Saturday, April 30, 2011

essential kitchen equipment 1.2


small pot (preferably with lid)
big pot (with lid)
two baking sheets
deep baking pan (preferably glass)
measuring cups/spoons
big mixing bowl
small mixing bowl
two wooden spoons
serving spoon
toaster oven
large frying pan (non-stick)
colander/large mesh strainer
kettle (electric or regular)
pot holders/thick dish rags
2-cup glass measuring cup
cocktail shaker
2 foldable plastic cutting boards
citrus juicer
ice trays
egg beater
blender/food processor
cheese grater
chef's knife
paring knife
large chopping knife
bread knife
bottle opener
garlic press
wok (with lid)
assorted storage containers (preferably glass)

These are, offhand, the things I use all the time in my kitchen (not counting dishes and utensils, major appliances, or cleaning supplies). Did I miss anything that you consider essential? Is there anything there you think is redundant? We're making a list for my friend Steve who wants his kitchen to grow up.

matzo brittle

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to make this Passover-oriented recipe for an Easter party, because I do things like that. But it was really just a Doctor Who party (the best kind of party), and the Doctor is all for cultural sharing. I checked out a couple of different recipes, but based most of my brittle on this one.

3-4 sheets matzo (use the strongest, thickest, saltiest ones you can find)
2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips or shards (semisweet or dark)
1/2 cup nuts (I used cashews), roughly chopped or crushed (plastic bag + ladle works wonders)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil, coat with cooking spray, and lay out the matzo (break up the pieces until they fit). Boil the sugar and butter in a small, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for three minutes, continuing the stirring, to form caramel.

Pour the caramel over the matzos and stick the sheet in the oven for 12-15 minutes (let it bubble for a couple of minutes, but don't let it burn). Remove from the oven and let it cool for a minute, then sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the caramel. Return to the oven for another minute or two, then take it out and use a spatula to smoothly spread the melty chocolate over the whole sheet. Sprinkle on the nuts, cover with something solid (I used a plastic cutting board) and gently press down for a moment to make sure the nuts get embedded in the chocolate. 

Let the brittle cool for thirty minutes on top of the stove, then stick it in the fridge for at least an hour. When it's firmed up, flip the whole thing over and peel off the foil. Use a knife to break up the brittle into bite-sized pieces (I went along the lines between the pieces of matzo and then chopped each one into about nine bits). The brittle should last about a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

I thought this stuff was waaaayyyyy too sweet, but two separate groups of people devoured it practically before I had a chance to apologize for that, so maybe it's just me. Kelly said it reminded her of dark chocolate HobNobs, which are the best cookies ever. So that's cool. My suggestion to use strong, salty matzo comes from the fact that I felt like all its flavor and texture was lost to the sweet components, but the matzo I was using is definitely of a thin, mild variety. You could also use less caramel/chocolate and add some salt between the layers. Like the other brittle I made, I'd like to try out different versions of this. Predictably, I want a spicy one. Crushed chilies mixed into the chocolate? Mmm.

This was pretty messy to break into pieces and I ended up with a lot of little crumbled bits that would probably make an awesome topping for a cake or a bowl of ice cream. Try it out and let me know.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

tea dyeing

I've been wanting to try this for ages, but it wasn't until today, when the stores were full of so much pretty white clothing, that I got up the energy. It was really H&M's spring collection, most of which is made of white, recycled cotton and is seriously pretty, that got me to do it. That, and the Jim Jarmusch t-shirts at Uniqlo.

So... tea dyeing. I looked up about a thousand tutorials, but most of them were contradictory or not very specific so I got fed up and just sort of did what I thought would work. I was a little worried because several sites mentioned that the tannic acids in tea break down cloth, but eventually realized they mean that happens over about fifty years, which is important if you're making heirloom quilts but not if you just want a pretty dress to wear for the next few summers. Tea makes fabric look nice and antique, and it's a good dye because tea stains everything. Even tea cups. But if you drink wine out of them the stains will break up.

Anyway, here's what you do:

Buy a really pretty white dress even though you look awful in white. It has to be cotton or another natural fiber, or this won't work.

 Buy a big cheap stock pot. Or use your normal one, since nothing you couldn't consume anyway is going into this dye. Pour in about two gallons of water and boil it. Meanwhile, unwrap and tie together twenty Lipton tea bags. Boil those for a couple minutes or until the water turns... well, into tea. Pretty dark tea. Turn off the heat.

