Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Let me recount it for you.
Daniel: So...I don't know if you know this, but your parents are cooking ravioli for dinner on Christmas.
Me: Ummm, yes Daniel I know. Because I requested it.
Daniel: It has tomato sauce on it.
I love the kid, really, but he is not coming across as the sharpest crayon in the box right now. He's better than this. I promise.
Me: Yup, I kind of figured as much. Since tomato sauce is the only sauce your parents know how to cook.
Personally, I would have maybe done a browned butter sauce. With some butternut squash chunks. But it's hard enough to get them to eat green veggies, let alone orange ones.
Daniel: Well...you know that I can't eat tomato sauce. So I was wondering what you were going to make. For me.
Me: I mean, I was going to make some kind of vegetable. What vegetable do you think you would eat?
Me: Okay Daniel, I am going to tell you something now. It might blow your mind. We are having ravioli for dinner. That is a starch. Potatoes are also starches. I am not making potatoes to go with ravioli.
Silence. Except for his breathing on the other end of the line. A good sign, in theory, except that it means that he has no other suggestions. How did I come from this family of meat and potato eaters, I can't really say.
Me: How about broccoli? You eat broccoli. I know you do. You have it in Chinese food all the time.
Daniel: Yeah but I only like it really crunchy. Like, almost raw crunchy. And I don't think you can handle that.
Wait a second. Was that a CHALLENGE. Did the boy who doesn't eat anything except for Tex-Mex and Chinese food just CHALLENGE me to cook broccoli? IT'S. ON.
So the thing that I've learned about cooking for large groups of family members is that you can't possibly please everyone. Really. Don't even bother trying.
It's something that still gets me every time, since in general I aim to please. But in the end I had to make some choices. Cut the fat somewhere. And so I decided to make this broccoli salad, all the while knowing that I would have two people who wouldn't eat it. First up was my father who only likes his vegetables very mushy. (He would have fared much better in the early 1900's when everyone was boiling vegetables until they were limp and listless. I prefer my vegetables to not have the living daylights beat out of them, thank you very much.) The moral being that his predilection, being in direct contrast to my brother's, meant that he wouldn't be happy with the dish.
I decided I could live with that.
Then there was my uncle, who has diverticulitis. This salad has almonds in it. I could have left out the almonds. But I didn't want to.
And that's all I have to say about that.
So what happened, in the end?
Well. My brother sat there, watching me like a hawk while I cooked the broccoli. I told him not to worry, I was only going to boil it for a minute and then blanch it. There was no way it was going to be mushy.
He insisted on whipping out a timer. And counting down the seconds, screaming at me to drain it and practically pelting me with ice cubes from the ice water after the minute was up.
Daniel, if the ice cubes are on the floor, they can't possibly be used to stop the broccoli from cooking any more, I tried to explain. All that got me was an ice cube down my shirt.
My aunt also appeared at our house with a large aluminum foil-covered tray in hand. I peaked inside.
Just as I suspected.
Will they never learn?
But this story does have a happy ending. (As most Christmas stories do.)
Maybe it was the mayo. Maybe it was the bacon. (Yes, even I am capable of compromise. But only on Christmas.) But everyone really liked the salad. Even my father ate some (although he did say, Joanne. I think the broccoli and string beans could have been cooked a little more. I didn't dignify that with a response.)
Like I said before, you can't please everyone.
But you can come close.
I am submitting this to Souper Sundays!
Also, unrelated side note. I had an awesome dinner last night with Mari of Namaste and her sister! We went to Katz's Deli for some delicious brisket and/or pastrami sandwiches on rye, and then to this cute little dessert place. Lots of good food and good conversation. It was a blast.
Serves many, adapted from Simply Recipes
1 tsp salt
1 lb broccoli florets
1 lb string beans
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup cooked bacon, crumbled (The bacon should be really crisp. I mean REALLY CRISP.)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 cup light mayo (if I were making this for myself, I would use Greek yogurt. Just saying.)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding the tsp salt to the water before doing so. Add the broccoli and string beans. Cook for one minute. Then drain and blanch by pouring ice water over them. Put in the fridge immediately.
2. Combine broccoli/string beans, almonds, bacon, and onion in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo, vinegar, and honey. Add to the salad and toss. Chill before serving.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sophie and I will have dug into our cupcakes or pasta or whatever it is that we are eating at that moment and he will be sitting at the table, leaning back in his chair, hands folded in his lap. Waiting.
Usually I am knee-deep in enjoying my food and am completely oblivious to the whole situation (situation being the critical word - Houston, we have a problem. We've got a non-eater over here. Better send in the troops. Pronto.).
Then, out of the corner of my eye I will spot him. A multitude of sighs will ensue as I disengage myself from my plate. And begin to think about what exactly it is that I have been eating.
Adam is, apparently, not alone in his obsession with adjectives and descriptors. At least not when it comes to food. A certain craze has swept the nation. A passing fad, perhaps, but one that is nonetheless present in the here and now. Which has spurred the conception of a new scientific field - menu psychology.
You heard it here first. (Okay, maybe you read this article in the NY Times first, in which case you heard it here second.) Restaurant owners are, in fact, analyzing the way we as consumers think about food in order to strategically design their menus so that the more profitable dishes are those which are ordered most frequently.
For example. We tend to like items that are attached to the names of family members. So this dish would fare better if I called it Mom's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups. Why? I'm guessing it's because we like the idea of it having a history attached to it. It is tried and true. And therefore must be good, since it has stood the test of time. Or maybe it's because we all have moms or grandmothers or Aunt Jane's. And thus can identify with the dish. Forge a personal connection. Bond.
We also have a predilection for the romantic. The wordy. The verbose. Stick as many adjectives on there as you can and we will be happy. It's as if the more descriptors a dish has, the more bang we think we are getting for our buck.
Not only is this dish rustic, but it is also oven-roasted, savory, succulent, and hand-shucked. And don't forget that Southwestern flair. All for the low price of 14.95 (Notice that there are no dollar signs - we don't want to remind the customer that the numbers refer to actual money...we'd rather allow them the illusion that they are an abstract concept, a figment of the imagination, unit-less. Also, keep in mind that 95 cents is the new 99 cents. If you choose to include cents at all, which is always a gamble. People want good, solid integers. And isn't the whole point that the customer is always right?)
So how do we, as consumers, navigate this? And is it even necessary that we do so? That all depends. Do you want to order a dish because it really appeals to you or because the restaurant wants it to appeal to you? Are these two preferences even distinguishable?
Maybe the dish they want you to order most is actually the tastiest dish on the menu. In which case, I'll take two. Or maybe it's all just a ploy to get you to unwittingly order chicken liver so that they can get rid of the stockpiles of it that the chef ordered by accident the previous week (very little of which has, surprisingly, moved off the shelves since its arrival). To which I respond, I'll take the vegetarian dish, thank you very much.
Either way, I'm going to keep all of this in mind the next time I'm trying to get Adam to eat whatever it is that I have cooked. Here. Let's practice.
I present you with My Good Friend Heidi's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups. A rustic dish made up of a sweet and organically-grown oven-roasted acorn squash that is then stuffed with a savory corn pudding, flavored with the earthy notes of fennel and scallions, and baked for a second time. It is finished off with the sharp notes of a cheddar cheese topping. For that perfect combination of sweet and savory that we all know and love.
My Good Friend Heidi's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups
Serves 2, adapted from 101 Cookbooks (i.e. Heidi Swanson's blog)
1 3 lb acorn squash
1 tbsp butter
1 cup almond milk (or regular milk)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup corn
1/4 tsp fennel seed (originally aniseed, which I didn't have on hand)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Cut the squash in half and deseed. Rub the insides with the butter. Place cut side up on a baking sheet. Cover the squash with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
3. In a bowl, combine the milk, eggs, corn, fennel seed, half of scallions, nutmeg, and salt. Fill each of the squash bowls 3/4 full. Carefully transfer the squash bowls back to the oven without spilling. Bake, uncovered, for 30-50 minutes or until filling is set. At the last minute, sprinkle with cheese and broil until browned. Serve sprinkled with remaining scallions.
This is the 10th entry in my 12 Weeks of Winter Squash!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Other people had 12 days.
In typical "me" fashion, I threw caution to the wind. And had 12 hours.
It all began at 9 AM on Wednesday, the 23rd. When Sophie ran into me in the kitchen as I was shelling what seemed like my 500th pistachio (and to think the morning had just begun) I informed her that if she found me later that day either (a) in a sugar coma from "taste testing" batch after batch of cookie dough or (b) covered in flour and mumbling incoherently about the melting properties of white chocolate (something I learned - there is a narrow range between the melting and burning points of white chocolate. About two seconds too long in the microwave, to be precise, and your white chocolate is no longer white. Although if you're a good enough liar, all is not lost. You can probably convince everyone that those brown speckles are just large chunks of vanilla bean. And then hope they don't notice when you insist on only eating the non-speckled cookies.) she shouldn't be too alarmed. But she should probably check the oven. Just in case.
