Monthly Archives: June 2013

Food for Book Clubs: Tiny Pluot Cakes

Everyone knows that book clubs are really food clubs, right?  Yeah, it’s great to have some extra encouragement to read something that was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, and even better to get together with some smart ladies to discuss it.  But mostly, I’m in it for the opportunity to try some new recipes.

Unfortunately, due to some geographic and commuting challenges, I often have to make something ahead of time, so a lot of the appetizer recipes I’d like to make are not very feasible. Baked goods seemed like a good option: they’re do-ahead, portable, and don’t need to be refrigerated all day. Besides, I’d be wanting to make the Little Apricot Cakes from the June issue of Bon Appetit.  They looked like a fairly simple recipe for a nice light, summery dessert.

Then I had to complicate things. Why make little cakes (with a standard muffin pan) when you can make tiny cakes (with a mini muffin pan)? Besides the obvious appeal of miniature foods – and if you are skeptical about this being something that people are into, please refer to Exhibit A* – there was the even more obvious appeal of my mini muffin pans being nonstick and allowing me to skip the step of greasing the pan.**

And then, why use apricots when you can use pluots? If you are unsure what a pluot is, check out the Wikipedia page, which will tell you all you ever wanted to know about this lovechild of a plum and an apricot (and much, much more).


Beyond that, I followed the recipe exactly. Oh wait. No, I did not. I added a splash of almond extract in there, just for fun. And while I took the time to zest a lemon, it wasn’t until I had already spooned about 90% of the batter into the muffin pans that I realized the little bowl of lemon zest was still sitting patiently next to the stand mixer. Oops.

So, besides making them smaller, subbing pluots for apricots, adding almond extract, and forgetting lemon zest, I made them just as the recipe calls for. And since I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple days because I haven’t felt like writing out the recipe, I’m just going to provide the link, again. Here. You could also check out all of the other bloggers who have also made this recipe, including my friend Sarah, over at Sarah’s Place.  She’s just as neurotic as I am in the kitchen, but unlike me, she follows directions (i.e., she did not forget the lemon zest).

While I did like the cakes being a bite-sized portion (as did my fellow book-clubbers, based on the fact that I only took a few home with me), I think if I was going to do it again, I wouldn’t use a nonstick pan.  The edges didn’t get quite as crispy and brown as I would have preferred.***

Oh, for those of you who are interested, our book for this meeting was After the Quake by Haruki Murakami.  It’s a nice collection of short stories all set in Japan following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  Like most of Murakami’s books that I’ve read, the stories feature well-developed characters in very real relationships with some bizarrely fanciful twists. Giant talking frogs, anyone?


*If you are too lazy, technologically-challenged, or stubborn to click on the link, I’ll just tell you what it is: it’s a cookbook called Tiny Food Party!

**If you are wondering, “why not just use muffin liners?” I’ll tell you why. I hate them. I don’t really like having to peel paper or foil off my food before I eat it, and I don’t like that there are always cake crumbs stuck to the paper that could have found their way to my stomach.  Besides, look at the Bon Appetit photo of the apricot cakes.  That beautiful brown, rustic edge on the cakes wouldn’t be seen if they were encased in some polka dot wrapper. So, that’s my anti-muffin liner stance.

***But you can bet they were browner than they would have been if I used muffin liners.



Filed under Cooking

Eggplant and Zucchini Stir-Fry

Have I mentioned that I have a terrible habit of buying produce without any idea of how I intend to use it?

Actually, there are a lot of times that I purchase something knowing exactly what I want to do with it, but it never happens. I throw away a lot of potatoes. Two autumns in a row I have purchased a pumpkin, planning to try to make kaddo borawni (aka, pumpkin with a garlic yogurt sauce, aka, the most delicious thing ever). And two Januarys in a row, I have realized there is still a pumpkin sitting in our dining room. On at least one occurrence, there were little cat tooth marks in it, too.

I know I have mentioned that I hate wasting produce, so sometimes buying an unfamiliar vegetable forces me to find a way to use it.  That’s how I discovered Swiss chard, fennel, and broccolini, for instance.

It might sound odd, but eggplant is actually a fairly unfamiliar vegetable to me.  I never liked it as a kid (I still do not understand the appeal of eggplant Parmesan), and while I’ve had some dishes with it recently that I liked, I have not cooked it much myself.

The little Japanese or Chinese eggplants are less intimidating to me.  I added some to a curry last summer with relative success.  Trying to replicate baked slices of eggplant that I had at a friend’s house… not so successful.