Soak the piece of clothing very thoroughly in warm water. This is important (or it has been every other time I've dyed anything). Stick it into the pot of tea, and use a wooden spoon to stir it around for a while so that it dyes evenly. Pretend you're in the laundry dungeon of a medieval castle. They show those in movies weirdly often. Didn't some people fall into vats of purple dye in one once? Use the spoon to pull out an edge every minute or so to see how dark it's getting.

When the cloth is a little bit darker than you ultimately want it to be, take the stock pot into the bathroom, put it in the tub, and carefully use the spoon to lift the dress out. It's going to be hot, so be careful. If you're lucky it'll have those little ribbons meant to keep it on the hanger, and you can grab those. Turn on the shower (try to move the pot of tea so it doesn't get more water in it) and rinse the dress with cold water, wringing it until the water coming out of it is clear. Your bathtub will look like someone with liver failure peed in it, but don't worry about that. 

Wring out the dress and hang it up to dry. If it's too light, put it back in the pot for a few more minutes. Then start randomly chucking all the white things you own into the pot because you hate white/wish that cute nightshirt with the owl didn't have sweat stains on it (note: they are still visible, but now the shirt is prettier). Try putting a non-natural fiber dress in, just to see what happens. It can't hurt (but it won't do anything besides make the dress smell like tea). Don't forget to stir and check the clothes often. I left my dress in for about seven minutes and it got pretty brown. One of the shirts I dyed turned just as brown in about two minutes. 

At some point you should do something to fix the color in the cloth. I'm told that white vinegar and alum can both do this. Several sites said to let the dress air dry and then use a hot iron to fix the color. I don't have an iron but I probably should, and I don't really want my dress to smell like vinegar, so I'll probably go get one tomorrow. And then I'll be careful when I put these things in the laundry, although if all the color washes out I can just dye them again.

I might wear the dress without using a fixative first, just to see how I feel about it. Right now it is soaking in a pot of that bright red Passion tea they have at Starbucks, because I'm trying to make it look like antique rose instead of just antique. I'm not that hopeful, though... the nice brownish color seems to be all gone and it's a pretty-but-not-me shade of blush. Might have to do a second Lipton bath. I kind of like the idea of just soaking it in various things until it suddenly turns exactly the color I want. I'll let you know how that goes.

maple syrup pasta

Pasta made from leftover odds and ends normally wouldn't rate a post, but I have to tell you this: maple syrup is awesome. You probably already knew that. But have you ever put it on pasta? Because I did.

I cooked the ends of three bags of pasta, cut up some garlic and sprouts and sun-dried tomatos (like every time I cook anything, pretty much) Then I chopped up one of the leftover mini-meatloafs. It's a good thing I didn't realize how tasty it is cold until after I'd started everything else, or I would have just stood there and eaten it out of the foil.

Anyway, I threw the tomatoes and garlic into the pot I'd emptied the pasta from, and cooked it a little with some olive oil. Put in the meatloaf. Then I opened the fridge, wondering if I had any pesto hidden away. I didn't. So I took out the maple syrup. I'm not sure what made me do that (it wasn't Elf, I forgot about that until now). Even as I was pouring it into the pan I was thinking "oh god I'm probably ruining my dinner." But I did it, added a little more oil so it wouldn't burn, tossed in the pasta and sprouts. And tentatively licked the spatula. Not much flavor. That was kind of a relief, actually. Hot paprika (obviously). A little cheese. Into a bowl.

And you know what? It's awesome. Just a little bit sweet and lots more flavor than I expected to get from a pasta dish with no real sauce. It tastes particularly awesome on the meatloaf, because that stuff is magic.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

meatloaf and cornbread

Meatloaf with cornbread shells, steamed edamame and harissa.

This is probably the most normal thing I've ever cooked, which makes it totally bizarre for me. I only remember eating meatloaf about three times as a kid, and I'm pretty sure my mom made it with turkey, which I don't really like. I ended up with this idea because I had ground beef left over from last night's (ridiculously rare) burger (with caramel corn on the side), and was originally going to make one half-sized loaf... but then I came across this recipe on YumSugar and decided that I'd make multiple mini-loaves and eat them for a couple days. Also I wanted an excuse to buy some lamb to add in, because I love lamb about twelve times more than beef. I ended up making four loaves, but they're definitely bigger than single portions... I'd made it through half of one meatloaf and only one of the cornbreads when I started to feel full, so I made myself finish the edamame and packed up the rest. My meatloaf wasn't really based on the YumSugar one except for the shape... you can sort of do whatever you want to this kind of dish. I meant to put some onions and garlic in mine but got distracted by the feeling of meat squishing between my fingers and totally forgot.

