Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The flavor called "delicious"

How did I not know about this before?

Of course we all know the four basic flavors: salt, sweet, sour, bitter. But it wasn't until I read the July/August issue of Experience Life that I found out about the fifth flavor. It's called umami.

Or, when most simply translated from Japanese: delicious.

Check it out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CSA Panic Mode

Since I was out of town when my most recent CSA box arrived, I was already three days behind by the time I got my hands on the goods. My first night back in town I braised some collard greens with cippolini onions and black beans, but since then I've only had time for salads and raw veggies with hummus.

Which has left me with the following hanging over my head:

four cucumbers
a head of red cabbage
green beans
summer squash

I think I've found recipes to make use of everything, but tonight I started to panic. I decided to put those braising skills back to work on the red cabbage.

Braised Red Cabbage
Adapted from Gourmet, via

Red cabbage (1 medium head, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add cabbage, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes or until cabbage is tender.

Full disclosure: I've just been standing over my stove eating it straight from the pan. At 10 o'clock at night. Because it tastes like salt and vinegar potato chips, only it's cabbage.

And to take an edge of the panic in a productive, CSA-type way, I improvised a cucumber cocktail. About one part vodka to two parts water, a tablespoon of lime juice, and a half teaspoon of sugar. I don't have any martini glasses, so I put the liquids in a wine glass and then steeped three cucumber slices and a tiny bit of mint tea in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. What I wound up with was light and refreshing. Maybe not perfect. But pleasant.

I'm feeling like I've got this a little more under control.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oooh, shiny!

My parents just gave me my birthday present several months early. See, I've been in the market for some new cookware. I've been using these beat up old pots and pans with scratches in the nonstick coating.


So I've been keeping an eye out for good deals.

And last week I found it. A magnificent sale on 10 pieces of sleek, stainless steel glory.

I mentioned it to my mom, who completely understands that sometimes birthday presents don't have to arrive on or even anywhere near a person's actual birthday.

So when she and my dad came to town for a family get-together this weekend, they had the pots and pans in the trunk for me.

Sure, it might be a little bit of a letdown when November rolls around and the only thing I get to open is a card. But I'll have had an extra four months of cooking with these gorgeous pieces, and I think that's worth it.

Tonight I made my first dinner using them. I kept it simple: whole wheat pasta tossed with cilantro garlic scape pesto.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes life just requires a double batch of oatmeal cookies.

Like when you're headed to a lakeside extended-family getaway and you need a portable, convenient dessert that will serve 16 at more than one meal. And that you can make a few days in advance and keep in the freezer until it's time to jump in the car and go. And that everyone can snack on throughout the week.

Plus, I just really love these cookies.

They're my favorite oatmeal cookies, and that's probably because the original recipe was created to replicate the cookie part of an oatmeal creme pie--my favorite childhood snack cake.

In fact, I first made the cookies because they were part of a recipe for homemade oatmeal creme pies. I got incredibly, irrationally excited about it, because I haven't had an oatmeal creme pie in years and to be honest I'm not so sure how much I'd actually enjoy them anymore. So rather than risking the travesty of tainting my childhood memory, I thought maybe I could just bake a homemade batch. They'd be free of all the highly processed, preservative-laden bad stuff that I've become very conscious of avoiding, partly for flavor but mostly for reasons of health and nutrition.

(When someone in your immediate family spends six months in and out of the hospital for heart problems, you start to pay closer attention to what's actually
in what you're eating. At least, that's how it worked for me.)

But when I looked at the ingredients for the filling and realized that the two main substances involved were shortening and marshmallow creme, it didn't sound like much of an improvement.

So I tinkered with the cookie part of the recipe a little bit, made them sans creme filling to take to a BBQ, and came home afterw
ard with several compliments, no leftovers, and an Official Favorite Oatmeal Cookie Recipe on my hands.

Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from honey & jam

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups quick oats

In a large bowl, cream together the oil, butter, and sugars. Add eggs one at a time until well combined. Add the vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add to the creamed ingredients and mix until combined. Refrigerate the dough for about 15 minutes. (If, like me, you were also recently placed in charge of the beer run that will supply a segment of your family for a week of lakeside lounging, this will require some refrigerator Tetris. Have fun with that.)

Once the dough is chilled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Form each cookie by dropping about a tablespoon of dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are just starting to brown around the edges. They might still look a little soft in the center, but don't overbake them. The centers will set as the cookies cool. (On a wire rack, if you have the sort of kitchen that allows for spreading out cookies on wire racks. Otherwise, they'll turn out just fine if you stack them on a couple of plates.) You should wind up with a chewy, buttery oatmeal cookie. The cocoa powder gives these cookies a deeper flavor than most other oatmeal cookies I've tried, so don't be surprised if people start asking questions about your secret ingredient.

Yield: About 30-35 cookies
(Recipe doubles easily, just in case you happen to have the need for 70 oatmeal cookies.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

You know that song by the Weepies?

It's called "Not Your Year."

And I kind of always have it stuck in my head lately because, well, I'm pretty sure 2009 is not my year. There's been a whole sequence of events that led me to this conclusion, but I don't actually want to talk about any of that here. At least not right now. The point is, things have been sort of crappy. And even when things are going mostly pretty well, I've had this general feeling of restlessness. Ennui, even.

And then.

(Oh, I'm putting off writing this down, because it's going to sound
so cheesy.)

And then. I saw an advanced screening of
Julie & Julia tonight. And I loved it and it made me feel happy and now all I want to do is cook, eat, and write about it.

So. I was already doing the cooking and eating part. All the time, actually. I mean, I spent the bulk of my 4th of July weekend holed up in my itty bitty kitchen demolishing an entire CSA box. Even though I was feeling sort of sickly. Which is maybe kind of sad, but I'll refer you to the paragraph above. Anyway, the point is that when I'm cooking, I feel really good. It's a fairly new love for me, just developed within the past couple of years, but I actually think about food pretty much all the time now.

I pore over food blogs and send emails to myself with links to recipes I want to try when such and such a vegetable is in season or whenever I can come up with a reason to bake a fancy tart. I read book after book about cooking and nutrition and the industrial food system and alternatives to said food system.

Food has the potential to be a lifestyle, a political statement, a revolutionary act.

The truth is, I actually started writing about food several months ago. Here. But I didn't tell anybody about it so I didn't have any incentive to keep writing and the posts sucked anyway, so I deleted them. But now I'm starting over.

I'm going to write (which is something I love) about food and cooking (two other things that I love), and I think maybe that could help with the whole aforementioned restlessness/ennui problem.

So watch this space, because tomorrow I'm baking cookies.