a year in food and life

Butternut squash soup with miso and ginger September 22, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 5:02 am

butternut squash and miso soup

Having finished bemoaning the local delicacies of our new town in upstate New York,  I am now proud to share some of its finer culinary features.  Our first “Yowza!” came when we visited our local supermarket, Wegman’s.  I had been to another Wegman’s once before and while it was nice, it was nothing to write home about.  But our local Wegman’s (appropriately dubbed the “yuppie Wegman’s” by one of my co-workers) is another beast entirely.  There’s a tea bar, about 10 different “stations” ready to make you whatever you’d like to eat, a whole Le Creuset wall, and a giant natural foods section.   But the real star for my is the produce department- I had never once found galangal in our Los Angeles supermarkets, but it’s here.  Same for all sorts of other exotic fruits and veggies and I, for one, am excited to try my hand at cooking them in the years to come.

The other tremendous culinary find in our town is the Public Market, a huge pseudo-farmer’s market unlike any I’d visited in California.  The California ones tend to be frequented by young, liberal affluent types (not unlike…ahem, myself), but this particular one in upstate New York draws everyone.   Rich and poor, young and old, every race- everyone swarms to the Public Market on Saturday morning, making it decidedly chaotic and just a little unpleasant.  Were we to go at 5:30 AM when it opens, it might be a little more peaceful, but for now, we’ve been braving the crowds. And why is it so crowded? Bargains, people.  I haven’t seen such low prices since trekking around Eastern Europe a few years ago.  Piles of eggplant, summer squash, peaches, and tomatoes being sold a rock bottom prices.  It’s pretty amazing and inevitably leads to a complete glut in our crisper.

This past weekend at the market, I spotted the first winter squash of the season and so it seemed only appropriate to pull out this recipe from last year that I never got around to blogging.  It’s a modern spin on the traditional butternut squash soup, something to make it a little more interesting.  My version is a slight tweak on this recipe from Apartment Therapy- The Kitchen for sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. So embrace the falling leaves and the cooling air and warm up with a cup of soup inspired by fall’s most beloved veggie, the butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Ginger (serves 4-6)

Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced – about 1/4 cup
1 butternut squash – peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons light miso (we used dark)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper

1. Steam the butternut squash chunks (by putting them in a metal colander or strainer sitting over a pot of boiling water) for about 20 minutes or until soft. (You may be able to skip this step by cutting the chunks very small.)

2. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Raise the heat a little and add the ginger. Fry until the ginger is fragrant. Add the squash and miso and continue frying a bit, then add the broth or water. Bring to a simmer then cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

3. Return to the heat and warm, whisking in the milk and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, whisk in a little extra milk until you get the consistency you want.


Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette September 3, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 4:59 am
beet salad
I had to laugh when I read the ongoing series of posts about getting picky eaters to eat vegetables on Cheap Healthy Good earlier this summer.   Although I now love food enough to not only cook it, but spend my precious free time writing about it, I was an extremely picky kid and would still categorize myself on the picky end of the spectrum.Let’s just say the summer I first went to sleep-away camp at around age 10 was a momentous one, culinarily.  At this no-frills camp, meals were served family style and if you didn’t like what was offered, you didn’t eat.  There were literally no alternatives.  A picky kid can hold out for a meal or two, but envisioning a whole month of hunger will make even the pickiest eater fold.  Among my discoveries that summer?  That spaghetti was still edible even when sullied with sauce rather than served plain with just a pat of butter.  My parents thrilled to find out that I was now willing to eat an egg on occasion, although only scrambled.
Luckily I seem to have gotten over my most egregious aversions .  Well, not all of them-I still eat mostly vegetarian not so much out of ethical reasons but out of a distaste for meat.  But I am now happy to eat nearly any fruit, vegetable, or grain.  Almost any.  Beets have still proven to be my bugaboo, much to Dylan’s dismay.  An avowed beet lover, he made me some sort of beet and goat cheese appetizer as part of my birthday dinner the year we started dating and while it was palatable, it certainly wasn’t the thing that won my heart.  In the nearly five years since then, I’ve choked down beets maybe once or twice and only when out of politeness, I really felt I had no choice.
So something very strange must have been in the air earlier this summer when I picked up a bunch of beets at the farmer’s market, thinking that they might make good baby food for Maddie.  Turns out that supposedly only small beets are good for babies  (and let’s not even get into the staining issues!), so the beets were left for our consumption.  The old, super-picky me would have clearly tossed them or just let them rot in the crisper, but the new open-minded me noticed this recipe on Healthy and Gourmet and thought it actually sounded kind of interesting and appealing.
I’m happy to report that I’ve had a beet breakthrough. The recipe was delicious and choosing some fun, candy-striped beets to use made it all the more enjoyable.   While I haven’t touched a beet again in the 2 months or so since I made this dish, I would happily eat it again.  So I’ll call that progress…
Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette (serves 4)
2 cups peeled and cubed beets (about 5 whole beets)
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss beets with two tablespoons and spread evenly along the bottom of a well greased baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey and grated ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about three minutes until juice begins to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour over roasted beets and serve.

