Tapado: Caribbean Coconut Fish and Plantain Soup

 

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Somehow we ended up with a table-full of green plantains last night, which it turns out are NOT the ones you make yummy sweet fried plantains with. Is that common knowledge? I felt totally uninformed and unworthy of my food blogger status. Well, now I know (and so do you!).

The internet told me I could deep fry them, tostones style, or make a dough out of them and stuff them with meat or whatever, bolo style. All options sounded fine, but in a eureka moment, I remembered cooking with green plantains once (I think they were green bananas then, but I believe they can be used fairly interchangeably), at a very steamy cooking class in Livingston, Guatemala.

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I got out my journal, go me for being obsessive about notebooking, and immediately found the recipe I jotted down after the class. It was a very simple affair, made of what was local and available, namely lots of coconuts and fresh fish, with very little else.

Livingston, Guatemala is totally different from the rest of the country. It’s a Garífuna enclave on the Carribean coast, where it is steamy, humid, and damn tropical. Almost all food has to be brought in by boat and is hence pretty pricey. Its budding tourism industry is one of the prime sources of income for the area, but there’s not much to do in the oppressive heat — despite being on the coast, the only nice beach is accessible only by boat and the hostel options are all of the dreaded “party” variety, where invariably some huge Australian dude has slept all day and now has 40s of beer taped to his hands and is challenging other dudes into pull-up contests. #yolo #traveltolearnaboutothercultures #ohmy.

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Some enterprising folks at Rasta Mesa started a cooking class to teach us bumblers how to make the traditional and ubiquitous soup of the region, tapado. It was a laid-back, steamy afternoon, with children running around and intermittently (and impressively) playing drums. “Class” was in the loosest sense of the word — I got the feeling the instructors were just making themselves dinner and we were around to help chop some vegetables and maybe babysit. Which was totally fine with me. The experience was only tainted by the one hostelbro who decided to get over his hangover, leave the hostel for the first time, accompany us to class, and flirt with all the women present. Despite his presence, it was a tranquil and delicious afternoon that I’m glad has come back to me.

tapado-4Note on recipe: When we made this in Guatemala, we used small white fish, hacked into thirds, with their bones and eyeballs still intact. The versions I saw around town had all sorts of seafood; I decided to use just shrimp but use whatever you prefer. For a vegan meal, you could use roasted sweet potatoes or green pepper chunks instead of fish. If you don’t have access to green plantains, don’t use bananas or yellow plantains, they’re too sweet and soft. The green variety is not sweet at all — it’s very starchy. Try subbing potatoes or yuca.

one year ago: rice noodle salad with carrot-ginger dressing and unstuffed eggplant with yogurt sauce 
two years ago: kale Caesar salad and black bean mango corn salad
three years ago: easy rhubarb cake and roasted beets + greens with mint yogurt sauce

more Guatemalan food: rellenitos de plátano (for when you need to get rid of yellow plantains) and quichon de verduras (Mayan veggie stew) 

Tapado

adapted from cooking class at Rasta Mesa

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound raw shrimp (mine were tail-free but either way is fine)
Pinch each of: garlic powder, granulated onion powder, cayenne
Salt
1 onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (save the juices)
1 jalapeño, diced
2 cans full fat coconut milk
Small handful fresh basil leaves
2 green plantains, peeled and in bite-sized chunks
Juice from ½ a lime
Chopped basil and/or cilantro, to serve (optional, but nice)
Cooked white rice, to serve

Heat a big saute pan (for which you have a lid) over a high heat. Toss shrimp in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and salt. Add to very hot pan and cook on each side for just 2-3 minutes, or until they just turn pink. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same pan. Lower to medium heat. Add onion and a bit of salt, and scrape up any bits left by the shrimp. Cook onion for 3-4 minutes, or until it’s just turning translucent. Add tomatoes and their juices and jalapeño. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onion and tomato have broken down and become somewhat jammy.

Add both cans of coconut milk, one can’s-worth of water, small handful whole basil leaves, the green plantains, and bunch of salt. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until plantains are totally cooked. Partially mash some of the plantains with the back of a wooden spoon to thicken the soup. Add lime juice and shrimp — cook for another 2 minutes or so until shrimp are reheated.

To serve, ladle into a bowl, add a spoonful of white rice, and sprinkle with fresh basil and cilantro.

 

Easy Garlicky Tomato Zoodles

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I once overheard someone I admired in college say that she would never be with someone who doesn’t like onions, since she just loved them so much and never wanted to be made to feel bad because of her persistent onion-breath.

At the time, I thought my correlation was that I would need to be with someone who would take me and my ice cream habit at face value and not try to change me.

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Luckily for my heart (uh, both the one that pumps blood and the Daniel I live with), the past six years have seen a decrease in the ice cream habit, and a new rise in savory cravings. (#aging #secondpuberty?). I’m not quite as obsessive as that onion girl back in the day who got the lead in every play, but I get her now. If Daniel had a problem with garlic breath, we may not have made it this far. Luckily, he’s on my wavelength, and we both believe the garlickier, the better.

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Garlic is the star in this suuuuuper easy zoodle bowl. I have jumped on board the zoodle train, and I am not ashamed. They’re just so cute and make you feel so dang healthy.

However, to negate the whole no-pasta thing here, I did add a whole lotta goat cheese and some toasted (garlicky) panko crumbs, and by some I mean an indecent handful. So this isn’t completely virtuous.

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I am not one of those people who will tell you “you won’t even tell it’s not spaghetti!”. Because, uh, you can tell. This doesn’t taste like spaghetti. But it is a bowl of twirlable and slurpable noodle-like strands, in a delicious (garlicky) tomato sauce you might expect to find with spaghetti.

This feeds one, and one person only. It’s been my go-to meal when I’m on my own for dinner these days — it’s incredibly fast and uses one(!) pan. I’m not sure if this recipe is particularly unique in the blogosphere, but it represents an average weeknight meal for me, and maybe this is something you’re curious about, potential internet friends.

So! Use all four garlic cloves and love it. Your house will smell amazing, your breath will frighten away all but the most loyal, and it will taste fantastic.

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one year ago: pomegranate molasses and za’atar granola 
two years ago: nothing of note, but I made this Indian chickpea and cabbage for dinner last week and it was great.

Super Easy Garlicky Tomato Zoodles

a Swanky original

1.5 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Big pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juices (I used red + yellow)
1 teaspoon tomato paste, if you have some lying around
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 zucchini, spiralized (this is the spiralizer I use — it’s fine, not great; works well for a small apartment)
1-2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soft goat cheese (perhaps you too have extra lying around from last week’s eggplant sandwiches?)
s&p

Garlic Panko Crumbs (recipe below) (Optional)

Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about 2 minutes, until garlic is beginning to brown. Heat is NOT your friend here — you don’t want the garlic to burn! Err on the side of too low and cook for longer.

Turn heat up to medium and add the tomatoes, basil, tomato paste (if using), and s&p. Cook until tomatoes begin to disintegrate and bubble, stirring frequently. For me this took 3 minutes. Add your zoodles and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Cook for another 2 minutes or so, or until zucchini has reduced in size and is cooked through but retains some crunch.

Turn heat to medium-low, add goat cheese, and stir until cheese is dissolved and sauce has thickened. Spoon into a bowl and eat as is, or top with garlic panko crumbs.

Garlic Panko Crumbs

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup panko
salt

Wipe out pan you made zoodles in. Over medium-low heat, add olive oil and garlic and cook for just one minute, or until garlic loses its raw smell. Add panko and a healthy dose of salt; toss so panko is thoroughly coated with garlic olive oil. Continue toasting for another minute or so. Sprinkle on top of zoodles, or keep in a little bowl and pour onto every bite. 🙂

Eggplant Salad and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

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How I Know It’s Almost Summer:

  • I want to buy an ice cold can of ginger ale at every bodega I pass. (So cold! So bubbly! So delightful!)
  • People on other blogs are somehow still non-ironically talking about “getting bikini bodies ready” and other bullshit like that. I mean, really? Do peoples’ bodies really fluctuate that much? Mine is the same literally all the time. Also I’ve had burritos for dinner twice this week. Go me. But, good news, I’ll probably look exactly the same in my bikini as I did last year!
  • (Is that the wrong attitude towards fitness?)
  • I need to find my tire pump. So I can use my bicycle. And get nervous every time I use it that it will get stolen again. Meh, I’ll just walk.
  • What do professional people even wear in summer? Do people who wear panty hose need to wear them in July also? How about people who run a theater summer camp in Midtown? What do they wear? Asking for a friend.
  • Our oven is only getting turned on for Daniel’s every few day need to re-season his cast iron pans. Easy dinner, please, present yourself.
  • Oh, fancy that! Look at this here recipe! Easy dinner personified (no oven needed). It starts with a lazy eggplant salad, like caponata but I feel like that’s something people argue about on the internet so I’m keeping this non-partisan with “salad”. Also my Grandma makes the best caponata and someday I hope to post her recipe here :).  Pile that salad on some soft bread spread indecently with goat cheese, topped with a kerfluffle of fresh herbs, call it a day. 
  • Also, ice cubes (to go back to that original heading). I refill our dumb ice trays so much more when it becomes pleasant in the world! (We’re talking temperature here, not general atmosphere of living in the world right now.)
  • Damnit I should go out on a positive note. SUNDRESSES!

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one year ago: herby sunchoke gorgonzola salad 
two years ago: grilled pineapple and homemade baked bean tacos and ginger coconut rice

Eggplant Salad and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

A Swanky Original

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks (don’t get rid of juices!)
½ tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
Squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice
s&p

Bread – I used an Italian focaccia-like loaf, cut into big squares
Sliced tomatoes (optional)
Goat cheese, at room temp
Fresh parsley

Heat a big skillet (for which you have a lid) and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook for about 7 minutes, until they’re beginning to brown. Increase heat to medium and add eggplant, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 12 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until eggplant has started to brown and become jam-like. Partially cover the pan for short increments to speed this along.

Next, add garlic and cook for two more minutes. Then add tomatoes, their juices, and the tomato paste. Cook for 3 minutes, or until tomatoes start to break down. Next add the sugar, red wine vinegar, and basil. Give it all a good stir and cook for another 2 minutes, until flavors have combined. Squeeze in lemon juice, and hit with another dose of salt and pepper. Taste it and flavor to your liking.

Take eggplant salad off heat while you prep other ingredients. Cut bread and toast if desired (my bread was super fresh, but on day two it will certainly help!). Chop up your parsley and thinly slice the tomatoes. Spread a thick layer of goat cheese on one slice. Follow with tomatoes, eggplant salad, and parsley. Yum!

**Extra eggplant salad is delicious mixed with spaghetti and olive oil for a quick dinner. Or with crackers for snack the next day…

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Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

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Turns out starting a new job isn’t easy. I mean first of all, you have to figure out how to do that thing you’ve been hired to do. In this case for me that includes getting to know 20 different artists on our Outreach play and workshop roster, our 4 main booking contacts throughout the various NYC library systems, and learn everyone’s unique way of working. It also means visiting as many of New York City’s libraries as I can, as how are you supposed to figure out what programs you want to book if you haven’t met who’s in your audience? (Also in this case it includes learning how to run a summer camp, but that’s June-Ilanna’s problem. And if you happen to be any of my camper’s parents… just kidding… your children are in adept and capable hands and I’ll stop writing now.)

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And there’s all that other stuff too, like interpersonal stuff (Is Coworker X laughing at me or with me? How much should I acknowledge Colleague Y’s rambly, rhetorical-but-not-really questions?), or who do you ask about business cards (Turns out no one — I have to design, order them, and get reimbursed (not normal, right?)), or what to do when the person before you made a mistake that it’s up to you to fix (Don’t worry, if you need any magicians in NYC I have compiled a whole list of them after a stressful and last-minute booking mix-up last week). Every day poses its own series of challenges.

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Today I went to go see my recently obtained magician do his show at a small library branch in Staten Island. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go — it’s far, you have to take the ferry, it was a beautiful Saturday, I had to take three modes of transportation, etc, etc. I could’ve come up with any number of excuses but I just did it and ya know? It wasn’t actually that far, the ferry was delightful on this sunny day, and the library was easy to find. The branch was welcoming, colorful, and packed with kids. The magician was wonderfully entertaining, bringing a huge smile to my face as I watched both him and his eager fans. The shock and awe on their faces as he made a quarter fly or made a bottle of ketchup disappear was the highlight of my week. I think this job is going to be okay.

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Oh god, and here I am again with no transition to be found. This snack or brunch has nothing to do with magicians, or a new job, or being happily surprised by a ferry ride. It’s just good.  Apple and cheddar are a favorite combination around here, if by “around here” we mean with me, because everyone else I surround myself with seems turned off by this underappreciated pairing. Don’t be like them. Fry yourself up some of these simple sweet&savory bites, eat them on the plate you brought back from Japan which makes you happy, and don’t listen to the naysayers. (At work OR at home. Boom. A tidy, relevant wrap-up.)

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one year ago(ish): Kung Pao Brussel sprouts and tofu 
two years ago: roasted pepper and eggplant soup with orzo

Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

a Swanky original
(makes 9ish small cakes, good for two for brunch with salad)

It’s best to use the mixture the day you make it. I put some in the fridge and fried the cakes a day or two later — still tasted delicious but they didn’t hold together as well. Also a note on sauce — I tried them with a quick chipotle mayo but it was too overpowering, and I wouldn’t recommend the hot sauce route. A drizzle of honey was nice, as was a dollop of honey mustard. Maybe Greek yogurt would be a nice touch? Let me know if you try it.

½ a red apple (I use Fuji)
1 cup cooked quinoa
⅓ cup cheddar, shredded
⅓ cup panko
1 egg
1 scallion, minced
s&p to taste
Olive oil
Honey to serve (or see note, above)

First, grate your apple. Skin-on is fine. Use the biggest holes on your box grater. Lots of liquid will be pressed out — get rid of this excess liquid but no need to squeeze apple strands; some liquid is okay. Combine apples and all other ingredients except olive oil in a big bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a healthy drizzle of olive oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan but no extra (we’re not making latkes here). Spread oil around with a flexible spatula to ensure it covers the whole surface.

Using your hands, scoop up quinoa-apple mixture. I like a big cookie-sized amount — about 1/4 cup. Press quinoa mixture into a fat disk, and carefully put into the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until browned, on each side. Quinoa will become crunchy, cheese pockets will ooze, and apple will intermingle.

Serve with a side salad and a drizzle of honey for a peeerfect brunch.

 

Italian Egg Drop Soup

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I haven’t posted here since 45’s inauguration. It has felt… inappropriate, I guess. Like, don’t I have something better to do with myself than take photos of food, obsess over editing them, and write these ditties? There are environments to protect, women to march with, immigrants and Muslims to use my voice to shout with. There are politicians to be called, postcards to be written, articles to read and discuss, news briefings to shake my head to and hold back tears. There are “resistance” book clubs to organize and political arts events to attend. There are science and arts budgets and Planned Parenthood to defend. It just seemed like documenting my most recent grain-and-roasted-beet-bowl would seem … inappropriate.

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And then — someone (not sure who) found the Swanky Sweet Potato Instagram account I started well over a year ago but never followed through with. (I thought that shit was private, oops.) And although it’s silly — like, the silliest ever — these continuing notifications about people who have started following the Instagram account for this little blog are convincing me to get my butt back at it. Peer pressure — it works. So you, you out there… you like these rambles? These photos and recipes? You’re okay being distracted from the headlines and the John Oliver monologues and the protests to read a little ditty about soup? Well, okay, you’re right. Sometimes we do just need to think about soup. I will keep the soup coming.

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This soup says spring is on its way, loud and clear. Fresh spring onion, tender greens, parsley, and egg — it is bright, clean, and wholesome. (Also, curiously, has a lot of overlap with what you’d find at a Passover seder. Coincidental, I swear.) Eat it and you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself than after you eat the gloopy, flavorless, plastic-packaged variety from your local take-out joint, promise. And hopefully also more equipped and ready to handle the unending sea of stupidity and devastation that 45 is serving up daily (though this part I can’t promise). 

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one year ago: roasted chickpea and kale stuffed sweet potatoes with tahini sauce and charred chipotle broccoli tacos
two years ago: simple pasta with smoked scamorza cheese and tomatoes

Italian Egg Drop Soup

adapted from Serious Eats

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 spring onion (or regular), bulb and light green parts, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
7-8 Swiss chard leaves, stems minced and leaves chiffonaded (see here for how-to!)
4 cups broth + 2-3 cups water (or use broth cubes)
Dash of (freshly grated) nutmeg
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup small uncooked pasta (I used orecchiette)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs
Juice from ½ a lemon
Big handful chopped parsley
Cheese to sprinkle, optional (parmesan is typical, I’ve used both swiss and cheddar)
s&p

In a big soup pot, heat up the olive oil. Add onion (bulb + light green part), garlic, and pepper flakes and sauté on medium heat for about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the chard stems and a big sprinkle of salt (not leaves yet!) and cook for another 3 minutes.

Next, add broth and/or water, nutmeg, chickpeas, and pasta. Cover and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, uncover and cook at a rollicking boil for another 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook for another 2 minutes. Next add Swiss chard greens, return to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes.

Beat eggs together in a spouted measuring cup. Turn down to a simmer and pour eggs into soup while stirring continuously. Cook for another two minutes. Just before serving add a big grind of black pepper, lemon juice, and parsley. Top individual portions with cheese if desired.

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Miso Ginger Kale Salad

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Ode to Kale Salad

We eat you because we’re supposed to:
Your health benefits are vast, your calories few.
Your leaves, magical,
In their massaged wiltedness.
I tend to hate you raw,
But
(honestly)
do appreciate how well you hold up to a hearty, unapologetic dressing.

Every restaurant claims a version of you, but
I’ve never been that impressed.
Also, I’d rather pay $13 for a couple sushi rolls,
No offense.

The best way I know how to vouch for you, particular kale salad version,
With your salty miso base, spicy ginger accent, crisp sweet apples, and nutty peanutty finish,
Is this:
I looked forward to lunch leftovers today.
Like, counted down the minutes until I could inhale you again,
Kept checking if it was close enough to lunchtime yet,
And wouldn’t even share with Daniel.

Oh kale salad,
It is cliche to talk about you in January, and yet
Here I am.

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…and with that, perhaps I will stick to cooking and leave poetry to other folks. I wrote this “poem” while consuming said leftovers with abandon. Just glanced into my bowl and saw the last few leaves and cucumber slices and got sort of sad. Bye, salad. Until we meet again.

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kale salad, previously: kale caesar salad and mustardy kale, potato, and green bean salad
one year ago:
nothing of note, but this tofu and rice bowl is what I’m making for dinner and the marinade is amazing and I’m getting pretty pumped
two years ago:
 butternut tahini mash

Miso Ginger Kale Salad

dressing adapted from pumpkinandpeanutbutter

Dressing
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
At least 1 teaspoon honey
2 sparse tablespoons miso (I used white)
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 big squirt sriracha
Splash of warm water
Black pepper (but no salt! it’s salty enough from miso/soy!)
¼ cup olive oil

Salad
3-4 cups kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup thinly sliced red apple triangles
Big handful chopped peanuts

Mix together all dressing ingredients, except olive oil, in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until well combined. Slowly add olive oil, mixing with a fork, until well combined. Take a taste and add more honey, soy, sriracha, water as you see fit. 

Put kale leaves in a big bowl and pour in dressing (most or all, depending on how much kale). Massage with your fingers until kale shrinks and turns slightly greener, about a minute or two. Add cucumber and apple slices, mix together, and top with peanuts. 

Note: If making in advance, and in fact the salad is delicious after 24 hours in the fridge, combine kale leaves and dressing and refrigerate. Add apple, cucumber, and peanuts the next day, when ready to serve.

Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

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The day before New Year’s Eve, my co-worker told me she had so much prep cooking to do that night. Not someone I had pegged to be a big cook, I asked what all she needed to do. She told me that every year she has a tradition of making black-eyed peas, greens, and noodles (from her Southern and Chinese heritage) for the new year. I love this idea of canonized end of the year traditions, but the furthest I ever get is rereading last year’s list of goals and usually rewriting many of the same ones. (“Restring guitar”, “get better at yoga”, and “think about grad school” have all graced each list from the past three years…) Inspired by her lead, I decided to play around with these simple ingredients.

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I’d heard of the black-eyed pea tradition before; supposedly it is lucky to eat them on New Year’s Day because the spotted peas look like coins (and who wouldn’t want a little more of that in the coming year). According to this article, looks like the Jews started this tradition over 1500 years ago, eating the peas on Rosh Hashanah. (Don’t know if I buy that, though.) It may have come to America in the early 1700s with the Sephardic Jews or (seemingly more likely) as part of the slave route; regardless, it has evolved into a classic Southern soul food tradition.

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I’ve also heard of noodles being lucky — I’ve repeatedly been tempted by the “longevity noodle” dish at Biang! that looks like a whole platter of noodles but is in fact just one very long one that comes with a pair of scissors. Long noodles represent a long life, as long as you slurp them up in one mouthful and don’t chop them off partway. Makes sense to start a new year with an ode to long life.

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And the greens I’m a little confused about. I think they also represent wealth (greens=the color of money?), but for me, they will represent a pledge to eat healthfully in the coming year. Combine these three together, and I give you… quick and simple black-eyed pea stew! Perfect for New Year’s, or really any time you need a quick meal. The peas are traditionally cooked with some sort of pig product; I added smoked paprika and liquid smoke to replicate some of that flavor. (Although Daniel did put bacon on top of his bowl and was pretty happy about it.) To be honest, we both enjoyed this more with rice, but if you want the lucky triple whammy, spaghetti away! Nothing like a symbolic meal to start this uncertain year off on the right foot.

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one year ago: …I was in Guatemala and didn’t update the blog, BUT let me take this moment to let you know I JUST updated my Recipes page! check it out! 
two years ago: Bengali egg curry 

Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

a Swanky original

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper (preferably red but other colors work fine), chopped same size as onion
1 rib of celery, chopped same size as onion
1 jalapeño, some seeds removed, minced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup veggie broth
1 can black-eyed peas (don’t toss the liquid!)
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but adds nice smokiness)
2-4 cups kale, ribs moved and torn into bite sized pieces
Fresh parsley
s&p

Heat olive oil in a medium large pot over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, celery, and jalapeño and sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until veggies have softened and onion has become translucent. Add garlic, smoked paprika, thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and veggies are evenly coated in spice mixture.

Next, add in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, broth, black-eyed peas and the liquid in the can, and the liquid smoke, if using. Add a bunch of salt here too. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until peas soften and most of the liquid evaporates.

Right before serving, still with pot on medium, add in your kale and stir until it wilts, about 3-5 minutes. Serve with rice or spaghetti and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

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Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

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Popcorn, patiently popped on the stove with a bit more salt than you intended, is Perfection. It does not require creativity or innovation or newfangled spice combinations because its light savory saltiness is the ultimate dinner substitute. It’s vegan, gluten-free, healthy (barring that salt situation), easy, cheap, and delicious. It’s my go-to around dinner time if I had a big lunch or if that salad didn’t fill me up quite all the way.

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My dad has received lots of flack from us lovely children over the years for his ability to eat a bowl of popcorn at literally any moment. Went out for a huge graduation dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet? Eh, there’s always room for some popcorn. You want someone to go see The Notebook with you? If he has nothing else to do and the movie theater sells popcorn, chances are Dad will volunteer. My main memory of doing homework in high school was next to Dad on the couch, a sportsball game on mute, him reading the paper, us both absent-mindedly eating popcorn and washing it down with cold seltzer.

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Now Daniel is the popcorn-maker of our household. Having taught him my mystical popcorn ways, he has taken it on as “his” kitchen task, which I’m totally okay with. I love that he developed his own routine with it, and look forward to our predictable nagging about appropriate saltiness. We never have leftovers.

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This is all a long way to reiterate that popcorn doesn’t need anything besides salt (and maybe a little love) to be Awesome. HOWEVER, during recent holidays when Daniel was in Texas with his family and my parents were frolicking in the New Hampshire snow, I was holding down the fort in Brooklyn all by my lonesome and made nontraditional popcorn after salivating at a Bon Appetit recipe, and IT’S REALLY GOOD. A couple more steps than a typical evening dose would require, but so worth it for a party or gift situation. Or, ya know, a “suffering thru the holidays alone because I have to work” situation. I did manage to save a couple pieces for Daniel to sample, and looks like this may be inserting itself into a more regular rotation. It’s goooood.

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one year ago: Mayan quichon de verduras (traditional Guatemalan veggie stew — I still want to experiment with this!)
two years ago: mushroom olive and farro stuffed acorn squash and roasted broccoli hot honey pizza

Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

from an old issue of Bon Appetit

Cooking spray
6-8 cups popped popcorn (I used ⅓ cup kernels)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

First, find two small rimmed baking sheets (or one large one) and a very large bowl. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; spray papered baking sheets and the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Put popcorn in the bowl and set all this aside.

In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Turn to medium heat and give a quick stir to combine. (I would avoid a wooden spoon for this task.) As mixture heats up, put the spoon aside and just swirl the pan as necessary. Bring mixture to a boil, then continue boiling for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is a toasty dark amber. Mine took 11 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and add in hot sauce and butter. This will sizzle and sputter and bubble, don’t be alarmed! Quickly stir in with your spoon and return to the heat. Return to a boil (this took no time), and cook for another 3 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and cayenne. Stir quickly, then pour over popcorn. Toss and stir quickly to evenly coat the popcorn, then pour out into a single layer (or close enough) on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-20 minutes, tossing once, until dry. Let cool. Break up clumps (or don’t and keep it more like popcorn brittle!). If you don’t eat it immediately, congrats, you have great self-control, also you can store it in an airtight container for five days or so.

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Key Lime Pie with Salty Cracker Crust

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Real life interference: I meant to post this recipe in mid-October, right after Daniel’s birthday. But then a Malta conference happened, a trip to Japan was embarked upon, a crazy man was elected president of my country, and I was eyebrows deep in a directing project until last week. So, big sigh, things will continue to keep spinning (sometimes out of control) and I’m still trying to figure out what this crazy man means for the future of my country, my loved ones, and myself. But hey, we can still eat pie. And so, a post.

Growing up, birthdays meant chocolate. In the form of cake, frosting, ice cream, or all of the above. A birthday was only successful if it had sticky fingers and smudgy cheeks. I remember when I switched to vanilla frosting atop my chocolate cake — the horror! I had betrayed my chocolate brethren. And to this day, for me, a birthday must have a modicum of chocolate to be considered successful — perhaps this is just a hot fudge drizzle or one bite of dark chocolate bar — but it’s still lurking. Birthday = chocolate. Simple math.

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Daniel, on the other hand, can’t seem to care less about chocolate. We obviously don’t interpret math the same way. I have made him an orange caramel birthday cake and a blueberry lemon cake and a berry cheesecake, which honestly were all delicious but didn’t scream birthday. I mean, no chocolate crumbles on the floor to sweep up or white shirts to get frosting stains out of?? What is this!?

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And this year he goes on to request a pie for his birthday. “Yeah, I’ve always liked pie better than cake.” …who are you?! So now not only no chocolate but also no frosting?! I need someone else to bake birthday things for.

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This request spawned a truckload of research of about key lime pie. Does it count if it isn’t actually made with key limes? (Mostly yes, except for a few diehard Floridians.) Do all recipes use sweetened condensed milk? (Yes.) Should you put merengue on top or whipped cream? (Up to you, whipped cream is a whole lot easier.) And in this research I found a deviation from the traditional graham cracker crust — a salty, buttery sub that swaps the ubiquitous grahams for Saltines! As I recently had some issues with a graham cracker crust, I figured why not give it a go?

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It reads like a recipe from my elementary school PTA cookbook that someone’s Grandma makes every year for July 4th . And yet, it’s a beaut! …although a beaut I didn’t completely conquer. The recipe said not to crush your crackers until they were sand-like, so I stopped at pea-like crumbles, which didn’t hold together so well after baking. This lead to luscious lime curd atop … well, buttery, pea-sized cracker crumbs, not exactly a coherent crust. Which, don’t get me wrong, is delicious! Just not particularly easy to serve. I recommend crushing the crumbs for longer than you think is necessary, and don’t be afraid to add more butter. When you pre-bake the crust, really bake it until it’s golden and keeping its shape. (I didn’t let it go quite long enough.) And yes, despite, a crumbly crust, Mr. Weirdo Birthday Boy was totally, totally satisfied. (and so was I!)

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one year ago: Guatemalan rellenitos de plátano (fried plantain heaven)
two years ago: buttermints and Indian-spiced cabbage heaven

Key Lime Pie with Buttery Cracker Crust

From smittenkitchen and food52

1½ sleeves of Saltine crackers (the salted variety) (or try Ritz!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter (½ a cup), room temp (or more)

Zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
A generous ½ cup fresh lime juice (for me, this was 6 puny limes)

One small carton (1 cup or so) heavy cream, chilled
1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Zest of 1 lime, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush up your crackers using your hands (or banging them with a can) until they’re uniformly small and crumb-like. Toss in sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the cracker crumbs with your fingers until well-incorporated and dough-like. Press crust mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 21 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside and keep oven on.

Beat together lime zest and egg yolks with an electric beater for five minutes, until thickened and slightly lighter. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for an additional three minutes. Gently stir in fresh lime juice with a spatula. Pour into cracker crust and bake for 12 minutes, or until top is set. Let cool completely.

Pour chilled heavy cream into a bowl, add sugar and beat until it’s fluffy! (It comes together very quickly using electric beaters, but sometimes it’s fun to make Daniel do it with a whisk :).) Add more sugar if you want a slightly sweeter cream. Lovingly spoon whipped cream atop your cooled pie. Decorate with zest. At this point, it is recommended to chill the whole shebang for a while, but I think that’s mostly so you can create clean lines when you slice your pie, and who the heck has time for that? We ate it immediately and were none the worse. Keep pie in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for a few days and try not to have a spoonful with your morning coffee.

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Mizuna Miso Soup

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I made this soup while listening to the 2003 All American Reject’s self-titled album (“Swing, Swing“, anyone?). Man, if there were ever an album to bring me back to a specific time, this is it. I remember choosing it for myself at a CD store, not knowing who they were but wanting to find an “indie” band that none of my friends liked yet so I could be cool. (Was indie a word in 2003?) My 8th grade bestie sat next to me on our field trip to Montreal, me listening to my beloved All American Rejects and her listening to Simple Plan. We both thought ours was the way better option. I was devastated when their next album came out, a total pop-y cop-out in my mind; why oh why did beautiful Oklahoman blue-eyed bassist/lead singer Ty have to get so mainstream? Ugh.

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The album popped into my head today because of a wily connect-the-dot narrative. Last night some friends and I went to see the brilliant ‘70s movie Dune (please read: not-so-brilliant) at the actually brilliant bar Syndicated in Bushwick, where they show old movies in a beautiful space for just $3 and you can order food and drinks while you watch) (this time I do actually mean brilliant). And “syndicated” rhymes with “vindicated” which leads me to that Dashboard Confessional song, which was a pretty big deal during freshman year student council, so obviously I had to listen to it to remind myself of the words (all I could remember was “I am, vindicated, I am la di da di dahhhhh,” which Daniel got fairly tired of hearing on repeat), and so one thing led to the next and voila, All American Rejects-underscored soup-making.

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Which is all a way to say, this soup is easy. Really easy. You can make it while floating down memory lane and singing song lyrics you haven’t encountered in over a decade (shudder). This sort of soup been a go-to around here lately, with me throwing in any veggie odds and ends that I find in the fridge. The only necessary bits are the miso, something green, and some sort of noodles (although I think the tofu really makes it and would never miss an opportunity to add toasted sesame oil to my food).

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one year ago: that time I made a wedding cake (also) tomatillo peach salsa
two years ago: spicy micheladas

Mizuna Miso Soup

Inspired by justhungry
Makes a very hearty lunch for 2, but probably should be closer to 3-4 servings.

5 cups water
2 packets dashi stock  (or try with a simple veggie broth)
1 carrot, peeled and ribboned with your peeler
1 scallion, minced
¼ c firm or extra firm tofu in small cubes
80 g soba noodles (one bundle)
½ bunch mizuna, chopped into thirds, abt 2-3 cups, divided (or another tender green)
2 tablespoons miso
Soy sauce, a drizzle

Optional toppings
½ a sheet of nori, torn into strips
Lime wedges
Sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil
Sriracha

Bring water to a boil in a medium-large soup pot. Add dashi stock powder and stir until it dissolves. Lower heat to medium-high. Add carrot and scallion. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add tofu and soba noodles and cook for another 4 minutes. Add most of your mizuna and immediately bring heat to low.

Put miso in a small bowl and add about a tablespoon of broth from the soup pot. Mix with a spoon or chopsticks until an even paste forms (no clumps!). Pour miso into soup pot and stir to disperse. Heat for another 2 minutes on medium-low heat. Don’t let soup come to a boil once you add miso or it will kill all its beautiful health qualities. Give soup a try — depending on your miso it may be plenty salty. If not, pour in a healthy glug of soy sauce.

Spoon soup into a bowl and top with nori, lime, sesame seeds, and reserved mizuna, chopped small. If you’d like, drizzle in sriracha or a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil.

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