Friday, July 6, 2012

Changes, and Pizza

Yes, I've been away. Slowly but surely, I've abandoned you, dear old blog.

Things have changed. About a month and a half ago, I said goodbye to Toronto. I quit my hipster barista job, left a city that was just starting to stretch out into its summer throbbing of way too many good looking people hanging out in parks... and moved back in with my parents... in Cleveland, Ohio.

Frankly, I needed a bit of a break. I decided to move back home as a pre-grad school period of rest and saving money. And to my surprise, it's actually been great. I'm busier than I thought I'd be, juggling my time between working for my dad's coffee roasting company (I can never stay away from the coffee biz for too long), taking an online biology course, planning a vacation to the northwest, and spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find an apartment in Boston. Plus, Cleveland is actually a lot cooler than when I lived here last: already I've been to three neighborhood festivals with free music from local bands that were actually good, and I've rode with over 400 cyclists in my first critical mass ride in Cleveland. It says something that I've spent more time downtown in the last month than I think I did throughout all of high school. Lastly, (and this is key), living with one's parents isn't so bad when there's the knowledge that one is moving out again in only a few months.

As it pertains to this blog, I'm no longer cooking and eating like a single gal. Growing up, my family was one of the fortunate few who always ate dinner together (even if this meant that dinner wouldn't be ready until 8:30, because mom didn't get home from work until 7:30, etc.). Fortunately, this pattern has continued to this day. I end up sharing a lot of the cooking duties with my mom now, and it's been quite a pleasure cooking in a kitchen that's actually well-stocked. And I've found it to be no trouble at all to channel my love for cooking for myself into a love for cooking for others.

And so now, I present to you a very non-cooking-for-one type recipe: PIZZA PARTY PIZZA PARTY PIZZA PARTAAAAAAY!*

I spearheaded the pizza party project for a small family gathering we hosted on the 4th of July. Oftentimes when cooking for large groups, I like to make it interactive by letting my guests personalize their meals. So I found a recipe for pizza dough in one of the cookbooks laying around the house, and prepared 4 batches of it. For toppings, I laid out a spread of: tomato sauce, shredded provolone and fontina cheese, roasted eggplant, mushrooms sauteed with garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, olives, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and a puree of chickpeas and lemon juice (as a non-cheese pizza alternative). See - I told you it was nice cooking in a well-stocked kitchen.

My unapologetic iphone photo of the pizza leftovers


(Makes one 12-inch pizza)
1 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
2/3 cup warm water
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil, plus a little extra
1 1/2 tbsp fine cornmeal
1 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting (all purpose flour is okay, but I like the chew that bread flour gives)
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast with the sugar in the warm water. Let this sit somewhere warm for about 5 minutes until it looks a little foamy - this means the yeast has woken up and is starting to release its little gasses that make dough rise. Stir in the rest of the ingredients until combined in a loose dough, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it sit in a warm spot for about 45 minutes. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down with your fingers, and let it rise again for another 30 minutes or so. Stretch it out into what resembles a pizza crust, and add toppings with wild abandon or thoughtful restraint, whichever your favored approach. As long as the toppings don't need extra cooking (this is why I pre-cooked the eggplant and mushroons), your pizza will cook up nicely within 12-15 minutes in a 475 degree oven.

Full disclosure: I tried using pizza stones for the first time, and it was quite a disaster. Namely, getting the lovingly topped uncooked pies onto the stone itself, when all they wanted to do was stick to the wax paper I had laid them on. So next time, just form the dough right on a baking pan, or follow the pizza stone advice of anyone but me.

*Watch that video, then watch this one too: I don't know why I have such a knowledge of silly/actually-not-silly rap videos about food.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

All dressed up with nowhere to go (...but your belly)

Salads, as I've already elaborated on, can be awesome. However, the direction that my last salad post took me was a pulling-out-all-the-stops recipe for kale salad that included ingredients and preparations darling to the foodie world: beets! kale! things that are pickled! With such a recipe involved, it's hard to go wrong. What, then, do you do when it's Salad Time! and you find your produce drawers significantly unprepared for such an operation? Perhaps you've dug out some lettuce, defrosted some edamame, and toasted some walnuts (my current favorite salad iteration). Now what do you top it all off with?

You may be tempted to run to the store to pick up some bottled dressing. For the love of all that is tasty, resist this impulse. With a few exceptions, bottled dressings are unnecessarily sweet and creamy (hello ingredient lists with sugar and chemical stabilizers!). Then you realize - hey! I'm a well prepared and far-from-inept home cook; I've got some olive oil and vinegar laying around - I'll just pour a few quick glugs of each onto my salad bowl. I myself have taken this road many times before, and while I can assure you that it's still a significant improvement from the bottled stuff, straight-poured oil and vinegar is always just shy of satisfying. The oil to vinegar ratio inevitably gets skewed, and the lack of emulsification means that all the liquids sink to the bottom of your bowl, missing almost entirely their targeted audience.

