\\ NOODLY SOUP WITH ZUCCHINI PICKLES //

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I love Vietnamese Pho, a clear brothy soup with vegetables, noodles, and meat, or some combination of the three. I’m not saying that I nailed the recipe, as it seems shrouded in mystery and everyone has their own version, but I did create, on one recent unseasonably cold night, a reasonable facsimile, out of what was just banging around in my pantry. Remember those staples we talked about so long ago?? This is where they come in real handy.

And this isn’s so much a recipe as a suggestion of ingredients for an Asian style soup and how to use up those zucchinis you thought you were going to eat fresh but ignored for three days instead and began to wilt. I’m listing ingredients here but the portions need to be tailored to how much you want and your own tastes, and what you have knocking around in the back of your cupboard.

FOR THE BROTH:

1 onion, preferably yellow or white

A FEW DROPS Sesame oil (a little goes a looong way)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Garlic powder

Turmeric

Cinnamon

1 star anise pod

Low sodium soy sauce

Hot sauce (Sriracha if you have it, Texas Pete or Tabasco or Cholula or whatever you have)

Chili garlic paste (1 spoonful)

White vinegar or cider vinegar-a few dashes OR half a juicy lime

Stock- Chicken or beef or vegetable works, whatever your preference

SOUP FILLIN’:

Noodles (rice or buckwheat or soba; or even dried noodles from a packet of ramen, WHATEVER)

Snow peas

Bean sprouts

White onion, sliced thinly

Cilantro, ripped or chopped roughly

ZUCCHINI PICKLES! (recipe to follow)

**This is what I did, because this is what I had. I would also use bok choy, spinach, water chestnuts, lemongrass, hoisin, basil, jalapeños, and/or mushrooms. Anything you might find in a soup or dish in an Asian restaurant is fair game I think. Do what you like!)

METHOD:

Heat the onion over medium in the vegetable oil for a few minutes while it softens. Add the dried spices and chili paste and sesame oil and cook evenly. After about ten minutes, add the soy, hot sauce, and stock. Bring to a boil and throw in the snow peas, onion, and noodles. Cook until noodles are tender, and serve immediately with cilantro, sprouts and zucchini pickles.

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ZUCCHINI PICKLES:

Again, this is a combo of ingredients which you can adjust to your tastes, and the amount of zucchinis you happen to have. The original recipe I found was for about 3 pounds of zucchini, and I only had two. Two zucchinis, not two pounds. So there was a lot of guesswork on cutting the recipe, and since I’m terrible at math and impatient, I just poured in whatever amounts I wanted and hoped for the best. Good thing the recipe is forgiving, and easy, and will turn out great however much you do!

INGREDIENTS:

Zucchinis (sliced into very thin coins; use a mandolin if you have one)

Any old small onion, yellow or white again is best, hacked into thirds or fourths

Cider vinegar

Water

Sugar

Salt

Mustard seeds, whole, not crushed

Colman’s dried mustard powder (a little is enough)

Turmeric

METHOD:

I love this recipe because they’re great the next day and you don’t have to worry about sanitizing, sealing, and waiting a month before you tear into them.

Okay!

Pour equal parts cider vinegar and water to a stockpot and bring to a boil slowly. Add the rest of the ingredients to the brine, sugar, salt, dried mustard, mustard seeds, turmeric. Turn the heat down and let it simmer while you chop the onion and slice the zucchini. Put the veggies in a heat safe jar and pour the hot brine over them, pop in the fridge with the lid OFF, and let cool for a few hours. Close the lid after a few hours and let the pickles sit and souse over night. Eat the next day with some awesome noodle soup!

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\\ LATE SUMMER PEA, PORCINI, AND PARMESAN RISOTTO WITH LEMON //

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I don’t care about a meal’s nutritional value really, except whether or not something is edible. Despite trying to remember exactly what’s in the food triangle and worrying that i eat too much bread and sometimes not being about to tell the difference between starch and grain…ANYWAY. Risotto is arborio rice. Which is starch. And awesome! And there’s some other healthy ingredients in there. And non-healthy ones! Let’s go!

