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Tuesday
Nov292011

THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL



I started writing a post about spicy chiles. I babbled about how I have made inedible food by underestimating the heat of tiny peppers - a lesson it seems you learn once per chile. That was the short of it because really I just want you to read this article: How to Love What you Do.

I found it via a good friend's twitter and while it seems to be written for photographers, I heard the whole thing speaking to the cautious me. The me who came back from her tax appointment last night thinking WHAT am I doing?!? A question I really need a good answer to given the amount of people asking me, "Your book is written! Now what are you going to do?".
You know how you are never to ask a lady if she's pregnant unless you're absoluetly sure? I would also love to officially add the what-are-you-doing-next question to that forbidden list. I will tell you when I know. Just like the pregnant lady.

I love number 5 about making decisions because it reminded me of all the things I've talked myself out of. The big and the little. I'm motivated and inspired and that's what I wanted to share with you. That and this soup, which is one of the most flavorful things I've made in a while. The broth started off like drinking fire, and then I fixed it and truly feel it's a wonderful recipe base that you can adjust to your taste preferences.
Noodle bowl or not, I hope you decide to think big today, because "doing is all that counts".

THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL // Serves 4
Adapted from Food and Wine via Harold Dieterle of Kin Shop, New York

I know heat is subjective, so I am giving amounts for a medium spicy soup. I would start there and add accordingly. It's tougher to neutralize the spice in a soup like this, so start moderate. The original recipe calls for fish sauce, which I can't handle, so I opted for peanut butter and tamari. I'm sure you can find the original on their website.

1 14 oz. pkg. Extra Firm Tofu
2 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
2 tsp. Sesame or Olive Oil

2 Thai Chiles or half of one VERY Small Habanero, seeded and chopped
3 Stalks Fresh Lemongrass, inner bulbs, finely chopped
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Shallot
1/4 Cup Peeled and Chopped Fresh Ginger
1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil
2 1/2 Cups Coconut Milk (about a can and a half)
1 heaping Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp. Natural Smooth Peanut Butter
Zest of Two Limes
Juice of One Lime
Salt and Pepper
2 Cups Roughly Chopped Mushrooms (I used medium portabellos)
Around 9oz. Soba Noodles, love these
Fresh Cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish

Wrap the tofu in a few paper towels and set it on a plate to drain with another plate on top. Leave it for an hour or up to six. Preheat the oven to 400'. Cut the tofu into 2'' cubes, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the tamari and oil and bake for about 25 minutes until the edges are browned.
In a blender or food processor, combine the chiles, lemongrass*, garlic, ginger, shallot and 1/4 cup water and puree until smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil. Add the lemongrass puree and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until fragrant. About two minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, muscavado, tamari, peanut butter, lime zest and a cup of water. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.
While the broth simmers, cook your soba noodles.
To the broth, ddd the sliced mushrooms, stir in the lime juice, taste for salt and pepper and let it sit another 5 minutes. Divide the noodles and tofu between your bowls and laddle the broth on top. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

* Lemongrass is a beautiful ingredient but try to find a store that sells nice fresh stalks. You can tell because they will be pretty firm. I find it easiest to smash them with the side of a wide knife and peel back an outer layer or two, then chop up the insides to cook with.

Sunday
Nov202011

BANANA SNACKING CAKE WITH CASHEW COCONUT CREAM



It hasn't completely sunk in, but the holidays are paving their way. The tree lots are popping up, we've got our Thanksgiving assignments and little white lights are slowing starting to line the houses in our neighborhood. I've got tubs of peppermint ice cream (my absolute favorite) in the freezer and there is a blooming white poinsettia on the porch. I just began to feel taken by the sentiment of this time of year in craving more time with friends and family, reflecting on the past year with thanks. Days pass and then you look back at a years time and so much has happened. So much! I know I have a ton to be thankful for. The big things like a kind and funny husband, a supportive family (two of them now!) a great place to live and good food. But the little things are not lost on me either. I just hope we all take the time to soak it all in.

This snack cake is my last non-festive treat before I jump into the holiday dishes with two feet. You don't get much less festive than banana cakes this time of year, but I couldn't help myself. I'm now ready to burn out on pumpkin and peppermint with the rest of you. I've been having a thing with almond meal lately, as I appreciate the flavor, extra protein and the crumbly texture in my baked goods. Because it is gluten free, I am careful when I use it exclusively, to make sure everything stays together. You could go all almond meal if need be, but know it will be a fragile cake. Here, I mix in a bit of spelt flour (wheat free, but not gluten free) and it yields that delicate texture while tasting pleasantly grainy from the spelt.
It's a tasty little snack, a perfect compliment to afternoon coffee, but personally, a distraction to keep Hugh out of my peppermint ice cream.

BANANA SNACKING CAKE WITH CASHEW COCONUT CREAM // Makes one 8x8 cake
The cream frosting is from So Good and Tasty via My New Roots

You could use sweetened coconut if that is what you have on hand, just know your cake will be a bit sweeter. I gathered a tip from Kamran's recent post, and think it's perfect for baked goods with almond meal. I pull it out a tad early and cover it with a dishtowel to hold the steam in and it keeps it moist. He leaves his cake covered for 8 hours, I felt mine was good after an hour. Lastly, I have found that nut meals dry out quicker, so keep it air tight and it should last you 2-3 days. They have a great, well priced almond meal at Trader Joe's.

1 Cup Almond Meal
1/2 Cup Spelt Flour
1/2 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tbsp. Light Muscavado Sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, plus extra for finishing
Few pinches of Fresh Grated Nutmeg

2 Large, Extra Ripe Bananas
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, warmed to a liquid
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract


Cashew Cream
1/2 Cup Raw Cashews, soaking in water for an hour
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp. Honey or Maple
1 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

Preheat the oven to 350'.
Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
In another bowl, smash the bananas really well, breaking down the chunks. Add the oil, eggs, vanilla and mix. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients.
Grease an 8x8 glass baking pan and pour in the mix. Bake on the middle rack for about 22-24 minutes. Being sure the center is just set.
Allow it to cool for about 5 minutes, cover it with a dish towel and let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour as it re-absorbs some of the steam.
For the cream, drain the cashews and put them in a food processor with the coconut milk, honey and lemon juice. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. It will have a bit of texture to it. The cream will keep in the fridge for about a week.
I prefer to add a bit of the cream to each piece as eaten, not frost the whole cake. Finish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Wednesday
Nov092011

CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER SOUP



I had a nice big head of cauliflower in the fridge, knowing it would make for a nice soup or a puree of some sort, something easy. I'm partial to roasting most vegetables this time of year, and there is something about the crusty edges and nutty taste of a roasted cauliflower floret that certainly shames any past habits of steaming. The high heat of the oven brings out the natural sugars in the vegetable and rounds them out, caramelizing them with charming flecks of brown, hence the color of my soup.

There are two ways to go with a cauliflower soup, depending how rich you want it. While the rainy days passed, I scribbled notes of browned butter, a bit of cream, maybe some shaved grano padano cheese on top. Then we went to San Francisco for a few days, and ate some pretty wonderful food, so I decided to scale back that decadence just a bit. I'm all for those ingredients in moderation, but my favorite jeans were feeling snug, so here we are with a broth base and I don't feel like I'm missing too much. If you want more richness, replace some of the broth with cream and dress it up with cheese or browned butter as you wish. Even after a good run in the food processor, there is some texture to this soup, so enjoy it for what it is.

In other news, we've been married a year this Sunday, so that's really exciting. Time flies when you're trying to figure out how to make a book together. I love, love. Like really love it.

CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER SOUP // Serves 4

I was eating some leftovers today and was thinking that if you halved the broth, this would make a nice puree underneath your protein of choice - sort of a nice alternative to mashed potatoes. Just a thought.

1 Head Cauliflower (about 3 lbs.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Fresh Grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Broth//
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Shallot, chopped
1 Clove Garlic, chopped
3 Cups Low Sodium Vegetable Broth
1 tsp. Dried Thyme
1 Tbsp. White Balsamic Vinegar

Toppings//
1 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Fresh Torn Bread, roughly 1'' pieces
Ground Pepper
1/2 Cup Toasted Hazelnuts, Chopped
Fresh Thyme Leaves
Shaved Parmesan, optional

Preheat the oven to 450'.
Cut the cauliflower into florets and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the fresh nutmeg and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper and toss everything to coat. Bake on the middle rack for about 35-45 minutes, tossing the cauliflower halfway through, until they are fully roasted and you see a good amount of brown edges. There is a pretty wide grace period here. Remove to cool.
While the cauliflower roasts, start the broth. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the vegetable broth, dried thyme and vinegar and warm through.
When the cauliflower is cool to touch, add it and the broth mixture to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. If you want more contrast, add a bit more vinegar. Add it back to the saucepan to keep warm.
To make the croutons, heat the remaining oil in a small pan, add the torn bread and a pinch of ground pepper and stir it around for 5-8 minutes until crisp and the edges are browned.
Serve each portion with a few croutons, chopped hazelnuts and a pinch of fresh thyme leaves and shaved parmesan, if using.

Wednesday
Oct262011

THOUGHTS

Without question, this book manuscript has been the most challenging thing I have ever done. Ever.

I remember leaving my old job desperate for a project that would push me and presently, I see my prayers answered about tenfold. I've watched my self, my marriage, and both mine and Hugh's work grow and improve these past ten months. I'm not even out of the woods yet, and I am filled with emotions over what an experience this has been so far.

