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Disguise. (SWEET/SAVORY TURMERIC POPCORN)

March 3, 2014

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For some reason I had always meant to make popcorn on the stovetop but never really got around to it. And because of this I refused to wrap my head around the unbelievable simplicity of making it.

Then someone offered me money to make lots and lots of popcorn and, here I am, ready to tell you all about how awesome the results of this quick and easy snack can be. The other upside (what’s the upside?), you can make it as decadent as you want with peanut butter, sugar, chocolate, caramel, etc. or you can cram a whole bunch of healthy stuff on it like coconut oil, flax, nutritional yeast, matcha or turmeric, which is my fave because the color is righteous.

Turmeric is being hailed as such an impressive superfood, I keep a bottle of it handy, working it in where I can. Popcorn is a healthy snack itself, when prepared in the latter of above-mentioned styles. I think it is great anytime but especially before dinner when you have hungry family meowing around the kitchen but the meal is not quite ready… that bright yellow can really distract!

I use a pretty foolproof popcorn-making technique and I am sorry I can not give proper cred where it is due. I saw it once and never turned back. The topping is my invention…but also foggy. Here’s the gist:

SWEET/SAVORY TURMERIC POPCORN

1/3 cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons cooking oil

2-3 tablespoons butter or oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

pinch cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric

dash of cayenne

salt to taste

  • Heat a large pot over a medium flame with 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and 3 kernels of popcorn inside. Place well-fitting lid on the pot and listen for the 3 pops.
  • When you hear them, add the rest of the kernels to the pot, put the lid back on and remove from the heat. Count to 30.
  • Replace to pot on the flame and, keeping the lid on tight, shake the pot a bit. Listen for lots of popping noise. Continue with some light shakes until the popping sound slows down considerably or has practically stopped.
  • Dump the popcorn into a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining ingredients; butter or oil, maple, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt in a small pot and stir, combining thoroughly. Adjust to taste! Make it sweet, salty or spicy as you like.
  • Pour the maple mixture over the popcorn and toss well to coat.
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Lunching. (IN PRAISE OF BENTO)

October 21, 2013

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Healthy lunches can be elaborate or simple and sometimes both! Using ingredients that might be readily available in the pantry (or leftovers from another meal) make the daily process of producing balanced meals-to-go a little bit easier.
 
Lately I have been seeing some great bento-style lunchboxes for sale. The cool thing about bento boxes is that each ingredient has its own separate compartment so you can really be creative and vary the things that go in. From a bean dip surrounded by fresh veggies, fruit and crackers to cold buckwheat noodles and shredded chicken with colorful roasted veggies (from last night’s dinner), lunch-makers can be endlessly creative and diverse with their lunch packing, staving off boredom all year long. Lunch-eaters can assemble and eat the meal in a variety of ways and really make it ‘their own’. It’s the same concept that launched Lunchables into the success stratosphere, but this version is 100% wholesome and homemade.
 
Use one compartment for a green salad, the lidded part for dressing/dipping sauce and cut a sandwich to perfectly fit into remaining sections. Don’t forget to add a sweet treat and, just a reminder, that nature provides us with many a nutritious dessert. Remove the pit from a date and stuff it with your favorite nut or seed butter and a drizzle of honey for an instant energy boosting (candy-like!) snack. 
 
Find some cool bentos here:
 
black and blum at west elm (pictured below)
 
 
 
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Don’t quote me. (THE CHELSEA MARKET COOKBOOK)

October 14, 2013

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A while back MG and I contributed some recipes to a project. Now the official Chelsea Market Cookbook is here! Let the world be exposed to Metalbelly‘s Texas Chili and my  golden garlic butter that mysteriously tastes just like movie popcorn as well as great stuff from people way more famous than us… lots of them! Check it out at Amazon.

One of my recipes in the book, originally titled ‘Market Fish Stew’, was retitled Provençal Fish Stew and likened to a bouillabaisse. While the use of leeks, fennel and pastis are typical of Provence, I have to admit my dish is way too simple (and adaptable) to hold court in the tradition of the bouillabaisse. If the recipe I developed for the Chelsea Market Cookbook is a speedboat, the first bouillabaisse I ate at a tiny port restaurant in Marseille many years ago was a French naval ship. I didn’t really know what I was in for while I hunted for the historic soup, but my goal was to find the perfect place to eat it. It should be noted that this was before personal opinions could be publicly accessed with ease. I couldn’t look at scores of reviews, there was no googling to be done. These were my early days of culinary exploration and because there were less resources, I was honing the skill of spotting a real deal restaurant on foot with each new travel. In seas of tourist traps, among hordes of menus and foreign words, finding the local gem just by scanning the immediate details became my superpower.

The day I went shopping for bouillabaisse, I was on a solo mission with no one to translate or steer. As I wound through the streets of the port I scanned for a place with just the right light, a healthy level of sound, happy relaxed guests and staff, good smells, smallish size and maybe a bit off the path. Scan the menu, is it traditional and also unique? Is there variety, is there a clear specialty? This is the first glance.

I found my spot and ordered a bouillabaisse. Soon after the waiter presented me with a plate of raw Mediterranean fish and various sea animals. However confused, I signed off with a nod. He disappeared leaving me to devour a whole basket of bread and rouille, a garlic and saffron ailoi named because it is the color of rust and a mandatory part of a bouillabaisse meant to be sunk in the bottom of the soup –not necessarily eaten as an appetizer. He came back with a huge bowl brimming with the seafood in an incredible broth, thick with fishy shrapnel and a little gritty with seasonings. As I worked my way through that bowl of perfectly cooked fish, my guy refilled broth from a tureen and bread/rouille as needed. It was impossible to stop eating, even though it was probably enough for four people.

Sorry to report that I don’t know the restaurant name or the street it was on. I didn’t write notes on food then or take pictures of my meals with the enormous Nikkormat I was probably carrying. Since this momentous meal, I have researched and discussed many more details of regional French cooking, learning that there is much debate about what an authentic bouillabaisse really is; seasonings, type of fish, order of plating, etc. In my food-obsessed travels I realize that eating any dish in the place of its origin is such a unique sensory experience that it is hard to describe the final criteria when looking for the best local spot. One might say that you have to give yourself over to the place you are visiting and its customs in order to be admitted passage to an authentic experience. If you search for a restaurant with ketchup bottles on the table wherever you go, it is sure you will be denied this. (I actually met a set of travelers that told me they do this.)

I walked Marseille top to bottom, letting it take me where it would. On a desolate road that ran alongside the sea, there were signs indicating boats in transit to/from Corsica, Italy and Algeria. I remember reading the exotic port names and feeling small and far away, isolated from the rest of the world (remember, no cellphones). I accepted that no one on the continent knew where I was at that moment and I could be anywhere according to the rest of the world. I continued into the ‘the pannier’ or old town which was a tight maze of narrow corridors. It must have been during a particularly quiet siesta because what was described to me as the must-see, crazy, condensed part of town was silent. The strange, lonely feeling deepened but didn’t last long. The noise level rose as the streets pointed back toward port and I turned a corner just in time to see an outdoor beer garden full of people (travelers) my age. I hung with them for a bit before the desire to continue my loner journey resumed.

I bought some cheap cigarettes in an alleyway. I happened upon a gallery opening in a cavernous garage-like space with minimalist paintings and loads of wine. Way earlier that day I trekked around the moon rocks of the Calanques peering down at the very place the delicious bouillabaisse fish come from. Traveling with my stunning vintage Laguiole (like a good Frenchman), I sliced saucisson and broke bread under the immense statues of the Palais Longchamp before wandering the fine arts museum inside. At night I sketched the illuminated windows of St. Vincent de Paul and pretended I spoke only Bulgarian to maintain my solitude when approached by curious passers by. I fell in love with Marseille and its briny breeze, was intrigued by the local accent choppy with its Italian inflection, the cultural mash-up, the crossroads and that overall, ‘hey! we’ve got a port so we can go anywhere but we stay right here’ kind of feeling. And after taking all that in, I’m pretty sure I had a spot on bouillabaisse that day.

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Is it normal? (PASTA ALLA NORMA)

September 24, 2013

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The other day I quickly typed up how to prepare Pasta alla Norma in an email for a friend. He was looking for delicious stuff he can cook in less than 30 minutes and I was looking for things I could type in less than five. This is definitely one of my go-to pasta recipes. I remember leaving similar directions on a friend’s voicemail when she asked me for an easy but interesting pasta recipe for a last minute dinner party.

Pasta alla Norma hails from southern Italy, as does the majority of my ancestors. With its mixture of textures and temperatures it raises the bar considerably on regular old pasta with red sauce without too much more effort. Traditionally it is made with ricotta salata, a firm, salted version of  soft, curdy ricotta but I use either (or both!) since I love the cool, creamy contrast of soft ricotta with warm, chunky tomatoes and silky eggplant. And, having a tub of ricotta on the table next to my pasta reminds me of my grandpa, Cranky Franky, who was always pretty happy to be piling cheese on top of his pasta. This might be hereditary.

THE QUICKEST PASTA NORMA

  • dice up 1 eggplant into bite-sized pieces (or two if they are the small kind)
  • toss it with some oil and salt and place on a baking sheet. 
  • bake in a hot oven (400F) until browned (10 min), set aside.
  • meanwhile, cook up a box of pasta (rigatoni is how my grandma did it) 
  • and make/heat up your fave tomato sauce (quick recipe follows)
  • when the sauce is warmed up and almost ready to eat, mix in the roasted eggplant (scrape the browned bits off of the pan and get them in there, the oil too….that is flavor, man).
  • also drop some fresh basil leaves into the sauce and some parmesan. 
  • taste the sauce for seasoning. add salt, pepper, garlic or red pepper flakes to bring out the awesomeness.
  • plate the pasta, top it generously with the eggplant/tomato sauce and add a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on top of it all. 

enjoy!

 

In an equally informal way, here is how I make tomato sauce with my brain off:

TOMATO SAUCE ON THE FLY

  • for every  large can diced tomatoes, use one small onion. and 4 cloves of garlic, minced.
  • start by sauteing the onions in a bit of oil with a pinch of salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes.
  • add a few glugs of whatever red wine is laying around. 
  • when the wine is reduced to almost nothing, add the tomatoes and minced garlic. simmer gently for 15 minutes or more. the longer it simmers the thicker it will be.
  • when done, stir in a small handful of basil leaves. i always let the sauce rest a while before serving it (at least 10 minutes). reheat if necessary. check for seasoning and serve.

 

 

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A little lesson. (FARMERS MISO SOUP)

September 19, 2013

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I am a miso lover. I need to have miso soup at least once a week, usually as the precursor to some sushi even though that feels like the lazy way out. Miso paste in general has so much more potential than a few cubes of tofu and some lonely sails of seaweed. By learning a few different (easy!) ways to use it, miso can be a staple in your fridge forever and ever. You, as the owner of a high-quality tub of miso, can reap the many health benefits for just as long.

Since it’s a fermented food, it is important is to avoid boiling miso. High heat will harm the living enzymes that make this a genuine superfood as it will also dull the unique flavors. Use miso to ‘finish’ dishes that you have created rather than adding it when there is still cooking to be done.

Miso to-do list:

-Mix into softened butter to make ‘miso butter’, the best topping for seafood ever.

-Mix with minced garlic and chili paste as a condiment for grilled meat.

-Whisk into salad dressing or marinades.

-Just miso solo in a bit of simple broth.

-I’ve seen people use it in pesto as a substitute for parmesan but…

Below is a hearty soup recipe that uses a bunch of fantastic end-of-summer vegetables, but any mixture of veg would work. Once the soup is off of the stove, dunk a measuring cup into the broth, scooping out about one cup of hot liquid. Drop a few spoonfuls of miso into measuring cup and whisk/stir until it is dissolved. Pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot and adjust to taste. You can simply repeat this process until you have reached the desired amount of umami.

Try potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, spinach and/or noodles. This recipe can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like, the main thing is hot (not boiling) liquid*, dissolve miso, enjoy.

FARMERS MISO SOUP

(serves 4-6)

2 quarts stock or water

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 kohlrabi, peeled and cubed into small chunks

1 celery rib, thinly sliced crosswise

1 cup chopped kale leaves

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 pound tofu, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 splash of rice vinegar

a few red pepper flakes

1/4 cup wakame seaweed, soaked in cold water until softened

1/4 cup miso paste (any color)

1/2 carrot

1 inch ginger

chopped chives to garnish

  • Place the stock in a large pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add onion, kohlrabi and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes. 
  • Add kale, garlic and tofu. Cook until all vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in soy sauce, vinegar and red pepper to season. Taste and adjust. Add wakame.
  • Take one cup of stock out of the pot and place in a bowl or measuring cup. Whisk miso into the hot broth and pour it back into the soup. Taste and adjust.
  • Ladle soup into bowls and using a fine grater (preferably a microplane), grate some carrot and ginger into each soup and sprinkle with chives to garnish.
  • When reheating the soup, warm it but don’t boil. I’ll say it again.

*Make your own stock! I love stock making.

http://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/elaborations-veggie-dashi/

http://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/balancing-it-out-alkalizing-broth-2/

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Reason #3419. (FRUIT CRUMBLE)

August 18, 2013

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I don’t even peel the fruit, I don’t add more than a tablespoon of sugar to it. A squeeze of lemon and a badass crisp topping (as healthy or as buttery sweet as you want it to be) and not only do you have an impressive seasonal dessert but you have a crazy quick (outstanding) breakfast when you drop a scoop of crumble into a bowl of yogurt. Sweet summertime!

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At last. (TOMATOES)

August 16, 2013

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When you come from an Italian (American) family, every time the doorbell rings in August, someone is standing there with an armload of tomatoes that they grew. All year I wait for tomato season. I barely care for them otherwise for a few reasons but now I can put all of those things aside and get into some uninhibited tomato eating for a little while.

My dad was the first one at the door this year with these beautiful plum and cherry varieties. And no tomato delivery would be complete without some basil. Thanks, Dad!

Then came the heirlooms from the CSA and I am a happy girl.

New tomato recipes coming soon… meanwhile an old tomato recipe.

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