Equalizer

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You are the great equalizer. We all come to you: young and old, rich and poor, great and small. Some come willingly; others out of necessity. Most take your offering but grudgingly, accepting their fate with stoic resignation. A few seem to take pleasure in the fulfillment you bring, such as it were.

The seasons change. Days grow busier, nights shorter. People come and go, plans are formed and re-formed. Yet you stay constant. Once, I had hope that you would change somehow– if not for the better, at least not for the worse. Now I know those hopes were foolish. What could I expect? At least I know my death will not come from starvation, though perhaps it would be better if it were so.

You are the great equalizer: the school cafeteria.

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Plov

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When in doubt, add more garlic!

Plov is a popular Russian rice dish that came to Russia via central Asia. Everyone makes it differently. For example, some time after we came to SoCal, my mom had an idea to use cayenne instead of black pepper, which I’m pretty sure is a non-standard, but, in my opinion, awesome change.

Before we start, I have a few quick ingredient explanations and advice on substitutions. Firstly, if you don’t like chicken organ meat, the best alternative would be lamb. Secondly, barberries are a small, sweet and tart red berry, but they are kind of hard to find in the US. If you can’t find them, I think a good substitute would be pomegranate seeds or cranberries (but in a smaller quantity). Finally, although I like to cook for family, I don’t consider myself a chef, so please don’t take the numbers below too seriously– do experiment with the amount of spices to your taste (I usually put even more garlic and cayenne). Enjoy!

Plov

  • 2/3 lbs (300 grams) chicken hearts and/or gizzards (or other meat)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups (200 grams) white rice
  • 6-8 cups (1.5-1.8 liters) water (approximately)
  • 1/2 tablespoon (7 grams) whole coriander (or ground)
  • 1/2 tablespoon (7 grams) whole cumin (or ground)
  • 1/2 tablespoon (7 grams) red pepper flakes (or ground cayenne)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) dried barberries (or other fruit)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1/2 head of garlic, peeled (yes, half an entire head, at least)
  • vegetable oil for frying
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Dried barberries. Yum!

Wash the gizzards thoroughly, and clean off any fatty/tough bits off of the hearts. (They don’t always do a good job of it at the store.) In a pot, brown the meat with a little bit of oil. Cover with 6 cups of water, add the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Then turn to medium, and cook until tender (around 30 minutes if using chicken hearts/gizzards).

In the meantime, dice the onion and shred the carrot (e.g. on a cheese grater). Heat up some vegetable oil in a pan. If using whole coriander/cumin, roast them in the pan for a few seconds before adding the onion. Cook the onion until soft (around a minute) before adding the carrots. Cook for another two minutes.

Once the meat is tender, put two cups of white rice directly into the water. Add more water if too much has boiled out; it should be approximately 2:1 ratio of water to rice. Add the onion/carrot mixture to the water. Add the red pepper flakes/cayenne to the water. If using ground coriander and cumin rather than whole, add that to the water now now too. Mix it all together, and cook on medium until the rice is almost ready (around 18 minutes).

In the last few minutes, stick the whole cloves of garlic deep into the rice at regular intervals. Make sure they are well covered by the hot rice. Let stand until the garlic is soft (around 3 minutes). Then mix in the barberries (or other fruit), making sure they are evenly distributed as well. Serve hot.

Carrot Top Quiche

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Quiches are just a cross between omelettes and pies.

One of the perks of living in Portland is the amazing year round farmer’s markets, boasting seasonal produce from local sources. Buying produce at the market has caused me to cook seasonally, which has  expanded my horizons in terms of ingredients, but carrots are one of the few veggies available almost all year round and are one of my favorite staples. At the farmer’s market, carrots are sold with their tops. The tops go great in recipes calling for parsley, such as in herb pesto, or cooked in place of spinach. Today, I decided to use them in a quiche with a white wine dough. It was a good way to use up the rest of my carrot tops from last week’s market.

By the way, when I buy carrots with carrot tops, I usually cut all the tops off and store them separately in a plastic bag in the fridge, otherwise they seem to suck the life out of the carrot roots, and make them go floppy.

If you can’t get carrot tops, don’t worry. You can replace them with another leafy green like spinach, or just omit them altogether. A quiche is just a savory pie with egg filling — you can actually put in anything you like!

For the dough:

1 3/4 cup flour
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients into a bowl. Mix to make a dough ball (using a spoon at first and then your hands). If the dough ball seems too shaggy, add a little bit more olive oil until you can get it to stick together. Roll the dough ball out to the size of your pie dish and gently transfer it to the dish.

