Last week was a busy one at the cookbook store where I’m lucky enough to work. Spring has an incredible lineup of new cookbook releases and Book Larder is hosting fantastic authors to promote their work. Sara Forte of Sprouted Kitchen stopped by to a packed house to chat about her new book, Bowl + Spoon and something she said struck me. Ashley asked her how she deals with falling into a “food rut”. I imagine a food rut for a food blogger happens a fair amount of time and can be incredibly frustrating, since you kind of need to keep cooking to continue creating the content that is your livelihood. Sara said that when she feels stuck and uninspired, she cooks for others.
You know that book/thing “The Five Love Languages”? It is supposed to tell you the specific way you communicate and receive love best. They are Gifts, Touch, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation and Acts of Service. None of those ever felt quite apt for me and also don’t stick me in a category corner. I decided that Food was my love language. Edible art is can cause me to tear up while clapping with glee. That is how I feel the most loved. Creating food for others is how I express to them that they are worthy of being spoiled. Worthy of time being spent recipe hunting, shopping, cooking and cleaning up for them. My inspirational sister-in-law just birthed a child AND became a doctor, all in one week! My initial instinct was to create a week’s worth of meals for them as a way to bolster and congratulate. Unfortunately we live thousands of miles away from each other so that is a bit impossible at the moment.
The post winter/ pre spring season had caused me to fall into a bit of a food rut. Looking through all these incredible cookbooks at work, made me at once antsy to cook, and simultaneously too overwhelmed and (ironically) uninspired. So many dishes were middling, intimidating or their ingredients just weren’t in season yet. Recipe after recipe just created a glaze to fall over my eyes while reading books that had previously incited ooohs! and sparked brain whirrings. Then two things happened that helped yank me out of this stupid attitude of foodish boredom. Sara encouraged me to remember how connecting and communal food is when creating it for others. Also, rhubarb showed up at the farmer’s market. Armed with magenta stalks and a semi-selfless attitude, I invited a couple friends over for dinner. Dinner, rhubarb galette, a hysterical movie and dear friends de-glazed my eyes and brought my attention back to viewing food as an offering of my affection to others.
Pie crust is still a Herculean task in my mind, so I all about the free wheeling nature of a galette, be it savory or sweet.
I followed Food52’s tips of galette creation, and subbed half the AP flour with whole wheat flour because health. You can do the same or keep it all AP. You be you.
Chop up about a 1 to 1.5 lbs of washed rhubarb. Mix in a bowl with a tablespoon or 2 of sugar. I like my rhubarb more tart than sweet. Add a bit of vanilla extract and a bit of ground cardamom. Grate fresh ginger* ( to your liking) to the rhubarb and mix it all together. Add rhubarb mixture it to the chilled, rolled out dough you created with Food52’s help. Fold over the edges, paint on an egg wash and sprinkle a bit of brown sugar to the crust. Bake for 40 minutes or so, checking to be sure it is adequately crispy and bubbly. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and alongside friends.
* I keep my ginger in the freezer which I find makes grating much simpler.
I’m really running out of wintry food ideas. How many more roast vegetables will I be forced to char before delicate pea vines, plush stone fruit and gushingly ripe tomatoes come out to play? Probably as long as it is going to take to get a pair of glasses that actually does its job on my face. (The Grand Warby Parker Incompetence Saga. You don’t want to know.)
You know what I never get sick of charring and also has the power to cheer blurry eyes and downtrodden spirits? Crispy, toasty fried cheese. I don’t really have much more to say other than these served their purpose of comforting me when I needed it. Chocolates, kisses and flowers don’t solve problems, but these Roasted Cauliflower Quesadillas can absolutely assist in calming and abating despondency. Now pair these with a couple episodes of Broad City, and you’ve got a night that will almost make you forget how irate you are at a certain eyeglass company that can’t seem to get anything right.
Turn on your broiler and put a cast iron skillet inside the oven to heat. Chop up a head of cauliflower into bite sized pieces. Also roughly chop a small red onion, a poblano pepper and smash a few garlic cloves. Add these all to a bowl and add a bit of olive oil, 1-2 limes worth of juice and season well with salt, pepper and cumin. Using your hands, mix it all together. Once the cast iron pan is hot, pour the cauliflower mixture in and place under the broiler. Be sure to check and stir it all up every couple of minutes until it all gets a nice char. The garlic will probably be done sooner, so take those cloves out while the rest continues to cook.
