Monthly Archives: March 2014

Have friendship, will travel

I traveled east last week, clear across the country to Raleigh, North Carolina. If you know me, or have read this post, you know I hate to fly. This time though, I packed up my things, gulped my Xanax, and boarded my planes happily because I was going to see a dear friend. We met during that chaotic, miserable, ignorantly blissful time known as our early twenties, and I couldn’t be more grateful that ten years later she still puts up with me.

Six months ago, she and her lovely husband welcomed an extremely adorable baby boy to the world, and I had of course been dying to meet him. You could imagine then, how excited I was when the dates for my trip were finally set.

It didn’t take long to dawn on me, however, that if I was going to see them in person I really should finish that baby blanket I started knitting not long after my friend told me she was pregnant… (In case anyone’s counting, yes, that would have been about a year ago!) So, that’s what I did during most of the free time I had leading up to the trip.

baby blanket

The blanket was a success. It came out at once nubby and soft, and looked charmingly homemade, but not embarrassingly so. My blog post writing during this time was not as much a success, in that it was non-existent. This is why I am talking to you about friendship and nubby baby blankets right now instead of food or books.

I know I can count on you to forgive me though. That’s what friends do after all.

I did read a lot on my trip, so I promise to be back soon with a review or two of food-related books I think you’ll enjoy. In the meantime, get in touch with a good friend – in the words of my ever-wise friend Jessica, it’s good for the spirit.

flying above the clouds

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellany

Spring and spinach

Happy first day of spring! I am more excited than usual for its arrival this year. I am excited for spring every year, who isn’t? But this year the winter seems to have been longer, darker, more wearing. I’m sure this is all in my mind, but regardless, I am brimming now that spring has finally decided to show up.

spring flowers

One of the things that starts to happen in my kitchen when spring comes, and is fully ensconced as a policy by summer, is that the meals get simpler. The best spring and summer recipes involve less prep time, less cooking time, just less fuss all around. This suits my spring mood perfectly, since all of a sudden there are a million other things I’d rather be doing than standing over a hot stove (the opposite of how I feel in the winter, for the record!).

I want to plant an herb garden, for instance, and to ride my bike along that path by the river that I kept meaning to check out last summer. David and I are planning to hike and camp and swim in as many of the spots that new friends and acquaintances have described as the “best places” for such things around here as we can.

I’m looking to sit on patios – as many as I can find/get myself invited to – with a cold drink and a book, feeling the sun warm the back of my neck. It is my goal to have a picnic at every park in town and watch the dogs that will surely be at said parks run and play. I want to pick blueberries at one of the many fields that I pass on my drive to work, when the rows and rows of bushes that have been red and bare all winter become green and laden with fruit.

With all these plans, who has time to cook? Spring and summer produce is so glorious though, that I certainly wouldn’t want to forgo home-cooked meals during this time. That is where recipes like this Spiced Coconut Spinach come in. During this time of year I return again and again to old standbys like this one: recipes that I know by heart, that are quick, simple, consistently delicious, and that show off the season’s best fruits and vegetables.

mise en place

This spinach comes together in no time (seriously, 15 minutes from start to finish) and its flavors are dazzling – much more intense than you might expect. You can pair it with other spring and summer vegetables to your heart’s content. The original recipe pairs it with asparagus, which is lovely, and I imagine it would also meld well with zucchini, summer squash, corn, fresh peas, even green beans. 

It is also an ideal accompaniment for almost any starch or protein that you might be using to round out your meal. We generally eat it with brown rice, but it also tucks nicely into a pita and sits well atop a baked potato or a pile of pasta. The original recipe suggests folding it into an omelet, which is how I plan to eat it next.

Here’s to spring!

spiced spinach

Spiced Coconut Spinach

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Serves 2 as part of an entree, 3-4 as a side

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 6 1/2 cups spinach (~7 oz.), washed and chopped (no need to chop if using baby spinach, but I’d recommend lovely, full, spring spinach!)
  • 1 cup summer vegetables, chopped (optional)
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and toast them until they start to pop. Then, add the red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute.

Add the shallot, garlic, and salt and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and any other summer vegetables (i.e. quick cooking vegetables) you’re using. Stir frequently and cook for just a few minutes – until the spinach cooks down and any other vegetables are fork-tender.

Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and top with the toasted coconut.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Main Course, Sides

A rebellious tart

Now that I’ve gotten your attention… Today is Pi Day! A day that food bloggers have co-opted and use as an excuse to post about pies. A little silly? Yes. Do I need more than the slightest nudge to talk about pie? No. So, here we are.

Except, I’m not really going to tell you about a pie. I’m going to tell you about a unique tart that is part pie and part cheesecake. I’m just a little rebellious that way, and so is this tart. Because it is incredibly easy to make, especially the crust. This is not something anyone has ever said about pie, especially the crust. And although there are recipes out there for “quick” and “easy” cheesecake…I’ve never been impressed. But this tart is easy, quick, and impressive. Best of both worlds.

crust dough

Now, it works out that I get to share this with you on Pi Day, but this tart is rooted in a recent fixation I’ve had on making labneh. Labneh is yogurt cheese, and you can make it at home simply by draining yogurt for a few days in the fridge. Ideally, it comes out the texture and firmness of a soft goat cheese and is similarly tangy and creamy, and just plain delightful.

The “recipe” (it’s more of a process, really) I used to make my labneh calls for using a full 32 oz. container of yogurt. So for whatever reason, I got a bee in my bonnet to try making some of the stuff, but didn’t really think through what I would do with it once I had it. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious and I spread it on rice cakes and toast with jam for a couple days. But then it was still there – lots of it. This tart was my solution, and what an enjoyable solution it turned out to be.

tart filling

Back to pie for a moment: I love making traditional pie and homemade pie crust. I like a good challenge, and there are few kitchen challenges quite as daunting as pie crust. I’ve made some good crusts in my day (also some disasters!), but I can’t say that I’ve perfected it. I don’t know that I ever will – it’s like my White Whale. There is something about the mystique of it that keeps me coming back to try again.

But sometimes I just don’t want to expend the effort. Even Ahab took breaks from chasing the White Whale, right?! I imagine many people feel the same way (not about the dorky book joke, but about not wanting to expend effort).

tart crust

Don’t worry that you’re settling for an inferior dessert though. Despite being so easy to make, the crust for this tart works. It is buttery and holds its crunch, as the best tart crusts are and do. The filling is creamy, but also tangy, which saves it from being too rich and heavy, and it comes together in a snap (assuming you planned ahead and have your labneh ready to go). The baking process is also decidedly un-fussy. No need to chill it, freeze it, or put it in a water bath. You do need to be careful not to over-bake it, but that is easily done.

In summary: making labneh is fun, making this tart is easy, and it is a lovely dessert for an almost-spring Pi Day.

finished tarts

Labneh Tart (or Tartlets)

Barely adapted from Food52
Makes 1 tart or several tartlets, depending on size

I made this recipe into smaller tartlets; since it’s just the two of us here I wanted to portion it into multiple servings. This recipe will make four 4-inch tartlets, or one standard 9 1/2-inch tart. I also experimented with making even smaller tartlets in a muffin pan and that worked as well, so feel free to try different sizes to suit your dessert needs. You can get creative with the toppings, too. Blueberries were delicious and complemented the lemon, but other fruit would also work, and I think caramel would be lovely as well.

Crust:

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup labneh
  • zest from one Meyer lemon
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350.

First, make the crust. Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Mix in the flour until just blended. The dough will be very soft, but don’t worry, it’s supposed to be (see photo above in post).

Dump the dough into your tart pan. Or, if you are making tartlets, portion the dough out evenly. Then, press the dough out to cover the bottom and sides of the pan, making it as even as possible.

Put the pan(s) on a cookie sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. When the crust is finished, remove it from the oven and lower the heat to 300.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl. Then, whisk in the labneh, and then the zest.

Pour the filling into the par-baked crust(s) and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the blueberries on top. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the filling is set around the edges but not in the middle – it should still be loose in the middle when you give it a little shake.

It will firm up once it’s out of the oven, so you don’t want to over-bake it. Check it a few times during the last 5 minutes or so to make sure you catch it while the middle still quivers. Cool completely before eating…this is not something you want to eat right out of the oven. That being said, we liked it better at room temperature than cold. So, if you refrigerate it, pull it out 20-30 minutes before serving to let it warm up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dessert, Food

Overnight oats are my best friend

My last post about the new attitude I’ve developed about bringing lunch vs. buying it got me to thinking about a similar transformation when it comes to breakfast. In case you’re wondering, I won’t do a tour of all the meals. Dinner and I have an uncomplicated relationship and I’ve always been big a fan of desserts and snacks.

For most of my life though, I have not been a breakfast person. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (they = the moms of the world, as far as I can tell), so my ambivalence has always felt problematic. Don’t misunderstand the scope of my breakfast statement, I am all about brunch. But the early morning, force-it-down-just-to-get-something-in-your-stomach-as-you’re-running-to-school-or-work meal has never held much appeal for me. As you can guess from the last sentence, I have never been much of a morning person, which I’m sure has something to do with it.

I have also gone through some fairly traumatizing breakfast phases – all self-induced, mind you. There was the Banana Phase somewhere around high school and/or early college, during which I ate a banana for breakfast every morning because I had read some magazine article about something bananas did for you that I wanted to achieve. After that phase I couldn’t eat bananas at all for years – I just started enjoying them again within the past year actually. Then there was the South Beach Phase after college when the Jessicas (two friends named Jessica) and I were living together and were on the South Beach Diet (why, god, why?!) During this ill-fated time we made scrambled eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast every single day. Ugh. I could never eat that breakfast again, no matter the monetary reward.

Based on these two examples that I’ve dredged up, it seems my troubles have come in too much repetition with my breakfast. This probably explains why the breakfast routine I have more happily settled on these days is much more varied. I’m still not a morning person though, and am perpetually running late. For a breakfast to make the cut it has to be fast and easy to put together in the bleary-eyed early hours (read: 5-10 minutes to prep and eat). And thus I present to you: Overnight Oats Two Ways and all their glorious variations.

Oats are my best friend in the morning, and they would be yours too if you let them. They are a nutritious blank slate that can be dressed up in a myriad of ways depending on your mood, the season, or what you happen to have in your kitchen. The overnight part is crucial, however, because it is what allows them to also be quick (without using quick or instant oats, which are not worth the effort).

muesli

Overnight Oats Two Ways

My definition of overnight oats is that you soak some type of raw oats in some type of liquid overnight and in the morning they can either be eaten raw or after a nominal period of cooking time. Whether or not they need to be cooked depends on which type of oats you use. Check out Food 52 for more overnight oats tips, and Food Riot for more overall tips about how to make superior oatmeal.

muesli

Option 1: Raw Rolled Oat Muesli (cold)
Adapted from My New Roots
Makes 1 serving

  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/8-1/4 cup frozen berries (if using fresh add them before serving, see below)
  • 1/4 cup any type of unflavored, unsweetened milk (cow, soy, almond, and even coconut are all delicious!)
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

The night before you want to eat your muesli (or even a day or two before, really), stir together the oats, chia seeds, frozen berries, and milk. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to eat, top with the toasted coconut.

This recipe can be customized to your heart’s desire. Keep the oats and milk, but other than that you can mix in anything you want. I personally love the chia seeds, so I always keep them in, too. Use any kind of fruit you can think of, though. I’ve used berries, stone fruit, apples, and pears. If using frozen fruit, soak it with the muesli as instructed above. If using fresh fruit, simply top the muesli with it when ready to eat. You can also use different toppings. I’ve replaced the coconut with various types of nuts. I’ve also topped it with fruit compote. Last but not least, I have recently taken to leaving out the chia seeds and topping the plain muesli with chia fruit jam and coconut whipped cream a la this recipe from Cookie and Kate (hint: this variation is heavenly). So, in summary, go wild!

steel cut oats

Option 2: Steel-Cut Oat Porridge (warm)
Adapted from The Food52 Cookbook and Food Riot
Makes 2-3 servings, depending on how much you like to eat for breakfast

  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup water or milk (or even whey from draining yogurt!)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter (almond, peanut, or sunflower are all delicious)
  • 1 teaspoon honey

The night before you want to eat your porridge, stir the oats and 1 cup water together in a saucepan. Cover and leave to soak overnight. I usually just soak the oats on the counter, but you can put them in the fridge if you’d like.

In the morning, add the additional 1/2 cup of liquid and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes. I tend to favor a shorter cooking time because I like my steel-cut oats to still have a little pop when I eat them. When the oats are done cooking, serve with nut butter and honey stirred in.

There are many variations on this one, too. In addition to varying the cooking liquid and nut butter, feel free to vary the sweetener (maple syrup is always a winner). Or mix up the toppings: chopped nuts instead of nut butter, fresh or dried fruit, etc. The jam and coconut whipped cream combo works here as well!

4 Comments

Filed under Breakfast