a year in food and life

Catching up… June 15, 2010

Filed under: food,Musings — superspark @ 12:03 pm

My past six months of blog posts all seem to start with some sort of “Wow- has it really been a month since I last managed to write?!” sort of introduction. In this case, nearly two months, actually, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a proper recipe to post. There’s been a whole lot of cooking in the house, but my urges to document it all have fallen by the wayside, I’m afraid. Along with that, I’ve been moving away from my long list of favorite food blogs a bit, finding that the ones that mix in a little more lifestyle, if you will, are more compelling to me these days. So a bit of Superspark life before we move on to culinary matters…

There are lots of things keeping us busy these days, chez Superspark, not the least of which is our little Madeleine who is fast approaching two years old.  She’s actually much less of a handful than in her “youth”, though no doubt that pendulum will swing again soon.  So we can’t blame her for our busy-ness this time.

Nor can we blame the newest little Superspark, due to arrive in early September.  That’s right, Maddie is going to have a little brother- eek! We’re all very excited, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that this baby is already missing the constant excited vigilance of a count down to his arrival.  I don’t think I’ve cracked a pregnancy book once this time and what will be the nursery is still primarily a resting place for old yearbooks, unhung art, and various other home goods without a home.  He’s -11 weeks old and already suffering from second child syndrome.

It’s just life in general that has us busy these days…building a monumental vegetable garden in the yard (complete with 8-foot fence to keep out deer!), finishing Dylan’s first year of residency (thank goodness!), trying to keep up with the joys of homeownership (mowing, cleaning, bills, etc…), and of course my own job, where we’ve managed to pull in an epic amount of NIH grant money recently, making news of each success both a blessing and a curse (in that there’s just that much more work to do now).  So all in all, things are good.

But on to the food! My favorite part of cooking these days is still the planning- culling through my recipes to find two or three to make in the upcoming week.  And thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of fun menu planning/shopping list tools to feed my love of obsessive planning.  Here’s the one I’ve been using recently– my favorite one is no longer on the interwebs, but this suits my needs pretty well, if not perfectly. So fun! And what sort of menus have I planned in the past few weeks?

There was this exceptionally yummy posh variant on mac and cheese. Posted on The Bitten Word, I made it for a potluck only to have my social plans thwarted by a sick baby. Keeping my chin up, I bravely managed to eat the whole delicious thing myself for the rest of the week…

What else? I’ve been making mini-muffins every couple of weeks and then freezing them for quick snacks.  Because when else, other than pregnancy, can you justify a couple of mini strawberry muffins on any given morning, just because? Thanks to Pink of Perfection for that tasty recipe.

And how about one more winner, amid a fair number of also-rans? Yeah, I know, Rachael Ray bugs me, too.  But the leftovers of this spring noodle stir-fry made multiple co-workers come ask me for the recipe as I was microwaving.  Plus it features some of the best in spring veggies- sugar snap peas and asparagus.  I ramped up the amount of pasta to make it more filling, but beyond that, stuck more or less to Ray-Ray’s vision.  Turns out the garbage bowl, a big bowl in which to put your scraps as you prep a meal (rather than wasting time running back and forth to the garbage can), is not her only idea worth keeping.

So that’s it for updates around here…no food pictures, I’m afraid, but were we to wait for those, it might be a very, very long time.  Enjoy the rest of June and fingers crossed that I managed to write something before the month is out!


Spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers April 20, 2010

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 11:08 am

Eek- over a month without a post! That’s just embarassing, especially considering I’ve been cooking pretty regularly.  I’ve even gotten a little inventive, with mixed results.  Most notably, there were the post-Passover charoset muffins.  Dylan is Jewish, if only culturally, and in the years we’ve been together, we’ve had a lot of fun at Seders, mainly because it’s an excuse to get a bunch of friends together and drink a lot of wine.  This year was a little different as we had little time to pull together a Seder nor do we know a single Jew around here. So we missed the social event, but I thought it only appropriate to make my Passover favorites, matzoh ball soup and charoset, the scrumptious fruity, nutty spread that is supposed to represent the mortar used by the Israelites to build walls in ancient Egypt.

