Monday, May 31, 2010

going farming

(photo credit Goodwin Creek Farm)

I'll be gone for the next month, going wwoof-ing ( at Goodwin Creek Farm and Bakery in Afton, VA (

Have fun, happy summer!


I am lucky and have no food allergies (that I know of, knock on wood), but recently I was faced with the challenge of making birthday cupcakes for a friend who was avoiding eggs, dairy, chocolate and tomatoes while waiting for allergy test results.

I was a little sad because Katie's favorite part of a cupcake is the icing, but I couldn't come up with a recipe for vegan icing- maybe next year. These cupcakes look pretty with powdered sugar though, and they're sweet enough without icing.

Instead, I put strawberries in the batter because I had some and they were fresh. It's strawberry season! There's something perfect about a strawberry that's never been refrigerated, so buy two pints- one to eat and one to put in these cupcakes.

Strawberry vegan cupcakes

 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1 tsp. baking power
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup water or soymilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 pint fresh strawberries, halved

In a bowl, mix the sugar, oil, and applesauce. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until incorporated, then add the water or soymilk and stir until smooth. Mix in the strawberries (reserve a handful to garnish the tops, if you like), and spoon into 12 greased or papered cupcake tins (double the recipe to make more cupcakes).

Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until brown on top (note that the photo above was taken before they were fully cooked- oops!), and sift powdered sugar over when cooled.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

dinner for two

Yesterday I had a birthday dinner with my first ever friend. Our birthdays are exactly two months apart, and it happened to be that we were in the same place at the same time at the mid-point between mine and hers.

Here's the menu:
bibb lettuce and radish salad
sweet and spicy salmon
collard green chips
mashed sweet potato
strawberry vegan cupcakes

Collard green chips

1 head collard greens
olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash collards and cut each leaf in half, cutting out and discarding the tough center stem. Place on a baking sheet and brush each side of each leaf with olive oil. A paintbrush or pastry brush works best for this- you want a thin coating of olive oil on the whole leaf.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then bake at 400 degrees for five to ten minutes, or until crispy and beginning to brown.

Sweet and spicy salmon

3/4 lb salmon
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. Siracha chili garlic sauce

Mix honey and Siracha. Rinse salmon in cold water, then pat dry and place in a deep baking pan. Pour honey mixture over salmon, and bake at 350 degrees for 15-30 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

dinner for one

You can tell a lot about a person from what they eat when they're eating alone. Spinach salads and scrambled eggs are two of my go-to solitary dinners, what does that say about me?

Yesterday when I had the house to myself, I mixed things up a little and cooked some broccoli rabe for dinner, one of my favorite things to eat. 

Broccoli rabe with white beans

1 bushel broccoli rabe

1/2 can white beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tblsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
handful parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper

Wash the broccoli rabe, remove the tough outer leaves and the first inch of stem, and cut into 2-3 inch pieces.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat, then add garlic and lightly brown. Add the broccoli rabe and saute until wilted, then add water, lower heat, cover pan, and let cook for 5-10 minutes, or until stems are tender.

When stems are tender, remove the cover and add white beans, parsley, and red pepper flakes. When the beans are heated, remove from heat and serve in bowls, finishing with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

This combination is also great over pasta or polenta.


I have to admit that sometimes during the summer, despite my claims to love cooking and eating, it becomes difficult to make myself eat real food. When the days get hot and long, I subsist more and more on watermelon and lemonade and not enough of anything else, but these spring rolls are light and easy to eat. They may or may not be the perfect food. Technically making them includes more assembling than cooking, but I'll definitely count it as a win.

I made these last week to bring to a barbecue, but I'm not including quantities in the recipe, because it depends on how many spring rolls you want to make. Actually, it's really because I wasn't measuring anything when I was making them.

Spring rolls

*rice paper wrappers
carrots, in thin sticks
cucumber, in thin sticks
romaine leaves, torn
*rice vermicelli or cellophane noodles
shrimp (optional), boiled, shells and tails removed, and halved lengthwise
mint, chopped coarsely
thai basil, chopped coarsely
cilantro, chopped coarsely
peanut sauce for dipping

*available in Asian markets

Prepare the individual ingredients- chop/dice/cook/boil, and cook the vermicelli noodles according to the directions on the package.

