Category Archives: Cooking

Cold Remedy

It took me two years to make it to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.

Happy sheep on festival day even with cold and rain. Wait, I have no idea if the sheep were happy or not, but they made me happy. We watched the Shetland Sheep show. I learned about ruminants, and I learned that a sheep can die if you feed it 24 hours before sheering. You need flat-heeled wool elf shoes to sheer a sheep, and you have to be strong. My mom doesn’t think I can sheer a sheep. I think I’m strong. We didn’t eat a lamb burger.

The train back to the city took 11 hours. I caught a cold. Probably when the train ran out of water and no one was able to wash their hands. The cold lasted a week with one full Sunday in bed. When the pressure in my head was too much to bear and I could no longer blow my nose, I self medicated with spice. Not the spice of Dune, not nutmeg and cinnamon, but hot clear-your-sinuses chili pepper spice.


Chop 1 1/2 cups of very hot chilis into large chunks–leave the seeds in. I don’t know what kind of pepper I bought but they were $2 per pint at the market. Just make sure they’re hot.

Put chilis, 1 tbs lime juice, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tbs brown sugar, 2 tsp salt, and 1/4 cup white vinegar into a a food processor and chop until desired texture.

Eat on everything, store in fridge.

Pepper Jelly

Chop 4 lbs. Granny Smith apples without removing the skin or the cores. Slice 6 Jalapeño peppers in half. Leave the seeds in 4 of them, remove the seeds from 2. Remove the seeds from 1 red bell pepper and chop (the pepper). Put apples, all peppers, 3 cups water, and 3 cups white vinegar into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 20 minutes or until apples and peppers are soft. Crush everything up with a potato masher until you have something that resembles apple sauce. Spoon into a few layers of cheese cloth suspended over a bowl and let strain for at least an hour. You should end up with about 4 cups of juice.

Anyway, measure your juice and pour into a thick bottomed pot. Add sugar–7/8 cup of sugar for each cup of juice (4 cups juice=3 1/12 cups sugar). Heat gently to dissolve sugar and bring to a boil. Stir frequently. As you are cooking, gross white scum will appear on the surface. Remove this with a spoon. Cook until jelly reaches 220-222 degrees F on a candy thermometer. It might take a long time. Make sure your jelly is ready by dropping a spoonful onto a plate that has been chilled in the freezer. If the jelly is runny, it’s not ready. If it wrinkles up when pushed with your finger, it is ready. Pour into sterilized canning jars. Most popular way to eat: on Ritz-type crackers with cream cheese and a plop of jelly. My favorite way to eat: on toast with butter.


Eggplant Curry

Last Saturday was not a Hemingway in Paris type of Fall day. It was cool and sunny, and I rode my bike along the Hudson river without sentiment (although there was plenty of red sediment in the river itself from flooding upstate). I wore a sweater and a scarf and fingerless gloves which came off (the gloves, not the sweater, or the scarf for that matter) soon after we reached the market at Union Square.

There is a lady at the market who sells Mexican food from a small wire shopping cart–the kind you see old ladies pulling into Fairway, the kind with plastic wheels that fall off if you don’t know the exact angle at which to push around a corner. She always has a circle of people around her, peering over her shoulder into red coolers full of sauces and fillings. This week we tried gorditas. They were spicy. Good and spicy. My tongue tickled from the burn, but I couldn’t stop. And then I wanted another one.

The market wasn’t crowded this week, so we were done our shopping and back on our bikes by 9am. We would have been home napping by 9:45 if it weren’t for the motorcycles. My front tire had just touched the Henry Hudson when a police officer in an SUV blocking the crosswalk waved me back. Behind him, a parade of motorcycles came rumbling up the highway. A long parade.

People began to crowd at the crosswalk. I wanted to join the two kids shielding their ears from biker thunder. I exchanged a smile of commiseration with a woman in a gray suit. We waited and waited, and the bikers kept coming and coming. Cars waiting to turn on the highway honked with nowhere to go, adding to the cacophony. A runner stopped next to me, yelled “fuck!”, and decided to cross anyway, weaving through the motorcycles as if she were on the streets of Hanoi.

We were delayed again by the wind. Riding north on the river path, the wind was in my face. Each curve in the path brought another gust, and the entire way home felt like an uphill struggle. The wind is my enemy. I even started swearing at it. I was swearing at the wind.

All of this brings me to eggplant curry. When we got home, we were cold and tired. Curry fixes both of those things. Plus, eggplants are related to tobacco. 20lbs of eggplant = the same amount of nicotine as 1 cigarette.

