Saturday, January 21, 2017

Butternut Squash Tacos

"Greater than the sum of its parts" is probably over-used in food writing, but it nonetheless is sort of a Holy Grail. To be able to take simple, easily available ingredients and make them into something delicious and satisfying is a pretty cool thing. I think this is true for a couple of reasons: readily available often means (relatively) affordable, using ingredients you can find at your local grocery store means you can replicate this recipe whenever, and it makes you feel like an awesome cook for just throwing together a few things and producing something wonderful (these reasons are mainly from a home cook's perspective, but hey, that's what I am!). Tacos are generally regarded as a type of recipe that fits this description, but I hadn't had much luck with homemade tacos until not too long ago. Truthfully, I'd only had a few really mind-blowing tacos in my lifetime, so I didn't have much to go on. Technically, I suppose, anything that is put in a tortilla and folded in half can be a taco, but having a few simple guidelines really helps. Starting with a flavorful, well-seasoned base of either meat or vegetables is a given, and from there I'd recommend only 2-3 toppings that each contribute something different. For example, these tacos have pickled red onions for an acidic, savory pop, ricotta for creaminess, and chopped cilantro for bright herbiness. Simple ingredients, but together they are magic. Did I mention these tacos are also cheap and filling?

Also, hello! At this point a several-month hiatus is becoming the norm (grad school...), so I figured there was no point in addressing it. I've got a few more things lined up that hopefully I'll get around to posting, including a few very loose recipes like the one for today.

Make these - warm, bright tacos on a winter evening are a lovely change of pace.

Butternut Squash Tacos
Yield: Honestly, however many tacos your little heart desires
Pickled red onions from Saveur

For the pickled red onions:
Half of a large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
3/4 c red wine vinegar
For the squash:
Butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used about 1/3 of a huge one for four tacos/one serving)
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika and ground or whole cumin seeds
Minced garlic
For serving:
Corn tortillas
Ricotta cheese (or queso fresco or feta or...)
Chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Ideally at least an hour before dinner: Combine the onions and 1/2 tbsp kosher salt in a bowl and let sit for about 15 minutes, until onions start to soften and release a bit of liquid. While that happens, combine the rest of the pickled onion ingredients in a pint jar and shake. Add the onions when they are ready and refrigerate. The recipe says to wait at least four hours for using, but I found them delicious after just an hour or so.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the squash with enough olive oil to lightly coat and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin. Roast until soft all the way through, then turn off the oven, toss with garlic, and return to the oven.
  3. While the garlic cooks lightly in the oven, heat a nonstick skillet over high heat. Once it is very hot, (very) lightly moisten the tortillas one at a time and cook in the skillet on both sides, until warm, dry, and pliable, with a few small brown spots.
  4. Add a few spoonsful of the squash/garlic mixture to each tortilla and top with pickled onions, a few small dollops of ricotta, and some cilantro.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Plum & Apple Dutch Baby

Bonjour de France! I am in Grenoble, France for two weeks to learn about interferometry at IRAM (a European interferometry observatory). I've been eating a lot (90% of which has been bread) and doing a lot of science. I won't talk about the science here because truly almost nobody cares about interferometry. And because I've been talking about science all day.

But food. That's another story. Grenoble is in the south of France, and while it's a reasonably large town, in some ways the culture here feels closer to that of rural France (which I've largely read about and gleaned from pop culture, rather than experienced) than to that of Paris. In part, that means that most of my meals have involved some glorious combination of potatoes, cream, cheese, bacon, and chicken. It's been a bit heavy, but to be honest, that's kind of my jam. Some days I've only eaten one real meal (either lunch or dinner), and then just some combination of pastries, bread, fruit, and yogurt for the other two meals. I've decided this is my ideal way of life (gratuitous pictures of said way of life below).

But I also come bearing a lovely fall recipe! I fully intended to get this out before plums were totally gone, but I suspect I may have failed. This would probably still be good with off-season plums, though, since they are cooked down until syrupy anyway. And it would be equally good with all apples. I've been daydreaming about this combination since shortly after last year's plum season (how many times am I going to say something like this? I'll probably have some great summer recipe ideas in about a week). It did not disappoint. I ate it as breakfast/dessert for dinner, but you really could have it for any meal or dessert (if you're going the dessert route - or if you're not - a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream would be parfait).

