Monday, April 27, 2015

Cucumber Apple Juice with Basil

This is what Santa Barbara looked like when I arrived Saturday afternoon. The wind was blowing hard enough that I had to store my clothes under a rock, and if you got below the level of the beach you could see a thin layer of soft sand blowing across the top like a dust storm. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but the colder weather and the wind tinted the water nearly Northwestern. Despite the wind and the chill (and the strange looks I was catching from fully clothed strangers) I walked straight into the waves and dove in. Glorious. How can I live in Utah? Honestly, what am I doing here?

It continues to amaze me how tenuous my sense of stability is. Most days I'm fine- I waitress, I take classes, I see my Utah friends, who though few in number have become comfortable. I know I'm moving forward. I know I'm in the right place. 

That knowledge is, for me, more peace than I have ever had, but it's far from stable. A weekend away and I'm whirling again, scrambling to catch ahold of the pieces of my life and cram them back into a linear plan, one that leads somewhere I understand. I want to know, now, how I will look back on this period of my life. I want to know that I will be looking from a better place, from somewhere I feel fulfilled and happy and less lonely, and maybe  even  have enough money to spend a weekend at the beach just for me.

What surprised me more than anything was how much I enjoyed the hour or so we spent in Venice Beach en route. Somehow, without trying, I found myself drinking a green juice at a food truck with my glamorous younger sister and feeling happy about the whole thing. What happened to my inbred nor-cal prejudice? Am I opening my mind, or  just being worn down by Utah?

Because change can't come quickly enough, next week I'm moving into a hippie commune with a fellow whose given name is Lovejoy. When I got home from meeting my new roommate- who is at least 70 years old and has a meditation room- I decided to make myself some juice. Suddenly the ground is back, as is my somewhat stable life. Does anyone know what I'm doing here?

Green Juice of Confusion
Recipe inspired by LA's Juicebox food truck

Note: I am not yet enough of a hipster to own a juicer (although I'm very, VERY afraid that I will end up that way), and as you know I recently broke my blender. If you've got one... use it.

2 cucumbers (not the shrink wrapped kind- the tough skinned cheaper kind)
2 apples*
6 leaves basil + extra for garnish
3 Tablespoons lime juice

*I don't think the variety matters much (mine were reddish and unknown), although green would be on theme.

Put everything into a food processor or blender. BLEND! I basically let my cuisinart run while I did some dishes, until there was a wet green slurry. Place a strainer above a bowl, and line the strainer with cheesecloth. Pour in the green mixture, then wait about a half hour. If you're impatient like me, you could put another bowl on top and then weight it down. If you're really like me, you could start squeezing aggressively at the cheesecloth and spurt cucumber everywhere. Fill a cup with ice, then juice, then garnish with basil. Drink with your sister in Los Angeles, or sitting on the front steps of a place you're just starting to call home.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spiced Potato Wedges with Mayonnaise

Well, it's become beans, greens and procrastination Monday around here. The beans and greens turned out pretty well, but I feel I've really outdone myself on the procrastination. It's 6:55pm and my gross daily output is two pots of beans, one completely useless phone call with a school administrator, and a new record for refusing to put on my pants. I've also eaten at least half a batch of mayonnaise.

M*A*S*H should not be on Netflix.

Approximately two years and a couple false starts ago, this mayonnaise and potato situation was on the shortlist for my newly minted blog. The mayonnaise was the first thing which I ever loved my immersion blender for, and having tasted it I immediately started brainstorming ways to eat more. Ms. Wednesday, from whom I took my inspiration, suggested roast chicken, but the vegetarian in me settled with spicy potatoes.

That paragraph makes it sound like I ate my immersion blender. Grammar makes things much more interesting, don't you think?

These days, I make the potatoes as an excuse to eat garlic-and-anchovy spiked mayonnaise. I think the general idea came from Cesar's, a tapas restaurant my family used to eat at in Oakland: they made a saucy, spicy potato-wedge and aioli situation that we always ordered. Someday I'll get my hands on their cookbook (or, ahem, just borrow it from my mother) and find the real recipe, but for now the jenkety version works just fine.

