Friday
Apr172009

unstable cliffs

image337157742.jpgToday, a trip to Pacific Beach...beautiful, bright, stay back. Right outside this shot there was, of course, a man on rollerskates. I sat on the beach and watched surfers and seagulls, and the others, mere mortals, playing in the sand.

Sunday
Mar292009

whirling food dervish

March is just about over!  i've spent practically the whole month, outside of work hours, in the kitchen, i think. some of you have asked for recipes (i've been posting pics most every day on facebook), and i thought it was about time to do a little write-up of what's been cooking...

the month started, apropos for the cold weather and the economy, with low-budget comfort food.  

Sweet potatoes!

Sweet potato hash, with garlic and sage butter:  
grate raw sweet potatoes (i didn't peel first), set aside.  In a good size skillet, melt some butter (2 tbs) and add a couple cloves minced garlic and a bunch of minced sage leaves.  Swirl the garlic and the sage in the butter for a 1-2 minutes, to flavor the butter.  Then, add the sweet potatoes, mix the butter in, and cook on medium for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Test sweet potatoes for done-ness.

Then, sweet potato muffins--these are delicious!  The first recipe I used gave only a faint sweet potato flavor, so the second time I used a recipe for sweet potato biscuits--but after I mixed the ingredients, the dough was too wet to roll out into biscuit form, so I just plopped them into a muffin tin.  They were moist and savory!

Adapted from Chow:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients, set aside.  In separate bowl, combine mashed sweet potato and milk (I used buttermilk--I just add a little bit, 1 tsp perhaps, of lemon juice to milk to make buttermilk).  Then, mix the butter into the flour:  you can grate frozen butter (which takes forever) or you can just cut the butter you want to use, and then pinch off little tiny bits with floured fingers, and drop the bits into the rest of the flour.  You kind of massage the butter into the flour this way, and distribute it evenly.   Then add the liquid ingredients to the flour/butter combo, and mix lightly until "it forms a shaggy mass."  LOL  You're supposed to be able to turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll it out and cut out biscuits, but mine was too wet, so I just spooned some into muffin tins.  And baked for 12-14 minutes.

Voila!

ingredients:

2 c flour (i used 1 c all purpose, and 1 c barley flour)
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 c milk (I made buttermilk, see above)
1 c baked, mashed sweet potato
8 Tbs butter, frozen (I used only about 5 Tbs)

I served the biscuits with "Southern-style Black Eyed Peas with Bacon" for a simple dinner party.  This recipe is super easy, and allows you to hang out with your guests while the black-eyed peas braise in the oven.  

The black-eyed pea recipe (link above) was good, but I would probably jazz it up with cumin and dried chile peppers instead of oregano, and use stock instead of water.  It had a good flavor (thanks to the bacon) but it was a little one-note. That's partly my fault:  I also forgot the parsley at the end--when it says "for garnish" it really should say "for flavor" because fresh chopped parsley added at the end really brightens and sharpens a dish.   

 You can get a similar flavor on the stovetop, too, if you want to make a flavorful soup in a shorter amount of time.  Just sautee onions, add some garlic once they soften; then add some sausage (I like organic chicken sausage from Applegate Farms but you could use any kind, as long as it's savory in flavor) and let it cook together and begin to brown a bit.  Then add some beans and water, or chicken stock if you have it, and bring to a boil.  Then simmer for 20 minutes, or longer if you have the time.  Less time makes a yummy soup, and more time reduces it down into more like a stew.   

 

 

Well, that's it for today.  Coming up, adventures in cabbage, cauliflower, and cornbread.

Wednesday
Mar112009

a realization

image418843434.jpgI've been feeling a bit disappointed that I haven't been writing more, but I've realized two things: I've been traveling a good deal (Honduras trip pics coming soon! As soon as we get a new computer.). And, all I want to do whenever I have a spare minute is cook. So I've decided to start documenting my adventures in cooking as a way to combine my interests and keep up my blog.

