Category Archives: Recipes

A cabbage barrage

Let’s get this out of the way real quick. This post is about cabbage. But wait, hold on! I know what you’re thinking.“Cabbage. Huh. Well I guess I’ll click back to that tutorial on how operate the vacuum at it’s optimal potential.” I know. Cabbage sounds extremely boring. And no, even though St. Patrick’s Day was last week, this has nothing to do with being Irish (which I am) or colcannon. I’m not even being festive.

But before you click away, I used to think the same thing. Cabbage = bland, watery, overcooked, healthy in that feet-dragging kinda way. But then I lived with Jenn, my old roommate. She made this fresh cabbage salad with tons of lime, jalapeno, shredded carrots, green and red cabbage, tossed with a very light, creamy dressing and handfuls of fresh cilantro. She made me reconsider cabbage. (Other things I learned to love from Jenn: black beans, cilantro, jalapenos, mushrooms and Key lime pie.)

Once cabbage and I made friends, it realized how versatile it is. Have you ever bought a head of romaine lettuce, then realized that you want something you can sautee? Or the opposite. You buy some sweet potatoes, then you crave something fresh and uncooked. This happens to me all the time. Especially when the seasons are changing, like they are right now. The beauty of cabbage though, is that it goes both ways. It’s the bisexual, if you will, of brassicas. Eat it fresh, saute it, braise it, roast it, blow your nose with one of its leaves! (Okay, maybe not the last one. Unless you’re really desperate.)

My recent favorite cabbage recipe is caramelized cabbage with lemon and parmesan. This is a great side dish; basically a warm cabbage salad, sauteed until there are little bits of smoky and burnt leaves, tossed with a squinch of fresh lemon and a handful of cheesy goodness. It’s also great for breakfast; fry up an egg, plop it on top, toast a slice of bread and you’re in business.

Warm cabbage salad with lemon and parmesan

Serves 2 as a side dish

1/2 head green cabbage, sliced very thin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 heaping tablespoons of parmesan cheese, to taste

lemon, to taste (I use roughly 1/4 lemon per 1/2 head cabbage, taste as you go and find your sweet spot)

salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in heavy bottomed saute pan over medium high heat, add garlic, sautee until fragrant. Add the slivered cabbage.

2. Cook the cabbage until browned in places (5-7 minutes). Turn off the heat, add parmesan, lemon, salt and pepper. Taste. Adjust for seasoning. Serve warm. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to three days.

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Filed under Gluten-free, Local, Quick, Recipes, Sidedish, Vegetables

Mu’s biscuits

Well it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. I started a new job and can you believe it, they want me there eight hours a day! But after a month, I think I’m finally catching my stride.

These biscuits helped.

If you’ve ever moved and love to cook you might understand how I’ve been feeling in my new kitchen. It’s great, cute from afar, but nothing is second nature yet. I hit my head on the cabinet doors. The drawers in the fridge get stuck. I think I forgot how to grocery shop. All of this makes for a lot of take out, pizza and wine. Which I ain’t knocking, especially when you live near Figs. But after weeks straight of spending far too much money, I was ready to get back in the kitchen.

Enter Scotty Amis’ Dinwiddie Biscuits, or Mu’s biscuits actually. A couple posts ago I talked about family recipes. After reading about my family’s favorite food, Randy, Bo’s dad sent along some of his. There were two cakes and these biscuits.

Randy got the recipe from his mother, Scotty Amis, who got it from her mother, Lillie a.k.a. Mu (Muh, not Moo). Mu lived in Virginia in a town called Dinwiddie, in a house that Randy’s family still calls home. Randy said his grandmother went to New York City once when she was in her 20’s, other than that she spent her life within 50 miles of the family farm. They grew tobacco, peanuts and eventually soy beans. She made these biscuits every day. When Scotty Amis was old enough, it became one of her daily chores.

This is what Randy had to say about his family biscuits:

These will not be as good as the originals – unless you find a little girl or boy to pat the dough. When I was little, Mu used to let me (and probably any handy grandchild) pat the biscuits out with my bare feet as I stood on the counter where she was working. My mother, her daughter, horrified at the thought of where those bare feet had been on the farm that day (barn, pig lot, chicken yard, cow pasture, garden, down the lane), protested, “Mother, don’t let him do that!” Mu responded calmly, “Oh, its alright, his sweet little feet won’t hurt anything.” Apocryphal perhaps, but a lasting tale in our family. And evidence that my grandmother, spoiled us through and through. The biscuits? Wonderful, flaky, light and, of course, sweet.

A good biscuit recipe is a great addition to any cook’s repertoire. It’s a quick bread (meaning it’s leavened without yeast) so you don’t have lengthy rising times. You can whip them up in 30 minutes, with ingredients most likely already in your cupboard.

Unfortunately the small child that lives under my cabinet is on vacation this week (damn unions!), so I whipped out my food processor. I hope Mu wouldn’t mind.

Mu/Scotty Amis’ Dinwiddie Biscuits

Reported by Randy Amis

Preheat oven to 425°

2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Butter

3 tablespoons Crisco

7/8 cup milk (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons)

  1. Mix dry ingredients, then add Crisco and butter and blend until flour looks flaky or like cornmeal or oatmeal.
  2. Slowly add milk (NOTE: you may not need it all). Lightly mix until dough forms a ball. Do not over work.
  3. Put ball of dough on floured board – roll or pat to ½” thick – with a glass or jar of the right size – 3 to 3 ½ inches wide – cut the biscuits out – put on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes until golden.

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Filed under Baking, Quick, Recipes

Lazy, but not local

Making pesto in winter when Mother Nature just dumped a fluffy foot of snow on your house is certainly not endorsed by strict localvores. It’s a task normally reserved for the hazy days of summer, when gardens are busting with basil, not sleeping quietly under a heavy blanket of white.

But I’m a fish taco freak and for me, fish tacos need fresh cilantro. In the winter this means I buy my fresh herbs from Mexico, Guatemala, or where ever else they’re shipped from. Oops.

Wilted cilantro ready for the food processor.

I usually buy a bunch and everything is fine and dandy. I have some delicious tacos, then I toss the rest of the cilantro in the fridge and forget about it. Until a week later, when I’m rummaging in the vegetable drawer, trying to scare up some grub and there it is. A bunch of verdant herbs, now wilted and limp. It makes me feel guilty.

Enter, poor man’s pesto.

Even yellowing and wilted herbs can turn into a bright pesto.

Whatever wilted and forgotten herbs you have on hand (I’ve tried cilantro, parsley and basil all with success), whizzed in the food processor with nuts, a bit of olive oil and citrus, salt and pepper and you’ve got a vibrant, zippy condiment that is great on anything: fish, chicken, tofu, meat, bread, crackers. It freezes well too.

Pesto most frequently presents itself in the pesto alla genovese form, with basil and pine nuts as the base. But “pesto” is really just a term derived from the Italian word for “to crush,” as in to crush herbs and garlic (think mortar and pestle). I stopped using pine nuts in my pesto because they are so expensive and I prefer the flavor of walnuts. Use whatever you like. The best part about pesto is you can use whatever you have on hand. I’ve made pesto with pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower sweets, peanuts, almonds and pecans. Also, herbs that may be too wilted to chop and sprinkle are great for pesto, I’ve never noticed a lack of brightness, even from leaves that look destined for the compost pile. Just watch for the rotten bits. Pick those out.

Some ideas:

  • cilantro, walnut, lime pesto atop a firm white fish like halibut or sea bass
  • lemon, parmesan, parsley pesto tossed with whole wheat pasta
  • sage, walnut, garlic pesto served with roasted pork

This recipe is in the style of Michael Ruhlman author of, “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.” In Ruhlman’s cookbook he focuses on the ratios required in different recipes, rather than give exact measurements of every single ingredient.

The ratio (roughly) =

2 parts fresh herbs 1 part nuts

Sometimes you have two wilting bunches of herbs, sometimes a scant one. Maybe you have a lime to use up, maybe it’s a lemon. They key to success lies in tasting as you go. When you can’t stop dipping your hand straight into the bowl, licking the pesto surreptitiously from your fingers, you’re done.

Note: You need a food processor. Or giant muscles and a mortar and pestle, but that’s a lot of work.

Poor man’s wilted herb pesto

Ingredients

2 cups fresh herbs, stems on, roughly chopped (cilantro, basil, parsley or some combination have all worked well for me)

1 cup nuts (I’ve had success with walnuts, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds and pine nuts)

1/4 cup oil (olive, or another but stay away from very strong flavors like sesame). NOTE: This is a fairly dry pesto, with less oil than some. Add more if you prefer.

2 cloves garlic (more or less, depending on preference)

lemon or lime juice to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Skin the garlic and mince it in a food processor.

2. Chop off the end of the herb’s stems, roughly chop the rest. Add into the food processor along with the nuts, no need to chop them. Whiz the herbs and nuts together, drizzling in the olive oil until you get the consistency you’re looking for. I like mine smooth, but with visible specks of herbs.

3. Add the lemon or lime juice and salt and pepper. Whiz everything together, taste, adjust for seasoning. Freeze in small glass jars with an inch of head room or refrigerate for 3-4 days.

Yields roughly a cup and a half.

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Filed under Gluten-free, Local, Recipes, Steals and Deals, Uncategorized

Street eatin’ in Vietnam

For my first article published in the Boston Globe I interviewed Jennifer Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman hailing from Nha Trang, which is now, 35 years-plus after the war’s end, a touristy beach town on the eastern coast of Vietnam.

Nguyen’s grandfather ran the Southern Vietnamese/American army base’s restaurant during the war. She and her family escaped by boat to Hong Kong five years after the last US Marines were airlifted by helicopter out of Saigon. They were struck by a storm off the coast and found by a fishing boat days later. Their ship was kept anchored off shore by officials for more than two weeks, passengers were allowed one bowl of soup a day. Nguyen arrived in Boston two years later, in 1982, at the age of 24.

Jennifer Nguyen whipping up some of her banh mi. She wakes at 3 a.m. every morning, gets to the shop by four.

(Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

Now, Nguyen runs a little sandwich shop/take out place/mini grocery called Banh Mi Ba Le at 1052 Dorchester Ave. in Dorchester. She works 7 days a week from 4 a.m.-10 p.m. with a quick nap in between. Her barbecue sauce, pickled veggies, fish sauce and bread is all homemade. Fresh-baked baguettes are five for $2, sandwiches (10-inchers) are $3. She is sweet and friendly, gracious and welcoming. Her food is fresh and cheap, I highly suggest a visit.

Click here to read all about Nguyen’s special sandwiches, what the heck a banh mi actually is, and for a recipe to make them at home.

I first became interested in Nguyen’s specialty, banh mi sandwiches, last April, when we were in Vietnam for vacation. Anthony Bourdain, traveler/chef/television host featured a woman in Hoi An, north of Nha Trang on his show, so when we arrived in Hoi An, we sought out her little cart and found a long line of locals (always a good sign).

Here is the banh mi lady in Hoi An, on the mid-eastern coast of Vietnam.

 

Food was one of our major reasons for going to Vietnam. When I asked various Vietnamese where their food comes from, they always laughed, and looked at me quizzically. Local food is just a way of life  here. Processed, packaged goods exist, but the cornerstones of the diet: fresh vegetables, herbs, meat, seafood and the like all usually come from within a hundred miles. That’s just how their food system works. An influx of wealth, globalization, etc. will certainly change this, but for now, eating locally is a way of life.

You can’t talk about Vietnamese food without mentioning pho (pronounced fuh). The noodle soup is the national dish, eaten primarily for breakfast. Most Vietnamese eat their pho from food stands because it takes forever to make the rich, meaty stock and costs about 20 cents on the street. Pictured above is chicken pho from Hanoi, pho ga. In the US on Vietnamese restaurant menus pho is sometimes called simply “noodle soup.”

Shown here is pho bo, beef pho in Saigon. A steaming bowl of any kind of pho always comes with a side of lime wedges, bean sprouts, fresh herbs like basil and mint, hot peppers and an array of condiments like nuoc cham (a ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce),  fish, soy, hoisin and hot sauces.

The elderly woman who ran this stand had a huge crush on Bo. While I was writhing in our hotel room, sick from some greasy tourist trap grub, he’d walk around the corner, pull up a tiny plastic stool and let his pho ladies fawn all over him. The two drinks on the table are green tea and ca phe, the ubiquitous drinks of Vietnam. Ca phe (sound it out, get it?) is strong black iced coffee, served with a generous dash of sweetened condensed milk. It’s like having someone say, ‘No, it’s cool, here you can drink coffee milkshakes all day, no one thinks it’s weird. And guess what? You won’t get fat because you are walking 10 miles a day in 105 degree heat.” Awesome.