Of course, it is still very easy to make your own salad dressing on the side, one which will even last for a few salads worth. All you need is to mix a teaspoon of dijon with a tablespoon of your vinegar of choice, then slowly whisk in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until it is fully emulsified. If you want to get fancy, add some chopped fresh herbs, minced garlic or shallots, or something sweet like honey or maple syrup. Or forgo the whisk and shake it all up vigorously in a mason jar. All you really need is the essential trinity of salad dressings: mustard, acid, oil. Making salad dressing on a whim has become so second-nature to me that at any dinner-cooking gathering with friends, I am inevitably the one called on to make the salad dressing. Isn't it funny the things that your friends will know you for?

But let's get back to this current bowl of greens sitting in front of you. For whatever reason, an entire batch of dressing won't do: maybe you don't want to dirty another dish, or you won't go through that much dressing before it goes bad, or you're just feeling exceptionally in-the-moment. I have a stupidly simple salad secret for you then: make the dressing right in the bowl. The addition of mustard and the hand-tossing of everything together really elevates this beyond the simple oil and vinegar dressing. Something about the mustard and tossing it vigorously with everything else ensures that you get a perfectly balanced and loosely emulsified salad dressing... but you know, the lazy way.

MADE-IN-THE-BOWL SALAD DRESSING (Or, The Laziest "Recipe" I Routinely Use)
Compile your salad ingredients in a fairly large bowl. Throw on top a half teaspoon of dijon mustard, and a scant soup-spoon's worth each of olive oil and your vinegar of choice. Wash your hands, then get in there and give everything a good thorough toss until the mustard coats everything as evenly as possible. A pinch of salt and a few cracks of black pepper over everything make this complete.

Make a good dressing, and you too can be a woman laughing alone with salad. Ohdeargod.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Egg Will Always Come First

There are too many mediocre breakfast spots in North America that capitalize on a certain little food with great pun potential. Eggspectations. Break an Egg. Et cetera, et cetera. (Eggs cetera?? Oh dear. This is catching on too quickly.)

Such wordplay is a distraction from what might very well be the perfect food: the humble simplicity of the mighty egg. Especially when cooking for one!

In fact, if I have any piece of advice for someone who wants to cook for themselves elegantly, healthfully, and economically, it generally goes like this: put an egg on it.

Eggs are the perfect food for the singleton living and cooking alone. They are easy to portion out (two to star, one to play a supporting role). They are healthy (protein! and don't you know the whole eggs/cholesterol thing is a bit overblown?). They keep well (indeed fresh eggs are always the tastiest, but since I don't have backyard chickens (yet?), I find that eggs last well beyond their carton's expiration date). They are economical (even $5-$6 for a dozen organic cage-free eggs yields a minimum of 6 meals). They are versatile (poached, fried, scrambled, soft boiled, hard boiled, baked, quiches, fritatas, omelets, whisked into brothy soups).

I recently read Simone "Simca" Beck's (co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Julia Child) autobiography-cum-cookbook, Food and Friends: Recipes and Memories from Simca's Cuisine. Most of the recipes in the book were a little too butter and heavy cream laden for my tastes (oh France), but I was struck and inspired by the elegant place reserved for omelets in her menus.

So I got to thinking of omelets. And of all the things I like to put in them. I often go for the more rustic approach to omelet making, in which I cook, say, some shredded zucchini in a pan first, and then pour my two beaten eggs right on top and then continue to poke the edges and slide the raw egg around the pan until an omelet is formed. Before I flip it, I may grate in some parmesan cheese. Possibly some chopped fresh herbs I have laying around too.

My favorite way to eat scrambled eggs is to pile them on top of a piece of hearty whole grain toast that has been given a good swipe of dijon mustard and a topping of caramelized onions.

I also really like scrambled eggs that have been swirled with a bit of green salsa just before setting. Sprinkle these with some crumbly cheese, top with scallions if you have them, and then load it all on a corn tortilla.

Successfully poaching eggs has been one of my greatest (and simplest) kitchen accomplishments. My method of choice involves cracking the eggs into a small bowl and then lowering said bowl slowly into simmering water that has been fortified with a bit of vinegar.

Poached eggs are awesome over roasted veggies, this braised cabbage, or buttery polenta with caramelized onions and a few toasted walnuts or pecans.

For cheater's pasta carbonara, toss hot pasta with a poached or fried egg whose yolk is still quite runny (or, if you dare, a raw egg!), a pinch of smoked paprika, and plenty of parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.

