Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quinoa Corn Cakes: A perfect match

I'm this close to joining again.

Okay, maybe more like this _______ close.

Putting all those bus-riding grad students and over-salting former jocks who don't appreciate a woman who photographs her food aside, I really have been thinking about it the past few weeks. You know, during those precious few moments when I'm not busy contemplating the meaning of food, the pursuit of sustenance and my personal quest for quinoa.

As much as I love being able to lick my Trader Joe's chocolate ice cream bon bons in private, blow dry my hair while I attempt the triangle pose, and clip my toenails during "The Bachelorette," it would be nice to have an initial in my life so I can say things like, "J and I went to Target today and bought paper towels." Or "B and I love staying in and eating eggs on Sundays." Or something else that's totally annoying to other people, but fun for me because I get to use that weird relationship speak whereby the significant other can only be mentioned as a single letter.

"T is so cute when he's ignoring me and leaves his dirty dishes in the sink."

Of course, it only gets better when the relationship reaches the point where the initial can also be replaced by the pronouns "he" and "him" or the noun "boy." I can't wait to say ambiguous things on Twitter like, "He thought my lipstick was a magic marker" and not need to explain who "he" is because everyone already knows that "he" is "the boy" and "the boy" is the initial and the initial is the boyfriend.

Who's obviously madly in love with me because I get to refer to him as "he" on Twitter.

Of course, being able to use relationship code isn't the only reason I'd consider pursuing love instead of ice cream . I mean, yes, it is high on the list of perks, but I'm also this______ close to joining Match again because the relationship that comes with the code also makes it perfectly acceptable to do nothing on a Friday night. Or a Saturday night. Or a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night.

Because just the presence of a "he" or "P" or "boy" means that even when we are slopping around in our sweatpants drinking wine and eating pizza at home, we're still doing something. When I do that I'm the sad single girl who may or may not clip her toenails while yelling at Ashley on "The Bachelorette," and who may or may not attempt to blow dry her hair while doing the triangle pose. (Multi-tasking, people.)

So it would have been nice when I stayed home a few Fridays ago to make salmon and quinoa and corn cakes instead of meeting friends for drinks, to be able to come up with a better excuse than, "I can't stop thinking about what quinoa corn cakes would taste like, so I'm going to stay in and cook tonight."

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the lamest excuse to not go out ever, it ranks about a 25. But if I had an "R," and "he" and I were staying in to make quinoa corn cakes together it would only rank about a 15.

These are the things I think about when I hear those obnoxious Christian Mingle commercials on CNN telling me that I need to find God's match for me. I really just want God to find a match for me so I can justify staying home to eat quinoa. Again.

But the dirty truth is that these quinoa corn cakes really are a perfectly acceptable reason to ignore those commercials and the friends who roll their eyes when I tell them I don't want to socialize with other initials. They are sweet and savory, a touch indulgent, and far more glamorous than tucking into a mountain of quinoa like I may or may not do when I'm in the privacy of my home.

I don't even feel the need to multitask and do the tree pose while eating them. As it turns out, C and Q are a perfect match. And I'm this close to making them instead of going out for drinks again.

Quinoa Corn Cakes
Makes 12 small cakes

1/4 cup quinoa
2 ears of corn
2 medium leeks, washed and chopped into 1/4 inch squares
1 egg
Salt, pepper
Olive oil

Rinse quinoa well. Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small pot, add the quinoa, reduce the heat and cover. Simmer until quinoa absorbs the water and the shells separate from the kernels. (Approximately 15-20 minutes.) Fluff with a fork and set aside to dry out and cool.

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add the corn, cover with a lid, and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Once cool enough to handle, shuck the corn from the ears. Reserve 1/2 cup of the kernels. Puree the rest using an immersion blender.

Heat nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add a teaspoon of oil and swirl to coat the base of the pan. Add the leeks and saute until tender and lightly caramelized -- approximately 5 minutes.

Mix together quinoa, corn, corn puree, leeks, egg, salt, pepper in a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours so they are easier to handle when forming and cooking the cakes.

Once chilled, shape into 12 patties. Heat large nonstick pan over medium high heat, add enough oil to coat the base of the pan, then begin cooking the cakes in batches over medium heat. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side or until golden brown and set in the center. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Small Bite of Ludo Bites America

Pssst... I have something to show you.

And no, it doesn't involve quinoa.

At least not today.

I wrote a little something for the Sundance Channel blog, "SUNfiltered" in honor of the new Sundance show "Ludo Bites America" that premiered on Tuesday night.

It's very exciting. Ludo goes Mike Tyson on a scale (for the record, I would have too), Krissy saves the day, and all the people of Sante Fe, New Mexico rejoice. Oh the power of good food. And, apparently, chilies.

My little piece of the "Ludo Bites America" puzzle is actually related to next week's episode, which takes place in Omaha, Nebraska at a soul food restaurant located in a HS cafeteria. Yes, I realize this is about as far away as quinoa as it gets, but I do manage to sneak a bit about wine in there.

Because wine is totally soulful, no? Mmmhmm. That's what I thought. Like sun filtered into a glass...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Scott Conant's Egg Bruschetta: The real "Carmaheaven"

I've secretly been looking forward to it for weeks.

"It," of course being "Carmageddon," the great 405 shutdown of 2011 that has been the talk of the town for the past two months. "Expect Big Delays," read the flashing freeway signs on every major and minor highway in Southern California to warn residents of the impending traffic disaster.

The message was clear: Stay home. Don't step foot outside your front door for the entire 48 hours of July 15th - 17th. Have a staycation in your apartment. Be one with your couch. Shellac your hand to the remote.

I was practically giddy about it.

"I'll clean out the refrigerator!" I thought with pleasure. "And refold all the clothes in my dresser! And watch the Kardashians. And cook stuff! Loads of stuff!"

Stuff like homemade tomato sauce.

And, with that dutifully simmered and constructed sauce, Scott Conant's egg bruschetta, a recipe he demonstrated how to make during one of Infiniti's "food and wine moments" at the Concours d'Elegance last summer.

It was a good moment. A really good moment.

So even though I suspected that "Carmageddon" wouldn't really be the end of life as Los Angelenos know it, I pretended to be just as freaked out as the rest of the city. I grasped tight to my pledge to not use my car other than to make the rounds to the three different grocery stores I frequent. I was going to be as lame and boring as humanely possible. (Which, incidentally, isn't all that different from any other day.)

I tuned out the new reports announcing that "Carmageddon" was actually "Carmaheaven" for commuters, telling myself that it was all a farce -- that should I leave my apartment, I really would be met with doom and despair and never ending gridlock.

"I'm making sauce, gosh darnit!" I thought with defiance as I washed my fifteen roma tomatoes for my "Carmageddon" project.

"And I'm going to finally make that egg bruschetta. This is my moment! Carmageddon fo' life!"

I tended to my sauce like a mother babying an infant. I let it simmer for longer than the recipe instructed -- an hour and a half instead of 25 minutes. I let the sweet oozing tomatoes scent the air, imagining that I was in Italy instead of trapped inside the suffocating walls of my West Hollywood apartment. I let myself relax -- because clearly I had nothing better to do than spend over two hours preparing lunch.

When the sauce finally reached my preferred level of thickness, I began to sauté some onion and garlic in a frying pan. I cranked up the oven to toast two slices of a crusty whole wheat loaf of bread, and I readied the Parmesan, fresh basil and egg for the last few steps.

"This is the real Carmaheaven," I thought as I bit into my soft scrambled egg bruschetta a few minutes later.

A chance to breathe. And a chance to eat really good eggs at home with the Kardashians playing in the background.

Egg Bruschetta

Adapted from a recipe demonstration by Scott Conant
Serves 2

Four slices crusty bread
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce (specific recipe forthcoming!)
2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Reggiano
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat nonstick frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add teaspoon of oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent and lightly caramelized, 5-7 minutes. While the onion and garlic cook, begin toasting the bread in the oven.

When onion and garlic are tender, stir in the tomato sauce, then add the egg whites. Season with salt and pepper, and cook together until whites are set. Add the yolks and cook just long enough for them to warm, but not cook through -- approximately 30 seconds.

Divide the egg mixture between the four slices of bread and top with the Parmesan and basil. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shiitake, Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Dill Frittata: Beating eggs and parking structures

Parking structures.

Just hearing the words out loud is enough to make me break out in hives. I hate them. Despise them. Curse the day they were born (in 1918, according to Wikipedia).

While I understand the practicality of having a multi-story structure as opposed to a lot that only allows for a single layer of cars, I'm always slightly terrified when forced to enter one. Like I'm being sucked into a cement vortex where only bad things can happen.

I mean I could lose my car. My goldfish could die while I'm looking for it. And I could get caught peeing in the corner by a police officer. (Thank you, Seinfeld.)

So I avoid them. I walk (yes, walking does exist in LA) to the malls that are in my general vicinity -- the Grove and the Beverly Center. And, when I'm actually forced to park at the Grove (my preferred shopping venue), I always opt to use the open-air, single level Farmers Market lot -- even when I have no business to do there.

Parking in said lot does, however, require validation from the Farmers Market, which I usually have no trouble securing. I'll buy an apple from the Farm Boy stand, maybe a couple medjool dates if I'm feeling extravagant, and be on my merry little way. I always feel impossibly pleased with myself that I cheated the system. That I championed over the evil parking structure and its neverending circles and nonsensical arrows.

A few months ago during one such trip to the Grove, I opted to swing into Sur La Table at the market to pick up my validation. I figured I'd buy a spatula or something else inexpensive, but completely functional, and call it a day. Yet as I held the $14.95 spatula in my hand, I was suddenly struck by the ridiculousness of what I was about to do.

"Really, Diana, you are going to spend $15 on a spatula just so you don't have to pay $4 for parking in a lot without validation?"

"It's the principle," I argued back. "I WILL NOT PAY FOR PARKING!"

And that's when I spotted it. The small cast iron pan that was also $14.95 -- obviously a much better buy than the spatula that would have been the fourth member of my multi-colored spatula family.

I leapt on it. Clasped the handle tightly in my hand and nearly thrusted it into the air like it was a sword and I was Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

"I will make loads of frittatas!" I reasoned as I strode forward to the counter, again completely tuning out all rational thought. Clearly, it was completely sane that I would rather spend $15 on a pan I was designating for something I'd never ever made before than, A.) Pay for parking, B.) Venture into a parking structure like a normal human being, and C.) Buy a brother for Suzy the spatula (she's hot pink and sparkly).

In my mind what I was doing was totally sensible. I was going to be the frittata queen, after all.

Of course the pan didn't even make it out of the bag for the first month. Then, when I finally managed to move it to the cabinet, it continued to sit untouched with the label affixed for the next two months.

It wasn't until last weekend that I finally decided to attempt the frittata I had been so excited to make three months ago.

I was a little nervous as I cracked my eggs into a bowl and whisked them about with a touch of milk, salt and pepper. I carefully added my sauteed (and slightly cooled) shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and shallots, and then stared into the cast iron pan, still a bit unsure about what I was about to do. My head was filled with images of the egg shellacking itself to the pan -- burning into an unrecognizable state and destroying the pristine finish of my newest nonsensical kitchen acquisition.

I turned the heat on, drizzled in enough olive oil to coat the base of the skillet, then carefully eased my egg mixture in. I started at the sound of the sizzle. Cursed myself again for not buying Bob the blue spatula, for being afraid of the parking structure and for my unwillingness to ever pay for parking. Ever.

But then something extraordinary began to happen. The egg mixture started to look frittata-ish. I jammed the hot pan into the oven and waited, breathless, for the top to set. In less than three minutes it was done -- ready to be clobbered with goat cheese and slid onto my plate.

"I beat the structure," I thought as I stared at my creation.

And three months later, I beat some tasty eggs too.

Shiitake, Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Dill Frittata
Serves 1

2 eggs
1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 shallot, finely minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced asparagus
2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
Goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon milk
Olive oil
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 8'' cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add splash of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shallots and saute 2-3 minutes before adding the asparagus and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and continue sauteing over medium heat until vegetables are tender, approximately 3 additional minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Allow to cool slightly.

Crack two eggs into a bowl. Add the milk, salt and pepper to taste, then whisk together. Gently stir in the vegetables and dill.

Wash and dry cast iron pan completely. Return to medium high heat and then add enough olive oil to lightly coat the base of the pan. Pour in the egg mixture and let settle for one minute before nudging the edges in with a spatula so that the uncooked center runs out to the sides. Cook for another minute or so or until the center starts to set.

Remove the pan from the stove and transfer to the oven. Bake for 3-5 minutes or until the top is completely jiggle-free. Top with crumbled goat cheese then slide out from the pan onto a plate.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sweet Corn Scottish Scones: "I don't even know who you are any more"

I burned my mouth on Thursday night.

I didn't realize it until last night when I took my first bite of my restorative quinoa supper. The delicate kernels -- normally an unobtrusive intruder on my palate -- grated against the scorched roof of my mouth like unsanded pebbles.

