Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pasta caprese

Apparently this is going to be a big summer for picnics for me. My energetic and fun-loving work collegues decided that we should have a potluck picnic wherein you bring food that somewhat represents your ethnic background. I made Byron come along with me even thought he doesn't work with us--it's just a good idea to get him out of the office sometimes. He brought (among other things) pimento cheese because his ethnic background is Decatur, Georgia. I brought pasta caprese because I thought it might travel well to the picnic environment, even though it is typically a dish that you should make and eat immediately. I tweaked the recipe somewhat to be a do-ahead sort of thing but I will tell you how to make it for real.

Chopped up a pint of small, grape tomatoes and let them sit in about 1/4 cup of olive oil, juice of 1 small lemon, 2 minced, small garlic cloves, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon sugar, salt and pepper. Chopped up 2 balls of fresh mozzarella--the better your mozzarella is the better this dish will be. I used the large, ovaline size of mozzarella balls. If you are NOT making this ahead of time (and I would recommend that), stick the mozzarella pieces in the freezer for about 10 minutes before you toss it with the hot pasta so it doesn't turn into a melty clump. Chop up as much basil as you can get your hands on--my plant is still growing so I only had about 1/4 cup but you could use as much as 1/2 cup chopped basil if you really like it. Boil up a 1 lb package of penne pasta, drain it and toss it while still completely hot with the tomato mixture. Toss toss toss. Then add the basil and your mozzarella that has been in the freezer. Toss toss toss. That's it! You're done! Now go to your damn picnic and alienate all your friends! That's what I did anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fried green tomatoes

We went to the botanical gardens with Clark and Krista then forced them to come over to our house for dinner. The gardens have a bunch of sculptures of giant insects right now and it's fun to walk around with people that actually know something about art because they can seriously critique (krista = sculptor, clark = art professor & all-around art nerd, brian = brian). It makes me feel extra-sciencey.

I had found really perfect green peanuts at the DeKalb market that afternoon so I had to buy them. Problem was that I was dead-set on making squash gnocchi for dinner. How to unite these disparate elements into one cohesive meal? Southern + southern. Boiled peanuts, then fried green tomato salad and gnocchi.

It is so easy to make fried green tomatoes. Cut up 4 medium green tomatoes into 1/4 - 1/2" slices. Mixed together 3/4 cup cornmeal with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper (actually, that's just a guess, I have no idea how much salt and pepper). Melted 1 tablespoon of butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Dredged the tomato slices in the cornmeal mixture and added to the hot butter-olive oil mixture once it was sizzling hot. Flipped the slices over once they were browned and golden about 3 minutes per side. It took about 3 batches to get all the tomatoes done in my size of skillet--you may have more luck in a larger one. Once they were done, put them between layers of paper towel to drain and kept them hot in the oven. Meanwhile, sliced 5 radishes into thin matchsticks, did the same thing with 1/2 a cucumber. Put them into a salad of mixed baby greens. Tossed the salad with a dressing of 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon each red wine vinegar and champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, salt and pepper. For each plate, put 3 fried tomatoes on top of a scoop of salad and put a dollop of goat cheese on top of the tomatoes, then a small handful of pine nuts on top of the goat cheese. Except that Krista and Brian hate goat cheese so really just Clark and I had it like that.

The boiled peanuts were unusually delicious. This is because they were really really good peanuts to start off with. When I was picking them out at the market the lady standing next to me said approvingly that I was doing it correctly. I boiled them in extremely salty water with 3 crumbled bay leaves, 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes and about 5 cloves of garlic, cut into chunks. I am doing the garlic like this from now on because when I drained the peanuts (tossed them in 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons chile oil) the chunks of garlic were super mellow and soft and seriously? Awesome.

Sadly, the gnocchi kind of sucked. I have covered how to make these before (I think it is in a post from November or something if you are interested) but I hadn't realized that acorn squash were so shitty compared to my usual sweet kabocha squaash. Well, they totally are. No flavor at all this time of year in winter squash. And I should have known better! Totally out of season and I tried to do it anyway. I'm sorry Barbara Kingsolver, did I learn NOTHING from your book that I read and loved? I guess not. Idiot.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Broccoli leaves

I have discovered something amazing—apparently there is a little farmers market in Decatur, right on the way home from work! I can’t believe I didn’t know about it before! It’s really tiny, only a few stalls, but it will be great for finding exciting local produce to take home and cook up. I found the market in the parking lot of my bank where I had stopped to get cash in order to buy biodiesel for my car. While there I picked up some organic, locally grown dark green leafy vegetables. I cooked them up with brown rice and tofu. Today I am seriously a hippie.