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Cooking seasonally: putting basil in everything all summer long.

For the filling: 

around 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium sized onion
1/2 bunch carrot tops
1 medium sized tomato
a handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup shredded cheese (any kind you like)
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
a pinch of salt

Roughly chop up one medium onion and about the same amount of carrot tops. Heat up a pan with the vegetable oil, and throw in the onions. Cook until they start to brown (around 15 mins), and add the carrot tops. Cook another 10 minutes. Also chop up one medium sized tomato and tear up a handful of basil leaves.

Finally, whisk together 4 large eggs, 2 cups milk and 1/2 cups of the cheese.

Assembly and cooking:

Throw the onions, carrot tops, tomatoes, and basil into the quiche and spread them all out. Cover with the egg mixture, then top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Cook on 400 degrees F for around 30 minutes or until the quiche is set and slightly golden. Let cool a little and enjoy! (Be careful cutting into it at first since it will be molten.)

Pistachio-Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Since I’ve moved to Portland, Ken’s Artisan Bakery has become one of my go-to places for lunch, bread, and sweets. They have these amazing hazelnut shortbread cookies that I kept buying, so one day I decided to try my own shortbread, and I am pretty proud with the result. These cookies have a bit less sugar than usual since I prefer my sweets less sweet. Even though they are crumbly (from the old meaning of the word “short”), the pistachios actually make them feel creamier as well, and the lavender gives a fresh fragrance. I’ve made these a few different times now, so I will add some hints as I go on how to get them just right.

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Pretend this picture includes a bag of flour, sugar, and cornstarch too.

  • 16 T butter (2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup shelled roasted pistachios (unsalted is better)
  • 1-2 T lavender flowers, to taste

First, throw 1 cup of pistachios and 1 to 2 tablespoons lavender flowers into a food processor and whirl them around until the pistachios are finely chopped up. In a bowl, combine 3/4 cup sugar and 2 sticks of butter and mix using either a pastry knife or your hands. Then throw in the 1 and 3/4 cups flour, 1 cup cornstarch, and the pistachio mixture.

Nice and chopped.

Nice and chopped.

Mix together until you get a dough ball. I usually just use my hands for this. It might be a little crumbly, but you should still be able to form it into a dough ball (it shouldn’t be a smooth paste). Depending on the creaminess of your butter and/or if you are working at a higher elevation, you may need to add a little bit of extra flour to get the right consistency.

Now tear the dough ball into two evenly sized pieces. Lightly flour a surface and roll the pieces into logs. Wrap with cling wrap, and put in the fridge until it firms up. This should take around 30 to 60 minutes, but you can also leave it in there overnight if you’ve got other stuff to do. On the other hand, if it still seems a little soft after 30 minutes, it’s possible that you actually don’t have enough flour in the mixture. This is ok, the cookies will still taste delicious, they might just be a little extra buttery.

A slightly crumbly dough ball.

A slightly crumbly dough ball.

If you have a cookie cutter that you want to use, you can also throw them in the fridge just as a ball and roll them out after chilling. I think the logs are easier though. When ready, take the logs out of the fridge, and use a knife to cut them into 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick slices. Place the slices on an un-greased baking dish, and bake  at 325 degrees for around 20 minutes, or until the edges start to turn a little golden. If the edges are getting dark or turning brown, it means they are starting to burn, and I would take them out. Don’t panic, they still taste good even if they are a little darker brown.

After taking them out, transfer to a cooking rack (or a plate) and let cool. When taking them off the cookie sheet, they will be a little crumbly, but if they seem to completely come apart and crumble into pieces, this likely means you didn’t cook them for quite long enough. I would throw them back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes, but watch them very carefully for over-browning on the edges.

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Thick, crumbly, creamy.

That’s it! The final product should look a little bit like this. Store in a paper bag outside of the fridge for up to a week. I like serving them with tea or ice cream, or just on their own!

Herb-Cheese Scones

Warm, cheesy, delicious.

Warm, cheesy, delicious.

Every third Thursday of the month, I participate in a Kickstarted cheese club here in Portland. It works like this. When that month’s cheese is announced on Kickstarter, you buy a ticket to the cheese party or a ticket plus a pound of cheese. If the Kickstarter gets funded, the restaurant owner and cheesemonger, Sasha, buys the whole wheel of cheese, and puts on a pick-up party for everyone involved. If it doesn’t get funded, Sasha tries again next month. (It has never failed to get funded.)

