A Quick Lunchtime Equation

6 Feb

I eat a lot of meals on the run (cf. my last post about being in grad school), so I’m always trying to find quick, tasty, cheap alternatives to takeout or sandwiches. This is an elegant solution to those times when you open your cupboard and think “Guh, ramen AGAIN?”

I choose you, curry-chu!

1 package of shrimp ramen +1 shake garlic powder + 1 splash lime juice + 1 splash fish sauce + 1 dollop red curry paste + 1 dollop natural peanut butter = Instant Vaguely-Thai Vaguely-Curry Noodle Bowl. If I had them in the house, I would have added a hearty slosh of coconut milk, some chopped cilantro and fresh bean sprouts, and maybe some diced chicken and crushed dry-roasted peanuts. I’m not even going to try to estimate what the dollops and splashes were– really, it’s up to you and your taste in noodle bowls. I recommend throwing in whatever makes sense to you and tasting after each new addition to make sure the whole thing is staying on an even keel. And even if you come up with something horrible, a package of ramen costs about 17 cents, so you don’t have to feel guilty discarding the whole mess and trying again. Happy experimentation!

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The Old College Try

2 Feb

I have been away from this blog of late (mostly because of graduate school and its demands on my available cooking and writing time) but I haven’t stopped cooking, by any means. As a matter of fact, I have quite the backlog of pictures of delicious things I’ve made, things that at some point really should be shared. (My mother, in particular, has been asking for documentation of the fantastic coconut basil truffles we made months ago. Sorry, mom.) So why am I returning to this blog to write about one of my most egregious culinary weak spots? Sometimes you don’t get to pick the story you tell, I suppose.

At any rate, my bête noire (or rather, bête blanche et jaune) is that I cannot do anything with eggs.

Artwork copyright Gary LeMaster, www.theeggshellsculptor.com

Especially not this. (From http://www.theeggshellsculptor.com)

Well, I suppose this isn’t strictly true. I just can’t do things which showcase them. Frittatas, Benedicts, omelets, and so an all turn immediately into a sort of watery scrambled mess. About the only thing I can reliably do with an egg is fry one or (and this is an embarrassingly recent development– like, “last week” recent) boil one. The First Mate/Assiduous Chef, on the other hand, is top-notch with eggs. He will come up with fluffy spur-of-the-moment scrambles that I will devour even though I normally deplore scrambled eggs. In our household, he is the eggman and I am, sadly, the walrus.

Today is one of my rare mornings in, and as I was lingering over my second or third cup of coffee, I decided that what I really wanted was sauteed mushrooms and wilted spinach. So I made them, and took a bite of them, and they were delicious. Suddenly, however, all I could think of is how much better they would be encased in an omelet. Now, I have never made an omelet successfully, but (I reasoned) it would be silly to have to forgo my preferred breakfast just because I had some sort of egg-related clumsiness. Downright embarrassing, even. This is the 21st century and I am a freethinking, educated woman who should not rely on a man to flip my eggs for me. For the sake of my stomach and my ego, I will set to this thing with vigor until my ovoprandial aspirations have been fully realized!  thought I, and feeling inordinately smug for having invented the word “ovoprandial,” I set to.

Pictured: Omelette de la Tristesse

What you see here is supposed to be a spinach, mushroom, and Parmesan omelet. I will pass over the texture (weird and squidgy), the taste (disappointing, even given the excellent filling), and the amount of pepper included (excessive even by my standards) and focus on the fact that, even though it broke apart in the pan afterwards, it does appear to have been flipped rather than scrambled. This, I am counting a victory. On the whole, though, First Mate, your position as the eggmaster is safe.

Cardamom-Raisin MegaScones!

1 Aug

True confessions: Baking kind of frightens me. In my usual sphere, I can just throw handfuls of this or that in all willy-nilly and trust in my own intuition and the benevolence of the universe to make it all taste okay. Not so with baking. If I learned one thing from my 7th grade home economics class (and it certainly wasn’t “Make sure you’re sewing the elastic of your shorts to the waist and not the leg”) it was that baking requires a near-surgical precision. Neglect to level off one teaspoon of baking powder twice with a completely flat spatula, scoop and shake flour straight into the cup measure rather than add it by painstakingly sifted tablespoons until you have as much as you need (and then level off twice with a completely flat spatula), and– well, your baked good will be such a dismal and horrific failure that for the sake of your family’s honor you should probably take the veil. (I am beginning to think that my home ec teacher was not exactly happy in her work.) To quote Jeph Jacques from Questionable Content:

Sponsorship deal? Eh? Eh?

Shirt and apron available from topatoco.com.

So I haven’t really deviated from print recipes when it comes to baked goods… until now. This was kind of loosely based on the nutbread from the Redwall Cookbook except that I changed just about everything, because I finally realized that no baked good, however lackluster, is going to explode and kill everyone if you put in too much or too little sugar.