The excellent thing about biscotti is that they store extremely well (they are so dry and hard that they basically start off stale) and are pretty resilient. There are also about five thousand types you can make, from sweet to savory varieties, and so there is certainly a biscotti out there for everyone (unless you are Sophie, in which case you don't like the hard texture. Remedy - I fed her the ends as I was cutting the biscotti before the second bake. I also tried to feed her cookie dough so that I wouldn't eat it, but she has this aversion to raw eggs. Weird.).
For my flavors this year, I decided to go with a cranberry and pistachio theme. With a few variations thrown into the mix, of course. So in the end, I had one batch of Chocolate Pistachio, one batch of Cranberry Pistachio and one batch of Cranberry Almond. All dipped in both white and dark chocolate.
I am nothing if not an equal opportunist when it comes to chocolate.
Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti
Makes a lot, adapted from Everyday Food (via Culinary in the Desert)
2 cups AP flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
4 ounces dark chocolate chunks
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in pistachio nuts.
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, vanilla and cocoa powder. Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. If the dough is too stiff to mix with a spoon, use your hands to bring it together.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons granulated sugar onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Evenly divide dough into two pieces - place each onto the baking sheet and shape into 2 12" long logs that are roughly 2 1/2" wide. Flatten logs slightly. Scatter the top of each with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
Place into the oven and bake until the loaves are firm to the touch, about 16 to 22 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Use a serrated knife to cut the loaves into roughly 1/2" thick diagonal slices. Place slices upright on baking sheet and place back into the oven to bake until crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer slices to a wire rack to cool completely.
Cranberry Pistachio (or Almond) Biscotti
Makes a lot, adapted from Bon Appetit
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (I used 1/2 tsp orange extract)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon whole aniseed (I used 1 tsp cinnamon and I think it was actually crucial to how good these were)
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup shelled pistachios (or sliced almonds)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl to blend well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in lemon peel (orange extract), vanilla, and aniseed (cinnamon). Beat in flour mixture just until blended. Stir in cranberries and pistachios (dough will be sticky). Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Gather dough together; divide in half. Roll each half into 15-inch-long log (about 1 1/4 inches wide). Carefully transfer logs to 1 prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart.
Bake logs until almost firm to touch but still pale, about 28 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet 10 minutes. Lower oven to 325.
Carefully transfer logs still on parchment to cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, cut logs crosswise into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices, 1 cut side down, on remaining 2 prepared sheets. Bake until firm and pale golden, about 9 minutes per side. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.
For White or Dark Chocolate Dipped Versions
When cookies are cool, pour either white or dark chocolate chips/chunks (or any other flavor of chips/chunks) into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high, stopping every 20 seconds to stir. When the chips are melted, dip one end of the cookie into the chocolate goo and then place on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet to cool. When a sheet is full, pop it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to a half hour to let the chocolate harden.
This is my entry for Have the Cake, the theme of which for this month is biscotti!
Friday, December 25, 2009
I hope your holidays are filled with delicious food, good company, many laughs. In short, the stuff that good memories are made of.
See you on the 26th!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Well, neither do I.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about it, though, and I imagine it is somewhat similar to the satisfaction one feels when throwing a physics textbook out of a two story window. (In my defense, there was already a hole in the window's screen when we got there. What was I supposed to do, if not use it? And can you think of a more fitting way to prove, irrefutably, that Newton was right all along? F does in fact equal m*a.)
Sophie thought that, while two stories was one thing, twelve would be a little extreme. Gratuitous even.
So then I told her about my blowtorch idea.
Just think, we can purge ourselves of medical school WHILE eating creme brulee.
That was when she instituted the rule that I had to be supervised around flames at all times. She now sits in the kitchen, eying me carefully, whenever I use the stove.
Fine fine fine. No windows. No fire.
How about a party, I asked. A dinner party. After which we throw all of our notes in the garbage. Simultaneously. And then go have a beer. Or a nice glass of wine. Or a gin and tonic.
Well. Sophie said. As long as we recycle.
And thus, this casserole was born. Delicious and nutritious, it gave us the energy we needed to hoist the super huge piles of notes onto our shoulders and carry them down the hall to the recycling bin.
Although I have to say. That starting tomorrow, I am going to start working on Sophie about that blowtorch.
Supper Casserole with Pumpkin and Green Chile Cornbread Topping
Serves 6-8, adapted from A Veggie Venture
1 1/3 lb extra lean ground turkey
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup salsa verde
1 cup frozen corn
1 can black beans
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup salsa verde
2 cups flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large skillet, cook the turkey and onion (diced) until turkey is cooked through. Stir in the ingredients up until the egg. Let heat through. Pour into a 9x13 inch casserole dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, 1 cup canned pumpkin, brown sugar, butter and salsa. Separately, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Plop spoonfuls of the cornbread batter over the meat layer in the casserole dish. Bake for 40 minutes. Cover and let cool for 10 minutes.
This is the ninth recipe in my 12 Weeks of Winter Squash! I am submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging which is being hosted in two weeks by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once!
I am also submitting this to the 5 Star Foodie Makeover!
Monday, December 21, 2009
So there you are, also gliding giggling gazing when out of the corner of your eye you spy a crowd forming at one end of the rink. The far end. And even with your bad leg, which is really not happy with you might I add for putting it through any of this, you make your way over, not wanting to be the last to know.
Visions of broken legs, amputated fingers, crying children pop into your head. (Why do we always assume the worst?) The car accidents of the ice rink that will have all other passengers rubbernecking as they pass. But as you move closer, you can tell that none of these are correct. The chill in the air isn't quite cruel enough to enable such catastrophe; things like that don't happen (not me not here not now) during the first snow of the year.
At the forefront of the crowd now, you see it. A man. One knee. Ring proferred. A woman. Smiling crying nodding. Yes. I do. I will.
But the cookies. What does it have to do with the cookies?
Well. According to the New York Times, homemade cookies are all the rage at weddings these days with family members joining forces in the months before the big day to produce over 6,000 cookies for the beloved couple.
A tradition that, although it is indigent to Pittsburgh, may just have to be incorporated into my future wedding. I figure if I start now, with a dozen cookies a week, I will be prepared. Although seeing as how I still haven't truly decided which cookies to make for Christmas yet, it is actually preposterous to consider planning an uncertain event that is four or five years in the future. What I really need to do is buckle down and focus on the concrete. The here and now.
That couple in the park though? They need to get started, whether they know it or not. So to them, I offer these cookies.
5,964 to go.
Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen, adapted from The Pioneer Woman
2 sticks Salted Butter, Slightly Softened
1 cup Powdered (confectioner's) Sugar
1 whole Egg
2 teaspoons Vanilla
2-½ cups Flour
½ cups Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
4 ounces white chocolate
About 5 candy canes, crushed into flakes
Cream softened butter with powdered sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix to combine. Add dry ingredients and mix together until dough comes together. Place plastic wrap on surface of dough and refrigerate for 2 hours.
In the meantime, unwrap candy canes and place them in a plastic bag. Beat with a mallet until finely crushed, leaving larger chunks if desired.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll cookie dough in walnut-sized pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Gently press balls flat with a plain, smooth surface. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, being careful not to burn. Cookies will remain the same general size and shape after they bake. Remove from oven and place cookies on a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely.
Place crushed candies in bowl. Melt white chocolate in the microwave. Dip cooled cookies into white chocolate, coating half the cookie. Immediately sprinkle crushed peppermints over both sides of the almond bark. Gently set on parchment paper and cool in the refrigerator for half an hour or until chocolate hardens.
I am submitting these to Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman. The theme for this edition is Christmas/Holiday recipes.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
12 Weeks of Winter Squash - Italian Sausage and Fennel Over Pumpkin Polenta AND Acorn Squash and Black Bean Calzones
Why would one ever do such a thing? Why not just wait to finish one drink before moving onto the next? Usually it is because of time restraints. For example, one could be at an end-of-the-year medical school formal. That formal might be called December Decadence. It could have been held at the Citigroup building. And may or may not have featured a completely open bar all night long. Along with a chocolate fountain and lots of brie. (Brie dipped in the chocolate fountain? Interesting concept. Alas I didn't have the wherewithall to try it at the time. Next year. Next formal. Remind me.) And after the formal ends, at midnight (very Cinderella-esque now that I'm thinking about it. But no one turned into a pumpkin. Which is unfortunate considering how much I love pumpkin.) there is probably going to be an after party, at a bar, which will not be "open" at all in any way. In fact, the drinks will probably be very pricy. So what does one do? One "double fists" at the formal where everything is free. To, you know. Get the most bang for your proverbial buck. At least those of us who are paying for their medical school education. Which I am not. But I can double fist in empathy.
In contrast, double fisting in the world of one particularly pumpkin-obsessed medical student refers to the practice of cooking two winter squash-based dishes in one week. And then proceeding to share them with the blog world in one fell swoop.
Because the only thing better than one winter squash recipe. Is two.
So behind fist number one, we have this Italian Sausage and Fennel over Pumpkin Polenta. A dish based on a Rachael Ray recipe. I have been on a total sausage kick lately, by the way. Not really sure why, but I'm sure Freud could offer you some theories. Anyway, the saltiness of the sausage saute paired really well with the creamy and subtle pumpkin flavor of the polenta. I was in heaven and really could have eaten this every day indefinitely.
Pumpkin Polenta with Italian Sausage and Fennel
Serves 4, adapted from Rachael Ray
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), 1 turn of the pan
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb—quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 14-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup quick-cooking or instant polenta
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (eyeball it)
1 cup shredded Pecorino Romano
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and brown the sausage. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel–lined plate. Add 1 tablespoon of EVOO (1 turn of the pan) to the skillet and then the onion and fennel. Cook the vegetables over moderate heat until tender but not brown. Add the wine and return the sausage to the skillet. Cook the wine away, a minute or so.
In a large saucepan, cook the polenta as directed in the main recipe and stir in the nutmeg when you add the thyme, salt, pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Top the pumpkin polenta with the sausage and fennel. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serveBehind fist number two, I present you with Acorn Squash and Black Bean Calzones.
So I got the idea for these from Veganomicon's Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empanadas. But I decided I couldn't deal with the concept of buying shortening and then knowingly cooking with it and ingesting it. Instead, I whipped up a batch of my favorite pizza dough, made the filling as instructed, and ended up with some calzones. They were splendid, although I would add some cheese into the mix next time. Perhaps some cheddar.
Acorn Squash and Black Bean Calzones
Serves 4, adapted from Veganomicon
1 batch of pizza dough
1 1/2 lb acorn squash
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
2 jalapeno peppers
2 tsp coriander
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp water
1 cup black beans
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place facedown on a baking sheet. Bake for around 50 minutes or until it is fork-tender. Let cool. Turn the oven up as high as it goes.
2. Heat a large skillet. Saute the onions and jalapenos in olive oil for 5-7 minutes or until soft. Meanwhile, peel the skin from the squash and cut it into chunks.
3. Add the coriander and minced garlic to the pan. Saute for a minute. Add the cumin, salt, and water. Add the squash and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the black beans and cook until heated through. Lastly, add the lime juice and maple syrup and stir. Turn off the heat.
4. Break your dough into four chunks. Roll out into as large a circle as possible. Put a quarter of the filling on one half of the circle. Leaving a half-inch edge. Fold the other half over and press shut, crimping the edges with your fingers if desired. Repeat for the other three dough chunks. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until browned.
These are recipes seven and eight of my 12 Weeks of Winter Squash!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
And I can't help but ask myself how that is possible. It seems like Christmas always sneaks up on me. It's quiet and stealthy. One minute it's eighty degrees and sunny and the next you walk into your lobby and the doorman is putting up a Christmas tree and you think, "Huh, you don't see evergreens in the middle of August much, now do you?"
I think the problem is that, for the past four Christmases, at least, I have spent the days up until Christmas Eve studying for and taking finals.
And let me tell you, staring at a biochemistry textbook for hours at a time does not exactly put you in the right frame of mind to go wassailing or do any other activity that requires any sort of Christmas cheer.
So what would typically happen is that I would be there, up in Boston, cooped up in my room. Going stir crazy. Reaching that point of insanity where drawing chemical structures or signal transduction pathways on my wall with a sharpie was beginning to seem more and more like a good idea.
And all of a sudden it would be December 23rd and I would be on a plane flying into Laguardia, not quite sure where, when, or how my ticket had been purchased but awfully thankful that it had. (Maybe back around Thanksgiving when my life still seemed put together? When I actually had the wherewithall to be able to tell you what day of the week it was?)
And then, even more suddenly than all that, Christmas would be over. And thus another holiday season would have passed in which I had not enjoyed even one leisurely glass of hot apple cider or sat around one fireplace sipping marshmallow-laden hot chocolate.
A tragedy if ever I heard one.
But this year?
This year is going to be different.
I have a dream, you see. A dream that is filled with Christmas cookies. Ice skating (okay that one may have to be put on hold until this groin muscle thing finishes working itself out...I'm off the crutch but still limping slightly...progress - yes, cured - no). Decked halls. Boughs of holly. Gay apparel. And other such festive things.
Maybe I don't really need any figgy pudding. Not sure why, because I love figs, but figgy pudding just doesn't sound that appealing.