Plum & Apple Dutch Baby
Yield: 2 large meals or 4 small-ish dessert servings
Dutch baby recipe adapted from smitten kitchen

Dutch babies:
4 eggs
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup flour, sifted (let's be honest, I didn't sift)
2/3 cup milk
2 tbsp softened butter
Plum & Apple Filling:
1 tbsp butter
1 medium apple
1/2 lb plums (about 6 small)
2 tbsp honey
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon, plus more to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and butter two 9-inch cake pans or oven-safe skillets1.
  2. Place eggs in a blender or in a bowl with beaters and mix until pale yellow.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined (I had some small flecks of butter and everything turned out just fine).
  4. Divide evenly among prepared pans and bake 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until pancakes are gloriously puffed and light golden brown.
  5. While the pancakes bake, thinly slice the apple and plums. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, and add the apples once it is melted.
  6. Once the apples have just started to soften, add the plums. Cook until slightly syrupy, then add the honey, nutmeg, salt, and cinnamon. Continue cooking the fruit, stirring occasionally, until very soft and coated in a thick honey syrup.
  7. Remove pancakes to two plates and divide the filling evenly between them.
  1. I used an 8-inch skillet (because I don't have a 9-inch one), and my pancake puffed tremendously. I was a little worried about the batter overflowing before it cooked, but that was not a problem. It was awesome.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Dressed Up Sourdough Panzanella

This one has been in the works for a long time. I really like the idea of making a panzanella where I grew the tomatoes and baked the bread myself, and finally my plants are giving me ripe fruit!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, panzanella is essentially a bread salad. Traditionally it was made as a way to use stale bread, but here we will toast the bread to get a little extra flavor. Though I don't dislike greens, it's nice to mix things up a bit (I've been eating a ton of greens since I often get them in my CSA box), and this salad is all tomatoes and bread. The vinaigrette is very punchy, which I think is necessary in this type of dish and also makes it quite refreshing. Following a brilliant tip from a Serious Eats article on the subject, I salted the tomatoes and collected the juices to add to the vinaigrette, which really made it pop. I thought I'd want some sliced red onion in the panzanella, but I actually found that it wasn't necessary - there was plenty of flavor already. This panzanella is "dressed up" because there are some extra herbs and chunks of mozzarella in addition to the bread and tomatoes. The mozzarella soaks up some of the dressing too, making it super flavorful. This panzanella is the perfect late summer dish!

Dressed Up Sourdough Panzanella
Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from Serious Eats and NYT Cooking

2 1/2 lb mixed tomatoes
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
12 oz (3/4 lb) crusty sourdough bread
6 oz mozzarella cheese, cubed
10 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, minced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (if you want an extra strong dressing, you can even bump this up a bit)
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
A couple of big handfuls of basil leaves, slivered (to taste)
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (lemon thyme is great, if you can find it)
  1. Preheat an oven to 350 F. Large dice the tomatoes and toss with 2 tsp kosher salt in a colander or strainer set over a bowl. Set aside to drain for 15 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, cube the bread to about 1". Toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, until crisp but not browned.
  3. Set the bread cubes aside to cool and remove the tomatoes to a serving bowl. To the bowl with the tomato juices, add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and red wine vinegar. Whisk to combine, and continue whisking as you add the remaining olive oil (1/2 cup). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the bread cubes and mozzarella to the tomatoes and toss with the vinaigrette. Gently fold in the basil and thyme. Let the salad rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes, until bread cubes are soft but not soggy. Dig in!
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blogaversary: Corn and Tomato Summer Salad

It's officially tomato season in Apt 2A, where the tomato plant:human ratio is 3:1! (I won't delve into the overall plant:human ratio, but it is very high). I picked my first harvest recently, most of which went into this salad. My cherry tomato plant, especially, has really exploded and I expect I'll soon be drowning in cherry tomatoes.

Perhaps more importantly, this blog is a year old today! Although it has occasionally been neglected for long periods of time, I'm still quite pleased (and a little surprised) that I've been doing this for a whole year. Lots of people surprised me with their support and enthusiasm for my public ramblings about food (and occasionally plants), so thank you all for reading! In celebration, I've prepared one of the most summery things I could think of. Like all good summer recipes, this is more of a loose sketch and should be guided by whatever is freshest and most beautiful in your crisper at the moment. Or, in my case, whatever is most irresistible when you go to the farmers market and/or open your CSA box. I feel particularly proud of this dish because it includes that first crop of tomatoes from my (not-so-) little balcony garden. This made such a refreshing lunch and kept pretty well in the fridge (some liquid collected at the bottom since salt draws it out, but the flavors and textures were intact). It would be delicious as a salad, but equally wonderful with tortilla or pita chips. I hope it inspires you to go all-out the next time you're shopping for produce!