Once the cauliflower mixture has the color you want, take it out of the broiler. Shred some extra sharp cheddar cheese. Assemble a large tortilla with the cheese amount you prefer and add a spoonful of the cauliflower mixture, all on one half of the tortilla. Fold over in half. You know how to make a quesadilla. Get a large pan or skillet super hot, coated with just a touch of high heat oil. Once it is hot, place your tortilla on the pan and allow it to get crispy. I suggest really pressing down on the quesadilla as it cooks so the cheese oozes freely and fries gorgeously. Flip to cook evenly on both sides. Repeat until the ingredients run out. Serve with a cool, fresh and zingy salsa and a gin and tonic with extra lime.
Ok, I’ll admit it. I have little tolerance for random grains and their idiosyncrasies. How long to soak, how long to cook, taste, chewiness, ancient or modern, sprouted or stripped. I’ve. No. Patience. For. This.
Which is why I’ve been in a quinoa rut. It cooks fast and as a dreamy complete protein, it fulfills all my vegetarian desires. It it more than adequate to use as a filling base and allowing me to create a flavorful tableau around it. But, my friends, there is such a thing as too much quinoa. This was made obvious to me when I saw that I had 3 quinoa bowl posts in my Drafts folder here. It was time to branch out. But who would take me? Wheat berries? Millet? Amaranth? Barley? Bulgur? Kamut!? These all sounded like characters in The Hunger Games.
Enter two saviors.
1) Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro The bag held a perfect “dinner for two” amount and, well it only took 10 minutes to cook. It is pretty healthy, with fiber and protein etc etc etc.
2) Ashley Rodriguez’s Caramelized Fennel and Farro Salad from her inspiring and gorgeous blog, Not Without Salt. I’ve been consuming my fair share of fennel recently, but the crunchy raw version. Reading the title of that dish gave me the confidence to tackle this unknown grain since I knew the sweet sweet taste of seared fennel would be on my side. With it, I could conquer anything.
Starting with some ideas from Ashley’s recipe, I veered off into my own territory. The result? A light, chewy, savory/sweet bowl of grains with some extras thrown in. Some bitter greens and radish matchsticks with a light dose of creamy goat cheese melded quite nicely together. It was only improved by crunchy breadcrumbs and zingy lemon zest to brighten everything up.
Make a pot of farro using vegetable broth. I used a bag of Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro, which was hella awesome. While the farro cooks, heat up a pan with a healthy coating of olive oil. Smash and slice 4-6 large garlic cloves. Once the oil is hot, add about a tbsp of fennel seeds and the smashed garlic. Stir and keep a careful eye. Once the garlic gets just barely brown and toasty, take them out and add the smashed cloves to a a big bowl where you’ll assemble the entire dish. While the garlic cooks, roughly dice 2 fennel bulbs. Using the same pan as the finished garlic, add a tbsp of butter to the oil/fennel seeds. Once it foams, add chopped fennel and a light sprinkling of sugar all over. Stir and let caramelize. This will take about 10 minutes or so. Salt halfway through.
Once it is done, drain and rinse the farro in cold water to stop cooking. You want it to be chewy but not tough or goopy. Add the farro to the bowl alongside the crispy garlic cloves. Drizzle a nice, flavorful olive oil all over and salt. Stir up. When ready to serve, add a handful or two of arugula and some thinly sliced radishes to the farro bowl. Add the caramelized fennel when it is done and top with a some goat cheese. If you so choose, toast some breadcrumbs to sprinkle over everything. When plating, add some small fresh mint leaves and lemon zest at the very top.
Winter has been quite bearable thus far over here in the PNW. I caught myself evil laughing the other day when I checked Chicago’s temperature. It was all single digits. Cue maniacal guffaws.
Because flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and the bird are chatting it up, I feel antsy for spring and summer’s bounty of colorful fruits and vegetables. But it isn’t their time yet. Patience. There aren’t abundant pops of color at the farmer’s market in February, but there is such a thing as rainbow carrots. They are like tasty, dirt covered jewels and reward you with their sweet side when roasted. Also, sometimes I think, “Is there anything better than roasted cauliflower!?” I mean have it alone, with spreadable goat cheese, on top of pizza or blended into a soup. It will DELIGHT YOU. To no end.
