img_0372

It’s squash roasting season, obviously, but I wanted to make a specific plug for spaghetti squash. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds, coat with olive oil and fill the halves with sliced garlic, herb sprigs and a sprinkle of salt.

Place, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until the squash strands separate as you drag a fork across them. The texture should remain crisp, and it’s better to under-bake than over. If you really want to soften it, just throw it back in the oven for a few more minutes. An over-baked squash is just mushy and sad.

I like to toss the strands with toasted walnuts, red pepper flakes, black pepper and shards of parmesan or aged gouda. It’s also great coated with some fresh pesto.

Advertisements

Johnny cakes for every meal

img_0373-1

Johnny cakes are kind of like fried cornbread, but easier to make. While the roots of the name are debated, we definitely can give credit to Native Tribes up and down the eastern Americas for the dish itself. While you can make more of a cornbread batter and fry like pancakes, these are simpler, denser, and satisfyingly toothsome. I like them savory with melted butter or cheese, as a side for BBQ or braised meats, or sweet with a drizzle of maple syrup or  honey.

  • 1 cup course cornmeal (this is a great time to use that heirloom, stoneground stuff you’ve been saving, because the taste of the corn is front and center)
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (if you want them sweet, otherwise, you can leave it out)

Combine all of the ingredients, pouring in the boiling water or milk gradually until you get a wet mixture that will plop off the end of your spoon and flatten out slightly. Cook in a greased medium-hot griddle or pan for about 6-10 minutes per side, depending on how dark you like your edges. I like to keep them warm in the oven on a rack while I make a whole batch. The time in the oven also helps to soften the corn granules in the middle, as they can be a bit crunchy at first.

Mu shu pork with homemade pancakes

Mu shu (fill in your preferred protein here: chicken, pork, tofu, etc) has always been a favorite go-to Chinese take-out fave for me. I find that even in restaurants where quality is meh, the mu shu is a safe bet. Like many restaurant dishes, if I like it, I figure out how to make it. Mu shu can be super easy by substituting in flour tortillas for the pancakes, but making the pancakes from scratch isn’t too much work if you have some extra time (and don’t mind flour all over the kitchen…and you)

  • 8oz white flour (you could probably use whole wheat, but might need a bit more water)
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup boiling water

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl and add in the boiling water. Stir to combine and then knead with your hands for 5 minutes or so. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough into a long snake and cut into 12 pieces. Traditionally, and in order to get a really thin pancake, you then dip one piece of dough into toasted sesame oil and press against another piece of dough. By rolling and cooking these paired pancakes together, you can peel them apart at the end to get 2 super thin pancakes. Depending on your mastery of this, it can be a more or less successful technique. You may also want to just roll each piece on its own using a well floured rolling pin and counter.

Either way, cook the pancakes in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds. If you’ve rolled and cooked them as pairs, be sure to peel them apart (gently) while still hot. Cover with a dish towel to keep warm while you cook the rest.

The filling often has sliced napa cabbage, wood ear mushrooms, omelette strips, scallions and some kind of protein. I survey the fridge and make it with whatever I have on hand, and it seems to work. This time I had green cabbage, mustard greens, carrots, and shitake mushrooms hanging around. I also had some fresh bamboo shoot from our CSA that was really fun to play with. (tip: you have to boil it for about an hour before you can peel, slice and use it) The basic idea is to stir-fry your veggies, starting with the ones that take longer to cook, with garlic, ginger, soy and sesame.

IMG_0006

I like to cook the veggies in batches, moving the cooked ones to a large bowl. It allows me to get the pan screaming hot for each new type of veggie, which gives me that little bit of char that tastes so good. I made omelette strips by whisking 2 eggs with a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, salt and some chive blossoms. Cook in a non-stick skillet until firm and cut into strips.

IMG_0007

To serve, each person takes a pancake and smears on some hoisin sauce (also called plum sauce, which can be found in most grocery stores, or you can try making your own!). I also like to add some chili paste for heat. Add some filling, roll up and enjoy!

IMG_0008

 

Nachos on the roof deck

IMG_0005

Always in search of the perfect nacho, I most often find them at home. My partner has a patented “one layer” method that involves laying corn chips side by side (never overlapping) on a cookie sheet and topping each carefully with cheese. The other toppings are added later, as seen in this photo: pinto beans, sour cream, lime-cabbage slaw, pico, and guacamole. Eaten on a roof deck at sunset, doesn’t get much more perfect.

Missing but desired: pickled jalapeños, black olives (I know, not for everyone), maybe some carnitas?

Savory strawberry ricotta dip

IMG_1352

Besides being gorgeous and delicious, this strawberry ricotta dip comes together in less than 5 minutes. The creaminess of the cheese, matched with the sweet tartness of the strawberries is perfect. The vinegar, herbs and salt keep it from feeling like dessert. Variations abound, and you can easily customize to your tastes. A vegan version could also be made with macadamia nut ricotta or a strained vegan yogurt.

I like to choose a pretty serving plate to maximize the artsy vibe of this dish. Any fresh herbs could be used here, and edible flowers are lovely as well. I used tarragon, mint, baby arugula, thyme, and chive blossoms.

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta (fresh chevre, whipped with whole milk to loosen, or mascarpone would also be good, see note above about vegan options)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-5 thinly sliced, hulled strawberries (sliced blueberries, cherry tomatoes, plums or peaches would also be lovely)
  • a drizzle of olive oil (the best you have)
  • a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (another fruity vinegar would work, but I like the dark color of balsamic)
  • small handful of herb leaves, baby leaves if possible, or torn into smaller pieces if needed

Spread the ricotta onto a serving plate (1/2-1 inch thick layer), making dips and swirls with the back of your spoon. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Arrange the strawberry slices across the cheese, leaving white space between, and then drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic. Scatter the herbs over, arranging so that each portion of the dip will have some strawberry and some herbs. Serve with crackers, apple slices or toasts. Alternatively, you could top small toasts for some fancy bruschetta to pass at a party.

