Wednesday, April 18, 2018

That Cauliflower Thing

In a fit of madness sometime in January, I started a calculus class. My job does some education reimbursement, so I was looking into graphic design classes because while I'm a bit of a luddite technophobe, I do have to make a lot of flyers. The class I wanted wasn't until late spring, but looking at the course catalog triggered some introspection: I started wondering why I hadn't been taking classes and  thinking about whether I'm currently just wasting my time and how I don't know even how to make crossword puzzles or play the guitar and WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE and the next thing I know I'd signed up to take math for the first time in over a decade.

Totally, TOTALLY solid decision making process.

Adding classes has meant that I'm pretty low on free time, and have to leave my house on Mondays and Wednesdays with lunch and dinner packed. Simultaneously, my roommates and I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to downsize our pantry, and I'm personally committed to doing a better job with my budget. I've been handling this combination of things by aggressively meal planning- I don't want to talk about it, but there's a spreadsheet involved :D. It's largely working, but it also means my diet has been super repetitive. Duck egg sandwiches (Trader Joes' ciabatta rolls, sundried tomatoes from the summer, random cheese!). A box of pasta + freezer pesto. Scrambled egg tacos. Two straight weeks of hummus sandwiches, because I over-enthusiastically cooked two pounds of dried chickpeas. More egg tacos. A week of weird turmeric soup that stained half my tupperware and also introduced one of my roommates to fresh turmeric for the very first time (fun fact: a bag of fresh turmeric in the freezer kind of looks like fingers). More duck egg sandwiches.

I've been planning my non-egg meals around whatever the NPS store has in abundance. Have I mentioned how much I love the NPS store? It's a surplus/overstock warehouse walking distance from my house where you can find everything from toiletries to cookware to saddles, often on the same shelf. Also, food. Everything is crazy discounted- in the summer, there are always a couple weeks where they sell perfect globe artichokes for 50 cents apiece, and those weeks are delicious. They sell dairy products that are past their sell-by date, and produce that grocery stores have rejected- one time they had an entire bin of strawberries that were triple mutants. It's sort of like Imperfect Produce... except you can't order anything through an app, and you have to dig through a crazy amount of weird stuff, and also it's the compete opposite of cool and prestigious. Also, Imperfect Produce was started by someone a couple years behind me at my college, so I'm totally proud of my life choices. The NPS store does not make me rethink my life choices.

That's a lie, everything makes me rethink my life choices. Last week I had a minor emotional crisis over the fact that I have never successfully grown raddichio. Adulthood!

Anyways, about a month ago the NPS store was selling cauliflowers two for a dollar, so I bought two. Three weeks ago, they were selling them three for a dollar, so I bought three more. When I went in the next week, they were TEN for a dollar, and I had to give my self a little talk. "Becca, you do not need ten cauliflowers. I know you could just buy one for 10 cents, but let me remind you- that did not stop you from buying three last week when you only needed one, and it will not save you now. You STILL have cauliflower leftovers in your fridge. Also, where are you gonna put them? How are you going to explain this one to your roommate?"

I resisted, which I am embarrassingly proud of, and then went home and ate this, which is known in my house as 'that cauliflower thing'. I actually wrote about this recipe here before, as part of a farro salad I made for a friend and then never again. I should have just written about the cauliflower, because I've made that part many times in the last couple years and four times last month. It's essentially just roasted cauliflower, but before it goes in the oven its coated in a slurry of spices, oil and red wine vinegar, and you toss in some big pieces of onion. The spice mix gets in deep to all the cauliflower florets, and the onions become smoky sweet, and the whole thing is really quite irresistible... which is good, because I'm pretty sure cauliflower is back on sale this week.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Farro and White Beans
Adapted from Epicurious

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 onion
1.5 tsp cumin
1.5 tsp corriander
1 Tbs curry powder
1 Tbs paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the onion in half, then lengthwise into wedges. Pull apart the onion wedges, then put them and the cauliflower in a large roasting pan. It has to be something with sides- a glass baking dish works well here. 

Combine all spices in a small bowl, then whisk in the red wine vinegar and all the olive oil. What you end up will seem far too thick, but that's ok! It will spread out as you roast. Add it to the pan with the cauliflower and onion and toss well. Roast for an hour, tossing every 15-20 minutes. 