And then, of course, there are the Christmas parties. No season would be complete without a good party. The first of which that I attended was a potluck put together by FACES (Female Association of Clinicians, Educators, and Scientists) which is basically a group that was formed for the female MD/PhD students here at Cornell to try to promote gender equality and women's rights within our program. I, being the overachiever that I am, volunteered to bring a dessert (Cranberry Bliss Bars), some bread (I made dinner rolls from a pound of the challah dough), and an entree.
The entree, of course, being this delicious baked ziti. Because nothing says Christmas like the red and green of kale and tomato sauce in a cheesy baked pasta dish.
Wintry Baked Ziti
Serves a lot, probably 8-10
1 lb ziti
12 oz sweet Italian sausage
1 lb kale, leaves torn off the stalks
4 cloves garlic
3 carrots, diced into small pieces
1 tbsp oregano
28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb part-skim ricotta
1 cup part-skim mozzarella
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set up a pot of water for the pasta.
2. Remove the sausage from its casings and cook until brown and crumbly. Remove from the pan and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.
3. Lower the heat to medium low and add in the minced garlic and chopped onion. Cook until translucent. Add in the carrots. Cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in the oregano, sausage, and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta for 2/3 of the time stated on the box. Add in the kale during the last minute. Drain.
5. Stir together the pasta, ricotta, and half of the sauce and pour into a 9x13 inch baking pan. Pour the rest of the sauce of the top. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is browned.
I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights which is being hosted this week by one of my favorite bloggers, the lovely Reeni of Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
For the full effect, you have to make sure you get this impatient look on your face. Raise your eyebrows. Look at your watch. Shake your head slightly. Grimace. Speak authoritatively. Condescendingly, almost. Commiserate with the suit standing behind you about how service used to be so much better in this town, and no you can't imagine what the hold up is either.
"Hold up" of course being a relative term. It has been about thirty seconds. But time is money. Not that you are making any. But that guy behind you sure is.
You, on the other hand, are fourteen. Getting your daily dose of caffeine at one of the, not one, not two, but SIX Starbucks that exist within a four block radius of your high school. (Maybe you could resist the first five, but by the sixth one you pass, there is no way you are not going in. It is 7AM after all and you have been up since 5:45. Willpower? Unlikely.)
You are also pretty sure that you are single-handedly keeping the Starbucks corporation in business (hence the self-important demeanor described earlier). And, not to brag or anything, but retrospectively this actually might have some basis in reality. Let's add it up shall we: At least one cup of coffee. Every weekday. For four years. Throw a scone or muffin or croissant in there at least once a week. And an after-school caramel macchiato. More often than not.
Combine that with the fact that after you went to college and essentially stopped drinking Starbucks altogether, they had to close 5% of stores nationwide. (Apparently the store owners wanted to have more time to "spend with their families". But you're not buying it.)
And now, as if you haven't been destructive enough. Haven't ruined enough lives. You are going to share this copycat recipe for Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars with the blogworld. So that there will now be absolutely no reason for anyone to go to a Starbucks ever again. Except maybe for their apple fritters. Because damn those were good.
Yes, actually. That is exactly what you intend to do.
Cranberry Bliss Bars
Makes 32, adapted from Good Things Catered
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp orange extract
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries, diced
3/4 cup white chocolate chunks
8 oz cream cheese (I used light cream cheese)
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp vanilla
cranberries for topping
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 inch pan. (Best bet would be to line it with parchment paper and call it a day.)
2. In a bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, ginger, vanilla, and salt. Beat well.
3. Gradually mix in the flour until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and white chocolate.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until cake is barely brown on the edges.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool. In the meantime, make the frosting. Whip together the cream cheese, lemon juice, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar until smooth.
6. When the cake has cooled, invert onto cutting board. Spread frosting over the top. Sprinkle with cranberries. Using a long, serrated knife, cut into 32 squares. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
And I grew up on challah bread.
Not just any challah bread, mind you. But Zaro's Bakery challah bread.
If you are a New Yorker, then hearing that name should have made you feel all warm and tingly inside. In fact, you are probably not even sitting here anymore reading this. In all likelihood, you are already out the door, on your way to Grand Central or Penn Station or the Port Authority, all of which house Zaro's outposts (so convenient for the commuter who wishes bring a loaf of freshly baked bread home to his family for dinner. If he can make it through the train ride without devouring the entire loaf. Solution - buy two.) willing to brave frigid temperatures, holiday crowds, and other such apocalyptic conditions in the hopes of procuring a loaf of this heavenly bread.
And if you are not a New Yorker. All is not lost. Here's what you need to do. Open up a new tab in your browser. Go to www.expedia.com. Book a flight over here. And try this bread. Your life will probably not be complete until you do.
After spending my entire life eating what I firmly believe is the best challah bread known to man, I was doubtful as to whether or not the whole grain challah with cranberries and orange zest from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day was going to be able to live up to my standards. But being the devout HBinFive member that I am, and seeing as how this is the bonus recipe for this month. And it is Hanukkah after all. And I maintain that everyone is Jewish on Hanukkah. And, thus, wouldn't it be kind of heretical for me to go a whole holiday season without any of this traditional sweetbread? I decided to suspend my disbelief long enough to give it a try.
So I followed the recipe from HBinFive, which can be found on Michelle's site. Almost to a tee. Except that I swapped the amounts of whole wheat and AP flour. Mainly because rumor has it that the bread is a little too dense if made as instructed.
And how does it compare? Well. It's not Zaro's. But I don't think it's claiming to be. With the cranberries and orange zest, it has a whole different flavor. Not better or worse. But different. Still delicious. I've already managed to devour a quarter of a loaf all by myself. Thankfully, I still have three more loaves worth of dough left in my fridge.
If this inspires you at all in any way to get into the kitchen, turn on your oven and start baking, you should join us over at HBinFive! The plan is to cook our way through Jeff Hertzberg's and Zoe Francois's newest book - Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. And yes, I know baking bread seems like an intimidating thing. But as of a month ago, the thought of baking with yeast made me run for cover. (Oh how times have changed...) So if I can do it, anyone can.
At the least, stop by Big Black Dog on December 15th to see what the other HBinFive members did with their challah bread!
Also, this bread has been Yeastspotted!
Friday, December 11, 2009
Please everyone put away your things and take out your number two pencils.
(SIDE NOTE - I find this whole number two pencil thing extremely amusing. I have classmates, to this day, who, every time we take a Scantron test, frantically examine their mechanical pencils to make sure that they are actually number two. It is really hard to get your hands on a non-number two pencil. I mean, you have to make a serious effort. You would have to go to a special store and specifically request to NOT be given a number two pencil. And even then, I'm pretty sure there are some release papers you have to sign and some psychological evaluations you have to go through. Those things are highly regulated. Right up there with guns. The moral being that one is not going to just appear in your pencil case. Especially not if the pencil in your bag is the same one that you've been using for every test. All year.)
Back to the quiz.
Question 1. How often would you say that you decide to cook something (or the converse - decide not to cook something) based on its blogworthiness?
Question 2. How often do you change a recipe just so it can be entered into a blog event and/or to make it just unique enough that it is blogworthy?
Question 3. When asked what you are cooking for the week, how often do those you are telling back away slowly while obviously trying to not make any sudden movements?
(b) Most of the time
(c) A good portion of the time
And, for good measure, I will throw in a question that we had on a recent medical school exam. For one quick round of, Are You Smarter Than A Med Student.
Question 4. You are a genetic counselor. A patient comes into see you and through extensive genetic testing, you diagnose them as having a rare genetic disease. Do you:
(a) Email the patient's contact info, disease status, and photograph to everyone in your address book along with the caption - Aren't you glad this isn't you?
(b) Run out of the room screaming.
(c) Offer the patient genetic counseling by explaining their disease to them along with various treatment options that are available.
(d) Point at the patient, laugh, and then refer them to another doctor. You don't want any patients with actual illnesses cramping your style.
I wish that this question were an exaggeration. Really. I do. Now I hope you see why I have time to cook so much.
The moral being that when I told my friends that I was making macadamia nut pie for dessert, they all looked at me as if I had five heads. Because who has ever heard of macadamia nut pie. And why was I making it when Matt said his favorite dessert was PECAN pie.
You know who has heard of it. Roy Yamaguchi. Otherwise known as the original Iron Chef. Writer of many cookbooks, including Pacific Bounty, Roy's Feasts From Hawaii, Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi, and Roy's Fish and Seafood. And owner of a few (okay, MANY) restaurants.
And do you know where the majority of macadamian nuts are grown and cultivated? Hawaii.
And do you know where Hawaii is located? The South Pacific.
And do you know what the location for this month's Regional Recipes is? You guessed it.
So that is the story behind the etiology of this pie. I needed an entry for this month's Regional Recipes. Simple as that.
Thankfully, in addition to being simple, it was also delicious. I believe Sophie's comment was, "Wow. This is nice."
It tastes even better after spending a day in the fridge. And when you've just had a long day of hobbling around on crutches. And haven't been able to run or exercise at all for four days. And are severely endorphin-deprived. Just saying.
