Friday, April 30, 2010


About half an hour before my birthday dinner was supposed to start, I had a small episode of panic and thought there wasn't going to be enough food. I had ended up inviting a few extra guests at the last minute, and two people had shown up as a welcome but unanticipated surprise. I feared that no one would get enough to eat, but then I opened a beer, made some cinnamon-scented brown rice, and realized that it was my birthday and I was surrounded by my closest friends. There probably would be enough to eat, and if not, they would love me anyway.

Mushroom and zucchini enchiladas

20-25 small corn tortillas*
3 Tblsp. vegetable oil
two small zucchinis, sliced
one package mushrooms, sliced
16 ounces cheddar cheese
15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
one batch mole poblano (see recipe below)

*I find corn tortillas tastier than flour tortillas, but more difficult to work with. Cold corn tortillas will break when you try and roll them, so I had to microwave them in batches for thirty seconds or so before filling and rolling them. 

Heat oil in a large pan and add mushrooms and zucchini. Saute until tender then remove from heat and let cool. In a large bowl, combine black beans, cheddar, and cooled vegetables.

Working in small batches, heat the tortillas (30-45 seconds in the microwave), so that they're soft. Place a few spoonfuls of filling into each tortilla, roll it up, and place in a deep pan. When filling is gone, cover tortillas with mole poblano and some additional cheddar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbling.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

birthday baby

Today is my 21st birthday! And naturally to celebrate, I've invited my closest friends over for a meal. And naturally there will be drinking involved, but I love cooking and I love eating, and there's no other way I'd rather celebrate than cooking and eating with the people I love.

Here's the menu:
gin and tonics
guacamole and peach salsa with blue corn tortilla chips
siracha coconut shrimp
sage and sea salt sweet potato fries
arugula salad with lime-spiked dressing
mushroom and black bean enchiladas with mole
strawberry pineapple fruit salad with mint
flourless chocolate cake

We sat on the floor because there isn't much room in my apartment. I don't think anyone minded.

My friends were mortified that I baked my own birthday cake, but I really wouldn't want it any other way. They fought me, but I won out on account of it was my birthday.

Chocolate cake and guacamole! Doesn't get any better than that.

I promise I'll post all the recipes soon. For now though, here is my standard guacamole recipe. You know how there are supposed to be no two snowflakes that are completely alike? I've found that the same thing applies to guacamole recipes. No one you ask will have exactly the same formula, and everyone you ask will tell you theirs is best, which is impossible, because mine is.

Best-ever guacamole

2 ripe haas avocados
1/2 a red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 a jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely
handful cilantro (about 15-20 sprigs), finely chopped
3-5 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
juice of half a lime
generous dash hot sauce, such as tabasco or siracha

Mash the avocados in a large bowl. Chop the other ingredients and add to the avocado with the lime juice. If you're not serving this right away, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

paint your kitchen red

This weekend when my mom came to visit, I enlisted her help in making a simplified mole-type sauce for enchiladas that I plan on making soon for my birthday dinner party. The ensuing afternoon included three trips to the grocery store, two mexican beers, and several housemates roped in to test the sauce for spiciness. Our first batch was too hot to serve to guests. Too hot to serve to anyone, for that matter. That's what we get for buying a pepper without knowing what it is and using the whole thing without tasting it first. We made another batch without a fresh pepper, and the final product consisted of half of one batch mixed with half of the other. The recipe below, for the sake of time and sanity, doesn't require that you make two batches and mix them.

The consistency of the sauce depends on the quality of your blender.The messiness of your kitchen also depends on the quality of your blender. My mom and I were working with a very temperamental and poorly-designed piece of machinery, so we painted ourselves and my stove-top with spicy red sauce.

There are mushrooms growing out of my cutting board! Sorry, no photo of the mole sauce, but these mushrooms did go into the enchiladas that the sauce was made for.

Mole poblano

3 Tblsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
small piece ginger, about 1 square inch, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped or pressed*1/2 medium sized poblano pepper, seeded and diced
7 oz can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
approximately 3/4 cup water
1 12-15 oz can diced tomatoes
Saute garlic, ginger, onion, and diced poblano in a large saucepan in the olive oil. When soft, add the can of chipotle peppers, almonds, raisins, pistachios, cocoa powder, vinegar, cocoa, and water. Simmer for half an hour. Let cool, then transfer to a blender and blend with the diced tomatoes (juice from the can of tomatoes included).

