Cumin- and Coriander-Spiced Summer Veggies

Can we just hit “pause” for a moment and try to make summer last a little bit longer?  I know we’ve still got a month or so (or more, if you’re thinking about the seasonal calendar instead of the academic calendar), but I’ve gotten into a comfy breakfast routine that involves fresh berries and I hate the idea of giving it up in a few weeks.  I’m not ready to go back to oatmeal.  I don’t want to have to wear socks.  I want to keep eating farmers market nectarines that are so wonderfully sweet that I momentarily thought, “Maybe I should be one of those people who just eats fruit for dessert.”  Sure, I laughed it off once I remembered the sea salt brownies in the freezer, but the nectarine was so good that I contemplated swearing off chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate and reasons to extend summer, I have only had one s’more this year.  That word doesn’t even look right in the singular form. I have eaten no more than two tomatoes, and they were somewhat disappointing.  I have so much to accomplish in the next month.

To be fair, I have enjoyed steamed crabs twice, maxed out my yearly allowance of hot dogs*, and I’ve consumed so many eggplants, I’m surprised I have not turned purple. They’re my new favorite meaty vegetable (fruit?) and we’re having a hot and heavy affair before the novelty wears off and they get put into regular rotation.

Here’s something I’ve learned this summer on my insatiable quest for eggplants: Eggplants from Trader Joe’s, even if they are featured in a “Grown Locally” section, are not as good as eggplants from a farmers market.  But if you cook them in olive oil infused with cumin, coriander, and saffron, you might be able to overlook their inferiority.

Freshly ground cumin and coriander… I love a good excuse to pull out my mortar and pestle.

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This was an adaptation of a Bon Appetit recipe for Spiced Peppers and Eggplant.  Since I decided to add a yellow zucchini to the mix, I dropped the yellow peppers and just went with orange, because that’s all TJ’s had and I am not going to be fooled into buying a $6 red pepper imported from Holland from our friendly organic market.**

veggie trio

I didn’t change the recipe beyond the particular combination of vegetables, and using a combo of basil and cilantro, so I’m just going to direct you to the original recipe.  I took BA’s suggestion to chop up the vegetables and stir them in with some Israeli couscous, but I can see them also being a great side to some grilled chicken, pork, or steak.

roasted veggies

*In case you are envisioning that I have eaten dozens upon dozens of hot dogs, I will tell you that it apparently only takes seven or eight hot dogs eaten over the course of a summer to make me feel guilty about eating hot dogs.

**Not again, that is.

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Bringing Your Attention to a New Feature…

About a month ago, my mom asked if I had ever considered including some sort of index on my blog where people could easily locate recipes that I have posted.

I’ve been hesitant to do this. Partially because I still have some adolescent resistance to doing things my parents suggest, even if it’s something I had thought of myself.

Mainly, though, it’s because I don’t see this as a food blog. It’s a mix of things that I’m interested in sharing, and as it turns out, a lot of the time, I’m interested in food.  (Probably because, as busy as grad school can get, I still have to eat.)  But I have absolutely no culinary training.  I’m completely inconsistent in the format I use to share recipes.  In fact, a lot of the time, I just include a link to the original recipe.  And the meals that I post that are my original creations are very loose and most certainly have not been tested beyond, “This is what I made for dinner and this is what I think I remember about how I did it.”

I like to think of it as being reflective of how I would converse with friends about cooking- sharing recipes, ideas, and improvisations. But the benefit of a blog is that it’s like having all of these conversations archived and available to refer back to.  And having an index certainly makes that easier.

So, now you can find all the recipes and I’ve ever talked about right here, and there’s a handy Recipe Index tab on the home page.  You can thank my mom.

 

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Welcome Home Scones

If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, you probably are under the impression that everyone in the world is:

a. buying a new house

or

b. getting pregnant and having babies

Seriously, my Facebook feed is nothing but photographs of fetuses, bellies, and babies, and exterior house shots, stacks of boxes, and shiny new house keys.  Oh, and there are still a lot of photos of cats and food (but not cat food).  These are my friends, after all.

Because these are my friends, fortunately I don’t see a ton of the inappropriately first-person-plural updates about infant waste elimination. (You know what I’m talking about: “We’ve already filled five diapers with poop today and it’s not even noon!”  We?? I really hope that’s not something you’re doing with your baby.)

In fact, I felt rather proud of one of my best friends when she posted something referring to a poop situation as a “pants disaster.”  Understated, humorous, and leaves something to the imagination, even if I choose not to imagine it.  Now that’s what I’m looking for in classy baby-related status updates.

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I actually still owe this classy new mom and her husband (also a wonderful friend) a post-baby dinner.  I have a terrible habit of offering to make things for people and then not following through with it. Not because I don’t want to follow through or because I’m flaky and forget about it.  I end up with performance anxiety about the final product, whether it be a painting or vegetarian enchiladas.  There’s something unsettling about trying a new recipe and sending it off for someone else to consume, without having tasted it yourself first.

So, when our friends moved to a new house with a baby, I remembered that I had told them several months before that I’d make them a meal after the baby was born.  Oops.  In the midst of packing, moving, and unpacking, knowing dinner was waiting in the fridge or freezer would probably be really helpful. But I still hadn’t had a chance to test an enchilada recipe. Guilt and obligation versus perfectionism and procrastination.

I ended up compromising by baking scones.

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In their old house, we shared lots of evenings together. Games were played, movies were watched, and bottles of wine and pounds of cheese were consumed.* For some reason, separate nights eating strawberries and gingersnaps also stand out to me. So strawberry & ginger scones seemed like a good idea.

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Something sweet with a little spice.

I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe.  She calls them biscuits, but also refers to them as scones. I just think they’re delicious. I’ve made buttermilk scones before, but these use heavy cream instead. They really do taste creamy, which is lovely with the strawberries.

I followed the recipe exactly except for also adding in about a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger.  They did not turn out very gingery, although I wondered if I just did not thoroughly stir in the ginger and someone got a very gingery bite.

If I was going to make them again, I might sprinkle a little raw sugar on top.  I like when scones have a bit of crunchy crust on top, and since these are not very sweet to begin with, a little extra sugar wouldn’t make them too sweet.

Oh, one more thing. I didn’t feel like using biscuit cutters, so I shaped the dough into a rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick, and divided it into 8 squares. Further halving each square diagonally yields a good scone portion, in my opinion, but if you want a larger, more indulgent scone, I fully support your decision.

scones

*Let’s just assume I mean cumulatively over the years, and not per evening.

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Sometimes You Have to Be Flexible: White Bean and Farro Salad

I love working with preschoolers. One minute you’re listening to a five-year-old answer a question, demonstrating a shockingly advanced level of metacognition that a lot of adults probably don’t possess.  The next minute, another child is telling you about how they learned that some beetles poop when they get angry. And then a third child solemnly informs you that she owns a sword. A real sword.

It’s seriously like being in one of those AT&T commercials.

The weird, funny things the kids say are certainly part of the fun. But what I really love is those moments when a preschooler says something that is amazingly insightful or thoughtful.

We’ve been asking kids about how they would solve different problems by giving them hypothetical scenarios. We’re interested in how they adapt when they encounter obstacles to completing a goal. When you ask preschoolers to explain their problem solving strategies, you get a lot of “I don’t know” and “Because it would work.”  But sometimes they surprise you, like this five-year-old the other day who explained to me, “Sometimes you have to be flexible.”  She elaborated with examples showing that she was not just repeating something she heard – this is something she is fully aware of.  Impressive.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Um, Sarah?  This is some awfully research-y talk for a blog that claims to avoid such discussions….”

Be patient. I have a point.

She’s right.  Sometimes you have to be flexible.

Like when Matilda wants to wear a fancy hat, but realizes she doesn’t own a fancy hat.  She might have to adapt her definition of a fancy hat to include “sparkly cat toy”.

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Or like the other day, when I was craving my favorite lentil and Israeli couscous salad.  I went to Trader Joe’s to buy some steamed lentils, because they are way better than any lentils that I have ever cooked.  I’d pick them up, go home and make the salad, and healthy lunches for the rest of the week. And they were completely sold out.

I was really tempted to just throw up my hands and grab a burrito bowl at Chipotle for lunch.

But I’m trying to eat more healthy meals, and I had spinach and tomatoes at home needing to be used up. So I had to be flexible, and buy a can of cannellini beans instead. Since I was changing the recipe anyway, I used farro instead of couscous (or a blend of the two).

Sometimes, being flexible works out pretty well.

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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).

pluotcakes1

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?

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*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.

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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.

eggplants

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.

eggplants2

*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.

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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.

martini

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Serve sauce over ravioli; garnish with sliced fresh basil.

ravioli

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