Corn and Tomato Summer Salad
Yield: 2 servings as a main, or 3-4 as a side

4 ears corn
Diced red onion, to taste (I used about 1/4 of a medium onion)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (I used a mix of big heirlooms and heirloom cherry tomatoes)
1/4 of a small/medium poblano pepper (or to taste), diced small
Zest and juice of 1 large lime (about 3 T juice)
1-2 cloves of garlic, pasted or minced
1 T olive oil
1/3 cup queso fresco or feta cheese, divided
1-2 T chopped parsley, divided

  1. Cook corn in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, until just tender (Note: I've read this takes longer for grocery store corn than for farmers market corn, so just go by the texture of the kernels if they seem too hard). Let cool, then cut of cobs and place in a medium bowl.
  2. While the corn cooks, soak the onion in ice water for about 10 minutes (this takes the bite out of it). Drain on paper towels, and add to the bowl with the corn.
  3. Add the tomatoes and peppers to the bowl, and fold gently to combine.
  4. In a small bowl or liquid measure, whisk together the lime juice and zest, garlic, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing into the bowl of vegetables and fold gently to coat.
  5. Set aside a small palmful each of queso fresco and chopped parsley, and mix the rest into the salad (the queso fresco will make things slightly less pretty, but it adds a nice creamy texture).
  6. Taste and adjust any flavors to taste (for example, I added another big squeeze of lime juice, some salt, and that second clove of garlic). Garnish with the remaining cheese and parsley, and serve at room temperature.
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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Spiced Plum Ice Pops

The idea for these came to me shortly after plum season last year (of course), so I've been sitting on this for the better part of a year. I fully expected to have to run through several iterations of this before I hit on the right ratios in the syrup and the right amount of plums, but I was pleasantly surprised by how happy I was with my first batch! (Can you imagine if I'd had to plow my way through countless ice pop "failures"? The horror.) In these pops, the spices serve to support the plum flavor, rather than overpowering it, exactly as I'd hoped. Plus, if you use pink- or red-fleshed plums, the ice pops take on a lovely deep pink hue. If you have a different combination of dried/ground and fresh/whole spices, feel free to mix and match - just adjust the amounts accordingly.

I do hope you make these - they're a snap to make and taste like summer. The taste of summer, incidentally, is why I haven't been posting much - I've been spending my time buried in summer produce! My CSA is keeping me busy, as are my weekly visits to the farmers market. And very soon, I will have my first tomato haul to add to the mix! In the meantime, I have plenty of herbs from my garden.

Oh, by the way, these have fruit in them, which means they are 100% fair game for breakfast.

Spiced Plum Ice Pops
Yield: 5-6 3-oz popsicles

Ice pops:
1 lb plums (I used a mix of black plums and teeny tiny sugar plums)
1-2 pinches ground nutmeg
1-2 pinches ground allspice
1/2 c spiced simple syrup (recipe below)

  1. Slice plums, peeling only if you (gasp) really don't like the skins (to be honest, peeling plums sounds like a nightmare, so good luck with that). Place in blender, add nutmeg, allspice, and syrup (feel free to adjust amount to taste), and blend until smooth. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze until solid, about 6 hours longer than you feel it should take.
Spiced simple syrup:
1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar
0.5-1 oz fresh ginger (to taste), peeled and sliced into thin coins
2 whole cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
  1. Place water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved and small bubbles appear on the bottom of the pan.
  2. Remove pan from heat, add remaining ingredients, and cover. Steep until syrup is spiced to desired strength (this took about 10 minutes for me).
  3. Strain out solids and set aside 1/2 cup for the ice pops. You will have leftover syrup (it's tough to make simple syrup in smaller quantities than this), which can be used for cocktails or fancy homemade soda (or more ice pops, duh).
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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Crispy, Cheesy Black Bean Tacos

I feel that I've spent far too much time this summer doing very responsible, adult things, such as paying bills and scheduling/attending an unholy amount of appointments. Thus, this is the perfect time to post this delicious and spectacularly unsophisticated recipe, which, quite honestly, is not even a real recipe. This is more what the New York Times calls a "No-Recipe Recipe", with loose measurements and easily scaled portions. You should feel free to add and swap ingredients to your heart's content.

There's no time to take good pictures when crunchy delicious things await! Not pictured: the taco I had already shoved down my throat before I realized these would be good for the blog.