Ditto the carbonara method, except instead of pasta et. al., take rice tossed with a bit of soy sauce and any other Asian-type condiment you have in your fridge (chili-garlic sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, etc.). Throw in lots of veggies for good measure.

For a big hippie grain bowl, take a bowl of quinoa (or bulghur, or farro, or wheat berries, etc.), throw in lots of veggies (roasted would be nice), mix with equal parts soy sauce and balsamic vinegar (sounds weird, but trust me on this one), and guess what... top with a poached egg. Garnish with fresh herbs, slices of garlic (roasted if you have it), and some seeds.

Quiches are great make-ahead and packable lunches. Mine tend to be on the less rich and custardy side, with a scant cup of milk (not cream) mixed with 3 beaten eggs and a tablespoon of flour. I throw in whatever vegetables and cheese I have laying around: leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, and mushrooms are my favorites. Dried herbs like oregano and basil are also perfectly respectable in a quiche.

Lastly, if you are serving eggs to company, try this elegant approach: take a large pan with a lid, fill it with either green peas (if frozen, avoid the cheap kind), chopped spinach or kale, or shredded zucchini. A few cloves of minced garlic too. Get enough veg in there so that it fills the pan about halfway up (really, don't skimp here). Cook until everything's slightly greener/more wilted/etc., then mix in a pat of butter and a pinch of smoked paprika. Make a few wells/indentations in the greenery, and then crack an egg directly into each of these wells. Cover the pan and let the eggs steam from the moisture of the vegetables until the whites are set, about 3-5 minutes. Carefully scoop each egg with its surrounding veg onto a plate, season with salt and pepper, and serve to your highly impressed dinner guests.

... Well. That was fairly comprehensive. I could, actually, go on. But I won't; instead, I'll save you the joy of figuring out your own your favorite new way to eat an egg. There will probably be many.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bon Apetite and Bon Voyage

A precursory moral: When life moves forward, it's important that your appetite keep up.

Last week I found myself traipsing about in Boston and Philadelphia with my dear friend L and my dad. The purpose of the trip centered on visiting open houses, sitting in on classes, and meeting with program chairs for a few graduate schools that had the good sense to accept me. That's right, this gal is getting her masters on.*
*This September, I will be starting a 3-year dual degree program at Tufts University: an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy/Planning and an MS in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition!

I had been to Boston and Philly before in the capacity of tourist, but this visit had a bit more gravitas to it considering that I was evaluating these cities as potential places to live. Some Very Serious Decisions were in order, but so also was a heck of a lot of good eating.

I'll get excited about a new place if I can get excited about its food. A few years ago, for example, when I was living in Amsterdam, I felt rather ambivalent about visiting Paris (an overly obvious place to be a tourist, I had thought). That is, until I had my first taste of a perfect Parisian bistro omelet and a sampling of those dainty coins of French macarons. I was then sold. Gay Paree, mais oui sil vous plait!

And so, the official Things-We-Ate list!

In Boston (and surrounding areas)...
  • Chaufa (aka Peruvian fried rice) from Alpamayo, an inviting little place in Lee
  • Huge cornbread pancakes at Soundbites, a popular Somerville brunch spot
  • Corn pudding (plus amazing BBQ and beer selection) at Redbones in Somerville
  • Lobster roll and a Sam Adams (yeah New England!) from tourist trap in Gloucester
  • Toscanini's ice cream, brown butter brownie and kulfi flavors
  • Sfogliatelle, a clam shaped Italian pasty filled with ricotta and semolina, from Maria's Bakery in the North End
  • Venezuelan empanadas from Orinoco in Brookline
  • Cocktails, lamb belly, lemon-shrimp dumplings, brussel sprouts, charred udon noodles from Myers + Chang
  • Deeply roasted cauliflower with cojita and smoky sauce, grilled romaine with oxtail ragout and a poached egg, salty mushrooms, butternut squash-based fish stew from Strip T's in Watertown (this was by far the best meal we had)
  • A surprisingly good Indian lunch buffet (dry-fried okra, anyone?) in Wellesley
  • Coffees from George Howell, Diesel Cafe

Somewhere along the road from Boston to Philly... (decidedly not a highlight)
  • Sodium o'clock! Baked beans and a soft pretzel from a rest stop, with wan slices of iceberg lettuce and tomato surreptitiously stuffed into napkins from the Roy Rogers hamburger fixins' bar. This was very unfortunately my best dinner option.