I wasn’t quite sure what to call my result, other than delicious. It wasn’t loaf-shaped or of quick-bread consistency, and it wasn’t flat enough for flatbread or spongy enough for focaccia. “Amorphous dough blob” didn’t sound particularly appetizing, either. It sort of resembled a giant scone (the American cakey kind, not the British one, for you scone purists out there.) So that’s what I called it. You could probably separate the dough into biscuits and have cardamom-raisin biscuits. Unfortunately, we ate it too fast for me to photograph, otherwise I’d ask you all to weigh in on the shape.

Cardamom-Raisin Mega-Scone Continue reading

For My Mom: Forest Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini

18 Jun

Now that my siblings and I are grown, Mother’s Day falls entirely to us to plan, and it is usually of the action-adventure variety. We take my mother on a ramble through a park (the Botanic Gardens, the Arboretum, and most recently the zoo) and then stuff her full of good food and good (okay, passable) wine. This year, our Mother’s Day feast was prepared in my youngest sister’s brand-new apartment– her first place of her own. A sentimental occasion, a monumental step… and a huge hassle, because of course, like all college kids in their first real place, she owns no furniture, one pan, two knives, and a cookie sheet. This is about as approximate as cooking gets. Spoiled by my well-appointed kitchen, I had a moment of unease (“WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITHOUT A SPATULA?!”) Then I uncorked the wine and went to.

I love cooking alongside my family. We gather in the kitchen to drink, laugh uproariously, belt out showtunes and oldies in three-part harmony, swipe mouthfuls of ingredients… and somehow, a meal gets made in the middle of it all. Our Mother’s Day meal consisted of chilled strawberry-burgundy soup (which I’d made in advance and brought down with me), asparagus grilled on the George Foreman which was my housewarming gift to my sister, eggplant parmesan with spaghetti, and my personal best, goat cheese and forest mushroom crostini. The three of us extravagantly complimented each other’s cooking, then curled up on the floor to eat and laugh more and celebrate our new relationship not just as mother and daughters but as adults who genuinely like each other. Who needs furniture?

Not these kids.

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For the Romantic Evening: Figs, Elderflower, Lavender.

16 Feb

Two things I love: cooking with flowers and elegant  food. Luckily for me, the two are readily combinable, and this is one of my favorite ways– Black Mission Figs with Elderflower-Scented Mascarpone.

In my opinion, there’s nothing like cooking with flowers. I love delicate floral flavors, but more than that it just seems exquisitely romantic and indulgent to eat a flower. Pairing two different florals with the double silky luxuries of fresh fig and mascarpone, this dessert is a sensual treat that’s good to have in your oh-crap-I-forgot-Valentine’s-Day arsenal.  Also making it ideal for the last-minute Valentine, it can be prepared and plated in literally five minutes. Six if you want to light some candles first.

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Spicy Southeast Asian Stew

28 Nov

Hi there, readers. It’s been a ghost town around here, hasn’t it? I’ve been cooking up a storm since the move, but I’ve had very little time to blog about it, I’m afraid. I’ve been scribbling the backlog of invented recipes on little scraps of paper around my apartment, and I figured it was high time to start working through it. And what better way than with my favorite of favorite dishes, soup? What better way indeed!

There’s very little that can’t be solved with soup. Have a bunch of leftovers? Soup! Need to use up an excess of veg? Soup again! Something that’ll be easy to eat at the office if you’ve forgotten all your silverware? Soup wins the day! Feel terrible and want to reheat something that will warm you up inside? Oh, soup, you’re marvelous! In this case, I had extra ingredients from a Thai peanut curry sauce and stir-fry I had made for an Iron Chef night, a series of potlucks about which I’m certain there will be more later. I wanted to use them all up in one fell swoop. (One fell soup?) Additionally, I had Thanksgiving leftovers, to the tune of boiled sweet potatoes. What to do? This.Spicy Southeast Asian Stew Continue reading

I Have Not Forgotten

15 Aug

I apologize for the lack of updates recently. As I’ve mentioned, the First Mate and I have recently moved house, and we haven’t gotten an internet connection in our new place yet. Never fear, I am writing down recipes and meal ideas on tiny scraps of paper and keeping them for the day when I will be able to post them reliably again.

In the meantime, a sneak peek inside the new Approximate Kitchen!

For those who were not acquainted with it, here is the previous Approximate Kitchen:

Pictured: Tiny

It has, I will grant, ample counter space. Unfortunately, it was offset by very little floor space, storage space, and just about every other type of space you can imagine. We could fit two people in it, as long as they were comfortable working in close quarters (read: all up in each other’s business) but it wasn’t a great place to cook.

By contrast, this is the new kitchen:

Space: the final frontier!

By comparison, tumbleweeds may as well be blowing across the floor. (And sometimes do; we have three very sheddy cats.) Deep, capacious cupboards, over-the- stove microwave to free up the counter, and an open enough plan that it feels downright gargantuan. That’s a full-size kitchen table in the foreground, and even with that there, we can dance in the kitchen. And do. Frequently. At least I do. Look for good things to come from here!