A note on baking time- I'm aware this is significantly longer than cauliflower usually takes, but I think it's worth it.
The extra time allows the onions get all caramelized, and lets the cauliflower soak up all the dressing. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Miso Soup

Hello again! It's been a while. At least month ago, I wrote a long, rambling thing about the Aziz Ansari situation. It was a good piece of writing, but I couldn't find a recipe to go with it. I'd been talking to a college friend, so I tried to recreate this squashy-pasta I used to make in our dorm kitchen. Turns out, it really isn't that good. I probably shouldn't have been surprised - all it contained was CSA squash, a dollar box of pasta and "parmesan" from my dining hall's salad bar- but at the time it felt magical. The ability to nourish myself was an accomplishment I held onto in those years, something I could do when my mental health and poor coping skills left me incapable of doing anything else. Realizing that squash pasta wasn't as good as I remembered-  I remember it tasting like butter, but in reality it was dry and under-seasoned- hurt. I cook better now, I suppose, which is good- as everyone around me has learned to cook (I am, after all, nearing 30) I haven't lost the feeling that food is part of who I am.

The squash-pasta era certainly wasn't the darkest point in my godawful journey of mental health and hopelessness, but when I look back it feels like a turning point. I had friends and parents who loved me, access to treatment, and I was teetering on the edge of functional, still energetic enough to have buckled down, taken my meds, and taken advantage of all the opportunity. I could have learned to write crossword puzzles, or another language, or done a semester at sea, or even just finished college on time instead of four years late.

I know regret is pointless, just as I know comparing myself to others is destructive. I do, I do know these things. But I'm not sure I can really stop. I desire so desperately- I want to see everything, eat everything, be everything, with a passion and ambition that I know are ludicrous but also my strength. Instead I can cook- a skill I'm proud of, an activity I love, and a hobby I wonder if I'm wasting my time on as I watch others finish PhDs and start medical school and create things worth sharing and selling. Nonetheless I do it- with love, with creativity, with the strange assurance that feeding myself, packing my lunch and sometimes my dinner- is something to be proud of when I'm lost.

I should really just rename this blog "Soup in Snow".

There's still magic in it, too. I'm not fastidious enough with most recipes to have moments when I've perfected them- with notable exceptions, I just give up if something doesn't work. I also stay away from kitchen projects that require too much alchemy (see: most baking)- most of what I do, I can stop and check along the way if something is turning out right. Nevertheless, the first time I got miso soup right, it was impossibly thrilling. I hadn't really expected it to work- and the midpoints were suspicious, and all of a sudden I had created something my mother didn't teach me how to make.

I attempted miso soup once in college, but it didn't work- in fact, it didn't work quite dramatically. I'm pretty sure the box of miso languished in the refrigerator until I, or more likely one of my roommates, tossed it. I'm not historically great at getting rid of food I'm ashamed not to have used (see rotting garden squash, that tin of sardines, a kombucha in high school...). Somehow, in reading that miso soup was dead easy (it is) I'd missed the fact that when a recipe has five ingredients, they are all essential. It was just last year that I learned to make dashi, the fish and kelp stock that cracks the code on so much Japanese cooking, and damn. Magic.

So yes, I finally followed the instructions and it turns out they work (kind of a theme around here). I still think you should all know about it. I mean, many of you probably do- 'make dashi' is a pretty damned basic kitchen thing, like 'brown an onion' or fry an egg', so if there was any Japanese cooking in your house growing up you're probably rolling your eyes at me right now. If, however, miso soup was something you grew up eating out- well, here's how you do it at home, and I'm not sorry.

Ingredient notes! (Because I like pictures when I go shopping for ingredients I don't usually buy)

Bonito flakes: I couldn't find the exact ones I use online, but they look just like this.

Kombu: Same situation. On the other hand, kombu is pretty distinct- it's thick, and the packages often tell you they're for making dashi.

Miso: I like red miso for miso soup, as it's the most fermented and flavorful, but feel free to use whatever you've got. It will probably turn out looking different than mine, however. Miso is often, although not always, made with grains that have gluten- barley, etc. You should be able to tell by reading the ingredients on a label, but as I can't read Japanese that doesn't really help. Anyways, when my celiac roommie moved in, I bought a bunch of this stuff, which is delicious but surprisingly dark in color. Now if I could just find celiac-safe bonito flakes...

Seaweed: Miso soup is typically made with wakame, but I pretty consistently have sushi-nori (the kind of seaweed they sell in sheets) so that's what I use. It's inauthentic, but it still tastes great.