At the pick-up party, Sasha explains what the cheese is all about, the cheese is usually prepared into a delicious recipe for you to try, you get your pound to take home (if you paid for that Kickstarter level), and you vote on next month’s cheese.

Every single cheese that has come out of this cheese club has been completely mindblowing; these are top quality cheese from all over the world. I think my favorite was Harbison– a brie-like cheese with a very creamy texture, aged in pine bark– but Brian seemed to prefer the Burrata.

Anyway, Last month’s cheese was a French comté, which we decided to use for herb-cheese scones. The recipe is adapted from a similar one that Sasha emailed out many months ago for a tea-rubbed cheese called TeaHive, but it goes well with any grate-able, sharp cheese. An English Cheddar (the cheese for the month before last) would probably have gone very well with this recipe. We are hoping a Dutch gouda (this month’s cheese) will do well with it too, since we have company coming and would love to share these amazing scones.

Herb-Cheese Scones

  • 2 cups white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick (2 oz) cold butter, cut up into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 5 oz cheese of choice, grated (comté, sharp chedder, gouda etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon each of basil, dill, and/or other herb*

*I found that 1 teaspoon or so each of basil and dill worked well with the comté, but depending on your taste preferences and your cheese, you may want to pick different herbs. I recommend slicing off a thin piece of the cheese and trying it with a small pinch of each herb to find the perfect combination. Once you find the herb(s) you want, mix them in with the dough mixture until it is lightly speckled with the herbs. You may want to use a little less or a little more than the amount I listed, because you don’t want your herbs to overpower the flavour of the cheese — as always, your taste is your best tool!

To make the dough, combine 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the butter chunks in and mash with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Then mix in the sugar, herbs and cheese.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 1/2 cup of milk. Pour most of the mixture into the dough, setting aside just a little for the glaze. Knead the dough with your hands into a rough ball. The dough will seem dry and shaggy, and may take a moment to come together. If needed, add a little bit more of the egg/milk mixture. Once it sticks together, turn the dough out onto a board and knead 10 or so times, just enough to get it to stick together without overworking it.

Flatten out the dough into a round about 1.5 inches thick. Cut it up into 8 wedges. Place the wedges onto an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the wedges with the reserved egg/milk mixture, or if you used up all of the mixture in the dough, whisk together 1 egg for some glaze.

Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, or until golden.

That’s it! Super easy, and very tasty. They can be frozen for later consumption or otherwise held in a covered dish at room temperature for a couple of days. Enjoy!

Note: To give credit where it’s due, I want to say that this recipe was adapted from a recipe sent out by Sasha Davies of Cyril’s Cheese Club, and was written by Laura Birsham for TeaHive cheese scones. However, Ms. Birsham adapted that recipe from a recipe by Molly Wizenberg, which may or may not have involved cheese.

EDIT: I have since made this recipe with an English cheddar and a Dutch gouda in addition to the French comté and they were all great in it. =)

Spicy-Creamy Thai Curry Soup

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Spicy, creamy, hearty.

Difficulty estimates on recipes don’t make much sense to me. Anything can seem easy once you know how it’s done; until then, it seems hard. Some recipes look easy on the outset, but take years to master (such as the perfect white rice). Others look complicated, but only because of their long ingredients list (stir fry is as straight-forward as it’s name suggests– cut, fry, and stir). Time estimates are also misleading. They don’t account for the procurement of materials, nor for the reader’s experience.

For the longest time, I was afraid of Asian soups, because they seemed very difficult. Now I have made a couple, and I have to say, not only are they are more than manageable, but the preparation was well worth it. I crafted this recipe from a few different concepts and ideas, and once it was ready, my professional taste-tester, a.k.a. the fiancé, told me it tasted like something you would get at a swanky restaurant for an exhorbant cost. Does it deserve such high praise? I will let your taste-testers decide.

Thai Curry Soup

– 5 cups chicken broth (make Fried-Egg Soup one day, use the remaining broth the next)
– 1/2 can coconut milk
– 3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
– 1-2 tablespoons lime juice
– 2 teaspoons brown sugar
– 4 teaspoons red curry paste
– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
– 1/2 stalk lemongrass, sliced
– 3 or 4 shiitake mushrooms
– 2 japanese turnips, sliced into thin rounds (substitute with a different root vegetable if needed, such as a yukon gold potato)
– 2 avocados
– 2 inch piece of ginger root, grated
– 2-3 sprigs cilantro, chopped up
– 1 green onion, sliced
– 1 teaspoon powdered  coriander, or whole coriander
– chili oil or dried chili flakes to taste (I used about 4 teaspoons)
– 2 cups shrimp (raw is better) or cooked chicken (such as the remainder from that Fried-Egg Soup broth)

As usual, your own taste will dictate exact amounts, particularly of the spices. Taste as you go!

Combine vegetable oil with lemon grass, grated ginger, and red curry paste in a large saucepan or pot, and cook for about a minute or so. Pour in chicken broth while stirring. Add coconut milk while stirring until the color is more pastel and the texture is somewhat creamy.

Now begin adding chili oil, lime juice, brown sugar, coriander and fish sauce, as you taste and mix. If it isn’t salty enough, add more fish sauce. If it isn’t sweet enough, add sugar. Too spicy– some more coconut milk and a little more lime should help. Or maybe it’s not spicy enough?  ; )

When you get the right flavor, add the mushrooms, and turnips. When the mushrooms are soft, add the raw shrimp and/or chicken and bring to a beief boil, all while stirring. The shrimp should turn red and only be a little translucent. If using pre-cooked shrimp, keep in mind, it’s very easy to overcook, so don’t boil it for too long.

Finally, slice up half an avocado for each bowl, and garnish with a bit of cilantro and green onion (I also added enoki mushrooms in the above picture, and they took on a bit of a pasta-like texture). Serve with a side of plain cooked white rice, which each person can add to their own soup bowl as they please. This recipe should fill about four bowls. Enjoy!

Mixed-herb pesto

Despite months of neglect and mistreatment, my poor herbs have been clinging to life in their cramped little pots, their roots desperately reaching for the last few drops of water in soil that has been parched for weeks, their leaves reaching into a single beam of sunlight that shines through the balcony fence, like a convict grasping through prison bars for his last meal, their stalks shuddering against the raging wind, even as their fellows are viciously cut down, one-by-one, all in the name of… pesto!

Yes, pesto. I have been perfecting my pesto recipe all summer, and am now ready to share it with you.

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Those herbs never stood a chance…

As you read the ingredients list, keep in mind that this pesto recipe should not be followed step-by-step. Pesto is all about the fresh herbs. I have given options, so that you can substitute what you may not have, and if you have something completely different, feel free to toss in a bit of that too! Taste your pesto as you go, and add more or less of the ingredients depending on the flavour. Treat this recipe as merely a guideline while you work on creating your own glorious method to the perfect pesto.

– olive oil
– 4 carrot greens, or 5 sprigs of curled pasley
– 3 sprigs of leafy basil
– 3 green garlic stalks, or 2 cloves garlic
– 5 sprigs lemon-thyme
– 1 cup pine nuts, or 1 cup shelled roasted no-salt pistachios (pine nuts will give a creamier texture, pistachios will give a nuttier flavour)
– 1 cup shredded parmesan
– a pinch of salt
– a teaspoon of lemon juice (optional)

Put the pine nuts or pistachios in the food processor with the garlic, and chop up for about 5 seconds. Toss in the herbs in equal parts, however much will fit in your food processor, and chop some more. Keep adding herbs and chopping until you’ve fit them all in that little food processor! Give the mixture a taste. Does it need more garlic? Probably– garlic is the best! Is it too bland? Toss in that salt and add in more thyme/green onion. Too grassy? More basil. Too sharp? Add a little bit of lemon juice. Keep chopping and tasting. Also keep in mind that some of the grassy bitterness will level out as you add olive oil.

Now that you’ve got a good mix of herbs, it’s time to start adding olive oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil until you get the right consistency. Most recipes say you should keep adding oil until you get an emulsion. I prefer less oil, but instead a thick creamy mass of spreadable pesto. When you have it how you want it (keep tasting it as you go), add the Parmesan, and give it one last pulse, and you’re done.

The pesto takes about 10-15 mins to make. I usually make it with one box of Rotini pasta (I like the kind made with spinach), which can feed up to 4. I have the water boiling and  pasta going as I’m doing the pesto. I also like to throw some cut up  cherry tomatoes and Crimini mushrooms into the pasta as well. Sometimes I add some green olive swai on the side for even more deliciousness. Since it’s just the two of us right now, that makes enough for dinner and lunch the next day for the both of us.

Enjoy!