Thursday, January 31, 2008

Use lots of labels!

There have been lots of recipes posted that sound delicious, and I can't wait to try them. This is just a reminder to use labels generously: eventually, they will be the primary way of finding recipes.

For consistency, let's just say that "almost vegetarian" means that a recipe can easily be made vegetarian by making a substitution or omission or two.

Gnocchi with Tomato & Basil Sauce


1 pound package gnocchi
6 large plum tomatoes
1 large handful fresh basil
4 large cloves garlic
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
olive oil

(1) Start water boiling for gnocchi
(2) Smash garlic and cook on very low heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (do not let the garlic turn brown)
(3) Chop tomatoes, gently squeeze out excess juice, add to garlic
(4) Cook tomatoes and garlic on low heat till the tomatoes are mushy and easily smashed (about the time it takes for the water to boil), then smash them
(5) Add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt to tomatoes
(6) Add gnocchi to boiling water
(7) Chop basil, add to tomatoes
(8) Chop mozzarella into 1-2 inch pieces
(9) Scoop floating gnocchi out of the pot and into the tomato sauce (carrying some starchy water into the sauce may be desirable)
(10) Stir gnocchi, then strategically place mozzarella pieces on top
(11) Cover and keep on low heat till the mozzarella begins to melt (about 2 minutes)
(12) Turn off heat and let stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes, letting the starch do its thing with the tomatoes
(13) Serve in warm bowls

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Roasted Cauliflower


1 head of fresh cauliflower
1 head of garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper

(1) Cut cauliflower into small florets, roughly the same size (about 2 inches), rinse and drain
(2) Peel and smash almost a head's worth of garlic cloves
(3) Combine cauliflower and garlic and coat generously with olive oil
(4) Roast in a very hot oven till golden brown (about 45-60 minutes at about 425 degrees), stirring occasionally so that the florets brown evenly
(5) While hot, season generously with salt and pepper
(6) Serve hot or cold

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lunch burritos

Cooking for one, as I do most of the time here in Cambridge, I often eat the same thing several days in a row. That's because things like a wedge of cheese, a package of tortillas, and a bunch of fresh herbs will last one person many meals, and I try not to waste too much food. Luckily, I don't mind this: when I find a good combination, it usually takes me quite a while to get sick of it.

Burritos are an easy, healthy and yummy lunch staple for me. I bring a package of the hand-made whole wheat ones from Trader Joe's to the department, keep it in our fridge, and then bring in fillings every day. The tortillas are best when warmed up slightly. Here are some of my favorite fillings:

1. Hummus and grated carrot (very simple, but surprisingly good)
2. Diced avocado, lemon juice, black beans, sweet corn and cilantro*
3. (2) with diced tomatoes
4. (2) or (3) with some sort of rice mixture (combine rice with cilantro and lime, or cook with onions, garlic and tomato for spanish rice, etc.)

I usually add lettuce to the fillings above, but I'm a big salad-in-sandwiches fan. Plain lettuce or a mixture of salad greens adds great freshness and crunch, which I love. You could add a little hot sauce or salsa to (2)-(4), or even a little yogurt or cheese, but they're not necessary.

*I also like this on its own, as a salad. Combine one avocado, about 2/3 can of black beans, about the same amount of sweet white corn (fresh in summer, frozen in winter), the juice of one lemon, and a sprinkle of cilantro. Or even leave out the cilantro, if you don't have any on hand. Mmm. Methinks the tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the corn and avocado go very well together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tofu with Sa Cha Sauce (沙茶豆腐)

A recent experiment that vegetarianizes a common Taiwanese dish.

3 spoons sa cha sauce
2 spoons soy sauce
sesame oil as needed
2 blocks firm tofu
1 bulb onion
1/2 bunch nine-storied pagoda basil

0. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
1. Dry tofu and cut into thin slices.
2. Cut onion in half. Slice. Set aside.
3. Mix sa cha sauce with soy sauce in a bowl.
4. Lightly coat a glass baking dish with sesame oil on the bottom. Place slices of tofu in the dish. Evenly pour (3) on top. If more than one layer is needed, then put a little more sesame oil, place more tofu on top, sauce, repeat.
5. Place (4) in the oven until the slices of tofu seem reasonably firm on the outside. 15 min?
6. Heat up a wok. Apply a tiny amount of sesame oil. Add (2).
7. When onions are slightly softened, take out (5) from the oven and add to the wok. Make sure you add the sesame oil-sauce liquid also.
8. Stir-fry (7) with nine-storied pagoda basil for a short amount of time. Serve.

