A Not So Genetic Inheritance

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

   Our parents impart a number of gifts, and sometimes curses, upon us. My parents certainly gave me their thirst for knowledge, an eternal self driven work ethic and the never ending suspicion that I can do better.

   They also encouraged my cooking, my drawing and my desire to read books cover to cover in a single day. They looked on in amusement when I doubted myself and always ignored my tendency to back out of major decisions at the last second (college, medical school, piano recitals... I infallibly ended up cowering in a corner just before the big moment, asking to be let off the hook, and inevitably grateful that I wasn't).

   My mother instilled perhaps the best gift of all. She insisted I put only the highest quality and tastiest of foods in my mouth.

   When the five of us were little (the whole brood only eight years apart in total) it would have been an incredible weight lifted from her shoulders to reheat microwave dinners or serve fast food picked up on my dad's way home from work. But she never did. My mom always served meals she concocted from scratch- brown rice, whole wheat bread. I remember her insisting whole grain spaghetti was going to be the next big thing a good number of years before celebrities and famous fitness gurus were waxing poetic about its benefits. She made cabbage soups, vegetable purees and stocked the bottom drawer of our fridge (our snack drawer) with fresh fruits and vegetables. One of my favorite pictures is of myself and my two older siblings, all within three years of each other and the oldest barely over the age of seven, enjoying giant, orange carrots from my grandmother's garden.

   My parents gifted myself and my siblings a childhood free of processed foods, high fructose corn syrup and harmful shortcuts to serving a meal. It was a joint effort on their part, but as a grown woman putting meals on a table daily, I now understand the immense effort my mother tirelessly put in. I couldn't be more grateful.

   True to form, she emailed me the following recipe not so long ago. Leafy greens, tasty fish redolent with omega-3's, a simple yet elegant composition- it is flavorful, healthy and indulgent all at the same time. This dish has my mother written all over it.

   Bon appetit.

Stuffed Salmon Fillets 
  • Two 6 ounce salmon fillets
  • 2 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 sundried tomato in olive oil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
   Place the spinach in a bowl and microwave until slightly wilted (around 30 seconds). On a cutting bored slice the basil thinly, then roughly chop the spinach. Mince the sundried tomato. Toss all of these together until incorporated.
   Along the thick side of the fillet, make a deep incision with a sharp knife, making it as wide as you can without cutting through the other side. Stuff each with the filling, dividing it evenly between the fillets. Sprinkle each fillet with olive oil, salt and pepper.
   Bake in a tin foil lined baking pan for 20 minutes or until it has attained your desired crispiness.
   Note: my mother recommends 1 tablespoon chopped pine nuts in the stuffing, but I didn't have any on hand so it was omitted. Still delicious.
   Serves 2.


Dress Me in Brownie Batter

Monday, October 24, 2011

   Halloween is upon us!

   I love this holiday. I think the sentiment of saying goodbye to summer with a raucous, dressed up bash is wonderfully romantic and fitting. Although summer remains closest to my heart of any time of year, Halloween marks the start of the holiday season, an annual wonder that I adore to no end.

   This year I feel especially excited for the holidays to begin. I'm not sure if it's because Steve and I have fully settled into our new home town, or because we plan on having festive nightly fires in our little fireplace, or if it's because I'm working at a job I love with people I adore, but this year feels especially glowing with good will and anticipation. On second thought, I do believe it has to do with all of the above.

   One thing I especially love about the holidays (perhaps this is stating the obvious) is all the cooking and baking involved! Each holiday has its own set of flavors, colors and distinctive ingredients; a melange of happiness and comfort around the table or tree.

   Halloween, of course, demands candy and sweetness. I don't often eat candy by itself, in fact, I very, very rarely do. Halloween heralds the occasional exception, because when it comes down to it, I like my treats home made. When I do partake in candy, however, the good old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup is a favorite.

   Instead of eating them plain, I wanted to dress them up, make them fitting of this holiday, so famous for its costumes and masks.

   I decided to cloak them in brownie. They're adorable. They're delicious. They taste just like Halloween.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Bites Recipe
   Adapted from SavorySweetLife.com
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ~40 mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, unwrapped from the brown paper
  • Mini cupcake papers
  •    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line your mini cupcake pans with papers.  In a medium bowl, mix melted butter, sugars and vanilla.  Beat in eggs one at a time. Gradually add flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until combined.
  •    Fill each cupcake slot slightly more than halfway but not more than 2/3 full.  Place a peanut butter cup in each slot pressing it down until it is almost level with the batter.  Bake in preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until done. Remove mini cupcakes from holder and cool to room temperature.
  • Repeat as necessary to use up the batter.
P.S. This recipe is a fabulous excuse to buy two mini cupcake tins. They're beyond cute. You know you want them.

The Mighty Chickpea

Saturday, October 22, 2011

   If someone were to press me to name my favorite legume, I would have a hard time of it. They are all so delicious, how to choose! In fact, I've recently begun making 15 bean soups, mostly because I get so many different kinds of those delightful goodies in each and every bite.
   However, the simple truth is that I have a longstanding loyalty to the humble chickpea.
   Perhaps it's because of the chickpea's versatility, its nutty, earthy flavor, or that it can lend crunch or velvety smoothness depending on how it is cooked. Or, maybe it's just because this is the first legume I ever ate and really enjoyed.
   I sometimes think my mother could only ever reliably get me to eat two things when I was little- butternut squash and chickpeas. Not such terrible addictions to have, but limiting nonetheless. My first memory of chickpeas is my mom letting me mix them into her delicious chicken soup. I insisted we include chickpeas when in her brothy, vegetable laden soup because, obviously, they were chickpeas, they belonged with the chicken soup! It made incredible sense to my four year old mind and my lovely mother tirelessly obliged.
   In most recent years I enjoy my chickpeas in Chana Masala. It has become one of my absolute favorite ol' reliable recipes and Steve and I break it out at least every few weeks. It fills the house with fragrant hints of India and makes for rock star leftovers.
   I made it for the first time early on in our relationship; it's still one of my favorites of our dates. We roasted salty baby potatoes and green beans as sides and enjoyed a crisp bottle of Martin Codax Albarino (if you haven't tried this bottle, I insist you do!). Heaven.

   After moving south I discovered, with much heartbreak, that most grocery stores down here don't sell whole cumin seeds. When I finally found some I was so excited to be able to make my beloved spicy chickpeas I bought three jars! The other key spice is a blend you can find in most well stocked grocery stores called Garam Masala. It has a number of spices mixed in, including, surprisingly, cinnamon. It is an absolute revelation the first time you cook with it.
   I hope you enjoy.

Chana Masala
   Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"
  •   One medium to large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground corriander
  • 1/4 cup water
  • One 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • two 15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
   In a heavy bottomed pot, such as a dutch oven, heat the olive oil and onion over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very browned, even charred in places. You want them quite caramelized. It will take around ten minutes.
   Add all the spices and the garlic, stir until toasty and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup water and stir until evaporated. It will bubble and steam vigorously, so avert your face! Add the tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and allow to gently simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Add the chickpeas and gently simmer, still covered, for another ten minutes.
   We like to serve this with a side of whatever vegetable is in season and wild or brown rice.
   Makes 6 servings.

Dreams of Saffron

Saturday, October 1, 2011

   I remember the first time I heard of saffron. I was in my early teens and reading about the crocus plant, mostly because I had one that appeared to be floundering just a bit. In the midst of my research to find a cure for my pretty flowers, I read about how the prized crocus plant is grown in large fields and their stamens- just two per plant- are painstakingly harvested by hand and sold as the (understandably expensive) spice saffron. This spice is simply beautiful: tangled tendrils of bright yellow-orange threads, appearing light as air, something that belongs in possession of a fairy.

   I never cooked with the spice, partly because of its price and partly because I'd never tasted it before and therefore had little cause to crave it. Then, last week, Steve and I had Mexican night at a good friends house and since they were making amazing sounding toastadas, I wanted to contribute something just as tasty and beautiful. Enter Spanish Rice, stage left.

   It came together surprisingly fast- I collected the ingredients, followed the recipe, and we were all rewarded with a confetti of delicious, beautiful yellow rice. The flavor of saffron is extremely difficult to describe. It is complex, earthy and maybe slightly sweet, but the way it saturates this dish is a delicate and yet commanding complexity.

   Long story short: suck it up and buy yourself a spice jar of this stuff. A little goes a long way, the jar will last a long time, and it's just plain worth it.

   As a bonus, I celebrate my continued love affair with cabbage by sharing my new favorite recipe starring that handsome ball of greenery- smoky coleslaw. I invite you to eat it straight from the bowl, a bright and fresh dish that stands as a main course all its own, as long as you love the cabbage as much as it deserves. I sure did.

Yellow Rice
   Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

3 cups chicken stock
Large pinch saffron
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cups long or medium grain white rice
Salt, to taste
1 tomato, cored, seeded and chopped
1 dried bay leaf
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Chopped fresh parsley, to finish

   Place the saffron and stock in a small pot and bring to a simmer. While that comes to a simmer, put the butter and oil in a medium sized heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven and heat over medium heat. When butter has melted, add onion and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
   Stir in garlic and rice and cook until rice is just beginning to brown slightly and is toasty fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tomato, bay leaf, peas and stock with saffron. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring once in a while, for about 15 minutes.
   Once most of the liquid has absorbed, turn the heat off and allow to sit another ten minutes. Remove bay leaf, and taste some rice. If they are still slightly crunchy in the middle, add another 1/2 cup of stock and allow to rest another ten minutes. Do this until the rice is perfectly tender, and adjust the salt along the way.
   Garnish with chopped parsley and serve to your eager and soon to be quite pleased quests!

Smoky Coleslaw

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce- place the remaining peppers and sauce in an airtight container and it will keep for a month in the fridge)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups finely sliced green or read cabbage
1 bunch radishes, julienned
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro

   In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the garlic, adobo sauce, lime juice, sugar and salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the cabbage, radishes and cilantro and toss thoroughly to coat evenly. You can eat this right away or allow it to sit for a half hour or so to tenderize. Either way, it's delicious!