Cumin chicken with black beans August 5, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 10:57 am

grilled cumin chicken

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times featured a story on how Manhattan was named the slimmest county in New York. The news probably didn’t come as a surprise to many.  In my high school days in New York City, I was constantly running around town exploring and even now, when I’m in the city visiting my in-laws, I think nothing of walking several miles just to run an errand. There’s just so much to see that the blocks fly by. I won’t even start to get into the other half of it- pressure to be chic and slim, the fashion industry and the media…suffice to say that there are many reasons why Manhttanites take that crown.

No word on how my new home, Monroe County, NY fared in this statewide comparison, but let me present my own findings.

Exhibit A: Buffalo has its famous wings and Chicago is known for pizza. What is Rochester known for in the culinary world? Something called a garbage plate and a friend of ours who is a Rochester native stated singing the praises of this particular delicacy the moment he heard we were considering moving here. An ungodly combination of hamburger, macaroni salad, hash browns, and french fries, all mixed up beneath a meaty sauce, it is, as someone delicately put it, “not the sort of thing you want to eat before a long road trip.” But it well-loved enough to have earned its very own Wikipedia page.

Exhibit B: Rochester loves a street fair, as it turns out. Me, not so much, but Dylan is a fan and so we ventured down to the Corn Hill festival a couple of weeks ago. Among the food vendors was one offering the particularly intriguing “fried Oreo”. I know, you’re simultaneously repulsed and compelled. I’m not one to buy such things, but it just so happens that one fell into my hands (they’re sold in 6-packs, far to many for one person to eat alone) and it was pretty tasty.  I won’t be devastated if another fried Oreo never crosses my lips, but I wouldn’t turn one down if it showed up at my desk right now.

In my last post, written not too long after we rolled into town in our 26-foot Penske truck with all of our earthly belongings, we were still in shock from the reality of mortgages, school taxes, day care, utilities, and car payments and we had taken to budget eating at the extreme.  I was actually feeling quite svelte from this fear-of-being-destitute diet, but of course that’s when our paychecks for our new jobs started rolling in and things more or less went back to normal.  From this experience we will take with us a newfound love of dried beans- so cheap and so easy!- and a temporary aversion to that neon yellow boxed mac and cheese (no more!).

It was with great joy that I started cooking again in the last few weeks, slowly but surely, with particular attention to healthy recipes. So I wish that I had more exciting things to report about this cumin chicken with black beans from Yum Sugar (originally from Real Simple). It was, you know, okay (said with a distinct shoulder shrug). Decidedly underseasoned, it was improved by some liberal salt and peppering after the fact. But even so,the chicken seemed overcooked (possibly my fault, though I thought I followed the directions) and it was just kind of forgettable.  In a face-off with a single, solitary fried Oreo, a whole plate of cumin chicken with black beans wouldn’t stand a chance.