The original version uses thin-sliced lamb instead of tofu. Other thin-sliced meat would work also.

Instead of nine-storied pagoda basil, you can use thai basil. Maybe basil or even cilantro would work also. You might also be able to do without it.

Substituting sa cha sauce is a bit harder. It is not that difficult to find in Asian markets. However, if you do not have it on hand, then perhaps a mix of fermented bean paste, fried shallots and fish sauce would serve as a substitute?

Consider adding a bit of sugar and rice wine to the sa cha and soy sauce mixture.

The point of putting tofu with the sauce in the oven is to marinate and at the same time also firm it up a bit so that they retains the shape when your stir-fry them. An equally okay way is to marinate the tofu ahead of time and directly stir-fry in a wok.

When you are done eating, there will probably be some sesame oil-sauce liquid at the bottom of the plate. This would complement some plain noodles quite well for next day's lunch!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

smoky red pepper tomato stew

This was designed to use up the big bag of red peppers for a dollar that jumped into my shopping bag at haymarket and demanded to be eaten as soon as possible. For all you who do not like to eat dead bodies, just leave out the bacon.

1 streak of bacon (optional, alternatively a glug of olive oil)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 rib of celery, chopped
4 small or 2 normal sized red peppers
1 28 oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (muir glen)
1 pinch of cayenne
1/2 tsp oregano
1 can of chickpeas
1 handful of chopped parsley

Cut the peppers in halfs, put them on a baking sheet and then under the broiler until their skin starts to blacken. this should take about 10 minutes but it's better to keep an eye on them as you don't really know what kind of things are flammable until you put them under a broiler. Once black spots start to appear on their skin, take them out, leave for a minute or two to cool and then chop them in little strips.

Meanwhile, if using, chop the bacon in little pieces and put them in a large pan or wok on medium heat. (Alternatively just heat the olive oil in the pan.) When they start frying, add the onion and garlic and celery and saute for a few minutes on medium high heat until the onion starts to brown and everything starts smelling very, very good.

Throw in the peppers and tip in the tomatoes and the drained chickpeas, salt to taste and add the oregano and the cayenne. Simmer for about 10 min. Check for salt and or pepper and top with the chopped parsley.

I ate this topped with some crumbled feta and a fried egg as I believe very strongly that (almost) everything tastes better when you put an egg on top.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Philosopher’s Lunchbox: Edition #3

Not much preamble this time, but this is really good (and very quick if you’ve got some leftover cooked squash or pumpkin on hand).

Quick Squash 'Pizza'

1 pita bread / tortilla
1 cup (or so) cooked squash or pumpkin*
1 handful chopped mint
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt
1 pomegranate, or 1 handful dried cranberries
A couple of tablespoons of gorgonzola, crumbled
Optional: pine nuts

* I suspect canned pumpkin puree would also work in this, although I haven’t tried it.

Preheat oven to 400.
Lay out the pita or tortilla on a cookie sheet or similar.
Combine the squash, mint and olive oil, and salt to taste.
Spread the squash mixture over the ‘pizza’ base.
Sprinkle on the pine nuts, if using.
Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds or cranberries, along with the cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is a bit melted and the ‘pizza’ is warm.
Cut into wedges, and apply to face.

I also like this with rosemary (instead of the mint) and feta cheese (in place of the gorgonzola), which is how I originally made it back in Australia.

Happy lunching!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Savory Egg Custard (Chawanmushi)

This is something I ate quite frequently as a kid, and continue to enjoy immensely. I think it is good for a snack, an appetizer, quick breakfast, or served along side rice (make it saltier in that case). At the core, chawanmushi is incredibly simple, as the three-ingredient list shows, but it can be made more complex also.