When I saw some little eggplants at the farmer’s market last week, I had to take advantage of them, especially since Nick was going to be out, allowing for a low-pressure, experimental dinner for one.

I semi-followed a recipe, but didn’t keep track of precisely what I did.  So I suggest you use this as inspiration, and check the Bon Appetit recipe for Stir-Fried Eggplant and Green Beans more structured guidance.


Instead of chili-garlic sauce, I had Thai roasted red chili paste* on hand, so to make it a little more garlic-y, I sauteed some sliced garlic in the olive oil first.  I used zucchini instead of green beans because that’s what I had around.  I didn’t use tofu, because I just cannot bring myself to like tofu, unless it is in soup (of the miso or hot and sour variety).  But I tried this with sliced mushrooms another time (not pictured) and that was excellent, if you want to add a bit more meatiness to the dish. If you choose to add mushrooms,  saute them in the garlic-infused oil for a minute or two before you add the other vegetables.  Also, I use the term “stir-fry” very loosely, as I don’t think my technique necessarily adheres to stir-fry tenets.

Eggplant and Zucchini Stir-Fry

(This made a very generous serving for one person. Don’t judge me. It’s all vegetables, so it’s okay. If you add mushrooms, or a second zucchini or eggplant, you’d have plenty for two people.)

Thinly slice 1 garlic clove.

Quarter 1 zucchini, lengthwise, then halve each quarter lengthwise so that you end up with 8 spears. Cut each spear into 2- to 2-1/2-inch pieces.

Halve 1 large or 2 small Japanese or Chinese eggplants**, then cut into 1/2-inch slices on a diagonal.

Mince a handful of scallions (dark green parts only) or chives.

Heat some olive oil (1 tablespoon or 2) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute garlic slices in the oil, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, discard garlic slices and reserve oil in skillet.

Add eggplant and zucchini to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown, about 2-3 minutes.  You can add some red pepper flakes at this point if you like a little more heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1-2 tablespoons chili paste and 2-3 tablespoons water with a splash of soy sauce if you like.

Pour sauce into skillet with vegetables and simmer until sauce slightly thickens, about one minute.

Serve over rice with scallions or chives sprinkled on top.


*I just realized this has fish sauce, anchovies, and shrimp as ingredients so it’s not actually vegetarian. But for my purposes I still see this as a meatless dinner.

**I have a vague understanding of Japanese eggplants being shorter than Chinese eggplants, but I have no idea which ones I was working with.  When it comes to how many eggplants to use, go with your gut.


Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Ravioli

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like ravioli.  And then I figured out that I just don’t like typical frozen cheese-filled ravioli (unless it’s deep-fried).  Fresh ravioli filled with yummy things like asparagus and gruyere or exotic mushrooms are a completely different thing.  Our grocery store carries La Pasta ravioli, and they’ve been a dinner staple in our house for at least a year, now.  They are delicious with just a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped basil, but every so often, I’ll be inspired to make a fancier sauce while I’m waiting for the water in the pasta pot to come to a boil.

I’m enjoying hands-off cooking right now. Something like this roasted cherry tomato sauce that needs minimal attention. Such little attention, in fact, that you have time to prepare salads and enjoy a martini while the sauce is cooking.


The sauce is based on the Bon Appetit Roasted Chicken and Cherry Tomato recipe I cooked last summer.  It turns out the tomatoes are pretty great sans chicken, either on top of baked polenta or ravioli.  It seemed to be particularly complimentary to the whole wheat roasted vegetable ravioli we had in the fridge, so if you happen to come across roasted veggie ravioli, this is a great accompaniment.


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl stir about 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes with 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil and 1 1/2 tbsp herbes de Provence.   Season with salt and pepper.


Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet (I recommend cast iron) until oil shimmers. Carefully add tomatoes to pan (splattering is likely!). Transfer skillet to oven and roast for about 15 minutes, turning once. Tomatoes should burst and start to release juices.

Transfer tomatoes with juices to a bowl, and stir in a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Put to the side.


Return skillet to stove, over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 garlic clove, pressed, stirring often for about 30 seconds. Add a splash of red wine vinegar and return tomatoes with juices to the skillet.   Simmer until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Optional: swirl in about a 1/2 tbsp butter and/or 1 tbsp chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.


Serve sauce over ravioli; garnish with sliced fresh basil.


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Motivation for Hydration on a Hot Summer Day

If I dined out on a daily basis, I would have no problem keeping properly hydrated. If there is water in front of me, I will drink it. If a waiter comments on how much water you’re drinking, or gives up on trying to keep your glass full and just hands you the pitcher, you’re probably in the 90th percentile for water consumption, at least.

When I worked in an office full-time, I also drank a decent amount of water, and at school my water bottle is essentially my security blanket. But when I’m at home, my water intake is often not what it should be.

One trick that tends to work for me is to have a carafe of water on hand, especially if I am settling in to read or write for a couple hours. I’ve never been one to need to flavor water out of boredom, but I enjoy the flash of color of a few slices of citrus or cucumber.


This was especially useful back in May, when we had a few unseasonably hot days before we had installed the air conditioning units for the summer.  To be fair, Nick offered to bring the AC units up from the basement, but I have a tendency to be a bit stubborn when it comes to caving in to using the air conditioning for the first time every year. So I stoically sat next to an open window for several days, trying to catch whatever trace of a breeze there was outside (but mostly just sweating), before finally admitting to Nick that, yes, it was miserable in our apartment.

The upside is that I most certainly reached my daily recommended water intake. And I got to take some pretty pictures to share with you.*



*Which, to be honest, was the whole reason I came up with a rather weak blog post about water consumption.




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When the Husband’s Away, the Wife will…. Eat Soba Noodles

More often than not, there are at least a couple nights out of the week that Nick isn’t around in the evening.  I suppose there are some people that would be unhappy if their spouse wasn’t around for dinner.  Personally, I love it.  Besides giving us a greater appreciation for the nights we do have together, it gives me a chance to catch up on schoolwork that I should have done earlier in the day, watch television and movies I know he would hate, and cook things that he would be less than excited about eating: pasta and tomato sauce with canned tuna; anything with chickpeas; and now, soba noodles.


I have to give credit to my friend Katie for bringing my attention to this Smitten Kitchen recipe. One day during the last leg of the semester, I was discussing (okay, complaining) about being too tired to do serious cooking, but really, really needing to eat some vegetables, and Katie mentioned that she had just cooked an incredibly quick and easy recipe for soba noodles with edamame and shiitakes. She had me at shiitake.

Even though I’ve made this at least three times, I have yet to follow the recipe directly.  One time, the grocery store did not have shelled edamame. One time, just as I was preparing dinner, I realized I had to skip the ginger, as mine had turned… squishy.* Most recently the grocery store was out of Napa cabbage, so baby bok choy served as a stand in.  Given the giant bunch of chives growing outside, it seems silly to buy scallions. Oh, and no sesame seeds, ever.  Unless they’re on a bagel or a sushi roll.  But that’s just a personal preference.

Also, I haven’t been able to locate Korean hot-pepper paste (although I haven’t looked too hard), so I’ve been using Thai roasted red chili paste. It’s worked just fine, as far as I’m concerned.

Soba Noodles with Shiitakes and Cabbage (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, and originally Gourmet magazine; Serves 4)

Make the sauce:

Whisk together 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2 to 3 teaspoons Korean hot-pepper paste, and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar until sugar is dissolved.

Make the veggies and noodles:

Finely chop 2 tablespoons peeled ginger and 1 tablespoon garlic. Stem and thinly slice 10 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms; thinly slice 1 1/4 pounds Napa cabbage or bok choy (should yield about 8 cups- don’t skimp- it shrinks down a lot!); and thinly slice 6 scallions (or twice as many chives, if that’s what you have handy).

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, cook the veggies. Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (The original recipe specifies to use a non-nonstick skillet. Our biggest skillet is, unfortunately, nonstick.  It works fine, but I can imagine stainless would be better.)  Saute ginger and garlic, stirring, until fragrant, just about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and saute, stirring frequently, until tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and then add cabbage and most of the scallions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is crisp tender, about 6 minutes.  Add sauce and simmer 2 minutes.


Hopefully your water is boiling by the time you get to cooking the cabbage.  Add 8 to 9 ounces of soba noodles and 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame to the boiling water.  Cook until noodles are just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, rinse under cool water (to remove excess starch and stop further cooking), and drain again. Toss noodles and edamame with veggie mixture. Serve with additional scallions sprinkled on top for garnish.


*I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever been tempted to insert an emoticon into a blog post. In case you’re curious, it would have been :-p  Yes, with an italicized p as an attempt to blend together :-p and :-/


Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner

The Summer Preview Spinach Salad

Having high expectations is overrated.  At least in the kitchen.