These tacos were cobbled together from a few things I'd seen online over the years, plus some vague ideas floating around in my head and the need to use up awkward amounts of various Mexican-ish ingredients (see what I mean about this not being a real recipe?). As with most dishes that come together in a half hour (max - and I include the time it takes to chop vegetables, because people who don't are evil), this was totally delicious and a whole lot of fun. Crunchy corn tortilla + crunchy cheese on the outside + melty cheese on the could it not be?

Hopefully there should be some fun seasonal recipes inspired by my garden (which is growing at a rate that would be alarming if I was remotely responsible) soon. My balcony is bursting with green, fragrant goodness and I have some teeny baby tomatoes at last! As soon as they're ripe, I have plans for a 100% homegrown/baked panzanella. But in the meantime, tacos!

Crispy, Cheesy Black Bean Tacos
Yield: 3 tacos (which I found to be a light lunch serving - this is very easily scaled up)

1 scant cup black beans
2 T finely diced red onion
2 T finely diced poblano (or jalapeƱo, etc.) pepper
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3 corn tortillas
2-3 T chicken broth (or water or vegetable broth)
A few palmsful of shredded cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack would be delightful as well, I suspect)
Cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt, black pepper, etc. for seasoning
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

  1. Cook the onion, pepper, and garlic over medium heat in a bit of olive oil until softened. Add the black beans and chicken broth and cook, mashing beans slightly so they stick together a bit but still have some texture.
  2. Once the broth has largely evaporated and the beans are soft and cohesive, remove to a bowl or plate and wipe out the skillet (no need to clean it).
  3. Return the skillet to the stove over medium to medium-high heat with 1-2 T oil (I used olive oil). Working somewhat quickly once the oil is hot, drop a pile of cheese about the size and rough shape (no need to be exact here) of half a tortilla into the pan. Place a corn tortilla on top so that it half covers the cheese and add a few tbsp of filling and some more shredded cheese on the side that's covering the cheese.
  4. Fold the un-cheesed side of the tortilla over and hold it in place with a spatula or tongs until the cheese on the bottom is crisped and starting to brown (it will also smell amazing, so you can use your nose here). Flip carefully and cook until the tortilla is golden and crisp. Repeat with remaining tacos and serve warm with sour cream dolloped on top.
Happy summer!

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Asparagus and Garlic Scapes

Now that spring is practically over, I thought I'd share this delightful pasta I made a couple of weeks ago. But first, a look at this spring according to my phone and snapchat story. I joined a CSA this year (in which you pay a farm up front and get a box of fresh produce every week), and I've been having fun with some unusual ingredients like applemint and garlic scapes. Here are the contents of my first box from a few weeks ago:

And of course, I've been making lots of trips to the farmers market(s) as well.

And my tomatoes are finally in the ground! My herbs and garlic are doing wonderfully, as well.

My fridge has been bulging with produce for the last month or two as I try to get as much rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberries as I can before their all-too-short season is up. When I saw this creamy lemon pasta on the New York Times cooking newsletter, I couldn't help but dress it up with some of that produce (plus a little Parmesan, of course). It was delicious, and surprisingly filling. And it's quite an easy recipe! My additions will be described in pretty loose terms, since I wasn't really measuring and the amount of vegetables mostly depends on taste.

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Asparagus and Garlic Scapes
Adapted from The New York Times
Yield: 4 servings

25-30 medium asparagus spears (1-2 lb)
4 garlic scapes 1
Olive oil
12 oz wide egg noodles
Zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Slice the asparagus and garlic scapes into 1-inch lengths and toss with enough olive oil to coat, but not so much that they are swimming. Season with salt and pepper. Spread in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan (or even on a pizza stone) and roast 15-20 minutes, until tender and lightly browned.
  2. About halfway through the vegetables' cooking time, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the egg noodles according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
  3. Two minutes before the noodles are done, add the cream, zest, salt, and pepper to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour cream mixture over the noodles and add lemon juice to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for another 1-2 minutes, until pasta is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Add in vegetables and top with a generous amount of grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.
  1. Garlic scapes are the green stems of hardneck garlic, harvested so that the plant will expend most of its resources on the bulbs rather than producing the flowers that eventually emerge from the scapes. They have a delicious mild garlic flavor and can be found at some farmers markets in the spring. If you don't have any, I think this would also be delicious with a couple of thinly sliced garlic cloves, cooked briefly in a little oil in the saucepan before adding the cream mixture, or (gasp) even without garlic.
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