Makes six cups

Note: I make six cups at a time, because that makes me one block of tofu's worth of Miso soup. I'm all about minimizing food waste around here. Additionally, I like recipe with hands-off and idiot-proof components (aka soaking kombu overnight) but this is just as doable if you're planning more last minute. Just head the water and kombu together over low heat until the water is approaching a simmer and then remove it- boiling kombu will apparently make everything bitter and slimy. You see why I went with overnight? Less to mess up :D

6 cups water
1.5 cups loosely packed bonito flakes
~six square inches of kombu

Put the water & kombu in a small pot and leave overnight. The next day, remove the kombu and bring the pot to a simmer over medium-low heat. If you're starting with unsoaked kombu, see the note. When you've hit a boil, add the bonito flakes, stir, and then let the whole thing boil gently/simmer aggressively for about five minutes. Strain out the bonito and clean your strainer immediately. At this point, you may have less than six cups of dashi- evaporation and all that- so add water until you're back to six cups.

Fun fact: dried fish flakes are TOUGH to get out of a strainer.

Miso Soup
Serves just me (huzzah!) or two people out of those tiny standard miso-soup sized bowls

2 cups dashi
1/2 sheet of sushi nori, cut into strips with scissors
2 Tbsp red miso
1/3 block silken tofu, cubed.
1 green onion, white and green parts thinly sliced

Put the dashi and nori into a small pot, and warm over medium low heat. Put the miso into a bowl, preferably the one you're going to eat out of (fewer dishes!). When the dashi is close to boiling, pour about a half cup into the bowl, and use a small whisk to combine it with the miso. Pour it back into the pot and add tofu. Cook over low for another couple minutes, until the tofu is warmed through. Pour the whole thing back into the bowl and add green onions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Weekly Waterfowl (18!)


Duckducks are undeterred by snow, but irritated that it makes their food sink. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Probably Appropriated Tomatillo Tortilla Soup

Things that are a problem when you're a terrible photographer who also thinks it's a good idea to write a food blog:
  1. Foodgawker will reject most of your photos
  2. When they tell you why, you won't understand the critique (seriously, how is this underexposed? Isn't it too bright? Can someone explain this to me?)
  3. Sometimes, on the day you were planning on cooking during the daylight, it's slush-snowing and gray and disgusting outdoors.
All of that is an explanation for why the background on this photo is literal snow.

Not pictured: me in my puffiest coat, reconsidering all of my life choices.

Also on the list of life choices to reconsider? The weekend this fall when we canned 25lbs of plums, made what must have been a quart of chimmichurri, dehydrated 30 tomatoes and 20 red chilis and accidentally picked 73lbs of tomatillos. In the process, we had to peel 109 cloves of garlic and sliced enough jalapeƱos to give both my roommates a coughing fit. I ended this canning season with twenty-two jars of tomatillo salsa and am now down to eleven. Eleven! I mean, I did give away quite a few, but I've also made this soup twice, and I think you should too.

The basic concept- a broth hacked by dumping in an entire jar of tomatillo salsa, bulked up with hominy and tortilla chips- comes from a soup I used to buy in high school. When I went to recreate it, I tried to find some actual basis in Mexican cooking. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I came up short. I found a green pozole in Margarita Carrillo Arronte's "Mexico, the Cookbook", but it wasn't really related- it contained oxtongue, pork rinds and sorrel, and didn't have chips. (As a side note, I would like to eat that entire book). Meanwhile, none of the tortilla soup recipes I found had hominy. I even emailed the Chicano Eats guy hoping I could find precedent somewhere, but I think I'm on my own. 

So yes- I think way too much about food, and this soup is highly inauthentic. 

Regardless, it's perfect for winter. The actual soup takes half an hour and mostly involves opening cans, and the toppings can be adapted to whatever you've got hanging around, can find seasonally, or (as in my case) is cheap at your local overstock food store. The chips and avocados are essential, but besides that it's an open field- cilantro, chopped onion, extra limes, chopped green onion, sour cream, cheese, some other shredded greens... just make it fresh and crunchy, so you can pretend it's spring. 

(SIDE NOTE: Guys, I have a problem. I've gone from a total preservation novice to the kind of person who sees everything as a canning project. My farm-wife and I went to Zion over New Years, and our Airbnb had a pomegranate tree, and long story short I spent New Years Eve standing on a lawn chair thwacking pomegranates with a trekking pole.)

