Tuesday, August 31, 2010

debauchery and cake

A 22nd birthday deserves two birthday cakes. These two had a strange evolution over the weekend. They took a fair amount of work to make, and were pretty and tasty and got admired and eaten and included in the celebrations on Friday afternoon, but then swimming and drinking and dancing ensued. Friday night they got sliced and eaten with rose flavored champagne. Saturday morning they got eaten for breakfast. By Saturday afternoon plates had been abandoned, and the cakes got nibbled on off their platters. By Saturday night all the icing had been eaten off, and by Sunday we were tired of them.

Best carrot cake

I've been using this recipe since I was a kid. I don't know where it came from, it's hand written in an old recipe book, labeled as Gab's Carrot Cake.

4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2. tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups grated carrot
1 cup chopped golden raisins
10 ounces crushed pineapple, drained

Beat together oil and sugar, then beat in eggs. Blend in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, carrots. Then add the remaining ingredients and combine.

Pour into two greased 9 inch round cake pans. Alternatively, a bundt pan would also work well, as do muffin tins.

Bake 1 hour or more at 350 degrees.

When cool, top with an icing made from cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, a few drops of milk and vanilla.


 Eggplant parmesan makes me very happy (see above), especially when my mother makes it. Not totally appropriate, though, on bright and humid days when the thermometer is hitting ninety. Plan B involves a lighter, summery eggplant parmesan alternative. So few ingredients, such great results.

Roasted eggplant and tomato stacks

1 large eggplant
2 large beefsteak tomatoes
olive oil
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
handful fresh basil
salt and pepper

Partially peel the eggplant and slice 1/2 an inch thick. Drizzle with olive oil and dip both sides of each slice in breadcrumbs. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, or until cooked. The tomato slices will take less time- place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, and put them in the oven when the eggplant is halfway done.

Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes, then stack eggplant and tomato alternatively with goat cheese and basil leaves. Top with salt and pepper.

Monday, August 30, 2010

pita pita

Za'atar is a delicious Middle Eastern spice mixture made mostly of dried thyme and sesame seeds. Last week there was a giant bag of it sitting in my kitchen, but there was nothing to put it on. So I made some whole wheat pita. Problem solved.

Whole wheat pitas with za-atar

(adapted from smitten kitchen)

for the pita:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature

for the za'atar:
1/4 cup dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp coarse salt
3 Tbsp olive oil

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the pita ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest speed until all the flour is moistened (about 20 seconds), then raise the speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary.

Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a large bowl, lightly greased and covered a damp towel.

Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking, with a pizza stone, cast iron skillet or large baking sheet inside.

Cut the dough into 10 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before baking.

Just before baking, use a pastry brush to brush each pita with a thin layer of water. To bake, use a spatula to place one piece of dough directly on the stone/skillet/baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time.

To make the za'atar, mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl, then add the olive oil. More olive oil may be necessary for a spreadable consistency.

Spread za'atar on each pita. Pitas can be reheated on baking sheets in a warm oven.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

sushi sushi

Sure, I can make sushi if I want to. So cute, so colorful. Some nontraditional ingredients, and I named them accordingly:

orange roll: carrot and sweet potato
green roll: cucumber, avocado, scallion
spicy roll: radish, scallion
crunchy roll: carrot, cucumber, radish
everything roll: scraps, plus sesame seeds

Also, please admire the inside-out roll in the blue dish on the left.

meal in a blender

Some things, in my opinion, should never see a blender- lettuce, apples, or any type of cooked meat, for example.

White bean spread

1 can small white beans (navy beans), drained and rinsed
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 clove garlic
handful fresh parsley, rinsed
3 Tblsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and combine until desired smoothness. Add more olive oil or a few drops of water if it's too thick. Serve with crackers or veggies for dipping, or spread on sandwiches.


I am bad at having a blog. All I want to do is climb some big ridges, slackline with my summer friends, and eat wheat toast or spinach salads for every meal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

this is not camp food

Six weeks in Montana has seriously raised my tolerance for country music. Fuck, my brother would be so disapproving. I love love love the mountains, but I grew up on an island, so I want beach days too. Can't find too much seafood in the middle of the country, although technically salmon are anadromous (live in the ocean and reproduce in freshwater).