You'll want to have a flat work space such as a cutting board with all the ingredients within reach. Pour hot water into a wide, shallow pan (a baking pan will work). For each spring roll, dip a rice paper wrapper in the hot water and soak evenly for about 5 seconds (shorter if your water is extremely hot, and longer if its getting cool).

Carefully lay the (now soft) rice paper onto your cutting board. On the edge of the wrapper closest to you, make a small pile of the filling ingredients. Do not overstuff your spring rolls! Overstuffing will lead to an ugly or ripped roll.

I like to start each roll with 2-3 pieces of lettuce, 1 or 2 sticks each of carrot and cucumber, a small handful of noodles, a pinch of each of basil, mint and cilantro, and two half-shrimp.

To roll things up, start rolling away from you, incorporating the filling ingredients and tucking in the extra ends of rice paper after the first full roll. Place on wax paper, and serve at room temperature with peanut sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

pie, reconsidered

The story of my day, in photos:

1. Stopped by the farmstand across the street, which hasn't been open in several years. Sampled a beautiful strawberry, which tasted so so good. The farmer told me the strawberries had come inexplicably early this year. I bought a pint and two stalks of rhubarb, even though I have no idea what to do with rhubarb, or if I even like it.

2. Considered making strawberry rhubarb pie, then decided against it. Are you supposed to peel rhubarb? Not sure, but I pulled off what I could, and made pretty colored ribbons. Diced the rhubarb and a pear, and made a compote.

3. Picked some mint from the garden, and stared at it next to the strawberries, considering just eating the strawberries out of the carton then making mint tea.

4. Meanwhile, ate the entire bowl of compote.

Rhubarb-pear compote

2 stalks rhubarb, outer layer peeled off and cut into inch-long pieces
1 bosc pear, diced into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tblsp. water

Simmer the fruit, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or until tender but still holding its structure.

Eat warm straight out of the saucepan, pour over ice cream, or cool and eat with yogurt.

5. Decided to make a strawberry salad. Why do too much to strawberries when they're so fantastic on their own?

Strawberry mint salad

1 pint strawberries, halved
2 stalks mint, leaves pulled off and coarsely torn
1 orange, segmented, and each cut into three pieces

6. Was immeasurably happy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

lead me home

In September I'll be moving into a house with three friends, and I'm living in the bedroom right next to the kitchen! I want to have a comfortable home, full of friends and chipped glassware and family photos.

Almond flavored things are comfortable, therefore almonds make a home?
Lead paint chips taste like almond (supposedly). My house next year has lead paint that hopefully will not peel and turn into toxic dust. Therefore, toxic dust makes a home? (Just kidding)

This almond cake is delicious, and when I have my own home I will bake this cake to make things comfortable and warm. I brought this cake to dinner with a friend's family yesterday. I love the craziness happening in that house, and her younger brother loves this almond cake.

(I've been trying to learn how to crack an egg into the bowl with one hand, because it looks so professional and effortless. I ended up with egg all over my hand but no eggshell in the batter. The trick to cracking an egg with one hand? Commit to it.)

Solo almond cake

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
*1 can Solo almond filling
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk

*almond filling is not the same thing as almond paste or marzipan, and can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores

for almond glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in almond filling, then sift in dry ingredients and combine with the almond mixture alternately with milk.

Spread evenly in a greased 10 inch tube or bunt pan, then bake for 50-55 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Cool, then drizzle with glaze.

detox rocks

Congratulations to Wesleyan University's class of 2010!

Even though it wasn't my turn to graduate this morning, I've been at wes all week celebrating with my friends who did, and what a week it's been. What a cheap champagne and take-out fueled week. Everyone needs an entire week of excess once in a while, but now it's time to detox. I drank more shitty beer and ate more rich restaurant food this week than I have the entire last two semesters, and now I want nothing more than to eat leafy greens for my next ten meals.

For the eleventh meal I think I'll make this red pepper salad, because it'll add some variety (and protein) to my detoxification plan. The recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Salads for the Season. I would love to try every single one of the salads on that list, but instead I keep making this one because nothing beats it.

