So it has yet again been awhile since I posted here. I’m not neglecting the blog out of boredom – I’ve just had a lot of things going on this year. As I mentioned a few posts back, I was on a posting hiatus for awhile because I was preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams. After passing them, and spending a lot of time reflecting, I finally decided that I don’t want to be a professor as much as I thought I did, and so I’ve decided it’s time for a career change. I’m not sure what that will be just yet – editing/publishing? Non-profit? Or will I switch tracks entirely and become a savvy business woman in a pencil skirt and power pumps? It remains to be seen. In the meantime I’ve been working odd temp jobs to pay the bills, researching different career options, and polishing the old resume.
I’ve also been cooking a lot. Because most of what I was doing in grad school was very sedentary and cerebral, I always found it relaxing and therapeutic to stand up and do something with my hands that produced nourishing, satisfying results on a much faster timeline than any results ever get produced in academic research. Some kinds of cooking projects – quiche, bread, for example, which I’ve been making a good bit of recently – are still totally magical to me. The finished product is something so completely different than the original pile of ingredients that I’m always surprised it is something I have made. I’ve tried lots of new recipes that I’ve loved in the past few months – bolognese sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, a lovely Spanish method for cooking green beans, an intense chocolate sorbet – all of which I plan to come back to at some point so that I can share them.
But the first thing on my list to share was these potatoes. When I lived in Central Jersey, the wonderful Pithari Taverna introduced me to great Greek food – if you are ever in the area, you should seriously go there. They serve these classic Greek lemon potatoes with many of their main courses, and I finally got around to looking up recipes so I could make them myself now that I don’t live there anymore. The recipe I found is a bit different from their potatoes, but it is so wonderful that I plan to make it every time I want roasted potatoes, whether or not the main course is Greek. These potatoes are everything I look for in a roasted potato – soft and fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside. I’ve made so many roasted potatoes with hard, chunky insides (blech), but once I made these I realized that of course roasting them with some liquid in the pan, as you do here, would lead to internal fluffiness, because the potatoes soak up the liquids (along with their flavors) as they are cooking. Genius.
They are also very simple to make – one of my silly pet peeves is having to parboil vegetables before roasting or sautéing them. I know this feeling is unreasonable, but I just hate doing it! So for me these potatoes are pretty much perfect in every way, since no parboiling is required – you just chop them, toss them in their seasonings, and leave them to roast for about an hour while you deal with other things. And they are better than any of the much fussier roast potatoes I’ve made in the past. Basically, these potatoes and I were made for each other, and we’re going to go get a room now before everyone gets nauseated by my infatuation with them. Make them yourself and you’ll understand. Read the rest of this entry »
I haven’t posted in quite some time. This is because the last five months or so I’ve been preparing for Ph.D. Qualifying exams (which I passed last week, hooray). I thought that I’d be able to have super time management skills, and work on the blog during breaks from reading. As it turns out, “time management” during exam prep meant reading all day, every day. Needless to say, I am glad to be done with that now.
I did almost no cooking while reading for exams, and have slowly been easing my way back in this week, while of course taking time to celebrate with friends and relax. One way I’ve been relaxing is by watching episodes of Julia Child’s The French Chef, which has made me excited to cook again. I highly recommend these for anyone who loves Julia or wants to see what cooking shows were like before the days of the Food Network – they are so refreshingly unscripted (and consequently hilarious) in comparison. She always seems to be out of breath, unsure of where to stash things when she’s through with them, and frequently forgets what she’s trying to say mid-sentence. She screws up parts of recipes, and then very helpfully explains how to save the food if you’ve made a similar mistake – something I’ve never seen on contemporary food shows. They’re great fun to watch.
In any case, in the spirit of easing back into things, today’s recipe is so simple that it hardly deserves to be typed up as a recipe. This is the great thing about eating vegetables in season – you don’t have to do much to them to make them delicious. Mark and I were having a half-conscious conversation about canned vegetables and convenience late last night while trying to fall asleep (or, what is probably closer to the truth, I was mumbling some stuff about canned vegetables and Mark was wishing I’d shut up and go to sleep already). This recipe is a reminder that cooking fresh vegetables can be very quick and easy, not to mention much tastier than anything canned – it’s as simple as tossing with olive oil and baking for fifteen minutes while you finish preparing the rest of your meal. And if you want to be a bit fancier, you can spruce things up with some lemon zest, like I did.
