Thursday, November 29, 2007

every day, almost every way

I've had my eye on Lorna Sass's latest cookbook, Whole Grains Every day, Every Way, for a while now. I'd sneek peeks at it in various bookstores and then look at the price, go through the book again, look at Lorna's picture where she stands in a field of grain in a cute polka dot sundress, lament the fact I don't live near any hills, and make a mental note to get the book next time. Well, I finally got it and I really wish I had bought it sooner.

The book starts out with a basic introduction to different types of grains, information about how to buy and store them, how to cook them and what flavors are complemented by them. Then there are pictures of some of the recipes and photos of the grains on their own. The photos do not look done up or fancy - they look exactly how they would if you made them in your own kitchen and they are true to the ingredients. With some cookbooks this is not the case - the Tassajara Cookbook, which I should have read the Amazon review for before buying, has gorgeous pictures of the Zen Mountain Center and the food served there, but the pictures do not always match the recipe, and for that matter, some of the recipes don't work as written. While Lorna Sass's book made me want to cook every grain I could get my hands on, the Tassajara Cookbook made me feel like I needed to go to Tassajara for a retreat to try the gorgeous looking food and unwind from the frustration of the inconsistent recipes. I am going to keep trying some of the non-dessert recipes from the Tassajara book and get back to you - I've given up on the cookie recipes because they've all been not-so-good. But in the meantime I will return to praising Lorna Sass and her love of whole grains.

Once you get through the first 113 pages of grain introduction (I know this sounds like a chore, but it's really not), you are more than well prepared to cook up a feast. What you'll notice is that most recipes have suggestions as to what grains you can substitute in/out (because not all of us have 4 cups of kamut in the pantry) and some simple variations to modify the flavors. I think a lot of people are wary of trying to incorporate whole grains beyond brown rice or oats into their diets because they are not familiar with the tastes or ways to cook them, but between the introductory section and the simple recipes anyone should be able to start exploring the colorful (seriously!) world of hominy, teff and quinoa.

I've tried recipes from each section (soups/salads, mains, sides, breakfast and dessert) and they've all been fantastic. However, I think the one that has been the biggest hit in our house has been the coconut rice pudding. My love for rice pudding has already been documented, but this variation brings rice pudding to a whole new level - wholesome, exotic and incredibly fragrant. Also, it's quite possibly the easiest dessert I've made in a long time. I adapted the recipe from the one in the book - used brown rice instead of black chinese rice, added raisins, didn't top with lychees, used low fat coconut milk instead of regular, but the general idea is the same: rice + water + coconut milk = pudding. It's vegan, it's relatively healthy, it's simple and it's a show stopper of a recipe. Go make it and eat it while you look at Lorna Sass's amazing book.

Coconut brown rice pudding
adapted from Whole Grains Every Way, Every Day

1 cup brown rice, rinsed
1 3/4 c water
pinch of salt
1 can low-fat coconut milk
1/2 c raisins
4 T sugar (or to taste)

1. Bring the water to a boil and add the rice and pinch of salt. Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes (want the rice to be tender but not totally done). Don't worry if there is still water in the pot.
2. Add the coconut milk and raisins and return to a boil. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn't stick, and add sugar after about 5 minutes. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and has absorbed most of the milk.

Note: the rice will continue to absorb the coconut milk as it sits, so don't be worried if the mixture still looks a little soupy by the time the rice is done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quick update

OK. So I haven't posted anything in 3 weeks. Sorry. To make amends I've put up some ridiculous photos of our awesome dog, Jordan. She does not like towels, loves the world and will only eat her food if I sprinkle some Cheerios on top (no photographic evidence of that, yet).

The past three weeks have been really hectic - I got into med school (hoorah!), am figuring out how to finish my PhD (yes!) and getting ready for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh where I will eat ravioli instead of turkey and have pumpkin pie for breakfast (so good!). Thanksgiving is the beginning of 'ridiculous food eating month', as in short order it will be my birthday, Hanukah (jelly doughnuts! latkes! levivot!), then back to Pittsburgh for Christmas (cookies!).

I recently got some more cookbooks (not that I didn't have enough already), and have been cooking up a storm, so I'll post more later. But in the meantime, here's a link to a great recipe. I made it for Heather's clothing swap party and it was a huge hit. Instead of making it in cake form, I made it into cupcakes. Easy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fall dinner

I know it seems like Alice Waters and Girl Scout cookies have nothing in common, but they both inspired a really fantastic Fall dinner. Seriously.

When I was in elementary school I decided that I hated peanut butter. Sometime in high school I ate peanut butter again (we didn't eat this stuff at home as it's not staple of Russian food), and guess what? I loved it. This seems to be a pattern with me, in which I decide I hate a food and don't eat it for years and then realize I love it. The most recent food this has happened with is coconut, and now I am sad about all the years I missed eating Girl Scout cookies and Anthony's mom's homemade chocolate fudge with coconut. The way I realized that I actually like coconut is through an act that at first was completely altruistic - on Celine's blog she made a vegan version of samoas using a recipe from yet another blog. Knowing that these were Anthony's favorite Girl Scout cookies, and that he'd be psyched if I made them, I figured I'd give them a shot. So I made them last night, along with a fantastic butternut squash soup, and figured I might as well try one. Well, I tried four. And the two I packed with me for lunch? Ate them for breakfast.

* Recipe notes - The samoas recipe is pretty right on. I spooned and leveled the flour (whole wheat pastry) and my cookies spread out a lot. I'm not sure if this is why mine did and Celine's didn't. Otherwise I pretty much followed the original recipe w/the comments (added chocolate, less pecans, etc...). The dough is incredibly sticky - I used my hands to mix and had to wet them a little bit so I didn't have 40% dough on my hands, 60% in the bowl. Also, the cookies will look under baked! I was a little nervous when I took them out of the oven, but they are supposed to be sticky and look a little undone. They will set more as they cool.

The fantastic butternut squash soup that I made also includes something that Anthony loves - sage. There is an amazing Italian restaurant near our house called A Tavola, which is known for their gnocchi with sage. They serve it with the leaves fried in butter until they are crunchy, and it really is fantastic. I thought of this when I saw a recipe for butternut squash and sage risotto, but I didn't feel like making risotto. The weather in Chicago is pure 'curl up with a big bowl of soup' weather, so I was looking for a good butternut squash soup recipe instead. I wound up combining two soup recipes - one I had made before and love, but it's a bit sweet, and the other was a butternut squash and white bean soup recipe from Alice Water's new cookbook. The original risotto recipe was from Chez Panisse, so I guess the soup is 2/3 Alice Water's inspired. Since both butternut squash and apples work well with sage, I made a butternut squash, apple and sage soup. It's lovely. Especially with a few fried sage leaves sprinkled on top.

Butternut squash, apple and sage soup

3 T olive oil
2 lb butternut squash, chopped up in little pieces
1 onion, diced
2 apples, seeded and diced
6 sage leaves, chopped (plus more left whole for frying)
2 cups apple cider
4 cups veg. stock
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or other large stock pot over medium heat.
When it's hot add the onion, apple and sage and let cook for about 5 min, until the apples begin to get soft.
Add the butternut squash and continue to cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 more minutes.
Add the apple cider and stir. Let it come to a boil.
Add the stock, let boil, cover and simmer until the squash is soft, about 20 - 30 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, or by transferring batches to a blender, puree the soup until you get a consistency that you like.
Continue to heat the soup and let it reduce until it thickens - here you can make it thicker if you over did it with the blender.
Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To fry the sage leaves - put a pat of butter (about 1 T) into a small frying pan over medium heat. Once melted and the butter is hot, add sage leaves and watch carefully - they quickly go from dark green and crunchy to brown and burnt.

Top the soup with the sage leaves and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice...

There used be a band called Rice whose whole bit was to make fun of (or pay homage to, your choice) hardcore songs. It was one of those things where if you didn't recognize what they were alluding to in the lyrics, probably 95% of what made the band awesome was lost on you. I was one of the lucky (?) ones that caught the references and proceeded to play a lot of Rice songs on my radio show. The main side effect of doing this is that every time I think of rice (the food) I think of Rice (the band). One of their lyrics, '2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice - is this the way you measure your life's worth?' is pretty handy when I am cooking, but it's really annoying to have stuck in your head.

I've loved rice since I was a little kid. My mom's mom would make white rice and serve it with a little milk and sugar when I was sick. My dad's mom would cook plov, which is a Russian rice dish that is made with dried fruits or meat (or both). To keep it warm after cooking, she would wrap it in a blanket and tuck it into my parents' bed. When I was older, my dad and I would go to a Chinese restaurant by our house and talk. Those were some of the only times we really spent on our own when I was a teenager, and now I associate generic NYC Chinese restaurants with my dad and fried rice.

Perhaps my favorite rice dish, however, is Kozy Shack rice pudding. Not only did this company corner the market on using K instead of C way before bad metal bands did, it also makes the best store bought rice pudding I've ever had. It's not healthy and has a kind of weird texture, but it tastes phenomenal. It reminds me of Fall, comfortable couches and naps. I haven't bought it in a long time because I always say to myself 'I can make that!' but have I? No. I get home and stare at my different types of non-white rice, shrug and go eat some chocolate instead.

Well, all of that was true until last Sunday. When I did my usual check of food blogs, I saw this recipe on Julie Hasson's blog and I had to make it. In fact, it looked like I had since I have that same Fiestaware mug. And the recipe? Easy and not all that bad for you. I had some left over arborio rice from making amazing corn risotto out of the Rebar cookbook, so I tried it with that and did everything exactly as written and wound up with amazing better than Kozy Shack rice pudding.