Macadamia Nut Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie, adapted from Bon Appetit
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
1 frozen 9-inch pie crust
2 cups roasted macadamia nuts (I used salted mainly because I like the sweet/salty combination)
1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar throgh the vanilla until well blended. Fill the pie crust with the macadamia nuts. Pour the sugar mixture over the nuts in the pie crust. Bake pie until center puffs slightly, about 55 minutes. Can be prepared a day ahead, if so then store it in the refrigerator.
I am submitting this to Regional Recipes which is being hosted this month by Blazing Hot Wok!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
It was the night before Thanksgiving. Biggest party night of the year. A fact that was completely unbeknownst to me until I found myself at Brother Jimmy's drinking $2 margaritas. At 8 PM.
If only I had known then. The night was only just beginning.
Scene II - The Stumble Inn. A sports bar across the street from Brother Jimmy's. Popular post-exam party location. Beer pong tables set up in the back. World-renowned for its fabulous drink deals. (The world, of course, as delineated by the Weill Cornell Medical Campus borders. No one else really cares about being able to get $1 American beers on Monday nights or $2 pitchers on Wednesdays. It IS the Upper East Side, after all. They are all at Stir or Bounce or one of the many other high-end lounges in the neighborhood paying $13 for their drink and damn well proud of it.)
"Let's make a bet," he said to me.
The "he" in question, of course, being my good friend Matt.
Warning signs should have gone off as soon as he said that. (How many margaritas had I had? In a court of law, could I make the case that I was too mentally unfit at this point to make any kind of a rational decision? And if not, should I maybe have drank some more so that, should worse have come to worse, that actually would have been a valid argument?). None of this went flashing through my head. however.
Instead, I smiled coyly. "What's the bet?"
"You play with me on a team for beer pong. You have to make three shots. If you don't do it, you have to cook me any dinner that I want. If you do do it, I have to cook you any dinner that you want."
Have you ever heard of beer muscles? A phenomenon that occurs, mostly in men, such that when they drink too much they think they are stronger than the actually are? That's what I had. Except the female, domesticated version. In which I believed for a second that I actually could cook anything.
Unequivocally, without a moment's hesitation. "You're on."
Little did I know that when he said he would cook any dinner for me, what he really meant was that he would cook any dinner that was limited to a grilled cheese sandwich. And/or take-out. We may have even had to take out the grilled cheese sandwich.
So probably, it's a good thing that I lost.
Instead, Matt, Sophie, Adam, Justin and I ended up at my apartment this past Monday eating the lasagna and garlic bread that he requested, as well as an undisclosed dessert that shall appear in the next few days.
My first dinner party. A veritable success.
Irony - we had just had an exam that day. So where did we end up later that night? None other than The Stumble Inn. (Yes, I went, crutches and all. Not even a pulled groin muscle is going to hold me down.)
The first thing I hear when we walk in?
"So Joanne, let's make a bet."
Boys. Gotta love em.
I did a lot of searching when trying to figure out what lasagna to make and settled on Giada's recipe for classic Italian lasagna. The only thing I changed was to omit the bechamel sauce. My parents have made lasagna for years. And I am pretty sure they never heard the word bechamel before in their lives. Therefore, I deemed it unnecessary. I also added some garlic powder to the ground beef. Should I make this recipe again, I would season the ricotta a little bit more heavily as well as add some tomato sauce and an onion to the ground beef while cooking it. Other than that, it was a hit. The boys basically licked their plates. I would have too. If it weren't entirely un-ladylike.
Classic Italian Lasagna
Serves 8, adapted from Giada DeLaurentis
3 cups tomato sauce (I cheated and used a jar from Whole Foods. All fresh ingredients - tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil. I will post the exact brand next time. It's my favorite jarred tomato sauce.)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
4 cups part-skim ricotta
1 lb lasagna noodles (I didn't end up using the whole pound, just enough to fill my tray. I also used no-boil noodles.)
1 lb frozen spinach, thawed and patted dry
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup parmesan
1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. In a saute pan, preheat the olive oil. Cook the ground beef, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula as you go. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic powder if using. Cook until browned, then remove from heat, draining any excess liquid, and set aside.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the ricotta and eggs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish, spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce. Add a layer of the pasta sheets. Over this, spread all of the ricotta mixture, followed by all of the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta. Spread all of the ground beef over this, followed by half of the mozzarella. Add another cup of tomato sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta. Spread the remaining tomato sauce over THIS and top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
5. Cover with aluminum foil and then bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes.
I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights which is being hosted by Kevin of Closet Cooking (one of my favorite bloggers!).