Now, people worry about making risotto because you have to watch it carefully, but it’s not that big of a frigging deal. And actually it’s beautiful watching it, because your eyeballs can actually see the rice changing in the hot stock, it’s like seeing an awesome science experiment right in your kitchen. So. It’s time consuming, but well worth it at the end, and, I would argue, during. I like to disconnect and focus on the warmth and creativity in the kitchen. It’s far more nourishing than anything you could eat in one meal, the process.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups arborio rice

8 cups chicken or veggie or beef stock (or gatorade or vodka just NOT water)

1-2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms (or chanterelles, or creminis, or morels)  *Porcinis are the most flavorful for your buck, though, I think)

1 tablespoon butter

1 small yellow onion OR 2 small shallots, chopped very finely

1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

1 fat knob of parmesan cheese

salt and cracked black pepper

1 lemon

Pinch dried sage  

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

Warm up the the stock in a large pot and throw in all the dried mushrooms. Leave it warming on low with a bit of salt while you get on with it. Then, in a large saute pan, heat up the olive oil and butter over medium low. Toss in the fluffily chopped onions and a pinch of salt, and spoon them around for about ten minutes, until they are soft and translucent. You want the flavor of onion, but not the mouth-feel of them, so part of this process is to make them disappear, essentially. After the onions have been partying in their buttery oil bath for a couple minutes, add the bay leaf and the pinch of sage. Dried herbs are super flavory though, so I mean a tiny quick pinch, like when you used to pinch your kid sister before your mom noticed. 

When the onions are soft and buttery and translucent, stir in the rice until you can see all the grains are evenly coated. Now it’s hot stock time! (Which is fun to yell out). Remember, the mushrooms are sousing about in the stock, so use a ladle at first and dip into the stock without adding the mushrooms just yet. If some sneak in there, it’s no big whoop, but try to avoid it.

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Add one ladleful at a time, and let the rice fully absorb each one before continuing. This part of the process allows the rice to release it’s wonderful healing starchiness, making the dish so rich and fantastic. It’s the magical, sciencey part. You can tell when it’s absorbing when the actual liquid is gone and the rice becomes sticky, when you give the pan a stir with your wooden spoon and (there’s no other way to say this, so I’m sorry), there’s a kind of snail trail of starchy sticky ooze in the pan as your spoon sweeps around. It’s sounds horrifying, but it’s the opposite. Bear with me. 

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When you’ve added about half the stock, add the juice of half a lemon to the pan. Some people use sherry or wine or even vinegar, but I like the fresh, astringent zing of lemon to cut the richness of such a meal. Next, pop your peas into the stock pot with the mushrooms. Continue ladling until the rice is done, really. Sometimes you use all the stock, sometimes there’s a bit left over. I’m assuming it all has to do with the humidity in the air, the brand of rice, whether you’re cooking below or above sea level… SCIENCE!. 

Dig into your pan of rice and fish out the bay leaf. Add salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Using a strainer or a slotted spoon, separate the mushrooms and peas from the stock and roughly chop the mushrooms, and add both to the risotto. Grab the fat knob of parmesan and shred it finely over the pan, mixing the cheese into the dish as evenly as possible. A little goes a long way, as the rice is already very flavorful and parmesan is a strong cheese, so practice self control. But just for a second! It’s almost time to eat.

Serve in warm bowl or coffee mugs, spritz with more lemon, season with a little more cracked pepper, and shave a smidgen more parmesan on top (for presentation, obviously). Bonus points if you have a little fresh parsley, or if it’s raining, or if you have a covered porch or fireplace to sit around while you eat. Extra double bonus points if you bought wine to make the risotto with but then read the recipe and used lemon instead, so now you can drink all the wine. Either way, enjoy.

\\ LIFE (WITH CAT) HACK //

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It’s not so earth-shattering that it’s going to get picked up by the AP wire, but this tip has provided me with hours of free entertainment, assuming that you already have tinfoil in your house. Tinfoil balls of varying shape and texture are my lovely furry friend Speedboat’s very favorite thing. 

She prefers certain shapes to others, and if one is loosely packed, she will rip it up, so careful. But basically scrunch up a sheet of tinfoil and have at it. It’s also a more active game for the cat owner, because you’ll have to tear up the house looking for tinfoil balls that have gone pinging off into the great unknown while you play. But damn it’s fun.

Here are some pictures of Speedboat, because I just can’t not.

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\\ CLASS IT UP, NERDS //

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It doesn’t matter that the world is a bit looser on formalwear nowadays. Sometimes, when you’re on a stroll through the woods, to grandmother’s house (or the bar or a friend’s or work) you go and all that, it helps to neaten up. And I’m learning that being broke is no excuse! A clever boutonniere slipped into a button hole or your pocket will blow away every fashion mag and blog with your style and inventiveness. Bonus points if it smells like Christmas. PRO TIP: flowers wilt and attract bees. Go bolder.

\\ HEALTHFUL HOMEMADE CRACKERS THAT ARE CHEAP AND AWESOME //

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Hey! If you love crackers but are too ornery and old-fashioned to spend more than a dollar on a box, or if you like to be fancy and healthy but you live no where near one of them sparkly organic markets, this recipe is for you! Or really, it’s for everyone. These crackers are light, cheap, awesome, and ridiculously easy to make. And they’re tasty boats for all kinds of dips and party cheeses. Impressive, and effortless, just like my hairdo.

