butter in a large cast-iron pot over medium heat, to melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, until the onion is well cooked. Do not let it take on any color. Add the minced carrots and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring now and then.

2) Add the ground meat to the pot, and using a wooden spoon, stir and chop up the meat so that it cooks and breaks down into uniformly tiny pieces. Raise the heat to medium-high or even high as you do this. It takes a good amount of elbow grease and a little bit of time. Continue to stir and cook until the meat is no longer pink (at no point, however, should the meat be browning). There will be liquid at the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until that liquid has mostly evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

3) Add the wine and stir well to combine. Simmer until the wine has mostly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

4) Add the pureed tomatoes and the salt and stir well to combine. The sauce will come to a simmer almost instantly. Lower the heat to the lowest possible setting, put the lid on the pot, and let the sauce simmer for as long as you possibly can, stirring it occasionally. Seven hours would be wonderful, 5 hours is pretty good, but any less than 3 and you're really missing out. The longer you cook the sauce, the richer and more flavorful it will get. At some point in the cooking process, the fat will separate from the sauce and float at the top, so just give the sauce a good stir every so often to reincorporate the fat.

5) At the end of the cooking time, taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Then serve tossed with pasta or use in a classic lasagne (this recipe makes enough for a 9 x 13-inch pan).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chicken Curry with Cashews


My whole life I've struggled with self-doubt. 



I've wasted so much time asking myself "Am I worthy?" of work and love and questioning over and over and over again if I am enough or capable or deserving. 

So much doubt. 

I don't know why. 
I don't know where doubt comes from. 
Fear, I guess. 
And specifically the fear of failure and pain. 

I don't doubt myself when I cook. 
Because there is something to measuring, there is something to learning how to knead bread, and follow a recipe-- that makes my doubt melt away. 
Because all you have to do is whatever comes next, and that is enough. 
That's all you can do. 
And if the recipe is bad, or you mess something up, fundamentally, it doesn't really matter. 

So I like taking risks in the kitchen. 
Because why not? 
Because thinking that I'm not capable of cooking something is stupid and only leaves me hungry. 
So I made my first ever curry, because surprisingly, I had all the right ingredients.  
And I made it and I liked it. 

And making it made me feel capable. Like I was enough. 

Of course, doubt comes back to me, all the time. 
It's a problem that all the curries in the world probably can't solve. 
But maybe. 
Maybe with each new recipe,  I'll keeping doubting a little less, until all the doubt is finally gone. 
I hope so. 

I love you. 

XOXOXO




Chicken Curry with Cashews
from Gourmet Today by Ruth Reichl 

NB: Though the recipe calls for a cut-up whole chicken, you can use an equivalent amount of chicken parts or all thighs. 

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) chicken, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 10 serving pieces (breasts cut crosswise in half) 
1 (14 to 15 ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
3/4 cup cashews (toasted or raw) 
2/3 cup whole-milk yogurt 
garnish: chopped fresh cilantro
accompaniment: basmati or jasmine rice

Heat butter in a 5 to 6-quart wide heavy pot over moderately low heat until foam subsides. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, salt, cumin, and cayeene and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring to coat, for 3 minutes. 
Add tomatoes with juice and cilantro and bring to a simmer; then cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. 
Just before serving, pulse cashews in a food processor or electric coffee/spice grinder until very finely ground (do not grind to a paste). Add to curry, along with yogurt, and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring, until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. 
Serve chicken over rice, sprinkled with cilantro.