Speaking of ubiquitous drinks. Enter bia hoi. Fresh beer brewed over night and best enjoyed first thing in the morning. That’s right, BEST enjoyed in the morning. A country where you are encouraged to drink in the morning. It gets even better. Bia hoi is served from giant vats, right on the street. At around 11 a.m. after doing some touristy things, we parked ourselves at a little stand in Hanoi and drank six each. Yes, six. They are much lighter in alcohol, that’s my only justification. We were served by cute girls who skated around on the beer-slicked floor, their oversized sandals flopping and black hair flying.

12 fresh beers, total: $1.92.

 

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Filed under Eating out, Recipes, Restaurants, Steals and Deals

Hippie sugar, gluten-free, and making an ass of you and me

In the past three years or so, two little words have been popping up all over the place with increasing frequency. Printed on restaurant menus, discussed on online forums and written about in newspapers: gluten-free.

To my uneducated self I assumed: Hm. Gluten-free means no carbs right? The horror! I tried this once before with the South Beach Diet. Worst four hours of my life.

But a certain recipe gifted to me by a woman in Vietnam led me to do a little more research. Gluten-free does not mean no carbs. As Mr. Tinker, my seventh grade science teacher said, to assume only makes an ass of you and me. (As a side note, he also showed a video of live childbirth in class, to a group of stunned 13 year olds and was known to pull over on the highway and pick up roadkill, taking home the mangled carcasses to store in his freezer for experiments. He was an awesome guy.)

Gluten-free simply means a diet free of gluten-containing cereals. The most common is wheat, but it also encompasses barley, rye and malt, amongst others. But things like corn, potatoes (sweet and white), quinoa, buckwheat (pure), taro, and yams may all be eaten on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten is also used as a stabilizer in some of those wonderfully chemicalized, 50-ingredient products like ketchup, commercial salad dressings and ice cream, making avoiding gluten all the more complicated.

The most common motivation for a gluten-free diet is Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by eating gluten, leading to a myriad of stomach problems.

Stomach problems, hm, stomachs remind me of eating. Off of indigestion and onto the recipe.

Gluten-free almond butter chocolate chip cookies.

It took me forever to actually make these cookies, we got back from Vietnam in April. I waited so long basically out of sheer cheapness. Almond butter can be very expensive; it was $7 a jar at our co-op in Vermont. But  now that we live closer to the wonder that is Trader Joe’s, where a jar costs $3.99, I took the plunge.

If you make these expecting a soft and chewy chocolate chip cookie, you will be disappointed. Like many gluten-free baked goods, they are a bit rougher, less delicately textured, a little more rugged.

Instead, think about a pretty chocolate chip cookie and a tall, strong biscotti getting together and having a baby; these cookies would be their love child. The nuttiness of almond, with rich dark chocolate and a nice chewy crunch, they’re quite good, simple to make, and full of heart-healthy fats. I’m not saying eating one of these is like popping a vitamin by any means, but there is no oil or butter added and the sweetener is sucanat.

Sucanat, or evaporated cane juice, is a brand name sweetener named for the French term, sucre de canne natural.

Sucanat is what I like to call hippie sugar. Of all major sugars derived from sugar cane, it ranks highest in nutritional value. Brown and grainy, sucanat is unprocessed and unrefined, it’s simply dried sugar cane juice. You can buy it at most grocery stores, but to save money, head to the bulk section of Whole Foods or your local co-op. A one pound bag costs roughly $3.99, where as 3/4 of a cup, the amount called for here, will cost you less than 50 cents from the bin.

A word of caution, when baking err on the side of under-cooked, or the crunch factor will be too pronounced. I’d suggest to start checking them at 8 minutes, looking for a hardened top, just shy of browning.

Gluten-Free Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24 cookies
Ingredients
1 cup unsalted almond butter, stirred well
3/4 cup sucanat
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 ounces dark chocolate, 60 percent cocoa or greater chopped into small pieces
Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl stir together first five ingredients until blended. Stir in chocolate.
2. Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until very lightly browned.
3. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool for 15 more minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Gluten-free, Recipes

A sweet and savory start

I created this blog in October, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. I fiddled with the lychee picture for far too long, I hemmed and hawed over the name (still undecided) and finally, I published.