I sent Anthony to work with a small container of rice pudding, topped with raisins and cinnamon, which apparently made all of his coworkers jealous. He said he tried to explain to them how easy it was to make (no eggs! no dairy!) but they didn't buy it. But you all now have the link to the recipe, and I suggest you go make it. Right now. It's that good.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


It's been over a month since my last post, and let me tell you things have been a little nuts. My applications to med school are finally complete and now I get to sit and wait to hear about interviews. Some people are patient, but I am not, so this waiting period is characterized by me checking my e-mail 5698 times a day. I've also begun to dread checking the mail for fear of the thin white envelope. I don't think I was this nervous when I applied to college or grad school. I'm also trying to get a bunch of experiments up and running so I can graduate in June. Finishing a PhD is just slightly less stressful than applying to medical school. Slightly.

To try to maintain my sanity I've been been going to kickboxing classes, hanging out with our dog and cooking. In my downtime in the lab I search for recipes online, so my poor cookbooks are collecting dust. This hasn't stopped me from getting new ones, though. I recently picked up Alice Water's new book when I went to the farmers market and she was hanging out signing copies. I also ordered Dreena Burton's new book, which I am waiting for. I have her other two books and love them. I have yet to make anything that wasn't tasty, simple and healthy out of them.

But back to the topic at hand. I have two recipes for you that you have to try. They are fantastic - one of them I didn't even tweak (which is rare). The first is for a butternut squash salad that comes courtesy of Orangette. It's fantastic. Amazing. I've made it twice in two weeks. The first time I used some odd shaped squashes out of the CSA box, and the other time with a proper butternut squash. Again, twice in two weeks. The first time I ate it all on my own in a matter of a few days. This time I was nice and shared it with Anthony. The other recipe is for cookies - these I shared with Anthony as soon as I made them, but not before I ate some of the dough and my fair share of cookies when they came out of the oven. The recipe I used came from Clotide by way of David Lebovitz. I added 1/2 cup of goji berries, used whole wheat pastry flour instead of the all purpose and whole wheat, and didn't use the cocoa nibs. I also sprinkled them with a little bit of sea salt. You should go make them. They are easily made vegan as they have no eggs.

So there you are! Go cook and relax. Tomorrow I get another big box of random fruits and veggies from the CSA so who knows what I'll make...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Internet recipes

Even though I have more than my fair share of cookbooks, I have recently been finding that a lot of what I cook is based off of recipes I've found online. I peruse food blogs when I have free time in the lab and so in a way I have probably more thoroughly gone through the recipes at 101cookbooks than those found in some of the cookbooks I have at home.

Top picture: Last week I made the asian grain burger from 28cooks. It came together really easily, although I used a whole can of pinto beans instead of the amount called for in the original recipe. It tasted fantastic when served on toasted naan (from Trader Joe's), with some mixed baby mesclun greens and ricotta salata. Anthony took it to work with him and apparently it made his coworkers jealous.

Middle picture: easy beer rolls from Have Cake Will Travel. I used an old bottle of Amstel Light that we had left over from our holiday party way back in December, instant yeast and no bread machine. I keep having the same problem where I cannot find a good spot to let my dough rise - either it's too hot and the bread comes out tasting too yeasty, or it's just too cold. Woe is me. Regardless, this recipe is really easy to put together and the rolls are great.

Bottom picture: honey loaf. Just in time for Rosh Ha'shanah I found a great recipe for Ukrainian honey cake on the Wednesday Chef. I used some chai tea instead of coffee, whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose, and instead of sugar added 1/4 c of agave. This was so good I pretty much ate the whole loaf by myself in a matter of a three days. In my defense, I did give Anthony some to take with him to work but he never ate it. Oh well - His loss equals my delicious gain. I think I am going to toy with this recipe a bit and try adding some dried berries and make it for the High Holidays.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Well hello there...

You know how it seems that everytime I enter something into this blog I start off with a statement about how I will update more often? Well, obviously I'm a liar. Or just well intentioned but cannot follow through. Or perhaps just lazy. Whichever reason it is, my not posting does not equal not cooking. I've been trying lots of recipes from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook, which is excellent. I've made baked tofu, salads, dressings, blintzes, multiple cakes (in a few days I'll post my version of their vegan brownie recipe which I turned into a carob-less, bittersweet chocolate filled cake) and a whole host of other things. Until then, here is a picture of Jordog at the beach and some recipe links.

In non-Rebar cooking news, last night I tried my hand at two recipes I found online. Anthony has been asking for corn cakes since he came back from tour, so that coupled with lots of corn that came in the CSA box last week I decided to find some corn cake recipe. Well, I ended up making corn fritters, and they were fantastic. I followed that recipe almost exactly, but didn't use coriander, did use the cumin and parsley (instead of cilantro, which I didn't have). I also made oatmeal walnut veggie burgers, which I thought were ok. I liked the texture and the technique of using stock, but they didn't taste like much. I think next time I'll play around with the seasoning and add something more than just onions.

I think tonight I will try to make some black raspberry and oatmeal bars. I'll let you know how it goes!