A new direction.

On the menu: Edamame Soup with Mushrooms and Spinach

When I was an undergrad, I never worried about what I was going to do after college because I always knew that I was going to go right to graduate school. I have spent this entire academic year with a constant undercurrent of panic, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life once I had my degree. Today, I am delighted to share with you that I have an answer to that question. It’s not the answer I was expecting, and given my personal struggles with my Master’s program these last three years, what I’m about to say is kind of shocking.

I have accepted a four year assistantship to study for my PhD.

Two weeks ago, I was continuing on a frantic, eight month long search for employment in my desired field. I was getting nowhere, and I was constantly frustrated. Then one day, almost as an afterthought, my advisor alerted me to an opportunity for further study with a professor who I have gotten to know pretty well through my time here. I immediately sought out a meeting with said professor to discuss the opportunity, and it was everything I could have asked for. Although I was determined to take time off of school to build a career and possibly go back to school once Kevin finished his doctorate degree, it quickly became obvious that time off of school could not happen. So I submitted a formal application. And I was offered the job. I will be studying landscape ecology; more specifically, I’ll be examining the landscape level conditions of wild blueberry patches and their effects on native pollinators (honeybees) in Maine.

Who would have imagined that my Master’s degree and all the tears that went along with it would lead to this? I never thought I would be this exhilarated to continue on in school. Getting my Master’s degree has taught me so much, and it goes way beyond what’s written in my thesis. Now I have a much better handle on how to deal with graduate education than the naïve undergrad I was three years ago. I know that this is the right decision for me. And I cannot wait to see where this research will take me.

Our eating habits have also taken a new direction as of late. Kevin expressed an interest in going meatless for a while, and I was all for it. How long a while will last has yet to be determined, but we’ve been enjoying it so far. This soup is a great contribution to any vegetarian repertoire.

Edamame Soup with Mushrooms and Spinach
from Food Network

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 scallions, white and green parts separated, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound frozen shelled edamame (about 3 cups)
1 russet potato, peeled and diced (about 9 ounces)
Kosher salt
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups baby spinach
1 to 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving

Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil, the scallion whites, and garlic. Cook for 1 minute, until softened. Add 7 cups of water, the edamame, and potato; season with salt and cover. Once the soup boils, remove the lid and cook until the edamame and potato are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then carefully blend with an immersion until you reach your desired consistency. We kept it slightly chunky; the original recipe advises you to blend until it’s smooth. (You can also blend the soup in batches in a traditional blender.) Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, then add the mushrooms and scallion greens. Cook until the mushrooms brown, about 3 minutes, and then add the spinach, stirring until it wilts. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, gently reheat the soup and add rice wine vinegar. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and spoon some of the mushrooms and spinach into each bowl. Drizzle in the hot sauce as desired. Serve.

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Posted in Dinner, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Something synergistic.

On the menu: Moroccan Vegetable Stew

Friends! I bring you the great news that I have emerged victorious on my epic quest to earn my Master’s degree. This morning I successfully defended my thesis, and although my brain is mostly mush, I had to return to my little home on the World Wide Web to thank my food blogging friends Shannon and Emma for the tasty treats they made to get me through the day. I also whipped up a few things for my colleagues: Martha’s Blueberry Slab Pie, Saveur’s Orange Olive Oil Cake, and Joy’s Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. Out of all that food, I had exactly one cookie, one slice of cake, and one piece of pie. Everything else was gobbled up by hungry graduate students. Thank goodness for that!

I also have a recipe to share with you today. You see, there are some weeks where I manage to have my life in order enough to plan out our meals. As I was preparing for my defense, I tried to keep up on meal planning to prevent any early evening meltdowns because we didn’t have anything for dinner. Perhaps you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m kind of high strung and anal-retentive; I like to have as many aspects of my life planned out as possible. Don’t get me started on the mess that was earning my Master’s degree. Anyway, there was one week where I needed one more dinner, but I couldn’t think of anything to try. So, in an effort to increase my spontaneity (really, I am trying to be more easygoing), I took out our copy of the Joy of Cooking and let the book open to a random page. Lucky for us, a recipe for Moroccan-style Vegetable Stew presented itself. Meatless and full of spices, it was instantly added to that week’s dinner plans.

The dish takes a bit of time to make, but there’s a lot of sitting and simmering involved. Onions simmer into submission, becoming tender and subtly sweet. They don’t caramelize; that flavor would overwhelm the rest of the stew. Next, root vegetables and a host of spices are added to simmer and soften. Finally, more fragile ingredients such as zucchini, chickpeas, and olives are added for a few minutes to soak up some of the well-developed flavors. There’s something synergistic about this stew–the hour-long cooking time really elevates all of the ingredients into a deliciously cohesive whole.