"What the..." I thought, initially perplexed by how I'd possibly managed to burn myself. Dark chocolate, wine and quinoa salads (my default diet) are usually not hot commodities.

As I reached for a second contemplative bite, it all started to compute. Scenes from the previous evening began replaying in my mind in that slow-motiony, foggy flashbacky way.

The lamb burger
. The beer.

The second beer.

The proposition from well-meaning friends: "We're going to Beer Belly after."

The decision to join.

The third beer.

And then the order of fried artichoke chips with rosemary aioli.

"So good," we had said as we stampeded through the steaming thins of artichoke.

I'd spotted a large chunk of fried heart and went for it, greedily plunging it into the subtly herbaceous mayonnaise before lunging it into my mouth.

"Hot!" I'd half-shouted, waving my hands up and down as if the motion would somehow cool down the freshly fried vegetable that was searing my gums.

"Drink beer!" She'd half-shouted back, and I'd nodded, clasping my hands around my glass of Lady Face Blind Ambition like it was a fire extinguisher.

A couple desperate gulps later, I'd wiped my lips and exhaled with relief. The pain had passed. Feeling had once again been restored to my tongue. I'd taken another sip of beer and turned to my friend.

"I want to order the fried Oreos next," I'd announced.

She, the girl I've known since sophomore year of college, had stared at me in shock.

"I don't even know who you are any more," She'd said. "But, I like it!"

And in the moment, I did too.

Until I woke up yesterday morning.

As I lamely ran through the streets of West Hollywood, my eyes blurry with exhaustion, I cursed the three beers, lamb burger, fried artichoke chips, fried cornbread stuffed with okra, and fried Oreos with nutella and vanilla ice cream. I felt moderately better after the cleansing run, a large pot of Jasmine tea and a light breakfast of Greek yogurt and blueberries, but by mid-day I could barely keep my head up. The five hours of sleep, the rich food and the heavy beers were delivering a swift blow to my system.

I stumbled around Whole Foods, nearly collapsing when I bent down to scoop up a week's supply of quinoa (code #5887) from the bulk bins. I lugged the bag with me to the register, scarcely cognizant that I was leaving the mothership without stocking up on extra firm tofu, chickpeas and Greek yogurt.

I'd gone too far. Indulged too much. Taken too many strides outside my cozy comfort zone of crisp Sauvignon blancs, braised kale and whole grains.

And I had the burnt mouth and blood shot eyes to prove it.

These sweet corn scones, Molly Wizenberg's scones retinkered a little bit, don't take things too far. They push the boundaries without dissolving them. They keep things interesting without keeping things too interesting.

In other words, eating them does not lead to delirious stumbling through Whole Foods. Nor does it cause one to cement themselves to the couch for the next 24 waking hours.

I don't think.

Smeared with honey, the scones take on a biscuit-like personality and flavor, but still maintain the integrity of their sconeness courtesy of the lighter, less-leaden crumb. Even with the flare from the corn, they are, at their essence, still scones.

Completely recognizable.

And completely delicious.

Sweet Corn Scottish Scones
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life
Makes 8 scones

For Corn Filling
1-2 ears of yellow sweet corn, shucked from the cob (approximately 1 cup)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons butter

½ cup half and half (plus additional for glazing)
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Honey, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat large non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add the butter and let it melt across the the pan just until it stops bubbling. Toss in the corn, brown sugar and a good shake of salt, and saute until corn is tender (approximately 2-3 minutes). Remove corn from the pan and let come to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture, squeezing and pinching with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and there are no butter lumps bigger than a pea. Put the bowl in the fridge for a good ten minutes while you let the corn cool and prepare the rest of the ingredients. (Like with a good pie crust, the key to a tender, delicate scone is keeping the butter as cold as possible.)

Pour ½ cup half-and-half into a small bowl or measuring cup and add the egg. Beat with a fork to mix well. Set aside.

Remove the bowl from the fridge, and add the sugar, corn and lemon zest. Whisk to incorporate.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and stir gently to just combine. The dough will look dry and shaggy, and there may be some incorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass and return it to the fridge for 15-20 minutes to firm up again.

Turn the dough, and any excess flour, out onto a lightly floured board or countertop, and press and gather and knead it until it just comes together. Do not knead the dough more than 12 times…you don’t want to overwork it. As soon as the dough holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Pour a splash of half-and-half into a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat to glaze.

Bake 12-16 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer them to wire rack to cool slightly, and serve warm with honey.