Every so often, I’ll finally get around to trying a recipe that I’ve been looking at for months.  I make a special trip to the store, spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, and the final result is… meh.

And every so often, you don’t start thinking about dinner until 7pm, decide to throw together whatever is in the fridge, and end up with a dinner you are excited to repeat the following week.

I have a new favorite way of cooking chicken for everyday eating.  This method does not yield the prettiest or fanciest chicken, but I have tried it twice and ended up with moist chicken breasts to have on hand for quick meals during the week.  Even if you don’t think to make the chicken ahead of time, it’s hands-off enough that you can get a head start on tonight’s dinner while you’re cleaning up the kitchen from last night’s dinner. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who ever ends up in that situation.)

Easy Make-Ahead Chicken Breasts (from Dinner: A Love Story): Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place 2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts on a rimmed baking sheet and add 1/4 cup water to the pan. Tent with foil, and roast for 40 minutes.  Once cooked, let the chicken sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing it. *According to DALS, you can use this method with split bone-in chicken breasts as well. I have yet to try it, but it’s on my to-do list.

One night last week, I identified chicken and spinach as the starting point for a dinner salad, and then the rest came together pretty easily, based on what we had around. Cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado, feta, and in a moment of inspiration, I remembered that we had a couple strips of bacon in the fridge.

I even added some Greek yogurt to my typical cider-Dijon salad dressing to give it just a little creaminess. I never measure ingredients for salad dressings, so these proportions are very loose. Just mess around with it until it works for you.

Creamy Cider Dijon Salad Dressing: In a small bowl, add the following: 1 part Dijon mustard, 3 parts apple cider vinegar, and just a tiny bit of maple syrup. Whisk until blended. Then add about 3 parts olive oil and 1 part plain Greek yogurt. Whisk together, and season with salt and pepper.


Oh right- are you wondering why I called this the Summer Preview Spinach Salad?  Because occasionally I would get a bite of a sweet cherry tomato with a crispy chunk of bacon, and I immediately felt like I was eating a BLT in late July.


And the longing for summer tomatoes begins.

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The Seven Faces of a Hungry Cat

Or, Bailey’s repertoire of strategies for getting me to feed him, along with my interpretations and evaluations of their efficiency.

1. The Lovey B Cat: Usually around 10:15 pm, if I am sitting on the couch, Bailey will suddenly appear snuggled up next to me.  There is purring and kneading, or “biscuit-making” if you will.

The Intended Message: “Mommy, I love you.  I love you so much that you remind me of being a kitten, and kneading on my birth mother, and getting noms.  And I know you love me, too.  You know how my birth mother showed me she loved me?  When I got all snuggly and lovey and started kneading on her, she fed me.  So, if you really loved me, you would feed me. Now.”

The Effectiveness: Not effective at all.  Because this is one of the few times Bailey shows me love.  And unlike a real cat mother, in order to feed him, I have to get up and go into the kitchen, prematurely terminating this rare display of affection.  So instead I promise I will feed him in just a few more minutes and milk (no pun intended) as much of this empty cat love out of him as I can.


2. The A**hole: Just as the Lovey B Cat is typically reserved for evening feedings, Bailey typically saves The A**hole for 5 am.  Or maybe he tries being lovey, and I just sleep through the subtlety.  The A**hole consists of a subseries of incredibly obnoxious behaviors:

  • The Obsessive-Compulsive: Locating any paper bags or cardboard boxes with loose flaps and pawing/scratching at them furiously.  If you don’t understand how this can be noisy or irritating, I will be happy to demonstrate.  Just give me a shopping bag, a key to your house, and permission to come into your bedroom at 4:30 tomorrow morning.
  • The Golfer: Finding items on the nightstands (jewelry in a bowl; loose change; small, heavy things that I cannot identify but know they are somehow related to Nick’s musical instruments, although more often than not they seem to be in his pockets) and putting them around on the table before driving them right off onto the floor.
  • The Trampoline: Bailey has used my stomach as a springboard or landing pad on more than one occasion, but he usually aims for Nick’s man parts.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Never underestimate the force with which a cat is able to pound on a closed door.  Even if you close him in one room and close the bedroom door as well, the second door is not sufficient to muffle the sound.

The Intended Message: “I will keep doing this until you feed me.  Sure, you can throw a pillow at me, but I’ll be back in thirty seconds.  What are you going to do, lock me in the office?  I’ll just bang on the door.  I might even pee on the desk chair.  So just get out of bed and feed me, okay?  This doesn’t have to get any uglier than it already is.”