As I wrote earlier, I've developed a curiosity about ecofriendly cooking (local food, reduced packaging, less meat, sustainable cooking tools), healthy eating (organic whole foods, superfoods, less meat), and thriftiness--what I'm thinking of as "depression-era cooking"--using inexpensive ingredients like sweet potatoes and dried beans, using minimal packaged foods, and cooking nearly every meal.

This combination has stimulated my creativity, sent me diving into new recipes and old-timey guides, and assuaged some if my worries and discomforts. For example, I know that nonstick pans are supposed to be dangerous, if they crack and the coating starts breaking off. Ours has, but I've been hesitant to buy yet another pan and send yet another item to the landfill.

And then I was reading this memoir, Little Heathens, about growing up on an Iowan farm in the Great Depression. They cooked almost everything in cast iron pans. We've had a cast iron skillet for years, but hadn't cared for it very well and it needed seasoning. So this past week, I seasoned it multiple times, with drippings from some amazing bacon I bought in Grand Central Market, at the new meats stand run by Murray's Cheeses.

And it worked so well that i tried it on a "pretreated" Le Creuset skillet that has always been too sticky--so much so that I stopped using it, and always had little flashes of resentment whenever I saw the pan, feeling that it had been a big waste of money. No longer! Now both of the skillets work great!

I know it's nothing like forging a living on a family farm in the great Depression, but there's something satisfying about refurbishing and reusing, and opting out of the "buy new", disposable way of life we've become accustomed to, even if only in a small way.

In upcoming posts, I'll describe how to make batches of breakfast burritos in advance (yummy, convenient and cheap!), how to make sure you don't waste that leftover fresh cilantro, and what to do to salvage mealy winter tomatoes.

Pictured: cauliflower and kale gratin, seasoned with brown mustard vinaigrette, and organic chicken and spinach sausage. Delicious!

Wednesday
Mar112009

early saturday, grand central

image361934932.jpgAlmost quiet, and so beautiful. Grand Central Station is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I don't see it enough when it's almost empty. A treat.

Sunday
Feb082009

getting thriftier...

image2113631163.jpgI'm on the lookout for ways to be thrifty...and it's gratifying that there is commonly an overlap between saving money and being green. A few small changes can make a pretty significant difference. The biggest challenge is letting go of rushing--it takes more time to be thrifty, at least that's what I've found so far.

Here's a couple examples of what I've been doing--what about you?

•Cooking! I have been cooking up a storm, bringing my lunch, and eating out less and less. We got a great cookbook (cooks illustrated 30 minute meals) and having been trying new recipes every week.

•Eating way more veggies. I have been eating meat only rarely, relying on beans, eggs, soy and seitan for my everyday protein. Veggies are cheap and nourishing, and I'm learning how to prepare them more quickly. And they are much less taxing on the environment. Then, when you add a few shrimp to a dish, it's a treat. Above is a recent dish: stirfried kale and tofu, with a few shrimp and storebought dumplings.

•Buying dried beans instead of canned! Then finding a couple new recipes for the beans over the week. And fewer cans to recycle.

•Buying whole--unprocessed--foods. A plain head of lettuce is cheaper than a plastic box of prewashed greens, and there's less plastic to recycle or throw away. Loose dried fruit, seeds and nuts are cheaper than snackbars.

I'm thinking about making my own yogurt, too--apparently, you can just add half a cup of starter yogurt to a batch of milk, and it will turn into yogurt over a few days. I love yogurt and fruit, but there's always a little bit of regret when I eat it because the containers aren't recyclable through the city's program. However, I just read somewhere that Whole Foods will take some #4 and #5 plastics...

I've also started using one of those tin water bottles (don't leach chemicals from plastic into water, no trash!) for the last few months, and I love it. I carry it around, empty much of the time, then fill it with tap water when I need to. It's lightweight, and it's paid for itself many times already.

Next: going to start making my own household, nontoxic cleansers. And going to start learning how to cook with cheap, sustainably harvested fish, like sardines and squid.