Tuesday, April 28, 2009

zucchini-carrot muffins

A perfect morning is a good muffin paired with a strong cup of black coffee. But allow me to be a bit picky here....I'm not referring to just any muffins (or any coffee, for that matter, but that's a whole other tirade). I'm talking about newborn muffins still steaming from the oven.
I'd like to make a case for homemade muffins here. They're so much better than any you can buy around town. You don't get that processed taste that you do when muffins come from mixes, designed to withstand days on a shelf. No...homemade muffins are something much more ephemeral.
Which brings me to my second point: making muffins at home is actually an exercise in time-saving convenience. Muffins (and many other breads) freeze beautifully; a sojourn in the oven is like a fountain of youth. They emerge steaming and ready to inhale. The following is an excellent muffin, as well as a peaceful and delicious way to put dying squash and root veggies to their rest. It is adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe that I beefed up to my taste. The first time I made them, I followed the book's version, using all white flour, copious amounts of sugar, and only one veggie. Smeared with some nice butter, they were amazing amazing amazing. But I just felt not so good about starting my day with a muffin-shaped piece of cake. So this is the slightly more healthful and just-as-delicious version. Bon appetit!

zucchini-carrot muffins

3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups zucchini, grated and squeezed of excess moisture
1/2 c carrots, grated
1/2 c sultanas

Whisk together dry ingredients through cinnamon.
Blend sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in carrot, zucchini, and sultanas.
Scrape batter into greased muffin pan. Bake at 350 until bread pulls away from sides, about 45 minutes.

*adapted from Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

penne with prosciutto and peas

What started out as a lunch without hope turned delicious pretty quickly.

I had pulled out some frozen canned tomatoes to thaw, with the thought of throwing together a quick pasta dish. Then, I remembered I wanted to use some of the larger arugula leaves in the garden. On my way back inside, I snagged a handful of mint after I remembered the frozen peas we almost always have on hand in the freezer. Buckley, our 15-month-old girl, loves them, and they are handy for last-minute delights such as pea soup, fava-pea puree, and mashed-potatoes with olive oil and peas.

The canned tomatoes went back in the fridge for another day, and out came leftover cream, parmesan and two lonely slices of prosciutto from the weekend's festivities. All of a sudden, I had the makings of a pasta dish I actually wanted to partake in. The rich creamy pasta has bursts of green and rich pink strips of prosciutto.

The arugula, however, really stole the show. Its peppery bite, enhanced with bright lemon flavor, gave each forkful new life. I regretted not picking more; when I finished it, I settled for squeezing the lemon over the top of my remaining pasta.

penne with prosciutto and peas

3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c frozen peas, blanched
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 slices of prosciutto
1/3 c parmesan
3/4 c cream
3/4 c whole milk
1 tsp chopped mint
8 oz whole wheat penne pasta
handful of arugula
1/2 lemon

Melt butter and olive oil together over med. high heat. Add shallots, then peas. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, add penne to boiling water to cook.
After a few minutes, add one slice of chopped prosciutto to the peas. After one minute, add the cream and milk and allow to simmer for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Add the parmesan, stir in the chopped mint, then season to taste.
Toss penne with sauce mixture and serve on heated plates. Top with thin strips of uncooked prosciutto and arugula that has been tossed with salt, pepper, and juice from 1/2 lemon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

slowest food

I didn't start my garden because of the Obamas. I didn't start it because it's newly hip to grow your own food. I didn't even start it (solely) to be more eco-friendly.
It was actually an accident.

We moved across the hall in our apartment building in February. On a routine attempt to spruce up the place (an endeavor that stretched our move-in time to about three weeks), I turned my attention to the back yard, which was covered in leaves at least a foot deep. A few forceful swipes revealed, however, more than I ever could have wished for.
Underneath this leaf bed, apparently untouched for at least a dozen years, lay black gold. Compost, that is. Our lazy ex-neighbors had unwittingly been cold composting, a process that involves leaving your brown and green organic matter in a pile and doing nothing. It takes much longer than the high-maintenance composting you hear about, but it's a heck of a lot easier.
So, here I am, food lover and cook, with a plot of land made solely of highly fertile material. Feeling guided by the hands of fate, I started the process in my own makeshift way. I gathered gardening tools from my neighbor's neglected collection, ordered my favorite vegetables in seed form, and bought some lime and a bag of compost just in case.