Then… silence.

Two months of silence to be exact. I’ve thought about blogging quite a bit, but when it comes down to it, to me it feels simultaneously like shouting into an empty room, and one filled to the brim with people, staring, judging. Do I have anything to say? I’m not sure. Do I fear coming off as self important and precocious? Yes. Should I just shut up and stop worrying how I will come off? Definitely.

So, here it goes. To introduce myself, I am a writer who recently moved from Vermont to Boston, leaving behind a stable (relatively) staff writing position at a wonderful newspaper smack in the midst of a floundering economy. Now, I’m making a go at freelancing (Is that laughter I hear?). I plan to use this blog as a place to publish recipes, thoughts on food and other things, all of which will be very deep, philosophical and most likely rife with regurgitated and inaccurately stated tidbits from NPR.

On to the first recipe.

Rosemary butter cookies dipped in dark chocolate.

Savory and herbal, buttery and sweet, bitter from a quick wallow in melted chocolate. These aren’t kissin’ cousins of the powdery (and delicious) Walker’s, but chewier and dense. Fresh rosemary is a must, even though it’s a bit pricer. Also, you know the Processor Pause, the moment where you’re in the kitchen, about to start cookin’ and you stop – staring at the cabinet that houses your food processor. A complex inverse ratio calculation running through your mind:

extra dishes+hassle

_____________________

less prep time+ less manual labor

To haul the contraption out or not to haul it out, that is the question. I usually don’t. But in this instance, do it. Integrating the butter, sugar and flour evenly without over working can be frustrating, it’s worth it if you have one. If you don’t, no problemo. I tested the “by hand” method on my guinea pig of a sister and she did just fine. I’ve included a few tips for those who prefer going old school, including a neat trick involving a cheese grater and some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease.

These are a great hostess gift, the rosemary gives it a little something special. But beware, home alone with a batch of these babies and a lack of self control can mean trouble. Trust me, I made 12 batches (288 cookies) to perfect the recipe and I have no idea where they went. None.



Rosemary butter cookies dipped in dark chocolate

Makes about 24

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced

2 cups white unbleached flour

½ teaspoon sea salt

8 ounces (one and 1/3 cup) good quality dark chocolate, 60 percent cacao or higher

By hand:*

1. Mix butter and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and rosemary, incorporate fully.

2. Sift salt and flour directly into mixing bowl. Mix until just incorporated, don’t over work.

*Note: This can be the most frustrating part of the recipe, incorporating the flour into the butter/sugar mixture without over working. If you have a food processor, it’s worth the extra dish, if not try this: Grate the butter into the bowl with the medium slots of a cheese grater, add the sugar and mix with your hands. Add the vanilla and rosemary, then sift the flour and salt directly on to the mixture. Combine all ingredients with your hands, working the flour into the butter until it resembles a dry, but uniform pile of crumbles.

Skip to step 3.

———-

Food processor:

1. Pulse butter and sugar until completely incorporated, roughly 10 seconds, add vanilla and rosemary.

2. Sift flour and salt directly into processor bowl, pulse until combined, roughly 15 seconds.

———–

Note: At this stage the mixture will appear crumbly and dry, not cohesive, this is okay, the butter will work it’s magic in the oven.

3. Pour mixture onto large piece of plastic wrap, wrap tightly and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. 15 minutes in, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a 9 by 12-inch pan with parchment paper, excess paper draped over the edges.

4. Dump the mixture into the pan, pressing it down to create a uniform layer.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the very first light brown spots appear on the crust.  Remove and cool for 5 minutes in the pan, lift out by gently pulling up parchment paper, set on a wire rack until completely cooled. Slice into 2-inch squares.

6. Melt chocolate gently in double boiler on the stove, or in the microwave in a non-reactive bowl, first for one and half minutes, then for 15 second intervals until smooth.

7. Gently dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate, use a plastic spatula to coat missed areas and wipe off excess chocolate. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, once every cookie is coated, put the tray in the refrigerator to harden for 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

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Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Recipes