In Philadelphia... (there wasn't less good food in Philadelphia, we were just there for less time)
  • A wonderfully caramelized and custardy canelle from Metropolitan Bakery in Reading Market
  • Gigante beans with greens, zucchini, and a poached egg; Greek wine; mussels in saffron broth from Opa
  • Gelato from Capogiro: chai and unbelievably dark and rich chocolate
Yours truly with sfogliatelle, my expression less about the amazingness of this pastry and more about the sun being in my eyes

After too many years wistfully and woefully thinking about where my life is headed (as my twenty-something peers are wont to do), I'm obviously very excited to be starting on this new chapter. Leaving the city I've called home for the past six years will be difficult, certainly, but such a move affords me the invaluable feelings of promise and new beginnings. In the very least, in moments of upheaval, I have the joy of cooking and feeding myself to ground me. I'm ready, eager, and probably just a little bit hungry.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On The Dire Implications of Mismatched Dishware

Open the kitchen cupboards of a young singleton and you will most likely find jumbled stacks of mismatched plates, bowls, and mugs. These are individual pieces inherited from friends who have moved away, garage sales, previous roommates, forgetful party guests, and thrift stores with great kitsch selections.

When I open own my own cupboards and see an array that looks mostly like this, I wonder where and when people do get matching dishware. My sister, recently engaged, informs me that wedding registries are commonly used to collect an entire set of bone-white china. Well great, I think to myself. Weddings! My single self throws her arms up in defeat.

I do, though, love the histories behind my uncoordinated collection. The mugs that I know transform into the best vessels for drinking wine after all the wine glasses have inevitably broken; the serving platters originally from Egypt, gifted to me one morning at work by the elderly regular customer whose wife was making him clean house; the gnome mug found in a box left on the curb. Each unique piece has a meaning to it, so then why do I also get so much satisfaction out of a consistent, matching set?

The only matching dishware I own is a small stack of dinner plates and bowls, gleaned from dusty  boxes found in my parents' basement. They are beautiful in a rustic sort of way: speckled off-white surrounded by a light brown non-glazed brim, many of which are quite chipped. When I have a meal with these matching bowls and plates, I feel like my life is just a bit more put together. Dishes that actually come from the same place and have managed to stick together make me forget that I've lived in eight different apartments in three different countries in the last six years. A meal with matching dishware implies the fact of being settled, a status that I treasure admittedly because it is a grass that is always greener.

Aside from their implications of adulthood, matching dishes are important to the hungry singleton's joy of living because they are the bones to a purposefully composed meal. Purposeful plates, as I've stated before with my ode to garnishes and presentation, are key to bringing joy and intention to the act of eating. When we eat alone, it's all too easy to merely shove away some newspapers to make a clearing on the table just big enough to fit a bowl and a beverage. But if we feed ourselves as if we were feeding company, the whole table gets cleared, maybe even lovingly adorned with a place mat or tablecloth, and we create a place setting for one. To elaborate on the terminology: a setting tells us where and when. A thoughtfully selected group of dinnerware really announces that the here and now is mealtime, all our other worries and to-do lists be damned. Welcome, such a table says, it's dinner time.

Of course, I'm not one to be didactic about your dishes actually matching. If you really love the way that your tin camping plate looks next to the modern uniformity of a bowl from Ikea, then by all means. And if you do opt for matching, then as a single person you have it quite easy: you really only need one matching set!

Let's not forsake table setting, even if it is just set for one. Start with a plate you love, top it with food you love, then fill your belly with love.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Okra, The Sequel

My last post crescendo-ed with a bit of a disappointment. "Yee-haw kitchen experimentation!" I proclaimed, only to chicken out at the last minute when it came to actually attempting both of two new preparations for one new ingredient.

Now, however, I am back with a kitchen smelling of vinegar and spices. Yes, pickled okra finally had its due. Fried and crispy bites of that strange looking pod would not be the last my kitchen saw of okra.

But again, baby steps. Today's was just a refrigerator pickle, one that does not entail boiling canning tongs and listening for the "pop" of a sealed lid. This jar of pickled okra won't have a prolonged shelf life, but that's fine by me because these pickles won't be lasting very long anyway.

Boil a large jar to sanitize, and keep the jar warm until you're ready to fill it. (Even though these are refrigerator pickles, a little extra sanitation doesn't hurt). In a small pot, combine 2 cups vinegar (I used mostly cider vinegar with a touch of red wine vinegar), one cup water, 2 tablespoons salt, and whatever pickling spices you choose. I threw in a few big pinches of red pepper flakes, a generous palm-full of coriander seeds, a few allspice berries, some black peppercorns, and a tablespoon or so of black mustard seeds. Bring this brine up to a boil. Fill the sanitized jar with 1 pound (that's a little over 2 cups worth) of whole okra pods, throw in 4 peeled cloves of garlic, then slowly pour in the brine. Let the jar sit uncovered until it's cooled, then cover and throw it in the fridge.