Probably Appropriated Tomatillo Tortilla Soup

2 cups prepared good quality tomatillo salsa 

1 25oz can hominy
1 15oz can pinto beans
8 cups broth of your choosing (I used Better Than Bouillon's veggie base!)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper. 

Dump the salsa, hominy, beans, broth and oregano into a large, heavy pot and stir. Bring to a simmer slowly, with the lid on- in my dutch oven over low heat, this took about half an hour, but if you're using a regular pot I'd suggest medium heat*. Regardless, you want to give it at least 30 minutes for the flavors to combine. Add salt, pepper and lime juice, but DO taste the soup first- since there's a wide variety of tomatillo salsas, the one you use might be very different than mine. I found it needed quite a bit of black pepper and almost two tablespoons of lime juice. 

Ladle into bowls, and top with crushed tortilla chips, cubed avocado, and whatever else you'd like. Pictured above: rough-chopped cilantro, red onion and thinly sliced radishes.

*Ok, recipe complaint- I always, ALWAYS have a hard time with the whole 'bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer' part of recipes. I find that once something's boiling, it's almost impossible for me to keep it on any heat at all without it coming back to a boil again. Is this just me? I always end up taking the whole thing off the heat for a little bit first. If you are less simmer-challenged, feel free to interpret those instructions as 'bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes". 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Weekly Waterfowl (17!)

Greetings! I spent Christmas in New England, eating all the fishes and not checking my email. It was quite lovely, ignoring my responsibilities so thoroughly, although now that I'm back my to-do list is kind of overwhelming. I'm pretty consistently barely hanging onto this real job/ activist shit / food blog / community thing I'm doing, and it piles up quickly when I take five days off. No words shall be said about the state of my other adult responsibilities, like laundry and budgeting and cleaning my room.

Also, one of our ducks broke her toenail.. and another one might have bumblefoot? It's been a bad couple days for duck feet. Here's Pearl, hanging out in a warm water and saline soak prior to toenail-bandaging. Luckily for me, my farmwife is a pretty prepared duck-nurse.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Plum Ketchup Barbecue Pizza

Sometimes, my community behaves exactly as expected. For instance, we're into the distribution season of jam-club, so we put out a quick google survey asking people what they wanted. Three different people forgot to include their names. Three! I probably shouldn't be surprised, considering half the community finds google calendar an insurmountable technical challenge, but still. Then, when we reminded folks that we really needed their names, we got an email from our resident Mormon Mansplainer which said, and I swear I'm not making this up, "If your survey is not working then it is a design flaw that you need to fix". To be fair, the email also came with the very useful suggestion that we make the name field mandatory... but I still think 'design flaw' is lexical overkill for a survey about jam. Also, when I tracked down another neighbor who hadn't filled out the survey, she told me she couldn't do it because her "computer doesn't get Google".

So yes, we're predictable.

On the other hand, despite declaring it "too spicy" last year, the majority of the community has come around to plum ketchup! I think a lot of the credit should go to this pizza, which my farmwife made for our jam-club tasting party and I have made twice since. It's barbecue pizza with sophistication, and takes a grand total of 10 minutes work, assuming you have some plum ketchup banging around.

Didn't you make some last month? What, you don't cook from my blog immediately? I expect better from my nonexistant fans.

Happy holidays! I'm headed to Boston tonight, and I haven't even started packing OR cleaned my bathroom. In other words, I'm functioning at my usual levels of 'not an adult'.

Plum Barbecue Pizza

1 storebought pizza dough (or be fancy, it's your life!)
1/2 a red onion, sliced in thin half moons
~4 small mushrooms, sliced thin
1/3 cup plum ketchup (or regular bbq sauce maybe?)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pizza dough as thin as you can while still fitting it on a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to a sheet pan, then spread plum ketchup across the whole surface with a spoon or a rubber spatula. Sprinkle cheddar cheese. Distribute onions, mushrooms and goat cheese. Crack some black pepper over the top, and drizzle with the olive oil.

Put the pizza in the oven and bake until the dough is cooked- timing will depend on how thick your dough is, but mine took about forty minutes.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Weekly Waterfowl (16!)

TBT, like, six months. But duck butts!!

I'm not sure how to feel about using TBT correctly. This feels like a betrayal of my cranky-old-man luddite status. On the other hand, this week I learned how to turn the lights on inside my car for the first time, and I got the car in June, so maybe I'm not in that much danger.