Soba valentine.

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Winter is drinking out of mugs and eating from bowls. Winter is Valentine’s Day- we say we don’t like it but love it anyways. Winter is the scarf you knit in eighth grade and still wear; it’s remembering and nesting. And, as it happens, winter is finding the last delicata squash, sweet and tender and golden, in a picked-over bin at the market. Which is what happened this past week and is what leads me to soba.

This recipe employs a lean winter larder- seaweed, soba, kale, squash- and a bit of memory. When I was in high school, I spent some time as a foreign exchange student in Japan. My first bite on the mainland was that of soba. It was summer, and the soba was hot, and I was jetlagged in an Ambien-induced haze. Needless to say, soba was not particularly impressive to my sixteen year-old self; it would take a nudge from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, seaweed, and a little pantry desperation to make me reconsider the earthy, buckwheat soba noodle.

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Living near the ocean in Seattle makes me want to try new things. Maybe that’s why unbelievably ridiculous shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World happen on the beach. The expanse of unknown water, the strange little creatures that make their way onto the shore, the barnacles and salt; I’d like to think that, though oceanic nudging, I’ve become a new-found devotee of many new things, including soba. (Other subjects- thigh tattoos, double IPAs, purposeful hipster mullets- are still under debate.)

In recent times, soba has gone mainstream and you’ll find it in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores. Watch it when you’re boiling the noodles; cooked too long soba will be as bland and mushy as boiled cardboard noodles. Cooked al dente and seasoned while still warm and soba takes on a new identity: buttery, complex, and beautifully supple.

So, soba, tonight for Valentine’s Day dinner when you ask me to remember you and to cook and to love you, I will check “yes.” You taste exotic and yet comforting, humble and rich. You absorb flavors like no other noodle and you soften tough vegetables like kale and seaweed. It’s nice to dine with you again. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! ❤

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Soba with Seaweed and Delicata Squash

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango” from Plenty.

Serves four.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, cored and sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (such as canola oil)
  • 1/2 large red onion, very thinly sliced
  • small bunch of lacinato kale, roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces / 3 bunches dried soba noodles
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 sheets dried seaweed laver, cut in strips
  • handful of fresh cilantro and/or parsley, chopped
  • handful black sesame seeds and/or peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, toss delicata squash rounds with  1/4 cup brown sugar, canola oil, and a hefty pinch of salt. Pour out onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally , until squash is crisp and caramelized.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Make the dressing by combining vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger , sesame oil, and lemon zest and juice in a jar. Shake jar until sugar dissolves and liquids emulsify.

Cook the soba noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. While the noodles are still warm, place in a large bowl and toss with dressing, cooked squash, onions, kale, some of the seaweed, and most of the herbs. Garnish with remaining seaweed, remaining herbs, and peanuts and serve warm.

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Fathers and flourless chocolate almond cake.

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Happy Fathers day to all men of the fathercloth!

And a special shout out to my dad, a man who loves chocolate, especially gooey chocolate.

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My dad carries a bag of carrots, piece of meat, handful of almonds, and hefty hunks of dark chocolate wherever he goes. He could be at the lab, in the airport, on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro; you can bet your bottom dollar on that little lunchbox because he’s got it.

My hypothesis is that he carries around his gourmet food kit out of wariness. Wariness of hunger and what it makes you do, like paying for airlines’ overpriced, sodium-enriched snack packs that are neither tasty nor nourishing. We call Daddy’s phobia “food insecurity.” Yet the more I attempt to philosophize about it, the more I think it’s an expression of his multifaceted, farm-boy, ever-practical inner foodie.DSC_0081

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While packing things for Seattle, I found a Swedish cookbook one of my friends gave me years ago. When I saw a recipe for flourless chocolate almond cake, my Dad’s lunchbox flashed through my head. This is a father cake, I said to myself as I twiddled my fingertips together with glee. The cake looked healthy, yet so gooey ooey chocolaty, while refined. I had to try it.

Upon first bite, you know Swedish chocolate cake is “healthy” like a bran muffin or something you’d get at Whole Foods, which is not necessarily healthy (but hey, it’s all about perception.)  It is not too sweet, surprisingly flavorful, and slightly amandine. However, due to the almond flour, the cake is not as smooth as non-almond flourless chocolate cakes.