In the most sunshine-y weather you can summon, bring these to a picnic and impress your friends. Or lounge on a park bench with your two new best friends: a good book and a jar of pickles.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Okrah WinFry

Today I entered unchartered kitchen territory. For an afternoon snack, I made (and gobbled up immediately) a small batch of fried okra.* I donned my apron and oven mitts like I was Ripley, and deep frying and okra were some nasty aliens that I just had to destroy. Though the supporting characters were humbly positioned as a cast iron pan and a vegetable, this was going to be an adventure, I decided. One of the best parts of cooking for one is that you have free reign for experimentation. If what you've dreamt up is lacking in execution, at least you're the only one having to eat your mistakes. No one will ever know that at one point you thought it was a good idea to combine buckwheat groats with worchestershire sauce and chickpeas.
*Now you can reread this post's title and groan to yourself that I've just made the worst food pun ever.
Voluptuous lady okras

Back to okra: Such a cooking and eating experiment originated a week prior, when on an impulse, I picked up a bag of fresh okra pods I saw at the market. Getting home with my green and finger-shaped loot, I quickly searched the internet for okra recipes. Two distinct possibilities caught my eye: pickling and frying. Both of which elicit just the tiniest bit of fear to even my love-of-cooking self. Frying, well, just involves so much OIL, and so much potential for said oil to splash and sputter and burn skin that's simply had the bad fortune to be exposed. And with pickling, an equally high potential for splashing hot liquids. Oh, and botulism. All this danger for a vegetable that itself is notorious for producing an unappetizing stringy slime. But I was on a mission to have an adventure, so I figured, why not tackle all these unknowns and fears in one fell swoop?

Fast forward to one week later. A bag of okra sits in the back of my fridge, forgotten and shoved behind a week's ration of prepared steel cut oats. There are far fewer okra pods in the bag than I had remembered picking out with such glee in the market, and many of them have started to turn brown. My kitchen bravado slightly humbled, I opted to cut my losses and forgo the pickling for when I had a fresher quality and larger quantity of okra. So frying it is. That plus okra itself made for a fairly ambitious afternoon snack as it was anyway.

Out came the eggs and flour for dredging and battering. Into the former I threw in a small puddle of milk and a few dashes of hot sauce, and into the latter, some salt and baking powder. Sliced the okra into half inch pieces (amazing how they look like little stars!), tossed these in the egg mixture and then the flour. And next, my greatest fear of all, the oil. Turning on the stove to medium high, I poured about an inch deep of canola oil into my cast iron skillet and then... waited. How would I know when it was hot enough? Apparently really hot oil is the key to non-greasy fried foods, but without a thermometer, how would I know? I ended up sacrificing a small droplet of batter into the oil; when it started to bubble and turn brown, I knew the oil would be hot enough for my little battered okra stars. These I threw in over the course of a few batches, being wary of not crowding the fry pan lest they cool down the oil too much, clump together, or create a massive grease fire. I don't actually know how grease fires start, but I imagined that it could be something as benign as afternoon snack fried vegetable matter. The okra browned so nicely in the oil, and I let them cool over a paper towel to soak up excess oil. Sprinkled with a little more salt, these were absolutely delicious.

NB: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunger... now with illustrations! My dear friend Suzanna Wright, a talented artist, educator, and fellow food lover, has offered up her illustration talents for this blog. After you've delighted in her delightful drawing of sassy okra, check out her art blog here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Making Friends With Salad

Oh salad, you delicious teeming bowl of freshness. We all know that it gets a bad rap, though. A friend and I used to joke about writing a food blog devoted to salads called Salad's infamy largely stems from the following egregious paraphrase: 

Us single ladies have just got to stay on top of keeping our figures slim, amiright?? Nibble at some lettuce, lest your skin lose its luminance and your biceps grow some waggle!*

*Do I detect a new career for myself? Ladies magazine article writer?

Okay, so it's easy to make fun of the dieting-woman demographic, and I realize that there's probably something problematic about that from a feminist point of view. Though I'll have to admit that it's tempting to see salad as the cure to my singledom: that eating it will make me fabulously attractive and thus have hordes of interesting and attractive men lining up at my doorstep with mix tapes made just for me.

Lest I fall into this food neurosis, I must remind myself of one very important fact: I actually really enjoy eating salads. And I like eating foods I genuinely enjoy more than I like worrying about my general attractiveness. Admittedly, salad makes me feel virtuous, but really only because it makes me feel good. Because salad is usually such a fresh affair, it's a food that feels alive still, containing within it an energy that transports itself to your own tastebuds and nourishment. Borrowing the terminology of raw food enthusiasts and Victorian-era magazine copy, the feeling of vitality pervades my experience of eating salad. Plus, I feel more culinarily satisfied when I make a good salad, simply because it was all the more challenging to do so.

