Monday, September 21, 2009

No cHard Feelings

No pictures today because I'm tired of arguing with my (5 year-old) camera about its flash settings and what to focus on. I was potentially going to buy a super-spiffy and cheap Canon s3is from a friend of mine, but someone else got it first....drat! Meanwhile, I made a super-delicious pasta primvera-esque dinner tonight, complete with rainbow chard from the farm my sister works on! (It's not too hot to grow greens in the summer in NY state!) But it's not actually springtime, so I dub this:

Pasta Verano (Italian/Spanish meld-phrase!)

1/2 lb. pasta (I used fettuccine)
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

2 T. mixture of canola and olive oils
1/2 onion, sliced
1 summer squash/zucchini, sliced
1 small bunch chard (rainbow or otherwise), ribbed and chopped (reserve greens separately from ribs)
1 handful fresh basil leaves, snipped
1 gorgeous tomato, chopped
2 large gloves garlic, minced
red chili flakes to taste

Saute onions, squash and chard ribs over medium-low heat until almost tender, 5-8 minutes. Add chard greens, basil, tomato, garlic and chili flakes and cover. Cook for 2-4 minutes or until greens are wilted.

Make pasta. When it's cooked drain but DO NOT RINSE. Return to pot and crack an egg over it. Stir vigorously for about 75 seconds. The egg will get frothy and then creamy-- it should not turn into little scrambled egg bits. Salt and pepper generously.

Combine veg and pasta and serve hot.

The egg-in-pasta idea came from two sources, one: Make do and make it good and the other: What Geeks Eat.

Rainbow chard in its farm life:

(photo copyright Christina Schubert, 2009)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vanilla Custard with Cantaloupe and Basil

Over the summer I had lunch at Cafe Gutenberg in Richmond, VA. After an excellent lunch (I had some sort of sandwich as I recall) they happened to have a muskmelon-basil custard for dessert, which had won them some sort of award in a cooking competition the day before. Intrigued, we ordered it. It was amazing! As I recall, the custard itself was muskmelon-flavored, with chopped basil on it (maybe also through it, I don't quite remember). The sweetness of the custard base went well with the sunny melon flavor, and the basil added a nice twist. I recently found myself with an heirloom cantaloupe-of-some-variety and an excess of milk, so I took a stab at a version of this excellent summer dessert.

I remain fairly convinced that you cannot put the melon in with the custard while it's hot-- cooked melon doesn't sound appetizing and would do interesting things to the texture I think. So I made a simple vanilla custard, ala Southern Living, reproduced below. I should have gone a bit light on the sugar, as it turned out almost cloyingly sweet. (Luckily the basil helped cut it a bit.) It didn't set up as much as perhaps it should have, maybe because I halved the recipe and my pot may have been a bit large-- letting it boil too quickly, etc, etc.

It was 10:30PM when I decided to put the melon/basil bits together with the custard, so I simply cut a wedge of melon, spooned on some custard, and snipped some fresh basil for a generous garnish. When I have more time I will consider pureeing the melon and basil together and straining off some of the liquid (to drink, yum!) before mixing that into the custard base. Of course, that would work better if the custard were more firm to start out with-- I may just end up with chilled melon-basil-custard soup! (Of course, that sounds fabulous too...) I'll let you know what I get up to tomorrow in the way of making the three ingredients meld more. As it was, the basil chunks flavored the custard somewhat, and alternating bites of custard with bites of melon did the trick.

Half Vanilla Custard Recipe (reproduced from

1/4 cup sugar--USE LESS!
1.5 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
2 egg yolks
1.5 cups milk
1 T. butter or margarine
1 t. vanilla extract

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat (about 20 minutes), whisking constantly; boil, whisking constantly, 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Chill two hours.

Another serving suggestion (Day Two edit):
Tonight I finely diced the cantaloupe (if you cut a wedge of melon and cross-hatch the flesh with a paring knife you can scoop the meat off the rind in neat cubes!) and the basil, and mixed those in with the custard. After all that stirring the custard had the consistency of yogurt, which was fine. The flavors blended a lot better-- in fact I'd consider doing this with the whole batch of custard and letting it sit in the fridge for a day to marry the flavors. Of course, it's not as pretty of a presentation as custard-with-orange-and-green-lumps. Suit yourself.
Also, I now want to try yogurt with basil in it, and raspberries perhaps...

Monday, September 7, 2009


It was chilly (only 75!) and overcast today, which made it perfect for stew. Goulash is Hungarian I think, and is essentially oniony, paprikay beef stew. Yum! It also happens to be very very easy to make, as all good stew should be. This is my parents' recipe (if you can even call it that), and they always make it in the pressure cooker, allowing one to go from raw to stew in about 30 minutes. I have no pressure cooker and didn't think far enough ahead to put this in the CrockPot (though you easily could), so I just made it in a pot on the stove, the old-fashioned way. The amount of this recipe is enough for 2 decently-sized portions-- two dinners or a dinner and leftovers-for-lunch!