Cumin chicken with black beans (serves 4)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained (or use dried ones!)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 1/4 cups cherry tomato halves
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound with a mallet to 1/2-inch thickness. Combine cumin with cayenne pepper and rub over chicken.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté chicken for 4 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board.

3. Return the skillet with pan drippings to medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, and 3 tablespoons water and cook, stirring, 1 or 2 minutes, until ingredients are just heated through.

4. Remove from heat and toss with the scallions, cilantro, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Slice chicken and arrange on top of beans.


Baked quinoa with spinach and cheese July 8, 2009

Filed under: food,grains — superspark @ 10:20 am


I’m back! It has been two months, to the day, since Superspark went on hiatus during our big cross-country move from LA to upstate NY.   Two months so busy that I had to renounce my 5-day a week exercise addiction.  Two months so busy that I went through long spells with barely a moment to check my e-mail.  Needless to say, cooking (let alone writing about cooking) has not been at the forefront of my mind.

Culinarily speaking, it’s been a pretty dire couple of months.  Going from having no debt and a very low cost of living (thanks to the whole RA gig), to having a mortgage plus payments on two new cars is enough to make one think twice about splurging at the grocery store.  I hope this admission won’t cause any readers to permanently flee Superspark, but we not only partook of boxed mac and cheese several times in the last two months, but it was the generic brand.  Not even Kraft. Sad, I know.

Now that Dylan and I have started work and are again receiving paychecks, the situation is not quite as dire, nevertheless, we’re trying to pinch our pennies a bit more than we might have in the past.  And truth be told, we generally prefer to eat relatively cheap whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies anyway, with cheese being our main luxury food item.

The flagship store of the great upstate NY supermarket chain, Wegman’s, happens to be in our new hometown and so we were pretty excited to raid their bulk grains section, stocking up on favorites like quinoa and lentils.  So we were more than a little disappointed to find that most of the bulk goods were candies and that any grain that was a little out of the ordinary could only be found in boxes at higher prices in the chichi organic section.

So it makes me a little sad to look back on this recipe for baked quinoa with spinach and cheese, something I made before the move but never managed to post.  Yummy, gooey, and satisfying, the recipe, found here on on the New York Times website, is a slightly healthier, glorified comfort food.  You know, for those days when you want something with a little more nutrition and class than say, generic boxed mac and cheese.

Baked quinoa with spinach and cheese (serves 4-6)

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves
4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 cup uncooked)
2 large eggs
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish.

2. Heat a medium frying pan or a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Wash the spinach and without spinning dry, add to the pan and wilt in the liquid left on the leaves after washing. You may have to do this in 2 batches. As soon as the spinach wilts, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water. Squeeze dry and chop. Set aside.

3. Wipe the pan dry and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in it over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir with the onion until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

4. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the quinoa, the onion and spinach mixture, the Gruyère, and the sage. Add freshly ground pepper and stir the mixture together. Scrape into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place in the oven and bake until nicely browned on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to sit for about 5 minutes, and serve.


Chana punjabi May 8, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 9:43 am


We’ve just passed the one month mark in the countdown to our big cross-country move.   That means that instead of picking out a few new recipes to try each week, buying new ingredients, and planning menus, we’re starting to think about clearing out the cabinets.   Some things are going to pose more of a challenge than others.  For instance, I’m dreading the day that Dylan decides to pull out those cans of smoked oysters that have been sitting silent in the back for years.  Is there any hope that the expiration date will save us from having to eat them?  And what of all of the unusual flours and powders bought to try to replicate an Irish soda bread I once tasted at Whole Foods? I don’t think that tapioca flour has made it into anything since then.

If only everything were as easy as cans of chickpeas. If only my pantry were filled with them, rather than with half-eaten bags of marshmallows and potato starch. This recipe for chana punjabi, found on the Wednesday Chef, would be my go-to dish, a low-maintenance staple to turn to at the end of the day, just as good leftover as hot off the stove. You don’t need to have a deep love of Indian food to appreciate this simple, flavorful meal. Although nearly all of the ingredients are pantry staples, it has a fresh, bright taste with complex flavors.  Dee-lish. Do as the Wednesday Chef suggests and double the recipe- it’s a lot of chickpeas, but I doubt you’ll tire of it.