Whether winter still has you in its evil grip or spring feels like it is just around the corner, I recommend this simple, cozy and warming quinoa bake. It uses up the ends of those vegetables lounging in your fridge, creates minimal mess and is pretty healthy so win win win.
I used my dear friend, the cast iron pan for this to keep basically the whole meal contained. Obviously use whatever friendly pans you’d like.
Heat up your oven to 450. I like the high quick roast. Pour a bit of olive oil in your skillet to coat the bottom and let it heat up in oven. Roughly chop any/all vegetables you have lying around. Use a rough, large chop. Here I used rainbow carrots, cauliflower, red onion, zucchini and a few garlic cloves. Take out the cast iron pan, add the vegetables and top with olive oil, salt, pepper and a few rosemary sprigs. Stir up and roast. Check and stir every so often. Wait until they get nicely browned and a bit crisp. It’ll take about 15-30 minutes depending on your preference and oven.
While your vegetables roast, make your quinoa. I usually make one cup of dried quinoa. If you have vegetable stock use that in place of water. If not, no big deal.
Once your vegetables are roasted, take out the pan and pour in your cooked quinoa. Stir to combine everything. Crumble feta cheese on top. Add more olive oil, salt and pepper if it needs it. Let the quinoa bake until the cheese melts, then put under the broiler for just a minute or 2 until it lightly browns. Top with a sprinkling of fresh parsley, spoon into bowls and gobble it all up.
My husband and I have an annual tradition on New Year’s Eve. We go out to a favorite cocktail place, currently Sun Liquor Lounge , and each take the other on a journey through all the pictures we’ve taken on our phones over the past year. Often they are of the same event, but it is always interesting to see what particulars the other chooses to capture and remember. Some shots are maps, passwords or items to remind us to look up something later, which is probably killing our ability to recall on our own. Others are views and vistas, sneaky shots of goofy faces and meals upon meals. I treasure these nostalgic fixes. They are a palpable memento of the thoughts, feelings, confusions, excitements and perspectives over the past year. It is a dose of sweet nostalgia and a healthy reminder that hindsight is 20/20.
For example, a chunk of my year was worrying, stressing and feeling morose about where I worked and desperate to find something, anything else. Consequently there were many photos of things I did, ate or went to cheer me up. Looking back at these, I feel quite silly that I gave my miserable job the power to be such a definer of my mood and that I constantly needed distractions to console me. But it did make it all the sweeter to see the times where I attended a Book Larder event, and little did I imagine that I’d get the privilege of working there just months later. A small yet emotion filled rags to riches story. Other memories evolved in the opposite direction. Photos of some dear friends’ merriment in the summer now makes my eyes prick with tears after learning more of their story and where 2014 took them.
A new year also means a new book board. Along with meals, photos and movie tickets, I also keep track of the passing years with the books I read. I started keeping track in 2012 and aim to read between 40 and 50 books a year. These are obviously of varying quality as you can see by the inclusion of the Divergent series. Wish I could get those hours back. Looking back at these covers conjures up memories of where I was while reading each one, whether on my lunch break or on an international flight, and if it inspired a new genre addiction, like food memoirs or YA dystopian love triangles. See 2012, 2013 and 2014 ‘s boards.
So far it, seems like 2015 is going to have some incredible experiences and learning opportunities. Hoping to go through it with more perspective, strength and sense than 2014. Can’t really control much more than that. Leaving you now with a recent lunch that unquestionably hits the spot as we bolster ourselves for 2015.
Toast 2 slices of the bread of your choice. Here I used rye sourdough from Trader Joe’s.
Fill a small pot about a third of the way with water and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, carefully place 2 eggs into the water. I suggest using a ladle to lower them in as dropping them in will probably cause the eggs to crack. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
While the eggs cook and the bread toasts, scoop out an avocado and mash it up with some salt, pepper and a bit of fresh lemon juice to taste.
Set up a bowl of water with a few ice cubes and once the 5 minutes is up, put the eggs in the ice water to stop them from cooking. If you have issues with runny yokes (which is incredibly sad and you should get over it as those golden drips are gifts from God) let the eggs cook a couple of minutes more.
Spread the avocado mixture on your hot toast slices, sprinkle some fresh parsley on top and a bit of feta or sharp cheddar. Peel your eggs and slice on top of the toast allowing the yolks to ooze beautifully over everything. Top with a bit more salt, pepper and a dash of curry powder or red chili flakes for punch.