Salmon zucchini fritters

1 1/4 lb salmon
1 medium zucchini, shredded
2-3 scallions, chopped
1 Tblsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. mustard
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (fresh) breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. For best results, refrigerate 1/2 an hour or more, so cakes will be easier to shape. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a large pan. Hand shape the salmon cakes into small patties, and cook in oil until browned (3-5 minutes on one side, then 2-3 minutes on the other).

Friday, August 20, 2010

near and farro

I've been trying to experiment with grains. Farro is fantastic, fresh herbs are a force of nature, and the cherry tomatoes are falling of the vines. Win/win/win situation? Possibly.

Farro with fresh herbs and roasted tomatoes

2 cups (uncooked) farro
8 oz cherry or grape tomatoes
1/3 cup mixed herbs (parsley, rosemary, sage, basil, basically whatever's on hand), chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Add the farro to a pot of boiling water, and cook until tender (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Place washed tomatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until caramelized.

Mix the tomatoes, herbs and toasted pine nuts into the cooked farro. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.

sufferin succotash

Slow cooking is a winter sport. Summer is for throwing things together haphazardly in order to not lose any time in the sun. No patience for fussy food in august. In the last days before classes start again, I'm all about quick and fresh and big. Make succotash and eat it outside, and save the shenanigans until september.


sweet corn, from 3 ears
8oz lima beans
small red (medium-hot) pepper, chopped
2-3 scallions, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1/4 lime
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper

Add the husked corn into a large pot of boiling water and cook for 15 minutes, then let cool. To remove corn from the cob, hold the corn vertically and cut downward with a sharp knife.

I use frozen lima beans- cook according to the package directions, then toss with the corn, pepper, scallions and garlic. Pour the lime and butter over the mixture and combine, and finish with salt and pepper.


Peach season is short, take advantage of it! Same recipe as this blackberry shortbread tart. Different shape, different fruit. Substituted 1/2 whole wheat flour with good results.

Peach picking should be mandatory.

Monday, August 16, 2010

montana is the 4th largest state

Welcome back to me! Welcome back to fresh fruit and vegetables and sleeping in a real bed instead of a sleeping bag. Welcome back to not carrying a compass and a rock hammer and 3 liters of water around with me wherever I go. Welcome back, but there are no mountains here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

good food rocks

 So I'm leaving tomorrow for field school in Montana, which should be interesting and exciting and intense, but I've heard that the food will be miserable. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised? See you in August- I'll have to cook and eat lots of great things when I get back to make up for six weeks of camp food.


Fatteh is served for breakfast in Syria, in restaurants and at home. It's filling and delicious and creamy and tangy, and a great way to use up stale pita. My family had a hard time finding a recipe that sounded like what we had eaten, but this tasted just right.

1 1/2 cups greek yogurt
1/2 cup tahini
juice of 1/2 a lemon
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup water
salt, to taste

large can chickpeas (1 lb 13 oz)
3-4 pitas, toasted
3 Tblsp. butter, browned
toasted pine nuts
aleppo pepper

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, tahini, lemon, garlic, salt and water.

Tear the pitas into bite-sized pieces and layer in a deep casserole dish with the chickpeas.

Pour the sauce over the pita and chickpeas.

In a small saucepan, brown the butter. Pour over the chickpeas, and top with toasted pine nuts and aleppo pepper, or paprika.

Bake for ten minutes at 300 degrees and serve warm.

blue teeth, blue hearts

I didn't make this pie, Briermere Farms did. They have an astounding variety of delicious pies that are affordable only if you're independently wealthy.

Here's the secret: ask if there are any day-old or frozen pies, they're half price but just as good. All you need now is a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

hot hot pot

This soup usually causes some stress at the dinner table with my family- nothing too serious, mostly what happens is that my father doesn't follow directions and I get irrationally annoyed with him- so we've made it a guest night meal because the preparation is easy, the presentation is impressive, and everything works great when we're all on our best behavior.

Here's how it goes: first you prepare the broth in an electric burner set in the middle of the table, then use it to cook "dippers" such as mushrooms, shrimp, and dumplings. The broth cooks the dippers, the dippers add flavor to the broth, then at the end of the meal you put vermicelli noodles in the broth and eat it as soup.