Roasted red pepper salad

3 red bell peppers, in strips
8-10 oz small white beans (about half a normal size can)
1 large shallot, diced
3 Tblsp. olive oil
3 Tblsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2-3 oz. Parmesan cheese, in thin slices
salt and pepper, to taste

 Brush each side of the red pepper strips with olive oil, and roast for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until soft and starting to brown. Let cool completely.

Place the peppers on a large plate or platter, and top with Parmesan slices. Over the peppers and Parmesan, sprinkle the white beans, shallots, and rosemary, and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper.

Friday, May 21, 2010

essential life skills

I made tomato sauce yesterday for some friends, before a great night of parties and dancing and lingering in the street.

Good tomato sauce is a life skill. There are a few things I've always wanted to learn to do, things that I believe are essential. For example, I feel that everyone should know how to tie a tie, drive a stick shift, make really great tomato sauce, and roll a joint. Essential life skills, although out of my own list, I can only claim to make great tomato sauce.

It's really my father's recipe. When I was a kid I would walk home from school and smell tomato sauce all the way down the block. Our poor neighbors, to smell that wonderful garlic smell and not be able sit down to dinner at our table! My father has made this sauce the same way as long as I can remember, and never used a recipe. When I asked him to try and create one so I could try to make this sauce for myself, here's what I received (I won't try and standardize the measurements or list the ingredients because this is more true to his methods, and easy enough to follow):

Dad's Tomato Sauce

In a large pot, heat up a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and add around 4 cloves minced or pressed garlic, until it just browns. Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes- I use one very large can and blend it with a standard blender, then add it to the pot with half of a small 6 ounce can of tomato paste. If you can't get a hold of a very large can of the above (or don't want to blend), you can use 2 or 3 cans of crushed tomatoes (28 ounces each) or similar.

Add a bay leaf or two and pour a glass of red wine into the pot, and while you're at it, pour yourself a glass of red wine to enjoy while you're cooking. Let the mixture come to a boil then lower the heat, stirring occasionally, of course.

During this time you could be adding additional spices, such as (well, definitely) oregano, basil, parsley, fresh ground pepper, salt, and any additional Italian seasonings you can get your hands on (sage, thyme, rosemary?), and don't forget a generous portion of crushed red pepper flakes. In the past I added a tablespoon of sugar, but I don't anymore, but you may opt to do so to give it a little sweetness.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

street foodie

No new recipes today due to general busyness and shenanigans, but here are some Damascene food stalls, photographed by my father in January 2010.

Monday, May 17, 2010

lovely layered things

I'm spending this week on the floor of a friend's apartment. The kitchen is big and I plan on cooking something good later in the week, but for now we're being lazy and spending all day in the sun. 

Tonight for our picnic dinner: bread and cheese, carrots and hummos, potato salad and Pink Truck wine. Here are some pretty and interesting food photos and ideas that I've come across recently (apparently I'm into layers these days):

Rainbow cake:

photo by dariusmonsef (

Hundred layer lasagna:

Hannah Witaker for NY Times Magazine (

Mushroom crepe cake:

From Smitten Kitchen (

Friday, May 14, 2010


Disaster part II: After I burned the caramel (see below), I realized that I had no butter. Two for two yesterday. I'm moving out of my apartment tomorrow, so my refrigerator is sparse. I did have a tin of olive oil and some plain yogurt, which sounded like an unexpected yet promising start to a cake.

I thought that this cake would be a disaster too, but I suppose I underestimated the magic of flour, fat, sugar and eggs.

The cake turned out interesting. Interesting is not always something you'd want to eat, but this cake was interesting and delicious, and smelled floral and sweet when I carried it to a friend's house.

Olive oil yogurt cake

1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup olive oil (I used extra virgin. Use one you like, because its taste shines through)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

for glaze:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix yogurt, olive oil, and sugar until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift in dry ingredients and stir to combine. Pour into a 9 inch round cake pan and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Cool for 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan.

In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar and vanilla for the glaze. I poured this over the cake while it was still warm and it seeped into the top layer of the cake, which was lovely.

disaster struck

Today I tried to make caramel and failed. I was envisioning cornmeal cake with caramel sauce, but things did not work out so well.