I've studied dozens of cookbooks, poured over the photography, the writing style, and how they are composed overall. It seemed simple enough, given ample time, to make a collection of how I cook during the week, for friends, and for family on occasion. It's never fancy, typically on the lighter side, produce focused, and now, because of Hugh's influence, a second thought is given to the aesthetics of the plate. At the start, I imagined I would cook and write and just transcribe what I know. Turns out there is more to it. We seem to have learned the hard way - learned by doing, actually. We're currently going back to the first few recipes written and pictures taken and bringing them on par with where we are now (we haven't "figured it out", but the big picture is looking less nebulous than it did in January). Improvement or not, I have to be honest with you lovely people, those of you who have so kindly encouraged me, and convinced me that I AM capable of this. It is extremely difficult to explain a process that is creative and spontaneous for me, and treat it as something concrete and specific. I want to share this with people, but a list of directions seems cold compared to how I feel about simple, wholesome food. This is my art. The books I've admired, and thought I could use as reference, became useless when I realized how personal writing a cookbook is.

When I consider the permanence of print, the self doubt becomes sort of paralyzing. We crave affirmation, and by we I do mean all of us, but females especially. We crave for people to tell us that they like us, that we are good at something. A 'regular' job, if you will, usually consists of someone above you setting a standard and giving direction day in and day out, while you also have others around you with constant feedback. It is really nice to work at home is stretchy yoga pants, but I miss that. Maybe I love the braised white bean recipe in the book, but what if other people don't like them? Gasp! Then what?? Hugh assured me this is the demon of a creative person (something I actually never considered myself, to be honest), that we set a high standard, a great expectation for our work, but the means to reach or even exceed that standard is always a challenge. I must rest in the fact that it is simply not possible to please everyone. It's not possible to make a book full of recipes that everyone will like and that is going to be alright. I knew going into this that the project was bigger than what I felt capable of, and I still feel that way, but participating would be the only way I would grow. I wanted to be pushed, but that doesn't mean I have not had a considerable amount of breakdowns.

I'm about a week away from turning in a gigantic word document and already feel the weight of responsibility lifting from me. Not in the sense that it is being passed to someone else, but that I know I have done my best and at this point, my art is making its way out there.
These are not thoughts of complaint, believe me, I am grateful. I am merely trying to write the fear out of my head.

Ah. Deep breaths.

I don't have a recipe for you, seriously, I can not talk about food for awhile, but I wanted to include just a few pictures from my phone of the mess and process we've been up to. Sidenote, that baby is not ours, she is our niece, and we are trying to kidnap her.

Thursday
Oct062011

CRUSTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH



I'm so late to the party of being drawn into the cookbook Plenty by Yotam Otteleghi. I sat in Barnes and Noble with a big stack of cookbooks to flip through and his book was so lovely in its brightness, simplicity and the thoughtfulness of bringing out the best of vegetables. I took a few dozen pictures with my phone of recipes that inspired me, and I plan to buy it after this crazy month is over and I have the time to cook from it. The chapters are divided by vegetable, and while the internet is not short on fall recipes at the moment, I was sure this recipe, as he has written for pumpkin, would be a great way to use some of the butternut squash I have at home. It's a why-haven't-I-done-this-before? kind of recipe - written with a short list of familiar ingredients, likely things you have on hand and out comes a tender squash with just the right crunch of breadcrumbs and parmesan. I typically make more than we can eat to have leftovers, but this is the kind of side you'd want to have fresh as the breadcrumbs get a bit soggy. I'm giving some measurements, but squash vary so much in size, just use it as a guideline and adjust as needed, each piece needs a nice, hearty coating.

We're heading to Hawaii with my family tomorrow for a sunny vacation, and we return to the last few weeks before the manuscript is due for our cookbook (crazyness!). I hope to pop in here for another post amongst all the editing of recipes, photo shoots etc., while both of us are keeping up with other work as well. But if it's quiet around here, it's for good reason. Forgive me. It's a good kind of crazy, I'm excited, feels like I'm in school again, except I'm writing about things I give a hoot about. See you on the other side!

CRUSTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Slighty adapted from Ottelenghi's Plenty

I didn't write down the recipe, all I had was an iphone picture and a vague memory, so this is my best shot. I believe the original may have had pine nuts in it, which would have been nice. My one regret is that I gave the breadcrumbs a few too many pulses in the processor and they were too fine, I will leave them coarser next time.

1 Butternut Squash (about 2 lbs.)
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Fresh Ground Nutmeg
1/3 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs / Panko
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Minced Garlic Clove
1 Tbsp. Finely Chopped Parsley
1/4 Cup Fresh Thyme Leaves
Salt and Peppersprouted kitchen

Oven to 400
Peel the squash (vegetable peeler works great). Slice it in half length wise and discard the seeds. Cut into 1/4'' slices.
On a parchment lined baking tray, pile the squash, drizzle the olive oil and the nutmeg and toss everything to coat evenly. All should have a thin coat of oil, amount may vary based on size of the squash. Spread them out in a single layer on the baking tray. You may need to use two, too much overlap won't yield a crunchy crust.
In a food processor (or magic bullet) pulse together the breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, both herbs, a few pinches of salt and a lot of fresh black pepper.
Sprinkle the topping on the squash. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the tops are browned and the squash is cooked.