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground lamb
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp rosemary
1 large egg
3/4 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450ºF and cover a baking sheet with foil. Use your hands or a spatula to mix the two meats together. 

Mix the egg, tomato paste, olive oil (if you're using tomato sauce instead you can skip that, I just used it to thin out the paste a little), rosemary, and breadcrumbs together in a large bowl. I would've added some pressed garlic and minced onions at this point if I'd been paying attention.

Add the meat and cheese to the large bowl, and combine with the tomato paste mixture, making sure it's evenly distributed. Shape four to six small loaves and place them on the foil. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 160ºF (pro tip: locate your meat thermometer before sticking them in the oven, or you'll end up having to use your candy one). Let the loaves rest for ten minutes or so and then serve with harissa or some other delicious spicy thing (ketchup is gross, kids).

Mmm. It was really delicious. Lots of rosemary flavor, and the spicy harissa worked perfectly.

The meatloaf turned out way better than I expected, and I'll definitely make it again. I might leave the cheese out in the future, because it didn't really add any flavor and there are too many delicious cheeses out there to waste stomach space on tasteless ones. Maybe I'll use gruyère instead of mozzarella next time.

Although Steve tells me the only appropriate way to eat meatloaf is with mashed potatoes and gravy, I decided to make cornbread to go with mine and steam some shelled edamame for something green. I'm probably never going to come up with a real cornbread recipe because, honestly, the Jiffy kind is better than pretty much any fancy one I've ever had. Even when I forget to buy milk and have to make it with water. I remember calling my mother before a Thanksgiving-type dinner with my old roommates, dying to know how she made her fantastic cornbread, and being kind of shocked to find out it came from a box. But it's awesome. And she did come up with the idea for baking it in a madeleine pan, which makes the crunchiest little cornbread shells. Especially when you use bacon fat to grease the pan, because that's how people have been making cornbread ever since Laura Ingalls Wilder and all those other people who wrote ostensibly historical novels that are entirely about food.

I had a beet gin and tonic with my dinner, because beets are hearty and normal. Or something.

I've been cooking all this meat lately because the arrival of spring has somehow made me more anemic than usual, but I am looking forward to making some interesting veggie dishes now that fun things are coming into season. This weekend I'm going to play with desserts, though, and maybe take some matzo brittle to an Easter party, because having no religion means I can mix things up like that. Also, seriously... matzo brittle! Yum!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

mushroom barley soup

Unfortunately I don't remember much about making this, since it was months ago. The photos were trapped on my chargeless camera for quite a while. I do remember that it was quite nice, though, and Stef says the same. The recipe came from here. I didn't know at the time that I'd be going to University of Michigan for my next degree, but apparently this recipe is from a delicatessen in Ann Arbor. Can't wait to see if mine tasted anything like the original!

The only changes I remember making were using butter instead of margarine, vegetable instead of beef broth, and throwing out the dried mushrooms because they didn't soften properly (you could probably skip them, or just have better luck/mushrooms than me... you really just need some sort of mushroom broth). It was nice and thick and perfect on a winter evening, with some crusty bread to dip in. Anyway, it's recipe number two of my 25.

Monday, April 18, 2011



The summer after I graduated from college, my best friend came to stay with me for a couple weeks. Because we are wonderful, we basically turned the visit into a non-stop parade of delicious food and drinks. Oh, and we watched most of The OC. It was awesome (until the third season of the show). That's when we invented these stuffed shells

During Laura's stay we had a couple of other visitors, including our friend Randall, who used his magical powers and talent for doing things properly to deposit two handles of Bacardi white rum on my liquor shelf. Needless to say, we invited lots of people over and drank mojitos for a solid week (and the second half of one of the bottles lasted me another year, until it randomly disappeared during a party). During that week we essentially bought three grocery stores out of mint, constantly sending boys with cars out to fetch it for us. Here, at last, is my infallible recipe. It's for a pitcher of cocktails, but you can use the same proportions to make single drinks.

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
6 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2/3 cup simple syrup
1 1/2 cups rum
3 1/2 cups seltzer water

Muddle the mint in the bottom of the pitcher. Pour on the lime juice and simple syrup, and let it sit for a couple of minutes while it infuses. Add about twelve ice cubes, the rum and the seltzer. Stir it up and serve over more ice with a sprig of mint for garnish. You can strain out the mint leaves if you like, but they're pretty tasty. Adding strawberries or other fruit (you can even use frozen fruit among the ice cubes) is always an awesome idea.