Everything was going okay at this point, but then I got impatient because nothing was happening and I turned up the heat. I can tell you from experience that sugar burns very quickly. Zero to beyond repair in five seconds.

In order to avoid setting off the fire alarm, I went outside for a few minutes with my pan of burning sugar and waited in the grass for the smoking to mellow. Afterward, I tried to rescue it it by adding extra heavy cream.

 The end result was runny and bitter. Caramel is not supposed to be this color. I wanted to try again, but I had run out of heavy cream and time.

Things I learned from caramel today:
Turning up the heat is not always the best option
Pay attention, things happen all at once
Some things are not salvageable

And I think those may be applicable in more circumstances than this.

Here's the recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit), I think it would have been delicious had I taken the pan off the heat thirty seconds earlier:

Caramel sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 Tblsp. butter
1 cup heavy cream

Over medium heat, stir together the sugar and water until dissolved. Turn up the heat until boiling, and boil (paying very close attention!) for 10 minutes until sugar is amber colored. I would take the pan off the heat almost as soon as any color shows up, because it will continue to cook for a few seconds after the heat is removed.

Add the butter and whisk, then gradually whisk in the cream. The sugar will sizzle as you add the sugar and cream, so add things slowly and whisk quickly until everything is incorporated and mixture is smooth

Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Monday, May 10, 2010

wine stained teeth

This is what I'd rather be doing instead.

Amor, ahora nos vamos a la casa
donde la enredadera sube por las escalas:
antes que llegues tú llegó a tu dormitorio
el verano desnudo con pies de madreselva.

Love, we're going home now,
Where the vines clamber over the trellis:
Even before you, the summer will arrive,
On its honeysuckle feet, in your bedroom.

(Pablo Neruda) 


1 bottle red wine
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar (or more, to taste)
juice of half a grapefruit
juice of half a lime
juice of half an orange
10 ounces seltzer
5 ounces light rum
diced or sliced fruit (oranges, strawberries, pineapple, peaches)
lots of ice

Sunday, May 9, 2010

stale bread

Unorganized energy. 

Sometimes I am overcome by restlessness. I have a friend who makes and restores paper, which I think is beautiful. Whenever I get strung out, I make lists (drastically less cool). Whenever my cooking and eating gets stale, I make three lists similar to these:

right now I like to eat:
yogurt and granola
veggie sushi
flower tea
avocado on toast
cheese and bread

right now I like to cook:
roasted eggplant
omelets with sundried tomato
polenta with basil and fontina
fried egg and avocado sandwiches

soon, I want to make:
fresh spring rolls
red pepper salad
avocado smoothies
raspberry jam sandwich cookies

Friday, May 7, 2010

here's to me

I have a weekly dinner date with my friend Nina, but we postponed this week because it was too hot to be hungry. We made this pasta when we rescheduled, because it's great for when you want comfort food but don't want to feel after as if there's a lead weight in your stomach. I was tempted to call it Summer Mac 'n Cheese, but then I felt like I deserved more credit, so I call it Pasta Gabrielle. That's right, I named this dish after myself.

Its conception was complete luck. At the beginning of last summer, weshop was running out of fresh food and all I managed to come away with was a small tub of ricotta, some spinach, and a container of cherry tomatoes. I was trying to cook an impressive meal for someone I really liked, so I blame the pasta's success on wanting really hard for things to go well. Sometimes when I'm happy in the kitchen things just work themselves out, even if the odds are against me.

Pasta Gabrielle
or, pasta with lemony ricotta and tomatoes

1/2 pound penne, gemelli, or a similar shape (I like to use whole wheat)
1 cup ricotta
zest of one lemon
lots salt and pepper
3 Tblsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
10-15 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
3-4 large handfuls of baby spinach, coarsely shredded or ripped

Boil water, add pasta and cook according to package directions.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Saute garlic and tomatoes in olive oil 7-9 minutes, or until tender and beginning to lose shape.

When the pasta is ready, drain and return to pot. Add ricotta mixture and spinach leaves, mixing until the spinach is wilted. Serve in bowls, and top each serving with a spoonful of tomatoes.