INGREDIENTS

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (class it up with wheat flour or gluten free sunflower seed flower, or whatever you want. Or keep these girls BASic)

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt 

Few stern cranks ground black pepper 

4 tablespoons butter (COLD and cubed)

1/4 cup water

Whatever seasonings you want! YOU’RE AN ADULT. YOU’RE THE BOSS! Suggestions: one fat spoonful everything seeds (poppy, sesame, caraway, onion flakes, garlic powder, paprika, curry, herbs de provence or fines herbs mix, etc. etc.)

Preheat oven to 385 degrees. Pop tinfoil on a couple baking sheets. 

Put dry ingredients plus cubed butter all in the blender together. Pulse a few times to combine and incorporate the butter. About 30-45 seconds. The mixture will have a nubbly texture. Then, while pulsing slowly, drizzle the 1/4 cup of water in until a soft dough ball forms in the blender. Have patience and don’t panic. It often doesn’t come together until the last goddamn drip is out of the cup. You’ll know when it’s ready, it sort of just springs into a shape. Fun! 

Scoop the dough out and plop on a cool, floured surface. Roll out as uniformly as possible, very thin but not see-through. Slice into cracker-style shapes and slide those bad boys on your baking sheets. Bake at 385 degrees for 10-13 minutes, or as soon as they get golden tan and some start to bubble. 

They should come off the baking sheet easily. I like shaking them out in a kind of cracker-hailstorm onto a fancy dish then eating them with pimento cheese or hummus or party cheese and with fruit and veggies and a fine selection of party meats. AKA whatever you want. You just made crackers! PRACTICALLY FOR FREE. Spring for dat fancy cheese. 

Love, 

Emily

\\ OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH SAFFRON AND CARDAMOM //

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I don’t like cake. It’s not a big deal. I don’t like cake, or cookies, or donuts, or brownies. IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. I do like some pies, but that’s besides the point. People are always suspicious when I say I don’t really like bakery treats, like I’m secretly on some sort of fitness program or I’m judging them for wanting whatever a cronut is. It’s just, no one brings in a dozen cheesesteaks to work on Friday mornings, or suggests an after lunch lasagna. There is no dessert steaks menu. I’m a salty badger living in a cupcake boss world. We all have our crosses to bear.

HOWEVER. If you don’t like cake (and especially if you do!), I found a recipe that is so unbelievable that it trips the pleasure center of your brain and makes you forget you bowed to pressure and started baking, and feel and taste only it’s fluffy silkiness and subtly spiced flavor. I felt my old, underused sugar receptors twitching awake. It is the most gorgeous thing. 

 Alice Medrich, renowned pastry chef, author, and teacher, created this deceptively simple yet luxurious olive oil cake with saffron and cardamom, I’m sure, as a way to infiltrate the small pockets of people who scoff at dessert and convince them. To ferret out the non-believers and show them the way of the light. With sunny yellow olive oil and bright velvety saffron. She used the tools of savory cooking and turned them on their head, and turned me with them. And maybe you too!

 INGREDIENTS

 pinch saffron threads, crumpled

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

confectioner’s sugar, enough for dusting (OR as much as you possibly want)

SO. As I may have mentioned I don’t often bake, but I do respect the chemistry of the kitchen so I followed the Medrich’s recipe pretty carefully. One of the reasons I don’t bake a lot is indeed because there is so much precision involved. It’s not the free, jazzy, jam band of a stew or casserole. Too much baking soda here, too little sugar there, it’s a disaster. But, like we talked about, confidence is key. Go for it! And this recipe has a little more give than most. The result is a cake with a lot of give. If this cake were in a relationship it would be the nurturer. It would be all give, and, I’m sorry, you’re the selfish one. You’re all take, take, take, until the whole lovely eight inch cake is gone. But it’s worth it, and olive oil is good for you and you don’t have to feel bad because it’s not a relationship it’s a cake and it doesn’t have feelings so it doesn’t matter. THIS IS WHAT FOOD YOUR FEELINGS IS ABOUT.

Ok!! Now we’re all set. 

METHOD

The recipe is for one eight inch cake, preferably in a round cake tin but any thin baking dish will suffice. Tin is key though, because the cake cooks at a relatively low temperature and a thick porcelain baking dish wont work. The slimness of the dish guarantees the light, springy quality we all crave in a cake.

 So, In a small bowl, sprinkle the crumbled saffron over the milk and let sit 10-15 minutes while you get on with it. For me, “getting on with it” was crushing enough cardamom pods to get 3/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom. I don’t have a working mortar and pestle so it was a lot of bashing around with an old ice cream scoop and bowl with a kitchen towel to prevent actually smashing any dishes. I don’t recommend it, but it works. Goes with my theory that anyone can pull anything off if they try. Tada! COOKING.