And indeed, us single ladies do have to look good! Well, for ourselves, of course. And it's less about starving ourselves with loveless lettuce than about eating foods that make us feel good and healthy in a way that creates an outer glow. So if you're a single guy or gal, don't eat a salad because you think it's a low-calorie dinner option, but because it's fucking tasty. What better way to exude confidence than to walk around the town knowing how badass you are in the kitchen because you can make even salad taste amazing?

Lately, I've been making a lot of raw kale salads. I find that the extra fibrousness of raw kale makes this an extra substantial salad, and it keeps really well. One bunch of kale composed into a salad, thrown into a giant wooden bowl and covered in the fridge, lasts me all week.

If you've ever tried a kale salad before and were turned off by the exhaustion your jaw felt at chewing the damn thing, then I highly suggest the following method that allows any variety or bunch of kale to be used, not just the tenderest of young leaves you can only find a few weeks a year at the farmers market. Wash, dry, and separate the kale leaves from their stems. (Save these for pesto!) In a large bowl, toss the kale with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Allow everything to sit for an hour, and the oil and salt will keep the kale company in a happily simple marinade until the kale is slightly wilted and perfectly tender.

Combine with cubes of roasted winter squash, raisins, sunflower seeds, thinly sliced shallots and the juice of a lemon mixed with some dijon vinegar. Good kale salads involve some combination of sweetness, crunch, and a bit of sharpness.

My fridge's current iteration of kale salad has been my favorite so far:


Prepare a bunch of kale according to the basic olive oil and salt marinade method. While the kale is sitting there thinking about its self-improvement, thinly slice half a red onion, cover it in boiling water, and let that sit for 10 minutes. Drain the water and add to the onions a teaspoon each of sugar and salt, a pinch of cinnamon or allspice, the juice of a lemon, and a quick glug of apple cider vinegar. Let the onions rest for a bit until they start to give the beets a run for their money in the pinkest-thing-in-your-dinner competition. Slice up a few beets that you've roasted whole in the oven, as well as half a bulb of fennel sliced as thin and translucent as you can. Throw everything in with the kale and then move on to the vinaigrette: combine the zest and juice of one orange with a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a splash of cider vinegar, some freshly cracked black pepper, and then slowly whisk in a short stream of olive oil (not the normal amount you would for a vinaigrette, because remember, your kale leaves are already quite greased up). Toss with everything else and consume with a heightened sense of virtue and joy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On Waste, Reincarnation, and a Pesto Manifesto

There is a certain phenomenon I've observed in my years of grocery shopping for one: The amount of food you want to buy is always significantly less than the amount of food that's packaged and available. For me, it's always when I decide to make oven fries that I end up standing in the condiment aisle, trying to rationalize buying a "Family Size" bottle of ketchup (oh how it mocks my singledom) when there are none smaller. I dare the ketchup to present me with inspiration for its usefulness beyond my craving for salty crisp potatoes. (Clearly, I'm not one of those ketchup-on-everything types of gals).

In the past, I've gotten around the more-ingredient-than-I-need hurdle by going to shops that sell spices in bulk ("Why yes, I would like to purchase only two teaspoons of dried tarragon, thank you") and by charming the young cheese-monger into cutting off the thinnest possible slice of brittle parmesan from its giant wheel. Still, there are certain food items and meal ingredients that are not so easy to buy in customizable small quantities. See: bottles of ketchup.

My ketchup conundrum is indicative of the larger problem of waste, endemic to all kitchens. There's only so much we can immediately eat before things start separating, funkifying, brown-mushifying, etc. The specter of waste is always nearby, threatening to spoil our efforts at self-sustenance with the taunt, "See! You are only one person! Why bother cooking when there's only so much you can consume!" Waste is what tells us that our kitchen efforts are uneconomical and futile, especially so for the single home cook. Why buy ingredients to cook for ourselves, when so much of them run the risk of either going bad or getting thrown away?

Vegetable scraps are the most common of these lost opportunities. Even though my onion peels and carrot ends get thrown in the compost bin, I still can't help but feel a little excluded from their reincarnated usefulness. I paid in weight for those apple cores, damnit, so shouldn't I get the immediate satisfaction of them nourishing my own belly first, and some garden soil last?

When you repurpose what is otherwise food waste, you begin to feel like many free secret meals suddenly open themselves up to you. One meal's ingredients silently give birth to the ingredients for another, no trip the the grocery store needed.

Making stock out of boiled vegetable scraps, or chicken carcasses, or dried beans is an easy application for magically transforming old food into new. As is breadcrumbs and croutons from stale bread, and pasta frittatas out of your day-old noodley leftovers, to name a few.