Eggplant Curry

1. Cube 1 lb eggplant and put in a bowl. Sprinkle eggplant cubes with some ground turmeric and salt. Set aside.

2. Cut 2 small onions in half (the long way) and slice lengthwise (not across).

3. Slice 4 chilies lengthwise.

4. Heat oil in a large pan. I used a cast iron pan, but a wok would work as well. Add the eggplant and fry until soft and light brown. Eggplant soaks up a lot of oil and takes a while to cook, so add more oil if necessary. It will take about 5-10 minutes, but eventually the eggplant will begin to release some of the oil. When the eggplant is done, remove from pan and set aside.

5. Add more oil to pan if necessary and fry the onion until soft. Mix in 1 tbs curry powder and the green chilies. Add 1 cup coconut milk and salt to taste. Boil until coconut milk begins to thicken. Stir in eggplant and cook until sauce becomes the consistency of gravy.

6. In a small pan heat a very small amount of oil and add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 4 dried curry leaves. Cook until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop. This is the tempering oil. Remove the curry leaves and pour over the eggplant mixture.

7. Squeeze at least 2 tsp of lime juice into curry, but add more if the dish needs more acid.

8. Serve over brown rice.

Take Stock

A few weeks ago, I experienced another one of those life-defining moments. It was a mushroom risotto made with store-bought vegetable broth. As I added more broth, the rice turned a darker shade of burnt sienna and the mushrooms faded into the background. My first bite was a mouthful of perfectly al dente rice ruined by the overwhelming flavors of celery, sweet tomato, and lingering cardboard. A good risotto is all about the broth–and so, I vowed to start making my own.

Standard All-Purpose Vegetable Broth

(alternatively titled: put whatever you want in a pot of simmering water, and let it cook)

  • 4 quarts of water
  • 1 piece of kombu
  • chopped carrot
  • chopped onion
  • chopped celery
  • chopped leeks
  • a knob of butter
  • chopped garlic
  • parsley stems
  • 2 bay leaves
  • thyme
  • whole peppercorns

1. Soak the kombu in 4 quarts of water while you chop the vegetables.

2. Melt knob of butter in a large, heavy bottomed stockpot. Add chopped vegetables and sauté until soft and lightly browned. Throw in the chopped garlic and cook for a minute.

3. Remove kombu from the water and set aside for later use. Add the water to the stockpot along with the parsley, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer.

4. Add the kombu and reduce heat to low. The soup should be just barely at a simmer. Allow to cook for 1 hour and strain.

With only two people in the house, I don’t have any immediate need for 4 quarts of vegetable broth. After I let the broth cool, I separate it into two cup portions and put it in the freezer for future use. This stock is light, versatile, and will make your kitchen smell wonderful.

Kombu Dashi

Simple all-purpose kelp stock

  • 1 piece of kombu
  • 4 cups of water

1. Pour water over the kombu and cover.

2. Soak the kombu at room temperature for anywhere between 30 minutes and 12 hours. Obviously, the longer it soaks, the more flavorful the broth.

3. Remove the kombu, and you’re done. The stock can be refrigerated for up to five days. This is a great base for miso soup.

Hoji Shiitaké Dashi

Shiitaké Mushroom Stock

  • 5 large dried shiitaké mushrooms
  • 4 cups of water

1. Soak the dried shiitakés in water and cover the container.

2. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.

3. Remove the rehydrated mushrooms and use them for cooking or refrigerate for later use. They’ll last for about two days. This stock is stronger than the kombu dashi and perfect for flavoring vegetarian meals.

Health Food

Easter egg radishes:

Purchased only for their vibrant color, they added visual appeal to what would have been a beige bulgur-lentil salad.

Made a complete meal with the help of two bean and cheese burritos.

Vegetables reaching the spoiling point?  Make soup.

Dark miso soup with tofu and vegetables.

Fuel for a run or just a liquid meal.  Green Smoothie from Lucid Food.  Check out this cookbook.

Fresh Pasta

Until quite recently, my pasta came from a box.  Like oatmeal, cheese, and energy bars, pasta requires little thought and preparation.  And then one day, I tasted fresh pasta.  Made by a real person and a simple pasta machine.  And now I know that the best pasta never comes from a box.

Last week, inspired by this recipe from the New York Times, I decided to make my own buckwheat pasta.