I’d never actually made charoset before, but after seeing this Persian version called “Hallaq” in the New York Times, I was sold. Like cardamom? You’ll love this recipe. And although we truly love cardamom in the Superspark household, this bordered on excessive, to the point that Dylan refused to eat any more. Never one to throw away food (the horror!), I subbed our leftover charoset for the banana in banana muffins (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything), creating the world’s first (?!) charoset muffins. Genius! Yeah, they’re still excessively cardamom-y, but it’s tempered by the other ingredients, especially when topped with jam. No lectures on integrating Passover foods into leavened products, please. Around here it’s called being resourceful. 🙂

So what does that have to do with spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers, you might ask? Well, that was another recent recipe born of resourcefulness. Falling victim to my bad habit of buying obscure ingredients for recipes that never get made, I found myself with a couple of rapidly aging anaheim chiles in hand. It’s awfully hard to find a good way to use them other than chile rellenos, it seems. I was a little skeptical of a tofu recipe I found in one of my cookbooks, but blindly proceeded to buy the remainder of the ingredients to make said recipe. After roasting the chiles (a not completely successful endeavor, as it turns out) and starting to mix the spices, I began to get a little skeeved out by the thought of sour cream, monterey jack cheese, peppers and tofu all in the same dish. Is it just me or does tofu not belong with dairy in a stir fry type dish? Yech…

So at the last minute, my old faithful friend Epicurious came to the rescue with this recipe featuring ingredients salvaged from other recipes. It was super quick and you know what? It was pretty great. It’s not an intensely spicy dish (though a few squirts of sriracha could fix that), but it had a great combination of flavors and textures for a meal requiring so little effort. It’s not exactly fancy dinner party fare, but I’d eat it any night of the week, with lunch leftovers to boot. Now what to do with those anaheim chiles?

Spicy Thai tofu with red bell peppers (serves 4)

1/3 cup olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, seeded, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 14-to 16-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained well, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (we subbed lemon juice)
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves (we used frozen)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (we skipped- none on hand!)
1/3 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts (we substituted cashews)

1. Heat oil in large pan over high heat. Add bell peppers, ginger, and garlic; sauté until peppers just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

2. Add tofu and green onions; toss 2 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients. Toss to blend, about 1 minute.

3. Add spinach in 3 additions, tossing until beginning to wilt, about 1 minute for each addition. (We used frozen, adding it all at once instead.) Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle peanuts or cashews on top.


Greek baked beans with honey and dill March 10, 2010

Filed under: Beans,food — superspark @ 6:53 am

All parents have a handful of stories they like to tell about their child.  For instance, Dylan’s parents love to talk about how they took him to Greece when he was only 1 or 2 and he charmed the locals with his towhead and cute smile.  For his little sister, the story most often told is about her first word, “balloon”, allegedly said when she was only 3 or 4 months old.   Like many other parents, their stories verge on exaggeration to the point of disbelief- speaking at age 4 months? Really??

I can’t accuse my parents of the same, for their favorite stories about me and my brother are decidedly more pedestrian.  My brother’s tale relates to a trip to Wendy’s around age 2 or 3.  Up to his usual mischief  (he was- and still is- something of  little imp), he suddenly pointed to a large “W” on the wall and declared, “The W made me do it!” This has become something of a catchphrase to harass him with for the last, oh 20 years.

My own story also involves fast food, McDonalds, this time (ironic, since I probably haven’t set foot in one in several years).  My parents would take me to McDonalds every so often when I was very small and had somehow brainwashed me such that while they ate burgers and fries and the usual fare, I would happily and obliviously eat a container of lima beans brought from home.   It wouldn’t be so odd for a very small child, but I was old enough that I remember other kids around me looking at me and my meal strangely.

So it’s no wonder that I spent many years after that turning up my nose at the very mention of a lima bean.  I had O.D.ed on those, raisins, and bananas during my childhood to the point that it was at least a decade before I was willing to try any of them again.  But me and limas, we’re good now.  We’ve mended fences and though I wouldn’t say they’re a staple in my diet, I’m perfectly happy to find them on my plate.

