Wednesday, February 24, 2010

citrus salad with cilantro and mint

citrus salad

Ok, there’s no way of getting around this. This post. Well, it’s just sitting down, looking me squarely in the face and refusing to budge. It’s taunting me, taking its time, making me carefully search for each word. I hate writing like this: arduous, painful, unnatural. There are days when these posts practically write themselves; my excitement is usually so hard to contain. But today, I’m just out of my element. Which is quite opposite of how I feel about this salad. I think my ardor for this salad is inversely proportional to my ability to convey it.

the suspect line-up

This salad is officially my cure for winter doldrums. Gray skies and snow banks, you’ve got nothing on me as long as I’m armed with this little burst of sunshine on my plate. It brings a smile to my face even as I type this because this salad is so delightfully happy, you can’t possibly be in a bad mood once you bring a forkful of it to your mouth. The fragrance alone is sparkling, giddy and invigorating. And to say I’ve become obsessed, would be a slight understatement. Minutes after I served this at book club, it was gone, second helpings and all. And pretty looks aside, this salad’s got looks and “brains” so to speak. It delivers on flavor even more than it delivers on looks. And just look at it – isn’t it a stunner?

citrus salad

I should also confess that had I not fallen for this salad hook, line and sinker, I would still have been forced to make it given that I’ve about twenty pounds or citrus sitting at home, on the account of getting a wee bit overzealous in ordering citrus for my grocery delivery. I sort of lost track being so excited to have some in-season fruit, and when grocery boxes arrived and half of them were oranges, lemons, grapefruit and clementines, I initially thought of starting my own juice bar. Vitamin C and I are such BFFs right now – we’re tight like you wouldn’t believe.

My zeal for all things citrus can be easily explained – what other fruit, besides bananas, looks good right now? None! The apples and pears are looking sad and taste uninspiring. Our local grocery store is carrying cherries at a price that made me gasp and price aside, they weren’t looking so great either. Berries are bland, as are melons and stone fruit. This leaves citrus looking quite attractive. And pretty too. My dining room table looks so much brighter with these orange and yellow orbs sitting pretty in a bowl. If nothing else, they cheer me up visually. But as these citrus guys are at their peak right now, they taste amazing as well.

citrus salad

All this salad needs is a little shallot, some slivered mint and cilantro, and a light vinaigrette sweetened with maple syrup to highlight the sweetness of the citrus. What you get is bright, clean, uplifting flavors full of sunshine. I eat this salad and I can’t help but grin from ear to ear; it makes me downright giddy and inspired. Much unlike this post.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

Friends, I think I finally got it – I finally feel totally and wholly American, and it’s taken me twenty-one years (minus two weeks) of living in the U.S. to achieve that. The moment arrived over the Super Bowl. On this most American of weekends, I did the single most American culinary thing–I made these chocolate chip cookies. You would think that I’d have felt this way after getting naturalized at eighteen, but I didn’t. You see, a piece of paper is different than a rite of passage. And making these cookies has been a rite of passage spanning many many years.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

thai red curry with root vegetables

Thai Red Curry with Root Vegetables

Well hello there, lovelies! Are you sick of winter yet? If you’re reading this and you live someplace warm, like LA, where I am told today is supposed to be a balmy 79 degrees, we, the East Coasters, are very jealous and wish you all the best, but please don’t rub it in. We just might start crying. We’d kill for some sun dresses and flip flops right about now. Am I right? I’m ready to take my Uggs and my sweaters and my puffer jacket and pack them away for at least 10 months. I look like a black marshmallow making my way down the streets of New York. No matter how you slice it, winter wear is just not that flattering – it can be pretty frumpy. Also, I’d like to stop using cups of tea as ways of warming up my hands at the office. A girl can only take so much.

vegetables, awaiting their fate

But, though I’ve prepared quite a soliloquy about my winter discontent, I realize that what I’m about to tell you cannot possibly be appreciated unless you’re bundling up this month. Do you really want to eat Thai coconut curry in balmy weather? I didn’t think so. And even if you did, doesn’t it taste so much better when there’s snow falling outside your window and you’re enveloped in warmth and stillness of your home? Perhaps, these cold winter months are an opportunity for us to appreciate these comforting stews. There is some joy to hibernation, to puttering around your home, inviting a friend or two over and lazing around on the couch wrapped up in blankets.