Chana Punjabi (serves 2-4)

1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and add onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

2. Purée mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and place over medium heat. Add paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

3. Cover and simmer until sauce is thick and chickpeas are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir pan about every 10 minutes, adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro, adjust salt as needed and serve with cooked rice, if desired.


Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts April 22, 2009

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 8:10 am


Having a baby does not do wonders for the brain.   Between the sleep deprivation (which is, thankfully, largely a thing of the past for me now) and having your attention pulled in every direction, a new mother’s memory is like a sieve.  Or swiss cheese, to use a metaphor more appropriate to this blog.  There is evidence that it’s a hormonally-induced amnesia and there have also been arguments made that it’s an evolutionary adaptation that allows parents to focus on their children’s survival, letting the less important stuff fall to the wayside.  I’m even heard it said that the memory loss common to new mothers is adaptive in that it makes them forget the pain of childbirth, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be willing to go through it all again.  That one always seemed a bit far-fetched to the biological anthropologist in me.

Adaptive or not, the memory loss and intellectual slugishness are very real and being hyper-organized can only take you so far in combating it, or so I’ve learned.  There remain those little tell-tale signs that part of your mind is always somewhere else.  Like trying to take a drink of a bottle of water without taking the cap off first (did that yesterday).  Or losing your keys- yeah, I know everyone does that but I swear I never did until I had a baby.  Or perhaps less commonly, trying to caramelize tofu using bulgur.  WHA???

We keep all of our grains and various bulk goods in see-through bags in a large bin and yes, my addled mind mistook bulgur for a nice coarse-grained brown sugar.  It was only after about 10 minutes of sauting, with no hint of the “sugar” melting and caramelizing that I caught on to the fact that something might be wrong. Looking wretchedly at the skillet upon what looked like a pile of tofu absolutely caked and coated with sugar, bemoaning what seemed to be shaping up as a particularly unfortunate meal, I finally tasted a chunk of the tofu. Surprisingly unsweet, yet with a distinctive crunchy chew. A quick look in the gain bin confirmed that I had, in fact, substituted bulgur for sugar.

Some cooks might abandon the meal right there, but I decided to persevere as though the tofu were not entirely coated in bulgur and I can safely say that the dish dramatically improved once the sugar was added and it caramelized. In fact, it was pretty tasty and a nice change from the strictly savory dinners that we usually have. Let me suggest, however, that adding bulgur will not improve the dish, so one might consider leaving it out and sticking to the original recipe. Just a thought.

The original bulgur-free recipe can be found here on Serious Eats and was based on this recipe from the wonderful 101 Cookbooks.

[As if to prove my own point, it 's taken me over a week to sit down and concentrate for long enough to write this post. When I tried to return to finish it just now after several days away from blogging, though I remembered that I was writing about maternal forgetfulness, I couldn't for the life of me recall which draft I had actually been working on...sigh.]

Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts (serves 4)

1 block of extra-firm tofu (about 16 oz), cut into thin 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, ends trimmed off, and cut into 1/8-inch wide ribbons
Salt to taste
cooked rice for serving

1. Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil. Add the tofu with a pinch of salt and cook until lightly browned, then add the garlic and pecans and cook until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about one minute.

2. Lower the heat and stir in the sugar, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat and add the cilantro, then transfer to a warm plate.

3. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and stir and scrape to combine with any pan residue. Season with salt and cook, stirring only occasionally to promote browning, until there are golden bits and the sprouts turn a brighter hue.

4. Put rice on plates, transfer brussels sprouts mixture, and top with the tofu.


Warm butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini April 10, 2009

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 1:12 pm


When last I wrote, of drama and mashed potatoes, we were about to put an offer on a house among other momentous events. Well, dear readers, we now have a new home. Or to be more precise, we are under contract, as they say in home-buying lingo. We are waiting for the inspection, shopping mortgages, and dreaming about painting Maddie’s new room something other than the bizarre acid green that it currently is. Our tentative moving date is the first or second week of June, which leaves us just about two months to wrap up our Southern California lives, pack up our teensy-tiny apartment, and haul everything cross-county. (Speaking of which, has anyone ever driven cross-county with an infant? Is it as bad of an idea as I think it is?)