*The poblano pepper gives the sauce such a nice flavor, but it is moderately hot. Omit or reduce the amount if your guests are wimpy. Another option is to chop and include the whole pepper and use the resulting sauce less generously, as you would a hot-sauce rather than over enchiladas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

spicy and perfect

I fear that my friends are going to see this blog and think I'm too sappy for my own good. I do have one friend who may be just as sentimental as I am, and I made this pasta for her family when I visited Pasadena over spring break.

Spicy pasta with shrimp and artichoke hearts

1 lb whole wheat linguine
3 Tblsp. olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 can diced roma tomatoes
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pan (as large a pan as you have), and add shallots and garlic. Saute for two to three minutes, then add shrimp in a single layer on top of the shallot garlic mixture. Let the shrimp cook undisturbed until beginning to become pink (three to five minutes).

When shrimp begin to turn pink, flip them over to cook the other side (three to five minutes or until cooked completely, then remove from the pan and set aside. The best way to do this is just by scooping them out into a bowl with a wooden spoon- you want the shallot/garlic mixture to stay in the pan. To the pan you'll then add the diced tomatoes, using the back of a fork or a potato masher to break them up a bit. Let the tomatoes simmer and thicken for ten or so minutes.

This would be a good time to put on the water to boil and cook the pasta. I like using whole wheat pasta in this recipe, it gives a good flavor and texture to the dish, but feel free to substitute regular linguine if you feel so inclined.

Add the shrimp back into the sauce, along with the artichokes, when the pasta is about halfway done. When the pasta is cooked and drained, turn off the heat under the pan and add the pasta and the parsley directly into it. Tossing everything together will be tricky, but I prefer to do so in the cooking pan in order to soak up all the sauce.

Serve in bowls. You may need to use both tongs and a serving spoon to dish everything out in order to get a good ratio of shrimp and artichokes to pasta.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A breath of fresh air

I have a few nicknames for the summer of 2009, including "The Summer that Felt like Spring" (it rained for the first two months), "The Summer I Slept at the Barn" (my beautiful, wonderful horse kept getting sick and injured), and "The Benthic Macroinvertebrate Summer" (I identified so many aquatic larvae that I would see them in my sleep). But mostly, summer 2009 was The Lonely Summer. Most of my friends were away for the summer, and I spent too much time in the lab or at the barn to meet too many new people. Luckily, I liked my lab-mates and my horse was good company.

I did make one good friend over the summer, who helped me move out of my apartment, let me crash on his couch, and was generous with his time. As if I weren't indebted enough to Ross for being a kind friend when I needed one, there are two more things I owe him for. Firstly, he taught me that the best thing to do when grilling was to rub sweet corn with chili powder before I wrapped it in tin foil and grilled it, then to squeeze lime over it before I ate it. I will never again waste grilled corn by putting butter and salt on it.

Secondly, he invented a drink and named it "a breath of fresh air." It just contains gin, tonic, and grapefruit juice. We drank it with his housemates one night, and ended up swimming at midnight in a local pond. One of the things I remember most clearly about that night was that the trail in the woods leading to the pond was so dark that I couldn't see where I was stepping, although I drank enough gin not to worry. I also remember that it got suddenly light when the trees cleared and we reached the good swimming rock. Now I don't condone mixing drinking and swimming, in retrospect it was a terribly irresponsible thing to do, but that night was a breath of fresh air in my summer, and for that I'm not sorry.

Like I said, I am grateful to my friend for his kindness and for those two recipes, and I'd like to think that I contributed something worthwhile to our friendship as well. I'd like to think that I brought some important things to the table too, namely the ingredients for my peach salsa. Earlier in the night before the drinking and the swimming, I assembled this salsa to go over our grilled shrimp, but his housemates ended up eating the extra with bowls and spoons, like a sort of savory fruit-salad side-dish. The combination of sweet and acid is refreshing and delicious, and I would recommend it over grilled shrimp or served in a big bowl with tortilla chips for scooping.

I made this peach salsa again for my birthday dinner last week, and it was just as a big a hit as it was last summer. I love the colors in this recipe, it looks like confetti!

Peach salsa

3 *peaches, slightly under-ripe, coarsely diced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped

*this recipe also tastes great substituting mango for peach, if that's what you have available

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

stone soup

(Photo credit P. Resor)

I love rocks in a similar way to how I love food. Working with either requires careful measurements and some degree of precision, as well as creativity and flexibility. Working with either can be infuriating or rewarding.

I suppose rocks and food are interrelated in some way- bedrock weathers into soil which acts as medium for plant growth which provides the produce we use as a starting point for a meal.

Anyway, this photo is of an awesome structure in the Catskills- rock layers got folded over the edge of a fault and one of the layers was mined out at some point, so you can actually walk inside the fold, and measure the strike and dip of the beds from within.

earthy, crunchy

Something about granola reminds me of leaves crunching underneath my feet in autumn, although I'm talking about the wrong season again. I went on a hike this morning to collect data for a project, and the ground was so saturated that it oozed water like a sponge under every footstep. I noticed the new growth on the trees and the mountain laurel getting ready to flower, and though how lucky I am that my work and play overlap in such a pleasing way.

Good granola is the foundation of a good day. This granola, mixed with a spoonful of yogurt and some blueberries or strawberries, makes me immeasurably happy.

Top ten songs to listen to when making granola:
Waters of march- Art Garfunkel
Wagon wheel- Old Crow Medicine Show
Can't let go- Anthony Hamilton
I got a name- Jim Croce
Pa Mayte- Buena Vista Social Club
Sitting at the dock of the bay- Otis Redding
Each day gets better- John Legend
Hazy Jane II- Nick Drake
Greensboro woman- Townes van Zandt
Farmhouse- Phish

Maple almond granola

3 cups oats (not instant or quick-cook)
2 egg whites
2 Tblsp. oil (vegetable oil or something else neutral)
2 Tblsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup rasins
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped

Mix the egg whites, oil, and vanilla. Add oats and stir to incorporate. Spread in a thin layer on a greased cookie sheet (preferably one with a raised edge) and bake for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Remove from oven and sprinkle almonds over, using a spatula to turn over and mix the granola in order for it to brown evenly.

Bake for another 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown, then add the raisins and ginger and let cool.

This granola adapts well to endless variations. Substitute honey for maple syrup, vanilla for almond extract, and dried cranberries for raisins. Pecans or walnuts are a good addition, or get crazy and add some shredded coconut a minute or two before you take it out of the oven.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

one 70 degree day

It's just turned into spring and already I'm anticipating graduation season and swimming in Miller's Pond and summer food. I love summer more than almost anything else in the world, and nothing makes me happier than a barbecue, especially if it's sunny and there's beer and friends. My only objection to barbecues is potato salad.

Potato salad has never been appetizing to me, maybe because I have only ever been served store-bought versions, served out of a plastic tub and disguised with enough mayonnaise to slather dozens of turkey sandwiches.

So, at a friend's beach birthday barbecue last summer, I volunteered to make the potato salad, if only so I would be able to eat it later. Ever heard of the term "winging it?" I am queen of winging it, especially in the kitchen. Sometimes I produce inedible disasters, but often, and especially (luckily) if the pressure's on, I produce something tasty. My potato salad recipe, which originated at that barbecue and has been edited and refined since then, is the result of winging it. My friend Eugenie, whose barbecue it was invented for, requests this potato salad regularly, and I make it for her happily because she enjoys it just as much.

So, even though it's spring outside (Happy Easter/Passover!), here's a little taste of summer, a small preview of what's to come this year.

Two-potato salad

6-8 small-ish yellow or red potatoes
2-3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
(Fun fact: Potatoes and sweet potatoes are not an everyday combination, but they go so well together because they're actually only very distantly related.)
one bunch scallions, chopped finely
one bunch parsley*, chopped finely
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tblsp. distilled white vinegar
1 Tblsp. spicy brown or Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil the potatoes (whole or halved, with skin on) 15-20 minutes, or until soft when poked with a fork. Drain and let cool.

Cube the potatoes (skin still on) into bite sized pieces, approximately 1/2 inch each, and return to the pot or place in a large bowl. If the potatoes are not completely cool, they will not cut cleanly and the end result will be more mashed potato-like in consistency than resembling potato salad, which I'm sure would also be delicious but is not the result we're going for here.

To the cubed potatoes, add the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, scallions, parsley, salt and pepper and toss to coat.

*Once, I substituted basil for parsley with tasty consequences, although I am a parsley fiend and still prefer my original intentions. Start with parsley, then consider that substitution as a possibility in the future.