This is basically the perfect refreshing summer drink, but it was quite nice after last night's spring dinner party as well. I'd meant to serve them with the bean burgers but we ended up having wine and champagne instead. I'd already put the mint, syrup, and lime juice together, though, so I obviously had to fill up the pitcher or else a lot of lime-squeezing (I bought a new, better juicer, though!) was going to waste.

bacon-wrapped goodies

I posted this recipe after my birthday party last year, but it really deserves its own post (especially because I got an actual photo this time, albeit after we'd decimated my nicely laid-out plate). My mom's been making these for as long as I can remember, and they never last more than five minutes at one of our family's parties.

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

2 cans whole water chestnuts (about 40 water chestnuts)
1-2 packages bacon (I like the Trader Joe's apple-smoked type)*
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
wooden toothpicks

Drain the water chestnuts. Cut the bacon strips into quarters (thirds if they're short pieces), wrap around the water chestnus and secure with toothpicks. Mix the brown sugar and soy sauce together, adding tablespoons of water until it forms a thin paste. Roll the water chestnuts in the mixture and place close together on a baking dish (I use a Pyrex pie pan, glass is easier to clean burnt sugar off of). Drizzle the remaining sauce over them. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until the bacon is crispy at the edges.

Put the pan in the sink to soak as soon as it's cool enough, or you will regret it when you go to clean! Let the water chestnuts cool on a plate for a few minutes and then serve.

Here's a variation on the water chestnuts that is officially the first of my 25 things (although another recipe is coming in the next couple days, now that I've been able to retrieve the photos from my camera), since I'm a big slacker. I used one package of unusually large slices of bacon to make about 35 water chestnuts and 18 apricots, cutting the bacon into fifths instead of thirds.

*Depending on the length of the bacon and how many pieces there are. You need at least 2 inches of bacon per chestnut.

Bacon-Wrapped Apricots

24 dried apricots
8 slices of bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
wooden toothpicks

As with the water chestnuts, cut the bacon into thirds and wrap one piece around each apricot. Put them close together in a glass pan and pour the sugar-soy mixture over them. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350º. Cool on a plate and serve.

I didn't like these nearly as much as the water chestnuts, but they did soak up the sweetness of the sauce really well and Kelly was very fond of them.

Butternut Squash Fries, et cetera

I finally took a photo of one of my black bean burgers! Isn't it delicious-looking? These have held the number one spot on the list of most-requested dishes in my repertoire since I first started feeding them to people. Anyway, I'm glad the recipe post now has a photo to tempt other people into making them. The one above is on a challah roll with havarti and sharp cheddar cheese, honey mustard, sriracha sauce, and clover sprouts. We ate them with bacon-wrapped goodies and butternut squash fries, which really don't quite evoke the name "fries" so much as "baked squash in little bits." Nonetheless, baked squash is pretty delicious in any size or shape. The idea came from a friend, but I found the recipe here.

2 pounds butternut squash, seeded and chopped into fry-shaped pieces
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp salt

Preheat oven to 425º. Toss the squash in the brown sugar and lightly cover a baking sheet with cooking spray. Lay the fries out and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning once. They should just be starting to burn when you take them out.

These were pretty good, but they got soggy very quickly when they cooled. They didn't look much like fries because I used pre-cut pieces of squash and just hacked them into small pieces however I could. Probably won't make them again unless someone specifically wants them, because sweet potato fries are just as easy and have a slightly more interesting flavor. Glad I tried them out, though.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

spring planting

spring planting

I'd really like to go dig in the dirt today, but I'll have to content myself with smelling the hyacinths I bought and cleaning the apartment.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

baked eggs in ham

I came across this recipe on YumSugar the other day and bookmarked it, thinking I'd try it out for Easter (another one of those holidays I use as an excuse to cook rather than actually celebrating). I ended up having some leftover prosciutto from the Grand Central Market, though, so I figured I'd try it out a bit early. I changed up the recipe a bit, with prosciutto rather than regular sliced ham, sun-dried tomatoes rather than fresh (as always) and mozzarella cheese because it was what I had on hand. I also left out the milk, because I am just not the kind of person who keeps milk on hand.