Fresh pasta is labor intensive.  But the actual recipe is quite simple.  Buckwheat flour and white flour mixed in a large bowl.  Form a crater in the middle of the flour and fill with cracked eggs.  Slowly beat eggs, mixing in more and more flour.  You will be left with a smooth and firm ball of dough.

Now for the hard part… the pasta machine.

It would have been impossible to roll the entire ball of dough through the machine, so I started with smaller pieces.

Next I rolled the dough through the machine several times, moving to a smaller gauge with each pass.  As you do this, the dough gets thinner, but it also gets longer.  Maneuvering can be a challenge, and by the last crank through, I was using the entire length of my arm to support the soon to be pasta.

When the dough was thin enough, I cut it into a linguine shape.

Finally, you must let the pasta dry.  If not, you will end up with a mushy doughy mess of wet pasta.  There are racks sold especially for drying pasta, but a laundry rack was the cheapest and most efficient option.

I let the pasta dry for about an hour, threw it into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes until al dente and mixed with kale, cheese, and other various flavors.

I am going to brag a little bit–this was the best pasta ever.  Better than any restaurant.

The only issue is finding enough time in a day to get through the entire pasta making process.

Notice the yellow melting chunks of cheese?  Seconds were enjoyed.

Burritos and Bread

Burritos are so good.  Many times I have bought tortillas from the grocery store to accompany my well-stocked collection of beans in an attempt to recreate the deliciousness of restaurant burritos.  It fails every time.  The tortillas themselves are always too dry, too thick, and taste too much like stale refrigerator. But tonight I made my own flour tortillas, and that has made all the difference.

The inspiration came from my new favorite recipe blog: Alexandra’s Kitchen.

After mixing the flour, water, salt, and butter, I formed the dough into orange sized balls and let them rest while I prepared burrito fillings.

Then it was tortilla press time.

This tortilla press was a Christmas gift from my auntie, and I used it to shape the balls into flat circles before they were rolled out into large thin tortillas.

Once the tortillas were rolled out, each side was heated in an ungreased pan for about one minute.  The tortillas were soft, warm, pliable, and ready for filling.

Sticking to the basics, I filled each tortilla with vegetarian refried beans and cheese.  Laughing Planet style, I wrapped the burritos in tinfoil, heated them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, and enjoyed with liberal amounts of sour cream.

Wrapping the burritos in tin foil keeps the burritos from drying out in the oven. It also helps keep the filling from gushing out onto your lap as you take your first bite.

Finally, I had a successful burrito making experience… even better than a restaurant.

Confidence inflated by victories in the kitchen, I moved on to another challenge of mine–a fluffy loaf of bread.  Again, I turned to Alexandra’s Kitchen for this recipe.

Dough rising (it started at less than half that size):

A perfectly formed Boule:

Fresh from the oven:

The best results to date:

I think a pizza stone needs to be added to my kitchen wish list.  A metal cookie sheet just isn’t cutting it.

Cheese Making in Manhattan

There is a certain mystery surrounding the art of cheese making.  It seems an antiquated, highly involved and painstaking process which requires a few cows, a farmhouse, a knife worn wooden chopping block, a bandanna to hold back stray hair, and months of patience.  While in some cases this is true, last night I made a basic cheese in 2 hours without any of the aforementioned modern luxuries.

All you need to make cheese in a New York City apartment is a 1/2 gallon of milk (preferably organic whole milk), 1 quart of buttermilk (also organic), a pinch of salt, and cheese cloth.

While the 1/2 gallon of milk was  heating on the stove, I layered three pieces of cheese cloth in a strainer.

When the pot of milk began to bubble, I added the buttermilk while stirring.  Instantly the milk separated into curds and whey. After adding salt, the curds and whey were poured into the cheese cloth strainer, leaving only the curds behind.  Gathering the ends of the cheese cloth together, I squeezed and squeezed until most of the liquid left the curds.  At this point, I realized that my layers of cloth had not been pushed together enough, and some curds had seeped through to the outer layers.  Not a huge loss, but it made the cheese less aesthetically pleasing.

Twisting the cheese cloth tightly around the cheese, I secured it with a string and hung the bundle on a metal spoon over a curd encrusted pot (yum) to dry.

And then, I went to a party, leaving the cheese to sit.  When I came home several hours later to unwrap the bundle, this is what I found:

It may not be beautiful, but it tastes like delicious cheese!  While this recipe definitely did not call upon the art of cheese making, it was good enough for my first time.  Check out this cheese making for beginners syllabus.  Maybe a spring/summer project?