 Anyway! Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your cake tin and set aside. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl also set aside. If you don’t have a sifter, a small-holed wire colander works or cheesecloth or if you have none of the above I would just dump it in a bowl, whisk it a few times dryly, cross fingers and hope for the best.

Next, in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the sugar with the olive oil, vanilla, cardamom, and salt on medium high until well blended. Add the eggs and the yolks one at a time, beating well after each one. Pro tip: take your time!! Things tend to get so hectic in a kitchen and everyone thinks, “Oh Jesus the oven is preheated and I’m standing here covered in egg yolk wondering about salmonella and thrashing around in a drawer for a can opener what to do AHHH?!” But it’s fine. The cake will not be ruined and you will not get salmonella. Take your time and give each step some love. It will be okay. It will be awesome.

After eggs and egg yolks have been blended into the mix, continue to beat on medium high until the mixture pales and thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Downshift to low speed and add the flour mixture and saffrony milk in three separate additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, and mixing well to create a silky, uniform batter, no lumps.

Pour the shiny silken batter into your cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, until it’s golden brown and the sides of the cake spring away from the sides of the pan. Don’t open and shut the oven door a bunch looking at how it’s baking, or how pretty it is (because it will be), try to let it be and do it’s thing. Do something fun for 50 minutes, like the dishes or a bottle of wine or a rousing game of Scattergories. Pierce the center with a toothpick if you really need to check doneness, and the toothpick should come out clean. Let cool in its pan for 15 minutes (Scattergories lightning round), then invert and let cool on a rack or just a plate. Turn the cake right side up, dust with powdered sugar, slice into wedges and serve. tie your shoes tightly to prevent your socks being blown off. It’s a crowd pleaser. It’s a birthday fiesta. It’s awesome in the morning with coffee or late at night with milk. It’s sublime after all the booze and Scattergories. It’s good with a cat and delicious in a hat. You get the idea. 

 **A note. Medrich’s recipe says you can wrap the cake in plastic wrap and store for up to two days at room temperature. This is true, and it will still be good, but goddamn it, it will never compare to that first fresh slice. So this is asking a lot, but if you’re baking this for company try to make it as close to dessert time as possible. If you’re alone, then have at it. Have a party for one. Let the cake give. It’s just doing it’s thing.  

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\\ INDIAN SPICED LAMB AND WHITE BEAN CHILI //

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This is a meal in a pinch kind of deal. Not from scratch, quick to make, fabulous to reheat, NOT HARD AT ALL dish for geniuses.

I love chili but sometimes it’s a little over the top old el paso, down home on the range kind of flavor profile, even if you do it Cincinnati style and throw in a bunch of cinnamon. So i found some great ground lamb and a jarred Indian simmer sauce at the store and the brain wheels clunked into motion and started turning. What’s this? I thought. Can I fling this all together and have it turn out as beautiful and effortless as EVERYTHING ELSE I DO?! Sure! And you can too! Let’s go!!

Ingredients:

Packet ground lamb

Indian Simmer Sauce in a jar ( I use a jalfrezi because there are already red peppers in there, which I love but am loathe to buy since they’re a billion dollars, and the more vegetables the merrier, ususally. Also, my favorite Indian restaurant in Bristol, The Raj, had an amazing Lamb Jalfrezi and I wanted to relive my youthful days across the pond. Not really. I’m kidding. I mean, that is a real place but it’s not the reason. It just tastes great).

One or two russet potatoes

One large yellow onion

One can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Extra virgin olive oil

Handful cilantro

Ok, the idea here is to use the least amount of effort and dishes in the kitchen. It’s a fabulous way to work, honestly. Since the potatoes take the longest to cook through, chop them up and throw them into a pan on medium heat after warming up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When they are about halfway cooked through, dump them into a large stock pot. They will cook the rest of the way in the chili as everything is added.

Chop the onion roughly, and toss it into the same pan you used for the potatoes. Turn the heat to medium low and sweat the onions for a few minutes. Add the ground lamb and brown it as uniformly as you can. A few raw spots here and there are fine, they will cook in the broth you’ll be adding in a moment.

Add the onions and lamb to the stock pot. Add the rinsed beans, and the jar of jalfrezi sauce. Fill the jar to top with hot water, close, and shake to get the excess sauce that’s stuck on the sides. Pour into pot. Repeat this once more. Bring the whole gorgeous mess to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for about a half hour. Drink a Kingfisher and call a friend while you wait. Write a postcard or build a terrarium. And it’s done!

Rinse some cilantro and rip up the leaves. 

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle the cilantro on the top. If you don’t like cilantro, then skip it. You could a dollop of some plain nonfat Greek yogurt if the stew is too spicy. Eat as much as you want, there’s no judgement here. Watch the best Bollywood movie ever, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Party.

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Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, from 1995’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ)