Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nancy Silverton's Bran Muffins: Most worthy

It's sitting outside my building right now -- a little too far from the curb. Even after my second attempt parking it this afternoon I was nervous to get too close, nervous that I'd scrape the hubcaps or squash the tires or in my distracted state of hyper curb awareness, accidentally smash into the car parked behind me.

I mustn't do any scraping, squashing or smashing.

It's only been five hours since I drove away from the Mazda dealership in Huntington Beach and I'm still not quite sure how to react to this. A new car. A car with a functioning radio and CD player, a window that doesn't get stuck when it rolls down all the way, and a driver's side door I can actually open.

Clearly this isn't allowed. Clearly I've somehow cheated the system and the system police is on their way to my apartment to declare me an unfit mother and confiscate the car. My car. Molly.

I'm so not worthy.

I should be excited. Ecstatic. Typing these very words from the back seat because I can't bear to be away from Molly lest she float back to car heaven (Japan). Instead I can't escape the singular thought that I don't deserve a new car. That my old car -- Tiffany -- was fine. That I'm really not adult enough or special enough or financially stable enough to buy a new car.

Definitely not worthy.

I was terrified signing all the papers today, making all the decisions about gap insurance and lo jack, and horrified that the dealer was addressing me rather than my mother.

"Why are you asking me?" I wanted to shriek. "I don't know what I'm doing! Don't you see the picture on my driver's license? I'm still an overall-wearing 16-year-old who over plucks her eyebrows!"

Apparently, I had him fooled. Apparently, he thought I was an adult. Because she's still outside -- still a little too far from the curb just like she was when I checked on her an hour ago.

Not worthy.

The whole day, aside from breakfast, has been seasoned with these feelings of self-doubt. In the midst of all the car-selling, car-buying, dealer-fooling, grown up nonsense, I woke up feeling determined not about this grand milestone in my life, but about bran muffins.

It was the first thing that popped into my head when I peeled back the sheets and peered, blurry eyed, at the clock by my bed.

I scurried into the kitchen, eying the muffin tin I'd lined the night before with resolve. It didn't matter to me that I was selling the only vehicle I'd ever owned in less than two hours. It didn't matter that I was replacing Tiffany with Molly a few hours after that. I was making muffins. I was toasting the wheat germ, pureeing the raisins, zesting the orange, sifting the flours. I was going through the motions, because I couldn't possibly sit still and let myself think about what I was about to do or what it would cost me or whether I was a moron for thinking I could be the owner of a car with Bluetooth, some fancy SkyActiv technology I don't really understand and a button that opens the trunk for me.

"Muffins." I thought "I'm making bran muffins."

And as I tore into my second one, consumed mere moments after I'd devoured my first, the single thought that occupied my mind wasn't guilt or despair or anything approximating the self-doubt I'd experience all day.

Worthy.

The muffins today.

Maybe myself tomorrow.

Nancy Silverton's Bran Muffins
Lightly adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes 12

Notes: After reading the comments noting the muffins were a bit wet, I reduced the water from 1 cup to 3/4 cup. I also upped the orange zest from a few swipes to the zest from an entire orange, and added 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Cinnamon is very worthy.

2 cups wheat germ
1 1/2 cups dark raisins, divided (I used Jumbo Thompson to splendid effect)
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup non-fat yogurt (I used Chobani Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
Zest of 1 orange
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Spread the wheat bran out into a smooth, even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Toast for 6 - 8 minutes, stirring around a bit during the toasting process so it browns evenly.

While the wheat bran is in the oven, pour 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of water into a small saucepan. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered approximately 10 minutes or until the raisins have absorbed most of the water. Remove from the heat and puree the raisins using an immersion blender or food processor.

In a large bowl, combine the wheat bran with the yogurt and 3/4 cup of water. Add the raisin puree, orange zest and brown sugar and stir until well integrated. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white. Feel free to whip the batter a bit to make sure the egg is evenly distributed.

Sift together the flour, wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and add directly to the bran mixture. Stir until just combined and then toss in the remaining 1/2 cup of raisins. It doesn't hurt to heap the 1/2 cup a bit. (Raisins are worthy as well.)

Distribute the batter evenly between the 12 muffin liners, taking care to heap it up a bit in the center. Note: It will look like you have too much batter, but keep in mind that bran muffins are a denser lot and don't rise like regular muffins. Heap that batter in and be glad the singular muffins are heftier in size because of it.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins look visibly set in the centers. (Mine were done in about 28 minutes.) Let cool about 5-10 minutes in the tin before attempting to remove the muffins. (Prevents squashed sides.) Use a knife to slip them out and then continue cooling on a wire rack. Unless, of course, you are eating right away. In that case, immediately serve yourself two. Because you're worthy.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quinoa Tabbouleh with Edamame and Arugula: A recalibration

I thought I had the upper hand.

Thought I'd convinced him that he liked me more than I liked him. I topped off any sort of a complimentary statement with an edge of sarcasm. I told him he was like water in my ear. Ignored him when I felt like I was being too present. Shrugged off all of his complimentary statements with confident indifference.

I was not going to be that girl. That crazy, obsessive, planning-the-wedding-before-the-first-date girl. I was going to play it cool. Not blog about it. Not talk about it (too much). Keep the warm, stomach-churning flashes of emotion all wrapped up in a little box like a Christmas present under my nonexistent tree.

My master plan started to go awry last week. In the midst of all my snark and circumstance, I realized I was the one initiating the communication. I was the one playing Adele's "Someone Like You" on repeat for an hour straight while I clung to my phone, willing the green light indicating I had an incoming text message to flash.

I was the one imagining it to be something it wasn't. And liking him far more than I felt comfortable as the one who was supposed to have the upper hand.

The obsessive phone-clinging reached its peak on Friday. As I stewed over what his unresponsiveness meant, I glued myself to my couch with a bottle of Chardonnay. Love Actually accidentally slipped into my DVD player. A box of See's chocolates accidentally got opened. And in an instant, I accidentally became that girl.

Two glasses of wine into the night, I finally recognized her.

Me.

"Disgusting." I said to the reflection in the mirror.

I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day trying to detox. Pretending that I was checking work emails or Twitter when my brother asked me why I kept looking at my phone. I did everything possible to distract myself -- playing card games with my brothers, crawling on the floor pretending to be a tiger with my two-year-old niece, watching the Michael Bublé Christmas special with my mom -- twice.

Four days after the peak of my complete metamorphosis into the most loathed character in romantic comedies, I'm attempting to claw my way back to normalcy. Back to the person who obsesses over ordinary, everyday things.

You know, Bar Method, Anthropologie and quinoa.

This is the salad I'm eating to recalibrate myself -- from the holiday cookies, the filet mignon with port wine shallot reduction, the twice baked potatoes oozing with neon orange cheddar cheese, and from the boy who almost made me lose my head.


Quinoa Tabbouleh with Edamame and Arugula
Serves 2

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1 cup shelled edamame, prepared according to package instructions
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
Fresh ground pepper, sea salt, to taste
1 cup parsley, minced
3 cups arugula
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Bring just shy of 1 cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and assess for doneness. If all the liquid has been absorbed, turn off the heat and let "dry out" for approximately 10 minutes.

Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Toss with quinoa, parsley, and edamame. Refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can blend.

Spread out arugula on two plates. Toss quinoa with almonds, then divide the salad evenly between the two plates.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pomegranate-Glazed Eggplant with Tempeh: The Perks of Fall

I still can't decide quite how I feel about it. Fall. The impending winter. The cold, piercing air that sneaks in through the window slits in my apartment.

In this moment, buried under two blankets and donning a thick J. Crew hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, I hate it. Just like I hate it when I wake up to a dark room at 6:00 a.m. and know that I have to peel myself from the warm sanctuary of my bed to go outside. And run.

Every morning my body rebels against the inevitable. I hit the snooze button and pull my pink comforter over my head to seal the heat in for just a few more precious minutes before I finally force myself to get up. I whimper as I yank a long sleeve shirt over my fists to keep Los Angeles' version of frigid air from numbing my fingers. As I take those first strides, I'm miserable, and nostalgically thinking back to summer when I could run outside in tank tops and skivvy-like shorts.

Then there are the other moments -- when snuggling under two blankets with a cup of hot tea feels comforting rather than distressing. When I get back from that run and take that first bite of cinnamon apple-scented oatmeal. When I'm belting out the lyrics to Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas." When I'm stomping on leaves in my tall brown Sechelles boots.

And when I turn the oven on to roast my dinner.

I love that part. Love the way my oven clangs to life like a furnace as soon as I spin the dial. Love that it instantly perfumes the air with warmth and hominess. Love that I can toss a myriad of seemingly incoherent ingredients together to create a completely coherent meal.

Purple eggplant, butternut squash, tempeh, pomegranate molasses, garlic, lemon... heaven.

The oven is the center of my universe during fall. During winter. During moments like this one where I can't fathom even slipping a toe outside of my blanket fortress. And it's recipes like this one that make me sort of love the cold, piercing air that sneaks in through the window slits in my apartment.

Pomegranate-Glazed Eggplant with Tempeh
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Serves 4

Notes: I doubled the amount of eggplant and butternut squash, and added kale, lemon juice and brown sugar. I also increased the amount of cilantro, omitted the feta, and used less olive oil. Rather than smashing the raw garlic, I pre-roasted it so it would be easier to mash together with the other components of the sauce. As usual, I added an extra clove for good measure.

2 long, thin Asian eggplant, cut into small cubes
8 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups butternut squash, cut into small cubes
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2 cups kale, sliced into slivers (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place unpeeled garlic cloves in small oven-safe dish. Roast for approximately 10 minutes.

Remove garlic and smash with sea salt into a paste. Place in small bowl, add red pepper flakes, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, brown sugar, and pomegranate molasses. Whisk together.

Arrange eggplant, tempeh and butternut squash cubes in a glass baking dish. Toss with pomegranate molasses mixture until well coated. Spread into an even layer. Roast, stirring once or twice, for 30-45 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and the squash is starting to caramelize. Toss in the kale, let roast 5 more minutes.

Remove from oven and stir in the cilantro. Serve with farro, barley or brown rice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Farro Risotto-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms: An unnecessary necessity

I didn't do anything I was supposed to do today.

I didn't go to Bar Method this morning.

I didn't go to church this evening.

I didn't bleach the kitchen sink or go Christmas shopping or even bother putting on a bra.

Instead, I cloaked myself in sweats, put weird things on my face in an attempt to get rid of the scars that have suddenly taken up residency on my left cheek, and rented Friends with Benefits OnDemand. It was horrible. And by "horrible" I of course mean, I really enjoyed it and am currently considering rewatching it so I can pause the screen whenever Justin Timberlake takes his shirt off.

It was glorious. Not just JT's abs and his "these" muscles (Ashley will know what I mean by "these"), but the day. The laziness. The freedom I gave myself to be totally antisocial and ugly and weird.

And in the midst of all this inactivity and aloe vera face-painting (one of the home remedies for facial scars I found on a site I googled this morning), I made cookie batter. I folded laundry that I purposely scorched in the dryer so I could bury myself under a hot pile of it. And I spent an hour and a half standing over the stove making caramels while I listened to Coldplay's "Paradise" on repeat.

I love doing these types of things on Sundays. Things I don't need to do; things that I'm doing mostly for the pleasure of the slow, methodical process it takes to do them. Obsessively folding my underwear into neat little stacks. Refolding them if they aren't perfectly smooth and identical in shape and size to the one underneath it. This is the kind of stuff that fills me with that warm, glowy feeling of contentment. The kind of thing that recharges me for the impending week of tasks I actually have to accomplish.

A few Sundays ago I spent an entire afternoon preparing my dinner. I braised a portobello mushroom. I roasted and mashed a sweet potato. I made a port wine reduction. I simmered a farro risotto in broth I made with dried porcinis and vegetable stock. Then I put it all together in dramatic, restaurant-esque fashion.

It was complicated, time-consuming and completely unnecessary for a solo Sunday supper. But it was exactly what I needed -- because I didn't need to do it.

Farro Risotto-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with Sweet Potato Puree
Adapted from recipe from Chef Scott Zwiezen of Elf Cafe
Serves 4

For Braised Portobellos
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
1/4 cup port wine
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1/4 onion, coursely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons Better than Boullion Vegetable Base
Freshly ground pepper

Heat large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the teaspoon of oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Place the portobellos face down, and let cook until they just start to release their liquid, approximately 5 minutes. Add the wine, letting it cook off almost completely. Add a cup or so of water, the vegetable base, carrot, celery, onion, thyme, and a few good shakes of freshly ground pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until mushrooms are braised through, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Remove mushrooms from broth and set aside. Strain broth into a separate saucepan.

For Sweet Potato Mash
2 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup milk, give or take a little
Salt, pepper

While mushrooms are braising, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast until tender, approximately 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and dump potato into a bowl. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper, then mash using either a handheld electric mixer or an immersion blender. Add more milk as needed.

For Farro Risotto
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
2-3 large shallots, minced
1 large carrot, minced
3/4 cup farro
Pepper
Pinch of thyme
2 tablespoons goat cheese
2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a heat-safe bowl. Bring two cups of water to a boil. Pour over porcini mushrooms and let sit for 30 or so minutes. Using a fine sieve, strain the liquid into the saucepan with the reserved portobello braising broth. Bring to a low simmer.

Chop rehydrated porcinis and set aside.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the pan. Add the shallots and carrot and saute until tender and lightly caramelized, approximately 5 minutes. Add the farro, and cook for a few more minutes to lightly toast the kernels. Season with pepper and thyme. Add a half cup of the hot broth to the pan, and let simmer over medium-low heat until the broth evaporates. Keep adding broth as needed, a 1/2 cup or so at a time until the farro is cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Stir in the goat cheese and rehydrated porcinis, and turn off the heat. Let rest for 10 minutes so it thickens up enough to be stuffed into the mushroom caps.

For Port Reduction
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Port wine

Pour balsamic vinegar and Port wine into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, keeping at a slow simmer until it reduces into a thick, syrup-like consistency, approximately 45 minutes.

For Assembly:

Bring oven back to 400 degrees.

Place portobellos in a lightly greased glass baking dish. Stuff with farro risotto, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until completely heated through and parmesan has lightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.

Reheat sweet potatoes in the microwave until piping hot. Divide evenly between four plates. Top with stuffed mushrooms, then drizzle with port reduction. Serve immediately, optionally with braised kale or green of choice.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Eat My Blog 4.0


Psst.

I'd really appreciate it if you came out to Pita Jungle in Pasadena this Saturday to, ahem, eat maaah blog.

And these walnut sea salt caramels.

If not for me, for the starving children.

All proceeds of the Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale will go directly to the LA Regional Food Bank. Every baked good (and/or sweet 'n salty caramel) counts, and we've got a lot of them -- over 50 local food bloggers and restaurants are on board for our fourth sale. Think cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies from my gal, Esi at Dishing Up Delights, and bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits from M.B. Post.

Get after it. Because the holidays aren't just about seeing who can put the most lights on their tree - regardless of what my dad and two older brothers say.

Hope to see you there! I'll be the tall blonde in the pink apron, naturally.

What: Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale

When: Saturday, December 10th, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Where:
Pita Jungle, 43 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA, 91105

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Yellow Split Pea Soup: The perks of being sick

I caught a cold this week.

I should have known it was going to happen. After I'd found out I was denied health coverage for two minor pre-existing conditions two weeks ago, I'd been foaming at the mouth about how healthy I am.

"I eat quinoa for breakfast!" I sputtered to my mom, my brother, the person in line behind me at Whole Foods.

"I can do a Level 2 Bar Method class without even breaking a sweat!" I continued, flexing my tricep to demonstrate how "big" and impressive my minuscule muscles are.

"I can't even remember the last time I was sick!" I finished with pride.

As soon as the words had parted from my lips, I was hit with a flashback to the last time I'd made a bold declaration. A seemingly harmless comment about how much I loved my $50 hand-painted porcelain teapot and lived in fear that it would break one day. And then the next day, it did.

The cold smashed down on me this past Sunday night, leaving me weak and sprawled out on my bed with a box of tissues and blurry, stinging eyes. I was, of course, in denial it was happening.

"I'll fight it off!" I thought as I downed Zicam chewables like M&Ms and brewed pot after pot of tea. Determined to prove that I was not a sickly person, I forced myself to go to the gym the next morning, refusing to believe that a few germs could get the best of me.

"I eat quinoa for breakfast," I reminded myself as I wheezed through my bike workout.

By the time I got to my office that morning, I couldn't go more than five minutes without reaching for the tissue box. My face was pale, my head ached and it was an effort to just sit up straight. I knew then that it was over. I was sick.

While I hated feeling and looking like I was auditioning for a role on "The Walking Dead," I took full advantage of the opportunity to dramatize every aspect of my disease. If I had to be sick, I was going to make the most of it -- making sure that everyone around me was well aware that my immune system had been compromised. This was a dire situation.

Meanwhile, I was relishing the excuse to be a gross and disgusting person. I stopped working out, I wore the same pair of jeans to work for four days, I watched "Kourtney and Kim Take on New York," I let the tissues pile up in unsightly wads on the floor of my apartment, and I whined. I whined a lot.

And then after the whining got old, I made soup.

Of all the perks of being sick (the sympathy, the insta-diet, the ability to sit on the couch doing nothing for hours on end), soup is the best part. In that congested achy state, nothing tastes as good as a steaming bowl of hot noodly broth, or in the case of this recipe, a cuddly crock of yellow split peas. Hearty, but not overbearing, this is the type of soup that comforts and sustains.

Even when one's immune system hasn't been compromised. Even in non-dire situations. Even for the healthiest person on a planet on an perfectly ordinary, average day.

Yellow Split Pea Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for serving
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Sea salt
1/4 cup port wine
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 1/3 cup split peas, picked over and rinsed
6 cups of water
2 tablespoons Better than Bouillon vegetable base
Freshly ground pepper

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Once hot, add the tablespoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pot. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and leeks are taking on a melty consistency. (Approximately 10 minutes.) Add the port wine, and let boil for a minute or two, scraping up any of the caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the dry mustard and cook for 1 minute. Add the split peas, water and vegetable base, and season to taste with pepper. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, and adding additional water as needed.

When the split peas are tender (will take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half)), ladle out approximately a fourth to a third of the soup into a different container. Using an immersion blender, puree the rest of the soup until smooth in consistency. Return chunk bits to the pot and stir to combine. Bring back up to just under a boil before serving. Finish with a swirl of good quality olive oil and dusting of pepper.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spice Krinkles: My Thanksgiving contribution

"What are you doing tomorrow? More importantly, what are you making?"

As I read Ali's email, I felt the beginning inklings of guilt. The very inklings I'd been ignoring for weeks as everyone else compared notes on whether to brine their turkeys or use cornbread in their stuffing or make sweet potato or pumpkin pie. I'd done a sufficiently good job of pretending like none of it mattered to me -- even defiantly defiling a traditionally decadent side dish by drowning it with quinoa and vegetation. I was laughing in the face of Thanksgiving and all it represented. I was refusing to participate in the over-the-top displays of gluttony and over-extended waistlines.

But then there it was in front of me.

"What are you making?"

I retracted from the keyboard on my computer. How could I tell Ali that I wasn't doing anything special -- that I was going to make the same Brussels sprouts salad I made last year on the day that should be my cooking Olympics. I couldn't tell her that my great Thanksgiving kitchen plan was to drain the contents of a bottle of wine while my parents and brothers slaved over the mashed potatoes, turkey and a disturbingly giblet-heavy gravy.

It's not that I hate Thanksgiving or slaving; I just hate (most) Thanksgiving food. And feel no desire to spend any time attending to that which I have no desire to personally ingest. I was going to make Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts that are not cloaked in bacon fat, that are not overloaded with butter, and that take less than 30 minutes to pull together.

"What are you making?"

I asked it of myself this time. Because deep down, buried underneath my hatred for green bean casserole and overly sweetened sweet potatoes, I secretly wanted to do something. Something different. Something seasonal, but not cliched. Spice krinkle cookies with chewy dried apricot bits and slivers of chocolate.

I baked them as soon as I got home yesterday, even braving the grocery store to get the $9 jar of ground cloves necessary for the recipe. I ignored the price tag. Just like I ignored the voice in my head that said that my 2 1/2 year old niece would declare them, "Too spiiicy!" and my brothers would likely shudder at the mention of the dried apricot.

But it didn't matter. I was baking them for me.

For my personal cooking Olympics. And for a Thanksgiving indulgence that's actually worth the over-the-top display of gluttony -- and the over-extended belly that goes with it.

Spice Krinkles with Dried Apricots and Dark Chocolate
A recipe mash-up of Amanda Hesser's Spice Krinkles in The New York Times Essential Cookbook and Heidi Swanson's Ginger Cookies in Super Natural Every Day

Notes: These cookies are everything I love in a ginger cookie - chewy and soft, and redolent with spices. The dried apricots and dark chocolate add additional dimension and texture. I made half the batch plain and half with the apricots and chocolate and after tasting the latter couldn't be bothered to sample the plain.

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 room temperature egg
1/4 cup unsulphered molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
6 ounces 60% cacoa chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
Granulated sugar

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat softened butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat together until well-incorporated, approximately 2 minutes.

Sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Gradually add to the butter-sugar mixture, stirring on the lowest speed. Stir until just combined, then add the apricots and chocolate, and stir for a couple beats more to incorporate.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a good half cup or so of the granulated sugar in a flat bowl. Roll the dough into (shelled) walnut-sized balls. Roll through the sugar until coated on all sides. Once all cookies for that batch have been coated in sugar, re-roll them in the sugar. (The first roll of sugar usually partially dissolves into the dough so if you double roll the cookie, the second layer of sugar will remain on the outside.)

Place cookies two inches a part on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes (mine took around 8 minutes) or until just set and the tops are just starting to crack. Let sit 2 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving or storing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quinoa Stuffing: Something to be thankful for


A year ago I wasn't thankful for Thanksgiving.

A year ago I was finding out that I didn't get the job -- that there had been so many talented candidates and they'd had a terrible time deciding that I wasn't the one they wanted. In a sick twist of fate, I received the news the day after my brother found out he was the one for the position he'd also recently interviewed for. I was happy for him, of course, but in the dream scenario I'd played out over and over again, we'd both gotten the job. In the dream scenario, I'd be spending Thanksgiving celebrating with my family.

"So many talented candidates... offered it to someone else..."

The yellow walls of my then-office seemed to be caving in on me as I'd tried to get through the phone call and those words that kept echoing inside my head.

"Someone else."

"How am I going to tell them?" I'd thought when we'd hung up and I was free to let the tears I'd been holding in fall down my cheeks in hot, messy streaks. "How am I going to tell my family I failed again?"

I'd felt sick driving down to spend Thanksgiving with my parents two days later. I trudged in the door that Thursday morning without an ounce of holiday spirit. After my mom started my laundry for me, and I'd changed into the ugliest sweats I could find, I whimpered to my dad, "Can we make mimosas?"

One trip to the grocery story and six Valencia oranges later, we stumbled upon a new Hossfeld tradition. And I found a way to get through the day without pausing to think too hard about the question that had been simmering in the back of my mind since I'd received the news.

"What now?"

At the time, I couldn't have known that 6 months later I'd be starting a position at a different company -- the company that had been my first choice since I'd first decided I wanted to work in public relations. I couldn't have foreseen how happy and thankful I'd feel just one year later. Happy, thankful and relieved that I didn't get the job that I'd desperately tried to convince myself was the one.

I think back to that girl, sadly sipping mimosas on the couch in baggy sweatpants, and wish I could tell her, "Don't worry, it all works out how it's supposed to in the end."

So today, as I try to wrap my head around a bit of unsettling news I received this morning, I'm not going to let myself linger on the, "What now?" I'm going to be thankful for every blessing that has come my way this year. I'm going to be thankful that those suffocating yellow walls aren't still caving in on me.

And I'm going to be thankful for quinoa stuffing -- a way to make my favorite Thanksgiving side dish into a complete dinner.


Quinoa Stuffing with Chestnuts, Leeks, Mushrooms, and Apples
Inspired by recipe from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 6-8

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 1/2 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon vegetable base
1 cup red quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
3-4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (approximately 4 cups)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup Port wine
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
14 ounces chestnuts, coarsely chopped (I purchased mine from Trader Joe's)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup loosely packed parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 egg

Place dried porcini mushrooms in medium-sized bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and pour hot water over mushrooms. Soak for 30 minutes or until mushrooms are rehydrated. Remove the mushrooms and squeeze out any excess liquid back into the bowl. Decant the soaking liquid through a strainer, tilting it and pouring slowly to leave behind any grit in the bottom of the bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse red quinoa well. Bring soaking liquid (will have reduced to about 1 1/2 cups), 1/2 cup of water, plus 2 teaspoons of vegetable base to a boil, then add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is not quite all absorbed (you'll want the quinoa to be a bit soupy since it will dry out some when it bakes).

While quinoa is cooking, heat large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add one teaspoon olive oil, swirling to coat the pan. Add the chopped shiitake mushrooms, and saute over medium heat, until mushrooms release their liquid and are fragrant. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining two teaspoons of oil to the pan, then add the leeks. Saute over medium heat until wilty in appearance -- approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir in the butter, letting melt completely. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, apples, celery, Port wine, and continue to cook together until apple is tender, approximately 8 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine apple-leek mixture with chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, red quinoa, and parsley. Stir until well-incorporated. Crack egg into a separate bowl and whisk yolk and white together. Add egg to the stuffing mixture, and stir again until well-incorporated. Dump contents into baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat when ready to serve, adding additional liquid as needed. Stuffing will keep well in the fridge 3-4 days.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Port-and-Balsamic-Glazed Plums: I can just play

I couldn't decide if I looked stylish or like Steve Urkel.

For ten minutes I stood in front of the long mirror in my living room, awkwardly rotating in what amounted to the worst attempt at striking a Cupcakes and Cashmere pose ever. I grimaced at the ensemble, bearing my teeth like a pit bull readying to attack a squirrel. After several moments of said grimacing, I yanked off the built-in belt on my olive green high-waisted skirt and looped on a tan woven one instead.

"Now this will definitely be chic!" I told myself as I tucked my bright orange top back in.

Yet even then something looked slightly off to me. I still didn't see "chic" in the reflection in the mirror. I saw a girl trying to be chic. A girl trying to be effortlessly stylish. Which, of course, defeated the whole point of effortless style.

I love clothes and am perfectly capable of picking out a cute dress at Anthropologie, but I've never been the type of gal who knows exactly what to do with, say, a pair of bright red shorts or a denim collared shirt. I would never even buy a denim shirt. I would walk right past it and pick up a v-neck merino wool sweater in a color I already own. It would look perfectly acceptable on me, but wouldn't inspire the type of reaction I usually have when I see my friend Ashley in a new outfit. Usually along the lines of, "How on earth did you figure out how to put a denim shirt with a wool skirt and suede ankle boots?!"