onions, curry paste, cumin

Winter is also a time when few vegetables are in season – and mostly, these are root vegetables. Much like my winter get-up, they, too, are rather frumpy looking. Have you ever looked at a parsnip or a turnip and thought to yourself, “My, what a looker?” I didn’t think so. And frankly, neither have I. But, given a chance, these little guys can truly transform themselves. They clean up rather nicely. Typically, they are roasted with salt and pepper, and maybe a glaze of sorts, to bring out their sweetness. Sometimes, they’re added to soups. All these things are great and wonderful, but there’s an opportunity to let them shine in an unlikely place – a Thai-inspired red curry made with coconut milk!

red curry paste - gluten-free!lemongrass
turnipscoconut milk

This curry brings me such joy that I think, for all my complaining, I can tolerate winter a bit better, snow, sleet, wind and all. Armed with this dish, some sweaters and strong coffee – I can take winter with all its elements. The curry is so delicious, that I can’t get enough of it, and in fact, I’ll be making it for the book club ladies this Thursday; not to mention, this was a permanent weeknight dinner fixture throughout most of November. And so I must say this to you – drop whatever it is you’re doing, and make this without delay! Unless you have a really good excuse tonight, this should be on your dinner menu. Really, I insist. You’ll thank me later, I’m pretty sure. I’m so smitten with this curry, that each night you might delay making it – I’ll feel personally responsible.

simmering

This curry has everything going for it that you’d want in a weeknight winter meal: ease, taste, leftover potential, scalability, function. It’s as unfussy as they come and once all the ingredients are in the pot, you put the lid on top, reduce the heat to low and go about your business doing whatever it is you want to do at night – be it catching up on emails or tidying up your living room, or kicking back with a beer. Here’s the best part – this curry comes together in about the same time it’ll take you to dial and wait for take-out. Any leftovers you have will freeze beautifully, saving you time in the nights ahead. Winter’s bite might not even seem that bad. Who knows – your LA friends might even get insanely jealous of your cold-weather meals and wish for sweaters and mittens themselves. Probably unlikely, but please don’t burst my bubble.

Thai Red Curry with Root Vegetables

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

roasted beet salad with oranges and beet greens

beet salad with oranges and beet greens

I think I need a superhero power. You know, something that will enable me to perform extra-human things in the limited time we’re dealt. Like wiggling my nose to clean the apartment. Or teleporting myself to work, and, at the same time, instantly transforming myself from flannel pajamas to office attire, complete with perfect make-up and hair. Or time travel. Like being able to go back to Monday and save some wilting vegetables from a pointless death by rotting. And maybe even tell you about beet salad while I’m at it.

beet salad with oranges and beet greensbeet salad with oranges and beet greens

You see, another week gone by, and I was supposed to tell you about this salad on Monday. So much for executing against the plan. Though, in my defense, I was derailed by the elements, and not of the weather variety. I got served with the world’s longest cold, followed by what looked food poisoning or the stomach bug. Either way, it wasn’t fun. And the thing about the latter is that even though it passes in about 48 hours, it really zaps your energy levels. I’d come home from work and within a couple of hours would be completely and totally wiped out. I couldn’t even think about food, never mind write about it.

blood orange, ever so festive

Even today, I still haven’t gotten my appetite back. In fact, most food just doesn’t seem appetizing to me still. I’ve been eating a lot of citrus and drinking a lot of Gatorade. Yesterday, I had a papaya salad for lunch and then forced myself to eat two oranges for dinner – crazy, I know. And honestly, this food apathy sucks! I can’t wait to be hungry again. I miss my daily cravings of totally random things like lime pickle, or herring, or bahn mi sandwiches. This life of being unexcited by food – it’s not for me, it downright makes me sad. And I hope it goes away soon. I was made for cravings.

beet salad with oranges and beet greens

I also find that not being hungry in February is just plain weird. We’re smack in the middle of winter. Cold, snowy, desolate winter. A time for soups and stews and eating hearty meals. My local farmer’s market is rich with root vegetables: turnips, onions, carrots and beets. I know it sounds kind of minimal and sad, but I quite like the spartan selection. This kind of simplicity is a great opportunity for these unfairly maligned guys to step up to the plate (poor pun, totally unintended!). I know – root vegetables aren’t winning any beauty contests any time soon – they’re not exactly lookers. They’re more like Cinderellas of the vegetable world: grayish, dull in color, covered in dirt. But, oh, but, with the help of a fairy godmother, or a loving hand, they are easily transformed into something glorious and beautiful – something that will turn heads, or, at the very least, inspire second helpings.