The Effectiveness:  It’s effective.  Very effective.  As much as I try not to respond because I really don’t want to reinforce this behavior, inevitably my desire for a few more hours of sleep wins out.


3. The Infant: Did you know there have been empirical research studies showing that cats use high-pitched purrs where the frequency is in a similar range to that of a crying baby, thus triggering humans’ instincts to nurture?  While I have not noticed differences in Bailey’s purrs, he does have a distinct chirp/cry for when he is hungry.  (He also has a specific cry for when he is about to throw up, which is useful for guiding him away from the carpet.)  The hungry cry is desperate and questioning, and he almost always does it when he is in a separate room from everyone else, which just makes it seem more desperate.

The Intended Message: “Hello?  Is anyone out there?  I’m alone, and hungry, and scared.  Don’t you want to rescue me?”

The Effectiveness: Pretty good, as long as he doesn’t start it too early in the morning.  But there is clearly something to the research on cats manipulating their cries to evoke responses from humans, because Bailey has perfected his hungry cry to the pitch that simultaneously irritates me and stirs some drive to take care of him.


4. The Mime: Bailey is excellent at charades.  Anytime I walk towards the kitchen, he zooms past me towards his food bowl.  If I actually enter the kitchen, he will pace between his bowl and the container of dry food, staring at me the entire time.  This is the one phase Matilda will participate in.  She will actually put her paws on the food container, just in case I couldn’t tell what they were referring to.

The Intended Message: “Hey, you’re in the kitchen, we’re in the kitchen, and hey, look at that!  Our food is in the kitchen!  It’s right here!  All you have to do is open the lid and scoop it out.  So easy.  Also, we’re hungry.  You haven’t fed us in an entire hour.”

The Effectiveness:  This is my favorite of Bailey’s strategies.  It’s useful for when I actually do need a reminder that they need to be fed.  But it’s also easy enough to ignore when the cats are asking for their third breakfast.


5. The Great Communicator: If Bailey does not come snuggle with me around 10:15 in the evening, he mostly likely will sit on the coffee table, attempting to block my view of the television (as fat and fluffy as he is, he’s just not big enough to do this successfully).  He makes direct eye contact with me, tilts his head to the side as though engaged in conversation, and mumbles.

The Intended Message: When I say he mumbles, I mean he moves his lips and tongue around, but no sound comes out.  It could be nothing more than a Pavlovian response of salivating as he anticipates food, especially since I usually respond with, “Are you hungry?” and he knows that means I’m getting ready to feed him.  But I prefer to think that he is trying to break the greatest barrier between cats and humans, and attempting to speak to me.

The Effectiveness:  It’s not immediately effective, because it’s really funny to watch, and I try to draw it out as long as possible.  “Are you hungry? Do you want your dinner?  You want food?”  I tilt my head, and he mimics it.  It’s adorable.  But eventually I feel guilty for teasing him, so I will actually feed him.


6. The Puss-in-Boots: Bailey does not frequently resort to this.  I think it is because he knows that you should keep your most powerful weapons hidden away in your arsenal for only the most urgent of circumstances.

The Intended Message: “I do not think you fully appreciate just how cute I am.  Let me dilate my pupils fully to reveal my optimum cuteness.  If that does not convince you to reward my cuteness with heaping piles of noms, I think I might give up on life.”

The Effectiveness: Oh, it’s pretty damn effective.  If Bailey can suffer through a minute of being scooped up and squeezed and hearing, “OMG you are the cutest little B face.  I love my favorite boy cat!”, his cuteness and his tolerance are likely to be rewarded with heaping piles of noms.


7. The Temper Tantrum: Fortunately we don’t see this one too often.  But sometimes, if Bailey really feels like I am ignoring him, he will sneak up next to me, give his shrieking warning cry, and bite my arm.

The Intended Message: “I hate you.  I am a vicious animal.  Feed me, or I will eat you in your sleep.”

The Effectiveness: It is not effective.  This results in a timeout, in the bathroom so that any spiteful peeing outside the litter box will be easy to clean up.

He wasn't always so eager to snuggle...

In case you are wondering what Matilda is doing during all of this, other than occasionally taking part in The Mime, she feigns indifference to eating until the food is being served. While Bailey is busy knocking stuff over and jumping on us, Matilda is typically curled up at the foot of the bed.  I have heard about younger siblings sometimes starting to talk at a later age because their older brother or sister will often talk for them.  I’m pretty sure that’s essentially what is going on here.


Filed under Animals, Life