Simple DIY Cooking Ideas
To see food as simply good or bad nutrition also medicalizes it, underplaying all the other reasons people eat. — Alice Julier, “The Political Economy of Obesity: The Fat Pay All”
“Flavour is, among other things, a repository of feeling and memory: just as a smell is said to be the most redolent sense, so the flavour of a certain dish can transport us back instantaneously to the time and place we first experienced it, or experienced it most memorably” - Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus
Grilled Vegetable Salad is one of those dishes that transports me instantaneously. At the first hint of charred asparagus I am reminded of the first time I tried the Grilled Vegetable Chopped Salad at the Ivy in LA, and all of a sudden I am a Californian teenager again sitting on the patio overlooking Robertson Boulevard. From there the salad memories float from picnic to BBQ to lazy summer evenings on the deck of my old house. There are numerous variations on the grilled vegetable salad that could be written about, but I thought I would share with you one I made at the first sign of sunshine.
1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons and then cut in pieces
1 eggplant, sliced the same as the zucchini
1 handful of cherry tomatoes
1 jar of organic artichoke hearts
1 handful of asparagus, chopped
1 red onion, sliced into rings and then halved
1 handful of pine nuts
1 handful of flaked Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt
fresh black pepper
In a large mixing bowl combine all the veggies with two tablespoons of olive oil, 2 splashes of balsamic and a pinch of sea salt. Let marinate for a good 15 minutes so that the vegetables are equally coated and then spread across grill pan on high heat. Grill until all vegetables are cooked through and slightly charred (to your own taste). Turn off the heat and as the pan cools toast the pine nuts. Top a bed of arugula with the grilled veggies, sprinkle with the pine nuts and the Parmesan. Add a pinch of salt and a few cracks of pepper, and any extra dressing that you may want (I found it didn’t need any) and enjoy!!
In Europe, I saw the difference: that farmers grew for chefs, and the every day shoppers, the consumers, got to use the same products. Whereas in America, it was reversed: everybody was growing for the consumer, and the chef was stuck using the same products. I realized that had to change. We had to go back to dealing with farmers. — Larry Forgione’s observations about the American food system in the 80’s
What Are French Kids Eating for Lunch?
I have had this link bookmarked for a while to share with you, so I apologize that it is a bit old, but it is still very interesting. Especially as Jamie Oliver is just gearing up to air season two of Food Revolution, it felt timely to show just how horrible the American school lunch system can be. Check out what you would get to eat if you were a French schoolchild and click through to the Good website for translations.
I have returned to England permanently. Well, perhaps not permanently, but at least for a while… a long while… and I have decided to come to terms with it. I decided there was no better way to lure my American friends across the pond for a visit than the promise of homemade scones, so I set out to learn. I am sure I have confessed on this blog before that I am not much of a baker. Or at least I have never thought of myself as a baker since I was 10 and recycled Alice Waters’ famous 1-2-3-4 cake for everyone I knew’s birthday. Someone once said that “Baking is a science, cooking is an art”, and I have always thought of myself as much more of an artist than a scientist. See… the thing is… I like to improv. Can you tell? I’ve never been one for exact measurements, and I’ve never been so good at precision. However, I have decided not to let any of that hold me back any longer. Who says I can’t learn to be a better baker? Who says there isn’t an inner scientist inside of me waiting to show herself over a perfectly cooked tray of scones? So I set aside some time on a Saturday afternoon to learn to bake PERFECT scones. Not just “eh looks good enough” Juliane style scones, but Queen of England approved (or at least his English highness, my fiancé, approved) scones. And by jove, I did it!
The recipe was from Rose Bakery’s beautiful cookbook Breakfast Lunch Tea. They are lovely and simple and a definite crowd-pleaser.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting
1 handful wholewheat (wholemeal) flour
2 very heaped tablespoons of baking powder
2 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of butter, cut into pieces
zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
2 handfuls of blueberries
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tablespoon light brown (demerara) sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°. Sift the plain flour into a bowl and add the caster sugar and salt, then add the butter and rub with your fingers until the mixture is grainy like breadcrumbs. Mix in the lemon or orange zest. Add the blueberries and mix well. Beat one of the eggs into a measuring cup and add enough milk to reach the 300 ml mark. Make a well in the middle and pour the liquid in. Use a fork to work the liquid into the dry ingredients. Finish by hand, but be careful not to overwork the mixture— just lightly bring everything together to form a softish but firm dough. If it is too dry add some milk (I usually needed an extra splash) or if it is too wet add some flour. The finished dough should not be sticky at all. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a solid shape about an inch thick. Cut the dough into shapes, either using a cutter to create round scones our a knife to draw triangles like I did. Beat the remaining egg and use as a glaze for the top of the scones. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Serve warm!! Enjoy!
The sun came out in London this week. Full blown, squint-inducing, shorts-wearing, ice-cream licking, sit-outside-without-a-cardigan SUN granting us 70° days and long bright evenings. Now, 70° might not sound too exciting for you sun-worshiping Californians, but let me tell you, we (meaning me and the rest of the English population) could not have been more thrilled. There were picnics. There was day drinking. There were sunburns and embarrassing tan lines visible on bare shoulders lounged on lawns. Most notably, though, there seemed to be this sudden reemergence of everything that had all but disappeared in the winter. Have you noticed how spring does that? All of a sudden those friends who live across town that you haven’t seen since before it got cold, practically beg to make the journey to meet for a drink outside somewhere. The running shorts and sneakers that have grown dusty in the back of your closet sneak their way forward as if asking to be worn. And that is without even mentioning the exciting shoots and greens that start to peak out from the earth, begging you to stop roasting root vegetables and to get with the season.
So…I am taking natures hint and after my multiple month hibernation I am reemerging in the blogosphere. I thought about making some sort of asparagus analogy here, but I fear I might be taking it too far. Winter brought lots of exciting things. I was back in San Francisco for a while figuring out the bureaucracy of the UK Visa system, which lead to some amazing food adventures and kitchen explorations. January ended with a proposal, a ring, and the decision to get married in the fall. February marked my 25th birthday and by the beginning of March I was back in England. In general there have been many celebrations, all of which included food, so while I have not been writing, I do have lots of ideas stored up. I have also spent a lot of time reading what else is out there and gaining perspective on how to be a better blogger.
And with that I better conclude this note, and commence the real blogging. Happy Spring, everyone!
Starbucks is all over the news again. They have just introduced a new LARGER size in their American locations. The new size known as Trenta is 31 oz and for now is only available for cold drinks. Now, 961 ml of fluid fit into this cup…. more fluid than fits in the adult human stomach. Starbucks claims it was responding to overwhelming demand in the American market for larger iced drinks. Now, obviously this size is no bigger than a big gulp, and still is smaller than some of the insane double extra super sized big gulps that people seem to drink, but it is disturbing to me that Starbucks is jumping on the bandwagon at a moment when we need to be educating people about smaller portions. Plus, Starbucks is a location for caffeinated drinks, and no human should have that much caffeine in one go.
I much prefer the European system. I took the second photo above at a Starbucks in Germany a few years ago. You will notice that the largest option in Germany is a Grande, and Short, a size usually reserved for kids drinks in the US, is their traditional small option. Or you could go the Italian route and make to go coffee basically unheard of so that people drink their espresso shot standing at the bar and go about their day. Don’t be fooled by the psuedo italian names… no Italian would ever drink a “Trenta”.
In keeping with New Year’s health resolutions, the past two weeks for me have been almost meat free. Now, don’t get me wrong- I have no plans to become a vegan or even a vegetarian, but all of us could do with a few less animal products in our daily lives. On Monday I had lunch with my mom at an organic cafe in San Francisco called Plant, where we shared one of the most tasty and satisfying homemade veggie burgers that I had ever had. The burgers were bright magenta in color because they had been made of beets, which in a weird way made them look more like meat burgers and perhaps helped the mind feel more satisfied. The menu noted a few of the ingredients in the burgers, so I decided to try making them at home. The outcome was delicious. Seriously, friends! Try these at home! You will love them and they will help you not crave meat so much!