I’ve been searching for a good hummus recipe for several years now, and have tried quite a few along the way that didn’t make the cut – one was too acidic, another just plain bland. I’ve eaten hummus at many different restaurants and always liked it, and I’ve even enjoyed the mass-produced stuff from the grocery store, so it seemed like it shouldn’t be that hard to find a decent recipe. Much thanks (again) to Cook’s Illustrated, I finally have. I’m not quite sure what made the difference in this recipe – I think it uses a lot more tahini than previous ones. The others I used were also more high maintenance, calling for dried chickpeas that then had to be soaked and cooked down for hours, which was very tiresome, but the recipes claimed that the outcome would be far superior to any recipe involving canned chickpeas. I trusted them, and was let down despite all my hard chickpea-soaking labor.
This recipe calls for canned chickpeas, and is thus much faster, much less annoying to make, and, most importantly, much creamier (I know some people like chunky hummus, but I am not one of those people). It has just the balance of flavors I was looking for, along with the right texture, and thus my quest for the perfect basic hummus recipe is now ended. I am trying to make more healthy homemade snacks to have around whenever I get sudden snacking urges. It doesn’t take all that much work to whip up some hummus or salsa, and then when you get hungry in the afternoon, your healthy snack is already there, waiting for you, reaching out a helping hand to keep you from eating something processed and full of weird artificial crap – or if you forget about it (as I often seem to do with homemade healthy snacks) and let it mold, it may actually reach out a real and not metaphorical helping hand…
For what it’s worth, the weird artificial crap may never mold, which is even scarier. And to move away from that creepy image, I’ll end this little discussion with a nice (non-moldy) picture, before we get to the recipe.
This pasta is, for me, the essence of summer. Tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil are simmered for 20-ish minutes to produce a light, fresh, and healthy sauce. It is so much better than any tomato sauce you will ever find in a jar, and it isn’t complicated at all. When tomatoes are out of season, it can be made with canned tomatoes, and is still delicious. It’s very versatile; I’ve eaten it alone on pasta (as above), and used it in both chicken and eggplant parmesan. This is the first tomato sauce I attempted to make from scratch last summer. I tried several other versions after this, some with long lists of ingredients that started with a mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, and celery) and included wine, sugar, and red pepper, and they just didn’t match the simple goodness of this sauce.
This is another recipe from Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This book is worth owning just for the pasta section, which is over 100 pages long and includes 50+ recipes for different sauces (disclosure: I haven’t actually tried anything outside of the pasta section, because there are so many tasty-looking pasta recipes). Marcella always recommends certain pasta shapes for certain sauces. Before buying this book, it had never occurred to me that pairing pasta to sauces was something that was done, but I have tried her recommendations and understand now that certain pastas and sauces complement each other very well. I think this sauce, though, can be used with a variety of pastas; she recommends spaghetti or spaghettini (smaller spaghetti noodles), but I’ve also enjoyed it with linguine (my own favorite noodle!) and penne. Whatever pasta you use, some crusty bread is an absolute necessity. How else will you mop up the sauce leftover on your plate once you’ve eaten all the noodles? (Er, other than scooping it up with a spoon, which I have definitely done before). Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a lot more than onion that goes into this Indian recipe for green beans, but this is the name my cookbook gives it. I’ve stuck with it, since there are so many different flavors involved in this dish that it’s hard to pick just one or two to define it. You start with a paste of onion, ginger, garlic, and tomato, add ground coriander and cumin, fry black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and hot red peppers separately, then add everything together and allow the beans to simmer and soak up the flavors for about half an hour. The final product isn’t distinctly oniony; my onion-hating boyfriend even liked them (though I didn’t tell him their proper name until after he’d had a few bites lest it unfairly prejudice him against them!). Read the rest of this entry »