Actually, until I decided to write about it, there wasn't a recipe- my process consisted of chopping some potatoes, dumping half the contents of my spice drawer over the top, and tossing the whole mess into a very hot oven before eating an unreasonable amount of mayonnaise. Just for you, oh nonexistant reader, I took measurements. If I were you, I would be impressed by my devotion... or my commitment to not writing my microbial ecology paper.

Spicy Potato Wedges and Mayonnaise
Mayo adapted from Andrea Reusing by way of the Wednesday Chef

Note: Despite my initial elation, I generally make the mayonnaise the low-tech way, with a whisk (probably because I've eaten my immersion blender). I therefore make my mayonnaise sitting- I hold the bowl between my legs, pour oil with my left hand and whisk with my right. If you have an immersion blender, feel free to use it- I've given instructions for both.

For the Mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 anchovy filet, chopped finely
1/2 -1tsp lemon juice
1/3-1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs olive oil

For the Potatoes
4 very large russet potatoes
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp chili powder, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the potatoes into thin wedges; I usually accomplish this by first cutting them in half lengthwise, then cutting each half into five or six long wedges. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes first with the olive oil, then with the spices, thoroughly coating potatoes. Dump the potatoes onto a baking tray, then put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are browned crisp at the edges. At least once during that time you should open the oven and toss the potatoes around, to ensure even browning.

Meanwhile, make the mayonnaise!

If working by hand, put the egg yolk in a bowl and whisk for about a minute. Add the anchovy, garlic, salt and lemon juice and whisk to combine. Whisking continuously, drizzle or drip oil slowly (I recommend a glass measuring cup with a lip) until all the oil is mixed in or the mixture is emulsified to your liking.

If using an immersion blender: put the egg yolk in a wide-mouthed jar and blend for 30 seconds. Add garlic, anchovy, lemon and salt, then blend again. With the blender on, drizzle the oil in slowly until all the oil is mixed in or the mixture is emulsified to your liking.

To finish, dip potatoes in mayonnaise. Apologize to your arteries.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Greens, beans and irrational weather

Yesterday morning I left my house in flip flops and returned wishing I'd worn rain boots and a winter coat. Today there's almost a foot of new snow. In the transitional period, it went from 72 to 34 degrees in less than two hours... guys, Utah might be trolling me.

I have not been cooking much lately. First my dad came to visit and left me a bunch of fancy cheese, and then I caught a stomach bug and spent four days living on gatorade and saltines.  Now, however, it's lasted several weeks. I ate all the cheese, and I no longer have the flu... guess I'll have to find something else to blame. It's finals. My back hurts. I'm lazy? It's April.

Monday, I spent the morning navigating the awkward space between "I need caffeine to wake up" and "it's past the hour where I can have coffee without sleep consequences", and the afternoon trying to will myself to move the six feet from my couch to my desk. Sometimes Monday at noon is really Sunday morning... real life.

Monday evening I broke my blender while doing the dishes, which sent me scurrying back to my couch discouraged and wondering what I could do with seven frozen bananas. Maybe an olive sandwich will fix my problems? How difficult would it be to smuggle bubbly water from work if I made this syrup? Why does my back hurt? Why did I buy collard greens?

I bought the collard greens in last week's attempt to motivate myself, which involved purchasing a bunch of random vegetables in an attempt to force culinary activity. I'm not sure I've ever eaten a collard green before, and I've certainly never cooked them, so I don't know quite why I decided to bring them home. Maybe I subconsciously realized they were sturdy, and therefore unlikely to go the way of the green onions wilting in the back corners of my fridge. Maybe I was delirious with flu.

Either way, I had them and I cooked them, with instructions from the lovely lady over at Orangette. I honestly wasn't that excited reading the recipe- unknown greens and chickpeas? No weird exciting flavors? - but I had all the requisite ingredients, and I trust that Orangette lady reflexively.

