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.


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.


"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
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


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.

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.