Still, ground almonds give the chocolate cake a deep, almost milky sweet flavor that elevates the confection to a whole other category of toasted chocolate wonderfulness. Rest assured, hungry-wary people of the world. This Swedish chocolate cake assuages food insecurity while simultaneously satiating foodie-ism. Let’s just say it’s hard to stop at one slice.

So, Daddy, I dedicate this gooey, rich, wholesome recipe to you. It’s like your food insecurity kit, just minus the meat, carrots, and other stuff like hummus packs that you pick up along the way.

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Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake

Makes a small cake that serves six to eight, depending on how hefty you like your piece of cake. Recipe adapted from The Food and Cooking of Sweden by Anna Mosesson. Anness Publishing, 2008.

100g/4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate with at least 75 percent cocoa solids
4 ounces unsalted sweet butter, plus a bit extra for greasing
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons
raspberry preserves, whipped heavy cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a shallow round cake tin and line with wax paper for easy clean-up.
2. Gently melt chocolate with double boiler on low heat or in the microwave on low power. Remove from heat.
3. Cut butter into small pieces, add chocolate, and stir until melted. Once almost cool, slowly add egg yolks, ground almonds, vanilla, and sugar. Turn the mixture into a large bowl.
4. Whisk egg whites until stiff and then fold them into chocolate mixture. Put in to cake round and bake until just set but still soft in the center, about 15 minutes. Serve chilled with raspberry preserves and vanilla ice cream.

Just peanut butter cookies.

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And all butters (I did grow up in Paula Dean’s Georgia.) But especially peanut butter. I guess that makes Georgia sense too.

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Probably like many of you, my addiction to peanut butter goes back to the womb and the taste bud conception that happened there. I fact, peanut butter could have been the first thing I tasted as a fetus. It would explain a lot of things.

Daddy was in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and my parents didn’t have any money. Daddy woke up at 3:30 am every morning to pack UPS trucks before he went to school and Mimi babysat neighbor kids to put food on the table and feed my older brother. When my parents knew of my growing molecular existence, they applied for the WIC nutrition program and the peanut butter food stamps that came with it.

One of my first memories is Daddy perilously eating peanut butter off a steak knife after dinner. Sometimes he broiled bread and peanut butter  until it melted in to a toasted, golden glob. He was twenty-five, biked twelve miles to school both ways, and hungry.1-DSC_0562

When I left to spend half a year on the Indian subcontinent, I took one bag. I packed a shirt, three pairs of underwear, The Alchemist, a notebook, my glasses, and one half gallon tub of crunchy peanut butter.

After week of ashram life, yoga eight hours a day, and anemic vegetable curries and I began to experience withdrawal symptoms. I broke in to the jumbo jar like a crazed nut-job. As soon as its seal broke, three other American students appeared the kitchen for “just one bite.” (I am convinced Americans can detect peanut butter from two-hundred yards away.) With smiles on our faces and heaped spoonfuls of peanut butter in hand, we sat on wobbly kitchen chairs and watched monsoon rain make rivers in the streets.

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To this day I am convinced peanut butter is good on everything.

So American.

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If you like peanut butter and/or you’re gluten-free you’re going to fliiiip. These cookies are pure peanut wonder. With an egg and a scoop o’ sugar. And lots of peanut butter. They take 13 minutes to make from start to finish. And don’t worry about smuggling a second or third onto your plate; they’re relatively low in sugar and each cookie is only around 40 calories.1-DSC_0636 Side note: if you’re in to chocolate and peanut butter, add chocolate chips! Oatmeal, small chunks of apple, and pretty much anything that’s good with peanut butter (which is almost anything, see comment above) works well mixed in the p.b. cookie dough. 1-DSC_0644   Don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!1-DSC_0692

Just Peanut Butter Cookies

(Gluten-free!)

Created and inspired by Melissa Adams.