beet salad with oranges and beet greens

Beets, perhaps, are my favorite of the bunch. Not only do I love their deep red hue, and their sweetness, but I really get a kick out of using the whole vegetable, root and the greens. I sometimes like imagine myself as one of those ingenious, practical cooks that lets nothing go to waste (oh, if only that were true!) – and it makes me beam with pride, even if I am deluding myself a bit. I know my grandmother would be proud. Or maybe she’s expecting that of me. That woman never wastes anything. It’s like she’s got an internal timer of expiration dates of things in her crisper, and manages to cook everything on time. I want that timer, I wonder where she got hers and whether there are more where hers came from. And if it’s a gene that’s inherited, then I certainly hope that mine blossoms soon. Like a superhero power. I’m even willing to forgo the cape.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

tomato soup

tomato soup

All right, all of you with canned tomato soup in the pantry. You know who I’m talking to and if it’s you, step forward. Don’t be afraid; we’re just going to have a little chat. I promise I won’t single you out, but I want to show you something that might just change your tomato-soup-eating ways. It’ll take just a few more minutes than reheating that sad, thinned-down, canned version, and instead, you will luxuriate in quite possibly the most tomatoey tomato soup ever. And I don’t throw such superlatives lightly.

tomato soup

I owe this soup to my friends Jane and Geoff, mainly Geoff, for the soup is his creation. I tried this soup first when Jane and I were getting ready for a girls’ movie night, and soup was a nice, warm meal to carry us into the chilly evening. We had just had our first snowfall of the season, and it left behind tall snow banks as well as a few icy patches here and there. Soup was the prudent, practical dinner choice before heading out into the cold. But, you know, tomato soup isn’t exactly a dish one loses his mind over. It’s well-loved and is comforting, but doesn’t exactly command a mad legion of obsessed fans, unlike, say a good New England clam chowder does. So I was happy to eat this soup, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

tomato soup

Let’s just say my taste buds did a serious double-take. The clean, intense, undiluted taste of tomato was not what I was expecting. With the first spoon, I was hooked. And by hooked, I mean obsessed. And when I say “obsessed”, I mean I’ve been craving this soup nearly daily for a few months now, but kept forgetting to ask for the recipe. It took getting sick last week and being miserable and grumpy to ask Jane and Geoff for the recipe – I had to have this soup, or else. Grumpiness would ensue for days. Because I don’t get sick often, I turn into a total baby when it actually happens. All I want to do is like on the couch with a blanket and reruns of Law & Order on the television, pout and eat tomato soup. In that order. Normally, I settle for take-out because when I’m sick, I don’t exactly miss cooking. But this time was different. This time, my craving was stronger than my laziness. Besides, this so easy to make, I had no excuses, even with my Rudolph-red nose.

tomato soup

I know – we are busy bunch, especially during the weekdays. Work, family, social events – our lives are planned weeks in advance; we are hungry, run-down, and desperate for more daylight. We want to be warm, we want to be comforted, and some of us (ahem) are still trying to whittle away that tart we indulged in not-so-long ago that has mysteriously glued itself to our thighs and just plain refuses to leave (the nerve!). This is, and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this because this is so not what this site is about, also quite healthy. And delicious. And simple. And comes together in a pinch (a half-hour pinch, to be exact!) with the ingredients that are most likely already stocked in your pantry. While the soup is simmering, you’ve plenty of time to change into your favorite fleece pants (what, no one else besides me has a love affair with those?), pour yourself a glass of wine and settle into your evening.

tomato soup

Once the soup cooks a bit, quick whir of the immersion blender (seriously folks, far be it for me to tell you what a must-have item is, but really, if there is such one thing in the kitchen, the immersion blender it the it-gadget to have, promise!) and you have a velvety smooth, hearty, filling soup, perfect on its own. But, since I’m a girl who loves her accessories, I like to dress mine up with some good ricotta and swirl (or as the picture shows, a lump) of pesto. It look so festive and wintry and pretty in your bowl – kind of like Christmas all over again. But in February. So much the better.

tomato soup

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