Ingredients (per serving)

1-2 slices prosciutto (enough to double-line a ramekin or muffin cup)
1 tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 tbsp grated cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 375º. Spray or grease a ramekin/muffin cup and line with prosciutto so that at least half an inch pokes up over the sides (much higher than mine do in the photo below). 

Sauté the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic until they both soften up a little (the oil from the tomatoes should be enough), and spoon the mixture into the prosciutto. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Use a spoon to pat the contents down, and then crack the egg on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the egg whites set. Salt and pepper to taste.

As you can see above, the eggs in mine sort of overflowed (needed bigger cups, smaller eggs, or more meat), but these little things tasted pretty wonderful. I had them with a salad of spinach, beets, and honey-roasted peanuts in a sesame-soy vinaigrette. They're self-contained and making a dozen would be just as easy as making two, so they'd be great for parties. I'd love to serve them at a breakfast-for-dinner potluck, stuck into cut-out pieces of toast like the best version of eggs-in-a-frame ever.

I also made a ton of seasoned breadcrumbs tonight, because I bought a baguette on Thursday but then ended up eating my dinner on a pretzel roll I found at Trader Joe's. Any ideas for what I can do with the breadcrumbs?

Brie, prosciutto, and spinach on a pretzel roll with pepper and honey.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

cocktail kitchen

Last year my sister's fantastic beau (and my second-favorite bartender in the world) invented a magical drink by infusing gin with roasted beets. He went on to win a national competition for the best Tanqueray and tonic, because he's awesome. You can find the recipe here

My hand after peeling the beets. It's still a little pink.

New Container Store pitcher full of roasted beet gin. Mmm.

Along with the beet gin I decided to put together some homemade sour mix, since (as you can see above) it's definitely whiskey sour season and squeezing seven lemons in one go seemed like an easier prospect than having to squeeze one every time I wanted a drink (I really hate my juicer). Most recipes seem to use a 2:2:1 mixture of simple syrup, lemon juice, and lime juice, but I'm not really a fan of lime so I cut it down to 4:4:1, which turned out to be a cup of simple syrup, juice from seven lemons, and one lime.

What do you think I should do with the rest of the limes?

My fridge is full of mixers now.

I don't really recommend making both these things at once, especially if you're a klutz like me. If you do you will probably cut your finger while slicing the beets. It's kind of hard to tell you're bleeding when you have beet juice all over your hands, but you'll feel it. Later on, the pressure on your finger from squeezing the juicer will make the cut start gushing blood again, and you will get lemon juice in it while you're trying to staunch it. You will then spend the next few minutes being glad your roommate is not home to hear you swear and whimper.

As I type this I am watching the first episode of The Borgias and a man just squeezed lemon juice into someone's whip wounds. I wish this show were much better than it is, but that was a pretty coincidence. And I'll probably keep watching for a while anyway, because I'm a sucker for fancy costumes and long curly hair.

admitting to springtime

So, if you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook or are psychically keeping tabs on all my mental twitches, you know that my MA thesis has pretty well taken over my life lately, as such things tend to do. Fortunately I am not the type to buckle under the pressure of such a task. Instead, during the last week before my draft was due I spent lots of time chirping away on the aforementioned sites, went to a dance in a dress that I tore apart and remade an hour and a half before the party, ran into a friend I haven't seen since high school, drank an elderflower version of a French 75, accidentally stayed out all night before the day I was going to finish writing, started reading an enormous book that is totally unrelated to my topic, met an Australian with a fantastic Leonard Cohen impression, re-watched the last few David Tennant Doctor Who episodes, did homework for my literature class, speculated about the upcoming premier of Game of Thrones, cleared the piles of Beckett books off my bed, was quoted in the NYU newspaper, did some laundry, and eventually spent a couple of evenings typing away in various libraries and coffee shops. The draft went in on time and in good shape, because I'm just that good at life.

As a reward for finishing, I decided to finally admit that it's spring and kind of beautiful out. 

Hyacinths for Miss Emily. My apartment is going to smell so wonderful in a couple of days! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

from Beckett's Murphy

Cooper did not know what had happened to set him free of those feelings that for so many years had forbidden him to take a seat or uncover his head, nor did he pause to inquire. He placed his ancient bowler crown upward on the step, squatted high above it, took careful aim through his crutch, closed his eye, set his teeth, flung his feet forward into space and came down on his buttocks with the force of a pile ram. No second blow was necessary.

- Samuel Beckett, Murphy

Thesis draft is due tomorrow. Turning it in had better feel as awesome as Cooper squashing his hat.