3 eggs
soy sauce

(1) Beat eggs in a bowl thoroughly but gently. Try to minimize the bubbles.
(2) Add water and soy sauce. In terms of volume, I guess a 6:1:1 ratio of egg:water:soy sauce sounds reasonable to me, but adjust for your preferred taste and texture. Mix.
(3) Cover the bowl with a plate and place it in a microwave for 3~4 minutes.
(4) Serve while hot.

Instead of water, you can use stock or mushroom-rehydration liquid. You can also add other things to the egg mixture, such as mushroom, fishcake, seafood, bamboo, cooked chicken cubes, udon... I also like a bit of pepper and adding a drop of cooking oil to the mixture to give a surface sheen.

To achieve a better texture, you should really use a rice cooker / steamer hybrid. [An Example]

You can also put it in Asian-ish tea cups instead for individual servings, or a bigger ceramic container for bigger portions. Google-image 'chawanmushi' for pictures.

The will be pieces of egginess stuck to the bowl. Rather than trying to scrub them out by brute force, it is easier to get rid of them by leaving the bowl in hot water so that they soften and come off easily.

French Onion Soup


2 medium yellow onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
29-32 ounces beef broth (2 cans)
1/2 cup vermouth

swiss cheese

olive oil

(1) thinly slice onions
(2) cook onions in 3/2 tablespoons butter & 1 tablespoon olive oil till soft (15 minutes)
(3) add salt and sugar to onions, and cook till golden brown (15 -20 more minutes)
(4) add flour to onions, and cook for 2 minutes
(5) off heat, add some beef broth and stir ingredients till well blended
(6) add remaining beef broth and vermouth, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes

(7) broil buttered bread on both sides, add swiss cheese, and melt

(8) to serve, ladel soup over swiss cheese toasts

(modified recipe from Julia Child)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Baked eggplant with feta and mint

This one will hopefully sit well with Elisa's predilection for feta... It's also one of the easiest ways to cook for a group, and goes down well.

For 2:

1 eggplant (henceforth to be referred to by its proper, and more pleasant, name, "aubergine")
2 cloves garlic, crushed
dried oregano
good bread.

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 or thereabouts.
2. Cut aubergine in two. Brush with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, crushed garlic and dried oregano.
3. Bake aubergine until tender and soft, maybe 20 minutes or so.
4. Toast pine kernels.
5. Scatter pine kernels, feta, and mint over aubergine. Drizzle olive oil.
6. Serve alongside the bread (or couscous, rice etc.)

(This is from "The Kitchen Diaries" by my favourite food writer, Nigel Slater.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Philosopher’s Lunchbox: Edition #2

I posted last time about a simple roasted pepper salad that turned my head. But my favorite salads are even simpler. They involve no cooking, and consist of just four elements: a salad leaf, a fruit, a nut and a cheese. The dressing is usually oil-free, because of the richness of the cheese. So, I just use a splash of lemon juice, or – even more often – balsamic vinegar, which I developed a taste for eons ago, when it was trendy. Now it’s all about the apple cider vinegar, but my love for balsamic vinegar lives on.

The four components admit of myriad variations, but here are a few I turn to time and time again.

Arugula, sliced pears, walnuts, shaved parmesan
Baby spinach, figs (fresh or candied), pine nuts, goat’s cheese (e.g. chèvre)
Mixed herbs (mint, basil, flat-leaf parsley), peaches (or nectarines), macadamias, boccocini or fresh mozzarella
Baby spinach, dried cranberries, pecans, goat’s cheese (e.g. chèvre)
Arugula, pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, blue cheese (while squeezing out the seeds, you’ll get a good deal of juice, and I like to use this as the basis for the dressing, with – you guessed it – an additional splash of balsamic vinegar).

Some other variations on the idea which sound promising, although I’ve yet to try them:

Fennel tops and bulbs, blood orange or pink grapefruit segments, sunflower seeds, ricotta salada
Frisée lettuce, raspberries or concord grapes, sliced or flaked almonds, blue cheese
Celery leafs and hearts, Granny Smith apples, pistachios, ripe Camembert (I would use an apple cider vinegar-based dressing for this)
Chopped mint, watermelon cubes, pine nuts, feta cheese (a red wine vinegar based dressing would be nice)
Sliced scallions, mandarin segments (I actually like the canned ones: is my secret safe?), water chestnuts (or cashews), beancurd cubes (an asian-style dressing – consisting, say, of rice wine vinegar, ginger and a splash of soy would be appropriate here)

Mix and match as you like, and of course try other elements in place of the ones I’ve suggested. A caveat: in my view, the fruit needs to be incisive, refreshing and not too soft. I was going to indulge in a philosophical analogy here, but I’ll spare you the pain.

(But, for a fun game, substitute names for variables in the following sentence: philosopher X is to philosophy as food Y is to cooking. For example: Wittgenstein is to philosophy as herbs are to cooking. Used ubiquitously, but frequently misunderstood. Or: Prichard is to ethics as chocolate mousse is to contemporary cuisine. Deeply unfashionable, but surprisingly good all the same. As you can perhaps glean, this pastime keeps me occupied for hours. Is this secret safe too? (she asks hopefully)).

Anyhoo, happy lunching!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Black olive tabenade is one of my very favourite things. It is expensive, but well worth a little extra grad student debt. Also, it has come to the rescue of at least one thoroughly drunk co-blogger. Here it is put to good use with melted mozzarella. I suppose the grill in the department kitchen could be used for this...


Olive Oil
Black Pepper
Prosciutto (optional)

1. Slice ciabatta, and toast under a grill until just golden on each side.
2. Smother with tabenade, then layer with shreds of prosciutto (if you keep the slices whole, it will disappear into your mouth in your first bite, which may be no bad thing), and then slices of mozarella.
3. Drizzle a little olive oil and grind some black pepper.
4. Place under the grill until the mozarella melts.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Philosopher's Lunchbox: A Suggestion

For a person who is not entirely sure that she enjoys red peppers (or, as my Antipodean roots would have me say, capsicums), I sure eat a lot of them. They have their advantages, to be sure. They can be consumed cooked or raw; they are (insert arbitrary term for positive dietary status); they are… colorful. But I’ve never been entirely convinced by their taste, and so continue to eat them from the motive of duty alone.

This simple, pretty, classic salad had me at hello, however. But – calling all Kantians – I wonder if eating it can still be considered worthy?

3 bell peppers (ideally: one red, one orange, one yellow)*
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
1 blob of fresh mozzarella cheese (buffalo if you’re feeling spendy), sliced
1 handful fresh basil, torn
sea salt (preferably grey)
black pepper
optional additions: pine nuts, olives, avocado, lightly steamed green beans

* Don’t use green peppers; they don’t roast up nearly as well.

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Place peppers and cherry tomatoes in a large roasting tin, with a good drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of sea salt tossed over the tomatoes.
3. Roast for about 30 minutes. Enjoy the lovely smell wafting through the house.
4. Check to see how the vegetables are doing; the tomatoes should be soft but still retain their shape, and the peppers should be crinkly and brown. If necessary, you can turn the peppers to get the skin crinkly and brown all over, but I found this wasn’t needed.
5. Remove the vegetables. (Try to get me to say ‘veggies’. I dare you). Put the peppers into a large bowl, and seal it tightly with cling-film. You should see it start to steam up quickly.
6. After a minute or two, the steam will have done its work, and the peppers should be easy to peel by hand. Thus, you should peel them.
7. Chop peppers into thin ribbons.
8. Layer the tomatoes, peppers, mozzarella, basil and any additions artistically in a salad bowl or on a platter.
9. Make a dressing with any olive oil left at the bottom of the roasting tin (don’t shun the brown, crusty bits from the tomatoes; they add great flavour), and combine with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust the dressing as desired.
10. Pour on the dressing, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Unlike many, I don’t like pepper on everything. It’s a spice, not a seasoning, and in my view should be used with subsequent discretion. But it’s really good here.

Enjoy, perhaps with some crusty bread – olive bread is especially delicious with this. A tasty lunch, and eminently transportable.

Friday, January 4, 2008

chopping theory and minestrone

there are different kinds of chopping for different mind sets. there is the meditative chopping, steady-paced and precise, sitting at the kitchen table with some music in the background. there is the animated chopping while talking to someone, with the knife being used as much for cutting as for wild gesticulation. and finally there is the aggressive chopping, hunched over the cutting bord, lips pressing together so that the carrots, were they not doomed to a mute existence, would scream with terror.

all kinds of chopping are good for making minestrone. it makes your appartment smell delicious and it tastes even better when reheated for lunch the next day.

wintery minestrone

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 fat leek
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 small rutabaga (alias swede)
1/2 butternut squash
3 handful french lentils
2 handful pearl barley
5 cups vegetable broth
2 handful frozen peas
2 handful fresh spinach
1 handful fresh parsley
feshly ground pepper
2 tbsp balsamico vinegar

heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat, add the thyme and start chopping the vegetables, adding them to the pot as you go and stirring from time to time. slice the leek lengthwise, wash it under cold water and slice it thinly, using the white and lighter green parts only. slice the celery stalks. scrub and chop the carrots. peel the rutabaga, half it and dice it. peel the butternut squash and dice it too. this is a rustic soup, so no need to obsess about the vegetable chopping--the important thing is that they are more or less the same size and on the smaller side.

Increase the heat to high and add the lentils and the barley to the vegetables, stirring them around until they start browning--about 3-5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat until the lentils and the barley are tender.

Next throw in the peas and the stir in the spinach, roughly torn into smaller pieces. Simmer for 3 more minutes or so and then add the freshly chopped parsley. Season with pepper, salt and balsamico.

Eat from big bowls, and maybe a drizzle of olive oil. maybe even a little freshly grated parmesan on top. as for all soups, a hunk of crusty bread and butter on the side are absolutely essential.

this makes enough for four.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Banana Split Cupcakes: or, the Art of Praxis

I have felt recently that I’m beginning to slip. I have shown unwarranted interest in the contents of a peer’s lunchbox; made one too many comments about the different varieties of sea salt after a colloquium; and hell, I even indulged in a culinary metaphor in my last term paper. I’ve raised too many eyebrows, and it is time to confess. My name is Kate, and I am a food-blog-aholic.

I feel better just saying it: I love reading food blogs. I love the stories, the information, the recipes, and most of all the sense of struggle. I cheer on one blogger as he finally perfects his pavlova, and mourn for another when her soufflé doesn’t rise. And I sometimes toy with the idea of attempting some of the more unusual or challenging recipes, perhaps even adding my own distinctive twists along the way.

But who am I kidding? I really don’t have the time. At home, my fiancé D and I mostly cook very simple recipes that we replicate time and time again. There’s something profoundly soothing about being able to switch on to culinary autopilot after a long day, not to mention the comfort of knowing in advance how dinner is going to taste.

Still, I could afford to branch out a little. To besmirch (nay, apply!) some of my theoretical knowledge about food. And it is with that small and modest promise to myself (just don’t call it a resolution, please) that I proudly join the ranks of this blog.

My first recipe is neither healthy nor lunch-friendly, but it sure is tasty. I took my future mother in law’s wonderful recipe for banana bread, and made it into cupcakes to share with her on a recent visit. She also suggested the name, since it’s a combination of bananas, chocolate, nuts and cherries. No cream, but you’ll hardly miss it. As for the frosting? Pure me.

Banana Split Cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 eggs (at room temperature)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (they should be nearly black to achieve optimum flavour; I used 3)
½ vanilla bean, split and seeds removed (1 teaspoon good vanilla extract would also be fine)
2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp grated fresh nutmeg

For the frosting:
13 oz jar nutella
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

maraschino cherries, to decorate

Makes 12 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with electric hand mixer.
Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Blend in bananas and vanilla.
Sift flour, baking powder and nutmeg, and blend them into the banana mixture.
Fill one 12-cup muffin tin with the batter; each cup should be nearly full since the mixture doesn’t rise much.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Turn out immediately and cool on a wire rack.
For the frosting: beat ingredients together with an electric mixer, and frost each cooled cupcake generously. Top with a maraschino cherry, to create the banana split effect.

Aftermath: While I baked these cupcakes, I told D that I was planning to make them my first entry for this blog. While enthusiastic about my contribution, he also wondered if there are blogs for people who are in charge of cleaning up after the food bloggers have completed their experiments. He envisaged posts entitled ‘7 Dishwashing Detergents Reviewed!’, ‘Tips to get out baked-on stains’ and ‘How not to clean a bundt pan’. Can anyone point him in the right direction?