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

Internets

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...