Served over couscous and garnished with cilantro, hot sauce, and preserved lemon (finally! a use for these guys), this is a robust meal. The stew is sweet and slightly smoky, with punches of brightness brought by the olives, cilantro, and preserved lemon. It’s very texturally pleasing–the bites of squash, potatoes, and carrots have just enough give to avoid mushiness, and they partner well with the chewy currants and crunchy olives. Kevin  is still raving about this dish two weeks later. It’s definitely a keeper. Spontaneity may not be such a bad thing, after all.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1 small butternut squash (1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 in cubes
1 large russet potato, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4 in slices
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4 in slices
1/3 cup currants
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/3 in slices
one 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup sliced green olives
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
cooked couscous, for serving
chopped parsley or cilantro
hot pepper sauce (harissa)
preserved lemons

Melt butter in a large pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened, then stir in vegetable stock and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 20 minutes, until the onions are very tender. Meanwhile, mix spices with chopped squash and sliced potatoes. Add squash mixture, carrots, currants, and garlic to the onions, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes, until vegetables are completely tender. Finally, add zucchini, chickpeas, and olives. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve over cooked couscous and garnish with cilantro, hot sauce, and preserved lemons.

Posted in Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Telling the story.

On the menu: Lemon Eggplant Risotto

I want to try and tell you a story. I read an article about conveying honesty in food photography a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to pick up my camera and capture each step in dinner that night. The lighting in our kitchen is far from ideal, and it was starting to get quite dark, so I put on my apron, snapped the speedlight onto the camera, and got to work.

I was making a variant of quite possibly my favorite thing to cook: risotto. This version, filled with earthy eggplant and bright, fresh lemon, comes from Plenty, the vegetarian tome by Yotam Ottolenghi that still leaves me awestruck each time I flip through its pages. His recipes combine flavors and textures into out of this world combinations.

The risotto begins by preparing the eggplant. I cut one very large eggplant in half–equatorially, as you’ll soon see–and placed one half under the broiler to roast. I chopped the other half into small pieces and fried them in a copious amount of oil until they were crisp and golden brown.

Then I began to build the flavors of the risotto. Chopped onion and garlic were sauteed until tender and fragrant. The rice was added to the aromatics to allow the grains to toast and add even more flavor to the dish.

It was time to add the liquid. A bit of vermouth adds another layer of flavor and collects some of the starch from the rice to create the thick, creamy sauce risotto is lauded for. Then it was ladlefuls of warm seafood stock, added one by one, with lots of stirring between each addition. The rice was softening; the sauce was thickening. It was almost ready.

By this time, the other half of the eggplant was done roasting in the oven. I split it open and scooped out the soft, steaming flesh. To finish the risotto, I stirred in this roasted eggplant flesh along with butter, salt, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

To finish the dish, I sprinkled shreds of basil and the fried eggplant cubes on top. A few grinds of black pepper and a couple pinches of salt, and it was complete. Time to eat.

What a splendid meal this was. The contrast between the eggplant and the lemon and basil was refreshing–it seemed appropriate for dinner during the transition between the wrath of winter and the hope of spring.

Lemon Eggplant Risotto
adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 large eggplant (or 2 medium eggplants; you want about 3/4 cup each of eggplant flesh and cubes)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
coarse sea salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 oz short grain rice (we used carnaroli; arborio could be used)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
3 1/4 cup seafood stock
zest of 1 lemon, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

If you have an electric stove: Preheat your broiler to medium high. Cut the eggplant in half crosswise; put one half aside for later. Poke several holes in the eggplant with a fork and place it under the broiler for 45 minutes to one hour, turning 2-3 times. The eggplant will flatten and blacken. (If you have a gas stove, you can do this directly on a burner over medium heat, turning the eggplant often for 10-15 minutes. It’s done when the skin is black and the flesh is soft.)

Meanwhile, chop the remaining half of the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a skillet and fry the eggplant until they are crisp and golden brown. Remove the eggplant from the oil, sprinkle with salt, and let cool.

Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Try not to let the stock boil.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the onion and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Stir the rice to coat it in oil, then let it fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the vermouth. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until the vermouth is almost completely absorbed.

Turn the heat down to medium and begin adding the hot stock to the rice. Add 1/4 or so at a time, stirring between additions, adding more when the liquid is almost completely absorbed. When all the stock has been added to the rice, remove the pan from the heat. Add half of the lemon zest, lemon juice, most of the Parmesan, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the risotto in bowls and top with remaining Parmesan and lemon zest, the basil, and the diced eggplant cubes.

Posted in Dinner, Rice, Uncategorized, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

A lot of study breaks.

Hello, friends! Just a quick post today to let you know that I’m still alive. I handed in my thesis manuscript last Wednesday! Now I’m studying like crazy for my defense and putting together a 45 minute seminar on my thesis project. I don’t know how I’m ever going to talk about my research for 45 minutes, but I’ve got 17 days to figure it out.

Kevin’s been gone most of this week, so I’ve been studying almost nonstop. When I’m not studying, I’m taking my mind off of things by reading blogs, hanging out with the cat, or playing in the kitchen. I tried to make macarons yesterday. Oh, goodness, it was a HUGE fail. I wasn’t all that confident in the recipe I was using, though, and I can’t wait to give it another shot.

Here are some fun things I found while on one of my countless study breaks:

That’s a lot of study breaks, friends. Uff-da. Better get back to it.

Oh, but wait! Before I go, here are some other fun things:

Okay, that’s really all. I can’t wait to come back and share a recipe with you. Bye for now!

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

It has it all.

On the menu: Barley Salad with Chickpeas, Cherries, and Pecans

I can’t believe I haven’t yet told you about this book. Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan was released late last spring, right as Kevin was getting ready to move down to his lab for the summer and I was trying to figure out how I was going to feed myself for three months. I debated buying the book for quite a while–I wasn’t going to be cooking for myself for all that long, really–but once I read through it, I had no regrets. This guy makes a mean single-portion meal. Many, in fact. Last summer, two of my most memorable meals came from his book–pineapple can cornish hen and turkey breast tacos with salsa verde. (I need to make those again, soon!)

Fast forward six months. In the midst of heavy, hearty, wintry eating habits, we needed something bright and fresh to perk up our diet. I took Serve Yourself off of the shelf, dusted it off (it had been awhile), and flipped through its pages for some inspiration. And then I saw it. Farro Salad with Chickpeas, Cherries, and Pecans, a light dish full of flavor, texture, and color. We needed it in our lives, stat. Can I tell you what I think about farro? I think it’s overrated. It’s basically barley, friends, but because it’s from Italy it’s almost twice as expensive per pound. What’s up with that? So I picked up some semi-pearled barley at the store. After going through the ingredient list, I was surprised to find that we had everything else we needed for the salad in our pantry already. We’ve been trying to build a better pantry so we don’t have to go grocery shopping as often, and it’s paying off. We keep canned tomatoes, pecans, and chickpeas around all the time now. I found cheap dried tart cherries at Target, and Kevin can’t stop eating them. He puts them on his oatmeal most mornings. They’re also a pantry staple.

Once the grains are cooked, the salad comes together in minutes. The pecans get a quick toast to amp up their flavor, then everything is mixed together and dressed with a zippy red wine vinaigrette. It’s a good thing this salad is so easy to make because we chowed through a full batch in 2 days. It has it all: smooth chickpeas, crunchy pecans, chewy cherries, and toothsome barley. The flavors are unreal: sweet, tangy, minty, and earthy, all at the same time. This dish is so simple to make and so complex when eaten. Perhaps it will become one of our lunchtime staples.

Barley Salad with Chickpeas, Cherries, and Pecans
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan

serves 4

1 cup dried semi pearled barley
1/4 cup raw pecans
1 cup cooked chickpeas (we used canned, Yonan prefers homemade)
1 cup baby arugula leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup canned diced tomatoes and their juice
1/3 cup unsweetened dried cherries
3 small shallots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt

First, cook the barley: bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Rinse the barley and add it to the boiling water and cook for 30-35 minutes until the grains are tender. Drain and let cool.

When the grains have cooled to room temperature, mix in all remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve, either chilled or at room temperature. I would imagine that this salad keeps for days, but it wasn’t around long enough in our fridge to find out.

Posted in Lunch, Other Grains, Sides, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Still here.

On the menu: Chamomile Cupcakes with Honey Glaze and Lemon Cream

Hello, friends. I’m still here, I promise. I’ve been sitting at my computer all day, every day, trying to crank out the rest of my thesis. The process is so overwhelming–my research is proving quite difficult to interpret, and reading through boatloads of literature has proven nearly fruitless so far. Last week, I didn’t even cook.

But I finally baked on Saturday. I made Chamomile Cupcakes with Honey Glaze from the Joy the Baker Cookbook, and I filled them with Tartine Bakery’s Lemon Cream. It was a stellar combination. I was not a fan of the honey glaze (too sweet) or the lemon cream (too tart) on their own, but together with the tender, subtly scented chamomile cake they balanced each other out so well. They fueled me through the weekend, and I am not ashamed to admit that I will probably eat the last of the 12 cupcakes today.

I can’t promise frequent posts until this thesis nonsense is over, and I’m not quite sure when that will be. I’m supposed to defend 4 weeks from today, but my manuscript is far from complete. I’m just taking it one day at a time and eating lots of cupcakes.

Posted in Cakes, Sweet Treats | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Jumped at the chance.

On the menu: Crawfish Andouille Étouffée

One benefit of holing up in my apartment to write, write, and write means that I’m home all the time. That’s just one benefit of many. I don’t have to put on jeans, I get to drink lots and lots of hot tea, I’m always wrapped in a couple of blankets, I don’t have to wear headphones to listen to my choice of cheesy pop music, and I get to spend a little more time doing dinner prep on weeknights. As stressed out as I’ve been lately, we are definitely eating well. I know I’ve previously mentioned how cooking is my outlet for all things stressful and school-related. Elaborate dinners are the epitome of relief right now.

We jumped at the chance to cook with crawfish when we saw them at the grocery store last week. Kevin loves Cajun and Creole cooking, and before we had the crawfish in our grocery cart, he had decided that we were making étouffée. Étouffée is much thicker than gumbo, but both have similar ingredients and are served over rice. Étouffée is also usually made with seafood (does alligator count as seafood? I had alligator étouffée once), but other meats can be added. We had loaded up on andouille sausage when we bought the crawfish, so we used quite a bit of spicy, porky goodness in our recipe.

The biggest pain about making this dish is that you need to parboil the crawfish and peel them before adding them to the étouffée. This was my first experience with crawfish, and it was a bit shocking to see the little pieces of meat that you get from such large, heavy bodies. So here’s a tip: when you buy crawfish by weight, buy way more than you think you need. Or just do what your recipe tells you to do; don’t try to wing it.  Thank goodness we had that extra andouille sausage, otherwise our étouffée would have been crawfish gumbo. The most fun part about making this dish was the roux. The first time I made roux, I was a little terrified, but after doing it a few times I love it. This roux is cooked until it’s milk chocolate-colored, which took me about 15 minutes.

Our étouffée came together quickly once the crawfish was cooked and the roux was ready. The trinity (onions, celery, and bell pepper) was involved, of course, as were a host of spices, some stock, and a few flavor enhancers–Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and hot sauce. We ladled the fragrant mixture over some rice, garnished with a bit of greens, and dug in. Robust and flavorful, this made a wonderful wintry meal. The jewel-like crawfish were the stars of the show. Have you ever had crawfish? I was at a loss for words as I tried to describe it’s flavor. It has a texture and a richness similar to lobster, but because it comes from fresh water, crawfish has this remarkable earthiness. I love that you can take such a delicate ingredient, cover it in mounds of flavor, and it still is the most flavorful element of the dish. Crawfish étouffée was definitely a winner.

Crawfish and Andouille Étouffée
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

This is a lengthy ingredient list, but most of it consists of spices and herbs. Some spices are listed twice; this is because they’re used both in the crawfish spice mix and in the sauce for the étouffée.

1 1/2 pounds crawfish
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 cups chopped andouille sausage
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and hot sauce, to taste
Cooked rice, for serving

First, boil the crawfish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the crawfish and boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make the spice mixture: combine the paprika, dried thyme, salt, pepper, dried basil, and cayenne in a small bowl. Drain the crawfish, let cool slightly, then peel. Toss the crawfish meat with the spice mixture and set aside. (Reserve the shells–you can combine them with some extra onion and celery to make a quick stock. In a small sauce pan, cover the shells with water, add 1 cup sliced onion, 1/4 cup chopped celery, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then strain and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or in the freezer for a few months.)

Make the roux: melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the roux is milk chocolate colored, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the onions, celery, and bell pepper, and 1/4 cup of the andouille sausage. Cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add garlic, dried sage, dried thyme, cayenne, and the rest of the sausage, cook for another minute. Add the stock, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Allow to simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes, then add the crawfish and cook for 1-2 minutes more to heat it through. Add scallions and parsley, then serve with cooked rice.

Posted in Seafood | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments