Sunday, July 29, 2007

Settled on Spicy Spinach (with a Couscous Crust)

This is a recipe that led me astray: I started in Japan and ended up on the West Coast. Even though I normally despise Teriyaki-anything, being one of those bastardized and way over-used flavors, I wanted Teriyaki Salmon the other night. Then I decided on spinach as a side dish, then I thought I'd do something quiche-y, then I wanted something healthy... and if you're like me at all that means nixing the cheese and heavy cream and using Tofu instead. Actually, if you're truly like me, you'd intend to add an egg to the tofu/spinach creation and instead accidentally crack it on the side of the cutting board only to spend 10 minutes cleaning up the goopy mess... but I digress. In the absence of egg, my Spinach Tofu creation headed vegan and curried.

Why curry? Well, the honest to god truth is that I had a "What Would Heidi Do" moment, and flavors likely to be found in a California Kitchen popped into mind. Then of course, my Teriyaki Salmon sounded terrible and I went with a Ginger glaze instead.

Were the Curried Spinach with Tofu and Ginger Glazed Salmon the the best palette combination ever? Not really, which is why I am not including both recipes here. But individually the dishes were great and I figured I'd post the spinach recipe rather than the salmon. My favorite feature of this recipe, and something I will definitely be working on for an ultimate baked dish, is a What I Think Is Quite Clever invention of my own: using couscous for a "crust" of sorts. It's a good way to get in some carbohydrates without loading up on buttery dough, and the couscous gets flavored by the spinach/tofu/shallot drippings as it bakes at high heat. This whole recipe comes together in a snap, and as with most of what I post here, I'll add the comment that this is a perfect base for playing around with flavors. There are few spices that would go wrong here. Other ideas? If I wasn't so lazy, I would have pureed the tofu rather than crumble it (baked pureed tofu has a texture that is remarkably similar to quiche), and if there were mushrooms to be found in my fridge, I would have added some bellas to the shallot step.

Curried Spinach with Tofu
Serves: 2, as part of a main course, or 4, as a side dish

2 shallors
2 cloves garlic
1 package firm tofu
1 large bag fresh spinach
1-2 tbsp curry powder*
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

2/3 cup couscous
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water or broth

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Add shallot and olive oil to large pan and cook over medium-low heat until shallot is translucent (about 3-4 minutes). Add garlic, curry and cumin and reduce heat to low, cooking for an additional 2 minutes.
  3. When the garlic/shallot mixture is cooked through, add spinach to the pan. Crumble tofu on top. Turn pan to medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until the spinach is completely wilted. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue stirring and cooking until some of the tofu liquid has evaporated (about 5-10 minutes total). Make sure to crumble up the tofu as it cooks.
  4. Meanwhile, add olive oil to a shallow baking pan. Toss couscous with salt and pour into pan. Top couscous with the tofu/spinach mixture, pressing carefully to ensure even distribution of casserole ingredients. Pour water or broth into pan corners.
  5. Bake, covered with silver foil, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil for an additional 3-4 minutes.
*Note, I've got a thing for spice lately. I used an ton of curry powder in this recipe - Greg started hiccuping when he tasted it. Really, truly, honestly, do this one to taste. All curry mixtures are individual and composed of many different spices with varying levels of heat, so where you buy your curry and also what your personal spice limit is will affect how much curry you should add to this recipe... I'd start with 2-3 tsp and work your way up. It's best to cook spices like curry in oil first since their flavors are fat soluble, but if you're not sure about the spice level it's easy to add in some curry powder at the tofu step too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I promised you blueberry buckle (P.S. I won't spoil HP7)

FYI: no spoilers here! I don't believe in spoiling plotlines so I won't. Read on safely...

I am a terrible person. A truly awful, tempted, weak person, acting of my own accord for my own personal gain (as more than one Harry Potter character has pondered, ack, do I belong in Slytherin?!) I read Harry Potter Seven two days before its official release. I soaked in every last word, knowing full well of JKR's desperate please to save any advanced copy access until the 21st. It took me about 8 hours on Wednesday night and 2 hours this morning to work my way through the giant (and quite certainly authentic) PDF file, but the deed is done.

Why, why would I do such a thing? Well, I had already bought the book. It's on its way via overnight fedex for Saturday. I knew the book could be found online, and, err, I just... I couldn't help myself. It was out there: tempting me, luring me with a promise of my own 5 years of reader expectation to be immediately and thoroughly satisfied (in short, I was greedy). I had also rather unintentionally stumbled on some spoilers, and after reading those little supposed-snippets, I had to find out for myself if they were true - they weren't, thank goodness. I hated it, I loved it, heck, it almost made me cry. For better or worse, the story is finished, and I'll save my analysis until after more people are likely to have finished the book.

There. I did a bad thing. For some reason I felt the urge to share this with the world...

Speaking of guilty consciences, I did promise the blueberry buckle, and here it is! This recipe resulted from one of Greg's coworkers sending him home with two cups of delicious, perfectly ripe blueberries that she brought back with her on a plane from Washington. I made a half batch but I'll give you the full recipe.

The blueberries were amazing; the buckle was even better. You can make this in one bowl if you wish, and the vigorous stirring involved means it's literally impossible to go wrong since the batter is not likely to get tough like other muffin or quickbread recipes. Coming from someone who despises working with pastry dough, I truly appreciate that such quick recipe could give such a nice silky texture to a baked good (no worries about butter temperature here). The resulting concoction, not unlike a coffee cake, was amazingly buttery and rich. It was the perfect way to make the perfect blueberries... perfectly unhealthy.

I made some very slight alterations to this recipe (more blueberries, less streusel). When I made the buckle with the full amount of sugary/buttery crust, it was just a bit too much. If you like things rich, just make twice the topping per the original recipe's request. I also threw in two heaping tablespoons of corn starch, an addition that I had read would help all purpose flour achieve a similar texture similar to cake flour (this is the same idea as tossing in a package of instant pudding to make cake stay moist). This simple recipe would be delicious with any other sweet berries, or maybe some chopped apples sauteed first with a little butter and sugar. It would also be great minus the streusel and plus a little drizzled honey. Or with toasted walnuts on top. Or... mmm...

Blueberry Buckle
Adapted from The Desert Book by Nancy Baggett
Serves: At least one, I think : )

200g all purpose flour (~1 2/3 cup, but I implore you to weight it out if you've got a scale)
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar (generous 3/4 cup if the blueberries are tart)
10 tbsp very soft butter (do not melt)
2 large organic eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
4 cups blueberries

1/2 cup, scant, sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp butter

  1. Sift the flour, corn starch, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Add the butter and sugar. By hand, or in a mixer on low speed, stir until mixture is blended and crumbly (about 2 minutes)
  2. Add milk, eggs and vanilla to a small measuring cup or bowl. Whisk together with a fork. Pour on top of flour mixture and beat together until the egg mixture is incorporated. Raise your hand / the mixer's speed to medium and beat for an additional 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed
  3. Gently fold in the blueberries*.
  4. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 pan.
  5. Make the streusel: mash together all of the ingredients with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the batter.
  6. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is crispy.
*Note: as with all blueberry dishes, if you let this sit for too long it will turn green...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A sheepish grin plus several excuses

Okay, so I said I'd post after we got back from Italy. I didn't mean to lie! I really believed what I said...when I said it... err, I didn't say exactly when I'd post regularly, did I? The thing thing is... well, you know. It just kinda happened. And while I won't pretend I didn't break your trust, I will offer the following lame excuses:
  1. I had 1900 photos from our vacation to sort, edit, upload, caption and distribute.
  2. Not that I actually have gotten anything accomplished since getting back, but, there's the job.
  3. The post-wedding-honeymoon-get-in-shape-be-proactive-to-do-list slump.
  4. Summer heat sucks, the kitchen is the hottest room, and we don't use enough AC to make a difference.
The funny thing about the summer heat is that it doesn't discourage me from creating edible concoctions (indeed, I find myself cooking and serving up just as much in July as in February), but it does make me disinclined to document the activities. Because when your face is sweaty and your hair is sticky and you're leaning over a pot of simmering, well something, do you really want to reach for the camera? I thought not. No, what you really want to do is get the heck out of the kitchen until the curry lentils are done and you can eat in front two fans and a AC unit

That said, I do miss this blog, both writing it as well as reading your comments. So I offer a compromise. That is, if you'll have me back:
  1. Pictures of Italy now
  2. Pictures of Blueberry-Buckle-To-Die-For later
Now while I can provide you with aforementioned photos immediately, the blueberry buckle under question is stilling sitting on the kitchen counter, with a small corner scooped away for tasting. I don't have the photo yet. But I can tell you that the batter bowl was can-I-eat-the-whole-thing fantastic and the recipe is so easy that I simply can't not share it with you soon.

Back to the photos. Here's the trip. Here's the wedding. Here's us after the wedding hanging out at Roman Forum. Did I just say "hanging out at the Roman Forum"? Thought so. The wedding was more than I could ask for, the trip was amazing, and I feel like we succesfully did things our way while maintaining traditions that were important to us. There's a small part of me that still misses all the fuss and fanfare that a 200 person sit-down-dinner would have brought, but that part is quickly overwhelmed when I close my eyes and picture the simple, romantic and personal time with our families that we had instead. I hope you enjoy the pictures in the links above, and I thought it would be fun, in the spirit of closing one chapter of my life and opening another, to add in two more.

First, what I looked like on a "pre-date" hiking-date with Greg (a Wednesday night dinner and a movie plus kiss was to follow several days later). I think he vaguely mentioned that day that he "had a thing for long hair". I think I started growing it out that day - a cosmetic decision I don't regret for a minute (can anyone say ponytail?) I also stopped dying it pink, and that was another good move.

Second, what I looked like, or rather where I was, when he proposed (I'm the one on the right). In New Orleans. Doing a habitat for humanity project. Away for two weeks. Covered in sweat, grime, toxic chemicals. Lacking cell phone reception. And so excited on this day, the last day of the trip, and what I just realized was about to be the first day of something else, that I couldn't even push a wheelbarrow.