Makes 2 dozen medium-sized cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth, crunchy, natural, processed– all types of p.b. work)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (use 1 cup if you really like your cookies sweet; I thought it was a bit too much)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (optional, but helps them stay together)
  1. Stir ingredients in a bowl and roll into 1 inch balls
  2. Place cookie balls on a greased cookie sheet and smash like a # sign with a fork. Cook in 350 degree oven until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. You can cook these until just done for softer cookies-or longer for crunchy ones.
  3. Cool and don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!

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Vegan chia date pudding.

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Spring has sprung!

I think all that cooking her to us worked.

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The urge to frolic is irresistible. The sun is up longer each day. Warm bursts of wind shake tiny buds on cherry trees.  Daffodils peak up from their winter hibernation underground. We might’ve lost a Daylight Savings hour but we’ve gained so much more.

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Six weeks. Six weeks. Next week the mantra will become five weeks, five weeks. I know it’s important to be in the present, but I can’t help counting down the days to graduation and Seattle and summer.

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I make light chia pudding with vanilla and sweet dates to stay in the present.

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If you haven’t experienced the wonder of the Chia (and no, I’m not talking about those green, sprouted cha-cha-chia! heads and pets) then get thee self to the grocery store and buy yourself a bag. They’re rich in omega-3s, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Chia seeds are easier to digest than their flax seed friends and lower in fat. And they’re a great vegan substitute for eggs when making pudding because they contain a compound that creates gelatinous texture.

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I’m a fan of vegan food; I shamelessly crave hunks of Tofurkey, strips of smoky Seitan, and a vegan friend’s marinated-broiled tofu. But my world is too enamored with Gruyère cheese and Eggs Benedict to renounce dairy and eggs completely.

Almost all the chia pudding recipes online are vegan. These puddings satisfy a sweet custard craving yet lack the layered, creamy texture that you achieve with dairy. A couple days ago my mom created the non-vegan version below. We haven’t stopped chanting the cha-cha-chia theme song since.

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Vanilla-Date Chia Pudding: Vegan/Non-Vegan

Non-Vegan

Serves 4 (makes about 2 1/2 cups.)

1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup milk
1 egg7 Medjool dates, pitted and minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
handful of berries
maple syrup for drizzling and chopped dates and pecans for topping

  1. In a small saucepan, heat milk on low heat, stirring often, until steaming and then turn off heat. In the meantime, beat egg in a separate bowl.
  2. Temper egg by quickly whisking 2 tablespoons warm milk with the beaten egg. While vigorously whisking the milk, slowly add tempered egg to the saucepan.
  3. Add chia seeds, minced dates, vanilla, and maple syrup to taste while the milk-egg mixture is still hot.
  4. Garnish with dates, pecans, and berries and serve warm or cool overnight and serve chilled.

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Vegan Version

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2012.
Serves 6 to 8 (makes 4 1/2 cups.)

 

1/2 cup chia seeds
1 cup (5 ounces) cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours to overnight
4 cups water or almond milk
7 Medjool dates (5 1/2 ounces), pitted
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons coconut butter
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups mixed raspberries and blueberries
3/4 cup maple syrup, for drizzling

  1. Place chia seeds in a medium mixing bowl, and set aside.
  2. Drain cashews, and rinse well. Add cashews, water/almond milk, dates, salt, cinnamon, coconut butter, and vanilla extract to a blender. Blend on high speed for 2 minutes, and pour into bowl with chia seeds; whisk well. Let mixture stand for 10 to 15 minutes, whisking every few minutes to prevent chia seeds from clumping (pudding will thicken quickly). Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
  3.  Serve with berries, dates, and maple syrup to drizzle.

Pudding can be refrigerated in a covered glass container for up to 5 days.

 

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Locavore: smoky chicken sliders.

Sometimes the grind gets to you.

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It’s about that time of winter when I crave summer: sundresses, peaches, picnics, the whole sunlight thing. Summer is dinnertime smoke from the grill  and something cool to drink. Summer is a burger or the crunch of a garden cucumber.

But there’s no chance for fresh fruit or cucumbers; many CSA programs have been discontinued since January because farmers felt guilty giving their customers 6 weeks of kale and an occasional sweet potato. The grill and picnic blanket hibernate. Sundresses fear my legs, which are so white they could play a starring role in the Twilight series. (And for the record, if someone gives me 6 boxes of kale I definitely won’t complain. I might even massage it.)

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If we are ever going to get summer, even spring, we need to cook her to us.

For a winter twist on summer, I made small chicken burgers, really meatballs, with cool tzatzeki yogurt sauce. Adding chipotle chili powder brings the smokiness of a summertime grill to your stove top. And the Mediterranean yogurt sauce recipe comes from a Cypriot professor, who is forever exiled from Turkey and parts of Cyprus for helping to lead Cyprus’s separatist revolt.

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If “local” didn’t include ideas of sustainable social, personal, or economic health, “local” for me would include the Tyson chicken plant. But, “local” means more than just a 100-mile radius. So instead of supporting Tyson, I get my chicken from a man who raises free range broiler chickens, processes them himself, and sells them from a food truck around town.

When you buy chicken from Tyson, you buy a lot of chlorinated water. Because they process thousands of chickens who live too close together in feces their whole lives, chicken processing plants need to sanitize their birds in a water, salt, and chlorine solution. The birds absorb this solution which evaporates as you cook the chicken, making your chicken dry and lacking in flavor.

We’re not all chicken farmers, and we might need to get out chicken from the supermarket. But knowing where your chicken comes from is important. To stop buying chlorinated water with your chicken, look for chicken that is “Air Chilled.” The Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchen’s favorite brands (which I also reccomend) include Bell & Evans Air Chilled Boneless-Skinless Chicken Breasts and Mary’s Free Range Air Chilled Chicken.

Happy Winter Summering!

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Smoky Chicken Sliders

Serves 4; makes 12 small sliders or meatballs.

2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, quartered
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoons siracha
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chipotle chili power
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon tarragon
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 oz each) quartered; local if possible
2 Tablespoons olive oil

  1. In a food processor, process all ingredients except chicken and oil.
  2. Add chicken and pulse until chopped finely, about 12 times, and ingredients are combined. Form into patties or meatballs according to preference.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add patties and cook, stiring often to brown all sides, about 3 minutes for each side. Serve warm on steamed vegetables, fresh salad, or bread with yogurt sauce.

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Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup cucumber, grated
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
pinch of salt

  1. Mix all ingredients and serve with sliders as dipping sauce or topping.

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Chocolate hazelnut and gluten-freedom.

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At a party the other night, a friend asked me, “If you’re stuck on a deserted island and could only bring Nutella or peanut butter, what would you bring?” Scoff. I’ll have both, and stay on this island forever.

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My family moved to Australia when I was five and I discovered new friends with Nutella-wonderbread sandwiches in their lunchboxes. Lucky me, Aussie children are crazy about American egg salad. At school, I traded my Power Ranger lunchbox for the sweet, nutty chocolate in a shady cafeteria corner. I was hooked.

Since Australia, I squirrel Nutella in to everything I can: smoothies, frostings, spoonfuls, and now cookies. These aren’t just cookies with Nutella. No, they are the hazelnut chocolate makings of Nutella in cookie form. And they’re gluten-free.

More to come on peanut butter love affairs…

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(Gluten-free!) Nutellettles

About 45 cookies
Recipe by Terresa Murphy of La Cucina di Terresa and David Lebovitz

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 cup rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
3 1/2 ounces butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1. Put the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of coarse polenta.

2. Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl and add the rice flour. Cut the butter into pieces then add the butter, sugar, and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. If not, knead it until it does or add a tiny, tiny bit of water.

3. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece until it’s 3/4-inch (2cm) round. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. If the dough is too long to work with as you roll them out, you can cut the dough at the midway point and work with it in batches or use plastic wrap to compress the dough in to ropes. Chill the dough logs until firm on a small baking sheet or dinner plate lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper in the freezer for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 325ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Working with one length of dough at a time, keeping the others in the refrigerator or freezer, cut off equal-sized pieces using a knife. Once you’ve cut a length of dough, roll the pieces into nice little balls the size of a marble and place them on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during cooking, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.

7. Melt the chocolate until smooth on microwave medium heat or in a double boiler. Put a chocolate chip-sized dollop of chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and take another cookie, and sandwich the two halves together.

Storage: The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

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