So here on Superspark, you may see some unusual, pantry-emptying recipes in the weeks to come. For instance, what will come of those canned oysters that have been sitting on the shelf for years? (If it’s up to me, they’ll quickly find a home in the trash, but I’ll let Dylan reserve the right to eat them if he so chooses. Canned molluscs, not my thing.) And what of the huge jar of preserved lemons I made last year? (Also the trash, in all likelihood- they didn’t turn out so hot.) How about the approximately 25 lbs of whole grains that we’ve stashed away or the giant, half-used vat of black bean paste? Oh, the possibilities!

Tahini is another one of those ingredients that often goes unnoticed and untouched for a long time in our house. There’s a great spinach salad with tahini dressing recipe that I’ve written about and love, but aside from that, I don’t have any “go-to” recipes with tahini. So I was hoping that this might turn out to be a classic, something that I’d want to make again and again to use up the remainder of the tahini in the house.

Weirdly, I had bookmarked the recipe multiple times in various spots, never remembering I’d seen it before: once from Smitten Kitchen, once from A Veggie Venture, once from Everybody Loves Sandwiches, and finally from Orangette, where it seems to have originally entered the blogosphere. With such a pedigree, it seemed like a no-brainer, sort of like the uber-popular roasted shrimp with broccoli recipe that the whole blogging world seems to have embraced.  But for all of the hype and hubbub, this recipe didn’t do that much for me. I mean, it was good enough- I like chick peas, I like butternut squash, and tahini is nice, but the build-up had been a bit much.  I might make it another time, but I wouldn’t particularly miss it if it never crossed my lips again.  For me this was an instance in which the sum of the ingredients was no greater than their parts, unfortunately.

If you were to recreate anything from this meal, incidentally, let it be the simple velveted chicken we had alongside the salad.  Learn how to “velvet” here (read on until the bottom) and even those who eschew the lowly boring chicken breast will become converts.

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing (serves 4)


For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice (I skipped this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice (if using), olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

2. Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning.  You may need to add more water to thin it out.

3. To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.


Colcannon April 7, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 12:38 pm


There has been entirely too much drama in this house lately.  There are some people who thrive on drama, who go to lengths to create it and fuel the fires of excitement when things get a little too ordinary.   I generally find myself at the other end of the spectrum, now more than ever.  I feel like my everyday life is busy enough without added angst and unpredictability.  Heck, forgetting to set my alarm to get up in the morning sometimes sends me into a frenzy over how those lost 10 minutes will affect the rest of my day.

So you can imagine that when the perfect storm hit last week (Maddie’s freak fever, my maxillary sinus infection brought on by using prescription steroids for this weird eye thing I’ve been dealing with, and the shock of finding out my new salary was half what I had expected), I was in something of a tizzy.  Luckily things  evened out quickly with my infection subsiding and Maddie’s fever quickly resolving.  As for the job issue, well that’s still a work in progress, but I’m happy to report that said “dream job” is still in the works, with the salary slowly rising and a faculty title being added (I’m going to be an assistant professor- woo hoo!).   So all things are looking up in that respect.

At the same time, the drama goes on and the latest is that we’re about to put in an offer on our first house today.  Pretty big, huh? I kind of feel like I could use a year (or perhaps even a week or month) without something major occurring, a nice quiet period to go about my day to day business rather than constantly having something new and important brimming.  A little bit of boredom might even be welcome.

Admittedly that is a terrible way to transition into talking about this perfectly lovely recipe for colcannon, the traditional Irish mashed potato with cabbage.  This version is based on a recipe I bookmarked long ago on Everybody Loves Sandwiches, which used leeks.  It is simple, unassuming, comforting, and entirely undramatic.  You won’t get bold flavors or unexpected bursts of spice.  Rather you’ll find the smoothness of potato, the creaminess of butter, and the subtle hint of sauteed cabbage.  I tend not to be a fan of cabbage, but I was definitely digging this dish and Dylan went so far as to say it was the best use of cabbage in a recipe that he’d ever had, declaring that he would happily eat it whenever I might choose to make it again.

Colcannon (serves 4)


4 red skinned potatoes, cut into quarters (I used Yukon Golds instead)
1/2 head of green cabbage, sliced
1 leek, (white and pale green parts only), cut into slices (I substituted 2 small onions)
1 cup whole milk
4 tbsp butter
salt & pepper to taste

1. In a medium pot, boil up the potatoes. Meanwhile, combine milk, cabbage, leeks, half the butter, salt and pepper into a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the cabbage is soft, about 15 minutes.

2. When the potatoes are fork tender, drain well and add to the cabbage mixture. Mash with a potato masher, adding in remaining butter and more salt & pepper if necessary.


Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce April 4, 2009

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 9:52 am


This is a recipe designed for “chefs” like me, who choose their recipes on titles alone, not bothering to look at the ingredient list until the last minute.  For those who are more inclined to think ahead, to peruse the component ingredients, thinking about how the flavors work together, you might be a bit stymied, if not downright turned off.  Your unease would be doubled if you looked at my substitutions- agave nectar for honey (as suggested in the original recipe) and gin for rice wine (as suggested online)- agave nectar, gin, rhubarb, tofu, and chili peppers? I’m not going to lie, as I whipped up this dish, intrigued as I was,  I was nevertheless fully prepared to hate the finished product. Dylan was even more doubtful but after hearing me yammer on for several weeks about how I wanted to try this very interesting recipe for a savory rhubarb dish (originally found here on Mostly Eating), he decided to play along.  There were, after all,  tamales, veggie burgers, and dumplings in the freezer if my creation turned out to be totally inedible.

But shock of all shocks, it was actually really good.  Just how the very unusual combination of ingredients managed to work together is beyond me, but the sauce was delicious, with a spicy kick and the tanginess of rhubarb.  We thought it would be great on chicken as well, if one wanted to do that sort of stir-fry.  In fact, my only objection to this dish was the kale.  Being fairly clueless about kale varietals, but knowing that black kale (or lacinato) is the trendy type that foodies prefer, I decided to go with that one.  In actuality, something softer and less aggressive might be better, even spinach or chard.  But beyond that, no complaints.  If you’re looking to move beyond the ordinary when using spring’s bounty of rhubarb, this one is worth a try.

Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce (serves 4)

The tofu and marinade:
1 Tbsp honey (or substitute agave nectar)
1 tsp five spice powder
Quarter tsp dried chili flakes
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (plus a little extra for cooking)
1 Tbsp rice wine (I substituted gin)
1 package plain firm tofu (14-20 oz), cut into chunks

The sauce:
400g rhubarb (about 3 stalks), trimmed and roughly chopped
A big thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
A red chili (I subbed a jalapeno)
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp honey (or agave nectar)
3 Tbsp soy sauce

The topping:
1 red chili, finely sliced (again, subbed a jalapeno, but it was spicy enough without the additional topping)
2 Tbsp cashew nuts, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful fresh cilantro
2 limes, halved

The rice:
Brown rice (cooked, or substitute cooked white rice or noodles)
Kale, sliced (as much as you can fit in your pan as it will shrink down massively)
Sesame oil

1. Marinate the tofu by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together and pouring the marinade over the tofu. Mix and leave aside in the fridge for 2 hours or more.

2. Put all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the resulting puree into a saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. Heat a tiny splash of oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the tofu slices until golden. Put aside somewhere warm.

4. Just before you are ready to serve, use the residual oil in the non-stick pan (add a little more if you need it) to cook the kale until it softens a little and turns bright green. Add the cooked rice to the kale along with a scant few drops of sesame oil.

5. To serve, dish out the rice/kale mix into warmed bowls, followed by the tofu and topped with the sauce. Finish by sprinkling over the topping ingredients, giving each person half a lime to garnish.


Whole wheat fusilli with swiss chard and balsamic roasted onions April 1, 2009

Filed under: food,Pasta — superspark @ 6:35 am


I have been in need of comfort of late.  Just when you think everything is going fabulously, a bump (or two or three) arises in the road, throwing your best laid plans asunder.  Already preoccupied by a couple of nagging health issues of my own, last weekend I awoke to Maddie’s screams in the middle of the night, something she hadn’t done in weeks.  In the past we had tried to give her a few minutes to settle herself, but this time there was an urgency to it and Dylan and I both quickly got up to find her in her crib with a high fever and her little body in periodic spasms.  No, they weren’t febrile seizures (thankfully) and yes, we have had her checked out by a doctor.  She’s fine, but fever in kids can do funny neurological things, and make new parents batty with anxiety.

While home from work and nursing her back to health on Monday, I was hit with more bad news in the form of a surprisingly, shockingly lowball salary offer for the otherwise “dream” job I was supposed to be starting this summer.   We’re talking so low that I thought perhaps they had accidentally given me a figure for half-time work.  To go into the details would be far too long and boring for people who come to this website looking for just a recipe and a bit of a break from the work day.  Suffice to say, that taking a large pay cut for a job that has a lot more responsibility just doesn’t seem right.  Yes, I know we’ll be moving to a smaller market (upstate NY as opposed to our current home in LA), and I certainly know there are many out there with far worse situations.  We will be just fine, no matter how this works out.  It is, after all, only money.  But in the thick of it right now, it’s very hard to find perspective and my only glimpse of clarity so far was brought on last night after a few sips of a gin and tonic and a deep sigh. I’m hoping I can bring myself back to that calming moment (sans gin) throughout the day today.

So between a sick baby and visions of an empty wallet, I’ve been craving comfort food.  Truly, what I most wanted in the midst of all of it was to run out and have a gargantuan piece of chocolate cake in the middle of the day, well-balanced diet be damned.  I’ve managed to resist that urge so far, though, and drowning my sorrows in a big bowl of pasta seems like nearly the next best thing.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, let me recommend that you embrace your comfort food- this is not, I’m afraid, the time for whole wheat fusilli.   I would also suggest that you use your favorite tomato sauce (be it homemade or jarred), a generous sprinkling of parmesan, and a handful of fresh mozzarella chunks.  Then mix it all together until the cheese goes gooey.  Heaven.

You will be sorely disappointed should you instead try to self-medicate with healthy comfort food, like this recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley.  Whole wheat pasta is okay, but I’ve yet to try one I really like.  The texture always seems just a little bit off and the taste too powerfully cardboardy.  And while the onions were nice and I always like a little bit of greens,  I missed having a real sauce.  This was just sort of dry and balsamic-y.  I almost imagine it might be better as a room temperature pasta salad one day for lunch.   So mental note, next time just go for the full-on classic bowl of pasta when feeling down.  Or better yet, skip the pasta and run straight for the chocolate cake.

Whole wheat fusilli with swiss chard and balsamic-roasted onions (serves 4)


2 red onions, sliced lengthwise into thin wedges
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus more later for serving
Coarse sea (or kosher) salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dry thyme
1 pound Swiss chard, trimmed
1 pound whole wheat fusilli
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the onion slices with the thyme, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

2. Spread the onions on a baking pan and roast them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re soft and caramelized. Stir them after 20 minutes of roasting.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. When the water returns to a boil add the chard and cook for 2 minutes, or until wilted and tender. Using tongs, remove the chard from the water and drain in a colander. Bring the water to a boil again and cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

4. While the pasta cooks, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute over medium heat, just until it’s fragrant. Add the pine nuts and cook for 1 more minute. Add the swiss chard and 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the roasted onion slices and cook until they are heated through.

5. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Add the vegetable mixture and toss. Season with extra balsamic vinegar, if you like. Serve immediately.



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