It's like that scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon explains why he's so wicked smaht to Minnie Driver. She wonders if he has a photographic memory, he responds with a metaphor about Beethoven. "He looked at a piano and it just made sense to him." He says.

I always feel like it's some sort of fluke when I put something stylish together or find a dress that is flattering enough to warrant a compliment. I don't feel like I'm the Beethoven of fashion. I feel like a girl who can't figure out if tucking a bright orange shirt into an olive green skirt makes her look like the female version of the nerdiest character in the "TGIF" line-up.

"Did I do that?"

While it would be fun to be that girl, I'm not too terribly worked up about it. Because even if I will never be able to wear a denim shirt without looking like a cowboy, I have other tricks up my sleeves (no pun intended). I can string words together without grammatical errors (usually), I can run for an hour (or more) without stopping, and I can (effortlessly) make quinoa topped with Port wine and balsamic roasted plums for breakfast on a random weekday morning.

I know that if I boil just shy of a half cup of water to the ratio of a quarter cup of quinoa, it will come out perfectly fluffy after 15 minutes. I know that if I roast plums in Port wine and balsamic vinegar, they will come out deliciously gooey and jam-like. I know that if I ladle them over said quinoa and douse the whole thing in 2% milk, I'll be so busy sighing with pleasure, I won't care that my outfit isn't chic.

This is what makes sense to me. When it comes to quinoa, when it comes to boozy sweet plums, I can just play.

Port-and-Balsamic-Glazed Plums
Makes approximately 1 cup (enough jammy goodness for 2 people)

Notes: Since plums are on the way out the door, feel free to experiment with the more seasonally apropos pears. While I make the plums for my quinoa, I also thing they'd be fantastic with oatmeal, over a bowl of vanilla ice cream (like pie without the crust!), with Greek yogurt and granola, or even served alongside roast chicken.

2-3 largish plums, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 tablespoons Port wine
2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease a glass baking dish (preferably with butter). Toss plums with Port wine and Balsamic vinegar, then spread out in a single layer in the baking dish. Bake, stirring once, until tender and caramelized, approximately 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.

For quinoa preparation: Rinse 1/4 cup of quinoa well to remove the bitter outer layer. Bring 1/2 cup minus 2 tablespoons water to boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa, a few good shakes of cinnamon, a shake of salt and a shake of nutmeg. Cover, reduce the hear, and simmer for 15 minutes untouched. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and add a splash of milk. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top with plums and add milk in desired quantity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Farro with Caramelized Winter Vegetables, Bacon and Fried Egg: Do Look

"Don't look, DiDi," She warned, her expression affixed into the very reaction she was trying to prevent me from having.

I laughed at my former college roommate's cringing face, flashing her my best attempt at an easy breezy smile. Ali had been sending me emails for the past two weeks leading up to my visit to her home in Chicago. Cryptic emails that read, "I'm nervous to cook for you. I'm worried you're going to think I'm gross."

Unsure what she meant by "gross," I pooh-poohed her concerns as completely unwarranted.

"I eat quinoa, tofu and vegetables most nights," I insisted, "I have simple tastes! I'm happy with just a big bowl of braised kale!"

I didn't realize what Ali really meant by "gross" until that moment in her kitchen when she dangled an entire cube of butter over a frying pan of melting leeks.

I tried to conceal my horror. “Well, there are 14 of us, so that’s really only like 2 teaspoons of butter a person!” I said brightly, while secretly thinking about the cup of heavy cream, generous pour of olive oil and the very unfibrous white bread that was also going into the chestnut, leek and apple stuffing.

I forced my lips into a smile. She forced hers into one too, then plopped the butter into the pan. It immediately began to bleed into the mass of gooey leeks, saturating every pleat and corner. I gulped and walked out of the kitchen, desperately fighting the urge to run over to the stove with a roll of paper towels to sop up the excess fat.

"Thank God I'm making a quinoa salad," I thought as I cemented myself to the couch, completely unaware that six hours later I'd be helping myself to my second helping of the "gross" stuffing during the dinner party -- butter, cream, oil, unfibrous bread and all.

As much as I enjoy my healthy dinners and bowls of simple braised kale, I'm not inclined to pass up a decadent dish that, like the stuffing, is worth every luscious calorie. I just usually prefer that decadence to be added sight unseen, which is why most of my indulgent dining goes on when I'm out at a restaurant. What happens in that kitchen, stays in the kitchen, and I'm quite content to dig into my meal blissfully unaware of just how many tablespoons of oil, butter and cream were used to sauce that oversized bowl of pasta.

But there are instances when I'm cooking at home that I do let my guard down and welcome the fat with an open mouth. Usually it involves a runny fried egg, Parmesan cheese or bacon.

Sometimes, like in the case of this farro with caramelized winter vegetables and ginger -- adapted from an orzo recipe on the Kitchn -- it involves all three.

I use the bacon fat to pan-roast my veggies, I reserve that same bacon fat to fry up my egg, and then I serve the whole thing topped with Parmesan and those crunchy nubs of rendered bacon bits. It gets even better when I break open the center of the egg, letting the yellow interior ooze into the cheese and bacon-studded farro. The caramelized vegetables and hearty whole grains don't stand a chance.

It's grossly good. Grossly decadent for a girl who is accustomed to bowls of kale. And totally worth looking at every glorious gram of fat that goes into it.


Farro with Caramelized Winter Vegetables, Bacon and Fried Egg
Adapted from The Kitchn
Serves 2

1/2 cup farro
1-2 ounces thick-cut bacon (about 2 thick slices)
1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and chopped into 1/4 - 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps cut into cubes
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups chopped kale
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt

Rinse farro well. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the farro, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until water is absorbed -- approximately 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the strips of bacon and cook until it releases its fat, flipping from side to side to ensure an equal rendering. Using a fork, remove bacon from pan and set on a paper towel to cool. Pour excess bacon fat into a small dish, leaving just enough to cover the base of the pan.

Add the cubed sweet potatoes to the pan, arranging in a single layer. Cook them over medium-high heat until they are beginning to caramelize and turn brown -- about 4 minutes. Stir about a bit and let continue to cook a few more minutes or until browned on all sides.

Turn down the heat a bit, and shove the sweet potatoes into a pile up against the side of the pan. Add the diced onions and sprinkle lightly with the sea salt (use a restrained hand as the bacon will already add a component of saltiness to the dish). Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to caramelize and turn brown -- approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic, ginger and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and let cook for a couple minutes together before shoving to the other side of the pan.

Finally, add the diced shiitake mushrooms and cook, stirring once, until they just start to release their liquid and turn brown. Add the farro and mix everything together. Then, while still over medium heat, add the vinegar and soy sauce, scraping up all the bits at the bottom of the pan. Stir together until well combined, then toss the kale over the top so the heat from the bottom lightly steams the greens while you are preparing the eggs.

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add enough of the reserved bacon fat so that the base of the pan is lightly greased. Carefully crack the two eggs into the pan. Sprinkle with pepper and let sit for a a couple minutes. The whites will likely run together -- that's ok. Once they have begun to set, use a rubber spatula to separate the eggs, then flip each over with a spatula to cook for another minute to two minutes.

While eggs are finishing in the pan, toss the kale into the farro mixture, then divide between two plates. Top with Parmesan and the rendered bits of bacon.


Happy Birthday to my dear friend Ali, who, for the record, is not gross at all.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweet Potato Biscuits: (In)sanity restored

I underbaked my brownies on Wednesday night.

I don't know how it happened. I baked them the usual amount of time that I always do -- precisely 28 minutes -- at the same temperature I always do -- precisely 350 degrees -- and made sure to test them with a toothpick like a good little obsessive baker. Yet when I took them out of the fridge to cut them the next morning, they were unmistakingly gooey. I cringed as I surveyed the way the wet chocolate interior clung to my knife like butter.

"This is not good," I thought, as I hurriedly placed the parchment-lined brownies back into my 8 x 8 pan to take to work with me that day.

It was the first time I had made anything for my new coworkers, and I'd wanted the brownies to be perfect, wanted my colleagues to shudder and declare with ecstatic glee, "Diana, you are a baking goddess! Ina has nothing on you!" I wasn't supposed to spend half the brownie-inducing occasion apologizing and explaining, "I baked them the same amount of time that I always do!"

While my coworkers were polite and ate them without complaint, insisting that they like their brownies a bit gooey, I didn't believe them. I don't like my brownies gooey at all. I look at a sticky brownie and I think "Salmonella." I've even gone so far as to throw out a batch that a friend gifted upon me because they looked, in my eyes, like square bastions of disease.

It bothered me the rest of the day, and the subsequent day when my good friend in the office enthused, "Oh when they're cold, the gooeyiness makes them taste like fudge!"

Brownies are not meant to be like fudge. Fudge is supposed to be like fudge.

So I did what any normal (read: not normal) person would do to correct the situation. I woke up this morning and, while the sun was barely peaking out from behind the clouds, I made biscuits. Not just any kind of biscuit, of course -- sweet potato biscuits that, lacking any sort of egg, couldn't possibly transmit foodbourne illness.

"Biscuits will save me," I thought, as I lightly kneaded the dough to eradicate my feelings of self-doubt, disgust and shame that I, the queen of Clorox bleach and all things sanitary, could underbake brownies.

Nevermind that I had to purchase an entire container of buttermilk just for the 1/3 cup I needed for the recipe. Nevermind that I didn't even really want or need a buttery sweet potato biscuit dredged in honey after indulging in a donut crawl yesterday. Nevermind that my coworkers are already planning to bring plenty of baked goods for our potluck brunch at work tomorrow. I was going to redeem myself -- even if I had to throw out the entire carton of buttermilk and half my sanity to do it.

The biscuits are a bit denser than the average, non-sweet potato biscuit, but the interior is still pleasantly pliant -- a proper contrast to the craggly, crusty edges. I inhaled the one I "tested" for lunch today, greedily smearing honey over it, barely pausing to assess whether it would engender the desired reactions from my coworkers. Something along the lines of...

"Baking goddess."

"Just like Ina."

"The queen of all things sanitary."

They're quite simply, a good biscuit. Uncontroversial, unassuming, but perfectly pleasurable on a fall day when the only care you have in the world is whether your coworkers think you are trying to poison them.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Lightly adapted from Molly Wizenberg via Bon Appetit

Makes 8-10 biscuits

1 3/4-lb sweet potato
1 3/4 cup of all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar, lightly packed
1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for glazing
1/3 cup buttermilk

Do ahead: Peel sweet potato and cut into manageable 1-inch hunks. Steam or boil until soft. Remove from steamer (or drain from pot), and puree until perfectly smooth. Cool completely in the fridge.

Combine sweet potato and buttermilk together in a medium bowl. Whisk together until well incorporated.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces and then use a pastry blender or your fingers to carefully knead the butter into the flour mixture. When the dough has reached a somewhat crumbly texture and the butter pieces are about pea-sized, add the sweet potato and buttermilk. Use a fork to stir together until just combined.

Bring the dough together in a large clump and, using your hands, knead into a 1-inch thick patty. Place on a lightly floured sheet of wax paper with extra over-hang to wrap the dough up. Cover it completely with the paper than place in the fridge to chill for approximately 30 - 60 minutes. The key to flakey biscuits, pie crusts, scones, etc. is keeping the butter as cold as possible before baking.

While dough is chilling, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove dough from the fridge. Using a 2-inch diameter-ed glass or biscuit cutter, cut circles out of the dough and place on a lined or greased cookie shoot. Bring the scrapes together to make additional biscuits. Melt the two additional tablespoons of butter and use a light hand to glaze the tops and sides with a pastry brush. You'll likely have a little butter left over.

Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, turning the sheet once, or until lightly browned on the top and golden brown on the bottom. Cool on a rack or eat immediately, smeared with honey or the seasonally appropriate apple butter.

Biscuits are meant to be eaten within a day or so, but do freeze well as long as they are sealed tight. You know, to keep out any unwanted freezer burn. Or any germs that may somehow exist in the frigid temperature of your freezer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Peanut Kale with Delicata Squash: A culinary freak flag?

"Weird." I thought. "This is definitely weird."

I'd been home for a good ten minutes, but hadn't actually made it inside the door. Or even out the car door for that matter. I was sitting in my hot, parked Toyota reading Twitter because I didn't want to move. Didn't want to get up and carry my purse, lunch tote and keys the approximately 30 feet to my front door. It seemed so daunting a task -- far too daunting for me to handle at the moment.

And it wasn't the first occasion.

I regularly arrive home and sit in my car reading emails as I wait to build up the resolve to finally lug myself the momentarily insurmountable distance to my apartment.

I was convinced that no one else could be this weird/lazy/freakish until dinner with a girl friend last Monday night.

"I do the same thing too, Diana!" She confided.

And just like that, I didn't feel so weird any more. The following day I proudly sat in my car for 15 minutes refreshing my Twitter feed while I psyched myself up to open the door and get out. Since I knew at least one other individual was engaging in this bizarre ritual on a regular basis as well, I suddenly felt exonerated to sit and tweet as much as I liked. To wave my freak flag confidently, like only a freak who knows she isn't the only freak can.

The same, of course, extends to food and food combinations that I'm convinced no one else in the world would possibly want to consume. I shamefully eat them in private like I'm a teenage boy watching porn -- pouring milk over my quinoa to eat as cereal; washing chocolate down with Coca-Cola, and drenching everything I can in obscene amounts of lemon juice and garlic -- until someone admits they do the same thing too. That person becomes my savior -- someone whom I look to for reassurance that it's totally normal to use four cloves of garlic and the juice and zest of an entire lemon in a single serving of food, regardless of what the general population thinks.

This past Friday night, as I was whipping up some peanut kale and tofu (a fairly standard pairing, inspired by the version at M Cafe de Chaya), I suddenly got the urge to add delicata squash to the dish. Even though my kale was already lightly steamed and enrobed in a thick mess of peanut sauce, all I could think about was how it would taste with sweet cubes of squash mixed in.

I couldn't shake it. I needed to try it.

"Weird." I thought, as I fired up the oven and began chopping up the squash into neat cubes. "This is definitely weird."

But when the final dish came together, I couldn't get over how not weird it tasted. The sweet, lightly caramelized cubes of squash were an addicting contrast to the salty peanut sauce. It got even better the next night when I added cayenne-spiced roasted squash seeds to the mix. The heat completed the flavor trifecta, adding a sharp bite that helped cut through the muddiness of the sauce.

"I can't be the only one..." I mused as I typed "peanut squash" into Google (from my couch, not my car). The search immediately returned a myriad of recipes for peanut squash (or pumpkin) stew, a common African dish that also incorporates heat, usually in the form of chilies. Yet as I realized just how sane my seemingly insane pairing was, I felt the slightest twinge of disappointment. As though I actually wanted the peanut squash combination to be my culinary freak flag, inspiring horrified whispers of, "She eats squash with peanut butter!"

Deep down I sort of liked the idea of being the only one. Just like deep down I kind of enjoy being the crazy quinoa lady who can't go to Whole Foods without stocking up on at least 2 lbs.of the grain that's actually a seed.

As much as I like feeling that interconnectedness with other "freaks" who find moving from one's car akin to Homer's Odyssey, and as glad as I am to have friends whose taste buds have also become immunized to garlic, every once in a while it's fun to be the only weird one. The definitely weird one.

And the one who might some day eat peanut squash in her car, while reading emails and refreshing her Twitter feed.

Peanut Kale with Delicata Squash, Spiced Seeds and Tofu
Serves 4

2 cups cubed Delicata squash, seeds reserved
1 large bunch kale, washed well and coarsely chopped (approximately 8 loosely packed cups)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (approximately 1 cup)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Cayenne pepper
Sea salt
10 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed

Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Shake of red pepper flakes

For serving:
1 cup quinoa, prepared according to package instructions (optional)

For peanut sauce: Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside. If needed, can thin out with rice vinegar or splash or water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak squash seeds in water for 15 minutes to ensure all the squashy bits are cleaned off. Drain and rinse well, then rub dry with a paper towel. Drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil, a good shake of salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Stir to coat evenly, then spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, for approximately 30 minutes or until nicely toasted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, toss squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it achieves a light caramelization on both sides.

While squash and seeds are roasting and toasting, heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the tofu and stir fry until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add the last teaspoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the garlic and onion. Stirring frequently, cook onion and garlic over medium heat until onion is translucent -- approximately 7-10 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the kale, then a good shake of salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the kale is lightly steamed/braised.

Remove the lid, toss in the squash, tofu and then stir in the peanut sauce. Serve immediately, preferably over quinoa. Top with spiced squash seeds.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dates, Almonds, Red Quinoa: This I know

"It's like you are buying flowers for his family," The Apple Store sales associate had told me on Friday night when I was purchasing my new iPod Nano.

"I totally am!" I'd practically squealed, unable to contain my delight at his clever justification of my unnecessary, but totally necessary purchase. "It's even pink!" I'd said with pride.

It had seemed ironic earlier in the day when the sound on my three-year-old iPod had stopped functioning in the middle of my bike workout at the gym. After I'd gotten past the initial horror of having to finish my workout sans musical accompaniment, I'd realized it was almost appropriate given the recent passing of Apple Co-Founder and former CEO Steve Jobs.

Usually this type of technical failure would dishearten me -- another expense to add to the ever-growing list -- but I'd felt empowered that day. "I'm just going to buy myself a new one!" I'd thought defiantly, not letting myself think about the expense of my recent car repairs or the Chicago trip I have coming up at the end of the month.

I felt like a fierce, independent woman as I strode through the Grove shopping mall that night, shiny new iPod in hand. I'd even allowed myself to flirt with the tattooed associate for a few minutes before getting embarrassed and saying, "I have plans when some girl friends," when he'd asked me what I was doing after.

It felt like a victory to me -- a declaration of adulthood and my ability to buy myself what I wanted at the precise moment I wanted it. Just like when I'd bought myself my MacBook computer nearly five years ago. Just like when I'd signed the check on the deposit for my first one bedroom apartment. Just like when I'd slapped down my credit card and said, "Let me get this one," when I'd taken a friend out for dinner a couple months ago.

So today, when I found out the software on that five-year-old MacBook is incompatible with the version of iTunes I need for my new iPod, I felt like a child again. I stared blankly at the Apple Store Genius as he told me that I needed to buy the new software update so I could download the most recent version of iTunes.

"But my disc drive doesn't work any more," I protested. "Isn't there any other way I can get the update? Can't I download it online?"

He shook his head.

"Are there any older version of iPods available that would be compatible with the iTunes I have now?" I pressed, not wanting to believe that there wasn't an easy way to correct the situation.

He shook his head again.

I sat dumbly on the bench, waiting for him to come up with some "genius" solution. How he could telepathically update my computer so I wouldn't have to replace my disc drive just so I could actually use the iPod I'd triumphantly purchased two days prior. Surely this couldn't be it. Surely he or the tattooed associate could employ some Jedi mind tricks and just wave their hands over my computer to make everything work exactly as it should.

This was the Apple Store -- the land off possibility, not shaking heads.

"So, there's really nothing you can do?" I asked one last time.

He shook his head once more, a curt, definitive motion that made it clear this was the end of the road. It was time for me to get up and leave and let him not help the next person in the long queue of customers waiting for their Genius consultation.

I walked slowly toward my car, clutching my bag from the Farmers Market that contained a jar of whole grain mustard I had purchased to make my lunch. The pride I'd felt so vividly on Friday was gone, replaced with an overwhelming sense helplessness. There was nothing I could do to fix my problem in that moment.

All I could do was go home and make lunch.

Lunch I can fix.

Lunch makes sense to me.

I know that if I toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes, they will emerge crinkly, crispy and tender to the fork. I know that if I make red quinoa with just slightly less water than the ratio of two parts liquid to one parts quinoa it will fluff up perfectly. And I know that if I combine whole grain and Dijon mustards with apple cider vinegar, honey and a splash of oil, I'll have an assertively tart and sweet dressing ideally suited for an eclectic mix of sprouts, quinoa, dates, almonds, and sauteed tofu.

This I know.

Without using a single Jedi mind trick.