One of the more immediately satisfying food reincarnations I've tried recently is greens stem pesto. Who knew that the tough stems from kale, collards, and broccoli could be reborn into something so versatile and delicious? Mixed with white beans, it makes great fodder for a green salad or crostini (fancy word for stuff-on-toast). And when added to some veg stock, plus a few glugs each of olive oil and dry sherry, this pesto makes an excellent braising liquid for your white-colored protein of choice: I browned some slices of tofu in my cast-iron skillet, then added the braising liquid and popped the whole thing into the oven until most of the liquid had reduced, leaving behind a bubbly, olive-oily, vegetal delight. I imagine this would work really well with chicken or fish (sustainably raised, natch) as well.

GREENS STEM PESTO (Inspired by Tamar Adler's recipe)

Once you've collected the stems from a couple of bunches of kale, collard greens, broccoli or cauliflower, chop these up into small pieces. There should be about 4-6 cups worth. Throw them into a pot with half as much water, let it come up to a boil and then let it simmer for half an hour or so until everything is nice and mushy. Drain whatever water is left in the pot (or save it for vegetable stock!), and then add the stems to a food processor or blender with at least 2 cloves of garlic, a large pinch of salt, a few generous glugs of olive oil, a small handful of toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (I used chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano). Some parmesan cheese would be good in this too, however I opted for adding extra salt instead. Blend/process it all together until it resembles a pesto. If it's too thick or chunky, mix in some additional liquid such as more olive oil, veg stock, water, or even a little lemon juice. This is also more of a highly-forgiving pesto technique rather than a recipe, so feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you go along.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Presenting... Presentation!

One of the biggest problems to befall the act of eating alone is that it all too often serves one purpose: to quiet the rumblings stirring and roiling about in our bellies. When we eat alone we have the freedom to eat whatever, whenever, and however - none of this catering to the hunger and culinary whims of someone else's stomach or tastebuds. Yet, when eating is such a self-centered act, it risks becoming solely a means to filling an empty belly and neglects our soul, and dare I say it, our aesthetic desires.

I'll be the first to admit that many meals in my past have been eaten in the following circumstances: some mixture of grain, legume, and vegetable shoveled out of a bowl, me curled up on the couch, crossword puzzle at my fingertips or television show streaming from my nearby computer. And although I have picked a fork as my primary utensil, I still think how much easier a spoon would be for the act of shoveling food from bowl to mouth. Or better yet, a trowel. It's a slippery slope, folks, a slippery slope!

Imagine the alternative: a plate (a plate!) of purposely composed food. Composed not for maximum shoveling, but for the sensual appeal of presentation. I had taken the two extra minutes in transferring food from pot to table to actually "plate" my food. Perhaps I have fanned out slices of tempeh along the eastern edge of the plate. Their fanned-out triangles encircle a purposeful mess of collards, which are, in turn, flanked by a straight row of mashed sweet potato. This bright orange mound has been lightly dressed with a smattering of chopped toasted pecans. The visual appeal of greens sidling up to bright orange sweet potato cannot be underestimated here. Once this plate has made it to the table (a table!), it is eaten slowly with knife and fork, no computer screen in sight (although it is certainly still allowed in the room so that the likes of Bill Callahan or Joanna Newsom can score my dinner with their folksy melodies).

Taking time for food presentation is thus essential to creating joy in eating alone. It makes food intentional, not shovelled. Tamar Adler in "An Everlasting Meal" extols the value of parsley to make any meal intentional. A scattering of chopped parsley adds instant color and freshness to anything. Once fresh herbs are involved, you can place your plate on the table and confidently state, "voila!" Other favorite (functional and delicious!) garnishes of mine are chopped nuts and seeds, a small handful of thinly sliced apples or pears, and drizzles of fats such as olive oil and thinned out plain yogurt.

If you prefer the main components of your meal to be intentionally simple and lacking of extra flourishes, do at least take the time to make a purposefully composed plate. Pay attention to color and texture. Don't just pile your grains and veg onto your plate, but line the up in narrow rows or concentric arcs. Or, borrow the presentation skills of fancy restaurant chefs and layer each element on top of each other in a precariously delicious "stack". When cooking for myself, I prefer to think of presentation not as fussy, but fun.

Lastly, there are certain health benefits to plating your meals with an eye for presentation. For one, this approach comes with built-in portion control, as you start seeing each plate as a filling entity in itself, making you less likely to go for seconds or thirds. Also, with an eye for visual appeal, more vegetables make their way into your diet because they are, often, the most attractive of foods. Is there nothing sexier than an earthy and sweet beet, with its bright red juices threatening to stain hands and clothing?