1 cup bulgar wheat
1 bunch beets (about 4 medium beets), cut in cubes
2 cups mushrooms (I used Button but Crimini would be perfect)
2 cloves garlic
A handful of cashews
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper as needed
Begin by preheating the oven to 425 and preparing your beets to roast by drizzling some olive oil on top. The beets will take about 45 to an hour minutes to roast til soft, so you probably have about 20 to go about your business before you need to start with the rest of the meal. Once you are ready to get started, set up the bulgar to start cooking. Pour the cup of bulgar with two cups water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, let simmer like rice until the water is absorbed and the bulgar is soft and ready to eat (about 15 minutes). Roughly chop the garlic, scallions, shallots and mushrooms. Heat a glug of extra virgin olive oil on medium heat and toss in the garlic, the scallions and the shallots. Once everything is soft add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked through. By now your beets and your bulgar should also be done. Set the bulgar aside while you combine everything else in a blender or food processor. Add the handful of cashews and an egg and blend until it has about the texture of ground meat. Put in a bowl and add the second egg. Add bulgar one handful at a time until the mixture is solid enough to form into patties that stay together. Start heating your grill pan or a large sauté pan with a tiny bit of oil- these burgers won’t give off fat the way a meat burger would, so the oil prevents it from sticking. Form your patties as you would with meat and grill like usual. The cook time is about the same as it would be with meat, leaving it without flipping until the edges are cooked through. I topped ours with a little bit of shredded Gruyere to make cheese burgers and ate them with fresh brioche buns. Add some tomato and avocado and you’ve got yourself quite a burger! Enjoy!
Last night for dinner I was desperately in the mood for comfort food. I had been feeling kind of blue all day, stressed about the holidays and silly things like visas and returning to England in January, and just wanted to curl up. Plus, we went to see Somewhere on Monday, and I have been digging the idea of homemade Mac and Cheese since the moment Cleo asks the concierge at Chateau Marmont to bring her a cheese grater. Then, as if the universe could read my mind, the Saveur Weeknight Meals email hit my inbox with Greek Mac and Cheese at the top of the list. The recipe on the website is adapted from Michael Psilakis and is as follows:
3 slices crustless white bread, torn into small pieces
9 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Kosher salt, to taste
8 oz. hollow pasta, preferably elbow macaroni
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
4 cups grated graviera or kefalotyri cheese (about 12 oz.)
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 large shallots, finely chopped
16 oz. baby spinach, roughly chopped
8 scallions cut into 1/4”-thick rounds
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
1 3/4 cups crumbled feta (about 8 oz.)
Put bread into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Put bread crumbs and 3 tbsp. butter into a small bowl and combine; set aside. Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until cooked halfway through, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water, and set aside. Heat remaining butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Still whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in milk and cook until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 10–15 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Stir in graviera, cinnamon, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper; set béchamel sauce aside. Heat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a 5-qt. pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3–4 minutes. Add spinach and scallions and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the reserved béchamel sauce, the dill, and the reserved pasta and transfer mixture to a 9” x 13” baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with reserved bread crumbs and the feta. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Now, I have to be honest, I made a few changes. First of all, I used panko instead of pureeing white bread. I used much less butter… about 4 tablespoons in my bechamel, and olive oil on the crumbs rather than butter. I was low on shallots (only one left) so I used a mixture of shallots, red onions and white onions instead of shallots and scallions. I had delicious looking kale in the fridge and threw it in with the spinach to add more green than the recipe calls for. Because I am not super precise when I am cooking, my bechamel was getting too thick… but I was out of milk so I had to improve. I ended up using some chicken stock to smooth out the cream sauce and it was DELICIOUS. I highly recommend it. Finally, Graviera or Kefalotyri are hard cheeses to come across if you don’t live in an area with a large Greek population (which I don’t!) and after some research on the internet I found the closest suggestion was Parmesan. The end result was delicious and just what I needed to cheer me up. Well, that, a good friend and a nice glass of white wine.