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dates, Almonds and Red Quinoa
Serves 4

This salad is inspired by one of my favorite deli salads at my beloved Los Angeles cafe Joan's on Third. Collapsing Brussels sprouts are tossed with an assertive whole grain mustard dressing that is counterbalanced by crunchy almonds, manchego cheese and sweet dates. My version includes red quinoa and tofu for a little extra bulk -- my way of turning the side dish I always want to eat a pint of into an actual main course. Feel free to adjust according to personal taste -- leaving out the quinoa or swapping in manchego for the tofu. I think apples might do quite nicely in here as well.

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, stems and outer leaves removed
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed well
10 ounces extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/4 inch thick, 1/2 inch sticks
6-8 Medjool dates, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice each Brussels sprout from the top down into four even pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven safe baking dish for approximately 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to scrape up any leaves that start to stick to the edges of the dish. Sprouts are down when they can easily be pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, bring 1 3/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for approximately 25-30 minutes. Red quinoa takes longer to cook than white, and is done when the white shells have visibly separated from the red kernel. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

Heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a teaspoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the base of the pan. Add the tofu, reduce heat to medium and stir fry until well-browned on all sides, approximately 7-10 minutes.

While salad components are coming to room temperature, prepare dressing. Whisk together both mustards, apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust accordingly.

Toss quinoa, Brussels sprouts, tofu, dates, and dressing together. Chill at least an hour.

Just prior to serving, stir in the almonds.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums: Two Plums Up

My kitchen light went out on Thursday night.

Seemingly not a big deal -- at least not for the normal, "average Joe" type person. It's an easy fix -- requiring merely a minimal amount of intelligence to 1.) Figure out that the light bulb needs to be changed, 2.) Locate a new light bulb, and 3.) Replace the old bulb with the new bulb while repeating the mantra, "Righty tighty, lefty loosey."

This is why there are jokes that begin with, "How many ___ does it take to change a light bulb?" Usually said jokes are at the expense of blondes, the presumption of course being that blondes are not the most brilliant of individuals.

Clearly this stereotype doesn't apply to me.

Usually.

In the year and nine months that I've lived in my apartment, I've never changed a light bulb. Not that I've had an overwhelming number that needed to be changed, but the last time my kitchen light went out, I waited until my dad came up to visit me in LA so he could fix it. Since then, two more lights have gone out -- one in my bathroom and the other in the ceiling fan above my dining room table.

Which was why the kitchen bulb going out was suddenly so momentous and potentially calamitous.

"What now?" I thought in desperation as my eyes traipsed back and forth from the unlit ceiling fan to the kitchen fixture. I knew that in approximately one hour it would be dark outside meaning the majority of my apartment would be as dim as the stereotypical blonde that I am clearly not because I went to Northwestern and can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Usually.

I panicked, as I realized it would be impossible for me to cook my tempeh with roasted eggplant and squash that night without a functioning light.

"Do I call Ashley?" I wondered, clutching my phone in my hand. "I know she'd know how to fix it. She has screw drivers and drills and stuff." (Ashley is a far more rational blonde who also went to Northwestern and can walk and chew gum at the same time. Not just usually -- always.)

I hovered my finger over her number, primed to hit "dial" so my friend could come over and rescue me from my own lazy stupidity. It took only a few moments for me to realize what I was about to do. It took only a few more moments for me to realize that at 28 years of age I might actually be able to fix the light bulbs myself.

I rummaged through my storage closet until I found the floral hammer/screwdriver hybrid that my dad had gifted me when I'd first moved out on my own, located the light bulbs my mother had bought me when I'd moved into the apartment, and then climbed up on one of my dining room chairs.

"Righty tighty, lefty loosey," I repeated as I unscrewed the glass fixture from the overhead light in my kitchen. Less than a minute later, light was flooding through my kitchen again. Two minutes after that, the ceiling fan that had been dark for the past four months, was shining brightly -- triumphantly -- over my dining room table.

Thrusting my fist in the air, I reached for my phone again -- to call someone -- my dad, Ashley, anyone who would listen -- so I could report my victory over the domestic disturbance in my ceiling. It took me only a few moments to realize what I was about to do. It took only a few more moments for me to realize that at 28 years of age, changing a light bulb is not the type of significant activity that invites a "Way to go, champ!" type response.

At a certain point in life, these things are expected. Like parallel parking, killing a cockroach, bleaching the tub. While to me, these things are huge deals -- activities that clearly mean I am an accomplished woman and successful at being a grown up -- to the average person they are everyday type affairs. No more noteworthy than brushing one's teeth or walking and chewing gum at the same time.

So to receive that affirmation that I crave so I don't feel like a child still floundering around in space, I do what to me actually isn't a big deal.

I make cake.

Honey, cinnamon and plum pudding cake that is composed word for word from the recipe that Molly Wizenberg recently posted on Orangette.

It's a seemingly basic endeavor -- reading, measuring, stirring -- but when I triumphantly presented it to my dad for his birthday last night, it elicited the response I'd been wanting to hear when I'd successfully changed not one, but two light bulbs.

"Mmmm."

Which, of course, can be roughly translated to mean, "Way to go, champ!"

Nigel Slater's Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums
Not at all adapted from Orangette who adapted it from Tender, Volume II

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 slightly heaping teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 slightly heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
2 pinches salt
5 ripe plums, pitted and quartered (I used only 4 because of the large size of my plums. Possibly less because a couple bites may have gotten lost in my mouth)
2/3 cup golden syrup (procured from my local Whole Foods)
1 stick + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup golden brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 square baking dish with parchment paper. (It's not necessary to grease it, but I usually do on the off chance that the parchment paper might suddenly decide to fail me.)

In a small saucepan, combine syrup, honey and butter and melt over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so the syrup doesn't burn. When the butter has melted completely, stir in the brown sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool a couple minutes.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

Using the same whisk, combine eggs and milk in a separate bowl.

Add the syrup-butter mixture to the flour and stir to combine. Batter will be thick and might smell a bit like fall in a bowl. (Do not be tempted to eat.) Pour in the milk and eggs and continue stirring. Do not be distressed if the batter seems to initially reject the milk and eggs -- keep gently stirring -- it will come together!

Pour the batter into the greased pan. It will be quite liquidy (almost alarmingly so) at this point. Evenly distribute the plum quarters across the top, and again, don't be distressed if and when the plums sink to the bottom. It's possible that slicing them thinner might help aleviate the sinkage -- an experiment I will likely try the next time I make this cake. (And yes, there will be a next time.)

Bake for 35 minutes, then cover loosely with a piece of tin foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. When placing the foil over the cake, form it into a bit of a tent so it doesn't stick to the top like mine did (resulting in the swirled affect you see above). When the center is still a touch jiggly, turn off the oven and let hibernate in there for an additional 15 minutes.

Cool the cake on a rack for at least 20 minutes before lifting it out, using the parchment paper as handles. Continue to let cool before slicing.

Of course nobody would hold it against you if you decide to eat it warm, smothered in a scoop of Haagen Daas Five Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. In fact, I highly recommend you do just that. And then triumphantly thrust your fist in the air.