I made some cornbread too. It was mostly butter, and kind of disappointing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I wasn't that excited eating the recipe either- at least not Monday night. My stomach was too full of crackers and coffee and english muffins to appreciate green things and beans, and eating from my dutch oven on a warm summer night felt all wrong and confusing... like wearing a Christmas sweater in June. Sometimes April is a summer night.

I should have known better though- when I came home the next day covered in sleet, the leftovers were perfect. Chewy, bitter, sour and beans. Maybe that's not everyone's cup of tea, but I couldn't have been happier. I ate my collard greens cold from the tupperware, sitting on my couch and listening to the rain. Today, looking out the snow, I wish I had more. Sometimes April is a winter morning. Sometimes you just need a reason to get moving.

Collard Greens with Chickpeas and Onions
Adapted slightly from Orangette

1 bunch collard greens
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion (or one small), diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp lemon juice

Remove the central ribs from the collard greens and toss them. With kale, I do this by folding the leaves in half lengthwise and then cutting the rib out in one move, but my collard green leaves were big enough that I had to cut them out the normal way. Rinse the greens well, drain, then cut into 1/4 inch ribbons. I do this by rolling them up and then chopping somewhat haphazardly, but stacking the leaves and then slicing would probably work better.

Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a dutch over or skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add chickpeas and collards, salt well, and fold everything together. I used a dutch oven so everything fit, but if you're using a frying pan you might need to add the collards in batches. Cook until everything starts to wilt down, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Cook gently, covered, until the greens are tender, occasionally stirring. This should take 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and taste for seasoning... I founded I wanted more lemon than recommended.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Roasted curried cauliflower with farro and white beans

Some things about which I have lately been wondering:
         - why didn't I listen to my father and learn to drive a stick shift car when I was a teenager?
         - how did this wax get in my hair?
         - where is my other fuzzy slipper bootie?
         - how good is this cauliflower thing, really?

I didn't have a car out here this winter, so until recently if I wanted to go up to the mountains I had to find a ride. I have been lucky enough to find a ski buddy who not only drives but is just a bit better than I am- overall, it's worked out pretty well. By April we've got a system down: ski hard in the morning, cruise in the afternoon. He drives. I bring lunch.

Between the two of us, we have a stupid number of dietary restrictions- he's allergic to nuts and dairy, and I don't eat meat- so I've had to get a little creative. I had purchased the cauliflower to make this, which I first ate with a friend on a muggy summer night in Cambridge that has pleasantly stuck in my memory. For skier's lunch, I turned it into a grain salad (pantry to the rescue!) and it was so phenomenally good that I've made it almost every week since.

Or it's not, and I just have no creativity left. Could somebody make this and tell me if I'm nuts?

A couple notes: I had exactly one cup of farro left in my house when I tried this first, so there's one cup of farro in the recipe. I love the high cauliflower/grain ratio, but if you'd like you could use more farro. Additionally, you'll see I did something a little tricky with the vinegar- I love being able to taste it in the salad, but roasting a cauliflower with a half cup of liquid results in soggy cauliflower.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Farro and White Beans
adapted wildly from Epicurious

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 onion
1 can cannellini or other white beans
1 cup farro (dry)
4 green onions, white and green parts chopped finely

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
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, divided

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; whisk in two tablespoons (half) the red wine vinegar and all the olive oil. What you end up with is more of slurry than a dressing, but that's ok. Add it to the pan with the cauliflower and onion and toss well. Roast for an hour*, tossing every 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the farro. Bring farro and water to a boil (1 cup farro to 2.5 cups water), then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Farro should be cooked through but still chewy, and you may have some water left over- that's fine, just drain it out. Toss farro with white beans, scallions and remaining two tablespoons of red wine vinegar (I like to use the vinegar to rinse out the spice bowl personally). Once the cauliflower is done, toss everything together.

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 also solves the aforementioned sogginess problem. If your oven is hotter than mine, take care not to burn anything.