The man who sold me the broccoli leaves told me that he simply stir fries them for a long time in olive oil and that’s how it goes. I was intrigued by broccoli leaves—I really like broccoli, so it’s exciting that there is a whole other part of it that I can eat. I prepared them much as you do with chard—clean well, cut out the stem because it is too tough, then roll up the leaves and cut them into a wide chiffonade. Heated 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a tall sided pan and put in the leaves—they seem like a lot but cook down very quickly. I moved them around in the pan a lot and they turned bright green and I thought they might be close to done, but I tried a bit and no way. They need awhile to cook. So I just kept the heat on medium-low and stirred them every now and then. They got a bit darker and shrank down in mass some more before they were tender enough to eat. They probably took about 25 minutes. Salted and peppered them and that’s it! I also cut up into cubes the awesome Trader Joe’s teriyaki pressed tofu and heated it up in some of my favorite sauce (veri veri teriyaki). Put the broccoli greens and the tofu with sauce over brown rice and sprinkled black sesame seeds over the top of everything.

Lemon chicken

This is actually the first thing that I ever remember cooking. I think I was in middle school. My friend Sonia and I were allowed to make dinner for her family and I remember getting all excited about that. I also thought, at the time, that this was possibly the most delicious thing in the whole world. So, I decided the other day that I would try to recreate it. I remember the steps that I took to make it but didn’t really remember the proportion of ingredients; when I made this the other day I only used one small lemon, I think it needs at least a lemon and a half to really get the flavor right.

I cut one whole skinless, boneless chicken breast into 4 pieces and flattened them to even width. I wish I had a meat pounder, but instead I had to beat them with the palm of my hands which made me feel weirdly abusive. Coated the pieces of chicken with a mixture of ¼ cup flour, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Heated 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and added the chicken when it was hot and sizzly. Turned the chicken several times to get all sides and even golden-brown and to cook through—took about 8 minutes over high heat. Removed from pan and set aside. Let the pan cool down somewhat then tossed in about 2 tablespoons of butter. When it was hot and melted, added ½ yellow onion, evenly minced. Cooked onion over medium and gentle heat to get it completely soft and golden-yellow but not at all brown. When it was well cooked, added 1 more tablespoon butter to melt and then ¼ cup of flour. Mixed this to make a roux, browned it lightly then started adding chicken stock. This is where I’m not sure about the proportions. I know I added at least 1 cup of liquid for sure but it wasn’t enough so I’m pretty sure I ended up adding about 2 cups all together. Add it a bit at a time and integrate it to make a smooth sauce. I like it to be not too thick so I ended up adding a lot of liquid. It’s really a matter of personal taste—if it seems to be the consistency that you like, you can stop right there. After I mixed in my about-2-cups of chicken stock and got the sauce very smooth, I turned off the heat and added the juice of one lemon. Again, in retrospect, I would add the juice from at least another half a lemon and also the zest, in order to get the flavor boosted up. So, if you make this, do that. Returned the chicken pieces to the sauce and served it over brown rice.


I went along on a ride to a picnic that was held by Atlanta’s InTown Touring Club. Byron had promised that he would schedule it for a time when I could actually make it (it seems like I haven’t been able to get to any of the club rides so far but I would have been pissed if I’d missed the picnic). We all met up at Grant Park where Katie, Brian and I had selected a good spot—lots of shady trees and plenty of room to play whiffle ball. Two grills were trucked in on bicycle as well as a ton of other stuff. They were like pack animals lugging all this food and cooking supplies to our picnic site. People brought some really yummy snack type foods and delicious sides. We grilled all kinds of stuff—sausages, fancy hot dogs, veggie burgers and teriyaki chicken. I also grilled up red peppers and eggplant, as I usually do: cut into strips or rounds, marinate in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dash of worcestershire, salt, red pepper flakes. But the most interesting thing was the corn, here’s how it worked:

Cut 6 ears of shucked corn into 3 pieces each—actually, one or two were too small so they only got cut into 2 pieces. The idea is to make mini corns. Put them around the perimeter of a hot grill and flip them frequently, keeping a good eye on so they do not burn. They turn a nice, deep golden color pretty fast, but if they start charring, pull them off and wait until the grill cools somewhat. You want some browned parts but not charcoal corn. Move them around the grill as necessary; pull them off when the kernels are soft when you poke them—probably about 10-12 minutes. Ahead of time, not at the picnic but in my own kitchen, I melted 4 tablespoons of butter and tossed in 1 teaspoon of paprika, ½ teaspoon chili powder and 1 teaspoon of cayenne when the butter was hot. Poured this into a little container to combine with the juice and zest of one lime. Added salt and pepper to the mixture and covered the container to take with me to the picnic. When the corn was finished grilling and still hot, I tossed the corn pieces with the chili-lime-butter mixture. People seemed to like it a lot.

Monday, June 04, 2007

what I ate in philly

This is not a usual post, but I haven't cooked in a while as I've been out of town, so I thought I'd let you all know some very important information: I ate really really well in Philadelphia. Read on for details; if it's a recipe you want you'll have to come back tomorrow.

Day the first. Jocelyn picked me up via rail at the philly airport (which, by the way? really easy to get in and out of) and we realized an immediate need for food. Walked pretty much straightaway over to a narrow little Belgian bar called Eulogy (136 Chestnut Street). I ordered a Delerium and about a pound of mussels in white wine. They came with delicious crusty bread and I stuffed myself. We also had fries--golden, doubled fried, perfect wedges of potato.

Day the second. Awakened with thoughts of breakfast and so made our way to Sabrina's Cafe (910 Christian Street) where we split this enormous, towering behemoth of stuffed challah french toast. It had farmers cheese inside it and strawberries and was seriously the size of a small dog. They cut it in half and it was still huge. Delicious. Also had some decent potatoes, although they were clearly of the home fries variety instead of the hash brown type that I generally prefer. I'll tell you what though--their turkey bacon was WEIRD. Wide, flat and pink. Like a cross-section of tounge. That french toast was happening though. Later in the day we somehow found ourselves hungry again and so walked to Govinda's (1505 South Street) to get vegetarian cheese steaks. I'm not really eating a lot of meat right now (thinking a lot about sustainability and feed lots are bothering me again) and Jocelyn's a vegetarian anyway, so it seemed like we should hit up a meatless option for this classic. Govinda's makes vegetarian and vegan cheese steaks and hoagies and they are really good. We got ours with real cheese and we also got a golden tofu wrap--the tofu was marinated in tamari, ginger and tahini then wrapped with basmati rice in a whole wheat shell. Sounds strange but it totally worked--besides we were hungry. For dinner we didn't go out--we picked up sushi from Whole Foods and made a salad--oh I lie! Here's a recipe after all: juice one lemon, shake in a jar with olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Toss into a salad of spinach, baby greens, tomatoes, chick peas and diced raw zucchini. We hit up The Foodery for dinner beverages, which we decided should be called the Drinkery. It's a little corner store by Jocelyn's apartment that looks like your average bodega but when you walk in you realize that the walls are lined with refrigerators that have singles of every beer you want and about a million that you've never heard of. It's really neat. You can assemble your own Franken-6-pack-stein. I got a weird orange blossom cream ale (I know, I know, I was asking for it. But I was curious!) and also a belgian something. So that was really cool.

Day the third. For breakfast we just went to the coffee shop that Jocelyn is in the process of auditioning to be "hers." It had good coffee and decent pastries so we were set for awhile. We had planned to go for $10 vegetarian dim sum for dinner but we got hungry and so just made it a late lunch. We wandered around Chinatown looking for a place that she had been to before but ended up at a different $10 vegetarian dim sum place that I'm not sure of the name. Maybe H.K. Golden Phoenix, or something like that? Anyway, couldn't tell you, but we were the only people in there. Our waitress was really sweet and she kept bringing us food from this little elevator--it was funny, the kitchen must have been upstairs so you'd put in an order for something, wait a few minutes, then see a little light go "ding!" and the elevator would descend, and then she'd open the door and there would be your food! It was fun. We got all kinds of stuff, but the highlights were the (veggie) roast pork dumplings and also these coconut/sweet potato paste deep fried triangles. Oh my lord, it was so delicious. I would eat there every day if I lived in Philly. If I could find it again, that is. Later that night we went to Nodding Head Brewery (1516 Sansom Street)and I got a decent beer and then a great beer--the great one was their Nodding Head Grog, which was dark and chocolate-malty.

Day the fourth. Breakfast found us at Beau Monde (624 South Sixth Street), a creperie. Unsuprisingly, we ordered crepes--mine was nutella and banana and I think Jocelyn got lemon curd and berries in hers. They take their crepes pretty seriously there. Also got some decent bacon and really good fried potatoes--again, however, not hash browns. It seemed OK though, because we were in a french, excuse me, a BRETON, restaurant. The waitress tried to get me to add sorbet to my crepe combo and I think I looked at her funny and said something about it being breakfast time and not sorbet time. It was weird, I thought. 9 in the morning and you want me to eat cold sorbet atop my nice breakfast crepe? Keep it to yourself, lady. For lunch we ended up at Reading Terminal Market (51 N 12th Street) which is a lively public market with a bajillion food vendors to choose from. We got latkes and matzo ball soup from Hershels East Side Deli inside the market and then went to the Flying Monkey Patisserie where we procured a dark chocolate cupcake with lavender buttercream frosting.

Also of note in Philadelphia is a very fine kitchenware store in the Bella Vista Italian neighborhood called Fante's (1006 S 9th Sreet, also check them out at They had everything you could ever want crammed into this store and the staff was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. I highly recommend them for any kitchen-y needs.