What follows is a description of last night's dinner. I strongly suggest you pay attention to the way you plate this meal, especially the play on colors as I've mentioned above. Eat slowly and savor this colorful, healthy, homemade, and fucking fantastic meal you just made yourself.


If you've never tried tempeh before, I strongly suggest a 3-step technique for cooking it: marinade, brown, then glaze. In this case, marinade thinly sliced triangles of tempeh (if you buy the frozen kind, make sure to steam it first) in equal parts soy sauce, maple syrup, and olive oil, twice as much vegetable broth, half as much smoked spanish paprika, and two smashed garlic cloves. Once the tempeh has soaked up this savory juice for at least 30 minutes, heat up a pan (cast iron is best!) with a teaspoon or so of olive oil, and once the pan is hot, remove the tempeh from the marinade and let it sizzle and brown in the pan.* Once your tempeh triangles have achieved the desired degree of browning, turn the heat down slightly, and add half of the marinade to the pan. (You'll be saving the other half for the collards). Let the marinade glaze the tempeh until it's cooked down and there's no liquid left.

*For best results in the delicious tempeh browned crust department, don't move it around in its pan too much or turn it too frequently. It needs that uninterrupted contact with the surface of the pan to really get nice and crisp.

For the collards: Removing the thick stems,** give the collards a quick rough chop. Quickly saute 2 minced cloves of garlic in some olive soil. Add the greens to the pan, shake them around til they're slightly wilted, and then add the remaining tempeh marinade. Let the greens cook until thoroughly wilted, and add salt and pepper to taste.

** Apparently you can use the tough stems from greens such as kale and collards to make a pesto. I'll be trying this soon, so throw your stems into the freezer to save them!

Lastly, the mashed sweet potatoes: Take a cooked sweet potato (I had baked mine a few days before in a big batch of oven-veg-roasting, but nuking one in the microwave is fine in a pinch), smash it with a fork or some other more specialized mashing device, and stir in a big pinch of ground cumin, another big pinch of ground coriander, and a small pinch of cinnamon. If you have some, garnish with toasted pecans or sunflower seeds, however it's still delicious without.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On being single and hungry

Of course the name of this blog would be a pun. I'm afraid I'm rather prone to them. Consider it a taste of what's to come in future post titles. And please do read the book it refers to, if you haven't already.

Book recommendations aside, what this whole thing comes down to is food. How we nourish ourselves when we're on our own. How joyful, healthful, and economical it can be to cook, eat, and simply be alone.

A brief introduction: I'm a 20-something currently living in Toronto, Ontario. I've been a barista for the past couple of years, which is a profession that tends to really drive home the fact that I'm very much flying solo in life right now. With every customer's friendly flirtation and that everyday I'm able to go home and leave my work behind me, I'm constantly reminded how utterly unconnected I am to anyone or anything. Thus, being a single and rather independent person, I am, essentially, alone.

Mind you, before your imagination develops into the picture of me as a hermit crab who surfaces once a day to drink and make coffee, I should note that I actually do have a wonderful group of friends who I get to see or talk to on a daily basis. And perhaps every now and then a fellow comes along and threatens to disturb my solo state.

Mostly though, I'm alone. However! Alone does not mean lonely.

A friend once wrote me in an email: "I attribute my aptness for being happily single entirely to the fact that I strive to create personal romance on a daily basis." 

Thus enters cooking: an easy way to create this personal romance.

Next to sex, eating is one of the most intimate acts we can share with other people. It's certainly very sensual, and (pardon me for alerting the sociobiology alarm here) it is as instinctual a drive as libido. Along the lines of this saucy logic, one's hunger drive, like libido, can be satisfied with an, ahem, solo session.

BUT! many of you will cry, satisfying these drives is SO much more gratifying when shared! The libido more obviously so, and with hunger, oh! The joys of sharing a meal with good friends! The French! All of their meals are shared and drawn-out affairs. No meal is complete unless it involves multiple sets of fingers lingering on wine glasses after the last cheese course is served. And whose food is richer and people thinner than the French? Eating meals with others must be the answer to the best cuisine and the healthiest bodies!

But! I say, I do not live in France. And I am young and single. As much as I thoroughly enjoy cooking or dining out with friends and dinner dates, at the vast majority of meals I attend, I am the sole dinner guest.

Frankly, it's about time we start cooking and eating for ourselves as if we were cooking for company.

In this journal-cum-food-blog, you will find my thoughts on cooking economically, healthfully, gracefully, and joyfully for one.

My recipes will likely be imprecise and my paragraphs mostly rambling, but in the very least I hope that The Heart Is a Lonely Hunger will convey to all the single and hungry guys and gals out there a little morsel of the joy of eating and being alone.