Start with 1/2 lb stew beef (or lamb I suppose). I cut mine into smaller chunks to encourage it to cook more quickly. In two batches, brown it in a combination of canola and olive oils. You only want the meat to brown, don't worry if it's still raw in the middle. Remove from the pan and add two large handfuls of sliced onions. Brown those also, adding more oil as necessary. Deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine, then add the meat back in, along with a beef boullion cube, 3-4 T. of [mild Hungarian] paprika, 1/2 t. cayenne or hot paprika and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender-- about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker, 90 minutes on the stovetop, or 4+ hours in a CrockPot. Keep an eye on it and add more water as needed. When the meat was almost tender I added about an extra half cup of water and when that reached a rolling boil, three handfuls of uncooked egg noodles. 9 minutes later I had a one-pot goulash+noodles dinner! Serve with plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. On a whim I added some fresh basil for garnish and discovered that it complements the paprika and beef flavors excellently! I plan on throwing a few more leaves in with my leftovers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Golden Key Lime Butter Cookies for Mom's Golden Birthday

09/09/09 is the date of my mother's birthday this year. As my Aunt Debbie recently pointed out, this is her 'golden' birthday. To celebrate I thought I might make some golden butter cookies with key lime icing and send them to her. Butter cookies are some of the easiest cookies to make~they only take 5 ingredients. The following is a set by step picture guide just because I can!

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups AP flour
1 cup corn starch
1 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl.

Sift flour, cornstarch, and salt in and use a fork to combine.
*note: using beaters here will over work your flour and make for really tough cookies.

When things are looking well and truly combined start pulling everything together with your hands. You should end up with a crumbly but well formed ball.

Refrigerate your dough for about 20 minutes so it's nice and firm and easy to roll. Then preheat your oven to 325. Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface and cut cookies till your hearts content.

I didn't have cookie cutters (something I have since remedied) so I used a champagne glass to get nice round cookies.

While the cookies were baking I whipped together some simple lime icing.

Icing recipe:
1/2 cup powered sugar
1 tsp key lime juice
Enough water to get whatever consistency you want

I wanted my icing to be drizzlable so I made it pretty thin

Then I put a thin layer on my cookies once they were cool.

Then I mailed the cookies to my mommy! She loved them! So go do something nice for your mommy, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cuminy Tofu Stirfry

Tonight's meal is brought to you by both Epicurious and What Geeks Eat. I was wandering around on the internet last night and found What Geeks Eat for the first time, and really enjoyed both the recipes and the quite excellent photos. As soon as I buy more yeast I intend to make her cinnamon rolls and maybe the snickerdoodles too. Yum... Anyways, what inspired me was her marinated, pan-fried tofu recipe. I didn't reference her recipe at all as I was going, but I did remember one very important thing she said, which is to leave the tofu alone. Yes, it's in a pan on medium heat and anything else that size would be burnt to a crisp after 8-10 minutes per side, but just leave it. Don't push it around, and don't peek until at least 8 minutes have gone by. The cumin part of the stir fry is a hold over from when I made "cumin-scented stir-fried beef with celery" a few months ago. I had never considered putting cumin in a stir fry, but it is simply fabulous. Especially if there are mushrooms involved, because they soak up the flavor like nothing else and mmmmmm. I just love the way cumin smells, and tragically the whole house now smells like it! As with all stirfries, use whatever veggies you've got-- I happenned to have green beans, onions, and portabellas. Mushrooms are highly recommended. Anyways, on to my approximate recipe:

1 large splash vinegar (apple cider or white are fine)
1 large splash soy sauce
1/2" ginger knob, microplaned or otherwise liquefied
1/2" t. cumin

Combine ingredients in a shallow dish or ziploc bag. Lay in 1/2 block extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1/2" slabs and patted dry with paper towels. Allow to marinate for about an hour, turning a few times. When you take the tofu out to cook it, reserve the marinade that didn't absorb.

Start water for noodles (I had soba on hand so I had to boil them, not just soak) or rice.

Heat a few generous tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet to medium, then lay in the tofu slabs and leave them be for 8 minutes. Really. They are browning very, very slowly. When they reach a nice deep golden brown, flip them and be patient with the other side too.

Then remove to a plate (perhaps in a warm oven) and cook up:

1 small onion, sliced
1 large handful green beans, snapped
1 large handful sliced portabella mushrooms (about 2 caps)

In the same skillet and remaining oil, cook onions on medium for 2-3 minutes. Add beans and mushrooms and saute for 2-3 minutes longer. Then add:

1-2 t. ground cumin
1/2 T. vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1/2" ginger knob, microplaned
1-2 cloves garlic, microplaned
1 t. hot pepper flakes
2 T. water
plus the leftover marinade

Allow veggies to simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes or so, or until they are tender. At this point you can thicken any remaining sauce (mix one forkful cornstarch into about 1/4 c. water until smooth, then pour into sauce will stirring) or leave it be. Plate over rice or noodles, with a tofu slab on top.

I have now officially returned from my "I'm too lazy and it's too hot to cook" hiatus!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Julie and Julia" mini-review

I saw "Julie and Julia" on Sunday and really enjoyed it. Briefly, it follows Julia Child's stint in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu and her writing of "The Art of French Cooking" as well as blogger Julie Powell in present-day NYC as she cooks every recipe from Child's cookbook. Although I had not seen any actual footage of Julia Child previously, I found Meryl Streep to be an excellent Julia-- a bit eccentric and very sweet. And Julie reminded me a bit of myself (yeah, I know, she's supposed to). She comes through as a real person complete with the boring and upsetting parts of her life. Let's just say that I too have had a breakdown over a ruined creation-- most recently a batch of molasses ginger cookies that I mis-read the measures for. The food in the movie looks good enough to eat, as it should, and I simply loved the outfits and hats of the 1950s in Julia's scenes. Aside from the poking of a microphone in the corner of two scenes (tacky, but oh well), it was very well-done and believable on both ends of the story. So, if you haven't seen it yet-- try to do so before it leaves theatres everywhere. But do make sure you go grocery shopping before you go; you'll want a stocked pantry at your creative disposal when you come home!