I had never really ventured into cooking lima beans in any significant way, but this recent recipe in the New York Times ‘Recipes for Health’ column (love it!) had me thinking it was high time I tried. This is not a recipe for traditional old, out-of-the-can baked beans, thank goodness, because I hate those with a passion. No, these beans taste fresh and healthy, with lots of nuance and flavor.  They don’t look like much (a pile of orange-y mush, frankly), but they are just the sort of hearty, peasant fare that is perfect for these last days of chilly weather.  Lacking crusty bread, we ate ours over brown rice and while it was delicious, next time I’d go with the crusty bread plus a sprinkle of feta on top (because what isn’t better with a little cheese?) The recipe makes a big batch so for those who love leftovers (ready-made lunches), this is a winner.

Greek baked beans with honey and dill (serves six to eight)

-1 pound dried large lima beans (or use dried white beans, first soaking for six hours or overnight in 2 quarts of water; then drain
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1 large onion, preferably a sweet red onion, finely chopped
-1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
-1 bay leaf
-3 tablespoons honey, such as clover or acacia
-2 tablespoons tomato paste
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
-1/2 cup, loosely packed, chopped fresh dill

1. Combine the dried lima beans (or soaked, drained white beans) and water to cover by 3 inches in a large, oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium size, heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. After 30 minutes, drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add the remaining olive oil, the tomatoes and the liquid in the can, bay leaf, honey, and 2 cups water or enough to just cover the beans. Stir in the onion, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven. Bake one hour, stirring often and adding water if necessary. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 more minutes, until the beans are tender and the mixture is thick.

4. Stir in the dill, cover and let sit 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with thick slices of country bread or rice.


Mark Bittman’s oatmeal with soy sauce and scallions February 23, 2010

Filed under: breakfast — superspark @ 1:19 pm

I spent much of the last two years racing to get out of the house at 6 am to beat the LA traffic as I commuted the 25 miles to work.  There was barely time to brush my hair and teeth, let alone eat breakfast before hitting the road.  Instead I would have a graham cracker in the car to tide me over and then around 7:30 or so, have breakfast at work.  While I’m willing to pack and bring a lunch every day, packing breakfast just wasn’t an option so I went with the meal of highest convenience, something you can keep in your desk drawer indefinitely. Oatmeal.  Everyday.  Oatmeal with craisins. Every single day.  I longed to eat cereal, toast, anything but oatmeal.

So when we left the big city last June for a more relaxed suburban lifestyle, my old oatmeal habit quickly went out the door.  Yes, I still have a stash in my desk at work- just in case! In case of what, I have no idea.  In case the hospital’s three cafeterias all suddenly close and I’m unable to leave to get a meal elsewhere? In case for the first time in my life I forget to eat breakfast? Call it an irrational security blanket.

But for breakfast, our pantry is now stocked with all my favorite breakfast cereals- Shredded Wheat, Kashi Go-Lean Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats, and so on.  Enchanted with my return to cereal, I hadn’t touched our big tub of oats until Cheap Healthy Good‘s recent reminder about this Mark Bittman recipe for oatmeal with soy sauce and scallions. I remember when it first came out (on Bitten? in the New York Times food section?) and though I was a little skeeved by the thought of a savory oatmeal, the idea stuck with me. Maybe, just maybe, it was worth trying once, just out of curiosity.

With the recipe’s recent resurgence in my memory, I finally set aside my cereal bowl and tried it last week. And you know what? I LOVED it. Loved. Loved. Loved. Although I steadfastly maintain my allegiance as a sweet breakfast lover (as opposed to you savory, omelette-loving folk), this dish single-handedly renewed my interest in oatmeal and I made it twice that very first week. Only marginally slower than regular oatmeal, it is infinitely more interesting. Don’t even think about skipping the sesame oil as that’s what really makes it memorable. Enjoy!

Oatmeal with soy sauce and scallions (serves 1)

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup water
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon scallions for stirring, 1 teaspoon for garnish
1/2 tsp sesame oil

1. Combine water, salt, and oats in a medium saucepan and turn the heat to high. When the water boils, turn to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the water is just about absorbed (about 5 minutes).

2. Turn off heat, stirring in 1 tablespoon of scallions and soy sauce while the pot cools down. Sprinkle that last teaspoon of scallions on top for extra crunch and drizzle with the sesame oil.


Crispy mustard roasted potatoes February 5, 2010

Filed under: food — superspark @ 1:17 pm

I’ve once again gotten in the bad habit of completely forgetting to take pictures of my culinary creations (whoops!).  Like, “I can’t even be bothered to take a blurry picture with my iPhone” forgetful.  So I am blatantly borrowing this photo from Smitten Kitchen, with full credit to the amazing Deb for another outstanding recipe. It’s recipes like this that make me wonder why I don’t just head straight to Smitten Kitchen anytime I’m looking for something new and delicious to make. (And lest you think I’m exaggerating, I could have easily written such an effusive post about her other recipe I made recently, red kidney bean curry (or rajmah)– yum!!!)

We were having a guest over a couple of weeks ago, a friend who was in town interviewing for a pediatrics residency at the University where Dylan and I both work.   Ordinarily, I’m perfectly happy to have a one bowl, one item dinner- we’re not big sticklers for meat, potato, vegetable and that sort of thing.  But when we have a guest, I always feel a little guilty subjecting them to our informal ways- what if the person doesn’t like the one thing we serve? Or what if it’s just not filling enough? So we went slightly more traditional, picking up a roast chicken on the way home and then popping some potatoes in the oven.  Not just any potatoes, of course.  I took advantage of the opportunity to try out these crispy mustard roasted potatoes.  Can I just say that they were so good that I wanted to eat the whole tray?  Though the recipe said it serves 10, the three of us made quick work of them, leaving only a small helping for Dylan and I to fight over the next night.  Delish! They’re going in my permanent repertoire.

Mustard-Roasted Potatoes (makes 10 servings)
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2007


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick or 1/2 ounce) butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3 pounds 1- to 1 1/2-inch-diameter mixed unpeeled red-skinned and white-skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch-wide wedges

1. Position 1 rack in top third of oven and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Spray 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add potatoes; sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat.

3. Divide potatoes between prepared baking sheets, leaving any excess mustard mixture behind in bowl. Spread potatoes in single layer. Roast potatoes 20 minutes. Reverse baking sheets and roast until potatoes are crusty outside and tender inside, turning occasionally, about 25 minutes longer.

4. Transfer potatoes to serving bowl and dig in!


Cranberry oatmeal scones January 18, 2010

Filed under: baked goods,breakfast,food — superspark @ 12:53 pm

We’re something of a TV watching household.  Yes, we like movies (though I still haven’t been out to one since Maddie was born oh, 18 months ago), but we are nearly always too tired to sit through an entire movie in an evening.  By the time Maddie goes to bed, we have maybe an hour or so of attention left in us before it’s time for us to go to bed in anticipation of our 4 am wakeup.  (Yes, you read that correctly, more on that in a minute…)

So when TV goes on hiatus, say, over the winter holidays because we’re all supposed to be busy with festive parties and family togetherness, we find ourselves revisiting old TV shows that we neglected to watch the first time around.   Most recently, it’s been Gray’s Anatomy, Season 5.  We had watched the previous seasons only slightly behind schedule, but as Season 5 approached, we had just had enough of the groan-inducing, eye-rolling melodrama of the show.  Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s just too much to stomach.

Now that Dylan is a full-fledged surgical resident (an intern, just as the Gray’s Anatomy crew were in their first season), we have a decidedly different perspective on the show and its, uh, creative take on the medical profession.  I won’t even get into the OR issues (loose hair, lack of face masks, etc…) or the fact that all of the doctors are sleeping with one another.  No, what really gets us is the schedule our beloved TV doctors enjoy.

Meredith, Izzy, and the others routinely lounge around in their sun-filled house drinking coffee and relaxing before work in the morning.  Even in the height of summer, the sun isn’t up when Dylan and his fellow interns head to work.  When you have to be at work by 5, there’s just no room for morning chatting.  He’s lucky to find a moment to grab a portable breakfast before rolling out the door.  This one really irks him, needless to say.

What irks me the most? That he has virtually no control over his schedule at this point.  His three vacation weeks were chosen for him in advance with no input from him.  And he gets to request 5 days off (weekend included, mind you, as surgeons typically work 6 days a week) at either Thanksgiving or Christmas.  We requested Christmas off.  We got Thanksgiving.  Surprise!

All of which goes to say that for the first year ever, I was unable to spend Christmas with my parents and extended family.   Instead, Dylan, Maddie, and I spent the day on our own- after he got home from work at noon, that is.  In fact, we were lucky that he was able to trade or he would have been on call at work ALL DAY on Christmas.  Yeah, that’s what it’s like being a surgical intern.  All glamour and glory.

One of my family’s few Christmas traditions is making scones on Christmas morning and then eating them while we open our stockings.  In an effort to try to keep this year’s unusual Christmas at least a little festive, I whipped up a batch of these cranberry oatmeal scones from Joy of Baking on Christmas eve, popped them in the freezer unbaked, and then stuck them in the oven the moment Dylan walked in the door on Christmas day.  May I mention what a genius idea freezing unbaked scones is? Thank you, Smitten Kitchen! You can do all of the prep ahead of time and just whip them straight from freezer to oven at your convenience. Voila!

All in all, Christmas wasn’t quite the same as in previous years, but the scones were our best ever- moist, rich, and delicious, especially laden with jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream.  (It was Christmas people, time to live a little!) Yum.   If all goes well we’ll be bringing these delicious scones with us when we go visit my parents for Christmas next year.

Cranberry oatmeal scones (makes 8 medium scones)

1 3/4 cups (245 grams) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup (60 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup (40 grams) dried cranberries or cherries (raisins or currants)
Zest of one lemon or orange (we skipped this)
2/3 cup (160 ml) buttermilk

Egg Wash: (not sure this added anything- I’d skip it next time)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk or cream

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use Silpat) and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and whisk to combine. Add the butter and using two knives or a pastry cutter cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the rolled oats, dried cranberries and zest. Mix until combined. Stir in the buttermilk (adding more buttermilk if necessary) and mix just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly dry.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough four or five times and then pat, or roll, the dough into a circle that is 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 11/2 inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle into 8 triangular sections. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Make an egg wash of one beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk or cream and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

4. Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. (Add just 3-5 extra minutes if baking frozen scones.) Remove from oven and then turn your broiler on high. If you like, sift confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar heavily over the tops of the scones and place them under the broiler. Broil for just a few seconds, turning the pan as necessary, until the sugar has melted and turns golden brown. Make sure to watch the scones carefully as the sugar will burn very quickly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Chickpea curry December 21, 2009

Filed under: food,grains — superspark @ 12:47 pm

It’s dishes like this one that are dampening my enthusiasm for cooking and are instead driving me to read style blogs.

I’ve been getting a perverse thrill out of seeing other people’s OOTD (“outfit of the day”, as I deduced) and viewing their clandestine dressing room photos in Anthropologie or J. Crew.  Maybe its that I miss seeing super stylish people in LA or even the preppy undergrads of Cambridge, MA.  In upstate NY, style is trumped by warmth and down coats are practically a uniform.  I invested a retro prep pair of plaid “duck boots” to combat the snow that promises to linger for the next four months.  They are cute in their own way, but I long for the frivolity and whimsy of summer dressing.  Sigh.  Luckily my new must-read fashion blogs provide a little inspiration, not to mention making me feel incredibly virtuous for not racking up astronomical shopping bills on a regular basis.

So what does this have to do with chickpea curry, you might ask?  Well, nothing per se.  Except that meals like this one are discouraging enough to make me want to hang up my spatula temporarily. The best thing I could say about this dish was that it was really quick and easy to make.  It was awfully, horribly spicy, so much so that large dollops of cooling yogurt couldn’t even rescue it.  Which is not to say that we didn’t eat it, but as opposed to some leftovers which are eaten with a speed that nears competitive levels, these were eaten grudgingly with hidden hopes that they might go bad before we managed to choke them all down.

This chickpea curry didn’t come from a blog, but from All Recipes, and our reaction and the comments on the original post serve as a reminder that there’s something to be said for cookbook recipes which are repeatedly tested and tweaked until the spice combinations are just right.  In this case, some commenters quadrupled the spices, whereas we followed the recipe more or less as written and found it nearly inedible.   I can’t begin to explain the discrepancy, only to say that All Recipes will not be getting many visits from me in the near future.  But my favorite fashion blogs will.

Chickpea curry (serves 6 when served over rice)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, finely chopped
6 whole cloves
2 (2 inch) sticks cinnamon, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 (15 ounce) cans garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, and fry onions until tender.

2. Stir in garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, salt, cayenne, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute over medium heat, stirring constantly. Mix in garbanzo beans and their liquid. Continue to cook and stir until all ingredients are well blended and heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro just before serving, reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish.