Birthday Paella – 26/67

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This recipe, the one you are about to read about and hopefully make, is the dinner I’d request on my birthday growing up. It had all the umami, a blanket of carbs, and my favorite psuedo-vegetables: artichokes hearts and olives. It was warm and comforting — perfect for late August! (I joke.) My “favorite food” as I was growing up always shifted with the day and age, but I know for a while there I said paella. 

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Daniel and I went to Barcelona together last week for an impromptu adventure. And! we did not try! any! paella! Gasp! My middle school self would be disappointed. (One reason we didn’t have paella was that as we looked at menus, many had the symbol for “contains tree nuts”. I got nervous and decided perhaps we should just avoid it. My guess is that many use romesco sauce as a base, which contains almonds? Happy that menus used that notation, not happy that it kept me away from trying this. Oh well, I am alive and didn’t need to find a hospital in Spain. Who gets travelers insurance anyway.) However! We did have fideua, which is a coastal paella variation that uses small broken toasted spaghetti instead of the traditional rice.

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It was covered with fresh seafood, served with a side of aioli, and hella good. I do not regret our paella-esque choices in Barcelona.

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I think I’ve had real paella exactly one time, at Boqueria in NYC. Which is, not coincidentally, where we got engaged, but this was a different evening. We had just eaten our weight in amazing tapas when they brought out our paella. It was… okay. They took the whole crispy-bottom thing to a next level, and it was kinda dry and almost charred. Disappointing. 

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This is a long way to say, we made my mom’s birthday-requested paella for dinner recently. I was skeptical of its short ingredient list (no saffron, just turmeric for seasoning, no hours-long cooked sofrito, no acid). And yet! A really delicious, balanced, well-seasoned dinner. The rice on the bottom gets sticky and a little charred and so flavorful. The whole thing is incredibly flexible and adaptable.  Perhaps I’ve just been on team inauthentic paella this whole time. 

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Some notes on the ingredients, namely vegan sausage: I hate it. The brand we got was just… very hard to swallow. I’d try with a different kind next time, or just add a little smoked paprika and forego the sausage all together. Growing up we used a weird kosher sausage that I would also pick around. But I do remember chicken sausage being a good thing, so maybe that’s the way to go here. Sausage as you will. Also, I didn’t see sausage in any of the paellas in Spain. Most had seafood, or maybe rabbit or another gamey meat. Some had veggies, most didn’t seem to. So, if you like cooking with mussels and venison, try it out, why not. Also, there is no need to use the chicken here. Could definitely do more sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, and peas and make this totally vegan. 

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some recipes to revisit from the blog from autumns of years past:
garlicky eggplant and cubanelle pepper stir-fry
winter squash and quinoa stuffed poblano peppers
blueberry lemon ginger celebration cake
warm apples over ice cream
kabocha, caramelized onion, and ricotta toasts <– this is on my must make again soon list

Birthday Paella 

adapted from my mom!

olive oil
3 bone-in chicken thighs (original recipe called for 6, but we added extra veggies instead)
2 sausages, vegan or otherwise, thick slices
2ish small sweet potatoes, scrubbed and in big chunks (optional)
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper (green or red), chopped small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup rice (we used Arborio)
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons Bouillion powder
handful baby carrots (or regular carrots cut into batons)
2 cups hot water (or broth) (a little more if more rice)
half a bag frozen peas
small jar artichoke hearts
½ can black olives
½ can roasted piquillo peppers, sliced
small handful cherries tomatoes, halved
1 lemon, to serve

In a big skillet for which you have a lid, heat up a bit of olive oil. Brown the chicken and sausage for a few minutes, then remove to a plate and set aside. 

If using sweet potato, put chunks in a microwavable bowl with a bit of water. Microwave for two minutes, or until potatoes are starting to soften. Drain and set aside. 

Return skillet to heat and add a bit more oil if it’s looking dry. Cook onion, bell pepper, and garlic with a sprinkle of salt for 5ish minutes, or until all start to brown and soften. Add the raw rice, turmeric, and bouillon powder and cook for another minute or so, stirring frequently. 

Level the rice out. Put carrots and sweet potatoes atop rice. Then arrange chicken and sausage on top. Cover with hot water and bring to a boil. Don’t stir! Cover with a lid, turn heat to low, and simmer for twenty minutes.

Sprinkle peas evenly around the skillet. Arrange artichoke hearts, olives, roasted peppers, and tomatoes over the top. Cover with lid and simmer for another twenty minutes. Serve with lemon slices.  

 

Israeli Salad – 23/67

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This salad encompasses many of my favorite things. 

1. My CSA. Yes yes, I know, I have waxed not-so-eloquently on here before about the joy I get from receiving a local fruit and veggie haul each week. This year’s CSA, in our new neighborhood, is even more bountiful than previous versions. We have been loving their tomato varieties, pepper assortments, greens, corn, beans, squashes, herbs, melons, and more all summer. This salad, though this time around not fully comprised of CSA goodies, is indicative of the type of salads I’ve been loving all summer. (team #nolettuceinsalads) If you let me ramble about vegetables, I will.

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2. My obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi. I have also droned on on here ad nauseam about my adoration of celebrity chef Ottolenghi. I have 3 of his cookbooks, which I regularly look through and which often end up open in the middle of our living room. I follow him and his hashtag on Instagram. We saw him talk a year ago-ish, which was a highlight of the year. He has a basic chopped tomato salad recipe in Simple, where he says “The addition of tahini paste to a familiar tomato and cucumber salad is a revelation.” Okay, hyperbolic much, Mr. Ottolenghi? But, uh, he’s right. It’s so good. I added tahini to this one and don’t regret a thing.

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3. New shiny technology. This if my first post written on my shiny new computer! I haven’t had my own new computer since at least 2012, and that one unfortunately met a quick demise a year or so later by cup of water 😦 Since then, I’ve been cycling through Daniel’s hand-me-downs. It feels so nice to have my own, brand new computer to set up and get to know. Hopefully it lasts for a good long while because apple has enough money. (I also just got a new phone, so I’m enjoying fast internet connection and RAM speeds (am I using that word right?) all over the place.)

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4. My grandma! Love you! Truly one of my favorite cooks, who always knows how to bring community together through food and care. I have had this salad, or a variation, at a hundred casual dinners and gatherings. It’s so homey, yet the dressing is bracing and assertive. I wouldn’t have expected it’s a mixture of lemon juice and regular old white vinegar. But it’s going to be a go-to from here on out. Glad to have this version in my repertoire. 

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one and two years ago: nothing of note, but I made this cheesy zucchini orzo from half baked harvest for dinner the other night and dang that was a great dinner
three years ago:
chopped summer salad with feta, mint, and lime (made this for dinner a couple nights ago)
four years ago: roasted green pepper and smoked gouda pasta
five years ago: roasted radish and pepper pizza and caramelized fennel with dill and goat cheese (another Ottolenghi-inspired dish!) 

Israeli Salad

A la my grandma, plus Ottolenghi 

Salad
2 cucumbers, peeled, quartered the long way, some seeds removed, and chopped small
3 tomatoes, chopped (I added extra baby tomatoes because yum they’re my favorite)
1 red onion, diced (Vidalia would also be good)
1 bell pepper, chopped (red is sweeter than green, and looks pretty!)

Dressing
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup white vinegar
juice from 1½ lemons (¼ cup)
generous portions of salt and pepper and dried oregano
Small handful freshly chopped parsley,
1 ground up large garlic clove (or garlic powder)

Put all salad veggies in a big bowl.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine all dressing ingredients thoroughly with a whisk. Taste and adjust as needed.

Add dressing to salad veggies and toss toss toss. Now this is a perfect side dish! To bulk it up a bit:

To make it extra
Add feta. Top with za’atar and a swirl of tahini.
OR boil up about a cup of orzo. Add to veggies. Lemony Israeli Pasta Salad!
OR both! 

Gochujang-Roasted Squash Pasta Salad

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Some things that have happened since July 3rd (the last time I posted here… yikes!)

  • I saw the total eclipse on my birthday on a ranch in Idaho, after two days of amazing hikes with my family. Can’t think of a better way to ring in my 28th year. Also, Hanna made me an amazing red wine chocolate cake that I might need every year from here on out…

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  • I made another wedding cake! (Although this one not of the tiered, and therefore uber-impressive, variety.) Despite its’ singular level, it was a giant success and work of love, and I couldn’t be happier to bestow it upon dear friends. Congrats, Michael and Joanna!

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  • And while we’re on this wedding tangent, Daniel and I got engaged! I am the luckiest lady in the whole world. After 4½ years together, he’s not ready to call it quits yet! Thankfully it happened right before the Texan pig roast and not at it, as I can’t believe that would be the most auspicious way to start the next chapter of my life. (But hey, I tried the pig! And didn’t hate it. But no need for any more pig for another 5 years or so.)

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  • Daniel, my adorable fiance, started a new job. He went out to California for three weeks, leaving me by my lonesome. I kept busier than I meant to, but did make some great dinner + leftovers for myself. One week was a giant batch of sweet potato curry, one week featured cauliflower potato soup, but the third week had this salad on repeat: Gochujang-roasted squash pasta salad. Let’s just say it was a week of exciting lunch times. California shmalifornia.

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  • Daniel and I embarked on a gnocchi-making project, a homemade pho adventure, introduced friends to NYC’s best deep dish pizza, had a “battle of the city” (NYC vs SF) pupusa contest (NYCs are cheaper and bigger), discovered the cutest onigiri restaurant near my work, and ate a good many heirloom tomato and white bread sandwiches. I think this is the part of married life I’m looking forward to — the little discoveries we keep finding together, the nightly ritual of sharing a meal, and working side-by-side on projects, big and small. This is how you measure, measure a 5-month-gap. 😉
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Proud of our veggie pho! From Bowl by Lucas Volger

Honestly, when I was making that Gochujang-roasted squash pasta salad I wasn’t really concerned with documenting or taking pictures. But after I ate it for lunch a couple days in a row, I figured it was worth sharing with the world. If you’re looking for something easy, healthy, filling, and cheap, look no further. As such, please allow me a slide for the photos, and use your judgements when following this loose recipe, you talented cooks, you. 

one year ago: key lime pie with salty cracker crust
two years ago: quichon de verdures (Mayan veggie stew)
three years ago: buttermints and mushroom and farro stuffed acorn squash

Gochujang-Roasted Squash Pasta Salad

(squash recipe from Bon Appetit)

1 smallish butternut squash
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (I used black this time but either works)
1 big tablespoon gochujang (Korean pepper paste — could try with sriracha or sambal oelek)
2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola, veg)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cucumber (unpeeled is fine)
1 red bell pepper
Some big handfuls baby spinach, torn
2 scallions, minced
Bow-tie pasta (I boiled up about a ¼ of a box)

Dressing Ingredients:
Honestly I didn’t measure anything here. I’d start with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½-1 teaspooon toasted sesame oil, a big squeeze of honey, and some splashes rice vinegar or lime juice.

Step 1: Squash. Preheat oven to 425. Make squash marinade by combining sesame seeds, gochujang, oil, and soy sauce in a big bowl. Peel squash and slice into small disks. Add to marinade bowl and mix so squash is evenly covered. Transfer to a single layer on baking sheets. Roast up for about 25-30 minutes, or until caramelized and soft and nutty and perfect.

Step 2: Salady things. Cut bell pepper into thin matchstrips. And do the same with the cucumber, getting rid of some seeds. Rinse out that bowl you made the squash marinade in and use it to assemble salad ingredients: spinach, bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, cooked pasta.

Step 3: Dressing. Make some dressing! You don’t need much, since squash is already very flavorful. You just want a little something to add some flavor to the greens and pasta. Start with the dressing recipe above and adjust to your liking. (Don’t try adding tahini, it was a total mistake.)

Step 4: Finish and eat! Add cooked, warm squash to salad bowl (it will wilt the spinach a bit). Add dressing. Taste and doctor until you reach your personal Gochujang-Roasted Squash Pasta Salad nirvana.

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Uh, right, not squash pasta salad, you’ve seen enough of that. I wanted to end on a pupusa note. Yum. 

Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

 

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Fair warning: this post brought to you by “Blogging and hunger don’t go well together”. Welp, unfortunately that’s the only time I’m ever blogging, as trial runs and free mornings with unlimited light aren’t really part of my vocabulary right now.

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Oh well. Don’t look at the pictures, consider this instead: Super healthy! Vegan! Gluten free! And somehow… really really tasty. Like wolf down 4 in a row without coming up for air. Daniel attacked them it like it was a plate of cheeseburgers (remember, vegan, gluten free!)! After your first bite you’ll glance down at the rest of the pan and wonder if you can polish it off without judgement and then realize YES! I CAN! Vegan! Gluten free! Really really tasty!

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The impetus for this recipe was a) the spaghetti squash I totally impulse-bought last week (why oh why can’t I have normal impulse buys like fancy cheese or chocolate??) and b) the influx of lettuce from our CSA(!!!). I love cooking me up some greens and eating them with toast and eggs for breakfast, with rice and beans for lunch, and mixed with pasta for dinner, but lettuce is another beast altogether. Lettuce-based salads just don’t give me the same amount of joy (*usually). Hence, lettuce wraps. Yum. The filling can be flexible, but this had the perfect texture and umami combination, so deviate at your own risk. This is a bit spicy, but goes so well with the sweet chili sauce! (I have this one and it’s great for marinating or stir-fry!)

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one year ago: …crickets…
two years ago: 
roasted beets and their greens with yogurt and simple rhubarb cake AND tofu banh mi

Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

a swanky original

1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for drizzling
½ an onion, diced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, some seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
5 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ red pepper, in thin strips
3 oz baked teriyaki tofu, in matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Half a lime
Lettuce leaves of choice (I used romaine and it was tasty but messy!)
s&p
Cilantro, lightly chopped
Peanuts, lightly chopped
Sweet chili dipping sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half, drizzle with olive oil and s&p, and place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for 35-45 minutes. When done, scrape squash with a fork to create noodle-like squash segments.

Meanwhile, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add garlic, serrano chile, and ginger. Cook for another 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, peppers, s&p and cook for 3 more minutes. Add tofu and squash strands and cook for another 2 minutes. Add sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and big spritz of lime juice.

Wash lettuce leaves well. Spoon squash-tofu-mushroom filling into leaves, and top with cilantro and peanuts. Dip into sweet chili sauce (or make a fancy-shmancy sauce on your own.)

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Vaguely-Lebanese Deconstructed Stuffed Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce

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In the past month I’ve done more writing than I have in years. Since college, or maybe even before. When I press CMD+N, my 16th Word document opens and I’m reminded how much I am stressing out my computer (sorry!). Each of these 16 documents have headings like “Lidia interview” or “Stu monologue” or “the underwear scene”.

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These pieces of writing are all based on stories and interviews I’ve conducted at two different Upper West Side senior centers over the past three months, and are leading to two original plays, which both happen to be about New York City. The seniors are grateful we are listening to their stories and crafting these scenes of their lives, but I also am so excited and grateful that I’m actually getting paid to listen, to learn, to create, to encourage. I’ve heard handfuls of stories about coming to America, old and new traditions, standing up to sexism, the importance of family, and the most adorable love stories. It’s fun to write scenes in each individual’s voice (although that’s a whole lot harder in Spanish!), have them read them, and make edits and suggestions. A truly collaborative process. (Until it’s not fun anymore, like when they keep changing the details of a story, or insist you put in that one line that doesn’t move the story along and is actually quite confusing…)

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These words come easily enough to me, as I feel I am just a mouthpiece through which others can see their experiences. Harder, sometimes, to write as meaningfully about the stuff I consume. I mean, eating happens multiple times a day, how often do you get to write scenes about a marriage proposal over a slice of pizza or about finding worms while shelling peas in Panama?? Here we go — this eggplant was bonkers good. Delicious, nutritious, and super easy. Filling, leftoverable, good warm or cold! Adjectives! I got this! Sorry about the super long title! (but you were intrigued, right? Adjectives!)

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one year ago: tatsoi and tofu stir-fry with soba noodles and kale caesar salad
two!! years ago: rhubarb, chickpea, and spinach stew with cilantro-lemon yogurt sauce (guess it’s a yogurt sauce time of year!)

Vaguely-Lebanese Deconstructed Stuffed Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce

adapted from food network 

1 big eggplant, in bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, in bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, unpeeled
5-8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Generous ¼ cup olive oil + extra to drizzle
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Big drizzle pomegranate molasses (optional)
½ cup cilantro leaves
s&p

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On 1 big or 2 smaller roasting sheets, mix together eggplant, peppers, shallots, and garlic cloves. Toss with the olive oil and sprinkle with s&p. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once, until the vegetables are browned and tender, and the shallots and garlic are soft and smooshy. (#technicalterm) Once they’ve cooled a bit, peel shallots and slice into thin rings.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently. This should take about 3 minutes. Set aside. To make dressing, mix together Greek yogurt, chopped dill, a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, and pomegranate molasses, if using. Smoosh roasted garlic cloves into the yogurt dressing.

In a big bowl, combine eggplant, pepper, shallot rings, most of the pine nuts, and cilantro leaves. Mix in yogurt dressing. Sprinkle remaining pine nuts on individual portions. I recommend serving with couscous for the full deconstructed stuffed eggplant dealio.

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Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

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My love affair with all food Asian goes far and deep. The night I graduated from high school we went to Minado, an enormous and yet high-quality all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood buffet that’s always packed to the gills (ha). I have brought three boyfriends there, who have all had to gain the stamp of Minado Success before being fully accepted into the family.  My parents bonded over late-night dinners in college at Moon Villa in Boston’s Chinatown. We ate it MINIMUM once a week growing up, and had a lovely relationship with Vanilla, the hostess at our favorite local joint. We are part of the ranks of Jews who consume their beloved sesame chicken and wonton soup on Christmas, albeit in a tiny town in the White Mountains, apres-ski. Heck, my Dad even had Chinese food at his Bar Mitzvah. It runs deep in the veins.

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What I’ve discovered about New York Chinese food is that when it’s good, it’s very good. And when it’s bad, it’s AWFUL. In the suburbs, all Chinese food is fine. It’s not authentic, but you don’t expect it to be. It’s tasty and reliable versions of the same sort of food, usually for cheap, and always plentiful. Here, it’s a different story. You can either go to Chinatown and go to a specific regional restaurant and get fantastic food, or you can go to the take-out joint on the corner and have belly aches all night. Where is the suburban happy medium?! Why do literally all Brooklyn Chinese restaurants suffer from the everything-tastes-like-oil-and-uses-the-same-gloopy-sauce syndrome? It’s so disappointing, time after time. Thank goodness we have Thai, Japanese, Korean (and Turkish, Italian, Israeli, etc) aplenty to fill the void, and Chinatown is just one quick train stop away. On all other nights, there’s bastardized homemade “Chinese-ish” food.

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This pepper and eggplant dish is a freaking delicious version of above mentioned bastardized Chinese. It’s probably not something you’d ever get served in Chinatown but if I ate it at your house I’d be ecstatic. It’s salty and sweet and spicy and oily (but not too much) and crunchy and easy, too! Don’t you dare skimp on the fried garlic&peanut topping, or you’ll have serious regrets. Serve with brown rice and never suffer through gloopy mushrooms over overcooked and oil-shimmering lo mein again. Amen.

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one year ago: spicy micheladas for drowning your autumn-relates woes and kabocha toasts with caramelized onion-maple jam to celebrate them

Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

adapted from taste with the eyes 

2-4 T canola oil
1 small eggplant, cut into small cubes
2 cubanelle peppers (I had them around from the CSA but feel free to use a handful of shishitos or plain old green bell pepper), cut into thin strips
salt
1.5 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 heaping t toasted sesame oil
1 scant T sugar
1 t cornstarch
1 t red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as possible
¼ c peanuts, roughly chopped

Heat two medium-sized pans. Add a tablespoon of oil to each. Add pepper strips to one and eggplant cubes to the other. Cook peppers on medium-high heat for 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until blistered and softened. Sprinkle with salt when done and set aside. Cook eggplant on medium heat for 9-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown. Add more oil to eggplants if necessary, as they like to suck it all in immediately.

Meanwhile, make your sauce by combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and mixing. Set aside.

When eggplant is done, pour in the sauce. Cook for two minutes on medium high heat until it smells amazing. Add peppers and cook for about five minutes on lowish heat to let all flavors come together.

While that cooks, heat a small pan to medium high heat. Add 2 t canola oil. Add garlic slices and saute, stirring frequently, until garlic is nutty and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and coat with salt.

Top individual portions of eggplant and peppers with fried garlic and chopped peanuts. Serve with brown rice. Repeat until you wonder where the food has gone…

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Tatsoi and Tofu Stir-fry with Soba Noodles

Ring the bells! Fire the cannons! Eat 12 grilled pizzas covered with ramps and artisanal mozzarella!

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It’s CSA season!

Finally… here come the daydreams about various sautéed greens and their accoutrements, salad brainstorms on overheated subway platforms, incredibly specific queries on foodgawker, and ruminating on if #csalove is a better hashtag than #ilovemycsa. (It isn’t. #csalove is about people who really love a children’s cheerleading school in South Carolina.)

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And this is just the first month, when all you get are various green leaves! No telling what will happen to my co-workers once we get actual whole vegetables to cook with! Any time I open my mouth to tell them about previous or past dinner plans I will be met with a cold shoulder and an “I miss winter” eye roll.

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This dinner was from the night of our first haul, from the Brooklyn Beet CSA. I’ve never cooked with tatsoi before but hope we get more soon! It’s similar to bok choy but less bitter and as delicious raw as it was lightly stir-fried. We also received thyme, cilantro, baby kale, mizuna (new favorite salad green), “light Asian greens”(?!), and red garner, whatever the heck that is. Apparently it doesn’t exist on the internet. (Please prove me wrong!)

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Tatsoi and Tofu Stir-fry with Soba Noodles

streamlined and adapted from simple seasonal

½ t toasted sesame oil
½ t sunflower (or peanut or canola) oil
½ 14-oz. pkg super-firm tofu, in bite-sized cubes
1/2 t soy sauce
a pinch garlic powder
2 shitakes, thin slices
1 red bell pepper, thin slices
2-3 c tatsoi, stems and leaves, roots cut off and washed thoroughly (or another green!)
3.1 oz soba noodles
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, sliced
sprinkle of black sesame seeds (or white)

Sauce:
1 c broth
2T brown sugar
2T soy sauce
1T rice vinegar
2 t toasted sesame oil
1T corn starch
1 t garlic powder
¼ t ginger powder
⅛ t cayenne pepper
scant ⅓ c miso

Press tofu cubes under a heavy plate, a layer of paper towels, and some cast iron skillets for 20 minutes to an hour before you start cooking. (Or don’t, but removing its moisture now helps it get crispier later!)

Heat both oils in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add tofu chunks and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until lightly browned on all sides. Once browned, add soy sauce and garlic powder and cook for another 30 seconds. Take out of skillet and set aside in a bowl.

Place red pepper in same pan (no need to add extra oil). Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Remove and add to tofu bowl. Next, add shitakes until they brown, about 3-5 minutes. Don’t crowd them or they won’t brown well!

Meanwhile, cook soba noodles according to instructions on package. Make sure to rinse with cold water when done cooking.

Also meanwhile, make your sauce. Whisk together all ingredients in a small saucepan, except miso. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 minutes. It should thicken slightly. Remove from heat and whisk in miso.

When mushrooms are done, add peppers and tofu back to pan, along with your tatsoi. Lower to medium-low heat. Cook until greens start to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. When that’s achieved, add noodles and sauce. Cook for another minute to evenly coat and warm through. Serve topped with scallions and black sesame seeds. #csadinnerlove4eva

Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo

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As soon as that well-deserved mythical short-lived apparition called Spring in New York City appears, I notice my fellow city-dwellers in what can only be called trendy clothes. Gone are the layers of coats, grandma hats, tights-under-leggings-under-jeans, and here is…fashion. As someone not particularly privy to this world of fashion, due to a combination of genes, money, and just not caring very much, I still feel the pull to present myself as, well, presentable. And instead of rushing to a thrift shop or *gasp* an actual store with regulated price tags and employees who are really freaking good at folding, I head to the strange and wonderful world of the back of my closet.

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And so this is how, year after year, I find myself wearing this same dumb light purple, zip-up, three-quarters sleeved, stretchy-fabric abomination. Originally purchased circa 2005 at Marshalls/TJMaxx, the shirt has since made an appearance in my senior yearbook photo and whenever I try something high-waisted.

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Today is one of those days. Today I feel 10 years younger, stressing out about my geometry test and writing notes to the cute boys who would play poker during class as our batty teacher Mrs. Corbasero looked the other way and I memorized lines for my Starring Role of the Moment, and I angstily daydreamed about moving to New York City and Living the Life, which probably involved frosting for breakfast and a movie star boyfriend. Well, 10 year ago me, frosting for breakfast leads to expensive dental appointments and actors (tend to) suck as boyfriends. Try soup instead. (And programmer-climber-photographers.)

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leftover vegetable-skin detritus has taken over the table.

This soup is goooood. For dinner or breakfast or whenever. It tastes freaking delicious and doesn’t give a shit about your 15-year-old (or 25-year-old) insecurities. Also I didn’t follow a recipe, so who needs math now, Mrs. Corbasero?

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Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo 

a Swanky original

3 bell peppers (I did 2 red and 1 green)
1 large eggplant
olive oil
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3 sprigs rosemary
1 head garlic (or ¾ of a head, if that’s what you’ve got…)
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 T sherry
½ c dried orzo
1.5-2 c veggie broth
¼ c parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 big T tahini

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Okay, you’ve gotta roast 4(!) separate vegetables. But don’t worry; it’s easy! Stick all trays in the oven at the same time.

  1. Arrange whole peppers on roasting tray. Stick in oven. Turn peppers every 12 minutes or so with tongs. Don’t worry when skin darkens. Peppers are done when they’re completely charred, anywhere from 35-50 minutes. Out of the oven, wrap peppers individually in foil and let sit for about 10-15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Peel, discard skins, and roughly chop. Two peppers will be pureed for soup; 1 should be reserved to give texture (if that’s your kinda thang…)
  2. Cut stem and bottom off eggplant. Cut in half lengthwise. Score inch-thick diagonal lines across eggplant halves, careful not to pierce skin. Working quickly, rub olive oil on scored flesh; about 1-2 t per side. Place on roasting sheet, cut side down, and stick in oven. Eggplant is done when skin is puckered and flesh is soupy and browned. Depending on the size of your eggplant, this could take anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Check frequently! After eggplant cools for 5 minutes or so, scoop flesh into a bowl; discard skins.
  3. Cut garlic head in half lengthwise. Rub with olive oil and s&p; wrap in foil. Toss in oven (on eggplant or pepper tray) for 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to touch, smoosh out individual roasted segments and add to eggplant. Discard skins.
  4. Drain canned tomatoes, reserving liquid. Cut tomatoes in half; place on a third roasting tray with rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil, and s&p. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are a bit browned and shrunken. Discard rosemary.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot with 1 T olive oil to medium-low heat. Add onions and a big t salt and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add carrots; cook for another 10 minutes. Add sherry, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the pot. Keep on a low flame until ready to use.

In small saucepan, cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Once all parts are ready, it’s blender time! Combine: eggplant, roasted peppers (reserving one to give the soup some texture), half of roasted tomatoes, most of onion-carrot mixture, 1.5 c broth, and parsley. Puree until smooth, adding extra broth and s&p as needed.

Pour pureed soup over remaining onion-carrot mixture in big pot; add sliced roasted peppers, chopped roasted tomatoes, tahini, ¼ c tomato liquids, s&p. Simmer together until warmed through.

Serve topped with orzo and chopped parsley.

Roasted Radish, Blistered Pepper, and Olive Pizza

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Things I’d once assumed crazy and impossible and now know are doable:

  • I successfully only wore 1 pair of shoes (TEVAS iloveyou) for the entire month.
    • Daniel: You’ve been wearing Tevas this whole time?!! Shakes head.
    • Me: hehehehe.
    • Him: Stop googling your sandals at the coffee shop.
    • Me: hehehehe.
      Mom, be so proud.
  • Bike riding from Boston to NYC. My childhood friend Lauren and her lovely manfriend proved me wrong last weekend. Not sure the 180 mile trek is something they’ll try again for a while, but sounds like it was quite the adventure. We loved welcoming them with beer, Thai food, AC, and bagels.
  • Watching all 6 Star Wars movies. Okay, I still haven’t officially completed this one (and in fact fell asleep midway through the first), but I am DETERMINED. It is high time I know what my dorky imeanlovely boyfriend and his friends are talking about.
  • Making sticky dough form the same rectangular shape as the pan you’re putting it into. My mom made pizza all the time growing up, and I had one major success in college, but this was my (our) first Adult pizza-making session. In the middle, Daniel passionately exclaimed “I am never cooking again!” (as he is apt to do in moments of frustration), but then we tried a new tactic and voila pizza making led to pizza eating led to LET’S DO THIS AGAIN NEXT WEEK! An empty threat in the end.

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Roasted Radish, Blistered Pepper, and Olive Pizza

aka Pizza Experiment #1
hand held by Smitten Kitchen’s pizza section in her book or website

  • 2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 large clove garlic, quartered
  • ½ t + 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 t sugar
  • 4-5 radishes, cut into thin circles
  • ½ onion, sliced thin
  • 1 small summer squash (yellow or green), cut into small chunks (optional)
  • 1 T olive oil, plus extra for drizzle
  • s&p
  • 2 peppers (I used red but your choice!)
  • dough (I am lucky enough to work at a bakery; my pizza dough came from the day’s baguette scraps. There are a million recipes on the internet to make easy dough, or ask your local pizza guy if they’ll sell you some, or just use the supermarket variety. You can’t really go wrong here.)
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • fresh mozzarella
  • black olives, one can (although most were eaten during prep), cut in half
  • prosciutto (totally optional)
  • fresh basil, torn into smaller pieces (NOT OPTIONAL….just kidding. But Seriously, DO this.)
  • olive oil for drizzle (fine, fine, optional).

Sauce

In a food processor, blend tomatoes, quartered garlic clove, ½ t red pepper flakes (or less), 1 T white wine vinegar, and 1 t sugar. Blend until there are no more chunks of tomato left. If you want to be totally anal you can strain it, but ours was more than smooth enough. This sauce is quite runny (don’t expect pasta sauce) but makes a great pizza base layer. As written, it is quite spicy; feel free to taste and spice as you go.

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Roast Radishes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sliced radishes, onion, and squash together on a baking tray. Coat in 1 T olive oil and cover with salt and freshly ground pepper. We used rosemary sea salt, but any old salt will do. Roast for about 20 minutes, until radishes are tender and sweet, and onions (and squash) get soft, sweet, and a bit mushy. Set Aside. Turn oven up as hot as it will go to prepare for pizza baking.

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Blistered Peppers

To make blistered peppers, remove grate on top of a gas stove. Cut just the very end off a pepper and spear it with a skewer (or chopstick). Turn one burner to highest flame. Hold pepper in flame (without burning your hand!), turning every so often, until skin gets blackened. This will be a fairly noisy process, as pepper actually emits sound bursts as skin gets charred! Don’t be alarmed. When peppers are totally blackened, set aside to cool. When cool, use your fingers or a small sharp knife to peel off the blackened skin. Don’t worry if some small charred pieces stick! They will just add extra flavor. Cut into thin strips.

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To assemble pizza

Sprinkle cornmeal to cover the bottom of a baking pan. (We used a rimmed cookie sheet.) Take that dough and manhandle it until it covers the bottom of the pan in a basic rectangular shape a preschooler could recognize. Use plenty of olive oil on your fingers and be patient. Gently use both hands to press on dough, inch by inch, starting at lumpy parts and pushing them outwards. If holes form, pinch them closed.

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Once this is accomplished, pat yourself on the back and move on to the fun part. Daniel and I each claimed half a pizza to do with as we wished (his meaty, mine overly cheesy). Here’s my ideal: spoon a bit of sauce over dough. Cover with roasted radish mixture. Next add pepper strips decoratively. Then tear long stringy pieces from your mozzarella ball and cover liberally. Top with halved black olives. (And if you’re Daniel, add proscuitto and hot sauce.) Pop into your super hot (as hot as it gets) oven for about 10 minutes, or until the crust bakes and cheese melts. Immediately out of the oven, cover with torn basil leaves. Devour while hot, perhaps while (finally) watching Star Wars.

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