Vietnamese hot pot

6 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, pounded (or 1 tsp lemongrass paste)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into rounds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 dried Thai chilies
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tblsp. light brown sugar
1 Tblsp. rice wine vinegar
1 Tblsp. siracha
juice of 1/2 a lime

broccoli florets, cut into pieces
1 large sweet onion, cut into bite sized pieces
bok choy, in bite-size pieces
mushrooms, halved or quartered
shrimp, cleaned
gyoza or similar dumplings
peanut sauce or soy sauce for dipping (optional)

rice vermicelli noodles
scallions and cilantro, chopped for garnish

In the electric skillet, bring the broth and water to a boil, and add all the other broth ingredients. Let simmer on low heat for 15 minutes, then remove and discard the chilies and chunks of ginger and garlic.

In the meantime, prepare the dippers (chop/clean/dice) and place in bowls.

Set the electric skillet in the center of the table and let the family and guests cook and eat the dippers. You'll want the electric skillet on high heat the entire time- it should be lightly boiling in order to cook things quickly enough.

When everyone has had enough vegetables, shrimp and dumplings, clear the skillet of any leftover pieces and add the noodles. Let the soup cook for five minutes or until the noodles are tender, then serve the noodles and broth in small bowls with scallions and cilantro for garnish.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

dulce vida

Sometimes life is easy during the summer, sometimes being home is immeasurably strange. Long days and dulce de leche cheesecake, how sweet it is.

Dulce de leche cheesecake squares
(from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit) 

2 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs 
2 Tbsp. sugar 
1/4 tsp. cinnamon 
10 Tblsp. unsalted butter, melted

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese 
1 cup sugar 
3 eggs 
1/2 cup dulce de leche 
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl, then add the butter and toss to combine. Press into a greased 9X13 baking pan, then bake for ten minutes at 350 degrees.

For the filling, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth, then add the eggs, beating after each one. After the eggs, add the dulce de leche and vanilla and combine. Pour on top of the crust, and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the filling appears set and the top has cracked.

Cool completely, then top with more dulce de leche, then cut into squares.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I hope my brother is prepared for me to hijack his first week home so I can cook for him. Firstly, I plan to show off my new baking skills at the bbq I'm throwing for him- big soft pretzels as pre-dinner snacks sound just right.

(Make anything miniature and it's automatically 10X cuter.)

Pretzel toppings can be controversial. A great pretzel should be able to stand alone and taste delicious with nothing but some salt and a good beer. That said, seeds and nuts and sugar and spices as pretzel toppings can be fun and whimsical.

My final decision: kosher salt and black seeds for the big appetizer pretzels, sugar and cinnamon for the miniature dessert pretzels.

Black seeds look similar to sesame seeds, but they are slightly more peppery and generally better. Black seeds come from the plant Nigella sativa, and are known under many different names. Mine are from the spice market in Damascus, but they can be bought online at my spice sage.

The recipe I used was given to me with the stipulation that I not share it, but check out this recipe from epicurious for a similar formula.

best brownie ever

I don't tend to use mixes, but I'd always thought that brownies were the one exception that come out better from a box. I'd never made consistently good homemade brownies, and Betty Crocker is so reliable.

This recipe came from Margaret, from her Chocolate Bar recipe book, one of the best among her extensive and wonderful cookbook collection (I think she owns every one of Ina Garten's cookbooks, because the Barefoot Contessa is a goddess, and because she lives in East Hampton and Margaret lives in Southampton, and met her once at a coffee shop.)

Anyway, these homemade brownies reasserted that I can make anything better than Duncan Hines. I served them at a dinner party with honey-sweetened whipped cream.

Best brownies

3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tblsp. cocoa powder
4 oz. butter
3/4 tsp. coffee grounds
5 oz. semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the coffee and semisweet chocolate.

When butter and chocolate is melted, take off the heat and add the sugars, then the eggs and vanilla, then the dry ingredients (combining until smooth after each step).

Pour into a greased 9X13 baking pan, then bake at 350 degrees for 28 to 30 minutes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

bar hoppin'

Taco bar, that is.

Warm corn tortillas
Sofrito shredded chicken
Refried black beans
Roasted poblano strips
Lime red cabbage
Salsa verde
Roasted tomato salsa
Sour cream


How can something be refried if it hasn't been fried first?

Today is a perfect day for a party, I can't wait to sit in the sun with friends and drink and eat.

These beans were part of a taco bar, but they'd be a fantastic meal over rice, maybe with some cheese and cilantro on top.

Refried beans

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tblsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 an onion
1/2 a red pepper
dash hot sauce
salt, to taste

Thursday, June 24, 2010