IMG_1351

Backstage dinner party: grilled asparagus elote style

I had the pleasure of hosting dinner for the band members of DC’s Humble Fire (I might know the drummer) last week. The bounty at the farmer’s market made cooking easy and fun. I’ve made this particular recipe for grilled asparagus elote-style (Mexican street-style corn) many times now, and I suggest you do too.

IMG_1354

Serves 5-6 as a starter or side

  • 2 bundles asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1/3 cup crema or sour cream (mayo is also used, could use soy or coconut yogurt to make vegan)
  • 1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta (could use vegan cheese)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime
  • pinch of cayenne or smoked hot paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle the asparagus with oil and grill over high heat for 1-2 minutes until crisp tender and beginning to char in spots. Ours got forgotten on the grill for about 5 minutes on this particular evening (because we are so rock and roll), and they were still delicious.

Arrange the asparagus on a large platter in a thin layer (so each spear gets some toppings). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the crema over the spears and then sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. Squeeze the lime over and then dust with cayenne or paprika. I garnished with some chive flowers for fun.

IMG_1353

Grilled asparagus is so rock and roll.

Falafel

IMG_1921

I love falafel, and while I cannot replicate (or don’t have the time to anyways) the vast toppings bar that is featured in many falafel-rias, homemade falafel is delicious and easy. I don’t deep fry, but just use a good amount of oil to get a crunchy exterior.

I use Honey & Co.‘s recipe by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (love this cookbook all around!), but you’ll notice they have several variations listed. I did my own combination of all of them, because I wanted them to have bright green herbs and sesame seeds and some spicy kick to them….so I did a mash-up. You’ll need to soak your garbanzo beans overnight, so this takes a little planning.

  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 250g soaked chickpeas (from 125g dried)
  • 1 green chilli, seeds and all
  • 3 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp ground curry powder (or cumin) – I like to use one with a bit of cinnamon in it
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp flour (use gluten free flour to keep these gf)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds

Start the night before: Wash the chickpeas and soak in fresh water overnight. Make sure to cover the garbanzos with plenty of water – they really expand! Never use canned chickpeas. Drain and remove any stones or grit.

Put the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs in a food processor and pulse them to chop roughly. Add the chickpeas and blitz until mixture becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits and a rough bread crumb consistency. Put the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour, baking powder and sesame seeds. Mix to combine well.

Traditionally, small balls of the mixture would be deep fried, but I make small patties and fry in a healthy dose of olive oil in a sauté pan. I put these on a salad with a feta-tahini-yogurt dressing and lots of other fresh veggies, but they’d be great tucked into a pita with all the fixings as well.

 

Wasabi Pea Hummus

IMG_1958I use green peas as the base for a lot of hummus-type dips. This time I added wasabi paste (from a tube), rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili garlic paste and salt to steamed green peas. About 30 seconds in the food processor, and you have a really yummy dip for veggies, pita chips, or an interesting addition to a sandwich. I garnished mine with a few whole peas and some wasabi powder (though I wish I’d had some actual crunchy wasabi peas on hand).

  • 2 cups frozen green peas, boiled for 30 seconds or defrosted in the microwave
  • 2 tablespoons wasabi paste
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (from a jar)
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste
  • salt to taste

Blend to a chunky paste, adding water or olive oil to thin if necessary. Taste and add more spicy, salt, sour, etc as needed.

Taco Salad on the Terrace with TSCP

IMG_4620

I brought Stone Soup to work with me! Taco Salad on the Terrace (out in San Francisco). Everyone signed up to bring one or two ingredients, and then each person builds their own salad, buffet style. Some folks went all out, braising pork overnight, while other folks opened a tub of sour cream or salsa and called it a day. That is the beauty of Stone Soup, the foodies can cook if they like, but if you don’t like to cook or don’t have the time, most ingredients can be bought and served with little prep. We had chopped lettuce, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes, avocado, beans, veggie meat, grilled peppers and onions, sliced carrots and snow peas, and many more toppings.

With so much variety, it is easy to accommodate all types of dietary restrictions, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc. The best part was that we had leftovers for the following day! Stone Soup is the gift that keeps on giving. (Photo credit to KP. Thanks!)

IMG_4612

Jars of sunshine (aka preserved lemons)

I am totally hooked on preserved lemons, adding them to everything from salad dressing, jeweled rice, marinade, sardine salad, and dips of all sorts. They are super easy to make, just requiring a bit of patience. Luckily, bright lemon quarters packed with garlic and spices make a lovely decoration while you wait.

IMG_1713

First clean or sterilize a large glass jar (running through the dishwasher is fine). Scrub your lemons, peel and slice a few garlic cloves, and assemble some kosher salt, bay leaves, pepper corns, cloves, and pepper flakes. You can just use kosher salt, and these would still taste great, but the other spices are fun to try.

Coat the bottom of the jar with kosher salt. Cut a few lemons into quarters and press firmly into the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle with some more kosher salt and add a bit of the spices and garlic. Continue layering in this way until the jar is nearly full. Juice the remainder of the lemons so that the lemon quarters are submerged. You may need to push down on the lemon quarters to really compact them. I will also drizzle a little olive oil over the top to further ensure that no lemons poke up into the air.

Next, wait. And wait. After about a month, the lemon rinds will become soft, the pulp will have a jelly like consistency, and the whole thing will smell tangy and funky and amazing. You can use the entire lemon, rind and all, to flavor all sorts of dishes.

Here are some lemons that have been hanging out in my cupboard for about 4 months.

IMG_1714