After a month and a half of gardening, these pictures you see are what I have. So far, the only things I've reaped are some herbs (because I bought parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender, chives, and thyme in plant form), arugula, and green garlic. After eating a deliciously simple soup of green garlic for lunch today, I decided this food blog was the perfect place to post about my gardening experience. After all, hopefully many of my meals will be coming from the garden in a few months. So far I've planted potatoes, garlic, peppers, jalapeƱos, fava beans, zuchinni, kale, carrots, beets, frisee, bok choy, escarole, microgreens, rapini, fennel, tomatoes (four varieties:brandywine, black cherry, red zebra, and san marzano), edamame, mache, radicchio, turnips, thai hot chile, strawberries, red sail lettuce, okra, and a ton of herbs.

Already I've found that it's so addictive. I'm out there everyday, looking for new weeds to pull, trekking back and forth to the hose on the other side of the building, and, who am I kidding, just staring lovingly at my little plants.

In the left corner, those monstrous plants are my potatoes. To their right you can see little green shoots coming out of the ground-this is green garlic, the immature leafy part of a garlic bulb. They are delicious, in soups, mixed with creamy cheeses, and atop pasta. What's more, you can cut them a few times and they'll keep growing back.

simple green garlic soup

3 c homemade chicken broth
4 sage leaves
2 tbsp chopped green garlic
chopped parsley
2 slices of toasted bread

Bring chicken broth to a boil with sage leaves. Remove leaves and add green garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook five minutes, at a simmer, then add toasted bread drizzled with olive oil to a bowl, top with soup and a pinch of chopped parsley.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

mint simple syrup

It was a perfect spring Saturday. We had just returned from the botanical gardens, where we had a delightful picnic among the irises, the hot minestrone just the right temperature for the cool breezes that came along every once in a while. We walked down the sidewalk and the sun began its afternoon descent, letting its light go orange against the clouds. It was still a bit warm, and the cool cocktail in our hands, a fresh mixture of Rangpur gin, mint simple syrup, mint leaves and lime juice was the perfect accompaniment for the porch and the smoky salted almonds.
And that's why you should keep some of this stuff in your fridge.

mint simple syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 bunch mint

Combine water and sugar over med. high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved (don't boil). Take pan off heat, add mint and let it steep overnight. Strain mint and refrigerate syrup.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

a mutt of a meal

I really didn't think much of this dish as blog post while eating it. I was more focused on how delicious it was-the sticky noodles providing the perfect counterpoint to the crispy tofu, and my mouth set slightly, pleasantly aflame. While preparing it I paid no mind to cultural accuracy or technique, so I'm pretty sure this is the home-cooked equivalent of American Chinese food, a sort of bastard meal. And it's pretty in its own pale way, but the true strength of this dish is in its flavor. The heat lurks quietly behind the deliciously melded flavors of garlic, ginger, and soy. It's a very comforting meal, nothing fancy about it. A recent article that featured a similarly culturally orphaned dish made me think that maybe this little noodle mutt was worth sharing.


3 onions
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tsp minced ginger
2 chiles de arbol, torn
sticky rice noodles
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
sriracha to taste
1 lb tofu, in large cubes
frying oil
1/2 c. chopped green onions

Heat oil and fry tofu until golden. Set aside to drain.
Saute onions in a little oil until soft. Add garlic, ginger, 1/4 cup green onions and chiles, and saute until soft and fragrant. Season with salt.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil and prepare rice noodles.
Place onion mixture into food processor and blend until smooth. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and sriracha. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Mix noodles, sauce, and tofu. Top with remaining green onions.